Browsing the blog archives for August, 2017.


Trump Recycles Nixon’s “Peace With Honor”

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Trump Maladministration

I couldn’t bring myself to watch Trump’s speech last night. I probably wasn’t the only one. But I read some reviews and a transcript.

Most people are dismissing this speech as Trump’s attempt to change the subject. One argument for this is that Trump made a big bleeping deal about a new course in Afghanistan, yet managed to get through the whole speech without revealing a new course in Afghanistan. Chris Cillizza claimed the whole speech really was about Charlottesville.

Maybe, but I think Trump believes he said something significant.  Unlike those past loser presidents who were in charge of the war in Afghanistan, Trump has committed to winning.  Wow, why didn’t anyone think of that before?

Lines that stood out:

I arrived at three fundamental conclusion about America’s core interests in Afghanistan. First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.

Holy shit, we’re back to “peace with honor.” Trump is echoing Gen. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, from a recent interview with right-wing radio tool Hugh Hewitt:

When Hewitt asked McMaster how best to communicate with Americans about the Afghan war, the general replied they needed answers to two questions: what is at stake in Afghanistan and what is “the strategy that secures an outcome consistent with the vital interests of the American people.” To McMaster the outcome in Afghanistan had to be “worthy of the sacrifices that our servicemen and women are making.”

Col. Gregory A. Daddis, U.S. Army (Ret.) continues,

These same words easily could have been spoken by General Creighton Abrams at any point between 1968 and 1972 while in charge of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV). Over the course of those four years, Abrams debated with the Nixon White House — often in private, sometimes in public — over a vast array of tense strategic questions concerning how the United States could achieve “peace with honor” as it withdrew from Vietnam.

This is the second point from Trump’s speech:

A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS. The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit and launch attacks. We cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.

I would hardly call what happened in 2011 a “hasty withdrawal,” nor would I blame the withdrawal from Iraq on the spread of ISIS. It was invading Iraq at all, plus Bush’s ham-handed “policies” that amounted to one blunder after another, that encouraged the spread of ISIS. Once that pooch was screwed, no “withdrawal” strategy, gradual or otherwise, was going to unscrew it.

Third, and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense. Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.

Of course, we face a more immediate security threat from domestic terrorism at home, but let’s go on … Nobody denies that this is a terrible situation, and it’s a situation that has festered and worsened for a long time. Further, it’s a situation with multinational and bipartisan causes. But what’s Trump’s grand plan for solving this problem? And how does it differ from all the other grand plans announced by the past couple of presidents?

The answer to the second question is, it doesn’t. It’s basically the same old strategy, albeit with more chest thumping than President Obama tended to engage in. Joshua Geltzer writes for The Atlantic,

President Donald Trump’s speech on Afghanistan on Monday night wasn’t remarkable for it’s new ideas—there wasn’t much new to be found. There wasn’t, as administration officials had led many to expect, a new number for the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, or a new approach to Pakistan, or a new regional strategy for South Asia.

Instead, Trump’s speech was remarkable for what was old. It represented a return to themes of the campaign trail for a candidate who insisted that he could and would carry out foreign policy better than his predecessors—George W. Bush and Barack Obama, alike—without actually grappling with how.

Geltzer goes on to describe all the ways Trump’s ideas were not new, in spite of his insistence they were.

What Trump insisted was “new” about his approach to Afghanistan—“the integration of all instruments of American power—diplomatic, economic, and military—toward a successful outcome”; the refusal to “be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat”; and so on—could be ripped from the pages of Obama-era strategy documents. Indeed, not only does the blatant conceptual continuity belie any claim to novelty, but the unanswered question of how again undercuts Trump’s claim to be able to deliver on these elements of his approach. How, for example, does he intend to integrate all instruments of American power when he also appears personally responsible for shattering any attempt by his team to produce a coordinated, interagency approach to foreign policy? Likewise, how does Trump intend to generate new leverage vis-à-vis Pakistan to demand greater counterterrorism cooperation, when he is reported to have unabashedly gushed in his first post-Election Day call with Pakistan’s prime minister about his “amazing work which is visible in every way”?

Fourth, Trump avowed that he would deliver victory by defining it more clearly at the outset: “From now on, victory will have a clear definition.” Now read carefully the very next words of Trump’s speech: “Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.” Whatever one’s view of the proper scope of America’s mission in Afghanistan, it is hard to view this seemingly boundless list—especially “attacking our enemies”—as “a clear definition” of victory.

Seriously, this is just replaying the same basic mistake that we’ve made going back to Vietnam — blundering into a war with no clear sense of what “winning” looks like, and with objectives that can only be realized by endless war and occupation. Geltzer continues,

And, underneath all of the campaign trail rhetoric, that lack of a definition of victory may be the most concerning aspect of Trump’s speech. The president who claimed to have “studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle” seemed still not to have grappled with—or perhaps even grasped—the truly big questions that face the United States at its current and critical juncture in Afghanistan. What are U.S. objectives there—countering terrorists who threaten Americans, or defeating the Taliban, or promoting regional stability, or something else entirely? And how much is America willing to invest to achieve those objectives—how many troops, for how long, at what cost, and with what opportunity cost? And, finally, once it has defined ends and means, how will it connect them—in other words, what’s the strategy?

The one thing that I wish everyone would get through his or her thick skull is that “achieving objectives” doesn’t always look like “winning.” If you long for a big, cathartic resolution to conflict that you can celebrate with parades and awards, host a postseason college football game and call it the Victory Bowl.

But especially when dealing with asymmetric warfare or the use of military force to deal with stateless radical movements, there is no “winning.” Maybe in some circumstances military force can achieve some specific objectives that work to support diplomatic, economic and other efforts to reduce the level of threat. But there is no “winning.” No treaties will be signed; no terms of armistice will be agreed on. There will be no one moment that people can call the end of the war so that they can run out into the streets and dance. Modern-day warfare doesn’t work that way.

But this takes us back to “peace with honor.” Nixon wanted a way to end the war that sorta kinda looked like victory, so the U.S. could save face. Just walking away and letting North Vietnam take the whole country was not acceptable, because it was defeat. Of course, that’s what happened, and American hawks were traumatized by the fall of Saigon. However, most of us just didn’t want to hear the name “Vietnam” again for a long time. Peace was honor enough.

Trump wants a resolution to terrorism in the Mideast region that makes him look like a hero. We’ll see how many people he gets killed as he tries, and fails, to achieve that.

See also:

Fred Kaplan, “Killing Terrorists Is Not a Strategy

Susan Glasser, “America Is Out of Ideas in Afghanistan

Charles Pierce, “We’re Addicted to Bad Choices

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Myths and Realities of Political Violence

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Every now and then I run into right-wing rants about the prevalence of left-wing violence, in which the author genuinely believes that all Leftists (and minorities, who are presumed Leftists) are extremely violent people. It is a given on the Right that everyone but them is violent, which is why they have to be armed and prepared to shoot first.

In other words, the Right thinks it is entitled to use violence against the Left. The Right sees its own aggressive, intimidating violence as self-defense against whatever it is they think the Left might do.

For example, Dave Weigel wrote a few days ago that fears of the “violent left” preceded events in Charlottesville.  Citing some incidents of property damage at the Inauguration and at Berkeley, the Right prepared for war.

In a Feb. 24 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre linked those events with incidents of people being attacked if they supported the president.

“Right now, we face a gathering of forces that are willing to use violence against us,” warned LaPierre. “If the violent left brings their terror to our communities, our neighborhoods, or into our homes, they will be met with the resolve and the strength and the full force of American freedom in the hands of the American people. Among them and behind them are some of the most radical political elements there are. Anarchists, Marxists, communists and the whole rest of the left-wing Socialist brigade.” …

…In reality, antifa actions were relatively isolated, focused on disrupting white nationalist rallies — which, in turn, fed off the idea that the violent left needed to be stopped in the streets. Several high-profile rallies transformed into brawls between black-clad antifa and conservatives who sometimes claimed membership in new anti-antifa organizations, such as the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, a wing of the Proud Boys, itself a group founded by Rebel commentator Gavin McInnes.

If this leaves you perplexed, see history professor Yoav Fromer on why the American left gave up on political violence.

… despite what Trump has claimed, repeatedly, in his public statements since the tragic events there, the willingness to employ organized violence to achieve political goals remains a signature quality of only one side. And it’s not the left.

The professor says that while the American Left was never as given to revolutionary violence as in other parts of the planet, there have been times in U.S. history that leftist groups did attempt to achieve political ends through violent means. However, most of us realized some time back that this doesn’t work.  First, it backfires (see the Bigger Asshole Rule). Nonviolent means achieve better ends. Also,

Emerging out of the rubble of the 1960s, the modern left, which coalesced around George McGovern’s quixotic 1972 presidential run, effectively represented a gathering of fugitives. African Americans, Hispanics, women, gay men and lesbians, Native Americans, and workers: These long-ostracized groups, which came to replace the New Deal coalition anchored by the white working class, were the very peoples against whom violence had been done for so long. Their painful histories made them instinctively averse to, and intolerant of, political violence. Those who had survived lynchings, beatings, bombings, sexual violence, forced removals and economic exploitation were least disposed to employ them in return.

In other words, people long victimized by right-wing violence are less likely than others to romanticize violence as a tool of righteousness. Do read the whole piece.

There’s another reason that lefties in the West have been less likely than righties to foment violence, and that is that the Left on the whole has been punished far more harshly than the Right for acting up. There is a terrible history in the U.S. of government-supported and sometimes government-perpetrated violence against racial minorities who engage in demonstrations, and white demonstrators have sometimes been victimized also — see the Kent State shootings.

Dan Berger, an associate professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington / Bothell, writes:

Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other assorted white nationalists described their descent on Charlottesville as a gathering to “Unite the Right.” Its bloody end, when one of them drove his car into a cluster of counter-demonstrators, killing one and injuring 19, was no aberration. Rather, murderous violence has been the through-line connecting four decades of efforts at uniting America’s far right. And such efforts have had a shocking amount of support from sectors of the U.S. government committed to “law and order.” Whether from law enforcement officials or the president, such support legitimizes the otherwise fringe politics of white nationalism and facilitates more racist attacks.

Law enforcement has been at the heart of the government’s uneasy relationship with white supremacist groups since the 1960s. Alabama Sheriff Eugene “Bull” Connor is but the most infamous in a long line of blustery law enforcement officials who aided violent attacks on black communities and left-wing activists. While Connor incited segregationist mobs to act, other police officers merely turned away when they did.

It was not just Southern sheriffs, either. For years, J. Edgar Hoover refused to act to prevent attacks on civil rights activists when his informants warned him such assaults were imminent. Worse still: FBI informants participated in such attacks. Gary Thomas Rowe was a paid informant for the FBI when he rode along with the carload of people who shot and killed activist Viola Liuzzo, a white mother of five from Detroit who had traveled to Selma in support of the civil rights demonstrations there. After her death, the FBI director tried to discredit her by telling President Lyndon Johnson and Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach that Liuzzo had “indications of needle marks in her arms” and “was sitting very, very close to the Negro in the car” she was traveling in when the Klan attacked her.

In 1979, leftists organized a rally in North Carolina to protest right-wing paramilitary groups across the state:

Calling itself the United Racist Front, a caravan of Klansmen and neo-Nazi groups from throughout the state descended on the rally. The men parked their cars, calmly removed weapons from their vehicle trunks and opened fire.

Newscasters captured 88 seconds of carnage as armed racists gunned people down in the street. When they stopped firing, five leftists lay dead: Cesar Cauce, Michael Nathan, William Sampson, Sandra Smith and James Michael Waller. In their 20s and 30s, the dead were union organizers, doctors and committed antifascists. Another 12 people were wounded, some paralyzed for life.

Subsequent investigations revealed how thoroughly involved police agents were in what became known as the “Greensboro massacre.” Two paid police informants were involved in planning the attack, while others refused to intervene to stop the imminent bloodshed. One of the informants, Klansmen Eddie Dawson, played an instrumental role in partnering with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of America. Dawson also led the caravan that attacked the demonstrators.

The local police department knew of Dawson’s role and the likelihood for violence. Yet according to the 2006 report by the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, police did not warn demonstrators that the white supremacists planned to attack them. Police officials directed their officers to stay away from the rally and not intervene before, during or after the attack. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI had been monitoring the neo-Nazi groups but also declined to intervene. In fact, the ATF had their own informant in the neo-Nazi group who participated in planning the attack.

Although state and federal charges were brought against some of the shooters, all were acquitted. The New York Times reported in 1984:

”Praise the Lord,” said Jack W. Fowler Jr., an ex-Nazi Party member from Winston-Salem who hugged his wife after the verdict was announced in Federal court about 5:10 P.M. Other defendants wept, and one, Roland Wayne Wood, also an ex-party member, knelt on the courtroom carpet.

Dale Sampson, 35 years old, the widow of William Sampson, who was shot to death at the Nov. 3, 1979, rally, also wept. ”This is a real go-ahead for the Klan and Nazis to kill people,” she said.

Dan Berger doesn’t mention abortion clinic violence, so I will. It has struck me for a long time that government generally hasn’t taken such violence as seriously as it might have if the target were something other than abortion clinics — banks, for example. Operation Rescue and other groups have operated way too long under the protection of right-wing politicians who encourage murder and bombings with winks and nods.

But what about the much-reviled antifa? Paul Waldman wrote,

Yes, there are a small number of antifa counterprotesters who show up to scuffle with white supremacists when the latter mount a protest (if you’re unfamiliar, historian Mark Bray explains what antifa is). And yes, there have been other incidents, such as at Trump’s inaugural, in which antifa activists committed acts of vandalism. But the far right is 1) large; 2) highly organized; and most importantly, 3) directly tied to the president of the United States and the Republican Party.

Antifa is none of those things. It is tiny, not organized on a broad scale, and has precisely zero ties to any prominent Democrat. The president of the United States and leader of the Republican Party is celebrated and endorsed by the white supremacist right (“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” tweeted David Duke Tuesday); the extreme left views Democrats as an enemy. Trump directly echoes and repeats the arguments and claims of the extreme right, as we saw him do on Tuesday; no elected Democrat shares the radical anti-capitalist ideas of the extreme left. Trump hired Stephen K. Bannon, who ran the white nationalist website Breitbart, which Bannon himself described as “the platform for the alt-right,” to run his campaign and then to be senior adviser in his White House.

Again, we see that the thugs on the Right have connections to government authority and power; perpetrators of violence associated with the Left do not. And, there is simply no equivalence between antifa and the Klan/Nazi extremists in the dangers they pose:

Still, their [Antifa’s] numbers are tiny in relation to the mainstream political left. And, say experts, it’s misleading for right-wing groups to suggest that the Antifa are more violent than right-wing extremists.

“The far left is very active in the United States, but it hasn’t been particularly violent for some time,” says Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

He says the numbers between the groups don’t compare.

“In the past 10 years when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders,” Pitcavage says.

You have to go back to the 1970s to find the last big cycle of far-left extremism in the U.S. Both Pitcavage and McNabb say we have been in a predominantly far-right extremist cycle since the 1990s — the abortion clinic bombings and Oklahoma City, for example. And, more recently, racially motivated attacks such as the one at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C., and last month’s stabbings on a commuter train in Portland.

Right-wing  terrorism in the U.S. has been around at least since the nativist Know Nothings engaged in anti-immigrant riots and torched Catholic churches in  the 1850s. The original Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 and was responsible for countless lynchings, shootings and deadly race riots. In a break from the usual pattern, President Ulysses S. Grant used federal troops to crush the Klan. But this outraged southern whites and many northern whites as well. After Grant, the government went back to averting its gaze from racial atrocities.

Historically, right-wing violence punches down. Left-wing violence punches up. Back to Yoav Fromer:

Labor unions battled constantly with railroad barons, industrial tycoons and mining bosses during the Gilded Age. Even while outnumbered and outgunned, usually by private armies that enjoyed the backing of law enforcement and state militias, workers fought in bloody clashes that left dozens dead on battlefields such as Chicago’s Haymarket Square (1886) and West Virginia’s Blair Mountain (1921).

More recently, some on the fringes of the 1960s New Left, such as the Weather Underground, were known for fomenting violence. But since the 1970s, as many have said, the Left generally has been committed to nonviolent protests.  James Hodgkinson, the shooter who opened fire on congressmen at a Virginia baseball field, was an anomaly who was not working with any other group. I’m not aware of any left-wing group condoning what he did.

Right-wing militias, on the other hand, are surging. They are organizing, recruiting, arming themselves and training for violence. “There are more than 500 militia groups in the U.S., more than double the number in 2008, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Most of them are right-wing and anti-government. Most of them harbor a toxic soup of shared delusions about how leftists and minorities are out to get them.

Lefties think they are demonstrating against oppression; righties think they are at war.

I am utterly opposed to matching right-wing violence with left-wing violence. It doesn’t settle anything, and history has taught us that the Left will suffer a disproportionate degree of punishment for it. That’s not a game we can win, frankly. I do think swamping them (nonviolently) with overwhelming numbers, such as what happened this weekend in Boston, is much more effective and might shake some of them out of their delusions.

Beyond that, I don’t have much advice except to stay strong and don’t get killed.

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Bannon’s Out!

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Steve Bannon has been fired. This should create some interesting fallout, although Charles Pierce thinks it might not all be for the good.

While this is all entertaining as hell, and it is, and while it’s even more entertaining to speculate what vengeance Bannon and his army of angry gnomes could wreak on this presidency*, I am not going to be turning handsprings along the Charles over this development. First, it’s eight months overdue and both Stephen Miller and the ridiculous Dr. Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D. are still there. Second, I decline at the moment to believe that Bannon will be blocked entirely on the president*’s cell phone. And third, given that this is a president* who would require his paper boy to sign a non-disclosure agreement, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that Bannon’s silence will be handsomely remunerated. But there’s one more general reason that I am not popping corks over this.

Whatever else he was, Bannon was one of the few people in that operation who still at least was making mouth noises about economic populism after inauguration day. I have to think that the various corporate sublets in the Republican congressional leadership—Paul Ryan, chief among them—are looking at Bannon’s departure as an opportunity to lead a president* who knows nothing about anything right down the trail of corporate oligarchy. I’m glad he’s gone, but there’s still enough left to concern us all.

Josh Marshall has an interesting observation:

Here’s one thing to consider as Steve Bannon leaves the White House. There’s hardly anyone in the close Trump orbit who hasn’t been tripped up in some way by the Russia investigation. There’s one big exception: Steve Bannon.

Obviously I don’t know all the ins and out of the Russia probe. The Mueller operation has been extraordinarily tight. But I keep pretty close tabs. Look at all the stories. Bannon’s name basically never comes up. As far as I know he hasn’t even hired a lawyer in the probe. Why is this? My best guess is the most obvious one: for whatever reason he just wasn’t involved. …

… Bannon probably knows a lot that could be big trouble for Trump. But would he hurt Trump like that? Who knows? Initial reports suggest otherwise: What we’re hearing is that he and Breitbart want to go to war with the ‘globalists’ – some mix of the Jews, the former Democrats, the generals and perhaps basically everyone who’s still left.

But here’s the last part of the puzzle and it’s a key one. Back in early summer, Bannon seemed to have the idea that Kushner could and would take the fall for Russia. He was dirty and, if he could be jettisoned, the White House and Trump could be walled off from the damage.

That always struck me as zany.

Zany, because blood comes before anything else with Trump. Come to think of it, other than Chief of Staff Kelly is there anyone left in Trump’s inner White House circle he is not related to?

Jonathan Chait writes that Bannon simply had nothing to offer the White House any more:

Steve Bannon, the most recent loser in the White House game of thrones, leaves the White House best known as the chief ideologist of a new right-wing synthesis, which he used to call “alt-right” and now calls “nationalism.” Those ideas, though, have been followed only intermittently. President Trump has followed Bannon’s xenophobia and barely disguised racism, but ignored his anti-Semitism and fascination with fomenting trade war with China, a trillion dollar infrastructure bill, and a higher tax rate on the rich. Bannon’s true contribution to Trump is less widely understood. “Devil’s Bargain,” Josh Green’s fine history of Bannon’s role in the campaign, makes clear that the chief strategist’s essential work lay in his attacks on Hillary Clinton. That was what won the presidency for Trump. And that, of course, is a skill made obsolete through Trump’s victory.

In other news

The remaining members of a presidential arts and humanities panel resigned on Friday in yet another sign of growing national protest of President Trump’s recent comments on the violence in Charlottesville.

He really does seem to be coming apart at the seams.

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Donald Trump, Patron of Art

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Trump Maladministration

Trump this week, on Confederate monuments:

Trump should know about art that can’t be replaced.

Dust swirled and jackhammers pounded outside the Bonwit Teller building in Manhattan as undocumented immigrants tore apart the façade. It was June 5, 1980, and a sense of bitterness hung over the work site that afternoon; paychecks were often weeks late, but since the Poles didn’t have legal status in the United States, there was little they could do about it.

The exterior they were destroying was an architectural masterpiece—bronze, platinum, hammered aluminum, glazed ceramic and tinted glass that shimmered like jewelry. Many New Yorkers had hoped the grandest portion would survive; curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art had asked the developer to carefully remove the two bas-relief sculpture panels so they could be restored and put on public display. But that afternoon, the laborers, acting on orders from the developer, smashed the 50-year-old art deco panels into a rubble of stone, pebble and dirt.

The desecration horrified Manhattan’s art community, but the developer, a brash 34-year-old named Donald Trump, dismissed the criticism—pretending to be his own spokesman, “John Barron,” as he talked to reporters by phone. Saving the panels would have cost him $32,000 each, he said, and delayed work for a few days on his $100 million project, Trump Tower. Besides, he declared, he knew more than the curators—the panels had no artistic merit and little financial value.

Also:

Trump discovered that taking out the sculptures would delay demolition by two weeks. He wasn’t willing to wait. “On his orders, the demolition workers cut up the grillwork with acetylene torches,” Hurt wrote. “Then they jackhammered the friezes, dislodged them with crowbars, and pushed the remains inside the building, where they fell to the floor and shattered in a million pieces.”

The art world was shocked. “Architectural sculpture of this quality is rare and would have made definite sense in our collections,” Ashton Hawkins, the vice president and secretary of the Met’s board of trustees, told the New York Times. Robert Miller, a gallery owner who had agreed to assess the friezes, told the paper that “the reliefs are as important as the sculptures on the Rockefeller building. They’ll never be made again.”

The Times reported that Trump also lost a large bronze grillwork, measuring 25 feet in length, from the building that the museum had hoped to save.

So much for irreplaceable art. But we should also be concerned about the promise he made concerning infrastructure.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday rolled back rules regarding environmental reviews and restrictions on government-funded building projects in flood-prone areas as part of his proposal to spend $1 trillion to fix aging U.S. infrastructure.

Trump’s latest executive order would speed approvals of permits for highways, bridges, pipelines and other major building efforts. It revokes an Obama-era executive order aimed at reducing exposure to flooding, sea level rise and other consequences of climate change.

“It’s going to be quick. It’s going to be a very streamlined process. And by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it – very simple,” Trump said at a press conference at Trump Tower in New York.

Well, unless it costs somebody money or slows down construction by a few days. I mean, who needs spotted owls, right? No artistic merit.

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The Alt Right and the Bigger Asshole Rule

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The fallout from Charlottesville and yesterday’s unhinged remarks from Trump has certainly been gratifying.  For example, I have never seen such a broad consensus for taking down Confederate monuments. Even the bleeping National Review is running an op ed calling for moving all Confederate monuments to cemeteries or museums. So many CEOs resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council the last couple of days that Trump disbanded it.  Congressional Republicans are lining up to declare their opposition to white supremacy in all its forms without falling back on “but both sides do it” rationalizations. Yes, there are some exceptions, they they are a minority.

I see this as validation of my “Bigger Asshole” rule. In brief, all public demonstrations should be viewed as public relations. Their purpose is to win the public’s sympathy and support for you and your cause. If, however, the demonstrators come across as bigger assholes than whatever they are protesting, this will backfire, and the public will side with the protestee and not the protesters. Likewise, if the institution or group being protested comes across as the bigger asshole, the public will side with the demonstrators. In brief, whoever is the bigger asshole loses.

And the Alt Right plus Trump definitely are the bigger assholes. I understand some of the counter-demonstrators did punch back and did swing some bats, but I’ve heard relatively little about that (although I don’t watch Fox News). Usually if a thousand lefties march peacefully for something and one guy breaks a window, it gets reported as a riot. But this time the focus and blame have fallen entirely on the righties.

This is why nonviolence wins in the long run. Let’s hope we can keep this up.

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Trump Against the World

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On top of everything else, today the FBI arrested a young man in Oklahoma City who had planned to blow up a bank. The man is associated with a right-wing anti-government movement calling itself the Three Percenters, which has ties to Oath Keepers and the Bundy Militia. Can we now admit we have a problem with right-wing domestic terrorism, finally?

Someone seems to have been able to persuade Trump he needed to say something more about Charlottesville

After two days, blistering criticism from his own party and tougher anti-white-nationalist statements from the company that makes Tiki torches and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump dragged himself to the podium for a statement that specifically condemned white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racists. He had to begin with some self-congratulations on the economy — because his accomplishments are what he really cares about. He told the country, “To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.” He finally spit it out by calling racism “evil” and condemning the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”

He read from a teleprompter. Speaking from his heart would have been impossible, given his obvious lack of passion and willful blindness over the past couple of days. He did not mention the “alt-right,” nor did he announce he is firing Stephen K. Bannon, who once bragged he gave the alt-right a platform at Breitbart. He did not announce any specific policy measures. He did not apologize for his moral obtuseness. This was the weakest statement he could have gotten away with, 48 hours too late. Why did it have to come to this?

But he had already failed the Acting Like a Grown Up test earlier today. Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck, withdrew from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council to protest Trump’s insipid response to Charlottesville. Frazier, who is African American, wrote,

 “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal. As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

So this morning Trump tweeted:

Amber Phillips in WaPo writes that Republicans, Republican senators especially, have been remarkably critical of Trump regarding Charlottesville.

A number of Senate Republicans criticized nothing less than the way Trump chose to be president Saturday. They publicly and directly condemned his words and actions. More specifically, they criticized his lack of words and actions to clearly and forcefully denounce the white supremacy roiling Charlottesville’s streets and seizing the nation’s attention. …

… There’s no nuance in those statements, no need to read between the lines. These Republicans think the president did a bad job being president in the midst of a violent, fraught crisis. Their criticism carries extra heft when you consider that these lawmakers mostly weren’t prodded by reporters, microphones thrust in their faces, to say any of this. Congress is on break, so wherever in the world these lawmakers were, they made the proactive decision Saturday to go on Twitter — or call up their staff to write a statement — and criticize the president.

But harshest by far is David Frum, who calls on his fellow Republicans to abandon Trump asap.

President Trump made two big political decisions over past half-week, and both are already proving disasters.

The first decision was to cut himself loose from the Republican leadership in Congress. Trump blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a sequence of tweets fixing blame on McConnell—and thereby absolving himself—for the failure of Obamacare repeal.

The second decision was to issue a statement condemning “many sides” for the confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend—and adhering to that policy of pandering to white nationalism even after the ramming death of a counter-protester and the injury of many more.

Trump had wanted to stand apart from Republicans in Congress—and they have now obliged him. Former campaign rivals Ted Cruz and Marco RubioSenator Cory Gardner, who heads the Senate Republican campaign organization; President Pro Tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch—all issued statements implicitly criticizing Trump’s response for its even-handedness between perpetrators and targets.

Republicans are in a terribly, um, delicate position here. Since the bleeping Nixon Administration — nay, since Goldwater’s presidential campaign — they’ve been dog whistling at white racists to get their votes. So Nixon talked about lawnorder and Reagan about welfare queens and George H.W. Bush’s campaign about Willie Horton, and everybody knew they were talking about race even if they didn’t come out and say it. But even though they’ve been winking and nodding at white supremacists all these years, they can’t afford to be seen with them in public, because they are really, really unpopular. And not just with nonwhite voters.

Trump is blowing their cover and forcing them to go on record as believing racism is bad. It’s extraordinary, really.

Frum goes on to say that Trump needs an excuse. Whining about Democratic obstructionism doesn’t really work if his own party controls both houses of Congress. The new paradigm must be that everyone in Washington is Trump’s enemy.

He’s put out a new campaign ad to that effect — seriously —

If you watch, you may notice that Trump’s enemies include a lot of news media.

Anyway, Frum continues …

It’s probably impossible for a man of Trump’s psychology to process how much legal jeopardy he and his family may be in—and how utterly he depends on Republicans in Congress to shield him. President Bill Clinton faced down scandal politics in his second term because his party united to support him, a decision politically vindicated by the strong Democratic showing in 1998, the best sixth-year election performance in modern history. Trump, by contrast, is doing his utmost to persuade congressional Republicans that it could well be less disastrous to face the voters in 2020 under Mike Pence than Donald Trump. Pence apparently thinks so, too. Pre-Charlottesville, that remained a tough sale. Post-Charlottesville, things look different.

IMO if the Senate could initiate articles of impeachment, Trump would be toast. The House will stick with him for a while, I suspect.

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Losers Gotta Lose

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Trump Maladministration

There are reports — I’m not sure they’ve been confirmed — that one person died in Charlottesville when a car plowed into counter-protesters. The video in this tweet is said to show some of what happened:

More about the car incident:

Brennan Gilmore, a 38-year-old Charlottesville resident who came Saturday to oppose the white nationalists, was filming his friends demonstrating three blocks away from the park when he noticed a gray car drive past.

Mr. Gilmore turned his camera in time to see the car slow as it approached the counterprotesters and then suddenly speed up, ramming into the car in front of it and the crowd itself.

“Bodies went flying — up onto the hood of the car and into the air,” Mr. Gilmore said. “It was horrifying.”

I haven’t been watching television, but I understand it’s all been very ugly — no surprise. And then there’s this —

I understand the original purpose of the White Losers Rally was to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. So I can understand the Confederate flags. But I’d really like to hear that one fellow explain what the Nazi flag represents to him. For that matter, what’s with the all the replicas of German army helmets I’ve seen in so many photos? I believe the German army still uses that same basic helmet shape today, so that’s not just a Nazi thing. Does replicating the military garb of a foreign country mean something to these people? And why no Viking helmets?

(Speaking of Nazis — I don’t know that I announced it here, but I have a contract with a real publisher to write something about Buddhist history, and that got me delving into its origins in India. The Indo-Europeans called “Aryans” the Nazis were so proud of were, um, not people you’d really want to move into your neighborhood.  They were barbarians. They swept across Asia about 35 centuries ago burning, killing and looting everything. They smashed superior civilizations and made off with the livestock. It was centuries later before they had a written language or could build anything more complicated than a tool shed. They were actually way, way behind folks like the Chinese and Egyptians, civilization-wise. Well, come to think of it, maybe the losers are Aryans.)

Anyway– I’m sure we’ll get more details about what happened in Charlottesville in the next few days.  I’ve heard from several people that the police didn’t do enough to intervene until the loser mob got out of hand. If the losers try to pull off more mass rallies, there had better be plenty of National Guard standing by to keep order.

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North Korea and the Carnival of Stupid

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North Korea, Trump Maladministration

I’ve been struck by the sheer amount of stupid coming from both Right and Left regarding North Korea.

From the rightie fringe, meet evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, who has been ranting that God wants Trump to bomb North Korea and that the Bible gives Trump authority to do this. (I say that if God wants Kim Jong Un taken out, it ought to be easy to arrange a lightening bolt to do the job neatly and quickly. Intercontinental nuclear warfare is so messy.)

On the other side, the Eternal Ditz Jill Stein weirdly absolves Kim Jong Un of any responsibility whatsoever in the ongoing tensions regarding his nuclear program. She thinks that if the U.S. and South Korea weren’t so mean to KJU all the time, he’d happily stand down. Just dismantle the military systems protecting Japan and South Korea and send Kim Jong Un some flowers and a gift certificate to Olive Garden, and he’d be nice as pie.

A variation of this comes from a guy I bumped into on social media — “North Korea is not a real threat to you and I. It only threatens the 1% and their interests…now watch them drag us all into their pissing contest again.” Another common theme is that They (the U.S. government plus mainstream media) are lying to us about North Korea to distract us from what They are doing. And, you know, They lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so They must be lying to us about nukes in North Korea now.

I don’t think the Right will ever grasp that under most circumstances, bombing people we don’t like usually gives us worse problems down the road (see consequences of the invasion of Iraq for examples). It’s the stupid on the Left I want to address right now.  I’d like to propose two theories that will be immediately hooted down by a lot of lefties:

  1. Not everything that happens in the world has to do with the machinations of the infamous 1 percent.
  2. Not everything that goes wrong in the world is the fault of the U.S.  Sometimes people in other countries screw up all by themselves.

Yes, it’s absolutely true that past U.S. decisions played a huge role in the creation of North Korea. However, don’t forget that the USSR played an equally large role. It’s also possible that had Korea not separated, the despotic Kim family would be in charge of all of Korea now, not just North Korea, and today we’d be arguing about how dumb it was to let that happen without a fight. But since we can’t go back 70 years and re-do the past, this is water under the bridge.

It’s also the case that over the years, U.S. policy has fluctuated between chest-thumping and genuine conciliation. No rightie will admit this, but in the 1990s President Clinton made some real progress with easing tensions between North Korea and everybody else. Righties will tell you that the Agreed Framework negotiated by Jimmy Carter in 1994 was a disaster, but in fact it worked pretty well, if not perfectly. Basically, the North Koreans agreed to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for aid. And lo, the North Koreans gave up processing plutonium and submitted to IAEA inspections.

So what happened? George W. Bush happened. At the time Bush II became president in 2001, the IAEA was still inspecting North Korea and reported that the plutonium processors were still sealed. But for a lot of reasons, Bush and the neocons and Republicans generally wanted the Agreed Framework to fail, and they accused the North Koreans of secretly processing uranium. This was never proved, but it was the excuse the Bushies used to end the Agreed Framework, and North Korea had a nuclear arsenal in a few short years. For more on this, see:

It’s also the case that the U.S. invasion of Iraq told North Korea it had better not disarm. The lesson the North Koreans took from Iraq was that the only way to avoid being invaded by the U.S. is to be a nuclear power.

So, yeah, the U.S. has made a lot of blunders regarding North Korea. However, no one with any knowledge of international relations or the Kim regime thinks that if the U.S. were to fold up its tents and completely retreat from Asia, North Korea would stop being a threat. North Korea is a threat because its leaders are despotic and paranoid. Michael Hirsch wrote,

Even more than other dictatorships, it is sustained by pure xenophobia, a paranoia about threats from the outside world, even as Stalinism has become a yellowing chapter in the history books elsewhere. Pyongyang’s statement that its nuclear forces “represent the nation’s life” sounds ridiculous. Yet it is a true description of the regime’s life. …

… Out in the real world, the Soviet Union collapsed, its former satellites democratized, the Chinese opened up and reformed, and even the Arab autocracies began to reform or topple. Inside North Korea, it is still 1953, and I’m not just talking about Kim Jong-un’s hairstyle. The regime’s ideology, called juche, is often simplistically defined as Korean self-reliance. In fact it has proven to be a kind of ideological superglue–a compound of traditional Korean xenophobia and nationalism, Confucian respect for authority, and utopian Marxism-Leninism that is able to resist the solvents of economic urgency or democratic modernization.

This issue is about more than just the United States and North Korea. Remember that Korea was occupied and oppressed by a militaristic Japan for a long time before the U.S. got in any way involved. But since World War II our military has ostensibly been protecting the much-resented Japan. Whether we should still have military bases in Japan today is an excellent thing to debate, and I’m personally very open to rethinking the whole Pax Americana thing. But that’s not going to help us with the immediate crisis.

Here’s the immediate crisis, reported today:

In the escalating game of chicken between North Korea and the US, North Korea is showing no signs of flinching: Pyongyang has announced detailed new plans for firing four ballistic missiles that would fly over Japan and land between 19 and 25 miles off the shore of the US territory of Guam.

North Korea says the plan could be ready for sign-off by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un within a week. If he does decide to launch the missiles, it would raise questions of whether the US would attempt to intercept them using the THAAD missile defense system it has stationed at Guam.

If the US intercepted the missiles successfully, it would make the US look stronger, but if it failed, it would be a humiliating spectacle and a blow to the credibility of US power. So it’s not hard to see how firing missiles so close to Guam raises the stakes in the US-North Korean standoff in way the North’s previous ballistic missile tests haven’t.

Trump just had a press conference full of more tough talk. However, I don’t think the biggest thing we need to worry about is whether Trump will order North Korea to be nuked. NK borders Russia and China, and neither Russia nor China would support Trump in this. Certainly, neither China nor Russia would tolerate a U.S.-controlled state in North Korea occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t much like Kim Jong Un, but they tolerate him for the sake of stability.

Indeed, although people make noises about how China ought to do something about North Korea, it’s odd that nobody talks about Russia doing something about North Korea.

North Korea does not have many friends.

It has China and, to a lesser degree, Russia, both of which oppose unilateral American military strikes on sovereign countries. The two countries believe that any US move would destabilize the region and harm their own interests. North Korea borders China and Russia, and any crisis on the peninsula would add extra strain to those borders.

(Fun fact: Did you know that if you want to drive from Finland to North Korea, you could drive only through one country? Yeah: Russia is that large.)

On its own, Russia also helps North Korea with its economic woes. Russian Railways is in discussion with the government in Pyongyang to expand the rail connections between the two countries. Moscow also invests heavily in North Korea’s energy sector and gives Kim’s regime hard currency, which it needs to purchase foreign goods. There are also around 10,000 North Koreans in Russia as part of a guest worker program providing cheap labor to Russia.

Maybe we should be grateful for whatever dirt Vladimir has on Donald, because Vladimir sure as hell does not want a U.S. strike on North Korea.

And, frankly, I’m not seeing anywhere near the kind of relentless propaganda campaign that sold Americans on the idea that invading Iraq was a good idea, and I don’t think the Trumpettes are capable of carrying out such a campaign. They’ve made too many enemies in media and in other conservative circles to pull it off. A new CBS News poll shows only 29 percent of Americans think that striking North Korea now would be a good idea.

But here’s the thing — we’ve known for a long time that North Korea has nuclear weapons. This is not a new thing the Trumpettes just thought up. North Korea set off its first nuclear bomb as a test in October 2006. What’s new is that now North Korea has missile capability to deliver those weapons somewhere we don’t want nuked.  And no one who knows anything about North Korea thinks it can be persuaded to give up nuclear weapons now. We had one shot, and Bush blew it.

My sense of things is that if somebody could duct-tape Trump’s stupid mouth for awhile, and if the U.S. were to back off and let other nations take the lead in smoothing tensions with North Korea, maybe this will blow over. For now. But these crises will keep happening until the Kim regime collapses, and I don’t much think there’s anything the rest of the world can do to force that to happen without making things worse.

And while I don’t think that the U.S. would actually strike North Korea preemptively — Trump’s stupid mouth notwithstanding — there’s always the possibility that North Korea would. And that would be a genuinely terrible thing that could easily touch off a world war, especially with Trump in the White House.

So, lefties, please stop tweeting that there’s no real danger and that They are lying to us about North Korea just like they lied about Iraq. It’s annoying.

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Tillerson Backtracks Trump

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Trump Maladministration

Yesterday the so-called president threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it made any more threats against the U.S. A few hours later, North Korea responded by saying it was considering a strike (one assumes a nuclear one) on Guam, which is overrun with U.S. military bases. Trump hasn’t directly responded to that, I don’t think, proving once again that what he’s not a man of his word.

Greg Sargent writes that Max Tillerson has more or less pulled back Trump’s “red line.”

Tillerson also sought to reassure Americans by saying this:

“I think what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so. So the American people should sleep well at night.”

Tillerson also said “the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime that the U.S. has the unquestionable ability to defend itself … and its allies.” But that subtly — and meaningfully — shifts the red line Trump drew.

Other reactions to Trump’s “fire and fury” talk:

John Cassidy:

Within minutes, news of Trump’s words had gone around the world. They were met with a mixture of astonishment, alarm, and gallows humor. “Look on the bright side: compared to the coming thermonuclear inferno, global warming will seem quite pleasant,” Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist, said on Twitter. In a similar vein, Ross Douthat, the Times columnist, tweeted, “Nuclear war Twitter will be the best Twitter.” Psychologists tell us that laughing is often a way to deal with stress and to downplay dangerous situations. Indeed, the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran has theorized that laughter developed as a way for early humans to signal to their kin, “Don’t waste your precious resources on this situation; it’s a false alarm.” Hopefully, Trump’s use of this bellicose rhetoric was such an instance, but it’s hard to be sure. It’s not even clear what he was trying to say. …

…In light of Tillerson’s stance, a charitable interpretation of Trump words is that the Secretary of State and the President are doing a good-cop, bad-cop routine, and that Trump’s statement was part of a coördinated effort to persuade the North Korean dictator to change course. On Tuesday, the North Korean Foreign Minister said that his government would never agree to negotiate about its nuclear weapons. And a North Korean news agency responded to the United Nations’ recent imposition of new economic sanctions by saying, “Strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly.”

Threats are the only way Trump knows how to relate to people. But threatening someone like Kim Jong Un is counterproductive; it just makes him less likely to cooperate. KJU and DJT are like two little boys taunting each other; neither will back down. The adults have to step in and stop them, if there are any adults.

Josh Marshall reminds us that much of the difficulty we’re having with North Korea now is the fault of George W. Bush, who unnecessarily inflamed relations with North Korea to score political points at home. I wrote about this back in 2005; see “Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes.” Dubya also tried talking tough about North Korea, and this made a dicey situation much worse.

As Josh Marshall points out, North Korea has a pattern of using “menacing or destabilizing actions to extract aid from great powers.” Four days ago the UN hit North Korea with a bunch of new sanctions. Kim John Un has tantrums and makes threats; like Trump, that seems to be his only foreign relations tool. I don’t see any solution here, other than hoping the boys get tired of taunting and go take naps.

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Trump’s Iceberg Is Ahead

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Trump Maladministration

Aaron Blake writes at WaPo that Trump’s base is officially crumbling.

Trump assured us Monday that it was “stronger than ever.”

Then came more polls that drive home how untrue that is.

A CNN poll and an Investor’s Business Daily poll, both released late Monday, show somewhat different pictures of Trump’s overall approval. The CNN poll pegs it at 38 percent — around where it has been in other polling for a while — while the IBD poll shows it at a painfully low 32 percent. That’s the lowest of any high-quality poll in Trump’s entire presidency.

Investor’s Business Daily is a right-wing rag. If Trump has lost IBD … And note that FiveThirtyEight gives the IBD/TIPP poll an A- rating, which means it’s one of the more reliable polls.

These polls come on the heels of a Quinnipiac University poll last week that also showed Trump’s strong approval among Republicans dropping off. In that poll, just 53 percent of Republicans strongly approved of the president — down from a previous low of 62 percent.

Another common thread running through these polls is Trump’s decline among the working-class voters who were so key to his win in the 2016 election. The Q poll last week showed them disapproving of Trump more than they approved of him for the first time. The IBD poll shows Trump’s biggest decline coming among those making between $30,000 and $50,000 per year; 40 percent of this group approved of Trump last month, but it’s down to 27 percent today. Another of the biggest declines was among high school-educated voters, among whom Trump’s approval dropped by 11 points. The CNN poll shows Trump’s strong approval among whites without college degrees declining from 47 percent in February to 35 percent today. This is a group among which Trump beat Hillary Clinton more than 2-to-1.

Trump has not been looking good at FiveThirtyEight for awhile, either. The Gallup daily tracking poll has had Trump’s approval bouncing between 36 and 39 for the past month. The last time he was at 40 was July 9.

From Inspired Traveller at http://www.inspiredtraveller.in/trip-titanic-wreck-sleeping-darkness-100-years/

However, it’s possible Trump is not completely aware of how badly he’s doing in the polls. Matt Yglesias writes at Vox:

As Alex Thompson of Vice News, citing “three current and former White House officials,” reports: In the morning at 9:30 and then around 4:30 in the afternoon, Trump is presented with a briefing document full of people praising him.

The folders, according to Thompson, “are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.”

The point of this is to improve the notoriously media-obsessed president’s mood by reminding him he has a lot of fans and admirers out there, and in a hilarious detail, reportedly some in the White House even refer to this clip package as “the Propaganda Document.” And, in a very bad way, it is.

A psychologically normal person in Trump’s situation would be keeping a watch out for icebergs, so to speak. But like the crew of the The Titanic, Trump assumes he is unsinkable and is unprepared for disaster.

Speaking of disaster, the New York Times just reported this a few minutes ago:

President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangers the United States as tensions with the isolated nuclear-armed state grow into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet in his young administration.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Yeah, real smart, dude. Kim Jong-un will continue to make threats. What are you actually going to do?

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