22 February 2017

Peter Bradshaw puts Milo through Hitchens test

Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw whittles down to size Bill Maher's... um-what's-that-you-say? comparison of the anti-Carlin to Christopher Hitchens in his musing I put Milo Yiannopoulos through the Christopher Hitchens test. He failed. How would Maher ever think to associate the one with the other? The label of provocateur by which I associate, then separate, MY with GC? Perhaps. However, I think my conflation/deconflation is more apropos since GC used his provocations as both means to earn a living (as does MY) as well as to make well-reasoned points (MY? Hmmm...). For CH, the role of provocateur is a side-effect of his pursuits, although I won't deny that he used the notoriety to advance his career and amplify his celebrity, but it's fundamentally different.  CH is more like Patrick Buchanan, willing to bloody his knuckles for what he believes in, and if get gets a rep, so much the better. MY is like someone who wants to go down in history for delivering the best The Aristocrats joke.

Maher's association of MY and CH may have been hinted at by an unintended consequence of what I perceive to be a trend toward "narrative journalism" in favor of traditional reportage in the front lines of the press. Whereas we know the issues associated with the story becoming more important than the facts (cf. George Packer's The New Yorker takedown of Rolling Stone), there seems to be a blurring of what's op-ed, what's genuine analysis, what's gumshoe reporting, and what's just saying whatever to make a buck. If you can no longer tell just by looking at the headline, then it's all one and MY is just as much a "journalist" as CH, George Packer (op cit), Dexter Filkins, David Halberstam, Sy Hersh, and HL f'in Mencken.

Compare Hitchens to Mencken and Milo to Bob Saget, but the men associated by "to" should not be in the same category as the men from which they are separated by "and". I won't link, just google Saget Aristocrats. 

21 February 2017

Milo Yiannopoulos is not George Carlin

Milo Yiannopoulos is not George Carlin.

GC might have been wrong about the Columbus/Indian affair, but he knew how to know his audience.

Nuff said!

19 February 2017

Make America Sane Again: 4th Estate, it starts with you

Laugh or cry? I won't go over all of the greatest hits in Heather Wilhelm's The Media's 'Me Party' over at NR, but her citation of Thomas Friedman saying on MSNBC that the Russian hacking was a 9/11 scale event, and even a Pearl Harbor scale event.


That's hyperbolic AM talk radio level hyperbole, there. I'm not going to google it. I'm sure she's not going to (horribly) misquote Friedman, and it sounds like it's pretty hard to take it out of context, so I'm going to refrain from my instinct of fact checking in this instance and trust Ms Wilhelm, because I think I might spontaneously combust if I watched it. If he would just come out and say "I'm, you know, like the Milo Yiannopoulos of the Davoise", I'd feel so much better.

Even with the understanding that the Russians were up in our business -- quite frankly I would find it improbably that weren't -- I haven't heard of anything that's radically foundation shaking or fundamentally changes the dynamic between the nations. Fake news, turns out, is a pretty good propaganda technique. I only hope it doesn't blow up our enormously effective real news propaganda.


And about the hacking. Yes, it's terrible. But, cracking a weakly-secured server and leaking out what should have probably been leaked by a reputable staffer hardly equals destroying a fleet in harbor and drawing a nation into a world war. I don't know if the Dems are ever going to figure out what ails them. Blaming the Russians ain't gonna do it.

15 February 2017

Deep State does not require conspiracy

David Graham of The Atlantic has written a piece about the Deep State generically, but also how it's operating here. Now here's the thing. Deep State does not require conspiracy. Sure, you can do conspiratorial Deep State, I suppose. But all it really requires is bureaucracy. Throw in some partisanship and wanting to keep your GS ratings and benefits, and poof! Deep State! No conspiracy, no malice aforethought, no Evil Genius required.

Think about it this way. If "the mission" is good, then the "bureaucracy" is good, and everything should be done to grow the bureaucracy because that will better support the mission. However, at some point, the acquisition of resources to support the mission comes into competition with the mission itself. How much time do Representatives represent versus how much time they raise money to get reelected so that they may represent? I don't know the breakdown, I know that I have heard Representatives and Senators alike complain about how much time and energy they and the bureaucracies under them have to spend on fund raising.

Maybe the founding fathers were onto something with this limited government thing.

Leaks! (And whatever's coming next) It's a conspiracy!

No, it's not. The nine current and former officials who leaked, or perhaps in light of what's happened, made anonymous allegations gussied up as a leak are much more likely just an indication of widespread fear and loathing. If you're going to have a conspiracy, especially in the IC, it has to be small, because the rank and file are myriad, and for the most part (more than you find in most other places, in my experience) remarkably talented and patriots in the best sense. Sure, they have partisan opinions, but that's not something that they don't let affect their work and focus on the mission (though they should probably start turning of the TVs in the halls, LOL). It's as you start climbing up the rungs toward the Director's office that you start to see politics. The nicer the suit, the more the askance the covert looks.

If you're at a family reunion and an interloper comes in a makes a disparaging remark about the clan, no one will wait for a deliberation to respond. There may be some little collaboration here and there, but there is no conspiracy.

Flynn resigns part deux: when you're partly wrong, you're partly wrong

Now, I don't mind being wrong. When you're trained in the hard sciences, you recognize that being wrong is inevitable, but good if you learn that you are and the thing that is right. Now, the other thing is that you're more really rightish, which is right minus wrongish. The Earth is round, but a special kind of round where the circumference is greater than a loop through a meridian. A day last's 24 hours. Yes, but not exactly. And things like that are always changing.

So, in light of that, I'm going to do to things, based on what I heard on NPR today (I should find a link for that), officials in the IC have confirmed that they've been keeping an eye on Trump's associates' contacts with sundry Russian folk, including Flynn, and so far they haven't turned up anything untoward. This supports what the FBI said back in January, and re-reading my original prediction, what's happened a bizarro world melange of the two alternatives: Flynn resigned over nothing illegal, but because the administration couldn't figure out how to deal with the trolling of some folks in the IC, the press, and possibly the White House staff itself and others in the Administration. So, not wrong, but wrongish. I'll jump on the grade inflation bandwagon and give myself a B+. Not a good sign for the Administration to take something that should have been easily dealt with (declassify transcripts, release them and come up with a single, official position and circulate to all, and finally, and most importantly, don't lie to Pence or hang him out to dry) we're not even a month in. That's making my real first prediction look better and better, for whatever that's worth.

Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America (or any other country for that matter)

No form of government in its administration, legislation, or adjudication through its sundry processes shall cause in the course of a federal election allow to come into being a pants shitting terror result, but shall require that all constitutionally lawful decisions be made as close to the aggrieved parties as possible in the governmental hierarchy.


This is a very federalist idea, very much in line with the idea of subsidiarity (don't believe all the EU bs on the Wikipedia page). I like my "pants shitting terror" turn of phrase, but I don't think it would make a constitutional cut.

Aggrieved, on the other hand... no one should say anything unless they are personally damaged. Who loves who? None of my business... it does not involve me, nor anyone else outside the consenting parties. I will admit contracts -- no breach of contract without cause.

Try to write a preamble to the Constitution. Hard work! (DJT tweeted that BTW (fake news)).

14 February 2017

Flynn resignation: when you're wrong, you're wrong

Mea culpa. I was wrong. That's not good for my first prediction. I thought, after the inevitable news cycle strum und drang, tempest in a teapot,  OMG it's Ridley Scott's Alien incarnate running down the streets -- oh wait, that's a Chihuahua, it would all blow over, leaving Gen Flynn where he was. But in all of this, we are no more the wiser. I don't often agree with Charles Krauthammer, but I have to wonder if he's not on to something with his cover-up without a crime thing. Again, and not to get into the echo chamber, but Eli Lake over at Bloomberg brings up questions from a similar angle. The goal is not to be right in hindsight, but to understand what's going on and what's best (yes, I am an American) for the country. Read the articles -- they ask more questions than make assertions. Rare in reportage these days. Where are the answers? Those are what I am after, not scoring points.

Now what I *don't* like about this outcome is that we must, I fear, due to the optics of being in bed with Russia (really?) abandon a state-ish orientation. That is, abandon having the option to deal with people we may or may not like, but can represent their state (Puty-put, strongman, probably doesn't care for the rule of law, but seems to have a handle on things), in the quest to deal with non-state actors like ISIL/ISIS/Daesh, Hizbullah, and the PLO. Throw in the mix the "seven 'countries' you can't say on the Internet (or in public discourse)" and some other sketchy players for the heck of it (I'm looking at you, Venezuela!). If you're going to be illiberal, then you at least need to hold it together like goddamn illiberal Saudi Arabia (grrrrrr....). Thomas Frank and I will agree that Saudi Arabia is illiberal, and probably disagree that I am liberal (although yes in the classic sense, which I'm sure he would grant). I have not met him, but I appreciate his writing and bought his books. And appreciated them very much. We were "allies" with *Stalin*, and not wrong to be so. Didn't mean we had to like it. Stalin. Stalin's mustache would turn Putin into a more manly parody of himself who would cause the guy on Saturday Night Live to spontaneously combust if he was ever gazed upon by Putin 2.0.

Loud primal scream.

Partisanism like terrorism is a means to an end. A tactic. Strategy, never.

Flynn resigns

Well, there you have it: Flynn resigns. This is the oddest damn thing ever. OK, maybe not ever, but still it's odd. If the White House knew of all of this stuff, why was there no official position? I would have thought that the White House would have had the transcripts reviewed immediately and made a call. But as it was, it was a bit of flailing. Also, why didn't the leakers just leak the transcript? Perhaps they only had second-hand knowledge or didn't have access to a copy they could leak. Well, this is certainly a victory for the status quo in the IC. I think that's a pretty uncontroversial statement.

12 February 2017

More on Flynn kerfuffle

That I don't think the conversations between Gen Flynn and Russian ambassador going to have major legal ramifications, I do think there is something important going on here that we don't have (AFAICT) insight into, namely the internal dynamics of the Trump administration, especially between Flynn and Pence for whom the narrative seems to be hung out to dry by Flynn's "lying" and whether there is some sort of trouble brewing between the administration and elements within the intelligence community (IC).

Now, it seems to me highly unlikely that Flynn deliberately lied to Pence, which is not to say that he didn't somehow mislead him without malice aforethought. It's not hard to believe that the topic of sanctions or the current dust up with the expulsion of diplomats, etc., came up in the course of the five conversations. Nor is it hard to believe that some sort of signaling take place. In fact, it would be very hard to believe that the discussions were all just hey how ya doing. But talking about issues in itself is not illegal. I don't know what the communications between Flynn and Pence were, but it's easy to think that it was more along the lines of a general assertion that they were routine and it's possible that sanctions never came up.

On the flip side, I wonder why the administration didn't have some clarification or assertion ready for the Sunday talking heads. Possible explanations are there is some dirty laundry they are not ready to clean or they are trying to keep the chaos up either just for distraction or to see if one of the leakers identifies himself. Or, maybe they see that the ball is still in the leakers' court and wait to see what drops?

Finally, the motivation of the leakers themselves. Is there really some light that they are trying to shed on potential wrongdoing? If that's the case, why not just leak the transcripts? They may nominally be classified, but I'd be deeply skeptical if there is any material that in its disclosure would be harmful to the National interest. These are not the Pentagon Papers. If there are names, they can be redacted -- that is not the substance of the allegations. If there was material that was disclosed of a highly sensitive nature, that would have been the allegation itself, not a potential Logan Act violation. Perhaps the motivation was just to sow chaos and join in the general obstruction of the opposition in its sundry forms. Or, perhaps, it's merely to impugn Gen Flynn's character, an act of revenge against a man who has rubbed many in the IC the wrong way. Or some combination. However, if it turns out these allegations are unfounded, or so weakly founded that no charge can be brought (sanctions were mentioned, but generally and certainly without intent to contravene Administration policy), or deliberate intent for Flynn to intentionally deceive Pence can be demonstrated, these leakers will further damage the credibility of the larger IC and further add to the dupmster fire of "fake news" hysteria, which would be unfortunate.

11 February 2017

What's up with the Flynn phone calls?

Something is not quite right, and seems out of proportion to the outrage associated with General Mike Flynn's calls to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. First of all, that the calls were both known about and the FBI had checked them out has been known for some time, e.g., the WaPo story FBI reviewed Flynn’s calls with Russian ambassador but found nothing illicit back in 23 Jan 2016. In it, we know the FBI analyzed intercepts and didn't find anything illicit. Today, after a series of leaks from sundry unidentified sources, we're on the verge of a new Iran-Contra, according to an article in The Atlantic titled Michael Flynn's Debacle.


The hubbub seems to be around whether Gen Flynn in some way hinted to the Russians what future policies toward sanctions might be and to alter their reactions or plans based on a Russia-friendly administration in the coming year. Now, that Gen Flynn talked with Ambassador Kislyak is neither illegal nor surprising. What would be is if he did it "with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States" which would be in contravention of the Logan Act. If Flynn did say something to prevent the expulsion of 35 diplomats, he could technically be in violation of the law, but that's hardly Iran-Contra level stuff. And, were the measures of the United States to have the 35 diplomats actually expelled, and the conversation defeated that? But, if he broke the law, it should be taken seriously. What do we actually know or reasonably assume:

  1. Mike Flynn is a career intel guy, head of DIA, and certainly would know that NSA and friends would be listening in on the communications of the Russian Ambassador.
  2. The FBI have looked at these and as of 23 Jan (perhaps earlier) were being reported as "nothing illicit"
  3. There are transcripts of these conversations
So what's going on?

My guess is that folks have gotten hold of the transcripts, and by squinting, have come up with some plausible way to read them that there is some sort of telegraphing. OK, but if that's so, why not leak the transcript? Nothing about methods and means, nothing juicy, nothing that gave the FBI pause for thought a few weeks ago, certainly not the performance data of the F-35 or the plans to the Death Star. This is not a Snowden-level revelation. No, my guess is that they have a weak argument, that in combination with factors like "criminal intent" or ignoring "gross negligence" will ever reach the weak precedent of the e-mail server scandal, where outcome and intent were in leagues away from what apparently is going on here.

Now, I do not think it is right, proper, or legal for citizens to subvert the foreign policy of a sitting president and administration. However, intent and potential for negative outcome needs to be considered when discussing the magnitude of the offense. I will make a prediction with a hedge. First, I think there will be some semantic quibbling, name calling and it will all go away. This is *not* on the scale of Iran-Contra and it will never be seen as such. However, if it does gain some traction, it won't go to court, Flynn will resign with a presidential pardon to follow and possibly a Medal of Freedom with double McAwesomesauce distinction, too, to once again, blow up the news cycle, rev up Trump's base, and put yet another flaming indignation into the hearts of all of his enemies.

PS and full disclosure: I have followed Gen Flynn's career for probably a decade and read with great interest and approval many of his writings related to tradecraft and the state of intelligence gathering, sharing, and interpretation and many ideas how to improve the state of the art. I don't know him personally, but you can say I'm a fan. However, I believe rule of law is more important that what I feel or think, so if you do the crime, then you need to do the time (or fine (or public service (or whatever the consequence is))), no matter how much I like you.