Excellent Read: “Back on the Mekong Delta… “

From the Washington Post:

CA MAU, Vietnam — It could have been 1969 again as Secretary of State John F. Kerry stood on the bow of the small boat chugging up the Bay Hap River on Saturday, the wind billowing his sleeves and his eyes darting left and right toward banks shrouded in dark foliage.

As a young Navy lieutenant, Kerry commanded a Swift boat along this stretch of churning brown waters in the middle of a free-fire zone. Here, he earned a Silver Star for his heroics when he leapt ashore after an ambush to pursue a fleeing Viet Cong with a grenade launcher and shot him dead.

Now, some 48 years later and with the rapid approach of sunset on a political career spanning almost four decades, Kerry was about to be yanked back to that time, and come face-to-face with a Viet Cong soldier who had taken part in the ambush.

Aides escorted Vo Ban Tam to greet Kerry on the dock, beside a row of blue tourist boats. Tam at 70 is three years younger than Kerry. He was Viet Cong in the communist stronghold of Ca Mau, one of the enemy lying in the tall grasses waiting to entrap unprotected, thin-skinned river patrol boats like Kerry’s.

Tam apparently had been tracked down by U.S. consulate officials and invited to meet the U.S. secretary of state he once tried to kill.

Speaking through a translator, Tam said that he had known the man whom Kerry had chased and killed in the firefight of Feb. 28, 1969.

His name was Ba Thanh, and he was 24 years old.

“He was a good soldier,” Tam told Kerry, explaining the training and skill required to handle an R-40 grenade launcher…

Kerry’s encounter with Tam was the emotional peak of his two-day stop in Vietnam on ­Kerry’s final trip as secretary of state. His office in Foggy Bottom is packed and ready to be shipped to Boston.

It is doubtful the longtime senator from Massachusetts will ever run for public office again, but he will continue to work on climate change and ­environmental issues, and he is particularly concerned about the effect of rising sea levels and hydroelectric dams on the rivers in the lower Mekong Delta. When he wasn’t looking at the ­riverbank for some familiar marker from long ago, he was engrossed in conversation with a local ­scientist who said the effect of rising salinity and dams upstream brought once-in-100-year drought last year and threatened livelihoods…



Friday Morning Open Thread: “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long”

At the beginning of the year, a bunch of you were sharing John Scalzi’s wise words. Time to re-up his argument:

… “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”…

… I think both Parker and King understood that moral endeavors can be measured in years, decades and sometimes centuries. This is not an argument toward complacency; indeed I think it’s an argument against defeatism and fatalism in the face of setbacks and stalemates. We live in moments and days and it’s often hard to see past them, and it’s easy to believe when we are struck a hard blow that all is lost. All is not lost. The arc is long. Nothing is ever fully decided in the moment or the day. There are years and decades and sometimes centuries yet to go. The arc continues to bend, if we remember that it is long, and that we need to imagine it extending further.

We need to imagine that because of the second thing: The arc is not a natural feature of the universe. It does not magically appear; it is not ordained; it is not inevitable. It exists because people of moral character seek justice, not only for themselves but for every person. Nor is the arc smooth. It’s rough and jagged, punctuated in areas by great strides, halting collapses, terrible reverses and forcible wrenching actions…

Remember the arc is long. It’s not one moment or one day or even a year or four years, even when that moment or day or year seems endless.

Remember the arc is not inevitable. It needs you. You are more important than you know, if you don’t give in to despair, to complacency, or to apathy. Add to the moral weight that bends the arc toward justice. You can’t do it alone, but without you the work becomes that much harder.

Remember that those who are working to flatten the arc hope you give up and give in. They are relying on you to do just that. Disappoint them. Disappoint them in big ways. Disappoint them in small ways. Disappoint them each day, and every day, in all the ways you can. Do not consent to this flattening of the arc…

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Apart from ignoring the tshit tsunami taking place on the Mall, what’s on the agenda for the day?



Friday Morning Open Thread: Beginning of the Downfall Arc?

Allow me an old person’s whimsy. The notorious Watergate burglary took place in June 1972; its instigators were indicted in September, but its beneficiary — Richard Nixon — was nevertheless reelected in November. Televised hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee didn’t begin until June 1973. The impeachment hearings began in May 1974, yet Nixon didn’t officially resign until August 9, 1974.

That was in an age before 24/7 cable news, much less social media.

Alex Pareene, at Deadspin, yesterday — “Republicans Have No Good Reason Not To Impeach Donald Trump“:

It’s been fun, but it’s about time for Republicans to admit that the great Donald Trump experiment isn’t going to work out—for them.

One hypothetical version of President Trump—the ideal version, for Republicans, and one that many convinced themselves he would become, given practice and training—is a new Reagan: a mouthpiece for the ideas and policies inserted into his empty head by members of an ascendant conservative movement riding his television-mastery to power. Surround this version of Trump with good party men like Reince Priebus and Mike Pence, and he takes care of entertaining the masses—and distracting the opposition—while true-believing conservatives actually run the country, enacting their entire agenda too forcefully and quickly for anyone to effectively fight them…

Another version of Trump—the nightmare for liberals and not one conservatives would welcome either—could be a second Nixon, with no real political philosophy, but a willingness to do anything to maintain his grip on power. Not just through unethical and criminal means, like the Watergate break-in or the sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks, but also in his willingness to do decidedly un-conservative things if they’d benefit him politically—like the wage and price controls he implemented, to great popular acclaim, in 1971. This is the model Steve Bannon likely hopes to emulate.

But Trump will fail to be either, and by now Republicans should recognize this. He’s too impetuous and narcissistic to be Reagan, and not smart enough to be Nixon. Half of his advisers will attempt to use him as a pitchman for conservative policy, the other half will attempt to use him to create and sustain a white nationalist international coalition, and he will instead tweet for hours about which celebrity slighted him this week. Trump will reject conservative ideas if he believes they will not be popular, but if Trump attempts to cynically abandon conservatism to maintain popularity, he will find that he has no clue how to go about doing actually popular things.

The end result won’t work for anyone. Successful corrupt right-wing populists generally tend to actually deliver tangible things to their bases of support. Trump will be unable to do this, and the Republican Party is too tied to its dead philosophy to help him. Ethno-nationalism needs welfare chauvinism to flourish, but today’s GOP might actually be too opposed to all forms of welfare (for the non-rich) to ensure their own political success….

If Republicans were smart—if they were a rational political party able to act in their own best interests—they’d impeach Trump as soon as possible. His bizarre performance today, and his brazenly inadequate response to the many very obvious conflicts of interest and opportunities for corrupt dealings that his administration will invite, give Republicans a perfectly acceptable rationale to do so. They can say it is for the good of the country, but the truth is that it would be for the good of the Republican Party and the conservative movement…

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Apart from such happy fantasies — not to mention awaiting the usual Friday Doc Dump — what’s on the agenda as we wrap up the week?



#Facepalm Read: Andy Griffith’s Home Town Hates & Fears This Modern World

(Mike Luckovich via GoComics.com)
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I believe I may have discovered the platonic ideal of all “Poor Little WWC Voters!” stories. And because it is from the Washington Post, I strongly suspect its bathetic overkill may be entirely intentional. “How nostalgia for white Christian America drove so many Americans to vote for Trump“:

Residents and tourists from far-flung states mill along the thoroughfare, past the quaint low-slung shops made of Mount Airy’s famous white granite and named, like Floyd’s City Barber Shop, for references in “The Andy Griffith Show,” the folksy comedy set in the idyllic fictional small town of Mayberry that first aired in 1960.

And yet even as this city of about 10,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains fills its coffers by selling nostalgia, many of its residents would agree with the now-popular saying “We’re not in Mayberry anymore.”

If only the real Mount Airy, which has experienced decades of economic and social decline, were like the Mayberry facade, muses Mayor David Rowe. If only his city and the rest of America could return to the 1950s again.

“Now it’s about secular progressivism, not the values you get out of this book,” such as honesty and hard work, said Rowe, 72, jabbing his finger at the leather Bible on his office desk.

But as Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, Rowe and many of his constituents are hoping for a return to the past…

Seventy-four percent of white evangelicals believe American culture has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s — more than any other group of Americans — compared with 56 percent of all whites, according to a 2016 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. In sharp contrast, 62 percent of African Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic Americans think the culture has changed for the better, the survey said.

“You think back to the 1990s, and conservative Christians could throw around the phrase ‘moral majority,’ and there was a kernel of truth to that,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive at PRRI and author of “The End of White Christian America.” “Even in 2008, they could say the country is on our side on [same-sex marriage], and that’s changed so quickly in this last decade. The election hit on fundamental questions about what America is and should be.”…

Thomas, who blames the loss of his $75,000-a-year factory job on Obama, now makes $18,000 working in his friend’s gun store and pawnshop. He is hopeful Trump will bring jobs back.

His colleague, Dreama Staples, 53, said people are bringing in their prized possessions to sell so they can buy groceries and gas. At 4.8 percent, the unemployment rate in Surry County is similar to the national figure, but Staples said that finding full-time work with benefits is difficult. She said she has grown angry over what she considers government overreach.

“We’re losing control of our freedoms,” Staples said. “The government was taking away our rights. Taxes are higher, our jobs are gone, and it just feels less Christian.”…

Not everyone is nostalgic for the 1950s.

Ron Jessup, 68, who grew up in Mount Airy during that era, found the place generally friendly then, he said — as long as he and other blacks obeyed the racist laws and social mores of the time.

If African Americans went to the theater, they sat upstairs, he said. If they went to the restaurants, they avoided the counter. “We understood what was considered our place,” said Jessup, who is retired from his job as a high school principal in nearby Winston-Salem. Even now, all five Surry County commissioners are white.
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Thursday Morning Open Thread: Fight On

We are besieged by the armies of would-be Supreme Leaders, with all their orcs, trolls, wargs, and zombies (aka, the Media Village Press Corpse). And yet… if we must live without hope, there is always vengeance.

From the NYTimes, “Eric Holder to Lead Democrats’ Attack on Republican Gerrymandering“:

As he prepared last week to deliver his farewell address, President Obama convened three Democratic leaders in the White House for a strategy session on the future of their party. The quiet huddle included Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrats in Congress, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia.

One topic of urgent concern, according to people briefed on the meeting: how to break the Republican Party’s iron grip on the congressional map.

Thwarted for much of his term by a confrontational Republican Congress, and criticized by his fellow Democrats for not devoting sufficient attention to their down-ballot candidates, Mr. Obama has decided to make the byzantine process of legislative redistricting a central political priority in his first years after the presidency.

Emerging as Mr. Obama’s chief collaborator and proxy is Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general of the United States and a personal friend of the president. He has signed on to lead the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a newly formed political group aimed at untangling the creatively drawn districts that have helped cement the Republican Party in power in Washington and many state capitals…

Mr. Holder is set to kick off his initiative on Thursday with a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. The first major fund-raising event for the group is to take place in Chicago this spring; David Jacobson, a former ambassador to Canada and an Obama campaign fund-raiser, is hosting the event.

Mr. Holder said he anticipated that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would also be involved, along with other “present and former cabinet members.”…

Mr. Holder said his initiative would unfold on three fronts: In court, where Democrats will challenge Republican-drawn maps they see as violating the law; on the campaign trail, where they will seek to win offices that influence redistricting; and through ballot referendums in states that allow voters to give direct approval to laws mandating new procedures for legislative apportionment…

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Apart from fighting back, what’s on the agenda for the day?
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Wednesday Evening Open Thread: “What the Bleep Happened At The Trump News Conference?”

Political satirists may be best positioned to explain the President-Asterisk’s actions over the next days and months. Alexandra Petri, at the Washington Post:

…[Trump] has decided that his official position on the kinds of conflicts of interest that might arise if he kept running his business while president is that If The President Does It, It Is No Conflict. Thus, any steps he takes to take his business out of his hands are from the simple, self-sacrificing kindness of his heart. Why, just the other day, someone offered him $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai! Two billion dollars! And would you believe it: He didn’t take it. His point is, we should be grateful. As he repeatedly stressed, he doesn’t have to do this! This whole president thing — it’s really a big pain, and he doesn’t have to do it at all! (In fact, I wish he wouldn’t.)…

He had no comment on The Horrid Unsourced Thing We Aren’t Supposed To Write About, other than that (a) he knows that there are tiny, tiny cameras in every single hotel room when you go abroad and always conducts himself accordingly (does this raise more questions than it answers?) (b) the aide in question never went to Prague and (c) he is a noted germaphobe, not the Greek God Zeus. He could not believe that BuzzFeed would publish such a thing.

If, like a FAR LARGER PERCENTAGE OF AMERICA than anticipated, I were the sort of person who believed in conspiracy theories, I would speculate that this bizarre and lascivious leak were all an elaborate scheme to allow him to shut down one whole news outlet right off the bat, but — I do not actually think this. (Still, might as well start a conspiracy theory that doesn’t result in people showing up with guns to pizza places. Run with it, Reddit!)…

He reiterated his hope that he would get along with Russia, although he is no fool like Hillary Clinton and will definitely not hand Russia a plastic button like a chump. Not Trump! He will just constantly praise Vladimir Putin, shrug at the idea that Russia might have dirt on him or want to influence the election in any way, like a smart person who knows how the world works. Sure, Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, but then again SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE AND THINGS also do hacking, and besides, it was the DNC’s fault for wearing such a revealing server…

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Apart from the endless #FacePalm, what’s on the agenda for the evening?



Long Read(s): Jared Kushner, the Half-Bright Prince

BettyC posted about some of Kushner’s most glaring conflicts earlier. As with every comic-book crime cartel magnate, there’s a varied if mostly banal JKush backstory. From the NYTimes article:

On the night of Nov. 16, a group of executives gathered in a private dining room of the restaurant La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The table was laden with Chinese delicacies and $2,100 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild. At one end sat Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of the Waldorf’s owner, Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial behemoth with estimated assets of $285 billion and an ownership structure shrouded in mystery. Close by sat Jared Kushner, a major New York real estate investor whose father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, had just been elected president of the United States.

It was a mutually auspicious moment.

Mr. Wu and Mr. Kushner — who is married to Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and is one of his closest advisers — were nearing agreement on a joint venture in Manhattan: the redevelopment of 666 Fifth Avenue, the fading crown jewel of the Kushner family real-estate empire. Anbang, which has close ties to the Chinese state, has seen its aggressive efforts to buy up hotels in the United States slowed amid concerns raised by Obama administration officials who review foreign investments for national security risk.

Now, according to two people with knowledge of the get-together, Mr. Wu toasted Mr. Trump and declared his desire to meet the president-elect, whose ascension, he was sure, would be good for global business.

Unlike the Trump Organization, which has shifted its focus from acquisition to branding of the Trump name, the Kushner family business, led by Mr. Kushner, is a major real estate investor across the New York area and beyond. The company has participated in roughly $7 billion in acquisitions in the last decade, many of them backed by opaque foreign money, as well as financial institutions Mr. Kushner’s father-in-law will soon have a hand in regulating…

Important new cover story at NYMag by Andrew Rice, “The Young Trump – Jared Kushner is more like his father-in-law than anyone imagines”:

During the latter stages of the presidential race, when all the so-called smart people in politics and media were preparing to shunt Trump rudely from the stage, he relied on Kushner the most. “He prefers the soothing, whispery voice of his son-in-law,” the Times reported in a prematurely funereal dispatch on November 6. Two nights later, as Mr. Trump learned he would soon be President Trump, it was Kushner’s voice that was screening the calls to his suddenly all-important cell phone. When Trump paid his first postelection visit to the White House, Kushner accompanied him, taking photos of the Oval Office with his iPhone and strolling with President Obama’s chief of staff. Now he and Ivanka were preparing to move to Washington, where they reportedly are set to occupy a $5.6 million mansion with their three children. “I’m hoping that he’s our Valerie Jarrett,” says Kathy Wylde, the Partnership’s chief executive, “the last person to speak to the president on matters that are important to New York.”

Kushner’s influence appears to be one hard truth at the center of the transition’s chimerical swirl of intrigue. “I think the bottom line is he believes in Donald, and he believes in the opportunity to rethink the way our Executive branch conducts itself,” says Strauss Zelnick, a media investor who is close with Kushner and attended the Partnership event. Kushner has thrown himself into the role of recruiter, exploiting his network in the real-estate industry and finance. He’s gotten advice from everyone, even a rabbi he was close to at Harvard. Kushner’s business dealings, like Trump’s, involve numerous partners and lenders from around the globe, even immigrants investing via a controversial cash-for-visa program, and are likely to come under great scrutiny. He has spent much of the transition period trying to figure out how to remove himself from potential conflicts of interest. Trump seems unconcerned. Kushner flattered the Partnership audience by saying the president-elect was happy to be bringing so many billionaires to D.C., asking, “Who else to do you want to see cutting deals?”…
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