Jim Mattis’s Farewell Message

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 3.22.50 PM

The Lincoln quote in the first sentence made my eyebrows lift. I thought the historical context might help to explain what Lincoln was talking about—and why Mattis thought the quotation apropos in the present circumstances.

The context, apparently, was that Confederate negotiators were in Washington trying to negotiate an end to the war. Lincoln was instructing Grant not to let the existence of those negotiations affect his military plans.

I assume Mattis is telling the troops not to let Trump’s dealings with our current enemies cause our troops to drop their guard.

Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a $30 Billion Metaphor


After dining with Trump, Lindsay Graham explained that “The wall has become a metaphor for border security.”

Meanwhile, outgoing chief of staff John Kelly “conceded the point to the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday: ‘To be honest, it’s not a wall.’ The White House abandoned the concept of a ‘solid concrete wall early on in the administration,’ he said.”

Where are the clowns?

Quick, send in the clowns.

Don’t bother, they’re here.



An Imp, a Peach, and a Mint



On the Friday PBS Evening News, Gerson and Capehart replaced Brooks and Shields. Gerson raised the possibility of an impeachment effort based on evidence that all Democrats would support and all Republicans would oppose—and pretty much had a caniption fit over the prospect. I feared for his health.

I hear much the same thing from some of my friends.

Well, I write this post to convey some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that 2018 was a terrible year, and 2019 will be much, much worse.

The good news, I wish to argue, is that Nancy Pelosi will not unleash impeachment in the House unless and until the time becomes ripe.

Let us reflect on what will happen in the meantime.

The Shutdown Showdown

Trump has created a crisis without the slightest notion about how to exit. Mitch McConnell has given up on him. Trump’s solution to every problem is to throw bullshit at it. This crisis cannot be ended by throwing bullshit. I don’t know how the shutdown showdown will end, but I’m pretty sure it won’t end with something that will allow Trump plausibly to claim victory.

The Syria Crisis

As our troops withdraw, I assume we will be treated to the televised massacre of our Kurdish allies.

Other Foreign Crises

With the U.S. defense and foreign policy apparatus in disarray, this would be an excellent time for enemies to make moves adverse to our interests. One has to assume they will probably do that very thing.

The Cabinet Appointments Conundra

One assumes that Trump will be in the market for a new Secretary of Defense, but it’s likely that he will reject any qualified candidates. If he does ask a qualified candidate to take the job, it’s likely that that person would reject the offer. If he chooses an unqualified person, he or she probably won’t be confirmed.

Meanwhile, we do have a prospective Attorney General. And what a hoot those confirmation hearings will be.

The Mueller Report

It’s coming soon. And it’s going to be made public, one way or the other, as sure as God made little green apples.

Indictments and Threats of Indictment

Trump has made his career as a professional white collar criminal.

Career choices have consequences.

House Investigations

Lots of investigations. Lots of bad headlines for Trump. Day after day after day.

No Effective Assistance of Counsel

Trump badly needs a large team of the most competent and aggressive counsel in the land. Instead, he has a few clowns. And that will not change, because he is an uncontrollable, disastrous client. Anyone who represents him is soon going to be in need of his own lawyer. And the folks who best understand that problem are the very people Trump would need for his defense.

Trade Wars, Threats to the Fed, Stock Market Upheaval, Possible Recession Coming

Not exactly popular with the country club set.

Mental Deterioration

Every week it gets worse. Probably, at this point, there is early dementia, on top of everything else.

Loss of Support

It’s hazardous to predict how low the Republican toadies in Congress will go: their cowardice has exceeded our expectations on just about every occasion.

But there is actual data on public support. In the 2016 popular vote, Clinton beat Trump by 2.1 percent. At last count, in the 2018 midterm elections for the House of Representatives, Democrats beat Republicans by 8.6 percent.

As of this morning, the average of polls of “all adults” shows Trump opposers outnumbering Trump supporters by 12.2 percent. For all polls attempting to measure the views of “likely or registered voters,” the corresponding difference is 10.5 percent.

It’s like watching a glacier melt. It takes a long time for the process to finish. But in the meantime, it’s a hell of a show, as the big chucks break off, one after the other, and come crashing into the sea.

The Faux News Crowd

Lastly, there is the question of what Rush Limbaugh and Fox News will do. They make their money by cultivating stupidity, but that does not mean that they, themselves, are stupid. I don’t know how they will react to all of the above, so I make no prediction. But logic tells me there will come a time when they have a choice between continuing to support Trump or jumping off the sinking ship. Logic tells me they will jump.

Premature Impeachment?

No, ladies and germs, there will be no premature impeachment. Nancy Pelosi will just let nature take its course.

This holiday weekend, you have many things to worry about, but premature impeachment is not one of them. So please enjoy the Rose Bowl parade. Dr. Aardvark and I will be watching along with you.

Rose Bowl parade

Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Wall


Matthew Yglesias makes an interesting, and possibly valid, point. It is captured in the headline and subheading: The shutdown is intractable because Trump’s wall is ridiculous and Republicans know it: Conservatives won’t trade the wall for anything good because they know it’s a bad idea.

But, of course, these folks who “know” the wall is a bad idea are not the same as the 25 percent or so of American adults who have joined the Cult of Trump.

Over at Politico, they’re treating the Trump border shutdown tweets, discussed in my last post,  as unserious venting. A cooped-up Trump’s threats fail to break budget deadlock: The president is consumed by the shutdown, according to people close to him, and has been throwing out escalating Twitter ultimatums — to no avail.

I don’t know how the shutdown mess will be resolved. I don’t know whether he will try to “shut down the border.” I don’t know whether he will try to fire the head of the Federal Reserve. I don’t know whether he will restage the Saturday Night Massacre.

But we all know her is taking concrete steps to blow up our international military alliances.

And you might ask the Syrian Kurds whether it’s a good idea to bet your life on the hope  that Trump doesn’t mean the crazy things he says.

Samson in the Temple






Trump has painted himself into a corner on the government shutdown. Pundits are bloviating on how he might conceivably cut his losses and extricate himself. (See, for example, How does Trump escape the trap he laid for himself?) But the above tweets tend to confirm my biased view that he won’t work out a deal with Congress, but will instead do the Samson-in-the-Philistine-temple routine.

The Hill sums up the damage this would do:

The U.S runs a trade deficit with Mexico, but outside observers have said that closing the border could cause economic chaos given the amount of trade and people who legally cross the border every day.

According to a report earlier this month by CBS News, about $558 billion in goods flowed across the border in both directions last year. It found that the U.S. exported $243.3 billion in goods across the border along with $58 billion in services.

Nearly a half million people enter the US. each day at various entry points on the southern border, according to a Wilson Center report cited by CBS.

Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, told CBS MoneyWatch that shutting down the border would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars a day” or “maybe a billion.”

When someone threatens to commit suicide, it may be a mere cry for attention. When someone threatens to kill you, it may be just a bluff.

But prudence demands that you proceed on the working hypothesis that the person making the threat may well actually carry it out.





No Exit


This morning the Washington Post’s editorial board informs us that The way out of the shutdown has been obvious for weeks.

Oh, really? And what way out would that be?

Why, simplicity itself, declares the board. Trump gets his wall and the Dreamers get legal protection.

Don’t think so. The wingnuts vetoed that deal a long time ago, and they would sure as hell veto it again.

At the same time, Post op-ed writer Paul Waldman takes another pass: The best way to force Trump’s hand? Ignore him.

In other words, Mitch and Chuck and Nancy should just reach a deal among themselves, pass it, and dare Trump to veto it—which, according to Waldman, he would be too cowardly to do.

Won’t work. Trump is a coward, all right, but his cowardice is trumped by his terror at the prospect of the death of the Cult of Trump.

Maybe Mitch and Chuck and Nancy will do what Waldman advises them to do. I have no ideal about that.

But logic tells me it ain’t gonna work.

We are conditioned to think that every crisis has a solution. But that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, we just do the same stupid thing over and over again.

charlie brown


Baby Donald?

Trump Baby

We continue to read stories that ascribe Trump’s position on the wall/shutdown matter as grounded in childishness. Yet another example today: An end to the shutdown depends entirely on Trump’s hurt feelings.

I do not agree.

Though he routinely does things we would not tolerate in a three year old, the most parsimonious explanation for his current behavior isn’t emotional immaturity. It is, instead, stone cold terror.

Trump knows, in general terms, what is coming. He knows that his only hope of avoiding impeachment is retaining his hold on his remaining base—and using that hold to terrify and bully the Republican senators. But he also knows he is doomed unless he can get Ann Coulter and her ilk to stop saying things like this:

Coulter during a podcast interview with The Daily Caller earlier Wednesday said Trump’s presidency would be “a joke” that will leave “no legacy whatsoever if the wall wasn’t built.” …

“They’re about to have a country where no Republican will ever be elected president again,” she added. “Trump will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populists for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.”

Some conclusions, then.

One, Ann Coulter holds veto power over and end to the shutdown.

Two, Ann Coulter will not let Trump accept any deal that the Democrats would be willing to endorse.

Three, the shutdown will go on and on.

And, four, as I have said, Ann Coulter will demand that Trump do more and more outrageous things “to put pressure on the Democrats.” And Trump will do exactly what she tells him to do.

Trump is petrified by Putin, he is aghast by Erdogan, but he is well and truly scared shitless by Ann Coulter.

Because Ann Coulter knows he is a scam artist. Because Ann Coulter is not afraid to say he is a scam artist. And because he knows his peeps will believe Ann when she tells them that he is a scam artist.

And when his base come to realize that he is a scam artist, they will, of necessity, understand that they have been the scamees. And they will be very unhappy.

Trump tweeter

Yes, Collman, There Is a Santa Claus. He Exists as Certainly as Love and Generosity and Devotion Exist.

I have the following on good authority:

Collman Lloyd, the 7-year-old South Carolinian girl who had a phone conversation with President Donald Trump during which he called belief in Santa “marginal” among her age set, wasn’t shaken by the implicit doubt cast on the jolly red elf — mostly because she didn’t know what “marginal” meant.

According to a Tuesday Post and Courier interview, any suspicions she might have had about Santa’s veracity were put to rest Christmas morning when she saw cookies eaten and a new American Girl Doll under the tree.

The call with the President, which has since sparked widespread outrage and snark, came as a surprise to the child, who was calling in to discover Santa’s whereabouts via the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s tracker.

Collman, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Your president doesn’t know what “marginal” means, either.

But here is something to remember throughout your life.

Yes, Collman, There Is a Santa Claus

From the New York Sun, September 21, 1897:

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Nobody Home

Dana Milbank reports,

Calls to the White House switchboard during this Christmas holiday are greeted by the following message:

“We apologize, but due to the lapse in federal funding we are unable to take your call. Once funding has been restored, our operations will resume. Please call back at that time.”



Still getting those Russian readers today. Hope y’all are friendlies.

“At Seven It’s Marginal, Right?”


In a story worthy of The Onion, but sadly not from The Onion, Philip Rucker writes in the Washington Post, ‘I am all alone’: An isolated Trump unleashes a storm of Yuletide gloom.

Here is one of many highlights:

President Trump, who had not been seen in public since before the government closed Friday, appeared Monday evening with the first lady for an annual photo opportunity tracking Santa Claus on military radar. The couple sat in armchairs in the State Dining Room, where a fire was crackling and presents sat around two Christmas trees, and talked into separate phones to participate in NORAD Santa Tracker calls with children.

Trump risked blowing Santa’s cover when he asked a child named Coleman, “Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at seven it’s marginal, right?”

And a Bonus Story from the Real Onion

Nation’s Oppressed Christians Huddle Underground To Light Single Shriveled Christmas Shrub


I see that, on Christmas day, I have some readers in Russia. Hmm …

Look Now! For Glad and Golden Hours Come Swiftly on the Wing

Rev. Edmund Sears wrote It Came Upon the Midnight Clear in 1849. It is said to be a song of protest against the Mexican-American War, and that Rev. Sears wrote it while suffering a nervous breakdown. I feel his pain.

The third and/or fourth verses are often omitted. The version you are listening to includes the fourth but omits the third. The full version is as follows:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Merry Christmas, Sucker …

the truth about Santa


You now have 2.9 percent less wealth than you had at 9:30 this morning.

Meanwhile, this just in from the CNBC Millionaire Survey: Wealthy Republicans lose faith in Trump, as nearly 40% say they wouldn’t vote to re-elect him: CNBC survey

The 2020 race for the White House is just barely under way, but the latest CNBC Millionaire Survey shows some troubling signs for the incumbent President Donald Trump, including an energized base of wealthy Democrats and unsteady support from wealthy Republicans.

Just 34 percent of America’s millionaires say they would vote to re-elect President Trump if the election were held today. Among Republicans, Trump has lost more than one-third of wealthy voters, with only 62 percent of Republican millionaires saying they would vote for the president if the election were held today. Thirty-six percent of the overall vote was scattered among 10 different possible Democratic nominees, while 22 percent went to other Republicans.

The semiannual CNBC Millionaire Survey, conducted Nov. 7 through Nov. 19 by Spectrem Group, is representative of the affluent population in the United States. The survey analyzes the investment attitudes and behaviors of 750 investors with $1 million or more of investable assets. Respondents are required to be the financial decision-maker, or share jointly in financial decision-making within the household.

In the survey, 39.9 percent of the 750 respondents identify as Republicans, 32.4 percent are Independents, and 25.7 percent are Democrats.

Aardvark’s Animadversion

And let’s see how they will feel after another three weeks or so of chaos, and after losing another ten or twenty percent of their money.

Glub, Glub, Glub


The Immediate Past

Political comprises occur when agents for adversarial parties craft a deal that each side can depict to their respective principals as a victory. Chuck and Mitch reached such a compromise last week, and Mike Pence told them that Trump would go along.

Then Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh denounced the deal and denounced Trump. Acting out of shit-faced panic, Trump backed off. The deal fell through. The government went into a partial shutdown.

The Present

We are in a partial shutdown. Rush and Ann are, effectively, the co-President and co-Vice President of the United States.

What Happens Next

Chuck and Mitch may try again on Wednesday. They may or may not succeed in reaching a new arrangement that is satisfactory to the two of them. But the Democrats will never agree to a deal that lets Trump save face and claim that he has got the money for his wall, or his slats, or whatever.

And, in any event, President Limbaugh and Vice-President Coulter would, once again, veto any deal that the Democrats would accept.

What Happens After That*

The shutdown will continue, and continue, and continue. Pundits will predict a prolonged stalemate.

Before very long, Ann and Rush will be excoriating Trump for failing to force an end to the statement on his (their) terms.

Rush and Ann will begin to demand that Trump take all manner of destructive unilateral actions to punish the Democrats.

Trump, fearing for “his base,” will follow Rush and Ann’s advice.

Further chaos will ensue.

There may well be several successive cycles of this nihilistic behavior. During which Trump will continue to circle the drain, at an ever increasing velocity.

* When I prognosticate, I claim no magical powers. Nor do I purport to rely on my “gut.” I draw logical inferences from known facts, in order to think ahead just a few steps in the chess game. Inasmuch as life is not always logical, my prognostications may be wrong. So be it. But in this age of unreason, there is something to be said for continuing to try to be think rationally.

Foot, Meet Pistol

common mistake

Trump lashed out at Whitaker after explosive Cohen revelations, CNN has reported:

Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation.

The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.

Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign — something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector. The episodes also offer a glimpse into the unsettling dynamic of a sitting president talking to his attorney general about investigations he’s potentially implicated in.

Trump, Meet Obstruction

As if the situation needed explaining, Josh Campbell of CNN explains, Trump’s relationship with Whitaker imperils the rule of law.

Hypocrisy, Meet Shame

Mr. Campbell and others have compared these current developments to the episode where Bill Clinton had a tête-à-tête with his attorney general, Loretta Lynch, during the Hillary email investigation. Although the conversation allegedly focused only on grandchildren, Ms. Lynch felt it necessary to recuse herself from involvement in the investigation, so as to eschew the appearance of impropriety.

Republicans’ failure to demand that Mr. Whitaker do likewise is cited as an example of political hypocrisy. And so it is.

Foot, Meet Pistol

Other commentators have made the attempted obstruction point and the political hypocrisy point, but have not, at least to my knowledge, made this additional, important observation.

With Trump having tried his damnedest to obstruct justice through direct and indirect communications with Whitaker, if Whitaker now lifts a finger to help Trump out in any federal investigation, it will—in consequence of those Trump communications—be very difficult for Whitaker to argue that he was just exercising his own independent judgment, within the scope of his reasonable discretion.

If Whitaker now lifts a finger to help Trump, the risk has greatly increased that Whitaker will wind up occupying the jail cell adjacent to Trump’s. Or that, like Attorney General John Mitchell, he will go to the hoosegow while the President gets pardoned.

Mr. Whitaker is a person of breathtakingly modest professional attainments. But he did graduate from law school.

He is a grifter, an unsuccessful businessman, and a failed politician who opportunistically hitched his wagon to Trump’s star.

But you can be all of those things and still have a street urchin’s sense of self-preservation. You can be all of those things and still be unwilling to go to jail for Donald J. Trump.

And that is why, in attempting to obstruct justice, Donald Trump has shot himself in the foot.

Wagon, Meet Star

And that is why Matthew Whitaker has hitched his wagon to the wrong damned star.

Good Tidings of Great Joy

I read it on the internet, so it must be true, that

the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. attorneys, the Bureau of Prisons and department criminal activities go forward during a shutdown. The Office of Special Counsel, under special funding, also goes forward, so Robert Mueller III’s investigative team does not get furloughed.

Meanwhile, I have to say, I don’t know about you, but it really doesn’t feel much like Christmas this year, does it?

Barack Obama, I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.

Cold War Winners and Losers


Dana Milbank, It’s Official. We Lost the Cold War.

David Atkins begs to differ: The United States Didn’t Lose the Cold War. Racist Plutocrats Won It. He writes,

This is extremely misguided, and ironically plays right into Trump’s Westphalian nationalist worldview. It ignores historical and ideological context. And it convenient forgets how Putin rose to power, what his interests are, why they align perfectly with Trump’s, and how bipartisan American policy toward Russia led us to this pass. …

It was unsurprising … that a Russian government aligned with racist, sexist and plutocratic principles would find an easy friend in Donald Trump and the American Republican Party. They are natural allies. It is less that America became Russia’s client state, than that the conservative movements in both America and Russia made a semi-secret criminal global compact that neither could acknowledge publicly. Since Trump’s election, their wealthy patriarchal white supremacist movement has sought and encouraged allies in Britain, Europe, Brazil and elsewhere, seeking to align the world against socially inclusive economic progressivism in favor of plutocratic ethnonationalism. …

It didn’t happen because a nation-state called America allowed itself to be controlled by a nation-state called Russia. It happened because American insistence on corrupted privatization policy destabilized an entire country and threw it into the arms of an ethnonationlist right-wing dictator. Then that dictator used his influence to put a would-be right-wing ethnonationlist dictator in charge of America itself–an eventuality that the Republican Party of right-wing ethnonationalism accepted with scarcely a whimper, and now seeks aggressively to defend.

America does not need a renewal of jingoistic Cold War sentiment against Russia. It needs to reject both the economic and social agenda that brought both countries to their knees in an unholy alliance.

Aardvark’s Animadversion

I think what Atkins has to say is thought-provoking. (That would be why I quoted him, right?) But I think that our plutocracy is not as monolithic as he depicts it. I believe there are sensible elements of our plutocracy. By “sensible” I do not mean morally admirable; I mean, instead, able and willing to act in their own amoral self-interest. It is they who will save the day, if it is to be saved, and who will consign Donald J. Trump to the dustbin of history. William P. Barr, Esquire, anyone?

But of course I could be wrong. In which case we are well and truly fucked.