08 February 2018

February shorts

In last week's post, "Smoking gun with silencer," my comments included a charge that Donald Trump had conned his way into the U.S. presidency. (See the full set of comments for the context.) Keith Saylor wanted me to say more precisely what I meant by "conned" ... a fair request. I'd like to repeat a part of my reply here:

You [Keith Saylor] charitably summarize my "con" argument this way: "It seems to me you are suggesting that Donald Trump conned his way to the Presidency by misusing or abusing the confidence in electoral process and the office of the Presidency to degrade the political culture for personal and general economic interest."

I don't think that Trump set out to degrade the political process. My argument is slightly simpler: He tricked a significant number of voters into believing that he would be a more competent leader than Hillary Clinton. Her case depended at least in part on her resume (activist, Senator, Secretary of State, etc.) and, consequently, her familiarity with how things are done, along with her policy priorities, which were standard-issue centrist reforms.

Trump's case was dramatically different. He denounced the political and financial establishment ("the swamp") and said, basically, "Rely on my intelligence and intuition as a get-it-done businessman who gives it to you straight." His utter disdain for political correctness simply reinforces this impression as someone who is not controlled by convention or the establishment.

Now I'm sure that a certain segment of his base has in fact gotten what he promised and demonstrated before the election: a transgressive figure with no verbal filter. This bull-in-a-china-shop behavior continues to delight them. This may be a function of their extreme alienation from the politics of the past; I just don't know. But it would be wrong for me to say that this specific segment was conned into voting for Trump.

I simply cannot believe that this segment accounts for all 60 million of his voters. Among those voters must be millions who actually believed his promises to clean out the swamp and who took his claims of expertise at face value. They surely hoped that his brutish behavior would cause a creative upset, not a destructive one. These are the people who were conned, in my opinion. They did NOT expect the degradation, collapse of worthwhile norms, administrative incompetence, chaotic and contradictory political signals, and exaltation of wealth that have marked his tenure so far. They may have made a comparison between Candidate Trump as intuitive genius and Hillary Clinton as the "swamp" candidate, but not between her and the rolling crisis we're experiencing now.

PS: It's not a "con" if he didn't intend to deceive, so my argument above is a bit incomplete. What really seems deceptive to me are two things: the "drain the swamp" claim, when in reality his regime is marked by very wealthy and well-connected Cabinet members and others; and the claim of being more intelligent and better-informed than others (in some cases FAR better), when he apparently counted on being able to operate by feel and fiat.

It doesn't seem quite fair to charge that he fully intended to make such a mess of things, or to wander so close to authoritarianism. But, whatever he intended, his actions, compromises, and inadequacies have led us into crisis territory. And all that is without considering whether he is so beholden to actors in Russia that he cannot act to secure our electronic borders.

The Winter Olympics have started! It's the one recurring event of the sports news cycle where the country of my birth, Norway, plays an outsize role on the world stage, so pardon me for any temporary inconsistencies in my conceit that I'm a world citizen!

Ellen looks at ski jumping coverage.
Norway's first curling matches of this year's games (mixed doubles) came up with wins. However, curling wasn't one of my childhood fascinations at Olympics time. The two sports that I loved following were ski jumping and biathlon. This remains true.

One other early victory for the 2018 Norwegian team: they managed to return 13,500 eggs ordered by mistake for the team's kitchen.

This year politics will play a larger than normal role in the games. North and South Korea will field a combined team for women's ice hockey, presumably without USA permission. On a sadder note, 47 Russian athletes and coaches lost an appeal to be included in these games. As a result of the doping scandal, those Russians who were found eligible will compete under the banner of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, rather than the Russian national flag.

In general (with exceptions!), the Russians I've talked to about this scandal have two responses, often given together although they may seem contradictory:

First, the penalties imposed on Russian athletes reflect anti-Russian attitudes in the West; and secondly: yes, doping happens -- it's just part of the normal culture of corruption in Russia. (Also, some ask "what about" the doping that goes on elsewhere in the world? Back to the first point: their claim is that since doping goes on everywhere, only politics can explain why Russia is singled out.)

Back in March 2017, did you see opposition politician Alexei Navalny's video "He's not Dimon to you!"? That expose of Russian prime minister Medvedev's allegedly ill-gotten real estate began with the tiniest initial clue: finding out who owned the location where the prime minister's online purchases of sneakers were delivered.

Screenshot from today's video. Outside Navalny's HQ.
Today's sensational new video from Navalny's anti-corruption team, which alleges connections between Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, describes another investigation that also began with a minor and apparently unrelated incident. A group of provocatively-dressed young women, accompanied by a film crew from Lifenews (specializing in yellow journalism favorable to Russian authorities, now defunct), showed up at Navalny's Moscow campaign offices in an apparent attempt to embarrass his team. Curiosity about these women and their mission led to a chain of further discoveries. (For more, see the video, which has English subtitles. See this evening's Washington Post article here.)

By the time I saw the new video, nine hours after its YouTube debut, it already had half a million viewers. At the end of the day, it has 1,145,000 views on Navalny's own YouTube channel alone.

Friday PS: Oleg Deripaska is not happy. Fresh summary on RFERL.

Jen Zamzow asks whether churches should handle sexual abuse allegations internally.

That "evangelical" label, again: Jonathan Merritt with John Stackhouse.

Rapper NF: where Christian hip-hop and Eminem meet. (Some NF tracks included.)

More on Russia's upcoming presidential elections: Alexander Kynev. Natalia Antonova.

With the U.S. Pentagon being force-fed yet more money, what happens to the money they already have? Here's a bit of probing by Nick Turse.

Buddy Guy's "Skin Deep" gets the Playing for Change treatment. (Thanks to Bill Denham for the link.)

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