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Now is it OK to invoke Orwell?

Only two days into the Trump administration and we’re in the realm of “alternative facts.”

As Orwell might have said…

If you want a vision of the future, imagine Donald Trump talking about how popular he believes himself to be and how the media are concealing that public esteem- for four years.

More on Trump’s bizarre appearance at the CIA.

Further update: Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer calls his first press briefing to tell a lie: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.”

It wasn’t.

Get used to it.

And well done to CNN for refusing to play the game on Trump’s terms.

Piers Corbyn Nazi Supporter?

I’m not sure whether Piers Corbyn is a member of the Labour Party. According to the Campaign Against Antisemitism he is.

If so he should be booted out for his views on Jews.

This is his latest foray into conspiratorial nonsense, it is also as impressive an example of the extreme left meeting the extreme right as any.

Piers Corbyn antisemitism

Trump’s Inaugural address

One of the main challenges we’ll face during the Trump administration is filtering out the distracting noise (from all sides) and focusing on the issues that matter.

So while many Trump opponents denounced his Inaugural address as “dark” and “dystopian,” it’s important to recognize that a lot of what he said spoke directly to the anger (much of it justified) of many of his working-class supporters.

Given 20th century American history, it’s reasonable to be troubled by Trump’s invocation of the phrase “America First.” And it’s hard to believe that whoever drafted the speech for him was unaware of that history.

But writing at The Week, Ryan Cooper made an important point:

To my jaundiced left-wing ears, Trump’s evisceration of the moneyed elite rang uncomfortably true. He lamented the very real fact that the Washington area (especially the suburbs of northern Virginia) has become incredibly rich while de-industrialization has devastated vast swathes of the hinterlands. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of the country.” While this is an unfair reading of the entirety of the Obama years, for a huge fraction of the country — beset by outsourcing, foreclosure, opioid addiction, falling homeownership, and stagnant or declining wages — it’s also a lived reality.

These are real problems, and despite his borderline-apocalyptic rhetoric, Trump is at least theoretically right to skewer America’s past leaders for failing to solve them.

However, there is precisely zero sign that America’s 45th president is going to do anything to make good on his fiercely populist promises.

So, for example, when Trump says, “We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American,” it’s fair to remind people that as a businessman he has routinely and serenely ignored these two simple rules. And it’s fair to ask if he will support a bill introduced by Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown to apply “Buy American” rules to all taxpayer-funded infrastructure and public works projects.

When Trump contrasts the triumphs of the self-protecting establishment with the “struggling families all across our land,” it’s important to remember that he has named people like Steve Mnuchin and Andrew Puzder to his cabinet.

And when one of Trump’s first actions as president makes it somewhat harder for struggling families to become homeowners, it’s important to let people know.

Successfully opposing Trump won’t be achieved through self-righteous denunciations and personal insults. Rather it will be through reminding ordinary people (including those who voted for him) of the almost-certain gap between his promises and the policies that he is likely to embrace.

Inauguration Day protests

This was clever:

This wasn’t:

I’m sure at least some of the window-smashers are more privileged and economically secure than the Starbucks’ workers who may lose badly needed income as a result of the anarchists’ self-indulgent criminal behavior.

Looking Ahead to President Trump

Here are just a few thoughts about how to approach the next four years.

Don’t Curse, Organize – Dissent Magazine

Leftists, in and out of social movements, should instead seize the opportunity that Hillary Clinton’s defeat has given them. Join local chapters of the Democratic Party. Start Democratic clubs where liberals, moderates, and radicals can debate how to challenge Trump and his allies at every level. Consider running for the city council or the state legislature or Congress—and seek out advice about how to set up a campaign and, yes, raise money to finance it. Come up with a strategy to convince registered Democrats to vote in midterm elections. President Obama woefully neglected party-building during his eight years in office. The result, in part, is that Democrats hold power securely only in big cities and a few states.

To beat back the man who might become the most destructive president in U.S. history, we will also need a bit of empathy for those white folks who voted for Obama twice, warmed up to Sanders, and then switched to Trump. Some were certainly motivated by fear or hatred of Latino immigrants, Muslims, women, or all of the above. But many also have anxieties about their own lives that we should be able to understand. We are not going to convince them to spurn the man they elected if we call them names and mock their worries. Don’t curse, organize.
Read more »

Obama the reader

Let me stipulate that Barack Obama’s avid book-reading did not necessarily make him a better president (or a worse president, for that matter). Nor does the fact that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to read many books (although he has published several ghost-written books) necessarily mean that he will be a bad president. (There are plenty of other reasons to expect that.)

That said, The New York Times’s chief book critic Michiko Kakutani conducted an interview with Obama about his reading (and writing) preferences. Among the revelations:

• He gave his daughter Malia, a college freshman, a Kindle with Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” and Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior.”

The only one of those which I have read is “The Naked and the Dead,” which may be the best novel to come out of World War II. I once tried to read the Marquez book but couldn’t get past the first couple of pages.

• When he was working as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama wrote short stories, mostly about old people.

• Other books Obama has liked are Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” Liu Cixin’s science fiction series “The Three-Body Problem,” Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies,” Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” and V. S. Naipaul’s “A Bend in the River.”

I’ll admit to having read none of them.

• He said reading Shakespeare’s tragedies was “foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.”

• I agree with him that Lincoln’s Second Inaugural is as good as any piece of American writing.

• It doesn’t surprise me at all that he said this: “Some of the great books by Jewish authors like Philip Roth or Saul Bellow, they are steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up — what you’re willing to give up and what you’re not willing to give up. So that particular aspect of American fiction I think is still of great relevance today.”

Obama was far from a perfect president. He came into office at a truly perilous time for the US and the world, and helped avert economic catastrophe. He did some good things and he made some serious mistakes (mostly of omission). A case can be made that his failures in policy and party-building led to the success of Donald Trump. But it was nice to have an erudite, articulate, essentially decent person in the Oval Office. I think we will miss that pretty soon.

What books do you wish Donald Trump would have the interest and attention span to read (beside the obvious)?

Update: Obama managing to ignore the Russian state “journalist” who shouted at him during his last press conference speaks well of him.

The Inventors of “The Lobby”

Recently al Jazeera brought out a four part documentary entitled “The Lobby” purporting to show how Israel was attempting to subvert British democracy.

The only claim of substance was taken from an Israeli junior embassy staffer talking about “taking down” deputy foreign minister Alan Duncan. Despite the fact that the only “evidence” obtained was against the Conservative Party the undercover reporter targeted Jewish organisations in the Labour Party.

The people in the photo below are (from left) Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian, Clayton Swisher Director of Investigative Journalism at al Jazeera, Seamus Milne Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, Phil Rees Investigations Manager at al Jazeera Media Network and Will Jordan Al Jazeera Investigative Producer.

The team that created a four part documentary looking at Jewish organisations within the Labour Party are buds with the man who sits at the top of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party whispering in the leader’s ear.

Who’d have guessed?

Obama commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning

Although I’m sure plenty of people will (deliberately or otherwise) confuse the two, a commutation is not the same as a pardon.

When she is released next May, Manning will have been incarcerated since July 2010 (as opposed to the original 35-year sentence for espionage). That’s not nothing, and I can’t imagine anyone else being tempted to act as she did because she served “only” seven years.

The New York Times reports:

In recent days, the White House had signaled that Mr. Obama was seriously considering granting Ms. Manning’s commutation application, in contrast to a pardon application submitted on behalf of the other large-scale leaker of the era, Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who disclosed archives of top secret surveillance files and is living as a fugitive in Russia.

Asked about the two clemency applications on Friday, the White House spokesman, Joshua Earnest, discussed the “pretty stark difference” between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy with Mr. Snowden’s. While their offenses were similar, he said, there were “some important differences.”

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” he said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

He also noted that while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were “damaging to national security,” the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were “far more serious and far more dangerous.” (None of the documents Ms. Manning disclosed were classified above the merely “secret” level.)

On the very long list of things to be outraged about these days, this just isn’t very high for me.

Update: Never mind.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Wednesday, via his lawyer, that President Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence does not meet the conditions of his offer to be extradited to the U.S. in return for the Army leaker’s release. “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case,” WikiLeaks tweeted this year. However, according to a statement from his lawyer, “Mr. Assange welcomes the announcement that Ms. Manning’s sentence will be reduced and she will be released in May, but this is well short of what he sought. Mr. Assange had called for Chelsea Manning to receive clemency and be released immediately.” Assange has not been charged with a crime in the United States, but believes if he were to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, he could be extradited stateside for espionage-related charges. According to WikiLeaks, “Assange is still happy to come to the US provided all his rights are guarenteed [sic] despite White House now saying Manning was not quid-quo-pro [sic].”

Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing what the Trump administration would do about Assange. Would they seek to extradite and prosecute a man whom Trump seems to hold in some regard?

Further update: From The Washington Post’s The Fix:

On Fox News earlier this month, a candidly self-aware Greg Gutfeld joked about conservatives’ inconsistencies.

“I have advice to Chelsea Manning: Start bashing Obama,” Gutfeld, a Fox News host, said. “The Republicans are going to love you. … She should actually — she should say that she believes that Donald Trump is doing the right thing, and then all of a sudden we’ll love Chelsea Manning just the way we now love Assange.”

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

William Faulkner wrote that. And as a Southerner (the chronicler of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi), he knew whereof he wrote.

The New York Times reports on the goings-on in my little town of Lexington in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The largely-liberal town itself (as opposed to the region) isn’t all that divided on the matter of Confederate flags, however.

I arrived back in town from the Arizona desert late Friday night and missed the MLK march on Saturday morning, but my sister, her husband and their daughter participated.

I only wish the Confederate nostalgists understood the extent to which the Civil War on the Southern side was, as people even then were saying, “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

Anti-secession and anti-Confederate sentiment among poorer non-slaveowning whites in the South was widespread and intense. In fact half a million white Southerners fought for the Union. (See Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War by David Williams.)