• Quote of the Day: Wouldn’t, Not Would

    CNN

    We finally have the official walkback. Yesterday, asked about who interfered with the US election in 2016, Trump said this with Vladimir Putin standing at his side:

    I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia.

    But wait! Today, safely back home in Washington DC, Trump says that he meant to say this:

    I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia

    That clears everything up!

    Jesus Christ. The ability of this man to lie with a straight face in front of dozens of witnesses is just unbelieveable.

    UPDATE FROM INCREDULOUS CNN REPORTERS: Dana Bash: “It almost makes it worse.”

    Gloria Borger: “The president looked like he was a hostage in a hostage tape, reading something he didn’t want to read.”

    Jim Sciutto: “A letter and an apostrophe? This is Orwellian.”

    Nick Walsh: “You can tell by his body language, he didn’t mean wouldn’t.”

    Brooke Baldwin: “How gullible does he think America and the world is?”

  • Trump Walking Back, But Tripping Over His Toes While He Does It

    Apparently we have no audio or video, but President Trump is now saying that he totally accepts the conclusions of our intelligence community that Russia interfered with our election. Of course he refused to say that yesterday when he was standing right next to Vladimir Putin. The CNN consensus is that Trump is trying to “walk back” what he said, but that, really, he’s not walking back anything. “It’s not enough,” says Gloria Borger. “There’s no cleaning up this mess.”

    Blah blah blah. I’m not sure how we’re getting this information. Is someone using Morse code from within the closed meeting with the press and congressional leaders in the White House? Smoke signals?

    Let’s switch to Fox. Ari Fleischer just said that Trump made a mistake, but Democrats have totally overreacted. Brett Baier hesitated, but then managed to say about today’s statement, “That doesn’t cut it, really.” Plus, what about all the great stuff Trump has done? You know, like getting NATO to increase its budget, which is actually something Obama did. Or provide weapons to Ukranians in the east. Which is actually … totally legit. How about that? There actually is one thing Trump has done in opposition to Putin.

    Anyway, this is a total clusterfuck. There’s no way for Trump to put lipstick on this pig, but there’s also no way to pretend he didn’t prostrate himself in front of Putin.

  • How Do We Fight the Cult of Trump?

    I’ve had a couple of open tabs in my browser for the past few days, both of them related to the idea that we no longer have two normal political parties. We have the Democrats, warts and all, and we have the Republicans, which have become the cult of Donald Trump. For example, here is Nancy LeTourneau commenting on the Peter Strzok hearings last week:

    As I watched the tail end of the Strzok hearing yesterday, I began to wonder if there was going to be a single Republican on either of the committees involved who would approach the questioning from some angle other than to attack the FBI agent as a way to suggest that the Russia investigation was nothing more than a hoax cooked up by the biased “deep state.” As far as I can tell, not one of the 40+ of them did. Every one of them accepted the role of being a Trump enabler.

    Congressional hearing are always partisan, but normally both sides play from hymn books that are at least written in the same key. Not this time, though. If you watched an edited clip of only the Republican questioners, you would conclude that the topic of the session was the FBI’s witch hunt against Donald Trump. They talked of nothing else. Jonathan Bernstein ponders what damage this might do to Republicans:

    At the very least, we might hope that a House majority that regularly engages in such abuse might hurt its overall reputation powerfully enough that the misdeeds become a factor in midterm elections. But even that seems unlikely; approval or disapproval of the president is likely to be a far more important factor in vote choice.

    Bottom line? The Republican Party is deeply dysfunctional and suffers minimal or no electoral penalties as a result. And there doesn’t seem to be any obvious solution to get the party back on track as a group of responsible and effective conservatives. In the meantime, we should do what we can to protect our other governing institutions when necessary. But as long as the Republicans act irresponsibly, the rest of us will constantly be pushed into impossible choices between empowering them and (if possible) limiting their damage by crippling the institutions they control. As I said: It’s deeply depressing.

    After Trump’s meeting with Putin on Monday, the same dynamic played out. The president, naturally, gave no interviews to normal media outlets. Instead he spoke to Fox News, in particular to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Fox viewers came away with basically no idea that Trump had embarrassed himself and the country by kowtowing to Putin. Carlson and Hannity were all smiles, talking only about the “phony” investigation and the “witch hunt” and the fact that there was “no collusion.” Lou Dobbs chimed in too, with a bit of added lickspittle for good measure. It was, for all practical purposes, an alternate universe over in Fox land. I gather that Neil Cavuto offered a mild dissent, but that was it. I’m sure he’ll be whipped back into line soon enough.

    So what’s my point? It got a bit mangled, I’m afraid. But it’s this: What matters isn’t Trump, it’s the Trump bubble. How did it get so big? It’s one thing for Trump to have a core base that believes everything he says, but it’s quite another for every Republican in Congress and every Repbulican voter to be part of the cult too. And yet, that’s pretty much where we are. There’s a small—very small—dissident movement on the right, but for the most part everyone who IDs as even moderate Republican is 100 percent behind Trump. Do they agree with him? Are they afraid of him? Do they just hate liberals and don’t care what he says?

    I don’t know. But forget about Trump himself for a moment. The real problem we face is a Republican Party that’s nearly unaninous in its cultlike attachment to a man who’s an obvious fraud—and possibly far worse. How did this happen? And what do we do about it?

  • Need a New Washing Machine? The Trump Tax Is Gonna Cost You.

    Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here’s what happened to imports of washing machines after Donald Trump whacked them with higher tariffs:

    That’ll teach the bastards. Shipments from oversears dropped by almost half as soon as the tariffs went into effect. The big winner was Whirlpool, which makes its washing machines in the United States:

    After the Trump administration announced new tariffs on imported washing machines in January, Marc Bitzer, the chief executive of Whirlpool Corp., celebrated his win over South Korean competitors LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. “This is, without any doubt, a positive catalyst for Whirlpool,” he said on an investor conference call.

    Nearly six months later, the company’s share price is down 15%. One factor is a separate set of tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed by the U.S. in March and later expanded, that helped drive up Whirlpool’s raw-materials costs. Net income, even with the added benefit of a lower tax bill, was down $64 million in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

    Wait. Whirlpool got tariffs imposed against its competitors and it benefited from a shiny new Republican tax cut, but earnings are down anyway. How is that possible? To an ordinary shlub like me, the whole story is too complicated to make much sense of. Partly the problem is that Trump’s new steel and and aluminum tariffs have affected everyone, even Whirlpool. Part of it is that LG and Samsung are building new plants in the US—though they aren’t open yet. Part of it is that everyone raised prices when the tariffs went into effect, so people bought fewer washing machines:

    Bill Anders, 61 years old, a retired educator in Churubusco, Ind., decided in April to use his tax refund money to replace some appliances. The price for the washer and dryer combo he preferred, manufactured by LG and sold by Sears, was about $2,478 including installation. It was so much he decided to forgo buying other appliances. “We looked at stoves and dishwashers, too, but with the money we had in hand, so to speak, we just decided to do the washer and dryer,” he said.

    Ryan Smith, of Smith’s Appliances outside of Kansas City, an appliance repair business, said higher prices have helped his business of keeping old machines churning. In the past, when washing machine repairs cost more than $200 people skipped repairs and bought new machines. “Now we are doing more expensive repairs such as tub bearings, gear cases and control boards, pushing $300 to $500,” he said.

    Washer shipments, a proxy for sales, to U.S. dealers dropped 18% in May compared with the previous year, the steepest monthly decline since March 2012, according to data compiled by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, a trade group.

    Basically, the whole industry is now in the doldrums and everyone is losing money. It’s yet another victory for targeted trade tariffs.

  • White Party, Brown Party

    Six years ago the journal Democracy asked a bunch of people to write essays about where our politics were headed by 2024. I wrote about several trends—including artificial intelligence, of course—but the one that’s itched away at me ever since is this one:

    Trend #5: The Republican Party will continue to become ever more dependent on the white vote, while the Democratic Party will depend ever more on minorities…. [Because of this] certain aspects of the culture wars will heat up. In particular, thanks to the increasingly polarized demographics of the two main political parties, fights over immigration and race may well be even more acrimonious than they are today.

    I don’t think that our political system will literally become the White Party vs. the Brown Party, but it’s already closer to this than any of us would like to admit. What’s worse, it’s all but impossible to imagine how Republicans can turn things around in their party. They’re keenly aware of the need to address their demographic challenges, but the short-term pain of reaching out to non-whites is simply too great for them to ever take the plunge. Democrats aren’t in quite such a tough spot, but their issues with the white working class are pretty well known, and don’t look likely to turn around anytime soon either.

    During the early George Bush era I thought this racial dynamic between the parties was starting to lose air, and that one way or another it would plateau and then start to fade. But then came voter ID and the ignored Romney postmorten and the effective end of the Civil Rights Act and rising immigration paranoia and Steve Bannon and Donald Trump and Charlottesville. How far will this go? I don’t know any more than you do, but it’s as toxic a division as a country can have. We are headed into a very deep and very ugly abyss if we don’t figure out a way to grab onto a fingerhold and start climbing our collective way out.

  • “Surrender Summit” Roundup

    Metzel Mikhail/TASS via ZUMA

    Now fully alert, I’m making the rounds of TV and the print media. So far, Mike Pence has defended Trump’s performance in Helsinki, but that seems to be about it. Here’s a quick roundup:

    • On CNN they are openly talking about whether the pee tape is real.
    • Michael Anton — a diehard Trump supporter who worked at the White House until recently — cancelled his appearance on CNN because he said he couldn’t defend Trump.
    • Conservative journalist Byron York on Fox: “Putin wasn’t taking the side of the US intelligence service. That’s a significant mistake.”
    • Anderson Cooper: “Perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a Russian summit ever.”
    • John King: “You should call this the surrender summit.”
    • Charles Sykes: “On Monday, Trump found that bigger bully and his cowering was the embarrassment heard round the world….Trump’s performance is frequently compared to Neville Chamberlain. But this is unfair to Chamberlain, who, although deeply wrongheaded, was in fact a serious and patriotic man. Trump’s performance in Helsinki was something else altogether, a performance so servile that we struggle to place it in context, because there are no parallels in the history of the American presidency.”
    • Sen. John McCain: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
    • Sen. Bob Corker: “I did not think this was a good moment for our country.”
    • Sen. Jeff Flake: “This is shameful.”
    • Thomas Friedman: “Such behavior by an American president is so perverse, so contrary to American interests and values, that it leads to only one conclusion: Donald Trump is either an asset of Russian intelligence or really enjoys playing one on TV.”
    • Paul Ryan: “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”
    • CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto: “A sad and dangerous day for America.”
    • State Department: Nothing. The entire department went dark today.

    That’s a sampling from journalists and conservatives. You can probably guess what Democrats had to say about all this.

  • President Putin and Vice President Trump Hold Press Conference in Helsinki

    Metzel Mikhail/TASS via ZUMA

    The evil dex giveth and the evil dex taketh away. Today it barely gave me time to click the publish button on my Puny Humans post before sending me into a 6-hour crash. So I missed the entire Helsinki summit. How’d it go?

    Laura Rozen usually has a reasonable take, and she points out that for all his bluster, Trump did perform the usual song and dance at the NATO summit, claiming he had won and the alliance was stronger than ever thanks to his leadership.


    So I guess it didn’t go too well?

  • Lunchtime Photo

    The moon and Venus made a close approach last night—about 1.3 degrees apart—so I delayed dinner to take some pictures of it. The first one was taken about ten minutes after sunset. The second one was taken 15 minutes later.

    July 15, 2018 – Sand Canyon Wash, Irvine, California
    July 15, 2018 – Sand Canyon Wash, Irvine, California
  • Puny Humans Crushed By Machines Yet Again

    Chinese doctors line up to learn which work camp they will be sent to after they allowed their spirits to be comprehensively crushed into dust by a collection of running-dog silicon and soulless algorithms.Mark Schiefelbein / Associated Press

    In the latest heavyweight challenge to the human mind, the human mind ended up on the canvas bloodied and beaten:

    When the results came in, Biomind beat the doctors squarely in both rounds. In round one, it correctly answered 87% of the questions, versus 66% for the doctors. In round two, it won by 83% to 63%.

    In the first round, doctors and computers competed to identify tumors. In the second round they looked for signs of stroke. And it was all done on a ritzy, live, Iron Chef style television show:

    According to Raymond Moh, chief executive officer of Hanalytics’ Beijing office, Biomind diagnoses diseases with 90% accuracy, without fatigue. “The role of AI is not to replace doctors but to help to investigate blind spots: ‘ Please investigate further.’

    ….Last year a robot developed by iFlytek and Tsinghua University passed China’s medical licensing exam with a score that was higher than 96% of candidates. Yitu Technology — a facial recognition specialist — is involved in a project in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province in southern China, to diagnose cancer, while Chinese tech giants Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are all involved in AI health projects.

    We’re still at the “don’t worry, robots are just here to help you” stage, but don’t be fooled. Radiologists are already in trouble, and if a robot can pass a medical licensing exam summa cum laude then how much longer can it be before robots are making house calls? Everybody thinks of truck drivers and retail clerks as the first victims of the coming robot revolution, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Jobs that require no tricky physical proficiency but very deep analytical skills are going to be some of the first to put people permanently out of work. In a sense, though, this is a good thing, since it means the challenge ahead will finally get some serious attention.

    Of course, it will really get some serious attention when it starts putting journalists out of work. How long before that happens?

    DEAR LOS ANGELES TIMES: Once again I have a polite request: if you put a fucking story in your print edition can you put it on your goddam website as well? Also: how much expertise does it take to at least have a working search function?

  • Trump’s Tariffs and High Prices Are Sinking the Midwest

    You can call ’em tariffs or you can call ’em taxes, but they’re all the same to me. Tory Newmyer reports from the heartland:

    In Iowa, Mike Naig, the state’s Republican secretary of agriculture…. “Current commodity prices are not equaling the cost of production … There has been a 20 percent drop in prices.” In South Dakota, Kolberg-Pioneer, which manufactures equipment for making crushed stone and gravel, is contemplating its second price increase of the year to deal with higher steel prices thanks to Trump’s metals tariffs…. Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader’s Dana Ferguson and Jeremy Fugleberg report the trade fight has “already cost South Dakota farmers and ranchers hundreds of millions of dollars, experts said, as the value of their crops has dipped.”

    ….In Utah, the steel tariffs could add roughly $15 million to the cost of a new state prison already over budget. …In Wisconsin, a range of businesses are feeling the effects of retaliatory tariffs from Canada, designed as a “surgical strike” on the state and others that backed Trump, Scott Gordon of the Wisconsin State Farmer writes: “With new tariffs on greeting cards, tissue paper, napkins, toilet paper and even playing cards, Canada puts pressure on a range of products that has represented more than $2 billion in exports from Wisconsin to that nation over the past decade.”

    That’s just a sampling. Some other headlines:

    • From WECT in North Carolina: “Trump’s trade war with China could affect local jobs”
    • From the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri: “’Trying to keep the faith’: Missouri farmers brace for Trump’s trade war—and drought”
    • From WKRG in Mobile, Ala.: “Local leaders say Trump tariffs threaten Mobile economy
    • From The Day in New London, Conn.: “Local manufacturers feel the pain of aluminum, steel tariffs
    • From the South Bend Tribune in Indiana: “Indiana farmers not exempt from prolonged tariff battle”

    Do all these folks still think it was a great idea to vote for Trump? Dave Weigel takes the pulse of the Midwest:

    Doubts about the ongoing tariff battle and about the administration’s agenda on health care, spending and immigration have changed the terrain. Rather than back the president and Republicans, the Midwest has begun to flirt with candidates who would keep them in check. In Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, Democratic senators once thought to be endangered have rebounded and are in fairly safe positions. In House and gubernatorial races, Democrats have grown more competitive since the start of the year.

    ….Across the Midwest, Republicans also have found themselves on the defensive for different sets of Trump administration actions. Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) has tried to separate himself from the administration’s moves to undermine the Affordable Care Act. “Our bipartisan plan invests $200 million to help lower premiums for Wisconsin families, because we can’t wait for Washington to get the job done,” Walker says in one TV ad.

    In other states, Democrats are capitalizing on the administration’s decision not to pursue a large infrastructure funding package. Abby Finkenauer, the Democrat running in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District — another stop on Pence’s tour — said the lack of infrastructure funding had given her an easy opening among voters who had switched from Obama to Trump. “The administration talks a big game about infrastructure but hasn’t done a whole lot,” Finkenauer said. “I tell people that I want to go to Congress, work across the aisle, pass an infrastructure bill, put it on his desk and see if he signs it.”

    But perhaps Trump will come back from Helsinki with the world’s greatest deal ever from Vladimir Putin. That’ll show everyone.