With Tillerson Firing, We’re Entering Dangerous Next Phase


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This is the bad guy in half of all movies ever made. And he’ll be remembered fondly…


There are a few sureties about personnel decisions in the Trump administration that are basically axiomatic at this point.

  1. Everyone is basically a cheap grifter and a penny-ante crook (hi Ben Carson! Nice to see you Ryan “Don’t Call It A Jet, Elitists!” Zinke.”)
  2. The one comforting things about the fact that everyone who works for Trump eventually gets ritually humiliated by a petty bully is that everyone who works for Trump deserves to get ritually humiliated by a petty bully.
  3. While it’s nice to see people leave, what comes next is always worse.

That brings us to yesterday’s “firing by tweet” of Rex Tillerson, who 15 months ago was one of the most powerful and private men in the world. This was a humiliating end to a man who could pick up the phone and get kings and billionaires on the line, and who could remake the world based on his pipeline politics.

He never really got to do that as Secretary of State, because he worked for a childish idiot equal parts venal and ignorant, but he was able to “accomplish” some things. He completely gutted the State Department, being unable or unwilling to fill key roles, and lost hundreds and hundreds of professionals staffers and area experts. He diminished the role of American diplomacy to, at best, an afterthought.

And sure, part of that was that he worked for a President who didn’t want any independent power bases, and who assumes he could (and should) rule on a whim. Trump was always all-in on “deconstructing the administrative state”, not out of any deep ideology, but out of the overwhelmingly narcissistic idea that he alone can get the job done.

(The brings up another of this blog’s axioms: all of Trump’s personal pathologies line up directly with GOP ideology. He’s the quintessential Republican, even if he doesn’t know it.)

But to blame this all on Trump is to completely miss the point of Tillerson. Rex ran Exxon like a sort of god-king. He wasn’t particularly vain, at least not in the Trumpian sense, but he believed that corporations shouldn’t be shackled by the government. He thought that they could (and should) run their own parallel diplomacy, and was frustrated by being restrained by those pencildicks at Foggy Bottom, who cared about “human rights” or “the national interest.” (see Steve Coll’s Private Empire for more on this.)

In that sense, he accomplished what he wanted. He destroyed the State Department, and left it unable to serve its primary function. And in the few instances where he acted like a reasonable grownup, such as in North Korea, Iran, and lately with Russia, he was undermined because he never really understood how to build a power center, and couldn’t stand up to our wet idiot of a President.

So overall? Worst Secretary of State in my lifetime at least. Kissinger was more venal, of course, and deserves to be remembered as a murderous criminal. Powell was a good man who enabled terrible things. But everything Rex did was bad, and what he didn’t do is catastrophic.

And, of course, what comes next is worse. 

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The Pritzker Paradox: Can A Progressive Vote For A Billionaire?


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You also have to take into account just how much he looks like a Thomas Nast cartoon of himself.


(Disclosure: I volunteered on the Ameya Pawar campaign for most of its duration, but not having enough money, he had to drop out in October.)

There is no honest or non-cynical way to argue that money doesn’t have a corrosive impact on our politics. You can argue that it isn’t the most poisonous element in our democracy–there’s also race, unacknowledged history, a legacy of violence and exploitation, a constant genuflection toward the gods of capital, Chris Cizilla–but the unlimited flow of money in politics amplifies and entrenches all those things.

There are very few people on the actual Left, and very few liberals, and even few Democrats, who disagree with this. Most potential candidates rail against Citizens United, and vow to work to overturn it. It is solidifying a system where only the richest can compete in politics, which is cancerous to democracy. Indeed, you could argue that such alienation is one of the reasons why people voted for Trump: if the system is rigged, throw in the crazy person. (I think that’s an element, but Trumpism is way more complicated than that).

The problem is, to overturn the role of money in politics, you have to win, which generally takes money. Ideally, liberal/Democratic candidates like to brag about small donations, which are clearly less corrupt. But when you get into the higher heavens of politics, that doesn’t always cut it. Candidates have to raise huge amounts of money to win, and that means buying into the same system they are railing against.

And so the moral issue for Democrats: must we bend the knee to money in order to overthrow its reign? Or by doing so, do you solidify its rule?

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Michigan Water Bill Sums Up War Against the Common Good in Great Lakes

Remember last week, when we had all those lovely pictures of the Great Lakes? And were happy? Well, that’s done with. There’s no more time for lazy beer-drinking bocce along a sun-kissed Lake Michigan shoreline*. The war against the lakes and against the common good as a whole continues apace.


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A sort-of-adorable reminder that enormous lakes can disappear.


(*There’s always time for that. Holy moly, I can’t wait for the summer.)

A bill has been working its way through the Michigan legislature the last couple of weeks, and is pending a vote. This is the sort of bill that pundits call “business friendly”, but the rest of us might call “an abdication of our natural rights to corporate overlords.” Let’s let the Petoeksy News explain:

House Bill 5638, introduced by state Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, would eliminate current Department of Environmental Quality requirements for some large water withdrawals proposed by businesses and farms to be screened through an online assessment tool at the agency’s website. This tool is intended to be used prior to large-quantity withdrawals — those of 100,000 gallons or more per day — to determine the impact on local water resources.

Rather than using the current review process, the legislation would allow some applicants instead to seek approval based on hydrological analyses they submit, completed by a hydrologist of their choosing.

 Now, reader, I confess I don’t know exactly how onerous the Michigan DEQ is when approving withdrawals. It might be very costly and time-consuming, and may have an overall negative economic impact that (somehow) outweighs the good it does.
It’s a pretty simple public interface in which the farmer plugs in their needs, and an algorithm determines if it is approved or there needs to be more investigation.  Apparently, some farmers can wait months for an approval.  It was meant to be unbiased, but can obviusly be slow and unwieldly. Maybe it needs reform and streamlining.
This isn’t it.

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On Great Lakes Day, Some Pictures

I have a whole post planned about a terrible new law making its way through Michigan that will reduce oversight on lake withdrawals, as well as the gigantic diversion giveaways Scott Walker wants to give to Foxconn, but since it is Great Lakes Day, I thought maybe some pictures.

Let’s look at the stunning beauty of the Lakes, and think about what an enormous gift, what a continent-defining feature, what life-affirming and life-sustaining bodies these are, how they’ve molded our history and have given birth to millions of paused thoughts. And let’s remember to protect them.

(prior posts on Great Lakes are below)



Courtesy of NASA

Look at how even the enormity of Chicago is just a blurry fuzz at Lake Michigan’s southern end. What I love about pictures like this is that you can see the meaningless and the human intrusion of borders.


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Public domain image taken from International Space Station


Small as we may be, our impact is enormous. From here, the lakes look almost unnatural, like the human lights (a gross and small-minded echo of the northern lights above) are the natural feature, and there is a vast darkness interposing itself. And in a way, that’s true: the lakes can swallow whole our individual aspirations, lap at our shores unconcerned and erosive. For years, I was terrified by Lake Michigan at night, but could never place it: the vastness and the lack of concern for human existence gave me an unnamable dread. As I got older, I figured it out, but it is no less quieting for that.


I saw this on twitter, but there’s no mention of origin, so I’ll just say it is beautiful.


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This was taken by the Canadian Space Agency. I like it for the different perspective than our usual “north is up” one, which makes little sense on a round planet. But also: Canadian Space Agency!


These two beautiful shots were taken by Allison, just this afternoon, at Illinois State Beach Park. If you look closely at the bottom one, pointing south, you can see the dim outlines of the Chicago skyline, some 40 miles away. It’s so far, and so vast, and you’re really just still at the bottom part of the lake. Geologically, you’re right next door to Chicago.

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These were taken by me at various times in the last year. All about the same spot, and all, to me, show the great gift of the Lakes, with their never-same moods contrasting with their omnipresence. They are stabilizing, and we look to them in the morning to reassure of us some continuity, even as the world breaks apart, and even as their changing faces gives us a glimpse of our own impermanence.

Here are a few Great Lakes posts, if you’re inclined to do more reading.



McMaster Out, Kushner in Deep, Hope Hicks Whatever: Another Week in Chaos America


Even though I’ve known and hated Donald Trump for literally as far back as I can remember, in some 80s hazy grade school mist, there was a time I didn’t think about him every day. Sure, I’d mediate on his grotesque pointlessness if I saw a commercial for his dingdong show for idiots, or whenever Fox would air his disjointed ramblings, but I bet I could go weeks at a time without thinking of him.

It’s deeply painful to know that now I’ll probably think of him every day for like the rest of my life, no matter how this plays out. Some memory will pop into my head. That’s sort of what I mean by totalitarianism: this giant balloon in your brain that crowds out everything besides autonomic functions.

Sigh. Maybe I’ll just turn this blog into nothing but reviews of books published at least 50 years ago. But until then, another roundup…

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To Arms, Teachers! Trumpism as Totalitarianism

I just finished Masha Gessen’s truly great The Future is History, her story of “how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia”. It was hard to read, not just because of the grey bleakness that choked out all Russian political space throughout the book, but because of the vast parallels between Russia and the United States…especially, of course, between the rise of Trump and the Reign of Putin.

I don’t mean, right now at least, in the strictly legal or political sense. The book doesn’t at all touch on potential collusion, or cooperation between the parties. Trump is really only mentioned a couple of times at the end, once where Gessen is talking about the growing global influence of Alexander Dugin, the philosopher of Putinism and Russia’s aggressive revanchism, with its white nationalism, hatred of modernity, anti-gay hysteria, political oppression, and swaggering love of upsetting norms.

In the epilogue, she writes of his growing international fame: “With the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the neo-Nazi movement known as the ‘alt-right’ gained public prominence, as did its leader Richard Spencer, an American married to Nina Kouprianova, a Russian woman who served as Dugin’s English translator and American promoter.”

This, I think, is part of the key. The philosophy behind Putinism, especially once his second terms started, has been aggressive and deeply conservative, almost atavistic. And that movement, which I’ve lumped as “white suprenationalism“, has been the driving moral force behind Trump.

This isn’t a full review of the book, nor is it trying to tease out the enormity of the Russian connection, in a spiritual, legal, and economic sense (indeed, every time I try to, I get lost in the vastness of the details, which might be the point). I hope to do a full review this week, and hope to bring out more connections as we go along.

But there was one passage that struck me, and that clarified a lot of what I have been thinking about when we talk about arming teachers.

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Bibi as Trump; Trump As Bibi: How Netanyahu Is The Most Republican Politican In the World

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In 2015, facing yet another tough re-election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu posted a short video on his Facebook page, warning his voters about a unique threat to their political system, their way of life, and indeed, the fate of their country: different voters.

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”

This was in March of 2015, a few short months before Trump brought racism back into the mainstream of American politics, but it wasn’t like this sort of rhetoric was unfamiliar. Republicans in the United States have been using the same sort of rhetoric for years.

They’d been warning us of hordes of illegal immigrants voting, and massive conspiracies to have the wrong voters vote illegally. One of their conjuring words was “ACORN”, a voter registration service which they shut down after taking part in wild, absurdist conspiracies.

But to Republican supporters, alt-right loons, and out-and-out racists, it was an unmitigated Good Thing. After all, what ACORN was doing was registering the wrong people to vote. That’s echoed in Bibi’s message. It smacks of conspiracy, international meddling, some kind of nefarious scheme to overturn the rightful heir to the Israeli throne, when really it was just voter mobilization against a candidate who had made lives on the margin even more precarious.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Bibi Netanyahu has for years been not just celebrated by the Republican Party, but has essentially been a Republican. They use the same tactics, the same tone, and have shared beliefs.

Trump, though not a Netanyahu-like figure, is still the apotheosis of this. Through their rank insecurity, their demagogic bigotry, and most of all, their massive corruption, it is pretty clear that Trump and Bibi are cut from the same cloth.

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