TOWOIT #262: Gaggle me with a wooden spoon.

November 9, 2017… Day 293

The press office got in some hot water on Twitter yesterday after SHS admitted candidly that they didn’t let the press ask any questions during the appearance of Trump and Xi because the Chinese insisted there not be questions. Which is not usual. Usually the U.S. is like, “Excuse me, no, our reporters ask questions or this isn’t happening.” Because it’s a lead-by-example, first-amendment thing. But no, not the Trump administration. This on top of John Kelly joking to a reporter that he might get arrested because the rules are different in China. Eff you guys.

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So anyway, they finally put a press gaggle up on Whitehouse.gov. It was conducted on Airforce One between Korea and Beijing by someone called Senior Administration Official, with assistance by someone else who was also called Senior Administration Official. I looked for the hallmarks of Steve-Millerian pomposity but I didn’t see his signature in the remarks. Things did get a bit Who’s On First in the transcript at times.

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It’s kind of weird that transcript never shows any reporter using the name of either S.A.O. Ok, it’s a little fishy! I’m putting my tinfoil hat on.

Here was a sequence of questions I enjoyed:

  • Just for clarification, did the President announce the bit about the state sponsorship of terror and I missed it?
  • One last thing. What does movement toward denuclearization look like?
  • Do you think he should tweet while he’s in China? Do you see any problem with that? Is there any reason why the President shouldn’t tweet while he’s in China?
  • Including in China? [SAO response, verbatim: “Yeah, why not. Why not”]
  • So can he access it? Logistically, can he access it?

Honestly, the syntax reads to me like it’s John Kelly himself. One of them. Read this:

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As even the, I guess, head of the National Assembly said, the President was working on it right up until the end. So obviously these are very much the President’s words. He spent the entire time we had today making additional changes; this morning when we were in a hold, continuing to make changes. So these are very much his thoughts, his words, and something that he was engaged in throughout the process.

Did anyone else pick up on a “Fuck my life, P.S. I’m craven” vibe?

Here’s SHS talking to reporters about how the President isn’t going to the demilitarized zone after all:

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Ok, and then in Beijing TODAY, Rex Tillerson briefed reporters. It’s not as fun when he’s not being that Russian asshole Lavrov’s straight man, but here we go.

  • Mr. Secretary, on North Korea, the President was asking Xi Jinping to do more — to close down bank accounts, send North Korean workers back, cut out the oil supplies.  Where did you get on that front?  And will the President meet with Vladimir Putin in Da Nang? [Tillerson says a Putin meeting is “still under consideration”]
  • Mr. Secretary, if I could ask you quickly a little bit on trade. You mentioned the President said this was an unbalanced relationship. So in what way did China promise to balance out that relationship? And then, secondly, the President talked a lot about his personal chemistry with President Xi. Can you sort of bring us inside the room and tell us what that chemistry looked like, and then also how you anticipate that chemistry will help the U.S. get what it wants from China?
  • Thank you, Mr. Secretary. In that vein, the conversation when the President was pressing China to ramp up the pressure on North Korea, if you could get into some detail on that for us. And also, is one of the areas of disagreement North Korea?
  • Mr. Secretary, the President said (inaudible) that he does not blame China for the trade imbalance. He said during the campaign that China was raping the economy and threatened to declare China a currency manipulator.  Why the change of heart here? And can you explain why the President said, “Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.” Does he seem like he’s praising them for taking advantage of the United States? 
  • Mr. Secretary, one question about this agreement between China and the U.S. on North Korea. You said China will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.  Well, clearly it has accepted a nuclear-armed North Korea. North Korea has nuclear weapons now. Are you telling us that China has agreed with the President that the era of strategic patience is over, and they’ve reached a new determination about this threat that they didn’t have before President Trump took office? And when President Xi said sanctions will take a little while, did he give any clarity on what that length of time is? And is the President comfortable waiting however long President Xi thinks sanctions will take?
  • And you said the two nations have their own views on tactics and timing. Would you describe that as a large gap in the two countries’ views on timings and tactics?
  • Another thing the President said today that they agreed on were the solutions when it comes to North Korea.  Could you explain to us a little bit more about that? And then also on that note, on this trip, the President used very strong words for Kim Jong-un’s government when he was in South Korea, but we didn’t hear him use some of the same derogatory language for him that we’ve heard from him in the past, like at the United Nations, like “Little Rocket Man.”  I’m wondering if the Japanese government, or the South Korean government, or even the Chinese government asked him not to use that kind of language and to kind of tone it down while he was so close to North Korea.
  • But that is a different sort of message and tone than we’ve heard the President take to this North Korea situation in the past. So if it wasn’t another government that asked him not to use some of the same kind of derogatory language, what did make him change his approach to that situation? Was the U.S. concerned that that language might be seen as provocatory?
  • Mr. Secretary, I was wondering on the possible meeting with the Russian President on Thursday. Just to follow on John’s question, is it still under possible plan? The President seemed to suggest when he was flying here on Air Force One that he expected to meet him on Thursday. Has something changed since then, or it’s just not nailed down yet?
  • What do you believe is substantive to talk about? What do you want to bring to them?
  • Do you believe that Russian meddling and the investigation is still on that list of things to talk about, or did they say everything they had to say in Germany?

Why would Trump talk to Putin about the investigation?

Anyway, that’s not what Tillerson said.

TOWOIT #78

April 4, 2017… Day 75

I don’t know if talking slow is a requirement for filibusters, but it’s 9:26 pm in Washington D.C. and Jeff Merkely is talking so slow. I guess it adds to the funereal atmosphere we’re enjoying in the United States Senate these days. I can’t listen to this.

Radio alarm: Finally, I hear a story about sanctuary cities that centers on the fact that it in most cases it is actually not even legal for local law enforcement to comply with “detainer requests” from federal immigration authorities. A couple stories later, there was a guest noting how warmly Donald Trump treated the military dictator of Egypt (Trump really didn’t have to say he was doing a “fantastic job”), as compared to his chillier treatment of, say, the chancellor of Germany.

By my count, there hasn’t been a State Department press briefing since March 23, but Rex Tillerson released this statement on North Korea firing a ballistic missile into the sea of Japan:

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Rex Tillerson did not have any comment on Assad gassing Syrian civilians, including children. Trump had this to say:

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Not a lot of words there in total, but he found room to blame Obama and call him weak. As was roundly pointed out on Twitter, Trump spent 2013 tweeting Obama that he should under no circumstances intervene in Syria.

Mark Cuban tweeted side-by-side photos of children suffering from the gas attack and the complainy, rambling, petty tweets Trump was making around the same time. I was going to post that tweet here but it was too sad to look at the kids.

There was no White House Press Briefing today, and Sean Spicer was missed. So I went to C-Span.com and entered in the number of views on the White House Press Briefing videos going back to last May.

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As you can see, there’s a big bump up in viewership after the inauguration. Sean Spicer really came in with a bang when he yelled at everyone about crowd size.

There was this one Josh Earnest briefing, on October 4, that had a Sean Spicer level of viewership. I put it on to see whether there was something special about it. There didn’t seem to be. But this was the first non-Spicer White House Press Briefing I’d seen (if you don’t count Allison Janney in The West Wing).

Some observations:

  • The room feels empty, with about 1/3 as many journalists there
  • It goes 2-3 times longer than a Sean Spicer briefing
  • Josh Earnest is SO calm, and speaks in nice sentences that makes sense.
  • The questions are still pretty tough and sometimes a little insulting to the Obama administration
  • April Ryan was there and she looked good
  • There didn’t seem to be anything particular about this press conference to attract so many viewers, but there were a lot of moments of foreshadowing like this one:

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Protesters in Fresno, California greeted Devin Nunes with the Russian national anthem blasting out of loudspeakers.

The woman I went to school with, Trinh Huynh, made the news yesterday after she was shot three times in the back in a crosswalk in Atlanta in broad daylight. She died at the hospital shortly afterward. News outlets looked at her Facebook and shared details from this post she made on January 28 about being a refugee.

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Everything is political. She loved to dance. They still don’t know why the shooter targeted her, but he’s been found and arrested. I will keep saying her name.

TOWOIT #60

March 17, 2017… Day #57. It’s Friday.

I listened to the latest podcast episodes from 538 and Slate TrumpCast yesterday, and they both *really* irritated me.

On 538 they were all glib… first, like “Is the resistance to Trump losing steam?” and then, asking one another, “What could Trump do to quell the resistance?” Oh great, brainstorm for Trump!! Thanks guys. But I also had a visceral reaction to the woman on the podcasting team, who I think is Clare Malone. It wasn’t necessarily fair to her, and I know there was some kind of uncomfortable self-recognition at play. But she drove me NUTS. She kept making stupid jokes but not fully committing to them. So she would start to launch into it and then feebly curl away from her own joke. It was weak. It bothered me that the one woman on the podcast would be the one to do that. Stupid jokes should be done with joyful confidence, like a black lab jumping off a dock on a hot day. Men seem to know how to do that. But don’t start to make a stupid joke and then lose heart and pretend you were saying something smart but snide instead.

Speaking of snide, that was the whole problem with Virginia Heffernan on Slate’s TrumpCast. She was committed to tearing into Rachel Maddow for Rachel’s presentation of Trump’s 2005 tax form, beyond any usefulness at all. She was so in love with her own takedown that she ignored all the usual rules of writing for the ear, loading her sentences down with adjectives and barely giving herself space to breathe. It sounded smug, it was gross, and it reeked of internalized misogyny.

But shit, now we’re talking about internalized misogyny. I was really frustrated that I was so disgusted by the presentation of these two female podcasters, when I give the Pod Save America guys, the Vox guys and Michael Barbaro at The Daily every pass!

Was I trapped in some sickening ouroboros of internalized misogyny?

Since I was already so unsettled and deeply rubbed the wrong way, it felt like the time to listen to Tommy Vietor’s interview of Glenn Greenwald on Pod Save the World. I wanted to listen to be fair to Greenwald, but I was worried about getting too agitated. Perfect solution. I was already agitated.

Continue reading TOWOIT #60

TOWOIT #52

March 9, 2017… Day 49

Matthew Yglesias tweets: “There’s been a lot of —news— since the election, but  not much has changed (yet) in non-immigrants’ lives.”

Hawaii has sued the Trump administration for the new travel ban. Washington and Oregon are joining together in another law suit.

Chilling that reporters keep asking if immigration detainees will be sent to Guantanamo.

Alaska’s Republican Senators are speaking out against budget cuts that would decrease U.S. Coast Guard presence in the Arctic.

EPA Director Scott Pruitt casts doubt on the science on climate change. The word science is also removed from EPA language about clean air and clean water standards. We are beyond screwed.

Chief Medical Officer of Medicaid tweets: “Despite political messaging from others at HHS, I stand with the experts from @aafp @AmerAcadPeds @AmerMedicalAssn in opposition to #AHCA.”

I listened to a lot of podcasts today as I tried to understand the new healthcare bill, the AHCA. The best explainer I got was from Vox’s podcast, The Weeds. One thing I keep noticing now, is how tricky it is to not have a basis of comparison. I hadn’t paid close attention to public policy for years and years. Now I have to scramble to understand the baseline against which the current events are strange. I think of all the people brand new to politics who haven’t tried to understand context, both on the left and the right.

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There’s just too much for anyone to cope with. This chronicling exercise is something that helps me feel more sane, and isn’t much more than scrapbooking. Everything is flying past me all day, and I don’t know what to write about or try to pin down. They say as activists, we need to pick an issue and specialize, or we won’t be effective (or we’ll just go round the bend).

I’m going to try to pay more attention to local and state issues, as a place to start. Alaska issues too. I think that climate change is what’s going to come down the pike — in such a big way that it will take over public attention completely. But I’m fascinated with everything. And if we are going to go down, I just want to do it with integrity, and not be selling out the less fortunate on my way out the door.

I can’t believe the Russian thing is nothing. Masha Gessen says that we are only imagining that there are dots to connect. I don’t know what her angle is. She’s a Putin critic and a journalism expert. I think she’s fantastic. But to me, the dots seem like part of our national emergency — just a piece of it. But it’s an ongoing emergency that spreads out into all the agencies and how this country conducts itself at home and abroad. And how it treats people, and how it dismantles its own institutions.

More U.S. troops bound to Afghanistan today, as Marines arrive in Syria.

Rex Tillerson heads to Asia.

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There’s a clip of Andrea Mitchell forcefully trying to ask Rex Tillerson questions at a photo op. Staff is pushing her back, physically backing her out of the room as she keeps calling out questions to him. This was before the two State Department press briefings this week–the first since Tillerson took over. I still have to watch those on C-Span. But the questions she asked were powerful, even without answers. Or maybe they were especially powerful in their unanswered form.

  • Mister Secretary, China has said there will be consequences for the deployment of anti-missile defenses in South Korea. Can you respond–can you respond–Mister Secretary can you respond to the threats from China?
  • Mister Minister are you sure the Trump administration will be strong against Vladimir Putin?
  • Can you assure us that Russia will not be able to move farther into Ukraine

She also asked Rex Tillerson when he thought he would have a deputy, and whether he was concerned about the steep budget cuts to his department.

This is why I include the list of questions from Sean Spicer’s press briefings. The questions are powerful and fascinating (I mean, when they aren’t lame and bullshitty), and I’m interested in how the reporters do or don’t work together to try to get at answers. You learn a lot of information from the framing of questions, about where things stand on any given day–and then Sean Spicer’s answers are implied in the follow ups and the back and forth. Spicer’s answers are interesting also, of course–as obfuscating and garbled as they tend to be–but I watch the press briefings specifically for the press. Important bits and piece that I’ve left out of my own round-up will show up in the questions asked of Sean Spicer.

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Hallie Jackson, bane of Sean Spicer’s existence

Reporters’ questions from today:

Continue reading TOWOIT #52