Round up: Metaphorical crisis, Trump goes to Helsinki bearing gifts, #MeToo too.

Mike Licht / Flickr Scott Pruitt Does DC...
Mike Licht / Flickr

Marc DaCosta on how regulations are woefully behind politics in an age of Facebook and Russian bots.

A growing number of thinktanks, regulators and journalists are grappling with the question of how to best regulate big tech. But we won’t fix it with better public policy alone. We also need better language. We need new metaphors, new discourse, a new set of symbols to illustrate how these companies are rewiring our world, and how we as a democracy can respond.

A metaphor shortage may not seem like an issue … but it is. A big one. When we’re dealing with concepts that are difficult to grasp and difficult to explain, they are also difficult to regulate. Impossible to fight.

It’s tempting to view the technology using in the election just past as little more than a refinement of what’s come before. It’s just what was done by mail, or knocking on doors, or putting ads on TV. Only more … something. Only no. It’s not. You may think you understand the applications and limits of what’s happening now through targeted ads, social media, and pop-up news. But you don’t. Because nobody does, not even the people who make it, use it, or sell it. The Russians steered this ship in 2016, but they did it in a way that itself was very clumsy. Plant a false news story here, watch where it comes out. Push this term there, see if it many tweets pick it up. They spent most of 2015 just poking the beast, watching how it reacted. It wasn’t a lot more sophisticated than trial and error — no matter what kind of crap Cambridge Analytica was selling. They’ve spent the time since then getting better at making things move their way.

The biggest insight in George Orwell’s 1984 was not about the role of surveillance in totalitarian regimes, but rather the primacy of language. In the book’s dystopian world, the Party continually revises the dictionary, removing words to extinguish the expressive potential of language. Their goal is to make it impossible for vague senses of dread and dissatisfaction to find linguistic form and evolve into politically actionable concepts. If you can’t name and describe an injustice, then you will have an extremely difficult time fighting it.

We will not find the handles on these things. Or at least, we won’t do so in time before the fall elections bring a whole new round of attacks—new ways to make people think they own ideas that were handed to them ready made. But we better find a least the words to describe what’s happening, the metaphors to explain how we’re being wounded. Because right now there’s a good chance we’ll bleed to death, and never come up with the idea that a “knife” is part of the problem.

It’s an interesting article. Give it a read. Then come on in. Let’s stab a few more metaphors.

Scott Pruitt

Richard Wolffe was one of several who wanted to wave farewell to the EPA administrator.

Scott Pruitt has been cruelly misunderstood. Now that he has quit as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s time to set the record straight. You see, he wasn’t just protecting the environment. He was protecting our president’s soul.

“My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people,” Pruitt wrote to Trump as he shuffled out of government. “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”

You can believe in the science of climate change if you like. Scott Pruitt believes he is a saint, which you can clearly see from his many martyrdoms.

Pruitt’s farewell psalm to Donald Trump demonstrates exactly the qualities that kept Pruitt around for so long. It wasn’t doing Trump’s bidding — all of Trump’s followers have hustled to do as their told. No, where Pruitt’s special genius lies is in praising Trump. Praising, being the operative word.

Some people have sounded shocked that Pruitt would want cut-price accommodation from a Washington lobbyist, or get his young staffers to pay his hotel bills without reimbursing them.

But in a cabinet stacked full of super-wealthy Mnuchins and Cohns and Rosses – never mind the less-wealthy Trumps – Pruitt was just a poor boy making good. All those camels couldn’t pass through the eye of a needle like a man who spends lobbyist and staffer money.

Not to worry. Pruitt will soon be looking to see if the taxpayers of Oklahoma won’t pick up his tabs going forward. And there’s a good chance that they will.

Christine Todd Whitman on Pruitt’s replacement, Andrew Wheeler.

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President Trump’s tweeted praise for the “outstanding job” done by Pruitt was wildly wrong. Trump probably believes that because Pruitt has been doing Trump’s bidding in subverting the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. One policy after another meant to rein in the excesses of industrial pollution has been targeted and steamrolled to pave the way for corporate capture of the agency. Pruitt’s legally dubious policy rollbacks, if they survive court battles, will put people’s health in danger.

The changes to the Clean Power Plan alone are anticipated to kill 88,000 Americans over a decade. That’s kill. And millions more will have asthma or other lung issues. These regulatory changes aren’t just externalizing costs so that taxpayers cover coal company debts, they’re extracting a price in blood.

Being an effective EPA administrator often means going up against your own party and your own president to represent the best interests of the American public. If Pruitt’s actions were not enough, his fawning letter of resignation made it perfectly clear that serving the American public was never his priority. He was only ever serving his “friend” Donald Trump.

That’s what passes for “Republican” these days. And the more readily someone goes to their knees, the “stronger” the GOP will make them out to be.

Trump / Putin

Anne Applebaum expresses dismay over the loud hints that Trump is already making about giving Putin everything he wants.

Keep …  the Yalta treaty in mind over the next few days, as the White House prepares itself for the first summit of President Trump and Vladimir Putin. Of course there are some differences. This is not 1945, and nobody believes this is “the dawn of a new day”: It is a strange meeting between the Russian president, a kleptocrat, and the American president, his longtime admirer.

There’s another fundamental difference. At least some of the players at Yalta were trying to help Europe heal. Trump and Putin are both doing what they can to fracture and weaken. But, as Applebaum points out, while it’s easy to see what Putin gets from this “new Yalta,” it’s much, much harder to find an upside for the United States.

Trump and his national security adviser have both hinted that recognition of the Russian occupation of Crimea is on the table; Trump even repeats Russian propaganda about Crimea’s ethnicity and politics. Another was laid out in The Post by David Ignatius a few days ago: Trump may be planning to cede Syria to Putin, abandon U.S. allies on the ground and allow Russia’s client, the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to reestablish control across the country, inflicting massive civilian casualties along the way.

In neither case is it clear what the United States would get in exchange for these major concessions.

Well … Donald Trump would get a photo op. And the gnashing of teeth as he gives away American military and economic concerns is a win. It’s a win exactly because there would be gnashing of teeth. Which is how Trump’s followers know that he has “owned the libs.” The angrier Trump makes people, the bigger the victory. And now matter what he gives up to make that happen, his followers will accept that deal.

The Washington Post on Trump’s ongoing campaign to destroy a military alliance that has protected the United States, and helped it in every war up to and including the ongoing fight in Afghanistan.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison says “the overall theme” of this week’s summit meeting in Brussels “is going to be NATO’s strength and unity,” which is what it ought to be. There is considerable good news to celebrate: The alliance has substantially beefed up defenses of its eastern flank, facing Russia; it is recommitting to vital missions in Afghanistan and Iraq; and every one of its members is increasing defense spending — the biggest buildup by U.S. allies in 25 years. The summit is due to adopt an ambitious new plan that would allow NATO to deploy 30 battalions, 30 squadrons of planes and 30 ships within 30 days — a resource that could considerably bolster the ability of the United States to respond to crises.

Unfortunately, Ms. Hutchison cannot predict the potential behavior of the commander in chief, President Trump, who has kept security officials across Europe sleepless in anticipation of a possible blowup like he initiated at last month’s Group of Seven meeting. Behind closed doors in Quebec, Mr. Trump berated the alliance as “as bad as NAFTA” and defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He also dispatched letters to the leaders of Germany, Canada and several other nations, scolding them for failing to spend still more on defense.

As with most things, the facts don’t matter. NATO never worked as Trump has said it does. And by now he surely knows that painting NATO as a scheme for other people, paid for by the US, is both foolish and wrong. But Trump doesn’t admit wrongs. He just makes them worse. In this case, there’s a great chance that Trump will please Putin, but hurt US allies. And the US.

The fear is not only that Mr. Trump will spoil the “unity” of the summit with harangues before flying to Helsinki for a far friendlier meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. It is that, having shrugged off the strong support for NATO among his national security team, he is bent on wrecking a multilateral organization he regards as obsolete and a means for European nations to freeload at the expense of the United States.

Trump vs. The Rule of Law

Bill Frist urges the Senate to protect the Mueller investigation.

When I retired from the U.S. Senate in 2007 as its majority leader, my parting words were a prayer for my colleagues to rise above the passions of the moment and protect the institution as a bulwark for our country’s enduring values. The Senate I served in was not devoid of partisanship, nor should it be, but my hope was that patriotism would always take priority over party.

And let’s see. Who took the keys from Frist?

It is with some trepidation that I offer thoughts on how the good people still serving in the Senate should address a current crisis, but staying silent is no longer an option. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is under assault, and that is wrong. No matter who is in the White House, we Republicans must stand up for the sanctity of our democracy and the rule of law.

That ship has sailed, and Mitch McConnell was at the helm. McConnell made sure information on Russian hacking was not made public, and he gave Donald Trump permission to pick the members of his own Supreme Jury. What’s left of the Republican Party is only Trump supporters and rabid Trump supporters.

The argument is not helped by Frist spending half his time explaining how he agrees with everything Trump is doing, except, you know. Uh … hold him accountable. Or something. But there are some lines that should make the Sunday talk shows.

I am also a Republican because I believe in the rule of law. Republicans must fight for that principle today — even if it means pushing back against a Republican administration. As a party, we can’t let the president or his allies erode the independence of the Justice Department or public trust in the vital work of law enforcement. That would be true even if the stakes were much lower, but it is overwhelmingly so when it comes to investigating foreign interference in our elections. Congress must ensure that Mueller is able to do his job without interference or intimidation.

Could some past Republican leader make that speech to the House? Preferably one who is not currently in jail. Or currently Newt Gingrich.

Leonard Pitts on the fall of the Republican Party.

Once upon a time… I thought I was a little bit conservative. Mind you, I could never side with the right on social justice matters like the treatment of LGBTQ Americans, African Americans and women, where they have always been irredeemably wrong. But I did agree with them on the importance of fathers and on the need for self reliance, a strong military and foreign-policy realism. While I support government regulation of business, consumer standards and the environment, I was even willing to listen to conservative complaints about excessive red tape.

Thing is, I still hold more or less the same views, but I’m nobody’s idea of a conservative. I didn’t change, but the definition of conservative did.

Republicans will probably cling to the word conservative for a long time. After all, it’s been a go-to term for racism, sexism, and an attitude that says business owners are worth every dime of their ludicrous salaries while workers should be grateful for any dropped crumbs. Except, of course, conservative now means more. And less.

These days, being “conservative” means being angry and fearful at the loss of white prerogative. It means to embrace — or at the very least, tolerate, which is functionally the same thing — a new and brazen strain of white supremacy. It means to be dismissive and destructive of the norms of democratic governance. It means to willingly accept nonstop lies, intellectual vacuity and naked incompetence and pretend they are signs of stable genius. It means to be wholly in thrall to the Cult of Trump.

Supreme Court

Richard Wolffe on Trump’s changing position on abortion.

“I am very pro-choice,” Trump told NBC’s Tim Russert back in 1999. “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still – I just believe in choice.”

Back in those days, Trump was so close to the pro-choice movement that he co-sponsored a dinner for the president emeritus of the National Abortion Rights Action League at the Plaza hotel, which he owned at the time. He didn’t show up because he received death threats from anti-abortion protesters.

It was so much more comfortable for him when he tried to woo those protesters as he started running for president three years ago. He can expect nothing but their prayers as he prepares to hand them their long-desired achievement: rolling back reproductive rights for women with his next pick for the supreme court.

And they now aim their death threats at the same people Trump is trying to bully, so … a much neater arrangement all around.

With Justice Kennedy’s retirement, Trump’s next nominee is likely to tip the balance against Roe v Wade, just as soon as one or other state pushes forward with an attempt to ban abortion outright.

This is not some far-fetched scaremongering from the left. Just last month Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislation passed a law designed to do just that: banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks. That’s earlier than many women even know they are pregnant.

“We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v Wade – 100%,” said one Republican state senator.

Honestly, I expected the court to nibble, nibble at abortion rights for a few years yet, delivering “wins” while keeping Roe as an ultimate target. But Republicans do seem determined to just push it to the court right away and make it happen. Where “it” is a national tragedy.

Jeffrey Peck doesn’t see the point in pretending — just ask the candidates where they stand and don’t take weaseling for an answer.

“My job is to apply and enforce the law.” “I will approach any case with an open mind.” I will give “no hints, no forecasts, no previews.” These nice-sounding bromides from nominees — those selected by both Republican and Democratic presidents — tell us next to nothing. Maxims and slogans leave senators entirely in the dark.

To make an informed decision, senators must understand the nominee’s judicial philosophy and views on basic constitutional principles. Otherwise, they would be mere rubber stamps and violate their constitutional duty.

Dear Mr. Peck, let me direct you to a building containing at least 50 rubber stamps, ready to approve of any candidate, no matter how odious, so long as he has Trump’s Cheeto-fingered prints all over him.

Pecks examples of questions to ask candidates are good ones. We should insist they be asked, and demand answers. And also understand that Republicans don’t care, because they have the only information that matters—Trump picked ‘em.

Republicans in Russia

Dana Milbank on some bad optics, and some bad people who don’t care about optics.

“What does July 4th mean to me? Freedom,” Sen. Ron Johnson chirruped on Twitter on Independence Day.

For the Wisconsin Republican, it meant, specifically, the freedom to spend July 4 in Moscow with seven other Republican lawmakers posing for propaganda photos with Russian officials. On the same day it was reported in Britain that two more people had been poisoned by a Russian nerve agent British officials say came from Vladimir Putin’s regime. On the day after the Senate Intelligence Committee affirmed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election to help Donald Trump.

To be fair, Johnson did slip back into DC in time to see the end of the fireworks. He only took directions from the Kremlin in the AM. So … patriot!

Johnson and his colleagues apparently exercised their freedom not to meet with opposition or civil society figures (those whom the Putin regime has not imprisoned or killed), avoiding the risk of offending their hosts. They also exercised their freedom to soft-pedal their criticism of the Russian government, leading Russian politicians and state media to mock them as supplicants.

Since Trump has been saying that Putin hasn’t killed any journalist—and journalists have been puzzlingly slow to complain about it—it’s not all that surprising that Republicans prefered to stick to the Putin-friendly audience.

There was a time, in the pre-Trump era, when Republicans would have erupted in fireworks over an Independence Day visit by submissive American lawmakers to the country the 2012 Republican presidential nominee called “our number one geopolitical foe.” (Relations have worsened considerably since then.) They called Jane Fonda “Hanoi Jane” and a traitor when she went to North Vietnam in 1972. After Democrats visited Iraq in 2002, Republicans ridiculed them as “Baghdad boys.”

Yeah, but that was when there were Republicans. See Bill First’s note, above.

Trump vs #MeToo

Karen Tumulty on Trump’s adding MeToo to his rally schtick.

President Trump has finally told us how he regards the #MeToo movement: with #contempt.

Trump announced as much at a rally in Montana on Thursday night, when he mocked the pain of the women and men who have come forward with their experiences of sexual abuse. …

His pettiness is a form of projection, given that the president has himself been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women. Trump has a self-absorbed predilection to see everything and everyone as an extension of himself.

I’m sticking with statements I’ve made from day one — Trump is more likely to leave office because of some action brought against him by a victim of his sexual abuse than he is to go on charges coming out of the Mueller investigation. And I believe the Mueller invesigation holds a serious, non-zero percent threat to Trump.

But two of his actions earlier in the day spoke even louder of his belief that victims are not to be taken seriously, particularly when the target of their accusations is a political ally of Trump’s.

First came the announcement that Bill Shine would join the White House communications operation. …

And then, as Air Force One was heading to Great Falls, Mont., Trump came to the defense of influential conservative Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who has been ensnarled in a growing sexual abuse scandal at Ohio State University. Jordan has denied accusations by four former wrestlers who say that when he was their assistant coach three decades ago, he failed to act when he learned that the team doctor was groping students on the team.

I think the count is now six former wrestlers. Please, Sunday morning interview folks, get more Republicans on the record about their support for Jordan, would ya?

Fingers crossed on that cave rescue

Bill Steele writing from Mammoth Cave National Park.

I’ve been here for a week, participating in an annual expedition with some of the nation’s most experienced cave explorers, including one cave diver. None of us has gotten hurt or trapped.

My caving companions and I have been closely following the news about the 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand. A steady supply of information is also reaching us from the close-knit caving community worldwide. The consensus is that bringing the boys and their coach to safety could be one of the most complicated cave rescues ever. It could also be one of the most dangerous, as indicated Friday by a former Thai SEAL’s death while diving during rescue preparations.

This is obviously a terrible situation. The clock is ticking, with more rains coming soon and oxygen levels in the cave dropping, according to news reports Friday. I know some of the British cave divers who are there. They are among the world’s best, highly trained and experienced. They will do everything humanly possible to rescue people they’ve never met, because that’s how cavers are, just as the Thai SEALs vowed to carry on despite their colleague’s death.

And as everyone else with caving experience has done, Steele points out that the coach should not be blamed.

It is a possibility cavers always face. In thousands of trips into hundreds of caves of all kinds in the United States, Mexico and China, I’ve had my close calls. I’ve been trapped underground for four days after someone accidentally pulled a rope up a 320-foot shaft, unaware that the line had caught on his gear. I’ve been trapped by floodwaters twice, forced to stay in the cave overnight both times.

Caving means taking a calculated risk. I also drive. I’ve been hurt worse in traffic accidents than in caves. I still drive, and I still go in caves.

And let’s hope we soon get news that those kids, and their coach, are coming out.

While we’re at it, let’s see if we can get the world to mount a rescue effort for the kids held in illegal detention along the border, or scattered in private facilites across the country. Has someone called Elon Musk to see if there’s something he might do to help with those thousands of kids?

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