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Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, March 31, 2017

This week's film recommendations

  • Faces Places (Visages Villages) is a collaboration between 88-year-old French New Wave director Agnès Varda and 33-year-old visual artist JR. Varda and JR travel around France taking photographs of ordinary people they meet and pasting them on the sides of houses, buildings, shipping containers, train cars. It's a delight.

  • A Fantastic Woman won this year's Oscar for best foreign film. A trans waitress faces hostility and hatred while dealing with her own grief after the unexpected death of her partner. I liked it.

Adventures in paranoia: The Deep State

Blockheads of leftist persuasion find common ground with blockheads of rightist bent, brought together by belief in the devious machinations of the Deep State.

The majority of the country believes a group of unelected government and military officials secretly manipulate national policy, according to a Monmouth Poll released Monday.

Of the 803 adults polled, 27 percent said they believe the unelected group known as the deep state definitely exists. An additional 47 percent said it probably exists. Sixteen percent said it probably does not exist and 5 percent said they believe it definitely does not exist.


Republicans and independents were more likely to respond that they believe in the existence of the deep state, with 31 percent and 33 percent respectively. Only 19 percent of Democrats said the deep state definitely exists. (Rebecca Morin, Poll: Majority believe 'deep state' manipulates U.S. policies, Politico, March 19, 2018)

Are we supposed to be reassured by the finding that only 19 percent of Democrats said the deep state definitely exists? Only?

More heartening is Joe Biden's expression of regret that he said he would beat the hell out of Trump for his remarks about women in the Access Hollywood tape. That kind of talk should be left to the punditocracy, blogosphere bloviators, Fox News, and of course the Oval Office, and we could do with less of it in all of those places. We need for people like Joe Biden to elevate the level of public discourse instead of going down to where the president and his cronies are most at home. (Martin Pengelly, Biden: I regret saying I'd 'beat the hell' out of Trump for making lewd remarks, The Guardian, March 29, 2018)

Normally at this point, presidents have decent job approvals but see those numbers drop during their second year in office. With Trump, this is almost certain not to be true;his numbers started off not-so-good, in the mid-40s (45 percent in the Gallup poll toward the end of his first week in office), then dropped to the high 30s and low 40s. No matter the events in the news, he doesn’t drop or gain much—he is down to his base. Think of buying preshrunk jeans: Trump’s approval numbers are preshrunk, unlikely to drop like most presidents’ do in their second year, but unlikely to rise much either.

Cook points out that the Democrats have massive leads among minority groups, no surprise there, but:

...even among white men, GOP numbers are not what they have been or should be. Republicans ran 23 points ahead among white men in 2010 NBC/WSJ polling, by 22 points in 2012, 26 points in 2014, and 24 points in 2016, but just 16 points last year, 13 points in January and 18 points now. Among whites without a college education, Republicans had an 11-point lead; among those with at least a college degree, Democrats were up by 13 points.

At this point I am compelled to ask what the heck is going on with white men. I am white, male, and a young sixty-five, but still, sixty-five. I don't get it.

More reason for hope (I'm not ready to commit to optimism; hope is good):

The numbers that jump off the page are Democrats leading by 38 points among voters age 18-29, 30 points among moderates, 12 points among independents, 11 points in the Midwest and 6 points in the suburbs. Republicans should worry that their vote is so heavy in small-town and rural America, along with certain parts of the Deep South, but too sparse in different kinds of districts where there are more than enough seats to cost them their majority.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s simply astonishing that economic indicators—including consumer, small-business, and big-business confidence—are so strong, and yet the party controlling the White House, House, and Senate is in such trouble.

A message from the president's pal Vladimir? Is the attempted murder of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in London intended to send a message to certain individuals who might be questioned by Robert Mueller and his team? A Talking Points Memo reader brought this possibility to the attention of TPM's Josh Marshall, who shared it with the rest of us (Very, Very Good Point, March 28, 2018). The comment was prompted by attorney Alex van der Zwaan's refusal to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

As a white collar attorney who could potentially do hard time in prison, there seems no reason – on the surface – why this man [van der Zwaan] would not cooperate with Mueller in order to avoid jail time. But of course there is a reason: his father in law the Russian oligarch. Clearly, van der Zwaan is in a position to know a lot more about the Russian influence operation than a typical American attorney. It’s not hard to see why, given the very public assassination attempts against Kremlin opponents of late. It’s almost as if Putin is trying to send a message to any who would take a public position against Moscow.

David Brooks and Mark Shields weighed in on some characteristics of Trumpian thought while commenting on the departure of VA Secretary David Shulkin, who alleges that he was undermined by political appointees who want to privatize the VA. I see no reason to doubt him.

David Brooks: I guess, to me, the most interesting thing is the replacement with Rear Admiral Jackson. And that’s sort of part of the key belief of populism, which Donald Trump I guess stands for, is that experience is more corrupting than it is educational, and that you need clean people from outside who are pure from partisan interests and from rotting in the swamp.

And we’re about to test that proposition, because, apparently, an extremely good man, but with no administrative ability, is being asked to run the second largest bureaucracy in the U.S. government.

Mark Shields: But I come back to the firing. And this is quite a unique administration in the terms of public service. I can recall, when Donald Trump was running, he said — and I looked it up again today — I know the best people, I know the best managers, I know the best steel makers, we’re going to have the best Cabinet.

I don’t know how many more it’s going to take. We’re on our third national security adviser at this point. But what really is so bizarre to me is that I have been around so long that I can remember when the Peace Corps was created. And there was one young man who put his career on hold.

And they said, why are you doing this? And he says, I have never done anything that was political or patriotic or unselfish, because nobody never asked me. And he said, President Kennedy asked me.

And, you know, that sense of public service, that it’s a high calling, that it’s for the common good, is totally absent from this president, from his lexicon, from his frame of reference. (PBS NewsHour, March 30, 2017)

Let's close on the upbeat note that I am back into the running routine after babying a cranky knee for two weeks. Woot, as the young people say. Or did a few years back. I have no idea what they say now. Got eight miles this morning, just shy of twenty-two for the week with two days warm enough to run in shorts and t-shirt. I'm looking for twenty-seven or twenty-eight next week. Wish me luck. Meantime, Trani and Dan (brother and nephew) are gearing up for this year's Boston Marathon coming up on April 15. We wish them luck and godspeed.

Keep the faith. yr obdt svt.

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