Steve Bannon

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While the headline of Emily Jane Fox’s Vanity Fair “Hive” article “Jared Kushner Emerges as Trump’s True Believer” is misleading because he always was just that, it goes a good way toward being a corrective for an earlier piece she wrote which perplexingly distanced Ivanka Trump and her spouse from the chaos and bigotry they supported into the White House. 

It may be difficult for some to accept that Kushner, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish background, would be so simpatico with the white nationalists and anti-Semites central to the campaign’s success (and now the Administration), but that’s exactly who Kushner is. He isn’t a mitigator but a co-conspirator, not especially bright and seriously lacking in decency.

An excerpt:

Both Bannon and Kushner have tried to articulate their improbable mutual affection. In explaining the unlikely relationship between himself (an orthodox Jew whose grandparents survived the Holocaust), and Bannon (who ran the alt-right Web site Breitbart News, which has published anti-Semitic comments), Kushner defended his colleague’s character in an interview with Forbes. “What I’ve seen from working together with him was somebody who did not fit the description that people are pushing on him. I choose to judge him based on my experience and seeing the job he’s done, as opposed to what other people are saying about him.” Bannon had a similar take. “If you’re in a foxhole with him, and fighting with him, you’re a brother, and he will defend you nonstop,” Bannon told New York Magazine.

Nevertheless, a perception existed during the campaign and transition that Kushner was a moderating voice to Bannon’s nationalistic agenda. Kushner, after all, came from a major Democratic family. He hosted fundraisers for Corey Booker. He privately reassured his friends and business leaders in his orbit that his father-in-law and Trump’s team would pull back from some of the extreme rhetoric that they peddled on the trail once they got into the West Wing. As one source close to Kushner described to me last month, Kushner was thought of as the “secure line” as a result—someone whom moderates could call in order to be heard by the president and to hear what the president really planned to do behind all that political bombast.

But now, a month into his new job in the West Wing, Kushner appears to have become a true believer in Bannon’s agenda. Several sources told me that Kushner was defensive about the executive order that temporarily barred Muslim immigrants and refugees. The longtime friend said that when he pointed out that refugees had not, in fact, been responsible for any of the terror attacks on U.S. soil, Kushner, he said, answered by saying that that was not true.

The source close to the Trump administration explained that Kushner has “always been far more defensive of Donald and their policies than the general public has believed.•

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It’s appalling that basically sane and intelligent people like James Baker still can’t discern the grave danger American democracy is now facing. Not even the removal of the word “Jewish” from the Holocaust Remembrance Day announcement, an attempt at a Muslim ban and repeated attacks on the judicial branch and press have awakened them to this reality.

In an interview in the international edition of Süddeutsche Zeitung that is required reading, Matthias Kolb questions Yale historian Timothy Snyder about the fascist threat to the U.S. that is the Trump Administration, which doesn’t want only to rule but to also destroy the rule of law. History, decency and liberty are also on the chopping block.

While Snyder’s spirits have been buoyed by the early resistance, he believes we don’t have much time to save the Republic, especially with a non-responsive legislative branch. “What happens in the next few weeks is very important,” he warns.

An excerpt:

Question:

When [Steve] Bannon calls the press the main “opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.

Timothy Snyder:

When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

Question:

Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.

Timothy Snyder:

That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“  When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and way from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change. …

Question:

On Facebook there are a lot of countdowns: 3 years, 11 months, 1 week until President Trump’s first term is over. How is your mood, do you see hope?  

Timothy Snyder:

The marches were very encouraging. These were quite possibly the largest demonstrations in the history of the US, just in sheer numbers on one single day. That sort of initiative has to continue.  The constitution is worth saving, the rule of law is worth saving, democracy is worth saving, but these things can and will be lost if everyone waits around for someone else. If we want encouragement out of the Oval Office, we will not get it. We are not getting encouragement thus far from Republicans. They have good reasons to defend the republic but thus far they are not doing so, with a few exceptions.  You want to end on a positive note, I know; but I think things have tightened up very fast, we have at most a year to defend the Republic, perhaps less. What happens in the next few weeks is very important.•

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White supremacists aren’t the most self-observant bunch.

Without exception, they’re not nearly supreme in the world or even among that subset of people we describe as “Caucasian,” which is probably why they desperately claim some sort of vaunted status. There’s something wrong with them, and to put it mildly, they like to project. As an example, look at the following tweets.

Who could be uglier, weaker or more deformed than Spencer, in the most important ways? That he and his ilk have a direct link to the White House in baleful Chief Strategist Steve Bannon–not to mention a receptive President–is one of the more stomach-turning realities of our new abnormal.

In a burst of 467 perfect words at Medium, Willie Fitzgerald describes the most famous photo of the poison in the Cabinet, while a Spiegel piece worries about the warrior fantasies of the ethnocentric couch potato. Two excerpts follow.


From Fitzgerald:

Whenever I think about Steve Bannon, I see the above photo. Taken by Jeremy Liebman, it accompanies a Bloomberg article describing Bannon as “the most dangerous political operative in America.” It was written in 2015, but made the rounds again before the election. Back then, I saw it and thought, “This guy’s going to vault the ramparts?” Now I look at it and think, “We lost to a Ralph Steadman drawing.”

There’s something about this photo in particular that reminds me, against my will, of Terry Richardson. Maybe it’s Bannon’s blank, vacuous stare, as if the photographer had caught him mid-(probably very racist) thought. Maybe it’s the washed-out color palette, or maybe it’s that penumbral effect around his head and shoulder. This picture is like an inverse of Richardson’s American Apparel ads; it shows the objectifier, not the objectified. Instead of a billboard showing a wan young woman in a leotard, we get the man who listlessly ogles her on a billboard while his car is stopped in traffic.•


From Spiegel:

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John Cassidy of the New Yorker, who’s been stellar during this dark period in America, just conducted an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. In one exchange, he asserts that “some of the Trump voters have legitimate grievances,” which is certainly true, though it doesn’t nearly add up to 63 million voters. Early in 2016, the Economist debunked the received wisdom of the Trump supporter as the struggling worker ignored by the “elites.” His voters, in the aggregate, had a higher household income than average. Those disrupted by manufacturing’s decline, positioned just so, may have put the GOP candidate over the top, but it was other factors that carried him to the tipping point. 

Cassidy also looks at the tinderbox that is U.S.-China relations, which could be the most dangerous international development since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Chinese people are far more nationalistic than most Americans probably realize, and the White House Chief Strategist guaranteeing war in the near future in the South China Sea couldn’t have gone down smoothly. Both sides have a tremendous amount to lose, but that doesn’t ensure restraint. Wars aren’t always rational decisions about money.

A few excerpts follow.


Question:

The obvious ludicrousness aside, just how different is this administration from earlier administrations? In what way has the paradigm for administration and governance truly changed?

John Cassidy:

That’s an excellent question, which I haven’t thought about the way you formulated it. I’ve thought quite a bit about how different Trump is from previous presidents, and I don’t there is any doubt that he represents something new. In terms of experience, outlook, and temperament, there has never been a president like him before. In terms of the administration as a whole, it’s a bit different. If you take away Trump and some of the people immediately surrounding him, such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, this administration could pass for a normal Republican administration. A very conservative one, certainly–Pence, Price, Pruitt, and DeVos are all right wing even by the standards of today’s GOP. But you also have generals and business leaders playing a big role, which we’ve seen in the past. The question is how the two parallel administrations gets along–or, equivalently, how Trump deals with his cabinet. I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.


Question:

Does the threat of being called “fake news” ever run through your head while writing an article, or affect the style of writing? And in your opinion, how should the media be handling the President’s war on these, so-called, fake news organizations (like CNN)?

John Cassidy:

Being a columnist, I don’t worry much about fake news. I just write what I think, read it through, and put it out there. If there is a fact I am not sure of, I do try to check it, or, at least, point out its source. Obviously, news organizations have to take the whole fake news thing more seriously, but the main thing is not to let Trump intimidate them. So far, I don’t think they have. To the contrary, probably. Which explains why he seems to be getting more and more irate.


Question:

What is the biggest short term risk to global stability? What holds the best chance to improve people’s lives in the short term?

John Cassidy:

I think the two biggest short term risks are China and Trump–or, make that three risks: China, Trump, and China and Trump. The China risk is the same one that has been out there for years: a debt-driven financial blow-up that spills over into other markets. The Trump risk is that he does something that really spooks people and investors. So far, the markets have reacted favorably to his election, because they like tax cuts and deregulation. But I think there’s quite a bit of political risk that isn’t priced in, especially when it comes to the survival of an open trading system. And of course, there’s a danger he could do something nutty, such as spark a military confrontation in the South China Sea. In the interests of maintaining global stability and getting past Trump to another president, the Chinese government might be willing to give a bit of ground. But if Trump backs them into a corner, and brings Chinese nationalism into play, there could be a disaster.


Question:

Do you have any thoughts on how to explain to certain groups of voters that Trump, his administration, his policies and executive orders, etc. are opposite of their interests? How do you reach people who have their fingers in their ears?

John Cassidy:

I’m not sure there are many Trump voters reading the New Yorker, but your question is a serious one, especially for the Democratic Party. I think the first thing to do is to acknowledge that although many of Trump’s policies–tax cuts for the rich, rollback of financial regulations etc–will hurt working class and middle class people, he did, during the campaign, tap into some legitimate concerns about globalization and trade. I keep going back to the fact that the average hourly wage of non-supervisory workers is lower today, in real terms, than it was in 1973. On top of that, there is now a good deal of empirical evidence that trade with China has taken a pretty heavy toll on manufacturing jobs. So, Trump knew what he was doing when he played the nationalist/protectionist card. The problem, of course, is explaining why his cures won’t work, and may well end up harming the victims. If I could do that, I’d give up journalism and run for office! Just joking. But I think the first step is acknowledging that some of the Trump voters have legitimate grievances and trying to speak to them in their language: they aren’t all just racist deplorables.


Question:

What would you recommend for individuals to do to improve their knowledge of economics – even for people with degrees in economics? Any advice for people wanting to make a living studying economics/policy?

John Cassidy:

Ah, a bit of respite from Trump and politics! Thanks. When I was a student, I studied history and economics, and as a graduate I specialized in economics, so I read a lot of pretty technical stuff. I do have some interest in economic theory, but the books and articles that really stayed with me were the ones that went beyond individual theories and looked at the big picture. An obvious one is Keynes’s General Theory. On the left, Paul Sweezey’s Theory of Capitalist Development, which was an effort to combine Keynesian short run theory with Marx’s long run analysis, is a tour de force that I still go back to. On the right, Milton’s Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, is seminal and still central. All of these books are pretty old. If you want something newer and more up to date, the best textbook I’ve seen is by my old tutor, David Soskice and his longtime collaborator Wendy Carlin. It’s called Macroeconomics, I think. And if you want a history that covers a lot of ground and also includes the financial crisis and its aftermath, I would immodestly recommend my own book, How Markets Fail. Hope that’s helpful. As for advice, I would just plunge in and take some courses. There are some good online ones now, which are a good way of testing whether you really have a taste for a subject.•

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“The next four years are the critical inflection point,” writes Robert Kagan in largely dire Brookings report, “The Twilight of the Liberal Order,” offering a contention that should scare the hell out of Americans and allies who depend on us, while cheering the Chinese and Russians. 

Since the piece was published just about a week ago, the new President, an unhinged person whose policy seems mostly the handiwork of his white-supremacist sidekick, issued a hastily written, racist ban on certain immigrants and has made it even more clear he doesn’t care about the plight of any country beyond our borders. (That his governance will also likely have devastating consequences domestically is a parallel concern.)

America’s raison d’être as a shelter for refugees, beacon for the world and defender of liberal democracy, has no place in nationalistic Trumplandia, which will lead to other countries filling the power gap. But you can’t build a wall to keep out the future, and Kagan believes that absent America’s guiding hand, a large-scale war becomes much more likely, something Steve Bannon wouldn’t mind, given his stated desire to take military action against China. The Chief Strategist’s bloody dreams combine the worst of the United States’ inclination for adventuring with a newly narrowed self-interest.

It seems as if the Administration believes it can run the world stage the way Gotti ran Queens, with endless bluster and shakedowns. Whether or not it ends in world war, it will not end well. 

An excerpt:

In recent years, however, the liberal order has begun to weaken and fracture at the core. As a result of many related factors—difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership and unresponsive mainstream political parties, a new era of communications that seems to strengthen rather than weaken tribalism—there has emerged a crisis of confidence in what might be called the liberal enlightenment project. That project tended to elevate universal principles of individual rights and common humanity over ethnic, racial, religious, national, or tribal differences. It looked to a growing economic interdependence to create common interests across boundaries and the establishment of international institutions to smooth differences and facilitate cooperation among nations. Instead, the past decade has seen the rise of tribalism and nationalism; an increasing focus on the “other” in all societies; and a loss of confidence in government, in the capitalist system, and in democracy. We have been witnessing something like the opposite of the “end of history” but have returned to history with a vengeance, rediscovering all the darker aspects of the human soul. That includes, for many, the perennial human yearning for a strong leader to provide firm guidance in a time of seeming breakdown and incoherence.

This crisis of the enlightenment project may have been inevitable. It may indeed have been cyclical, due to inherent flaws in both capitalism and democracy, which periodically have been exposed and have raised doubts about both—as happened, for instance, throughout the West in the 1930s. Now, as then, moreover, this crisis of confidence in liberalism coincides with a breakdown of the strategic order. In this case, however, the key variable has not been the United States as the outside power and its willingness, or not, to step in and save or remake an order lost by other powers. Rather it is the United States’ own willingness to continue upholding the order that it created and which depends entirely on American power.

That willingness has been in doubt for some time. Increasingly in the quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, Americans have been wondering why they bear such an unusual and outsized responsibility for preserving global order when their own interests are not always apparently served and when, indeed, the United States seems to be making sacrifices while others benefit. The reasons why the United States took on this abnormal role after the calamitous two world wars of the 20th century have been largely forgotten. As a consequence, the American public’s patience with the difficulties and costs inherent in playing such a role has worn thin. Thus, whereas previous unsuccessful wars, in Korea in 1950 and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and previous economic downturns, such as in the mid- to late 1970s, did not have the effect of turning Americans against global involvement, the unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis of 2007–09 have had that effect. President Obama pursued an ambivalent approach to global involvement, but the main thrust of his approach was retrenchment. His actions and statements were a critique of previous American strategy and reinforced a national mood favoring a much less active role in the world and much narrower definition of American interests.

With the election of Donald Trump, a majority of Americans have signaled their unwillingness to continue upholding the world order. Trump was not the only candidate in 2016 to run on a platform suggesting a much narrower definition of American interests and a lessening of the burdens of American global leadership. “America First” is not just an empty phrase but a fairly coherent philosophy with a long lineage and many adherents in the American academy. It calls for viewing American interests through a narrow lens. It suggests no longer supporting an international alliance structure, no longer seeking to deny great powers their spheres of influence and regional hegemony, no longer attempting to uphold liberal norms in the international system, and no longer sacrificing short-term interests—in trade for instance—in the longer-term interest of preserving an open economic order.

Coming as it does at a time of growing great power competition, this new approach in American foreign policy is likely to hasten a return to the instability and clashes of previous eras.•

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It takes a village to create tyranny. It takes all kinds. 

One type is Thomas Williams, a former Catholic priest defrocked after fathering a child, who proselytizes for Breitbart in Europe despite having major reservations about Steve Bannon, a gutter-level bigot who’s soon to be White House Chief Strategist. Somehow the former holy man talked himself into accepting and keeping the job despite disagreeing with border walls and Brexit. The story is a little Thorn Birds with a generous helping of The Turner Diaries.

What allowed Williams such latitude in his moral judgement that he could aid Bannon and his disgraceful worldview? Well, he doesn’t appear to be a financial opportunist nor a hatemonger (despite some unfortunate opinions about Muslims). Perhaps his brain is just programmed to accept missions? Or maybe he fell prey to the same blind spot that allowed him in his earlier incarnation to steadfastly defend the innocence of a Catholic leader ultimately proven to have sexually abused children. 

Either way or some other way, Williams is on board and in Rome, using his skills to promote a platform that spreads the word of white nationalists and anti-Semites, while fully understanding the destructive nature of Bannon. As he says of his boss in Jason Horowitz’s excellent New York Times profile: “I think he prefers tearing down to building up, honestly.”

An excerpt:

Mr. Williams, amiable and soft-spoken, seems a discordantly gentle voice in the strident Breitbart chorus.

He said his time in the public eye had made him extra sensitive to inflicting harm and he lamented the “horrible” Breitbart commenters. Referring to the laptop computer on his dining room table, he noted, with a hint of sarcasm, that his home office — where he keeps a reliquary of bone chips of Dominican saints and framed photographs of Pope Benedict XVI smiling with his mother-in-law, a former United States ambassador to the Holy See — was “pretty nondescript for a subversive, alt-right, world-changing organization.”

From the beginning of his talks with Mr. Bannon, he said, Mr. Williams had expressed wariness about the website’s tone.

“Breitbart seemed like the exact opposite of everything I had been trained for and naturally tended towards,” the former priest said. “Which was help people understand each other, smooth over differences, show maybe you are not as far apart as you think.”

Mr. Williams had first met Mr. Bannon in 2003 through a mutual friend who was producing Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” on which Mr. Williams worked as the theological consultant. (“Mostly just to say things like, ‘You can’t do that,’” Mr. Williams said.)

“I thought he was a little crazy,” Mr. Williams said of Mr. Bannon. “I knew he was in this media stuff and he had all these theories about everything.”•

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Speaking of liberal government under siege, Jedediah Purdy penned the Politico piece “The Anti-Democratic Worldview of Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel,” which looks at two members of the transition team guiding the singularly sociopathic bully about to become President. Trump’s disdain for freedom of the press, basic constitutional liberties and democracy itself are not lonely views within his inner circle.

Thiel is an intellectual fraud who loves monopolies and possesses the moral blind spot of Hitler’s secretary. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is a racist wingnut given to grandiosity who’d prefer if only slave property owners could vote. Their overt (and well-documented) disdain for democracy is deeply troubling. 

If Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post is truly puzzled why Trump’s received so much flak for his cabinet picks since, as he states, all Presidents appoint a few loyalists to their cabinet, he should realize Bannon and incoming National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, two of those cronies, seem eager for some sort of large-scale war on Islam. It’s not the quantity of the loyalists that disturbs as much as their qualities.

From Purdy:

Two of Trump’s close advisers have known views on some big-picture issues about the world, and if you read them, there’s a troubling commonality that goes far beyond any specific policy areas: They are our first clear view of Trumpism as an illiberal theory of politics with deep doubts about democracy.

The advisers are Steve Bannon, the right-wing media provocateur who ran Breitbart News, then Trump’s campaign, and has now been named to the influential post of “chief strategist,” a role in which he is expected to have the new president’s ear in the White House. The other is Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley libertarian who spoke at Trump’s convention, gave more than $1 million in support of his campaign and is now a member of Trump’s transition team. Although Thiel says he doesn’t intend to have a full-time position in Trump’s administration, he reportedly has been feeding the president-elect ideas from a Silicon Valley “brain trust,” and a principal at Thiel’s venture capital fund has beennamedto Trump’s defense transition team. The speeches and writings of these two political outsiders suggest that beyond policy, there’s something much deeper at work: an impulse to reshape the country, and the world, in a way that would change the meaning of democracy in unsettling ways—and, maybe, ultimately undermine it.•

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Media reporter Michael Wolff, the living embodiment of that creaking sound the boat makes just before it capsizes and everyone aboard descends into a watery grave glub glub glub, repaired to Trump Tower to interview Steve Bannon for the Hollywood Reporter. The incoming White House Chief Strategist believes there are too many Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley (which displays a poor grasp of math as well as morality) and, according to charges his ex-wife made during divorce proceedings, did not want his children attending school with Jewish kids. It’s possible her words were misinterpreted because it’s further alleged that he choked her, which is totally bad for elocution.

It’s not exactly Wolff’s most graceful writing, but perhaps the editors all took cyanide tablets when they realized the publication was going to run a piece in which the Breitbart bullshit artist would be able to claim he was an “economic nationalist” rather than a “white nationalist” with no real pushback from Wolff. That’s led to the journalist being heavily criticized for perhaps going easy on Bannon to enable future access. You can understand people being sensitive on the subject since the fake-news impresario has helped select a cabinet racist enough to make Bull Connor blush. 

I wonder if THR actually fact-checked some of Bannon’s more dubious comments, including this one: “[Trump] shows up 3.5 hours late in Michigan at 1 in the morning and has 35,000 people waiting in the cold.” It’s also worth questioning the sanity of someone who’s suffused enough in grandiosity to believe that if his plan works “we’ll govern for 50 years,” as if any one group will. Of course, you might not have your skullcap properly tightened if you’re wishing Andrew Jackson’s legacy on your own boss.

In one exchange, Bannon promises that the Administration will make our era “as exciting as the 1930s,” which sums up my fears exactly.

An excerpt:

Bannon, arguably, is one of the people most at the battle line of the great American divide — and one of the people to have most clearly seen it.

He absolutely — mockingly — rejects the idea that this is a racial line. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he tells me. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver” — by “we” he means the Trump White House — “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

In a nascent administration that seems, at best, random in its beliefs, Bannon can seem to be not just a focused voice, but almost a messianic one:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”•

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The only thing worse than having a white supremacist who’s Chief Strategist is having one who’s President-Elect. It’s no mistake Donald Trump hooked up with Steve Bannon because they’re both bigots, cowards and damaged man-children, the exact type of personalities that can do the most damage when foolishly given authority. There are still some smart people who don’t seem to get they’re kindred spirits, but it’s true. The damage Trump’s cabal of kleptocrats, conspiracists, racists, misogynists and warmongers will be able to now carry out is heartbreaking.

Let’s hope our beautiful country, long a bastion of relative sanity in discombobulated world, doesn’t wind up in the same condition as Biosphere 2, the environmental experiment in self-contained ecology in 1990s Arizona that became a ruins covered in crazy ants. I mention this because Bannon was hired first to make the besieged biodome great again, eventually serving as CEO. His results were not pretty. It was supposed to be a new kind of paradise but ended up a hell on Earth, with Bannon even finding time to be accused of sexually harassing women involved in the enterprise.

Two excerpts follow.


From a 1996 New York Times article by William J. Broad about Columbia University taking over Biosphere 2 for a spell, at a time when it lay dormant, a domicile only to exotic ants:

The exotic species of ant known as Paratrechina longicornus, or the crazy ant, named for its speedy and erratic behavior when excited, somehow managed to kill off all the other ants over the years, as well as the crickets and grasshoppers.

Swarms of them crawled over everything in sight: thick foliage, damp pathways littered with dead leaves and even a bearded ecologist in the humid rain forest of Biosphere 2, an eight-story, glass-and-steel world in the wilds of the Sonora Desert that cost $200 million to build.

“These little guys pretty much run the food web,” Dr. Tony Burgess, the ecologist, said as he tapped a dark frond, sending dozens of the ants into a frenzy. ”Until we understand the ecology, we’re reluctant to eliminate them.”

Columbia University, an icon of the Ivy League, is struggling to turn a utopian failure into a scientific triumph.

The university took over management of Biosphere 2 in January and is starting to reveal just how badly things went awry when four men, four women and 4,000 species of plants and animals were sealed inside this giant terrarium for a two-year experiment that ended in 1993.

The would-be Eden became a nightmare, its atmosphere gone sour, its sea acidic, its crops failing, and many of its species dying off. Among the survivors are crazy ants, millions of them.•


Samantha Cole of Vice “Motherboard” explains how things went crazy years before the crazy ants:

Scientists broke into the dome to sound the alarm about Bannon’s involvement

This one’s a huge “OH SHIT” for scientists: Tampering with an in-progress experiment and contaminating the entire dome.

In late 1993, Space Biosphere Ventures refused to accept Bannon’s proposal to remove top Biosphere 2 management. Bannon quit over this, but returned as CEO the following year when Bass gave in to his requests.

Two of the original eight researchers staged a mutiny from outside when they heard Bannon was back. “They opened doors and broke glass seals, letting outside air into the dome,” the Chicago Tribune reported in 1994. “In no way was it sabotage,” said Abigail Alling, one of the researchers. “It was my responsibility.”

He was accused of harassing employees

After this takeover, project director Augustine accused Bass of having used his agents to dissociate her from the Biosphere project in breach of an earlier agreement, Buzzfeed reported again in August. In a counter-suit, Space Biosphere Ventures accused her of self-dealing and funneling $800,000 of project money.

She claimed this was an effort to slander her out of the position, and accused Bannon, Bass and another banker of a long list of harassment in her complaint: “Both Bowen and Bannon were insulting to the plaintiff and other females employees of Biosphere 2, and in their presence, and against their will, made lewd remarks, told offensive off-color stories, made disparaging remarks about females, made sexually suggestive remarks, discussed females they had known in a lewd and derogatory fashion and in general acted with total indifference to the feelings of the plaintiff and other female employees of Biosphere 2.” She also claimed that Bannon once made comments about her being “a woman in a man’s job.”•

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Donald Trump, both George Steinbrenner and George Wallace, has rebooted his jackbooting campaign yet again, this time recruiting vituperative Breitbart News overlord Steve Bannon, perhaps the only white American who feels as inexplicably cheated as the candidate. It will not go well.

This backstage machinations were occurring yesterday even as Trump, the most bigoted and hateful and oppressive major-party American Presidential nominee perhaps ever, was publishing a Facebook post announcing “we will reject bigotry and hatred and oppression in all its forms.” It was no doubt maddening to the Archie Bunker-ish buffoon that he was being urged to reach out beyond his usual whites-only “yes” network. Those moderating episodes, however erratic they may have been, are now likely over.

In the Spiegel commentary “An International Disaster,” Marc Pitzke’s says the fun of the primary season is long over, though I haven’t thought there was anything fun about Trump since he began his racist Birther publicity tour in 2011. The opening:

These US presidential elections were fun once. Particularly on the Republican side: At one point during the primaries, there were 17 candidates running around, including obscure current and former governors, a retired brain surgeon with sleepy eyes, the inevitable Rick Santorum — and Donald Trump, who once impersonated a successful businessman on a reality show.

Now he’s impersonating a presidential candidate. That, too, used to be fun. He played a wretched character who humiliated anyone who stood in his way: immigrants, women, Muslims, the disabled, veterans and his Republican rivals, who keeled over one by one — “Little Marco,” “Low-Energy Jeb,” “Lyin’ Ted.”

It was fantastic reality TV, generating fantastic ratings, fantastic headlines, fantastic page views. Haha, that Trump! Look what he’s said this time! All that fun made us forget that we were talking about the world’s most powerful office.

But now the fun is over. Trump has long since shown his true side. And behold, this wretched character wasn’t an act after all. It wasn’t a mask he wore for the primaries. That wretched character was Trump. It is Trump. There is no good Dr. Jekyll behind the evil Mr. Hyde. Donald Trump is Hyde, the monster minus Jekyll, devoid of compassion, contrition, self-control.

And that’s not funny anymore.•

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