Archive for January, 2018

The State of the Union is Fantastical

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

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President Trump’s first state of the union speech was just as remarkable as his first year in office.

David Graham from the Atlantic had a good summary.

The reality is somewhat less rosy: By a wide margin, Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track, and the president’s approval rating is historically low. Trump has struggled to push his agenda through Congress, just squeaking a big tax cut in at the end of last year. That presents three challenges for the president, and his speechwriters: How do you boast about victories you haven’t had? How do you present new proposals when many of the old ones are still on the table? And how do you handle the Russia story that seems to consume most of politics each week?

The answer from Trump was simply to conjure his own reality, outlining a set of some accomplishments, delivering the standard list of policy proposals, and ignoring the Russia probe altogether.

This president is not often good at hiding his emotions, but he did so Tuesday. As a result, not only was the picture he painted of America removed from reality, but Trump himself was also practically unrecognizable. The speech somehow managed to render Trump the one thing he almost never is: boring.

One has to go no further than his claims of economic success to reveal the gulf between reality and fantasy that exists in the White House.

Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.

Only 1.8M new jobs were created since he took office according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Instead of citing the real figure, he chose to cite a figure that included three months where jobs could only be attributed to Obama.  It’s also because during his first full year in office, the 1.8M new jobs was the slowest job growth since 2010. The reason is that employers are having a hard time finding workers, which is what he also could have said.  Instead he left the impression that this was an extraordinary accomplishment.

Of those jobs created during his time in office, 184,000 were in manufacturing which would also been a good number compared to the 16,000 jobs lost in 2016. But that doesn’t mean that manufacturing is in good shape. Total manufacturing employment is still down by more than 1M workers compared to 2007.

After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.

Wages did grow from 2014 through the third quarter of 2017, but the rate of growth has slowed and in Q4 wage growth actually declined (from $353/wk to $345/wk)  So why didn’t he mention that?

African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.

During Trump’s campaign, he claimed that more than half of African American youth were unemployed. The real number was 19.2%. African American unemployment fell from a high of 16.8% in 2010 to 7.7% last January. Since then it has fallen to 6.8%.  Why didn’t he just say that?  It is still really good news, and given his past campaign exaggerations, would have indicted a new respect for the facts.

Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.

That statement was true on January 13th. Last week the number went up. That’s still a good number, but it is only a six week low, not a 45-year one.  Why not simply say that they hit an 45-year low two weeks ago.

The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401(k), retirement, pension and college savings accounts.

Only about 50 percent of Americans own stocks directly or through retirement funds, according to a Gallup survey. And most of the value in stocks is held by the top 10 percent. And the bull market in the US is actually weaker than market gains in the rest of the world. So the truth is that the US markets are just part of a larger global trend, and if anything Trump has discouraged investment in US markets rather than encouraged it.

BTW, the markets fell more than 1% on Monday as money moved from stocks to bonds. This is generally an indication that at least some traders think that this market may be near its peak. Almost $360B is stock market wealth (using Trumps calculus) disappeared as a result.

Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.

This claim is just wrong and has been widely debunked. Depending on how you count, it ranks 8th in terms of size. Both of Obama’s tax cuts were larger.

Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses

More wrong. This tax plan benefits large corporations and wealthy people. According to Moody’s, three-quarters of the $1.1T in individual cuts go to people earning more than $200K/year in taxable income. Those represent only 5% of all taxpayers. The same report warns that this plan will have negative consequences on federal and local government finances.

We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000.

More voodoo math. As FactCheck.org points out, if every household averaged a $4,000 increase in income, that would add up to $500B/year. Corporate taxes collected last year only totaled $300B. Even if all corporate taxes were eliminated and all of that money flowed directly into individual income, it still couldn’t add up to the increase Trump claimed.

The real numbers, according to the Tax Policy Center, are closer to $1,610. That’s $135/mo. Most people are smart enough to realize that they are not the ones getting a big break.

Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.

Less than 2.5% of the work force have received one-time bonuses.  That’s why the remaining 97.5% know that this wasn’t a good deal for them.

Since we passed tax cuts … Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.

Apple DID give workers bonuses because of the tax plan. They do plan to repatriate $38B in overseas profit as a result of the plan. They did not say that their $350B five-year investment plan was the result of the tax plan. The capital part of that plan seems in line with past levels of annual investment.

The foundation of REAL economic growth is productivity. Productivity requires a large percentage of the population to be employed in doing things that make money. It is very difficult to increase productivity when you have a large growing retirement population. The only way to do that is to add as many new workers through immigration as you have retiring. You can’t simultaneously support lowering immigration, increasing retirement, and have a high growth economy. Japan already proved that it can’t be done.

The other end of productivity is businesses investing in new plants, new technologies, etc. That’s how you increase productivity without adding new workers. That investment is also NOT currently happening because businesses are able to make money without making those investments.

Another gauge of a healthy economy is the saving rate. Savings rates go up when people have more disposable income. The rate of savings is going down, which suggests that households are strapped for cash or they are drunk on spending. Neither is good. The first suggests that the cost of living is rising more rapidly than wages. The second suggests that any boost that the economy may be getting from consumer spending is short lived.

Finally, the government has a role in economic development too. That’s to stimulate the growth of new emerging industries. Trump is failing there too. That’s because of the stake in the ground that Trump planted regarding coal. First he has failed to keep the promise that he made to coal workers. Second his wrongheaded tariffs on solar panels is costing jobs in a rapidly growing sector of the industry while failing to make any difference in the coal industry which is in decline.

The problem with short term incentives like tax breaks and repatriation is that they are candy rather than substance. Bringing $38B of profits back to this country from Apple will make it appear as if something got made in this country. Unless Apple invests that money in making more stuff in the United States than it may have otherwise made, it will not be reflected in any increase in either jobs or productivity. If Apple just uses the money to buy back their stock and increase their dividends, any economic boost will be short lived and perhaps make the next stock market correction that much more severe.

When the President bases policy on false beliefs, the country will pay the price.

Adding $1.5T in additional debt now is a REALLY bad idea according to the IMF.

The I.M.F. warned against assuming that the current economic cycle would go on indefinitely, however, particularly given the towering debt of the United States and other countries. By borrowing so much, the government can crowd out other investors and drive up interest rates. At the same time, giant deficits crank up pressure to cut government spending on health care and housing, policing and schools. With less money to go around, spending dries up and consumer demand — the economy’s primary engine — slows.

This was the SAME warning that Republicans used during the Recession. It turned out not to be true, because that’s when the government SHOULD be spending money to get the economy going again. That deficit spending worked. The economy recovered. And NOW is the time to increase taxes in order to make investments in the future industries that will support the next generation of businesses and employment. That’s because a growing economy can support a higher tax rate.

Cranking down on immigration at a time of low unemployment and baby boomer retirement is another REALLY bad idea.

A single immigrant can bring in unlimited numbers of distant relatives

This was Trump’s big lie from his speech.  Politifact labeled is Mostly False.

We should be welcoming immigrants AND their families. New family formation is the bedrock of the consumer economy. Immigrants who bring in family members provide their own support system for those immigrants.  That means they will have places to live, jobs, churches, mosques, and people like them who will help them make the peaceful transition to becoming citizens. This family process that includes a path to citizenship is why we don’t have the same problems with domestic terrorism that we’ve seen in England, Germany, and France.  There is no good reason to scrape the family immigration system.

Trading citizenship for 1.8M Dreamers for cutting LEGAL immigration in half (from $2.1M to $1M) is a bad deal for the economy.  Dreamers are already here and already have jobs.  Reducing the ability for immigrants to bring in their family members will just reduce the number of legal immigrants.  I have no problem making our immigration system more merit-based, but the number of legal immigrants should be set by the number of unfilled jobs in the economy.  Right now that number is 6M.  What is wrong with expanding the H1B program which is merit and employer based until the number of unfilled jobs is reduced?

The only reason we can’t do that is because Trump has told the country that immigrants are dangerous.  He did that again last night.  Canada on the other hand has built their economy on merit-based immigration and has already told the world that if the US doesn’t want you, you are welcome to come to Canada where their political culture realizes the economic value of skilled immigrant workers.

The REAL problem we are dealing with in this country is the disconnect between reality and fantasy.

Until we have a government willing to tell the truth, we are going to struggle for any sort of reliable and unified plan for growth and stability.

What Would Jesus Do?

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

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This is such a common phrase that it now shows up on jewelry, t-shirts, license plates, and coffee mugs.

It is supposed to associate whomever is wearing or using or driving the WWJD thing with a certain Christian mindset. That mindset is summarized in these verses from Philippians 1: 1-5

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

In other words, model your daily behavior on your best understanding of how Jesus would have behaved if He was in the same situation.

This post is based on a blog post I read from John Pavlovitz. He is calling a specific set of Christians out because he believes that they are hypocrites. He bases his comments on his belief that it is his responsibility as an evangelical Christian to act in the same way he felt Jesus would act. He definitely has a point of view that some may not agree with, but I think his questions regarding the politics of White Evangelicals are valid.

First the facts.

Obama won 26% of the White Evangelical vote in 2008 and 21% in 2012. 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. That in itself is just politics. White Evangelicals were originally mobilized by Jimmy Carter. Reagan and the Republican Party quickly recruited them, however, and they have been reliable conservative voters ever since.

This post raises questions about the differences between their political positions and their principles.

During his term in office, Obama was relentless demonized by conservative TV, media, and on the Internet. They claimed he was a Muslim. The claimed he wasn’t a natural born citizen. Scriptures were used to malign him and associate him with the worst racial stereotypes.

Through it all he didn’t retaliate. He remained a faithful husband, a good father, with no hint of personal or political scandal. He tried to work with those that opposed him, even after they said that their highest priority was to prevent his re-election. According to the NYT, he told 18 lies during his term in office.

Here’s how John Pavlovitz characterized the treatment Obama received from White Evangelicals.

And through it all, White Evangelicals—you never once suggested that God placed him where he was,
you never publicly offered prayers for him and his family,
you never welcomed him to your Christian Universities,
you never gave him the benefit of the doubt in any instance,
you never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy,
your evangelists never publicly thanked God for his leadership,
your pastors never took to the pulpit to offer solidarity with him,
you never made any effort to affirm his humanity or show the love of Jesus to him in any quantifiable measure.

You violently opposed him at every single turn—without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition. You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him.

Now we have Trump. He is an admitted adulterer. In at least one case, it was allegedly with a porn star. He is working on his third marriage. He uses language in public that would not be accepted in any Evangelical Church or home. He bragged about committing sexual assault. He supported an accused pedophile because he said he needed another Republican in the Senate. He supported White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s. He has lied about his charitable contributions. In fact according to the NYT, he broke all recent records by telling 103 lies during his first year in office. Through all of it he is a braggart, unrepentant, and unapologetic.

Here’s how John Pavlovitz describes the treatment Trump has received from White Evangelicals.

And the change in you is unmistakable. It has been an astonishing conversion to behold: a being born again.

With him, you suddenly find religion.
With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution.
With him, all is forgiven without repentance or admission.
With him you’re suddenly able to see some invisible, deeply buried heart.
With him, sin has become unimportant, compassion no longer a requirement.
With him, you see only Providence.

I think the question is valid.

What is the reason for this vastly different treatment between these two very different men? You would think that in terms of personal values, Obama’s life is MUCH closer to the lives that Evangelicals try to lead. At least on the surface, Trump seems to represent most everything in his personal live that Evangelics despise. But that doesn’t seem to have counted for much.

There are only a couple of possible answers.

If Obama committed any great sin in the eyes of White Evangelicals, it was his support of woman’s right to choose regarding abortion. If that one reason can justify standing quietly on the sidelines while an otherwise good man is vilified, then I would question how abortion became more important than helping the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the imprisoned. But that’s just me.

It also sounds a lot like the parable Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. All of the self-righteous men ignored the wounded person by the side of the road. It was only the Samaritan, the group that was vilified by the Jews, who did the right thing.

But it still raises the following question. If the “sin” of being pro-choice justified silence, does a pro-life stand excuse all other behavior? If so, then we are truly in Pharisee territory.

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Matt:23:24-25

Or maybe it was because Obama was a liberal Democrat, or perhaps because he had dark skin.

If so, then John Pavlovitz is correct is pointing out what other people see in the White Evangelical’s slavish support of Trump.

They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities.
They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus.
They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself.
They see that all you’re really interested in doing, is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it.
They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus—not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.

What would Jesus say about this?

I’m not qualified to say. I believe the Bible reserves judgement for God, so I try not to judge others. Besides, I’ve got way too much to do working out my own issues in hopes of my own salvation.

But for those whose faith includes a commitment to share the good word with others, here’s my own little bit of evangelizing. I suggest that White Evangelicals take these questions to heart. Ponder them. Chew on them. They may be bitter at first, but God had to knock Paul off his horse and blind him in order to get his attention.  Paul thought he WAS doing the work of God in killing Christians.  It was only after his conversion that he discovered his TRUE calling – spreading the good news of the Christ.  It was Paul, and not the other disciples, who saw that the good news of the Christ was meant for everyone, not just Jews.  It is certainly possible that, just like with Paul, Trump is the God’s way of forcing White Evangelicals to choose between politics and principle.  The blessing that lies beyond that choice could be healing the political and cultural divides that currently seem so insurmountable.

Above all, I encourage White Evangelicals to sincerely pray for guidance. It is possible that it isn’t all about abortion. There are many evangelical leaders who have already come to that conclusion. If it’s true that Jesus called us to a broader commitment to be like him in many ways, I would hate to face the judgement that Evangelicals preach about with opposition to abortion as my only good deed.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Matt 25:31-43

 

Really?

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

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“What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible, political games,” Mitch McConnell – 1/20/18

The problem with this statement is that it is the Republicans who are playing cynical games. These games mask a radical shift in the position of that party regarding immigration.

This all started when Trump rescinded the executive order known as DACA in September, 2017. Rather than work out a legislative compromise, he simply tossed a ticking time bomb into what was then the tax debate. If Congress didn’t act is six months, he threatened to end the program. He said that he took that action in order to encourage Congress to act. That’s the same reason Obama cited when he signed the executive order. Trump also said that his preference was action to protect the “Dreamers”. He spoke very sympathetically about them.

We’re going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me. I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have,” Trump said at a press conference in February.

“But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way. It’s a very — it’s a very very tough subject. We are going to deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget. And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is, is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that,” Trump said.

“But the DACA situation is a very very, it’s a very difficult thing for me because you know, I love these kids,” he added. “I love kids. I have kids and grandkids and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do.”

In fact the NYT reported that his aides were imploring him to dial it back.

Why?

We’ll get to that in a moment.

First let’s go through the timeline.

In September, 2017 Trump made a deal with Schumer and Pelosi which setup this particular confrontation. The Democrats agreed to a three month raise in the debt ceiling and some hurricane relief in return for a deal on DACA. Republicans were upset with this deal because they thought Trump didn’t get much for delaying a confrontation with Democrats three months. As a result of that and pushback from anti-immigrant factions in his party and his base, Trump reneged on the dinner deal he had with Schumer and Pelosi.

The Democrats said that they were not going to approve another increase in the debt ceiling without some movement on DACA. Graham and Durbin hammered out a bi-partisan deal which was EXCACTLY what Trump had asked for in September. All it required was Trump’s approval and there would have been no shutdown. Trump blew that deal up too because Tom Cotton convinced Trump that his base wants NO DACA deal effectively moving the goalposts again.

The Democrats kept their promise to the DACA dreamers and refused to support another extension of the debt ceiling.

Schumer at this point put another deal on the table over the weekend offering to include approval of money for a wall in return for DACA relief. Trump was ready to make that deal too until Kelly, Miller, and GOP leaders blew that deal up.

This gets to the core of the problem.

87% of voters support allowing those who qualified under the DACA program to remain in this country including 79% of Republicans.

A majority of voters also oppose building a wall, but 70% of Republicans support it.

67% of voters support shutting down the government in order to force renewed CHIP funding.

Yet during the process Republican language regarding DACA Dreamers changed. They were no longer “incredible kids”. Now they were just part of the larger “illegal immigrant” population committing crimes, harming low skilled US workers, and committing terrorist acts. Instead of “great people who have done a great job” they became “criminals on parole”.

What DACA has exposed is the dark secret of Trumpism. Immigrants are the problem. It doesn’t matter how they got into the country. They are no longer welcome.

If the dreamers are just another species of criminal alien, then Democrats had better give up a lot — cuts to legal immigration and changes to family-based migration — to gain their protection. But it remains unresolved whether Trump and Republicans are willing to legalize the dreamers at all — whether they actually do or do not view them in sufficiently sympathetic terms. If they can’t get to Yes — if no reasonable set of concessions is enough — it will be because treating the dreamers as fundamentally different from other undocumented immigrants is a Rubicon they cannot cross.

Further evidence is the Cotton Perdue proposal to cut LEGAL immigration by 50%. This isn’t strengthening our borders or reducing the number of people who manage to get here illegally. This is effectively using “merit” or “skills” to reduce the number of immigrants we admit. One has to look no further than the proposal that only those who pass the “merit” screening would be admitted. The “merit” visa includes no provisions for family unless they can also pass the same screen. We admit 1.2M immigrants legally every year. 140,000 come through the merit program that is currently employer sponsored. Only 70,000 of those are the actual employees.

At this point there is likely going to be a lot of partisan scorekeeping.

Here’s my take.

  1. CHIP gets funded for six years. Republicans delayed funding CHIP because they knew that they would need something to trade. Keeping 9M kids hostage for political purposes will be something Democrats will remind voters in 2018. Republicans traded this for Democrats keeping the government open for another three weeks.
  2. Schumer and McConnell have a deal to put a bill on floor to address DACA by Feb 8th. This will be another important test of whether government can work to address an issue that has broad bi-partisan support.
  3. Trump, the great dealmaker, was not only put out to pasture on this deal, he and his anti-immigrant advisor Stephen Miller were both exposed as hazards to dealmaking. With approval ratings already in the dumper, it’s hard to tell what affect this will have.
  4. If a DACA bill passes, it will almost certainly be the Senate that passes it. It is unclear what the House will do. If the House doesn’t act on it, and deportations start in the months before the November election; a bad situation for Republicans will only get worse.
  5. A lot of Democrats are going to be very angry about this deal. You can tell who, by looking at those senators that voted against it. What happens in the next couple of weeks will determine if that is anger that will affect Schumer’s position. If McConnell doesn’t deliver on his promise, the shutdown post February 8th could be very ugly.
  6. What will also be ugly are the xenophobic arguments that will surface over the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how far right the Republican base has really moved. Is this still the party of “incredible kids” or has this become the party that wants to shut immigration down completely. If it is the later, Trump has to take the blame for his rhetoric and his playing footsy with White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s. You can also bet that Democrats will use the racist xenophobic statements that are certainly going to show up to ramp up voter registration in places like Texas and Arizona.
  7. The shutdown itself will be old news by the 2018 election. Republicans lost a government shutdown in 2013 and still won big in 2014.

The bottom line is nobody looks good in a shutdown, but there is an opportunity for moderates who engineered this compromise to also start driving bi-partisan legislation through a polarized Congress. Trump will probably sign whatever makes it to his desk. I’m not sure his knows how to spell veto.

Unfortunately Trump’s confusion, lack of control, flip-flopping, and fundamental inability to personally resolve a fairly minor domestic crisis is going to concern our allies and embolden our enemies. When even he agrees that standing down is the best thing that he can do for the good of the country – our future is at best cloudy.

Pants On Fire

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

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Trump is liar.

It isn’t that he is just a liar. He is a liar of historic proportions.  The NYT has a complete list and a couple of charts comparing Trump’s lies (repeats excluded) and Obama’s lies.

 

In our political system, public officials normally pay a price for lying.  That’s because a candidate makes promises to voters in order to secure their votes.  While most voters are sophisticated enough to realize that even a President can’t do everything that they promise, our system does include an expectation that whomever holds the office will in fact respect the office and the power voters have put in his/her trust.  Breaking that trust may be just another example of Trump “shaking up Washington”, but according to the polls, most voters don’t like it.

This post is about an upcoming scenario where Trump may finally pay that price.

Obstruction of justice is a very difficult charge to prove because it relies on intent.

There is plenty of smoke to suggest that Trump had intent to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That smoke does not need to include any evidence that the 2016 election results were altered by Russian activity. The charge isn’t that Trump made the Russian efforts more or less effective. The charge is that he interfered with the investigation into Russian efforts.

The smoke also doesn’t need to include any evidence of collusion with the Russians. Whether or not there was collusion is a separate charge. The obstruction charge is that he interfered with the investigation into whether or not there WAS any collusion. Trump could be cleared of the collusion charge and still be liable for the obstruction of justice charge.

Finally that smoke doesn’t need to include any evidence that Mueller somehow overstepped his authority. He was given broad authority by Dept. AG Rosenstein to follow whatever threads he found that would lead to evidence of criminal activity. When he finally presents his case, Trump supporters are going have a hard time convincing the public that Trump’s crimes were outside the scope of what Mueller was originally supposed to investigate.

Here’s the short list of the things that support a potential obstruction of justice charge.

  1. Trump and his staff put a lot of pressure on Sessions NOT to recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation BECAUSE Trump expected Sessions to protect him from that investigation. This speaks to a state of mind that suggests that Trump felt that he needed protection.
  2. Trump drafted a letter to Comey suggesting that Russian investigations were “fabricated and politically motivated”. Comey was later fired because he refused to stop the investigations even though Trump’s initial public statements were that he was fired because of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry. This also speaks to state of mind regarding a cover-up.
  3. The Wolff book claims that Trump and his lawyers concocted a misleading statement on Air Force One regarding DTjr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. They did that in “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears”. Wolff also claims that a staffer (Mark Corallo) quit over the incident because of the obvious obstruction of justice implications. This alone would meet the standard for prosecution.  It should not be too hard for Mueller to find out from Mark Corallo whether or not Wolff quoted him accurately.
  4. NYT reports that Mueller has substantially corroborated Comey’s notes regarding his dealings with Trump. That corroboration includes notes kept by other WH staffers that Mueller has obtained.

If these Wolff claims are true, that means that other staffers on the flight DID knowingly participate in obstructing justice. Mueller will have the opportunity to interview them under oath for their version of events.

Trump’s defenders continue to suggest that Trump can’t be prosecuted for taking actions that are within his legal authority. That misses the question of intent. The courts have clearly ruled that legal authority does not immunize a government official from abusing that authority with corrupt intent.

But that ultimately isn’t going to be the issue.

The issue will be that at some point in the not too distant future, a sitting President will again be summoned to testify in front of a grand jury. This is a man who doesn’t read, doesn’t have the patience to sit through policy briefings that last more than a few minutes, admittedly didn’t prepare for campaign debates, lies regularly to inflate his own accomplishments, has an overinflated view of his own capabilities, and seems to have only a tenuous grasp on facts. How is this man going to perform when confronted with a detailed discussion of his actions as described by the sworn testimony of others?

This will be a situation where his usual strategy of bending the truth will not work. This is also situation where inexperience, “negotiation”, or even delusion are unacceptable excuses for failing to tell the truth. He won’t be able to deny that he said things because government lawyers and the grand jury will have the transcripts. He won’t be able to deny that he was present at a meeting when the sworn testimony of others who were there confirmed his presence. His experience as a performer will not help him. He won’t be able threaten. He won’t be able to settle. He won’t be able to leave after ten minutes. He will just have to answer the questions to the best of his ability. The recent NYT interview is a perfect example of the sort of disaster that this President is facing.

This is a minefield of Trump’s own making. It is hard to believe that he will be able to navigate it without stepping on at least a few of them. When he does, Mueller won’t need to prove intent to get an obstruction of justice claim to stick. He will have Trump on tape lying to a Grand Jury.

It is also ironic that a deeply flawed book that contains a lot of misinformation may end up being the publication that takes down a president who has a similar disregard for the truth.

Postscript:

At the time of this posting, two more Republican members of the house have announced their retirement (Issa and Royce). That brings the number retiring to 32 (compared to 15 Democrats). 20% of the 23 House Republicans running in districts won by Clinton in 2016 are not seeking re-election to those seats. Since 1962, an average of 40 house seats have been lost in midterm elections by the president’s party when the president’s approval rating fell below 50%. Trump says that polls don’t matter, but a lot of Republicans appear to be acting as if they do. Democrats only need 24 seats to regain a majority in the House.

Irrational Risk

Friday, January 5th, 2018

via GIPHY

There is some good research out that suggests that power actually causes physical changes to the brain.

Those who feel that they are in a powerful position lose their ability to experience empathy.  The result is that they become more willing to take risk because they don’t consider how these risks may potentially affect others.

At least one of these studies documents that CEO’s who lived through a disaster (war, famine, etc) during their childhood are far less likely to take big risks as adults.

Lord David Owen calls it “Hubris Syndrome”.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

You might be inclined to regard this as nothing new.  To some extent you’re right.  Psychopathy and hubris have been with us as long as we have had social groups.

The cautionary tale of the consequences of hubris and psychopathy, however, is a new history of WWII by Victor David Hanson.

He points out in great detail that Germany was incapable of winning WWII.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Germany never had a mass produced four engine bomber that could compete with the B-17.  They also had no aircraft carriers.  As a result, they lacked air superiority in naval battles and they could never have extended their reach across an ocean.

The Germans didn’t have much oil.  Half the world’s oil at that time came from the US.  Fuel shortages limited the number of missions the Luftwaffe could fly.

Their planes were inferior technology.  They were harder to operate which meant that their pilots required more training than the Allies.  They were more complicated to build.  Germany never figured out how to build them in high volume.  Germany didn’t build concrete runways in their forward bases like the Allies.  As a result, more of their limited supply of aircraft were damaged in take off and landings on dirt runways.

As a land-based power with a small navy, Germany depended on their Luftwaffe to make up the difference.  The disadvantages their air force faced in a long war should have been obvious.

WWII was about new mechanized mobile warfare.  The Germans introduced the blitzkrieg, but used horses to resupply their troops because of oil shortages.  The blitzkrieg depended on fast tanks.  The Russians had both a superior design and the ability to manufacture tanks in high volume.

Early on, Germany could have likely settled with the rest of the world and retained their territory gains.  Instead the Germans ignored the limitations of their air force and attempted to bomb England into submission.  Any hope of even just a European victory was lost when Germany attacked Russia in 1941.

There was good data before the war that science could produce new massively destructive weapons using the theories of Einstein and others.  The Third Reich, however, purged their universities of some of the best minds of their generation because they were Jewish.  Most of them escaped to the west where they eventually created the atomic bomb.

All of this data raises the real question of what were these people thinking?  How could they have made so many serious mistakes in the long term planning that would be required if they wanted to achieve the world domination that they claimed?

Axis leaders believed that Fascism could make up the difference by producing more fanatical soldiers with more “élan.” For a brief time at the beginning of the war, Allied countries believed this, too. (There was widespread fear, especially, of Japanese soldiers.) They soon realized that defending one’s homeland against invaders turns pretty much everyone into a fanatic.

The Axis powers fell prey to their own mythmaking: they were adept at creating narratives that made exceedingly unlikely victories seem not just plausible but inevitable.

That said, the Allies also convinced themselves that Axis leaders had successfully brainwashed their citizens.  They used that conclusion to justify unprecedented violence against civilians abroad, internment camps for Japanese citizens in the United States, and the only use of atomic weapons on civilians in history.

We face similar problems today in our country.

When countries lose track of facts and start believing their own mythology, they become vulnerable not only to delusional power-hungry leaders, but also to foolish military adventures.

We invaded Iraq because Bush II neocons thought it would be a cake walk.  There was no evidence of any connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attackers.  There was no credible evidence of a threat to the United States.  Lack of international support didn’t deter the Bush II administration either.  It turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in US history (at least so far).

Our current president has brought us closer to a nuclear confrontation with North Korea.  He has threatened to tear up the multi-national treaty with Iran that has suspended their nuclear weapons program.  He destabilized the situation in the Middle East with his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At home he has created division and broken virtually every political taboo in our shared political religion.  He has set out to destroy the credibility of the media as independent arbiters of truth.  In the face of multiple investigations into misdeeds by his campaign and his administration, he has become the sole source of truth for his followers.

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that he wasn’t interested in the job to begin with AND does not possess the temperament or the intellect to do the job that he has found himself in.  The recent interview that he gave the New York Times is shocking.  He is both delusional and incoherent.  He appears locked into an endless cycle of confrontation and misrepresentation that is the direct result of failing to deliver on his own narrative.

History tells us that this sort of “ism” does sometimes lead to violence but always ultimately collapses of its own weight.  There is already good data suggesting that Trump has suffered significant erosion in the base of those who voted for him for President.  Hopefully the next couple of elections will peacefully restore balance and confirm that there are consequences to lying to the American people.