Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Where’s The Beef?

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

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One of responses from the Trump administration with regard to the claims of Russian involvement in the 2016 election has been to call the investigation a “nothingburger”.

Let’s check to see how much beef there really is in this nothingburger.

The most important recent development is the guilty plea of George Papadopolous.  He admitted that he lied to federal agents about his efforts to arrange meetings between Moscow and the Trump campaign.  The Trump administration used their standard response that Papadopolous didn’t have an important role in the campaign, but his role isn’t what is in question (though there is plenty of evidence that he was active as a foreign liaison to Britain and Greece).  The important questions (the beef) are why the Russians were interested in talking with him, why did he want to talk with the Russians, and who else in the Trump campaign knew that he was talking to the Russians?

It isn’t clear why the Russians were talking with him.  What is clear is that the Russians only began to respond to his requests for a conversation AFTER it was announced that he had joined the Trump campaign.

Papadopolous said that he wanted to talk with the Russians because they were offering him “dirt” on Clinton.  That “dirt” was thousands of hacked emails.  Worse yet, his emails show that he was in regular contact with senior Trump campaign officials regarding not only the information but also a proposed meeting between Trump and Putin.  Reports are that Trump received a briefing from Papadopolous.  According to sources who attended the meeting, Trump “didn’t say yes and didn’t say no”.  As a result, Papadopolous continued his conversation with the Russians and received some encouragement from campaign staffer Sam Clovis.  Clovis has since said, through his lawyer, that he was just being polite.  But Papadopolous was told that a meeting between Trump and Putin had bad optics.  Instead the meeting “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal”.  This whole scenario flies in the face of Trump’s repeated denials that there was no contact whatsoever (polite or otherwise) between the campaign and Russians.

Trump isn’t the only one who has issued a blanket denial of any contacts.  Jeff Sessions was also at the Trump briefing.  This is the same Jeff Sessions who testified before Congress that he knew nothing about any contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.  Even though, at this point, we know that his department had already accepted a guilty plea from Papadopolous.  This is also the same Jeff Sessions who was told of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow in July to give a speech.  In Sessions’ most recent appearance he narrowed that earlier statement to mean, he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”

What this also means is that the Trump campaign knew a month before the meeting that Kushner, Manafort, and DTjr took with a Russian lawyer, that the Russians may have had millions of Clinton emails.  Even more importantly, Trump himself knew when he helped author DTjr’s response when news of the meeting broke, that the meeting was about Russian hacked emails.  The response claimed the meeting was about Russian adoptions.

Based on published reports, we now know that there were at least nine Trump associates who were actively engaged in conversations with Russians during the campaign.  Those include Paul Manafort and Rick Gates who have already been indicted by Mueller for pre-campaign money laundering.

In order to defend his “nothingburger” position, Trump’s response to all of this has been to create an alternate reality which castes large swaths of the government as corrupt.  What this does for him is create a rationale for him to pardon those in his administration as they are inevitably held accountable for their lies.

Trump campaign advisor Sean Hannity’s Trump defense has revived his flagging Fox career and laid the groundwork for Trump’s assertion of executive privilege when the investigation starts to close in on him.

Those include reviving the made-up Clinton uranium and Steele Dossier scandals, and the claim the Comey decided not to indict Clinton well before the FBI investigation concluded.

This leads to the conspiracy theory that Mueller is using the current Trump investigation to cover up his previous failure to investigate Clinton when he was heading up the FBI.

The depth of this delusion should hopefully answer the obvious question about beef.

If there were no beef, there would be no reason to question Mueller’s motivations.  The ONLY reason Mueller was appointed is because Trump fired Comey, Sessions had already recused himself from the Russian investigation, and deputy AG Rosenstein refused to be the fall guy in the Comey firing.  Suggestions that Mueller somehow engineered this whole thing is way beyond the fringe.

The beef is Trump’s lies regarding his knowledge of contacts in his campaign with Russians seeking to influence the outcome of the election.  The beef is the efforts by the Trump campaign and the Trump administration to cover up the contacts that they had with Russians.  The issue is not whether there was collusion.  That may never be proven.  The beef is that the Trump campaign was willing to do anything to defeat Clinton including talking with Russians about hacked Clinton emails.  The Trump administration has been lying about it ever since.  Those lies are the beef that will bring this administration down.

Our Failing Naked Emperor

Friday, October 6th, 2017

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One of the defining characteristics of the Trump campaign and administration is the utter disregard for the facts.  There was some hope by Trump supporters that once he transitioned from campaign mode to presidential mode, he would also abandon his strategy of habitual fabrication.  That hope died with the inauguration.  Trump’s inaugural crowds were factually smaller than Obama’s, but no one in the Trump administration and no one in the Republican establishment were willing to call Trump out as a liar.  Instead we’re dealing with this interesting situation where he, his administration, and his supporters blame media bias for every report that details yet another Trump lie.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the emperor is still naked.

That “nakedness” is finally causing more than embarrassment.  This “strategy” has made it more difficult for Republicans to govern.  We are now 9 months into a legislative session where Republicans control all branches of government, and the ONLY enduring evidence of this control is Gorsuch’s SCOTUS appointment.  Even that has an asterisk because McConnell had to remove the 60 vote filibuster in order to get it done.

The fundamental operating principle of this administration is that Trump can never fail, he can only be failed.  As a result, any form of failure must either be a lie or someone else’s fault.  I won’t try to go into the psychology of this particular form of egotism.  We’ll save that for another day.  At this point, let’s just look at the consequences of never admitting that you’ve been wrong.

One example is the recent failure to pass healthcare which Trump blamed on the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The FACT was that the healthcare reform bill wasn’t subject to a filibuster.  It only required a simple 50 vote majority to pass because of reconciliation rules.  It failed to get 50 votes because several Senators from the President’s own party refused to vote for it.  McCain refused to vote for it because Republicans bypassed the normal committee process where all interested parties would have an opportunity to comment and all points of view could be considered.  Paul refused to vote for it because it wasn’t conservative enough.  Collins refused to vote for it because she feared it would have resulted in the loss of healthcare insurance coverage in her state.  The bill died before it could ever get a vote, so we don’t know how many others would also have voted against it.

Another example is his regular rant about the biased media and fake news failing to report on his accomplishments.  The problem is, just like the inauguration, there isn’t much there.  Worse yet, Trump’s own obsession to dominate every news cycle makes it difficult for even his modest accomplishments to get much play.  Instead he regularly distracts from his legislative agenda by picking fights and fanning the flames of the culture war.

A third example is the Republican establishment who, in Trump’s description have let the Russian investigation get out of control and secretly oppose his agenda.

What is true is that Trump’s agenda, if in fact he truly has one, is failing because he hasn’t provided the policy to support his bold promises.

Healthcare failed three times because he had promised to provide better coverage to more people at a lower cost.  None of the bills that were proposed accomplished that, even though Trump at one point or another supported all of them.  Instead they were thinly (and in the last case not so thinly) veiled attempts to dismantle Medicaid.  As those realities became apparent to more people, opposition mounted and the bills failed.

Tax reform will suffer a similar fate.  Though Trump promised a bill that would benefit the middle class and not reward the wealthy, the bill that is currently being considered does what every other Republican tax initiative has done.  The bulk of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of the country.

This is not the result of a conspiracy of the Republican establishment to undermine Trump.  If anything, Trump has passively allowed Congressional leadership to fill in the blanks on his promises.  The problem is that the bills in their final form were not even close to what Trump promised, and he didn’t seem to care.

The cause is years of Republican bad faith campaigning.  Republicans promised that they could replace Obamacare with something better if they only had the majority to implement their ideas.  They never actually proposed any new ideas.  Instead they were content to demonize liberal Democrats.  When voters finally gave Republicans a chance to prove they could do better, they failed.

The same thing will be true about taxes.  Trickle down tax cut plans that were supposed to make life better for the middle class have failed spectacularly at the state level and nationally.  But here it comes again in even a worse form than what was passed during the Bush years.

Republican voters are unhappy that the party isn’t delivering on Trump’s promises.  Trump used this anger to get himself elected.  But voters haven’t stopped there.  They continue to elect bomb throwers at the state and local level.  Newly elected Senator Moore in Alabama has said he shares Rand Paul’s view regarding healthcare reform and would have joined him to vote against that bill.  Moore will likely make it more difficult rather than easier to get Trump’s agenda through the senate.

The bottom line is that Trump lies have painted the party into a corner on many issues.

The claims that Obamacare is failing make it more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation that most agree would solve the current set of problems.  Passing that legislation would force Trump to admit that Obamacare isn’t failing and can be improved with a couple of simple tweaks.  If that’s true, then why the continued effort to tear it down and replace it with something that kills Medicaid and takes coverage away from millions of people?

Claims that we have to build a very expensive wall across our southern border to protect our country from the threat of illegal immigration makes it more difficult to pass a bill to address the plight of “Dreamers”.  Trump’s base perceives a dreamer deal to be a loss for Trump in the fight to kick illegal immigrants out of the country.

The obsessive insistence by Trump that the various Russian investigations are a hoax, fake news, and a politically motivated witch hunt makes it nearly impossible to make any progress on preventing future Russian election hacking.  That’s because Trump simply can’t acknowledge the obvious fact that Russians did attempt to disrupt the 2016 election and continues to be engaged in social media meddling.  Trump’s war with the legit press in this country has given Russians all of the cover they need to continue their REAL fake news activities.  The latest example is coverage of the Las Vegas shooting where Russian sources promoted stories that the shooter was an anti-Trump liberal jihadist who had secretly converted to Islam.

Trump’s various lines in the sand regarding Korea have only encourage Kim Jong Un to become more aggressive.  In other administrations, tough talk in public is cover for behind the scenes diplomacy that ultimately resolves the issue.  That doesn’t work in Trump-world where he has to win and is willing to undermine his own Secretary of State’s efforts to defuse this dangerous escalation.  Tillerson became the person who failed Trump on Korea.

Trumps pathological need to always be right was on public display in his response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico.  While people were suffering because of the logistics challenges of getting aid from the ports out to the people, Trump was picking a fight with professional athletes.  When the mayor of San Juan called him out on it, he suggested that it was her fault and a cultural failing of the Puerto Rican people that there weren’t enough truck drivers willing to leave their struggling families to get supplies off the docks.  Doesn’t the army have truck drivers?  I thought that disaster relief was all about sending a bunch of people into an area to do those things that the local population couldn’t do for themselves.  We fill in the gaps until the local population can get back on their feet and take care of their own needs themselves.

During his tour of the island, he told those without shelter, food, clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical services that they should be grateful that it wasn’t a real disaster like Katrina.  The implication being that if it were a REAL disaster like Katrina, the government would have been better prepared and would be providing more help.  But the government WASN’T prepared to deal with the aftermath of Katrina and it wasn’t prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  That’s Trump’s fault.

We all know how the story of the naked emperor ended.  It will be interesting to see when and how truth ultimately takes down this naked President.

 

Same Poison Different Bottle

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

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Every time Republicans regroup in an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the proposed legislation gets worse.  That in itself should tell you something about the nature of the politics at play here.

The proposed Cassidy-Graham bill is the same poison in a different bottle.  It shifts health care costs including Medicaid to the states.  At the same time, it perversely cuts funding to support Medicaid and subsidize insurance premiums.  Worse yet, all federal funding disappears in 10 years.

It hard to fathom how Republicans could come up with a plan that would be worse than repealing Obamacare without a replacement, but they succeeded.

What is even harder to understand is that even though the bill is widely opposed by healthcare experts, industry groups, AND 85% of the population, it almost became law.  At this point it appears that the bill will fall a few votes short of passing in the Senate.  It would almost certainly have passed in the House, and President Trump would have signed it.

We can no longer afford to trust the Republican Party with healthcare.  It’s too important to be the subject of this sort of politics.  Healthcare accounts for 20% of our economy.  12.5% of Americans work in the healthcare industry.  More than 32M people would lose coverage under Cassidy-Graham.

Republicans were willing to vote on this without a CBO score, committee hearings, or testimony from experts and those affected.  They were willing to vote without any input from Democratic Senators even though Senate Democrats represent a majority of voters.

Instead they were willing to pass this bill, as bad as it was, because they thought they could.  They were more concerned about their base, their ideology, and the next election; than what was best for the rest of the country.

Please hold Republicans accountable in the upcoming elections for this cowardly act.

 

 

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

Monday, August 21st, 2017

For those unfamiliar with this Catholic meme, it is the opening sentence Catholics whisper to the priest to start confession.

My confession is that I find this particular point in our history fascinating.

We have a President who appears determined to self-destruct, a party that is uncertain they are willing to go down with him, and his supporters who have swallowed the kool-aide and have lost touch with reality.

So here’s a little bonus coverage courtesy of one of my favorite academics, Jonathan Haitt of Righteous Mind fame.  He has a great article in The Atlantic which explains the widespread negative reaction to Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

This IS NOT a political rant.

It is simply an explanation of a taboo that Trump broke.

All societies have taboos.  I won’t go through why, though Haitt does in his article.  Suffice it to say that we use a common set of deeply revered values, people, or places to hold all our citizens together in a shared bond.  That bond is our willingness to sacrifice our individual interests for the greater common good.

Charlottesville was a clash of sacred symbols.

The far right displayed their sacred symbols including swastikas, confederate flags, and guns – lots of guns.  They were marching to defend another symbol – the statue of Robert E. Lee.  The goal of the rally was to bind white people together with a shared hatred of Jews, African Americans, and other minorities using claimed white victim-hood and racial purity. (BTW racial purity is a myth.  Skin color is the result of a not well understood interaction between about 100 genes rather than the presence or absence of a particular set of genes.  Commonly available genetic ancestry tests are causing real problems for those advocating a “pure white” society.)

For UVA students, “the lawn” in the center of campus is also hallowed ground.  Students rushed out, unarmed, to defend the Jefferson statue from the approach of the torch-bearing armed white supremacists.  The marchers weren’t planning on vandalizing the statue, but from the student’s point of view these particular marchers would have “contaminated” the statue if allowed to approach unopposed.  That’s because for a Jeffersonian, neo-Nazi’s are taboo.

That’s what the country saw.  Unarmed students spontaneously opposing an organized group chanting the worst slurs against Jews and African Americans and making Nazi salutes.  It was a desecration of our most cherished American story based on the belief that “all men are created equal”.  We all know that this creed is aspirational, but we demand that all of our political leaders accept this premise as a requirement to hold office.  Denying this premise is blasphemy.  As a result white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis are widely regarded as blasphemous outsiders.

We treat our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution as sacred texts.  We erect monuments to our martyrs.  We punish or shame anyone who ignores our documents or dishonors our martyrs.  We expect our president to play the role of high priest and chief unifier in times when those texts and martyrs seem under attack.

In Trump’s press conference on Tuesday August 15th, Trump fumbled his opportunity to play the role of the high priest and chief unifier because he failed to condemn the blasphemers exclusively.  In response to the public outcry, the President read a staff-written speech to right that wrong.  If it had stopped there, perhaps he could have recovered.  Instead just 24 hours later, he committed the greatest sacrilege of his presidency by saying that there were “very fine people on both sides”.  That’s because our basic belief is that Nazi’s aren’t just bad – they are taboo.

Trump has become taboo by embracing those that we have decided are taboo.  The moral stain of the blasphemers has rubbed off on him.  That’s why you saw such a scramble by all those who understood what he had just done.  Those who fail to distance themselves from the taboo will also become taboo, just as Trump has done.  That’s also why most people in this country were willing to condemn those who just walked in the march.  They didn’t have to carry a flag, shout a slogan, or salute.  Just being there made them taboo too.  They got fired.  They were disowned by their families.  People won’t want to live next to them any more than they would a sex offender.

You can’t apologize for breaking a taboo, particularly one as deep as the Nazi or KKK.  You can’t even use the excuse of ignorance because that would suggest ignorance of our basic values.  In Trump’s case, it doesn’t matter, because he is not going to admit that he did anything wrong.

the stain, the moral pollution, the taint, will linger on him and his administration for the rest of his term. Business leaders have quit his panels and projects; artists who were due to receive honors from the president have changed their plans. Pollution travels most rapidly by physical touch, so be on the lookout for numerous awkward moments in the coming months when people refuse to shake the president’s hand or stand next to him. It is unclear how far the contagion will spread, but it will surely make it more difficult to attract talented people into government service for as long as Trump is the president.

Further this is going to do generational damage to the Republican Party.

people’s political orientations are shaped for life by events that happen when they are young, particularly between the ages of 14 and 24. The young generation—iGen, as Jean Twenge calls them—is extraordinarily progressive and passionate about matters of race and prejudice. If Republicans stand by their tainted president rather than renouncing him, an entire generation of voters may come to see the GOP as eternally untouchable.

It’s hard to say what will come next, but right now the country is unbalanced.

Extraordinary sacrilege has occurred, but divine retribution has not yet come down from the heavens.  We have no priest and no scripture to guide us.  The country may suffer for failing to remove this apostate.

What I can see in the not too distant future, however, is an emotional pivot toward impeachment as a cathartic recovery of purpose and balance.  Trump will be blamed.  Some in his administration will go to jail.  All will be disgraced.  The country will heal.  I saw this happen with Nixon.  It could very well happen with Trump too.  All that is missing is the smoking gun of corruption or scandal and the game will be over.

 

 

Lincoln Wept

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Let’s take a step back and just review briefly the various defenses of neo-Nazi’s, white supremacists, and good old fashioned racists that we’ve heard so far.

Racism as free speech
It’s true.  Our constitution does protect racism as free speech.  Free speech, however, does not guarantee that you are free from other forms of punishment as a result of your speech.  Many employers have codes of behavior that allow employers to dismiss their employees for hate speech.  This is constitutional because the Supreme Court has been giving companies a lot of power lately.  Companies can’t fire people based on race, gender, or creed.  They can based on just about any other criteria that they choose to come up with.

Violence as free speech
This is not true.  There are limits to the expression of free speech.  Yelling fire in a crowded theater is the classic example.  Inciting or participating in violent acts is illegal and is not protected by the constitution.

Both sides engaged in violence in Charlottesville
It is true that there were violent clashes between both sides.  It is also true that there are extremists on the left and on the right.  There are also important differences.  The biggest difference is that the extremists on the right view violence as a tactic.  They have publically stated that their intent is to incite violence.  They feel that violence will force white people to choose sides.  They WANT a race war and ultimately they want to overthrow the government and dismantle democracy.  Those opposed, are not interested in dismantling the government.  They support democracy.  They oppose racism, white supremacy, and fascism.  They are NOT organizing demonstrations around the country in an effort to create confrontations with violent fringe right groups.  They are RESPONDING to the incitement of the right with the same level of aggression.  The response is NOT the same as the act that initiated the response.

Historical monuments
The civil war monuments erected across the south serve two purposes.  One is historic the other is sociological.  The historical purpose is to celebrate a particular point in history where the person may have done something heroic in battle.  The sociological purpose is to remind black people that white people are still in charge and to suggest to white people that cause of the south in the civil war was just.

On that last point, those who attempt to rewrite history suggest that the civil war was fought over state’s rights, or economic issues, or even cultural issues.  The issue was slavery.  The economy of the south was based on slavery.  The culture of the south was based on slavery.  Slave states succeeded from the union when an abolitionist President (Lincoln) was elected.  Many of the declarations of succession from Confederate states said exactly that.  Lincoln went to war to defend the union, not specifically to end slavery.  Lincoln ultimately put down a well-organized rebellion.  But clearly ending the practice of slavery was going to be the outcome of the war.

Only local communities can determine if the historic value of those statues are greater than the obvious sociological message.  This doesn’t mean that those statues have to be destroyed.  What it does mean is that they should be moved to some location where the signage can inform and educate those who are viewing the statue.  Typically those are museums rather than open public locations.

The reason why many communities are taking down statues is not because they object to the history or the art value.  It’s because they no longer support the sociological message.  Instead they want to project an inclusive message that is good for the community and good for business.  You simply can’t do that with a memorial to a confederate general sitting in your town square.

Pluralism, nationalism, and democracy
Our democracy is based on a simple notion.  Everyone is welcome regardless of race, color, or creed.  That’s the simple definition of pluralism.  Nationalism is the notion that your nation is better than other nations.  That concept is out of synch with the concept of a global economy.  If you want to be able to sell goods into my market, you have to provide me an opportunity to sell goods into your country.  But nationalism in and of itself is not a threat to democracy.  Racial nationalism, though, can’t co-exist within a pluralist democracy.  Large groups of disenfranchised people ultimately undermine any democracy.  Yet that’s what racists in this country are advocating.  That’s why there is no place in our country for those who refuse to accept the basic principles on which is was established.

It also should not be surprising to anyone that those who are the object of this racial bigotry, vigorously oppose those who advocate it.

The law does include a right of self-defense.  This right has recently been expanded on a state by state basis with the “stand your ground” laws.  Depending on the circumstance, you can respond with violence including a weapon, if you feel that you are in imminent danger as a result of something that someone else said or some threatening action that someone else has taken.  That’s why generally the person or group that is inciting violence has a weaker defense when claiming that they have been assaulted.

Summary
Several interesting things are happening.  Boston demonstrated that the number of neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists WILLING to demonstrate when there is the possibility that they would be massively outnumbered is small.  We have also learned that there are personal consequences to outing yourself as a racist.  As those personal costs become better known, it appears that the number of people willing to pay that price is small.  There are also organizational costs to those who attempt to spread hate speech through the internet.  No legit social media, hosting, or domain organization is willing to help them.  Communities and institutions of higher learning are making sure that they have the appropriate use provisions in place to reject requests for these organizations to gather.  Finally, we are finding that when it becomes personal, very few socially maladjusted young men are willing to back up their offensive internet personas with an in-person appearance.  So for now, society has responded with the appropriate revulsion to these fringe groups.

The true test will be what happens in the 2018 election.  Will voters hold Trump and Republicans accountable for the rise in neo-Nazi, fascist, and white supremacist activity?  Will the threat of disenfranchisement drive more minority voters to the polls in an off year?  The wonder of democracy is that our speculation will come to an end in November, 2018.

What’s Next?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

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After the violent clashes in Virginia, America looked to the President for healing.  Instead Trump could only think about his own obsession of winning an argument with the media.

As a result, we have a President who insists those who support Nazi’s and white supremacists deserve the same respect and consideration as those who oppose those views.

It is true that the First Amendment protects even hateful speech.

It is not true that we have to provide a place in our society for racists and hate mongers.

It is true that the constitution does not protect those who choose violence as a means of protest.

It is also true that there were groups from both sides who came prepared to fight.

But the gathering in Virginia was organized by hate groups for the sole purpose of inciting a response from those who oppose those views.  There was only one person murdered.  A Nazi sympathizer used his car to kill a peaceful protestor.

In this country, the President and Vice President are the only two offices elected by all the people.  As a result, the President has a responsibility to be a moral leader for the country as well as a political one.

What happens when our President abdicates his moral responsibility to condemn those organizations that want to dismantle our democracy?

President Trump hasn’t done anything illegal.

Instead he fanned the flames of racial tension in this country which is exactly what these hate groups want.  His failure to condemn their views and hold them accountable for the violence that they incite will only embolden them.  This is not new news.  Hate groups have been fomenting race war for 150 years.

As Mitch McConnell said, “there are no good neo-Nazi’s”.  

There is no moral equivalency between Nazi’s or white supremacists and any other group in this country.

As long the person in oval office suggests that there is, these hate groups will escalate their plans to incite the widespread racial violence they feel is necessary to bring down our democracy.

 

D’oh

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

It only gets worse for President Trump and the rest of us.

On our national holiday, North Korea demonstrated that they overcame the cyber-attacks that impacted their previous missile tests.  They also figured out how to build a missile that meets the definition of an ICBM.

They are on a fast track that will soon give them the capability of reaching the West Coast.  All that’s left is miniaturizing their nuclear weapons to fit on their missiles.

Once they have those capabilities in place, they become much more difficult to deal with.  It basically takes any preemptive military option off the table.  Any strike today only requires support from China and Russia.  Soon the US won’t be able to guarantee that such a strike would completely eliminate the ability for North Korea to respond with a nuclear missile aimed at LA.

North Korea isn’t crazy.  They know that the ability to destroy LA or Beijing is their best defense against regime change.

Russia and China just told Trump the price for their cooperation in getting North Korea to change their strategy.

It’s reducing our military presence in the region.  If we accept that bargain, we are leaving the door open for China and perhaps Russia to take our place in protecting our Asian allies.

This is the just another long term cost of electing an inexperienced President who seems to think that he can make a deal with Russia and intimidate China and North Korea with tweets.  His failure to heed the warnings that he received at the start of his Presidency may result in North Korea becoming a nuclear threat to us.  It also may weaken our ability to respond to future threats to our Asian allies.

Is this really what making American great again looks like?

Kool aid

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

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I must admit that I remain astonished at our current political landscape.

We have a Congress who are attempting to take healthcare away from at least 22M people in the name of what? Reducing premiums for the young and healthy? Providing the first of many big tax cuts to the wealthy? Further punishing the poor, sick, and old just because they can? Because we need something to replace Obamacare because we promised something better? How do you then explain a plan that costs more, covers less, threatens those with pre-existing conditions, does nothing to address the basic drivers increasing healthcare costs, and essentially eliminates Medicaid as we know it?

Then we have a President encouraging Congress to repeal Obamacare completely without any replacement as some sort of punishment to Democrats for not supporting him. If he can’t have what he wants, nobody can. Those 32M people who suddenly find themselves without healthcare can just go to the emergency room (Mitt Romney’s solution the problem of the uninsured).

It isn’t even enough to discover that the new healthcare bill will cause premature deaths to rise by approximately 29,000 a year as a result of lost insurance. Medical bankruptcies will again begin to rise after a decline during the ACA years.

We even have Republicans suggesting that the best way to deal with opioid addiction is to inform addicts that public safety officials can only afford to save their lives with Nar can three times. The fourth time they overdose, public safety officials are instructed to just let them die. Why? Because saving their lives is too expensive.

We’ve got reports that Russian hackers discussed gaining access to Clinton emails during the 2016 campaign and providing them through an intermediary to Michael Flynn.

We’ve got Mitch McConnell saying that he has $200B to play with and should be able to buy some votes. He has $200B to play with BECAUSE the Senate bill kicks so many people off of the healthcare insurance rolls so much faster than the House bill that instead of saving $119B over the next decade, the number is more than $300B.

We’ve got the war ratcheting up in Syria and Afghanistan with nary a peep from Trump supporters.

We watched a truly cringe-worth round robin of ring kissing from Trump’s staff and cabinet. Normally those things only happen in dictatorships and religions.

We’ve got Trump demonstrating on a daily basis that he has no idea what he is doing. His attempt to rally the senatorial troops to get a vote on his healthcare bill was embarrassing. It’s so bad, that McConnell had to chew out Priebus calling a Trump PAC’s attacks on Nev. Senator Heller for his opposition of the Senate healthcare bill “beyond stupid”.

There is all of this and more and what does everyone get upset about?

Trump picks another fight with a female news person.

Republicans can’t seem to muster the courage to call him and the Republican leadership out for their cynical attempts to pass a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy. They secretly cringe when he obsessively thrusts himself back into the spotlight taking focus away from their attempts actually get something done. They continue to defend him as the evidence mounts regarding his campaign’s involvement with the Russians and his own attempts to obstruct the FBI investigation.

You’ve got Paul Ryan defending the large number of uninsured in the Republican bill by claiming that most people don’t want healthcare insurance. Exactly the opposite is true. The main reason people don’t have health insurance is because they can’t afford it.

But even he felt compelled to say something about how inappropriate Trump’s attacks are.

Some folks in the White House think that they are somehow “winning” when Trump demonstrates that he is a petulant narcissist. In their view, these events galvanize their base because it forces them to swallow yet another gulp of the Trump Kool-Aide which inoculates them against reality and demonizes the only source of unbiased information that could possibly save them.

But even some of these have decided that this recent tweet may have been a bridge too far.

So if this is what it takes to finally get us to a point where Trump can be held accountable for his failures to fulfill his responsibilities as President, I hope that the Morning Joe reality-TV battle is only the first of a long series of attacks, each more demeaning and mean spirited than the last.

Perhaps that will be the missing ingredient to break the Trump spell for enough of his current supporters that we can finally start a rational discussion about the consequences of incompetence.

In the meantime, we’ll have to continue to witness to Trump’s feeble attempts to govern with a weak 40% approval rating and an even weaker understanding of how to function in the most powerful elected office in the world.

As I already mentioned, last week Trump called GOP holdouts to the White House for some old fashioned arm twisting around the stalled Senate healthcare bill. What happened? Nothing. Nobody changed their vote. Why? Because when the House bill was in a similar situation, he threatened intransigent conservatives that he would actively campaign against them if they didn’t drop their demands. What happened? They called his bluff. He caved and gave into their demands. They passed a bill that now has no chance of passing the Senate.

He has strong support among Republicans. Where are his appeals to his base and Republicans in general to support the Senate efforts? Shouldn’t this be a natural instinct for a “master salesman”? Instead he has been criticizing the bill. When he calls the bill “mean” and implies that it is cheap, how many Senators are going to be willing to take a hard vote? He is already telling them that he is going to protect himself if this whole thing goes south.

He has even undercut his lead dog in this fight, majority leader McConnell. McConnell has been working every angle he can think of wrangle the handful of votes he needs to get this thing passed and Trump undercuts those efforts with a tweet suggesting that it may be time to throw in the towel and just repeal Obamacare without any replacement. That’s what Rand Paul wants to do, not Mitch McConnell.

What does all of this mean?

It is not going to get better. Trump isn’t going to change and the realities of how politics works are also not going to change.

What will change is the voter’s opinions of Trump and those who support him. We will discover that like many other things about this President, his unwavering kool-aid-loving support is small too. We’ll see how this plays out in the 2018 election.

Whoomp

Monday, June 19th, 2017

 

The next big test of the Trump presidency is sneaking up on him. As I predicted, the domestic challenges that this administration has been dealing with will pale in comparison to international events where there is the very real possibility of escalation.

Trump’s generals told him and Congress that we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Trump agreed to send 4000 more troops into the area. What is Trump’s strategy? It appears that it is to do whatever the Pentagon asks him to do. These are the same generals that he criticized during his campaign about their strategies in the Middle East.

In past administrations, the State Department served as a balance to the Pentagon regarding policy and strategy. Trump and Tillerson have abandoned that role in their vision of a much smaller State Department. Those civilian State Department foreign policy experts no longer exist.

Gen. Mattis told the Senate that “Reconciliation” was the goal in Afghanistan. He was unable to articulate a strategy to accomplish that goal. The only apparent strategy is a response to what the Mattis described as a “Taliban surge”.

Trump is also expanding the war in Syria. The first step was firing missiles in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Yesterday, US forces shot down a Syrian jet that was bombing US-backed fighters near Tabqah. The US military said that they notified the Russians that they were planning to target this airplane using a communications system that was setup during the Obama administration. Russia denied receiving the message. Russia claimed they were going to shut that system down after Trump’s missile attack. They now say they are no longer going to accept these messages in the future. Instead Russia warned that US aircraft will be treated as targets going forward.

Trump has promised closer ties with Russia in a coordinated effort to fight ISIS.

That hasn’t happened.

Instead we have the same escalation in Syria that experts warned of when Trump talked about a military solution to the Syrian conflict.

That leaves us with a couple of questions.

  1. How will Trump respond when the additional troops sent to Afghanistan don’t have the desired effect and his efforts are criticized?
  2. How will Trump respond when Syria or Russia shoots down one of our aircraft in Syria?

The honest answer is that we don’t know.

That is just another problem with this administration. If the strategy of having no strategy actually works, we can all be grateful. If, on the other hand, it puts our military in a situation where they can’t win and introduces the threat of escalation into a much bigger conflict – is the risk worth the reward?

The Trump administration now owns both the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. They seem to have abandoned the Obama strategies of winding down the Afghanistan war and containing ISIS.  They replaced those strategies with short-term Pentagon-lead tactics. History tells us that tactics are particularly ineffective in resolving asymmetrical conflicts. Ultimately strategy and diplomacy are required because as Admiral James Stavridis famously said, “You can’t kill your way to success in a counter insurgency effort.”

The only remaining question is when will Trump supporters hold Trump and his administration accountable for the failure to have a coherent foreign policy?

The Credibility Gap

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

During the Vietnam War, there was a lot of public skepticism regarding statements that came from the LBJ administration.  Ultimately that led to Nixon’s election because he promised that he had a secret plan to end the war.  He lied too and instead expanded the war.  There were a lot of leaks including the Pentagon Papers.  Those internal defense department documents confirmed that both the Johnson and Nixon administrations had lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.  Daniel Ellsberg leaked those papers.  Nixon hired G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to plant bugs to acquire information that the Nixon administration used to discredit Ellsberg.  That same group went on to commit the Watergate burglaries.

The reason for this digression is that when Nixon eventually resigned, 24% of Republicans still supported him.

We are faced with a similar situation today.

Trump supporters are distrustful of any media that disagrees with them.  They are distrustful of any politicians that disagree with them.   In an April poll, 81% of self-described Republicans thought Trump was honest and trustworthy.  Only 38% of American’s share that view.  For those who attribute that 38% to some political bias, only 34% of those who self-describe as independents felt that Trump was honest and trustworthy.

Both of these things can’t be true.  Either he is honest and trustworthy or he isn’t.

It may be possible that Republicans have a different definition of honesty, but the accepted definition is that an honest person tells the truth.  By ALL objective measures, Trump lies on a regular basis.  Here’s a current running list of the 623 lies that he has told since his inauguration.  You may be able to dispute some of these, but it is difficult to suggest that they are all the result of media or political bias.

Republicans may believe that ALL politicians lie and Trump in particular is just a BS’er.  His lies are part of his method of negotiation.  But ultimately, they trust his motives and as a result excuse his tactics.  But that in itself is dishonest.  You can’t tell lies and be called honest.

But let’s give partisans a little bit of a break. They like Trump’s politics and suggest that all politicians lie because the media or the opposition won’t let them tell the truth, or else distort their statements to turn them into lies when in fact they were completely innocent.  But this a President who began his administration disputing the undeniable facts about the size of his inauguration crowd.  No, this President is different.

That brings us to the second topic of trustworthiness.  That is someone who does what he says he is going to do.  Someone who keeps their promises.

Trump fails this measure too.  He promised to release his tax returns.  He promised to put Hillary Clinton in jail.  He promised to pass a healthcare bill that would provide cheaper coverage to more people at a lower cost than Obamacare.  He promised to wipe out ISIS.  He even promised that he would never tell a lie.  I could go on, but I think the point is clear.  He doesn’t keep his promises either.  Worse, he doesn’t even acknowledge that he has failed to keep a promise.  Yet somehow Republicans feel he is still trustworthy.

Where does this come from?

From what I can see so far it is simple tribalism.  It doesn’t matter what Republican is in office, as long as there is an “R” next to their name, they are going to get the support of a large percentage of Republicans.  When the overall approval rating of Bush II fell into the 20’s in October, 2008 as the world-wide financial system began to collapse over 60% of Republicans still approved his job performance.

Another telling statistic that supports this view is what happened during the most recent primary season.

Just before Trump claimed victory, 46% of Republicans felt he was honest and trustworthy.  After the Republican convention, that number jumped to 69%.  Now it is at 81%.  Did Trump become a different person after the convention or after his surprising victory?  I don’t think so.

Here’s another example.  Only 22% of Republicans supported a missile strike on Syria during the Obama administration.  86% of Republicans supported Trump doing exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons earlier this year.

So that brings us to Comey.

Will his testimony, that has been widely regarded a damaging to Trump and his administration, affect his support among his base?

Early indications are no.

Comey called Trump a liar.  Trump called Comey a liar, suggested there might be tapes to prove his case, and offered to testify in Congress under oath.  What he didn’t do is explain why he cleared the room before his conversation with Comey.

We recently learned that he had similar conversations with Preet Bharara before firing him.

Comey connected the dots between the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, to Trump’s request that the FBI drop those investigations, to his firing, to Trump’s statements that the firing was because Comey did not do what Trump asked him to do.  Trump’s defenders claimed it was just the fumbling of an inexperienced politician.  No harm was intended.  Why would an inexperienced politician make sure that all his conversations with Comey were private?  If nothing else, the reaction of Jeff Sessions, the “experienced” politician in the bunch speaks volumes.  He did not act to protect Comey.  Instead he quickly moved to dismiss him even though it may result in his prosecution because of conflict of interest.

Here’s why all this matters.

Trump is digging a deep hole that he may not be able to get out of.  He has not been vindicated.  The investigations are continuing.  Comey laid out the obstruction of justice case for Mueller to follow.  Mueller just hired a bunch of very high power lawyers who likely would not have signed on if there wasn’t the prospect of building a case against very high ranking members of the Trump administration.

We are long way from the Democratic House majority and the smoking gun that could result in a bill of impeachment.  But fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats a 10% point lead over Republicans if the house election were held today.

What we do have is a widening credibility gap between a president, his supporters, and the rest of the electorate.  Every week, Trump’s actions and statements confirm the majority view of his credibility.  Those statements and actions also require his supporters to sacrifice their credibility in defense of Trump and out of allegiance to the Republican tribe.

This is not a healthy or balanced situation.  Eventually Trump will be held accountable for his actions and those supporters that remain will also be held accountable for enabling those actions.

Or else this will become the new normal and our country will continue to fracture in to warring camps where tribalism finally breaks democracy.