Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

Don’t heed the troll

November 23, 2017

Cooper’s Trump’s gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it…. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, … and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. Mark Twain, Fenimore Cooper’s literary offenses.

 

Trump’s main device is distraction. Be it outrageous tweets, or outrageous policy stances, he uses these things to distract from the real dealings of his administration. He has also, as we all know, re-set the boundary for what is acceptable in the the way of crass, boorish, or illegal actions by a sitting President. This has had a significant impact on how I consider his actions.

In the past I might have been concerned with the moral or fiduciary behavior of other Presidents, but Trump has destroyed any boundaries, any constraints, and he’s concentrated on distracting the populace from other, more important things. So, what’s left? What’s important? Actions.

I see two kinds of policy actions showing up in the news these days. First, are what might be called loss leaders — actions he, or the GOP, want to take but which they know will foment a backlash. Dropping the Individual Mandate on ACA might be one of these. They stick this in the tax bill, and if they get it, fine. If they don’t get it, well, it served to distract the Democrats, to soak up news minutes. If it never becomes law, it still served a purpose.

The other kind of policy actions are things they are serious about. Things that will get them more money from rich donors. Things that will get them more federal judgeships. So the FCC is pressing on with a plan to kill Net Neutrality, to be announced over Thanksgiving. And everyone is supporting Roy Moore because, he may be a pedophile, but he’s our pedophile. And, of course, the big tax give-away.

Note how these can work in tandem. Everyone gets together and opposes dropping the Individual Mandate, and meanwhile the tax bill passes. Everyone gets spun up over some tweet, and meanwhile, rich wallets are opening up.

The point of writing this early on a Thanksgiving morning is to give warning. It’s a device. It’s a distraction. It’s a snare an a trap, designed to burn up news cycles and force you into adrenaline exhaustion.

If your Thanksgiving dinner table discussions center on Trump, instead of government policies, then you’ve already lost. Don’t fall for it.

I hate to normalize Presidential actions that would be considered boorish in a hedge fund manager, but the fact is, all that is just Trump being Trump.

What should you do? Pick your battles. Look at Trump/GOP actions that will seriously harm the country and those who can’t fight back. Immigration, federal agency dismantlement, net neutrality, disaster relief failures, tax-so-called-reform in general (not just ACA mods). Call/write your elected representatives about those, not about golf days or whose what he is grabbing. Yes, those are important. No, I hate to say it, those are not as important right now as some other things.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t heed the troll.

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About that election

November 3, 2017

This is just a quick post to remind folks that we are talking about a number of different issues WRT the 2016 election, and sometimes they are not easy to keep apart. I’ll have additional links later.

  1. Agents of influence, AKA Russian trolls poisoning the media discussion. Appears to be confirmed by reliable sources
  2. Direct Russian interference: Russian hackers breaking into the DNC computers and offering their take to the Trump campaign. Did they do it? Did they make the offer? The jury is out on the first one, and while some Trump campaign staffers are under investigation for lying about their contacts, there’s not yet solid proof that anything was offered or that the contacts themselves were illegal.
  3. Indirect Russian interference: Russian hackers breaking into DNC and other Democratic campaign sources and releasing edited versions to the press. Those press reports picked up by the GOP campaign. Apparently confirmed.
  4. Insider dump (or Russian covert operation) of DNC data to Wikileaks, which released it. US has characterized Assange as being in the pocket of the Russian Intelligence Services. I think it’s simpler. Obama and Clinton got the Swedes to trump up sexual assault charges against him so they could extradite him to the US and try him on espionage charges for the Chelsea Manning leaks. Assange declared war back, and did everything he could to damage Clinton. Getting Trump elected was a side benefit.
  5. Clinton taking over the DNC unfashionably early in the primary season, and milking them for all she could take. Note that this is qualitatively different from any of the above. It’s not normal (and if Trump had done it, what would they have said?), it’s probably not ethical, but it doe’s not appear to be illegal. I’ll have more to say on this in a later post. And a later update shows a second agreement that kills most of the non-ethical aspects.

Trump in Poland — That Speech

July 9, 2017

Early last week a photo taken in 1937 on Jaluit Island turned up on the media. It showed a bunch of distinctly unoffical-looking officials, along with a man displaying a good example of male pattern baldness, and a genderless person in pants and a shaggy haircut, seated and facing away from the camera. People looked at the picture and immediately said Noonan and Earhart!

On the one hand, this is a good example of people seeing in a photo what they wanted to see. PI’s do this all the time and are well aware of the trap. If you are out looking for tanks, any roughly square assemblage of rocks can look like a tank. If you are looking for Noonan and Earhart, you will see Noonan and Earhart.

On the other hand, you have to consider context — where was the image taken. If you are looking at a photo of a tank park, it’s more likely to be a tank than if you are looking at a city park. If you are looking at a photo taken in 1937 on an island that’s the administrative center of a Japanese mandate, and only 1,000 miles from a possible Earhart crash site within that mandate, you can perhaps be forgiven for thinking of her.

Photos, thank goodness, have ground truth. It’s a tank, or it’s not. It’s Noonan and Earhart, or it’s not. You may never know the truth, but it’s out there. This is not true when talking of human perceptions and emotions.

Three days ago, Trump made a speech in Krasiński Square, Warsaw, thanking his Polish hosts. Depending on how you define the context, the speech can be seen as anodyne, Presidential, racist, Riefenstahlian, or power mad.

The full text of the speech was released by the White House. Admittedly, it might not be accurate. It could be the prepared text, and he might not have followed it. It includes applause and shouts from the crowd, which could have been poorly translated. For example, they could have been crying czarna dzum, which is Polish for Black Plague. But let’s assume that these words are the words he, or his staff, thought worthy of saying.

It’s not a long speech, less than 150 lines containing less than 3500 words — maybe 70 short paragraphs — of content.

The first twenty paragraphs are the usual thanks to the host country and callback to our long history together, totally in line with Fallows’ description of how Presidents talk overseas.

The next eight or ten recount the Poles valiant stands against the Nazi (i.e. German) and Soviet (i.e. Russian) invaders and oppressors, and end by celebrating Poland’s place in NATO as one of the pillars of a strong Europe and a strong West. So far, so … coherent … even if it did spend more time zinging Germany than Russia (Angela will not be pleased).

The next six paragraphs define the three dimensions of the new existentialist threat to The West: The ongoing attacks by radical Islamic terrorism, the destabilizing activities of Russia, and the steady creep of government paperwork. These threats come from South and East, from inside and out. One might reasonably assume that the Inside threat is paperwork, the Southern threat is radical Islam, and the Eastern threat is Russia.

Then, eight paragraphs extolling the achievements of Western Civilization, and five boasting about how we got other NATO members to spend more.

These are followed by the two controversial paragraphs, paragraphs that set the will to prevail at the center of our defense of the West.

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will

the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have.

the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost

enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders

the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it

Seven wrap-up paragraphs about Polish will during WWII (another shot at the Germans), a couple of dance-off lines and it’s done.

So, let’s get one thing out of the way at the start. Trump is not suddenly “Presidential” because of this speech. He’s a lightweight, and people from Oz, and things at the bottom of ponds know it. As with his first “Presidential” speech, he has workmanlike speech writers, and he managed to stay on script.

Now, what’s the context of those two paragraphs? First, within the speech, they were preceded by some battle of civilizations imagery that sets the West against Islam, Russian attacks on our institutions, and, of course, bureaucrats. Outside the speech is a modern Europe that feels itself under stress more from refugees than radical Islamists, that feels threatened by the Russian pushback against NATO expansion, that … well … isn’t really bothered by a bureaucracy that makes it hard to build golf courses wherever one wants. Behind the words of the speech is the world-view of its creator, Stephen Miller, and that of his staff colleague, Steve Bannon.

Depending on where you live, different parts of that speech speak to different parts of your brain. Are there people who will see it as a call to defend the best elements of the Judaeo-Christian West? Certainly. Are there those who will read the same words and find in them a call to drive out those who are not demonstrably White and Christian? Of course. Are there those who see the first, and cannot understand how people could claim the second? Here he is.

There is a saying in Washington, DC: Perception is reality. How people see an event or a policy is, effectively, how that event or policy is. I think the takeaway is that everyone’s perceptions about the speech have elements of the ground truth. A Bannon can see those paragraphs as a call to throw back the non-White and non-Christian elements that contaminate our nation state. A Fallow can comment on that without being a person who hates Western Civilization. A Dreher can gain extra clicks by stirring the pot.

And if you want to go beyond the immediate situation, a Brin can detect an element of the manic phase of the Republican worldview.

Be careful what you wish for

May 18, 2017

I’m not the first person to point this out (today!), and I suspect there will be a lot more in days to come, but impeaching Trump might not be the panacea the Democrats seem to think it is.

From the standpoint of lessening the threat to the planet, it’s probably a good idea, because, you know, football.

From the standpoint of protecting the hard-fought gains of previous Democratic administrations, maybe not so much.

The thing is, Trump takes a bull-in-the-china-shop approach to politics — thrashing around and disturbing the normal processes, and making it difficult to get things done. One reason that nothing significant has happened in the first 100 days is that the Rebpublicans are in just as much disarray as the Democrats when it comes to passing legeslation. There’s no ability of the White House to press its agenda, because the President doesn’t know how, and isn’t interested in learning.

So what happens if he gets impeached? Well, then we have President Pence, and do we really want one of those?

Pence is a born again Evangelical who dispises everyone who isn’t a white Christian, and dismisses those white Christians who aren’t male, and rich. He’s so doctrinaire that the first thing his (Republican) successors did was to start quite deliberately the process of unravelling his legacy.

Here’s a Rolling Stone article from earlier this year. I take issue with their poking fun at him for calling his wife “Mother”. That’s a Mid-West practice that merely identifies him as someone from a certain place and age group. My in-laws did the same thing. Having said that, the rest of the article is damning.

The other half of the problem is, unlike Trump, Pence is a politician who (sort of) knows how to get things done. Odious things. Things even Republicans want to walk back, but still. If Pence had been elected, we’d most likely have AHCA as the law of the land today, and Muslims and other foreigners would be blocked from entry.

There’s an old Aesop’s Fable about a pond that had a log for a king, and and the pond dwellers were upset the king never did anything. So they prayed for a new king, and the Gods sent them King Stork, who immediately started eating all the denizens of the pond. In our case, the choice isn’t between King Log and King Stork. It’s more between Mr. Toad and King Stork, and I’d rather see the Republicans thrashing around for the next four years.

L’Affaire de Comey

May 11, 2017

I’ve been following some discussions on why the Democrats are riled up now about Comey being fired, when they were all for him being fired back in November. There’s a number of intertwined issues here, and we need to be sure our conclusions on one don’t color our approach to a different one.

1. The Clinton emails investigation and the associated announcement. Comey mishandled the whole thing, whether or not you believe Clinton did something actionable. He violated FBI guidelines — the decision, and the announcement, should have been left up to the DoJ.

2. The second email announcement. What had Democrats in a twist was the second announcement, a week before the election, that the FBI was investigating a second set of emails. This was not only a violation of guidelines, it was in direct contravention to advice given by DoJ.

According to Nate Silver at 538.com, this influenced the outcome. As far as I can tell, Silver is pretty much a ‘by the numbers’ statistician, who analyzes polling statistics. He is a liberal, but doesn’t let that influence his analysis.

By the time Comey came out (48hrs before the election) with a third announcement, that said ‘my bad, nothing new’, the damage had been done.

From that standpoint, what Comey should have been fired for was having the FBI take a political action that influenced an American election.

3. The Russia connection. I’m not sure there’s anything there, other than normal graft, but I am not at all sure. To a certain extent, it’s a stick the Democrats can use to beat the GOP. Just like Whitewater and Benghazi and the emails. The biggest pointer to malfeasance in office is the attempt at a coverup via the Comey firing.

4. The firing. If Trump didn’t like Comey’s actions over the emails, he should have fired him in January. Instead, he waited until the Russia investigation was well advanced, and Comey was asking for more money for it. The story the White House is supporting won’t stand up to scrutiny.

So what Comey shouldn’t have been fired for is continuing an investigation on external influence on an American election. And the Democrats are right to be upset about it.

BTW, here’s one line of thought on Trump’s mindset. It’s extracts from a 40 section tweet-storm (and example of a misuse of Twitter. You don’t pump out a thousand word essay 140 characters at a time).

Government Isn’t Business

March 27, 2017

Back in the day, Bill Clinton and Al Gore set out to redefine government in the mould of modern business. The idea was that government would be more efficient if it worked more like a business. There were some good ideas here, but the basic concept failed, and not just because the follow-on governments of the Party of Business rejected the ideas (because they were thought up by Democrats), but because the basic concept is wrong. The practice of government is not like business, any more than the practice of medicine is. Businesses have customers, and seek to extract maximum profits from those customers. Government has citizens, and seeks to promote the common welfare. In business, the bottom 20% of your customers are the ones you shed. In government, the bottom 20% of your citizens are the ones who need your help the most.

This difference in basic motivation results in widely differing approaches to, among other things, decision-making and negotiations. In his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump talks about showing his opponent the down-side of not accepting the deal. When working with the city planning people in New York city, he would ask for exceptions to existing regulations — because successful real estate development in the city is based on managing exceptions — and show the planners the ugly buildings he could build if he stuck to the code. BTW, the same year I read TAotD I read an autobiography of a different NYC real estate developer (don’t remember the author) who said that he had never had to ask for a exception. In the AHCA negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, he essentially demanded agreement, with the threat that if they didn’t support him, ACA would remain the law of the land. We saw how that worked out.

Now, Trump wants to follow in the footsteps of Clinton and Gore, to make government more efficient, more like business. He has selected Jared, I am not a nepotist, Kushner to head up a SWAT team that will make government more efficient. In addition to not knowing what a SWAT team does, what he doesn’t understand is the fact that the Founding Fathers didn’t want efficient government. They wanted government that was difficult to suborn, that was structurally incapable of fostering a dictator.

Pick your battles

February 13, 2017

A few seasons ago, there was a short format (7min) anime titled Tonari No Seki-kun (My Neighbor Seki-kun). It was about a girl (Yokoi) who sits next to Seki-kun in class and watches all the madcap antics he gets up to in the back row. In the first episode, he builds a complex falling-dominoes layout on his desk, complete with stairs and crossovers. In the second episode, he draws a chessboard on his desk and plays shogi — Japanese chess — Game of Thrones style, complete with beheadings and regicides. The pattern of each episode is the same: Yokoi tries to pay attention to the teacher, but gets drawn in by the outrageous things Seki-kun is doing, ending up as a participant, or even an accomplice. When she tries to stop him, it’s her frantic actions that get disciplined by the teacher. There’s a political lesson to be learned from all this, given that the US has just elected a Seki-kun as our President.

tonari-no-seki-kun

I have to state at the start, for those who may be unclear on the concept, that our President is not an anime character. For one thing, Seki-kun carries out his little projects without disrupting the classroom, whereas Trump-kun is trying to disrupt things, to stir the pot, to keep his opponents — everyone who isn’t him — off balance. What is the best response to this? Spoiler: don’t be Yokoi.

Here’s a selection of some of the outrages Trump has committed in his first weeks in office. Threatening to destroy the career of a Texas state representative who opposes asset forfeiture. Attacking the “so-called judge” who opposed his immigration ban. Nominating as Ambassador to Austria some businessman whose prime qualification seems to be that he’s a “Sound of Music” fan. And in general, acting in such a way that even members of his staff are alarmed.

Any of these things would be fatal to the administration of a real politician, and I’m sure you can think of another half-dozen or so. But Trump don’t care. As someone said about one of my former bosses, “he does for fun the kinds of things other people get ulcers from doing.” The key to dealing with Trump is to not sweat the small stuff.

Yes, he needs to be called out for unacceptable behavior, but then leave the shouting and the tweet-storming and the pearls-clutching to the talk show hosts and other trained professionals. Don’t end up in an adrenalin coma. For one thing, it won’t accomplish anything. For another, it will only be more red meat for his base “lookit them liberals running around like headless chickens!

Instead, put your effort in those things that will return the most gain. Opposing the immigration ban. Opposing Repeal and Replace for the ACA. Opposing Sessions as Attorney General.

That last is a good example. The Attorney General is in a position to destroy respect for law and order in this country. Who holds that office is arguably much more important than who the Secretary of Education is. Forcing a tie on Sessions, and forcing Pence to own the tie-breaking vote, is much more important down the road than a similar vote on DeVos.

 

 

 

Three week hiatus

January 2, 2017

Sortof. For the next three weeks I’m not going to read or write about anything political. Why? Because it will pretty much be a waste of time and electrons.

Look, we know the Trump regime will be bad, but we have no way of knowing how bad. To the extent that he has plans, or maybe primal urges and proclivities, those plans will, as they say, not survive contact with the enemy. We all have a pretty good idea of what Democrat and Republican politicians want, and we have a fuzzier idea of what Liberal and Conservative Americans want. Trump is going to have to operate within that framework. We should all work to strengthen that framework, but that is something we should have been doing all along.

As for the details, until he actually assumes the toga and begins doing, or trying to do, things, we can only guess. The newsies don’t know, his Cabinet (whoever they turn out to be) doesn’t know; hell, Trump doesn’t know, and can’t know. Not at this point.

But there is a 24/7 news hole that has to be filled, and despite their lack of knowledge, the newsies and the bloggers and the tweets will have to fill it — with something. Anything you read between now and the Inauguration (maybe between now and the State of the Union) will be pure speculation and click-bait. Save your adrenalin for when you’ll really need it.

Go eat some oatmeal. Go watch some anime.

Trump and Intelligence

December 18, 2016

As a career Intelligence professional (somewhat dated, I’ve been out of the business longer than I was in the business), I’m finding Trump’s relationship with the Intelligence Community very interesting right now. He has deprecated their contributions and rejected the usefulness of their efforts. Many people have said that this is just one more example of his stupidity. I don’t think so. At least, not totally. I think what we are seeing is a good example of what might be called operator bias.

Operators are the people who get things done. It’s the operators in an organization who bring life to its reason for being. In the military, they are the war fighters, the ship drivers, and blue four. In business, they are the CEOs and COOs. Their job is to accomplish the mission, fly the frag, keep the doors open. They chafe at anything that might limit their ability to do this, no matter the firmness and reality of those limits. They are the ones who say never tell me the odds. The ones who say think like a manager rather than an engineer.

Trump is 100% a businessman, an operator. He’s always looking to apply his art to another deal. Anything that gets in the way of that deal is an obstacle, not an ally. And if it persists, it’s an enemy. Trump is hot on the deal of a lifetime, and he’s due to close on it on January 20th. So, how is he going to act when the Intelligence Community tries to queer the deal, as he sees it? He’ll do what any businessman does when faced with an inconvenient fact. He’ll belittle it, downplay it, distract you from thinking about it. He’ll ridicule the source. If forced, he might offer some sort of cosmetic band-aid.

“That high voltage line runs right through the back yard of that house we’re looking at.”
I haven’t seen any two-headed cats wandering around.

“That used car you’re selling seems to be leaking oil.”
They do that when they’re brought in from a cold lot. It will seal right up once you run it.”

“I like this used car you’re selling, but it’s got 150,000 miles on it.”
You shouldn’t be obsessed with mileage.”

Afterwards, a thinking-ahead businessman might take action to — well, not to fix the problem, but to keep it from being a problem for him by suppressing further news of it. To the extent he can, he might retaliate against those who might keep raising the issue.

But it’s not the job of Intelligence to suppress an issue. It’s not part of our ethos, it’s not in our DNA. An Intelligence analyst lives and breaths the concept of Timely Truth, Well Told. In Intelligence, the cardinal sin is to know something and not tell the operators who need to know it. Like logisticians, analysts deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. Intelligence, as they say, is our last defense against wishful thinking.

The Intelligence Community is actually pretty good about giving the President what he wants in the format he wants it in, from Reagan’s briefing book to Obama’s briefing Blackberry. If Trump wants his intel in 140-character bites, that’s what he’ll get.

The problem, as I see it, is that it doesn’t matter what the package looks like, Trump isn’t buying the product. He talks to his advisors, and he talks to foreign leaders and maybe he reads the New York Times (because that’s what New Yorkers do, even if they disagree with it) and then he heads off to make deals, and woe betide any Intelligence agency that gets in the way of the deal. And when something goes horribly wrong, as it well might, he’ll deny that it happened, deny that it happened that way, deny that it’s wrong, deny that it’s horribly wrong, and then — he’ll blame Intelligence.

Russia and the American election

December 13, 2016

I don’t know.

Intelligence analysts hate politics. Intelligence managers endure them. Intelligence executives exploit them. Today’s round of politicised Intelligence is about Russian attempts to influence the US election in support of Trump. On the one hand, you have CIA, an arrogant, but usually competent, agency mostly concerned with human source Intelligence, not computers, saying there’s a direct path back to Russian hackers (although not everyone agrees). On the other hand, you have the FBI, as incompetent a group of clowns as ever crawled out of a car, with special lack of smarts where computers are concerned, saying that they’re not so sure. Who we haven’t heard from yet is NSA, the agency charged with knowing about this kind of thing. On the other, other hand, Congress has gotten into the act, in a surprisingly bipartisan fashion.

I agree with Pat Lang, that there’s no way the FBI would be in cahoots with the Russians over this. However, given that the Republican who is the current Director of the FBI already did his best to influence the election for Trump, there’s no reason to assume that a pro-Trump stance isn’t continuing to influence their actions.

The documents in the case are the DNC emails published by Wikileaks. One side says the Russians were feeding them to Wikileaks editor Julian Assange. Assange had to be in the sway of the Russians, or why else just publish the DNC emails when it was likely the RNC could have been hacked as well? The other side says it was an internal DNC defector, and that’s why there’s no RNC data.  My take on this is that the US declared war on Julian Assange in 2010 and forced him to live in the Ecuadorian embassy for the last four years. He is striking back with the best weapons at his disposal, under the not-unreasonable assumption that a Trump presidency is the most harmful thing he could do.

Bottom line: this is a particularly egregious case of DC leak and counter-leak. There are even those who say this is another example of “both sides do it”.

The people who most indignantly condemned Trump’s questioning of Obama’s birth certificate as a scurrilous scheme to delegitimize his presidency, now seek to delegitimize Trump’s presidency. — Pat Buchanon

This kind of statement, even if it was a throwaway line in an article on a different topic, reveals a blatant disregard for reality. Statements by US government officials charged with responsibility for the topic are not to be confounded with the ravings of talk radio jockeys.

Right now, we, the people, have no idea where the truth lies, and we won’t, unless there are Congressional hearings, or another Snowden.

Don’t give Trump all the credit

December 11, 2016

I’ve been reading the news, like the news junkie I am, and it’s all about Trump — Trump appointed him, Trump appointed her, Trump’s new policies will transform this, that, and the other government programs. Trump is a loose cannon. Trump is nothing like a true Republican. The GOP will rue the day they handed the reins to Trump. You would think that he’s already a dictator, rather than being only an incipient autocrat.

In reality, Trump represents the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He is appointing to cabinet positions the same kind of people that the Republicans have always wanted in those positions: rich businesspeople with opinions directly opposite those in previous Democratic administrations. Think of all the headlines “Trump appoints an opponent of X to head the X department”. This is not Trump going off the rails, this is Trump adhering to the deepest, darkest wishes of the GOP core.

Or take budget deficits, and stimulus packages, and the like. The Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility and low deficits, right? Wrong! The Republicans are the party who say they are for fiscal responsibility and low deficits. But which of our modern Presidents drove up our debt as a percentage of GDP? Reagan. Bush. Also, Bush. Who drove them down? Carter. Clinton. Obama didn’t because deficit spending is what you need to get you out of a near-depression. The Republicans love deficit spending, as long as it’s on their terms, on their projects, and isn’t done by some uppity Democrat.

By attributing all these actions to Trump, the person, we miss Trump the personification of the new GOP. We give them the opportunity to plausibly deny his actions, come the next election cycle, and skate out from under the blame. “We voted for Trump, and Trump failed us” the voters will say. NO. You voted for the most Republican of all Republicans, and it was the Republicans who failed you. Republican.

Don’t let our fascination with the showman in front of the curtain obscure the truth of the matter. When the histories are written, when responsibility is properly assigned, the word Republican will go down as one of those words that, like Quisling, evokes a regime fraught with deceit and betrayal.

Trumpsych

November 30, 2016

Herewith, a compilation on post-election/pre-inauguration discussions of Trump’s mindset.

Trump may have Narcissist Personality Disorder.

How to cope with NPD.

How to deal with Trump.

How to defend against the Trumpistas.

A somewhat longer piece on the same topic.

…and an alternative view.

So, is he a dictator?

Is Democracy doomed?

Mattis for SecDef

November 26, 2016

Military policy site War is Boring, has a generally favorable article on Trump’s consideration of retired Marine Corps general James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. However, their first sentence, quoting Mattis as saying that “it’s fun to shoot some people” removes the statement from it’s context and makes him seem like a natural for his nickname “Mad Dog”. Here’s what he actually said:

You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

While that isn’t a picture of sweetness and light, it’s a lot more nuanced and motivated than the truncated version indicates, as other observers have testified.

And Mattis has already made news by telling Trump that he was against torture, because he found that a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers usually worked better when interrogating someone.

While I’m not certain I approve of a career military man as SecDef — I think that undermines the whole idea of civilian control — given the President we’re getting, and the possible choices he had, I think the appointment is a general plus.

Trump’s Nikki Haley Appointment

November 25, 2016

According to the Christian Science Monitor, Trump has named South Carolina governor Nikki Haley as his ambassador to the United Nations. The CSM says that this sends a message of inclusion, diversity, and reconciliation. I don’t think so.

Haley was a fierce Trump opponent during both the primaries and the election campaign itself. She is, as the article says, a strong woman and a strong governor, who fought hate and discrimination. None of her public positions would be approved of by Trump, none of Trump’s positions would be approved of by her. Trump is not known for rewarding opponents or the disloyal. So why would he appoint her to the UN?

Well, read that last paragraph again. She’s a strong GOP governor. She’s a strong woman, the face of the New South. She opposes Trump’s policies. If she accepts the UN job, she’s in a position that is none of these. Instead, she’s an employee. She’s Trump’s representative to an organization he despises, and her job will be to present his positions in the best way possible, parroting the party line. As ambassador to the UN, she’ll spend the next four years trying to defend indefensible positions and articulate inarticulate policies. As a governor, as a strong, effective southern governor, she’s in a position to build a launching pad to the Presidency. The GOP would love it if the first woman President were a Republican.

How can Trump prevent a Haley challenge in 2020? By kicking her upstairs to a powerless position.

The Election

November 22, 2016

So it’s been just two weeks since the event the Mary Beards of the 22d Century may well label the Fall of the Republic. After two centuries, the US has managed to elect its first proto-autocrat. Not a Hitler, nor even a Mussolini (who was reportedly well-versed in the writings of Socialist philosophers). Perhaps a Berlusconi. How did this happen? There are many theories out there, but almost all of them suffer from a too, too simplistic view of a complex systems problem.

The proposed reasons fall into three categories: (a) apolitical hatreds (racism, misogyny), (b) manipulated electorate (mainstream media, Facebook, voter apathy/suppression), and political discontent (class revolt, reaction to big government).

RACISM
Some commenters emphasize simple racism — the choice between multiracial democracy and white supremacy. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie does this, despite admitting that not everyone is racist all the time.

T. R. Ramachandran, president of a web-presence software company, produced a pages long and well-researched tweetstorm analyzing the data on various causes. His conclusion was that it was primarily, not exclusively, a racist/sexist cause, with very little economic underpinning.

MANIPULATION
There are two kinds of manipulation theories — government and non-government. The idea of government manipulation is based on the fact that many states implemented various voter suppression laws, designed to make it hard for Democratic voters — the poor and minorities, mostly — to vote. I haven’t been able to find anything current on that conjecture, but I do note that overall turnout was not as low as first reported. In fact, 2016 may have equalled 2012 in percentage of eligibles voting, and Clinton won a solid majority of the popular vote, just not in the right states. The key question is, did it suppress enough votes in key states to make a difference? We won’t know that for some weeks yet.

The non-government side of the manipulation argument turns on the actions of the main-stream media (MSM) in covering click-inducing trivia at the expense of real issues, and in treating the actions of both candidates as equivalent — Clinton’s email problems getting far more time for far longer than Trump’s actions, actions (racist remarks, sexist remarks, failure to release tax records) that in past campaigns would have spelled political death.  It also includes the extremely lopsided coverage, that gave Trump almost $2 billion in air time, when he spent only $10 million on advertising.

Of course, were the bogus news sites and fake news stories circulated on Facebook. It can be argued that these were only echo chamber amplifiers, and that those who read and believed the stories had already made up their minds.

Then, too, I would personally include the decades-old smear campaign by the GOP against the Clintons. Many people said they disliked Hillary Clinton personally. To the extent that that is not a reaction to an ambitious woman (and I have personally seen this kind of reaction by women, against ambitious women in the workplace), I’d say it’s the result of the ongoing double standard in press coverage. Although he attributes it to other factors, Michael Moore has pointed to one result:

90,000 Michiganders voted for every office and every ballot proposal on both sides of the ballot — and refused to vote for president.” …and Clinton lost Michigan by 11,000 votes.

The final manipulation, of course, was the stab-in-the-back on-again-off-again announcements about the FBI non-investigation of Clinton’s emails by Director Comey in the final week of the campaign. Given that Comey was originally a Republican appointee, kept on to show bipartisan dedication to justice for all, it’s likely that his actions were a deliberate attempt to sabotage her campaign.

POLITICAL
The political discontent argument, what one might call the peasant’s revolt, has supporters that range from Michael Moore (writing pre-election, and post-election), to Glenn Greenwald’s post-election essay in The Intercept and Joan Williams somewhat more thoughtful post-election essay in the Harvard Business Review, with some support from post-election press interviews. You could even factor in Allan Lichtman’s forecasts here.

The TLDR version of this is, the White Working Class is hurting, and has been hurting for decades and neither party has done anything about it. The Democratic Party has given up on blue collar workers as part of their base, and the GOP has given up on democracy in general. Finally, the WWC had enough, and voted to throw an electoral Molotov cocktail into the works. They weren’t voting so much for Trump as against the current system.

MY VIEW
My view, as a General Systems Theory person is, All Of The Above.

The Peasant’s Revolt seems to be the heart of it. In 2008 and 2012 we voted for Obama because we wanted change, and we didn’t get it. Part of that is the obstructionist tactics of the GOP, they should only burn in Hell, who looked at a country that they had just plunged into what could very easily have become a second Great Depression and decided that their overwhelming priority, at whatever cost to the country, was to make Obama a one-term President. But part of the lack of change can be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party and Obama himself. After what the banks and Wall street did to destroy the economy and the lives and livelihoods of the middle and working class, there should have been lawsuits, there should have been criminal charges, there should have been people taken out and shot on the tarmac.

There was nothing. There wasn’t even much in the way of relief for those bilked out of their homes and life savings. Meanwhile, Obama was pressing for even more in the way of trade agreements which, rightly or wrongly, the WWC sees as a threat to their jobs. All Democrats were disappointed (OK, all Democrats who were not millionaires). And Clinton was seen as more of the same.

Meanwhile, on the periphery, you had the whites of the Old Confederacy voting GOP, because yes race and misogyny. Race because Clinton was going to be a female continuation of that man in the White House, who they saw as, well, uppity.

On the other hand, Ramachandran’s claim that economics wasn’t a factor because voters didn’t know what the candidates economic positions were doesn’t keep economics from intruding. Economics played a role because even the well-off WWC faced a bleak, uncertain future, and so did their children. People said that Trump would make things worse, and the response of the WWC was, how will we tell?

So what did the election process look like? In the beginning, there were two candidates who beat the populist drum and told the WWC that somebody finally cared — Sanders and Trump. Sanders (who really cared) had the bad luck to be up against possibly the best prepared and most qualified Presidential candidate of the modern era. Trump (who couldn’t care less) was up against a band of light-weights who got trampled because they were one-dimensional caricatures of what a GOP candidate might look like, and none of them were agents for change.

So, the message from the voters was, we want change, and if we can’t have change we can believe in, we want change that will scare the monied elites out of their greedy ways. It’s the electoral equivalent of burn, baby, burn, and it’s going to go on for four more years, unless he gets impeached before then. And the consequences will be incalculable.

 

Steve Balmer shows us why we can’t trust Trump

March 11, 2016

The business of America is business. The sole function of a business is to maximize shareholder value. A good CEO will do whatever it takes for his company to make a profit.*

Fifteen years ago Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer said that Linux is a cancer. Last week, he said that he was glad to see MS releasing SQLServer for Linux, and shrugged off his earlier statements because the Linux threat was now “in the rearview mirror”. He also said: “The company made a ton of money by fighting that battle very well… It’s been incredibly important to the company’s revenue stream.” So, he lied. And he lied to make money, regardless of the impact on the sharing economy.

Not only did Microsoft continuously misrepresent Linux and the GPL in their quest for a revenue stream, they also funded bogus lawsuits, that drag on to this day.

What does that have to do with Trump? Just this. He and Balmer are cut from the same cloth, the kind of businessmen who will say whatever it takes to make the sale, close the deal. His position on a topic can change in a heartbeat. Neither one is the sort of a CEO who will let the truth stand in the way of a business strategy.

So, if you want America to look like Microsoft, vote for Trump, and leave the truth in the rearview mirror.

*Within legal reason, of course, and keeping in mind that the risk of going to jail is just one of the risks of doing business.

My two cents on Trump

August 12, 2015

In 2008 the Republican Party suffered a massive nervous breakdown. This happened as a result of them unexpectedly losing an election that everyone but them knew they were going to lose. The fact that they were, to echo a Churchillian phrase, both beaten and puzzled, shows how tenouous their grip on reality was in the first place. Their loss was not only unexpected but it was a loss to a Democratic candidate who embodied everything they were against, everything they hated — a vast collection of traits perhaps best summarized in a single word “Uppity“. That sudden exposure to reality drove them absolutely stark, staring, barking mad.

How mad? Well, mad enough to think about sabotaging their own country. In their efforts to ensure that Obama was a one-term President, they did their absolute best to trash the economy. We know how to get out of a recession, even a Great Recession: the government spends money. Lots of money. During the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s biggest blunder is generally acknowledged to be cutting back on the spending too soon. But that didn’t matter. Now that Uppity was in the White House, the GOP switched from running some of the largest deficits in history to whining that anything other than a balanced budget would undermine the economy, the solidity of the dollar, and probably the sanctity of marriage as well.

How mad? Well, mad enough to to go insane over a non-existent gun control threat. Democratic Presidents are generally for gun control but are unable to do much about it. Carter was. Clinton was. But there were no loud-mouthed, wool-hatted, rednecked, right-wing extremists patrolling outside of their speaking engagements carrying firearms in support of the Second Amendment and comparing them to Satan, or Carpathia, or other Biblical figures. Mad enough to believe that a multi-state training exercise like Jade Helm was an attempt to take over Texas and steal their guns.

How mad? Well, four years later the GOP ran essentially the same campaign, with, OK not the same candidate but with his ideological and intellectual clone, expecting that this time they’d really win, and of course they lost, again.

But that’s history, even if it’s recent history, and even if there are people who still don’t have a home or a job, or a future because of the events of 2008 and the GOP’s actions afterwards. Let’s not sweat the small stuff. Let’s look to the nation‘s future. Let’s consider what’s happening with the GOP primary campaign in 2015. As satirist P.J. O’Rourke said last June about the possible candidates, they are all pygmies (to be fair, he’s including Clinton and Biden as well).

That’s not a list of presidential candidates. That’s a list of congressionally appointed members of a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission named to look into a question of pressing national importance such as “paper or plastic?”

Of course, the stand-out amongst them is Donald Trump. Everyone agrees he has no chance of getting the nomination, but he is certainly getting the attention. On the home page of yesterday’s Washington Post online there were seventeen headlines dealing with the Presidential race (some were repeats under different headings). Seven of them were about Trump. The New York Times online edition had nine mentions of Trump, and seven mentions of all other campaign personalities. Of course, a mention doesn’t have to be political. Three of the NYT mentions of Trump were various headers on Stephen Colbert’s Night Show. But the fact remains, that Trump is sucking up the lion’s share of the coverage. And that’s good for the GOP.

It’s good for the GOP because they are all pygmies. They are all failures, at business or government, or life. Each one of them has some one useful trait that has propelled them into the ranks of serious candidates. Not one of them has a collection of traits that would make a good President. And where they fall short, where their vision fails, they fall back on the tried and true GOP policy positions that lost the last two elections. They blow on their dog whistles until their lips are chapped, but gently, discreetly, and not in a way that might cause people to think they were extremists, or incompetents, just loud enough to alert the base. And then along came Trump.

Trump isn’t saying anything that any of the others don’t believe, he’s just saying it louder, with more bombast and bravado. He’s giving them political cover, making it possible to say the un-sayable, as long as they do it discreetly, and not like him.   But there’s more to it that that.

There’s a concept called the news hole. It refers to the fact that there is only so much time on national television news, only so much space on the front pages of national newspapers, only so much time available for reading even the most insightful of blogs. There’s even, and I know this is hard to believe, a limit on how much can be covered in one 24hr cycle of talk radio. And if it doesn’t get covered, then by definition, it’s not news. Every day editors of one stripe or another must decide what goes in and what goes away. It’s the basis for content analysis, a concept going back at least to the OSS exploitation of German newspapers in WWII.

By hogging the limelight, by filling up the news hole, Trump has limited the media’s ability to ask penetrating questions of the real candidates. You can see this in the numbers for the first debate, where even bleed’n Megyn Kelly was guilty of spending too much time on Trump, and not enough time on the other candidates. You can see it today on the home pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times. Even The Economist, no chaser-after of glib headlines, with five US Presidential campaign articles on the first page of their Politics section, mentions Trump twice and leads with his picture on a third article.

Of course, questions do keep being asked. Insightful questions like: Is Trump serious? Is there a way to beat Trump? Will Trump really pick Sarah Palin as his running mate? Sometimes they are even asked of the candidates: Mr. Candidate, how would you respond to Trump’s characterization of illegal immigrants?

Very few are the probing kinds of policy questions that would expose these pygmies for what they are. And that means that whoever gets the GOP nomination, almost a year from now, will have had a year to skate on the hard questions, will have dodged a year’s worth of scrutiny.

That’s the gift that The Donald is giving to the GOP, and they should be grateful.