Saturday, September 10, 2016

Vladimir Putin's puppet -- little Donny Trump

In Wednesday night's Commander-in-Chief Forum, Donald Trump doubled down on his previous praise for Vladimir Putin, saying he is a stronger leader than President Obama, ignoring all the dastardly things that Matt Lauer ticked off that Putin has done (like invading Ukraine, taking over Crimea, hacking the DNC).   Trump countered that by suggesting he could list "all the things that Obama has done," suggesting that they were equivalent, or worse.   In short, Trump made it very clear that he would prefer to be the kind of leader that the tyrant Putin is than our own president.  He admires Putin's "strong control over his country."

Then one day later, there Trump was on RT America television being interviewed by Larry King and talking about how terrible U.S. foreign policy is and how dishonest U.S. journalists are to him.   In other words, more praising Putin and Russia over our own United States' leadership and free press.   Never mind, I suppose, that  journalists in Russia who criticize Putin often wind up dead.  

Let's put this in perspective.   Yes, maybe it's true that Larry King is an old friend of Donald's and that he recorded the podcast as a favor to him.   But Trump also boasts about how he is smarter than everyone else and the best negotiator there is.    In fact, he told Matt Lauer that he would be the most shrewd negotiator that Putin had even met.

So, how did he wind up getting played so very expertly by Putin in this interview broadcast?   Did Donald Trump not know what RT America is?   It's no secret.   For convenience, you simply look it up on Wikipedia, where you quickly learn:    RT America is broadcast in America but is part of the RT (Russia Today) propaganda network, based in Moscow and funded by the Kremlin to present "a different perspective on the news."    You can also look up Larry King and quickly learn that Larry King is a radio/television host for RT America.

So who got played here?    Surely not the "most shrewd negotiator that Putin has ever met?"  The Trump campaign says that he would not have done the King interview if he had known that it would be played on RT America.  Huh?   Really?   Why didn't he know -- or was curious enough and careful enough to find out where his interview is going to play?   So now the propaganda machine in Russia has it blasted all over their news that Donald Trump went on Russia Today and severely criticized America's president and his foreign policy.

It's hard not to conclude either (1) that Trump is naive and easily manipulated because of his narcissistic vulnerability to flattery;  or (2) Putin has some real control over him through Trump's deep financial debts to Putin's oligarch friends;  or (3) there's something even more sinister and tyrannical in seizing power as president -- possibly something involving Putin?

Any one of those three should disqualify him from being president of the United States -- in addition to the other reasons mentioned in yesterday's post.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Commander-in-Chief Forum. Trump failed the test.

CNN's Donna Bash acknowledged last week that the media holds Donald Trump to a different standard of lower expectations because he is a first-time politician.   That was certainly true in Wednesday night's Commander-in-Chief Forum, jointly sponsored by NBC and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and moderated by NBC's Matt Lauer.

The first question from Lauer to Hillary Clinton made it quite obvious that 30 minutes (minus ad time) for each candidate was far too little time for a serious discussion of important topics, at least for Clinton.   Donald Trump probably was happy not to have to display his lack of knowledge any further -- it was devastatingly lacking as it was.   But it was important that Clinton be able to answer the question Lauer asked her with detail and nuance, not sound bites.   And he kept interrupting her, asking other questions, and trying to hurry her along.   He came across as bullying IMHO. 

Lauer also asked tough questions of Trump, but he did not interrupt him in the same way.   I've read that it was the candidates' choice to have only one hour, total;   my guess is that "candidates" means Trump.   I'm sure Clinton would have liked more time.

The other impression about Lauer and Clinton was that he focused far too much on the email controversy (one report said it was 30% of her time), leaving too little time for important policy questions more related to being commander-in-chief.   And then he tried to hurry her through her answers.   Her detractors won't accept her simple answer that she neither sent nor received any emails that were properly marked as classified.   That's true, but it satisfies no one;   so she needs to be able to give a more explanatory answer.   And Lauer wouldn't let her do so.   She was justifiably annoyed, but then the press charged her with seeming "angry and defensive."

Given that, however, there was no doubt that overall Clinton impressed me as presidential, while Trump showed once again why a Trump presidency would be a disaster.  Sam Stein, political editor of the Huffington Post, discussed some statements Trump made that "would destroy any other presidential candidate."   But, because Trump says so many outrageous things, we have lowered our expectations of him;   and, because of the sheer number of them, "they were treated almost casually."  Here's what Stein found so objectionable -- along with my thoughts about the list.

1.  He said that "the generals" under Obama "have been reduced to rubble;"   so when he's in office, he will have "different generals."    What's wrong with this comment?   He was speaking to a group of veterans, including generals.   Donald Trump can't just go in and choose "different generals," as he suggested.  It was an outrageous thing to say, particularly in this context before a  military audience.   It just proves how unfit he is for the job.

2.  Trump repeated his admiration for Vladimir Putin and praised him as a strong leader, citing Putin's 82% approval rating and his "strong control over his country."   What's wrong with this?    As Rachel Maddow commented afterward, "Sure, some dictators get re-elected with 117% of the vote."   Putin completely controls the media in Russia, controls people by fear and intimidation, and there is strong suspicion that he is behind the murder of journalists and opposition leaders.   When Lauer asked him about Putin's invasion of Ukraine and annexing part of Eastern Europe, Trump's reply was, "You want me to start saying all the things that Obama has done?"   As Stuart Stevens, who ran Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, said:   "If Senator Obama had praised Putin as a better President than the American, Republicans [meaning he, as the campaign manager] would have demanded he quit the race."

3.  In discussing sexual assault as a problem in the military, Trump repeated what he has said before, essentially blaming it on the fact that women are allowed to serve alongside men in the military.   What's wrong with this?    It's the old excuse of:  "boys will be boys," so it's really the girls' fault.   In 2016, that is an outrageous position, and certainly not one that the military takes.  And not just the military women.   Military men have far more respect for their women colleagues than Trump does.   It just adds to his reputation as a  misogynist.

4.  He has repeatedly lied about his history of support for the Iraq War.   And he repeated the lie again, despite fact-checks that have recorded evidence of Trump supporting the invasion of Iraq.    Matt Lauer, however, let him get away with it, although Hillary Clinton (who was appeared first in the Forum) had already called him on his lies about this.

5.  He either lied or made highly inappropriate revelations about what went on in his recent intelligence briefings, claiming that the briefers made it clear to him that Obama had not taken their advice on counter-terrorism policies.   What's wrong with this?    It came perilously close to proving that he is untrustworthy in handling classified material.   But beyond that, it is obviously a lie, and has been called as such by former CIA officials since then.  Michael Morell, former acting CIA director, says intelligence briefers do not make policy recommendations;  they give information.   So Trump's saying Obama didn't take their advice cannot be true.  Also,  intelligence operatives are highly trained not to reveal their personal thinking by their body language.   This undermines Trump's claim that he could tell the briefers were unhappy with Obama by reading their body language, a skill he claims to be very good at.  Whether it was a lie or a leak, what he said about the briefing should disqualify him not only for the presidency but also for any further briefings.

6.  Sam Stein didn't mention this one, but to me it's important.   Trump played coy about his "secret plan" to get rid of ISIS (which he says he can accomplish in a week.)   At another time, he says that our big mistake about Iraq was that we should have "taken their oil."   He seems not to realize that he is advocating that the United States decide to invade another country and then just "take their oil," which would be a violation of military code as well as international rules of war.

In addition to these stand-out outrages, Trump displayed his shallow grasp of so many important issues, his lack of understanding how it all works, and his rash temperament -- all of which make him unfit to be commander-in-chief, or any other aspect of being president.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

If Clinton Foundation must be "shut down," why not Trump businesses with foreign investors?

PR consultant Eric Schmeltzer contributed this piece to the Huffington Post:
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"From the Washington Post, to USA Today, to the Wall Street Journal, and more . . . .  [T]he argument, as it goes is that even, if there is no impropriety, the Clinton Foundation just looks like a conduit for improper influence over a Clinton presidency. . . . They say the mere existence of the Foundation - right now, today - as a Clinton operation does not allow the American people to have full confidence that foreign governments, and other moneyed interests, aren’t buying access and policy."

[But what about the Trump Organization, all those business deals in foreign lands with foreign governments, all those loans from foreign investors?]

"Oh, there’s been nary a peep from our esteemed opinion pages regarding the flood of money from foreign entities into the Trump Organization.  Not one word about the impropriety of a candidate for President still operating a business that relies on deals in foreign lands, with foreign governments.

"The New York Daily News, this past weekend, found that Donald Trump’s been doing a lot of big deals with the Saudi government, putting a lot of money into his pocket.  We know that the Trump Organization makes a lot of money off its resorts in Dubai and Bali, and has a big deal going on in Turkey and the Philippines.

"We know that Donald Trump, Jr said, 'Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.'  How does all that money coming in give the American people the confidence that Donald Trump isn’t selling future access and policy, right now, in exchange for cash?

"To his credit, like the Clintons, Donald Trump said he would disassociate himself from his business, if elected.  He’d just let his kids run it.  Now, if you believe that Donald Trump would have no idea who is and who isn’t investing in his namesake corporation while he is president, then I have a Trump University degree to sell you.

"Of course there is one very key difference between money the Clinton Foundation may take, if Hillary Clinton is elected, versus money that the Trump Organization may take, if Trump is elected President.

"The Trump Organization money would go directly into Donald Trump’s family’s bank account.  Clinton Foundation money has not yet, and would not in the future, make it into the Clinton’s wallets.  [It is used by the Foundation to encourage and fund good works that benefit millions of people worldwide.]

"All while he is president, the Trump Organization would continue to make deals with foreign nationals, foreign governments, domestic governments, domestic developers, licencees, and more.  But, unlike the Clintons, Trump would stand to gain financially from such deals. . . . 

"So, what say you, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and everyone else calling for the Clinton Foundation to shut down, right now?  . . . .  How about you, punditry?  Do the “optics” look bad enough for you to say . . . .  The Trump Organization:  Shut it down?

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Good point.   We know Trump gets far more than equal time coverage on TV.   Now we're beginning to see questions about the fairness in criticism.   Why should an invaluable charitable foundation that benefits millions be compared as equivalent to a business empire that benefits only that business empire?


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Stock market predicts Clinton as the winner

Sue Chang of MarketWatch says that the stock market has already predicted that Hillary Clinton will win in November -- and probably will win big.

Even though Wall Street traditionally supports the Republican nominee, investors this year seem to be betting against this year's nominee.   "The market appears to have decided not only that [Hillary] Clinton will win, but that it won’t be close,” David Woo, a strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said . . . .  "Investors like landslide victories.”

The 90 trading-day countdown to election day is the key.  Woo noted that the Standard and Poor 500 has risen more than 4% since July 5, which marks the beginning of the 90-trading-day countdown to the election on Nov. 8.

Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, noted that the S&P 500  has a fairly good record of predicting election results.  "Since 1944, the incumbent person or party was reelected 82 % of the time when the S&P 500 rose between July 31 and Oct. 31. . . .   Whenever the S&P 500 fell in price during these three months, however, it signaled the replacement of the incumbent 86% of the time.”

This seems corroborated by PredictWise, the market based predictor, which gives Clinton a 75% chance of winning the presidency.   Another predictor, based on economic and political structures, rather than the candidates, is Moody's Analytics.  It also predicts a Clinton win, two important predictive factors being low gas prices and the incumbent's (Obama's) popularity.

Yes, but let's don't get over-confident.   There's an outlier CNN poll out yesterday with Trump leading by 2% (obviously within margin of error,and also probably a skewed sample).


PS:   Yes, I too thought that "July 5" must be a misprint, since July to November is four months.  But the 90 days is "market days," which means weekdays, without weekends or holidays.   So it is correct.   I counted.

PPS:   Don't worry about Trump as a loser.   They're already into Plan B, according to "inside sources."   Look for the startup "Trump News Media" to rival, and perhaps take down, Fox News.    Trump's already got Roger Ailes (TV) and Stephen Bannon (internet) on his team, each an expert in running a right-wing media behemoth.  One scenario making the rounds is that Trump continues his attempt to poison the presidency of Hillary Clinton through a continuous stream of internet and tv Trumpism.   He's already got an audience of millions, plus the email addresses of all those who have gotten into his rallies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why are the media enabling the anti-Clinton tilt?

Paul Glastris, writing for the Washington Monthly, says that there are legitimate questions that need to be raised about Hillary Clinton's relationship to the Clinton Foundation during the time she was Secretary of State.   Did donors get special access or favors, or did meetings affect government policy, especially considering that many of the large donors are foreign governments or international financiers?   Glastris has some answers:
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"The good news is that as a result of these investigations we can now answer those questions pretty definitively: no, no, and no. The bad news is that the press doesn’t seem to want to take “nofor an answer, even if the answer is based on the evidence of its own reporting."

[Glastris then explores this coverage and the misleading emphasis of the media.  One good example is a two-part request from aides to Bill Clinton at the Foundation.]  

[One request was for help getting special diplomatic passports for three Clinton Foundation staffers, who were to accompany Bill Clinton on a quickly arranged trip to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists.  The request was denied, because it would violate State Department rules.   The other was for a meeting with the CEO of Dow Chemicals, a Foundation donor.   Clinton did meet briefly with him.   The reason?   He was offering to let Mr. Clinton use his private jet to fly to Korea for this mission.]

[To be clear, neither request was for personal gain, by anyone.   Both were connected to a humanitarian mission of global importance.   Any Secretary of State, hopefully, would have responded just as Hillary Clinton did.   And note, she did not bend passport rules for convenience, even under such time pressure and for such a good cause.  Glastris continues:]

"Other stories on the Clinton Foundation over the last two weeks  fit the same basic pattern: the facts dug up by the investigation disprove the apparent thesis of the investigation. Last week, for instance, the Associated Press shook up the political world with an enterprising investigation showing that more than half of the 154 private sector individuals Secretary Clinton met or talked with during her first two years at State had donated to the Clinton Foundation, ether directly or though their companies or groups. That 'extraordinary proportion,' said the AP, indicates 'her possible ethics challenges if elected president.'

"But . . . the story’s own reporting undermined the case that anything unethical occurred. As its main example, the story cites meetings with and calls on behalf of Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunis, whose Grameen Bank had contributed to the Foundation. Yet Yunis is not some shady financier who gave money to the Foundation to gain access to the secretary. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of 'micro-lending' to the world’s poor whom Clinton has known and worked with for 30 years. And the calls she made in support of Yunis were part of an international effort to keep the Bangladeshi government from forcing the beloved humanitarian out of Grameen on trumped-up charges. Other examples in the piece of donors getting 'access' are similarly benign (one of them was the Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel)."

[One factor no one mentions: with the Clintons' prominence in global affairs over such a long time, there are not going to be many significant world figures that they do not know and already have relationships with.   If you eliminate all those from meeting with the Secretary of State, in order to avoid the appearance of conflict of emphasis, you'd severely hamper the operation of the Secretary of State's official duties.]

"The same passive-aggressive quality pervades all the recent stories about the Clinton Foundation. . . . Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally.  In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.

"Yet instead of accepting the evidence of their own investigations, much of the mainstream media expresses the attitude that these are still wide open questions. . . . . The New York Times concedes that the latest batch of emails does not 'so far' show that Hillary gave any special favors to Clinton donors . . . . [Yet] journalists . . . feel the need to insist that the next batch of emails could prove otherwise. . . . 

"Another way of looking at it is that the press is beginning to treat the Clinton Foundation story the way the Republican still treat Benghazi. . . .  The GOP at least had an obvious political motive for refusing to admit the obvious on Benghazi. Why the mainstream press is refusing to concede the facts of its own investigations on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation is not so clear. But unless it stops that behavior and starts speaking honestly, and soon, there’s a very real chance it could throw the election to Donald Trump."

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I have my own answer to that question of why the media is keeping the anti-Clinton suspicions alive.   Of course there is always the factor that controversy sells newspapers and drives up TV ratings.   But put that ubiquitous one aside.   I think that there is so much negative stuff about Trump out there being reported that media producers may unconsciously feel they have to bend over backwards to prove they are not favoring Clinton.  So they keep alive all the negative stories about her.   There's also the factor that Clinton has not given a press conferences in about nine months, and they don't like that;  they feel shut out. 

They needn't worry about having enough faux dirt to talk about for the next 63 days.  Trump has hired as deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who has built his career on being the most relentless sleuth trying to find dirt on the Clintons for the past 25 years.    He goes back to the 1992 Watergate non-scandal and was involved in promoting the anti-Clinton movie that led to the Citizens United decision.    So now Trump has added a leading dirty trickster operative to his stable that includes Breitbart's Steven Bannon and Fox's ex, Roger Ailes.   Prepare for ugly to expand exponentially.  


Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day 2016 . . . . MIA ?

Today is Labor Day.   Who knew?   At least from what we've been hearing during the presidential campaign.

There was a little mention during the Democratic Primary, when some unions endorsed Hillary Clinton and some endorsed Bernie Sanders.   But Labor has traditionally been a mainstay supporter of Democratic politicians and office holders.   Getting better working conditions and better pay and benefits for working class men and women was the goal of labor unions -- and unions largely made possible the rise of the middle class in America.

So . . . where are they?   Are they disappearing along with the Middle Class?  For all of Donald Trump's class warfare and goading the resentment of those white workers who feel left behind, he and labor unions seem about as compatible as oil and water.   On the other hand, the question arises now in the general election:   Is Hillary taking them for granted?

This is a strange election.   Yes, the place of unions has been eroded in our 21st century economy, as Republicans have passed laws aimed at curbing their power.   But I didn't think it had gone so far that we would be observing a holiday called Labor Day, but only out of tradition and nostalgia. 

What, exactly, are we celebrating?


Income inequality -- a topic for Labor Day

Nancy Altman, Founding Co-Director of Social Security Works, is one voice speaking out about income inequality on this Labor Day.   Here's some of what she wrote, taken from Huffington Post.
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"Labor Day is a time to celebrate the essential contributions workers make to our collective wealth and well-being. It is well past time that American workers receive their fair share of that wealth.

"Americans work extremely long hours and are incredibly productive. Yet, for the last three and a half decades, they have not received the just fruits of their labor. From 1948 to 1979, two-thirds of aggregate income growth in the United States went to the bottom 90 percent. But from 1979 onward, nearly two-thirds of growth went to the top 1 percent. Meanwhile, the aggregate income of the bottom 90 percent actually declined!

"We are the wealthiest country in the world at the wealthiest moment in our history. Shamefully, we have tens of millions of people living in poverty. The middle class is being squeezed out, caught between those with unprecedented wealth and those who suffer food insecurity, who go to bed hungry.

"This rising and perilous income and wealth inequality did not happen by accident. It is the foreseeable consequence of a persistent upward redistribution of wealth, resulting from decades of public policies that favor corporations and the wealthiest Americans over everyone else. These public policies constitute a war on workers. Attacks on unions, privatization of public functions, huge tax breaks for those at the top, deep cuts to domestic spending, weakening of regulations protecting workers, an eroding minimum wage, and attacks on our Social Security system are all part of the war. Predictably, they have resulted in stagnating wages and longer hours for everyday workers, and the income and wealth inequality we see all around us. . . ."
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What a stark contrast in the two figures in the chart above.   It makes the subject of income inequality vividly real.  The remainder of the article makes the case for voting for Hillary Clinton and Democrats.  On economic concerns of working people -- despite what Trumps says at his rallies -- it is Democratic principles that are in their interests.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pundit calls out Trump's "hate speech," saying we have allowed it to become "normalized"

This is an important opinion piece from Josh Marshall, publisher and editor of Talking Points Memo, an online news and opinion site.   He is boldly calling Trump's immigration speech for what it is:   "hate speech," with all the opprobrium that term implies.

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"Even now, after all that's happened, most political reporters find themselves either unwilling or unable to identify Donald Trump's tirades as hate speech. But they fit the textbook definition . . . .  This isn't 'tough' or 'hard edged' speechifying. This is hate speech.

"We tend to think in over-literal or clumsy ways about 'hate speech'. Most often we assume that it's a matter of using particular words, referring to a black woman as the n-word or calling a Jew a kike. And these slurs are often the bread and butter of hate speech. But they don't constitute it in themselves. . . .

"Hate speech is rants meant to inflame, inspire fear or rage or violence against a particular class of people. The precise vocabulary is not the heart of the matter. . . .  Trump's Wednesday night speech was . . . a tirade filled with yelling, a snarling voice, air chopped to bits with slashing hands and through it all a story of American victims helpless before a looming threat from dangerous, predatory outsiders. . . . 

[Trump brought out family members of victims of undocumented immigrants, to tell their stories.   Marshall says that investigative journalists have found that some were ordinary examples of spousal/partner violence against women or auto accidents, caused by undocumented immigrants, not all -- as implied -- random, rampant killings by unknown "illegals."]

"But my point here isn't to factcheck the victim stories. There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the US . . . [who are certainly responsible for] . . . murders, auto fatalities, DUIs and much more.  After all, they are believed to make up roughly 3% of the US population. . . .  The salient point is that [as with some of Trump's examples] immigration policy and status is incidental . . . .   "There's no evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes . . . . Indeed, there is solid evidence that immigrants commit fewer crimes than the native born. . . . 

"There is a legitimate public policy question about how aggressive we should be in deporting . . . .  But the fact that some of them commit crimes is not relevant to the discussion. This is simply a way of whipping up irrational fear and hatred. . . .  

"Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Jim Crow South or 1930s Germany . . . will tell you that the celebration and valorization of victims was always a central part of sustaining bigotry, fear and oppression. . . . . [and] a way of provoking vicarious horror, rage, hate and finally violence whether specific individuals were guilty or not. . . . 

"I don't begrudge any of these families not only their agony but even their desire to blame whole groups. Grief warps the mind. But there's no excuse for those who have themselves suffered nothing but exploit this suffering to propagate hate. The fact that we've become inured to this, that we now find it normal to see these cattle calls of grief and incitement as part of a political campaign is shocking and sickening. There's no other word for this but incitement and blood libel.

"Watch Trump's speeches, with the yelling, the reddened face, the demand for vengeance and you see there's little to distinguish them from what we see at Aryan Nations or other white hate rallies that we all immediately recognize as reprehensible, wrong and frankly terrifying. This isn't 'rough' language or 'hard edged' rhetoric. It's hate speech. . . . 

"This isn't normal . . . in America in the 21st century. And yet it's become normalized. It's a mammoth failure of our political press. . . .  It's a collective failure that we're all responsible for. . . .  [Because] it has become normalized, we do not even see it for what it is. It's like we've all been cast under a spell. That normalization will be with us long after this particular demagogue, Donald Trump, has left the stage. Call this what it is: it is hate speech, in its deepest and most dangerous form."

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This is sobering . . . and, I think, frighteningly true.