Saturday, December 24, 2016

Not even president yet, and Trump already creates chaos with calls for a nuclear arms race

TRUMP:   The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes. . . .  Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The first sentence is a twitter message Trump sent out a few hours after Russia's Putin had put out a similar call to strengthen his nation’s nuclear arsenal.   The two messages could have both been simply posturing -- or even a joint effort to establish Russia and the U.S. as the two strong nuclear partners in keeping the world in order.   Or uniting to intimidate China.  Who knows?   

Obviously, Trump's staff doesn't know what he means.   His new Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to walk it back, saying "there is not going to be an arms race."   But Trump contradicted him, calling in to the same TV show (Morning Joe) to say:  "Let it be an arms race.   We will outmatch them . . . and outlast them all."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) is not amused.  In fact, he told MSNBC's Chris Hayes:  “We have an incoming president who has kind of the maturity of a five-year-old, wrapped by a massive ego.   And to have that just a second away from a nuclear trigger is very, very scary.”

It's not only that his comments stir fears about an arms race, even more fundamental than that is the fact that he's obviously making these pronouncements without any input from his advisers, and there is no indication that he even appreciates the impact of such statements.

Trump does not seem to understand the difference between a negotiating position in a business deal and the hair-trigger dangers of international conflicts that can inadvertently set off a war, scuttle a delicate treaty, or change the balance of world power.    In addition to those perils, there is the risk that rogue terrorist groups would take advantage of such an uncertainty to multiply the chaos and destruction.

That is not a world that should be ruled by a 5 year old mentality.

Sent out to try to undo the damage, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer tried to explain that he didn't mean what he had said.   Frankly, I don't think Trump knows the difference.

Try to make sense of this exchange between Conway and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC:
*   *   *
"MADDOW:  Honestly, though, the American position on nuclear weapons worldwide for a very long time now . . . has been that we are trying to lead the way in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world.  He’s saying we’re going to expand our nuclear capability.  

"CONWAY:  He’s not necessarily saying that.  

"MADDOW:  He did. He did literally say we need to expand our nuclear capability."

"CONWAY:  What he’s saying is we need to expand our nuclear capability, really our nuclear readiness or our capability to be ready for those who also have nuclear weapons."

*   *   *
But here is what Trump actually said:  "No, I really meant I am fine with more nukes. . . .  Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."

And Sean Spice said this to Matt Lauer:  "But there’s not going to be [an arms race] because he is going to ensure other countries get the message he is not going to sit back and allow that. What’s going to happen is they will all come to their sense and we will all be just fine."

Political analyst for Huffington Post, Sam Stein, wrote this:
*   *   *
"There is such a thing as strategic ambiguity ― the concept that you benefit when your adversaries have to guess at your intentions. Trump certainly seems drawn to this concept. He chastised President Barack Obama repeatedly for being too forthcoming about his counter-terrorism strategies. He’s also moved quickly to shake up decades of U.S. policy to China without outlining a coherent replacement plan.

"But the downside of strategic ambiguity is that it can facilitate some unexpected, unwanted results. And in this case, that might include marching the world closer to a nuclear confrontation."
*   *   *

Whatever Trump means, or whether he even knows what he means, this is already getting too dangerous for comfort.   Does Trump also think it's a good thing for his own citizens to be scared of what he will do?    If so, then he is succeeding.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Newt's retraction: "I made a big boo boo."

Well, in a Thursday afternoon breaking news story,  Newt seems to have gotten what he wanted:  Trump's attention.  By saying that "draining the swamp" was no longer an operative phrase in the Trump campaign, Newt was jumping up and down, pleading "I'm still here!   Remember me?"    But it didn't go well.

This was a little too close to telling the truth and exposing the lies of the Trump campaign.   So Trump did what he does best (and worst).   He sent out a tweet.

     @realTrump:   "Someone incorrectly stated that the phrase 'DRAIN THE SWAMP' was no longer being used by me.   Actually, we will always be trying to DTS."

OUCH !    That "someone" must have really hurt.   Poor Newt no longer even has a name in Trump world.   He quickly retracted, calling it "a big boo boo."    How embarrassing to offer to be the president's brain and then, rather than getting the gig, to fall further from favor.

Not that Newt is wrong about draining the swamp.    The cabinet choices look more like restocking the swamp with bigger critters, not draining it.  But Newt is singing from the wrong hymn book.    Because he's no longer an insider, if he ever was.


New York City's Muslim surveillance program yielded exactly zero leads over five years

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) spoke with the President-elect, encouraging him to go forward with the Muslim surveillance program that Trump talked about during the campaign.    King is touting, as a model for a federal program, the one that began after 9/11  in New York under  Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and ran for five years.   

King was dismissive of arguments that it might be unconstitutional, saying "we can't worry about "political correctness."  Instead, King saidthe NY program was highly effective in stopping terrorism.

But that is simply not true.   The Associated Press produced a series of Pulitzer-Prize winning reports on the Muslim surveillance program in 2011.   The New York Police Department had to acknowledge in a court hearing that the program had not produced a single lead that uncovered any terrorist activity.

A separate report from the City University of New York's Law School found that the program created "a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion, encroaching upon every aspect of [Muslims’] individual and community life.”    They also found that the program “severed the trust that should exist between the police department and the communities it is charged with protecting.”

New York City has been sued over the program both by the American Civil Liberties Union and by the Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights.  The settlement of one of the cases is still not completed.  However, the two basic questions have been settled -- whether such surveillance programs work (No) and whether they are permissible under the law (No).

Rep. King is just behind the times or, like so many of his colleagues, refusing to accept the truth.   It's like torture:  even with proof that it doesn't work and that it is not permissible, their fear demands it anyway.   In a rational world, that is not sufficient reason.

(Based on Christopher Mathias' reporting for the Huffington Post.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What Trump voters believe. And what now?

Newt Gingrich may not be the best one to say what's going on in Donald Trump's mind at this point.   Since Trump didn't leap at Newt's stated wish to be the great brain of his presidency, Newt hasn't seemed to have any role except as a sort of distant gadfly.

For what it's worth though, Newt decided to make some news himself today by telling NPR that, although Trump campaigned on cleaning up Washington -- "draining the swamp" -- he now says that "was cute" but he doesn't want to use it anymore.

It doesn't take inside information to know that.   Just look at his choices for cabinet positions.   At least three billionaires so far, Goldman Sachs alumni in the top finance positions, the CEO of the largest oil company in the world.   Retired generals galore.    Seems like just putting more alligators in the swamp instead of draining it.

The question is not what Newt thinks or even what Trump says at this point.   Because we know he does not intend to do many of the things he campaigned on.   The question is how soon are the Trump voters going to begin to realize that, once again, they have been duped, played for fools, manipulated by Republicans into voting for people who will act against their own needs and wishes.    In short, how soon will they realize that Donald Trump has been the biggest and best con artist of them all.

Let's start with what the Trump voters have said that they actually believe -- what misinformation they absorbed from the Trump campaign and how detached from reality they really are.  Rachel Maddow recently (MSNBC, 12/9/16) dissected some poll findings from the respected PPP poll, and here's what she found in the polling data that shows what Trump's voters believe:

1.  The stock market under the Obama administration has soared.   The Dow Jones average more than doubled, from 7,949 to 17,19,614.   But 39% of Trump voters think the market went down under Obama.

2.  Unemployment went from 7.8% to 4.6%.   But 67% of Trump voters believe unemployment increased.

3.  By 40% Trump voters believe Trump won the popular vote.   Clinton won it by close to 3 million votes.

4.  As many as 60% of them believe that millions of people voted illegally for Clinton.

5.  This is startling:   29% actually believe that the California vote should not be included in the popular vote total.

Here's Rachel's overall comment:

"I think it shows that even after the election, what Trump voters believe about the world is distinctively different from . . . what is true.  And this is an alternate reality that they are in, -- it is weird enough and specific enough that you can't say it just springs from broader misunderstandings or from a broader ignorance on issues that afflict the country. . . . 

"[T]his is a specific alternate reality that was created by the Trump movement for a political purpose. And it worked for that political purpose. And now as the Trump administration takes shape, they have to know that they are in power thanks to their voter base that has these false beliefs about the country. False beliefs about the country, false beliefs about the economy, false beliefs about the outgoing president, false beliefs about what California is. In terms of what happens next in our country, it seems important to know this incoming president basically created this fantasy life for his supporters."

So what happens now?    Will they realize they have been conned?    Taken advantage of?   And then what?


PS:   I'm using "Trump voters" here to signify that particular type that attended his rallies so enthusiastically.   There's another type of voter who may not think highly of Trump but voted for him nevertheless, because we have become so polarized that preventing Hillary Clinton from becoming president took precedent over anything else.    I'll have more to say about these voters in a later post.      The poll stats quoted above, however, were inclusive of all who voted for Trump.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Warrant to examine Clinton's emails not justified

We already had doubts about whether FBI Director James Comey acted properly in announcing that his investigators had stumbled on some previously undetected emails that were sent through the Clintons' private email server.   They had been discovered in the completely unrelated investigation into the sexting scandal of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, who is one of Hillary Clinton's top aides.

Comey's justification was that he had reasons to think that some of the FBI agents were going to leak the information;   so Comey himself sent a formal letter to congressional leaders -- and held a press conference, eleven days before the election.    Republicans of course ran with it portraying it as one more Clinton "scandal" that proves she is dishonest.  They claimed, falsely, that the FBI investigation of Clinton had "been re-opened."

And that was done even before Comey and the FBI knew what was in the emails, because they had not yet gotten a judicial warrant allowing them to examine the contents.     After getting a judge's approval and doing a quick survey of the connections and content, Comey released a second notice saying that they had found nothing new;   apparently the emails were either personal and insignificant or were duplicates of emails previously examined.

As in Comey's earlier statement last June, there was no evidence from which he could make a case for any criminal activity having taken place.

But Hillary Clinton lost the election anyway

No one can prove how much this debacle contributed to the surprise loss.    But it was piled on top of the Russian's hacking and Wikileaks' deliberate release of sometimes embarrassing, but neither illegal nor smoking gun evidence of wrong-doing.   All of this only reinforced the cloud of absurd accusations -- from murder of a friend to financial improprieties to running a child trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor -- that her opponents have tried to smear her with for 30 years.   None of it has been substantiated.

Now the application for the warrant has been unsealed.    Some lawyers for the Clinton campaign, but also some law professors, have said that granting this investigation was completely unjustified by the application itself.   No new evidence was presented, no reason for new suspicions that would counter the earlier judgment of the FBI Director and his unanimous staff that they had no case for criminal charges.   All they had were suspicions based on finding some new emails -- between the Secretary of State and her long-time, trusted aide fer cryin' out loud.   What's suspicious about some routine emails between a boss and her aide?

At the most, a few other attorneys have said it's not clear that they did have justification -- citing the tendency to grant such a request when it is a high profile case.   Others, however, have said that it actually violated Sec. Clinton's rights under the Fourth Amendment, which states that search and seizure can only be granted when proof of probable cause of criminal findings has been documented.

Professor Clark Cunningham, who holds the chair in law and ethics at Georgia State University, is one who says the Fourth Amendment was violated.  “The Fourth Amendment requires you to pretty much know that what you’re looking for is there ― not speculation. This is just speculation,” he said.

How can they say they have probable cause, when there is no reason to believe this contains anything other than the same kinds of communications that have already been deemed not to be "probable cause of criminal findings?"    The application fails to show why they thought they had something new and different.    And, especially, there is nothing to justify taking such action so close to the election of the President of the United States -- especially when they FBI was being completely silent about the evidence they were finding that Russia was behind the email hacks into the Democratic Party and the chairman of Clinton's campaign, and that is was known that Putin favored Trump.

We now know that the FBI is not the non-partisan, non-political organization we thought it had become since the days of J. Edgar Hoover.   That in itself is very disturbing.  But this case is pretty blatant interference in our political process not only by the Russian government but also by our own FBI and its Director.

Polling statistician Nate Silver says that “Comey had a large, measurable impact" and that Clinton "would almost certainly be president-elect if the election had been heldthe day before Comey's letter.   He bases this on the fact that late-deciding voters in the critical states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania went strongly against her, where she had been leading among those who voted earlier.   But, of course, that does not prove that her lead would not have declined even without Comey's intervention.

This is such a consequential change in our presidency.   It's not only a major change in philosophy of government and a major change in policies, it is also a drastic turn-around in terms of experience and competence in running the apparatus of government.   To think that such a difference could be determined in this way is shocking and frightening -- especially when Clinton's final lead in the popular vote has reached almost 3 million votes.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Voter fraud practically non-existent in 2016

"After all the allegations of rampant voter fraud and claims that millions had voted illegally, the people who supervised the general election last month in states around the nation have been adding up how many credible reports of fraud they actually received. The overwhelming consensus: next to none."  (Michael Wines, New York Times).

In a total of 34 states surveyed, officials said they knew of only one credible allegation of fraudulent voting.    A few other states had some claims that are under review.   Tennessee and Georgia each had, under review, only 1 credible claim per 100,000 votes.

Inquiries in 50 states (only Kansas failed to respond) found none where there was anything like widespread fraud.    Thus, there is no evidence to back up Donald Trump's claim that "millions and millions of illegal votes" account for Hillary Clinton's popular majority.

The Times article backs up "what researchers and scholars have said for years: Fraud by voters casting ballots illegally is a minuscule problem, but a potent political weapon" used by politicians to impose increased restrictions on voting.

And then there are the Republicans who just don't accept facts, claiming that voter fraud exists but it just goes undetected.    Voting rights advocates counter that the current system caught those few, which average about one per state in an election cycle out of multi-millions cast.

Even some of those that are actual cases of improper voting often have understandable explanations.   Examples are:  people who had absentee ballots but are not sure they actually mailed it in, so they go to the polls on election day and cast another vote;   felons who didn't realize that they had lost their right to vote and were still on the voter rolls;  or non-citizens who were misinformed and thought they could vote.

A case in Georgia, reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. occurred at the precinct where I cast my early vote.   It seems that a poll-worker, on a slow day, decided to check the records to see if her two children had voted.   Not finding their names on the list of voters, and after double-checking with the main records office, she called her kids and told them that somehow their votes hadn't been recorded.  She encouraged them to go and vote again.   Which they did.   But it turned out to be a problem in delay of updating records.  By the time the votes were counted, it showed that they had voted twice.   Which they actually did, but not from an ulterior motive.

So-called voter fraud is just not a problem, folks.   The number of improper votes is miniscule;   the number of people improperly excluded or intimidated from voting is huge.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Leaked news: Tillerson a long-time director of U.S.-Russian oil firm based in tax-haven Bahamas

The Guardian last night published the leaked news that Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, Exxon-Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson, has since 1998 been a director of a U.S.-Russian oil firm that is based in the Bahamas, a prime location for tax haven corporations.

I don't yet understand the reason this has been a secret.  Documents from the company have previously listed him simply as R.W. Tillerson, along with other directors from the U.S. and from Russia.  Apparently there is nothing illegal about it, but why would it have been previously unreported?    The corporation is involved in off-shore drilling in the Aral Sea.

Tillerson protested the U.S.government's sanctions against Russia beginning in 2014;  and it will certainly raise further questions about the appropriateness of his Sec. of State appointment.  Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will hold Tillerson's confirmation hearings, has already expressed "serious concerns" about confirming Tillerson because of his ties to Russia.


Four passivity-syndrome responses to Trump Era, according to Robert Reich

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy, Univ. California, Berkeley, and former Secretary of Labor in Bill Clinton's cabinet, wrote about four types of responses to what we are facing in a Trump presidency.    Here it is in condensed form.   I think I have had all four syndromes myself at various times.

1. Normalizer Syndrome. You want to believe Trump will appoint good people to advise him and that he will listen to them.   That is, it won't be as bad as some people fear.   He will rise to the occasion and realize the seriousness of the responsibility he has undertaken.  Reich says that is "a grave delusion. Trump has a serious personality disorder and will pose a clear and present danger to America and the world."

2. Outrage Numbness Syndrome.  A person can be repeatedly outraged only so many times before they just become numb to it.   Every new bad thing he does just builds up that protective callous more and more.   "You can’t conceive that someone like this is becoming President of the United States, so you’ve shut down emotionally. Maybe you’ve even stopped reading the news."  Reich advises getting back in touch and reengaging with what's happening.

3. Cynical Syndrome. You’ve become so cynical about the whole system that you say the hell with it. Let Trump do his worst. How much worse can it get?  After all, this is America.   Reich says:  "You need to wake up. It can get a lot worse."

4. Helpless Syndrome.    Not quite like the denial stage in grief.   Reich says:  "You aren’t in denial. You know that nothing about this is normal; you haven’t become numb or stopped reading the news; you haven’t succumbed to cynicism. You desperately want to do something to prevent what’s about to occur.  But you don’t know what to do. You feel utterly powerless and immobilized."

Reich says that these (normalizing, numbing, cynicism, and feeling powerless) are "natural human responses to the gross absurdity and genuine peril posed by Trump."  But he wants to jolt us back into active resistance, saying that:  ". . . taking action – demonstrating, resisting, objecting, demanding, speaking truth, joining with others, making a ruckus, and never ceasing to fight Trump’s pending tyranny – will empower you. And with that power you will not only minimize the damage that is about to occur, but also get this nation and the world back on the course it must be on. . . .  We need you in the peaceful resistance army, starting January 20."

Yes, he's right.   But this verbal jolt wasn't quite enough to overcome my numbness and outrage fatigue or to give me much hope to overcome my cynical helplessness.    Maybe the Electoral College vote today will supply the electrical jolt.   But, even if so, what can be done that will actually be effective?

I'm still holding on to the slim hope that Michael Moore, who correctly predicted Trump's election, will also be right in his more recent prediction that he will resign before Inauguration Day.    And what makes that seem plausible is the possibility (1) that Trump might realize that he is going to have to give up too much of his business connections and (2) that he really doesn't want to have to work as hard as we expect our presidents to do.   

That fantasy is so fragile and slim now, however, it's nothing more than a gossamer thread of hope.   Is this really happening?


Sunday, December 18, 2016

'Inconsistency, thy name is Republican'

Let's be up front and clear about what the Republicans are doing.

1.  In the U.S. Senate, the Republican majority refused for almost the entire last year of President Obama's time in office to even have a hearing on his nominee to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court -- and their explanation was "let the people decide in the election."  It is clearly the duty of the president in office to nominate replacements to the court.   The senate majority has failed to do their duty to advise and consent.   The result has been many 4 to 4 tied decisions that can set no precedent on important issues.

2.  In North Carolina, after the people had spoken and elected a Democratic governor, the Republican majority in the legislature, with the outgoing Republican Gov. McCrory's collusion, called a surprise special session to strip this incoming governor of some of his powers in the future -- despite the voice of the people saying they wanted a new governor.  They wanted the Democratic Cooper to replace the Republican McCrory.

In other words, the Republicans are claiming the right to take away the power of their political opponents, whether they are going or coming.   In one case, in order to have it their way, they say "let the people speak."   In the other, to have it their way, they say, "don't listen to the people who just spoke."

We are back in the historical era when "might makes right."  In both cases, the people's right to have a functioning government has been taken away by a partisan, legislative body.   Never mind the constitution and legal process.