It Will Be Interesting, If Nothing Else

January 4, 2017

Weeks before the Inauguration of Donald Trump, I was already are experiencing controversy fatigue until the first day of the GOP Congress. Consider the almost daily brush fires kindled by Tweets and walk-by press conferences. The President–elect is rooting for Putin against his own Country, picks a fight with the Chinese, suggests that sensitive documents be hand-written and delivered because no computer is safe, attacks his own intelligence agencies, falsely claims job creations… the list goes on.

However, the Congressional crash and burn over gutting the ability of independent investigations of ethical violations was a bit of a curve ball. Up to that point, everything Trump did was consistent with someone who cared little about facts, ethics, or the effects of his Tweets. Then came the Tweet questioning the timing (not the propriety or the process) of the late night, closed door, anonymous Congressional vote. The next day, the vote was reversed. Of course the Tweet had less to do with the reversal than the massive flooding of complaints by citizens, but Trump deserves some credit for the momentum to reverse the scurrilous vote.

Trump has more apparent and hidden conflicts of interests than any President in modern times, but that just makes the whole episode even more interesting.  The undercurrent of the ethics office vote could be a harbinger of a very ambivalent relationship with the GOP Congress. No doubt some Congressmen looked at the lack of transparency and obvious conflicts of interests of Trump – failing to produce tax returns, failing to identify assets, failing to establish a blind trust, taking money from foreign governments for rentals of his D.C. hotel, etc., etc. – and figured they could also get in on the action. The ethics office was a major obstacle to unfettered corruption, so in a manner revealing the true priorities of the GOP their first official act was to meet behind closed doors, literally in the middle of the night and cast an anonymous vote to end independent ethics investigations.

GOP Congressmen obviously thought that Trump would look out for them. They learned very quickly that Trump only looks out for himself. Well, maybe for Putin too, but that’s it.


What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

January 3, 2017

One of the more distressing aspects of the disastrous Presidential campaign of 2015-2016 was the breakdown of communication – not only between the media and citizens but even more so between family members and friends split between the candidates. Both sides are to blame, and both sides have a vital stake in restoring some common basis for dialogue.

Progressives (and many Conservatives) can rightly bemoan the lack of consideration of facts and reality among Trump supporters. The numerous lies, false claims, reversals of statements, etc. seemed irrelevant to them. Even an admission of his sexual predation only briefly concerned some Trump supporters before it was summarily dismissed anyway (most white women voted for Trump). Even Trump encouraging the Russians to conduct cyber-espionage against our Country to his benefit – and then they did – is dismissed as irrelevant to the one over-riding issue of supporting Trump no matter what. That phenomenon is real and it is a real danger to our Country. However, it is important to realize that the 48.5% of Americans who voted Trump into office didn’t suddenly lose their minds or sense of reality, or their loyalty to America.

Trump supporters are driven by certainty of their beliefs, no matter what the facts are. Those beliefs are in large part driven by emotions – fear and anger primarily. When a person feels those strong emotions then they will over-ride rational argument. It is a bit like arguing with a person about their religious beliefs – faith “trumps” reality. Some of the fear is a reaction to what they perceive are threats exploited by the media (for profits) and by Trump (for votes). Some of the anger is a reaction to a valid sense of judgment and intolerance from the left, embodied by Hillary. For too long the insistence on tolerance by the Left has created intolerance of some basic values that many Americans hold. Even more important is that the Left has displayed intolerance even to attempts by some of those same Americans to simply talk about their concerns. If the Left has been telling these Americans in words and actions “we don’t care what your concerns are or what you have to say, you must conform to our values…” then why should those same Americans care about anything other than making their point by ignoring reality and elect Trump?

Without an attempt to listen and not judge Trump supporters there will be no movement back to respecting facts and reality as a basis of forming consensus and policy.

 

 


Looking Ahead

December 28, 2016

As the year begins, it is a natural impulse to look back before we look forward. For many of us, the year 2016 was encapsulated nicely by the John Oliver bit interviewing people in Times Square (“F you 2016 and 2017 you don’t look so great either so F you too!”), but for the minority of American citizens who voted for Donald Trump, 2016 was a triumphant year. They deserve to revel in their victory and as Trump himself declared in Orlando on December 16th “You people were vicious, violent, screaming… but now basking in the glory of your victory.” A lot has been made about the “post fact” political realities, but there is one place where facts can be an undeniable measure of reality and political energy: the economy.

Trump and his supporters claimed that the Obama economy was a “disaster”, so let’s look at the economic facts as they existed when Obama took office and as Trump takes office so we can have an objective measure of the Trump economy.

In 2009, when President Obama took office the unemployment rate was 9.5% (the worst in 34 years), it is now less than 5%.

In 2009 the GDP was – 5.4%, it is now +1%.

In 2009 the poverty rate was 14.3% and climbing, it is now 13.5% and declining.

In January 2009 the Dow Jones average was 7,949.09 and falling, it is now nearly 20,000 and rising.

In 2009, the real wages of Americans were stagnant, in 2016 real wages have seen the first increase since 1979.

The budget deficit in 2009 was $1.4 trillion (an increase from a $236 billion dollar surplus from the Clinton years), in 2016 the deficit is $ 439 billion.

So, based on economic facts, if Trump is to be as successful as the “disastrous” Obama, he must decrease unemployment to 0%, boost the GDP 6.4%, the Dow Jones should be at least 31,941, create a budget surplus of nearly $1 trillion. And the man who also said that the minimum wage was too high, must somehow continue to raise real wages.

So let’s give him a chance to measure up to President Obama…


Roqqa Don

November 4, 2016

One of the least covered news events in the world has been the battle to recapture Mosul and Western Iraq from ISIS. Hundreds of U.S. Special Operators have been coordinating Iraqi and Kurdish troops, calling in air and artillery strikes and training troops since President Obama ordered a mini-surge last April.

It is estimated by the Pentagon and international media that over 1000 ISIS fighters have died each month since then. The final compliment of Spec Op troops are arriving in Iraq this week and the battle will begin. Now that Mosul is nearly encircled the largest urban siege since WWII, Trump weighed in. He has already demeaned POWs, and the current command structure of the military (e.g. the generals are “stupid”). Now he has claimed that the battle for Mosul is a “catastrophe” and that it is making us look stupid.

It is one thing to question policy, but quite another to act as a propaganda outlet for ISIS, undermine troop morale, undermine their confidence in their command. It could be that he is simply so profoundly ignorant of the military (he was unaware that that the military has it’s own legal system) that he is unaware of what he is doing.

The CO of the War College took the extraordinary step of responding to Trump’s inane comments on “element of surprise”, but Trump answered with his usual demeaning comments instead of refraining from make strategic commentary. On the other hand, if his comments are intentional, whether it is to get himself elected or not, then he it perilously close to treason – giving aid and comfort to ISIS.

Our troops are superbly trained, motivated and lethal. Their commanders are the extraordinarily intelligent, educated, and aggressive – many of the Special Ops Commanders actually get into the field to personally view and participate in battles. They all deserve our support.

In my day, they had “Hanoi Jane”. Apparently, troops fighting and dying today have their “Roqqa Don”.


“The Vote is Rigged”

November 3, 2016

There is a consensus among the mental health professionals that I know that Donald Trump has a psychological disturbance – Malignant Narcissism. It is a permanent disorder of the personality – a way that their brain automatically perceives and relates to the world. The symptoms include antisocial features, paranoid traits, an absence of conscience, a profound need for power, and a grandiose sense of importance. These disturbed people tend to become enraged when faced with failures (or perceived failures).

They tend to blame others for failures, never accept responsibility for their antisocial actions and will blame others for what they did (or accuse them of wrong doing). They are excessively concerned with appearance and body image, adorn themselves with beautiful women like ornaments. They tend to blow up organizations they participate in when they feel challenged, causing chaos. (A word of caution, don’t get into a discussion with psychologists over Trump, they will go on for hours).

One feature of Malignant Narcissism that was interesting to me is their tendency to use projection as a psychological defense – a process where unacceptable thoughts and impulses are attributed to another. In other words, they tend to accuse other people of something they are doing.

We’ve seen Trump use projection throughout the campaign – accusing others of bigotry, self-interests, unethical or illegal actions of their Foundations, etc., but none are as disturbing as his mantra that the election is rigged. I wondered how this irresponsible claim of a rigged election might be related to the pattern of projection. It is true that the only political party currently under a consent decree for widespread attempt to intimidate voters is Trump’s own GOP.

In fact, Trump is asking his followers to do exactly what the Courts found was illegal and imposed sanctions that are still in effect. This is why the Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit claiming that the coordination of the RNC with the Trump Campaign to intimidate people at the polls in New Jersey and why next Wednesday the Court has ordered all the Parties to appear for a hearing.

In the last two days, written confirmation that the Trump Campaign has undertaken a voter suppression campaign to dent the right to vote to minorities, women and “idealistic” young people. This seems to confirm that an attempt to rig the election is underway – except it is Trump who is inspiring and his Party organizing it. We should all vote in this very consequential election.

If you see attempts by people to intimidate others at the polls (hint: look for middle aged, bearded white men with a hint of liquor on their breath and cami ball caps in predominantly minority neighborhoods), then tell the poll workers, call the police and if all else fails step up and defend the right to vote.


Supreme Court Attacked

November 2, 2016

The recent comment by Senator John McCain that no nominee of a President Clinton will ever be approved by a Republican Senate is the most alarming comment of an already alarming political situation. It’s bad enough to have to deal with the fear of political violence after the election from AK-wielding Trump supporters convinced that the election was stolen.

Now we have to face a real Constitutional crisis in the form of a publicly-stated attempt to allow the U.S. Supreme Court become extinct or at least non-functioning for possibly the next eight years. It is as profoundly an unpatriotic act as any we have seen in our lifetime – deliberately disabling an entire branch of government for partisan political purposes.

McCain later walked back his comments, which may be nothing more than an idle threat to get votes in a tightening election for him. On the other hand, Mitch McConnell stated early on the Republican goal of making the Obama Presidency fail. That, in and of itself, was a radical departure from historic precedent. In the past, presidential campaigns were bitterly fought but in the end the “loyal opposition” would work to get problems solved with the new President.

Even in the most bitterest of past campaigns  – the elections of Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan for example – Congress compromised and continued to try to make the Country better. The GOP reaction to the first black president changed that norm. The result has been a crippling 8 years of inaction apart from Presidential orders.

It’s difficult to see a way out of this mess, short of the election of a Democratic majority in the Senate and in the House. Already, House Republicans are announcing their intention to cripple a Clinton Administration with endless “investigations”. It is certainly true that without a Democratic Senate there will be a rapid decline of the ability of the U.S. Supreme Court to get vital work done.


Give Us a Break

November 1, 2016

Like most of you all, I need a break from politics. It seems to pervade every aspect of the media universe. Even the places where we used to get some escape and relief are now infused with political controversy: sports and comedy. One can hardly watch a football game without discussing the politics of National Anthem positioning of players. Skits on Saturday Night Live are not only funny, they now become part of the political football to kick around on talk shows and Twitter.

I suppose that you could argue that the involvement of professional athletes in the political process and exercising their free speech rights is positive, but the expression of their politics within the context of a game is not. It seems like a violation of one of the few places of relief from the media-political complex. Politics is no longer an uplifting exercise of democracy, it has become a divisive, inescapable exercise in stress. The 16 month long media campaign has become exhausting and legislating the limiting of political campaigns from fund-raising onward ala European style gets my support.

One of the more obvious and destructive aspects of the 16 month long media-political campaign is that as we all getting fatigued and disinterested in coverage, they seem to ramp up the rhetoric and create more controversy. Tired of e-mails? How about Foundation controversies?  Tired of racist, misogynistic rhetoric? How about sexual predator controversy?

It’s like the devolution of horror films from the old Bella Lugosi movies which created a slow build-up of fearful reactions through suspense to the modern era horror films which use gruesome special effects rather than a storyline to induce a reaction. You start to watch video these days with an expectation that at any moment some terrifying “breaking news” controversy is going to pop out and grab you in a way that even Trump finds shocking.

Maybe soon we will all be babbling, thumb-sucking adults next to our children who are watching re-runs of Sponge Bob shows just to get relief.