Saturday, January 28, 2017

Up Really Is Down, But Not How the Times Means It

In a stunning twist, the New York Times in a NEWS column,  today ceased their longstanding hold on the truth about Donald Trump. In 'Up is Down': Trump's Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past", the NYT admits what they knew along - that Trump lies endlessly and shamelessly. Now that DJT is not running in a campaign, now that he is safely ensconced as the president of the U.S., the truth about him can be reported fully and faithfully and without mentioning Hillary Clinton in a false equivalence narrative.
In the NYT upside down world, Trump the businessman was presumed harmless, a "serial fabulist", whose "biggest best boasts about everything he touched crumbled under the slightest scrutiny". But they go on:
"But for students of Mr. Trump’s long business career, there was much about President Trump’s truth-mangling ways that was familiar: the mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.”
Mr. Trump’s falsehoods have long been viewed as a reflexive extension of his vanity, or as his method of compensating for deep-seated insecurities. But throughout his business career, Mr. Trump’s most noteworthy deceptions often did double duty, serving not just his ego but also important strategic goals."
So the NYT is telling us now, after they struggled all campaign until it was too late, when they decided that a really big lie can be called a lie, that they knew all along this man is a big fat liar, but could not write that as news because...WHY? They do not say. But they quote Steve Schmidt, the Republican strategist, who says:
'In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.'

The implication is clear. The NYT believes they had no obligation to report the truth - no obligation of fairness, no obligation to the nation or the world. Amazing. The NYT was Falling Short and now the world suffers.

Lying In Plain Sight

In A Sane World questions the presumption of truthfulness that DJT enjoys by virtue of...actually it is not entirely clear why DJT was presumed to be telling the truth, subject to onerous and cautious "fact checking" while his Democratic opponent was made subject to endless wild accusations that needed to be put under the microscope, with the zealous enthusiasm of Fox News and the for-profit fabricated stories online.
In Philadelphia, DJT overuled his teleprompter in a garbled statement "Here in Philadelphia, the murder rate has been steady - I mean - just terribly increasing". Of course, statistics show that the murder rate has been steady. Trump thus demonstrates his affinity for lying - he starts with a lie, because it works to his advantage. And when presented with the facts - even by his loyal staff - he quickly pushes the lie instead. He prefers lying.

Loyalty Tests

As we witness the rapid emergence of an autocratic regime we should expect tests of loyalty to be used as a tool of intimidation, likely within weeks if not days. Loyalty oaths in the U.S. predate the McCarthy era of the 1950s, but they became
The "populist" Trump administration executive orders double down on unpopular policies as their claims abound to a mandate based on falsifying evidence of crowd size and vote totals. The new president already uses intimidation tactics against individual companies to bring other companies in line. But the Republican party counts on the support of big business.  Big companies with a national presence have been socially liberal for a long time, though they have maintained tolerance for Republican social policy as a necessary price for favorable tax and trade policy. What happens now when individual industries, not companies, are singled out for harsh treatment. Actions to eradicate portions of the Affordable Care Act already threaten the stability of the insurance industry. Actions on trade threaten companies whose imports will become noncompetitive due to punitive tariffs.

We should not expect the Trump administration to back away from their policies. They will continue to disrupt the peace and economy of a country that is actually doing pretty well. We are about to face a test of just how strongly voters felt about the emails, about Benghazi, about all those conspiracy theories they wanted to believe had some merit.

The next logic approach to doubling down will be to question the loyalty of the opposition - the popular majority who happen to live in the major cities of the U.S. Popular protests by marches or other means will escalate. The Trump administration will question their loyalty as an appeal to their base who believe in an autocratic leader who should not be questioned. Protesters may be met with violence. And we may see demands for loyalty oaths which are designed to intimidate and subdue opponents. We already have the example of Nikki Haley approved as U.N. ambassador telling other nations that they better get in line and follow the U.S., not because we are the beacon of the world, but because we have a laser focus on them - "taking names" of those who choose not to follow us.
"Taking names" rings in the ear as the shrill echo of the McCarthy era "naming names". Bring in the witness from Hollywood or academia, ask the witness under oath whether or not they were ever a "Communist" and than ask for the names of people the witness knew to be Communists. This approach strains each witness, pitting self preservation of career and family against basic loyalty to friends and colleagues as well as sense of meaning of good citizenship and American values.

Whether taking names of countries deemed to be unfriendly or forcing the witness to name names for the committee, the Trump administration and their (so far) unflinching henchmen in Congress will double down on tactics to appeal to their base in rural American and try to define American values as loyalty to them rather than loyalty to traditional American ideals and values. These new autocrats will cause enormous disruption in American life. Whether or not they fail, sooner or later, will depend in large part on how quickly companies that are not in the oil industry react with vigor. Loyalty to party - the Republican Party - is now stronger, much stronger,  than loyalty to the United States of American.

History will look back at this time and discuss the mistakes of the "Muslim Scare", like the "Red Scare" of the 1950s. We can only hope that this era is short lived.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Sane World

In A Dubious Vote-Fraud Claim Gets the Trump Seal of Approval, the NYT, yet again, debunks a Trump claim and demonstrates that the source of the claim lacks any credibility whatsoever.
But in a sane world, should not the burden of proof shift?

At this point, should not every statement of Donald J. Trump, President of the U.S., be presumed false, unless he produces irrefutable evidence to the contrary? In fact, his statements should have been presumed false early in the election campaign, based on the history.
The benefit of the doubt lapsed long ago, believe me. Bigly.

When a Lie is a Shield

A pattern of obfuscation, lies, vague claims, distractions, exaggerations, frequent use of superlatives and so on is an obvious shield which represents an effort by a speaker to avoid having to face the truth. News organizations that sift through statements to determine which individual statements are false or who measure degrees of falsity with Pinocchios are completely missing the point. Reporters need to look at the pattern, not the individual statements.
The pattern of lies viewed in its totality is a shield that Trump employs. What is he hiding? The number of possibilities is quite limited.
1. He is not really a billionaire after all. This was an accusation made during the campaign. Does this matter? Not really. If his assets and liabilities are both large, the difference between the two can easily be rationalized away with arguments that are not entirely specious. His most ardent supporters would not be swayed if DJT is not really a billionaire.
2. He is not really a businessman. At least not in the normal sense of the term. He is more of a shakedown artist who refuses to pay contractors for completed work and uses lawsuits as an instrument of intimidation and control. All evidence points in this direction. Yet this does not explain his behavior. He can rationalize this away.
3. He runs a criminal enterprise and/or he has committed criminal acts. This would be a good reason to hide his tax returns if investigative reporting of those returns would yield information of fraudulent or other criminal behavior.
4. He is the functional equivalent of a mole for a foreign power, Russia. Many individual details point in this direction based on his outward behavior. In fact, the only reason to infer that DJT is not a mole is that he has openly behaved like a Russian spy. Logically, what Russian spy would act like one? Paradoxically, this means that the best cover for a Russian spy would be to act like a spy. One variation on this #4 is not that he is a spy per se, but that he is willing to trade American policy decisions by the president for personal financial gains to his personal business interests in Russia, all of which is being kept secret based on an argument that nothing he is doing is forbidden by law.

What are the chances that #4 is true? Is it 1%? Less than 100%? 

Calling a Lie a Lie

NPR is the latest news organization struggling with the challenge of truthful objective reporting. The NYT halfway came to their senses in August 2016 deciding to call a lie a lie due to the extremity of the Trump phenomenon, but it was really too late. Now NPR tells us they will not call a lie a lie. And this is the big problem. This is the reason Trump was able to garner the necessary popular votes to be president.
Facts without context are just flotsam in an open sea. Objective reporting requires critical thinking to place those facts in context, recognizing patterns. For all political reporting, our liberal news outlets define objectivity as reporting facts and letting others define the context for themselves. Ironically, for liberals in press rooms, when true statements supported by facts align with their political beliefs -they back away from the truth - for fear of appearing biased. Conservative propagandists love to exploit this weakness.
Conservatives define themselves for America. Conservatives define others. Bannon's rant about the NYT "The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States." tells all we need to know  - and should have figured out long ago. He might have added that the media is a weak opposition party. They try to help their readership get to the truth, but refuse to put facts in context.
So conservative strategist renamed a party once known as the "Democratic Party" the "Democrat Party" (lest anyone recognize which of the two political parties supports democratic principles of majority rule, free and fair elections, and working together in the legislature for all of the people.
Conservative strategists succeeded in renaming the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare", making it look like the work of one man, rather than the Congress with him, and deflecting attention from the benefits of the law to the object of their hatred.
Conservative strategists recast the frame away from the actual policy issues, where they stand on weak ground due to the unpopularity of those policies, toward distractions.
Another renaming that recently succeeded is the recasting of "Neo-Nazis" to the "Alt-Right". With Breitbart in the White House and a president of German extraction (which the Trump family originally concealed by claiming they were Swedish) any appearance of similarity to the Nazis needed to be swept away.
Once again conservatives play to win and do not hesitate to lie to support a deeper truth, of sorts, if the lie supports their worldview. Liberals in the mainstream press hesitate to call a lie a lie even when the fact of lying is the truth. So, in order to avoid any possible appearance of unfairness, they refuse to call a lie a lie. But isn't that lying?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The 1% Doctrine

Ten years ago Dick Cheney's calculus on assessing and reacting to terrorist threats was immortalized in Ron Suskind's book The One Percent Doctrine. According to Cheney, who wielded enormous power in development and implementation of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policy,
"If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response."

We look forward to hearing Dick Cheney's take on the recent arrests of high level operatives in Russia's security service, the FSB. According to sources cited by TPM, Sergei Mikhailov was a U.S. asset who tipped off U.S. officials: 
"to information about Vladimir Fomenko and his server rental company “King Servers,” which the American cybersecurity company ThreatConnect identified last September as “an information nexus” that was used by hackers suspected of working for Russian state security in cyberattacks."

Josh Marshall asks the right questions about this affair:
"But this immediately poses the question: if Mikhailov was a US asset, how was he compromised? Did the information put out by US intelligence somehow lead to his exposure? Without putting too fine a point on it, a number of close advisors to President Trump are being scrutinized for ties to Russia. Some of them participated in the intelligence briefings the President receives.

Do we have a very big problem?"

The big problem is, as I posted Jan. 10th without any other content,  It's Not Illegal if a Republican president does it.  Is the dire possibility that Russia has a high-placed mole in the White House greater than 1%?

Is it lower than 100%?

What does conservative mean in 2017? Does it mean compromising our intelligence agencies and national security and the heart of our government, just so that terrible 'scourge' of 'Obamacare' can be eviscerated? You know, that terrible law that increased taxes on investment income over $200,000 so that lower income people in the U.S. can afford insurance coverage, and all Americans who fall through the cracks can be covered even if they have preexisting medical conditions.

Unfortunately, "when tactics become policy" means that Republicans are simply unwilling to compromise their current dominance in the federal government. They would rather tolerate severely compromised national security - when the Kremlin is on their side.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coalition of the Willing

Let's step back and discuss where we are right now in terms of the principles that drive our politics.    
Winning is Everything. For Trump, the only way to assuage the emptiness of his soul is to win. But actual winning is not enough without the validation bestowed with the appearance of winning.  Thus the importance of (i) his inaugural crowds being higher than Obama's and the Women's March and (ii) winning the popular vote total. No policy goals matter toTrump  in any real sense, except that optics matter - he must always appear great and powerful.
Winning is Everything. For McConnell/Ryan, passing the legislation they want is all that matters. If the president signs their legislation, they are happy. Letting Trump maintain his business interests does not conflict with their goals. They just don't care. If the Trump family profits to the tune of, say, $50 billion over four years, why would that matter compared with $20,000 billion annual federal spending over four years.

So the ruling coalition is almost perfectly in sync. McConnell/Ryan and the Republican majority in Congress are poised to allow Trump to do anything and say anything he wants to avoid provoking him.  Republican leaders are counting on Trump's handlers to control his impulses.

Dilemma for Democrats. Democrats like Obama and Clinton have maintained that "we are all on the same team". In game theory terms, Democrats see the structure of the federal government as a cooperative game. The functioning of Congress depends on compromise between and among factions who disagree on policy, but agree on the ultimate goal of a functioning national government. But Republicans are playing a different game. At the Inauguration Day luncheon at the Capitol, Ryan described the difference between the House and the Senate as "We play rugby. They play golf.", but he might as well have been describing the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats are now considering adjusting their tactics in Congress and elections. Simultaneously, traditional journalists are adjusting their strategy, showing a willingness to call a lie "a lie". But this may be too little too late. Both the Democrats and the journalists are late to understand the reality of the sandbox they are each playing in.

Democrats have been treating government as a cooperative game, seeking compromise. Republicans have long played a more aggressive non-cooperative game. If Democrats continue to play a cooperative game, they simply lose. If they recognize they are in a non-cooperative game, they will discover it is too late to adapt now that Republicans hold all the cards, at least in the near term. Democrats in the Senate took away the filibuster on judgeships out of frustration with the extreme recalcitrance of Republican Senators, but left the filibuster on Supreme Court justices. Republicans now hold those cards, able to eliminate the filibuster if Democrats obstruct the choice of Trump. All this in the context of the Republican shutdown of Supreme Court nominees in the last year of the Obama presidency, making this issue extremely bitter. So for democrats, they lose if they cooperate, but if they retaliate, they can not win either. If the system of federal government breaks down, Republicans score a 'W" for themselves. More background here.
The Problem for Journalists
Traditional journalists have rigid standards of reporting news that requires viewing politicians as "all the same". "Both sides do it" is taken as a given. "All politicians lie" is a given. The durability of the system of representative government is taken as a given during an election race. Statements by politicians that threaten to undermine democracy - whether or not the politician wins or loses - as Trump has done, are treated tentatively as bad, but not as an existential threat.

Just as the Republican strategy to up the ante in order to win has blindsided Democrats in government and pushed them into a no-win position, the existence of Fox News as an accepted source of "real" news by many citizens and driver of the narrative, has pushed traditional journalists into a no-win position when reporting on politics. Reporting the behavior of the president accurately and fairly could appear biased. Fact checking instead of reporting in context was always a weak response by journalists which has now led to alternative facts.
Road to Confederation
The goal for Republicans is a federal government that operates more like a confederation than a federation, while maintaining a common currency and, unlike Europe, common fiscal authority. Republican proposals to tear apart the structure of the Affordable Care Act that allow states to adopt different versions of the ACA do just that. If we can not have an explicit confederation, then the back-up plan is a virtual confederation. After all, the U.S. was originally a confederation. And the core of the modern Republican party, the Southern states, originally organized as the Confederate States of America. Despite their agreement on many issues, those states chose a confederation, not a federation.

We are seeing a shift in the balance of power in the world consistent with these trends. Trump's strong affinity to Putin which is based on a fellowship of autocrats actually plays well with the traditional Republican affinity to shift the U.S. to a confederation model.

2015 World
1. U.S. is federation. Global leader of progressive democracies. Globalization is progressing.
2. China is emerging economic power and modest, but growing military power. China is major trading partner with U.S. U.S. is leader in Asia, projecting great economic and military power as builder of alliances.
3. Russia is autocratic regime that functions as a kleptocracy. Russian economy is relatively small and relies heavily on oil, but Russian leadership has expansionary goals.
4. Europe is united as a trading zone and currency zone with minor exceptions. Europe is allied with U.S. for defense in NATO.

2017 World Outlook
1. U.S. is federation that may morph into confederation. Together with trade and military alliance posture, the America First position means that NATO weakens as an alliance across the Atlantic and will revert to those European countries that remain united with Germany as the leader. French elections will determine where France stands. U.S. role and influence as a progressive democracy will diminish. U.S. may break away from NATO.
2. U.S. and England post-Brexit, post-Trump, could become an English speaking alliance of trading partners and former great powers. The global influence of these partners will be diminished, but U.S. and Britain may realign as a military alliance.
3. Russia will remain an autocratic, repressive kleptocracy. New "friendship" with U.S., though entirely opportunistic for Putin, will dictate policy. Russia will test the waters of expansionism, possibly by "invading" Latvia using "volunteer freedom fighters". Russia will deny these are Russian soldiers using the Crimean adventure tactic. Fact checkers will find physical evidence these are actually Russian soldiers. Some will be captured and admit they are Russian soldiers. Putin will deny they are Russian soldiers. Trump will support Putin.
4. Europe will reconstitute NATO as an alliance of the Continental powers.

The 2017 elections in France and Germany will be pivotal to the continuing alignment of European powers. Electoral victories by the far right would undermine the European project and atomize Europe.

Dilemma for Republicans. Sorry, but there is no dilemma for Republicans. The extreme tactics worked. Tactically, a President Trump is better than a Cruz or Rubio and much better than a Romney or Kasich because Republicans in Congress only need to reach an agreement among themselves. Those other presidents would have had a political agenda. As it stands now, the U.S. is incapable of holding free and fair democratic elections for president where an informed citizenry chooses between candidates with understanding of the implications of either candidate winning. Republican tactics in electoral campaigns accompanied by the "stall" in Congress when out of power, have been validated as successful. In 2017, Republicans learned that they had not carried those tactics far enough in the past. The message is clear. Find the weakness in your opponent and attack early and often. Repeat phrases hypnotically. And when you win, continue to treat your Democratic opponents as the enemy.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spicer Grills

Today's lie, the Big Lie, serves several purposes. The lie that claims HRC did not win the popular vote in the U. S.
1. Attack the Democrats where they are strong. Make a strength into a weakness. Democratic strategists have been latching on to "The Minority President" as a theme and meme for the coming resistance. The idea is that the difference in policy post-Nov. 8th between a Trump and Clinton presidency is like night and day on every single issue. Therefore, in a real sense,  we have minority rule in the U.S. and must not forget that. American government is putting new policies into place that are opposed by a majority.
2. Restrict voting rights. In order to maintain power, Republicans will double down on the "voter fraud" pretext and put even more restrictive voting rules in place for 2018 and 2020 using today's false claim as a cover.
3. Establish supreme power of the White House to define reality. Lest we forget, the White House briefing is now the province of the Ministry of Truth. "We decide, you report what we say." We do not care about the truth. We are all about power. You who care about the truth are all weak. These are the alt-facts of the alt-right.
Every Big Lie has a paradoxical element. The Lie is a falsehood, which means there must be some associated statement which, if true would raise other issues that should not be ignored.
If millions voted illegally, don't they need to be prosecuted? (If there were millions, we should be able to find them.) Also, if millions voted illegally, does that not call into question the election that resulted in a President Trump? No, we are told, the electoral college picked Trump, so it is all good. Uhm, but that makes no sense without further elaboration. Sorry, we need to move on.

We also get some of the statement shaving that liars do, the vagueness, as always. "Millions voted illegally" occasionally morphs into "Millions could have voted illegally". Does a good journalist go after "could have voted?"  or "did vote"? It does not matter. The damage is done. The true believers have heard all they need.

Of course, no credible evidence was presented. Evidence was mentioned which has been debunked, but here we go again, into fact-checking mode, which is really besides the point, per #3 above.

Sean Spicer lies when he wants and expects to be able to lie with impunity as a servant of Trump. Nothing could be more similar to Soviet era propaganda.

The lying will catch up to this cabal, but the cabal will not go lightly. We will see more marches and greater division, but make no mistake about it, The division is not Republican vs. Democrat. The division is between the emerging regime and the people. The groups happen to be housed in the two parties for the moment, but that is a balance of power that is unstable and can not persist in a democracy. Either the liars tumble down or the democracy falls.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Enemy of the State

The Trump visit to the CIA must be watched in its entirety to be believed.The transcript is revealing, but the video really captures the moment.
Viewers can judge for themselves. Immediately after the live performance, CNN presented a panel with commentary in their usual heavily staffed format. Jim Sciutto had the most extensive commentary on the offensiveness and fact-defying remarks by the president.
The CNN report is scathing - sort of. But any objective viewer who understands the context - the president rushing to the CIA headquarters, to the wall that commemorates those who gave their lives, who must remain anonymous for security reasons - ostensibly to make things right with the intelligence community - ends up talking about himself - his youthfulness, how smart he is. And more. Huh?
This man had me searching the internet for the definition of "narcissistic personality disorder". Not to accuse, but to understand. One actually feels relief that even though this man is incredibly unusual, he is not necessarily unique (other than having been elected president) if we can allow ourselves to think in these terms. We can think of this as a collection of associated traits that we have all witnessed over a period of months that can help understand behavior that would usually be considered antisocial.

The grandiosity and complete self-absorption. Lack of any empathy, the willingness to exploit others. Placing no value on open exchanges, the ability to pile lie upon lie. Care only for the most inner circle of family members, and not necessarily all of them.

One can not watch all 15 minutes of the Trump speech without thinking "This is a very sick man."

The failure of the mainstream press to properly cover the Trump campaign has led to a general awkwardness among reporters. Reporters know in their hearts that if they cover him effectively now, he will use that as an excuse to shut them out of asking questions or even gaining access. Realistically, without a doubt, mainstream press is about to be shunted aside, likely within a matter of days.

Sean Spicer read reporters the riot act Saturday. The crime? Reporting the actual numbers of attendees at the inauguration. And the report on the bust of MLK missing that was quickly corrected. Still a crime. Still taken as a huge personal offense.So everybody outside the inner circle is to be treated as an enemy. Not a surprise for a narcissist. And the focus on minutia - not a surprise.

Local news faced a challenge with their reporting. A half hour show needs to compile a brief segments using excerpts from the DJT CIA speech, Spicer attack on the press, the offense taken by John Brennan. Our local NBC station report chose to cut DJT down to those few comments that sounded perfectly sane stating his strong support for the CIA (which lacked credibility in context). That editorial decision left the Brennan criticism sounding inappropriate and the complete report disjointed.

As a society, we must face the fact of Trump's deep narcissism. The Billy Bush excerpt - "and they let you do it" (because they are so shocked),  taken in this context, becomes perfectly understandable - . The narcissists are often professionally successful and can be charming, but leave others upset by their behavior.

DJT is clearly functioning on the extreme end of the spectrum of this antisocial behavior which has persisted over decades. Someone like this does not change. The challenge is whether the mainstream media can possibly change to be more responsible - not to try harder, but to do a better job under changed circumstances. And will the Republicans who control Congress even care? Or do they see this as their golden opportunity? Only three Republican U.S. Senators who understand the grave threat will be needed to thwart damaging American democracy and therefore, the republic, beyond repair.

If a few Republican Senators join Democrats, then we, the people, may stand a chance in this battle even if all of us who choose to exercise our democratic rights are considered enemies of the state by  the new regime.

'Really Unpredictable' or ...Unpredictable? Really?

Note: this was written Jan. 19 with minor update to add closing line.

In As Trump Era Arrives a Sense of Uncertainty Grips the World Steven Erlanger recently wrote that "Mr. Trump's unpredictability is perhaps his most predictable characteristic." That's a catchy line, but false. In his political campaigns, like business before that, Mr. Trump's behavior has been incredibly consistent, given the enormous differences between those two realms. He has treated anyone outside his most inner circle of family and loyalists as nothing but pawns. He shows no sense of moral imperative of any kind whatsoever. Systems, norms, and processes exist only to be exploited. Anyone who dares to criticize him is immediately attacked on an immediate ad hominem basis. He celebrates strength, measured solely on the basis of winning at any cost and ridicules compromise as weakness. He hides his lack of expertise, even the most basic knowledge with his boorish behavior and ridicule of opponents. He is about to take office with a majority having voted against him with horror at the prospect of his presidency and an additional possibly significant number having voted for him with revulsion. No person in the history of the republic has won election with so many opposed to and horrified by his ascension to office or with so many reasons for believing the republic is in peril. And so on.
When so many fear so much, one wonders if the signs of an imminent downward slide are often so apparent. What do the warnings look like?
The NYT front page headlines and stories of March 22, 1933 provide clues.

"Berlin inquiry ordered. Washington responds to plea of American Jewish Congress. Emphasizes anxiety here. State Department calls on consuls to report on Nazi mistreatment of Jews. Haven for some is seen. Rabbi Wise urges removal of immigration curb barring relatives of citizens."

"Reich to put Nazi Swastika on Black-White-Red as flag."

"Hitler denies war guilt. Says he wants peace, but will render harmless any who would harm nation."

"Christian leaders protest Hitler. Smith, Davis, Manning among 35 voicing profound dismay for attacks on Jews. More meetings planned. 20,000 expected at Garden Monday."

But Hitler had other ideas. From the NYT front page:

"The new Reichstag was consecrated in the Garrison Church in Potsdam today and with this ceremony the dustbin received the remnants of the Weimar democracy. In its place a new structure is being reared in Germany. Just what it will be like when it is finished no one can yet say,[BOLD added] but the circumstances that its builders chose Potsdam for laying the cornerstone has an unmistakable meaning. Potsdam, long associated with the Hohenzollern monarchy, because it is spiritually the diametrically opposite of Weimar, and the Garrison Church was designated because it is the core of the Potsdam spirit."

And so it goes. Out with the old regime. Out with the 'old' ways...the losing ways.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Congressman and a Senator

In "Why are no senators boycotting the inauguration? National ambition is part of it." Paul Kane misses the point of this action by House members. First of all, it's not really a boycott. Traditionally, a boycott as defined by Wikipedia is "an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for social or political reasons." A boycott generally connotes application of some economic leverage - using buying power to try to effect some action.
This is more of a "sit-out". Like a sit-in, a sit-out is an attempt by those with little power to garner attention to their cause, but in this case -- by their absence. The sit-out follows logically from the sit-in last summer by House minority members, also led by Lewis,  as protest against the failure of the House to take up gun legislation. House Democratic members have virtually no remaining power to influence legislation.

Democratic Senators continue to hold some power. The 52-48 Senate is more closely divided than the House and several Senators are more likely to join the minority on some issues. As long as the filibuster remains in force, the Democratic Senators at least have some power. For Senate Democrats, showing up at the Inauguration is of critical importance. Showing up is a strong statement that from their point of view, "we have not lost our government".

Paul Kane may know this - hence the wishy-washy subtitle "National ambition is part of it." But the real story is not the ambition of certain senators - it's the big difference between a Senator in the minority and a House member in the minority and now, just how weak the House minority is.
We can expect to see activist House members continue to seek alternative venues and methods to call attention to their causes because they can have little if any direct impact on legislation.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Trump has gone out of his way in recent years to undermine our democracy. He questioned the legitimacy of President Obama, which was a long running campaign tactic to ensure his primacy with the white underclass. Then he sent a clear signal to his supporters that he would honor the results of the 2016 election only if he won, in the process sending a clear signal to the citizen militias.
Suppose Trump is impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate. Would the man with the nuclear codes and command of the military honor that process? Why would he? He could declare martial law at any stage in the process and keep the Congress from meeting on the impeachment, insisting that martial law is a necessary security measure. He could claim the U.S. is subject to an unspecified security threat that is classified. The 25th amendment to the Constitution provides special powers to the cabinet and Vice President to declare the President unfit for office, but if the President challenges their decision, Congress makes the decision and the President could use his military command to stop them from meeting.
We really have no foolproof method to stop a president who thinks only of himself and his personal aggrandizement.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Problem for Democrats

The problem for Democrats is best summed up by Michelle Obama - "When they go low, we go high."
But going low can't always be the one winning strategy, can it?
To test that, I decided to go back to the 1988 campaign. Michael Dukakis has long been criticized for his ineffective response to Bernard Shaw's question about his stance on the death penalty for a hypothetical criminal who raped and murdered Dukakis' wife (the first question!). Of course, this was more of a statement than a question. Republicans swat away such questions, but Democrats, with their openness on issues and deliberation on detail, often hurt themselves politically. These types of questions will always be asked by debate moderators because it makes for a better show.

So it pretended to be a question about the death penalty, but Dukakis' stand on the death penalty was well known. It was actually a test of Dukakis' feelings about his wife and of his general calm demeanor. Was there anything that could ruffle his feathers. This was a cheap shot, an unfair question.

In all these years, I never read any commentator's take on what Mike D. should have said, but before doing an internet search, decided to concoct my own. In this age of constant trumpisms, it did not take long to craft a response similar to others.

"Well, Bernie, first I would strangle the bastard who did this with my bare hands. Then, before the body was cold, I would go after the son of a bitch who gave the bastard the idea by talking about the rape and murder in the debate. But we can't run a country that way, can we Bernie."

The sarcastic, angry tone used at each mention of "Bernie" would be lasting. The whole issue would be deflected from Dukakis to Bernie Shaw, which actually would have been fitting and appealed to many on a basic level. No one would have blamed Michael for this. But that type of response was not possible from a man whose nature was to go high when they go low, whether the opponent or the debate moderator. And, the Dukakis willingness to go after the moderator for wrongdoing, a black man, would have helped him soften or shed the "Willy Horton Ad" effect.

Dukakis did not have that kind of surprise in store for us, but George W. Bush did. He not only provided long detailed answers, but launched a surprise  attack of Dan Rather, "It’s not fair to judge my career by a rehash on Iran,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?'"

Though milder than the Dukakis retort needed to be. Bush succeeded in turning attention away from himself and toward perceived shortcomings of Rather.

The Democrats have their own self-imposed standards of adherence to the norms of a progressive democracy. That is fine, but assuming that your political opponents or journalists are always acting in good faith and need to be treated as if they are, creates an opening for abuse that can not be ignored if we are to survive this mess.

Health Care Now

Krugman writes, yet again, on the politics of health care reform. In 2008 and 2009, given where we stood as a society, and what can actually work as a practical matter, the combination of the possible outcomes looked something like this:
-Do nothing. Medicare covers Americans age 65 and older. Employers cover most full time employees. Small employers cobble together expensive coverage options for their employees. Millions fall through the cracks without medical insurance.

-Establish single payer healthcare system similar to all large advanced nations that had similar values to the U.S. at the time of the Obama administration. As Krugman points out, this was a nonstarter due to political opposition.

-Comprehensive reform with the goal of providing Affordable Health Care Coverage for all Americans. (Was that such a terrible goal.) Effectively only a system similar to the ACA could work which is why Massachusetts established such a system when Romney was governor.

-Modest reform to make improvements, but avoid addressing the key concerns. A last minute push was made to lower the age for Medicare coverage to age 55. That falls short for many over 55s without the subsidy and leaves out many others.

My comment on the Krugman piece:

Yesterday, Ryan repeatedly referred to the GOP's "rescue mission" to "repeal and replace". Like Trump, the GOP is so much better at the art of the catchphrase in service to lies and distortions than Democratic legislators are in efforts to bring reality to life with true statements. If the House GOP is so interested in a rescue, where were they when tweaks to the law were needed over the past six years? Fighting against the expansion of Medicaid. Fighting the law in multiple court cases. The GOP has no interest in health care reform as anyone would define it. Yesterday Sen. Cotton talked about reform that would allow someone like him to buy a "skinnied down" plan when they are young and not planning to start a family, then buying a more generous plan that covers maternity benefits when they plan a family. That's not how insurance works. That's how insurance fails - by antiselection. But the GOP will continue to focus on controlling optics and ignoring reality. You can bet we will have a health care cliff, similar to the fiscal cliffs of recent years, with the timing of the HC cliff geared not to the needs of people and insurance companies to adjust, but to the midterm and 2020 elections.

The Failure of the 'Real' News is the Real Threat Posed by Fake News

Amanda Taub gets almost everything perfectly wrong in her Upshot piece The Real Story About Fake News is Partisanship.

My Comment on this article at NYT:
Here we go again. The false balance that got us into this mess, the false belief that the truth is always the arithmetic average of two diametrically opposite points of view. "And Clinton voters, he said, would be similarly drawn to stories that deride Mr. Trump as a demagogue or a sexual predator." By this logic, there can never be any such thing as a demagogue because anyone who considers a person a demagogue, even though that is solely based on that speaker's very public appeal to the worst in people, is biased and therefore mistaken. You could fact check every NYT article claiming that the world is perfectly balanced between two equal and opposite sides and you will find a flawed example like this regarding the "liberal" side that is demonstrably false. OK New York Times. There is no demagogue. But then there is no climate change either because that is the belief of those 'biased' liberals. The claim that people have beliefs based on their tribe is the philosophy de jour, but is inverted. People derive their political beliefs from the way they reason about the world. People have grave differences within their tribes. For every story about Facebook friends sharing their rabid political diatribes, there are friends of those same people who avoid Facebook for the division those polemics create.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What Do Economists Say?

The American Economics Association recently held their annual meeting in Chicago. One session entitled "Nobels on Where is the World Economy Headed?" featured the following speakers and topics:
Presiding: Dominick Salvatore
Where in the World Is the World Headed? Angus Deaton
Seeking Political Keys for Economic Growth Roger Myerson
How the Left and Right Are Failing the West Edmund Phelps
Economic Risks Associated with Deep Change in Technology Robert J. Shiller
New Divisions in the World Economy Joseph E. Stiglitz
As you might expect, much of the discussion was wonkish, (for the nuggets, skip to final 12 minutes or so) but quite accessible to non-economists. With regard to the current swirl of events in the U.S., a couple of comments stood out. Edmund Phelps expresses many concerns, one of which is DJT's boosting of the prospects of specific corporations, such as Ford and Google," a type of corporatism not seen since the German and Italian economies of the 1930's." He is concerned the DJT administration "by expanding protection and interference in the business sector will block the innovation of outsiders more than innovation will be stimulated. Not content with the subtle reference to fascism he goes on to say "Hitler... by controlling the economy caused productivity growth to stagnate in the second half of the 1930s. Economists in the U.S. must wake up to the dangers presented by a return to corporatism. The new threatening to drive a silver spike into the heart of innovation."
Speaking after Phelps, Robert Shiller envisioned a 100 year projection of what might happen, given new technologies. He expressed optimism - "Donald Trump doesn't matter. He'll only be here for 4 years", which prompted some laughs in the audience of economists.

Stiglitz mentioned that the panel shared a broad consensus on policies for the bottom 90% or bottom 50% that would work and policies that would not work, but that the kinds of policies that the president-elect has proposed are among the policies that will not work and he has not talked about the kind of policies that would work."

Myerson spoke positively about how "Constitutional democracy is sustained". "People who rise to the lower levels developed a reputation for respecting the rules.." "When the people have a revulsion against ...the elites, they always bring in an outsider who looks a lot like Donald Trump. ", but that "we've just elected a president whose team has helped him to get around constitutional and legal norms for his own benefit." and "Once you are in the Oval Office, you have no particular incentive to change that part of your operation. That's the most dangerous thing and we need a strong Congress and ...strong state governments."

Angus Deaton said that economists tend to exaggerate the impact of the president on the economy. He expressed more concern about international politics especially in China where a lot of dangerous things are already happening and the "possibility of an accident is very large, potentially disasterous."

Stiglitz expressed concern about election of a president who says he wants to tear up international agreements and we in America thought we were setting an example for the rest of the world ...since WWII and DJT is a man who, "in his own business has shown an abuse of those kinds of obviously very dangerous and will not elicit the kind of cooperation we need" and "Cooperation and trust is being eroded."

Myerson also worries that DJT will cause other governments to stop buying and holding U.S. debt.

In the Q&A that followed, the first questioner asked Shiller about not having to worry so much about Trump and his optimism that the next four years will be of little consequence. Shiller deflected the topic of pessimism to the other panelists, at which Phelps spoke up - "I gave you Hitler, isn't that enough.?"

Invoking the Nazi Frame

Our fearless leader-to-be has understandably attacked and derided the unverified reports of Russian ties derived from opposition research that began during the Republican primary season. But if you are in his shoes, and if this is a pack of lies, which comparison is most apt? When lies are treated as believable as a start and gain credence through circulation, and are used to take down a political opponent. Looking back, if you are DJT, you might think of McCarthyism or maybe Soviet Russia.

But Germany in the 1930's? Where is the parallel there in the Buzzfeed documents? The only direct comparison to Nazi Germany is the one that has been made tentatively over the past 12 months and increasingly as DJT's march to power has progressed - the obvious similarity of Trump's tactics to Hitler's tactics. Fair observers have been reluctant to make the direct connection knowing that once you say "Hitler", with the enormity of his crimes against humanity, the possibility of reasonable dialogue goes out the window.  Instead, commentators have referred to "the 1930's rise of fascism" and the current state of the world.

So Trump's tweet "Is this Nazi Germany?" repeated in slightly different phrasing is simply a subtle, but effective tool of propagandism. Invoking the Nazi frame is a variation on tactic #11. When Trump makes a comparison to Nazi Germany, which means Hitler, he is populating the place in your mind where "Hitler" resides. Instead of thinking about similarities between Trump's rise to power and Hitler's, followed by a regime that behaves like Hitler, a significant segment of the population is being provided with a frame - "No, you guys are the ones like Hitler and Nazis!".

Our mainstream press has struggled mightily to perform within a self-imposed structure of now ancient rules of engagement. DJT will continue to distract attention from matters of real interest to American citizens. He will continue to assert his dominance over the propagation of information and deride the press, even when, especially when they do a good job. Confusion is his friend. After Obama is no longer president, many Americans will be caught up in the moment and start to forget how reassuring it is to have a president who levels with you, who is direct and sincere. President Obama is sincere. DJT is insincere.

The mainstream press is likely to struggle a bit less than they did during the campaigns because they are better at speaking truth to power than they are at reporting fairly and accurately on a "horse race" as they bend over backwards to seek false balance. Unfortunately, unless they can win back an audience that seeks the truth IN CONTEXT, many of us will find our information in the blogosphere while many others wait attentively for the next DJT tweet.

And isn't the more accurate and timely comparison When lies are treated as believable as a start and gain credence through circulation, and are used to take down a political opponent - no, not Nazi Germany - that is Donald J. Trump, himself.  Birtherism is but one example. So the apt Trump tweet would be - "Who do they think they are? Me?"

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Witches' Coven

DJT calls the BuzzFeed story a "witch hunt". One month ago, Carter Page dismissed the accusations, calling the FBI investigation a "witch hunt". And we are to believe that DJT naming him as a foreign policy advisor in March, under some pressure from reporters on-the-fly to name someone, anyone who was advising him on foreign policy, meant nothing. At least they have their stories straight.

It's Not Illegal When a Republican President Does It

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Weapons of Mass Destruction

In Russian Intervention in American Election was No One-Off, a Politics section "News Analysis" (as opposed to breaking news or opinion, I guess), Scott Shane presents a fair and mostly complete take on the intelligence analysis of the Democratic party hacking and release of emails. But even in the better pieces, the NYT can not resist giving an inch to people who turn these inches into miles.
Let's criticize:
"What most Americans may have seen as a one-time effort - brazen meddling by Russia in the very core of American democracy..." seems like a harmless enough intro - but do we know what most Americans think is going on? In a world where every reader is an individual who knows what he or she believes, and how much they are looking for information, nothing is gained with an intro that tells us what people other than ourselves - "most Americans" (is that 51%?, 99%?) "may" or "may not" believe ---in a story about what happened, not a story about survey results.
A few paragraphs of straight analysis follows, but then comes similar framing about what everyone else is thinking - not the reporter, not the intelligence agencies, not necessarily me, the reader, but all those other readers - still without evidence:
"What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey."
Look at that term "many Americans". I could swear that while the election was ongoing, the NYT often took pains to refer to "Clinton supporters" or "liberals" at times that "many Americans" would have seemed more appropriate, especially given the dissatisfaction of many Republican voters and of course, Republican leaders, with candidate Trump. Now that DT is about to become president, The people who buy the 400-pound guy claim are being elevated to "many Americans", but just how many is it? Would it not be more appropriate to say "Mr. Trump and his strongest supporters" if the writer is truly making his best guess here? Besides, disclosure alert - Scott Shane tweets that the intel report ..."alas (excises the actual hack evidence)". So maybe "many Americans" means Scott Shane and some of his followers on twitter.
From that point to the end of the piece, Shane emphasizes disappointment that absolute proof was not provided while acknowledging that giving away intelligence tools and sources compromises our agencies and our security. Unfortunately, this longtime follower of intelligence allows himself to be pulled into the center of the disagreement - a disagreement that exists only because DT, acting solely in his own personal interest, with no apparent regard for the national interest, expresses 'doubt' about the agency findings --obviously because those findings hurt him personally.
At the end of the piece, we get one more cut from the fair and balanced dagger - "But this report is unlikely to change the minds of skeptics who, like the president-elect, remember the intelligence agencies’ faulty assessments on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and fear being misled again." Hmmm. Straight from that Trump tweet, which Saturday Night Live took pains to admire - was that SNL being fair and balanced too? Maybe.
Yes, we all remember how skeptical Dick Cheney was about intelligence - but in the other direction! Striving to push intelligence results upon those agencies. How soon these folks forget Joe Wilson's July 6, 2003 NYT article "What I didn't Find in Africa" that begins:
"Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?
Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
And is it fair to ignore the active and robust weapons inspection program that the UN had in place which the U.S. decided to ignore and truncate by invading?
But wait. That's all a distraction, isn't it. And that is what Trump does. Time after time. Deny-Deflect-Distract-Accuse. And it works. Over and over. Until something breaks. We will have a president who is such an expert on obfuscation, distraction, and confusion that he wields the tools of communication like, well, weapons of mass destruction.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Looking Backward

Decision theory and theories of social choice are still relatively young. Game theory, which deals with related concepts, is young as well. Old would be, like algebra or classical physics.
Today's fun fact is the answer to the question, which states did the vote trading site R4C16 consider swing states in 2016? No peeking! For anyone who was paying attention to more important things this year, it goes like this:

The motto of the site was "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote for Trump."
Suppose you are Bob in a swing state and you want to vote for Gary Johnson as a protest vote because you are #NeverTrump. But you can not bring yourself to vote for Hillary. At least not in the normal way.
The site advises:
1) Decide Donald Trump must not be elected President.

2) Find a friend in a safe state who is voting for Clinton and ask them to vote for your candidate in exchange for you voting Clinton in a swing state.

3) Your swing state vote becomes a full vote against Trump by voting for Clinton, and your third party candidate still gets a vote.

And of course the site provided an app to help you find a "friend" in a safe state who would vote for Gary Johnson instead of that person's  preferred choice of Clinton.

Now the big problem for some theorists is the concept of voting for President as chiefly an expression of self, despite the privacy of the ballot. With no one watching, you somehow can not bring yourself to exercise the right to vote as wielding the small amount of political power you possess as a citizen.

Back to those so-called swing states:
Florida – 29 electoral votes
North Carolina – 15 electoral votes
Ohio – 18 electoral votes
Pennsylvania – 20 electoral votes
Texas – 38 electoral votes

Texas was included as a long shot, but possible. Which says a lot. So safe was the blue wall of Wisconsin and Minnesota and possibly Michigan, that if you paid any attention to this site, people in those three states might have been trading their Clinton votes away and voting for Gary Johnson! Which is just a hint of how totally ridiculous this whole vote swapping idea is.

What You Don't Say

Speaking of context, It's not only what you say that counts, it's what you don't say.

From time to time, I turn to Fox News, as it is called, to watch until something happens that is the hallmark of a propaganda machine. Usually this occurs within minutes. However, shortly before the end of Greta Van Susteren's reign at Fox in September, she had a guest who was billed as an expert in cybersecurity talking about the email hacks of Democrats. The woman (whose name and role I forget) came across as a serious expert whose commentary was not tilted in any particular direction. After discussing the Democrats for some time, Van Susteren asked about the Republicans. The guest said that we can assume that the Republicans have been hacked, too. Van Susteren hesitated, but then asked no follow up about the Republicans and closed out the interview.
The obvious followup question from Van Susteren would have been, "Is there any reason that the Russians have not shared the emails of the Republicans?" But the answer to that question might have veered into "politics" because the obvious conclusion would be that Russia preferred a Trump win, which would have favored one party over another, and we know how Fox News tries so hard to avoid any hint of such bias.

Only Context Matters

Ruth Marcus is a reasonable person, but her recent piece "The huge challenge of covering Trump fairly" demonstrates instead the huge problem the elite media have created for themselves by adhering to obsolete journalistic standards. The WaPo and NYT generally react to such criticisms with a knee-jerk reaction that doing their job, that is, effectively, reporting in context would fail to meet their requirement to passively follow every lead, regardless of apparent source or motivation, and fact check that lead to death. Then, when presented with a new retort or allegation, follow that next one in true whack-a-mole mode. Understanding context requires understanding that he who controls the narrative - and it usually is a "he" and an agressive he - controls the story and regular people establish their own beliefs, their own personal understanding of the world in which we live, based on the narrative they construct for themselves. Voters supplement that narrative with information provided by others and by their own experience in ways that differ between different types of people.

Marcus tells us:
"The president-elect’s behavior presents fundamental questions, recurring daily if not hourly, about the best way to serve our audience. These are technical issues of craft, ordinarily of interest only to journalists themselves. In the Age of Trump, they are imbued with real-world consequences."

Unfortunately, this statement sets us apart from the news media-only they are so interested in their craft and, by implication, only they can truly understand the challenge.

And "Should news organizations depart from customary restraint and label Trump’s falsehoods as outright lies?"

OK, can we possibly agree on a "Yes" to that one?
Should the media treat Trump tweetstorms with the rapt attention devoted to more traditional presidential statements, or refrain from such reflexive coverage in order to avoid being distracted, perhaps intentionally, from more important matters?
OK, here is where the rubber meets the road. This man has jerked you around for 18 months and will now jerk you around for four years. Do you keep doing what you have always done and expect different results? No. You take back the narrative. Control the context. What is context? It's hiding in plain sight, in the next paragraph:

"And given the physical constraints of headlines, how should news organizations handle a presidential claim — say, to have saved thousands of jobs — when the underlying details — the jobs may not be as numerous as advertised; the positions might have remained in the United States anyway — may be far more nuanced, if not disputed outright?"

As Paul Krugman and Dean Baker among others, point out, the details of the Carrier jobs or Ford jobs or other individual employers who are singled out matter only on a small scale, more as a distraction from meaningful economic impact. If you believe in a "post-truth" world, I suppose that works, but such expressions of belief from news media is an abdication of responsibility --the responsibility to report in context without fear of appearance of favor or disfavor,  rather than "without fear or favor" as the NYT's 100 year-old policy dictates.

The remainder of Marcus' piece runs through the usual media concerns about fact-checking and further, "how to accurately portray Trump’s conduct within the confined space of a headline" with the warning that "It will, in some circumstances, require some diligence on the part of our audience to probe beyond the first impression."

That last sentence dumps some responsibility on readers, which is fair. Voters have responsibilities. But our media still does not get it. The Marcus piece mentions "fact checking", but never mentions "context". And that is the problem. Calling out the lie is not enough. Calling out the false narrative is necessary. Our media loses the forest for the trees. Trump is happy when the debate is on detail because he can continue to control the narrative and tell some people the story they want to hear while the news media is kept busy with "fact checking".

Our befuddled news media continues to refer to the emergent TrumpWorld as "confusing", "unusual",  or "unprecedented" - terms they use which avoid reporting their observations in context, but the media may represent democracy's last stand. If the traditional media do not understand their failures, even when presented with cogent arguments about reporting in context, then the blogosphere will need to take over.  If that effort does not succeed,  it will not be long before democracy's collapse.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shock and Awe

Shock and awe as defined by Wikipedia is "a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight."

We are now witnessing a campaign of shock and awe in America's national political institutions unlike any we have previously experienced.
The Supreme Court, limited to 8 members and long stretched by political tussles over nominees, has been delegitimized by McConnell's Gambit. Assuming the president-elect nominates a justice who is approved by the Senate, future court decisions may be considered illegitimate any time that member votes with a 5-to-4 majority. The federal courts could see an unprecedented upward spike in confirmation of appointees.
The Senate leadership, with McConnell's early decision to block the possibility of Obama successful advancement of legislative proposals, and in 2016, refusal to hold hearings on the president's nominee to the Supreme Court or on the administration's budget proposal, has delegitimized itself.
The electoral victory of Trump reinforces the Republican strategy to freeze government throughout the administrations of Democrats and unfreeze government when a Republican is president. Sadly, the election of Trump instead of say, a Cruz or a Rubio, is advantageous to the Republican agenda because Trump has a unique concern with his personal success and, by extension, his family, and only limited interest in policy outcomes. This unusual configuration of interests between Trump and the Congress greases the skids for outcomes that benefit Trump personally while advancing the agenda of the Congress because almost no conflict exists between the two.
In the days and weeks ahead, we can expect a blitzkrieg of legislation enacted into law and a series of administrative actions by the new president reversing the successes of the previous eight years. The Affordable Care Act will surely be eviscerated. The popular press shines the spotlight on the impact on individuals, but the health insurance industry will be thrown into disarray. If the Republican penchant for cliffhangers (government shutdowns, default on federal debt, etc.) is a guide, the repeal now and replace later tactic will be too tempting to resist.
Let that be a lesson to any industry that cooperates with a future Democratic president.

And for the mainstream press, meaning the NYT and CNN in particular, among others, bad behavior has been rewarded. Paid subscriptions to the NYT are up. The failure to report in context, playing an active role in drumming up interest in irrelevancies, has now resulted in a story that no one can ignore. These news outlets failed to focus on the likely outcome of a Trump presidency and the stark differences that would make to people's lives, treating the two candidacies as equivalent - two people that no one could 'trust', and now we the people, get to live.

On the popular front, the changes will be dramatic and stark, here and abroad. We are already seeing a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, at least from the incoming administration, away from cooperation with China, its developing economy, and its population of 1.4 billion, toward Russia, its kleptocracy, and its population of 140 million.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Confusion about Confusion

Following the success of a presidential candidate whose electoral victory hinged, in part, on sowing confusion, there should be no confusion about his motives and methods. But key members of the mainstream political press keep telling the rest of us how confusing this all was for all of us.
The latest example is Chris Cillizza in WaPo, who says :"We need to prepare for abnormal being the new, normal, politics-wise." So frightening that the folks whose job is to explain exactly what is happening failed miserably at the job throughout 2016, but the best they can come up with is that no one could have known. It's all so confusing. This is simply false. A host of analysts and writers including those at Washington Monthly, Krugman at the Times, and Mary Matalin saw clearly that the Trump phenomenon was a natural outgrowth of longstanding Republican Party tactics in political campaigns.
So, for Cillizza, mistake number one is the title. The logical result of a decades long strategy is not "abnormal". 
First sentence: "2016-a year politicos will circle as the most amazing, unpredictable and confusing in modern memory - is officially over." Sorry, no. Not confusing. 
Then, "It's easy-and comfortable-to assume that 2017 will be a return to the natural political order." False. Then you continue to say "Count me skeptical." OK, nice straw man you set up for yourself there. Waiting for some insights.
But then you say "I think we'll see more Trump-like figures in politics, not less. And that a return to some sort of normal never really comes." OK. Close enough. We actually had such Trump-like figures, but DT outdid them at their own game because he was better at it.
On to the meat - Cillizza's lessons:
1. "The old rules don't apply." No. Actually the rules, meaning, the laws of physics in politics never change. The lessons (not "rules" as you call them) that political journalists draw from covering campaigns are not set in stone if the campaign landscape changes. For example, the attack on Sen. John McCain is cited as a sure campaign-ender under these so-called rules. But think back to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's attack on the Senate floor against Gen. George C. Marshall in 1951. Trump shares many qualities with McCarthy.  The speech against Marshall includes the oratorical device of multiple repetition of charges, over and over in a hypnotic cadence, to make the accusations stick. Like McCarthy's attack on Marshall, a man of extraordinary prominence in American life who commanded enormous respect, Trump's attack on McCain had the subtle effect of putting him above McCain in a roundabout way - if he had the nerve to attack someone so prominent, so often considered beyond reproach, logic suggests there must be some justification for the personal attack and therefore, he - McCarthy or Trump - commands greater respect for being so bold to make the charge.
source: wikipedia

2. "The establishment is dead (or dying)." Maybe, but Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are about to get almost everything they could possibly want, so reports of the death of the establishment are premature. The example of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz conveniently omits the impact of the Russian emails hacking. Maybe #2 should be: Putin and the Russians will continue to exert enormous influence on American political compaigns, American government, and politics throughout Europe.
3. Polling has major problems. True that technological changes in phone and online polling mean there are challenges with sampling, but I disagree that "pollsters got a bad rap in 2016 because they "missed the final margin between Trump and Clinton by far less than was initially assumed."

The Brexit polls in the final week clearly showed a tight vote, but the U.S. presidential race prediction analysts consistently projected a Clinton victory with 90% probability or much higher (except Nate Silver). Those prognosticators had an obligation to caveat their results with a footnote about the unpredictability of certain events that could swing the election, such as the FBI interventions in the final week. Also, why do these post-mortems so often avoid mention of voter suppression even when the writer believes these efforts may have a material impact on results?

So from now on, when any political writer tells us that 2016 was "confusing" or that Trump or a campaign is "abnormal", we need to be skeptical of the accompanying analysis.