Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is the Media Really Showing a Bias for Clinton and Against Trump?

We often hear references to the “liberal media”. Donald Trump, in particular, has made accusations against the “dishonest” and “liberal” media a hallmark of his campaign rhetoric, following up on years (or even decades) of similar attacks from Republicans generally. So let me pose a few questions regarding the alleged liberal bias of the media.

First, if the media does, indeed, have a liberal bias, why isn’t Jill Stein getting more airtime and coverage? Why isn’t she being asked to participate in the debates? Stein and the Green Party are well to the left of both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, so why aren’t they the recipients of the liberal largesse of the media?

Second, if the media is, indeed, biased in favor of Clinton (and/or against Trump), why have we been hearing so much about her email “scandal” and about the Clinton Foundation? If the “liberal” media was “in the tank” for Clinton, then shouldn’t we expect to be told that these things are complete fabrications or non-issues rather than having them treated as serious issues worthy of discussion by hours and hours of talking heads and column inch after column inch of print reporting? For that matter, how many times have you heard the media refer to Clinton as being “disliked” or having “trust issues”? Again, if the “liberal media” were really trying to get her elected, then wouldn’t we be hearing the opposite?

Third, if the media was really biased against Trump (and/or for Clinton), then why haven’t we seen wall-to-wall news coverage of a scope similar to that paid to Clinton’s emails (or the Clinton Foundation or Benghazi or the Lewinsky affair, etc.) but focused, instead, on Trump’s controversies, such as:

  • the pending lawsuit against Trump alleging that he raped a 13-year-old girl;
  • that he perpetrated a fraud on thousands of people in the guise of “Trump University”;
  • that he (or his foundation) essentially bribed the Florida Attorney General to drop the investigation into Trump University;
  • that he has been linked over the years to the New York City mafia;
  • racial discrimination and tenant intimidation in his apartment projects;
  • racial discrimination in his casino employment practices;
  • hiring undocumented Polish workers to build Trump Tower, not providing them with appropriate safety gear, and paying them below minimum wage (if at all);
  • the claim by Ivana Trump, during their divorce proceedings, that he’d raped her;
  • the numerous fines that Trump had to pay when his casinos violated all sorts of laws;
  • his responsibility for causing the United States Football League to collapse (but remember, he’s a “great” businessman!);
  • other business deals that have gone bad leaving all sorts of lawsuits in their wake (not to mention the multiple bankruptcies of Trump businesses);
  • the repeated refusal to pay contractors for work that they’d performed on Trump properties;
  • Trump’s failed libel lawsuit against a reporter for, you know, reporting about the things that Trump had claimed;
  • marrying a woman who may have entered the country under false pretenses (thus making her an illegal immigrant);
  • Trump’s apparently hollow claims of charitable giving (which might be confirmed by his tax returns…); or
  • using his foundation’s charity money (given by others to the foundation, not by Trump himself) to purchase, at other charity auctions, a artwork and a collectible souvenir for Trump.

And the list goes on and on and on…

Similarly, a large part of his “appeal” is his claim to be a very successful businessman, yet how much time has the media spent really digging into and reporting upon just how “successful” he has really been and just how bad some of his business ventures were (e.g., Trump Shuttle, Trump steaks, Trump Magazine, or condo hotels, to name just a few)? How much money have investors in his projects lost? How many contractors have been stiffed? How many fines has he paid? Hoosier voters might want to remind themselves about Trump’s broken promises to Indiana investors and broken promises to provide charitable funding when he wanted a casino in Gary. Ask yourself this: What might we learn if the “liberal” media spent even 10% of the time and effort that they’ve spent investigating Clinton’s emails to investigate Trump’s scandals?

And though this is slightly off topic, I do want to take a quick look at point for which Trump is receiving criticism but for which, I suspect, Clinton would get far, far more criticism were she to make a similar comment. Over the last few months, Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin. Even many Republicans have been uncomfortable with that praise and Trump’s seeming refusal to recognize that Putin is running a repressive regime that is willingly to assassinate political opponents and invade neighboring countries. But consider what the response might be were Clinton to make a statement praising Raul Castro or … well, almost any other leader of a country with whom we have a tense relationship?. What would the reaction have been if Clinton talked about how “strong” Putin was? We’d be hearing screaming about a “weak” woman being intimidated by a strong man, wouldn’t we?

Now, I’m not suggesting that some (even many) reporters are not, themselves, liberals or Democrats. But I would argue that because of that many feel that they need to bend over backwards to prove that they are not biased and, in so doing, evidence a sort of reverse bias. In any event, don’t simply accept the narrative or accusation that the media is biased for Clinton or against Trump. Rather, consider the full scope of information being provided and think for yourself whether the candidates are being treated equally.

And please, please don’t let Donald Trump become President of the United States.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why Do I Support Hillary Clinton? The Issues!

A few days ago during an exasperating discussion on Facebook, the person with whom I was engaging said, “if you feel that Clinton is a better candidate than Trump then state your reasons.” Generally speaking, I feel that I’ve done so on this blog, over and over and over, sometimes with specific references to Clinton, sometimes with broader references to the Democratic party or to liberal or progressive ideas (or with criticisms of GOP or conservative ideas), and yet other times by my detailed posts on issues about which I’m passionate or which somehow move me to pick up my pen (or, I suppose, put fingers on keyboard).

But the request (demand?) that I “state my reasons” for thinking that Clinton is a better candidate than Trump got me thinking. I seem to recall, either in 2008 or 2012, coming across a website that offered a detailed set of issue questions for a voter to answer in order to compare the voter’s views with those of the candidates. Sadly, I couldn’t remember the address of the website; luckily, there is Google.

After finding I Side With, I decided to take the policy survey. I encourage you to do the same. See which candidate most aligns with your views and, for those issues with which you are not familiar, take some time to learn a little. I’m sure that there are some people who will find fault with the questions, whether on the basis of the issues queried or the phrasing of the questions or answers. But, for the most part, I thought that the questions were broad in scope covering a vast range of the issues. Moreover, I found that the bulk of the questions were written in a neutral tone designed to generate honest answers and opinions rather than drive results to a particular answer or candidate.

A few quick notes before I share my results: First, I answered every question. At the end of many of the sections, you can click to get more questions in that general topic area. I did so and so should you. The more questions presented, the more issues you can spend a few moments thinking about and the more opportunity to compare your views to those of the candidates. Second, most of the questions are initially presented with a binary choice of answers (yes/no, for example), but almost all of them have a third button that will present several other possible answers (usually framed as “other stances”), often more nuanced or detailed than the initial binary choices. I always clicked to see the other possible answers and so should you as that provides you an opportunity to give a more granular, detailed response when appropriate. Third, when you do ask to see other stances, you are also presented with a chance to type in your own answer. On a number of occasions, I was tempted to do so, but I wasn’t sure how the website’s algorithm could possibly interpret a free text response and score it against the views of the candidates. Thus, with one exception, I never chose to enter my own answer, choosing instead to simply pick the answer from those provided that most closely matched my own view (the exception was a question on voter ID where two possible answers were both precisely right from my view and thus I typed in my own answer which was a word-for-word combination of those two answers).

Perhaps most importantly, I did not try to “game” the system. I didn’t look at a question and ask myself, “What would Clinton answer”. Nor did I try to think about the “right” answer or the answer that someone would expect from a progressive, liberal, or Democrat, in general, or from me, in particular, to give. Rather, I thought about each question and tried to answer with my honest view (or with the answer that best approximated my honest view). I answered with the expectation that nobody would ever see my answers and that I didn’t need to try to prove anything with my answers.

The one thing that did give me some difficulty was identifying, for each issue, how strongly I felt about it. Sure, it was easy to indicate those issues about which I feel strongly or about which I don’t really care. But trying to identify how strongly I felt about many of the issues in the middle range was more difficult. So I did my best. I’m sure that if I took the test again, how strongly I felt about each issue would likely vary somewhat for many questions, but not for those about which I do feel strongly.

Anyway, with all of that in mind, I encourage you to visit I Side With and take the quiz. Give yourself some time so that you can think about the issues and answer all of the questions. When you’re done, come back and we can compare results. (It’s also worth noting that new questions are, periodically, added to the site, so it may be worth going back from time-to-time before the election.)

My results:

Snap 2016-08-30 at 12.27.15

Below is a more detailed comparison of my responses to Clinton’s positions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a better way to share this information other than in a screenshot (which was not easy to obtain given the page layout). (I believe that the distinction between the 97% above and the 96% below is that I answered a new question subsequent to generating the screen capture below.)

I Side With [2016-08-26] 1

I Side With [2016-08-26] 2I Side With [2016-08-26] 3I Side With [2016-08-26] 4I Side With [2016-08-26] 5I Side With [2016-08-26] 6I Side With [2016-08-26] 7I Side With [2016-08-26] 8I Side With [2016-08-26] 9I Side With [2016-08-26] 10I Side With [2016-08-26] 11

Any issues you’d like to discuss?

Updated August 31, 2016: The original image that I used to show the comparison of my answers to Clinton’s didn’t display properly. So I’ve deleted that giant image and replaced it with a series of smaller (oddly cropped) screen captures.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Let’s Look at Who Has Endorsed Donald Trump … and Then Ask Why

I started this post about 10 days ago, but time has been limited. Anyway, yesterday afternoon, I was able to listen to some of Hillary Clinton’s speech on the same issues that this post addresses. Part of me was thrilled that these issues were being discussed, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that a small part of me was annoyed that she addressed these points before I could post my blog. Oh, well. I don’t feel like just throwing away the work I’ve done, so I’m posting what I have completed.

It is well worth taking the time to go and listen to Clinton’s speech on these topics:

 

I want to spend some time examining what some of Donald Trump’s supporters are saying about him, his candidacy, and the issues that he is discussing (or, perhaps to be more accurate, the issues that they hear him discussing).

I’ll start with Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (he is the successor to David Duke), pastor at the Christian Revival Center, and proponent of anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology. When Robb appeared on Alan Colmes show, he was asked, specifically about Donald Trump and “white culture” (emphasis added):

ALAN COLMES (HOST): What will Donald Trump do for white culture?

THOMAS ROBB: Well, I was going to say a wall built. You know, you say it won’t happen, maybe it won’t, I don't know. It needs to happen. I’d like to see our national debt reduced. Probably it won’t happen, but it needs to. At least he’s saying something. That’s the point. Whether he does it or doesn’t do it, whether he can accomplish it or doesn’t accomplish it, at least he’s saying things that many, many people in this country are identifying with and are saying, “Yeah, that needs to be done.” So it isn’t Donald Trump that you guys are concerned with. You’re not afraid of Donald Trump. You’re afraid of the masses of people, the millions of people supporting Donald Trump becoming awakened to what they feel to be a country that’s being taken away from them. 

For a little context for Robb’s comments, it’s worth noting that his website states (sourced from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

We believe that the Anglo Saxon, Germanic, Scandinavian, and kindred people are THE people of the Bible — God’s separated and anointed Israel.” The statement goes on to declare, “Our people must … resist the call of Satan, which the Bible says will come disguised as light and love … brotherly – interracial love

Robb also said, following the election of President Obama in 2008, that he saw a “race war … between our people, who I see as the rightful owners and leaders of this great country, and their people, the blacks.”

Charming fellow, no? You have to wonder whether he views “his people” — who he thinks of as the “rightful owners” of the country — to also be the “rightful owners” of “the blacks” to whom this country clearly does not belong (at least not in his racist worldview).

Then there is Don Black, a former KKK leader who runs the white supremacist (Nazi?) website Stormfront (to which I will not link), which was until recently often thought of as the largest hate site on the Internet and which remains very influential among white supremacists, Nazis, anti-Semites, and others who are … um … let’s just say less than welcoming of the idea of racial and religious diversity.

Don Black … said he noted a spike in visits to his site after Trump unveiled his proposed Muslim ban. Trump “has clearly been a benefit to us,” Black said, referring to his community of white supremacists.

“There's an insurgency among our people that has been seething for decades that have felt intimidated and demoralized,” he added. “The Trump candidacy has changed all that.”

(White Supremacists Are Loving Donald Trump's Presidential Campaign, Vice News, December 13, 2015.) Black also said, “Most of our people are pretty disenchanted with politics. Most of them usually don't vote, because there's no one to vote for… They will vote for Trump, though.” And:

All I know is that our people — white nationalists and white Middle America out there who would never call themselves that — are inspired and energized,” he said. “And I don't think that's going to go away. Trump is doing a great thing.”

Again, for context, here are some other things that Black has said (sourced from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

The people that visit Stormfront have a righteous indignation to the Israelization of America. Zionism unbound, that is what goes on in Washington, D.C., these days. … [T]he Jewish people demolish homes abroad and condition peoples minds with the media here in the U.S.A.

And:

I remember [the 1950s] quite well, that a lot of people were mad about blacks. They were mad about school integration and black crime…. [B]ut … it was kind of rare to find someone that really, fully understood the Jewish involvement … behind all of this promotion of the destruction of culture and our heritage, the destruction of our schools and our neighborhoods. … [W]ith the Internet — and, I think, with this involvement in the Middle East, American involvement in the Middle East — everything’s changed. I mean, we have to calm down people sometimes on Stormfront about the Jews.

And:

I get nonstop E-mails and private messages from new people who are mad as hell about the possibility of Obama being elected. White people, for a long time, have thought of our government as being for us, and Obama is the best possible evidence that we’ve lost that. This is scaring a lot of people who maybe never considered themselves racists, and it’s bringing them over to our side.

Consider this last quote in light of the quote above from Thomas Robb where he talks about “becoming awakened to what they feel to be a country that’s being taken away from them”.

Then there are these statements from Richard Spencer:

I think with Trump, you shouldn’t look at his policies. His policies aren’t important. What’s most important about Trump is the emotion. He’s awakened a sense of ‘Us’ a sense of nationalism among white people. He’s done more to awaken that nationalism than anyone in my lifetime. I love the man.”

And:

What I care about is not just about being comfortable. It’s not just about safety, or national security. White people are unique in the sense that, we are the ones who are going to explore the world. We’ll need our own state eventually, for our Faustian destiny to explore the outer universe. That is what we were put on this earth to do. We weren’t put on this earth to be nice to minorities, or to be a multiculti fun nation.

And:

When I look at Thomas Jefferson’s writings, the Declaration of Independence, it makes me want to vomit. The idea that a ‘creator’ made all human beings equal? That’s ridiculous. The idea that all human beings are equal is such an appalling sentiment. We’re here on this earth for such a short period of time. The idea that we would dedicate ourselves to something as stupid as ‘equality’ or ‘democracy’ is morally insulting to me.

And:

I think we should be pro-Russia, because Russia is the great white power that exists in the world. I’m a Slavophile! I admire Vladimir Putin. I think Trump and Putin, together, could bring about a united white world. It’s beautiful

Or these (sourced from the Southern Poverty Law Center):

Martin Luther King Jr., a fraud and degenerate in his life, has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization. We must overcome!

And:

Immigration is a kind a proxy war—and maybe a last stand—for White Americans, who are undergoing a painful recognition that, unless dramatic action is taken, their grandchildren will live in a country that is alien and hostile.

And:

Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.

Seems like a nice guy, too, don’t you think?

[All of that and I hadn’t even gotten to my discussion of David Duke!]

One might also ask why the Trump campaign has given press credentials to white supremacists while, at the same time, withholding press credentials from serious journalists? Again, seriously.

It’s also worth noting that, in some ways, there is a sort of mutual admiration between white supremacists and Trump. How else can we explain Trump retweeting, not once, but often, false statistics, images, and other memes from white supremacists on Twitter (including some with user names like “WhiteGenocideTM” and “WhiteGenocideT1” and others with Nazi-inspired avatars or profiles that praise Hitler)? Trump of course dismisses these sorts of concerns asking “Am I gonna check every statistic?” Um, yes, Donald, if you want to be President, you have an obligation not to perpetuate racist lies and to make an effort to be sure that things that you say are true. After all, if you get your “news” from the National Enquirer or the dark underbelly of white nationalist websites, then what decisions might you make as President?

0_NjUNWjNEOL1hkwBXAnd remember when Trump tweeted the anti-Semitic image meme about Hillary Clinton? Yeah, well guess where the image that he used, with her face superimposed on a pile of money next to a Star of David and the word “corrupt”, originated? Would you be surprised if it was sourced to a white supremacist message board?

So ask yourself this: Why is Donald Trump reading white supremacist message boards or the tweets of white supremacists and neo-Nazis? And if he isn’t actually reading those message boards or tweets, then who among his advisors is doing so and why does Trump just go along and tweet or retweet those people?

Of course the first of the real questions to ask yourself is: Why are racists, bigots, Nazis, white supremacists, and the like so enamored with Trump? What is it about his candidacy that attracts those holding racist views and what is it about his candidacy that seems to have emboldened people to openly express those views. Then, after pondering those queries, ask yourself this follow up: How comfortable will you be with a President who gives voice to these views and may even give them a place at his table?

Please don’t allow Donald Trump to be elected President. Please.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Still Thinking About Supporting the Green Party? Meet the Party’s Nominee for Vice President

I know that some people on the left don’t like Hillary Clinton. I’d generally argue that these people are essentially rewarding the right wing for its efforts at character assassination over the last 20 or more years and accepting as truth the vast panoply of lies and outright conspiracies directed at Clinton. That isn’t to say that she is a perfect person or perfect candidate; she isn’t. But then who is? Sadly, some people don’t want to engage in actual conversation and dialogue about Clinton and have, instead, elected to simply reject her..

However, those on the left who reject Clinton now have a choice to make. If they can’t bring themselves to vote for her, then who can they vote for? My suspicion (hope?) is that few people on the left of the political spectrum who choose not to vote for Clinton would cast a vote for Donald Trump. And I doubt that many of those people would vote for a libertarian candidate either (at least not once they learn about more about the libertarian’s positions beyond legalization of marijuana). So that leaves Jill Stein and the Green Party.

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to discussing that last option. Today, I’m not going to discuss why Jill Stein or the Green Party aren’t really viable. I’m not going to discuss how a vote for a third party can, in essence, be viewed as a vote for Trump. And I’m not going to delve into the positions advocated by Stein or the Green Party (including fears about vaccines or WiFi). Instead, I’m going to focus on one decision made by Stein to demonstrate just how bad a vote for the Green Party would be.

Ajamu BarakaIt is often said that the first important decision that a Presidential candidate makes is the selection of a running mate. After all, if the President dies or is otherwise incapable of executing the duties of President, then the Vice President takes over. One would presume that the President would select a Vice President whose judgment and advice the President would seek and value. So, with those concepts in mind, let’s meet Jill Stein’s choice to be the Green Party’s candidate for Vice President: Ajamu Baraka.

So what does Baraka have to say about certain important issues? What sort of advice might be offer President Stein? What policies would he pursue were he to become President?

As a starting point, try this paragraph from an essay of Baraka’s that can only be described as being hostile (and I’m being charitable here) to the leftist foreign policy ideas expressed by Bernie Sanders (emphasis added):

It means that if today leftists in the U.S. can find a way to reconcile the suffering of the people of Yemen and Gaza and all of occupied Palestine for the greater good of electing Sanders, tomorrow my life and the movement that I am a part of that is committed to fighting this corrupt, degenerate, white supremacist monstrosity called the United States, can be labeled as enemies of the state and subjected to brutal repression with the same level of silence from these leftists.

It’s worth noting that the essay was published in Counterpunch, a far left, anti-Israel, conspiracy-focused website that has been known to publish essays from people who are not just anti-Zionist, but also outright anti-Semites (but that is a topic for another day).* Anyway, go back and read that paragraph again. Then ask yourself if someone who thinks that the United States is a “corrupt, degenerate, white supremacist monstrosity” should really be Vice President of the United States. Ask yourself whether someone who believes that, essentially, anyone to the right of his extremely far left position on the political spectrum (from Bernie Sanders and his supporters rightward) would label Baraka and his “movement” as “enemies of the state”? Does he really believe that those who harbor opposition views in America are subject to “brutal repression”? If so, how is that he is on the ticket to be Vice President and not in jail, Guantanamo, or dead in a ditch?

Or perhaps we should consider that Baraka has an essay in the book Another French False Flag?: Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernardino edited by Kevin J. Barrett, a noted anti-Semite, Holocaust denier, and 9/11 “truther” (who also blames Israel for the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando along with virtually every other evil in the world). As you can tell from the title, Barrett’s book takes the position that many of the terrorist attacks that we’ve witnessed in recent years were not actually perpetrated by the Islamic terrorists upon whom blame has been leveled. Besides the essay from Baraka, Barrett’s book also includes essays by authors such as noted anti-Semites Gilad Atzmon and Ken O’Keefe (who once made a video called “Hitler was Right” [to which I obviously will not link]). To be fair, Baraka claims that he didn’t know which other authors or views Barrett would include in the book:

When Kevin Barrett, someone who has interviewed me in the past, contacted me to ask if he could include my piece in a compilation on the Paris Attacks, I didn’t see any problem with it,” Baraka said in a statement to Gawker in which he stridently disavowed Holocaust denial. “I didn’t inquire as to the other authors and don’t know much about some of them or their positions on various issues. I stand by everything I wrote in that article and would be happy to discuss the details.”

But… really? You agree to allow your essay to be included in a book being edited by someone you know takes controversial positions, but don’t ask what other essays will be included alongside yours? Hmm. I wonder if Baraka even bothered to learn the title of Barrett’s book; it isn’t exactly subtle. I sure hope that as Vice President, Baraka would bring that attention to detail to the job. Oh, and the essay by Baraka that was included in Barrett’s book should also give you an idea of Baraka’s worldview: The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement (originally published in Counterpunch).

Recall that Baraka claimed not to know about the positions of other authors, suggesting that Barrett was simply someone who had interviewed him in the past. Hmm. Well, given the tenor of Barrett’s radio program (on which Baraka has apparently appeared more than once) and the sorts of discussions that they’ve had, it seems unlikely that Baraka would be unaware of the point of view that Barrett and those included in his book might offer. Witness, for example, this exchange (about the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine a few years ago):

“What do you think of this plane — Malaysian plane shootdown?” Barrett asks. “The U.S. media is putting out the possibilities of this being done by the Russians or by the pro-Russian Ukrainians, but President Putin’s plane was flying through there shortly before this plane was shot down—it looks like Putin’s plane may have been targeted. If so, obviously that wouldn’t have been done by the Russians or pro-Russian separatists quote unquote, that would have been done by the Kiev Zio-Nazi government. Which is what it is—these Zionist Jewish oligarchs, billionaire criminal dons, are funding Nazi street thugs. These are the people who overthrew the legitimate democratically elected government of Ukraine and created a fascist junta, and they are the ones who would be the suspects, at least in my opinion — somebody shooting at Putin’s plane, and yet the media doesn’t even raise that as a possibility.”

Baraka immediately engages with the idea and agrees.

“And when it’s raised, it’s raised as a conspiracy,” Baraka responded. “I think that this is a — I was trying to find the citation, I remember reading, I can’t remember who it was, someone wrote about three weeks ago that we should expect false flag, a major false flag operation in eastern Ukraine that’s going to be blamed on the Russians. And that’s exactly what has happened.”

Note that not only does Baraka appear to agree with the notion of a “false flag” attack being behind the downing of the aircraft, but he doesn’t challenge Barrett’s claim that the Ukrainian government was a “Zio-Nazi” government comprised of “Zionist Jewish oligarchs … funding Nazi street thugs” who created a “fascist junta”. (For those who are blissfully unaware, the shorthand “Zio” is a epithet used mostly on the far left to describe Israelis, Zionists, and, often, Jews.) Note further that both Barrett and Baraka (like Donald Trump…) seem to be taking the side of Russia its dispute with Ukraine.

Baraka views President Obama as an “Uncle Tom President”. He described President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch as “black petit-bourgeoisie who have become the living embodiments of the partial success of the state’s attempt to colonize the consciousness of Africans/black people”. Baraka even tears into Bernie Sanders and his supporters claiming that Sanders promises “continued war crimes from the sky with drone strikes and Saudi led terror in support of the Western imperial project” and that Sander’s program is a “tacit commitment to Eurocentrism and the assumptions of normalized white supremacy”. Baraka does, at least, attempt to soften these attacks by noting that his criticisms are “not to suggest that everyone who might find a way to support Sanders is a closet racist and supporter of imperialism”. No, not everyone

Baraka is also, apparently, a Boko Haram “truther”, claiming among other things that the number of schoolgirls kidnapped by the group had been inflated and that the US didn’t have real humanitarian concerns for the plight of those schoolgirls; instead, he apparently claimed that the US was interested in Nigeria only as a means to Nigerian oil. Of course given that his entire worldview seems to come from a lens of the evil, white American empire looking for ways to subjugate or at least tolerate the destruction of people of color, then we shouldn’t be too surprised, should we?

I was also not surprised to learn that Baraka opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (the TPP). It faces strong criticism from both the far left and the far right (and pockets in between). Criticism of the TPP in the US has largely focused on whether it would be good for Americans generally and American jobs in particular. Baraka approaches the issue from a slightly different perspective (emphasis added):

The TPP is a weapon to maintain U.S. global hegemony by denying the fundamental economic, social and cultural rights of millions of people in order to benefit a parasitic white minority ruling class in the U.S. And for that fact alone, African Americans and all people of conscience should opposed [sic] it.

A “parasitic white minority ruling class in the U.S.”? Yep, this man should be Vice President, shouldn’t he?

Baraka described the “Je Suis Charlie” rallying cry that followed the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine (and a Jewish market) as “an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy”. Really.

I’m often critical of those on the right who claim that the “real racists” are African Americans (or Latinos) who raise the issue of race. I’m sympathetic to the notion of the need to recognize so-called “white privilege”. And, while I don’t think that racism is to blame for everything, I do think that racism is an important issue that needs to be addressed. However, the way Baraka seems to see everything through race-tinged lenses only serves to feed the view from that right that racism emanates from minority communities. His racism and racist rhetoric weakens efforts by those who desire to engage in real discussion and dialogue on the problems of racism and on the problems caused by racism. In other words, Baraka’s rhetoric will not lead to lessening of racism or improve the lives African Americans or other people of color at home or abroad; he is just pouring jet fuel on the fire.

Oh, and Baraka thinks that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has legitimacy as a democratically elected leader. He also argues that the story being told about the civil war in Syria is propaganda designed to conceal the truth about the surrender of Syria’s “national sovereignty to the geo-strategic interests of the U.S. and its colonial allies in Europe and Israel.”

Finally, one last issue on which Baraka has been quite vocal. I know that many readers who are thinking about voting for the Green Party may be critics of Israel (and I’m sure you view yourselves only as anti-Zionists and not as anti-Semites, but that is a discussion for another day). So calling out some of Baraka’s views on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not matter much to you. But for my readers who do support Israel and its right to exist as a democratic Jewish state within safe and secure borders, a quick summation of Baraka’s views on Israel are worthwhile. These views can be readily summarized by the findings of the African Heritage Delegation to Palestine/Israel (from April 2015; and note that the group renamed itself Zaynah Hindi African Heritage Delegation “in recognition of and in solidarity with our delegation’s co-leader, a Palestinian American”) on which Baraka participated.** Among that group’s findings (after meeting with early leaders of the Israeli Black Panther party, which I must admit, I didn’t know existed):

  • Israeli policy of settlement expansion amounts to ethnic cleansing and 21st century colonialism.
  • We condemn the campaign Israel’s government has waged to court black religious and political support and call on the Black community to give unconditional support and solidarity to Palestinian Liberation.
  • The global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is an essential tool in the struggle for Palestinian liberation.
  • We call on activists and non-activists alike to join initiatives in their communities that support and work in solidarity with Palestinian resistance movements.

(Emphasis added.) There’s more, both from the Delegation and from Baraka in his other writings, but that should give you a good idea. Note that the phrase “resistance movements” is often used to describe … terrorists. You know, like Hamas, which is the acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”. In other words, Baraka signed a statement calling for support for and work in solidary with terrorist groups. And, if you’re curious, I did come across a statement by Baraka equating Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza as a form of genocide.

Yep, he would make a great Vice President. Before casting a ballot for the Green Party, think about Baraka’s views on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ask whether he would be good for those on either side of the issue who hope for a just and lasting peace.

In conclusion, let’s turn our attention back to Stein and the Green Party. I’m not well versed in many of the platform planks of the Green Party. I’ve heard some of the things that Stein has said, but frankly haven’t paid too much attention. But I couldn’t ignore her choice for running mate. After all, it is the first important decision made by a presidential candidate. So go back and review some of the positions that her chosen running mate has taken and then think about how well those positions reflect your own views on the issue. Ask yourself why, among all of the other possible voices on the left of the political spectrum, Jill Stein and the Green Party chose Baraka. What does that choice say about Stein? What does it say about her understanding of the positions of her supporters? Does she share Baraka’s views on these issues? In any event, it seems that by this one choice alone, Stein has demonstrated how poor her judgment is and has essentially disqualified herself as a viable candidate for President. John McCain hurt himself greatly with his choice of Sarah Palin but Stein’s choice of Baraka makes that prior blunder pale in comparison (or would if Stein was a viable candidate…).

Please recognize that Stein is not a viable candidate for President. I understand (kinda) opposition to Clinton, but please don’t cast your vote for the Stein-Baraka ticket and, perhaps, do as Ralph Nader did in 2000, and hand the Presidency to the Republicans and Donald Trump.

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*While I don’t really suggest that you waste your time looking (sadly, I did), just a quick review of the titles of the essays that Baraka has published on CounterPunch will certainly give the impression that the only issue of importance to him is the treatment of people of color and his expression of concern about that treatment is blatant racism directed against whites.

**It’s interesting to note that Baraka is identified as a signatory of the report as a member from Cali, Colombia, and not from the United States; all of the other members of the Delegation are identified as being from the United States. So, a man who wants to be Vice President serves on an international delegation but doesn’t identify himself as being from America. Good to know.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Beware Terrorists (or Russia or Wikileaks) Giving Trump His October Surprise

Those who follow politics, and presidential politics in particular, are familiar with the idea of an “October Surprise”. Put simply, an October Surprise is an event that occurs very late in a political campaign (i.e., in October immediately prior to the November election) that will sway votes, usually without an opportunity for the candidate hurt by the event to respond. An October Surprise can be a neutral event to which each candidate’s reaction can be judged (think Hurricane Sandy in 2012) or it can be intentional, targeted to hurt or help a particular candidate. Often, candidates and their campaigns worry about any sort of October Surprise that the other side (or those supporting the other side) might be planning.

While I don’t really intend to drive conspiracies (you know what I think of conspiracy theories…) or fear-monger, I want to offer three possibilities of an October Surprise that would, sadly, not come as a great surprise but which could have a profound effect on the outcome of the election and the future of our nation and the world.

First, I think that we need to be seriously concerned about a significant terrorist attack by ISIS in America or against American interests in the days leading up to the election. Now, I’m sure many of you are saying, “But wouldn’t a terrorist attack help Trump”? Yes, it probably would. And that is likely precisely what ISIS wants. You see, while many people may be arguing that Trump will be “tougher” on terrorists than Clinton, I think that in the part of the Muslim world that is either sympathetic to ISIS or susceptible to the ISIS message, a Trump victory would be a good thing … for ISIS.

Yes, really.

Sure, we might drop more bombs on parts of Syria, Iraq, and Libya. And we might kill more jihadi fighters. But one of my biggest fears of a Trump presidency is that he would give ISIS precisely what it wants: A clash of civilizations and religions, pitting the wealthy, decadent, Christian West against the poor, pious, Islamic world. Think of it this way: When the US drops a bomb on a village in Syria, does that tend to dissuade more young Muslims from joining ISIS or does it serve as a recruiting tool to radicalize even more people to the call of radical Islam? If America tortures Muslims it accuses of terrorism, does the torture act as a deterrent or a clarion call to other Muslims susceptible to radicalization? If you read what experts on the subject have been saying ever since Trump first suggested that we ban Muslims from coming to America (or resume the use of torture or kill the families of terrorists), you’ll see just this fear being one of the core concerns being raised. We know that ISIS (like al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups) is not afraid to sacrifice “martyrs” for the larger “good” that their deaths may bring. If ISIS can goad Trump into a much broader war in which more and more Muslims will die at the hands of “infidels”, then ISIS may be even closer to the realization of their basic goals. And sadly Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand that we can’t fight a war against a a few million Muslims by alienating or fighting against a billion Muslims who haven’t yet taken up arms.

Thus, a terrorist attack that would put fear into the American populace, bring about the election of Donald Trump, and from there the alienation and radicalization of more of the Muslim world, might be a perfect game plan for ISIS.

Yet if there is a terrorist attack that seems to benefit Trump, we can’t presume that ISIS is responsible. In any normal and sane universe, it would be difficult to imagine an violent October Surprise in which a candidate was complicit or that was conducted by a state actor. But this is not a normal year and I have my doubts as to whether Donald Trump is sane (at least in the classic sense of the word of being able to understand the difference between right and wrong).

What am I talking about? Russia.

We’ve already seen the apparent warm relations (bromance?) between Trump and Vladimir Putin. We’ve seen Trump praise Putin’s leadership (and by “leadership” I mean the killing of opposition journalists). We’ve seen Trump talk about abandoning our NATO allies and essentially ceding the Baltic countries to Russia. We’ve seen Trump talk about reversing the US (and global) position on Russia’s annexation of Crimea. And we’ve seen Trump ask Russia for help in hacking into Clinton’s computers (oh, wait, that was just sarcasm, right?). Earlier this week we heard Trump tell the world that he doesn’t trust American’s intelligence agencies. Seriously. Moreover, I suspect that from the Russian perspective, the internal chaos, dissension, and isolationism that a Trump presidency would cause in the US would be an enormous boon to Russia’s efforts to reassert its own global influence.

If Russia’s spy agencies are willing to try to subvert American democracy via hacking and disclosure of information, what else might they be willing to do? Might the Russians be willing to aid ISIS, especially if in doing so, they were able to keep the focus of ISIS directed westward instead of northward into the Muslim republics of Russia? Or might the Russians even be willing to risk a direct action if it could be plausibly blamed on ISIS (a so-called “false flag” attack)? Again, while I would usually scoff at such a notion in normal times … these are not normal times.

Finally, recall the release by WikiLeaks of documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee, most likely by the Russian spy agencies. So what happens if WikiLeaks releases other damaging (or potentially damaging) documents closer to the election? How would that play out? At least one of Trump’s supporters and occasional advisors, Roger Stone, seems to think that is precisely what is going to happen. Just imagine a WikiLeaks document dump in the days immediately prior to the election that confirms any of a host of conspiracies about Clinton. Just imagine the results. And if such a release is timed properly, Clinton might have no time to respond.

Now, given the likely involvement of the Russian spy agencies in the theft of information, why should we presume that any damaging information is accurate? For example, imagine a document dump two or three days before the election that supposedly demonstrates that Clinton accepted bribes from Wall Street or foreign leaders or that she had been diagnosed with some ailment or that she was actually Saul Alinsky’s love child. Can you imagine the last minute swing such news might play in the election? But think for a minute how simple it would be for anyone to create a fake document. We’ve seen it before with the fake military records of George W. Bush. Now, imagine for a moment what would happen if, after Trump was elected because of fraudulent documents, it could be conclusively proven that the documents were, indeed, fraudulent. The results of the election and our entire electoral process might be thrown into a state of turmoil. And who would benefit from an America paralyzed by internal turmoil or a constitutional crisis? Russia. And China. And maybe ISIS. But definitely not the American people.

Just to muddy these particular waters a bit more, don’t forget that veteran political observers have been puzzled by the Trump campaign’s failure to do those things that are ordinarily required for a successful electoral strategy. The lack of a “ground game” (and associated get out the vote efforts), the failure to engage in major fundraising efforts (at least until recently), and the failure (until yesterday, apparently) to spend money on television ads could all be put down to Trump being Trump and simply bucking tradition and political wisdom. Or, if you’d like to climb down the conspiracy rabbit hole, it could be because Trump knows that he’s got something to shake things up before votes are actually cast.

Yeah, I know. I probably sound a bit like Alex Jones. Sigh. That’s not my intent. Maybe I’ve just read too many well-written thrillers. I’m not sitting here telling you that any of these things are going to happen. Rather, I’m simply suggesting that we be prepared for the unexpected, the October Surprise. And I’m suggesting that given the stakes, given the people and countries involved, given what we’ve already seen, and given the ramifications of the possible outcomes of the election, that we be careful in jumping to any conclusions should any sort of unexpected event occur.

I fear what could happen if Donald Trump is elected President. I fear for our country and for our world. And I fear that Donald Trump, a man seemingly without any moral convictions whatsoever, will do quite literally anything to get what he wants. And what he wants is to win.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Donald Trump and Second Amendment People

Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

— Donald Trump, August 9, 2016.

There is so, so much to say. So I’ll start at the beginning.

First, notwithstanding what Donald Trump may say (and say over and over), Hillary Clinton does not want to abolish the Second Amendment. Nor does she even want to essentially abolish the Second Amendment. This one is easy. Let’s look at Politifact (the second time they have reviewed the claim by Trump, this time after he began using the word “essentially” to describe what he claims Clinton wants to do):

We found no evidence of Clinton ever saying verbatim or suggesting explicitly she wants to abolish the Second Amendment. The bulk of her comments suggest the opposite: She wants to enact stricter gun control, but has no objection to responsible gun ownership.

Note that Politifact originally reviewed and found the claim that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment to be false in May 2016 (before Trump added the adverb “essentially” to his claim). Yet here we are, three months later, and Trump is still making the false claim. But lying about what your political opponent intends is standard political operating procedure, so it’s hard to get too worked up over that, though most politicians when called out on perpetuating a falsehood will usually drop that attack and pivot to another issue. But Trump can never admit to being wrong, so…

But that brings me to the next point in my analysis of Trump’s comment. He says that Clinton wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment. I wonder if Trump has any understanding of how the process to amend the United States Constitution even works. I ask that because, if he did, he would know that while the President may have a loud voice he (or she) has literally no role to play in the amendment process. None.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

United States Constitution, Article V. See any role for the President in the text of Article V? I didn’t think so. So even if Clinton did want to abolish the Second Amendment, she couldn’t without a whole lot of help from Congress and three-quarters of the states.

Then Trump doubles down on the fact that he doesn’t understand how the Constitution works when he says that there is “nothing you can do” if Clinton “gets to pick her judges”. Apparently, besides having never read Article V of the Constitution, Trump is also unaware of the provisions of Article II Section 2 of the Constitution:

[The President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

Trump seems to have forgotten the fact (or perhaps never knew) that after the President nominates a candidate to be a judge, the Senate must consent to the nomination. Of course, it’s somewhat hard to believe that Trump doesn’t know this given that one issue in this electoral contest is the fact that President Obama exercised his constitutional right and obligation to nominate a judge to replace Justice Scalia but the Senate has refused to take up that nomination with Republicans arguing that the American people should elect a new President to make that nomination. In other words, the Senate is preventing President Obama from appointing the judge that he picked. So tell me again, Donald, why it is that there will be “nothing you can do” if President Clinton were to pick her judges? Elected Senators could vote down the nomination or be like today’s Republican-led Senate and refuse to even consider the nomination (and thus avoid their constitutional responsibility). So perhaps we should take Trump’s claim of “nothing you can do” as an admonition against the Senate for refusing to consider the President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Which of course brings us to the final part of Trump’s statement. I’ll repeat it:

if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

(Emphasis added.) Now I think that it is important to consider the temporal arrangement of words and thoughts here. Trump begins the thought with the hypothetical statement “if she gets to pick” before moving on to what can be done. So if she gets to pick then nothing you can do. But then he modifies that. If she gets to pick then nothing you can do but maybe Second Amendment people can do something. I mention this because one of the responses from the Trump campaign and Trump supporters is that what he meant was for gun rights advocates (Second Amendment people) to unify as a voting block to vote to elect Trump. But that formulation doesn’t really work with Trump’s actual words because the way he framed things was with regard to what could be done if she gets to pick her judges. He didn’t frame it in terms of stopping her from becoming President and thereby preventing her from picking judges; rather, he framed it as what could be done after she is the President and has the right to nominate judges: “[N]othing you can, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is…”. In other words, if we read what Trump said and not what his campaign or supporters want us to think he said, then it should be obvious that he was talking about what people can do once she is President. And his answer was, at first, “nothing” only to be modified by “maybe” — for the Second Amendment people.

Thus the question becomes what, precisely, could Second Amendment people do, after Clinton has become President and picks judges. Add to the query the further question of what it might be that Second Amendment people could do that others (like First Amendment people or Nineteenth Amendment people or just people) could not? What differentiates Second Amendment people from the larger body politic or of groups who may frame and focus their issues around other amendments or provisions of the Constitution. Hmm. What could it be? What is different about the Second Amendment?

Guns.

Or, perhaps expressed differently, guns and the desire to hold and use them to stop the paranoid fear of government tyranny. (Consider my previous posts Do I Have the Right to Take Up Arms Against the Government? or Guns in America (part 2) [sorry for the missing images…].)

Trump’s comment, no matter how his supporters may want to spin things, was a dog whistle (belling of the cat?) to those who oppose any reasonable gun regulations. In our supposedly civil society, we are (or should be) reluctant to believe that anyone would use exhortations to violence as a part of a political campaign. But we’ve seen repeated examples of violent rhetoric from Trump (not to mention actual violence playing out at and around Trump rallies with Trump acting as cheerleader- or instigator-in-chief). You and I may not want to hear Trump’s words as an incitement to violence, but to those who believe that that Kenyan Muslim Barrack Hussein Obama or Hillary “Lock Her Up” Clinton are coming to take their guns, that is exactly how Trump’s words are likely to be perceived.

References to “Second Amendment remedies” and similar gun-based or violent rhetoric have become more and more common on the right. It was just back in 2011 when Sarah Palin said to her supporters, “'Don't Retreat, Instead – RELOAD” and included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on a list of legislators to be targeted. Rep. Giffords, you’ll recall, was the target of an assassination attempt. Perhaps the best known example was the statement by Sharron Angle who was running for Senate in Nevada when she said, “if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” Or there was the statement by Joni Ernst during her successful bid to be elected to the Senate from Iowa (before she made Trump’s short list for vice presidential nominees), talking about her right to defend herself “from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important”. There is a strong undercurrent among Republicans (and, I presume, Trump supporters) that violence may be necessary to stop a government with which they disagree. Trump’s dog whistle politics won’t do anything to calm the situation (especially not when he is also telling his supporters, in advance, that the election will be “rigged”).

And it is to this last point that Trump was really … um … aiming. As I’ve referenced numerous times on this blog, there is a cohort of Americans that really believe that the government is tyrannical (or will soon become so) and that it is coming for them. Now Trump is adding to that fire by telling them that the election will be rigged and that once elected, President Clinton will be coming for the guns when she abolishes the Second Amendment. These people believe, in essence, that they need to keep their guns to prevent the government from coming to take their guns. Or something.

Brett Lunceford, a former professor who has researched the political discourse around guns, said these sort of remarks and actions feed into a belief that “the Second Amendment was put in place to overthrow the government if need be."

“[Trump’s] throwing a bone to that mythology, that, if the government is tyrannical, ‘Well you guys are the ones that can do something about it,’” Lunceford told TPM. “There’s this idea that they’re the ones that can stop tyranny. It’s not about self defense, it’s about defense from the government.”

Gun control advocates say that purveyors of such language take their cues directly from gun industry lobbying groups. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, pointed to NRA Board member Ted Nugent—who has said President Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats should “suck on my machine gun” — and to Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, who in June said voters may “resort to the bullet box” if they don’t like Supreme Court decisions.

“We have seen the radicalized behavior of the NRA leadership, also impact lawmakers and other gun extremists to speak in rhetoric that is dangerous,” Watts said. “The Second Amendment is not a suicide pact. It’s not a manual for vigilante justice.”

For victims of gun violence themselves, Trump's comment had a very specific and acute connotation.

"Responsible, stable individuals won't take Trump's rhetoric to its literal end, but his words may provide a magnet for those seeking infamy. They may provide inspiration or permission for those bent on bloodshed," former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) said in a statement with her husband, Mark Giffords.

Trump Just The Latest On Hard Right To Call For ‘2nd Amendment Remedies’, Talking Points Memo, August 11, 2016.

After receiving condemnation for his comments, and not just from Democrats, Trump and his supporters tried to “fix” his comments with all sorts of explanations (some discussed above), including suggesting that it was a “joke gone bad” (according to Speaker Paul Ryan). The problem is that this fits into a pattern with Trump; one day he says something outrageous and totally unacceptable and then, when criticized or called out for the statement, he claims it was a “joke” or “sarcasm” or misunderstood or simply blames the media. Today he used the defense of sarcasm to try to walk back his repeated claim that President Obama was the “founder of ISIS” (even after he had repeated that statement several times and even after a conservative radio host had given him a chance to walk back that claim yesterday, a chance Trump took to, instead, repeat his claim and express that it was, indeed what he meant). Or remember when Trump appealed to Russia to hack into Clinton’s computers only to suggest that it was a joke when the nearly universal response was condemnation of his call for a foreign power to become involved in the American electoral process?

Trump never apologizes, never acknowledges mistakes, never accepts blame or takes responsibility; rather, in virtually every case in which he crosses one proverbial line or another, he blames the listener for not understanding that it was a joke or sarcasm or blames the media for reporting on what he said. But query what happens if this sort of language is used by a President. What happens if President Trump says, “The Chinese are killing us in trade; killing us. We should bomb their factories to level the playing field.” Saying, “Gee, I was only joking” a few days later after isn’t going to fix the problem that his flippant and dangerous words may have caused.

Words have meanings, but that is a lesson apparently lost on Donald Trump.

Again and again and again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he has no respect for the political process. He has no respect for civility. He has no respect for the truth. And he certainly has no understanding of the Constitution or the effects that words can have. The man is completely unfit, both in terms of mental stability, intellectual capacity, and general temperament to be allowed anywhere near the White House.

Please help me be sure that he doesn’t win in November.

Please.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The DNC Emails … And Russian Involvement in American Politics

My personal Twitter troll has asked (demanded? challenged?) me to comment on the revelation that the staffers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) engaged in email discussions regarding the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders that included strategizing against his campaign. While I ordinarily like to follow a “don’t feed the trolls” approach, I thought that this issue was at least worth discussing (and, hey, it’s pretty cool that I have my own Twitter troll, isn’t it?). Before diving into the issues, let me offer one major caveat: I haven’t read the emails. I’ve read a few news stories and brief excerpts, but I’m sure that I don’t know all of the facts and, as always, I’m willing to reconsider my views as additional facts are learned or as mistakes that I make (as if!) are identified.

So, on to the emails…

It is my understanding that, at the heart of the matter, were discussions or even actions by some DNC staffers to either help Hillary Clinton’s campaign and/or hinder Bernie Sanders’ campaign together with some … er … less than generous descriptions of Sanders. Now, there is a part of me that says, “Gee, that’s not fair” and I certainly would like to think that the DNC would always play fair. But then there is the part of me that remembers that this is the Democratic National Committee and that, until he needed the ballot access that the Democratic Party had, Sen. Sanders was not a Democrat. Or, to phrase it differently, why shouldn’t the DNC work to help its own members to the detriment of an outsider? That point is even more compelling given the work that Hillary Clinton has done over the years both for the Democratic Party and for other Democrats. (And let’s not forget that Sanders endorsed the primary challenger for the House seat held by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so I think she can be forgiven at least a bit of pique directed toward Sanders.)

As to the notion that the primary system was rigged, the only answer is “bullshit”. The primary system was in place long before Sanders announced his candidacy. He knew what the system was; he didn’t have to run and he didn’t have to run as a Democrat. But he did. He could have sought the nomination of the Green Party or run as an independent, but that wouldn’t have given him the ballot access he needed or the ability to get the sort of news coverage that helped propel his campaign. And let’s not forget the allegations from several months ago that the Sanders campaign was, itself, hacking into the DNC database to obtain information improperly. I guess that was OK, right? Look, I’m not saying that the democratic primary system is a good system or that it shouldn’t be modified. But the system was the same for Martin O’Malley, Lawrence Lessig, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and others, and I don’t recall hearing their supporters whining about the system or booing the party’s leaders at its convention.

I also find it interesting that so many of the people who are almost giddy about the disclosure of these emails from the DNC seem to so quickly gloss over the apparent source. The emails were released by WikiLeaks. Now, first, we should think back to what people had to say about WikiLeaks when it was responsible for other document dumps; I recall hearing plenty of people call for criminal prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (and accusations that he was a “traitor” even though he isn’t American). I wrote about the massive WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables in December 2010 (Wikileaks? I’m Not Sure). Yet apparently, if the information WikiLeaks discloses harms those who you oppose on political grounds then that disclosure is peachy keen. if would be interesting to see how people would react if WikiLeaks were able to obtain and disclose Donald Trump’s tax returns (especially if they included something damaging). But I digress.

More important is the source from which WikiLeaks itself apparently received the emails in the first place. WikiLeaks doesn’t do the hacking; rather WikiLeaks discloses documents obtained by hackers. And in this case, there is apparently ample evidence that the hackers who took the emails from the DNC are part of the Russian intelligence services, in particular the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and the GRU (military intelligence), both under the control of Vladimir Putin … you know, the same man to whom Donald Trump, just a few days ago, gave a green light to invade our NATO allies (Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?). As Arsenio Hall once said, “Things that make you go ‘Hmm.’” Don’t forget the extent to which Trump has praised Putin, so much so that the phrase “bromance” has been used to describe Trump’s relationship with Putin (or maybe it’s just a mancrush). So was the release of the emails to WikiLeaks the quo for Trump’s quid suggestion that he might abandon NATO and the Baltic states?

Think back to when Edward Snowden stole data from the NSA before fleeing, eventually to Russia. How many of you called him a traitor? How many of you worried about Russia having access to the information he obtained? Yet now, some people (mostly those opposed to Democrats in general or Hillary Clinton in particular) are practically cheering over Russia hacking into data belonging to a political party (including, donor data, opposition research, and the personal email accounts of Democratic staffers)? Really? I seem to recall that the last time criminal activity was aimed at obtaining private information from one of the political parties, things didn’t end so well. For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, here is a hint: The data one party tried to steal was located in an office located at the Watergate hotel. Ring any bells?

One thing, however, that really troubles me about the information in the emails is the apparent discussion about using Sanders’ religion (or atheism, perhaps) as a weapon against him. That sort of conduct is reprehensible. Period. The saving grace, I suppose, is that it doesn’t appear that this discussion evolved into actual action; rather, from what I’ve read, it appears to have been a suggestion made as part of a strategy discussion that was not followed up. But to even discuss using a person’s religion against them (or their lack of faith, as the case may be), is simply un-American and wrong.

A critical thing that must be recognized about this entire mess is that the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. And then the interim chairwoman of the DNC, Donna Brazile apologized. Publicly and sincerely. While people cannot go back and change what happened, they can take responsibility, apologize, and learn from mistakes. So far, that appears to be what the DNC is doing in the wake of these disclosures.

Of course, noting that the chair of the DNC resigned and that the DNC’s new chair apologized does make me wonder when we’ll see similar actions from Republicans in regard to the xenophobia, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and so forth being spewed by the Republican Party’s candidate and his supporters. I’m not holding my breath.

I do hope that over the next days and weeks we will learn more detail about possible Russian involvement in the hack of the DNC servers. Perhaps more importantly, I hope that we’ll learn more about whether the Trump campaign had any knowledge about that hacking or any involvement in the decision to disclose the emails (I certainly hope that not even Trump would stoop that low…). But even if the Republicans and the Trump campaign were completely in the dark and innocent, we should have a serious national discussion about why Russia might want to harm Democrats or Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What did Russia hope to gain by hacking the DNC servers and what did Russia hope to gain by releasing the stolen emails to WikiLeaks for public dissemination. And ask yourself if you’re comfortable knowing that another country, and especially Russia, is inserting itself, via its intelligence agencies, into the American political system and presidential election. Does that scare you as much as it scares me?

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?

In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech to the National Press Club in which he articulated the United States’ defense perimeter in Asia. However, when Acheson described the defense perimeter, he excluded South Korea. Several months later, North Korea (backed by the USSR) invaded South Korea. Most historians cite Acheson’s exclusion of South Korea from the defense perimeter as one of the important factors that led the decision by North Korea and the USSR to invade the South, operating under the perception that the United States would not intervene militarily because South Korea was outside the Asian defense perimeter.

In July 1990, April Glaspie, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, told her Iraqi counterpart that the United States did not have an opinion on Iraq’s escalating dispute with Kuwait (over oil) and that the United States would not start an economic war against Iraq. Most historians cite Glaspie’s comments as one of the important factors that led Saddam Hussein to conclude that the United States would not intervene in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Why do I cite these two historical examples of comments that led to war? Consider what Donald Trump told The New York Times yesterday:

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

How do you think Vladimir Putin will view those comments by Trump? How do you think our NATO and other treaty allies will view those comments?

From my perspective, Trump just told our allies that they may not be able to rely upon the United States and essentially gave our adversaries (or potential enemies) carte blanche to take aggressive actions without fear of intervention by the United States. Trump’s statement is even more dangerous than the statements of Acheson or Glaspie because in those instances, the United States wasn’t suggesting that it would ignore treaty obligations. Moreover, those statements dealt with Korea and Kuwait, not Europe and not America’s most important defense alliance.

Perhaps Trump isn’t aware that Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides that an attack on one NATO member is deemed to be an attack on all NATO members and obligates the other NATO members to assist the country that was attacked. And perhaps Trump doesn’t understand that a treaty has the force of law; complying with treaty obligations isn’t optional. But if he isn’t aware of such a cornerstone element of our national defense structure, then he certainly isn’t qualified to be the Commander-in-Chief. And if he is aware of what Article 5 means and he is still willing to suggest that it might be ignored, then he is … well … dangerous isn’t quite a strong enough word. Perhaps his machismo is spoiling for an armed confrontation with Vladimir Putin and the Russian bear. I just hope America is ready to pay the bill of blood and treasure when Trump’s statements or inaction lead to the armed conflict.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t make efforts to have our NATO allies fulfill their treaty obligations. They should and we should try to hold them to the terms of the treaty. But to suggest that failure to pay a bill is reason enough to abandon that country to a Russian invasion is lunacy. Dangerous lunacy. (Of course, Trump’s business modus operandi appears to be to leave bills unpaid, so this is something he should be quite familiar with…)

When Donald Trump opens his mouth, what we hear is hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and a complete lack of understanding of the complex issues facing our nation and the world. He’s already suggested that nuclear proliferation to South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, might be a good idea. These statements about NATO are just the most recent example. And you can bet that Vladimir Putin and the people of Europe heard Trump loud and clear. I just wonder how far into Europe Russian tanks will be permitted to drive during a Trump presidency.

And I wonder whether any country would ever trust America again.

Is that what Trump means when he talks about making American great again?

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Brexit the Beginning of the End of the UK … or of Other Countries?

So citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Good or bad? Right or wrong? I’m not sure and I’m not sure that I really know enough to make an informed judgment. That being said, my instinct is to view the decision to leave the European Union as a bad decision (and the fact that both Donald Trump and Sarah Palin think that Brexit is good is almost enough reason for me to believe that it isn’t). I must admit that I find interesting the exit polling that showed apparent strong correlations between both age and education and the choice of whether to remain or leave (more education and younger voters tended to vote to stay, while older and less educated voters tended to vote to leave). But what the long term effects will be for the UK economy, for the European economy, for the global economy … I have no clue.

I do, however, have some concerns about what Brexit may mean both with regard to the stability of nation-states and to relations between them.

Let me address the latter of those two points first. One of the principal motivations for the original formation of what eventually evolved into the European Union was the notion of finding ways to avoid future conflicts within Europe and by and among European countries. The European Union has been largely successful in that ambition. But consider how things might look once the United Kingdom is fully divorced from those European nations that remain a part of the European Union. For example, what sort of hard feelings may exist by and between Britons and Europeans? If Europe’s economy stagnates and the United Kingdom’s flourishes (I have my doubts…), won’t many Europeans have a sense of … well, anger, I suppose, toward the United Kingdom? Similarly, if the UK’s economy stagnates and Europe grows, then how will Britons feel when they look across the Channel?

Perhaps more importantly, what sort of cooperation existing today might become strained or even cease? For example, think of the large migrant camps in northern France, populated by refugees and immigrants seeking to make their way to England. France has worked hard to try to keep those migrant camps stable and to help the UK keep mass waves of immigrants and refugees from making their way across the Channel. Part of the reason for that is good relations between the UK and France and part of the reason for that was the pan-European approach to dealing with immigration and refugees. But if the UK is no longer part of the European Community, what, if any, duty to does France have (let alone Italy or Spain or Greece) to help the United Kingdom deal with “unwanted” immigrants and refugees? Likely, none. Given that a motivating factor for many Britons who voted to leave the European Union was the desire to deal with immigration without interference from the European Union, then how ironic will it be if France chooses to cease its efforts to prevent immigrants and refugees from embarking on journeys across the Channel to England? (And it seems just as likely that those countries might actually opt to find ways to help immigrants transit their territory for Britain, in order to try to lessen their own refugee and immigrant burdens.)

I can also see other possibilities for European countries to sort of lash out in petty revenge against the United Kingdom if Brexit is viewed as damaging those countries. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised to see countries adopt tariffs or other fees on British goods or even travel by Britons within Europe (which could come as a real shock to Britons who have purchased vacation properties in Spain). Or, just imagine if FIFA (the world body governing soccer … er … football) were to decide that because the United Kingdom no longer views itself as being a part of Europe, that soccer clubs from the United Kingdom would not be eligible to play in the European Champions League or the UEFA Euro Cup?

Based on the last millennia or so, anything that gives one European country a reason to act in anger against another European country is … um … not good.

I also worry that the Brexit vote may, over time, begin a slide into the fracturing of stability within Europe and elsewhere.

In September 2014, Scotland voted, 55% to 45%, to remain a part of the United Kingdom. There were many factors at play in that vote, but one that appeared to play prominently was the role an independent Scotland would be able (or perhaps unable) to play within the European economy and global markets. It was pointed out that an independent Scotland would not be a part of the European Union and would, thus, not be able to avail itself of free trade and the other benefits of membership in the European Union (at least until going through the difficult and multi-year process of joining the EU). Thus is probably isn’t surprising that last week Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Each of Scotland’s voting districts voted to remain and the results weren’t terribly close (62-38 to remain, compared to 53-47 in England). But the United Kingdom voted to leave. So where does that leave Scotland?

The leader of Scotland’s Parliament (the “First Minister”, I believe) has already called for a second Scottish referendum on independence. I suspect that such a referendum will be held and I also suspect that in a post-Brexit vote, Scots will, indeed, vote to make their own way.

Is that good or bad? I don’t know.

But if Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom, what then of Northern Ireland? Like Scotland, Northern Ireland also voted to remain a part of the European Union (56-44 to stay). So, were Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, might Northern Ireland contemplate doing the same and, perhaps, even seeking to unify with Ireland which is a part of the European Union and with which many Irish have a closer bond that the government in London?

Those actions would, quite obviously, have a significant impact on the United Kingdom, reducing it down to just England and Wales (and who knows how long Wales would want to stick around…). But how might the democratic dissolution of the United Kingdom impact independence movements elsewhere in Europe? Consider Belgium which is essentially divided into two distinct communities (roughly dividing the country in half geographically, south and north), one French-speaking (Walloons) and the other Dutch-speaking (Flemish). The divide between the French and Flemish within Belgium has risen to near-crisis levels in the past. Query whether watching the disintegration of the United Kingdom might, once again, prompt calls for Flemish independence.

Or consider Catalonia, the northeastern part of Spain, with its capital in Barcelona. Catalans speak a different language from the rest of Spain, they don’t permit bullfighting, and, perhaps even more importantly, find themselves in a much different economic condition than the rest of the country. Might the rending of the United Kingdom give further impetus and strength to the already quite vocal and popular Catalan independence movement?

Of course if Catalonia were to become independent, that might reinvigorate the independence desires of the neighboring Basque region of Spain and France. Or, just to the southeast, perhaps the independence movements of Corsica and Sardinia (from France and Italy, respectively) would find succor in the example of Scotland.

In fact, the number of independence movements across Europe is almost too numerous to count and includes both large areas (Bavaria in Germany, South Tyrol in Italy) and tiny (Faroe Islands in Denmark, Venice in Italy); I even came across a reference to a independence movement for the Åland Islands, a tiny chain of islands between Sweden and Finland that presently belongs to Finland, but whose 28,000 inhabitants speak Swedish (but an acquaintance of mine who lives in Åland assures me that it is merely a “romantic protest”).

In any event, I think that the concern (or hope, I suppose, depending on your perspective) of the tearing asunder of European countries and the reformation into something … well … different, is worth contemplating. The goal of the European Union was a form of European unity, but that is splintering and it is quite likely the first breach of the unity of the European Union may also lead to the splintering of the United Kingdom. And as people across Europe — or even the world — watch Scotland and perhaps Northern Island pressing for independence, then it seems quite likely that independence movements will be strengthened and, quite possibly, the political structures of the world will see dramatic changes.

One commonly used phrase to describe the breaking apart of countries into smaller nations is “Balkanization” and that word is used for a reason. However, consider if you will, the history of the Balkans and whether that worked out for the best or not.

I don’t know what the results of Brexit will be for the United Kingdom, Scotland, Europe, or the world. But I have concerns that this will be the first act in a drama that may result in a period of chaos and contention.

But please, don’t get me started on the discussion of Texit (Texas exiting the United States). Just … don’t.

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