It’s Worse Than It Seems

As we see the first evidence that Russia is again taking efforts against Democratic candidates in the next US election, let’s be clear about how bad the Russia issue is.

In 2016 the Republican campaign for the presidency was aided by crimes committed by a foreign government. The only people who dispute this are the president and his most loyal supporters. To make it even remotely plausible that he did not approve of that help, or want similar help in future elections, would have taken an exception amount of effort. Donald Trump has not made even the most cursory attempt. The idea that he is not actively encouraging further crimes by foreign government to help elect Republicans is absurd.

So Donald Trump’s actions as president have welcomed and encouraged foreign governments committing crimes to aid Republican political campaigns. The Republican party has not stood up against it. Rather, they have supported the president in encouraging further criminal and foreign aid. Most recently by rejecting efforts to protect our elections.

The drama has been largely about whether or not Trump committed crimes that require his removal from office. But this search for criminal culpability seems to have allowed many to distract from, ignore, or not fully realize that he has made publicly embracing criminal aid from foreign governments politically acceptable.

This is an existential threat to our system of government.

And that’s before we know the full extent of Trump’s culpability or what other crimes the special council will uncover.

A few things that have happened in the last 24 hours.

For context:

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee shut down their investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. They not only find there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, but that Russia did not interfere in the election. Ref

The president’s body man, John McEntee, was fired and escorted off the premises because he is being investigated by DHS for serious financial crimes. Ref

Jon McEntee is hired by Trump’s 2020 campaign. (see previous link)

Rex Tillerson breaks from the White House by saying that Russia clearly is responsible for a nerve gas attack on UK soil. Ref

Rex Tillerson is fired by Trump via Tweet. Ref

The White House claims that Rex Tillerson’s firing was decided last week. Ref

Rex Tillerson’s aid at the State department, Steve Goldstein, claims that Tillerson was not informed that he would be fired before Trump Tweeted about it. (see previous)

Steve Goldstein is fired by the White House. Ref


Please excuse my bitter, joyless laughter

From the Washington Post:
“Some of those opposed to pulling out of the pact, however, said that much of the data the other side presented was either erroneous, scientifically dubious, misleading or out of date.”
To be clear: it’s gratifying in a petty, spiteful sense, to see Trump allies fail to overcome the forces they used to get where they are. To see them desperately fighting for something they recognize as important, but being defeated by the very forces they used to get where they are is, not good, but poetic. Schadenfreude is probably the right word here.
Meanwhile, as to the larger article, the takeaway here seems to be that if Trump is wrong telling him won’t help, and showing him evidence won’t help. It might actually be counter productive.
“Some of the efforts to dissuade Trump from withdrawing actually had the reverse effect, further entrenching his original position.”
Trump is, after all, a conspiracy theorist. This isn’t new information, and I’m not sure how helpful it is. But as a reality that now defines US politics, it’s important to recognize.

The Little White Lie

I assume we’ve all heard the story. It’s almost a cliche in children’s books and movies and shows. A child tells a simple, harmless white lie. It seems like an easy solution. The kid gets to avoid getting in trouble, and it doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t cause any harm. But then there is some later consequence of the lie that the child didn’t think of. And they are faced with either admitting to the lie, and facing both the consequences they were originally avoiding and the consequences of telling a lie, or telling a slightly less simple, less harmless lie. And the lies snowball, getting greater and greater and doing more and more harm until the child finally comes clean.

Right now we’re seeing the beginning of that. We started with the quite predictable vanity issue of Trump claiming that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote for president, and that his inauguration crowd wasn’t as small as expert assessments and photographs suggest. But you can’t say that the popular vote was off by millions because of mass voter fraud and not do anything about it. But since it’s a lie, you can’t do anything real. The only right solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is admitting the lie. So you have to act on the lie. And that action will be a bigger lie, one that not only fixes a problem that doesn’t exist, but one that creates new problems that you need to come up with more dangerous and harmful lies to cover.

At some point, Trump will no longer be doing what he wants. Each lie builds momentum, creates another thing that he will have to react to in the future. Trump is building up a lot of momentum. I don’t know where it’s pointed, and I’m not going to speculate on what that looks like or where it ends.

I am also going to point out that this happening at a time when Republicans all over the country are shamelessly trying to prevent people who will vote against them from voting at all. That and Trump’s willingness to tell big lies and act on them is a combination that threatens the foundation of our system of government.

One last point: this is likely the most obvious, least consequential lie we are going to see from this administration. This one doesn’t have powerful special interests or personal fortunes or political movements riding on it. It isn’t complicated or difficult to see that it’s a lie. We need people to recognize this lie for what it is so that when the stakes are higher and the truth is more obscured they will be prepared.

Donald Trump: president elect

Where to start? We could start at the beginning, talking about how his political career was built on the “birther” conspiracy theory, an attack on President Obama with no basis in fact that Trump revived when it began fading, and kept supporting long after it had been proven false.

We could talk about how much of his success is based on attacks on minorities and the first amendment.

We could talk about the election. That would include things like the cottage industry publishing made up Donald Trump propaganda. From satirists like Paul Horner who were taken seriously to the Macedonian town running over one hundred pro-Trump sites.

We could talk about the Russian espionage that directly supported Trump’s campaign.

We could talk about the highly unusual statements the FBI released that aided Trump’s campaign.

Or we could talk about what kind of president he’s going to be.

We could talk about his selection of the author of a neo-Nazi resurgence as chief strategist.

We could talk about his clear preference for racists and conspiracy theorists in his administration.

We could talk about his continuation of the unpresidential behavior many assumed or hoped he would discard once the campaign had ended.

Or we could talk about the fact that his conflicts of interest are already serious enough that experts from past presidential administrations are talking about them being unconstitutional.

But I think the most important thing to talk about now is the fact that Republicans control the Presidency, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and are likely to regain their majority on the Supreme Court.

In the days before and after the election, I heard many claims that Donald Trump wouldn’t be so bad as president because the Constitution would keep him in check. But the constitution is “just words.” It is only as strong as the will of Congress and the judiciary to enforce it. Keep in mind that the story of his election is that of an aggressive, vindictive man and a parade of unexpected victories over political norms and the very people who now must keep him in line. We should not take for granted their ability to stand up to him. We, the public, need to hold our representatives accountable just as they need to hold Trump accountable. We need to demand that they not let partisan loyalty, fear of reprisal, or desire for personal power and success prevent them from standing up to Trump wherever he breaks the public trust.

As a resident of Indiana district 12, I’ve found my representatives contact numbers. They are:

Representative Peter Visclosky (D) IN: 219-795-1844 DC: (202) 225-2461
Senator Joe Donnelly (D) IN: 202-224-4814 DC: (202) 224-4814
Senator Daniel Coats (R) 317-554-0750

I intend to call regularly and ask that my representatives not just keep my own political views in mind, but be aware of things that should be bipartisan, like upholding the first amendment and rejecting the elevation of dangerous people in the White House. I ask that you do the same.

Trump and “locker room talk”

I’ve linked this article numerous times in various discussions. Probably more than any other. Because it really gets at what people don’t understand about rape and sexual abuse and how men treat women. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do now. But here is the most important part:

Alcohol was the weapon of choice for these men, who typically saw themselves as college guys hooking up. They didn’t think what they had done was a crime.

“Most of these men have an image or a myth about rape, that it’s some guy in a ski mask wielding a knife,” says Lisak. “They don’t wear ski masks, they don’t wield knives, so they don’t see themselves as rapists.”

In fact, they’d brag about what they had done afterwards to their friends. That implied endorsement from male friends — or at the very least, a lack of vocal objection — is a powerful force, perpetuating the idea that what these guys are doing is normal rather than criminal.

With that as context, look again at how Donald Trump answered the question about his bragging about sexual assault:




A quick thought on Brexit and Bregret

For Democracy to work, the electorate really needs to be less gullible. One of the most effective campaign slogan of the British leave campaign was a blatant lie that caved in the day they won the election. And really, the only excuse people have for believing it is that wanted to believe it. For as easily and thoroughly as it was debunked, people had to actively reject the reality. And the rest of the campaign wasn’t much better, denying and defying all expert opinions and fact based analysis.
And there have been a lot of comparisons between the leave campaign and Trump’s, not least of all from Trump himself. The similarities between the leave campaign and Donald Trump’s aren’t just in tone. The “go big” style of lies, making grand, vague lies that resonate with people, are a hallmark of both.
The cynical response to this is that it’s just politics, that you can’t trust any of it anyway, so who cares? But that’s really not true. Some lies are easier to spot than others. Some lies are more appealing than others. And some lies lead you further away from the truth than others.
Leave and Trump both take those to extremes, combining the extremes of all three. The lies at the center of the campaign are appealing, easy to debunk, and lead people in a disastrous direction. I know most Trump voters are angry because they feel ignored and exploited, but Trump isn’t an answer to that. He’s more of it: bigger, stronger, and worse. I don’t know how to convince them of that. In finance we would arrest people who do this kind of thing for fraud. We can’t do that in politics, it wouldn’t last five minutes before it was exploited for partisan reasons. But we need some other way of exposing political cons, because right now we’re failing the biggest, most obvious test in recent history.

If we are not part of the solution…

After a wave of anti-refugee sentiment from governors around the country, Congress today passed a veto-proof bill that would effectively cut off the ability of the United States to help refugees of the Syrian civil war.

In times of particular struggle, uncertainty, and fear we look to our leaders. We need them to display the wisdom and bravery that are required in trying times, when most people have difficulty meeting that need.

Today our leaders have done the opposite. Rather than showing us wisdom and bravery, they have succumbed to fear, or worse, embraced it as a tool for political gain. They have rejected our self-appointed place as a world power and left other countries already doing more than us to deal with the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Congress is not acting as a body of leaders. They are embracing the irrational fear that so many Americans feel in response to the terrorism ISIS engages in. How is it that our bravery can so easily falter in the face of an attack on France, especially when France holds strong in their support for the victims of ISIS?

We are failing to learn the lessons of history, preferring to relive our most shameful failures of World War II. We must not turn away refugees as we did Jews. We must not treat Muslims, Middle Easterners, or even Syrians as suspect. If we refuse to accept refugees we not only fail to live up to our values, we create enemies where we could have allies.

Rejecting the Syrian refugees may feel like keeping the conflict away. It may feel safer. It is not. It strengthens the position of ISIS and it helps them to harm more people. We cannot let ourselves do that again.

On torture

I don’t know what’s worst about this: that the US engaged in torture, that we lied about its effectiveness, that we kept doing it once it became obvious it wasn’t effective, that once it came to light the public defended it, or now that we know just how bad it was we’re still arguing over whether we should even be talking about it.

We do know it happened. We know it got very bad. We know it was done poorly. We know that the people doing it wanted to stop. We know the people doing it didn’t think it was working.

A lot has been said about all of this. I’m kind of at a loss as to what to highlight. What’s the best response to this? What do we do now? I don’t know. One thing is glaringly obvious to me: we cannot continue to defend it. Over the years many people have tried to sweep it under the rug. Sometimes by saying it was necessary, or that we didn’t know enough about it, or that it wasn’t all that bad, sometimes by saying that it’s in the past and we need to move on. That needs to stop. The US did things that we cannot excuse. We have to face that fact. We have to do something about it.

But then what do we do? I don’t think we should look to the president. On the one hand, Obama deserves the criticism he’s getting for failing to act. He has been somewhere between complicit and actively involved in helping to hide and excuse these crimes. At the same time, I have to admit that he’s in an impossible situation. By his very existence he is already one of the most divisive presidents in history. For him to be the first president to attempt to charge a past administration with war crimes would have been a disaster. I don’t know what it would have looked like, but I’m confident it would have galvanized his opponents in support of the Bush era CIA, which likely would have been worse than where we are now. What he needs is this issue to have some significant bipartisan support before he joins in. This can’t be a fight.

Maybe that’s what’s most important here. The reaction to this has shown the same party line divide as any other political issue in the last many years. If there was ever going to be a line in the sand, a point at which everyone can set aside politics and say “this is wrong” I would expect it to be this. The CIA tortured its own informants. It literally tortured a man to death. If we can’t all agree that this was too much, that we went too far and need to do something about it, that it can never happen again, then how can anyone expect better of us? How can we?

Doctor Who: Favorites

Since I’ve finally gotten to see the new Doctor, I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite episodes. Kind of in order, although that does tend to change with my mood.

Gallifrey Falls No More

Gallifrey Falls No More

1. Day of the Doctor: The 50th anniversary was easily my favorite Doctor Who episode/special to date. I loved pretty much everything about it, especially John Hurt. I think the only thing that could have improved it would have been Eccelston joining in for a few scenes.

2. The Girl in the Fireplace: I’ve always been particularly fond of tragedy, so this was up my alley. More than anything else, though, the structure of the story was brilliant. The way they used time and managed to tell the entire story of a life in an episode was amazing.

3. Midnight: I seem to like this one a lot more than most, but I stand by it. I loved pretty much every line in this episode.

4. Blink: Yeah, it’s on everyone’s favorite episodes list, but deservedly so. Good thing, because it was one of the few that made season 3 worth watching.

5. Vincent and the Doctor: This one stands out as one of the few that aren’t creepy or scary, but hopeful and beautiful instead. Bill Nighy’s speech really makes this one.

6. The Lodger: I spend pretty much the entire episode laughing. Brilliant idea, fantastic execution.

7. The Doctor’s Wife: I love that they got Neil Gaiman to write an episode, and he did a great job. It probably doesn’t hurt that he shared my pet theory that the Tardis is bringing the Doctor where he needs to be.

8. The Asylum of the Daleks: I loved Clara in this episode. Was a bit let down when she wasn’t this awesome in her next few appearances.

9. Dalek: Eccelston really hit it out of the park on this one. Not just being afraid of the Dalek, but desperate. And it’s such a great contrast to how he’d been up to that point. Since it was the first time I was introduced to the Daleks it really did a great job of defining both the Daleks and the Doctor for me.

10. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: I’m combining this into one. Feels more appropriate to judge the story rather than a piece of it. And I really liked this one. It had some execution issues, but the idea was great. And it introduced the Ood, who were really neat.

As to the new Doctor, I’m still a bit behind, but I wasn’t crazy about the first episode. I think he has potential, but he’s also the first regeneration I’ve not been really excited about after the first episode. Also, while I don’t necessarily dislike Vastra and her team, I also haven’t been impressed by any of the episodes that use them, so that might have been part of it.