Category Archives: Politics

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.

Link

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said that much of the data the other side presented was either erroneous, scientifically dubious, misleading or out of date.”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?

Obamacare stubbornly not ruining country

Ezra Klein has an article up talking about Obamacare’s surprising success. Not just about the fact that it hasn’t been a disaster yet, but that it’s actually been more successful than even the more optimistic forecasts called for.

A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that in seven major cities that have released data on 2015 premiums, the price of the benchmark Obamacare plan — the second-cheapest silver plan, which the federal government uses to calculate subsidies —  is falling.

There are, of course, some caveats. This is just initial data, and the decrease is incredibly small. And the CBO warns that it doesn’t expect it to continue. None the less, it is part of a trend of data that is better than anticipated.

Krugman weighs in too, and I think he has a really good point. A year ago there was general pessimism about the ACA. The idea that it would be successful was not widely held, and most conservatives would have been incredulous at the mere suggestion. Krugman points to John Cochrane and The Hill, and they were hardly the worst. Yet here we are, with data on the ACA stubbornly refusing to look bad. I wish more conservatives were asking why.

Maybe more importantly, I wish this would be a hit to the credibility of the people who were so frantically warning of disaster. They weren’t just wrong, they were spectacularly wrong. It really should make people wonder what else they’re wrong about.

Because it’s not like this is an isolated issue. Many of the same people who were wrong about this have been wrong about a host of other economic and political issues lately. From the last presidential election when conservatives were surprised by the utterly predictable results, to inflation which has miraculously stayed low, to the ACA which hasn’t ruined healthcare or America yet. Any of these things in a vacuum would be reasonable enough to ignore. But I hope that at some point this pattern of making predictions that turn out to be completely untrue will shake their listeners faith in them. Because at this point it’s clearly not just an isolated mistake, it’s something more fundamental, something about their entire approach that makes them unable to see when they are wrong.

Ferguson, Racism, and Economics

I’ve been following circumstances in Ferguson with a lot of interest, but I’ve been reluctant to comment much on it. Admittedly, this is largely because I’m not comfortable talking about racism. But that discomfort is, in large part, what allows systemic racism to thrive. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

I think it’s worth noting how strong that impulse to slow down is, even now. Maybe especially now. An example from the NYT:

Possibly the most widely held sentiment among whites is the hope that it all simply goes away. “I feel for everyone involved,” said Shannon Shaw, a jeweler in Mehlville. But, she added, “I think the protesters just need to go home.”

In America race and class issues are completely intertwined. Look closely enough and you can see one or the other, but it’s impossible to take a broader look at one without seeing the other. In a recent article in Time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote:

Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

Why is that? As the civil rights movement progressed, overt racism became socially unacceptable. But people didn’t change as fast as society, so many people silently held on to racist beliefs, feelings, and attitudes. And of course that racism still came out in public, just more subtly. Racist statements would be vague enough that if challenged there was plausible deniability. Perhaps the least subtle example of this is economics, where the language of race was often simply replaced with class. Instead of talking about black people politicians would talk about the poor, or the inner city, or urban culture.

This had two effects. One is that it created a kind of code. People could once again express overtly racist ideas but still maintain plausible deniability. The other effect was both more subtle and more harmful. People who heard these statements but didn’t recognize their intent took them at face value, sometimes accepting the idea that the poor are, essentially, an inferior race. Even the people who were using class as code started to internalize the idea that race and class were interchangeable.

Lately, looking at the coverage of the events in Ferguson, I think the most striking difference between the protesters and their critics is the scope of the issue. The critics say that we can’t know what happened, that we must wait and find out if the shooting was justified. But this is to entirely misunderstand the protesters. Michael Brown’s death is a symbol to them, and regardless of what happened in the moments before his death they will still feel as powerless and abused as before. The problem isn’t any individual incident, it is the attitudes and the patterns.

If you are unconvinced, look at nearly any decision by the police and government since the shooting. More than a lack of respect, they have shown disdain for the community. From the repeated decision to use tear gas on peaceful protesters to the arrest of journalists to the imposition of curfew, at every turn the police have chosen to treat the community as an enemy.

Which brings me to my final point: escalation. I feel like that is the key theme that runs through all of the problems that have hit the news in Ferguson. Not just since the death of Michael Brown, but before it too. The authorities seem to welcome the chance to escalate situations, to the point that very few of the people in power seem to even see any other options. It creates a cycle of escalation.