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I’ve been too busy to blog about the Mueller report, which is probably just as well since it’s one of those potboilers that is going to be unfolding for quite awhile.

And I’m not sure what I could add, but I’ll give it a shot.

1. It’s hard to comment more on the report until we see it – which it seems every Republican in America does not want to happen. Which should tell you something about their “total exoneration” nonsense. It’s safe to assume there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s damaging to Trump, even if he can’t be actually prosecuted for any of it.

2. And in fact, we don’t really know that he can’t be, at least as far as the Obstruction of Justice part. Mueller left it open, possibly because he’d decided he went as far as he could go with it and wanted to make sure the work continued – perhaps with Congress.

3. Predictable MAGA hysteria notwithstanding, there’s now a lot of hand-wringing, soul-searching and fingerpointing about how the media got the Trump-Russia story wrong. Or did they?

Matt Taibbi certainly thinks so. Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg thinks Matt is kinda nuts.

As usual, I’m somewhere in the middle. I think Taibbi is cherrypicking radical examples (Maddow, MSNBC in general, Daily Beast, Jonathan Chait’s New Yorker story, etc) to paint the entire media with the same brush, but I do agree with his overall concern – that the media had to be really careful how they treated the Mueller investigation, especially at a time when Trump is actively stoking up anti-media fervor and labelling all critical stories of him as one-sided Fake News. And in the end, many of them gave in to their sensationalist tendencies that turned out to play right into his hands.

On the other hand, the build-up of the Mueller case was as much the product of people on Twitter and social media who passed around otherwise sober stories as though they were smoking guns. Liberals and other anti-Trumpers were reading more into what was there, conflated allegations with proof, and were banking on Mueller to nail the bastard, put him in jail and save the country, even though anyone who paid the slightest attention knew that Mueller was never going to do that. His job wasn’t to arrest Trump (which he probably can’t do anyway) – it was to look into specific allegations and report his findings to the AG, who would then decide what to do with them. And even if the AG wasn’t a pro-Trump appointee, the most he/she would likely do is hand over to Congress for impeachment proceedings – which, as I mentioned earlier, isn’t going to happen.

So I think media coverage was only part of the problem.

Also, I don’t agree with Taibbi’s claim that RussiaGate was a myth that the media clung to because it was the perfect explanation for why they totally failed to see Trump’s election victory coming. It may well be the case that Trump didn’t actively conspire with Russia to win the election, but it’s already well established that (1) Russian hackers did in fact attempt to influence the outcome of the election, (2) they succeeded, and (3) there was some sort of oddball connection between Trump and Russia that Trump and his associates did not want revealed to the point that they were willing to lie to the FBI and Congress about it. Indeed, five Trump associates are now in jail precisely for doing that, and a sixth one has been arrested. You can thank Mueller for all of those, as well as the 26 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer who have also been indicted.

Some myth.

I take Taibbi’s point that the media is supposed to respect the “innocent until proven guilty” tenet of due process, and it’s true that the media’s sensationalist tendencies tend to blur those lines, especially with TV news. But let’s not pretend there was no basis for the Trump-Russia stories, or that the Mueller report proves the entire mass media industry got it wrong.

4. Meanwhile, as you might imagine, I am not at all impressed with Team MAGA’s “Total Exoneration b/w Democrats and Fake News Media Colluded to Destroy Trump” line, complete with the authoritarian schtick of naming names, accusations of treason and making “recommendations” that TV producers think twice about booking anyone on their list.

But then I’m not the target consumer – the MAGA base is. They’ll be screaming the “baseless witch hunt” conspiracy between now and the next election, and every effort by Demos to investigate further (and the media’s coverage of it) will be presented as evidence of that – and their base will devour every word.

Taibbi argues that’s why Demos and the media really need to move on from Mueller (at least until the report is released) if they want to maintain credibility – why hand them ammo if you don’t have to? That might be true, but it’s also true that Team MAGA manufactures its own ammo, so they’d be screaming “baseless witch hunt” even if Mueller had produced smoking guns.

5. Meanwhile, there is of course also the matter of all those other federal and state investigations into a wide range of shenanigans allegedly committed by Trump and/or his minions, as well as the question of whether Trump colluded with Russia in a different way (i.e. by giving them sanctions relief for the express purpose of enriching himself even though he knew at the time Russia was attempting to hack the election).

Those should continue to be investigated and reported, of course, but as far as impeaching Trump or convincing the GOP to abandon him, you can pretty much forget it. The witch-hunt narrative is pretty much set in stone, and the GOP is all-in with Trump at this stage. In terms of election strategy, it’s probably time to stop using scandals as a weapon – Trump has essentially immunized himself from that (and it certainly didn’t stop him from getting elected in the first place).

Going nowhere,

This is dF
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Trump has declared his national emergency over the wall (or lack thereof), and I only just now have found some time to blog it, but luckily this may be the easiest blog post ever, so it won’t take much of your time.

1. There of course is no emergency except for the one that exists in Trump’s empty little head. And there are no reliable facts or statistics to back that up except for the super-secret ones Trump makes up in that same head. Which says a lot, because he could only get away with this in a time where people have conned themselves into believing that any fact that contradicts their worldview or their POTUS is fake news.

2. Obviously this raises some issues over the ability of a POTUS to use otherwise legal national-emergency powers to circumvent Congress when it doesn’t give him what he wants. That said, I am generally not impressed with the modicum of Republican handwringing over this. We’ve seen this before – Trump does/says something radical/insane, some Republicans say, “Well, I don’t really agree …” then they eventually back him.

Some people have tried the “Look, if you allow this, the next Democratic POTUS will have the same powers and the precedent to use them for, say, banning assault rifles, and it’ll be all yr fault” argument. Unfortunately, we tried that back when when Bush Jr was President – he started wars all over the Middle East after 9/11 and gave himself wartime powers to curtail liberties, set up torture camps , etc to “fight” terrorism, and Demos made the same argument – “You realize if Hillary becomes President, she’ll have all these powers too, right?” Repubs didn't care then, and when Obama became POTUS they just complained about Presidential overreach as if it was never a problem until Obama took office.

The message is clear: only presidents in the Opposition Party have too much power. Presidents from your own party never ever do, even when they have the exact same powers. And they will never see the dissonance between these statements no matter how much time you take to explain it to them.

3. I don’t know what the outcome of the lawsuits will be, but I will say I don’t think it matters from a political POV because, as some have already pointed out, Trump – ironically – doesn't really want a wall that badly. He wants to be seen by his base demanding that wall and scrapping with libtards to get it so he can get cheap pops at his ego rallies. It doesn't matter if the courts rule against him, because he can simply blame the libtards, the activist judges and the fake news media. And his base will accept that.

Over the wall,

This is dF
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Following the testimony of Dr Christine Blasey Ford (which I didn’t watch, no) and the subsequent reactions, I do have a few things to add.

1. I believe her.

2. I’m not sure it matters, because the (male) GOP senators have made perfectly clear that they don’t care whether she’s telling the truth or not.

If they care about anything, it’s the terrifying prospect that their entire careers could be ended by any woman who decides to accuse them of sexual misconduct no matter how long ago it may have happened. And I’m sure the rise of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport has made them all too aware of the fact that women are more likely to be believed these days if they do step forward – which is a change from the good old days when you could just slut-shame them into silence and men could get on with their productive lives.

Kavanaugh’s statement pretty much encapsulates all of that. He’s not just proclaiming his innocence (which would be understandable and natural, whether it’s true or not). He’s trying to rally all men everywhere to his defense with the dire warning that if we let Blasey Ford get away with this, none of us are safe. We will all become unemployable at the mere hint of an allegation. And it will be all the fault of Democrats.

3. So, to summarize Points 1 and 2, the basic message the GOP is pushing here is: (1) we don't care what Kavanaugh did in his past or who got hurt, we want him on the SCOTUS bench and that’s all we care about, (2) a man’s career is far, far more important than the trauma of any woman he has sexually victimized, and (3) if we believe Dr Blasey Ford, we have to believe all women who make such allegations, and we all know where that leads – all men will be unemployed or in prison, and you can thank the f***ing femi-Nazi Democrats for that.

All of which is hard to take seriously, given that the GOP is perfectly credulous when it comes to allegations of sexual assault/harassment against people like, say, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner and Al Franken. And honestly, the notion that all of this is a plot by Democrats to keep Kavanaugh off the bench doesn’t hold up when you remember that the number of women materializing out of nowhere to accuse Neil Gorsuch of sexual assault/harassment is [checks notes] zero.

4. The other GOP message here is, of course, “boys will be boys”. And it’s a message that at least some teenage girls are hearing loud and clear.

5. Trump has (finally) instructed the FBI to investigate, which is perhaps telling, given how Trump generally seems to think the job of the FBI is to put his personal enemies in jail. Maybe he’s hoping they’ll put Dr Blasey Ford in jail for lying to Congress? Or they’ll find out Hillary Clinton put her up to all this and put HER in jail? Or maybe he wants to know what boofing is so he can know if he’s done that yet? I don’t know.

6. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that no matter what the FBI finds, Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed, simply because that’s just how the current GOP leadership works. As long as you’re onboard with their ideology, they don't care if yr a gibbering idiot, a pathological liar who pals around with ruthless dictators, or a serial philanderer who pays his mistresses hush money and brags about being rich enough to get away with pussy-grabbing at will – so long as you get results.

I dunno. It’s hard to imagine the GOP dropping Kavanaugh now, and I’m not convinced holdouts like Flake, Murkowski and Collins will vote against him when push comes to shove. At this stage, I’m afraid the only way Kavanaugh isn’t getting confirmed is if he decides it’s not worth it and withdraws.

I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong. But, you know, given how this admin has a history of hiring the most unqualified people possible to fill job positions, I’m not optimistic.

Getting away with it,

This is dF
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I started writing this post back when Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement and the big concern then was (1) Trump forced him to retire because Kennedy’s son is tied to Russia somehow (which might be true but there's no hard evidence of this) and (2) Trump’s nominated replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a radical Trump conservative whose sole qualification for Republicans is his ability to overturn Roe v Wade and affirm the legal power of Trump to pardon himself for whatever crimes Robert Mueller eventually charges him with.

Obviously the concerns have piled on since then, thanks to Dr Christine Blasey Ford informing us what young teenage Brett used to get up to.

So, okay, a few things:

1. Roe v Wade: personally I think Kavanaugh’s political opinions may not necessarily be an indicator of how he would rule, if only because (1) it depends on the specific case brought before SCOTUS and the legal decisions that brought it to them, etc and so on, because that’s what they tend to rule on, and (2) my experience with the Supremes has been that they don’t always vote along predictable party lines (Kennedy being a case in point – he’s a staunch conservative who legalized gay marriage nationwide). So I don’t know that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would automatically spell the end of Roe v Wade. But obviously I can’t rule it out either.

2. Self pardons: Trump has been declaring loudly that he can totally pardon himself, and that sitting POTUSes can’t be indicted anyway. The thing is, he might technically be right. We don't really know for sure because it’s never really been tested. This Snopes article has a good breakdown of the legal arguments, but the upshot is that the Constitution grants the POTUS virtually unlimited power to pardon people, and there’s nothing in there that says he CAN’T pardon himself, with the exception of impeachment charges, which the Founding Fathers™ ultimately decided was the best remedy for a corrupt, criminal president. There may be a case of applying common law (i.e. you can’t be the judge at yr own trial), but there’s no guarantee any judge will rule that way, whether it’s Kavanaugh, Kennedy or anyone else on the bench.

3. Boys will be boys: All I can really say about Dr Ford’s allegations for now is that it’s helped shine a spotlight (again) on the fact that many Republican men are really, really, REALLY bad at talking about rape and sexual assault/harassment – which is especially egregious in the wake of #MeToo, which evidently convinced Republicans that the proper response to rape/sexual assault/harassment allegations is to double down on insisting it must be the victim’s fault somehow, or boys will be boys, or the perp has suffered enough and we don't want to ruin his entire life over one transgression, and we’re sure he’s sorry about it and it won't happen again – all of which basically add up to the message that the feelings of the accused man always matter more than the feelings of his female victim. (Unless the accused man is Al Franken or Anthony Weiner, in which case by all means, ruin his life and make an example of him.)

So yeah, obviously my sympathies lie more with Dr Ford at this moment, and the conservatives defending Kavanaugh have pretty much zero credibility with me.

4. The Return Of Anita Hill: We’ve sort of been here before with Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, which some fear will be a precedent for both how Dr Ford will be treated by the Senate Judiciary and Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation despite her allegations.

On the bright side, according to this article, two key differences are (1) there were no women on the Senate Judiciary committee in 1991, but there are several today, and (2) #MeToo has changed the conversation we usually have about these kinds of things (except for Republican men, of course).

On the other hand, a number of Republican women have stepped up to defend Kavanaugh (not counting those 65 high-school “friends”), and one even said that even if Ford isn’t lying, so what?:

… we’re talking about a 17-year-old boy in high school with testosterone running high. Tell me, what boy hasn’t done this in high school?” Gina Sosa asked.

Well, sure. Every teenage boy goes through that period where he corners a girl at a party, turns up the music so no one can hear her protest and then covering up her mouth as he tries to force her to have sex with him. Everyone knows that.

So yeah, there’s a good chance that Christine Ford is going to be the new Anita Hill in the sense that the Senators are going to do their damnedest to badger, humiliate and discredit her, and the result is likely to be that Kavanaugh gets to be the new Clarence Thomas – because it does seem as though the current stance of the GOP is: “You know what? We honestly couldn’t care less if Kavanaugh rapes every woman he meets, films them all and posts them on YouTube so long as we get a guy on the SCOTUS bench who will rule in our favor.”

I might be wrong about Kavanaugh’s chances, but to be honest I think the only way he’s not getting this job at this stage is if he drops out voluntarily.

5. For the record, even before Christine Ford came into play, I personally didn’t think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – at least not with 100,000 pages of his judicial records being withheld. The fact that they are being withheld – and by Trump’s insistence – is in itself suspicious.

Redacted,

This is dF
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ITEM: D.Trump has issued a decree executive order putting an end to the policy of separating child immigrants from their families at the border – this being the policy that he and his staff have simultaneously said was (1) not his policy, (2) totally legal, (3) entirely the fault of Democrats, (4) Biblically justified, (5) intended as a deterrent to illegal immigrants, (6) upholding the law of the land, (6) something that only an act of Congress could stop and (7) non-existent.

(NOTE: To be clear, the policy wasn’t specifically to separate families. The policy was to arrest everyone and try the adults as criminals – which resulted in families being separated. And baby jails tender age shelters.)

As you may know, the good news is ICE won’t be separating families anymore. The bad news: kids will still be put in jail (albeit together with their parents), and most of the kids who have already been separated are probably going to stay that way for awhile, because nothing in the EO provides for it.

This Vox explainer and this article from New Republic covers the basics of what the EO does and doesn’t do. A few extra comments from me for bloggery purposes:

1. It’s important to understand that that what Trump actually wants is the ability to arrest every single illegal immigrant (regardless of age), prosecute them as criminals and keep them jail together for as long as it takes to process and deport them. The Flores Settlement apparently prevents that, and Trump wants to get rid of Flores so that he can detain immigrants indefinitely. In fact, as I understand it, the EO is essentially designed to ensure a court case to challenge Flores, provided Congress doesn’t overrule it first.

So the EO isn’t really about reuniting families or ending a barbaric practice – it’s about giving the Trump admin legal powers of indefinite detention for illegal immigrants.

2. That’s important to remember because let's never forget that the Trump admin does not care one bit about kids being ripped from their families, and doesn't see that as a bad or immoral thing in itself.

I feel confident in saying this because they were perfectly fine with it until it turned out to be a political liability that even Fox News couldn’t mitigate. And since this admin typically doubles down on unpopular statements and decisions (not least because Trump’s MAGA base loves his hardline – womp womp), I’m assuming they’re only changing gears now because (1) Trump wants to force the aforementioned legal battle, and (2) they realized quickly it was too expensive and troublesome to build tent cities or find places to put all those kids. Put simply, for TrumpCo, this is not about doing the right thing – it's about the cold logistical fact it's cheaper and easier to keep families together.

3. Which is another thing – apart from the policy being morally vile, it was also badly planned and incompetently executed. Apparently it never occurred to anyone in TrumpCo to work out the logistics of arresting literally every illegal they caught, the caseload involved, and just where they would keep these people in the interim. It seems pretty obvious no one in charge of this bothered to think beyond “arrest ‘em and deport ‘em”.

4. In any case, the EO does not excuse in any way what TrumpCo has done to these families so far, why they’re doing it, and how they’ve sold it to the MAGA base. They still own that, and they will continue to do so long after these families are reunited (if they ever are – and it doesn’t look so good right now).

5. As for Melania Trump’s jacket … I think the only reason to pay any attention to it at all is to point out that it was intended as a sideshow distraction. Because let’s stop to think for a moment of just who in the POTUS/FLOTUS ecosystem thought that jacket was a good idea, and why.

I mean, seriously – yr sending FLOTUS to the Texas border to visit the separated families that the left are making so much noise about. And she has this jacket that she is going to be seen wearing in plain sight in the midst of all that fury. It’s inconceivable to me that it never occurred to anyone involved that the jacket might be controversial or send an unintended message.

Which is why I’m assuming that was the entire point.

I do wonder just where Melania fits into this – did it ever occur to her wearing that jacket at this time would be a bad idea? What did she think people would say about it? What did she want them to think? Did Trump make her wear it? Did she wear it to gaslight Donald?

I don’t know. And the answers aren't important right now in the context of the bigger issue at hand. But I don’t believe for a second it was an unfortunate coincidence. And I don’t believe for a second it’s a comment on “fake news”.

We care a lot,

This is dF
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We need to talk about DJ Trump and Jeff Bo Sessions and their zero tolerance immigration policy.

Because, damn.

1. The first thing to understand is that the legal situation and the process involved – and US immigration policy in general – is a lot more complicated than a lot of media reports make out. I recommend this Vox explainer and this NYT article for a reasonably detailed rundown of the nature and the history of the current policy.

The upshot: (1) This is an extension of a problem that’s been ongoing since at least the Bush II admin, (2) while there isn’t literally a policy instructing ICE to separate families at the border, there is a policy that treats all immigrants without papers as criminals, which is resulting in having their kids taken away (because you can’t keep yr kids with you in federal jail), and (3) the US govt isn’t set up to handle the logistics issues that this policy creates, which is a reason why they’re now looking at concentration camps tent cities. (More on that last point here.)

2. History aside, obviously it’s a monstrous policy for a couple of reasons: (1) obviously it's traumatic for the families, especially the children, and (2) it shows a distinct lack of empathy and humanity on the part of the Trump admin. They’re treating these people as (at best) statistics on a chart and (at worst) subhuman criminals who might as well be honorary members of MS-13 or whatever. It’s the kind of policy you'd expect from a guy who has been spewing rhetoric for the last few years about immigrants being terrorists, rapists, drug lords and animals.

3. Even if it’s just rhetoric to Trump, it’s practically gospel to his fan base who defend his policy as a law and order issue only – literally, if you happen to be Jeff Sessions, who can’t seem to keep a grin off his face when he talks about the admin’s current immigration crackdown. All I have to say about his Romans 13:1 crack has already been covered by Stephen Colbert. (Also, as others have pointed out, Romans 13:1 is irrelevant in a country that’s supposed to separate church and state.)

The whole law and order thing, for me, is mostly people trying to win an argument on a technicality – the law is the law, and if you don’t want to suffer the consequences, don’t break the law, what could be simpler? As if the “consequences” are justified no matter how extreme. All that says to me is these people see having yr kids taken away from you as just punishment for having the gall to take a shortcut in seeking a better life in the USA – and they’ve given no thought to what this actually involves doing to other human beings.

(I’ll add too that many people who deploy the “law and order” argument are also using it mainly because they do see immigrants as terrorists, rapists, drug lords and animals.)

4. For people whose fallback position is, “Look, like it or not, illegal immigration is a real problem and we need to fix how we deal with it," my response is this:

Yes, illegal immigration is a real problem (though not to the extremes that Trump Co claim), and the US needs to reform its policy to deal with it. The Big Question is how you deal with that problem, and the lengths (or in this case, depths) yr willing to go to “fix” it.

As it stands, our “fix” seems to require a certain amount of cruelty (see here, here and here) to carry out. And that means the people who carry it out – or support it – have to be okay with that level of cruelty. Whether cruelty is the intention or simply a consequence of zero-tolerance – or, even more cynically, an unfortunate but necessary political bargaining chip – it means these people think it’s okay to do this to illegal immigrants and their children. Trump can go on all he likes about having no choice because the law won’t let him keep families together – the prospect of separating them didn’t stop him from okaying the policy that is resulting in cruelty.

5. Also, regarding Trump’s claim that this is all the Democrats’ fault – that’s horseshit. What he’s saying is, “I wouldn’t have to do this if you’d give me an immigration reform bill that overturns the Flores Settlement, makes it harder to apply for asylum, allows indefinite detention and gives me my Wall™ money.”

Which is basically the same mentality as the average movie bad guy who takes people hostage and tells the hero, “Give me what I want and no one has to die – and if they do, it’s yr fault, not mine.”

It’s even more incredulous given that (1) the Democrats don’t control any branch of the govt, and (2) the current MO of the GOP is to slap together bills with no Demo input at all and force a vote (preferably in the middle of the night). And in any case, it’s insane to force Demos to vote for a bill they otherwise wouldn’t support simply to end Trump’s own cruel practice (which, by the way, it wouldn’t).

So, yeah – the situation is more complex than it looks, but regardless, Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is cruel political theater rooted in xenophobia and enabled by populist fear and racism that relies on denigrating the victims to sub-human status to justify it. It’s not just about the policy itself – it’s about the fact that too many people (from the Trump admin to its fan base and most if not all of the GOP) either don’t care about the consequences of that policy on real humans, or think that’s a small price to pay to achieve the fulfillment of their political ideology.

Theatre of cruelty,

This is dF
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And while I was typing the last post, Samantha Bee is in trouble for calling Ivanka Trump the c-word. And naturally conservatives want TBS to fire her and cancel her show – allegedly in the name of fairness since Rosanne Barr was sacked by ABC for doing the same thing.

Also bloggable!

1. It’s not the same thing at all. Barr’s tweet was not only offensive, but also racist, which is bad enough on its own terms, and worse in the context of the times – racism is ascending in power with the aim of disenfranchising everyone who isn’t a white Christian male. Bee’s rant wasn’t racist or sexist, and didn’t contribute to Ivanka’s (or anyone’s) disenfranchisement in any way. It was just rude and offensive.

2. Assuming Bee keeps her job, it’s only a double standard if the “standard” being applied is civility and decorum. Which it’s not – we know this because (1) their favorite POTUS insults their political enemies almost daily and they love it, and (2) my Facebook/Twitter feeds are full of conservative memes about Obama being an ape, Michelle Obama being a man (and an ape), Chelsea Clinton being ugly, Rosie O’Donnell being fat, and libtards being stupid, little easily-offended snowflakes who can't take a joke.

So all this conservative handwringing about Samantha Bee is so much schadenfreude to me. They don't care about Bee’s use of the c-word – they only care who she said it about. If Bee had said it about Hillary Clinton, she’d be getting a White House invite by now.

(To be fair, too, I think a lot of liberals don’t really care about double standards either – I know plenty who loved what Bee said and think she has nothing to apologize for. Same old story – it’s truthful when I say it about yr side, and an offensive smear when you say it about my side, blah blah blah.)

4. All that aside, should Bee have said it? Probably not – partly because political discourse is toxic enough as it is, but mainly because it provided the perfect excuse for everyone to ignore the overall point Bee was trying to make regarding the insensitive obliviousness of Ivanka Trump posting a sweet photo of herself and her child when ICE is busy forcibly separating immigrant kids from their parents. Bee herself has said as much.
https://www.themarysue.com/samantha-bee-ivanka-trump-sorry-not-sorry/

5. Some sponsors are boycotting Full Frontal as a result – and, you know, fair is fair.

6. I’ve seen people claim that Trump demanding that TBS fire Bee is a clear First Amendment violation because it’s the government ordering a show off the air – which is something the 1A explicitly forbids.

Personally, I don’t agree with that evaluation (yet) because Trump doesn’t have any actual power to force TBS to cancel the show. It would only be a 1A violation if he actually succeeded in enforcing his demand with government power. For example, if he directly targets TBS with blackmail or an executive order, or has Bee or TBS’ head of programming arrested, then yes, that would be an egregious 1A violation.

If he uses the White House as a bully pulpit to actively encourage advertisers to boycott the show – or to encourage his fan base to boycott the advertisers – that’s a grey area, but I don’t know if it would pass muster in a constitutional court case.

Anyway, until any of that happens, it’s just more of Trump’s usual autocratic bluster.

To Bee or not to Bee,

This is dF
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The internet is aflame over Trump’s latest race-baiting immigrant comment – namely that he called immigrants “animals”.

Or did he?

Which is the main takeaway of this Vox explainer about the whole thing, which is worth reading, because it makes a few very important points regarding the state of political discourse in the Trump era:

1. Context matters
2. People are basically talking past each other to make political points
3. Trump is a babbling idiot who doesn’t know what he’s saying half the time.

Okay, the article doesn’t say that last one explicitly – but it does make the point that a major problem with divining what Trump supposedly intended to say vs what we all heard him say is that he has a tendency to veer off on tangents that perhaps only make sense in his own head.

Have you ever had a conversation where the other person switched topics in their head but didn’t signal this to you, and so you think they’re still talking about what you were talking about previously but they’re actually talking about or referring to something else?

Trump is basically like that. Anything he says doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the immediate topic, or indeed the previous sentence. Which is why, when you review the conversation in which he made his “animals” comment, it’s in no way obvious that he is talking about MS-13 gang members exclusively. Even if he thought in his head that’s who he was referring to, you can’t tell that from the transcript.

And this is a problem because, of course, he’s the POTUS. What the POTUS says matters. And when you have no idea what he means when he says something, you invite misinterpretation on both sides to the point that it can become a distraction from real issues – such as the fact that Trump’s aggressive immigration policy is not as focused on “the worst of the worst” like he claims. (Or the fact that statistically, the Obama admin deported more non-criminal immigrants than the Trump admin has, although Trump is certainly trying to beat that record.)

So if there’s a takeaway worth remembering, it’s that the current head of the USA – and the person currently and enthusiastically backed by the GOP – is an inarticulate boob who says whatever pops into his head as if it’s true (which it frequently isn’t), and real policies are being carried out based on this.

For example, Trump may have been referring only to MS-13, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some ICE agents are trying to justify arrests of DACA kids by pretending they’re gang members. Which is not to say Trump specifically ordered them to do so – I think the more racist ICE agents are hearing what he says and interpreting it to mean that as far as Trump is concerned, they’re all potential gang members, so why not use that as a pretense?

It’s like all the racists and Nazis and alt-right characters who feel that Trump has their back, even though he’s never really specifically said that he does, and has never explicitly said pro-racist/Nazi things. But it sure can be interpreted that way. (Yes, I’m aware that Trump allegedly uses coded language, but that only works if you KNOW it’s coded language, and I swear at least 60% of the ‘code words’ racists use to say racist things without sounding racist are things I had no idea were code words in the first place – so it’s plausible to me that Trump doesn't know them either.)

And of course all of this is why it's so easy to conclude that Trump meant all (non-white) immigrants are animals, because it's not like he doesn't have a history of saying things like that.

What’d I say,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)

When Trump gave his SOTU address, some news media inevitably tried to rate it in terms of “Was it Presidential?” Which in this case means, “Did Trump give a reasonably coherent speech that focused on problems and solutions instead of his usual shambling improv performances where he spends most of the time praising himself, insulting his enemies and making up alt-facts as he goes along?”

Some of us were thinking, “It doesn’t matter – he’ll do what he always does when he seems to do something that seems remotely ‘Presidential’: his next speech will be a return to form.”

Sure enough:

In between testimonials from Ohioans about the benefits of the tax reform law, Trump went way off script, unleashing a series of complaints about Democrats’ chilly reaction to his recent State of the Union speech (“Can we call that treason? Why not?”) […]
 
And so much for his alleged call to unity.

Predictably Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other Trump fans are deploying the old “It’s just a joke, man! Lighten up, snowflake!” defense. And I’ll admit, when I heard it I got the impression that he probably meant it in the same way that Ted Nugent meant that crack about Hillary Clinton giving his AR-15 a blowjob: a throwaway comment to entertain the base. I don’t think he wants to put all the Demos in jail for it any more than Nugent literally wanted to shoot Hillary in the face. It’s basically a cheap pop for the fans, and I doubt seriously he put any thought into it beyond that.

But:

1. As much as I hate alt-universe arguments, let’s admit that the same people defending him would be having a conniption fit if (say) President Hillary made the same “joke”.

2. They would be right to do so because the POTUS doesn't get to make “jokes” like that. When you hold the highest position of authority in one of the major superpowers on the planet, people tend to take what you say seriously. That can have consequences. Think of it this way: if you think the US is supposed to be championing values like freedom and democracy and The American Way, then defining treason as everyone who didn’t applaud yr speech (even as a joke) is the opposite of that. There are dictators worldwide who actually DO put the opposition in jail for treason (whatever that may mean) who may now be thinking, “See? Even the US has our back on this.”

3. Context also matters. When you have a tendency to embrace authoritarian ideas and say authoritarian things, making jokes about “treason” isn’t all that funny – except maybe to Trump fans who actually wouldn’t mind seeing Trump’s long list of political enemies locked up for treason.

The fact that most of Trump’s authoritarian leanings haven’t managed to subvert democracy very much (so far) – as well as the fact that even if he was serious about the treason comment, he either wouldn’t act on it or would try and fail – is beside the point. The point is that words matter – words have power, and when they’re backed with authority, they have even more power to the point that even if the speaker is only kidding, there’s no guarantee his followers will take it as such.

4. Which is kind of the real issue here – the problem isn’t so much what Trump personally meant by it (or thought he meant) as what his hardcore legions of fans think he meant.

Fans like this guy.

Or this guy.

Or these guys.

Or these guys.

Or … well, you get the idea.

These people may not comprise the majority of the population, but they comprise enough of the population to make life harder for the non-white non-straight/non-cis people who have to deal with Trumpers (or the mere possibility of Trumper abuse) on a daily basis (to say nothing of the ones who are also immigrants).

And I have little doubt that at least some of them already see liberals as “traitors” to America, and would love to see them all locked up in Gitmo or deported to Mexico or whatever. Just ask Trump’s favorite radio personality Alex Jones. Or Dana Loesch and her Clenched Fist Of Truth™. Or Ann Whatshername.

5. Caveat: I suspect many of them think “treason”, “un-American” and “unpatriotic” mean the exact same thing, which of course they don’t. I suspect this because some conservatives have rolled out “whataboutism” arguments about how some Democrat politicians have accused Republicans of being “un-American” and “unpatriotic”, so why can’t Trump joke about treason?

Well, because most of them weren’t POTUS when they said it, and because – unlike actual treason – being “un-American” and “unpatriotic” aren’t crimes. They’re bog-standard clichéd political insults.

And in any case, whataboutism is a stupid defense – it’s basically saying, “Your guy did it so it’s okay of my guy does it.”

Then again, you go with what works, I guess.

You can’t say that on television,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
I presume you know enough about Devin Nunes and his memo that I don’t need to provide a backgrounder.

Here are some links you can read for that, as well as decent analysis of the memo.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/1/16956290/nunes-memo-release-the-memo-fbi-russia

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/opinion/devin-nunes-memo.html

https://www.justsecurity.org/51778/qa-nunes-memo/

I can add a few comments in the name of bloggery:

1. Obviously there’s so much we don’t know that it's hard to make any accurate judgement about the memo’s significance – by itself it doesn't add up to much either way.

But based on what I’ve read so far, I’m going with the “nothingburger” camp. Even if the FBI didn’t inform FISC about the origins of the Steele dossier (and Nunes offers no hard proof of this), at most you could say that the FBI investigators made some mistakes or cut some corners. And because this is all related to one person (Carter Page) who was already under investigation, in the context of a larger investigation that began well before Page became part of it, I don’t see how this one alleged misstep amounts to discrediting the entire Russia investigation.

2. For that matter, I don't see why the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier – even in part – would discredit the investigation as a pro-Democrat plot against Trump. Nunes and the GOP are claiming it proves bias because the dossier was funded by Democrats, but we already know that Steele was initially hired by a conservative publication, the Washington Free Beacon, which was anti-Trump. And Nunes’ own memo admits the FBI started the investigation months before Steele handed the dossier to them.

3. I think what interests me the most is that in order for the Nunes memo to be nearly as explosive a slam-dunk as Nunes, Trump and Fox News makes out, it requires one to buy into a specific narrative, as summed up nicely in this series of charts, as well as by the following summation by Asha Rangappa at Just Security):

In sum, the Nunes Memo reportedly alleges that at least a dozen FBI agents and DOJ prosecutors fabricated evidence, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to commit perjury, lucked out on being randomly assigned Judge Low Blood Sugar who looked the other way, and – coincidentally – ended up obtaining evidence that justified extending the initial FISA surveillance.

We’re also expected to believe this is all part of a Deep State™ operation by Democrats to overthrow the Presidency, even though the investigation began before Trump even won an election he was widely expected to lose (and did, if you go by the pop vote), and even though literally all players in the FBI side of the investigation are (or at least were appointed by) Republicans – to include James Comey, who apparently was so determined to overthrow Trump that he actually helped him win by announcing that he was reopening his investigation into Hillary’s emails in light of new evidence (which turned out to be nothing).

So, no. I prefer the simpler explanation: Trump and his minions are up to their necks in Russian ties, and at least some of them knowingly accepted help from the Russians to meddle in the election (or perhaps were blackmailed into it), and their only hope of getting away with it is by discrediting the entire FBI. I also think Trump is motivated as much by the sheer fact that proof of Russian interference would imply he couldn’t win without someone cheating on his behalf, and his ego simply won’t stand for it. I also suspect his proof lies in the notion that if the FBI was truly independent, Hillary would already be in Guantanamo Bay by now.

I don’t have any proof of that. But neither do the Deep State people. Anyway, that’s my prediction.

4. A quick word about the US Deep State™: bullshit.

5. A few more words about the US Deep State™: I think it’s bullshit in the sense that the term was coined to describe situations like the one in Turkey. The US is nowhere close to that situation except in the minds of paranoid Fox News personalities.

That said, I’m aware that The Left has their own version of the Deep State: the one in which intelligence and security agencies – the “permanent government” – have their own agenda, and have the ability to use their powers of secret surveillance to subvert democracy by secretly undermining an existing administration with “anonymous” leaks. Glenn Greenwald (who I usually agree with more often than not) has argued that the Trump/Russia scandal looks suspiciously like disinformation, that we shouldn't trust it at face value, and Democrats are enabling the Deep State simply because it's currently targeting the opposition.

The main difference: Trump/Hannity think (or pretend to think) the Deep State is a Democrat creation (probably by Obama) to subvert Republican power exclusively. Greenwald's version is that the only side the Deep State takes is its own, and that the real story isn’t that they’re taking aim at Trump, but the fact that they can do it at all. You can’t support them for doing it to Trump and ignore the fact that they could just as easily do it to Hillary, or Bernie, or anyone else.

I would agree that intel agencies have far more surveillance power than they should, and the potential for abuse is real. And we’ve seen what an FBI with a political agenda and free reign looks like (see: J Edgar Hoover). But again, none of this has achieved Erdogan-level Deep State. And we do have laws today that prevent any FBI director from being the next Hoover. In any case, I think this is a separate issue from the Trump/Russia investigation.

6. But as always, so what? Team Trump/Fox and their fans live in their own alt-reality where Obama and Hillary run the Deep State™ with the help of the Liberal Fake News Media (funded by George Soros) and are actively plotting to take over America and the world. It’s not original, but it’s a handy way to explain away anything negative about their man The Donald, and the Nunes memo SO proves that.

7. But then it could all be disinformation, couldn't it? The Russians, the CIA, the FBI, Fox News – it could all be run by Chinese hackers or a network of AI twitterbots some high school kid released as a prank. For all you know, I'm one of those bots and I autogenerated this just to mess with you. 

Etc and so on.

Up from the deep.

This is dF
defrog: (Default)


I didn’t watch it, no.

Although that’s not a political statement in itself. Many liberals were calling for a boycott to lower Trump’s ratings, which is as fine a goal as any. But the thing is that I generally don’t watch SOTU speeches anyway. I’m happy to wait for the highlights reel and executive summary from various news outlets. And they’re really more for the base – sort of like how business press releases aren’t for the press, they’re for the shareholders.

And anyway, it doesn’t matter how low Trump’s first SOTU ratings were because Trump lives in TrumpWorld where his ratings are always the highest of any POTUS ever, and anyone who says otherwise is fake news.

(On the subject of ratings, the numbers do indicate that Trump’s first SOTU ratings were pretty low, but as some have pointed out, those numbers doesn’t include streaming video. So maybe if you factor those in, he might rank higher. The point is, Trump doesn't know that, he just assumes his ratings are the highest ever because why wouldn’t they be?)

Also, as I understand it, Trump’s speech went pretty much the way I expected it to go – he spent most of the time talking about himself, how great his Presidency is, and how America’s only serious problems are ISIS, North Korea and immigrants. Most of what he said about all of the above was inaccurate, exaggerated or flat-out fiction. And he didn’t offer any concrete plans to solve any of those problems.

Ho hum.

It basically sounds like any other Big Speech Trump has made, except that he managed to stay mostly on script and didn’t spend most of it bashing Hillary and CNN. Which I guess is an accomplishment by Trump standards, but in the context of everything else (Russia, Nazis, the FBI, Puerto Rico, golf, porn star payoffs, 3am Twitter rants, the list goes on) it doesn't really count for much.

Not with me, anyway. I’m sure plenty of Republicans feel otherwise. That’s to be expected.

And that’s why I didn't watch the SOTU. The end.

Switched off,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
So we all know by now about Colin Kaepernick, what he’s been doing and why, and what happened on Sunday after the President of the United States publicly called him a son of a bitch for doing it.

Much is being said about it, most of it off-point and dumb enough to inspire me to post something on it.

1. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my lifetime – and possibly ever – I’ve ever heard the President of The United States use what Decent Society would call foul language in a public speech (as opposed to doing it on a secret surveillance tape or a mike he didn’t know was hot). It doesn’t bother me – it’s just another example of how Trump just keeps managing to break every single rule of decorum that politicians have generally been expected to follow.

2. #TakeAKnee does not offend me in the least. Kaepernick (and indeed anyone else) has a right to do so. Granted, I also support the point he’s trying to make. Even if I didn’t, I’d support his right to take a knee, or even burn the flag of if came to that.

3. Speaking of which, most of the conservative commentary about Kaepernick is exactly the same kind of thing such people used to make about flag burners – my country right or wrong, love it or leave it, respect the flag or else, yada yada yada. It’s the usual patriotic chest-beating, and it bores me.

4. It’s also irrelevant. Kaepernick isn’t protesting the flag or the national anthem – he’s protesting institutional racism and white police brutality against unarmed black people that the country represented by that flag and anthem seems unable or unwilling to address. The fact that conservative critics (many of whom hate #BlackLivesMatters) are trying to change the topic of conversation to the flag and patriotism proves his point.

5. Trump has said his comments are not about racism. That might be true, in the sense that lots of people who fancy themselves Real American Patriots™ tend to have kneejerk reactions to people who are not sufficiently and superficially patriotic to their taste – which is often just as much about showing off how patriotic they are by shaking their fists and screaming at the non-patriotic. People like that tend not to care too much about the racial background of the commie scumbag (which is another way of saying that, as a white dude AND an Army veteran, I’ve had my patriotism questioned plenty of times, like whenever I said that war was not a good thing).

Having said that, I have my doubts that Trump really cares all that much about the flag or the anthem, if only because there’s no meaningful evidence of it. Some reports suggest he’s intentionally milking it to throw easy red jingoist meat to his support base, which is likely true.

However, we’re also talking about the same base that has no problem with white cops shooting unarmed black people because Law & Order, Blue Lives Matter, and the only racism racism problem in America is all the minorities claiming there is one. Which is, you know, divisive.

Or, as Trump once called them, “very fine people”.

So … while Trump may not have had any specific racist intent in calling Kaepernick an SOB, the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to say the same thing about Nazis and the KKK give a good indication where his priorities lie – the best possible interpretation is that taking a knee during the national anthem is far more offensive to him than actual Nazis marching under a Nazi flag on US soil and killing a woman by running her over with a car.

6. A few conservatives I know have criticized #TakeAKnee for being a pointless form of protest because it has the inherent flaw of getting people to talk about The Wrong Thing (see Point 3).

Normally I would agree with this. On the other hand: (1) as I said, many critics know full well what the real issue is and are deliberately avoiding it by playing the patriot card, and (2) the same people have said similar things about #BlackLivesMatters protests on the streets, peaceful or otherwise. So … what, they’d perhaps prefer that #BLM, Kaepernick et al just stay home and post inaccurate Facebook memes like everyone else?

There’s a good quote from Barbara Jean Orton making the rounds that sums it up better than anything I could say:

"I know there are people who don't like the idea of protesting during the national anthem. But if you're going to protest, it seems to me that kneeling is literally THE most respectful, dignified, non-disruptive, and humble gesture you could choose. Historically, people knelt to beseech a favor from the crown. They still kneel, sometimes, to ask for someone's hand. But mostly they kneel to pray. To pray for some kind of change. Like, for instance, a change in the way our nation values black bodies and black lives.

I've heard people complain about boycotts, about public disruptions, about peaceful protesters blocking traffic. But I think if you're going to complain about kneeling silently, you need to admit that there is literally no form of protest you will accept."

Drop the mike,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
I considered writing something about the UK elections, but what is there to say that hasn’t already been said here?


That article was written before the election, but it’s great explanation as to where it all went wrong for Theresa May. Or, if it’s tl;dr for you, there’s always this tweet:




Speaking of tweets, there’s the James Comey mini-series that everyone’s been talking about, which can also be summed up in a tweet:


I didn’t watch, of course. The highlights are good enough for me.

The big question for everyone is, of course, what will the outcome be? A lot of people are hoping the answer will be “IMPEACH THE F***ER!”

Ha ha. No. Not with Paul “Hey, go easy on the new guy” Ryan leading the House. And not with all those GOP senators apparently more interested in Loretta Lynch and the Hillary Clinton email case than what Trump may or may not have said about Russia and obstruction of justice blah blah blah.

As I’ve said, impeachment is about politics, not law and order, and the GOP is simply not going to impeach one of its own. Sure, it won’t cost them the White House – Mike Pence will get the job – but that’s not the point. No party wants it on record that one of their guys was a bad enough POTUS that impeachment was the only option. And Trump has been proving over and over the old political axiom that when YOUR guy does it, it’s at worst an honest mistake that’s being overblown in the press, and when the OTHER guy does it, it’s basically treason. “Obstruction of justice? C’mon, he didn’t order Comey to do anything, he made a simple request and he didn’t know it might be taken as inappropriate, I mean he’s only been President for a few months, you can’t expect him to know everything …”

Put bluntly, the GOP ain't impeaching Trump until he's hurting their reelection chances. And we're not there yet. 

So was Comey’s testimony a complete waste of time?

It depends. If your sole desired outcome was locking Trump and his entire family away in Gitmo forever (or deported to Siberia), then yes, probably.

For me, I think it’s good to have on the official Congressional record that Trump actively tried to convince Comey to back off on the Russia investigation – whether he has something to hide or he simply can’t stand people thinking that the only reason he won is because Russia gamed the election on his behalf (or quite likely both). It may also spell trouble for General Jeff Sessions, who has his own Russia problems, and who at this stage seems far more likely to leave the stage than Trump.

Result!

Of course, all this assumes that (1) Comey told the truth and (2) you believe what he says. And if yr a Trump apologist, you probably don’t. But that’s where we are now – completely separate politically defined alternate realities. Everyone I know – liberals and conservatives – is convinced that Comey’s testimony absolutely vindicated their side and decimated the opposition.

Which may not make Comey’s testimony pointless, but it probably makes this whole post pointless. But the same could be said for this entire blog, so I’ve learned not to worry too much about that.

Testify,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
As you know, D.Trump is pulling the US out of the Paris Accord.

Official reason: he wants to renegotiate a better deal that suits America’s interests and protects Americans.

Unofficial reason: climate change is a Chinese hoax and admitting anything else would be tantamount to admitting that Al Gore was right about something, and frankly most of the GOP would rather let the world roast than do that.

(Okay, I may have made some of that up. Except for the part about the Chinese hoax, although Nikki Haley claims Trump doesn’t really believe that, like that’s supposed to make me feel better about him.)

So I have thoughts, sure. And I have links for most of them.

1. The best starting place, for my money, is the basic fact that almost everything Trump said to justify his decision is inaccurate, misleading (intentionally or otherwise) and just plain wrong.

2. The renegotiation angle is typical of Trump, who basically views the world in terms of business deals – not the kinds of deals where both sides get what they want, but where the other side gets what they think they want while your side gets the far better end of the deal and basically just screwed the other guy and he’s too stupid to know it, ha ha loser. Which is also why Trump and some of his staffers – like the head of the EPA, for example – are convinced the only reason the rest of the world applauded when the US joined the Paris Accord was because it gives them an economic advantage over us.

3. That said, I suspect Trump cares a lot more about the political act of withdrawing from the accord than he does about renegotiating better terms. In his own words: “We will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.”

Which suggests to me that Trump doesn’t really care one way or the other what happens because he figures the US is better off out of the accord anyway, so if he can’t have it his way, who cares? It’s not like we need those other losers. The US – as leader of the free world – is the center of the universe and the rest of the world can accomplish nothing without our participation.

4. He’s wrong about that, too. Trump and the GOP may think climate change is bogus. The rest of the world doesn’t see it that way, and is determined to get together and do something about climate change, and if they have to do it without the US, so be it. Many have already resigned themselves to the fact that the Trump admin is going to treat them at best like business rivals in a zero-sum game rather than allies and partners, and more are deciding that it’s better to keep working together without the US than play the game Trump’s way – not least because his policy decisions are based on how he thinks the world works as opposed to how it actually works.

5. Some people are responding with the usual hyperbole: OMG THE PLANET IS FUCKED NOW! Well, no, not really. By many accounts, the US dropping out of the Paris Accord won’t make a huge difference in terms of the overall effort to reduce greenhouse gases and keep the Earth’s temperature from rising, etc. It won’t help, but it won’t make the accord completely pointless, either.

What it could do is put the US at a tremendous disadvantage as the rest of the world invests in clean, renewable green energy technologies that are going to be the future of the global energy industry. Europe and Asia – and in particular China – are going to be leading that growth wave, while the US under Trump will still be futzing around with coal mines and Arctic drilling.

6. On the other hand, it seems we unexpectedly have a Plan B – namely, all these US states and cities stepping up to say, “We’ll back the Paris Accord ourselves” – to include, amusingly, the mayor of Pittsburgh.

That’s an interesting aspect in itself – the idea that states and cities will uphold an accord that the federal govt has rejected. It’s not unanimous, of course, but maybe that’s the antidote to all of Trump’s antics. I love the idea of state and municipal governments deciding that if the federal govt is going to reject progress in favor of some alt-reality, there’s no reason why they have to go along with it. States Rights, indeed!

7. Another bright side is that, legally, the US can’t actually start the withdrawal process officially until 2019, and it will take until 2020 to complete the withdrawal. So it’s reversible – at least for now.

But yes, overall, it’s the latest in a distressingly long list of terrible and badly informed decisions by this admin.

8. One other point worth mentioning – one of the long-standing criticisms of the Paris Accord from Trump and the GOP is that it won’t work anyway. All it does is punish the US economically and we won’t even get cleaner air or climate stability in return.

I smirk at such statements, not least because they’re basically criticizing the accord for failing to fix a problem that they firmly deny exists in the first place. And it’s hard to take that criticism seriously when conservatives not only have no alternative plan to tackle climate change, but have shown zero interest in proposing one (again, because that would contradict the talking point that there is no problem to fix).

Is it hot in here or is it just me,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Well I was going to post something about the revelation that Your POTUS apparently decided on the fly to declassify some intelligence to Russian officials and whether it would increase his impeachment chances, but it seems like we’re getting news bombshells about Trump practically every 12 hours now, and that’s a bloggery pace I can’t keep up, because I’m busy and I’m not as young as I used to be.

John Scalzi knows how I feel.

Anyway, since gambling sites are now taking bets on if and when Trump will be impeached, here’s a few things to keep in mind whenever talk of impeachment comes up:

1. Only Congress can impeach Trump, which means it’s an act of political will. And historically, no POTUS has ever faced impeachment while his own party controlled Congress.

Certainly Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have made it fairly clear they’ll put up with Trump for as long as it takes for them to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes for rich people and whatever other GOP wet dreams they weren’t able to get past Obama. My guess is that once Obama’s legacy has been erased to their satisfaction, then – and only then – they might consider dealing with Trump. But not before then – unless Trump finally does something so unbelievably stupid and/or dangerous that it endangers their ability to retain control of Congress. If they DO lose control of Congress in 2018, then yr more likely to see some action. Maybe.

2. Most Trump supporters – like Trump himself, and much of the GOP at this stage – will reject the idea of impeachment because they don’t think he’s done anything wrong. And that’s because their perception of the sociopolitical universe is completely different from the rest of us. They’re getting their information almost exclusively from the likes of Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars and conservative Facebook memes, all of which are spinning the basic narrative that Trump is doing a great job and anyone who says otherwise is fake news.

I’ve talked about this elsewhere – the idea that the Left and Right are so caught up in their own hyperpartisan media echo chambers that their perceptions of political reality are literally alternate worlds. This is why Trump gets away with so much among his fan base – they all occupy the same reality in which Obama was the Worst President Ever, America is in the absolute worst shape it’s ever been exclusively because of him, Hillary Clinton is a criminal mastermind, Trump is doing a great job and the Mainstream Liberal Fake News Media is actively lying about it because they’re all out to get him because he called them on their fake news and they don't like it.

Most if not all of that isn’t true in the universe I happen to occupy. But they don’t know that.

Donald Trump and his supporters are essentially a more paranoid and demented version of Cliff Clavin from Cheers – someone who considers himself knowledgeable about everything and is keen to share his knowledge with anyone who will listen, even though most of his knowledge is apocryphal (which he is blissfully unaware of), and if he doesn't know anything about a particular topic, he’ll bluff his way through it by applying his worldview and/or folk logic (“Why do squirrels eat nuts? At a guess I’d say it keeps their teeth from getting too sharp so they don’t bite their own tongues off in their sleep when they hibernate – seems reasonable”) because he figures if his audience doesn’t know the answer either, he won’t get called on it.

That’s fine if yr an otherwise genial postal worker in a bar. It’s less than fine if yr the leader of the biggest superpower in the world and have access to nuclear launch codes.

Anyway, between these two factors, I think a Trump impeachment is a long shot – it only seems like a slam dunk to people who already hate him.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s impossible, either. And based on the current trajectory, it seems every day is just bringing something new to add to the Trump Dumpster Fire, and it’s fair to speculate that eventually, somehow, someone’s going to produce a memo or tape or video or SOMETHING that is finally going to break through that reality schism so even his supporters will say, “Okay, fine, let’s try Pence.”

And then of course there’s the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor, which is fun. Personally I predict a repeat of the Starr/Clinton investigation – it’ll go on for a few years and if they come up with anything before he leaves office, it will be for something completely unrelated to the Russia thing.

But even if he’s impeached by the House, he could be acquitted in the Senate, which has also been the result of every successful impeachment (both of them).

So yeah. I think the only way Trump doesn’t finish his term will be if he resigns, or if his health fails, or if something horrible happens.

That said, I guess the one comfort to be had is that he’s likely going to be a one-term president. I doubt he’d want to run again, and I doubt the GOP wants him to.

Common ground!

As for a Pence presidency … well, have you noticed how absolutely invisible he’s managed to make himself? I’m sure he’s doing his best to make sure he doesn’t get any Trump on him in case he does have to step up.

Will it help? No idea. Will he be better than Trump? I think so, in the sense that he won’t be a completely unqualified egotistical man-child who seems to see the White House as a ticket to enrich his business, employ his family and punish his enemies. Other than that, I don’t have high hopes for the guy, but I’m reasonably sure that he could get us to 2020 without a tactical nuclear conflict.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We got a long way to go here.

Impeachy keen,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)

Or, “Comey Don’t Play That”

Poor old James Comey.

I know it’s not socially acceptable to say this in any given political circle, but I’ve always felt a little sorry for Comey. I get that people are upset with him because he essentially contributed to Hillary losing the election and now look who we’re stuck with, etc.

On the other hand, I can appreciate the basic political dilemma he was in. If he tells everyone he’s investigating Hillary’s emails in the middle of the election – and that new potential evidence has arisen just a few days before the election – he’ll be accused of trying to influence the election in favor of Trump. If he doesn’t go public – and if Hillary wins, and then it turns out the FBI finds she did break the law – he’ll be accused of covering up for Crooked Hillary to help her win. No matter what he did, he was going to get pilloried as the villain in this election.

So on that score, I’ve never really blamed him for going public with it. Even if the outcome of a close and crucial POTUS election hangs in the balance, if the choice is transparency vs cover-up, I think transparency is the better option.

Now, if yr talking about how Comey handled that transparency, that’s another matter. It’s fair to say he didn’t handle it properly, and it’s also fair to say that – wittingly or not – he contributed to Hillary’s loss (although as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out, he had help from the way the media chose to cover the story – and to be clear, it’s not the only reason she lost).

But then all of this is academic, because that’s not why he was fired, was it?

Sure, it’s the official reason. Unless you ask Trump, who now says it was because of Comey’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign – not that there’s anything to investigate because it’s a totally made up fake news story, so why not fire the guy in charge of the investigation that would actually prove it was made up if that is in fact the case? I mean, who in their right mind would mistake that for a cover-up?

Of everything Trump has done so far, this is by far the most serious and the most politically stupid, although some have pointed out that it’s not necessarily a major political miscalculation if yr factoring in the likelihood that the current GOP-led Congress will back Trump on this like they have almost everything else he’s done after the usual modicum of protest, plus the likelihood that the Demos won’t bother doing anything because they don’t have the votes anyway so why bother?

Put another way, for all the comparisons to Nixon and Watergate – and for once, they’re pretty decent comparisons – I would be very surprised if anyone made a move to impeach Trump over this.

I’d be equally surprised if Congress appointed a special prosecutor. Even if they do, I’m a bit wary of that because of what we went through with Ken Starr. I don’t really want an independent counsel with an open-ended mandate to keep digging until they find something to hang the guy with.

On the other hand, when you have a situation where the POTUS fires the guy who happens to be in charge of an investigation into his campaign over ties to a foreign power, what else can you do? Especially when the POTUS’ Attorney General not only has similar ties bit lied about them under oath? What are we to think? And what if, as Matthew Yglesias has suggested, the real motive was that Trump was afraid Comey might uncover something completely unrelated? 

We don't know, of course. But that's really the point.

As much as I hate to resort to alternate timelines as an argument, think of it this way – if Obama had fired Comey when Hillary’s emails were first under investigation last year, the GOP would have gone absolutely ballistic – and understandably so.

Then again, the Demos (and probably a lot of Obama’s fans) would have made excuses for it. It all really comes down to the same tired old line – it’s only a felony when the opposition does it. Or, as Hunter Thompson put it, “He may be a swine, but he’s OUR swine!”

We’ll see what happens. But the bottom line is that it’s ultimately up to the GOP-led Congress to investigate Trump or begin impeachment proceedings. I don’t see this Congress doing that – not even if the payoff is President Pence – until they have absolutely no choice. Because it is ultimately a political decision, not a law-and-order decision, and at this rate it’s going to take a smoking gun (perhaps literally) to convince them that Trump is a bigger political liability to them than doing something that would please Democrats (which is arguably the only reason they continue to back Trump).

Developing …

You can’t fire me I quit,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
Undoubtedly you know by now that Presidente Trump has proposed his first budget – and the NEA, the NEH and CPB ain’t on it.

The usual freakout has ensued, which I will now pointlessly attempt to calm with numbered comments.

1. Nothing has been defunded yet. It’s just a budget proposal (and a “skinny” one at that, which means it’s vague on details), and Congress still has to approve it.

2. The GOP has issues with this budget. The actual budget is expected to look much different by the time Congress gets through with it, and Trump won’t have the option of vetoing the budget they do pass. So even with the current balance of power, I wouldn’t say it’s a fait accompli just yet.

3. One key thing missing from all the ZOMG meme rhetoric is actual consideration and evaluation of the argument in favor of defunding the NEA, NEH and CPB that conservatives have usually advanced over the last 20+ years.

This piece in the NYT runs through them, and interestingly, it’s not ALL about Alleged Liberal Bias. There are also questions about why the federal govt should be funding arts, humanities and public broadcasting in the first place; the potential politicization of art funded with govt money; the quality of the art produced (political biases notwithstanding); and whether or not Middle America is getting as much bang for their buck as the art hubs in New York and California, say.

4. That said, let's not pretend that liberal bias isn’t the main motivation for conservatives. The NEA, NEH and CPB are easy low-hanging fruit for conservatives who whine about how unfair it is that artists use tax dollars to pick on them exclusively. If PBS and NPR were churning out stuff that Fox News churns out now, I seriously doubt funding them would be an issue for conservatives (though it almost certainly would be for liberals). Sure, they also claim it’s about wasteful govt spending, Small Govt® and budget deficits, but come on, even conservatives know that as a percentage of the budget, it’s chump change. 

5. The big question, of course, is what would happen to art and public broadcasting if Trump gets his wish? Can the free market preserve the status quo as effectively?

My own take: it’s probably worse news for public broadcasting than art.

Art is something artists are generally compelled to do, regardless of whether they can quit their day job or not. And there will always be people willing to fund art, whether it’s via Bill Gates or a Kickstarter-type model. Not everyone could find a patron, but that’s true now.

Public broadcasting could also turn to a Kickstarter model, perhaps – the problem is that running a TV station is a lot more expensive than the average art project. Without the CPB, a lot of smaller PBS affiliates will likely have to shut down. Or join The CW or something.

I suppose an argument could be made that in an age where the internet makes both funding and distribution easier than ever, YouTube and Vimeo are just as likely to create the next Sesame Street as PBS – so maybe CPB mattered more when there were just three TV networks on the air. Then again, most of the good programming is behind a paywall.

6. All of this raises the even bigger question framing the issue: is there a compelling government interest in subsidizing art and non-commercial broadcasting?

It’s an old debate, but I tend to side with the argument that culture, society and even the economy benefits from a thriving art community that isn’t purely driven solely by popular taste, the mass market, and what sells. I think that’s even more true for public broadcasting. It’s worth having television and radio programming that doesn’t have to concern itself with ratings or offending potential sponsors. When you listen to the homogenized formatted commercial radio landscape in America these days, the need for a non-commercial option seems pretty obvious to me.

And I don’t have a problem with tax money contributing to that effort, even if it results in art or TV shows I may not care for (or may never even see). It’s silly to defund the NEA just because artists are producing stuff you don't like or can’t use, just like it’s silly for me to demand that the government defund the entire military because I think Iraq War 2 was stupid, useless and counterproductive.

7. Which brings me to this article from FiveThirtyEight about the Trump budget, which points out that the proposal isn’t a solid blueprint of what the government will spend money on in the coming years – it’s more like a wish-list at this stage. Consequently, it’s a useful indicator of Trump’s priorities as POTUS.

Put simply, his priorities are hard power, a big-ass military and The Wall.

So if the budget is a reflection of what a given govt considers to be important foundational elements and values for the country, then in Trump’s America, the values that truly matter are bigoted xenophobic immigration policies and the ability to kick the ass of every single other country in the world combined with minimum conversation or negotiation. And not much else.

Artful dodger,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)

And of course right after I post about Trump’s War On Media, he goes and escalates by having Sean Spicer cancel a scheduled press briefing and replace it with an informal off-camera briefing – for select media only. Among the not-invited: CNN, the New York Times, Politico, Buzzfeed and the BBC.

And of course everyone’s freaking out about the 1A and free press and democracy, and as usual the reaction – while understandable – seems overblown to me.

This Vox article has a good explanation of what’s going on here – namely, there’s a definite strategy in play here, but it may not be the one you think.

To sum up:

1. Informal off-camera press briefings with select media is nothing new.

2. Furthermore, while access is important, what those media outlets are mainly missing out on is an hour of Spiceworld spinning answers and saying something ridiculous. It’s not exactly the same thing as putting journalists in jail for reporting bad things about you (which is what actual dictators do).

3. That said, you don’t usually change from an official briefing to an informal one at the last minute – unless perhaps yr trying to make a point. Which is what Trump seems to be doing.

4. Trump’s war on the media is motivated by a number of things, starting with the vast number of leaks in his own admin. NO POTUS likes things leaking – President Obama didn’t like it either, and he was pretty harsh on whistleblowers – but Trump is taking it personally, and instead of blaming the leakers, he’s blaming the media – partly to discredit negative stories (or as Spicer calls them, “false narratives”), but also because he thrives on fighting with the media anyway. His fans eat it up and he enjoys giving them what they want. He needs a punching bag, red meat for the base, a distraction from his admin’s problems and someone to blame for them.

5. As Vox points out, the real problem with this strategy is that while it might help Trump please the fans, it won’t help him get anything done:

Picking random fights with the media won’t help the White House get anything through Congress. It won’t make FBI investigations go away. And it won’t help the administration’s arguments in the courts.

Another problem is that if the administration destroys its own credibility by waging a war on the press, it could have a hard time getting its message out later when it truly needs to — say, during a major crisis of some kind.

6. One thing I’d add is this: if the strategy of barring certain media outlets is intended to stop the “false narratives” and “fake news” that upset Trump, it’s kind of a stupid strategy. Those stories are already being written outside of the official-briefing context. Put another way, if these stories literally were “fake news”, then banning media outlets wouldn’t matter because they could just stay home and make up whatever crap they want – which he has already accused them of doing.

7. For all the dithering of this being the beginnings of dictatorship, I think that’s going to depend on what happens next. As I’ve said before, lack of govt transparency with the media has been a problem for a long, long time, and access to a spin-doctoring govt official isn't the same thing as access to the truth. And there’s no actual legal requirement for the POTUS to talk to the press. The real problems will begin if the Trump Dynasty starts actively pressuring media outlets not to run stories, or puts them in jail for doing so. The latter is a grey area when it comes to publishing classified material, but the former is a direct violation of the 1A. 

And sure, we don't want to wait until it comes to that, so it’s good to put pressure on the White House and warn people of where this could lead. I just think it’s important to explain the situation factually rather than resort to OMG hysterics. That’s just me.

I hear you knockin’ but you can’t come in,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
I can safely say that I have never seen a POTUS call up a press conference for the sole apparent purpose of telling the press that they suck.

Until now.

Anyway, between that, Sean Spicer’s debut briefing, the hilariously deranged online poll and Trump’s opening rally for his re-election campaign in Florida, it’s pretty clear to me what's going on here:

1. Trump’s criteria for “fake news”, apparently, is “any media report that criticizes him or anyone who works for him, or asks any question that he doesn’t want to be asked, or corrects him when he or someone in his admin says something that turns out to be not true”. In other words, any news story that doesn’t stick to the script or alternate reality in his head.

2. Trump is basically throwing red meat to the base that got him elected, because he knows they have the same criteria as he does for “fake news”, and that they hate the Biased LameStream Media as much as he does. I’m sure Trump fans absolutely love the spectacle of gathering all the media in one place just to have a go at them because they would totally do the same thing if they had that kind of power.

3. Trump has decided that if the media is just going to “lie” about him (even if that means reporting what he actually says and does, and correcting him when he says things that are false), then he’s going to do a workaround and talk to the American People™ directly without relying on the media as a go-between.

This one is actually kind of understandable in the sense that he’s not the first POTUS to prefer direct communication to get his ideas out to them, especially in the age of mass media. Sometimes Presidents want to get in front of the people and talk unedited, especially for major policy announcements, whether it’s a live TV broadcast, fireside chats, or town-hall meetings. Trump’s preferred communications media just happens to be 3am batshit tweetstorms and ego-fueled campaign rallies.

4. But it’s pretty clear there’s more to this than Trump wanting people to hear what he has to say without reading/seeing it second hand in the news. Trump’s real beef with the media is that he has no control over them and what they write about him, and it’s clearly driving him crazy – partly because his ego can’t stand it, and (I suspect) partly because – like his supporters (and, to be fair, a lot of his detractors) – he is convinced that his worldview is well-informed and correct and therefore only he knows The Truth About Everything, and therefore anything that deviates from that viewpoint is not only “fake”, but maliciously so.

Which might be less of a problem if Trump didn’t consider Fox & Friends, Hannity, Breitbart and Infowars to be good examples of objective and factual reporting –because of course they support his worldview rather than question it. Which is what he wants.

5. In a way, on a subconscious macro level, this is a public debate on the role of media in a democracy. Is it supposed to be the Fourth Estate – an unofficial extra set of checks and balances that curbs government power and corruption by exposing, questioning and criticizing government policies? Or is it meant to be a glorified steno pool that reports whatever politicians say without question?

Personally, I think it’s the former. There are people (like Trump, at the moment) who will argue the latter – that “objective” media should report the facts in front of you and nothing else. But I’ve noticed the people who support this view only tend to do so when it’s their party in control of the govt.

It doesn’t mean the media isn't above criticism when it does a bad job, and Trump fans may argue that Trump is doing exactly that. I could take that argument seriously if Trump was up there pointing out specific examples of where a news report outright made up a story or quote and then pointed out exactly why they’re false. But so far, all he’s really done is whine about how everyone is obsessed with unimportant off-message distractions – like Michael Flynn, other alleged Russia connections, the presence of Steve Bannon and his relations with white nationalist/supremacist/anti-Semitic groups, Trump’s tax returns, possible conflicts of interest involving his business dealings, Kellyanne Conway pimping Ivanka products, etc.

If Trump et al want to make the case that media is fake news, they need a better argument than “If they were doing their job, they wouldn’t report negative things about us, they would just report what we say” – especially when “what we say” tends to include things that literally did not happen (see: Bowling Green, Sweden).

6. But again, I don't think Trump is trying to make a case. He’s just saying what he thinks and playing to the base that already buys into both his “alternative facts” worldview and the Mainstream (i.e. Liberal) Media Lies About Everything meme in general – the same base that got him elected.

7. As for that rally in Florida, I’m sure Trump thought the purpose was to bypass the media and go direct to the people. But I’m also sure another purpose is so Trump can finally be in a room full of tens of thousands of people who love him and agree with everything he says. It’s pretty obvious he enjoys running for POTUS more than actually being POTUS – not least since part of the POTUS gig involves putting up with the media.

8. Speaking of which, it’s noteworthy that the major media outlets – NYT, WaPo, CNN, etc – have noticeably gone out of their way to call Trump on false statements in their ledes and even their headlines. Which is arguably what they should be doing as part of that role as the Fourth Estate.

That said, I think one reason it’s noticeable is because they haven’t done it for a very long time. I’m convinced that one of the reasons Jon Stewart became a more trustworthy source of news than actual news media was because part of his act was pointing out when politicians and “expert” media pundits were lying, passing on false information or contradicting their own statements. He did that primarily for comedy purposes, but the point was clear: the news media should be doing this (and was certainly capable of it – if a team of comedy writers had the resources to fact-check statements and dig out video clips to back up the jokes, surely CNN does), but isn’t.

Well, they’re doing it now. Here’s hoping they keep doing it long after Trump leaves office in just 47 more months.

Found my spine,

This is dF
defrog: (mooseburgers)
I grew up in Nashville, TN. As a result, I tend to associate Bowling Green, KY with either drag racing or Government Cheese.

Now I get to associate it with Kellyanne Conway.

It’s almost too obvious a thing to do a blog post on, and the jokes pretty much write themselves. But it’s one of those things that is simply breathtaking on so many levels. I mean, consider that there are two possible explanations for Conway defending a policy with an example that is blatantly untrue in every respect:

1. She made up an alternative fact off the top of her head for the single purpose of justifying her argument, and without really caring whether or not anyone would bother to verify it.

2. She made an honest mistake like she says, which would then mean that she honestly thinks the words “massacre” and terrorists” mean exactly the same thing to the point that they're practically interchangeable. Either that, or she was thinking of a haunted house and got her wires crossed.

(There’s also a third possibility being offered by Trump fans – she intentionally phrased it that way because her media strategy is not unlike 5D chess – she wants to trick the mainstream media into fact-checking the BGM so that they would report the story she really wanted them to tell – i.e. Obama let terrorists move to Bowling Green). I’m pretty sure we can safely discount that one.)

Option 1 seems the most likely to me, if only because her boss has the same tendency. But it’s also the least comforting explanation, because she didn't just make up a fictional terrorist attack – she also qualified that comment that if you’ve never heard of the Bowling Green Massacre, it’s because the media never reported it.

(Yes, because if there’s one thing the mainstream cable TV news channels always refuse to cover 24/7, it’s a major terrorist attack on US soil.)

Still, it's consistent with the Team Trump mantra that the media is a pack of biased lying liars who report fake news, which means (1) if we say something you’ve never heard about, it’s because the media refused to report it, and (2) if we say something untrue and the media reports what we said, then the media is the one guilty of lying to you, not us, because it’s their job to fact-check us. (Seriously: Conway actually criticized an NBC journalist for not asking her to clarify her BGM statement before reporting it – a slight variation on Trump’s mantra of “The media lies because it reports what I said, not what I meant to say,”)

Remarkable.

They can do this, of course, because trust in the media on both sides of the aisle isn’t that high right now. Team Trump seem keen to milk that.

It also seems to be something the media is keen to correct. I’ve noticed a considerably different tone in newspaper reporting since Trump took office – at least for the natonals. NYT, WaPo and others are now going to great pains to point out when Trump or any member of his admin says something that isn’t true or contradicts something they said earlier. 

Which is of course what they should be doing. I just wish they’d done that over the last 20 years or so – and not just with the POTUS, but every politician in America. Sure, we had Jon Stewart for that. But he only stepped up because the people who were supposed to be doing it weren't.

NOTE: Not every newspaper is keen to fact-check Trump. The ones owned by Rupert Murdoch, for example. 

Keep me honest,

This is dF

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