Perspective

With regret I must (re)-revisit the Presidency of Donald Trump.  As I have a lot of sympathy for Trump critics, it is also with regret that I must criticize them.  This time I do so because I’m worried that the criticisms of Trump are often counterproductive, being so fantastical as to hurt the credibility of his critics on important issues and make me fear (again) that far too few have a broad enough perspective on politics to maintain a constructive national dialogue.

The broader perspective I wish to offer here, today, is that Trump’s worst political sin is that he is Donald J. Trump.

Continue reading Perspective

Cringing in the New Year

People across China are celebrating Spring Festival (春节) today, which naturally involves huge transportation bottlenecks this week as millions return home or visit relatives for the highly auspicious occasion. It’s the Year of the Fire Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac. This will be easy for us to remember here in the States, thanks to the incendiary strutting and belligerent crowing of our latest commander in chief. It’s merely a cosmic coincidence, to be fair. Unlike Americans, China’s lunar calendar is completely absolved of responsibility for our impulsive, teenaged choice in executive leadership.

Even if we’d been casting votes for who should host the senior prom after-party, Mr. Trump’s weird and gruesome lack of integrity and character would heavily outweigh the fact that his dad’s mansion is huge.

I wanted to be writing about recent changes in US diplomacy regarding Asia. I thought, foolishly, that after a week of DJT and his all-white alt-stars rattling around in office, we’d mostly be facing self-destructive trade wars and selfish foreign policy initiatives. And we are: this China-watcher can’t even see China through the roiling clouds of smoke given off by all the diplomatic bridges being burned. But there are much more immediate threats. The new administration has succeeded in launching a volley of executive orders which embody a campaign of short-sighted ignorance that…well, completely lives up to DJT’s campaign promises.

If I were a die-hard supporter, I’d be pretty ecstatic. He’s really doing it! The wall! The ban on Muslims! Well, some Muslims. Well, people from certain Muslim-majority nations, with the exception of countries like Saudi Arabia, which happen to have proven links to radical terrorism. But I delve too deep! If I were a die-hard supporter, I’d cheer for the headline and not read too much into the content. It’s a fragile and completely irresponsible way to get through the next four years, but I anticipate it will be the calling card of truly dedicated DJT cheerleaders in the months to come.

The flaws of the DJT approach are already showing, and I don’t just mean flaws in policy or personal character. After all, he’s doing what his supporters want, he’s getting it done with a vengeance. But even his week-one flurry of attacks on environmental regulation, human rights and foreign trade already bely an uncharacteristic pattern of compromise.

As the much-vaunted “Muslim-ban” illustrates, what begins as a fiery tirade from the podium can end up on paper as a vacillating, watered-down attempt to appease both DJT’s soundbite-addicted supporters and the embedded interests of his sycophantic inner circle. Conspicuously absent from sensational reports is the fact that not all Muslim nations are included in the ban, just the ones the administration feels are diplomatically expendable. They are understandably confident that their supporters will continue to abhor fact-checking.

A headline proclaiming the end of Muslim entry into the States will gain the approval of those who already side with DJT, but that same headline will enrage his opponents and, more importantly, galvanize previously hesitant observers into action. In short, those who laid their hopes on Trump will grow complacent, feeling that their work is done, while the number of people he attacks and threatens grows every day, with every stroke of his pen. Politics aside, closing our doors to vulnerable refugee populations and even long-time legal residents is an unforgivable act of cowardice and betrayal.

The repercussions will be disastrous, both domestically and abroad, but we must remember that for the first time, DJT cannot just withdraw his assets and walk away from the mess he makes. Unfortunately, he can still cause enough damage to make us the long-awaited democratic failure China and other single-party states can point to as they pursue thinly-veiled imperialist impulses.

Reading headlines, one might conclude that it’s all over, but in fact it’s only just begun. This week’s frantic outburst of controversial executive orders reeks of desperation: DJT is attempting to consummate his marriage to white America quickly, before the honeymoon is over. I, for one, have sincere doubts that a president who communicates with his nation primarily through 140-character outbursts has the stamina or the fortitude to finish the authoritarian pivot he has so thoughtlessly begun.

The Karma of Donald Trump

[WARNING: VERY LONG]

Let’s talk karma.  Today it’s popularly used as a synonym of ‘comeuppance’, with connotations of cosmic or divine judgment.  To the best of my understanding, the original concept is notably stronger – karma isn’t just punishment, but consequence.  The good or ill of karma may appear only after a delay  (indeed according to some sects and religions it may not be apparent until another lifetime) but soon or not, karma is a direct consequence.  The karma is in the action, the delay only accidental.

What with reincarnation and all, even if I were a Buddhist it would be rather difficult to ask what a karmic punishment is punishment for on an individual level.  Thus this article is not about what Trump might be reincarnated as (rat or insect? inquiring minds want to know!).  I just want to use karma in the stronger sense, with the full meaning that the consequence and action are one.

In fact, I don’t want to discuss personal karma at all.  The subject is the karma of ideas, the consequences that are inherent in the implications of the idea.  This is an infinitely easier topic than the karma of people, because ideas don’t reincarnate (when they seem to, I find it’s usually more of a case of undeath, and an unwise adventurer has blithely opened the unquiet grave of something that then proceeds, vampirically, to suck the life out of contemporary discourse).

Trump, for my purposes here and now, isn’t the cause, or future victim of karma – he is the karma.

Continue reading The Karma of Donald Trump

Union Protectionism

In my previous essay I argued from historical political trends that the Democrats’ pro-union, pro-immigration ideology was not a particularly tenable one:

What I am saying here is that the Democratic Party is the party of unions, but unions and immigration are historically contentious partners at best.  To be immigration maximalist while dismissing nativist concerns as uneducated bigotry costs Democrats support among the worker demographic they argue should be theirs.

I am pleased to say that I now have some evidence for this from current trends as well, namely the positive statements by some major union figures as Trump launches into his promised anti-globalization campaign.

Today, President Trump made good on his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With this decision, the president has taken the first step toward fixing 30 years of bad trade policies that have cost working Americans millions of good-paying jobs.

– James P. Hoffa, Teamsters Union

Both groups endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2015, but their presidents were effusive in praising Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the building and construction industry.

Union Leaders Meet With Trump, New York Times

“He intends to do the work on the issues he discussed on the campaign trail,” McGarvey [President of said. “It was by far the best meeting I’ve had [in Washington].”

– Sean McGarvey, North America’s Building Trade’s Union, via Washington Post

Reuters has a summary as well, which notes that not all unions were invited to this meeting Trump set up, and that Clinton still won the union vote, apparently (42% to 51% of union households).  However, the headlines and positive union responses suggest that Trump is working hard to change this pattern of affiliation and that it is a definite possibility that he will succeed in doing so.  Or, as I previously described, unions are the historical allies of nativism.  Thus, as I also implied, Democrats may soon need to decide whether they are the party of globalization/immigration, or the party of unions.  The combination was only strongly viable back when anti-globalization wasn’t actually a live option.

That unions voted against Trump is not immediately apparent in the NYTimes’ take on the meeting, which simply states that “many [unions’] members appear to have voted for Mr. Trump last fall.”  While 42% of the country is certainly ‘many’ in a literal sense, ‘many’ is not a word that, in the build up and reporting on the recent “Women’s March”, I’ve seen used applied to the fact that 42% of women voted for Trump.  Though perhaps reading far too much into rushed reporters’ writings, the usage suggests to me that the Democrats (as represented by the New York Times) have on some level already given up the union vote.  We shall see.

 

Retrospective, Prospective, Perspective

Trump is to be our next president. Has the shock worn off yet? Maybe it’s beginning to, maybe not, but one week later I’m ready to offer my opinion on what happened and what everybody should do about it.

What happened is very simple: Trump won the electoral college and lost the popular vote by an amount that can vanish inside a typical rounding operation. A close race.

The polls said it wasn’t terribly close, but that, too, is very simple. Trump looks and sounds like an idiot, and his supporters are accused of racism. Plenty of people don’t want to be associated with an idiot, and plenty of people don’t want to be accused or racism: both reasons for polls to underpredict his vote share without going off into conspiracies about polling methodologies.  Yet, the possibility of this was denied by Five Thirty Eight and a project affiliated with Politico, and Vox even went so far as to say the effect ran the other way. Given the outcome, there is reason to believe that these analyses were wrong. Especially Vox.

So, it happened. The bigger question is what to do about it, and this question applies to the entire country because many Republicans and Trump supporters were also taken by surprise. As an independent, I am going to do my independent thing and offer some well-intentioned advice to both sides.

Continue reading Retrospective, Prospective, Perspective

Utterly Predictable

Not the election.  My response to the election will be coming shortly, but it’s taking a while because it’s long.  Unlike that future post, I am not going to attempt to be politic or diplomatic here, because I have been watching this issue for 15 years, and I am sick and tired of being right on the matter.

Begin with Charles Blow’s comment, a scant two day after the election, the first sign of a sudden dawning horror at a self-inflicted fear:

Power must be challenged, constantly. That begins today.

Today, ‘constantly’ doesn’t mean yesterday, yesterday power was fine.

Now let us see the horror spelled out in exquisite detail, in a NYTimes article titled “Harsher Security Tactics? Obama Left Door Ajar, and Donald Trump Is Knocking“.

Here’s a choice quote:

Over and over, Mr. Obama has imposed limits on his use of such powers but has not closed the door on them — a flexible approach premised on the idea that he and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently. Mr. Trump can now sweep away those limits and open the throttle on policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use, like targeted killings in drone strikes and the use of indefinite detention and military tribunals for terrorism suspects.

And even in areas where Mr. Obama tried to terminate policies from the George W. Bush era — like torture and the detention of Americans and other people arrested on domestic soil as “enemy combatants” — his administration fought in court to prevent any ruling that the defunct practices had been illegal.

To everyone responsible for this state of affairs, for Obama who set this up and the politicians and press and populace that defended him: You weren’t concerned when this is what it took to Get Things Done in the face of Republican obstruction.  You were only briefly concerned when Obama used drones to kill a US citizen without due process.  You conveniently forgot to press Obama on the fact that he was elected in part on promises to roll back Bush’s executive overreach.  It didn’t matter then because the RIGHT people, the trustworthy people were in power.  Now that Clinton has lost the election, just five days later, NOW you are suddenly remembering what this whole ‘due process’ and ‘constitutional limits’ thing is about.

You short sighted fools.  All I can say is, at least the article suggests some of you recognize what you created.  And aren’t we all so ‘lucky’ that I firmly expect the Republicans to immediately forget their own criticism in this direction, Trump or no, thus ‘allowing’ me to maintain my independence from either party.

Russia is Celebrating

One of their missiles was used by ISIS to destroy an Abrams tank involved in the ongoing siege of Mosul. The video, originally posted by ISIS, was further broadcast by RT and is now on youtube.

Since the US-built Abrams is generally considered to be the world’s all-around best tank*, Russia is pleased to see one get blown up by a Russian missile.  This is not unwarranted as one of the features the Abrams is most famous for is it’s deeply classified armour, a complex combination of ceramics, elastics, and depleted uranium that is reportedly several TENS of times more resistant than steel for its weight and thickness. Defeating that armour is free advertising for Russia’s arms export business, but it’s not entirely clear to me that the bragging is warranted.  Below the break, I offer background and analysis of the video.

Continue reading Russia is Celebrating

So Close

Now that we’ve passed Labor Day, the threshold to the real election season, things seem quite gloomy. As I’ve noted before, the presidential debates are a crucial but biased part of a successful campaign. I am sure I am not alone when I say it would be refreshing glimmer of hope to have a third party candidate in one of the three upcoming presidential debates. Now, as you may have heard, a third party candidate may actually participate in a debate if they poll at 15% or higher in an aggregation of several national polls. We are lucky enough to have a third party candidate who is slowly closing in on that important 15%. One has to admit that, regardless of political views, we need greater depth in our options. Mr. Johnson is currently polling at 9% in an aggregation of polls from RealClearPolitics. Good for him.

We have another third party presidential candidate in the polls during this cycle, Jill Stein. Just as anyone in her position would, Jill Stein is basing a significant amount of her campaign on the corruption and unelectability of the two major party candidates. Jill Stein is running in her seventh political election this year (her second presidential run), and has managed to win one, becoming a town meeting representative in Lexington, Mass. I understand why she has stayed in to the end of each of these elections just to gain just a few percent of votes. She wants publicity for her party and ideals. This is an admirable pursuit in our political duopoly. Jill Stein is holding two to five percent in various polls right now and 3.3% in the same aggregate as above. This is an extraordinary gain compared to last elections results where she collected only 0.4% of votes. People who wouldn’t normally vote for Stein are desperately seeking other options.

Now here is where things get a bit sticky. I am a big supporter of all third party candidates. They allow for greater competition, a wider political discourse, and a better representation of the diverse ideologies that the United States is home to. However, in a landscape where republicans and democrats are fleeing from their parties and looking for any alternative, Jill Stein may be hurting more than she is helping by dividing the power of voters seeking any port. If Jill Stein would drop out, and perhaps even endorse Mr. Johnson(!), it could put Gary Johnson’s polls into a range where the CPD will have to consider his entry into the debates. CPD co-founder Frank Fahrenkopf is even willing to grant some leeway on the “magic number” to take into account margins of error. Unfortunately, I don’t see this as a likely option. Stein has a long history of never dropping out of political races, and after listening to her, I am becoming more convinced that she could never endorse or improve the chances of an ex-republican politician regardless of how terrifying the election’s other options might be.

As you can see, someone here at EI is becoming a little frustrated with the election…Until next time. -Dick

Perhaps another glimmer of hope?

FreeForum!

Some of you may have already noticed the new button in the website menu: FreeForum.

This is EI’s (first!) summer project.

Inspiration first struck when I found a list of the hundreds upon hundreds who had filed with the Federal Election Commission to be candidates.  The project truly began when I realized six more months of Trump & Clinton pettily attacking each other would be incredibly dull without some outlet.  Unable to find such an outlet, I am creating one.

My original idea was popular enough that all Eavesdropper regulars and several others offered to (and have!) offered their time to the project.

Today, the trailer has gone live.  It’s a big day for me, and I’d like to thank all the volunteers who have allowed us to get this far, and look forward to the next stage.

If, like me, you believe there is more to US politics than Republicans and Democrats rehashing the same ideas over and over and over again, FreeForum is for you.  If, like me, you believe in the value of a marketplace of ideas, FreeForum is for you.  If, like me, you know that disagreements do not prevent civil discussions (and friendships!), FreeForum is for you.

If you just want to see if we can get a communist and an conspiracy theorist to argue about the merits of space exploration, well, FreeForum still might be for you.  Strange things can happen in a live debate.

Whatever the reason for your interest, help us spread the word.  Share the video with every one who’s complained about the two party system.  Get your friends onto the Facebook event.  Email the picture card to that uncle who preaches politics over Thanksgiving.

And finally, hope to see you all watching the stream next month!

A History of Exclusion: Why presidential debates need an overhaul

In an era where social binaries and traditional categorizations are being passionately challenged, little attention has been paid to what has become one of the United States’ most powerful binaries, the dichotomy of the Republican and Democratic parties.  This is plainly seen in the vocabulary we use to describe out political workings.  In today’s political landscape, the highest level of internal cooperation we can achieve is often and best described as bipartisan.  The prevalence and power of the two diametrically opposed parties has led to a radicalization of the Nation’s voters and growing sensationalism in the presidential election process.  A telling microcosm of this evolution is the growth of the presidential debates to a high level of perceived importance by the voter, an extreme focus by the media, and a pattern of decreasing substance and inclusion.

Debates’ existence as part of the presidential election process is a fairly recent occurrence.  The 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates are often pointed to as the earliest form of political debate as part of a campaign, but the first general U.S. presidential debate wouldn’t occur for another one hundred years and even then the event would not become commonplace until 1976.

The exclusivity and sensationalism of the presidential debates were already prevalent during the initial 1960 debates featuring Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.  The two were provided with a suspension of a portion of the Federal Communications act in order to maintain the legality of the debate.  Section 315 of the Federal Communications act stipulated that any media time provided that any candidate must be allowed equal opportunities to broadcast except in the case of news or documentaries.  Under this rule over a dozen other candidates would have been afforded equal access to a debate.  Congress suspended the “equal time rule” to allow for the 1960 debate.  This gave precedent to suspend the rule for the following election cycles until 1983.  In 1983 the FCC decided to consider debates news and as a result no longer required the suspension of section 315.  This essentially allowed the media to exclude any participant from their debates.

After a few election cycles where one candidate or another refused to ask for an FCC waiver, the tradition of presidential debates started in earnest.  In 1976 the League of Women Voters recognized the importance of the presidential debate and agreed to sponsor several debates between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.  The League continued to sponsor the presidential debates every election cycle through the 1984 election.  At that point the two major parties began to lobby to move control of the debates to the Commission of Presidential Debates (CPD), a coalition between the two major parties.  They invited the League of Women voters to sponsor the 1988 debates in conjunction with the CPD, but each party required non negotiable control over almost every aspect of the debate.  At this point the League of Women Voters rescinded their sponsorship saying “the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions … The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”  From that point onward, complete control over the presidential debates fell under control of the Nation’s two most powerful parties.

In the current election, the rigid exclusivity and media sensationalism is at an all time high.  Primary debates are being limited to control intra-party damage and support high profile candidates, debate formats have been molded to candidate and party ideals, and the media has embraced the ego based bouts as cash cows likened to the most anticipated sporting events.

In order to improve the parties’ chances in the general election, primary debates have become systematically controlled.  This evolution has also given advantages to front runners and limited the exposure of lesser know candidates.  Primary debates can be dangerous to the main parties as they an bring up facts that can be damaging to the candidate during the general election.  This year both the DNC and RNC reduced the number of sanctioned primary debates and for the first time instated penalties against candidates who participated in outside debates.  This ensured that the RNC and DNC had complete control over their candidates debate environments and allowed for the exclusion of lesser know candidates.  The smaller number of debates also favors the candidates who are well known or gain an early lead by insulating them from potential damages done during the debates.  This can be seen in Trump’s refusal to participate in several RNC debates.  Trump refused to participate in two RNC debates and succeeded in having one canceled entirely.  Clinton, the Democratic front runner has also declined the RNC final debate in May.  Clinton’s communications director stated that Clinton would be “preparing for a general election campaign that will ensure the White House remains in Democratic hands.”  Marking the importance of party concerns for the general election over continued interaction with other primary candidates and the risk of hurting Clinton’s general election chances.

The changes made to debate formats by the parties and individual candidates continue to highlight the departure of debates from being venues for open and sincere discussion of idea and policy.  Not only are the debate formats under the direct control of the two major parties, but they continue to change to better suit the campaign goals of the candidates.  After disallowing debate questions referencing things the candidates have said or done, the RNC chairman, Reince Priebus called previous debates “abusively fact based,” and went on to say “this is a presidential debate.  If people want facts, they can watch ‘Jeopardy’.”  Donald Trump was also successful in lobbying for format changes to support his name recognition and early lead.  After threatening to not participate in the coming debates, Trump was able to limit the length of the debates and allow each candidate to have a closing statement.  This would limit Trump’s exposure to damaging responses and, being the top polling candidate, allowed Trump to have the final word at the debates.

One of the most damaging changes the media has perpetrated on the debates has been the presentation of the debates as sporting events, pitting candidates against each other to score “points.”  the televised event is characterized by vivid cut scenes and introductions to rival any high profile sporting event.   Live commentators guide the viewer through the events just as they would for a game of football or baseball.  After the events these individuals discuss the candidates and determine “winners” and “losers”  instead of discussing the validity and substance of the candidates arguments and policies.  As a result, the debates have become ego fueled pissing contests instead of a platform to disseminate and question substantial policy recommendations.

None of this is meant to belittle the importance of the presidential debates.  It is a rare and essential opportunity for the voter to hear not only the views of all of their candidates, but also to have those views questioned  and defended in a substantial way.  Unfortunately, the debates have trended in a different direction.  The keys to a successful overhaul of the current debate culture are impartial governance, inclusion, and substance.  In a world with incredible access to mass communication venues other than television, there is a rare opportunity to escape from a restrictive two party system, have candidates from all parties engage in meaningful debates, and elect the best leaders regardless of party affiliations.