Down The Rabbit Hole: Congressional IT Scandal

Great swathes of the internet are aflame with news about Imran Awan, his family, and their various entanglements with the halls of power and law enforcement.  The interest is most noticeable among the right-wing alternative media, but there are representatives of both the so-called “mainstream media” and internet conspiracists circling the fringes of this story.  I ask, and attempt to answer, three questions: 1) What is it about this story that is so motivating alternative right-wing media?  2) What even is the story?  3) Behind all the partisan reporting and conspiratorial thinking, is there anything to this story?

1. The Partisanship

First, all Congressional members connected to this story appear to be Democrats.  That makes the partisan nature of the reporting and investigation crystal clear.  Second, one of the Congressional members is Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose compound yet strangely un-hyphenated name may sound familiar.  For the purposes of this story, she is a Florida Representative who kept Imran Awan hired right up until the day Awan was arrested while trying to leave the country.  Yet her fame comes from one of the most sordid stories of an election that had no shortage of sordid stories.  Wasserman Schultz was head of the DNC right up until WikiLeaks broke and it was discovered that she had been working hand-in-glove with the Hillary Clinton campaign to ensure that Clinton, not Sanders, won the Democratic primary.  She was the one who provided the Clinton campaign with advance notice of Democratic debate questions.  After resigning from the DNC in the wake of this scandal, she was within days working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, a move that was so obviously, terribly tone-deaf that a number of talking heads and outside observers couldn’t believe even Hillary Clinton could be that stupid.  It became a bipartisan theory that the best explanation was that Wasserman Schultz “knew things” that made it dangerous for Clinton’s campaign to leave her adrift and uncompensated.  Depending on the observer’s political stance and level of conspiratorial thinking, these hypothetical “things” ranged from more damaging details of the efforts to derail Sanders’ campaign to deep dark Clinton family crimes.  Republicans, of course, gleefully tore Wasserman Schultz to pieces at the time, tarring Clinton as much as possible with the accusations of subverting democracy.  It didn’t take much effort to do that tarring.  Democrats have not been gleeful but there antipathy for Wasserman Schultz is, if anything, even stronger.  It’s easy to find videos of Wasserman Shultz getting booed by crowds of Democrats.
So, Wasserman Schultz is a bipartisan paria who nevertheless remains an influential Democrat, perhaps more powerful in the DNC machinery than the Congressional sausage-maker, but powerful one way or the other.  And now we have this scandal, where there’s similar circumstantial evidence that some people (Imran Awan and family) “knew things” about Wasserman-Schultz that ensured she kept him hired even past the point of political liability.  There’s something more than a little karmic about the turnabout.
To the point of the partisanship question, however, a large number of Republicans are hoping that computer evidence will show what Awan was blackmailing Wasserman Schultz with, and desperately hoping that this is the same information or at least related to what Wasserman Schultz had over Hillary Clinton.
In short, they hope that Imran Awan is the Watergate thread that will finally put Hillary Clinton in prison.  Thus, many of the reporters are emotionally motivated whether they are honest (by word or tone) about it or not.

Continue reading Down The Rabbit Hole: Congressional IT Scandal

The Only Surprising Thing…

…is the tone of surprise.

“Sanctuary Bills in Maryland Faced a Surprise Foe: Legal Immigrants” the New York Times declared.

Continue reading The Only Surprising Thing…

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?