Thursday, March 09, 2017

Stay Sober While Reading Russia

So, just some place holders here on stuff that matters to me.

Did a US candidate for President collude with Russia in exchange for well-timed leaks of hacked information that would damage the opposition candidate?

If you watch Rachel Maddow, you might be easily convinced. Don't be.

Read Matt Taibbi and proceed with caution, realising that making outlandish accusations prior to having evidence destroys credibility. Trump is destroying credibility without anyone's help.

Konstantin Kilimnik is an interesting character.

So is JD Gordon.

The Financial Times makes one confident that this isn't being invented out of thing air.

Politico tells you it's unfolding as we get about our day jobs.

In your free time, read stuff by Masha Gessen (and here and especially here) and the reporting in The New Yorker, which makes one more sober in navigating the intoxicating headlines.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Xenophobia Is Xenophobia

This new travel ban does nothing to make me safer. Zero. It's just as xenophobic as the last one, but carefully re-written to acknowledge and avoid all the valid legal arguments that got it shot down on the first attempt.

But even with the re-writing, the new effort is still based on several absurd assumptions. First, and like the previous order, that there is no vetting, which is silly. Go ahead! If you don't believe me.
Given that there is vetting, why is the administration not talking about what is wrong with vetting we now have in place? I'll posit a guess. Because that assumption is bullshit. Anyone read any case studies about what went wrong in San Bernardino or Orlando that justify this approach? Me neither. FiveThirtyEight makes this point, among many others that highlight why the rationale for this whole thing is baseless. narrowing the order so that current visa holders are not affected, the administration undermines its argument that the ban is needed because existing vetting procedures are insufficient to protect national security. Courts could interpret the decision to exempt current visa holders from the new restrictions as an admission that the status quo visa vetting procedures are adequate. “Leaving in current visa holders also undermines the argument that these nationals per se pose a unique threat, and that the current vetting process is inadequate to deal with this threat, which is their whole argument,” [David] Bier said (immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute).
The second assumption is that this is "vital" according to the Secretary of State. Why!?! Where is the threat coming from? Somalia, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Yemen? No, it isn't. Check. Or check the source of the data from the Cato Institute.

So why? Why is this so important for keeping me and my family safe? There is no answer. The policy is just taking advantage of six countries, most very poor and suffering from the most tragic recent history imaginable. They, unlike Iraq, won't put up a very strong fight. That's all. Just a meaningless piece of policy that sounds tough while doing nothing to address the real issue.

Also, all that huffing and puffing by the POTUS about how the first ban was so well done and correct is basically forgotten in this new version. (I guess we won't SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAGE!) The new version seems to be written by calculating hyper-partisans whose only real goal is to save face from their first effort. I'd leave it at that and assume that the whole thing will pass in four months, but I suspect that what they are really doing is pushing the lines of acceptability even further. Get this one through based on flawed assumptions and push even harder next time. For the life of me, I can see who that serves in the long-term.

The most concise rationale against the new executive order is by Amy Davidson in The New Yorker, Trumps Decisive New Travel Ban. She asks: "How much power does President Trump have to divide people, and how willing are Americans to play along?"

All to be seen. 

Nothing Is True Everything Is Possible

Well, first, everything would be a bit more true if Trump would release his tax returns, but that's not the main point of this post.

"Nothing is true and everything is possible" seems to be the tweeter-in-chief's ruling strategy, fuelled by Mark Levin and cheered on by everyone's favourite Fox News cheerleader for Trump. (It's also the title of a book by Peter Pomerantsev, whose written some good articles in the London Review of Books, including Putin's Rasputin, very relevant to all of this. But that gets a bit too off my clear preference to discuss Fox News).

I know it's a stupid question, but how the fuck does Hannity get away with this...again and again. Raving and ranting with no check or concern for presenting the enormous shadow of a doubt surrounding all of these issues.

"Russia is bullshit", or so I've heard many times over recent weeks from social media. A story invented out of thin air to deflect from an embarrassing loss by the Democrats.

Now, I am going to admit, there is no way to be sure that Obama did not illegally tap phones in Trump Tower. I cannot prove that Ted Cruz's father didn't kill Kennedy. I can't prove that something bad did not happen in Sweden last night. I will also admit that I cannot prove that 3-5 million people did not vote in the election, handing Clinton the popular vote. If pressed,  I also couldn't really prove that Obama was born in Hawaii, especially if trying to speak to someone who watches Infowars (Don't watch the video, just know that it exists -- Can you imagine that the POTUS calls the NYT "fake news" and tells Alex Jones "Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down"?)

And I will admit that if you look long enough and close enough, as it appears Stephen Hayes has done in The Weekly Standard, you can find some reasonable questions that deserve an answer.

But, let's focus on why Hayes thinks "March 4, 2017, will end up being a rather consequential day in the presidency of Donald Trump".

He points out that either:
  1. The president used thinly sourced media reports to float a conspiracy theory about his predecessor and he was wrong; or 
  2. Citing thinly sourced media reports, he overstated the details of an actual investigation into his activities or the activities of those around him, alleging presidential involvement without evidence; or
  3. Citing thinly sourced media reports, he accurately accused the former president of doing something highly illegal and accidentally uncovered what would surely be one of the biggest scandals in U.S. history. 
I think the two critical points are the repetition of the phrase "thinly sourced media reports" and that this is all in the "context" of a person who has, to put it as mildly as humanly possible, often states and tweets things that are untrue.

And, going back to everyone's favourite Fox News cheerleader for Trump, he seems to assume, like the President, that there are facts when there are none. The fact is there are questions. Which leads back to the really galling thing about this, Trump's tweet: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

It now appears, watching the rhetorical gymnastics of of the WH Press Secretary, that he didn't "just find out" anything. He read some thinly source media reports and accused Obama of McCarthyism. That's the only fact I can see verified in all this.

It's hard to pick a quote from this column, The Vertigo Presidency, in the Wall Street Journal, but here's a sample on the outcome of presidential tweet dumps:
Repeat these convulsions at the current rate of two or three a month, and the result could be a Seinfeld presidency—a show about nothing, only this time devoid of wit and sweetness.
If this is their take in that left wing rag, I ask again, how the fuck does Hannity get away with raving and ranting with no check or concern for facts, which he doesn't have.

I think Max Boot got at the heart of the issue in Foreign Policy, Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him:
It’s possible that Trump aides were wiretapped as part of a broader FBI probe into the connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin or were simply recorded, as had been the case with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, during the routine monitoring of Russian officials. But there is no reason to think that Trump himself had been a target of the wiretapping, nor that Obama interfered in the lawful workings of the FBI.
There is a good reason why Trump and his partisans are so apoplectic about the prospect of a special counsel, and it is precisely why it is imperative to appoint one: because otherwise we will never know the full story of the Kremlin’s tampering with our elections and of the Kremlin’s connections with the president of the United States. As evidenced by his desperate attempts to change the subject, Trump appears petrified of what such a probe would reveal. Wonder why?
John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel in a The New Yorker podcast had some interesting comparisons with other scandals:
“If there’s any lesson from Watergate, or from Iran-Contra, or the Lewinsky affair,” he says, “it is that if you don’t have a problem, what you truly do is you say to the F.B.I. or whomever, ‘Come in and talk to my staff.’ ” He says that this is not how Trump officials are currently behaving. “Rather, they’re trying to knock down press reports that are getting the various whiffs of these investigations and putting them out there. That’s just not the way innocent people deal with these issues. I’m sorry!”
Let's all agree. I need to stop watching Hannity. Hayes is right that March 4, 2017 is a pretty consequential day. And only those who think Rafael Cruz killed Kennedy would put their money on the scenario that Trump accidentally uncovered one of the biggest scandals in US history.