Friday, May 25, 2018

Trump and North Korea

Earlier this week North Korea reacted to statements by Vice President Pence about pursuing a Libyan model for denuclearization and to joint military maneuvers with South Korea. They threatened to break off talks and to respond with force.

On Thursday, President Trump made his own response by cancelling the summit and reminding that we can also use force.

Naturally the pundits went crazy. In the Washington Post's afternoon email summary, there was an editorial plus columns by five columnists on what a poor negotiator Trump is. By the end of the day, North Korea released a statement that they are still willing to talk.

The irony here is that most of these same pundits had been worried that Trump was too caught up with the idea of winning a Nobel Prize and wanted the summit too much. They insisted that North Korea's Kim would be able to take advantage of Trump.

Trump came to office with the reputation of being a master negotiator and he is showing it here. He's proving that he's willing to walk away from a bad deal, or from someone who is unwilling to deal. That's important with North Korea. They've gotten the better of the US in previous negotiations.

It's also not as unusual as the pundits claim. Reagan walked away from a deal with the USSR only to have them restart negotiations. During negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat constantly walked out, forcing Secretary of State Madeline Albright to run after him in high heels.

It's a nice change from President Obama's approach to Iran. It was obvious from the start that he wanted a deal more than they did and they used that to negotiate a bad deal.

In reality, the biggest obstacle to an agreement with North Korea is the actions of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. They are also the reason that mentions of Libya set off warnings from North Korea.

During the George W. Bush administration and after the overthrow of Iraq, Libya voluntarily gave up its nuclear program in exchange for promises of normalized relations.

That lasted until the next American administration and the Arab Spring. A group of Islamists associated with the Arab Brotherhood met with Hillary Clinton and convinced her that they could be trusted to run Libya. She in turn convinced Obama and the US joined the effort to overthrow the Libyan government.

Pundits have complained that Trump announcing the Iran agreement will hurt negotiations with North Korea but Libya is a much bigger issue. We are reapplying sanctions on Iran because they are not in compliance with the agreement.

But we overthrew Libya after they gave up their nuclear program. The reason we gave, that we were protecting women and children refugees, was a lie. We were protecting Islamic rebels. But we'd almost certainly left Libya alone if they were nuclear-armed.

So now Trump has to convince Kim that he will be safe from the US, even after the next change of administrations. That's going to be far more difficult than it would have been if we'd stayed out of Libya. But I do think that the Trump administration is the best equipped for the job in a generation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Who Moved?

A recent article in the Washington Post examines how whites have left the Democratic Party in favor of the Republicans. It attributes a lot of this movement to polarization within the parties. Southern conservatives used to be welcome in the Democratic party but these days they align with the Republicans. The same is true in reverse with Northern intellectuals who have left the Republicans to become Democrats. All of this is well and good, but I take issue with one phrase, "As most whites shift rightward, they perceive the Democratic Party to be shifting leftward".

I'm continually amazed that anyone can fail to see how far the Democratic Party has moved in the last decade. Here are some examples:
  • In 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage.
  • Both candidates were for a moderate rise in the minimum wage.
  • Clinton was running as a return to her husband's administration and policies.
  • Obama made fun of Clinton's health care plan because it included an individual mandate.

How have things changed since then?

  • No one who is against gay marriage is allowed in the Democratic Party.
  • There is a vocal wing in the party for raising the minimum wage to $15/hour - more than doubling it.
  • in 2016 Bernie Sanders was mainly running against the major achievements of Bill Clinton
  • ObamaCare had an individual mandate.
  • There is a vocal wing in the party that is for Medicare for all and free collage
  • A socialist made a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton. Granted he calls himself a "democratic socialist" but he also took his honeymoon in Soviet Moscow
  • A number of honest-to-god Marxists won primaries
  • A majority of Democrats distrust capitalism and would prefer socialism
Serious, socialists and Marxists are now accepted in the Democratic Party and people are still saying that the shift is only perceived?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Cynical Reason the Santa Fe Shooting Won't Get as Much Press as the Stoneman Dougals Shooting

On May 18th, a student in Santa Fe, Texas killed 10 students and injured another 10. This was the deadliest school shooting since the Valentine's day shooting at Stoneman Douglas, Florida. The Stoneman Douglas shooting led to nationwide school walkouts and a massive protest in Washington DC. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that none of that will happen with the Santa Fe shooting.

My reasoning is that the Stoneman Douglas shooting was politically beneficial to the Democrats and the gun control crowd (which has a huge overlap). The gun used in the Florida shooting was an "assault weapon" and some of the survivors from the shooting immediately blamed Republicans and the NRA for not banning that class of gun. This was magical thinking - the insistence that the shooting would not have happened if only the shooter had been denied a particular class of weapon.

Democrats and anti-gun activists rallied in the hope that this tragedy would add to the predicted "blue wave". The NRA was condemned as a near-terrorist organization and Democrats began running on an anti-gun platform for the first time in a generation.

But the Texas shooter changed all that. he used a shotgun and a 38-special revolver. None of the "common sense gun control" provisions being demanded would have touched these weapons. An old-fashioned six-shooter does not have a high-capacity magazine. I haven't heard any details about the shotgun but they seldom hold more than five or six shots.

These are weapons that date back to the 19th century. All of the arguments about military-style weapons being too dangerous for civilians evaporate when presented with this shooting. The only argument left is a total ban on all guns. That moves well beyond what's reasonable.

A second reason that we will not see a repeat of the activism from the Florida shooting is the counter-protest. The NRA got a huge membership and fund-raising bonus from all of the anti-NRA activism. This is important because gun owners are more motivated to vote on a single issue than non-gun owners. Having someone propose taking your property away is a concrete action. Wanting to take away someone else's property is abstract. Concrete beats abstract in the polls. This will be even more urgent if Democrats propose going after revolvers and shotguns.

So, there will be no mass nationwide demonstrations, no marches on Washington, no student activists.

A few thoughts about the shootings in general. In Texas, things worked as they should - the shooter was stopped by the school safety officer. There was no indication that the police were cowering outside the school until the shooting ended.

In both cased plus Sandy Hook, the shooters got their weapons through their parents. The Florida shooter's mother bought him his AR-15 and at least one pistol because he was on the school shooting team. The Santa Fe and Sandy Hook shooters took their parents' guns. People were referring to the Bushmaster rifle the Sandy Hook shooter used as the "mass murderer's weapon of choice" but it wasn't. It was the gun his mother used for target practice. The lesson here is that when a parent owns weapons then provisions need to be made to keep those weapons out of the hands of disturbed teenagers.

The Santa Fe shooter was apparently emulating the Columbine killers. He wore a black trench coat and had some bombs. Initial reports are that the bombs were dummies but that still shows the futility of trusting in gun control to stop school killings. Disturbed teems will find a way.  Note: Columbine was supposed to be a bombing. The killers started shooting after their bomb failed to explode. And they were not wearing black trench coats during the shooting. They weren't even part of the "Trench Coat Mafia".

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Questions for Comey

I doubt that I'll ever get to ask former FBI Directory Comey any questions but there are a few I'd love to ask:

1) You said that you announced that the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server was reopened because you feared that it would cast aspersions on her presidency if people found out after the election that an active investigation had been kept secret. You believed the polls showing that Clinton was going to win and worried that the news would affect the legitimacy of her presidency.

However, informing President-elect Trump about the Pee Tape provided a "news hook" and allowed the media to report on the Steele Dossier. This undercut the legitimacy of Trump's presidency. If you were dispassionately serving the office of the President then why didn't you find some way to brief Trump on the dossier without undercutting his legitimacy? Or were you hoping to undercut him?

2) You said that you didn't want the FBI to investigate the Pee Tape because you didn't want it to go on record that the President was being investigated. However, the press was reporting that the President was being investigated for collusion with Russia. One of the reasons that the President fired you was that you refused to publicly state that the President was not under investigation.

Given that you were willing to let the press claim that the President was under investigation when he was not, why were you so worried about the harm it would do him if an actual investigation was opened? If it is harmful to the country for people to hear that the President is under investigation then why didn't you shoot down the various rumors? And if it is alright then why not open an investigation as the President asked you to do several times?

3) Given that the FBI was using the Steele Dossier to spy on the President Elect's staff, why were you so uninterested in the origins of the information? To this day you seem to be surprisingly ignorant about who paid for what. Specifically, Republicans paid Fusion for opposition research but Steele was not involved until the Clinton campaign was paying the bills.

4) As soon as you met Donald Trump for the first time you decided that you needed to memorialize all meetings with him. What was the reason for this? Your first meeting was when you briefed him on the Pee Tape. You say that he praised you earlier and asked you to stay on and that he seemed shocked by the tape. Outside of passing judgement on the state of his marriage, what happened that made you decide to memorialize this meeting? Or are you rationalizing partisan dislike for the President-Elect? Had you already judged him based on campaign material and the Access Hollywood tape?

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Democrat's Bad Week

Last week was terrible for the Democrats but I'm not sure they recognize it.

At the beginning of the year the generic Democrat had a huge advantage over a generic Republican. That's shrunk. While the Democrats are still ahead, it's only by a half point more than the margin of error. The expected Blue Wave looks more like a blue ripple.

A new book about the Clinton campaign is about to come out and the excerpts reflect terribly on the Democratic standard bearer. It seems that Hillary is a bit of a sexist herself, ignoring the 18 women in the press corps to call on the guy from Fox in the back. Worse, some of her trusted staffers were known for being touchy-feely with the women in the press corps. So Hillary is a hypocrite, insisting that such behavior disqualified Trump from the presidency while allowing it to go on under her nose. She also said what many outsiders, including me, observed - that Hillary's only vision for the presidency was herself in it.

The Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against President Trump, Wikileaks, the Russians and possibly a few others claiming damages by Trump's collusion with the Russians to deliver emails to Wikileaks. The fact that they aren't waiting for the independent council's report shows that they lost hope of anything coming from it. It's unlikely that this suit will get anywhere and, it would be in the Democrats best interests if it was thrown out quickly. If it's allowed to progress, the Republicans will be able to demand access to the DNC's hacked server to verify if it really was hacked by the Russians. The Democrats will be forced to explain, under oath, why they didn't allow the FBI to examine the server. There's also an unconfirmed report from Wikileaks that the emails were given to them by a Democrat. That's not something that they want repeated since it ruins the whole collusion narrative.

Then there's Comey, Comey, Comey. The ex-FBI boss gave an interview to former Clinton-spokesman George Stephanopoulos, his book finally came out, and his leaked memos were released to the public. Combining all of this we found out that his private briefing with President-elect Trump was only about the pee tape and skipped all the other allegations in the Steele Dossier, that this provided the news hook that the networks needed to report on the dossier and that when President Trump said that he needed loyalty, he was probably, indirectly asking if Comey had been leaking information to make Trump look bad. We also find that he did not feel the need to memorialize any previous conversations with other people, not even the one where Attorney General Lynch told him that the Clinton emails were a "matter" instead of an "investigation". A year ago Comey was being presented as the last honest man who was going to tear down Trump. Now he comes across as petty and possibly duplicitous.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The More Comey Talks, the Less I Like Him

Former head of the FBI, James Comey is on a publicity tour to promote his new book. Between interviews and previews from the book, I have a better feel for the man than previously. And what I'm hearing isn't good.

It's obvious that Comey thinks very highly of President Obama and very poorly of President Trump. His wife and daughters marched in the pussy-hat protest the day after Trump's inauguration. Comey also felt very guilty about his role in the defeat of Obama's chosen successor, Hillary Clinton. His various actions seem a lot more understandable if you assume that he saw his duty as clearing the way for a Clinton presidency.

The Clinton email investigation certainly looks like it was designed to clear Clinton rather than actually investigate her. That explains the lack of a grand jury and the generous granting of immunity. He's tried to shift the blame to his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but she's pushing back. He was also surrounded by people who were pro-Hillary/anti-Trump. Andrew McCabe, his second-in-command was married to someone who received substantial contributions from Clinton-affiliates when she ran for office. A memo exonerating Clinton was begun months before the investigation concluded. None of these are the actions of an impartial seeker-of-truth.

What about the last-minute opening and closing of the email investigation? Comey now says that he was sure that Clinton was going to win and was trying to protect her. He claims that it would have undercut her presidency if he hadn't announced the investigation. This seems odd. The matter sat on his desk for a month before he approved acting on it.

I suspect that the impetus here was lower-placed agents who threatened to go public if he continued to sit on the new batch of emails. He was saving Clinton from that. That's what Comey was alluding to but couldn't come out and explain.

He had already done the same thing earlier, after Loretta Lynch had a private meeting with Bill Clinton. If Lynch had announced that there was no reason to charge Clinton after that meeting it would have looked like she'd been bought off somehow. So Comey took matters into his own hands.

So, after doing all he could to help Hillary Clinton from her self-inflicted damage, Comey ended up reporting to President Trump after all.

From Comey's recent statement, he despises Trump and has all along. He liked heading the FBI so he went along with Trump, more or less, but he treated his new boss with suspicion.

Before the inauguration Comey informed Trump about the Steele Dossier but failed to mention that it was opposition research that had been shopped to the FBI and news organizations. He also failed to mention that information from that had been used to monitor the Trump campaign (or maybe he did reveal that since Trump complained about his people being wiretapped).

Trump invited Comey to a private dinner and asked for his loyalty. At least that's how Comey described it. Trump may have used slightly different words. Comey describes this as if he was being asked into the Mafia. But, at the time, the news was full of government employees vowing to be part of the Resistance and to fight Trump. It seems perfectly reasonable for the president to ask the head of the FBI if he was to be trusted or if he was part of the Resistance?

And let's not be under any illusions. Comey was part of the Resistance. From the beginning he began writing detailed memos about his meetings with Trump so that he could use them later. He also continued investigations of "Russian collusion". His department kept leaking details. When asked by the White House in general or Trump specifically, Comey and the FBI insisted that Trump was not being investigated but they refused to say this in public. The reason was that it would set a bad precedent to confirm or deny an investigation. Never mind that the rumors were crippling the president, if the FBI set a precedent by shooting down a rumor then they'd constantly have to shoot down rumors.

Then there was Flynn. Trump used the phrase "I hope you can see your way clear to clearing him." Comey insisted that was a direct order phrased as a polite request. Somehow I "polite requests" and "subtle" are not words normally used to describe President Trump.

In his book, Comey describes his dinner with Trump. Trump marvels at the hand-lettered menus. Comey takes this to mean that Trump didn't realize the White House had a calligrapher and is amazed by the concept. More likely Trump is used to someone printing out menus on a PC and is surprised that someone takes the time to do it by hand. This is typical of Comey's attitude about Trump - always take the least charitable option.

After he was fired, Comey decided to get revenge. He gave his memos, which were both government property and classified, to a friend to leak to the press in the hopes of triggering a special council. He currently claims that he doesn't want to see Trump impeached - because he wants him voted out of office. Neither is likely.

In all of this, Comey has shown himself to be petty and driven by revenge while trying to present himself as a model of virtue.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Delusions of Children

David Hogg, one of the students who was in the high school during the Valentine's Day shooting, has made a number of public statements. Most of his assertions are misguided or misinformed.

He seems to spend very little time blaming that actual shooter, Nikolas Cruz, not does he spend any time condemning the various officials who were given notice that Cruz was disturbed and possibly planning a school shooting but who did nothing. Neither does Hogg spend any time condemning the police who stayed outside the building until the shooting ended. These are all appropriate targets of Hogg's rage and changes in the policies that they followed might prevent future shootings.

Hogg's main target is the AR-15-style rifle that Cruz used. There is nothing magical about these guns. Yes, they are more powerful than a pistol but they are less powerful than a hunting gun or than military weapons used prior to Viet Nam. During the 1960s, the military decided that most combat was done at fairly close range and that a lighter weapon was sufficient. The idea that these are somehow more powerful than other civilian weapons and therefor to dangerous for civilians to posses is misinformed.

It should also be pointed out that Cruz did not used high-capacity magazines. He carried a backpack full of 10-round magazines and reloaded as needed. This is typical of mass shootings. Many guns can be reloaded quickly. Even the lowly revolver has speed-loaders available and can be reloaded within a few seconds.

Very few mass shootings are performed with AR-15s. Most are done with a pistol or a pistol in combination with a rifle or shotgun.

Something that was unusual about this shooting is how it ended. Cruz only carried the one gun. He shot at people until it jammed then he dropped it and slipped out with the students. If he had carried pistols then the shooting might have gone on longer.

So, eliminating the AR-15 would not have stopped the shooting and might have made it worse.

Also, classmate have said that Cruz showed them his AR-15 and pistols two years ago. He would have been 17 then so an adult (probably his mother) bought them for him. Raising the age would not have helped.

Hogg totally misunderstands how politicians and the NRA work. He has accused Senators Rubio and McCain of having blood on their hands for accepting money from the NRA. He even had a price tag on his microphone during his speech at the March for Our Lives event. This represented the amount the NRA has given Marco Rubio divided by the number of students in Florida. This came out to $1.05. Hogg meant to show how little value Rubio put on a student's life but it actually shows how small the NRA contributions were.

In Hogg's mind, Congress should do the right thing and pass what he sees as common sense gun laws. What stops them is the NRA which buy them off. Without NRA money, Congress would quickly pass gun legislation.

While it's true that the NRA donates millions to candidates, the amounts spent are not all that high. The figures that Hogg used say that Rubio received around $1 million since he first ran in 2010 and the NRA has spent around $2.3 million attacking Rubio's opponents in that time. That would account for two elections plus Rubio's presidential campaign. Rubio raised over $25 million on his 2016 Senate campaign alone so the NRA money only amounted to 2% of the money he raised. That rises to 6% if you count the money spent to defeat anti-gun opponents.

The NRA's real strength is not in the amounts it spends on candidates. It is in the NRA's ability to mobilize voters. They score candidates' records and publicize the score. Candidates who they rate highly are given money. Even without the NRA contributions, these candidates are still pro-gun. 30% of Americans own guns and a large percentage of them consider a candidate's stance on guns when voting.

In the 1990s, Democrats controlled Congress and passed some anti-gun legislation. Many of the moderate Democrats who voted for this lost the next election. This was widely attributed to moderate, gun-owning swing voters. Similarly, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the 2000 Presidential election because he couldn't carry his home state of Tennessee. This was also attributed to his role in passing the gun legislation.

In other words, politicians are pro-gun because their constituency is pro-gun. The NRA is just a proxy for the gun owners.

But Hogg is too young to understand that well-meaning people can have different opinions about complex subjects and the assault-weapon ban in the 1990s expired before he was born.

Put it all together and you have a young man who is very vocal about his beliefs but very misinformed about the causes he is championing.