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.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Why the assault Weapon Ban Won't Happen

After the school shooting on Valentine's Day, there was a big push for "common sense" gun control. It was led by students from the school where the happened. The students, particularly David Hogg, were articulate and very vocal about assigning blame. They did not seem to blame the actual shooter. Instead they blamed the NRA for opposing bans against the type of gun used and they blamed any politicians who accept money from the NRA. Hogg has specifically called out various people for "having blood on their hands".

For the first month after the shooting there was strong pressure to ban "assault weapons". But I think that the wave has crested.

The capstone was supposed to be the "March For Our Lives" in DC. This was going to be the biggest demonstration in history. Or at least recent history. Organizers promised at least 600,000 people and claimed that 800,000 actually showed up. It was bigger than President Trump's inauguration.

Except it wasn't. The crowd was actually more like 200,000. This was still an impressive number but nowhere near what was (over)promised.

The march was supposed to be non-partisan but it was very obvious that it was an anti-Republican event.

The march was supposed to be for "common sense gun measures" but in the aftermath, it has been swamped with calls to repeal the 2nd Amendment. While there was a chance of banning certain classes of weapons, there is no chance of repealing the 2nd Amendment and calls to do so are alienating people who might otherwise be convinced that AR-15s are bad.

David Hogg has lost focus. He was effective as the front-man for a movement but recently he got into a fight with talk show host Laura Ingram. Now he's trying to get her fired by calling for a boycott by her sponsors. He even listed officers and contact information for Arby's. While the left would love to see Ingram off the air, it's a major distraction from Hogg's message on gun control.

Of course, this was never about making children safer. There's nothing magic about the AR-15 and similar. Getting rid of them will not stop school shootings. The idea was to set the precedent then move on to stricter gun controls after the next shooting. But they got greedy.

David Hogg will probably soon find out that he has reached the limits of his fame. He was only useful while focusing on gun control and Republicans.

In the meantime, the NRA is pushing back. Membership and donations are soaring. And politicians are being reminded that it's not the NRA's money that gives them so much power, it's all of the gun owners who vote.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

New You Can't Trust

The headlines on March 21 told about how President Trump's security advisors had written "DO NOT CONGRATULATE PUTIN" across the top of his briefing but that the President congratulated Putin anyway. He was also instructed to admonish Putin about the poisoning of a Russian living in England.

The fact that Trump ignored this advice was painted as more evidence that Trump is soft on Putin and possibly owes his position to the Russian. When Trump fired his national security advisor a few days later, it was speculated that it was because the NSA had condemned Russia.

Things look very different a week later. While it is seldom mentioned, Trump's new pick for NSA, John Bolton, takes a harder line on Russia and it's clients (particularly Iran).

Trump also shut down a Russian embassy and expelled 60 diplomats.

What's more, we now know that the phone call between Trump and Putin was more than a simple congratulations. During the election campaign Putin had shown footage of a new missile system that can evade US anti-missile technology. The footage showed the missile striking Florida, about where Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is. Trump pushed back against this cautioning, "If you want a new arms race, I'll give you one. And I'll win."

None of this sounds like the actions of someone who is soft on Putin or who Putin can blackmail.

We don't know if the original leak included the nature of the entire phone call or only the factoid that Trump ignored the "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" with the implication that Trump was encouraging Putin. Certainly the person who did the original leak knew the full contents of the call. So either important details were withheld by the leaker or by the press. Either way it was fake news - news that put an entirely different spin on the call than what actually occurred.

There are also reports that the only reason that Trump refuses to take a harder line on Putin is that he doesn't want to give the press the satisfaction of seeing him reverse a stance.

Regardless, this is just one more example of news that you can't trust.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Analytics and the Russians

Hard on the heals of the revelation that the Trump campaign used an analytics company to target ads on Facebook, Hillary Clinton suggested that the Trump campaign shared that information with the Russians.

The real question is how did the Russians know how to target their messages so precisely to undecided voters in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania – that is really the nub of the question. 

"So if they were getting advice from say Cambridge Analytica, or someone else, about 'OK here are the 12 voters in this town in Wisconsin – that's whose Facebook pages you need to be on to send these messages' that indeed would be very disturbing.

Let's ignore the findings of the Congressional investigation that showed that the Russian ad buys that were geographically targeted were mainly bought in 2015, well before the general election. That still leaves some big questions:

1) How is it that the Russians can spend a couple million and swing the election? Between them, the two campaigns spent over two billion dollars. How could the Russian ads possibly be so much more effective than the ones the campaigns were saturating the airwaves with?

2) The Obama campaign was a pioneer in the use of social media analytics and the Trump campaign made good use of it. Are we seriously supposed to believe that the Clinton campaign didn't use these tools, too? Come on! Hillary is asking us to believe that her campaign passed on using a major new tool.

Hillary needs to accept that she lost the election after running a bad campaign. And the press needs to stop feeding her fantasies.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hillary's Excuses

While in India, Hillary Clinton explained her 2016 loss to Donald Trump as coming from the backward, sexist, racist part of the country.

If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle, places where Trump won. What that map doesn't show you is that I won the places that own two thirds of America's Gross Domestic product. I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, Make America Great Again, was looking backwards. You don't like black people getting rights, you don't like women getting jobs, you don't want to see that Indian American succeeding more than you are, whatever that problem is, I am going to solve it.

She also said that she lost white women because of men.

We do not do well with white men and we don't do well with married, white women. And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.

What to make of this, besides too much chardonnay?

First, it's likely that Hillary has been saying this in private for some time and it became so natural to her that she slipped and said it in public. It's happened before. When she made her Basked of Deplorables speech in 2016, sources admitted that she'd been saying that for some time but only in private fund-raisers, not in public.

Does Hillary actually believe that the majority of white women in this country are so cowed that they vote, in private, as they've been instructed by bosses and sons? This seems a little delusional but, yes, she probably believes this.

This is really part of a trend among the Democrats that goes back to the 2004 book, What's the Matter With Kansas? This book held that the Democrats' policies were best for the people of Kansas but, because of Republican distractions, they were enticed to vote against their own best interests. In other words, Democrats didn't need to change their policies, they just needed to package them better.

Hillary's take of that in 2016 was that half (or more) of Trump's supporters were never going to vote for her because they were terrible, terrible people. Now she's refined that. She was obviously the best candidate and it was the duty of women to vote for her but all of those men wouldn't let them. This lets Hillary off the hook. She doesn't have to face that she was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign with no real message. It wasn't her fault, it was those deplorables.

The only real question is how much of the Democratic party shares that viewpoint?