Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Hang together or most assuredly…

February 25, 2017

14028757974_98159df9bb_b.jpgThe institution of a free press is at risk and democracy depends on it. (That’s why it’s protected in the First Amendment.)

Many Republicans believed and many non-supporters hoped that the campaign rhetoric would fade, and President Trump would put behind him and dampen the provocative positions taken by Candidate Trump for the purpose of garnering votes. The President’s latest statements at CPAC, escalating his war on what he calls “The Enemy of the People,” i.e. the Press, foreshadows a continued assault on the press. If effective, this would substantially weaken media’s ability to provide the important check/balance on the administration that Madison and company felt important enough to put at the top of the Bill of Rights.

I understand President Trump was (as he does) playing to the crowd. But combine that with the same day’s events–Sean Spicer’s blocking selected news organizations for a White House briefing, and Steve Bannon’s continued references to the press as “the opposition party, “–and it all looks like a well-orchestrated attack rather than the president just wandering off script to stir up the conservative crowd.

As others have pointed out, a strained relationship with the media is not unique to this administration. Its inherent in a system of checks and balances that there will be tensions between the checkers and those getting checked. President Obama made similar attempts to exclude Fox News in the face of its ongoing attacks. But, Obama smokes cigarettes too, which most rational people agrees unhealthy. Doesn’t make it a good idea.

The press has the power to bring pressure to bear on the administration through its influence on the citizenry, but ultimately the consequences don’t play out for three years and nine months. In the shorter term, reporters can choose not to report on those things that the administration wants reporting on, but with so many media outlets, the absence of coverage by one or a few publications will only hurt them.

So, maintaining the stature of the press requires unity. The press have to see the big picture importance of preserving their common interests, a difficult thing for competitors. The administration strategy seems to be to drive a wedge between media outlets with differing political dispositions in order to exploit the difficulty. Divide and conquer, in the words of Philip of Macedonia (no relation).

Fox’s Shepard Smith gets it. He defended his network’s arch rival and ideological opposite with “CNN is not fake news.” Sean Hannity doesn’t. After the recent Melbourne rally, his headline read, “Trump takes on the press and delivers devastating knockout.” I watch him occasionally for exposure to the full spectrum of views and I note he describes every attack on the media adding the word “liberal” in front of media. There is a bigger picture he’s missing.

Going into this blog, I had the Franklin quote about hanging together or hanging separately in mind. (Have been thinking about the founders a lot lately as I am in the middle of Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition.) The National Review’s David French got there first with that quote in his opinion piece on the press blockage. Good for him and his publication (as conservative as its founder Bill Buckley) for seeing the big picture. I hope he is correct in his assertions:

…the White House should know that it’s move is completely unsustainable. Every news organization with any integrity will rightly boycott briefings if the White House excludes disfavored outlets. This is yet another one of the informal but effective checks on White House power. While a portion of Trump’s base may hate the media so much that they’re fine if Sean Spicer ends up only briefing Gateway Pundit, most of the rest of America finds press exclusion ridiculous. 

In fact, my hope is that there rest of America finds the press exclusion dangerous.


Gates and the Wisdom of Experience

February 4, 2017

images.jpegJust over a week ago, Robert Gates spoke at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event. Of course, the first days of the Trump presidency were high on the list of questions he received, and he responded with unique perspective.

You have to think Mr. Gates view is balanced. A lifetime republican, he served both Bush adminstrations as head of the CIA and Defense Secretary respectively. But after the next transition, he was retained by Obama to run the Defense Department. Last, September he loudly criticized candidate Trump in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, but more recently advised the transition team, and, evidently, put forth Rex Tillerson and General Mattis for their cabinet positions.

Much of the discussion in Boston was about advice Gates would give the new president during that first week in office. About the White House and the media, he stressed the importance of a free press (and Congress, by the way) as the guarantors of liberty and that it is a mistake to make the press an enemy. Candidly he disclosed that most presidents privately share some of the feelings with which Trump has been so very public. But, rather than getting hostile, he advised that Trump should consider whether the media may be right. In fairness, he also thinks the media needs to take it down a notch and get their heads out of the Twitterverse.

Asked for his advice on implementing change, Gates was very clear that President Trump needs to listen to the career pros who have been at this for a while. Gates has concerns about foreign policy going forward. Isolationism is popular because foreign policy is so outside most people’s day to day; it’s up the president to bring a global perspective to the people. He pointed to Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, John Kelly, and General Mattis as tough minded individuals who will tell him what he needs to hear.

So how’s it going? Not great viewed through the lens of Secretary Gates’ advice. The day after this talk, Steve Bannon suggested the “opposition party,” aka the media, should “keep its mouth shut.” Relations have continued to spiral down with the latest hub bub over the Bowling Green “massacre” and subsequent travel ban, both fictional which drove the press bonkers. And @realDonaldTrump still tweeting about “FAKE NEWS” in the wake of his awkward phone call with Malcom Turnbull.. Almost unbelievably, one of today’s early morning tweets from realDonald was:

After being forced to apologize for its bad and inaccurate coverage of me after winning the election, the FAKE NEWS @nytimes is still lost!

Is the press blowing some of this out of proportion? Yes, I think so, but such is the nature of an adversarial relationship.

On the foreign policy front, Oy vey! According to the AP (a credible source in my mind if not Bannon’s) with regard to the seven country travel ban:

At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.

The reorganization of the National Security Council suggests the likelihood that the President will, now officially as well as unofficially, discount input from the experienced folks that the former Defense Secretary says he should be relying on. In the wake of that move, Gates himself went public calling the demotions of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs “a big mistake.” Senator McCain (Republican chair of the Armed Services Committee) is “worried about the NSC” for the same reasons.

So, who is the President listening to? In Judy Woodruff’s Wednesday NPR interview with Vice President Pence, she inquired about the extent of Bannon’s influence. He responded that the President “asks for input from everyone in the senior circle, and a lot of people outside the circle.” Pence is a master of staying on message, but honest, in my estimate. Still, the “a lot of other people” seemed like a bit of an afterthought, and it’s unclear to whom he was referring. I’m sure the Presdident is calling the shots. My concern is that he is only listening to his like-minded, tight inner circle most of whom have little experience in the business of running a country (and playing nice with others). Trump took some good advice from Gates on some key appointments; it would be great it he were to listen to him and them.


January 29, 2017

Unknown.pngIn her September 23 piece in The Atlantic recounting her interview with then Candidate Trump, Selena Zito came up with the best two-liner of the year: “When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” She actually presented him with the idea during her interview, and he thought it was “Interesting.”

How interesting? Wasn’t it soon after that that he really started stepping up his criticism of the press? Maybe Zito’s comment was just reinforcement of what was already bugging the soon to be presumptive nominee, but maybe that comment really iced it for him. What could infuriate a narcissist more than not being taken seriously? And how much worse, for it to be by the noisy press. I’ll bet he thought, “I’m going to get those bastards.” And he’s proven to be pretty good at it.

Yesterday, Brooks and Shields on NPR were discussing two possible explanations for the President’s behavior during his first week in office. Essentially: 1. He’s calculating and Orwellian (did you see how popular 1984 has again become?) or 2. He’s a 5 year old who needs to do this to feed his ego. (For the record, I was twice as charitable calling him a 10 year old.) David Brooks (staunch Reagan republican, mind you) thinks he’s a 5 year old. Take me seriously or I am going to hit you, Press!

Now that we are all taking him seriously (like a heart attack), my theory is that the string of executive orders this week were his attempt to be taken literally too. Give the President credit, he has not forgotten his campaign promises. This was a week of: See, I was serious and literal. I’m going to build a wall, I’m going to keep Muslims out, I’m going to end Choice, etc.

So here’s what’s interesting. If Selena Zito was right with the second part of her pithy quote, are those serious-but-not-literal supporters having second thoughts after the literal first week of the new presidency? Were some of these voters thinking?: “I think we should tighten up the borders a little, but of course we won’t build a wall, that would be ridiculous. And of course we won’t ban Muslims, that would be un-American.” And now…holy moly!

And, more interesting, how about the Republican Congressional Leadership? Were some of them only comfortable getting in line with Trump Republicanism because of the false comfort of assuming he was not being literal? Any second thoughts? Yes, the Republicans own the Congress, but the big question is does the President own the Republicans? More to the point, does he own all the Republicans. It only takes three in the Senate to break ranks on an issue and the vote flips the other way. Literally. Seriously!

Is the Foreign Payments Lawsuit Spurious?

January 24, 2017

I’m not thinking the lawsuit filed Monday holds a lot of water. I’m neither a lawyer nor Unknown.jpegconstitutional scholar (and I’d love my attorney friends to weigh in with some case law) but I really don’t believe the framers intended the Constitution to ban routine business transactions.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 reads, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

We’re clearly not talking about present, office or title, so the concern must be with an “Emolument.” I have to confess I missed that one in the SAT study guide. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.” I have a hard time seeing how a foreign government involved in a fair quid pro quo for a product or service from one of the Trump businesses would meet that definition. Is there really something wrong with our neighbors to the north putting up Justin Trudeau at the Trump Hotel in Vancouver? There are likely scenarios that would sound shadier, but in any case the claims seem too broad.

The suit was filed by smarter guys than I, including actual constitutional scholars and former White House ethicists (both Democrat and Republican). So where were they coming from? Well, there must be enough of a case that it will not be deemed frivolous. And, all are on the record as saying the the President has not gone far enough to separate himself from his businesses. So, they must calculate this will give them a bit of a stick to help whack him into taking steps towards a blind trust. Perhaps they are also thinking this might be a lever to force a peek at the secret tax returns.

If I works, then good. He does, IMO, remain tied far to close to The Trump Organization. And he should, like all other President’s, release those tax returns. The public does care, not just the press.

Barefoot Phil’s Political Rant

January 22, 2017

I don’t think the President is ill-intended, stupid, or evil. He sincerely believes that he can make America great. But, I am extremely skeptical, and his actions since the election have done nothing to bolster my hopes. In fact, his speech, his Day 1 executive order allowing 170121123548-women-earthcam-exlarge-169.jpgagencies to stonewall the ACA and yesterday’s ludicrous speech at the CIA have more or less torpedoed any hopes I have that he might, in some ways, do a good job.

I get the appeal, I really do. The political correctness pendulum has probably swung too far; a little plain talking can be refreshing. It would be fantastic if everyone could magically have terrific healthcare at affordable prices. I’d love to see the obliteration of ISIS, more jobs in America, sparkling new infrastructure, a better education system, an even more vibrant economy…a Big Rock Candy Mountain! That would be unbelievable! It is unbelievable. Literally.

It’s baffling that thoughtful people buy into this rhetoric. The only rational explanation is “You can’t take him literally.” He says, “We’re gonna build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it, folks” means we are going to tighten up on border security a bit. Maybe. And then there’s “He’s just saying what he has to get elected. After that he will become presidential.” Evidently not, unless we write off the weekend and he pulls a 180 on tomorrow, or sometime soon.

Come on, “folks,” he’s irrational. He’s out of touch with reality. He says X one day and not X the next and may end up back at X. And doesn’t even know he’s doing it. How can we expect the executive branch to move forward in any direction when the compass is constantly spinning? And, facts don’t matter; he makes shit up. All the time! It’s a deeply engrained habit, it’s reflexive. Who can trust him? Congress? Foreign powers? Us?

The scary thing is how effectively he has been able to marginalize the press whose job it is to call him out. The founding fathers understood the critical role of a free press in maintaining a free society. In essence, we depend on the press to fact check, to hold elected officials accountable for being truthful. When have we ever needed that more? And, yet, somehow, Trump’s relentless attacks press’ veracity and ethics seem to have raised more than a question mark in the collective mind of the people. An uninformed electorate allows corruption to grow unfettered.  Said Jefferson, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” Chris Matthews went too far with the adjective “Hitleresque.” Trump is not Hitler. However, Hitler understood the power of controlling the message; witness the work of Goebels. Putin gets it too. Dictators and kleptocrats blindfold the public by neutering the press.

And he’s a prickly 10 year old bully. Now that he is in command of weapons far more dangerous that his Twitter account, is it really so far fetched that he might fire back more than a tweet at a foreign state that personally offends him? Do I really think he’s launch a nuclear F You? Probably not, but combine the revived isolationist, protectionist “America First” posture with his big-stick disposition and the types of calamity we all feared during the Cold War become more plausible.

Finally, the guy is over his head and seems to have no clue. A shrink might identify underlying insecurity as the root of his bravado, but the practical manifestation is that the hand at the helm disregarding (along with the facts) the educated inputs of the experienced professionals that surround him. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that The President is new to elected office. The political kid needs adult supervision.

Trump is not stupid and some of his instincts may be good, but if he can’t get out of the way of his ego, this country will be flying by the seat of his pants. In As You Like It, Shakespeare said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”  And some call me a fool for running barefoot. Oy.