Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The key question to understanding anything that Trump does: what's in it for him?

I don't know why so many people are puzzling over why Trump would abruptly announce that he will cancel the Boeing contract for two new Air Force One planes. Two key details give me enough reason to figure it out:

1. The new planes will not delivered until 2023. Even if we assume there are no further delays,  Minority President Trump would not be able to ride in the planes unless he is elected to a second term, and even in that case, it would only be in the final year of his term.

2. If some new shiny Air Force One planes go into service, Trump will be pressured to use those planes instead of his personal gold-plated jets. When he uses his personal jets, he can bill the Secret Service for millions of dollars. If he uses one of those new Air Force One planes, the Secret Service wouldn't have to pay him anything.

UPDATE: JMM floats another theory for why Trump turned on the Boeing deal. Marshall suggests that it might have been retaliation for the CEO's criticism of Trump. That wouldn't surprise me either. And if true, it would be an example of Trump abusing his power before he is even in power. Welcome to the United State of Banana Republic!


Monday, December 05, 2016

Trump meets with Gore

I like Al Gore, I really do. And I'm glad that Trump met with him to discuss climate change, because maybe Al will get Trump to take the problem at least a little bit seriously.

But the meeting also seems silly. Al Gore really isn't a politician anymore, that's not why Trump met with him. He met with Al because Gore is a celebrity. There are plenty of experts on climate change he could have met with, scientists, for example. But those people are not famous, so they are not the kind of people that Trump will meet.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means

Uh Politico, "the Garland treatment" would not be putting Trump's appointees "through a grinding confirmation process."

If Republicans had done that with Garland, they would have been doing their job. It's fun to watch Tiger Beat on the Potomac spin the precedent-breaking Garland matter into just another rough confirmation fight.


Maybe after Mirziyaev

I once thought there was once a chance that after Uzbekistan's first and only president died, maybe the country would open itself up a bit to real democracy. Okay, it was a very small chance. Uz has effectively been governed by a clique of influential power-brokers in various regional clans, especially as Islam Karimov's health declined in the last few years. But I still had a little bit of hope that something might get a little better, maybe the most populous Central Asian country could at least have a competitive election for the first post-Karimov leader? That seemed like it should have been a possibility.

So much for that.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

American white supremacists are ignorant about Russia (shocking, I know)

White supremacists who revere Putin seem to be unaware of just how diverse a country Russia is. Putting aside racial diversity (do they really think the locals in the Russian far East are white people right up to the Chinese, Mongolian and Korean border?) Islam is an officially recognized religion in Russia and has the second largest number of adherents in the country after Orthodox Christianity. Putin personally has made plenty of statements that are supportive of Islam, and he has even effectively allowed strict Gulf-Arab style Shariah to be imposed within Russian territory. The far-right have spread false stories about alleged shariah enclaves in the U.S. where American law does not apply, but Chechnya is the real deal.

Sure, Putin is into Russian nationalism. But it is a mistake to confuse that with White Christian nationalism. Lots of Russian citizens are not white and not Christian. (Also, the Richard Spencer quote in the Times piece, that there is "'an understanding' between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin [that] might bring together Slavic and American Caucasians and eventually 'foretell a unified white world.'" is ironic, because to Mr. Putin, "Caucasians" are not slavic, not predominantly Christian, and not "white").


Friday, December 02, 2016

what will the world do with him?

I'm not sure whether Donald Trump will inadvertently cause some horrible international crisis, or if foreign leaders will just conclude that the U.S. is led by an ignorant moron and will decide to not read anything into each time he stumbles blindly into some international minefield.


Trump is fighting this because he is a baby, not because there is any real reason for him to worry

Trump and his allies are fighting the recount efforts in MI, WI, and PA. It's a fair question to ask why. Although I think it is a mistake to take Trump's actions as a sign that the election was "hacked" or that the recount has much of a chance of changing the election result. I think it's a lot more likely that Trump is getting his people to fight this because he is personally insulted by the recount effort and so he is lashing back, just as he does whenever he thinks anyone insults him.


انشالله للملحدين

I have used inshallah in casual emails. I didn't realize that makes me a hipster. I don't believe in any god that might will anything, but I think the word (actually, it is a portmanteau of three words) does seem to convey something different than the word "hopefully." From my atheist lips (or nonbelieving typing fingers) I think it implies that the hoped-for thing probably won't happen.


President Disaster

The only way for Trump to not have countless conflicts of interest that violate the constitution, bring a new level of corruption to the U.S., and pose a new security risk is if he liquidates his business empire, puts the proceeds into a blind trust, and stops using his name as a brand. In other words, to avoid a bunch of serious messes, he would have to completely end the Trump business as he has known it for his entire adult life.

Trump will never do that. No one can make him do that. We are fucked.


Thursday, December 01, 2016

A master at taking credit

I know Putin will get the credit for this, but it is hard for me to see how this was a major accomplishment. Low oil prices are killing the budgets of all OPEC members, as well as non-OPEC states that are oil production dependent, like Russia.

Sure, Saudi Arabia and Iran hate each other and are fighting 1 or 2 proxy wars with each other (in Yemen and also, arguably, Syria/Iraq), but on the question of oil prices their economic interests are in complete alignment. Both countries need oil prices to go up for their budgets to work. It doesn't take a diplomatic genius to get two countries to do what is in their clear interest to do.


Incentivizing corporate blackmail

Bernie is right. The Trump-Pence carrier deal is not a demonstration that the new administration can keep jobs in the U.S., it is notice to corporate america that if they threaten to move jobs abroad they can get all kinds of goodies from the government. Of course State and Local governments have been doing that stuff for years, but now we have a guy on top of the federal government willing to cut a new deal of corporate welfare for any company that is willing to engage in a little American jobs blackmail.


Invest in Tunisia

It would really be in our government's interest to invest heavily in Tunisia right now. Tunisia is the only Arab Spring success, in the sense that it replaced a dictatorship with a democracy. And a real democracy too, as Tunisia has already had a peaceful transfer of power between rival parties after an election, without any foreign occupying power there to make it happen. They really did it themselves. The country's progress in the last five years is really fragile, with its economy in tatters and being a small country right next door to the basket case that is Libya.

During the Bush years conservatives liked to talk about how having a successful Arab democracy would improve the Middle East by providing a positive example to other countries in the region. At the time, they were talking about the hapless dream about Iraq. But why wouldn't that same argument apply to the actual success of Tunisia? Just a few years ago, North Africa was viewed as so critical to American interest to warrant military intervention in Libya. Surely, our interests extend to not blowing shit up and killing people in the region.

I doubt if the Trump Administration would be inclined to help Tunisia. Trump himself probably doesn't know anything about the country, and his advisers on foreign affairs who might otherwise be able to talk him into doing something positive are a bunch of Islamaphobes who only see the Arab world as a military problem. But I would love it if our new allegedly business savvy administration proves me wrong and sees Tunisia as an real opportunity to make things a tiny bit better.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

why is it never "even Singapore"?

You can't really believe that America is awesome without having some sympathy for immigrants

I don't really get the reason for any hostility towards immigrants by people who believe in the greatness of America. If you really thought this country was so awesome, why wouldn't other people want to come here? Isn't that what you (an "America, Fuck Yeah!" person) would do if you had the misfortune of being born somewhere else? Why should coming here be a crime?1

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1- Yeah I know that breaking immigration law is a civil, not criminal, offense. But I don't know how many times I have talked immigration with a right-wing nut job when they have relied on the idea that the undocumented are per se criminals.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Citizenship is the bigger issue

I actually think that the worst part of Trump's "flag burning" tweet was his statement that the penalty for flag burning should be the loss of American citizenship. Plenty of countries outlaw the burning of their national flag, including much of the so-"free world." I agree with that flag burning is protected speech under the First Amendment, but that ruling came down when I was in college. As wrong as penalizing flag burning may be IMHO, it wasn't that long ago that flag burning was illegal here.

What is much more shocking is the idea that Trump wants to strip citizenship from people because of their political protests. That really is the stuff of dictatorships. And sets a really bad precedent of political rights as a privilege that can be lost.

Even though flag burning has been legal in the U.S. for almost my entire adult life, flag burning is very rare. If anything, flag burning is probably more popular when it is illegal--it certainly makes more of a statement when it is against the law. I have seen a flag burning exactly once in my life, and it was in Damascus, not the U.S. And really it was just a pillow case that was decorated to look like a U.S. flag with a marker. I bet it didn't even have the right number of stars. (See the post I wrote at the time)

Flag Burning

Of recounts and faithless electors

I have no problem with the recount efforts in WI, MI and PA. It's silly for people to act like this is some kind of underhanded way to overturn the election. The recount procedures are part of the electoral process. Assuming everyone follows the rules, there is no problem with Jill Stein requesting a recount (she was on the ballot and she is entitled to, even if her vote total was minuscule), and there is no problem with the Clinton campaign cooperating with the recount to ensure that the recount is fair.

That said, I have almost no expectation that the recount will deny Trump the presidency. There's no actual evidence of fraud so far. In order to change the result, the recounts in all three states would have to flip the result to the other candidate. Getting even one state to flip would be unprecedented. The odds of all three, especially having Clinton  bridge the 68,236 vote gap between the candidates in PA, is almost out of the question.

Unless the results were "hacked." But how would that work? I don't know how MI and WI handle their voting, but I was an attorney-poll watcher on election day in PA and I just don't see how anyone would pull off a hack of the election in this state if they wanted to do it. The voting machines in my area are purely electronic, meaning that they did not give a paper receipt. Instead, everyone votes electronically by pushing buttons, and then at the end of the day the machine spits out a tally (which is a paper receipt). The machines is not hooked up to the Internet, or any network. It's just plugged in. So to "hack" the machine, someone would have to install malicious code in the machine prior to the election so that it would record the votes wrong. The code would have to be undetectable to the mechanic assigned to the machine on election day (I personally watched the inspection of the machines in my precinct the morning of November 8, and I personally confirmed that each machine started the day with a vote tally of zero). Except that one machine wouldn't change the results of the election, Our precinct alone had two machines for a couple of hundred voters. To alter the tally of the 6 million votes cast in this state, someone would need to sneak in and install malicious code on thousands of machines scattered across the commonwealth. The change would also have to be carefully calculated so that it doesn't create any weird data blips, like one machine in one precinct recording a ton of Trump votes while the other one in the same precinct does not, or that machines in neighboring precincts who have similar voting histories don't record wildly divergent results. Any of those things would be easy to see if they happened. I have not seen any reports of those tell-tail signs. Without any evidence, the charge that the election was "hacked" is just baseless and irresponsible.

Of course, I could be wrong. I certainly have been wrong before. By all means let people recount. But the hopes that a recount will deliver the presidency to Clinton are pretty misplaced.

Actually, the only real (albeit really remote) chance of changing the result is by getting enough electors to go faithless and switch their Trump vote to Clinton. Again, I highly doubt this will happen. Electors are by design party loyalists. A lot of party loyalists really do not like Trump, but, if the recent election demonstrated nothing else, they really do not like Clinton even more. Any elector who feels he or she cannot in good conscience vote for Trump is more likely to be like this guy and resign, than cast a faithless vote for Clinton. Still, as Trump disavows all his campaign promises one-by-one, and more and more news breaks of his endless conflicts of interest, I guess there is an outside chance that between now and mid-December the shit could really hit the fan causing a deep and widespread revulsion to the guy.

I don't think faithless electors will deliver the Presidency to Clinton, but I do think there is a better chance of that then the recount changing the result.

It is also worth noting that if that long-shot happens and a bunch of electors break their pledge and deny Trump the presidency, there will be a shit-storm of epic proportions. Until recently that is why I was against using the electoral college to deny Trump the presidency. We would pay the cost of a constitutional crisis just to avoid a bad president. But since Trump has become president-elect, started to name his alt-rightist appointees and business cronies to positions of power, and has demonstrated his willingness to simply ignore constitutional provisions like the emoluments clause, I think we are heading for a constitutional crisis either way. So now I'm all for denying Trump the presidency in the electoral college. I just don't think it is going to happen.