Category Archives: opinion

That Damned Constitution Again!

A few days ago, Donald Trump admitted that he has no idea what he is talking about. It is a startling admission from a man who leads the free world. But there you have it.

Am I exaggerating? I think not. Who can forget when candidate Trump was asked what his views on NATO were. Without hesitating, he said it was “obsolete”. He recently admitted had no idea how to answer the question. Now he knows better.  Errr … let’s set aside for a moment that a sane individual might have said that  I will be taking a close look at NATO or something like that. But without any idea what he was talking about, Trump just said, “Burn the house down.”  And now errr … “belay that –  Don’t burn the house down.”

The Marx brothers could not do better.

Which leads us to our current Trump created crisis – whether the Trump Administration can withhold funding from cities that hold themselves out as “sanctuaries”, protecting immigrants from Trump immigration policies. A Federal judge said that doing so would likely violate the constitution.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the order’s enforcement, effectively preventing the administration from pulling federal funds from the sanctuary jurisdictions that sued and others that may likewise feel their federal funding is at risk if they don’t go along with Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

Trump went on a tweet storm lashing the 9th circuit for this. Errr … except of course that the decision did not come from the 9th circuit.  Again, see what I mean? Why do we even bother listening to this guy?

But here is the weird thing. The judicial order in question actually applies a principle laid down a few years ago by Justice Roberts in the Obamacare case. Roberts articulated a conservative principle that limits federal power to “hold a gun” to local government heads to force them to do the bidding of the feds. And that is exactly what Trump wants to do here.

So here is the question. Assuming Trump appeals to the 9th circuit and then the Supreme Court. What will Roberts day now? And what about our buddy sitting in the stolen seat?

Stay tuned!

BTW, I just heard about the legal argument of the justice department in the district court. The argument was that the president’s order was so vague, it could not be determined if it affected San Fransisco or the other jurisdiction that sued.  Defending on the basis of poor drafting?  That is indeed a new low.


Trump’s Obsession with Winning Makes Him a Loser

Donald Trump’s favorite rhetoric is about winning. He likes to brand his opponents “losers”. And he likes to celebrate “wins” even if they are nothing of the kind.  He holds himself out as the ultimate “winner”.

BTW, this is classic Dave Logan level 3 talk. Boiling down that kind of talk, it is “I am great and everyone else sucks”.  That implies that no matter what happens, Donald Trump wins. He has to, or his view of the world will be shaken. And because he has to win, he cannot be trusted to play by any “rules of the game”. He will change the rules or just ignore them so that he can emerge from the game as a winner. And it matters not if his behavior hurts you or anyone else. That is less important than him winning. After all, I apologize for reminding you, but you suck anyway in his view of the world.

So you can imagine what is going on at the White House these days. Trump is coming up on 100 days in office and has no credible wins. HOW COULD THAT BE? Worse still, it is not likely that he will get any big wins.

The reason is very simple. Washington is filled with politicians. To get a political win with these folks, you must persuade them to vote your way, They will only do that if it makes it more likely that this will get them re-elected.

Who can be persuaded that going along with a big Trump deal will get them re-elected? Forget the democrats. Their constituents would flay them alive if they voted with Trump on taxes or health care reform or building a wall on the Mexican border. And the republicans? A few might do a deal if it were well crafted. But they already tried that with Trumpcare and it turned out that they could not craft anything that was credible. Plus, a Trump deal will not look like “true blue conservatism”.  Thus, while republicans hold majorities in both houses, that does not translate into reliable voting majorities.

Oh, and if you have not noticed, Trump is polling at abysmally low numbers.

See what I mean? Trump is not in a strong position here and there is not much he can do to strengthen his position in the near term. So he is likely to pass by the 100-day mark with no major victories. Worse still, he (and we) may get yet another government shut down.  From experience, we know that no one emerges from that type of unforced error looking like a winner. Using golf terminology, you are left with the unappetizing task of salvaging a bogey after slicing your drive into the woods.

So what will Trump do if things shake out this way? I do not expect any bold new directions. That would require courage, and I have not seen much evidence that Trump has that energy consuming character trait. I do expect him to continue to fake it. It is, after all, what he is good at … errrr … very good at. He will make a big deal over continuing to sign lots of meaningless executive orders. He may start doing more campaign-style speeches where he vilifies democrats like Elizabeth Warren.  He may start lashing out again at Hillary. Perhaps he will invade Grenada or some other Carribean island so that he can build a Trump hotel there. But, paraphrasing Disraeli, it will become more and more obvious that the man sits like an exhausted volcano at the bottom of the ocean.

Oh. He may try to give Jim Comey a call. Would Jim be willing to call off those nasty FBI investigators in return for something? Errr … and just what would Trump have to offer at this point? Straight-laced Jim already had his guts ripped out for trashing Hillary before the vote. My guess is that he will not likely want to experience that again on behalf of the Donald, especially after evidence of numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence has already leaked out to the public.

Stay tuned!

Was it All Hillary’s Fault?

A primer in the difference between tactics and strategy

A new book on the Clinton campaign called “Shattered” offers a supposed “insiders” view of what went wrong.

Before saying anything more, we might reflect for a moment on this approach to writing history.  There is little doubt that quite a few potential readers are still appalled by what happened in the last election. How could ANYONE lose to Donald Trump? Therefore, there is a temptation to argue that something was wrong with the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was their fault – her fault – that we got Trump. And the fault was something that should not have happened. In other words, Trump was elected because of tactical blunders that could have been avoided. That is what some folks want to hear and will pay money for to read in a book. And so it is no surprise that this is the message that is offered. The Hillary campaign screwed up.

Should we buy that argument?  At least one staffer disputes that the book gets the mood inside the campaign right And we might keep in mind that Hillary actually won the election as per the popular vote. If she had won the electoral college, this book probably would not have been written at all. Instead, we would have gotten a book about how clever Hillary was to rise above her 2008 loss to Barrack Obama.  Get my point?

But the fact is that Hillary lost the electoral college vote. And she did so because she and her campaign ignored certain signs that things were not ok in the upper midwest and Florida. She thought that there was a “democratic wall” there. Trump broke through that wall and squeaked out a victory by the tiniest of margins.

As Matt Taibbi writes, failing to see that danger was the result of poor strategy, not just tactics. Who is to blame for that? Matt thinks it is not just a Hillary issue, but a Washington beltway navel-gazing sort of thing. Bernie understood the strategic dynamic. Hillary didn’t. And I think Matt nails it. The campaign may have done all the right things from a tactical perspective, but did not have the right strategy that enabled them to see how to win.

When you boil it all down to the essentials, the real strategic problem may be the perception that candidates and campaigns lead popular opinion rather than follow it. Hillary thought she could lead the various factions that comprised the democratic party coalition. And she did lead those groups. Trump followed the public mood and gave lots of people exactly the kind of rhetoric that they wanted to hear. That strategy worked for Trump. Hillary’s strategy worked less well in this election.

So who can shape the public’s opinions? Ironically, experience shows that no one can do that unless they signal that they are listening. Policial dialogue is a two-way conversation. It is not just spouting off campaign slogans no matter what.   Hillary offered her message and I think she was clear about it — again, from a tactical point of view. It was just that that particular message was not the one that resonated enough in this particular election cycle.  She was an insider when lots of people wanted an outsider. And she could not fake being an outsider the way that Trump could fake it.

So in the end, who is to blame for Trump getting elected? Are voters to blame for buying into Trump’s phony-baloney campaign promises? Perhaps. Are conservative news outlets to blame for pumping up the anger over nothing? Perhaps. Are Russian hackers to blame for shifting the focus of news to fake stories? Perhaps. Is Hillary to blame for not being a better suited candidate for this setting? Perhaps.

These questions, I think, are less interesting than what we all will learn from this disaster — if anything.  Stay tuned.

Strangling ISIS

A new Rand report argues that the so-called Caliphate that ISIS declared is on the path to destruction.  ISIS is losing territory and population at a considerable pace.This map is instructive

ISIS territory

Lost territory and population means lost revenue. It is also less influential than it was in recruiting new members.

That is the good news. The bad news is that ISIS will not disappear any time too soon. It is morphing into a clandestine operation that will try to continue making terrorist attacks.

“Fully eliminating the threat the Islamic State poses will require continued American leadership for years to come,” the report said. “… In the short and perhaps medium terms, this contraction in territorial control may actually lead to more terrorist attacks across the globe. But over time, the group’s capacity to recruit, fund, organize, and inspire such attacks will likely diminish, and its brand may lose its allure if the Islamic State no longer controls territory in Iraq and Syria.”

Hopefully, ISIS will be dislodged from Mosul soon.  That operation by the Iraqi security forces is going more slowly than expected.

Trump’s Earth Day Statement: An Insult to Our Intelligence

This is what the man

“Our Nation is blessed with abundant natural resources and awe-inspiring beauty. Americans are rightly grateful for these God-given gifts and have an obligation to safeguard them for future generations …. My Administration is committed to keeping our air and water clean, to preserving our forests, lakes, and open spaces, and to protecting endangered species,”

WTF? Where to start? HuffPo offers a glimpse at what Trump is doing that will damage the environment.

The man has no shame. But we know that already.

The Stakes for Putin are High in the French Election

France is the latest western power to hold an election that might reshape Europe and the western alliance.

First was Brexit that pulled the UK out of the EU (though not out of NATO). Then Donald Trump was elected president in the US. We need to say anything other than mention the slew of investigations about Russian influence in the elections. And now we have the French presidential election.

Here is the thing — two candidates are very friendly to Putin

Marine Le Pen — who has said she admires Putin and thinks sanctions on Russia are “completely stupid” — traveled to Moscow in late March to meet with the Russian president. Francois Fillon, who developed a close relationship with Putin between 2008-2012, is a tireless defender of Kremlin policies: He has sought to justify Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, demanded that the US lift its Crimea-related sanctions, and has advocated for France to realign with Russia, Iran, and Syrian president Bashar Assad to fight terrorism.

If either of these candidates is elected, Europe will be altered profoundly. It would not take too much imagination to envision Putin trying to tip the scales. Here is the NYT blurb

The presidential election on Sunday is one of the most consequential in recent times — not just for France, but for Europe — and one of the most unpredictable, too.

Hold on to your hat. We will not know how this shakes out for a few weeks.

We are Getting Gorsuched on the Environment!

This quote got my attention

(A) perfect storm of anti-environmental conservatism now seems poised to strike against our environmental agencies and laws with a destructive force never before seen in our modern era.

It is from a Vox article that tracks the history of republican opposition to the environmental protection movement. Part of the story relates back to Neil Gorsuch’s mom, who was head of the EPA under Reagan.

Anyone who believes that the environment needs protection should check out the article  The bottom line is this – conservative opposition to environmental protection has its roots in its strategy to win elections – labeling policies that they don’t like as “elitist”.

This is not just about the environment. It has extended beyond that to an attack against scientific method to inform policy making. Folks who think science has a place in policy making may rant and rave and howl at the moon. But that will not turn back this tide.

To do that, we need to build a counter-storyline that persuades folks that the attacks against science are a front for something ugly. And we need a voice that can deliver this sort of message to the rural voters who up until now have been duped by opportunistic types like Gingrich, Trump and others.

Can we do this? Stay tuned!