Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Category: Government (Page 2 of 6)

Memorial Day is No Picnic

 

Memorial Day should take place in March, on a cold, miserable, stormy day; it should not herald the start of summer and easy weather.

 Memorial Day is a day of contemplation, not one of celebration. Not only should we remember and give tribute to those courageous enough to fight for our defense. We also should consider those who send children to war in avarice. 

 On Memorial Day, we necessarily look backward. We also must look ahead.

The human race is violent, yet we possess the capacity to live in peace.    The power to endure must overcome the will to vanquish. 

 Let us hope that wisdom guides those who must decide that preëmption is necessary for defense, not for conquest. 

The memory of good men and women of our nation must be honored in the wage of peace as well as battle.


BEAT! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!

Through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet-no happiness must he have now with
his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering
his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums-so shrill you bugles blow.

From Drum Taps, Walt Whitman

 

Are We There Yet? The Fifth Bankruptcy

It’s cold comfort to be right about Trump’s White House being a mess. It wasn’t just me; a lot of people, including a lot of Republicans, saw it coming. It brings no joy.  But all the same: We told you so. 

Trump’s messes are entirely his own. He can’t lay the blame on Charles Schumer, the Ninth Circuit or the Washington Post.  Mr. President, you’ve screwed the pooch but good.  Obama took his time.  Trump acts on impulse.  Personally, I’ll take the guy who measures twice and cuts once.

The latest is that Trump casually disclosed tippy-top secret information to two Russian officials in the Oval Office, filmed by official Russian photographers (U.S. press was excluded), possibly compromising Israel’s intelligence program and perhaps one or more of its agents.  Nice move, sir.  It couldn’t have been more effective if he’d sent it by email from his own private server. This one was so awful, Trump leaked the denials ahead of the stories.

Bibi, do you miss Barry yet?  Our allies should be shitting in their foundation garments.  Trump would give away NATO for an autograph – written in Cyrillic. I don’t know what the hell goes on with the Trump and his fanboy crush on Russian money.  Originally, it looked like Trump wanted to rule the U.S. the way Putin rules Russia.  At this point, I think he would be happy to go back to his Tower and his orange war paint. He is either brilliant or clueless.  I’ll take clueless for $800, Alex.  

Today I learned about the Dunning–Kruger effect.  Dunning and Kruger were two psychology students at Cornell. They conducted a study of self-assessment among students.  They formed a competent and an incompetent group of students. The competent ones underestimated their abilities, and the incompetent overstated theirs. Dunning and Kruger concluded:

The cognitive bias of illusory superiority is the result of internal illusion in people of low ability and of external mis-perception in people of high ability: “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”

In English now, they were too dumb to know how dumb they were.  Ringing any bells?

Maybe Trump knew what he didn’t know, but thought he could learn it.  He still ends up in the dunce corner, just not as profoundly dense as if he really thought he knew it.  That day he met Obama in the Oval Office after the election, he walked out of there, looking like he had the bejesus scared out of him.  It gave me hope:  a scared Trump, I reasoned, would be a cautious Trump.  Maybe I was hit with the Dunning-Kruger effect too.

One TV guy quipped last night that now we know what happens when we elect a non-politician to high office.  As much as we may despise the swamp, we can’t get rid of it. We can mix it up, alter the ph balance and occasionally rotate the creatures that dwell in it. The size and complexity of the U.S. require the swamp for its institutional memory and conventions of behavior.  In some things, predictability is necessary.  Unpredictability on the other hand and in Trump’s hands is downright terrifying.

 

 

 

 

Hacking the 2018 Congressional Midterm Elections

Voting suppression plan

The Kobach Agenda

It’s not like the White House has nothing better to do than chase down dubious  claims of voter fraud.  There are  missiles in Korea, independent thinkers in the Senate, resolute law enforcement officers in the FBI and dedicated career officers in the top level of National Security, determined not to let Trump create Armageddon. And despite all of these perils, or because of them, he has quietly announced the Election Integrity Commission to hunt down those missing three million or so presumed  Trump votes that vanished into thin air;  acommission of two so far, VP Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The President has announced that this will be a bipartisan commission, but its leadership plainly is partisan. He may eventually find a couple of Blue Dog Democrats to sign on, assuming that they can say to their relatively conservative contingencies back home that they are working across the aisle.

 Kobach currently is counsel to the Immigration Law Reform Institute.  As Kansas Secretary of State, he’s instituted some of the nation’s  harshest voting restriction practices.  In a post-election interview with Trump, Kobach was photographed carrying a document entitled “Department of Homeland Security – Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days.” The paper was seen only in passing, so its contents are not thoroughly known.  The plan rattles off a number of anti-Muslim measures that found their way into the thus-far unconstitutional travel bans.  Nevertheless, his proposed Homeland Security plan does refer to voting registration measures, intended no doubt to keep brown people away from the polls.  

Make no mistake. Kobach and Pence aren’t looking at 2016, They’ve got their eyes trained on 2018, and their commission will be recommending ways of restricting voter access in the midterm elections and after, efforts to keep the Trump voting bloc above the tide line of increasing non-white voters.

Kobach’s efforts to suppress votes is as old as Jim Crow and equally repressive.  This will not be a commission. It will be a nationwide effort to stage voter restrictions in states critical to maintaining GOP Congressional control. Kobach failed to attain the cabinet-level post he sought but will utilize the co-chairmanship of the Commission to spread his message and methods throughout the nation.  You can expect a short fact-finding mission followed by a fully-formed and rigorously reviewed list of “essential” reforms, drafted by legal experts trying to evade the constitutional  equal protection guarantees that have doomed most voter restriction laws to date. 

 

Hacking the 2020 Census

The Trump administration, running the executive branch like a three-card monte game, is trying to pull another fast one. Its next step in replacing majority-ruled government with a permanent, authoritarian plutocracy was unveiled yesterday. As we all chuffed over firing of FBI director James Comey, we were distracted from the resignation of John Thompson, Director of the Bureau of Census, over Congressional refusal to fund the 2020 Census adequately.

The seeds of 2020 electoral manipulation are being sown at the Department of Commerce. John Thompson had been with the Bureau since 1975. He tendered his resignation on May 10, ahead of his plan to retire at year-end. “Your experience will be greatly missed,” wrote Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as he booted Thompson out the door with his size 9 brogan. Or as the late songwriter Dan Hicks put it, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” So it is with Thompson. Ross gladly will miss Thompson’s knowledge of the logistics of obtaining an accurate census.

By Constitutional mandate the census is taken every decade, and the numbers are used to determine the number of districts in each state. In turn, the number of districts determines the state’s number of electors. The number of electors in each state is equal to the congressional delegation, which is the number of representatives in the House and Senate combined. The seats in Congress are reapportioned based on the census. Then each state legislature hacks itself into districts to match the number allocated by the census. This is where gerrymandering comes into play. Eldridge Gerry, a founder, became famous for reshaping the districts of Massachusetts in 1810 to maintain dominance of his party. One district took the shape of a salamander. Hence, the term, gerrymandering,” representing the manipulation of a district’s shape to affect the political outcome.

If the underlying principle of democracy is “one person, one vote,” then getting the number of persons correct is a paramount concern. Yet, John Thompson was struggling with Congress to get more funding from Congress to modernize the data collection process.

The Republican-controlled Congress saw no reason to upgrade the data collection system if it would cost more than the 2010 collection. That’s where they drew the monetary line, even though the new electronic data collection system was proposed as the investment in long-term cost-cutting measures. Congress was happy with the 2010 results, and it saw no reason to ramp up the system. Hacking the census is another means of keeping American leadership in the hands of old, conservative white men. Some of the House members have requests in to use the old-style printouts to make Snoopy pictures for their kids.

Voter suppression takes many forms, and misreporting of the census is fundamental. Errors in the raw numbers skew the apportionment of representatives so that it is effectively beyond the reach of legal action. In other words, counting heads is a political function. If we get that wrong, the error taints all that follows.

Most of the alleged anti-voting fraud laws enacted in the last few years have been overturned. Still, Congress repealed a vital part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In addition, many state legislatures have shown the inclination to suppress voting claiming fraud as a pretext. The party in power in a state with a growing non-establishment population base has an incentive to minimize its impact on voting. The less reliable and transparent the counting system, the greater the possibility for mischief. No doubt, the Congressional majority would be happy with a back-of-the-envelope tally. So what if a couple of people – or neighborhoods or – cities are under-reported?

© 2017 Revolted Colonies

Mildly Nauseous, Comey Dies of Complications

President Trump summarily dumped James Comey, the FBI director whose  July admonishment of Hillary Clinton and October surprise may have affected the outcome of the 2016 election in  Trump’s favor.  These were the reasons Trump gave yesterday when he dispatched Comey by public letter, shocking and humiliating Comey while he  spoke with a group of Los Angeles agents. That’s no way to treat the guy who helped him get the job. 

Trump fired Comey the week following his testimony before a Senate committee  investigating Russia’s hack of the 2016 election. Comey said that the investigation was ongoing, which pretty much rang the President’s bell.  Comey was on death watch since last July.  The timing of his professional demise nevertheless is suspicious. After all, based on the particulars given,Trump could have dumped him months ago, along with Preet Bharara and Sally Yates, two other Obama appointees held over temporarily and then booted for political reasons. Comey’s takedown of Clinton earned him a couple of extra months on the chopping block. Think of it as severance. 

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, calls for a special investigation are coming from both sides of the aisle. Trump’s standing with Congressional Republicans is shakier than his relationship to the truth. The 2018 midterm elections are not far away.  The incumbent’s party usually takes a licking in the midterms. Because of the Trumpcare fiasco, they’re shaping up as a debacle already. Add the Russia investigation to the mix and you’ve got the makings of epic disaster.

Forcing Trump from office in favor of Mike Pence would be a balm for the GOP but it can’t happen quickly enough to salvage the party’s hopes. In fact, Trump was elected because of the decomposition of the Republican Party. These “halcyon” days of the new administration have proven that Trump is not one to unite the party, any more than he is fit to govern. 

The daily jolts landed to the body politic bear frightful reminders of Watergate. When Nixon’s ordeal finally was over, relieved citizens proclaimed that the Constitution worked. Paraphrasing an AA program slogan, the Constitution works if you work the Constitution. 

It falls to the Republicans in control of Congress to speed the end of America’s electoral disgrace, even if it means Mike Pence in the Oval Office. We would all be better off with a more conventional lunatic running the asylum. 

“You Fucked Up. You Trusted Us.”

Trusted

In a country which calls the championship of its national pastime the World Series, what did you really expect about Universal Healthcare?

Hide the Aircraft Carrier

That Prez! He’s practiced at the art of deception, alright.  This time he snagged a lot of ordinarily careful people. Like Rachel Maddow.  Last night, Rachel’s opening stemwinder was about making the Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson disappear.  It started last Saturday when Reuters published an item, leaked from the White House no doubt, that the Carrier group was steaming for the Sea of Japan, to be ready just in case. “Freedonia’s going to war,” is what most pundits concluded.

On Sunday the administration had placed its gray eminences on the Sunday talk shows, ready to be questioned on the bold stroke of pointing this flotilla at North Korea.  McMaster, Mattis, and Spicer the following day said that it would be a prudent thing to do. The Prez himself went a little further (doesn’t he always?), saying that we were sending an Armada.  He didn’t say where.  In fact, the Carrier group was never ordered to the Sea of Japan. It was conducting exercises in the Southern Hemisphere with our buddies from Australia.

But wait! They all said – !

Said what?  “It would be prudent?”   Didn’t think these guys were subtle enough for the conditional?  You think that only OJ “If I Killed Her” Simpson has that kind of pizzazz.  A lot of the press was careless, failing to follow up vague answers with specific questions.  They were made to look foolish.  

For the often brilliant Maddow, it’s becoming a habit. She gushed over a 20-year-old Trump tax return that said nothing.  Last night, she joined the many who didn’t pay close enough attention to get the story right because they were rushing to get out a sensational news item.  Only it was bunk.  Fool me once…I guess Dubya was wrong – they got fooled again.  Rachel has not been on top of her game lately.

Aside from fooling the press, who did the Administration think was getting conned? Surely, anyone with a satellite can track the movement of a carrier group.  China must have known there was no forward fleet.  North Korea must have known too. Even if the Beloved Leader’s satellites dropped out of the sky, China would have passed along the message. Unless of course, North Korea hadn’t gotten the fake news in the first place. 

 The Prez is known to be a fan of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. He thinks Sun is terrific. He hoped to get him a seat in the cabinet or at least pitch him to do a speaking tour with Frederick Douglas, another rising star.  The Art of War teaches:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

That might have worked in 500 B.C., but surveillance has improved since them. Trump may well hide his true intentions but he made fools of the press first and his administration second.  Won’t get fooled again?  Right.

Nuclear Options

How strange but fitting that the U.S. Senate uses the nuclear option of ultimate annhiliation as metaphor for repealing the filibuster on Supeme Court nominations. After all, the appointment of a judge to the nation’s highest court for a lifetime is the most consequential selection entrusted to the Senate.  Because 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster, in effect the same number was needed for the Senate to approve a nominee. In theory at least.  But when Neil Gorsuch’s nomination is approved by a simple majority of senators today, it will be the result of yesterday’s repeal of the filibuster rule on Supeme Court appointments.  Ka-boom.

McConnell and Schumer, Majority and Minority leaders, both say that the filibuster will not be repealed on legislative matters, but why not? If they’ve adopted a take-no-prisoners approach to their most solemn executive appointment, why not lower the bar for more mundane matters, such as health care? I would add the power to declare war but Congress surrendered that one years ago.   They just pay the bills and let the President declare and conduct wars on his own.

Now,  the U.S. Secretary of State has said, in reference to North Korea, that all options are on the table— which would include an option to drop a nuclear bomb on the Hermit Kingdom.  The nuclear option as non-metaphor. That table he’s talking about might be a gold-encrusted banquet at which Trump and Xi dine at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, in the secure cocoon of the Secret Service and a few hundred of the Palm Beach nobility out for a big night.  Out of stone crabs, are we? I’d dreaded the day that generals ran the country’s foreign policy, but under current circumstances, it’s reassuring. At least, they know what real nuclear options are.

So, our beloved Senate, a bastion of restraint and experience, is as divided as Korea. The parties are so polarized that the two caucuses have lost the ability to compromise. They cannot talk across party aisles, even when the unity of Americans as one people is at stake.  Nuclear option is an apt description after all for a policy that can alter forever the politics of the republic.

Despite the extremes of public opinion, a relatively restrained, conservative and collegial Senate once horse-traded its way to centrist politics.  In a good settlement, everybody walks away slightly unhappy. But there will be few settlements if a minority has no leverage against strict party-line majority voting. There will be no balance in government, only a pendulum swinging in a wider, scarier arc.

 

 

 

Rex Points His Roscoe at the Hermit Kingdom

North Korea Problem

A Brain Teaser

It feels almost normal around here. The sun is shining, spring is near, and the top story today was not about Russia.  Today’s big news is that Rex Tillerson, our strong but silent Secretary of State, made headlines during his East Asia trip. Passing from Tokyo, through Seoul, in route to Beijing, Tillerson took aim at the world’s blackest sheep – The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. So much for those Americans who complain we don’t have a democracy anymore. If the Hermit Kingdom has one, well then, so do we.

Now, Junior, Behave Yourself

North Korea is officially the world’s bad actor – even though it has not acted much.  It’s detonated nuclear bombs, and it’s built ballistic missiles.  The missiles, not so much, keep falling into the water, but one day they’ll get that figured out.  When they do, they plan on lobbing one of those babies across the Pacific right at us.  In the meantime, California, itself in breakaway mode, is ramping up its own anti-missile shield to redirect any incoming to the Mojave Desert – or Utah.

America’s top diplomat does not intend to wait for Kim-Jong to get his load on. Old Tex Tillerson is aiming his Peacemakers right there into the heart of downtown Pyongyang.  He announced at a joint press conference in Seoul with  South Korea’s Foreign Minister that the era of Strategic Patience is over.

Losing Strategic Patience

“If [the North Koreans] elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe that requires action, [the military] option is on the table.”  In the world of nuclear haves and have-nots, there are two strategies of dealing with atomic wanna-bes.  One is imminence – striking against a country when their nuclear program is about to reach operational level.  The other is preemption – taking action before operational level is reached.  Preemption is tricky, though.  Only Israel has played the preemption card in bombing Iranian nuclear facilities when the program was in its infancy. How soon is too soon; or soon enough?

Strategic Patience, the policy formed by the Obama administration, was an attempt to draw a third position between the two.  Obama began his Presidency looking for a diplomatic resolution with North Korea, who responded to his outstretched hand by setting off a nuclear test and a multi-stage rocket launch. Goodbye, Era of Good Feelings.  Obama countered with sanctions and censure by the United Nations.   It’s said that Dear Leader hung up the Censure Resolution in his workshop alongside his chemistry set.

Around the Water Cooler

According to the latest chatter, North Korea is preparing for another round of nuclear tests, which bring Tillerson to his first High Noon moment.  The problem of course is that this is no mano-a-mano contest.  The U.S. is defending South Korea, an economic giant. China, Tillerson’s next stop on the whistle tour, is North Korea’s only trading partner. Japan, which is in the line of fire, has issues with both North Korea and China, and it’s not looking for a fight.  Which explains why Tillerson held back his announcement until he left Tokyo and before traveling to Beijing.

Rex and Wang Play for High Stakes 

Beijing does not like the idea of the U.S. and South Korea carrying out exercises in East Asia, so it surely won’t like the idea of military action or involuntary dismantling of the North Koreans. The Chinese have warned the U.S. about the accelerating hostilities but has been unwilling to act. Officially, if favors talks (how Obama-like!) and will make concessions to keep its ally in line.  But as Tillerson has pointed out, strategic patience is like slow-boiling a frog. By the time you know you’re in the hot pot, it’s too late. Besides, China won’t benefit from opening North Korea It does fine having a captive client state on its doorstep.

North Korea is the kind of place that starts wars bigger than itself.  Think Serbia for rabid nationalism, a history of violence and a penchant for self-destructiveness.  The U.S. and China are smart enough to realize that North Korea could strike a match just as the Serbians started World War I by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary.  The two superpowers must reach agreement on how to stop the Sun of Socialism from joining the nuclear fraternity without blowing everyone else up.

© 2017 The Revolted Colonies ™

Beltway Media, Are You Listening?

Despite all the self-flagellation over  missing the story of the 2016 Presidential election, the pundits of the Beltway still don’t seem to get it.  Last night, the President gave a speech to – or past – a joint session of Congress.  Past, because it was not really intended for the members.  He spoke of American greatness and American destiny, which have been forfeited by the Obama administration.  Trump, in effect, gave an update of his stump speech. Then, former Kentucky Governor, Steve Beshear, followed with the Democratic response, from a diner in Lexington, Ky. Surrounded by a few customers presumably or hostages, perhaps,   Beshear, elderly, dressed in a cardigan, a Mr. Rogers for the People, peered at the camera with his pale blue eyes and grandfatherly smile, telling the President and the audience that, in spite of the Presidential breast-beating, in the first month of the new administration, nothing has been done to help working families.  

The pundits pounded away on both Trump and Beshear. Trump brought nothing new, no detail.  Apart from a Justice Department task force on violence, which is not targeting hate crimes, he proposed no steps to curb the racial and anti-Semitic violence he finally condemned.   The rest of the speech was aspirational, laying out his agenda and asking for a bipartisan Congress to act on it.  “Act on what?” cried the pundits, who pointed out that Trump peppered his statement with 51 misstatements of fact during a 60-minute speech.  

Beshear, they complained, was a dumb choice; a Bobby Jindal moment for the Democrats, who should have pushed forward one of their young Turks: Christopher Murphy, one of the Castro brothers, even Chuck Schumer for crying out loud!  Beshear is a slow, old tub, when what they need is a turbo-charged speedboat.

As Archie Bunker would have said, “Wrong again, Maude!”  Beshear and Trump were both speaking over the heads of the pundits and politicians, going straight to the heart of mid-America.  Beshear won’t be running for President, but he was there to remind folks that Democrats also live in the heartland, and they are watching out for their neighbors and fellow worshippers.  Before rolling out Democrat 2018, they are trying to claw back some of what they lost in 2016.  Beshear was there to say that the Democrats care, just like a friendly Grampa, not like that Wall Street-loving plutocrat in the White House.

The Beltway media need to get out a little more and talk to somebody besides each other.  The two parties know where control of power lies, and they are reaching out to connect to Uncle Henry and Auntie Em.  The pundits are fact-checking when they should be minding the storm-cellar.

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