Sunday, June 18, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I thought I'd start with some comments on the Trump-Russia mess. As far as I can tell (and this isn't very high on the list of things I worry about these days), there are four separate things that need to be investigated and understood:

  1. What (if anything) Russia did to affect the course and outcome of the 2016 elections, and (harder to say) did this have any actual impact on the results. You might want to delve deeper and understand why they did what they did, although there's little chance they will be forthcoming on the subject, so you're likely to wind up with little but biased speculation. [I suspect the answer here is that they did a lot of shit that ultimately had very little impact.]

  2. Did the meetings that various people more/less tied to the Trump campaign had with various Russians (both officials and non-officials with ties to the Russian leadership) discuss Russian election ops. In particular, did Trump's people provide any assistance or direction to the Russians. [Seems unlikely, but hard to tell given that the people involved have repeatedly lied, and been caught lying, about meetings, so what they ultimately admit to isn't credible -- unless some sort of paper trail emerges, such as Sislyak's communiques to Moscow.]

  3. Did Trump's people, in their meetings with various Russians, make or imply any changes in US policy toward Russia that might reward or simply incline the Russians to try to help Trump's campaign and/or hinder Clinton's campaign? [This seems likely, as the campaign's public statements imply a less punitive tilt toward Russia, but it could be meant for future good will rather than as any sort of quid pro quo for campaign help. The Russians, of course, could have found this reason enough to help Trump vs. Clinton. Again, we don't know what transpired in the meetings, and the fact that Trump's people have lied about them doesn't look good.]

  4. Did Trump and/or his people seek to obstruct the investigation, especially by the Department of Justice, into the above? [It's pretty clear now that they did, and that Trump was personally involved. It's not clear whether this meets the usual requirements for prosecution -- for instance, it's not clear that there has been any fabrication of evidence or perjury, but there clearly have been improper attempts to apply political pressure to (in the quaint British phrasing) pervert the course of justice.]

The problem is that even though these questions seem simple and straightforward, they exist in a context that is politically highly charged. Again, there are several dimensions to this:

  1. Clinton and her supporters were initially desperate to find any reason other than their candidate and campaign to explain her surprise loss to one of the most unappealing (and objectively least popular) major party candidates in history, so they were quick to jump on the Russian hacking story (as well as Comey's handling of the email server fiasco). Early on, they were the main driving force behind the story. [This made it distasteful for people like me who thought she was a bad candidate, but also helped turn it into a blatantly partisan issue, where Trump supporters quickly became blindered to any attacks on their candidate.]

  2. A second group of influential insiders had reason to play up a Russia scandal: the neocon faction of the security meta-state, who have all along wanted to play up Russia as a potential enemy because their security state only makes sense if they can point to threats. If Trump came into office thinking he could roll back sanctions and reverse US policy on Russia, they would have to hustle to stop him, and blowing up his people's Russia contacts into a full-fledged scandal helped do the trick. [This is pretty much fait accompli at this point, although Trump himself isn't very good at sticking to his script. But while some Republicans chafe, the Democrats have been completely won over to a hard-line policy on Russia, even though rank-and-file Democrats are overwhelmingly anti-war. One result here is that by posturing as hawks Democrat politicians are losing their credibility with their party's base -- recapitulating one of Clinton's major problems in 2016.]

  3. As the scandal has blown up, Democrats increasingly see it as a way of focusing opposition to Trump and disrupting the Republican agenda. Meanwhile, Republicans feel the need to defend Trump (even to the point of crippling investigation into the scandal) in order to get their agenda back on track. Thus narrow legal matters have become broad political ones, turning not on facts but on opinions. [This makes them impossible to adjudicate via normal procedures, and guarantees that whatever investigators find will be dismissed to large numbers of people who put their allegiances ahead of the facts. Ultimately, then, the issues will have to be weighed by the voters, who by the time they get a chance will have plenty of other distractions. Meanwhile the Democrats are missing countless scandals and even worse policy moves, while Republicans are getting away with -- well, "murder" may not be the choicest word here, but if Republicans pass their Obamacare repeal many more people will die unnecessarily than even America's itchy trigger-fingers can account for.]

Here are some links on subjects related to Trump/Russia:

Someone named James T Hodgkinson took a rifle to a baseball field in Arlington, VA where several Republican members of Congress (and a few hangers-on) were practicing for a charity baseball game, and started shooting. He wounded five, most seriously Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) before he in turn was shot and killed by police. Hodgkinson had a long history of writing crank letters-to-the-editor, as well as a history of run-ins with the law, including complaints of domestic abuse and shooting guns into trees, but he was also virulently anti-Trump, so right-wing talking heads had a field day playing the victim. Still, it's doubtful that this brief experience of terror will move any of the Republicans against the wars we export abroad, let alone question their vow of allegiance to the NRA. Some relevant links:

  • Angelina Chapin: The Virginia gunman is a reminder: domestic abusers are a danger to society

  • Esme Cribb: Steve King Partly Blames Obama for Divisive Politics That Led to Shooting

  • David Frum: Reinforcing the Boundaries of Political Decency: He declares that "across the political spectrum, there is only revulsion" to acts like the shooting members of Congress, he notes that we're much less repulsed when our politicians and commentators threaten violence:

    In the wake of this crime, as after the Gabby Giffords attack in 2011, we'll soon be talking about whether and when political rhetoric goes too far. It's an important conversation to have, and the fact that the president of the United States is himself the country's noisiest inciter of political violence does not give license to anyone else to do the same. Precisely because the president has put himself so outside the boundary of political decency, it is vitally important to define and defend that border. President Trump's delight in violence against his opponents is something to isolate and condemn, not something to condone or emulate.

    What Frum doesn't note is that while assassination is still frowned on here inside America, it is official government policy to hunt down and kill select people who offend us abroad, as well as anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity of one of our targets.

  • Charlie May: Trump's favorite right-wing websites aren't listening to his calls for unity following GOP shooting: As Alex Jones put it: "The first shots of the second American Civil War have already been fired." Nor was it just the alt-right that wanted to jump on the shooting to score cheap shots against the left: see Brendan Gauthier: New York Times tries, fails to blame Virginia shooting on Bernie Sanders.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Don't miss the point on Alexandria and San Francisco: There is a solution for mass shootings: The San Francisco shooting didn't get anywhere near the press of the one in Alexandria, despite greater (albeit less famous) carnage: "an angry employee went into a UPS facility and opened fire, killing three co-workers and himself."

    Mother Jones gathers data on mass shootings and has pretty strict criteria for inclusion: The shooting must happen in a public place and result in three or more deaths. This leaves out many incidents in which people are only injured, such as the shooting of 10 people in Philadelphia last month, or those that take place on on private property, such as the recent killing of eight people in Mississippi during a domestic violence shooting spree. (The Gun Violence Archive collects incidents that involve the shooting of two or more victims. It is voluminous.)

    According to the Mother Jones criteria, yesterday's Virginia shooting doesn't even count since it didn't meet the death threshold. The San Francisco UPS shooting does, bring the total of such mass shootings to six so far this year. . . .

    Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims. More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President Donald Trump was right to speak about "carnage" in America in his inaugural address. He just didn't acknowledge that the carnage is from gun violence.

    OK, another boring gun control piece ensues. And no doubt fewer guns (better regulated, less automatic) would reduce those numbers. Still, there are other reasons why America is so trigger-happy, and change there would also help. For starters, we've been at war almost continuously for seventy-five years, with all that entails, from training people to kill to cheering them when they do, and making it easier by dehumanizing supposed enemies. We've internalized war to the point that we habitually treat projects or causes as wars, which often as not leads to their militarization (as in the "war on drugs"). We've increasingly turned politics into a bitter, no holds, drag out brawl; i.e., a war. And we've allowed corporations to be run like armies, which is one reason so many mass shootings are job-related (or loss-of-job-related). Another is that we've increasingly shredded the safety net, especially when it comes to getting help for mental health problems. (Veterans still get more help in that regard, but not enough.) It might help to require companies to provide counseling to laid-off workers (or if that's too much of an imposition, let the public pick up the tab). Free (or much cheaper) education would also help. Decriminalizing drugs would definitely help. And then there's this notion, from a tweet by Sen. Rand Paul:

    Why do we have a Second Amendment? It's not to shoot deer. It's to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!

    That notion proved impractical as early as the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion. The Second Amendment actually spoke of well-regulated militias, which the various states maintained up to the Civil War. Once that was over, the role for such militias (and as such the Amendment) vanished, until it was refashioned by opportunistic politicians and activist judges to give any crackpot a chance to kill his neighbors. As Alexandria shows, that right doesn't help anyone. But then the left half of the political spectrum already knew that, partly because they've much more often been the targets of crackpots, and partly because they've generally retained the ability to reason about evidence.

  • Charles Pierce: When White People Realize American Politics Are Violent: "It's not news to anyone else." He notes America's long history of political violence, including lynchings and a couple of wholesale racist massacres, but also mentioning an attack on miners in Colorado. Pierce then turned around and wrote: This Is Not an Ideal Time to Have White Supremacists Infiltrating Law Enforcement. Come on, is there ever a time when it was harmless much less ideal? I recalled a prime example from fifty-some years ago, a guy named Bull Connor. (By the way, when I went to check the name, I also found this story: Deputy shoots dog after many loses everything in trailer fire. The man was then charged with disorderly conduct, but acquitted. One of many understatements: "The Madison County Sheriff's Department has seen greater problems than the shooting of a dog.")

Some scattered links this week in Trump's many other (and arguably much more important) scandals:

And finally some other items that caught my eye:

Ask a question, or send a comment.