Category: U.S. Politics (Page 1 of 21)

Weinstein, Trump, and the crisis of confidence in rule of law

Donald Trump’s politicization of the Justice Department hurts faith in rule of law when it is sorely needed. Film producer Harvey Weinstein has been investigated before for sexual abuse, and now, with many more allegations coming out publicly, it is likely that he might have faced serious investigations under any administration.

Yet the appearance of conflict-of-interest and the demonstrated intent of applying law politically casts an inescapable lack of confidence under anything the Justice Department does now. The admissions by Trump that he made explicit political calculations when staffing the Department of Justice and pressured the DOJ to investigate his enemies (Trump says he wouldn’t have picked Sessions if he knew he’d recuse himself, After attacking AG Jeff Sessions for failing to investigate Hillary Clinton, Trump won’t say if he will fire him, Comey documented Trump request to drop Flynn investigation in memo) imply that he would use, or try to use, his power to attack any political enemy he can.

Now it is reported in the Daily Mail that the FBI is opening up an investigation into Weinstein at the behest of the DOJ (although “it is unknown whether the DOJ order came directly from Sessions”). There’s a 90 percent chance that this is justified entirely on the facts of the case. In almost any other administration, there would be closer to 99 percent confidence.

We know how Trump responds to crimes committed by his political allies: he pardons them.

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One month after Hurricane Harvey: Texan Resilience

I’ve been here in Houston for about three weeks now and the atmosphere remains positive in the outer rim of the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area. Granted, I understand that the inner city was hit hard, particularly 3rd Ward and South Houston (which is actually its own separate municipality entirely resulting in FEMA and state oversight), but the fact remains that people were still hit hard out in rural areas. Rich or poor, a flood still takes a painful if not deadly toll.

I did mud and muck removal in hard hit areas of New Caney, Glen Loch in The Woodlands, River Plantation up near Conroe. We trudged through unimaginable filth. Some homeowners had left copious amounts of meat inside the refrigerator before the deluge forced them to evacuate. My time moving furniture and appliances for St. Vincent de Paul lulled me into a complacency of thinking that I was an expert at moving a fridge, but not this kind of fridge. I found out the hard way that fridges are not waterproof (why did I assume they were?). Not only did the floodwater get into the fridge, but when the waters around the fridge receded, somehow the water inside the fridge stayed. We encountered the fridge at about 23 days after the flood—23 days of meat marinating in essentially sewer water.

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Trump’s UN Speech: Make Nation-States Great Again

Donald Trump made his UN debut last week with a speech that it is fair to say will be remembered for a long time. To say that people didn’t know what to expect may perhaps not be completely accurate. Many surely expected the usual bluster and bombast, leavened with a dose of the usual Trumpian bon mots and hyperbole. As it turned out, there was more substance to the speech than many expected, whether they agreed with that substance or not. There was also the small matter of threatening to nuke North Korea back to the Stone Age.

Trump opened with mention of the hurricanes that had battered Texas and Florida, thanking those leaders who had aided America or offered to do so. This was the usual diplomatic play-nice language to lay the ground for the rest of the speech. This was followed by a celebration of the successes of the American people and economy since Trump’s election, with mention of the stock market performance, employment growth, companies moving back and another massive increase in military spending to the tune of $700 billion. At least in this regard, Trump is a perfectly conventional US president, as apparently the way to win wars is to buy one’s way to victory.

Trump also covered the positive steps forward in science, technology and medicine that are undoubtedly revolutionising everything about our lives around the world today, whether for good or ill it is hard to know. He then moved onto the obstacles in the way of this Whiggish path of history, describing the threats to the world that include terrorism, extremism and rogue regimes; authoritarian powers getting too uppity for their own good; international crime networks; drug, weapons and people trafficking; mass migration and new technology in the hands of anyone with the know-how and the wherewithal to use it for their own nefarious ends.

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Mafia Don: Trump as an Amoral Familist

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so strange it has caused columnists around the world to try to conceive of new frameworks to explain politics. But what if what is needed is really an old framework? In 1955, Edward C. Banfield visited a village in Southern Italy and described a dysfunctional politics based on the pursuit of personal and family profit above all else. He called the practitioners of this anti-social morality “amoral familists.” It was the behavior of the mafia and it is the behavior of Donald Trump and his cronies.

The amoral familist will, “Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family” and “assume that all others will do likewise,” Banfield wrote. Trump has appointed his daughter and son-in-law into White House positions and put his two sons in charge of his business empire. The Trump administration has used official outlets to hawk his family’s products and has raked in cash from foreign diplomats staying at his DC hotel in the hopes of influencing him.

The effects of this lack of character and the assumption that all others lack character as well corrode to the core of a political system. Banfield noted how the locals in the small town had no trust in politics, and as such, no one trustworthy ran for office, and no one trusted the government to solve their problems. “[N]o one will further the interest of the group or community except as it is to his private advantage to do so.”

Banfield noted an additional 17 points that describe specific things one would expect to see in a society of amoral familists. It is worrying how many appear in Donald Trump’s United States in varying degrees.

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Antifa and Alt-Right: bellum omnium contra omnes

There was another free speech rally in Boston on Saturday, August 20, 2017. This followed the horrific events Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, when a car rammed into counter-protestors at an alt-Right, UniteTheRight rally that descended into a riot with the white nationalists and neo-Nazis on the offensive. The car ramming killed one and injured many others.

So, the rally at Boston was always going to go ahead under a cloud of opprobrium. The media portrayed it as being majority neo-Nazi/white nationalist in character when this was not the case. They made much of the fact, both in American and British news media, that the rally saw thousands of peaceful protesters against a few hundred far-right extremists. Except it wasn’t. One of the main speakers is black. I don’t know if you’re over-familiar with the finer points of white-nationalism and neo-Nazism, but they don’t tend to like black people very much. Also, as John Podhoretz said, given the disparity in crowd size, it doesn’t exactly reinforce the idea that America’s about to be overrun by Nazis.

Nor did it stay peaceful.

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Mr. President, George Washington was no treasonous Confederate

I never thought I’d hear this argument from the President of the United States, much less from a Republican whose fans fancy themselves hardcore patriots, but Donald Trump compared George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson yesterday.

The moment came during his off-the-rails press conference in which he doubled down on his “many sides” take on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not — but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

There are only two groups of people who compare Washington to Lee: those who want to take Washington’s statue down by attaching to it the baggage of Lee, and those who want to keep Lee’s statue up by painting on the varnish of Washington. Trump either thinks Washington is just as bad as Lee or Lee is just as great as Washington.

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Why Confederate monuments should be taken down

American South and Japan share uncomfortable response to historic wrongs

The controversy over Confederate monuments isn’t new, but it has flared up in the past few years, and once again here it is front and center in the news. Because it’s not new, I wrote about it in 2015, and my thoughts are more or less the same today. And, as it happens, today is also the anniversary of Japan announcing its surrender in World War II.

This September [2015], China will host a military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The United States will celebrate not just the anniversary of World War II, but also that of the end of the American Civil War. April 9 marks 150 years since Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Northern General Ulysses S. Grant, unifying the United States and bringing about the end of slavery (although fighting continued under other generals).

Both wars played a role in ending brutal repression. Both wars preserved their respective federal government’s sovereignty over (most of) their land. Yet there is one more shameful similarity between the two wars, and that is this: neither Japan nor the former states of the confederacy have fully come to terms with their history.

In America, there remains an affinity among some southerners for the “lost cause of the south.” When The New Republic’s Brian Beutler wrote an article arguing that April 9 should be a national holiday, some conservatives, southerners, and southern conservatives reacted angrily. Rick Moran, an editor at PJ Media, accused Beutler of “hating the south.”

It shouldn’t be this way. After all, the Confederate States of America no longer exist and only existed for five years. The last living Confederate veteran died in 1951. No one today has any connection to the Confederacy.

Every country has made mistakes. In America’s case, slavery was a big one. At the same time, there is a natural desire for people to be proud of their ancestors and their history. Americans celebrate winning their independence from Britain and defeating the Nazis and Japanese imperialists in World War II.

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Trump’s “fire and fury” threat on North Korea is reckless

Donald Trump’s saber-rattling towards North Korea has heated up as North Korea is getting closer and closer to having an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States mainland.

This afternoon, he threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un’s thiefdom.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement. As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Notice, too, that Trump’s strong words were made specifically in response to “threats” by Kim Jong-un and his government. North Korea makes farcical threats all the time. In 2013, years before he had the capabilities to hit even Los Angeles, Kim made a threat to attack Austin, Texas, of all places.

That Trump issued such fiery words in response to “threats” rather than anything of substance indicates his strange obsession with honor politics. He is a man whose argument for pulling out of deals is that “the world is laughing at us.” He took Cuban President Raul Castro’s absence at Obama’s arrival to Cuba as an insult to the United States.

North Korea, of course, poses some very real threats to the U.S. and its allies. It tested two ICBMs in July, prompting new UN sanctions, and a U.S. intelligence assessment holds that it has attained the capability of putting warheads on missiles.

But North Korea’s threat is just why Trump needs to be careful: hasty responses could cause miscalculation and could result in a war that would leave millions dead. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, 20 million civilians in the Seoul area and 28,500 American troops in Korea are at immediate threat of heavy artillery.

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“Free market” healthcare is a pipe dream of utopians

The healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians.

Republicans voted yesterday to move forward the process on an unformed version of the Trumpcare healthcare bill. The concept behind Trumpcare (also known as “Obamacare repeal”), as expressed by Republicans, is to make the healthcare market function more like a free market. Cut down on regulations and make end users pay more for their own healthcare, the argument goes, and there will be more competition and lower prices.

There’s just one problem: the healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians who haven’t learned from history—the flip-side of communist utopians.

Go directly to my explanation of why the principles of free markets are incompatible with healthcare.

Whenever communists are faced with the inevitable failures of communism and radical socialism—whether it be that of the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Khmer Cambodia, or present day examples like Cuba, North Korea, and burning Venezuela—they just as inevitably respond with one phrase, “True communism has never been tried.” No amount of data-points, no amount of evidence of human nature will ever convince them that communism doesn’t work. Nor will they be convinced that even if “true communism” hasn’t been tried, the many failures of revolutionary movements to implement true communism prove communism is fundamentally impossible to implement.

So it is with free market dogmatists. If high quality healthcare could be provided to the vast majority of people on the free market at reasonable prices, then you could look around the world for examples of a free market healthcare system working. If government regulations and universal healthcare distribution fundamentally destroys prosperity, then there would be no examples of prosperous countries with universal healthcare. American conservatives are hostile to the idea of explicitly looking to other countries (particularly “socialist” European countries) for guidance—“American Exceptionalism” and all—but looking at the world and at history is at least a good means to learn what works and doesn’t work in human civilization. It’s actually a very conservative thing to do to consider what works in practice, rather than relying on idealistic theories. After all, how do we know that communism doesn’t work?

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Donald Trump wants Republicans subservient to him

Jonah Goldberg writes about a “cult of personality” around Trump again this week. It’s a well-trodden subject, especially at National Review, in my own writings, and even from Trump’s own mouth (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue…”).

So far he hasn’t been able to translate his rabid base of supporters into much besides a solid 39 percent base of approval and a protective wall of Republican Congressmen who mostly want to do as little as possible to hold him accountable.

For all the Republicans have been leaking information favorable to Trump, going on TV making farciscle excuses, and (some of them) using questioning of Jim Comey to defend Trump, Trump has been shockingly ungrateful to Republicans for their help.

Over the past few weeks, he has attacked Jeff Sessions, his first Senate supporter, for recusing, questioned the allegiances of Ron Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who put his credibility on the line to help Trump fire Comey, and publicly threatened to primary Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing one of the toughest reelection fights of a Republican Senator in 2018, while sitting next to him.

Trump is noted for his views on “loyalty”–which got him in trouble with Comey–but it’s all about loyalty for he, not for thee.

But if there’s one thing Trump is in no short supply of, it’s narcissism and brazenness. This afternoon, the long-time Democrat demanded Republicans rally around him.

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