Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain is credited with popularizing the saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I wonder under what category of lies Twain would lump Donald Trump's lies. I imagine he'd have to come up with a whole new "genre" to accommodate Trump's epic litany of fabrications, frauds, fakery, and phantasmagoria.

Republicans have been surprisingly successful painting Hillary Clinton as “a liar,” while turning a blind eye to their candidate’s bizarre travels through fantasy land. I've asked myself, "Why?" and I've decided it's because no one really expects Donald Trump to tell the truth. Apparently Trump equates being truthful with being "political correct," and we know well what he thinks about political correctness.

Let’s be honest, for a change, Hillary Clinton has lied. But to paraphrase Yogi Berra, half the lies they tell about Clinton lying aren’t true. Where she has bent the truth, she’s admitted it; awkwardly perhaps, e.g., “I short-circuited,” but she’s come clean. Not Donald Trump. He lies and then doubles down, belittling whoever has the temerity to challenge him.

What’s worse, Donald Trump lies to bamboozle, to swindle, to cheat. Often, the people he’s victimized are society’s most vulnerable — people down on their luck striving to get ahead, small businessmen working 80-hour weeks to build an enterprise.

Donald Trump is one of those people the writer Jose’ N Harris was talking about when he wrote, “Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak.”

A week or so ago, Hillary Clinton said one "could be grossly generalistic" and put half of Donald Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables,” people driven by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic" sentiments. She later walked that back a little -- maybe it wasn't half.

At the risk of being politically incorrect myself, I say it could be at least half if we add the lazy, ignorant, and weak-kneed people who make up another large segment of what is certainly a deplorable "basket" of the American voting public.

Donald Trump is a horrible person, and is grossly unqualified to be president. He is, as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates recently said, “willfully ignorant about the rest of the world, about our military and its capabilities, and about government itself.” But what's truly distressing to me is that so many Americans support him. I thought we were collectively better than that. Where the hell have I been all these years?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Donald Trump's "Rubble" Remark Just the Latest Insult to America's Military

Joint Chiefs of Staff
According to coverage by the the Washington Post and other news outlets, Donald Trump shrugged at a past comment that he knew more about the Islamic State than America’s generals, disparaged those generals by saying they'd been “reduced to rubble,” suggested that his plan to defeat the Islamic State — long something he said was a secret — would instead be formulated with help from top generals and, ultimately, casually indicated that he might just fire most of the generals anyway.

The men Donald Trump disparages are among the military's finest, with more medals between them than could fit on Donald Trump's entire pudgy body. This after Trump said that John McCain was no hero because he'd been captured. "I like people who weren't captured," the man said who took four deferments for college, and then another "medical deferment" (for bad feet) upon graduation.

After the DNC Convention, Trump attacked the father and mother of an American-Muslim army captain who died in a car bombing in 2004 in Iraq as he tried to save his troops. The father had the termerity to criticize Trump during a speech at the convention.

Trump's bragged about how much he loves veterans; so much that he skipped the RNC convention to run a fund raiser for vets. He said he raised almost $6 million, but it then turned out he didn't give it to the veterans' charitable organizations -- not until the media found out he'd stiffed the vets and called him out on it.

Finally, Donald Trump's coments about using torture on terrorist suspects, and murdering the families of terrorists -- both war crimes -- absolutely and without equivocation, disqualify him to serve as president.

I'm a retired U.S. Air Force officer. If I were still in the military and Donald Trump were elected president, I would resign my commission and leave the service. I would never, ever accept Donald Trump as my Commander-in-Chief.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Clinton Foundation in Context

The feigned outrage over the Clinton Foundation by republican operatives, now given rude voice by Donald Trump, is the height of hypocrisy, but most people won’t realize this.

“Never heard of it.” This was a response I got all too often as I went door-to-door as a volunteer collecting signatures for I-735, a grassroots movement to make Washington the 18th state to ask Congress to overturn Citizens United. It was disheartening to learn that so many people knew so little about something so important.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the 2010 Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission (FEC), gave corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited sums to call for the election or defeat of individual candidates. It’s the “corporations are people, too” decision, as Mitt Romney referred to it in his 2012 bid for the Presidency.

Citizens United overturned decades of campaign finance law, most particularly the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) aka, the McCain-Feingold Act. The hotly-debated decision threw open the floodgates on campaign spending and opened a Pandora’s Box of other challenges to campaign financing based on Citizens United arguments.

Ostensibly, it is still illegal for corporations or labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office. The court said that because these funds were not being spent “in coordination” with a campaign, they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The absurd naivety of this statement has been hilariously parodied by Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. Former FEC Chairman, Trevor Potter, appearing with Colbert helped demonstrate how current campaign laws spawned PACs, and Super PACs and “social welfare organizations,” designed to circumvent this remaining restriction, and to hide their donors from public scrutiny.

If I asked you which of our two major political parties was behind the campaign finance law challenges that led to this wild west of election financing, my guess is that you’d answer, “the Republican Party,” and you’d be right. Google the names ‘James Bopp,’ and ‘Shuan McCutcheon’ for background.
Bopp
McCutcheon
What’s ironic is that the Clinton Foundation, much maligned by republicans, is a 501(c)(3), i.e., a non-profit charitable organization. As such, it is not permitted to engage in political activity, endorse or oppose political candidates, or donate money or time to political campaigns. There’s no evidence that the Clinton Foundation does this, despite all the fulminating.

On the other hand, 501(c)(4) organizations, the so-called “social welfare organizations,” like the Koch Brothers ‘Americas for Prosperity,’ can do all of the above. And they do. And they do not disclose their donors. The Clinton Foundation does.

If you want to clean up the current mess we call campaign financing, a good place to start would be a “Yes” vote on I-735. Google it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Grifters and Third Party Runs for the Presidency

by Jon Phillips*

No third Party candidate has ever won a US POTUS election except George Washington (he ran as a non-partisan Independent and won by a massive landslide as the Greatest Hero of the new Nation -- his opponent may have voted for him.

A so-called realignment election has only occurred once in history when the Republican (GOP) came into existence in 1856. The GOP supplanted the withering Whig Party, but lost the general election to the Democrats. In the next cycle, Lincoln was elected as the first Republican President and the Whig Party vanished into history. Nearly immediately, the Civil War began in response to Lincoln's progressive platform. Republicans were progressive and Democrats were conservative from 1856 to roughly 1930.

Then the great swap began that reversed the Party' positions, completing during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. A second realignment election almost occurred in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt, running as a "Progressive Party" candidate, challenged Big Bill Taft (R) and Woodrow Wilson (D). Although he beat Taft soundly, Wilson still won the election by plurality putting an unpopular President in the White House (he became more popular thereafter). The new "Bull Moose" or "Progressive" Party faded away quickly after the defeat and estrangement of Roosevelt from the GOP. The GOP bounced back and remains to this day.

Some context about that fractious 1912 race, that entirely split the Republicans, is quite instructive given today's circumstances. Theodore Roosevelt was arguably the most popular POTUS in US history, other than George Washington up to that point (and likely to this day).

Roosevelt bolted the GOP after feeling disenfranchised by his own Party's nominating process (there was rampant corruption in the nomination process a century ago that would make electioneering hijinks today look like a microbe). When he won every open primary voting State and lost every closed caucus State, TR declared that the GOP was corrupted and trying to steal the nomination. It was rather blatant given the lack of transparency in the caucuses back then -- his defeat of Taft demonstrated that the nomination process was entirely corrupted, it was not a conspiracy theory.

Recall that a mere 4 years earlier, TR had voluntarily not run for a third consecutive term as a matter of principle -- he had campaigned for Taft but felt his policies were betrayed during Taft's Administration. TR ran as an Independent and crushed Taft -- the second time a third Party candidate displaced one of the main Party nominees from the top two. Woodrow Wilson won by plurality and the Democrats took the WH.

The historical lesson is that even the second most popular politician in American history, tested as a two-term President, a Vice President, Governor of NY State, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Political Appointee to the Civil Service Commission (under both Parties), President of the NYC Police Commissioners, promoter of the "Muckrakers," Dakota cowboy and ranch owner, writer of a huge pile of scientific literature on natural history and military history and strategy (a scholar), war hero (he quit his political career to join the military when the Spanish American War broke out -- he led the famed "Rough Riders" Calvary Unit composed of many cowboys that he knew from the Dakotas), a brilliant orator, adventurer and explorer.

Even this person, who was a household name, an American legend in his own time, could not win a third Party run, even though he survived an assassination attempt while on the campaign trail. He was shot at point blank range in the chest, but his folded up stump speech and eye glasses case slowed the bullet down enough to keep it from puncturing his lung. The press went wild. America's hero has taken a bullet in the chest and simply stood back up and said, "Strong as a bull moose," and walked off stage. Now that's Presidential behavior! The history reads like some astonishing novel -- like the basis of a Greek myth.

So... what's the probability that largely unknowns have any chance of getting more than a few percent of the vote? ZERO! I know that's a tough history lesson to accept, but unfortunately, it's entirely true so don't fall for it. Have personal fortitude to accept reality and understand that third party voting for a President is what "useful fools" do in our electoral process.

If you look closely, what third party candidates do today is what they did back then. They put unpopular people in the WH by splitting popular sentiment. It's not hard to find examples since the list is reasonably long. This is particularly true when the margin of popular sentiment is less than 5%.

A glaring recent example is that Al Gore wasn't beaten by Dubya Bush, he was beaten by idealists (useful fools) who "voted their conscience" when they voted for Ralph Nader -- a left wing challenger. Nader picked up 2% and that was enough to put Dubya over the top. Dubya lost the national popular vote, but his contested win in Florida by a little over 100 votes, gave him Florida's winner take all Electoral College vote, and he won the Presidency.

The man was a fool and created a foreign policy disaster that killed thousands of Americans, wounded tens of thousands, and exploded the deficit by simultaneously expanding entitlement benefits (for a GOP constituency) and starting two wars (one unjustified), while massively cutting taxes. He destroyed our reputation overseas and it's taken 8 years to make headway against all the damage he did to our foreign policy. Trump is ten times the fool that Dubya was and entirely unqualified to be President having never held any elected office. He's a crooked realtor for God's sake!

The right wing media spin and smear machine (both sides have one) is simultaneously promoting a two-pronged approach: 1) a false equivalence campaign, linked to 2) encouraging undecideds to either not vote, or to vote third party. Why?

Donald Trump is an obvious disaster and a clear and present danger to the country, but culture warriors and right wing (vs center right) conservatives would rather the country take that risk (falsely believing they can control Trump's idiotic behavior) than risk Hillary making court appointments that could have decades of impact on their anti-progressive agenda. They're also trying to limit or destroy any coattails Hillary may have down-ballot in the event that she wins. They hate the Donald, but he's their narcissistic dangerous idiot since they nominated him. What to do?

Well...hmmm. Hillary has this amazing superpower of projecting unlikability (whatever that is) and elitism on TV. It's like some kind of intrinsic property that seems to ooze from her pores. Her impressive resume seems unable to paint over it -- it just keeps seeping through. The right wing spin meisters figure they can hold show trials and witch hunts, at taxpayer expense if possible, even though they have always ended in smoke but never fire, and then they can blow that smoke up the public's arshole by combining it with consistent messaging using words like "liar, liar, pantsuit and cankles on fire!" Heck, they've got a long lead on this since they've been pursing this strategy since the 90's (and before).
They've got her type cast like an old-time Hollywood actress. They've worked with diligence to turn Hillary's media persona into the Jungian archetypes of the "devil" and the "trickster" rather than the "wise old woman" or "hero", and her lack of "photogenics" and so-called "shrill voice" play right into their strategy. Let's be fair, her voice isn't really shrill, she's an alto and it's quite strong, rather than soprano and wispy. The real issue is that she's assertive and she tends to speak in active voice using imperatives, like men in leadership typically do -- this is a challenge to misogynists who don't like women who make demands and presume to be "uppity".

Then all they have to do to exploit this "dislike" campaign they've been fertilizing with BS for decades, is to constantly compare her to the Donald as somehow basically being equal choices: both are "horrible" or "bad and worse", depending on the audience. This is the false equivalence campaign that they're executing this with amazingly powerful effectiveness and coordination. They've leveraged TV and media messaging into millions of people parroting this like robots. They've even dispatched additional FOX News-like "fembots" as spokespersons to try and blunt expected losses among women, while boosting the misogynistic voters, who get turned on by the sight of dangerous and dominant "beauties" (sort of a lite-weight version of bikini-clad super models with machine guns).

How does this help their cause? Well, the Donald is loved only by a minority (sizable, which is scary) of potential voters with a statistical center that's populist, bigoted, anti-establishment, under educated, angry, white, male, older, can be motivated by flimsy culture war arguments, can overlook blatant lying and exaggeration when done by orange men with terrible hair and small hands, like to watch dominatrix films in private -- fill in other ugly descriptors here. In a big country, that's a lot of people that are very energized by fear, hate and anger, but far from enough to win the general election. Those voters won't abandon Trump no matter what outrageous thing he says. Like he said, "I love the uneducated" and "I could shoot someone on 5th Ave and not lose support." Given his cult following, how is the GOP to make up the deficit? Two ways...

First, encourage discouraged people not to vote. Second, encourage other discouraged people to vote third party. Trump "owns" his base (this is a unique sort of right-wing populist base, not the traditional GOP base). Hillary's base is broad and fractious and is much less tightly bound to their nominee (Hillary's personality cult is incredibly small and Donald's is comparably "Yuuuge" -- that's all he's really got in those tiny grasping orange hands). The media based spin and smear campaign being executed by the right, as described above, is partly aimed at the centrists and leftists in Hillary's base, in addition to maintaining the right wing base by "identifying their common enemy" through the process of "branding" that I described above. Discouraging people from voting by saying that both candidates are horrible or bad and worse, removes more voters from Hillary than from Trump (he benefits) since her base is less tightly bound to her.

Encouraging third party voting benefits Trump as well. Why? Because the only two very modestly visible third party runs include the Green Party (the decidedly leftist party of Ralph Nader) and a Libertarian ticket that is sort of center right with a few liberal elements in the social agenda. Any vote for the Green Party is one less vote for Hillary (this is obvious since they're a left wing challenge, just like Nader was to Al Gore when Nader helped the Republicans secure the Presidency by trimming the Democrat's polls from the left).

More of the votes for the center right Libertarians remove votes from Hillary because she's making a huge effort to "capture the middle" and because of their few liberal positions. Moreover, many of the people in the middle are former or disenfranchised establishment Republicans (that have been relabeled RINOs by the new populist "Freedom Caucus") who can't yet bring themselves to jump ship and vote for their traditional "enemy." This also slightly helps or is at worst neutral for Trump -- several polls have been performed that demonstrate this effect in the range of a couple percent or so.

It's sad, but this is both deeply cynical AND true AND nothing new. That there has been no reform of the electoral process to require top two runoffs in the absence of a popular simple majority for a single candidate (50%+ for a single candidate) is clear evidence that both of the main Parties are happy to game elections this way and like to keep the option open to overturn popular national sentiment through third party challenges that split the popular side. This is a power game the main Parties regularly play and the country suffers for it.

Third Parties should have sufficient ethics to see this game is being played and to constantly call for electoral reform so that they're not "being used" to spoil their own stated agendas. If it looks like they cannot get near the top of the ballot, they ought to bow out and lend their votes to the party with nearest interest (this is why coalition parliamentary government has some advantages). I figure they must be highly ideological, ambitious or an intentional foil to continue forward under current circumstances.

Theodore Roosevelt made the reasonable wager that if anyone could overturn main party dominance, it would be the most popular and well-loved president up to that point (not including George Washington, who was atypical). Even he was wrong and that lesson has already been painfully learned, historically speaking. Unfortunately, the voting public has a statistically significant portion that seems incapable of learning from history and they get used and the country gets abused over and over by flimflam artists in both Parties.

Just say "we won't be fooled again!" hold your nose if you must, and vote for Hillary Clinton. The only way to fix the right wing is to send them packing in a big and undeniable way.
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Jon Phillips is a Senior Nuclear Technology Expert at the International Atomic Energy Agency and Director, Sustainable Nuclear Power Initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DEA Smokes Cannabis -- in the Perjorative Sense

After nearly a century of “reefer-madness”-inspired paternalistic federal obstructionism, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s announcement that it won’t reschedule cannabis should come as no surprise. Predictably, the agency announced plans on Thursday to make research easier by ending the federal government’s monopoly on research-grade marijuana production.

The DEA, Federal Drug Administration, and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) — “The Triad” — acknowledge cannabis contains constituents that, when used independently, or synergistically, can provide significant therapeutic benefits. However, they contend that a plant-based medicine of variable chemical composition that can be smoked (but, doesn’t have to be), can’t be medicine. (Millions of patients and their physicians, of course, disagree.)

Read the full article by Jeremy Kossen here.