Friday, July 15, 2016

It's Mass Murder, but Is It Terrorism?

The wanton killing of more than 80 people in Nice, France immediately set off American politicians, especially Trump, Gingrich and co. but including Hillary Clinton.  They all exploded with plans to go at terrorists, and (in the GOPers case) Muslim terrorists even harder.

Now facts are starting to emerge about the 31 year old man who drove that truck through a holiday crowd.  He was Tunisian, with no known ties to any terrorist group or even much in the way of ties to Islam.

He carried with him in the truck a number of fake weapons and fake explosives, along with real guns.  He has a police record for theft and violence, and according to his father had mental health problems, and struck out violently at anything in sight.  Some of his neighbors said he was hostile and were afraid of him.

His crimes are unimaginably horrible.  In addition to the 84 deaths he caused so far, he injured more than 200, with 52 people still in critical condition, and a reported 25 in coma.

What this appears to be so far is not an act of Islamic terrorism, and perhaps in an effective sense, not of terrorism at all.  The object of terrorism is to cause terror for political gain, or as vengeance for a cause.  What this appears to be is mass murder by a deranged man.  The only "warning sign" anybody has come up with is a characteristic he has in common with other mass murderers--violence against women.

More information may yet yield a tie to terrorist organizations or a terrorist motive, but so far there is none known.  Yet this attack is a pretext for Trump to say as President he will declare war on ISIS.  The multiple problems with taking this literally must occur to junior high school civics students, or they would have in the pre-Pokemon-go era.  He cannot declare war on anybody, the Congress does that, and they can declare war on a country, but not on an organization or even the loose description of acts, such as terrorism.

It's a potent metaphor, declaring war, so just about everybody talks about their war on terrorism, including the president of France.  What the president of France ought to be considering is a way to put up barriers to prevent huge trucks from running through crowds at public events, regardless of the driver's ideology.  It seems entirely possible to me that this mass murderer had no symbolic intention in attacking on Bastille Day--he may simply have seen it as a big crowd opportunity, or even a big crowd of French if he had grievances against the government or the business bosses, etc.

He may well have copied terrorist attacks that involved mass murder, but I'm not sure that makes this terrorism in a way that justifies these responses.  Maybe his rationale was ethnic or racial even, though we may never know.  It may fit the working definition of a hate crime, and it is hard to imagine that hate wasn't involved. But the reaction so far from politicians leaping to conclusions and furthering the panic in populations over terrorism is unseemly at best.  And at worst it could lead to some very bad political choices.

Trump Repudiates Pence! (Well, not yet...)

Death in Nice, coup attempt in Turkey, usual dreadful signs of the Climate Crisis.  Is this why we need the Entertainer?  Is this what Trump is for?

(Remember that Billy Joel song, "The Entertainer"?  He once summarized it for me: "I am the Entertainer, I am so full of shit.")

Sowing the usual whirlwinds, Trump officially settled on Mike Pence as his vice-president.  After saying he wouldn't announce it Friday morning, he announced it Friday morning, but postponed the introductory event.  Several reporters were told he was trying to get out of it as recently as midnight.

(So there's another faction in the Trump campaign that leaked that Trump wanted somebody else, and since they leaked to CNN it may be that of the former campaign director who is now making a half million for propagandizing for Trump on what used to be an all-news network, and now isn't even a news network.)

What isn't being reported that I can see is that Pence had until noon Friday to declare whether he was running for reelection as governor of Indiana (not a sure win by any stretch) or not.  By Indiana law he can't run for two offices.  So he at least had to know.  Update: Now the NY Times has reported it. Pence's people filed the necessary papers after 11 a.

He might have been the only one who knew.  All the reports I've read say that neither Gingrich or Christie were told in advance that Trump had definitely chosen Pence.

To me it looks like the whole thing was pretty much engineered by somebody high in the Trump campaign, likely the head honcho Paul Manafort.  He likely had it leaked yesterday, including that Pence was on his way to New York for the announcement.  That seems designed to keep Trump from changing his mind.

But he probably did want to change his mind anyway, which doesn't bode well for this as a long-term relationship.  I fully expect that under the least amount of pressure, Trump will let it be known that Pence wasn't his favorite, and even that he regrets the choice.  There's more soap opera to come with this.

For now, the choice mollifies establishment GOPers like Paul Ryan, rabid religious righters and TP folk.   Trump evidently has chosen the Koch Brothers money (they like Pence) over Sheldon Adelson's money (he likes Gingrich.)  (So it's not clear how successful the GOP will be in begging Adelson to make up the $6 million shortfall for their convention.) Update: If he was trying to get Koch money, it didn't work.

 The choice of Pence seems designed first of all to get Trump through the GOP convention--and the idea that his opposition was already vanquished may have inspired him to want to dump Pence and get a soul brother, a fellow "pirate" as Gingrich said.

But Manafort also quickly unveiled the new Trump-Pence logo, so Donald really couldn't change his mind.  It's getting widely reviewed for its sexual suggestiveness.  My my.

Trump knows that Pence dissed him in the past. The pressure will increase as Trump sees (and is even asked about) Pence's statements in the past, from trade  etc. to the presidency itself-- that contradict Trump's most aggressive positions and rationale.

So now let the betting begin on how soon Trump disses Pence, and repudiates him.   Probably not in the introduction Saturday, but...

And if Trump manages to essentially forget about Pence, and sends him off to campaign in small towns and hamlets, the question come October might be...whatever happened to Mike Pence?

As for the losers, Gingrich is off using his almost-vp megaphone to get media attention for his outlandish out-Trumping Trump plan to interrogate every Muslim in America on whether they believe in Sharia law, and deport those who are dumb enough to admit it, or perhaps are convicted by special tribunals.

Christie is getting widespread whatever the cynical version of sympathy is, for this latest and biggest humiliation.  Borowitz suggests he's angry enough to refuse to pick up Trump's dry-cleaning.  

Meanwhile, announced speakers for the GOPer convention keep dropping out: the big star--Tim Tebo!--ain't going, and neither is Trump's daughter's rabbi.  But she's still speaking.  Maybe for a little longer than planned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lonely in Cleveland (with the Manchurian Candidate?) Updated

What if you gave a national party political convention, and nobody came?  We may find out Monday.

What this Republican convention will lack is...Republicans, apparently.  Other than delegates, a lot of GOP officeholders and political operatives are finding that they have to wash their hair that week.  Politico quotes one GOP politico: “I would rather attend the public hanging of a good friend.”

Corporations aren't giving as many open bar parties because, well, they aren't going either.  Neither are all the living GOP former Presidents (both Bushes) and GOP presidential nominees (except maybe Bob Dole?)  Nor the Republican governor of the state that is hosting the convention (awkward!) and that the nominee will need to win to win the election.

Among the missing will be so-called rising stars among the Republicans, including Senator Ben Sasse, who instead of speaking or even attending, will be "taking his kids to watch some dumpster fires," according to an aide.  For those who will speak, Republican strategist Wilson expects it will be like "a hostage video."“On Earth 2,” Wilson said, “you’d be showing the Republican Party isn’t this stupid white boys’ club. But Donald Trump has rejected everybody who’s not in the stupid white boys’ club. At this point, we might as well have a giant cross burning out front.”

This is Trump's triumph, his biggest reality show--and nobody has a clue as to what will actually happen there.  Although the potential for conflict outside the convention center--in an "open carry" state--has everybody worried.  Or as the AP advised: Demonstrators at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week can’t have lasers, squirt guns or sledgehammers. But because Ohio is an open-carry gun state, those who are legally allowed to carry firearms can do so without a permit.  My only question is, why doesn't the Second Amendment cover squirt guns?  They're guns, right?  Is it because you can't kill people with them?

Meanwhile, Trump is doing his Apprentice: Vice President Edition on the road this week, with the few willing candidates.  Until now, as Jonathan Chiat put it, "this is a version of the Trump show in which a series of guests appear across the table from Trump to tell him they quit."

So Trump's finalists aren't exactly A list. Washington Post editorial put it: The fact that Mr. Trump’s vice presidential shortlist contains two unpopular governors and a disgraced ex-speaker of the House shows that his judgment is as poor as it seems to be or, more likely, that only desperate, unprincipled panderers would consider joining his ticket."

Trump didn't profit in the polls from his tough terrorism talk after Orlando (poll respondents overwhelming favored Clinton's calm approach), and it appears he didn't profit from the FBI report on Hillary's damn e-mails.  Jennifer Rubin notes one poll on the issue of trust in which he's still trusted less, and the latest Reuters poll has Clinton increasing her lead to 13 points.

The June Pew poll, which successfully forecast the winner and pretty much the winning margin in 2008 and 2012, has Clinton winning by 9 points.  It also shows that overall people feel good about the economy.  Other surveys show the incumbent President is popular.  These are two traditional indicators that favor Hillary.  The Pew poll also suggests that voters take this election seriously, and that the Democrats have made huge inroads with more educated voters.  Put those two together and it looks like the spectre of Trump is scaring folks straight.

While the Trump campaign claimed a good money-raising month in June, Hillary had a better one.  And talk persists of lack of national organization, and ground game staff in battleground states.  So Jennifer Rubin--the Washington Post's designated conservative view--seems bullish on a delegate revolt in Cleveland, but she seems pretty much alone in that.

Trump's inability to demagogue recent events (including accusing Clinton of bribing the Attorney-General, and the AG of accepting a bribe) is one good sign of health in the process.  Another is that the media is refusing to take his bullshit.  Politfact examined 158 assertions by Trump and found that 78% were false or mostly false. Some 60% were judged totally false. The Guardian began what might be a regular feature: the lies that Trump told this week.

I don't think a fact-checker was needed for the audience in Monessen, PA (though they got one) when Trump blamed the decline of the steel industry on Bill Clinton. It's within local family memory in western PA that  big steel had collapsed by the early 80s, when Reagan was President (and contra the NPR summary, it really began to collapse in the late 70s.) I certainly remember it.

Stories that found that Trump overstated (at best) his charitable giving--and that he used money meant for such giving to buy a Tim Tebo helmet--just scratch the surface.  An investigative reporter details in Politico the evidence that Trump had ties to the Mob even from his early Trump Tower days, and his construction business attempts in Russia--as well as Russian investment in some of his U.S. projects-- may have something to do with his cozying up to Putin, which helps Putin's political agenda of weakening the West.  And once again a break-in--of Dem oppo research on Trump on their computers--may be involved.

 This last story (in Slate) needs some serious follow-up.  Are we seeing a reality show version of the Manchurian Candidate?

Brexit on Steroids

Last week the Brit government denied the petition signed by some four million citizens to hold a second Brexit referendum.  That was predictable--the terms of the petition would have changed the rules after the game was over by insisting on a 60% vote to Leave.

But what was surprising was the withdrawal of one of the two remaining candidates for PM over the weekend and the quick decision by David Cameron to make his resignation effective immediately, not months from now.  Meaning that as of today, Theresa May is the Prime Minister of the UK.

Candidate May said that the Brexit should begin without delay, so it seems the UK could invoke Article 50 and begin the process more or less immediately.  Big change.

What does it mean?  Nobody knows.  This sudden burst of speed does seem to be responding to the financial pressure that resumed after a brief period of hope that it wouldn't actually happen after all.  In fact, the most persuasive long term prediction I've read suggests that when it's all figured out, the big loser will be the UK financial sector (especially the banks) and that's what will hurt the British economy.

Beyond Brexit, what kind of PM will Theresa May be?  Apparently not even the Brits know.

Though she kind of looks like Donna's mom on the David Tennant Doctor Who, doesn't she?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A New Heart

From the memorial service in Dallas to mourn the loss of five police officers shot and killed:

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
George W. Bush

"And today, in this audience, I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible -- (applause) -- I see what's possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America that I know.

We also know what Chief Brown has said is true: That so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. (Applause.) As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. (Applause.) We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. (Applause.) We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book.

That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we must sustain.

With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right."

President Obama

These words of reconciliation, like other quotes out of context, don't give a full picture of this speech.  It also told hard truths, both about what each side is ignoring and what each side is right about, and about the difficulties of  achieving progress.

  Behind the President were police in uniform and people not in uniform, some wearing black.  Among this background group visible throughout the speech, the black women completely followed and understood everything he said (recognizing at times the church cadences), the white women much of it--you could see that.  The white men wore white men masks.  So who knows what they heard?

But President Obama outlined the problems and the approach to solutions.  He expressed doubts and failures, but recognized successes and insisted on hope.  He did what a President is supposed to do: he represented the whole nation, including its history and its hopes, and what they must mean now, and for the future.

Update: The New York Times said President Obama's speech "will most likely be seen among the rhetorical high-water marks of his presidency." Historian Michael Beschloss said it was "elegant, moving and powerful." It was also praised by the Dallas Morning News.  But it was viciously attacked by right wing and rabid right media, including castigating those who praised it, like Chris Matthews and historian Douglas Brinkley, who said it had touches of Lincoln.


Veep speculation?  Let's join the fun.  If Trump really wants to please party GOPers, he'll pick Pence.  But....he's Trump.  Does he want to please party leader Paul Ryan, who said publicly today that Trump should choose a conservative (and of the three commonly named as most likely, that's Pence) or does Trump want to stick a finger in his eye?  Well, he does, but will he?  If he goes with this instinct  he'll pick one of the loyalist fellow big mouths, Christie or Gingrich.  Because Trump-Pence just sounds boring.

If he picks Pence he'll regret it (rightly or not) but it will signal how much he feels he needs from the GOPer establishment.  What's key here probably is any preference by the chair of the RNC.  Trump absolutely needs the RNC, or this campaign will cost him big money, and there's no bankruptcy law governing presidential campaigns.

Hillary they say will wait until Trump announces to make her final choice.  With the speculation centering on either Elizabeth Warren (the most daring, exciting choice) or Tim Kaine (safe, boring choice), she might turn to Tom Perez, current Labor Secretary, who she likes, is Latino, popular with labor, will go after Trump.  Warren could complain about Kaine, but not about Perez. Perez causes no political problems in depleting Dems in the Senate, and is another tie binding Clinton to Obama.  Clinton-Perez, that's an historic ticket.  But it may depend on Clinton's evaluation of whether he's got the goods to be President if he has to be.

A Latino on the ticket, by the way, will likely mean the GOP will have to look hard at defending places like Arizona and Texas as well as Colorado and Nevada.

Like Trump's choice, Clinton's will say something about what kind of candidate she wants to be.  Warren says, full out attack.  Kaine says "safe," Clinton is the safe choice over crazy Trump.  Perez says, willing to lose some suburban white votes to get Latinos for a generation--because right now, she is not as far ahead of Trump with Latinos as she might be, according to certain polls.