Saturday, May 13, 2017

The President's Crash Dive Towards Removal from Office

Occupy Portland Launch Rally
October 6, 2011
http://www.aflitt.com/occupyportlandoctober2011
© A. F. Litt 2011, All Rights Reserved
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich's video outlining four or five grounds to impeach the president is interesting, and even more now, more than a month after it was first released. And what a month it has been... But even at this point, most of these points are pretty weak tea.  

However, Reich's list keeps getting longer since he first suggested the possibility of impeachment based on the emoluments clause at the time of the inauguration, and his arguments supporting each point tend to be getting stronger as more and more evidence accumulates...

It really is starting to feel like it is just a matter of time before something happens to really put President Trump's job in jeopardy, especially as the president continues to flail, wilder and wilder, with each passing week.

If the administration is brought down, it is likely that it will not be for something that's already happened, for acts already committed, but for something that may happen very soon if the the president, his staff, and his cabinet continue on their current trajectory.

It is not the time right now, yet, to be discussing impeachment, but the current investigations need to be thorough.  The nation needs these concerns to be addressed and this is a very different situation than the calls for the impeachment of the last two presidents and the actual impeachment of President Clinton before that.

Since the impeachment of President Clinton, too much time has been spent dwelling on removing the opposing party's chief executive from office.  

The proceedings against President Clinton were far more motivated by politics than by any true harm he did to the office or the country.  This is not to say that he did no wrong, lying to Congress is a serious infraction, one that should still be taken very seriously, and a reprimand was clearly in order, but to move towards actual removal from office over lying about an extramarital affair is a bit like firing a RPG at a housefly.  It does more damage than good.

Under President Bush, when the Democrats took control of Congress, there was a lot of speculation that they would follow in the GOP's footsteps and that the House would vote on Articles of Impeachment.  Again, though, this would have been motivated by politics, and any charges against the president would have been pretty well trumped up to justify such an action.

Not liking the policies and practices of the president is not grounds for impeachment or removal.

In a way, that was a very scary moment for our democracy.  If the cooler heads did not prevail with the Democrats under President Bush, after what happened with President Clinton, a precedent and tradition could have been established where impeaching the president became a basic political move when power shifted in Congress.

Such a development would have been devastating for our nation.

It is almost certain that, if the House Democrats even held a vote on impeaching President Bush, the House Republicans would have voted on impeaching President Obama.  Large sections of the base of both parties cried out for such actions towards the other party's presidents through both administrations, and such moves would have been easy red meat to throw at these constituents, but the costs to our nation would have been terrible.

It would be simple to dismiss the current calls for the impeachment of President Trump as being little more than the latest incarnation of these misguided political urges, but this is a very different situation.  True, there has been politically motivated noise about impeachment since the election, but over the last few weeks, evidence is mounting that requires investigation.

This time, there may be true "high crimes and misdemeanors" in play.  

As I mentioned earlier, I really do feel that the focus of our nation, for the moment, needs to not be on the scandalous possibilities of a potential impeachment trial, but rather on ensuring that a very thorough investigation takes place into the concerns about the Trump campaign, transition, and current administration, and yes, this includes the president himself, if the evidence demands it. 

The White House needs to support these investigations.  To do otherwise would tarnish their administration, undermine foreign policy, and, in the worst case scenario, if a cover up or obstruction of justice occurs, their fight against the investigations might the very thing that brings down the president, not whatever may or may not have happened during the campaign and transition.

Unfortunately for our country, we have a president who, in the shaky leg days of his first time ever holding public office, seems too focused on ego and paranoia, and if he continues on the course he is on, it seems very likely that he will overreach at some point in a way that will transcend partisan party politics and lead to a bi-partisan vote on Articles of Impeachment.

The White House needs to bring in some experienced grown-ups to help them through this, someone needs to get the president off of Twitter, and the administration's political opponents need to calm down and focus on pushing for impartial investigations, including a Special Prosecutor, rather than getting lost in partisan hot flashes about throwing their nemesis out of office.

Politically, removing the president would accomplish very little for the Democrats and the Left. The next two men in succession are actually further to the right than President Trump is, and will be devastatingly more effective at pursuing their agendas than the current White House has been through the first 100-plus days of his term.

For the Democrats and the Left, the best result here they could ever dream of would be the president remaining in office after potentially burning almost all of the support from the rest of his party, support which was, at best, tenuous from the start.  It's the Lame Duck result. Even if the president was able to re-build his support over time, it would disable and disarm him for a significant chunk of his first term, and it would invite strong primary challenges against his nomination for a second term.

With the current polarity in our nation, the lack of trust towards the press, and the rise of "alternative facts," asking either side to set aside politics right now is probably an exercise in futility, but it is what is truly needed over the coming weeks. The Left needs to quit screaming for the president's head, the Right needs to quit screaming that it is all "fake news," and all sides, including the White House, need to work together to put these concerns behind us.

At this point, the need for a Special Prosecutor seems evident.  Before the firing of FBI Director Comey, maybe not, but after, it is probably the only way to start restoring trust.

When the results of these investigations are in, then it will be up to everyone to determine whether or not President Trump should remain in office.  Both the House and the Trump Cabinet will need to look at those results, because, depending on the president's behavior between now and then, it may fall upon his own administration to seek his removal from office through Section IV of the 25th Amendment

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Who's Killing the Press? The 2017 White House Correspondents Dinner

Occupy Portland Launch Rally
October 6, 2011
http://www.aflitt.com/occupyportlandoctober2011
© A. F. Litt 2011, All Rights Reserved


Time to start posting again...  Probably not too often, but I feel like my long hiatus on this blog is somewhat coming to an end...

An interesting White House Correspondents Dinner this year, reflecting the current state of the American press corps.  Here is an incomplete rundown of my takeaways:

First, the President not attending this year's event, to me, makes this one not to overlook, but one to pay closer attention to. The whys of this idea are complex and would take a whole essay to explain in detail.  Not that speakers have pulled punches with the President in the room in the past, but that is a small piece of it.  However, without the distraction of the President being present, it felt like this year's event was a bit more self-reflexive, a bit more introspective, focusing a little more on the successes and failures of the press itself over recent past.

The other day, on CNN, a talking head was saying that President Trump, through the campaign, the transition, and the first 100 days, did more damage to the press than anyone or anything else in modern history.

This is just simply not true.

The damage has come from the 24 hour networks trying to maintain ratings through the endless, Sisyphusian loops of the modern 24 hour news cycle.  It comes from the blending of news reporting and infotainment that is confusing to many viewers.  It has come from the decline of print journalism and a whole segment of the press that is understaffed and panicked by their own quest for survival...

Back in the day of the newspaper, we had separate sections for news and opinion and clear editorial rules for how to write and present those very different articles.  However, these days, on the news networks, on the internet, the line is blurred, and in the case of shows like Fox and Friends, the line is almost entirely eliminated.

So, instead of the viewer being presented with news and, perhaps, some unbiased analysis, they are presented only with the facts that present the host's views, and then are spoon fed what these facts "mean" through the narrow lens of the host's political agenda.

This doesn't mean that we should ignore the facts, but we need to be very careful about and aware of who is presenting these facts to us when watching, or reading, anything.  We need to be sure that we are getting all the facts, and we need to make up our own minds and not fall into an intellectually lazy zone where we let the writer, the presenter, or the talking heads (more on that next), tell us what we should feel about them.

We need to make our own interpretations.  We need to make up our own minds and make our own decisions.

And perhaps even worse than those blurred lines between news and opinion reporting are those talking heads inevitably brought in to tell us what the facts are supposed to mean.

In the not too distant past, the standard format on most television news broadcasts was to present the story, just the facts, and then to bring in a subject matter expert to add context and analysis to the story just presented.  This expert would not be representing a political viewpoint, but in depth knowledge and experience on the issue being discussed.

However, what we see these days, hitting its low point with CNN's coverage of the 2016 election, is bringing in a paid right wing pundit and a paid left wing pundit to argue the politics and views of their side in response to the facts.  This is done in the name of being "fair," but it is not.

Some stories are good and bad, some stories are pretty clear cut.  If Senator Jim Jim is caught robbing from old ladies and killing their kittens, we do not need a talking head from the other party arguing that he was justified in his actions or that the actions, in the light of clear evidence to the contrary,  never even actually happened and are, instead, falsely, just a creation of biased media.

Such tactics are not representative of a "fair and balanced" approach to reporting (sure, a Fox slogan, but one I am applying to everyone), but instead these tactics are actually unbalancing the true weight of the facts themselves.

Instead of news, what we get are arguments.  Crossfire, years back on CNN, was a pioneer of this format and could be entertaining and even, slightly, informative in a one hour a day dose.  Sure, let's hear what both sides have to say on the issues of the day.  Why not?  But not all the time on all of everything.  There is a time and place for that, and always, every time, through most of the hours of the day, is not that time or place.

So, instead of spending time with a subject matter expert who can help to explain what the possible legal ramification of Senator Jim Jim's actions are, what the fallout politically for the parties are, we hear biased spin doctors on the left and right trying to tilt Jim Jim's horrific actions to their side's own political benefit.

No new insight is gained.  Our time is wasted.  Or we become numb, and our own biases (we all have them) let the spin seep in and we adopt, knowingly or unknowingly, even with some resistance, the stance of the spin doctor we sympathize with the most.  Our views on the issue are being manipulated and defined by our political camaraderie with the talking head who speaks the most towards our own political biases...

These sins, two out of many, are the reason for the crisis in American journalism these days.

President Trump did not create this, he did not strike the first blow, he is merely capitalizing on the media's self inflicted wounds.  Wounds they've been inflicting on themselves for a long time, well before the President ever jumped into the Birther debate, let alone before he announced his candidacy for President...

The press itself has opened up the gaps in trust that the President is charging through.  They let the roof get leaky, and then too many underneath started blaming the rain for making them wet.

At this year's dinner, Hasan Minhaj called the media out on many of these issues.  There were many uncomfortable chuckles, too polite applause points, and awkward silences as he spoke.  He did not eviscerate them, but rather put a calm and loving hand on their shoulder and said, "Really, you know this isn't all good; you can do better."

He called them out in a fairly soft, but still firm, manner and asked them to rise up, to fix the leaky roof, to take responsibility for the health of their own industry, and to help the rest of America to navigate and survive the reality of the President Trump Administration.


While Minhaj was both sharp and entertaining, the speeches by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that preceded Minhaj were intriguing, fascinating, and chillingly relevant considering the heavy duty scandals already looming over this embryonic administration. Check out the link to the full event at the bottom of this post to view what these two titans had to share with the crowd this year.




To be fair, I've seen change since Inauguration Day.  I've seen a certain sense of sobering in the press and media.  The Trump Presidency is not a result of the failure of the media, far from it, there are many factors that led to his Electoral College victory.  Yet, the press' failings did play a role here, creating an environment where Candidate Trump's weaknesses became strengths and muddying the waters enough to make it just that more difficult for voters to make a well informed choice with their ballots.  I believe that this has led to some self examination that is creating a sense of greater responsibility to their consumers.

The role of the press is not about sales or clicks or ratings, it is about being the Fourth Estate, the final check in our government's system of checks and balances, and the press is our safety valve when the three branches of our government fail to hold each other to account.  Watergate is, of course, the obvious example, but this role has been acknowledged by everyone since the writing of our Constitution, and this role is established and verified by that very document.

The first 100 days of this presidency have brought the traditional print and broadcast news organizations to a stark junction where they find their own legitimacy, and even basic survival, in doubt and jeopardy.  There is a lot at stake for our nation right now.  Still, I am encouraged by the slow turn back towards traditional journalistic principles that this ship seems to be making.  I do see some slow change.  I think the last year has spooked them, and they are slowly, cautiously, trying to correct their course.  But is it enough?  And will this last?

They've seen the iceberg.  But is the course correction too little, too late, to avoid sinking the whole ship?



No President

To be fair, I fully understand why President Trump chose to be the first president since Nixon to completely shun the dinner...  This was a no win situation for him.

If the president made jokes, he'd be torn to shreds...  They'd sound too much like his bizarre tweets and statements over the last 100 days.  Where is the line between reality and satire?  How do you roast anyone or anything when your "serious" communications already sound like a stranger than true parody sketch on a late night comedy show?

But that is just the political consideration...  Ego was a factor, I am sure, as well.  This is not a guy who currently has a thick enough skin to sit through an evening like this at this point in his life.  Sure, he was the target of a Comedy Central roast late in his old career, on the cusp of his new career as a politician, but that was a different time in his life.  It was a time of letting go of what came before while not being invested deeply yet in the new life he has now.

To be honest, I have not seen the Comedy Central roast.  Maybe he didn't take it well?  I don't know.

But something seems to have happened since then, an internal change seems to have occurred, and he can no longer seem to accept any perceived challenges to his "winning," either from facts, commentary, or satire.

Sitting there looking uncomfortable, or even upset, all night would have been damaging.  His own speech at the end of the night, juxtaposed with those images, likely would have come across as too angry or too bitter, even if he was trying to be a good sport about everything.

The margin of political victory for him on this night would have been tiny and difficult to achieve.  The White House, politically, made a sensible choice in not taking the risk.




Not (the full) Truth!
Mrs. Clinton did accept the primary blame for her 2016 election loss in today's interview, while clearly pointing these factors out as elements that weighted the scales against her, especially, in a crippling way, during the final days of the campaign.  Whatever the truth is on the election, why she lost or why President Trump won, this is a misleading headline regarding her actual comments today.  She did infer that she would have won the election if it was held on October 27, 2016.

Links

The Washington Post:

A different sort of White House correspondents’ dinner

C-SPAN:  

The whole damn show (Starts with the Video mentioned in the Rolling Stone article below)

Rolling Stone:  

The Most Cringeworthy Moment From the White House Correspondents' Dinner

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Darkness Rising: Why respectful debate is more important than ever

Like I've written in previous posts, for the most part this blog is dormant, though please follow the link on the right to check out the Facebook page, which has been very active recently...

However, this post grew out of some comments on a link that grew into a Facebook post of its own, and which I think is worth posting here:


It's amusing to me... Only in this weird year, after these horrible presidential campaigns, could I ever be labeled as a member of the "far left"... :) And if you knew much about my political views in the 1980s and early 1990s, I am pretty much a conservative compared to those days, by the standards in those days... But while I've moved to the middle, even past what used to be considered the center into what used to be the liberal right, the political climate in this country has changed so much that Nixon would be labeled a communist these days by the descendants of his own conservative movement... That being said, my political posts, here and elsewhere, are a lot less about advocating for one party over another, or even broader, more "left" and "right" ideologies. Really, it is more about this: There are certain ways "dark" instincts and power works that is pretty universal, and it adapts to every political and economic system. Most people don't recognize it, but they fear it, and they usually aim their fears at straw men and red herrings laid out for them by the folks gaining advantage from that darkness (whether they even recognize what it is or not). There are many moral, philosophical and religious terms used for this darkness, and I am trying to avoid them, to strip it down to the basics (and darkness is a bit of a moral judgment, wild might be better?)... When fear and resentment and dissatisfaction with life rises to the top in the masses' day to day lives, this wildness comes to the front and, generally, very bad things start happening. In the end, us normal citizens have very little idea about who the good guys and the bad guys are in this battle, and we do our best, which is hard these days with the disintegrating media and laughable standards of journalism that we encounter, to pick the candidates and causes that we hope will battle this dark, wild force. And if not to actively battle it, to at least slow its rise to dominance. I've picked my side, the causes and candidates I support, based on the best, though always flawed, information I have available. Others pick the other side, feeling those better battle the darkness. Disagreement and healthy debate is good and, I will always feel, are enemies of this darkness. However, the mood and the climate is changing in the western world, and the space that used to be filled, for the most part, with healthy debate is now filled with anger and fear, ignorance and blatant lies, which is only making the enemies of freedom stronger, which won't benefit any of us, regardless of who we voted for a few weeks back. So let's keep the conversations calm, let's, the average people just trying to make sense of everything, respect each other, even if we disagree... Let's keep our minds open to new ideas, new information, and let's reject lies and fake news, even when it appears to support our "side." In social media, more than anywhere, this is so important, because too many of our feeds are designed by the sites to only provide us with ONLY the opinions and "facts" that we support, and sometimes, unfortunately, depressingly, even, the comment threads are the only place where we can actually learn new the perspectives and gain the information we need to make the decisions we need to make to keep our country free and great. Finally, further food for thought on this matter:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I’m Calling It: The Death of Politics in America

Obviously, this blog is pretty much dead.

I've been trying to find the desire to write a “closing” post for a long time now, but even just doing that felt exhausting.  But today, I found the article below, which pretty much sums up everything I've been meaning to write.
American Politics: Why the Thrill Is Gone - The New Yorker:

It might not be wise for a sometime political journalist to admit this, but the 2016 campaign doesn't seem like fun to me. Watching Marco Rubio try to overcome his past support for immigration reform to win enough conservative votes to become the Mainstream Alternative to the Invisible Primary Leader—who, if there is one, will be a candidate named Bush—doesn't seem like fun. Nor does analyzing whether Chris Christie can become something more than the Factional Favorite of moderate Republicans, or whether Ted Cruz’s impressive early fundraising will make him that rare thing, a Factional Favorite with an outside chance to win. If this is any kind of fun, it’s the kind of fun I associate with reading about seventeenth-century French execution methods, or watching a YouTube video of a fight between a python and an alligator. Fun in small doses, as long as you’re not too close.
Is this a permanent shut down?  Who knows?  In 2012, this blog had a brief burst of life with that year’s presidential election, it is always possible that the same could happen again. 

However, the fact that I wrote just about everything there is to say about 2016 back in March of 2012 (Putin, Clinton, & Bush… Oh my! The current, dynastic period of American history), I see little hope that the upcoming elections are going to be nothing more than another agonizing shit fest of incompetent journalism, blazing lies fueled by bonfires of corporate cash, voters too ill informed, mostly through no fault of their own, to make competent decisions, and everything else that has come to signal the death of any true democratic spirit in America.

Beyond the presidency, things are even worse.

We can call it gridlock in Congress, but that is not what it is.  More and more I see this as being a sign of the increasing irrelevance of our republic’s institutions.  The partisan stonewalling may seem like political maneuvering to those involved, but all it has really done is remove an entire branch of government from any practical leadership role in our country.  

And the Supreme Court?  Man…  At best, hanging on by a thread.  At worst?  Not representing the interests of the Constitution any more, and one bad nomination away from eliminating any debate on the point.

The republic is over, democracy is dead…  Let the oligarchy reign!

UPDATE: 4/24/15

I will still be posting to the Facebook page, but not as often and I'm going to try to keep it to more focused on thoughtful, relevant articles with some depth and less on silly memes that are little more than red meat for the like-minded masses.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Biased political satire...Why There's No Conservative Jon Stewart - The Atlantic: "A unified theory of why political satire is biased toward, and talk radio is biased against, liberals in America."

This article is pretty stupid, really, overthiniking these topics by several degrees.  Really, shows like The Daily Show, while they do draw a more liberal than conservative viewership, are not "liberal" shows, and they go after the inanity of both parties with equal glee.  However, these days, the right is just producing a lot more facepalm moments.

If the right wants their own satire, it is already present in these shows.  Their politicians just need to clean up their acts a bit and quit saying and doing so many stupid things.  Not their policies, but rather how they campaign and lobby to advance them.  Then the jokes will be distributed more equally between the left and the right...

This is why the right wing attempts at these shows fail, because they put the politics ahead of the inanity of the situations being mocked, where the so-called "liberal" shows just mock first and never really worry about where their jokes are landing on the political scale.

As for talk radio, there may be more to this.  I think liberal do tend to get tired of the format and would rather have more factual reporting a la NPR than hours of discussion around facts that devolve into nothing more than meaningless partisan spin.

But another factor to consider on that front is that, for decades now, talk radio has been used as a major means of message delivery for the right, and has tremendous fininacial support from the right, while the rich and powerful on the left pretty much left Air America to wither and die.

Fox News, while successful in the ratings now, never would have made it if it were not for Murdoch's money and his ability to attach the network to the very established Fox name.

Why There's No Conservative Jon Stewart - The Atlantic: "A unified theory of why political satire is biased toward, and talk radio is biased against, liberals in America."

Monday, October 27, 2014

National security is never this black and white… (Unfortunately!)

F35

I was thinking about this the other day, and then I saw this re-posted.

Why would we need something like this? Russia? Religious fanatics? These are arguably the biggest threats to the U.S. in the visible future, and we don't need the level of tech to act as a deterrent for those folks. We can take Russia with a couple of F-18s and the religious fanatics? Well, I don't think these bad boys would have led to a different result in Iraq or Afghanistan.

So why? Of course, there is always the propping up of the military-industrial complex, but even that does not feel right. We've scrapped some systems in the last few years which tells me that this is not the main reason why we're moving ahead on this...

So that leaves, who? China.

Yes, right now we have each other right where we want each other, but they are a growing economic and technological superpower, and we may eventually end up in a cold war with them. These sorts of investments in military technology are not necessarily about meeting current threats, but about preparing for future threats, and we don't want to end up in a position where we don't have the best hardware in the world.

So, is this the time to be throwing that sort of money at a weapons system like this? Could it be better spent elsewhere? Probably. But we still live in a dangerous world and I, for one, know our relationship with the only real superpower left goes a lot better down the road if they know they can't take us militarily without one hell of a fight.

Hopefully we are moving towards a world where superpowers can co-exist without living in fear of each other, and we may be there all ready. But are we willing to bet our children or grandchildren's freedom on this?

It's a tough call and one that I am glad I do not have to make.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Student Loans and Debt Slavery

This may be a bit overdramatic, but maybe it is time to look at this paradigm.

It used to be that you needed a degree to work in certain fields, now it is for almost everything. The degree has replaced the high school diploma as the minimum education standard required for most living wage work.

But it has very little to do with actual training for one's chosen field... More and more it matters little what your B. A. was in, only that you have one.

In this way, it really is being treated as diplomas use to be.

When hiring, we used to say that this was because we wanted to see that the potential employee could "finish what they started," and I still agree that there is some merit to that concept. Plus, the development of critical thinking skills that, more and more, happens in college versus high school is another benefit.

But considering the cost of college these days, there is a darker, but huge, benefit for companies that only hire college grads... the immense debt most recent grads are entering the workforce with!

There is so much fear around paying off these loans that people will put up with a lot more than they used to... Low wages and salaries, intolerable and invasive corporate policies, and the knowledge that most workers are immediately replaceable due to all the out of work college grads out there just waiting for the opportunity to "do something with their degrees" or, even more insidious, grads who are just desperate to start paying off their loans.

Of course, having workers who have to go into virtually life long debt for the privilege of working for your company, mostly doing work that could be completed by any average high school grad?

Priceless.

Fearful employees willing to do anything and put up with anything just to keep ahead of their government debt…

What’s better than this?  If you don't look too closely, these companies even come off looking like the good guys, since they are the ones giving us a chance to keep one step ahead of the big bad menace of the government.