Tag Archives: Election 2016

Journalism Matters: F&O’s fresh sheet, from Newfoundland to Israel

Palestinian visitors gather at a look-out point on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Commentary:

Broad alliances trump Trump for Israeli security, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Israel lives in a hostile neighbourhood, and has always had trouble making and keeping trustworthy friends.

Nothing’s Happening, by Jim McNiven   Column

There’s an old saying around the stock market: ‘Sell in May and go away’. Basically, it means that usually nothing much financial happens in the summer. This year, that might also be the slogan for a lot of other parts of society.

Roger Ailes’ special place in hell, by Tom Regan  Column

When Roger Ailes died this month, response was mixed.It was Ailes’ personal foibles that led to his downfall. But I want to concentrate on his legacy in journalism, where he left a very dark mark, called “thug journalism.”

Why Donald Trump won’t be impeached, by Tom Regan   Column

For all the bad news that Trump faces, he will not be impeached: his fellow Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

India’s Maoist uprising morphs into women’s armed insurgenc, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

Women guerrilla fighters are at the forefront of an emerging insurgent war in India aimed at protecting women from sexual violence and human rights abuse.

Why Ramadan is called Ramadan, by Mohammad Hassan Khalil

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, started Friday, May 26, 2017. Professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil  answers six questions about the significance of this religious observance. The Conversation

Reports:

Newfoundland’s fourth offshore oil project set to sail, by Greg Locke

While Canada’s oil sands projects and the North America fracking companies are under scrutiny and financial distress, Newfoundland prepares to bring its fourth major offshore oil project online.

Israel marks 50 years of struggling, “United Jerusalem” by Maayan Lubell

A half-century after Israel captured East Jerusalem, the holy city remains deeply divided by politics, religion and ethnicity – and struggling with grim economic realities.

Real-life “Iron Man” has high hopes for jet suit, by Mark Hanrahan

The British inventor of an “Iron Man”-style jet suit has lofty hopes that his project, which started out as fun experiment, could become a practical tool for industries ranging from entertainment to the military.

Gulf States Curbing Opposition, by Sami Aboudi

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Gulf states have stepped up efforts to curb dissent with tough new cybercrime laws, sentencing offenders to prison terms for Web posts deemed insulting to rulers or threatening to public order. But in the past two years, unnerved by low oil prices and the slow progress of a war in Yemen targeting the influence of arch foe Iran, Gulf authorities became even less patient with dissenting voices in the media, analysts and rights groups say.

UK investigates use of personal data in political campaigns, by Reuters

Britain said it was investigating how politicians and campaigners use data to target voters with online advertising to make sure they comply with electoral laws and do not abuse people’s privacy.

NOTEBOOK:

For some perspective on what will matter long after the latest political outrage has faded in Washington, London, or Moscow, set aside time, soon, for the sobering interactive feature by the New York Times on the melting of Antarctica —  and how changes to its vast ice sheets will affect the world. World leaders are urging the United States to stay the course on tackling climate change. But one academic has an interesting contrarian’s view of the Paris Agreement: the world would be better off if Trump withdraws from the Paris climate deal, argued Luke Kemp, of Australian National University, in Nature Climate Change. He explained his view here, in The Conversation: “Simply put: the US and the Trump administration can do more damage inside the agreement than outside it.”
Recommended read elsewhere: Kafka in Vegas, by Megan Rose, ProPublica/Vanity Fair

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Misc:  As the Cannes Film Festival wraps on May 28, check out stories on France24. For an “odd news”break, the BBC reports on “Why humans, chimpanzees and rats enjoy being tickled.”

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Trump Staffers’ Financial Disclosures

The White House Wouldn’t Post Trump Staffers’ Financial Disclosures. So We Did.

by Ariana Tobin and Derek Kravitz, ProPublica
April 1, 2017

Security personnel walk on the roof of the White House near Pennsylvania Avenue before Inauguration Day for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In a remarkable Friday night news dump, the United States’ Trump administration made dozens of White House staffers’ financial disclosure forms available. But they did it with an extra dose of opacity.

These are important disclosures from the people who have the president’s ear and shape national policy. They lay out all sorts of details, including information on ownership of stocks, real estate and companies, and make possible conflicts of interest public.

But the White House required a separate request for each staffer’s disclosure. And they didn’t give the names of the staffers, leaving us to guess who had filed disclosures, a kind of Transparency Bingo.

Since the White House wasn’t going to post the documents publicly, ProPublica did.

ProPublica teamed up with The New York Times and The Associated Press, requested docs for every staffer we know and put them in this public Google Drive folder.

We’re continuing to look through them. And we want your help: If you see anything that merits a closer look, comment on the thread below or fill out our Google Form.

Among the things we’ve learned already:

Steve Bannon, President Trump’s hand-picked chief strategist, earned more than $500,000 last year through businesses connected to Republican donors Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah. The companies include the conservative website Breitbart News Network; the data-crunching firm Cambridge Analytica; the conservative nonprofit Government Accountability Institute; and the entertainment production company Glittering Steel. (Per an agreement with White House ethics attorneys, Bannon is selling his stakes in Cambridge Analytica and Glittering Steel. He made somewhere between $1.3 million and $2.3 million last year, according to the filings.)

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, resigned his positions in 266 different business entities in order to comply with federal ethics rules, White House officials said Friday. He and his wife Ivanka’s financial disclosure shows the scale of their wealth, largely through the family-run Kushner Companies: real estate and investments worth as much as $741 million.

And Kushner is holding onto more than 100 real-estate assets, including a Trump-branded rental building in Jersey City, New Jersey, which was financed with millions from wealthy Chinese investors through a visa program.

As part of Kushner’s financial disclosure, Ivanka Trump, who recently took an official post in the White House, had to disclose her assets. Ivanka Trump’s branded companies, including her clothing and jewelry lines, brought in more than $5 million in 2016 and are valued at more than $50 million. Her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which opened in September, brought in income of between $1 million and $5 million. (She is putting her companies in a trust that she won’t manage while her father serves as president.)

There are other tidbits, too. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs investment banker who now serves as director of the National Economic Council, has assets worth at least $253 million, including million-dollar or more stakes in several private companies. Omarosa Manigault, the reality-TV star who took a job as a White House communications staffer, has a 33 percent stake in a trust worth between $1 million and $5 million established by her late fiancée, the Oscar-nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan, who died in 2012. Reed Cordish, a Trump family friend and Maryland real-estate developer who now oversees technology initiatives at the White House, reported assets of at least $197 million, including partnerships in Baltimore casinos.

So far, we’ve received less than half of the roughly 180 financial disclosures White House officials said they have processed. But the moment we get them, you will, too.

Creative Commons

This story was originally published, here, by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Trump and Russia: “There is a smell of treason in the air”

Photo of the Kremlin by Larry Koester, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
April 1, 2017

As American presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said after the recent hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, when FBI director James Comey testified that the FBI is indeed investigating members of Donald Trump’s campaign for ties to Russia and its hacking program, there is a “smell of treason in the air.”

Or as new CNN analyst Chris Cillizza put it when he was still writing for the Washington Post, “Where there is smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, there is fire.”

The story of Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election campaign and the role the Trump team may have played in that effort is the story that will not die, much to the consternation of President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Every day brings new revelations, which are coming so fast that it’s difficult to keep track of each one. As I write this, the major news outlets are reporting former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is willing to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in exchange for immunity from prosecution. This news is, no doubt, causing heart palpitations at the White House, because no one asks for immunity from prosecution unless they are worried that they may have committed criminal acts. (In fact, Flynn himself made this same comment in 2016.)

Meanwhile, at yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, national security expert Clint Watts told the committee to “follow the trail of dead Russians.” He pointed out that “several Russians linked to the investigation into Kremlin disinformation activities have been killed in the past three months.” And he charged Donald Trump with using Russian tactics to undermine his political opponents.

Two Story lines

There are two elements to the story that are separate and yet connected. The first element is the Russian hacking of the election: the stealing of files from the DNC and their release at key moments designed to undercut Hillary Clinton, and continuing Russian efforts to undermine western democracies. The second element is the possible relationship between members of the Trump campaign team and Russians, officials and unofficial, and the roles they might have played in the Russian hacking campaign.

There is no doubt that the Russian hacking of the campaign took place. Numerous American intelligence agencies have confirmed this, and it matches the behavior of the Russians in other democratic Western nations. Even if the Trump campaign played no role in the hacking, it still took place and, as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have pointed out, it will severely affect our relationship with the Russians at a time when President Trump wants to be buddy-buddy with Putin.

Over the past few years Russia has relentlessly sought to undermine democratic elections in the Western world. It has also aggressively conducted disinformation campaigns about its illegal actions in the Ukraine and in Syria. Germany recently accused Russia of trying to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel, and there is also some question surrounding Russian aid to the pro-Brexit side in the United Kingdom vote. It’s also known that Russia tried to promote anti-European Union presidential candidate Geert Wilders in the recent Netherlands’ election, and is promoting Marie Le Pen in France.

Only two months ago, Russia announced the formalization of this process when it publicized the creation of a specialized unit to engage in informational warfare. Until now most of the Russian hacking has been done by so-called “state actors,” which intelligence agencies around the world knew were under the command of the Kremlin. It was this kind of team that hacked the emails and information at the Democratic National Committee, and which organized their slow but steady release during the 2016 election campaign which helped undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

A key part of this disinformation campaign was the role played by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Assange and Putin shared a common goal: the destruction of Hillary Clinton, reportedly because of perceived personal issues. It is likely, despite its denials, that WikiLeaks served as the broker for information hacked by the Russians. Although the Trump team’s connection to WikiLeaks is not well-known,  Nigel Farage (the anti-Brexit campaigner and friend of Donald Trump) visited Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London (where Assange has taken refuge to avoid deportation to Sweden where he faces rape charges) after the November election. There is speculation that Farage was delivering a message from Trump to Assange.

There can be no doubt about Putin’s objective: he wants to make Russia a superpower again. In the same way class school bullies unable to achieve status through effort tear high achievers down to their level, Putin has crafted a campaign of innuendo, disinformation, lies, and intimidation to bring other countries down to his level. This is particularly true of his efforts to undermine the European Union and to diminish the power of the United States by covertly helping to elect actors, such as Donald Trump, who he feels he can manipulate.

Regardless of the question of whether or not members of the Trump team actively coordinated with the Russian “state actors” in their campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton, this issue of Russian interference in the elections of the United States cannot be overlooked.

Trump team

But the question of the role that several key members of the Trump team played in connection with the Russian activities is also important. Four men (Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn) deserve particular attention. It is interesting that the White House is madly trying to disconnected itself from the four men, which it now describes as “minor players” in the campaign. But as John Dean, of the Watergate scandal, said, “I know something about cover-ups and there is a cover-up happening here.”

The question of whether or not members of Donald Trump’s campaign team, or Trump himself, had knowledge of the Russian hacking successes, and helped to coordinate the release of information obtained in these break-ins, is now the subject of an FBI investigation.

We now know that despite repeated denials, many members of the Trump team met with Russian officials, in particular the Russian ambassador to the United States (including former national security advisor Michael Flynn, current Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign advisors Roger Stone and Carter Page) during the 2016 election campaign. This despite the repeated earlier denials that there was no contact between any member of the Trump team and the Russians.

Important members of the Trump team also have long associations with Putin, Putin’s friends, or sketchy Russian business interests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was described as “a gift to Putin” because of his long-standing personal and financial ties to Russia and Putin. Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, has extensive ties to a billionaire friend of Putin and their shared interest in the national Bank of Cyprus. The New York Times recently reported that Donald Trump had business dealings in New York with Russians with alleged criminal connections.

Meanwhile the BBC reported earlier this week that that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report by former British intelligent agent Christopher Steele about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.

Pieces are falling into place faster and faster. Meanwhile, the US intelligence committee reports that Russia is still spying on the US and already has plans to influence the next American election.

This scandal, which it seems like has been with us forever, is only just starting to heat up.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Further reading: 

 

Former FBI agent details how Trump and Russia team up to weaponize fake news

https://thinkprogress.org/clinton-watts-senate-intelligence-committee-trump-russia-fake-news-trail-of-bodies-1900e6fde054
Trump Russia dossier key claim ‘verified’

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39435786
Fired Trump aide Michael Flynn wants immunity to testify on Russia allegations

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39451358
Devin Nunes Is Just the Errand Boy in the Trump-Russia Scandal
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/03/31/devin-nunes-is-just-the-errand-boy-in-thes-trump-russia-scandal.html?via=desktop&source=twitter

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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America’s Republican Quandary

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
Spring, 2017

There is a classic John Cleese TV comedy performance, as the owner/manager of a small British hotel called ‘Fawlty Towers.’

Cleese, as the bumbling hothead Basil Fawlty, is confronted with the arrival of a group of German tourists. He goes around warning his staff,  ‘Don’t talk about the War’ — referring to the Second World War when Britain and Germany were enemies.

In due course, Basil gets hit on the head by a moosehead falling off a hotel wall and, in a concussed daze, goes off on a mad rant in front of his guests, goose-stepping around and mocking them with some ‘Heil Hitlers,’ forty or fifty years after the War ended.

Washington, DC,  these days is not far removed from this Fawlty Towers episode.

The problem is this: America’s President seems to be going on a kind of Basil Fawlty rant with wiretapping claims that only embarrass his staff and alienate the serious politicians in his own party.

The more he is pressured to leave the issue, let alone apologize for it, the more he parades it out in front of the media, and the cycle goes on. At the same time, the Republicans would like nothing more than to have the issue of Russian interference in the US elections go away. But for that, they need a controlled President who can resist making relevant statements for the next year or two, and get on supporting party policies and legislation. That’s not likely, given his penchant for early morning tweets.

Here is the core of the issue: if the Republican majorities want to execute a major policy shift, they need their focus to be on that shift, not on Presidential fantasies or other distractions. They cannot count on keeping their majorities in 2018, in part because the massive restructuring of programs and finances they hope to make may not appeal to their voters, even if they would be, at least to Republican politicians, good for the country.

This is how Obama put through Dodd-Frank financial legislation and Obamacare, the Patient Care and Affordable Care Act.

The super-sized distraction bubbling below the surface is the role the Russian government played in the election, and how complicit the President and his campaign staff might have been in co-operating with its intelligence operatives, financial flows and the like.

It is not credible that the experienced Republican politicians who were critical or hurt by the President do not see the outlines of this cooperation. There are just too many Administration appointments of people with Russian ties to be overlooked. The hacking of the DNC and the coordinated release of files through Wikileaks is too heavy-handed to be ignored as well.

Like the famous Watergate scandal, this is beginning as a small thing involving relatively minor players getting caught. Nixon’s ‘plumbers’ breaking into the DNC headquarters almost 50 years ago, like General Flynn’s ‘consulting’ for the Russians last year, was a small event, but, with Nixon, things began to unravel, and the cover-up inflated the stakes and destroyed his Presidency.

The quandary facing the Republican majorities in the House and Senate is whether to go after this Russian connection ,or ignore it and push on with their agenda. Unfortunately for the latter option, the involvement of an adversarial foreign power in the federal elections presents them with a serious issue. It may be true that a number of countries, including the US, have played around in foreign elections, but this has generally been seen as the ‘big boys’ playing with minor countries.

Somehow, it seems like it should be insulting to American self-esteem to be placed on a level with Bolivia or Angola.

Further, if this interference practice is not stopped, and an example made of one or more people, then can we expect the Democrats to do a deal with Chinese hackers in the next election? This sounds ludicrous, but if American billionaires can play in politics with impunity, why shouldn’t American politicians not just sell out to the highest bidder, domestic or foreign?

I don’t for a minute feel that American politicians should go down this route, but it already seems to have begun with last fall’s election.

This is why Congress, possibly against its own wishes, but in terms of its individual and collective survival, cannot afford to ignore, and thereby legitimize, foreign interference by anybody in American elections.

Whether it was critical in the election result is irrelevant; the issue is one of patriotism and American identity.

Gradually, this whole scheme will come to light. It is inconceivable that this relationship just developed in an uncoordinated fashion among a variety of people who did not realize that others were also doing the same thing. Normally, things in politics, in my experience, do not happen like that.

Connections and permissions come from the top. Sometimes the top people get away with it, but often there is someone who, for whatever personal or public reason, spills the beans. All that is needed is for investigative pressure to exist before that someone decides to work with the investigators, rather than take the charge that they fear will destroy him.

Meanwhile, the investigators will gradually take over the media’s attention and the credibility of the President goes down. If there are crimes suspected, the whole issue will tend to consume the attention of Congress to the detriment of the political agenda—and we are back to the essential quandary.

How do you get your agenda through with a President, who might be implicated in the scandal and cannot exercise both discipline and silence? Diverting attention will at some time lose its efficacy, especially as we have seen in the wiretapping fantasy, when no one except the faithful believes a word of it.

As the Russian scandal develops—and I believe it will develop slowly but in fine detail—the temptation for the President to speak to it will prove disastrous, not least in part because he has conditioned all of us to not believe a word he says.

This president will not need a falling moosehead to set him into gear, ‘talking about the War.’

This is not going to end well.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2017

Facts and Opinions, employee-owned, survives only on an honour system: please chip in (suggest at least .27 per piece) or make a sustaining donation. Details. 

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Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America

Who is a Yankee and where did the term come from? Though shrouded in myth and routinely used as a substitute for American, the achievements of the Yankees have influenced nearly every facet of our modern way of life.

Join author Jim McNiven as he explores the emergence and influence of Yankee culture while traversing an old transcontinental highway reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific — US 20, which he nicknames “The Yankee Road.”

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Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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America’s coming civil war … in its GOP

If Paul Ryan hadn’t made his own bed, as the expression goes, one might be tempted to feel sorry for him, writes Tom Regan. Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
March 18, 2017

There is a war looming on America’s horizon. Not with Iran or China or North Korea … for the moment. No, this war will take place entirely in America, and it will involve members of the Republican Party. It won’t be pretty.

After the 2016 elections, GOP members must have felt like they were in Utopia. Donald Trump won the presidency, and the party kept control of both the Senate and the House. Soon they would be able to nominate conservative Supreme Court justices who would cement their hold, for at least another decade. They controlled everything.

But as my politically involved father said to me many times, there is a big difference between running for election and governing. And I would add a saying attributed to philosopher Thomas Carlyle: Be careful of what you wish for, for you will get it.

We are now less than two months into the new GOP-controlled everything world. It is a mess.

The president has twice had his anti-Muslim travel banned blocked, mainly because he and his advisors can’t stop saying that it actually is an anti-Muslim travel ban, which is highly unconstitutional. Trump’s accusation that then-President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phone in Trump Tower has been shot down by every knowledgeable intelligence source, both Republican and Democrat, yet Trump continues to insist it is true. (Trump never admits he is wrong about anything, which he learned from his mentor, the totally despicable Roy Cohen of McCarthy-era fame.)

Trump’s new budget, which wants to kill every social program known to humanity, especially if it involves seniors or the poor, is already being denounced by … you guessed it, members of his own party. And Politico ran a story on Wednesday that the White House is a hotbed of paranoia, with people leaving their government-issued smartphones at home for fear of being bugged, and everyone is afraid that everyone else at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is out to get them.

Then there is Paul Ryan. Poor Paul Ryan. If he hadn’t made his own bed, as the expression goes, one might be tempted to feel sorry for him. His bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act – hereafter known as Trumpcare – is going down in flames because he can’t keep all the Republicans happy at the same time. Meanwhile he must deal with a president he doesn’t like who governs (if you can call it that) with his finger perpetually in the wind. While Trump might pledge total support for Ryan’s bill, Trump’s idea of “total support” is different from most other people’s. Basically, if Trump thinks the popular thing to do is abandon the bill, he would drop it faster than the human eye could follow.

Which all brings to the first point of all this: the GOP is discovering that after years in opposition they actually don’t know how to govern, because governing involves compromise. Which leads to the second point: the GOP has many members who see compromise as a deal with the devil, and will not compromise with anything, even when it is in their own best interests.

This what happens when you allow major parts of your party to be taken over by ideologues, as the GOP has with factions like the far-right “Freedom Caucus” in the House and senators like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

Compounding the problem is that the GOP has no one to blame but itself. They don’t have Democrats to kick around anymore, so their knives are turning on each other. The House looks ready to blame the Senate for the upcoming failure of Trumpcare. Meanwhile senators like Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and John McCain are not just going along with whatever Trump or the House wants. And for McCain and Graham, it’s personal, as they were both insulted by Trump. They are using those insults as motivation to go after Trump on the possible associations between members of his own staff and the Russians during the 2016 election campaign.

Meanwhile, there are a few senators who plain don’t like each other. Just yesterday McCain accused Rand Paul of working for Vladimir Putin because Paul voted against Montenegro becoming a member of the NATO alliance. And everyone hates Ted Cruz on principle.

It’s only going to get worse. The one thing all politicians care about more than anything else is their own skin. And members of the House and Senate up for re-election in 2016 are already feeling the stigma of being connected to Trump and his harebrained priorities. They are going to be very careful about jumping aboard what already looks like a sinking ship, which will only anger other, more ideological oriented pro-Trump members. Add in the mix a White House so divorced from reality it could be an attraction in Disneyland, and we might have a real bloodbath before it’s all over.

There is a warning in all this for the Democrats: be careful of the party becoming too ideologically “pure,” because when the party returns to power, as it will someday, it will face the same kind of schisms.

Remember, governing is about compromise.  And, don’t gloat, or figure that you can just sit back and watch the GOP blow itself up. That’s what you thought Trump would do in 2016. How did that work out for you?

I tell the Dems the same thing I tell my kids. Work hard. Listen. Set achievable goals. Don’t read your press clippings. And things might work out OK.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Why Scientists Should Not March on Washington

Scientists in Canada, supported by scientists around the world and global science journals, protested attempts to cut science funding and censor scientists from speaking out under Canada's Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, who was defeated in 2015. Above, scientists from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada, take part in a nation-wide protest in September, 2013.  © Deborah Jones 2013

Scientists in Canada, supported by scientists around the world and global science journals, protested attempts to cut science funding and censor scientists from speaking out under Canada’s Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, who was defeated in 2015. Above, scientists from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada, take part in a nation-wide protest in September, 2013. © Deborah Jones 2013

ANDREA SALTELLI 
March, 2017

The April 22 March for Science, like the Women’s March before it, will confront United States President Donald Trump on his home turf – this time to challenge his stance on climate change and vaccinations, among other controversial scientific issues. The Conversation

But not everyone who supports scientific research and evidence-based policymaking is on board. Some fear that a scientists’ march will reinforce the sceptical conservative narrative that scientists have become an interest group whose findings are politicised. Others are concerned that the march is more about identity politics than science.

From my perspective, the march – which is being planned by the Earth Day Network, League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers and the Natural History Museum, among other partner organisations – is a distraction from the existential problems facing the field.

Other questions are far more urgent to restoring society’s faith and hope in science. What is scientists’ responsibility for current anti-elite resentments? Does science contribute to inequality by providing evidence only to those who can pay for it? How do we fix the present crisis in research reproducibility?

So is the march a good idea? To answer this question, we must turn to the scientist and philosopher Micheal Polanyi, whose concept of science as a body politic underpins the logic of the protest.

Both the appeal and the danger of the March for Science lie in its demand that scientists present themselves as a single collective just as Polanyi did in his Cold War classic, The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory. In it, Polanyi defended the importance of scientific contributions to improving Western society in contrast to the Soviet Union’s model of government-controlled research.

Polanyi was a polymath, that rare combination of natural and social scientist. He passionately defended science from central planning and political interests, including by insisting that science depends on personal, tacit, elusive and unpredictable judgements – that is, on the individual’s decision on whether to accept or reject a scientific claim. Polanyi was so radically dedicated to academic freedom that he feared undermining it would make scientific truth impossible and lead to totalitarianism.

The scientists’ march on Washington inevitably invokes Polanyi. It is inspired by his belief in an open society – one characterised by a flexible structure, freedom of belief and the wide spread of information.

But does Polanyi’s case make sense in the current era?

Polanyi recognised that Western science is, ultimately, a capitalist system. Like any market of goods and services, science comprises individual agents operating independently to achieve a collective good, guided by an invisible hand.

Scientists thus undertake research not to further human knowledge but to satisfy their own urges and curiosity, just as in Adam Smith’s example the baker makes the bread not out of sympathy for the hunger of mankind but to make a living. In both cases this results in a common good.

There is a difference between bakers and scientists, though. For Polanyi: “It appears, at first sight, that I have assimilated the pursuit of science to the market. But the emphasis should be in the opposite direction. The self coordination of independent scientists embodies a higher principle, a principle which is reduced to the mechanism of the market when applied to the production and distribution of material goods.”

Polanyi was aligning science with the economic model of the 1960s. But today his assumptions, both about the market and about science itself, are problematic. And so, too, is the scientists’ march on the US capital, for adopting the same vision of a highly principled science.

Does the market actually work as Adam Smith said? That’s questionable in the current times: economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller have argued that the principle of the invisible hand now needs revisiting. To survive in our consumerist society, every player must exploit the market by any possible means, including by taking advantage of consumer weaknesses.

To wit, companies market food with unhealthy ingredients because they attract consumers; selling a healthy version would drive them out of the market. As one scientist remarked to The Economist, “There is no cost to getting things wrong. The cost is not getting them published”.

It is doubtful that Polanyi would have upheld the present dystopic neo-liberal paradigm as a worthy inspiration for scientific discovery.

Polanyi also believed in a “Republic of Science” in which astronomers, physicists, biologists, and the like constituted a “Society of Explorers”. In their quest for their own intellectual satisfaction, scientists help society to achieve the goal of “self-improvement”.

That vision is difficult to recognise now. Evidence is used to promote political agendas and raise profits. More worryingly, the entire evidence-based policy paradigm is flawed by a power asymmetry: those with the deepest pockets command the largest and most advertised evidence.

I’ve seen no serious attempt to rebalance this unequal context.

A third victim of present times is the idea – central to Polanyi’s argument for a Republic of Science – that scientists are capable of keeping their house in order. In the 1960s, scientists still worked in interconnected communities of practice; they knew each other personally. For Polanyi, the overlap among different scientific fields allowed scientists to “exercise a sound critical judgement between disciplines”, ensuring self-governance and accountability.

Today, science is driven by fierce competition and complex technologies. Who can read or even begin to understand the two million scientific articles published each year?

Elijah Millgram calls this phenomenon the “New Endarkment” (the opposite of enlightenment), in which scientists have been transformed into veritable “methodological aliens” to one another.

One illustration of Millgram’s fears is the P-test imbroglio, in which a statistical methodology essential to the conduit of science was misused and abused for decades. How could a well-run Republic let this happen?

The classic vision of science providing society with truth, power and legitimacy is a master narrative whose time has expired. The Washington March for Science organisers have failed to account for the fact that science has devolved intowhat Polanyi feared: it’s an engine for growth and profit.

A march suggests that the biggest problem facing science today is a post-truth White House. But that is an easy let off. Science’s true predicaments existed before January 2 2017, and they will outlive this administration.

Our activism would be better inspired by the radical 1970s-era movements that sought to change the world by changing first science itself. They sought to provide scientific knowledge and technical expertise to local populations and minority communities while giving those same groups a chance to shape the questions asked of science. These movements fizzled out in the 1990s but echos of their programmatic stance can be found in a recent editorial in Nature.

What we see instead is denial toward science’s real problems. Take for instance the scourge of predatory publishers, who charge authors hefty fees to publish papers with little or no peer review. The lone librarian who fought this battle has now been silenced, to no noticeable reaction from the scientific community.

Trump is not science’s main problem today – science is.

Creative Commons

Andrea Saltelli has worked on physical chemistry, environmental sciences, applied statistics, impact assessment and science for policy. His main disciplinary focus is on sensitivity analysis of model output, a discipline where statistical tools are used to interpret the output from mathematical or computational models, and on sensitivity auditing, an extension of sensitivity analysis to the entire evidence-generating process in a policy context. At present he is in at the European Centre for Governance in Complexity, a joint undertaking of the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) – University of Bergen (UIB), and of the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA) -Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB). The ECGC is located in the UAB campus in Barcelona. His latest works include Science on the Verge, a book on the crisis of science, a series of article of criticism of the Ecological Footprint  He is an Adjunct Professor, Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen, University of Bergen.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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From Russia with Love

Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. {Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons] Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
March 4, 2017

It was meant as humour, but like all good humour it has a ring of truth to it.

The headline on the column, by Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker read, “Putin starting to wonder if his puppets are smart enough to pull this off.”

“When you choose a puppet, you’re looking for a sweet spot,” one of Borowitz’s imaginary sources, supposedly close to Putin, said. “You want to choose someone who’s dumb enough to be manipulated, but not so dumb that he can’t find the light switches.”

“Increasingly, it looks like we missed that sweet spot,” the fictional source said.

This satire was written two weeks before news broke about United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016. If Borowitz’s humourous take on these events were true, then you could picture Putin wondering what the hell is going on. How’s a guy supposed to concentrate on disrupting elections in Germany, France, and the Netherlands when the puppets he installed in the United States don’t seem to be able to go a single day without a screw-up of some kind? How’s a Russian dictator going to put in place his plan to restore Russia to its once-prominent place in the world with that kind of help?

Again, Borowitz writes humour. But this is starting to feel not so funny in real life.

The question of the Trump administration’s involvement with Russia, and Russia’s attempts to undermine the 2016 American election, are starting to smell like three-day-old fish left in the sun. The Trump administration had vehemently denied that any member of its team met with any Russian official of any kind. And for a while it looked like the Russia story might get buried in a slew of other Trumpian actions, like the shortsighted, ill-advised, and soon-overturned attempt to ban refugees from seven different countries in the Middle East.

But Russia is the story that just will not go away. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post perhaps put it best when he wrote, “where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, there’s probably fire.”

Perhaps what’s most puzzling is how the Trump administration is handling the growing story. This is particularly true in the case of Sessions. During his confirmation hearings, when he was asked about any contacts with Russian authorities, he could’ve simply answered that he had spoken briefly to the Russian ambassador, along with several other ambassadors, after he had given a speech at the Republican national convention. And said that his September meeting with the ambassador was merely a chance to discuss issues that were related to his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary committee. (That last one is a little bit of a hard sell, but is plausible enough that it would have given him cover.)

Instead, Sessions lied. To Congress, to the media, and the American public. After the “failing” Washington Post (sad) broke the story of his meetings, as it had also done with Mike Flynn, the scramble was on. For a man who called for then-Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, after she had a tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, Atty. Gen. Sessions was left with few options. And so Thursday he announced that he was recusing himself from any investigation into ties between the Trump administration in Russia. His troubles may not be over however, as that lying to Congress thing might become a sticking point. Nevertheless, the damage has been done.

Suddenly the Trump team’s repeated denials of any meetings with any Russian officials were starting to sound like an NFL general manager who says that he has “complete confidence” in his team’s coach after a 2- 14 season. You know it’s just baloney. And sure enough, Sessions barely had time to step aside before word leaked out that several other Trump administration officials had also met with Russians during 2016.

All of this must make Democrats delighted, but the truth is that it is bothering more than a few Republicans as well. So many heated denials followed by so many revelations that these denials were false creates a sense of cover-up that won’t go away. This is more than a question of “gotcha” politics. Behind all these disproved denials is a serious question of whether or not significant players on the Trump team colluded with another country in order to sabotage a political opponent. And in exchange for this help, these significant players told this other country that, once in power, it would go soft on sanctions and other measures that had been used to retaliate against its more outrageous actions.

That’s why there is a word that is only being softly whispered at the moment, but you can feel its presence. That word is impeachment. It’s difficult to believe that less than two months into Donald Trump’s first term as president that there are people on both sides of the aisle even theoretically discussing his impeachment. Yet it is there.

And as these Russian contacts grow in numbers and more questions are asked about why these discussions were held in the first place, that whisper may start to get much louder.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

LINKS:

Putin Starting to Wonder If His Puppets Are Smart Enough to Pull This Off, by Andy Borowitz, New Yorker, February 14, 2017: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/putin-starting-to-wonder-if-his-puppets-are-smart-enough-to-pull-this-off

Chris Cillizza page at the Washington Post:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/chris-cillizza/?utm_term=.a7539b7100c7

Michael T. Flynn page on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_T._Flynn

~~~

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Is Donald Trump a “Black Swan”?

Photo by Cindy Funk, 2009, Creative Commons

Photo by Cindy Funk, 2009, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
February 4, 2017

As I drove my wife to catch the train into DC at 4 AM this past Friday morning, we listened to NPR’s daily rebroadcast of the BBC. At that time of the morning there is normally business programming of some kind and, because it is the BBC, it is almost always interesting. This particular morning Daniel Levin was being interviewed.

Levin is an American attorney turned successful writer. He was on the BBC to talk about his new book “Nothing But a Circus: Misadventures Among the Powerful,” published last month. The blurb from his publisher Penguin books on its promotional website reads, “In this eye-opening exploration of the human weakness for power, Daniel Levin takes us on a hilarious journey through the absurd world of our global elites, drawing unforgettable sketches of some of the puppets who stand guard, and the jugglers and conjurers employed within.”

The book sounds like a fascinating read, and in the interview Levin gave a taste of what he witnessed working with some of the world’s most powerful people, including Vladimir Putin, a story that some in the American government might find instructive. Then Levin said something that snapped me out of my half-drowsy stupor: he described Donald Trump as a “black swan.” Levin admitted he could be wrong, but said all the signs show that Trump fits the definition.

I first came across the idea in another book that I’ve spoken about before, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast, and Slow,” who wrote about Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a financial professional and writer, who offered the idea of black swans as a way to look at the 2008 financial crisis. Rather than twist myself into knots trying to explain, I’ll quote from the website Investopedia:

“Taleb argued that black swan events are impossible to predict yet have catastrophic ramifications. Therefore, it is important for people to always assume a black swan event is a possibility, whatever it may be, and to plan accordingly. He also used the 2008 financial crisis and the idea of black swan events to point out if a broken system is allowed to fail, it actually strengthens it against the catastrophe of future black swan events.”

Taleb’s definition of a black swan event perfectly describes the rise of Donald Trump, from clown celebrity to the most powerful man in the world.

Just think about it. No one, no one, predicted that Trump’s candidacy would end up where it did. Even Trump in the beginning only saw a run for the White House as a chance to improve his brand overall, and perhaps generate a new TV show after he had been asked to leave The Celebrity Apprentice. And there is no doubt, as we have seen in barely two weeks of his administration, that our failure to predict this event is having catastrophic ramifications.

It is the final part of the Investopedia definition that those of us who failed to predict the rise of Trump need to focus on: “If a broken system is allowed to fail it actually strengthens it against the catastrophe of future black swan events.”

Well, it’s pretty fair to say the system failed. But, it’s produced a most amazing result. Millions of Americans have suddenly found their voices and their citizenship. Pundits and historians are already comparing it to what happened with the Tea Party in 2008 after the election of Barack Obama. The Women’s March on Washington; the large protest that took place at airports particularly in America, but also around the world, after Trump’s immigration ban; upcoming marches by scientists; a protest to take place on April 15 about Trump not paying his taxes …  These are just the most visible symbols that something perhaps not seen since the ’60s is happening.

It’s also happening in a much smaller level. In my own rural Virginia community people are already organizing, some very publicly, some very privately. Information is being shared via social media about upcoming meetings, protests, phone numbers to call to contact House and Senate representatives. There is a new sense of constant motion.

Reportedly, many Trump supporters are happy with the numerous odorous executive orders issued since he became president. But it’s important to remember that Trump is only president because of roughly 77,000 voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Many of those people were willing to make a bet on an unknown because they were tired of the status quo. This is what we missed, what we ignored, what we overlooked.

I was particularly struck by a phone call from a young man in Pennsylvania to a NPR talkshow who said he participated in some of the protests against Trump’s executive orders, but admitted he had voted for Trump. When asked why he voted for him, when he so obviously disagreed with many of the things the new president was doing, he answered that he was tired of the same old politics, that he was fed up with the Bush-Clinton dynasties, and that he felt Americans had to break away, and so he was willing to bet on Trump. He said he didn’t know if he would vote for Trump again but he felt it was right at the time.

It’s hearing comments like these that give me hope that Donald Trump is indeed a black swan. And that if we pay attention, listen better and learn, then improve the system, we can make sure that a Donald Trump never happens again.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Related opinion columns on F&O:

America’s Fantasy World, by Tom Regan

In the fantasy world of America, globalization can be stopped dead in its tracks, and blue jeans will still sell for $20 a pair at Sam’s Club. Manufacturing jobs long vanished will be returned, despite the onslaught of automation …. Oh, it’s a wonderful world. Lollipops and unicorns and everybody wins the lottery under President Donald Trump. Too bad it doesn’t exist.

The Trumping of Rationality, by Tom Regan

For many years, economists, philosophers and pundits thought that people would always act rationally:  people would look at options and the information available to make rational choices. But in the mid-70s, two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – turned that idea on its head.

Pins are out for the Trump balloon, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Even as the inaugural party hangovers still throb in Washington, leaders in other capitals are dreaming up ways to discover what kind of blow-hard Donald Trump is. He has given them plenty to work with.

Rule of Law vs Rule by Man, by Deborah Jones

The American Dream has shrunk to one simple question: rule of law, or rule by man?

~~~

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Pins are out for the Trump balloon

General view of west side of US Capitol prior to the inauguration to swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

General view of west side of US Capitol prior to the inauguration to swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 20, 2017

Even as the inaugural party hangovers still throb in Washington, leaders in other capitals are dreaming up ways to discover what kind of blow-hard Donald Trump is.

He has given them plenty to work with over the last couple of years with his ignorant and intemperate outbursts. But it matters to everyone whether there is any substance behind Trump’s rabid self-promotion: his opiate of choice.

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart from services at St. John's Church during his inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart from services at St. John’s Church during his inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The core question is whether the century of the United States imperium is at an end.

It was in the winter of 1918-1919 during the peace talks in Paris to conclude the First World War that Washington took over from London as the capital of the world’s super power. British leaders realized the era of their empire was spent and willingly handed the torch to the U.S., which shared Britain’s civic values.

With super power status goes the responsibility to act as a global arbiter. One can argue about how effectively and morally the U.S. has performed that task. What is beyond argument, however, is that the U.S. created the existing structure of international human discourse. By and large, those institutions were designed and created with a generous spirit and the aim of improving human security and wellbeing. Institutions like the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank, and all these organizations’ many spin-offs, undoubtedly are marked by the culture of their creators in Washington. But it is hard to sustain a credible argument that they are agencies of U.S. imperialism, though many try to do so.

Trump’s disdain and contempt for much of this structure does not bode well. He has called NATO “obsolete.” He has dismissed the UN as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” He threatens to tear up trade agreements and warned allies in Asia such as Japan and South Korea not to count on Washington in a crisis.

He applauded the looming break-up of the European Union and got unnecessarily personal in his criticism of European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump threatens an all-out trade war with China, which he accuses of currency manipulation and “stealing” U.S. jobs, and to jettison the policy over the status of Taiwan that has governed Washington-Beijing relations since the late 1970s.

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has gone further with the chest thumping and told Beijing its activities in the South China Sea are unacceptable. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” Tillerson said during his confirmation hearing.

North Korean leader Kim Jung-un said in his New Year Day’s address that his country is close to being able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead. Trump responded with a Tweet saying: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

Even the rogue regime of former President George W. Bush, as mad and bad as it was, realised that pre-emptive strikes against countries with nuclear weapons was a step too far.

Trump will prefer to concentrate on domestic issues in his first months as president. He has set out an impressive agenda of rules, regulations, programs and agencies earmarked for destruction. And in his picks for departmental bosses and cabinet members Trump has assembled a wrecking crew of awesome credentials. (It is impossible to lampoon an administration whose choice for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, says guns should be allowed in schools to protect children from grizzly bears.)

But the rest of the world can’t and won’t give Trump a breathing space. He will be tested soon.

He has lined up an impressive array of world leaders who have reason to push back against Trump’s Elmer Gantry, bully pulpit methods. Of course, there is one who has no desire to test what Trump is made of. No doubt it will eventually become clear whether Trump is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent groupie, the Kremlin’s Manchurian Candidate — brainwashed by oligarchs’ investments in his wobbly property empire — or something in between. But for the moment, Putin is in the unprecedented situation for a Russian leader of having in the White House a man who admires his murderous and autocratic leadership style, and who wants to be his BBF.

Putin’s test of Trump’s sincerity will be to do nothing. Trump has indicated he wants to remove sanctions imposed on Putin by outgoing President Barack Obama for interfering in the presidental election, for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. If Trump follows through, that will play into Putin’s timetable nicely. Putin is due to be re-elected President next year, and although this piece of theatre is meaningless by any true definition of democracy, he likes the performance to give him the appearance of political legitimacy.

But Russia these days is basically Zimbabwe with nuclear weapons and bad winters. International sanctions have eaten into a misconceived economy, overly dependent on energy exports, and gnawed to the bone by Putin’s kleptocratic stable of oligarchs. Putin needs a little economic fillip to lessen the prospect of public demonstrations of protest at his re-election next year. Trump could be his trump.

It is also unlikely that the ayatollahs who rule Iran will want to push back against Trump, despite his having threatened to junk the 2015 agreement regulating Tehran’s nuclear development program, which he called “the worst deal ever negotiated” and a “disaster.” Trump does not appear to have grasped that this was not an agreement between Washington and Tehran. It is an agreement negotiated with Iran by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and endorsed by the UN Security Council. Trump could perhaps back the U.S. out of the agreement, but it would make no substantial difference to the international contract with Iran or the resultant lifting of international sanctions on the Tehran government.

China has more reason than most countries to try to discover quickly what sort of flimflam man inhabits the Oval Office. Beijing has a huge range of options to choose from. There are U.S. businesses and non-governmental organizations operating in China. There’s actions that can be taken against Taiwan, which China claims to own, but which Trump seems to have singled out for friendship. There’s the possibility of taking a swipe at Washington allies Japan or South Korea. And, of course, there’s lots of opportunity for mischief in the South China Sea. Beijing’s forces have in the past buzzed U.S. military aircraft over the sea, harassed hydrographic research vessels, and chivvied U.S. oil company exploration ships.

What can be said for certain is that the Communist Party regime is a master at presenting no target. If China chooses to take a poke at Trump it’s a fair bet it will be in a way that leaves him blustering with fury and impotent to respond.

Beijing might well feel the task of prodding Trump can be best left to the Malevolent Teletubby Kim Jung-un in North Korea.

As Trump was going through the inauguration process on Friday, media in South Korea was reporting speculation from Seoul’s intelligence services that North Korea would soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S.

Kim, and his father Kim Jung-il before him, has put great effort into developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of presenting a credible deterrent. After five nuclear tests since 2006, Pyongyang appears to have atomic bombs that blow up with some reliability. What remains uncertain is whether it has mastered the miniaturization necessary to make a nuclear weapon that can be put on top of a missile.

Hand in hand with this program has gone the development of missiles. Pyongyang has managed to build a rocket that put some sort of satellite in orbit, but it has had great difficulty in developing reliable missiles. At the end of last year, for example, it had seven failures out of eight test launches of its Musudan intermediate-range missile.

Developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a significant leap beyond that, not least because it requires the ability to bring the missile warhead back down from space on the target and with some accuracy. There is no clear evidence North Korea has yet achieved that skill.

So what could Kim Jung-un do to get Trump’s goat? North Korea Watchers are suggesting three options. One is that Kim’s scientists might fire another of its space rockets, called the Unha, but fit it with a re-entry vehicle emulating a warhead. If it worked, that would demonstrate having mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear weapon in theory if not yet in practice.

Another option would be to test fire an ICBM. Pyongyang has displayed mock-ups of its KN-14 would-be ICBM in a military parade in 2015, but has not test fired it. It is designed for a mobile launcher, and thus far less vulnerable to counter measures than the Unha space rockets fired from fixed bases. But the first tests of the KN-14 are almost certain to fail. Thus any attempt by Kim to fire a KN-14 as a show of strength is most likely to be an embarrassing damp squib.

A third option – and the most disquieting – is for Kim to refrain from trying to thumb his nose at Trump and instead to pursue a quiet and measured ICBM development program. This means taking the time to fully learn the lessons of failed tests and designing remedies. It means cool relentlessness rather than bravado.

The only certainty, of course, is that there is no certainty where the test of Trump as an international player will come from. It is a moment to remember that remark attributed to former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He was asked by a journalist what might knock his government’s program off course and is said to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Trump Hits Populist Note in Inaugural Address, by Richard Tofel, ProPublica

Donald Trump’s speech largely lacked lofty language, but contained a full-throated populist vision, delivered with confidence, and signaled this from the start in one of its most memorable lines: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This might be heard to echo Ronald Reagan’s 1981 statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” but that would actually miss Trump’s point: The speech did not oppose government — it opposed the governors.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Trump Hits Populist Note in Inaugural Address

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) takes the oath of office from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (R) with his wife Melania, and children Barron, Donald, Ivanka and Tiffany at his side during inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) takes the oath of office from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (R) with his wife Melania, and children Barron, Donald, Ivanka and Tiffany at his side during inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

by Richard Tofel, ProPublica
January. 20, 2017

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s inaugural address, it seemed no one knew exactly what to expect.

Today was clearly an occasion for the use of the teleprompters that Trump used to mock his predecessor for employing. But, with the prepared text scrolling before him, would Trump offer the sobriety of his speech after meeting the Mexican president last August, or that of Election Night — or the bellicosity of his Convention acceptance speech? Sobriety won the day.

But the speech was much more than sober. It largely lacked lofty language, but contained a full-throated populist vision, delivered with confidence, and signaled this from the start in one of its most memorable lines: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This might be heard to echo Ronald Reagan’s 1981 statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” but that would actually miss Trump’s point: The speech did not oppose government — it opposed the governors.

Perhaps the most striking element of the speech is how positive it remained throughout. Yes, it painted a dark vision of the state of the country today, accentuating the negative in this respect as almost all presidents who succeed a person of the other party do. But the blame for these ills was cast only on two domestic players: an undefined “Establishment” and, most tellingly, “Washington” and “politicians,” implicitly of both parties, “who are all talk and no action constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.”

Trump once again, as at his Convention, made a presumably conscious play for Franklin Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” of 1932. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now,” Trump declared. But while some on the right have tried to recast this phrase and return it to the meaning of William Graham Sumner, who used it first in 1918 to refer to taxpayers forced to pay for reforms, Trump made no such allusions. Government must be part of the solution to his promises, if only because those promises are being made by the new head of the government.

And therein lies the great risk of the speech. The new president pledged today to rid the country of the problems of drugs, crime, inner city poverty and closed factories, and to launch an ambitious program of infrastructure spending. He pledged to “eradicate completely from the face of the earth” what he predictably called “radical Islamic terrorism.” None of these promises are likely to be literally fulfilled. Trump’s pledge to “never, ever let you down” seems a dangerous echo of Jimmy Carter, who said the same thing, and received 40 percent of the vote when he ran for re-election. The question then will be whether enough has been done to avoid popular disappointment.

A striking contrast in the speech was that between its pleas for domestic unity — Trump twice called for racial tolerance — and international division. On the latter score, it is worth comparing this from John Kennedy exactly 56 years ago, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” with this from Trump today: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”

Other questions ahead of today’s speech went more to style than to substance. Would Trump be gracious and thank his predecessor, as each new president since Carter in 1977 has done? He did. Would he be afflicted by the nervous sniffling of his debate performances (and the Mexican speech), or display the self-confidence that made those exceptions stand out? He sniffled a bit, but not nearly as much as in the debates — he seemed much more confident today than he did then.

One of the few things Trump and his aides said about the speech in advance was that it would be short. In the event, it was. The President clocked in at 1,454 words. That compares with 1,366 words in JFK’s inaugural address — the most memorable of the modern era. It is far longer than FDR’s fourth inaugural, which, at 573 words, was the shortest modern address — and nowhere near Washington’s second inaugural, in 1793, which set an enduring record for brevity at 136 words. But it was considerably shorter than Barack Obama’s largely unmemorable first inaugural address (everyone, it seems, remembers the day, but, unusually for Obama, very little of what was said); that speech ran 2,409 words.

One thing was entirely predictable: how the speech would end. Anyone paying any attention at all for the last 18 months should have known its last point would be a call to “Make America Great Again.”

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Related:

Donald Trump Sworn in as 45th U.S. President, by Steve Holland  Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to “America First” policies at home and abroad.

The Trumping of Rationality, by Tom Regan   Column

For many years, economists, philosophers and pundits thought that people would always act rationally:  people would look at options and the information available to make rational choices. But in the mid-70s, two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – turned that idea on its head.

~~~~

 

Richard Tofel is the author of “Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address” and “Eight Weeks in Washington, 1861: Abraham Lincoln and the Hazards of Transition.”

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