James Mattis Might Be Best We Can Hope For From Trump As Defense Secretary

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Like most observers, I am apprehensive about the names being mentioned for top positions in the Trump administration. His national security advisers are far too hawkish, although the same would be the case if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Although more hawkish than I would like, I had been thinking that General James Mattis might be about as good a choice for Secretary of Defense as could be expected in a Trump administration. He is certainly a better choice than picking Michael Flynn to be national security adviser.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton invited General Mattis to speak at their nominating conventions, which was not surprising with Clinton being the more hawkish of the two. Mattis declined both invitations, which I consider to be a point in his favor.

Mattis is more hard-line on Russia than Trump. While I was concerned about the history of belligerence and Cold War mentality towards Russia seen from Hillary Clinton, it might be safer to have someone suspicious of Russia to counterbalance Donald Trump’s crush on Putin. I am more worried about his hawkish position on Iran.

Another benefit of Mattis advising Donald Trump is that Trump was impressed when Mattis advised him that waterboarding and other forms of torture are not effective means of obtaining information. Trump quoted Mattis as saying, “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.” This is advice I want Donald Trump to hear.

Thomas Ricks, author of books including Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq had the following to say about Mattis in The New York Times:

Usually, I’d oppose having a general as secretary of defense, because it could undermine our tradition of civilian control of the military.

But these are not normal times. The incoming president appears to be a profoundly ignorant man who often seems to act on gut impulse or on what pleases the crowd. That is a dangerous combination to have in the White House. Having known General Mattis for many years, I am confident that he will be a restraint on Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness. I also think he will provide a strong counterweight to some of those around Mr. Trump who hold isolationist or pro-Putin views…

It helps that General Mattis, unlike Mr. Trump, is extremely well read. I once casually mentioned to him that I planned to learn more about the Carthaginian general Hannibal. He immediately named two books that he considered good studies. He told me once that in combat he liked to have a copy in his rucksack of “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, the second-century Roman philosopher-emperor, the better to help him gain some mental distance from the battlefield.

I also think that General Mattis will provide a useful balance to Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general chosen by Mr. Trump to be national security adviser. General Flynn strikes me as an erratic figure. For example, his joining in the “lock her up” chant at the Republican convention was unseemly and, for a career military officer, unprofessional. Also, General Flynn did not have a good reputation as an administrator when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency before being moved out by the Obama administration. It will help that General Mattis retired with four stars, while General Flynn wore just three — among military men, rank matters, even in retirement.

The public notion of generals is that they know how to use only the military as a means of policy and so are more likely to get the nation into wars. That is a false conception in most cases, but especially in this one. General Mattis knows that war is the last resort, not the first one. He also understands that the threat of force works best when it works in conjunction with robust diplomatic efforts.

If it is inevitable that Trump is going to chose someone who is conservative on foreign policy, Mattis might be as good a choice as we can hope for under Trump.

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Turkey of the Day: Trump Ignoring Intelligence Briefings Since Election

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The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump has been “turning away intelligence briefers since election win.”

President-elect Donald Trump has received two classified intelligence briefings since his surprise election victory earlier this month, a frequency that is notably lower — at least so far — than that of his predecessors, current and former U.S. officials said.

A team of intelligence analysts has been prepared to deliver daily briefings on global developments and security threats to Trump in the two weeks since he won. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, by contrast, has set aside time for intelligence briefings almost every day since the election, officials said.

Officials involved in the Trump transition team cautioned against assigning any significance to the briefing schedule that the president-elect has set so far, noting that he has been immersed in the work of forming his administration, and has made filling key national security posts his top priority.

But others have interpreted Trump’s limited engagement with his briefing team as an additional sign of indifference from a president-elect who has no meaningful experience on national security issues and was dismissive of U.S. intelligence agencies’ capabilities and findings during the campaign.

A senior U.S. official who receives the same briefing delivered to President Obama each day said that devoting time to such sessions would help Trump get up to speed on world events.

“Trump has a lot of catching up to do,” the official said.

In contrast, George Bush received daily briefings, although they were delayed until December 5 due to the recount. Bill Clinton first started receiving intelligence briefings ten days after being elected, and then received them most working days. Obama also received regular intelligence briefings:

After his election in 2008, President Obama took part not only in regular intelligence briefings but also scheduled “deep dives” on key subjects including Iran’s nuclear program and covert CIA operations, including the accelerating campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan.

“During the transition, President Obama was an avid consumer of intelligence,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was CIA director when Obama was elected.

I guess Trump thinks he is so smart that he doesn’t need those briefings–or he plans to have Pence handle all this stuff.

Trump Continues To Express Contradictory Views In New York Times Interview

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With Donald Trump often expressing contradictory views, sometimes in the same speech, we will not really know what a Trump administration will be like until we see what they actually do. In the meantime we continue to get some clues, such as in his interview with The New York Times (full transcript here).

Reading this, and other  recent statements from Trump, makes me believe he is non-ideological, has not thought very much about the issues, and often reflects the views of the last person he talked to. This provides hope that Trump can be persuaded to change his mind in areas where his statements have been contrary to fact, but also gives more reason to be worried about those he has appointed to his administration so far.

One area where he has altered his view to some degree is climate change:

JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?

TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.

They’re really largely noncompetitive. About four weeks ago, I started adding a certain little sentence into a lot of my speeches, that we’ve lost 70,000 factories since W. Bush. 70,000. When I first looked at the number, I said: ‘That must be a typo. It can’t be 70, you can’t have 70,000, you wouldn’t think you have 70,000 factories here.’ And it wasn’t a typo, it’s right. We’ve lost 70,000 factories.

We’re not a competitive nation with other nations anymore. We have to make ourselves competitive. We’re not competitive for a lot of reasons.

That’s becoming more and more of the reason. Because a lot of these countries that we do business with, they make deals with our president, or whoever, and then they don’t adhere to the deals, you know that. And it’s much less expensive for their companies to produce products. So I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it. And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it. And we’ll let you know…

SHEAR: Just one quick clarification on the climate change, do you intend to, as you said, pull out of the Paris Climate …

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it.

On the one hand, he does admit to at least “some connectivity,” which is an improvement over his history of denial of the human role in climate change. He also shows what I believe is the bottom line for many Republicans. They choose to deny climate change as they see it as bad for business. To them, a change in their business models would be bad, while liberals are more encouraged by the prospects of stimulating the economy with measures to change to more environmentally sound processes. Advisors such as Myron Ebell and Bob Walker make it less likely that we will see action by Trump on climate change.

Trump appeared willing to soften his views in some areas, but not where it might jeopardize his business concerns:

SHEAR: You’ve talked about the impact of the wind farms on your golf course. People, experts who are lawyers and ethics experts, say that all of that is totally inappropriate, so I guess the question for you is, what do you see as the appropriate structure for keeping those two things separate, and are there any lines that you think you won’t want to cross once you’re in the White House?

TRUMP: O.K. First of all, on countries. I think that countries will not do that to us. I don’t think if they’re run by a person that understands leadership and negotiation they’re in no position to do that to us, no matter what I do. They’re in no position to do that to us, and that won’t happen, but I’m going to take a look at it. A very serious look. I want to also see how much this is costing, you know, what’s the cost to it, and I’ll be talking to you folks in the not-too-distant future about it, having to do with what just took place.

As far as the, you know, potential conflict of interests, though, I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway. And the laws, the president can’t. And I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world. People are starting to see, when they look at all these different jobs, like in India and other things, number one, a job like that builds great relationships with the people of India, so it’s all good. But I have to say, the partners come in, they’re very, very successful people. They come in, they’d say, they said, ‘Would it be possible to have a picture?’ Actually, my children are working on that job. So I can say to them, Arthur, ‘I don’t want to have a picture,’ or, I can take a picture. I mean, I think it’s wonderful to take a picture. I’m fine with a picture. But if it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again. That would be like you never seeing your son again. That wouldn’t be good. That wouldn’t be good. But I’d never, ever see my daughter Ivanka…

This is one of, if not the only, core belief which is likely to guide the actions of Donald Trump in office.

Trump was confronted with the charges of racism and anti-Semitism surrounding Steve Bannon in light of his work at Breitbart:

DAVIS: You hired Steve Bannon to be the chief strategist for you in the White House. He is a hero of the alt-right. He’s been described by some as racist and anti-Semitic. I wonder what message you think you have sent by elevating him to that position and what you would say to those who feel like that indicates something about the kind of country you prefer and the government you’ll run.

TRUMP: Um, I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him. First of all, I’m the one that makes the decision, not Steve Bannon or anybody else. And Kellyanne will tell you that.

KELLYANE CONWAY: 100 percent.

TRUMP: And if he said something to me that, in terms of his views, or that I thought were inappropriate or bad, number one I wouldn’t do anything, and number two, he would have to be gone. But I know many people that know him, and in fact, he’s actually getting some very good press from a lot of the people that know him, and people that are on the left. But Steve went to Harvard, he was a, you know, he was very successful, he was a Naval officer, he’s, I think he’s very, very, you know, sadly, really, I think it’s very hard on him. I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him. It’s not him.

I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a very, very smart guy. I think he was with Goldman Sachs on top of everything else…

He was also asked about his support from neo-Nazis:

UNKNOWN: Mr. President-elect, I wanted to ask you, there was a conference this past weekend in Washington of people who pledged their allegiance to Nazism.

TRUMP: Boy, you are really into this stuff, huh?

PRIEBUS: I think we answered that one right off the bat.

UNKNOWN: Are you going to condemn them?

TRUMP: Of course I did, of course I did.

PRIEBUS: He already did.

UNKNOWN: Are you going to do it right now?

TRUMP: Oh, I see, maybe you weren’t here. Sure. Would you like me to do it here? I’ll do it here. Of course I condemn. I disavow and condemn…

Trump will remain under close scrutiny in light of Steve Bannon’s past work, and others on the far right who support him. He is also being watched closely by several civil liberties organizations.

He also backed down slightly on torture:

HABERMAN: And on torture? Where are you — and waterboarding?

TRUMP: So, I met with General Mattis, who is a very respected guy. In fact, I met with a number of other generals, they say he’s the finest there is. He is being seriously, seriously considered for secretary of defense, which is — I think it’s time maybe, it’s time for a general. Look at what’s going on. We don’t win, we can’t beat anybody, we don’t win anymore. At anything. We don’t win on the border, we don’t win with trade, we certainly don’t win with the military. General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said, ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.’ And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he’s known as being like the toughest guy. And when he said that, I’m not saying it changed my mind. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard. But I’ll tell you what, I was impressed by that answer. It certainly does not — it’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that. But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say. I thought he would say — you know he’s known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason. I thought he’d say ‘It’s phenomenal, don’t lose it.’ He actually said, ‘No, give me some cigarettes and some drinks, and we’ll do better.’

It is good to see that he listened to the view that torture is not effective. It is discouraging to see that he then said, “If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it.” Hardly a position which respects either the facts or ethics. Torturing prisoners because “the American people” want it, even if it is of no benefit, is hardly a defensible position.

Tulsi Gabbard Meets With Donald Trump To Promote Non-Interventionism

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Among the many unique aspects of the 2016 election was that the Democratic candidate was to the right of the Republican candidate on foreign policy. Unfortunately Donald Trump, while never as hawkish as Hillary Clinton (virtually nobody is) was both inconsistent and often outright incoherent when discussing foreign policy. His initial appointments did not provide much hope that Trump will really break with the Republican establishment on foreign policy, but that may have changed today. Trump met with Tulsi Gabbard: “Gabbard, who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, is being considered for jobs at the Defense Department, State Department and the United Nations, a source told CNN.”

Gabbard had stepped down as a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to back Bernie Sanders and oppose Clinton’s foreign policy views. From her statement endorsing Sanders:

Our interventionist wars in Iraq and Libya have cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives; and al Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations are still strong.

Today, America is again on a path of interventionism without a plan. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Syria, where we are supporting rebel groups allied with al Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

We are spending billions of dollars to overthrow the Syrian government in a war that has led to hundreds of thousands of Syrians being killed or injured and a refugee crisis like we’ve not seen in decades.

Our military and intelligence assets are on the ground, yet no one can answer a simple question: What happens if the regime falls? If we succeed in overthrowing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, it will open the door for ISIS, al Qaeda, and other Islamic extremists to take over all of Syria, which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis and pose a greater threat to the world.

After the meeting, Gabbard expressed similar views on foreign policy, including how the neoconservative policies supported by Hillary Clinton would lead to many Syrian deaths and place us at risk of direct conflict with Russia:

President-elect Trump asked me to meet with him about our current policies regarding Syria, our fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as other foreign policy challenges we face. I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government—a war which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families.

While the rules of political expediency would say I should have refused to meet with President-elect Trump, I never have and never will play politics with American and Syrian lives.

Serving the people of Hawaiʻi and our nation is an honor and responsibility that I do not take lightly. Representing the aloha spirit and diversity of the people of Hawaiʻi, I will continue to seek common ground to deliver results that best serve all Americans, as I have tried to do during my time in Congress.

Where I disagree with President-elect Trump on issues, I will not hesitate to express that disagreement. However, I believe we can disagree, even strongly, but still come together on issues that matter to the American people and affect their daily lives. We cannot allow continued divisiveness to destroy our country.

President-elect Trump and I had a frank and positive conversation in which we discussed a variety of foreign policy issues in depth. I shared with him my grave concerns that escalating the war in Syria by implementing a so-called no fly/safe zone would be disastrous for the Syrian people, our country, and the world. It would lead to more death and suffering, exacerbate the refugee crisis, strengthen ISIS and al-Qaeda, and bring us into a direct conflict with Russia which could result in a nuclear war. We discussed my bill to end our country’s illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government, and the need to focus our precious resources on rebuilding our own country, and on defeating al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups who pose a threat to the American people.

For years, the issue of ending interventionist, regime change warfare has been one of my top priorities. This was the major reason I ran for Congress—I saw firsthand the cost of war, and the lives lost due to the interventionist warmongering policies our country has pursued for far too long.

Let me be clear, I will never allow partisanship to undermine our national security when the lives of countless people lay in the balance.

Hopefully Gabbard does receive an opportunity to work with Donald Trump, and guide him on a less interventionist path. It is hard to see any outcome if Clinton had been elected other than further entrenchment of the warfare/surveillance state and perpetual warfare. While I am not terribly optimistic about Donald Trump handling foreign policy either, at least he has expressed opposition to interventionism at times, leaving open a possibility for a change in course. With all the negative signs so far from Trump, including his right wing appointments to date, his battle with the cast of Hamilton, and a disastrous meeting with members of the news media today, this offers a small glimmer of hope.

Trump Faces Opposition From Left And Right On Transition–Lobbyists, Steve Bannon, & Foreign Policy

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Donald Trump has taken many contradictory positions on issues over the years. He would sometimes even do that during the same speech, making it difficult to predict what he will do as president. Until we see his actual actions in the White House, the people he is adding to his administration will be the first clues as to what a Trump administration will be like. So far his actual and rumored choices are receiving considerable opposition.

It was hardly a surprise that Steve Bannon would be included in his administration following his role in the campaign, but disappointing that he has been given a position which is being said to be equal to the Chief of Staff. Elizabeth Warren spoke out against both the large number of lobbyists in the transition team along with the choice of Bannon at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council event:

“I think that the clearest point that comes out of this election is that the American people do not want Wall Street to run their government. They do not want corporate executives to be the ones who are calling the shots in Washington,” Ms. Warren said, to an audience comprised largely of corporate executives.

“What Donald Trump is doing is that he’s putting together a transition team that’s full of lobbyists — the kind of people he actually ran against,” she said.

A half-dozen prominent Washington lobbyists are involved in the transition team, including consultants who represent energy companies and agriculture interests. Other business leaders have been mentioned for prominent posts, including Wall Street executive Anthony Scaramucci, tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel and former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., and accused global elites of rigging the economy and the political system.

Ms. Warren also criticized Mr. Trump’s pick of Steve Bannon, an outspoken and controversial media executive, for a top White House job.

“This is a man who says, by his very presence, that this is a White House that will embrace bigotry,” Ms. Warren said…

“I just want to underline something that every one of you know: bigotry is bad for business. Bigotry is not what your employees expect. Bigotry is not what your customers expect,” she said. “And if that’s the direction that this administration goes, that creates a real problem for everyone.”

During the campaign Trump has also made statements which gave the impression that he sided with both opponents of neoconservative interventionism and with hawks. Many neoconservatives sided with the hawkish Clinton while some opponents of interventionism are now disappointed by those being discussed as possible Secretary of StateDavid Weigel reported on the reactions of opponents of interventionism on the right. This includes Rand Paul speaking out against both Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton as Secretary of State:

“It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.”

Paul argued that Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign-policy establishment.

“I’m hoping that if there’s a public discussion of this before it happens, people in the incoming administration realize that regime change made us less safe and the Iraq War made us less safe,” Paul said. “We don’t need, as our chief diplomat, someone whose idea of diplomacy is dropping bombs.”

Other opponents of interventionism on the right have similar concerns:

But the discussion of plum roles for Bolton or Giuliani have given some libertarians and “paleoconservatives” pause. Tuesday morning, at a post-election D.C. conference hosted by the American Conservative magazine, a series of “realist” foreign-policy writers criticized the names floated for Trump’s State Department. Daniel Larison suggested that former senator Jim Webb of Virginia — a Republican-turned-Democrat who weighed a presidential run as an independent after dropping out of the Democratic primaries — would be a fairer choice and that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would be “the less aggressive choice” for the Defense Department.

Civil libertarians on both the right and left also have reasons to be concerned about Trump’s actions regarding civil liberties. I looked at this subject in a post last week.

The Washington Post has reported on other tensions between Republicans and Trump on national security issues.

America Rejects Clinton And The Establishment

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In an election in which both candidates were dreadful, unfortunately only one could lose. Democratic Party leaders rigged the system to nominate the one candidate who could not even beat Donald Trump. If the Democratic Party was democratic during the primaries we could have woken up today to a President-elect Sanders and a Democratic Senate. Instead, in a year in which the voters wanted change, the Democrats picked the most conservative, establishment choice imaginable. Clinton would have been the best president that money could buy. That is a key reason why she lost. Clinton epitomizes everything which is rotten in our system, and in the end that mattered more than even the racism, xenophobia, and shear idiocy of Donald Trump.

We have seen many versions of Donald Trump over the years, and hopefully we will see one of the better versions of Trump in the White House.  He has been inexcusably racist, but has also sought the support of minorities. While he offers no concrete plans for accomplishing these things, he has differed from Republican orthodoxy in expressing support for providing health care to all, preserving Social Security and Medicare, and rebuilding infrastructure. The extreme social conservatism he has expressed as a candidate may have been motivated by political expediency and hopefully will be abandoned. Many past Republicans have appealed to the religious right to get elected, and ignored them once in office. While Trump often appears dangerously incoherent on foreign policy, he could conceivably be an improvement over the neoconservative interventionism of Hillary Clinton. Better relations with Russia could be a favorable outcome of a Trump presidency, not something to oppose as Clinton has. Trump has even supported an end to the drug war in the past, but that was not heard during this campaign.

Even if Trump does turn out to be more moderate than he has been as a candidate, we will see a turn to the right and many undesirable outcomes of his presidency. However, we would also see a sharp turn to the right with Hillary Clinton, who might have been the lesser evil, but who also could have done more harm. Partisan Democrats ignore how much conservative Bill Clinton’s record actually was.This year they fooled themselves into thinking both that Hillary Clinton is a progressive, and that she is not corrupt. They fell for the claims in their echo chamber and sold their souls in the hopes of winning, and did not even wind up with an election victory.

A Clinton presidency would have meant a return to Cold War relations with Russia, and probably surrogate hot wars–at the very least. Clinton has already indicated a willingness to entertain a grand bargain which would cut Social Security, comparable to how the Clinton’s “reformed” welfare. While she would keep abortion legal, she would also probably make it more rare, having indicated a willingness to cooperate with Republicans to enact further restrictions on its availability. Her far right views on civil liberties, and her support for an increased role of religion in public policy, should have been alarming to more on the left.

This would have been a sad day regardless of who won the presidency. The one good thing to come out of this is that there is now hope that the Democratic Party will not remain under the control of neocons and DLC conservatives like Clinton and Kaine. It has been discouraging to see Democrats justify, and even defend, Clinton’s conservative record. Even worse, many have ignored the overwhelming amount of evidence of corruption on Clinton’s part, and how both Clintons have used their government positions to amass great personal wealth. Lack of an indictment is not a sign of innocence. It is an example of  how rotten the system is, and a Clinton victory would have further institutionalized such corruption.

Democrats deserved to lose by nominating Hillary Clinton, but the failure of the party establishment provides an opportunity to change leadership and reform the party. We are already seeing Clinton supporters blaming Bernie supporters, Stein supporters, Russians, the FBI, misogyny, the electoral college for Clinton’s defeat. They blame everyone except those who deserve the blame: Democrats who rigged the nomination for a candidate who is unfit to be president, and of course Hillary Clinton.  Clinton is both unfit to be president, and she ran a terrible campaign. Her message basically consisted of claims of “it’s my turn” and attacks on Donald Trump. She offered very little in terms of a positive message to support her. Trump’s message that the system is corrupt and needs change resonated far more.

While Trump won as the change candidate, much of the change he offers is not the kind of change we need. We must keep a check on Donald Trump. Fortunately our system does provide mechanisms to do so. The chances of doing so are greater if Democrats now defend liberal principles and do stand up to him when needed. They must behave more as they did during George Bush’s second term, and not as they did during his first. The ACLU is already preparing to challenge Donald Trump if he goes through with his promises which would restrict civil liberties.

There are Americans who want better than what both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have offered. It is looking like a majority might have voted for Clinton over Trump, with most voters not liking either choice. While more voted for third parties than in the past, the number was still small. Unfortunately most people only saw the choice as Trump or Clinton, so many voted for the only change candidate they saw–but did not necessarily agree with his positions. They voted for the wrong type of change, but still change. At least we end the election with a result few would have predicted–the defeat of both the Clinton and Bush families.

Donald Trump Is Right On This One: Hillary Clinton’s Syria Policy Could Lead Us Into World War III

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When Donald Trump says something stupid, such as when he botched his comments on Obamacare today, or when he claimed that he is the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton, that is a “dog bites man” story. We have come to expect this from Donald Trump, who is  running the most inept campaign for president that I have ever seen. The more interesting “man bites dog” story, one of the rare times when Trump gets it right, was with Trump warning of the risk of Hillary Clinton getting us involved in World War III.

Donald Trump had this to say in an interview with Reuter’s:

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Democrat Hillary Clinton’s plan for Syria would “lead to World War Three,” because of the potential for conflict with military forces from nuclear-armed Russia.

In an interview focused largely on foreign policy, Trump said defeating Islamic State is a higher priority than persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, playing down a long-held goal of U.S. policy…

On Syria’s civil war, Trump said Clinton could drag the United States into a world war with a more aggressive posture toward resolving the conflict.

Clinton has called for the establishment of a no-fly zone and “safe zones” on the ground to protect non-combatants. Some analysts fear that protecting those zones could bring the United States into direct conflict with Russian warplanes.

“What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” said Trump as he dined on fried eggs and sausage links at his Trump National Doral golf resort. “You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton,” he said.

“You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk,” he said…

On Russia, Trump again knocked Clinton’s handling of U.S.-Russian relations while secretary of state and said her harsh criticism of Putin raised questions about “how she is going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil,” if she wins the presidency.

While I have also expressed concerns about Trump’s general incoherence on foreign policy, I have previously noted the same dangers as Trump discussed in Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia. As I discussed after Clinton repeated her support for a no-fly zone in Syria during the last debate, this is a very dangerous policy. Last  month Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testified before Congress that imposing a no-fly zone “would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia.” Clinton admitted that “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians” in one of her leaked Goldman-Sachs speeches.

Spencer Ackerman also wrote in The Guardian Why Hillary Clinton’s plans for no-fly zones in Syria could provoke US-Russia conflict.

The proposal of no-fly zones has been fiercely debated in Washington for the past five years, but has never attracted significant enthusiasm from the military because of the risk to pilots from Syrian air defenses and the presence of Russian warplanes.

Many in US national security circles consider the risk of an aerial confrontation with the Russians to be severe.

“I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft,” said James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, on Tuesday in response to a question from the Guardian at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Those who have patrolled no-fly zones over the relatively freer skies of Bosnia and Saddam-era Iraq fear that a President Clinton would oblige the US to what one retired US air force three-star general described as an indefinite “air occupation”. Such a move would risk the lives of US pilots – and dare confrontation with a Russian military which is more aggressive than it has been in years.

Critics of the plan also question how using US military power to establish and police a safe space for beleaguered Syrian civilians would contribute to the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad – the explicit goal of US policy in Syria.

“If she is not politically posturing, it’s going to be a disaster. I hope it’s political posturing,” said John Kuehn, a retired navy officer who flew no-fly zone missions over Bosnia and Iraq. Kuehn who called denying an adversary its airspace “the cocktail party military application of power of choice”.

David Deptula, a retired air force lieutenant general who commanded the no-fly zone operations over northern Iraq in 1998 and 1999, said the Russians were a “complicating factor” but considered the problems with a no-fly zone to be more fundamental…

The challenges for a no-fly zone over Syria outstrip those the US has faced over Libya, Bosnia and Iraq. Assad’s surface-to-air missiles, protecting the Mediterranean coast and southern regions the regime still controls, were formidable before the recent Russian addition of what Clapper, a former air force general, called “very advanced” S-300 and S-400 systems that can blanket the majority of Syrian airspace with missiles.

Staging a no-fly zone requires either the assent of regional allies – Turkey is the nearest potential partner to Syria, but it has concentrated in recent months on improving ties with Moscow after Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet in November 2015 – or an expensive, open-ended and risky deployment of aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean.

But the most distinguishing feature of a Syria no-fly zone in 2017 would be the aerial presence of another great-power air force with an objective which is diametrically opposed to Washington’s.

Even without the involvement of Russia, a no-fly zone is a major military undertaking, likely to drag us into a larger war in Syria. The added problem of Russia’s involvement very well could lead to World War III. There are many reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but that does not mean that voting for Hillary Clinton is a wise choice either, as a vote for Hillary Clinton is essentially a vote for war.

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Final Presidential Debate Shows Neither Candidate Is Acceptable

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The final presidential debate (transcript here, with fact checking) provided further confirmation that neither major party candidate is fit to be president, but Hillary Clinton is a far better debater than Donald Trump. Even when Trump had a valid point against Clinton, he lacked the ability to stay on target, drifting into irrelevances and lacking a sufficient command of the pertinent facts. On the other hand, I wish the debate included a split screen–one showing Clinton delivering her public policy, and the other revealing her private policy.

It was fitting that the final debate took place in Sin City. Donald Trump reportedly invited the woman who accused Bill Clinton of groping her to the debate. He dwells too much on things that don’t matter. Who is going to vote against Hillary (that otherwise would vote for her) based upon Bill’s sexual indiscretions? It just is not relevant.

Chris Wallace, who might have done the best job of the debate moderators, did start out with real issues. Clinton was far better than Trump on abortion and guns. Trump apparently has no idea how rare late term abortions are, or the reasons they usually occur. Like many Republicans, he does not appear to realize that the Bill of Rights includes anything beyond the Second Amendment, although Clinton also has a rather poor record on civil liberties. Trump was also his usual atrocious self when the debate turned to immigration. When Trump complained about Justice Ginsberg  making  “statements that should have never, ever been made,” I only thought that Donald Trump is the last person to be able to complain about “statements that should have never, ever been made.”

Clinton was not as bad in terms of evading the questions as she was during the second debate, but that is largely due to the types of questions asked. When she was asked about the emails released by Wikileaks, she pivoted to attack Russia. The leaks may or may not have been due to Russia, but her attacks on Russia remind me all too much of the attacks on Saddam for imaginary WMD by Bush, and false claims by Hillary Clinton of connections between Saddam and al Qaeda. What is important is the content of the leaks, and the dishonesty they revealed about Clinton. Besides, the United States is certainly not above comparable spying and interference in other countries, and I fear Clinton is misusing this matter as part of the overall neocon view on Russia.

Clinton’s belligerence towards Russia, and the increased threat of war, should be one of the major issues of the campaign. Trump would be preferable in his desire for cooperation with Russia if he wasn’t completely incoherent on foreign policy. Instead of rationally debating Clinton on this issue, his argument consisted of  “No puppet. You’re the puppet.”

Trump was right on pointing out how Clinton avoided the question of the content of the Wikileaks email, but rather than push the issue, he resorted to his usual nonsense of how Clinton refers to “radical Islamic terrorism,” as if saying the right magic words are needed to defeat them.

As the debate went on, Clinton called for equal pay for equal work, with no explanation for the huge pay gap at the Clinton Foundation which was exposed by Wikileaks. Trump was right in calling out Clinton for her flip-flops on TPP which were exposed by the fact checkers. When Trump was confronted by all the women who have accused him of assaulting them, he was the one to evade and pivot, returning to Clinton’s email.

Both candidates attacked the integrity of the other, and both were right here.  Clinton violated the ethics agreements she entered into when she was confirmed as Secretary of State, while Trump appears to have used his far shadier for bribes. Clinton again ignored the significance of the FBI report showing considerable dishonesty on her part when this was raised, and either Wallace or Trump should have brought up the State Department Inspector General report which showed she violated the rules, failed to cooperate with the investigation, and tried to cover-up her actions.

Clinton said she was going to “continue to push for a no-fly zone” in Syria, but there was no discussion of the large number of deaths this would result in, or the risk of a direct confrontation with Russia.  Initiating a no-fly zone would be a tremendous military undertaking. Just last month, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testified before Congress that imposing a no-fly zone “would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia.” Clinton admitted that “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians” in one of her leaked Goldman-Sachs speeches.

The sad thing about the debate, and the entire campaign, is that such major issues of war and peace are being ignored, while the media dwells on the latest stupid thing said by Donald Trump–such as whether Donald Trump will accept the election result. This statement, while imprudent and potentially ominous, is hardly unprecedented. The real story of the election is not sexual misconduct, as reprehensible as Trump’s actions were, but the fact that our democracy has devolved to a point where we are given a choice of an ignorant buffoon like Trump or a corrupt war-monger like Clinton–with alternative viewpoints not welcome.

News Media’s Unbalanced Look At Trump Vs. Clinton Revelations

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The news over the past week has been virtually non-stop coverage of Donald Trump. There is no question that the revelations which first confirmed everything suspected about Donald Trump’s view of women and then led to multiple reports of Trump sexually assaulting women deserves major coverage. However, there have also been revelations from the email leaks about major dishonesty and corruption regarding Hillary Clinton which the media has given a small fraction of the coverage to.

A media reporter for The Hill has demonstrated how one-sided the coverage has been:

In viewing recordings by The Hill of each major network’s evening newscasts, which are watched by an average total of 22 million to 24 million people nightly, the newest batch of WikiLeaks revelations was covered for a combined 57 seconds out of 66 minutes of total air time on ABC, NBC and CBS.

Those leaked emails include derogatory comments about Catholics by senior Clinton campaign officials and more disturbing examples of collusion between the media and her campaign It’s newsworthy stuff) —

On the other hand, allegations from four women of unwanted sexual advances by Trump were covered a combined 23 minutes.

Add it all up, and one presidential candidate’s negative news of the day was somehow covered more than 23 times more than another candidate’s negative news of the day.

It’s understood what has always sold in this business: sizzle always trumps steak, sex always triumphs over substance. If you told me the coverage was 2-1 or even a 3-1 ratio of Trump to Clinton, you wouldn’t be reading this column right now.

But a story winning the lead over another is one thing. Devouring it to the point of almost total omission via a more than 23:1 ratio is quite another:

“NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt devoted zero seconds to the Democrat and Wikileaks on Thursday night.

“ABC World News Tonight” with David Muir gave it the same time as a shot clock in college basketball: 30 seconds.

“CBS Evening News” with Scott Pelley when 27 seconds with the story.

To put the importance of evening news editorial into context, the size of the its collective audience each night trounces the highest-rated program on CNN. In Wednesday night’s case, that was “Anderson Cooper 360,” with 1.925 million viewers. On MSNBC, it was “All in with Chris Hayes,” with 1.926 million. On Fox News, it was “The O’Reilly Factor,” with 3.728 million.

Add all of those up, and it’s just shy of 7.6 million, or about one-third the number of people watching ABC, NBC and CBS, the networks presenting — in theory, anyway — straight news stories without the opinion and conjecture that dominates cable news…

Somewhere around 23 million people absorbed Trump getting pulverized for 23 minutes across the Big Three broadcast network evening newscasts.

Less than a minute combined was devoted to damaging documents pertaining to Clinton.

There are probably two different reasons for this discrepancy. First, sex sells. This might justify giving top billing, and possibly even more time, to the stories on Trump. It does not justify virtually ignoring the stories pertaining to Clinton. Secondly, the people in the news media generally prefer Clinton over Trump. Regardless of whether this opinion is justified, this is just bad journalism.

There is also an important reason to place Clinton under more scrutiny. Hillary Clinton will most likely be the next president. The chances of Trump winning are now very remote. Clinton’s history of corruption is directly relevant to what we need to be on guard against for the next four years.

The media has also done a great job of digging into Trump’s past. As I noted at the time of the second presidential debate, once Trump claimed that the leaked video which started this was all talk, he opened himself up to being contradicted by any women who would come forward with stories of actually being sexually assaulted by him.

If only the media would do a better job of looking into Clinton’s past. Donald Trump touching women’s bodies without their consent is inexcusable, but so are the bombs dropped on women (along with children, and men) in wars promoted by Hillary Clinton, often under false pretenses, also inexcusable.

Hillary Clinton pushed for the Iraq war based upon false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda after failing to even read the intelligence material made available to members of the Senate–information which led some other Senators to oppose the war. She similarly orchestrated regime change in Libya with the facts contradicting her arguments for war. She pushed for intervention in Syria on rather irrational grounds, and now joins with other neocons in pushing for further aggression against Russia.

Certainly this is also something of significance for the media to explore, even if less titillating than the stories on Donald Trump.

Record Number Doing Google Searches For Write-In Voting

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With both major political parties nominating candidates who are unacceptable for the presidency, I’ve noted before that more people than usual are looking at third party candidates this year. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both ethically unfit to be president, and neither are likely to address major issues such as the expansion the warfare and surveillance state since 9/11. Donald Trump runs as the outsider, but is inconsistent, and often incoherent on the issues, and has unique ethical issues, including a history of assaulting women. Hillary Clinton is much better than Trump on issues of concern to women, but otherwise is the candidate of the neoconservative status quo who would take us back to the horrors of the Bush years, and who epitomizes everything which is rotten in politics.

With the major party choices so poor, CNN reports that many voters are looking at another alternative, write-in votes:

Americans have expressed deep misgivings about both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton throughout the course of the presidential race. This week, their distaste is showing up in their search behavior.

Google Trends data indicates that the online searches for “write-in” surged over the last week by more than 2,800%, hitting a record high since 2004. The states with the highest rates of search are not battlegrounds, but Republican and Democratic strongholds…

Related searches to “write-in,” according to Google Trends, largely focus on two politicians, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pence, the Indiana Republican. Searches for “is Bernie Sanders a write in candidate” spiked 2,750% in the last week while searches for “write in Mike Pence” spiked 2,400% in the last week.

Results though are different in the states. In Utah, for example, where a recent poll found Clinton and Trump tied with independent candidate Evan McMullin only four points back, the volume of searches for “Mitt Romney write in” grew by 4,000% in the last week.

Google Trends data don’t show what caused this trend, but the campaign trail was rocked on Friday after a 2005 video tape surfaced featuring Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a vulgar and sexually aggressive conversation about women. Trump later apologized for the remarks — first in a video and later during during Sunday night’s debate with Clinton — but since then has been rebuked and abandoned by members of his own party. Some called for Pence, Trump’s running mate, to lead the ticket instead.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s campaign has it’s own set of problems; WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of hacked emails from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Some of the emails, including one that suggested a senior campaign aide had communicated with government officials about the release of her State Department emails, led to accusations of collusion from Trump and other Republicans.

Seeing Donald Trump fall so far behind Clinton in the polls should put an end to the arguments of voting for Clinton based upon fear of Trump. That was never a very good argument as, regardless of how terrible Trump might be, those of us who disagree with Clinton on the issues, and who do not feel she is fit to be president, should not be denied our democratic right to vote for a candidate who is closer to our beliefs. There is far less reason to fall for “lesser evilism” when there is no longer a realistic pathway for Trump to win 270 electoral votes. The possibility of Evan McMullin taking Utah’s electoral votes out of the Republican column makes the chances even more remote. Gary Johnson is also taking votes from both Trump and Clinton.

While many on the left are considering write-in votes for Bernie Sanders, I would prefer to see votes go to Jill Stein. Stein has similar views to Sanders on economic issues, and has argued more forcibly on foreign policy. Stein, along with Gary Johnson, has also been a strong advocate of ending the drug war. Regardless of any comparison between Stein and Sanders, a vote for Stein will have greater impact. A vote for Sanders would purely be a protest vote. On the other hand, if Jill Stein could get 5 percent this year, which is possible if more Sanders supporters would vote for her, this would qualify the Green Party for matching funds in 2020, and assist with ballot access. With the Democratic Party moving so far to the right under Hillary Clinton, we need a viable party on the left to either force the Democrats to consider liberal and progressive issues, or to provide an alternative.