Trump Rejects Facts When Intelligence Report Contradicts His Arguments For Travel Ban

Donald Trump’s travel bans aimed at Muslims are clear efforts to pander to the bigotry of his base and to encourage fear. He has tried to justify his actions based upon national security but the facts do not support him. The Wall Street Journal, hardly a left-wing publication, reports that intelligence reports contradict his claims:

An intelligence report by the Department of Homeland Security contradicts the White House’s assertion that immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries pose a particular risk of being terrorists and should be blocked from entering the U.S.

The report is the latest volley in a struggle between intelligence officials and the Trump administration that has rippled across several agencies. Some officials have critiqued administration policies, while the president and senior members of his staff have accused officials of leaking information to undermine his administration and the legitimacy of his election.

The report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, came from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. It said that its staff “assesses that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The White House on Friday dismissed it as politically motivated and poorly researched…

Only two of the seven countries targeted by Mr. Trump—Iraq and Somalia—are among the top origins countries for foreign-born individuals who engaged in terrorism in the United States, the report found. Those countries, in order, are Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

The findings track similar studies by think tanks and news organization. The Wall Street Journal in January found that of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order. No Americans were killed in any of the attacks by those 11 individuals.

The DHS report found that countries targeted in Mr. Trump’s immigration order already accounted for a small portion of total visas issued in the fiscal year 2015, with no country accounting for more than 7% of visas granted in the Middle East, North Africa or Sub Saharan Africa, the report found. The country accounting for the largest percentage of visas issued in those regions was Iran, the report found, which the U.S. designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984.

As is usual for Trump when the facts contradict his actions, Trump has decided to reject the facts. The Atlantic reminds us of what can go wrong when decisions are made based upon politics rather than the facts:

What is the cost of politicization? As of 2013, it was estimated that the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 cost an estimated $1.7 trillion, and saw over 4,000 Americans killed in action and over 30,000 wounded in action. Those numbers don’t include the families of the fallen; the innocent Iraqis killed or wounded during the conflict; or the insurgency that evolved into the extremist threat that we now know as ISIS.

The irony is that President Trump is a vocal critic of his predecessors’ decisions to invade, occupy, and ultimately withdraw from Iraq. In the run-up to that war, the Department of Defense formed an Office of Special Plans, conceived by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, which as Seymour Hersh argued in The New Yorker, “was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true” about Iraq the threat it posed to the world. By trying to shape analysis to support his administration’s world view, Trump is creating the conditions for committing our country to courses of action that have the potential to be as costly or disastrous.

Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Donald Trump’s attack on the media as an enemy of the American people has received widespread criticism. Carl Bernstein has called Trump’s attacks on the media worse than those which came from Richard Nixon:

“Trump’s attacks on the American press as ‘enemies of the American people’ are more treacherous than Richard Nixon’s attacks on the press,” former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein said Sunday on CNN.

Trump’s comments — made publicly, whereas Nixon attacked his enemies in private — brought to mind “dictators and authoritarians, including Stalin, including Hitler,” Bernstein said.

He immediately walked back a comparison to the Nazi leader, while doubling down on the comparison to Nixon.

Bernstein — whose reporting of the Watergate break-in and coverup helped bring about Nixon’s resignation — said Trump’s rhetoric is potentially more dangerous than Nixon’s attacks on the news media.

“There is no civic consensus in this country like there was at the time of Watergate about acceptable presidential conduct,” Bernstein said on “Reliable Sources.”

“Trump is out there on his own, leading a demagogic attack on the institutions of free democracy,” he said. “We are into terrible authoritarian tendencies.”

“We’re not enemies of the American people,” Bernstein said on CNN. “In fact, we’re the last resort of the American people to a dictatorial and authoritarian-inclined president.”

Even Fox was critical of Trump, with Chris Wallace saying he crossed the line:

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace cautioned his colleagues and the network’s viewers Sunday that President Trump’s latest attack on the media had gone too far.

“Look, we’re big boys. We criticize presidents. They want to criticize us back, that’s fine,” Wallace said Sunday morning on “Fox & Friends.” “But when he said that the fake news media is not my enemy, it’s the enemy of the American people, I believe that crosses an important line.”

The “Fox & Friends” anchors had shown a clip of Trump recounting that past presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had fought with the press. They then asked Wallace whether Trump’s fraught relationship with the media was a big deal.

In response, Wallace told his colleagues that Jefferson had also once written the following: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Context was important, Wallace said. All presidents fight with the media, but Trump had taken it a step further in making them out to be “the enemy,” he added.

“Yes, presidents have always had — and politicians have always had — problems with the press. They want good press. The press doesn’t always give it to them,” Wallace said. “But what Jefferson [was saying] is, despite all of our disputes, that to the functioning of a free and fair democracy, you must have an independent press.”

My previous post on this subject quoted John McCain in criticizing Trump, along with other comparisons to Richard Nixon.

John McCain isn’t the only Republican who has been critical of Donald Trump recently. The Wall Street Journal has a story on how Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning Congressman from Michigan, has emerged as “Leading Critic of Fellow Republican Donald Trump.”

President Donald Trump’s “constant fear-mongering’’ about terrorism is “irresponsible and dangerous.’’ He needs to “stop attacking the legitimacy of the judiciary.’’ He picked an attorney general with “anti-liberty” positions on surveillance and police seizure of property…

Mr. Amash says his opposition is based on principle, as a libertarian concerned about government overreach and adherence to the Constitution. While many Republican lawmakers hold similar beliefs, Mr. Amash has been an especially outspoken proponent of smaller government, even on issues—such as reducing surveillance—where his views put him out of step with the more mainstream elements of the GOP.

The Nation Begins To Unite In Opposition To Donald Trump–Growing Number Support Impeachment

Thanks to the incompetence of Donald Trump, opposition to his administration is far beyond what I might have hoped for a month ago. While it took five years to have massive opposition to George W. Bush, we are seeing it in the first two weeks under Trump. We are seeing demonstrations as big as, or in the case of the first weekend,  larger than, were seen during the Vietnam war. The number of people who want to see Trump impeached has reached 40 percent, up from 35 percent a week ago. Public Policy Polling provides these results:

Less than 2 weeks into Donald Trump’s tenure as President, 40% of voters already want to impeach him. That’s up from 35% of voters who wanted to impeach him a week ago. Only 48% of voters say that they would be opposed to Trump’s impeachment.

Beyond a significant percentage of voters already thinking that Trump should be removed from office, it hasn’t taken long for voters to miss the good old days of Barack Obama…52% say they’d rather Obama was President, to only 43% who are glad Trump is.

Why so much unhappiness with Trump? Voters think basically everything he’s doing is wrong:

-Overall voters are pretty evenly split on Trump’s executive order on immigration from last week, with 47% supporting it to 49% who are opposed. But when you get beyond the overall package, the pieces of the executive order become more clearly unpopular. 52% of voters think that the order was intended to be a Muslim ban, to only 41% who don’t think that was the intent. And the idea of a Muslim ban is extremely unpopular with the American people- only 26% are in favor of it, to 65% who are against it. When it comes to barring people from certain countries from entering the United States, even when those people have already secured a Visa, just 39% of voters are supportive to 53% who are against it. And just 43% of voters support the United States indefinitely suspending accepting Syrian refugees, with 48% opposed to that. Finally voters see a basic competence issue with Trump’s handling of the executive order- only 39% of voters think it was well executed, to 55% who believe it was poorly executed…

In addition, Steve Bannon is highly unpopular: “19% of voters see Bannon favorably, to 40% who have a negative opinion of him.” Few believe his claims of vote fraud. A majority opposes the wall, which was the centerpiece of his campaign: “Only 40% of voters are in support of building the wall if American taxpayers have to front the cost for it, to 54% who are opposed.”

Even his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare has become unpopular: “46% of voters now say they support it to just 41% who are opposed. And only 33% of voters think the best course of action is for Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and start over, to 62% who think it would be better to keep it and fix the parts that need fixing.” Congressional Republicans are also finding it to be difficult to abolish the Affordable Care Act, and are now talking about fixing Obamacare rather than repealing it.

Trump is also losing his battles, including with the media. Despite his attacks on CNN, “By a 50/42 spread voters say CNN has more credibility than Trump.” Similarly, The Washington Post and The New York Times have more credibility than Trump in this poll.

While Donald Trump is highly unpopular and his policies are failing, he may have unintentionally succeeded at one thing. He has brought the country together, even if in opposition to him, as is seen in the highly publicized photo above.

Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Wrong, Counterproductive, Unnecessary, And Possibly Illegal

Donald Trump’s first week in office showed that we definitely need extreme vetting for presidential candidates, not immigrants. Trump’s immigration ban is already creating considerable harm to many people, as The New York Times reported:

President Trump’s executive order on immigration quickly reverberated through the United States and across the globe on Saturday, slamming the border shut for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Boston, an Iraqi who had worked as an interpreter for the United States Army, and a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio, among countless others.

Around the nation, security officers at major international gateways had new rules to follow. Humanitarian organizations scrambled to cancel long-planned programs, delivering the bad news to families who were about to travel. Refugees who were airborne on flights when the order was signed were detained at airports.

Reports rapidly surfaced Saturday morning of students attending American universities who were blocked from getting back into the United States from visits abroad. One student said in a Twitter post that he would be unable to study at Yale. Another who attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was refused permission to board a plane. Stanford University was reportedly working to help a Sudanese student return to California.

Human rights groups reported that legal permanent residents of the United States who hold green cards were being stopped in foreign airports as they sought to return from funerals, vacations or study abroad — a clear indication that Mr. Trump’s directive is being applied broadly.

This ban includes people with green cards who are legally U.S. residents.

These regulations are also unnecessary and counterproductive. This plays into arguments from ISIS that the United States is engaging in a war on Islam, and (like drone attacks) will likely help recruit future terrorists. Vox pointed out that the ban is not even directed towards the countries which have posed the greatest threat. The ban does exclude countries where Trump has done business. Besides, The United States already had a strict, and lengthy, vetting process for immigrants. PolitiFact wrote in 2015:

Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO — determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.

As we noted in a previous fact-check, once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, “cultural orientation” classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil…

For refugees from Syria and similar countries, however, the process can span two years, a spokesperson for the State Department told the Voice of America in September. Experts confirmed that two years is the average review duration for Syrian refugees, which means that some wait even longer…

The length and thoroughness of the U.S. vetting system sets it apart from the “chaotic, dangerous process” for refugees fleeing into Europe by sea, said Geoffrey Mock, the Syrian country specialist for Amnesty International USA. Refugees enter European countries as asylum seekers and are granted access into the country without a thorough vetting from the UN. Scrutiny comes later.

“No vetting process can make guarantees, but the population identified by the UN and vetted by both organizations has worked successfully in alleviating crises in dozens of other countries, including Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and the Central African Republic,” Mock said. “There’s no reason to believe Syria will be any different.”

In other words, the process for admitting a Syrian asylum seeker into France is much simpler than the process for resettling a Syrian refugee into the United States.

“The U.S. refugee program is incredibly controlled. You can be 99.9 percent sure that guy wouldn’t have gotten here,” Limón said. “I understand the kneejerk reaction but you’re painting a very broad brush stroke. Refugees, by definition, are fleeing terrorism. What happened in Paris, they’ve experienced. They’ve seen family members slaughtered and their houses burnt and they’re running for their lives.”

There are questions as to whether this is even legal. David Bier of the Cato Institute wrote in The New York Times:

More than 50 years ago, Congress outlawed such discrimination against immigrants based on national origin.

…Mr. Trump asserts that he still has the power to discriminate, pointing to a 1952 law that allows the president the ability to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” that he finds are detrimental to the interest of the United States.

But the president ignores the fact that Congress then restricted this power in 1965, stating plainly that no person could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” The only exceptions are those provided for by Congress (such as the preference for Cuban asylum seekers)…

While courts rarely interfere in immigration matters, they have affirmed the discrimination ban. In the 1990s, for example, the government created a policy that required Vietnamese who had fled to Hong Kong to return to Vietnam if they wanted to apply for United States immigrant visas, hwile it allowed applicants from other countries to apply for visas wherever they wanted. A federal appeals court blocked the policy.

The Guardian also questions if this is constitutional:

Legal scholars have been divided for months about whether Trump’s proposals would hold under the constitution. Congress and the White House share authority to decide eligibility for citizenship and entry into the country, and the supreme court has never directly confronted whether religion could stand as a valid reason to exclude some people over others. Trump’s orders do not explicitly name Islam but clearly target Muslim-majority countries, meaning it could test the constitution’s guarantees of religion and due process, as well as the president’s authority over immigration in general.

Subsequently Trump has said that “Christians will be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States,” making this look even more clearly like an act based upon religion.

Whether or not Trump’s actions are legal or Constitutional, they are certainly morally wrong, as well as counterproductive.

Update: Federal judge rules against Trump’s refugee ban.

Trump Executive Orders Include Expanding Global Gag Rule On Abortion & Reinstating Black Site Prisons Closed Under Obama

Donald Trump’s use of executive orders have confirmed the worst fears about what we would see from a Trump presidency. Everyone who is aware of the policy assumed Trump would reinstate the global gag rule which, since Reagan, has been in place under all Republicans and reversed when Clinton and Obama were in office. This prohibits American foreign aide to organizations involved in providing abortions. What we did not anticipate, and most did not even realize immediately, was that Trump expanded this policy considerably. Michelle Goldberg did notice this and wrote in Slate:

In the past, the global gag rule meant that foreign NGOs must disavow any involvement with abortion in order to receive U.S. family planning funding. Trump’s version of the global gag rule expands the policy to all global health funding. According to Ehlers, the new rule means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion. Organizations working on AIDS, malaria, or maternal and child health will have to make sure that none of their programs involves so much as an abortion referral. Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation who previously served as deputy executive director of UNICEF, gives the example of HIV/AIDS clinics that get U.S. funding to provide antiretrovirals: “If they’re giving advice to women on what to do if they’re pregnant and HIV positive, giving them all the options that exist, they cannot now receive money from the U.S.”

This makes Trump significantly worse than George W. Bush regarding the gag rule. Bush at least did specifically exempt support for an AIDS program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) from the global gag rule:

Scott Evertz, who served as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy under George W. Bush, tells me, “It would have been impossible to treat HIV/AIDS in the developing world as the emergency that PEPFAR said it was if the global gag rule were to be applied to the thousands of organizations with which those of us involved in PEPFAR would be working.” Evertz offers the example of a standalone health clinic in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Would the U.S. have to certify that it never referred any of its patients to an abortion provider before enlisting it in the fight against AIDS?  “The notion of applying the global gag rule to them would have made it impossible to implement the program,” he says.

Other executive orders involve building the border wall and curtailing immigration, limiting Obamacare, backing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, and Trump is now reportedly preparing an executive order which would reopen “black site” prisons closed under Obama. The New York Times reports on the later:

The Trump administration is preparing a sweeping executive order that would clear the way for the C.I.A. to reopen overseas “black site” prisons, like those where it detained and tortured terrorism suspects before former President Barack Obama shut them down.

President Trump’s three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” and obtained by The New York Times, would also undo many of the other restrictions on handling detainees that Mr. Obama put in place in response to policies of the George W. Bush administration.

If Mr. Trump signs the draft order, he would also revoke Mr. Obama’s directive to give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in American custody. That would be another step toward reopening secret prisons outside of the normal wartime rules established by the Geneva Conventions, although statutory obstacles would remain.

Mr. Obama tried to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and refused to send new detainees there, but the draft order directs the Pentagon to continue using the site “for the detention and trial of newly captured” detainees — including not just more people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, like the 41 remaining detainees, but also Islamic State detainees. It does not address legal problems that might raise…

Elisa Massimino, the director of Human Rights First, denounced the draft order as “flirting with a return to the ‘enhanced interrogation program’ and the environment that gave rise to it.” She noted that numerous retired military leaders have rejected torture as “illegal, immoral and damaging to national security,” and she said that many of Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees had seemed to share that view in their confirmation testimony.

“It would be surprising and extremely troubling if the national security cabinet officials were to acquiesce in an order like that after the assurances that they gave in their confirmation hearings,” she said.

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.

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.

Mike Pence Wins VP Debate, But It Doesn’t Really Matter

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Mike Pence won the vice-presidential debate in terms of style points, but it is not likely to affect the election very much. At best it changes the conversation this news cycle away from the most recent round of stupid things said by Donald Trump to the debate, but it is a safe bet that Trump will soon dominate the news with new stupid comments. While Pence did a better job than Tim Kaine, it was not at the level of Joe Biden reviving the ticket after Barack Obama’s lackadaisical first debate against Mitt Romney four years ago. Of course Pence had a much harder job which would require going well beyond style points to make up for Donald Trump.

Both candidates had many factual errors which kept the fact checkers busy. Both candidates did the best when attacking the opposing presidential candidate, and ran into trouble trying to defend their own awful running mates. Rather than defending his statements, Pence denied that Trump made the statements Kaine confronted him with. In rare cases Kaine’s accusations weren’t entirely true, but for the most part they were.

Pence had the advantage with his previous professional career in radio, allowing him to win if looking purely at style, and ignoring his atrocious record. Pence gave the appearance of someone who could perhaps be a stabilizing figure in a Trump administration–or the 2020 Republican nominee. He very likely would be leading, as any sane candidate would, if he was the one now running against Hillary Clinton.

Kaine came off poorly, but certainly not at the depths of some past candidates such as Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle. It was amusing to see the hypocrisy after the debate as Clinton supporters who were appalled at how Trump would interrupt Clinton had no problems with how Kaine was constantly interrupting Pence.

While Pence wins on points, he could not get a victory which is likely to be significant enough to actually impact the election results. Actually defending, as opposed to ignoring, Trump’s faults is beyond the abilities of any mere mortal. Pence also had mixed results in trying to attack Hillary Clinton. He did get in some blows, but somewhat like Trump, he could not articulate a better alternative even when there were grounds to attack Clinton.

Pence raised Clinton’s scandals, but the Republicans have not been able to simply articulate grounds for why this really matters. Her mishandling of classified information is certainly worth mentioning, but the scandal was fundamentally about her failure to follow rules designed to increase government transparency and reduce corruption. Clinton violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State. That alone should disqualify her from further government positions.

Pence was also limited in valid grounds to attack on policy. It was bad enough that he opposed abortion rights, and made his case even weaker when bringing up the right wing’s nonsensical talking points on “partial birth abortions.” Pence had the usual Republican difficulty in attacking ObamaCare (even if Bill Clinton foolishly helped out the Republicans), as he has no better alternative to offer.

It was amusing to see that, for obvious reasons, Kaine did not disagree when Pence falsely tied the entire foreign policy of the Obama administration to Clinton. In reality, Clinton was a failed Secretary of State. She was a glorified diplomat, but actual policy was generally made in the White House, with the Obama administration almost always overriding her hawkish inclinations. While they did listen to her regarding Libya, Obama subsequently agreed it was a disaster and the worst mistake of his presidency.

If Trump and Pence were coherent on foreign policy, they could make a case that it is time for the United States to stop being the world’s policeman (while footing the bill), along with questioning the risk of war with Russia under Clinton. Neither Republican is capable of articulating such an argument, and Trump’s naivety towards Putin is almost as bad as Clinton’s belligerence. Both Pence and Kaine were clueless on dealing with terrorism, believing that we can someday kill them all. Neither realizes (or if they do realize it, will admit) that such policies only lead to creating more terrorists.

This was basically two conservative career politicians (one more conservative than the other) defending either the DLC/neocon status quo or the Republican fantasy worldview. Neither presented a true candidate of meaningful change, and liberal views remained absent, as has been the case since Bernie Sanders left the race. Green Party candidate Ajamu Baraka and Libertarian Party candidate William Weld (who appears to be giving up the third party fight to concentrate on taking down Trump) both used social media to respond, but their views are being kept out of the nationally televised debates.

Clinton And Many Democrats Fail To Understand Importance Of Opposing Interventionism And Defending Civil Liberties

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The lack of concern for Hillary Clinton’s neocon record on foreign policy, and her far right record on First Amendment issues, by so many Democrats is really disappointing. It is as if they didn’t they learn anything from the horrors of the Bush years. Hillary Clinton appeared clueless when she campaigned for the millennial vote. As I discussed last week, and as David Weigel reported today, Clinton is losing a substantial amount of support to third party candidates.

When George Bush was president, Democrats showed concern for matters such as avoiding unnecessary wars, civil liberties, and government transparency. Now that they have nominated a candidate who is far to the right on these matters, they no longer show any concern. For example, Paul Krugman made a pitch today for millennial voters who are voting for Gary Johnson, but ignored these issues. It makes absolutely no sense to seek the support of those considering Gary Johnson without addressing the main issues which are causing Clinton to lose support to Johnson, along with Jill Stein.

Krugman also resorted to the bogus Ralph Nader argument. If the 2000 election turned out badly (as it did) because of George Bush becoming president, it makes no sense to use this to support a neoconservative such as Hillary Clinton who supports the so many of the same policies as George Bush.

Just as bad is the manner in which Kevin Drum dismissed concerns over military interventionism and civil liberties: ” Unless you’re basically a single-issue voter on civil liberties and military force, it’s hard to see why any lefty of any stripe would even think of supporting Johnson.”

Drum is right in his post in arguing that it would make more sense for Bernie Sanders supporters to support Jill Stein than Gary Johnson, but he certainly diminishes the importance of several issues with the phrase, “single-issue voter on civil liberties and military force.”

These are two of the most important matters considering both the expansion of the warfare/surveillance state since 9/11, and considering which areas fall most directly under the control of the president. Plus these encompass multiple issues.

Civil liberties mattered to Democrats eight years ago. During the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton was the only Democrat who refused to sign a pledge to restore Constitutional liberties. All the Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, also refused to sign.  As I’ve discussed previously, Clinton’s poor record regarding civil liberties and separation of church and state includes her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, leading a campaign to censor video games and introducing a bill making flag burning a felony. Her views mocking freedom of speech when supposedly fighting terrorism sound alarmingly similar to those expressed by Donald Trump. Issues such as the drug war and opposition to the policy of mass incarceration she supported is yet a different issue which leads many to support Johnson and Stein over Clinton.

Similarly there are multiple foreign policy issues. These include her support for intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria. In other parts of the world, there are her views on Russia, and record in Honduras. There’s also her history of joining with the Republicans in opposing a ban on cluster bombs in civilian areas. There’s her threats to obliterate Iran. Her past statements on the use of nuclear force against terrorist groups sound similar to those expressed by Donald Trump.

While Drum has consistently ignored the facts regarding the email scandals, the State Department Inspector General report verified accusations that Clinton violated the rules put into effect to promote transparency, showed that she tried to cover up her actions, and that she failed to cooperate with the investigation. This is just one aspect of the scandals involving Clinton which give millennial voters, and others, reason to distrust Clinton and vote for a third party candidate.

The numerous issues involved here contradict Drum’s mischaracterization of Clinton’s opponents as a single-issue voter. By the same logic, many of the issues which he backs Clinton for could also be lumped together as a single issue. It is no surprise that Gary Johnson is taking votes away from Clinton when he is more liberal than her on military interventionism, civil liberties, the drug war, social issues, and government transparency. There are also several problems with Johnson’s views, making Jill Stein an even better choice for those on the left.