Trump’s First Year Was Terrible, But Things Could Have Been Worse

It is fitting that Donald Trump, who claimed that “I alone can fix it,” couldn’t make it through his entire first year without breaking the government. Donald Trump has been among the worst presidents ever. However, while the past year under Trump might have been the worst of times, it was not the worst of all possible times. Trump’s first year has been terrible, but we must also be appreciative all those spared from dying in Hillary’s wars over the past year.

Donald Trump and the Republicans have been terrible on many issues, including health care, race, and immigration. As I had previously predicted, Trump has been totally incoherent on foreign policy. He has escalated a potential nuclear crisis in North Korea, but we also must not forget that Hillary Clinton was largely responsible for the situation and peace would have probably have been impossible if she was in the White House. Clinton’s push to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi based upon lies after he surrendered his nuclear weapons, along with her joining with her neocon allies in lying us into the  Iraq war, have been cited by both Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin as reasons for their nuclear buildup and other foreign policy actions.

Donald Trump’s relations with Russia have been mixed, and evidence has grown of both a history of financial crimes and an attempt at a cover-up over the past year. At least Trump’s financial crimes are under investigation, while Democrats regularly make excuses for the influence peddling of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The irony is that, after the risk of deterioration of relations with Russia and a return to a Cold War atmosphere was feared by many should Clinton become president, Clinton has managed to create hysteria over Russia without even being elected. While Trump is probably guilty of money laundering and a obstruction of justice, the evidence to date has contradicted conspiracy theories which appear to have been fabricated Clinton and the DNC to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia. With Clinton continuing to promote belligerence towards Russia even out of office, using conspiracy theories to get Democrats to embrace her neoconservative interventionism, it is of considerable concern as to how much greater harm Clinton could be doing in the White House.

Donald Trump has been terrible for civil liberties as president, including his attacks on the press. It must not be forgotten that even before the election Clinton had far right wing views on civil liberties which were not all that different from Trump’s.  Donald Trump has ignored the norms of a democratic society, but since the election Clinton has also continued her attack on civil liberties and has attacked the fundamental principles of democracy, including the legitimacy of election results. Both Clinton and Trump have cited fake news, which often means information critical of them, as justification to call for censorship.

While many Republicans have little respect for civil liberties, in the past year we have seen Democrats engage in McCarthyism as part of their anti-Russia hysteria.  The Democratic Party as a whole turned out to be worthless when faced with a vote to renew and expand warrantless surveillance as many joined with Republicans. If many Democrats were unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump on a fundamental civil liberties issue, I would expect even fewer to resist calls for increased powers by an authoritarian like Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but at least his faults are widely recognized, and his falsehoods are regularly exposed. Donald Trump might have authoritarian tendencies, but if so he is a very weak authoritarian. He has brought about serious damage to the entire Republican and conservative brands, likely doing far less damage than Hillary Clinton would have been capable of.

Donald Trump On Women Working For Him, Foreign Policy, and Medicare For All

At the moment we are waiting in limbo for a couple of big stories to break. We don’t know yet if there will be a government shutdown. (If there is a shutdown, will drone attacks and NSA surveillance be halted? Unfortunately no.) One way to avert a government shutdown would be to tell Trump that McDonald’s will shut down if the government does.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets tomorrow to vote on the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission–which are very limited and do not do enough. If the DNC rejects these recommendations the Democratic Party will be demonstrating a contempt for democracy which would make Thomas Jefferson, along with FDR, roll over in their graves. It could also be said that they already demonstrated this in 2016.

While waiting for the answers, I decided to go back and quote interesting passages from Michael Wolff’s recent book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I previously noted some selections from the book here. There were further quotations regarding Wolff’s view that the Russia scandal is about money laundering, and not about collusion to affect the election 2016 election results, here. The question of Trump’s state of mind was reviewed here. Here are some additional items of interest.

It isn’t as crude as grabbing them by the pussy, but this aspect of Trump’s views is  rather demeaning to the women working for him:

While Trump was in most ways a conventional misogynist, in the workplace he was much closer to women than to men. The former he confided in, the latter he held at arm’s length. He liked and needed his office wives, and he trusted them with his most important personal issues. Women, according to Trump, were simply more loyal and trustworthy than men. Men might be more forceful and competent, but they were also more likely to have their own agendas. Women, by their nature, or Trump’s version of their nature, were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump.

Prior to the election I often compared the foreign policy views of Clinton and Trump. I noted that while Trump was not interested in neocon foreign interventionism like Clinton, his views on foreign policy were too incoherent to provide a better alternative. Wolff’s description of Trump’s foreign policy views goes along with my characterization of them as incoherent:

If the Trump White House was as unsettling as any in American history, the president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among its most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do. He was against nation building, but he believed there were few situations that he couldn’t personally make better. He had little to no experience in foreign policy, but he had no respect for the experts, either.

While Hillary Clinton campaigned against Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, there was a surprising supporter of the plan in Washington–Donald Trump:

All things considered, he probably preferred the notion of more people having health insurance than fewer people having it. He was even, when push came to shove, rather more for Obamacare than for repealing Obamacare. As well, he had made a set of rash Obama-like promises, going so far as to say that under a forthcoming Trumpcare plan (he had to be strongly discouraged from using this kind of rebranding — political wise men told him that this was one instance where he might not want to claim ownership with his name), no one would lose their health insurance, and that preexisting conditions would continue to be covered. In fact, he probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everybody?” he had impatiently wondered aloud during one discussion with aides, all of whom were careful not to react to this heresy.

Of course this has no practical value, with Trump having no understanding of the details of health care legislation and no interest in really doing the work to promote a plan, allowing Congressional Republicans to push their agenda.

Donald Trump Attacks Free Press With Fake News Awards

Donald Trump has issued his fake news awards. Besides being seen as an attack on the First Amendment, it is rather absurd for Trump to be criticizing anyone for fake news (even in the cases where the media did get it wrong) considering the vast amount of misinformation put out in his speeches and tweets. This is, after all, the administration, which from the start was plagued by alternative facts.

Trump’s first choice was a rather strange one: “The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed on the day of President Trump’s historic, landslide victory that the economy would never recover.” Yes, Trump is right in saying that the Dow has hit a record high, but the credit for much of the economic growth in the past year is due to inheriting a healthy economy. Regardless, even if Paul Krugman was wrong in a prediction in an opinion piece, this is not the same as the media getting the facts wrong in news reporting. Krugman even retracted his own prediction three days later, saying that the problems he predicted would not be immediate.

To be fair to Trump, he is correct about some of the other items he listed. As I (and others) have pointed out, the media has made huge mistakes in its coverage of Russia, and has retracted multiple false reports. Fairness And Accuracy in Reporting has criticized the Russia hysteria at MSNBC more than once (although CNN received the brunt of Trump’s attacks).  I suspect that many journalists who predicted that Clinton would win easily fell for the Russian conspiracy theories spread by Clinton and the DNC, blaming Russia for the loss to rationalize their own erroneous predictions.

There were also errors by the media on other matters, including some which were quickly retracted. How many of Trump’s errors have been retracted? Vox went through the awards and pointed out where the media made mistakes in the Russia coverage and elsewhere.

The more serious problem is the attack on the press and First Amendment rights. As I noted in December, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. The Committee To Protect Journalists has attributed the increase to Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.

Two Republican Senators criticized Trump for his attacks on the press. Jeff Flake gave a Senate floor speech comparing Trump to Stalin with his attacks on the press as being enemies of the people:

It was a year in which a daily assault on the constitutionally protected free speech was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. The enemy of the people was how the president of the United States called the free press in 2017. Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even [Soviet leader] Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this body.

Especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements and of course the president has it precisely backward. Despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.

When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him fake news, it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press. I dare say that anyone who has had the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas all around the globe encounter members of US-based media who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

John McCain had an op-ed in The Washington Post entitled Mr. President, stop attacking the press:

…While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase “fake news” — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. CPJ documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on “fake news” charges.

Trump’s attempts to undermine the free press also make it more difficult to hold repressive governments accountable. For decades, dissidents and human rights advocates have relied on independent investigations into government corruption to further their fight for freedom. But constant cries of “fake news” undercut this type of reporting and strip activists of one of their most powerful tools of dissent.

We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression…

Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.

Collaborators, Not Resistance: Eighteen Senate Democrats Vote To Support Restrictions On Civil Liberties

After the House, with the support of fifty-five Democrats including Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, blocked attempts to reform the FISA Act, Rand Paul and Ron Wyden attempted to filibuster FISA renewal in the Senate. They wrote this letter describing the civil liberties violations in the bill to renew and expand the FISA act for six years. The vote was close, with sixty votes required for the cloture vote. Cloture passed on a vote of 60 to 38, with  Democrat Claire McCaskill casting the deciding vote. Once again several Democrats voted to betray the Constitution and vote against civil liberties.

Eighteen Democratic Senators, along with independent Angus King of Maine, vote for cloture. The Democrats voting for cloture were: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

The following Republican Senators voted to support the filibuster, which would have provided an opportunity to debate and offer amendments to reform the law: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Dean Heller, Jerry Moran, and Lisa Murkowski. Yes, Ted Cruz was on the right side of this while eighteen Democrats were not.

The American Civil Liberties Union Tweeted this response: “Members of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation should be sharply rebuked for supporting a bill that is in flagrant violation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The final bill is expected to pass the Senate this week.

Reason described how the bill expands violations of civil liberties in the FISA Act:

This bill doesn’t just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected from Americans for a host of domestic federal crimes that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats. It has added some unusually worded warrant requirements that will protect some people—but only when they’re actually suspected and are being investigated for criminal activities.

Furthermore the bill will give the NSA permission to attempt to restart what are known as “about” searches, access to communications that merely reference a foreign target, not just communications to and from that target. The NSA voluntarily ended these types of searches once it became clear they were gaining access communications that they had no authority to be viewing. This bill will allow them to attempt to restart it unless Congress acts separately to stop it.

Once again many Democrats have acted as collaborators rather than as the resistance. Democrats who claim that Trump is a tyrant in cahoots with Putin have not been able to unite to oppose giving him increased powers to spy on Americans. Although they are a minority in both Houses of Congress, the presence of some Republicans supporting privacy rights, along with the requirement for sixty votes in the Senate, provided Democrats with the power to force changes.  A swing of one vote in the Senate or twenty-six Democrats in the House could have forced reforms to the law which allows warrantless surveillance of Americans as well as foreigners.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery Returns; The X-Files; Runaways Concludes First Season; The Handmaid’s Tale Season Two; Krypton

Star Trek: Discovery returned last week with Despite Yourself, directed by Jonathan Frakes. The episode immediately provided the answers to two points which were widely predicted: Ash Tyler is Voq and the Discovery is in the Mirror universe. Of course there were new twists to keep things interesting.

As I had been discussing late in the fall season, the only way to make sense of Ash Tyler’s actions was that if he was Voq he was a sleeper agent and did not realize it. This turned out to be true, but in addition something went wrong when L’Rell tried to restore his memories. This leaves Ash/Voq in a situation where we cannot predict what he will do in the future, and we have seen that at times either could dominate.

The procedure used for Voq was quite sophisticated, initially fooling medical exams. (The Tribble was back on Lorca’s desk so perhaps it can expose Voq–except both are off the Discovery.) Ultimately Culber did figure it out, and appears to have been killed to keep him quiet. This resulted in Discovery taking heat for providing another case of part of a same-sex couple getting killed, such as on The 100 a couple of years ago. This led to quick assurances that we will see Culber again. There are many possibilities including that he can still recover (with the help of future medicine) from having his neck snapped, Stamets using time travel or other aspects of the mycelial network to reverse what happened, or the replacement of Culber with a version from the Mirror universe or another universe. It is a bit strange that there was nobody else around either sickbay or the brig when Ash was letting L’Rell out of the brig or attacking Culber.

Finding that Ash Tyler is actually a sleeper Klingon has the potential for further ramifications now that he is one of only three from the Discovery crew on the ISS Shenzhou. This came about due to a poor decision from Burnham to keep quiet about him, but it was established early that Burnham is capable of making really bad decisions. Fortunately we saw that Burnham is very capable of defending herself.

It was also revealed very early in the episode that they were in the Mirror universe from Mirror, Mirror. The data recovered from a destroyed rebel ship quickly provided them with quite detailed information about not only the Empire but about the roles of the crew on their own ship. While somewhat unrealistic that they could have received this much information, it did allow them to quickly get into the story without wasting time searching out this information. This also provided a good way to bring viewers new to Star Trek up to date without boring long time viewers. Tying this into the events of an episode of Enterprise, In a Mirror, Darkly, was also rewarding for long time Star Trek fans, while new viewers could still follow what is going on. (A synopsis of In a Mirror, Darkly can be found here).

While Captain Lorca reviewed the information they retrieved, it also felt like this was for the benefit of others, and Lorca was already aware of what was going on, having appeared to have intentionally caused the Discovery to wind up in the Mirror universe. Having learned that the Lorca of the Mirror universe has disappeared raises suspicion that possibly the Lorca we know is actually the Mirror counterpart. This would explain much of his behavior, including sleeping with a weapon. If so, Lorca is more sophisticated than Mirror Kirk, who could not keep fit in and keep his identity secret when he crossed over to our universe in Mirror, Mirror. There is also the question of what is going on with the Mirror Discovery after it crossed over into our universe.

It was entertaining to see the USS Discovery quickly convert to the ISS Discovery. Seeing a replicator-like process for making Burnham’s uniform in a previous episode makes it more plausible that they could quickly make the needed uniforms (even if not entirely consistent with the original show). As on previous Mirror universe stories, the elevator was one of the preferred places for an assassination attempt (other than the bedroom), and we got the obligatory attempted murder scene. As was foreshadowed in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum with Stamets calling Tilly “Captain,” Tilly (or Killy) is the Captain of the Mirror Discovery. I do like how this is truly a continuing, serialized series, with little events in one episode providing a payoff in future episodes. Having Lorca portray the Engineer with a Scottish accent was also an amusing homage to the original show.

While the recovered data provided far more information than was realistic, the one missing piece of information was the identity of the Emperor. As they made a point of this, it is very likely that this will be revealed in a future episode, and it will also provide a payoff to viewers. If this was fan fiction, I might guess that it was a very old Empress Sato. While that would be satisfying to fans who remember In A Mirror, Darkly, it would mean little to newer fans, so I doubt that this will be the case. My bet is that it will be Philippa Georgiou, especially after there was no sign of her on the Shenzhou. Burnham already had a fight to the death with the Mirror version of someone she knew from the Shenzhou, and I bet she will also have to confront the Mirror Georgiou. (A confrontation with Tyler/Voq is also very likely.)

While previous Mirror universe stories were one or two episodes, it appears that the entire second half of the season will be a longer Mirror story. As I quoted in an interview with the producers last week, Discovery is gradually moving towards showing the vision of the Federation we are accustomed to from the original series. Taking place in the Mirror universe does now allow Discovery to portray what is good about the Federation through contrast with the Empire, even if we did not see it at its greatest in the first half of the season.

The same interview mentioned second chances. Being in the Mirror universe has provided a second chance for Lorca, who appears to have wanted to go there with his future uncertain in our universe. Bringing the Discovery from our universe might also be part of a bigger plan if he is really the Mirror Lorca. Bernham might also be tempted to remain now that she is the Captain of her own ship in the Mirror universe, and faces a possible return to prison in our universe. Ultimately both will have big decisions about what is important to them. The xenophobia of the Mirror universe also resonates in our present with the presidency of Donald Trump, years after the idea was first shown on the original show. It is sad that we have not progressed more since the 1960’s.

TV Line interviewed the Discovery show runners about the episode:

TVLINE | The mirror universe is a huge part of Trek mythology, dating back to the original series. How early on in the writing process did you know you wanted to go there?
GRETCHEN J. BERG | I think pretty much from the beginning.

AARON HARBERTS | Yeah, the biggest thing, frankly, was when we were going to do it. Initially, plans had been hatched to go over there in Episode 5, and we realized as we were talking about it: The mirror universe only works when you can care about the characters enough in the prime universe, so you can uncover the discovery of who people are in the alternate universe. So we realized that the mirror universe really needed to play in the back half of the [season], that it really needed to anchor the last several episodes…

TVLINE | So the crew needs to find a way out of this mirror universe with the Terrans. Is that the overriding mission for the next few weeks? Does it run through the season finale?
HARBERTS
 | We will be in the mirror universe for a little while. Episode 10 is simply the introduction. We felt like we could tell quite a bit of story in this mirror universe — not only about the mirror universe, but about our characters. Things come out about our characters in the mirror universe that wouldn’t come out in the prime universe. So we really felt like it was a great crucible for storytelling.

TVLINE | Is it giving away too much to ask if we’ll see a mirror Georgiou?
BERG
 | I find your question very interesting, but that’s a “no comment.” [Laughs]

TVLINE | Making Tilly the captain was such an inspired stroke of storytelling. How much did Mary Wiseman enjoy that twist?
HARBERTS | [Laughs] The thing that was fun is, we always knew we were going to do it. The gift that we’ve been given from CBS All Access was to allow this to be so serialized. So Tilly says “I’m going to be a captain someday” the first time we meet her. So we knew: “Mary, guess what? In the mirror universe, you’re going to be a captain!” Mary is super-dry and super-sassy, so whenever she would cop a little ‘tude — and I mean that in the most playful of ways, because we have fun and just go at each other — it would just be like, “Yeah, that’s really mirror-universe Tilly. Save that for the mirror universe!” I think she had a ball. When she takes charge of that bridge, it’s just a testament to how great she is as an actor. She can go from comedic to downright scary to fighting both instincts. She’s just truly gifted.

TVLINE | We did witness Dr. Culber’s death as well, when Tyler’s alternate personality came out. What’s the fallout going to be from that when the crew returns to the ship? 
BERG | There are so many things that are set off or started in Episode 10… there are ramifications for every action. It is a huge thing. And it’s heartbreaking, and horrifying.

HARBERTS | One of the early bits of feedback about Discovery is that it’s very dark, and very bleak. And I don’t necessarily believe that that’s true, because we know where the show is going. But I do think that scenes of forgiveness and atonement and redemption are really important in Star Trek, and we’re going to have to take that journey. On our show, no one is ever truly a villain, and no one is ever truly a perfect person. And what’s beautiful about Shazad [Latif]’s performance is, you see just how shocked and horrified he is by his actions…

TVLINE | What else is coming up in the rest of this season? Is Tyler’s alternate personality kind of the ticking time bomb that could derail this entire mission?
BERG
 | It’s looming pretty large, and it’s a huge complication to what is going on, not only personally with Burnham and everybody else.

HARBERTS | If your psyche is hanging by a thread, maybe the last thing you want to do is go on an away mission to the Terran Empire. [Laughs] What you don’t need is more stress.

BERG | Where is the couch and afghan you can climb under? They don’t have one! I would say, also, as shocking as the death of Culber is that you just witnessed at the hands of Tyler, Culber and Stamets have been in a relationship that… sort of represents the epic love story of our series. And, you know, love overcomes all. I think you can count on that it won’t be the last we see Culber. You’ll see him again.

HARBERTS | This relationship between Stamets and Culber… this death is but the first chapter. The trope of “Bury Your Gays,” which is running rampant through our television landscape, that is not something that Star Trek has ever been interested in doing. I think we’ve shown by now that we’re not interested in tropes, and that we love our characters, and we love our actors. When you’re given the gift of Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, and you’ve got several gay writers on staff, you don’t just throw that away. You will see Dr. Culber again. This is a love story that’s going to transcend death, and there is much more story to tell for those two. And the science that [the real-life mycologist] Paul Stamets has provided as a backdrop for our fictional Paul Stamets, and for our show… if the audience is concerned about what’s going to happen to Culber, dig deeper into the science of the mycelial network. There are so many clues in there.

This (as with last week’s episode) has me optimistic that we are in store for a much better season of The X-Files than the previous. While much of the story might not hold up if looked at too critically (which can be said of the original run of the show), it was very entertaining. It provided, as a revival should, both something of the past (Richard Langly of The Lone Gunmen) along with an updated twist. The idea of consciousness being uploaded after death is an idea which Steven Moffat has used several times, although this was handled much more like Black Mirror than Doctor Who.

The episode also played on modern paranoia and conspiracy theories, from the use of the Russians to this exchange:

Skinner: “The bureau is not in good standing to the White House these days.”

Mulder: ‘The FBI finally found out what it’s like to be looked upon a little spooky.”

While the alien threat was potentially eliminated last week, there is a new threat. We were warned that, “life on this earth, all human life, most animal life, is about to be crushed. Burnt to the ground.” They also had to enter something very close to a real life NSA facility.

Runaways concluded its first season last week, and was an excellent origin story setting up their situation. By the end of the first season, we have learned quit a bit about the characters and their situation. Nothing really got resolved in the finale, but fortunately Hulu has renewed the series for a second season. They also renewed Future Man. I have not seen this yet, but have heard good things about the series.

Hulu has turned into a major player in streaming with The Handmaid’s Tale, including with a Golden Globe win last week. It will be interesting to see what happens when it returns on April 25 now that they are beyond the book. Reportedly the second season will go beyond the events in Gilead and show the Colonies. The above trailer was recently released.

Syfy has released the first official trailer for Krypton, which premiers March 21.

Democrats, Including Nancy Pelosi, Help Republicans Block Civil Liberties Protections

The House has voted to renew the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program after previously failing to pass an amendment to place limitations on the program to help protect the rights of Americans. The New York Times reports:

The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting a yearslong effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans’ emails and other personal communications.

The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law that permits the government, without a warrant, to collect communications of foreigners abroad from United States firms like Google and AT&T — even when those targets are talking to Americans. Congress had enacted the law in 2008 to legalize a form of a once-secret warrantless surveillance program created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The legislation approved on Thursday still has to go through the Senate. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favor major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden…

Before approving the extension of the law, known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the House voted 233 to 183 to reject an amendment that proposed a series of overhauls. Among them was a requirement that officials get warrants in most cases before hunting for and reading emails and other messages of Americans swept up under the program.

Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress tweeted a list of the fifty-five Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Democratic Ranking Member Adam Schiff, who voted against the amendment introduced by Republican Justin Amash.

Schuman noted that the USA Rights amendment could have passed if twenty-six of these Democrats had supported it.

The Intercept described the effects of the bill which was passed:

The law serves as the legal backing for two mammoth NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden: Upstream, which collects information from the internet junctions where data passes into and out of the country, and PRISM, which collects communications from U.S.-based internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo.

The programs rest on the notion that they are “targeting” foreigners, but they collect massive amounts of data on Americans as well, including wholly domestic communications. Amazingly, the intelligence community has never disclosed how much. Numerous members of Congress have requested an estimate since 2011, but both the Obama and Trump administrations have refused to provide one.

The bill also consolidates the FBI’s legal authority to search those communications without a warrant. Under current rules, the NSA shares certain kinds of information it collects under Section 702 with the FBI, whose agents can then search it in the course of investigating crimes unrelated to national security. In a secret court hearing in 2015, a lawyer for the Justice Department compared the frequency of those searches to the use of Google.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued this statement:

The House voted today to give President Trump and his administration more spying powers. The government will use this bill to continue warrantless intrusions into Americans’ private emails, text messages, and other communications.

No president should have this power. Yet, members of Congress just voted to hand it to an administration that has labeled individuals as threats based merely on their religion, nationality, or viewpoints. The Senate should reject this bill and rein in government surveillance powers to bring Section 702 in line with the Constitution.

Of course there is little chance of stopping this in the Senate either.  Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have sponsored a Senate version of the USA Rights Act.

There was one amusing aspect of this with Donald Trump again showing he has no understanding of the legislation before Congress. Trump initially put out a tweet opposing the bill after someone on Fox and Friends had said that the FISA Act had been used to justify surveillance of him based upon the Steele Dossier. He later reversed this after someone explained the position of his administration to him regarding the legislation.

This turned out to be only the second most stupid thing said by Donald Trump today. Later in the day this president with a shithole for a brain referred to Haiti and African countries as shithole countries.

Glenn Greenwald Warns About Use Of Claims Of Fake News To Justify Censorship

Both Glenn Greenwald and I have written many times in the past year about the danger of increased censorship which has arisen from the anti-Russia hysteria being spread by many establishment Democrats, along with portions of the media including MSNBC and The Washington Post. Greenwald has written on this topic again today. In the United States this has been seen with calls for suppressing allegedly fake news critical of them by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both Greenwald and myself have also noted the increase in censorship of political views on Facebook.  Today Greenwald discussed two countries where governments are actually looking at censorship of the internet based upon claims of fake news, Brazil and France.

Greenwald discussed the details in Brazil and France in great detail and it would be best to read his full article. After this description he discussed the issue in general, which is important as it affects response to the Russia story here. Greenwald wrote:

THOUGH PRESENTED AS modern necessities to combat new, contemporaneous problems, both countries’ proposals have all the defining attributes — and all the classic pitfalls and severe dangers — of standard state censorship efforts. To begin with, the fact that these censorship powers are confined to election time makes it more menacing, not less: Having a population choose its leaders is exactly when free expression is most vital, and when the dangers of abuse of censorship powers wielded by state officials are most acute and obvious.

Worse, these new censorship proposals are centrally based on a newly concocted term that, from the start, never had any clear or consistent definition. In the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory, U.S. media outlets produced a tidal wave of reports warning of the damage and pervasiveness of “fake news.” Seemingly overnight, every media outlet and commentator was casually using the term as though its meaning were clear and indisputable.

Yet, as many have long been warning, few people, if any, ever bothered to define what the term actually means. As a result, it’s incredibly vague, shifting, and devoid of consistent meaning. Do any news articles that contain false, significant assertions qualify? Is there some intent requirement, and if so, what is it and how is determined (does recklessness qualify)? Can large mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post, Le Monde, and Globo be guilty of publishing “fake news” and thus subject to this censorship, or is it — as one expects — reserved only for small, independent blogs and outlets that lack a powerful corporate presence?

Ill-defined terms that become popularized in political discourse are, by definition, terms of propaganda rather than reliable, meaningful indicators of problems. And invariably, they wreak all kinds of predictable havoc and inevitably give rise to abuses of power. More than anything else, such terms — which, by design, mean whatever the powerful groups wielding them want them to mean — so often produce arbitrary censorship in the name of combatting them. Just consider two similarly ill-defined but popular propagandistic terms — “terrorism” and “hate speech” — which have been appropriated by governments all over the world to justify the most extreme, repressive powers.

The last decade has seen multiple countries on every continent — including the world’s most repressive regimes — obliterate basic civil liberties in the name of stopping “terrorism,” by which they mean little other than “those who oppose our regime.” And then there’s “hate speech,” which can sometimes be used to silence Nazis or overt racists, but also can be and often is used to silence a wide range of left-wing views, from war opposition to advocacy of Palestinian rights. State censorship is always dangerous, but the danger is exponentially magnified when the censorship targets (terrorism, hate speech, fake news) lack clear definition…

If none of those points convinces you to oppose, or at least be seriously concerned about, efforts to control the internet in the name of “fake news,” simply apply the lessons of Donald Trump to this debate. For years during the war on terror, civil libertarians tried to generate opposition to vast, unchecked executive power — due process-free detentions, secret wars, targeting one’s own citizens for assassination with no charges — by warning that although one may trust these powers in the hands of leaders that one likes (George W. Bush or Barack Obama), at some point a president you distrust will enter the Oval Office, and by then, it will be too late to prevent him from exercising those powers.

As Greenwald noted, fake news is an incredibly vague word. Even if we find news that most would agree is fake, there is no evidence that it is harmful. As I described last week, a study showed that fake news is unlikely to have impacted the election result. The study found that most people who followed links to fake news are  “voracious consumers of hard news,” receiving news from multiple sources, and are less likely to be fooled by fake stories. In addition, most were “intense partisans,” making them unlikely to change their views based upon an occasional story with fake news. Fake news does not represent a meaningful threat, and should not be used as justification for censorship.

Michael Wolff Again Says It Was Money Laundering, Not Collusion Regarding 2016 Election

Michael Wolff has repeated on CNBC what he has written in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House regarding Russia–it is all about money laundering, not a conspiracy to change the 2016 election result. From CNBC:

People around President Donald Trump think that if the Russia investigation touches the president’s finances, it could take him down, the author of an explosive tell-all book told CNBC on Tuesday.

Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” said administration officials and Trump confidantes he spoke to do not think the president colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election. However, they think if special counsel Robert Mueller looks into Trump’s finances, it could be perilous for the president, Wolff claimed.

“People don’t think in the White House — don’t think that he colluded with Russia. … They do think that if the investigation goes near his finances, he’s sunk. Everybody, again, to a man,” Wolff said in a “Squawk Box” interview.

The president has repeatedly denied any cooperation with Moscow as an investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election continues. Last year, Trump told The New York Times that a Mueller probe of his finances as part of the investigation would cross a red line.

I previously posted excerpts from Fire and Fury here and here in which Wolff presented arguments that Trump was engaging in money laundering in Russia but there is no evidence of colluding with Russia regarding the 2016 election.

To repeat what I also wrote yesterday: At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

Fire And Fury Contradicts Claims From Democrats Of A Trump/Putin Conspiracy To Alter The 2016 Election

Last week I noted how pre-publication excerpts from Michael Wolff”s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, cast further doubt on claims from Hillary Clinton and many Democrats that a conspiracy between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump caused Donald Trump to beat Clinton. Excerpts showed that Wolff believes (as I have also argued, and as the evidence to date also indicates) that the relationships between Trump and Russia involved money laundering, not anything concerning the election.

I also noted excerpts from Fire and Fury which showed that Vladimir Putin had no interest in Trump, and that Trump did not want to win–contradicting the Democratic conspiracy theories that the two were working together to get Trump elected.

Now that the book is out, additional portions could also be reviewed, which similarly cast doubt on the Democrats’ conspiracy theories. Wolff noted how the Democrats were using Congressional investigations to push their argument and had this comment:

The congressional Democrats had everything to gain by insisting, Benghazi-like, that where there was smoke (even if they were desperately working the bellows) there was fire, and by using investigations as a forum to promote their minority opinion (and for members to promote themselves).

Wolff also talked about the assessment from the intelligence community regarding Russian involvement. The claims of seventeen agencies agreeing have already been retracted, and the remaining intelligence report suggesting Russian involvement provided no evidence. (Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, as also debunked these arguments recently). In the following passage, Wolff both debunked the argument based upon citing the intelligence agencies, and again noted that what Trump has to fear is not collusion regarding the election, but the other crimes he is likely guilty of:

Still, this could yet be seen as highly wishful thinking by Trump opponents. “The underlying premise of the case is that spies tell the truth,” said the veteran intelligence community journalist Edward Jay Epstein. “Who knew?” And, indeed, the worry in the White House was not about collusion—which seemed implausible if not farcical—but what, if the unraveling began, would likely lead to the messy Trump (and Kushner) business dealings. On this subject every member of the senior staff shrugged helplessly, covering eyes, ears, and mouth. This was the peculiar and haunting consensus—not that Trump was guilty of all that he was accused of, but that he was guilty of so much else. It was all too possible that the hardly plausible would lead to the totally credible.

At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

(more…)

Donald Trump’s Tweets Are Like Richard Nixon Talking To The Pictures On The White House Walls In His Final Days

Donald Trump’s tweets are increasingly looking like a modern day version of Richard Nixon talking to the pictures on the wall at the White House in his final days in office. While hardly the only major revelations from the publication of Fire and Fury, the book has increased public questions of Donald Trump’s state of mind. His sanity had already been in question, with psychiatrists openly questioning it. Some of the descriptions of Trump in Wolff’s book are also consistent with questions which I and many others have had as to his mental status. Trump’s tweets only serve to give further reason to question his cognitive abilities.

Wolff’s statements questioning Trump’s cognitive abilities include increasingly repeating himself, often a sign of deteriorating short term memory and dementia:

“Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his [Trump’s] repetitions,” Wolff wrote.

“It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories – now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions – he just couldn’t stop saying something.”

Wolff has also described how the White House staff sees him as a “child” who needs “immediate gratification.”

This morning Trump tweeted that “my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” I  could just imagine interviewing someone for a job opening–an opening far less significant than President of the United States. If someone came in saying their two greatest assets were being mentally stable and really smart, that very well would end their chances of being hired. Trump took it further in a subsequent tweet, saying he is “not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

This has increased interest in the 25th Amendment, which provides a mechanism for removing a president based upon mental incapacity, especially in light of his recent tweet bragging about the size of his nuclear button. As I have not examined Donald Trump, I certainly cannot make a definite diagnosis of dementia, but in the nuclear age it is clear that some mechanism needs to be in place to have a president examined when he shows such alarming signs of dementia and mental instability.

Wolff has said that the revelations in his book will bring down the president:

Michael Wolff told BBC radio that his conclusion in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”– that Trump is not fit to do the job — was becoming a widespread view.

“I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

“The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said.

These revelations might bring down Trump, if the current investigation by Robert Mueller and Congress do not do that first. Trump also responded to the Russia investigations on twitter: “Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence…..”

This sounds a lot like Richard Nixon’s defense that he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, while ignoring all the crimes he was shown to be guilty of. From the evidence released so far, he very well could be telling the truth about not colluding with Russia to alter the election, but that ignores the facts that he (or least his son and son-in-law) were both eager to attempt this, as well as the evidence of financial crimes such as money laundering and evidence of  obstruction of justice. The claim that Russia altered the election result increasingly looks like a fabrication by Democrats, with no evidence to support this, but this does not mean that the questions of his mental stability are not true. The claim that Trump had no ties with Russia (such as money laundering) is a lie spread by Trump and his remaining allies, making his denials of collusion alone only sound Nixonian.