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In which an older and wiser yet terminally earnest former liberal struggles to come to grips with the cynicism, hatred, and paranoia that plague both sides of the American political spectrum. "Can we all get along?"

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And I quote:

"The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered."

Edmund Burke, 2nd speech on conciliation with America, Mar. 22, 1775 (Bartlett's 16th ed., p. 331)



Mrs. Powel: "Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"

Benjamin Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it."

After Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Sept. 18, 1787. (Bartlett's 16th ed.)


"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves."

James Madison ("Publius"), The Federalist Papers No. 10 (1787)


"Of the three forms of sovereignty [autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy], democracy, in the truest sense of the word, is necessarily a despotism because it establishes an executive power through which all the citizens may make decisions about (and indeed against) the individual without his consent..."

Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)


"To act successfully, that is, according to the rules of the political art, is political wisdom. To know with despair that the political act is inevitably evil, and to act nevertheless, is moral courage. To choose among several expedient actions the least evil one is moral judgment. In the combination of political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment, man reconciles his political nature with his moral destiny."

Hans Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (1946), p. 203


"Thus, whenever a concrete threat to peace develops, war is opposed not by a world public opinion but by the public opinions of those nations whose interests are threatened by that war."

Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations 6th ed., rev. by Kenneth Thompson (1985), p. 288


"The texture of international politics remains highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly."

Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), p. 66


"Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen."

H. A. L. Fisher, History of Europe (1935), p. vii [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 80]


"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favour."

Robert Frost, 'Black Cottage' North of Boston (1914), [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 86]


"My thoughts encompass divinity, therefore divinity is. The divinity that my thoughts encompass is associated with the order that arises out of chaos... As we expand our knowledge of this realm, we ... see it in terms of one sublime order that awaits full realization."

Louis J. Halle, Out of Chaos (1977), p. 646


"Here, then, is the complexity, the fascination, and the tragedy of all political life. Politics are made up of two elements -- utopia and reality -- belonging to two different planes which can never meet."

E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939 2nd ed. (1946), p. 93.


"My biggest blunder in life was attempt to seek common ground with Keynesians, based on the naive thought that by putting my ideas in Keynesian language that I would make any dent on the Keynesians."

Milton Friedman, New York Times, July 4, 1999


"War made the state and the state made war."

Charles Tilly, The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975), p. 42


"Americans like to mock Kuwaitis as rich and pampered and lazy and decadent, which is exactly what the rest of the world says about Americans. Actually, we shouldn't mock Kuwait at all. It represents the hopes and dreams of Americans of all political persuasions. For liberals, it's a generous welfare state with guaranteed employment and a huge government bureaucracy. For conservatives, it's a country with no taxes and plenty of cheap maids who aren't allowed to vote."

Peter Carlson, "Castles in the Sand," Washington Post Magazine Jan. 14, 1996, p. 32-33


"[Bill Clinton's] greatest strength is his insincerity... I've decided Bill Clinton is at his most genuine when he's the most phony... We know he doesn't mean what he says."

Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman, in a speech in Indiana quoted by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Apr. 27, 1996


"Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, his opponents [*] must be thwarted. They are enemies of democracy and of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxury of choosing our allies. This is war."
* (referred to elsewhere in this piece as "mad dogs bent on political annihilation")

Eric Alterman, "Democracy Disappears" The Nation, Jan. 11-18, 1998


"There are no enemies in science, professor. Only phenomena to study."

From the movie The Thing, 1951 (a Cold War sci-fi allegory)


Julia Roberts: "Can you prove any of this?"

Mel Gibson: "No... A good conspiracy is unprovable. If you can prove it, someone must have screwed up somewhere along the way."

From the movie Conspiracy Theory


THE 16 WORDS: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Pres. George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 2003


 

January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Is Trump a serious president-elect?

Last February 29, I asked (rhetorically), "Is Trump a serious candidate?" He already had a strong lead in the primary races, but was not acting in the dignified manner that one would expect of a front-runner. One might have thought that winning the presidential election would provide him an opportunity to mature, but sadly, nothing has changed: He continues to spout bizarre, obnoxious "tweets" about people who cross him, and makes erratic, impromptu remarks on a wide variety of policy areas. Are people supposed to take his words seriously? Such tendencies raise troubling questions about his capacity to lead this country. Is he indeed a serious president-elect???

The latest dust-up started when Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said that Trump's election victory was not legitimate, and Trump flew into another fit of outrage. Over a dozen Democratic members of Congress (mostly African-American) have announced that they will not attend Trump's inauguration on Friday, to express their rejection of his democratic legitimacy. To me, it's a silly argument that does not merit a serious response. I tend to agree with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin (a conservative), who wrote that there are so many ways that Trump violates the presidential norms of behavior that harping on his supposed "illegitimacy" completely misses the point.

Fortunately, some Democrats spoke out against the extraordinary boycott led by Lewis, including Sen. Joe Manchin (WV). I watched him on CBS "Face The Nation" on Sunday morning, and was pleased that he criticized Lewis's statement as "uncalled for." (See thehill.com.) The peaceful transfer of power is a delicate matter, and the lack of national unity at this difficult time puts our country in great peril. Ironically, such a reaction is exactly what the Russians were trying to achieve with their cybernetic ("hacking") of U.S. e-mail servers and disinformation; see below. Even though I dread what Trump may do once in office, he was legitimately elected, and those who say otherwise make our country weaker.

Is Trump a Russian stooge?

Protests about Trump's supposed "illegitimate" election are based largely on the Russian cybernetic attacks of last year, but very few informed people think that those things had a decisive effect on the presidential election. Given the fact that hardly any expert thought that Trump had much of a chance to win the election, the idea that the interference was aimed at tipping the outcome in Trump's favor just doesn't make sense. So what were the Russians' intentions? To me, it's obvious, that the Russians were mainly trying to sow doubt and suspicion about our democratic processes, and the way many Democrats (such as Lewis) have responded, the Russians have succeeded marvelously. A fairly balanced and thorough report (by the FBI and DHS) on "Russian Malicious Cyber Activity" dated December 29 can be seen at us-cert.gov (Hat tip to Connie.)

But to hear some people talk, the Russian cybernetic attack signifies that Trump is a mere puppet or stooge of Vladimir Putin. The idea that a multi-billionaire might end up being manipulated in such a way seems extremely remote. (I doubt that there is much to the opposition research "dossier" on Trump's alleged sexual perversions, and would prefer not to worry about that. See independent.co.uk.) Given Trump's authoritarian tendencies, there may well be an affinity between him and Putin, but as I keep reminding people, many of the provocative things Trump says are done mainly to annoy or distract his opponents, and I think the notion of a U.S.-Russian partnership are greatly exaggerated. (I will deal with the strategic and foreign policy aspects of that relationship in the near future.)

Testimony before Senate committees by Ret. Gen. James Mattis (presumed Secretary of Defense) and Rex Tillerson (presumed Secretary of State) has conflicted with Trump on the extent of the Russian threat, yet another cause for concern. They have likewise expressed firm support for NATO, which Trump has questioned. Will he take advice from his cabinet?

Politics: a walk down memory lane

Having put a great deal of effort into warning fellow Republicans about various pathological tendencies within the party (e.g., simplistic populism, narrow exclusivism, excess focus on social/moral/cultural issues), it would be quite hypocritical of me to cast aside those warnings and voice support for Donald Trump. The Grand Old Party is now reaping the bitter fruit it has sowed over the past ten years or more. In light of my departure from Republican ranks, I thought it would be appropriate to review my immediate post-election blog reflections for the past four election cycles:

November 3, 2004: "Victory, Redemption, Reconciliaton" -- (This was when I was just starting to blog on a regular basis, pioneering a new form of political communication that was eventually picked up by many other conservative Republicans in this area.) Having devoted a great deal of time and energy to campaign work on behalf of the Republicans, I was a gung ho party loyalist and made much of George W. Bush's popular vote majority, as a mandate to pursue what then still seemed to be a conservative agenda. I kept under wraps my qualms about Bush's capacity to govern effectively largely. (Over the first half of the first year of Bush's second term, however, my doubts began to grow, as expressed in various blog posts.)

November 5, 2008: "Barack Obama's historic victory" -- I strained to explain the race by John McCain, whose choice of a vice presidential candidate (Sarah Palin) doomed what little chance he had after the economic meltdown in late September. Even though Obama won a bigger margin of the nationwide popular vote than Bush had four years earlier, I still characterized the win as "not decisive." Oops -- not very "fair and balanced"! But at least I was very candid about the election serving as a referendum on the Bush presidency, about which I had become sharply critical over the preceding two years. I stand by my mildly scornful take on the likelihood that Obama's worldwide popularity might translate into positive foreign policy achievements. In light of the subsequent rise of ISIS, one might question with my assertion that Iraq was "being steadily pacified," but I think Obama's precipitous military withdrawal from that country, as well as his diplomatic clumsiness, are primarily to blame for that.

November 7, 2012: "Decision 2012: Obama wins by a clear margin" -- I tried to keep my hopes up in the final weeks of the campaign, but the advantages of incumbency (plus the "fortuitous" hurricane that struck the New York City area) were too much for Mitt Romney -- a.k.a. "Mr. Nice Guy" -- to overcome. My ties to local party politics had greatly withered, and the campaign appearance by Romney (and Paul Ryan) at Fishersville, and an appearance by Ryan in September, were about the only organized events that I attended that year. is a "true conservative" candidate "The fact that Romney has failed to clearly distinguish his agenda from that of Dubya is a discouraging sign that most people in the GOP have not really absorbed the lessons of the 2001-2008 period."

November 9, 2016: "Believe it or not: Trump is elected president" -- That piece was especially difficult for me to write, as I had such negative feelings about both major party candidates. I called attention to what has since become known as "Trump Derangement Syndrome," the hysterical reaction by many leftists to the impending Trump presidency, previously considered almost unthinkable. One of the more controversial observations I made on Election Night was that Trump's surprise victory to a great extent was the visceral reaction by "Middle America" (white, rural, heartland-dwelling) against contemporary popular culture. Many leftists sadly remain convinced that voting for Trump signifies an endorsement of his odious attitudes toward women and certain foreign ethnic or religious groups.


January 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Trump's military-industrial complex

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

President Dwight Eisenhower, farewell address, Jan. 17, 1961

Based on his choices to head his incoming administration, President-elect Donald Trump seems either unaware of Eisenhower's warning, or has ignored it. Trump has chosen three former top military officers to serve in his administration, more than any other recent administration. Several other cabinet positions are going to millionaire business persons from Wall Street or otherwise with close connections to the corporate elite. In some cases, the nominees have little evident knowledge of, or experience with, the subject matter covered by their departments. It does not bode well for good government, and calls into question Trump's reformist talk of "draining the swamp" in Washington.

Trump's most significant cabinet choice last month was that of Gen. (ret.) James "Mad Dog" Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. (Federal law requires Congress to pass a special authorization for any former military officer to serve in a civilian position if less than five years has passed since he or she left the service.) Mattis was reportedly angry that the Trump team chose someone (Vincent Viola, a businessman) to be Secretary of the Army without consulting with Mattis first. (See CNN.com.)

As noted on November 30, the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be Attorney General is controversial due to his weak record on civil rights issues -- so much so that legal experts and academics from across the country have mounted a campaign to get the Senate to reject him. [Some of his past statements on immigration are disturbing to me. Also controversial is Betsy DeVos, an Ohio billionaire/philanthropist who has been active in the school choice movement. She was a major donor to the Trump campaign. Since I believe that reforming our education system is a high priority, I'm willing to wait and see how she does as Secretary of Education.]

The table below summarizes the cabinet positions and other key advisory positions which Trump has already selected. The column showing each person's career background makes it clear how strong the military and industrial emphasis is. Apart from those two categories, nearly everyone else is a high-ranking Republican politician.

Department (or position) Name Background
State Rex Tillerson Exxon-Mobil
Defense Gen. (ret.) James Mattis U.S. Marines
Treasury Steven Mnuchin Goldman Sachs
Justice (Atty. Gen.) Jeff Sessions U.S. Senate
Agriculture ???
Commerce Wilbur Ross Investor / banker
Labor Andy Puzder CKE Restaurants
Health & Human Serv. Rep. Tom Price U.S. House
Interior Rep. Ryan Zinke U.S. House
Energy Rick Perry ex-gov. of Texas
Veterans ???
Homeland Security Gen. (ret.) John Kelly U.S. Marines
Housing & Urban Dev. Dr. Ben Carson Ret. doctor
Education Betsy DeVos Businesswoman
Transportation Elaine Chao ex-Labor Sec.
Environ. Prot. Scott Pruitt Atty. Gen. of Okla.
Amb. to United Nations Nikki Haley Gov. of S. Carolina
Nat. Sec. Adv. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn U.S. Army
W.H. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Repub. Nat. Chairman
W.H. Chief Counselor & Strategist Steve Bannon Breitbart News
W.H. Counselor Kellyanne Conway Trump campaign

SOURCE: Washington Post, Google, politico.com

"Electoral College" picks Trump

Today, Vice President Joe Biden presided as the electoral votes were officially tabulated on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the final step in making Donald Trump the President-Elect. The 438 people who comprise the Electoral College do not actually gather in the same place, so that term is a bit misleading. Instead, the electors from every state gathered in their respective 50 state capitals (plus D.C.) on December 19, at which point the actual election took place. This year there were rumors of widespread defections of Trump electors, which would have resulted in the election being decided in the House of Representatives, with each state having an equal vote.

The "widespread panic" over the prospect of Trump becoming president sparked a movement to persuade the electors to "vote their conscience," regardless of the popular vote in their state. (electorstrust.org) [Very little came of that effort, however, and as shown in the table below, more Democratic electors defected (5) than Republican ones did (2).] Somehow it was reasoned that the original intent of the Founding Fathers to entrust the selection of the president to an elite group of wise men should count more than the express legislation in the states, many of which impose harsh penalties for "faithless" electors. The most dramatic example of that phenomenon in modern times came in 1960, when Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-VA) received 15 electoral votes, 14 of which should have gone to John F. Kennedy: eight from Mississippi, six from Alabama, and one from Oklahoma. (270towin.com) As I pointed out on Facebook, it was ironic that some people cited a democratic ideal (the alleged individual rights of the electors to "vote their conscience") to justify a blatantly elitist manner of choosing the president.

Candidate Electoral
Votes
Popular
Votes

(or states with faithless electors)
Donald Trump 304 62,979,879
Hillary Clinton 227 65,844,954
Colin Powell 3 WA
Faith Spotted Eagle 1 WA
John Kasich 1 TX
Ron Paul 1 TX
Bernie Sanders 1 HI

SOURCE: politico.com, 270towin.com;

So, what are we to make of the fact that Hillary Clinton won 2,865,075 votes more than Trump? Other than an indication that Trump has only a weak mandate to enact his agenda, not much. Those who cite the popular vote totals to suggest that Trump is not the duly-elected chief executive are deeply mistaken, and their attitudes have a corrosive effect on our democracy. (Of course, Trump's own comments during the campaign about the election being "rigged" have had the same corrosive effect.) Democracies thrive when all the major players agree in advance on the rules, and abide by the outcome afterward. Those who think it is obvious that the Electoral College is hopelessly archaic apparently don't understand the constitutional basis for national unity, giving the states a prominent role in how the Federal government is chosen. Likewise, those who complain that it's too hard to amend the Constitution to do away with the Electoral College just don't get it.

Along those lines, there is a movement to nullify the Electoral College by getting most of the states to pass legislation that would award all of their (respective) electors to whichever candidate won the nationwide popular vote. Technically, it may be constitutional, since there are provisions for such interstate compacts, but it would be grossly (and ironically) un-democratic, in the sense that the will of the voters of those states [would be ignored]. See every-vote-equal.com

So, to repeat what I have suggested on Facebook, I would propose a consitutional amendment such that any candidate who wins an absolute majority (not just a plurality) the nationwide popular vote and a plurality of the vote in a majority of the states (i.e., 26 or more at present) is declared the president-elect. If those two conditions are not met, then the choice would revert to the traditional Electoral College system, except that the electoral votes would be automatically determined by the elections in each state, without the need for (potentially faithless) human electors. [States could apportion the electors in some fashion, if they so desire; at present, Maine and Nebraska choose electors from each congressional district, plus two statewide.]

The Blog Is Back!!?

(That title is a reference to a certain Elton John song.) It has been over four weeks since the last time I blogged about politics: December 3, to be exact. ("Congressional elections in Virginia: RIGGED!!?") Frankly, the mere thought of a Trump administration fills me with feelings of dread and depression. I understand that his style of outrageous remarks and gratuitous insults is all part of a strategy aimed at paralyzing his opponents, and judging by the way many Democrats (as well as Independents like me) have reacted, it's having the desired effect. It's the modern form of cyber-discourse known as "trolling," and Trump is an expert at it. But the cold, hard reality of a U.S. government led by Donald Trump is fast approaching, and it's time to face up to it.

(NOTE: I will deal with the controversy over the effect of Russian "hacking" on the elections tomorrow.)


December 3, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Congressional elections in Virginia: RIGGED!!?

As I was checking the final vote totals for the congressional races in Virginia, so as to prepare the map below, I noticed something ver-r-ry interesting: the party that won a large majority of the races (seven out of eleven) actually received fewer total votes than the other party! "But how can that be?" you ask. Welcome to the wonderful world of gerrymandering! That's the game where the status quo Powers-That-Be contrive the electoral contests in such a way as to guarantee a disproportionate number of victories. In Las Vegas, stacking the deck like this would put you behind bars, or get you run out of town at the very least. But in most of the U.S.A. it's just "politics as usual."

Let's look at the numbers. As seen in the table below, the Republicans won 1,843,010 total votes in Virginia (48.74%), while the Democrats won 1,859,426 total votes (49.17%). The Republicans' average margin of victory was 22.51%, while the Democrats' average margin of victory was a whopping 41.55%. In other words, many of the Democrats' votes were "wasted" in races in which the Republicans had no real chance of winning. (In gerrymandering lingo, that's called "packing" districts with the opposing party's voters.) Is that fair? It depends who you ask. Usually, whichever party happens to be in control sees nothing at all wrong with such practices. Currently, the Republicans have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate, and a huge 66-34 advantage in the House of Delegates. Back when the Democrats were the dominant party in Virginia (until the 1990s, more or less), they used gerrymandering tricks all the time.

If voter outrage over such electoral outcomes seems a bit muffled (especially compared to Donald Trump's victory, which -- though dismaying -- was 100% legitimate), there is a good reason for that: The state legislators want voters to feel helplessly detached from participating in self-government. It's probably true in many states, but especially so in Virginia, where a privileged political elite has ruled with very little accountability to the voters for most of the commonwealth's history. Over the years, Richmond politicians have created a self-perpetuating cycle of cynicism and apathy, and frankly there is no easy way out of that trap. Things could get messy. (Indeed, Trump's victory is a perfect example of what happens when the usually-docile and alienated masses are suddenly aroused.) Time will tell whether Virginia Democrats (who have won the past three presidential elections) will get themselves well enough organized at the local level to become competitive in the state legislature.

On July 12, I attended a meeting of OneVirginia 2021, a group that is dedicated to reforming the process of redistricting here in Virginia. It is worth pointing out, as discussed in that earlier post, that Federal courts imposed redrawn district lines earlier this year so as to make some of the districts less blatantly gerrymandered. Otherwise, the Republicans in Virginia would probably still have an 8-3 advantage in congressional seats, rather than a 7-4 advantage. I think it's safe to say that the results of the elections provide plenty of ammunition for those who argue that the current system is hopelessly distorted and unjust. Our state government is dangerously out of touch with the sentiments of the residents, and the negative consequences of that are likely to multiply as time passes. Just to be clear, notwithstanding my criticism of Republican leaders and their practices, I have no sympathies for the Democratic Party or its agenda. But in my view, those who adopt a cynical "whatever it takes to win" mentality are the scum of the earth.

The table below has updated official figures, and replaces the table which I posted on November 9:

District Republican Percent Democrat Percent
1 Wittman 59.86% Rowe 36.61%
2 Taylor * 61.33% Brown 38.46%
3 Williams 33.07% Scott 66.70%
4 Wade 42.04% McEachin * 57.73%
5 Garrett * 58.24% Dittmar 41.58%
6 Goodlatte 66.63% Degner 33.15%
7 Brat 57.51% Bedell 42.24%
8 Hernick 27.28% Beyer 68.39%
9 Griffith 68.59% Kitts 28.32%
10 Comstock 52.69% Bennett 46.92%
11 (write in) 12.12% Connolly 87.88%
TOTAL VOTES 1,843,010 48.74% 1,859,426 49.17%
TOTAL SEATS 7 63.63% 4 36.36%

* : new member; incumbents underlined; name of winner in bold face.
79,132 votes were cast for other candidates, about 2% of the total 3,781,568 votes cast.
SOURCE: virginia.gov / State Board of Elections

Virginia Congress 2016

The Politics in Virginia page has been updated with that map and revised election figures. (The last major revision of that page was on Feburary 29, when I included the results of the 2015 statewide elections. As usual, almost all of the gerrymander-cushioned Virginia legislators were reelected.) Soon to come: a map showing the presidential election results for each county and city in Virginia.

House Dems keep Pelosi

On Wednesday, the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives voted to keep Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader, beating back a challenge by Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. As Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post, the fact that she now has an unbeatable position within her party is "a bad thing for Democrats." For the time being, they can be expected to continue courting a wide variety of minority groups and fringe causes, while ignoring Mainstream America -- especially the working class. Facing up to the reality of Donald Trump's improbable victory, and what it means, will not be easy for them.

And now for a fun trip down Memory Lane, back when she was Speaker of the House on the verge of a historic triumph with Obamacare: (watch on youtube.com)

But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can, uh, find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."

Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010

November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Trump begins to choose top officials

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a mixture of fawning loyalists and others [with more government experience to serve in his cabinet and as close advisers]. He faces a difficult task in delivering on the pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington which he made to his populist-minded voters. The summary of those choices listed below is based mainly on politico.com and the Washington Post.

Today Trump revealed his choice to be Secretary of Treasury: Steven Mnuchin (pronounced "mah-NEW-chin"), a long-time Wall Street insider. Having spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, including the 2008 financial crisis, he seems ill-suited for the task of reforming "crony capitalism." He seems to favor big tax cuts for the middle class (see Washington Post), which is inappropriate at a time that the Federal budget deficit is still so high.

Trump chose Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser. This worries some people because Kelly reputedly holds hardline anti-Muslim views, which might lead to biased advice [, or to give advice that merely confirms what Trump already believes. Trump's fondness for military people to fill civilian positions seems odd, especially given his absurd boast that he knows more about ISIS than the generals.]

Trump's first cabinet-level choice was Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions was one of Trump's early supporters (see February 29), so it's no surprise. Many have criticized Sessions on the grounds that he is hostile to the cause of civil rights. I have a guarded opinion of him.

Elaine Chao was tapped to serve as Secretary of Transportation. She was Secretary of Labor for the entire eight years of the George W. Bush administration, and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is well qualified, but not exactly an "outsider."

Trump chose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos is a wealthy campaign donor who is known as a critic of public education and an advocate of school choice. I share those sentiments to an extent, but I am skeptical of the alternative of school vouncers. Public schools are in desperate need of reform from top to bottom, but the real problem lies in society itself, and that is not amenable to government action.

I was frankly puzzled by the choice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a rising star in the GOP, but has no international experience, other than coming from a family with origins in India. Her main strength seems to be communication skill, and that could help maintain friendly relations with other countries. Perhaps this is a gesture of inclusiveness by Trump, since Haley was a vocal critic of him during the primary campaign.

In another sign of Machiavellian maneuvering in Our Nation's Capital, two weeks ago Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged President Obama to remove Mike Rogers as the head of the National Security Agency. Rogers was apparently being considered by Donald Trump as a replacement for Clapper as DNI, but was asked to leave the Trump transition team. He is a former Army officer and FBI agent who later was elected to Congressm (from Michigan), but decided to leave and then started his own radio talk show in 2015. See cbsnews.com.

The big question is whether Trump will offer the position of Secretary of State to Mitt Romney, the leader of "Establishment" Republicans who vowed "Never Trump." The two former adversaries had a well-publicized fancy dinner, after which Romney did his best to sound gracious and dignified. What an awful predicament for a good guy. Some think that Trump is merely playing with Romney, which is possible. I do not pretend to understand what makes Trump tick.

Other Secretary of State possibilities are Rudy Giuliani (just awful, IMHO), U.N Ambassador John Bolton (an ultra-hawk), former CIA Director David Petraeus (guilty of mishandling classified info, just like Hillary Clinton), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), and retired Gen. John Kelly. Corker is well prepared, being the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his name is associated with the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has denounced. The Corker Amendment allowed for a dubious bypass of the usual constitutional requirement of ratification by 2/3 of the Senate.

One intriguing development: Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (and others) in Washington today. Could Condi return to her old job? Would she? I sure hope so, but it seems like a distant prospect. Even though she has a top-notch reputation as a scholar of international relations, as well as a record of loyalty in government service, she has to overcome the image of being a "Washington insider," which she is clearly not. It's ironic because Trump puts such a high value on loyalty, but it was that very quality that harmed her reputation.

Finally, Trump is reportedly considering Sarah Palin to serve as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Seriously? Good grief.


November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

This election was rigged!

Contrary to what that headline might imply, I do not agree with Donald Trump's offhand claim that "millions" of fraudulent votes were cast in the November 8 election. (If ever there was a reason to avoid using Twitter, Trump is it.) Nevertheless, one could argue that elections in America are indeed "rigged" in the sense of artificially constraining choices -- but in subtle ways that few people really understand. I'll touch on what I mean below, and leave the detailed explanation for later.

But first I feel obliged to say something about what prompted Trump to tweet about massive voter fraud: The formal request by the Green Party candidate for president Jill Stein, that the vote totals in Wisconsin be thoroughly rechecked because of what some people regard as inconsistent patterns between early voters and those who voted on Election Day. (See the Washington Post.) It is perplexing, because she has no chance of winning, and the only possible change in result would be a victory by Hillary Clinton. But her own candidacy helped Trump to win, so she has only herself to blame for that. To me, the only conceivable motivation for seeking a recount is to undermine the legitimacy of the incoming Trump administration. If so, that represents a fundamental breach of democratic norms, taking the "sore loser" syndrome to a new (and dangerous) level.

But of course, Donald Trump brought this all upon himself by calling into question the election process in the first place, on multiple occasions during the fall campaign.

In my mind, there are two fundamental processes that yield distortions in our national elections: gerrymandering and primary elections. With regard to the former, on February 12, 2015 I wrote, "the electoral process itself is essentially rigged..." Gerrymandering is the means by which the leading party in a given state consolidates its power, making sure that its share of legislative seats significantly exceeds the share of popular votes cast for its candidates. Since most state legislatures are currently controlled by the Republicans, the GOP is ipso facto the source of the problem at this particular time. In my blog post of July 13, I called attention to the reform movement, which I strongly support.

On April 30 this year I wrote, "In fact, the system is "rigged," but it's rigged in favor of the front-runner: Trump!" This referred to the formulas most states use to apportion delegates in primary elections, generally quite biased against candidates that receive fewer popular vots. Since the delegate selection process so strongly rewards the front-runner, Trump was able to amass an almost unbeatable total by the middle of March. Since there is no mechanism for allowing voters to express their second-favorite choices, or their least-favorites choices, Trump's plurality of popular votes translated into an all-but-assured nomination, notwithstanding the strongly negative sentiments towards him, both within the Republican Party and in the general population.

That second point is part of what I was getting at in the letter to the editor I wrote just before the election. As for voter fraud, it probably happens at the local level, but it would be virtually impossible to manipulate the vote tabulations on a large enough scale to tip the balance in multiple states.

Abolish the Electoral College???

Just like in the 2000 election, many people are outraged at Trump's victory in the Electoral College, given that Hillary Clinton (apparently) won nearly two million more votes than he did. So, once again, there are calls to abolish the Electoral College, and once again the widespread ignorance about the fundamental structures and purposes of our system of government are on full display. There was a discussion about this on Doug Mataconis's Facebook page shortly after the election, so I added my two cents:

It baffles me why so many people have such deep scorn for the EC. It was created to give the executive branch a broad constituency separate from that of the legislative branch (strengthening the president vis-a-vis Congress) while maintaining a central role for states (reinforcing the federal structure of the government). This historic role remains vital even today. FWIW, my proposed reform would require a candidate to get at least a majority (not just a plurality) of the nationwide popular vote AND a majority of the states to be declared the winner, or else you go back to the traditional EC method. In this election, Hillary won about 47.8% of the popular vote, and Trump won 30 of the states -- depending on how Michigan and New Hampshire go.

Strangely, Michigan has still not been officially called, although Trump has a clear lead, while New Hampshire went Clinton's way, by a small margin.

There was even a call by someone who wants the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton on the grounds that she won the national popular vote. It is sad that such ideas are taken seriously.





U.S. Cabinet, current

Department Secretary
State:John Kerry #
Treasury:Jack Lew #
Defense: Ashton Carter &
Justice: Loretta Lynch &
Interior: Sally Jewell #
Commerce:Penny Pritzker #
Labor:Tom Perez #
Agriculture:Tom Vilsack
Health & H.S.: Sylvia Burwell
Housing & U.D.:Julian Castro ##
Transportation: Anthony Foxx #
Energy: Ernest Moniz #
Education: John King &&
Veterans Aff.: Bob MacDonald ##
Homeland Sec.: Jeh Johnson #
Other cabinet-level posts:
W.H. Ch./StaffDenis McDonough
EPA Admin. Gina McCarthy #
OMB Director Shaun Donovan ##
U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Froman #
Amb. to U.N. Samantha Power #
CEA Chairman Jason Furman #
Small Bus. Adm. Maria Contreras-Sweet #
NOTES: # = Began serving in 2013. ## = Began serving in 2014. & = Began serving in 2015. && = Began serving in 2016.
* = Republican

Last updated: 29 Feb 2016


114th Congress (2015-2016)

U.S. Senate
(Web site)
Post Republicans Democrats
Pres. Pro TemOrrin Hatch--
Leader Mitch McConnell Harry Reid
WhipJohn Cornyn Richard Durbin
Seats5345 + 2
Two independents caucus with the Democrats.
U.S. House of Representatives
(Web site)
Post Republicans Democrats
Speaker Paul Ryan *
Leader Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi
Whip Steny Hoyer
Seats247188
The real leaders in each chamber are in bold face. NOTE: John Boehner resigned as speaker of the house in October 2015, and was replaced by Paul Ryan.

Last updated: 29 Feb 2016


Virginia Government

Executive branch
Post Name Party
GovernorTerry McAuliffeDem
Lt. GovernorRalph NorthamDem
Attorney GeneralMark HerringDem
Virginia Senate
Post Republicans Democrats
Pres. Pro Tem Stephen Newman --
LeaderThomas NormentRichard Saslaw
Seats2119
Virginia House of Delegates
Post Republicans Democrats
SpeakerWilliam Howell--
LeaderKirk CoxDavid Toscano
Seats6634
The real leaders in each chamber are in bold face.

In the November 2015 elections, the Republicans retained a 21-19 majority in the Senate, while the Democrats gained two net seats in the House of Delegates.


Last updated: 29 Feb 2016



 

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