Friday, October 18, 2019

Admiral McRaven - What makes us the good guys are values not shared by Trump

Admiral William H. McRaven, a former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, lists the values that make our nation strong and makes us the good guys. His essay, Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President appeared in the NY Times. McRaven wrote “If President Trump doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office.”

Some excerpts follow.

On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment.

They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders. They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families. They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades. They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for — including, if necessary, their lives.

Having served with both officers for the past 20 years, I know that they personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military with genuineness of their humility, their uncompromising integrity, their willingness to sacrifice all for a worthy cause, and the pride they had in their soldiers.

… As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, “I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!”

Those words echoed with me throughout the week. It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great. We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up?

Why are those values not shared by the current occupant of the Offal Office? I doubt we will ever know. By the time he was eligible for military service, he already had a world view that did not embrace the values celebrated by McRaven. And that divergence marks Trump as unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.

McRaven concludes.

President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. These are the virtues that have sustained this nation for the past 243 years. If we hope to continue to lead the world and inspire a new generation of young men and women to our cause, then we must embrace these values now more than ever.

And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

You cannot make this sh!t up - next G7 meeting to be in Trump's Miami resort

Trump Will Host 2020 G7 Summit at His Doral Resort. The decision to host the economic summit at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club is sure to alarm ethics watchdogs and critics of the administration.

President Trump will host next year’s Group of 7 meeting next June at Trump Doral, his luxury resort near Miami, the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters on Thursday.

“‘It’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event,’” Mr. Mulvaney said during a press briefing, quoting what he said an unnamed official had told him before quickly saying that the issue was not a conflict of interest. “The president has made it clear since he’s been here that he hasn’t profited since he’s been here.”

How about: The president has made it clear since he’s been here that he hasn’t behaved presidentially since he’s been here.

The decision to host the summit at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club is almost sure to alarm ethics watchdogs and critics of the administration who would see an immediate conflict of interest. Hosting the Group of 7 meeting of world leaders at a Trump property could provide a windfall for the Trump Organization and raise the resort’s profile around the world.

“Donald Trump’s brand is strong as it is,” Mr. Mulvaney said when asked about possible criticism. “It’s the most recognized name in the English language.”

The president has been publicly laying the groundwork for hosting the meeting. At the Group of 7 summit this year, held in Biarritz in the south of France, Mr. Trump suggested that his luxury golf resort, west of Miami, would be a “great place” to hold next year’s meeting.

“It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens,” Mr. Trump said. “People are really liking it and plus it has buildings that have 50 to 70 units. And so each delegation can have its own building.”

Jim Swift at The Bulwark in the morning email yesterday has some caustic comments on Mulvaney.

[During a press conference yesterday], Mulvaney spun the critical questions of the press about Trump’s decision to host the 2020 G–7 (read: probably G–8) at his Doral resort. But there wasn’t a question about profit because the President was going to host it “at cost.” To those who don’t think much about economics, it’s a clever attempt at spin. Of course, it’s not true.

“Cost” is whatever you determine it to be, but even if the room rentals and hotel rooms are sold at “cost” the resort will profit no matter what. Even though Tea Party Mick Mulvaney was a thorn in the side of GOP leadership, 2011 Mick Mulvaney would have eviscerated the White House if, say, President Obama tried to do something like this.

We could see the books from Doral, but we won’t. We haven’t even seen Trump’s taxes that he promised to release. But this is all another case of the White House creating a new scandal to try and move on from the current ones, I’m not sure it will work. But one thing is for sure, Mick Mulvaney is beyond shame.

Why everyone should get off of Facebook - It's a Trumpublican mouthpiece

Judd Legum exposes The Republican political operatives who call the shots at Facebook. It’s a public post so you can read the whole report. Excerpts follow.

In recent months, Facebook has repeatedly taken actions that benefit Republicans and the right-wing. For example:

  • Facebook altered the language of its advertising policy to allow political candidates to lie in Facebook ads. The decision benefits Trump, who is spending millions on ads featuring claims that have been debunked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers.
  • Facebook recruited the Daily Caller, a far-right site founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, to become an official fact-checker for Facebook. The decision was made even though the Daily Caller has a history of inaccurate reporting targeting Democrats. No liberal publication was added to Facebook’s fact-checking program.
  • Facebook hired former Republican Senator Jon Kyl to produce a report on whether Facebook is biased against conservatives. Facebook did not make any effort to study whether the platform had any bias against liberals.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg invited right-wing pundits to his home to discuss “partnerships” and “free speech.” Invitees included Tucker Carlson, who recently said that immigrants were making America “dirtier,” and Brent Bozell, who said President Obama looked like a “skinny ghetto crackhead.” Zuckerberg does not appear to have met with any liberal pundits.

Why is this happening? Popular Information spoke with three former Facebook employees to find out. All of them pointed to the leadership in Facebook’s powerful DC office.

One source said that “Everyone in power is a Republican.”

[For example: Facebook’s Vice President for U.S. Public Policy is Kevin Martin.] His tenure at the FCC is memorialized in a 110-page report produced by the House Energy and Commerce Committee entitled “Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communication Commission under Chairman Kevin J. Martin.” The report found that Martin “manipulated and withheld information from the other FCC commissioners and from Congress, neglected his statutory responsibilities to produce certain information to Congress, and ignored evidence that certain national communications programs were being grossly mismanaged.” According to the report, Martin’s “heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial management style…created distrust, suspicion, and turmoil.”

But Facebook was able to overlook Martin’s weaknesses because of his deep commitment to deregulation of the communications industry. Zuckerberg recently described Elizabeth Warren’s proposals to enforce antitrust regulations against Facebook as an “existential” threat to the company.

Zuckerberg’s comments provide the best explanation for the company’s strategy in Washington. The priority is to fend off regulation of the company. Republican lawmakers, who are skeptical of most regulation, are seen as the company’s best allies. So Facebook has assembled a team to keep Republican lawmakers happy, which means keeping Trump happy. The rest of the world is dealing with the consequences.

There are two other right-wingers in the Facebook DC office: Joel Kaplan (“serves as an advocate for right-wing sites on Facebook”) and Katie Harbath (long-time Republican operative now “in charge of Facebook’s election policy, said it [Facebook] ”would allow the Trump campaign ad to run an ad featuring a claim that had been debunked by Facebook’s own fact-checkers"). Check them out in Legum’s Thursday post.

I’m thinking about ditching my Facebook account. A list of alternatives was published by cnet.com in The 10 best Facebook alternatives for Android and iOS. Whether you’re part of the #DeleteFacebook crowd or the ‘Time Well Spent’ movement, these are your best alternatives to the world’s largest social network.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about that. Email me at wsmaki@gmail.com.

Randy Rainbow's Mama Mia parody on Giuliani

Randy Rainbow does a Mama Mia number on Rudy Giuliani. Watch it here on YouTube. (Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trump's Bonfire of Vulgarities

When we ponder why (and who) Trump’s base sticks with him, the answer is really pretty simple. Money and whiteness. Trump has both and therefore can be forgiven anything and everything.

Our Roving Reporter Sherry highlights an expanded explanation by NY Times Columnist Charles M. Blow: Trumpism’s Infinite Vulgarities. Republicans have come to accept what they once professed to abhor.

Following are excerpts.

The terrains of acceptability and respectability have shifted under the American conservative.

That which was once forbidden is now embraced. That which they once condemned they cheer. Conservatism has been unveiled in all its craven glory. No longer is it shrouded behind morality, small government, traditional values and spending concerns.

President Trump is the new doctrine, and Republicans bought it. There is no amount of cruelty or crudeness he can display that Republicans won’t cheer and defend. His corruption has become theirs.

And, it is possible that Trump is growing bolder in his coarseness, and it is revealed that there is precious little that will shake loose his base and its blind devotion to him.

Last week, Trump went on more profanity-laced tirades. At a campaign rally in Minnesota, Trump said of Joe Biden: “He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”

… whether Trump is conscious of it or not, whether it was intentional or not. The insult invokes a fear and disdain that white racists have had throughout American history: The subjugation of the white man to the black one.

Sarah Palin made a whole campaign out of saying that Obama “pals around with terrorists,” while Trump quite literally cozies up to murderous dictators and brags about the love letters he exchanges with one.

Republicans see nothing wrong here. Trump is a rich white man defending white supremacy and white nationalism. For him, the rules are different. For him, certain dispensations must be given.

The way that the Religious Right has bent and distorted biblical doctrine to support this vulgar man is absolutely obscene. It makes a mockery of their faith and their supposed philosophies.

The moment that Trump insisted on separating immigrant children from their families, locking those children in cages and arguing in court against having to provide soap and toothbrushes to those children, or against turning off the lights so that they could sleep, should have been the red line to any true Christian — or for any human being with a shred of compassion, regardless of faith. But it wasn’t. So, now I no longer know what to call these people.

Righteousness simply can’t be this transactional and situational. What is the point of your books of rules if you will gladly oblige a man who flouts them? Either morality has meaning or it doesn’t.

Last night's debate - attacks against Warren and figuring out Tulsi Gabbard

Political writer for the NY Times Lisa Lerer provides a sample of exchanges in last night’s Democratic Presidential debate (in this morning’s email). The barbs were mainly directed at Elizabeth Warren (marking her, I guess, as a (if not the) front runner.

Here is a sample.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., who took some of the most aggressive shots at Ms. Warren, probed how she would pay for her health care plan and whether it would involve raising taxes on middle-class families — a question she continued to dodge last night.

“Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this,” said Mr. Buttigieg, after calling her “evasive.”

One of the most striking moments came when Mr. Biden tried to take some credit for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of Ms. Warren’s signature achievements.

"I went on the floor and got you votes” in Congress, he said, forcefully repeating himself three times.

Ms. Warren responded, “I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law,” making no mention of Mr. Biden or his work.

“You did a hell of a job in your job,” he shot back.

Ms. Warren, seeming slightly taken aback by Mr. Biden’s biting tone (or perhaps looking to troll him), offered a quiet “thank you.”

The exchange marked a notable reversal in the race: In past debates, it was Mr. Biden who found himself fending off a series of attacks from opponents trying to weaken his commanding position in the race. With his numbers sliding and the latest financial reports showing that he trails several rivals in campaign cash, Ms. Warren now faces her turn in the spotlight.

On Tuesday night, she held her own through the incoming fire, trying to turn the attacks back on her critics by casting them as lacking in political vision and ambition.

And by refusing to answer whether her health care plan would raise taxes on the middle class, she avoided creating a sound bite that her aides worry could be easily used against her in the primary — or the general election.

But here is the really interesting stuff.

Even Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii tried to get in a jab or two, demanding to be shown Ms. Warren’s qualifications to be commander in chief.

Ms. Warren ignored the request.

So what’s up with Gabbard?

And this little newsletter writer [Lerer] even had her own turn in the political limelight. In Ms. Gabbard’s effort to invigorate her campaign and qualify for the November debate, she called a piece I wrote over the weekend — detailing her support from white nationalists, Russians and the alt-right — “completely despicable.” Want to know what all the fuss was about? Check it out here.

Below are excerpts from Lerer’s expose on Gabbard What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To? As she injects chaos into the 2020 Democratic primary by accusing her own party of “rigging” the election, an array of alt-right internet stars, white nationalists and Russians have praised her.

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is impressed with her political talent. Richard B. Spencer, the white nationalist leader, says he could vote for her. Former Representative Ron Paul praises her “libertarian instincts,” while Franklin Graham, the influential evangelist, finds her “refreshing.”

And far-right conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich see a certain MAGA sais quoi.

Then there is 4chan, the notoriously toxic online message board, where some right-wing trolls and anti-Semites fawn over Ms. Gabbard, calling her “Mommy” and praising her willingness to criticize Israel. In April, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, took credit for Ms. Gabbard’s qualification for the first two Democratic primary debates.

… her frequent appearances on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show have buoyed her support in right-wing circles.

… Democrats are on high alert about foreign interference in the next election and the D.N.C. is well aware of the frequent mentions of Ms. Gabbard in the Russian state news media.

An independent analysis of the Russian news media found that RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, mentioned Ms. Gabbard frequently for a candidate polling in single digits, according to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a group that seeks to track and expose efforts by authoritarian regimes to undermine democratic elections.

"This whole thing the Democratic Party has done by putting forward this false idea that there was collusion between Russia and Trump has hurt our relations in a huge way with the Russians,” Mr. Graham said. “I can’t speak for Tulsi, but I think she feels kind of the same way on some of these things.”

In the three years since, Ms. Gabbard has criticized Israel for its reaction to protests, met with Mr. Assad and made several statements defending his regime.

“To have a moral woman like Tulsi who is a military hero suddenly sit with a man who did that was inexplicable,” Rabbi Boteach said. “I don’t understand it until today. I can’t figure her out.”

Let me help the Rabbi “figure her out.”

“She’s got a good energy, a good vibe. You feel like this is just a serious person,” Mr. Cernovich said. “She seems very Trumpian.”

I am reminded of the British linguist J. R. Firth who famously wrote “You shall know a word by the company it keeps.” So it is in politics. To paraphrase: You shall know a candidate by the company she keeps.

Treacherous Trump throws Kurds under the tanks, and Russia fills the void

The saying, usually, is throw someone under the bus. But in Syria, they throw someone under the Turkish tanks.

Writing at The Bulwark, in Conning the Con Man Shay Khatiri explains how Donald Trump got rolled by Turkey. And he doesn’t even know it. Excerpts follow.

Last Wednesday, the president of the United States set a new standard for America’s allies: What did you do for us at Normandy? Because Kurds did nothing, they have been given genocide in return for their help fighting the Islamic State.

It’s a nonsense standard, of course. Everyone knows that. For instance: Why are we providing Israel any support in the face of Iranian and terrorist existential threats? Where were the Jews when we needed them in the War of 1812?

Why did the president make this decision? Perhaps the readout (which is not a transcript, stop calling it a transcript!) from his phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a good guide: If you sing the American president’s praise and give him something that benefits him personally (and not the United States), then he will give you what you want.

… He gave Turkey’s strongman a giant gift. What did he get in return?

The short answer is simple: “He got nothing.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. He got a vacuum that Russia is reported to be filling. More on that below.

What I’m trying to say here is that the President of the United States, the person on whom the world order relies, the most important person on earth, is an impulsive idiot. He made a foreign policy decision about “the Kurds” without knowing anything about them. He provided a defense for his decision that is simultaneously historically inaccurate and irrelevant. He made this decision as his own Department of Defense recently warned that the Islamic State was a threat to reorganize. He made it with no plans of what to do with the thousands of Islamic State prisoners on the ground. He did it to end an “endless war” that, as of last month, has claimed the lives of seven American combatants—one, potentially, killed by Turkish forces. Every single one of them is a loss. But still. The truth is that America was accomplishing a significant foreign policy goal with only 2,500 troops committed (down to 1,000 before the recent developments), mostly special forces, and minimal losses. If you are against hegemonic interventions, then this operation was almost the definition of how to maximize the return on a small investment.

Trump did all of this against the advice of his own advisers. And he did it because an anti-American Islamist thug of a leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was nice to him on the phone.

Here’s the truth: There is no “endless war” in Syria. As far as the American involvement goes, there is in fact no war in Syria. What there is, is a U.S. president who is a catalyst for American decline.

And this decline is going to place us in real jeopardy and invite real conflict.

Decline brings weakness, and weakness is a provocation. Eventually, Americans are going to be given the bill for this president’s astonishing weakness.

Russia is ready to play a role in that. The NY Times reports that Russia Troops Patrol Between Turkish and Syrian Forces, Filling an American Void. The announcement signaled that Russia is moving to fill a security vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal and illustrates the loss of American influence in the war.

The Americans had until Monday maintained two military bases in the area, and Russia’s announcement signaled that Moscow, the Syrian government’s most important ally, was moving to fill a security void left by the withdrawal of both the American military and its partners in their effort to destroy the Islamic State and its Syrian base.

Videos circulating on social media appeared to show a Russian-speaking man filming himself walking around a recently evacuated United States military base in northern Syria, punctuating the message that the Russians were now in charge.

President Trump decided last week to abruptly yank American forces from a Kurdish enclave of northern Syria, ending a longstanding alliance with Syrian Kurdish fighters regarded by Turkey as terrorists. Turkey’s military then invaded, driving tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and forcing the Syrian Kurdish fighters to align themselves with the Syrian military in a stunning switch of allegiances for survival.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that its military police, which had already established a presence in other parts of Syria, were patrolling along a line of contact separating Syrian and Turkish forces, who have been racing to control large parts of northern Syria since the Turkish invasion began last Wednesday.

The Russians were patrolling near the strategically important city of Manbij, vacated by the Americans and Syrian Kurds and now occupied Syrian government troops. The statement also said Russian troops were coordinating “with the Turkish side.”

Russia and Turkey will soon be the only foreign armies in the area.

Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from northern Syria drew global condemnation, left Kurdish fighters feeling betrayed, and raised the possibility that the president had made a strategic blunder that would open a volatile new chapter in the war. Experts on the region warned that the withdrawal of American troops would embolden Russia, Iran and the Islamic State.

The misery continues: “As of Tuesday, fighting in Ras al-Ain and other areas of northern Syria has forced at least 160,000 people from their homes, according to United Nations estimates. The Kurdish authorities put the figure at 270,000.”