Clinton Is (Not) The Issue

As we go down the stretch to Tuesday’s election, the political dynamic has switched from being a referendum on Donald Trump to a referendum on Hillary Clinton.

It seems fitting that in the final stretch of a presidential campaign that has been completely indifferent to policy issues, from Russia, China, and the Middle East, to jobs and income inequality at home. Our news outlets are now focused on an apparently impregnable story about the Pant Suit’s private e-mail server, and the Clintons generally.

Since FBI Director James Comey’s announcement, we’ve seen the drip, drip of musings by the cableistas about whether Clinton can hang on to her lead, or if Trump can win on Tuesday.

There have also been a series of leaks by the FBI that appear to be designed to damage Hillary Clinton and benefit Donald Trump. An anonymous source leaked to the Wall Street Journal that there was an FBI investigation  — including “secret recordings” —  into the Clinton Foundation.

Fox News reported on Wednesday that the FBI is intensifying an investigation into the Clinton Foundation over allegations that it traded donations for access to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

And there’s more. Judd Legum reports that the FBI’s Inspection Division is launching an investigation into why its FBI Records Vault Twitter bot re-released the files on Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

The FBI Twitter account was inactive from September 2015 until October 8th. Then there were a flurry of tweets, concluding with the Marc Rich tidbit. It has not been active since that tweet, so:

Candice Will, Assistant Director for the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said she was referring the matter to the FBI’s Inspection Division for an “investigation.” Upon completion of the investigation, the Office of Professional Responsibility will be referred back to the Office of Professional Responsibility for “adjudication.”

According to Marcy Wheeler, the Inspection Division and the Office of Professional Responsibility doesn’t have statutory independence from the rest of the FBI, which means their investigation can be influenced (or quashed) by FBI executives. So, nothing will be done, despite the fact that Federal law and FBI policy prohibit employees from using the power of the department to attempt to influence elections.

Now, we read this in the Guardian:

Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.

Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.

“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

This was also confirmed to Wrongo recently by an in-law who used to work for the FBI. It’s as if the ghost of ole J. Edgar showed up early in October, and has decided to hang around for a while, even though Halloween is over.

The FBI has now entered parlous political territory. This is law enforcement trying to force its will on civil authority. We need to put a choke collar on this dog, before it tries to bite us all.

We all should care about how FBI’s apparent misconduct is affecting the election.And if the FBI is this politicized, it is an enemy of We the People, and will remain an enemy, even if Comey is ousted as Director.

Wrongo is now beginning to think of Comey as another John Boehner, a guy with decent instincts who is completely ineffective at controlling his team, with disastrous results for the country.

Imagine how The Donald as president, would use a vast public police force that is comprised of Trump true believers.

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The World Series and the Election

From Bob Lefsetz, who all of you should read: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

…tonight’s game was an epic finish that not only rekindled your belief in the game, but America too….The most valuable player was a Jewish egghead who never took the field. Theo Epstein reversed the [World Series] curse in Boston and then brought a championship to Chicago.

Maybe Theo should be a candidate for president. After all, he has fixed two underperforming organizations, and the US certainly underperforms. Sadly, Epstein’s success is based on using analytics and a plan to achieve a goal.

Facts and a plan. How could THAT possibly work for the country? Where would Trump and/or his boy, Mitch McConnell, fit within that concept? Trump speaks in broad generalities and platitudes, inflaming the passions of his followers, and obliterating any possibility of reasoned discourse or debate. He’s done nothing to inform America of the details of how he plans to make America a better and stronger place.

More from Bob:

And the teams are a rainbow coalition of ethnicities. It’s a white supremacist’s nightmare, not only are there various colors, but immigrants too! And somehow they all get along, they come together as a team, they’ve got a common goal, victory!

Ain’t that America?

But, one candidate thinks that he can win by scapegoating many of the kinds of people that were on the field last night. How can so many Americans support a candidate steeped in racism, religious bigotry, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny, when we just saw such a great example of winning by working together?

And Lefsetz makes a final great point:

What is the common goal in America today? The telecast was riddled with political ads that made one wince. Duplicitous candidates utilizing subterfuge to try and win. Whereas the baseball players had shaggy haircuts, some tattoos, and had to play by their wits, there was little time for thinking, you had to make decisions.

The metaphor can be extended further. The Series went to the full seven games, and then into extra innings before a narrow one-run victory. The 2016 presidential election will go down to the wire, and who will win isn’t very clear. Both candidates have flaws, and yet, both are able to score points against the opposition.

We hope the election doesn’t go into overtime, but we need to understand that regardless of which candidate wins, it is just the restart of a protracted contest.

Unlike baseball, where the season ended last night.

A final word on Trump and his supporters. The Pant Load talks a good game, but his policies will not help his supporters. He promises to bring their jobs back. But, as Tom Friedman says: most of their jobs didn’t go to a Mexican. They went to a microchip: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The idea that large numbers of factory jobs can be returned to America if we put up a wall with Mexico or renegotiate our trade deals is a fantasy. Trump ignores the fact that manufacturing is still by far the largest sector of the US economy. That our factories now produce twice what they did in 1984 — but with one-third fewer workers.

This trend in robotics and intelligent machines is well under way worldwide since the 1990’s, and no world leader, including Donald Trump is going to stop it. More from Friedman:

I understand why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of where you want to get to, you can open new futures. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and systemic vertigo.

Baseball is over for this year, but America’s need for leadership and teamwork based on a vision and a plan continues.

How can so many Americans willingly settle for a candidate who is more caricature than qualified or capable in a world where only talent and vision matter?

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Monday Wake Up Call – Anthony Weiner Edition

“God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh”Voltaire

Many funny memes have emerged after the FBI’s announcement that, in their investigation of Anthony Weiner’s possible sexting relationship with a 15 year-old girl, they turned up emails that may or may not be related to the Hillary Clinton private server investigation.

The internets are having fun associating Weiner and Clinton:

Dickileaks – NY Post

Weiner Probe – WaPo

The only thing that would make this more insane is if Trump’s tax returns were found in Anthony Weiner’s email – twitter

The Cocktober Surprise – twitter

Apparently, HRC’s 33,000 deleted emails were all just dick pics from Anthony Weiner – twitter

Seriously, the NYT reports that officials at the DOJ urged FBI head James Comey not to violate policies and procedural norms by intervening in the presidential election. The linked article contains this rather remarkable set of facts: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The FBI offered no comment, and Justice Department officials said they had no idea what Mr. Comey saw as his next move. Justice Department officials were particularly puzzled about why Mr. Comey had alerted Congress — and by extension, the public — before agents even began reading the newly discovered emails to determine whether they contained classified information or added new facts to the case.

Law enforcement officials have begun the process to get court authority to read the emails, officials said. How soon they will get that is unclear, but there is no chance that the review will be completed before Election Day, several law enforcement officials said.

So not only to they have no idea what’s in the emails, they don’t have a warrant to read them yet.

This from the Jane Mayer article at the New Yorker: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

According to the Administration official, [Attorney General] Lynch asked Comey to follow Justice Department policies, but he said that he was obliged to break with them because he had promised to inform members of Congress if there were further developments in the case. He also felt that the impending election created a compelling need to inform the public, despite the tradition of acting with added discretion around elections…

In essence, Comey is saying: “Well, I know the rule is designed to make sure that our investigations don’t influence elections, but I think in this case, we should break that rule, because there’s an election, and we should influence it.

There are as yet no further developments in the case. After the FBI obtains a warrant and reads the emails, there might be, but right now, nada.

What we have so far isn’t a “further development” at all. If a police detective walked into a DA’s office and told the DA the equivalent of what Comey said to Congress, say: “we found a box of Clinton files”. He would get a puzzled look and a question: “Yes? Go on? What did you find?” and if the cop responded with: “We haven’t looked in the box yet” the DA would say: “Why are you HERE, then?”

But that’s not how Congress works.

No one knows what the impact will be on the presidential election; we will see next Tuesday. Comey’s act of partisan bad faith is staggering, and there is no denying that his letter to Congress was a bombshell. This undermines democracy at least as much as anything the Pant Load says on the trail about “rigged elections.” Undermining democracy apparently comes with zero consequences these days.

So, it’s time to wake up America! You could lose your democracy without even knowing it is gone.

To help you wake up, here is Serj Tankian, the lead vocalist of the rock band System of a Down, with “Uneducated Democracy”, released in 2012. Serj lives in California and supported Bernie Sanders this year:

The video for “Uneducated Democracy” is made by Tumo, a technology school in Armenia. All of the crew were teenagers.

Sample Lyrics:

In dire need of reason
In a truly deaf nation
In dire need of reason
In a truly deaf nation
Without an education there is no real democracy
Without an education there is only autocracy

Open your eyes
Open your mouths
Close your hands
And make a fist
Down with the system
As we lay helpless against the machine

As sex scandals dictate
The winding road of realpolitik
The bully runs from his corner
Images rule through the media
Hungry hunger further
The hungry hunger further

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 30, 2016

Enough already about your damned emails Hillary!

Apparently not. This, from Booman: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

FBI Director James Comey just angered everyone in the country by sending a letter to key Republican committee members in Congress:

1) eleven days before Election Day
2) that implies that Hillary Clinton may have committed a criminal act
3) that doesn’t provide any details
4) that makes no commitment to shed any further light on the issue before the voting is over

For Democrats, they wonder why Comey would impugn Clinton’s character while voting is already going on when he can’t even say with certainty that the information is pertinent to the investigation of Clinton’s emails or whether it involves any classified information.

For Republicans, they wonder why the FBI cannot commit to giving the American people more clarity before the election is over. If the information is indeed damning then isn’t it a little late to find that out after Clinton has already become president-elect?

We all need to take a cold shower and help break our fever. Why do the scandals keep proliferating? Because the media loves them. They attract lots of eyeballs for very little work.  Partisans love them because they can take their opponent completely out of the political game.

The Senate becomes even more important now, regardless of the outcome of this investigation of the Abudin/Weiner emails.

If Congress is under divided control, there will not be a purely partisan impeachment action, and at least the Senate will not be running nonstop bullshit investigations in its various Committees. OTOH, If Clinton wins and the GOP retains control of the Senate, we will have an immediate, full-blown constitutional crisis on our hands, and bullshit investigations may be the least of our worries. This cartoon says it all about James Comey and her damned emails:

cow-comey-kiss

In cases like this, it would require the wisdom of Solomon to determine the precise ratio of malevolence-to-incompetence involved in Comey’s action.

Amon Bundy and friends were acquitted of conspiracy for their white guy, “guns and god” takeover of the Malheur wildlife refuge. The question that must now be addressed is: What does “peaceful protest” mean in America?

cow-bundy-2

Our eyes are blind to what must be seen:

cow-bundy-3The Pant Load hates what’s on TV:

cow-baldwin

In October, the witch isn’t always Hillary, and the pumpkin head isn’t always Trump:

cow-halloween-hillary

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Rigged Election Edition

Donald Trump was in Gettysburg on Saturday.  In what was supposed to be a serious-minded policy speech where he would outline his first 100 days as president, he couldn’t restrain himself from re-litigating grievances with Hillary Clinton, the media and especially the women who have come forward in recent days. He started by saying he would sue every woman who has accused him of sexual assault or other inappropriate behavior:

All of these liars will be sued once the election is over…I look so forward to doing that.

The election is rigged, Hillary shouldn’t be allowed to run, and those women are liars. Maybe he was hit so hard in the last debate that he can’t remember saying all of these things before.

Hillary vs. Donald, III. The outcome was the same as Ali vs. Liston:

cow-hillary-ali

Trump’s stump speech attacks the roots of our democracy:

cow-stump-speech

 

Rigged, or what?

cow-heads-or-tails

 

Your bill for participating in our democracy is due, Don:

cow-stiffed-himIn completely unrelated news, Snoopy was fired by Met Life:

cow-snoopy

 

 

 

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Ok, that’s the title of a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, but it describes World War III the third presidential debate.

The headline coming out of the debate has to be that Donald Trump refused to say that he would accept the election result if he lost. Basically, he said when Chris Wallace asked him a second time, that people should just “stay tuned”.

This has never happened before. Consider our history: George Washington was the center of gravity in American political life from 1775 all the way to 1796. He was our first president. People asked: What would happen to the republic when Washington went home? They worried that we were being held together by a single person, not by a system of laws, because the laws hadn’t yet had a chance to put their roots down into the political system. At that point, America was a government of men, and then John Adams became the second president. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that when Adams took the oath of office, he stood aside to let Washington lead them out of the chamber. Washington turned to Adams, and said: “after you Mr. President.”

That simple act of respect established the preeminence of the presidency and the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

In 2016, who is qualified to lead the country? Could it be a guy that disrespects one of our bedrock traditions?

Wallace asked if Trump will go along with the election result, Trump answers by saying the election is rigged. Clinton says Trump always claims things are rigged if they don’t go his way. Her observing that Trump said he lost the Emmy because the contest was rigged was a thing of beauty.

Hillary Clinton won tonight and won the first debate. The second debate was a draw. At this stage in the campaign, people expect the candidates to be knowledgeable and prepared for the debate, but it devolved into the same kind of hair pulling show as debate II. Trump saying near the end of the debate that Clinton shouldn’t have even been allowed to run (who should have disallowed her?) was a crazy moment.

Overall, Clinton was solid steel, coated in platinum. Trump, of course, was Bakelite.

Chris Wallace was by far the best of the moderators, at least for the first hour, although he had a slight right wing bias. It went south after that, and he had a hard time keeping the candidates on track.

It was very difficult to fact-check either candidate, but again, Trump stood out, denying things we all knew to be true. Long-time blog reader FVK had a thought:

The Trump excuses reminded me of the old John Lovitz routine on SNL. When a new excuse for his screw-ups came to him, he’d say, “yeah, that’s the ticket!” “I’m behind because election is rigged”.

John Lovitz had a character on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s called Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar. Flanagan would tell outrageous whoppers, like claiming he was married to Morgan Fairchild, and thus had seen her naked “more than once.”

Doesn’t that sound like the GOP candidate we saw last night?

Whatever the debating points, Trump couldn’t get out of the way of the avalanche of wrong created by the Access Hollywood video, and his response to it.

That defined Trump 2016, and he did nothing in debate III to recover from it. Here is Trump’s avalanche of wrong:

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The Lyin’ Game

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be.”Thomas Jefferson

We received quite a few emails about the column “Lie to Me – It’s a Post-Truth World.” In it, Wrongo called for a means of rebutting lies as they emerge and crawl across our political landscape. Citizens who otherwise lead commonsensical lives cannot seem to hold on to facts when in a political argument.

Let’s start by taking a closer look at how things work in the Lyin’ Game. Charlie Pierce’s 2009 book, Idiot America, lays out what he calls the Three Great Premises that explain how lies take the form of truth:

1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or moves units.
2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

It seems that the 2016 election is confirmation of Dr. Pierce’s diagnosis. The prognosis is not necessarily fatal, though left untreated, it surely could be. Here is a quote from his book:

In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

So, it’s not just that we are fact free, it’s that we, the people, are unable or unwilling to learn the facts.

Susan Jacoby also wrote about the risks of a fact-free society about the same time as Pierce, the 2008 presidential election. In her book, “The Age of Unreason,” she made a great point about FDR and his relationship with citizens and the truth. In FDR’s radio fireside chats, he would ask the people listening out there to spread a map of the world out in front of them so that as he talked about the battles that were going on, they would understand what he was saying about the places, the geography, and the strategy of what was happening. Doris Kearns Goodwin said in a lecture at Kansas State University that one of her favorite fireside chats was the “map speech,” delivered in February, 1942. Millions of Americans went out and bought maps, and they sat by the radio and followed what FDR was talking about.

And FDR wasn’t on the radio every week as presidents are today. He only delivered two or three of these fireside chats a year, deliberately holding himself back for the moment when the country needed to hear from their president. He understood something that we have lost, that less can be more.

In 2009, Pierce offered a prescription about how to get out of the “perception is reality” paradigm: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I’ve given that a lot of thought and the best answer I can give is that we, as citizens, simply have to do better at self-government. We have to distinguish between entertainment and information. Our powers of discernment have to be sharpened…Any journalist who accepts “perception is reality” as axiomatic is committing professional malpractice. Our job is to hammer the reality home until the perception conforms to it.

When our journalists accept “perception is fact” there is no hope for truth.

Jacoby says that the spread of ignorance and the acceptance of non-truth as fact is caused in part by the absence of national education standards, combined with the anti-intellectualism that we see everywhere. America’s insistence on local control of schools means that children in the poorest areas of the country have the worst school facilities and teachers with the worst training.

Among OECD nations, only in the US, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

This gives us an America in which anti-intellectualism is not only tolerated, but celebrated by many politicians and the media. Meanwhile, 25% of Texas high-school biology teachers believe that human beings and dinosaurs shared the earth, and more than a third of Americans can’t name a single First Amendment right.

Facts don’t matter, because more and more Americans cannot recognize facts as true. Jacoby says:

This level of scientific illiteracy provides fertile soil for political appeals based on sheer ignorance.

Our 2016 presidential campaign has clarified what’s wrong with us as a nation. Yet, we’ve proven to willingly to put up with it.

Instead of putting up with what’s wrong, how about fixing it?

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Lie to Me: It’s a Post-Truth World

Trump’s approach to lying is new, and it’s on a totally higher level. The essence is to undermine the concept of truth itself, to confuse and persuade and convince. From the Economist:

Mr. Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics − a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.

When someone is for Trump, it doesn’t matter if he comes out with some outrageous statement because either a) the media is blowing it out of proportion or b) he’s just telling it like it is or c) he’s just being Trump. Below is a fact-checking by David Leonhardt of the NYT published the morning after the second debate:

He lied about a sex tape.

He lied about his lies about ‘birtherism.’

He lied about the growth rate of the American economy.

He lied about the state of the job market.

He lied about the trade deficit.

He lied about tax rates.

He lied about his own position on the Iraq War, again.

He lied about ISIS.

He lied about the Benghazi attack.

He lied about the war in Syria.

He lied about Syrian refugees.

He lied about Russia’s hacking.

He lied about the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

He lied about Hillary Clinton’s tax plan.

He lied about her health care plan.

He lied about her immigration plan.

He lied about her email deletion.

He lied about Obamacare, more than once.

He lied about the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

He lied about his history of groping women without their consent.

Dishonesty in politics is nothing new. Remember Nixon? Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, thus getting the country into a war in Vietnam. In 1986, Ronald Reagan insisted that his administration did not trade weapons for hostages with Iran, before having to admit a few months later that:

 My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not…

Reagan’s words point to what is different. Political lies used to imply that there was a truth. Evidence, consistency and scholarship had enough political power to make Nixon resign.

Today, many voters, a few politicians like Trump, and some pundits simply no longer care:

  • They deal in insinuation (“A lot of people are saying…” is one of Mr. Trump’s favorite phrases) and question the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against them (“They would say that, wouldn’t they?”).
  • And when the distance between what “feels” true and what the facts say grows too great, it can always be bridged by trotting out a conspiracy theory.

But the manner (and frequency) of Trump’s lies, are different, and more worrisome. When you are a Trump-like chameleon, you can be all things to (most) people.

The magnitude of this information change is greater than any since Gutenberg started printing pamphlets. People who are bombarded with new information do not know what/who to trust. Old media that used to be trusted sources of information have been destroyed or forced to change by the new technology.

There is no source of authority which is not intensely disputed. As an example, there is hardly an article in the old media which a few commenters do not challenge, often calling into question the integrity of the writer, the editor, or the owners; this was not true in 2000. The net result is a lessening of trust, which has many serious implications.

We need a language/methodology for rebuttal. People have suggested real-time fact checking, but in a divided post-truth society, who can be a non-biased fact-checker? And in a divided society, some, like televangelists  Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Jr. won’t even accept that the Pant Load committed sexual assault when there is video evidence. What is it that Donald Trump has to offer that these preachers will sell their souls and misquote scripture to support him?

It could take us a few generations to decide who to trust. In the meantime, a few populists will become leaders, a few wars may be started, more young people will be inspired to express their political beliefs through terrorism, and some young people will opt out of our political process.

It will remain very difficult to have a reasoned conversation with anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the same version of the truth as you do.

Donald Trump’s statements are only true or mostly true 15% of the time. He has largely rejected reality and entered a delusional realm where what “feels right” is fed to a portion of the public that wants to believe his lies.

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