2018/08/12

More on US and Iran deal

The US Ambassador to Britain sobs a great gusher of crocodile tears about how Iran cares so little for the opinions of its people. "Iranian protesters were chanting that 'the nation is begging, while the master lives like God.'”  Not that the US has any sort of problem with income inequality or that the current presidential administration was any sort of shining example of that [/snark]. Newsweek: “The politically powerful rich get to pay low taxes, while the politically marginalized poor bear the burden but can do nothing about it.”

Iran "is sponsoring Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon." Hizbollah is part of the Lebanese government with cabinet positions. They're hardly just "terrorists." 

Iran "is arming militants in Yemen." The Hindu says Yemen is "among the poorest in West Asia" and that the United Nations is calling the Yemen situation "the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis." Yemen has now suffered "three years of relentless bombing." The piece doesn't even mention Iran, meaning that Iran is not playing a meaningfully serious role there.

Yes, the US President decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement three months ago. "The decision was not taken lightly." Erm, actually, it was. The President did not present any real reasons for pulling out. There was no real debate on the issue and no non-supporters have been converted into supporters. The reasons given by the BBC are 1. Shredding the Obama legacy, 2. A pivot to Netanyahu and 3. New faces in the room. None of these count as weighty or serious reasons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made extended remarks on why the US wanted to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran. I have to say, I wasn't the slightest bit impressed. The editorial by the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Wood, isn't any more convincing.

2018/07/23

President Trump: "I got this now"


I was very struck by this quote:

[President Trump] was more easily swayed by advisers, more easily put in one direction or another. And now, sometime around the turn of the new year you could feel, really, him feeling more emboldened, more understanding of what the job was, sort of some level of, "I got this now," and that is what has changed and that's not small.

Problem is, as this announcement by the Press Secretary very clearly demonstrates, the President doesn’t “have it” at all. He’s no more responsible or aware of the needs of the office or has any more gravitas then when he was first inaugurated. As Think Progress starts off:

Perhaps three of the most consistent hallmarks of Donald Trump’s administration were on display Monday at Sarah Sanders’ press briefing. In a single announcement, the administration demonstrated wild hypocrisy, pettiness toward critics, and total incompetence.

Their first justification was that security clearances have been “politicized.” This is right after it was revealed by the just-released justification for the FISA Court to authorize surveillance of Carter Page that the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes lied for explicitly political purposes. Nunes complained that the FBI had covered up the political origins of the Steele Dossier. The just-released applications showed that they did no such thing.

Another charge was that several people with clearances “monetized, their public service and security clearances.” This is from an administration where the President’s daughter has received copyrights from China for “baby blankets, towels, curtains, picture frames, furniture and rugs.“ Also, Donald Trump owns a hotel in Washington DC that many feel violates the Emoluments Clause. So the Trump Administration really does not have the moral high ground here.

This charge is such a complete and utter joke -

Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia — or being influenced by Russia — against the President is extremely inappropriate, and the fact that people with security clearances are making baseless these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.

We’ll have to wait for the final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is actively investigating these precise charges, but the Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III had to recuse himself from any Russia dealings because of numerous unreported contacts between himself and Russian officials.

Was the President “influenced by Russia”? Well, consider that a week after the President and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, spent over two hours in a private discussion and that members of the President’s own staff know virtually nothing about what the two of them said, yeah, I’d say that falls under the heading of improper influence.

Lots of miscellaneous problems here as well, including the criteria for revoking security clearances. Merely criticizing the President isn’t one of the legitimate reasons for pulling someone’s security clearance. Sorry, I just don't think the President has "got this now" at all!

2018/07/09

The President's real problem


The NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd put out a piece called "For whom the Trump trolls" yesterday (No link because the NY Times charges if I read more than five pieces a month). Dowd is a columnist that bloggers have refused to review since, back in 2013, she blamed President Obama for what was certainly a crappy situation, but one that had nothing to do with his skills as president.

The fact that Ms. Dowd conveniently overlooks when comparing Obama's performance to that of past presidents is that he is the only one who has ever had to deal with an out-of-control abuse of the filibuster process. It's a lot easier to get a majority of your party's senators onboard in support of controversial bills when all you need is a majority, not a super-majority.

As of 2013, Obama had been in office long enough, Dowd really had no excuse not to know this, but she played the "mean girl" anyway.

Now she's saying that President Trump has a "Twitter addiction." I told my younger brother that, who lives in New York City and he replied "She didn't figure that out five years ago?"

Here's a good discussion of behavioral problems and "addiction" that makes it clear that addiction really isn't the right word in a lot of cases, nor should we blame the actual video games. The piece reminds me of when I read a Dear Abby letter a few decades ago. A woman complained of having an "Internet addiction" and by her description, it was clear that yes indeed, she had many problems, but like the gamers in the Kotaku piece, if the internet hadn't been her undoing, something else would have.

In the case of the President and Twitter, he clearly has a lot of problems, but Twitter is merely a tool and isn't responsible for anything. As someone pointed out, he made a comment concerning Senator Elizabeth Warren that started off as a rape “joke,” then turned into an ethnic insult and then just trailed off, the audience laughing uproariously the whole time. He also insulted Congresswoman Maxine Waters, saying she was at an IQ level that amounted to mental retardation. No, Dowd is wrong. The real problem with the President is that he’s just a complete asshole.

2018/06/26

Response to press conference

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders goes into a lengthy defense of President Trump and his policies.

My responses:

First off, "white supremacist" is more of just a plain old, accurate description of President Trump than it is an over-the-top insult. Basic problem with the Press Secretary's defense of the President is that it presents Trump as someone that the actual person bears no resemblance to.

Second, I find it quite interesting that Sanders has to go all the way back to May 2017 when Kathy Griffin presented a stunt photo (depicting Trump as beheaded) in order to find examples of "unfairness" towards him. As a matter of fact, public reaction to Griffin's stunt was so strongly negative, she essentially didn't have a comedy career for over a year. People now consider that she's spent enough time in penance that she's now rehabilitated and she's now doing comedy again.

If, on the other hand, we were to look for examples of a fascist, white supremacist-style policy on Trump's part, the policy of separating the children of brown people* from their parents on the Mexican border is a current, today, right now example.

*Most of the current group of migrants comes from Central America, where they're fleeing violence, gangs, drugs, etc.

2018/06/11

Superheroes and diversity



Just because I like to occasionally riff on stuff that’s not of earth-shattering importance.

Look at superheroes. We all got very excited about the recent Black Panther film, and the first black superheroes. The film took in more than $1.3-billion worldwide, proving once again that there is a huge black market.
Some people argued that it wasn’t a big deal. There were always black superheroes. What about Blade, Hancock, Cyborg and Iron Man’s sidekick? Black people should stop being greedy, I mean, there are at least five black superheroes. How many do you they want? Well, do you know how many there are in total? Marvel lists 7,000 official characters. DC Comics claims to have more.
So five out of a possible 14-15 thousand?! Yes, black people, you should be satisfied with that. Know your place.
Yeah, back in the late 40s, early 50s, we saw superheroes like Superman, Captain America, Batman, Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, etc. In the 60s, we got another wave. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk.

There have been cool characters since, the new X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, etc.), the re-booted Swamp Thing, his occasional foil John Constantine, The Endless (Dream, Death, Desire, etc.), the new Teen Titans (Cyborg, Raven, etc.). But yeah, as most of the possible powers and character types have been used up (The Legion of Superheroes has made some appearances in DC TV shows, but characters like Shadow Lass and Triplicate Girl are kind of ridiculous and hard to find useful employment for), it’s hard to assemble diverse teams today without deciding to, say, turn Nick Fury from a white character into a black one.

Spider-Man has done a good job with diversity. The initial character Peter Parker is getting a bit aged. Marvel ages its characters about a year for every seven years that pass in the real world. Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Sue of the Fantastic Four, was born in the mid-60s but is only in his tweens today. So even though Parker was a high-schooler back when he was invented, he’s long since graduated college and is running his own company.

So, time for a new Spider-Man, one who isn’t quite so old. Marvel decided to make the younger Spider-Man black. Hmm, how to get a female Spider-Man? Well, Gwen Stacey was Peter’s first love and she died tragically back in the 70s, so how about a Gwen from a different dimension who received spider-powers instead of Peter? Niches can be found, but it takes some imagining to fill them without just throwing all-new characters at people.
Ms. Marvel is filling another niche. Captain Marvel was a blond male. When he died, Ms. Marvel, a blond female, took over. The blond female has since taken up the Captain Marvel name while the name of Ms. Marvel went to a Muslim Pakistani teenager (She wears a very modest outfit and her comic goes into her family and background). So again, Marvel is trying to introduce new characters without just coming up with completely all-new creations.
But I agree. There aren’t enough females and not enough non-white characters. Superhero comics and their movie and TV spin-offs need to do better.

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In order to look up any of the characters I've named, go here for Marvel character and here for DC characters. 

2018/06/07

Response to an LTE


Interesting LTE in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 5th. Yes, I believe the writer meant “underlying” belief as opposed to “underlining,” but yes, I sort of halfway agree that the election of this President was a “disastrous abnormality.”

Has the election of Donald Trump been a disaster? Absolutely! The separation of children from parents at the border with Mexico puts us in a moral league with Nazis and the KKK, with the lowest of the low. The US did not sink to such a low moral level during World War II when citizens of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps. George Takei, who played “Sulu” in the “Star Trek” of the 60s, describes his experience as a child when he was in such a camp and he makes it clear that there was no separation of families at that time.

As former VP Joe Biden once said: “Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.” How does the Trump budget look? As a pundit in The Hill put it:

President Trump’s budget proposal is an affront to decency, economics and, at a basic level, math. It is full of both broken and false promises. It forces those who have the least to suffer the most and those who have the most to contribute the least. It is, in a word, unconscionable.

How are Trump’s people on foreign policy? On May 21st, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a lengthy speech to a friendly audience on policy towards Iran. “Over 26 minutes, Pompeo articulated a strategy that can best be summarized as, ‘Do everything we say, or we will crush you.’" The speech did not present any rational objection to Obama’s Iran policy, despite the President having objected to it for a number of years and having criticized it in the bitterest of terms.

Was the election of Trump an “abnormality?” That’s much harder case to make. Al Jazeera said back in May that the issue of white supremacy applies from South Africa to Gaza to the Trump Administration and their supporters. “...apartheid in South Africa was just one of many expressions of a worldwide race-based system of domination and privilege that to this day feeds wealth and prosperity to the selected few whites at the top.”

The President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., clearly reads and occasionally responds to people like “Vox Day,” a pseudonym for a white supremacist and anti-gay science fiction writer. Here’s a “cute” quote from Vox:

On the education of women: “Ironically, in light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

The theory of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the campaign of 2016 was that Americans were primarily concerned about the economy. A lo of his supporters were, but it appears that racial resentment played a big role, too.  

Was the Trump Administration “planned by an outside source using the magic deception of the web?” Well, Chris Matthews of MSNBC thinks the Mueller investigation is driving the President absolutely crazy. Trump’s claim that he can pardon himself (It isn’t against the Constitution for a president to pardon himself, but it’s a fundamental precept of English common law that “no-one should be a judge in his own case”) and various co-defendants are facing great pressure to cooperate in the investigation, which strongly suggests that there’s lot of substance behind charges that the Russians interfered in the election of 2016.

The letter-writer goes on to list the positive accomplishments of the Trump Administration

1. “historic low unemployment.” True. CNN-Money reports that unemployment is very low., but that was in October of last year, at the end of a “85-month” expansion where unemployment steadily dropped. In the included chart, there’s no obvious change in the trend line when the Obama presidency dropped off and the Trump presidency began.

2. “destruction of ISIS.” Again, true. From the New Yorker: “Operation Inherent Resolve is the U.S.-led coalition of sixty-nine nations and four partner organizations that has orchestrated the military campaign against ISIS and provided air power in both Syria and Iraq. Since 2014, its lone goal has been to end the caliphate...” What this quote makes clear is that Trump didn’t begin anything new. He just continued what was already in progress.

3. “nuclear breakthrough negotiations with North Korea.” Is the Trump Administration carrying out any sort of long-range plan to do this? Uh, no. “...the American president has refused to do substantive work ahead of the scheduled negotiations. As one senior administration official, put it, ‘He doesn’t think he needs to’ prepare.” Was there any substantive work on the President’s part prior to this? A review of the past year and a half doesn’t show anything impressive. There are certainly signs of diplomacy taking place and we certainly don’t know everything that’s going on behind the scenes, but National Security Adviser John Bolton’s statement that North Korea should follow the Libya model for denuclearizing was certainly not helpful and in fact, was cited by North Koreans as a reason to cancel the planned summit. This stumble makes me doubt that anything else behind the scenes is any more sophisticated or informed.

So, no. I’m not terribly impressed by President Trump’s performance. Out of the three items cited here, two of them were simply continuations of Obama’s policies and the third appears to be due more to factors outside Trump’s control than by anything he’s planned.

2018/05/22

Trump Administration and Iran deal

So the piece here links to a speech by Mike Pompeo, the new Secretary of State, in which he specifies the complaints that the US has with the nuclear deal that President Obama made with Iran and several other countries. In light of the extreme corruption of the Trump Administration, it's pretty laughable to read about the administration complaining of Iranian corruption.

The complaints about the deal are that it has sunset provisions far in the future, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a deceptive presentation where he failed to acknowledge that all of the problems he identified were from before the deal with Obama was made, the inspection regime is somewhat short of absolute perfection, a sum of money that properly belonged to Iran was returned to it and Iran is now engaged in a (cue the dramatic music) "march across the Middle East."

Absolutely none of this constitutes a good reason to cancel the deal. All of it is either outside the deal or can be made better only by working within the existing framework.

The sanctions policy that Pompeo proposes is all stick, no carrot. It depends on getting Russia, China and Europe to agree that the current deal is fatally flawed and that the current deal has to be thrown out and replaced. President Trump has pursued a blundering and incoherent foreign policy that can't convince anybody of anything. See especially his failure to convince anyone that his opening up a new embassy in Jerusalem was a "step towards peace."

Here's an amusing sentence from Pompeo's list of demands: "Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East." Erm, uh, okay. This brings to mind all of the "warnings" that Saddam Hussein was another Hitler who would send has panzer divisions storming across Saudi Arabia if he wasn't stopped right away.

Yeah, essentially, Pompeo's proposals sound like Iran should give up all foreign involvement and just pull everything back. As a wag said in the Maddow piece: “I’m still a bit surprised Pompeo didn’t demand that Iran agree to open a Trump-branded golf course in Teheran (sic) and pay for the wall with Mexico.”

Update: Further arguments as to how ridiculous Pompeo's arguments are.