Trump Launches Operation Bannarossa

DJTDonald Trump is surrounded by – and apparently admires and respects – generals. His chief of staff, John Kelly, is a retired four-star Marine general. His Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, is also a retired four-star Marine general. His national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, is an active three-star Army general. And then there’s the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, who is also a four-star Marine general. He could walk out of any door in the Oval Office and would trip over a general. A couple of them – McMaster and Mattis – are known as intellectuals and students of history.

Since Mr. Trump seems to have some sort of soft spot for fascists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis, he should ask any of those generals about Operation Barbarossa and how it worked out for Germany’s Nazis. Today, with the shit-canning of the lumpy, oatmeal-ish, slovenly Steve Bannon, Trump is making the same strategic blunder. Let’s call it Operation Bannarossa.

Now, please don’t think for a second that 1) I’m unhappy about Mr. Bannon’s departure or 2) that I feel sorry for Mr. Trump that he’s made a decision of such epic stupidity that it compares to the decision that ultimately caused the death of millions, caused Germany to lose the war and led to the division of Europe for almost half a century. I am, actually, almost gleeful (more on that below). Instead, I’m writing today because this marks what may well be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.

For those too lazy to click on the link or who are too far removed from their high school history class, Operation Barbarossa was the name for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. It was – and remains – the largest military operation in history, involving 4 million men, an 1,800-mile front, 600,000 motor vehicles and 600,000 to 700,000 horses for non-combat operations. It also opened a second front in Germany’s war, one that ultimately sucked dry the German war machine. The horrific and protracted fighting lasted for four years and directly contributed to the ability of the Allies on the western front to reclaim the countries of western Europe that had been conquered earlier in the war.

There’s some debate among students of history whether Germany had to invade the western part of the Soviet Union as a source of manpower and natural resources, but there’s little debate – at least that I can find – that the actual invasion was incredibly stupid. It was based on overly optimistic assessments of German military effectiveness, the weakness of the Soviet military and the strength of its political leadership. It ignored the lessons learned by one of the great tacticians of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte, who invaded Russia in 1812 with an army of 422,000 soldiers and came home in 1813 with 10,000 men marching behind him (see the graphic below).

Figure527

What Trump has done today is pretty much the same thing. By firing Steve, he has opened up a new front in his war with…pretty much everyone. Yesterday, his strategic map looked like this:

Before

In the first seven months of his administration, Mr. Trump managed to go to war with almost everyone who wasn’t in his “base.” Whether deliberately or through ineptitude (my leading theory) he has managed to alienate both those he might have persuaded (Independents, moderate Democrats, the intelligence community) and those he should have been able to hold close like Senate Republicans, his only reliable support has been those loyal supporters on the right who – for a variety of reasons – responded to his populist/nationalist message. There are enough of these people to keep Mr. Trump’s rallies full and to enforce a little discipline on Congressional Republicans who are scared that they might be primaried by unhappy Trump voters.

Today, with the launch of Operation Bannarossa, Mr. Trump’s strategic map looks like this:

After

With this firing, Mr. Trump has opened up another front that will, I believe, cost him a substantial part of his remaining support. He has 1) pissed off and embarrassed Steve Bannon 2) freed him to “let Bannon be Bannon” 3) angered all those who think of Mr. Bannon as their guy inside this White House. High among those are the billionaire Mercer family, which has bankrolled Breitbart and Mr. Bannon and, of course, Breitbart itself. These people believe – with good reason – that they made Donald J. Trump’s unlikely victory and they can, by God, take it away.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating how this move is being perceived by Mr. Bannon’s allies, his former colleagues at Breitbart sent out a one-word Tweet upon hearing the news:

War

DevilAnd, lest you think I’m exaggerating the amount of effort Steve Bannon and his Breitbart colleagues poured into promoting Mr. Trump, I highly recommend the just-published Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green that details how Bannon was pushing the Trump candidacy long before joining the campaign in August 2016. Consider, for example, Bannon’s efforts in February 2016 to convince then-Senator Jeff Sessions to endorse Trump:

As Joshua Green wrote in “Devil’s Bargain,” Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was unsure if Trump could secure the Republican nomination, and knew that being the first senator to endorse Trump could further curtail his political future if Trump, the Republican frontrunner at the time, lost.

The day before Sessions endorsed Trump at a Madison, Alabama rally in February 2016, then-Breitbart News chairman Bannon told Sessions that it was “do or die” time and that “this is the moment” to endorse.

“Trump is a great advocate for our ideas,” Sessions told Bannon. “But can he win?”

“100%,” Bannon said. “If he can stick to your message and personify this stuff, there’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Sessions then noted that the GOP already denied him the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, and that “if I do this endorsement and it doesn’t work, it’s the end of my career in the Republican Party.”

“It’s do or die,” Bannon replied. “This is it. This is the moment.”

That moment was just days before what are known as the “SEC” primaries — a series of primary contests concentrated throughout the South. Bannon told Sessions that his endorsement could push Trump over the hump in many of those contests and essentially seal up the Republican nomination.

“Okay, I’m all-in,” Sessions said. “But if he doesn’t win, it’s over for me.”

And, lest you think I’m exaggerating the importance of Breitbart in setting the agenda of American conservatives and in controlling what they read, watch and listen to, I refer you to a recent study by a Harvard/MIT team which reached the following conclusion:

Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.

The research team visualized Breitbart’s impact by looking at how many postings to Facebook come from the various media sources. By far, the largest star in the conservative universe – the one that bends light because of its gravitational field – is Breitbart. Bigger than Fox, bigger than the Daily Caller or any other outlet combined.

Map

And Donald Trump just went to war with them. Good luck with that.

As an aside, if you want an in-depth look at Breitbart, I recommend this week’s New York Times magazine cover story.

Now, some will take issue with the near-glee I feel at the prospect of watching Mr. Trump’s approval ratings go into the 20s (near certain IMHO) and the steady procession of Congressional denouncements (again a near-certainty) and staff and Cabinet resignations (likely but not certain because some will have no place else to go – the spittle-chinned Stephen Miller for example – or are so thoroughly stained – I’m looking at you @kellyannepolls – that there’s no reason to leave). It is unpatriotic to root for our president to fail, they’ll argue, and in general I agree.

But, this isn’t the general case; Donald Trump is the black swan sort of case. After watching the damage he’s done to our country over the last seven months, convinced that he will never, ever, EVER change, I’m convinced that we need him to leave office as soon as possible whether through resignation, impeachment, use of the 25th Amendment or taking him up on his offer to go away for five billion dollars. We cannot survive a full term of this man.

Operation Bannarossa…may it do for Donald Trump what Operation Barbarossa did for the Nazis. Faster.

 

 

A Not-So-Implausible Conspiracy Theory

The June 2016 meeting between the Trumps and the Russians is the subject of ongoing scrutiny by the media, the public and – it appears – the special counsel appointed to look into the question of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Much more effort will likely be expended in this area, trying to suss out what happened in that 20-30 minute meeting.

Those efforts are important, but here’s reality: The moment the Trumps’ visitors stepped off the elevator on the 25th floor of their tower to sit down with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the Trumps became pawns of the Russians. It doesn’t matter what was actually said or done.

By way of explanation, consider who was on the field that day: Starting with the visiting team, we have Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney with close ties to the Russian elite, two people, Rob Goldstone and Irakly Kaveladzeare beholden to the Agalarov family, a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer, Rinat Akhmetshin, and a translator, Anatoli Samochornov.

Playing for the home team, we have the aforementioned Trump, Kushner and Manafort.

Now, if I were the kind of guy who was a former intelligence officer who used to catch and run spies for one of the most vicious (and effective) intelligence agencies in the world, the kind of guy who has been in power for nearly two decades and runs his country like a private bank for himself and his friends, the kind of guy whose political opponents serendipitously end up dead – if, in other words, I was Vladimir Putin – I would view this meeting as a lever. I could – with very little effort I suspect – convince the visitors – all of whom are tied to me, my country or my friends – to tell any story I wanted about what was said, what documents were provided, how the home team reacted.

Absolutely anything.

If I were Vladimir Putin’s kind of guy, I could probably get the visitors to swear that Ms. Veselnitskaya promised the Russians would arrange for the release thousands of Clinton campaign e-mails if Don Jr. promised that his dad would look the other way on Ukraine. Or that the Trump organization would wire $100 million to a Cayman Islands bank in exchange for help. Or that he’d pimp out Melania, Ivanka or Tiffany.

Or anything else. Let your imagination run.

Lest you think this is unrealistic, consider this thought experiment: sooner or later, the visiting team is going to be called to testify before Congress. If all five participants come to the witness table and in shaky, tremulous voices describe a more-or-less consistent version of what happened in that meeting, who can rebut them? After a solid year of lying, dissembling, omitting, misdirections, incomplete answers, amended forms and convenient forgetfulness, can anyone honestly claim that Don Jr., Jared and Paul have MORE credibility than five earnest people who haven’t spent all that time lying in public on a near-daily basis?

What if someone on the visiting team happened to record the meeting? Or at least has a recording that purports to be from the meeting? Before you say no way could something like that be faked, read this article.

Of course, the beauty of a lever like this is that you don’t actually have to use it in order to make it effective. All you have to do is let your opponents know that you have the lever and that you’re prepared to use it. You would also offer them a carrot in the form of a “promise” that the visiting team would continue to be helpful in terms of denying anything untoward happened as long as the Trump administration continued to cooperate.

Now, when could the Russians have let the Trumps know of the existence of such a carrot-and-stick arrangement? Could they have told them…

  • During the undisclosed conversations between Mike Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meetings between Jeff Sessions and Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meeting between Jared Kushner and Kislyak?
  • During the undisclosed meeting between Kushner and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank?
  • During President Trump’s unpublicized meeting in the Oval Office with Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov?
  • During the 2:15 meeting between President Trump and Putin at the G20?
  • During the just-disclosed one-on-one meeting between the two at the G20 dinner?

Those are just a few of the possibilities. Turns out there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to cataloging the many ways information like this might have flowed to the Trumps.

“The Russians are not our friends,” said Mitch McConnell. Similarly, Vladimir Putin does not admire, respect or want to be friends with Donald Trump. Everything I’ve ever read about the man suggests that people are important to him only to the extent that they’re useful to him. The Trumps, through ineptitude, greed or entitlement, have made themselves extraordinarily useful. As I’m putting the finishing touches on this article, I’m seeing reports that the Trump administration has ended its program to supply arms to anti-Assad rebels in Syria, something long sought by Moscow. As one current official described the decision, “Putin won in Syria.”

See how useful the Trumps can be?

Austin

 

 

The Arrogance of Donald Trump

15237I’ll leave it to the elephants to trample the grass around the firing of FBI Director James Comey – except to agree with the obvious point that this clearly wasn’t about the Director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail issue – but I do want to call out one telling detail of yesterday’s drama: Mr. Trump sent his longtime bodyguard – Keith Schiller – to hand carry the letter of dismissal to Director Comey’s office. That wasn’t an accident and reveals the petty cruelty and arrogance of Mr. Trump.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Schiller, he has been part of the Trump Organization since 1999 when he signed on as a part-time bodyguard. In 2005, he became Trump’s head of security. If you’ve ever watched a Trump rally, you’ve probably seen Mr. Schiller as he’s rarely far from his boss.

Schiller served in the New York Police Department and in the Navy so he has law enforcement experience, but his primary qualification for his job is his unwavering loyalty to Trump. Sending him to “fire” James Comey – someone who has worked for decades in the highest levels of our nation’s law enforcement – is a calculated insult akin to sending a first-year medical student to pull a neurosurgeon out of an operating room.

In plain language, it’s a dick move by a low-class bully who probably fouled the Oval Office by giggling about how clever he was.

This detail changes nothing about how I feel about Mr. Trump and I suspect that it won’t change anyone’s opinion of the man. If, however, someone tells you about the “warm and gracious” Trump that no one sees on camera, remember this counterpoint. This is the real Donald Trump and these are the people he wants around him.

  • Austin

High-Risk Pools, Pre-Existing Conditions and Other Lies: Why Tomorrow’s Health Care Vote Matters

dXvSVWord this evening is that the House Republican leadership has set a vote for tomorrow on the latest version of “Repeal and Replace.” Insiders and observers are saying that this is a sign Speaker Ryan and his whips have found the requisite number of “yeas” to get the bill out of the House and on to the Senate.

On the one hand, tomorrow’s vote doesn’t really matter. Whatever Frankenbill they cobbled together won’t last a day in the Senate before it gets shredded. And, whatever the Senate sends back to the House will be a non-starter for the lower house. So tomorrow is a little meaningless skirmish in a larger war. It will give the Umber Jackhole residing at 1600 Pennsylvania an empty victory he will claim in Tweet and incoherent interview alike but nothing much else.

On the other hand, the hand I care about this evening, tomorrow’s vote matters a lot. The Republican legislation – to the extent anyone knows what’s actually in it – substantially weakens the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The authors of the bill know this. The administration knows this. Donald Trump doesn’t care what it does as long as it passes.

And yet all of these people are saying just the opposite and are thus perpetrating a fraud on the American people and on that basis, tomorrow’s vote matters very much. It is a test of whether our system still works, an opportunity to say, “Hell no” to this level of mendacity and grifter behavior.

If you’re already convinced on this point, you can skip the rest of this post and simply stop here with this call to action: Please call, email or visit your Congressperson tomorrow. Do it more than once. The main phone number is (202) 224-3121. You can find a list of Congressional offices (most with links to their direct phone numbers and emails) here. Don’t know how your Representative is? Look it up here.  Tweet at them, post on their Facebook pages. Share this with your friends and ask them to do the same. Ask your Representative to reject this legislation.

If, however, you’re unconvinced that tomorrow’s vote is worth your time or if some of your friends need more than just an ask from some random person on their Facebook feed, the rest of this post is for you and them.

At the core of the bill being voted on tomorrow is a set of changes that will allow insurers to return to many of their pre-ACA behaviors including greater price discrimination by age, the promotion of substandard plans, as well as cuts to Medicaid and – as has been much discussed – will create a pathway for the elimination of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

As I understand the proposed legislation, if a state asks the federal government for a waiver, insurers in that state can refuse to cover pre-existing conditions if 1) the insured person lets his or her coverage lapse and 2) the state sets up a “high-risk” pool or reinsurance program as a safety net. This is pretty much the way things worked in the pre-ACA days when – according to the New York Times – 35 states had such mechanisms.

So…let’s contemplate for a second how many Republican governors there are – 33. How many state legislatures are controlled by the GOP – 32. How many of those politicians have pledged their undying, unyielding hatred of Obamacare. Suddenly, that hurdle doesn’t seem so high.

The process for granting a waiver? Under the current Trump administration, I’m guessing that will be something that can be completed on a postcard and approved with a “looks good to me” review.

I’ll leave it to you to contemplate all the ways you can lose coverage in today’s world of economic dislocation. Suffice it to say shit happens.

“But wait! Wait,” the apologists will claim. Even if you’re right, those people will still have access to care. Through the high-risk pools.

Yeah, let’s talk about that idea.

Historically, as the Times article notes, those pools have been wildly underfunded, charged participants much, much higher premiums than the prevailing market, were capped in terms of how many people they would accept and how much they would pay out either in a year or a lifetime. As the Times noted, California had an annual cap of $75,000 per person and across all the plans – in all 35 states – a grand total of 230,000 people were able to get coverage.

230,000 people out of 321,000,000. Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the population.

Needless to say the number of people with pre-existing conditions is substantially bigger than 1/10th of 1 percent. How much bigger? Try 270 times bigger. And, depending on where you live, a lot bigger.

That’s not hyperbole. That’s actual verified data, the stuff we used to call “facts” in the old days. Based on an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 27 percent of the people under 65 have a pre-existing condition. Add it all up, according to Kaiser, and you come up with more than 52,000,000 people who might find themselves with no coverage, unaffordable coverage or substandard coverage.

And, of course, as you get older, the prevalence of pre-existing conditions increases. The graphic from AARP below illustrates, the percentage of people in the 50-64 age bracket with a pre-existing condition ranges from 32 percent on the low end to 52 percent on the high end.

Map

You might not have a pre-existing condition, but if you live in a family of four chances are someone in your family does. If your block has 12 families on it, three of them might be uninsurable under a loosened standard of coverage and could be bankrupted by the cost of care. As Jimmy Kimmel tearfully noted, even newborns come with pre-existing conditions and a family without insurance – or an insurance plan with a lifetime or annual cap – can find itself have to choose between caring for their newborn or sending him to college, owning a home or a retirement.

In case you’re interested in exactly what constitutes a pre-existing condition, you might be surprised to learn that you could pretty easily fall in that category. Pre-ACA, the list of conditions considered pre-existing included:

 

  • AIDS/HIV
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery
  • Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Hepatitis
  • Kidney disease, renal failure
  • Lupus
  • Mental disorders (severe, e.g. bipolar, eating disorder)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Obesity
  • Organ transplant
  • Paralysis
  • Paraplegia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pending surgery or hospitalization
  • Pneumocystic pneumonia
  • Pregnancy or expectant parent
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Transsexualism

Pre-existing conditions could also injuries, previous surgical procedures and more.

I’m not alone in opposing this, of course, and neither is it a liberal thing. The famously conservative American Medical Association? Against it. Also the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So too is the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, JDRF, March of Dimes, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the National MS Society and others. The American Hospital Association? A no vote. Ditto for the Children’s Hospital Association and AARP. For too many reasons to enumerate, these organizations know the scam that’s being pulled and are screaming about it:

“None of the legislative tweaks under consideration changes the serious harm to patients and the health care delivery system if AHCA passes. Proposed changes to the bill tinker at the edges without remedying the fundamental failing of the bill – that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance as a direct result of this proposal.

“High-risk pools are not a new idea. Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, 35 states operated high-risk pools, and they were not a panacea for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. The history of high-risk pools demonstrates that Americans with pre-existing conditions will be stuck in second-class health care coverage – if they are able to obtain coverage at all.

“Not only would the AHCA eliminate health insurance coverage for millions of Americans, the legislation would, in many cases, eliminate the ban against charging those with underlying medical conditions vastly more for their coverage.”

– American Medical Association President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D

Again, the authors of this bill also know all this. They know that they’re opening an easy pathway to exclusion of pre-existing conditions. They know the money they’ve set aside to support high-risk pools is inadequate for its intended purpose. They know the extra $8 billion they dramatically added to the bill today does nothing to change these calculations.

And yet they look us in the eye and tell us exactly the opposite. We cannot, should not, let this go unnoticed and unopposed. To the contrary, I hope that every Member of Congress goes to vote tomorrow with the credo of Anonymous echoing in his or her mind: We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

That’s why tomorrow’s vote is important. Spread the word.

  • Austin

 

 

 

WWASD?

lead_960“What would Andrew Shepherd do?”

Liberals (or “hyper liberals” as I was recently called) of a certain age have something of a wet dream fantasy about the 1990s movie The American President. For those of you who haven’t seen it or have forgotten it, it’s the gauzy reimagining of the Clinton presidency without the messy bits of scandal and – prominently –  without the First Lady.  With snappier dialogue, better cheekbones and a tragicom plot line of the widowed President Andrew Shepherd raising a daughter and finding love in the Lincoln bedroom, it’s a reliable feel-good movie on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. Spoiler alert: turns out it’s possible to be an ethical, honest elected official, speak the truth, fix the economy, settle the debate on gun control, eviscerate the politics of division and get the girl.

Thus, in times of controversy, we liberals of a certain age are prone to ask the question, “What would Andrew Shepherd do?”

Fortunately, Aaron Sorkin anticipated just the sort of event we’ve seen play out this week and it’s an instructional – albeit fictional – bit of content:

INT. THE SITUATION ROOM – NIGHT. SHEPHERD, A.J., the SECRETARY OF STATE, the SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, and about a dozen or so Pentagon, Security Council, and Joint Chiefs OFFICIALS are doing exactly what they’re trained for.

CHAIRMAN (continuing) “…The F-18’s are fired up on the Kimitz and the Kitty Hawk. They’re just waiting for your attack order, Mr. President.”

SHEPHERD “And we’re gonna hit Libyan Intelligence Headquarters?”

MAN “The N.S.A. confirmed they’re the ones who planned the bombing.”

CHIEF OF STAFF “What’s the estimate?”

GENERAL “We’ll level the building.”

SHEPHERD “Libyan I.H.Q’s in the middle of downtown Tripoli — are we gonna hit anything else?”

GENERAL “Only if we miss.”

SHEPHERD “Are we gonna miss?”

GENERAL “No, sir.”

SHEPHERD “How many people work in that building?”

CHAIRMAN “We’ve been all through–”

SHEPHERD “How many people work in the damn building?”

DEPUTY “I’ve got those number here. There are three shifts, so it–”

SHEPHERD “The fewest. What shift puts the fewest people in the building? The night shift, right?”

DEPUTY “By far. Mostly custodial staff and a few–”

SHEPHERD “What time does the night crew go on?”

DEPUTY “They’re on now, sir.”

SHEPHERD “A.J.?”

CHIEF OF STAFF: “It’s immediate, it’s decisive, it’s low risk, and it’s a proportional response.”

SHEPHERD Someday somebody’s going to have to explain to me the virtue of a proportional response.

There’s a SILENCE. SHEPHERD gets up and starts to head out the door.

CHAIRMAN “Mr. President?”

SHEPHERD “Attack.”

CUT TO: INT. OVAL OFFICE – NIGHT

SHEPHERD is with CHIEF OF STAFF and a couple of AIDES, all of whom look as though they’ve been called out of their homes in the middle of the night.

CHIEF OF STAFF “Robin, as soon as our planes have cleared Libyan airspace, you can call the press. I don’t know when we’ll have the full B.D.A.–”

AIDE 1 “General Rork says around O-Eight Hundred.”

AIDE 2 “Sir, what do you think about a national address?”

SHEPHERD “The last thing I want to do is put the Libyans center stage.”

AIDE 3 “I think it’s a great idea, sir. You know Rumson’s gonna be talking about your lack of military service.”

SHEPHERD “This isn’t about Rumson. What I did tonight was not about political gain.”

AIDE 3 “But it can be, sir. What you did tonight was very presidential.”

SHEPHERD “Leon, somewhere in Libyan right now there’s a janitor working the night shift at the Libyan Intelligence Headquarters. He’s going about his job ’cause he has no idea that in about an hour he’s gonna die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job ’cause he has no idea that an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You just saw me do the least presidential thing I do.”

AIDE 3 “Yes, sir.”

I’ve never been in the White House situation room. I’ve never been a part of a decision like this. I can’t say definitively what President Trump’s decision making process was in terms of if and how we should respond to Syria’s gassing of its citizens. I can only judge by what I can observe from afar, what I know of Mr. Trump by studying him over the last year or so and what’s reported in the not-fake news. Based on those sources, it appears to me that Mr. Trump’s decision to dramatically increase our engagement in one of the most difficult geopolitical issues in the world went something like this:

“”Oh, look at what’s on TV now…That’s terrible…this Assad guy is a bad dude…I want to punch him in the nose…that’ll show him who’s in charge…I’ll tell the generals….oh, look at what’s on TV now…”

I also suspect that President Trump does not see his decision as “the least presidential thing I do” but just the opposite. My profound fear is that he enjoyed this exercise of presidential power – 59 cruise missiles is a pretty substantial mood shifter – and that it felt good. I fear that he’s right now watching television again and seeing people across the political spectrum praise him (or at least not criticize him so robustly as on other issues) and thinking, “That worked…people like it…we have lots of those missiles…nobody likes that North Korean guy…I want to punch him in the nose…that’ll show him who’s in charge…China will respect us…I’ll tell the generals….”

In other words, not an Andrew Shepherd moment.

  • Austin

 

The Haberdasher, the General and the Imposter

Harry Truman, commenting about General Dwight Eisenhower succeeding him in the Oval Office, said, “He’s going to sit at this desk and say ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that’ — and nothing’s going to happen.”

As a general, Ike could order people to do things and they’d do them. As president, not so much.

Truman would be amused, but not surprised, watching Donald Trump struggle in the office the haberdasher once occupied. As a businessman, Trump could give orders to his minions and the orders would be followed. Dealing with people now who aren’t on his payroll and who aren’t afraid of him, he’s flopping around, mouth gaping, like a fish tossed on shore.

Giving Orders - WWI

It’s one more piece of evidence that the notion of running the government like a business is so very wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t work, and it’s wrong because, philosophically, it’s way off base. Business exists — especially in the grubby hands of bandits like Trump — for private enrichment. The government exists to advance and protect the common good.

It’s very clear that Trump and his family and his henchmen are blurring the line between running the government to serve others and running it to serve themselves. The ethical conflicts of interest Trump and his family have are so numerous and so glaring that there’s hardly a decision the president can make that doesn’t have a financial impact on him and his family. From pipelines to banks to hotels, Trump is using our tax money and mortgaging our national security to fill his Scrooge McDuck money bins. I think he can’t see any difference between his private pelf and the public good. That moral vacancy is frightening.

Business works to increase efficiency to grow shareholder value. And who are the largest shareholders? The white guys who run the company. The impact of business decisions that increase share prices or increase the sales and value of private companies is often damage to the community and the company’s employees. Government decisions have to take into consideration the impact on the public, on the economy, on the nation’s resources and the environment for decades and centuries to come, and on the nation’s security, values and reputation.

Whether it’s a toll road or a privately-built and -run prison or a school or retirement savings, the model of increasing shareholder value just does not cover all the bases. Even without Trump owning stock in two companies involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline, his coziness with big banks and big energy companies makes his approval of the pipeline  at the least raise questions about his motives — serve the public, protect the environment or backscratch his cronies? A spokesminion claims Trump has sold his stock in the pipeline partners — but with his history of lying and his refusal to release his tax returns, who can know?

Government is not a business. It has very different aims and responsibilities than a business has. Its moral purposes are completely different.

It’s actually refreshing to see Trump fail using his corporate pirate tricks. As a business bully he could get away with not knowing the details of the projects he was hustling. Underlings could marshall the facts and figures while figurehead Donald handled the bluster and the bullshit. When he didn’t know much of anything about the healthcare bill he was pushing, House members were shocked, and mocked him.

Trump said over and over during the campaign that he would make great deals. Snarking about President Obama playing golf, Trump said he would probably never play golf (!!!) as president because he’d just want to stay in the White House and make deals. But a president’s deal-making ability has to be in service of something, as LBJ’s was with Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Trump just likes to make deals, and then skips town before his victims can heat up the tar and pluck the feathers. And deal-making is only part of what a president does. Other qualities — leadership, inspiration, fairness, judgment, steadiness in crises, compassion, empathy, vision, diplomacy — are just as important. And absent in the current Oval Office pretender.

Harry Truman must have been smiling wryly if he paid attention, from wherever dead presidents reside, as Trump’s odious consigliere, Steve Bannon, tried to carry The Boss’s orders to vote for the Frankenstein health care bill to the Freedom Caucus in the House. Bannon tried the strong arm, telling them “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” Might have worked for LBJ, a master of carrots, sticks, pork and human nature. Didn’t work for the windbag who told us we’d be tired of winning by this time. One Freedom Caucus member — bless his pointed little head — replied to Bannon: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

My friend Dave Kuhn, a fellow recovering journalist, taught me so much about helping senior executives deal effectively with the media. People from the military and business don’t like the press, Dave said, because it’s one of the few things they can’t control. So they’re not very good at handling the challenges journalists throw at them or at letting criticism slide off their backs.

Trump’s efforts at strong-arming the media aren’t any more successful than his orders to the House members of his own party have been. And thank god for that.

— Bruce Benidt

Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

rotten_tomatoes_8290As I watched the dramatic collapse of Trumpcare today, I was reminded that Minnesotans have seen this Happy Gilmoresque movie before: Before there was “Trump: The President” there was “Ventura: The Governor.”

For those younger than me – approximately all of you – you might not remember that in 1998, sober, sane, proud-of-our-good-government-instincts Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler – surely the forerunners of today’s reality stars – and bit-player actor (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) as its governor. While this decision looks positively brilliant next to Mr. Trump’s election – Ventura had at least served in the military and had held elective office – it was an electoral exercise in “what-the-fuck” voting as two uninspiring mainstream candidates drove down their turnout and allowed a third party candidate to eke out a narrow victory.

Two things saved Mr. Ventura’s tenure from immediately becoming the smoldering crater that is the Trump Administration after just 64 days. First, and most obviously, is the fact that we elected a buffoon to the Governor’s Office instead of the Oval Office thus limiting the damage that even the most inept office holder can do (though one should never underestimate what a motivated governor can do – I’m looking at you Scott Lets-Gut-Public-Unions Walker and you Rick Let-Them-Drink-Lead Snyder). Second, as MPR notes, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was lucky enough to come into office with a $4 billion tax surplus (which it also notes he turned into a $4.5 billion deficit) and a blessedly quiet period in Minnesota when the most difficult public policy questions consisted of everyone asking, “What should we do with all this extra money?” Even Jesse Ventura – who had the not-very-original-or-smart- but-defensible position of rebating the surplus to taxpayers – could manage not to screw things up too bad in a political environment that marshmallowly.

As an aside, while I was reading the MPR story mentioned above to refresh my memory of what happened – and didn’t – during The Body’s time in office, I was struck by this passage:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura’s relationship with key lawmakers was hot and cold.

“There are times he just charmed you tremendously. You know, just very, very charming,” Sviggum said. “And in the next minute, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want anything to do with the individual.'”

Gee, who does that remind me of? Wait, wait…it’ll come to me.

Unfortunately, shit got real for Minnesota in the last year or so of Governor Ventura’s term when the money ran out and actually governing and legislating had to be done. Mr. Ventura, after making some nominal efforts to participate in the process, checked out and left it to the legislature to work it out. I seem to recall he spent his time – while in office – being the MC for something called the XFL, junketing to China and Cuba and feuding with the media (the more things change…).

This trip down memory lane is more than just an old fart’s reminiscences; it bears on today’s debacle – and that’s an insult to the other debacles – in terms of what happened today and – more importantly – what’s going to happen next.

Today, Mr. Trump’s efforts at playing the role of President were exposed as the fraud many of us have believed it would be and is. The master negotiator got rolled by two dozen guys in $200 Men’s Wearhouse poly-blend suits. The “closer” discovered he’s a “c” short. The Great Leader turned around and discovered the parade was a bit shorter than he’d promised and that nobody seems terribly worried about crossing him. In short, he got the shit kicked out of him and even if he can’t admit it, looked hopelessly out his depth.

Who knew health care was so complicated? I mean, gee Wally, I guess being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My prediction is that Mr. Trump – who is so thin-skinned he makes Mr. Ventura look positively indifferent to criticism – will do exactly what the governor did back in 2001; he’ll pull back from all this “governing stuff” and leave it to the Congress – and maybe his cabinet members – to deal with. Having suffered a body-blow of a loss, Mr. Trump will retreat to what he likes best – ceremonial photo ops with truckers, bikers, CEOs who announce jobs (real or not), rallies (though I’ll be interested to see how those crowds hold up for a guy who lent his name to a bill supported by 17 percent of voters), Mar-a-Lago and Twitter. The billionaire president is going to be positively cheap when it comes to spending whatever political capital he has left.

We’ll be able to assess the accuracy of my prediction in short order because in just a few weeks Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit or risk a default by the U.S. government. The adults in the room – reported to be Mnuchin and Cohn when it comes to economics – will start issuing warnings. Speaker Ryan, cindered up to his well-toned biceps from the last 18 days, will be as firm as Jello and mostly ignored. Mitch McConnell will say…something. The Freedom Caucus will announce its unalterable opposition to raising the debt limit (but will back-channel that it can be bought for some draconian price), the Democrats will take the understandable (albeit not very grown up) position that since it’s the Republicans who control both both houses and the White House, it’s their responsibility to lead on the issue.

My guess – based on what I know of Mr. Trump and what the lesson of Jesse Ventura tells me – is  that while the risk of default builds, President Trump will hit the links, meet with Bill Gates (again), Kanye, the border patrol union, seventeen guys in the construction business and a collection of country-and-western stars. He’ll Tweet out stream-of-consciousness thoughts as he watches Fox & Friends and let Congress and his surrogates work it out (though he will never, ever again own their actions). If they’re able to work out a deal, then – and only then – will he show up for work. I suspect he’ll re-create the boardroom set from The Apprentice and make Ryan, McConnell and a player to be named later have to come pitch him to save the country’s credit rating. He’ll do it live. Steve Bannon will get a producer’s credit. The other Steve – the one with the bulging eyes and the spittle – will do the script.

What a profile in courage. What a change agent.  And it’s only two months in. Forty-six more to go.

  • Austin

 

 

So You’re Sean Spicer …

It’s easy to lampoon Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s press secretary. He does it himself every day.

But what would you do?

Your boss tells you that you need to go out and spank the media, be tough like he is, and tell them that the crowd at your inauguration was the biggest ever. Period. It’s your first day on the job. It’s a job you really like and want to keep. So you give the president your advice, that saying this about the crowd will make all of you look foolish. The president asks you “Whose side are you on?” If you won’t go out there and straighten the press out he’ll find someone who will. Trump’s decision is made, and you have your marching orders.

So what do you do? Easy to say, those of us who don’t have such cool apex-predator jobs, that we’d resign rather than say something we know is not true. But would we? Would you? You make your case, you lose, the boss tells you what to do. He’s the boss.

What about something not so black and white. The message to be delivered today as the House tinkers with the Trumpcare bill is that, by removing the requirements in Obamacare that 10 essential benefits be covered, consumers will have more choice and their coverage will cost less. The essential benefits are things like prenatal care, mental health and substance abuse care, therapy and devices to help recovery after injuries or for chronic conditions, prescription drug coverage and six more. An older man, say, could chose a plan that doesn’t cover prenatal care. Sounds good, right?

But by letting people pick and choose, costs will go up for the people who do need things like prenatal care. And, if the costs get too high and a mother doesn’t get prenatal care, guess who pays for the ensuing problems her child has once born? Everybody pays, especially when care is sought through emergency rooms by people who can’t afford the coverage after it’s been cherry-picked.

So, what you’re telling people — that choice is good for everybody — simply isn’t true. At least that’s a reasonable argument. But your job is not to present both sides of a case. It’s to support the case you’re advocating for. If you’re selling soda-pop, it’s not your job to point out that a 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. But it’s probably also not your job to say that soda-pop is healthy.

Spicer today eagerly and strongly asserted that doing away with the requirement that health plans cover these 10 essential services is better for health-care consumers. If you were told to say that, what would you do?

My easy answer #2 is that I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place who has shown his entire career that he sides with the rich and doesn’t give a damn about the little guy, whom he has consistently stiffed. I wouldn’t work for someone in the first place whose values are based on selfishness — I’ve got mine and you’re on your own to get yours, even when mine is crowding out yours.

But Spicer wanted this job. He’s not just some guy who came out of Trump University with a bubble-gum-card diploma. He has a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College. He’s worked in communication for Congress and for the Republican Party. He’s not a rube or a dupe. I don’t think.

So … the president tells you to go out and say, for example, that Paul Manafort played “a limited role for a very limited time” in the Trump campaign. That’s nonsense, of course, for a man who was campaign chairman.

What do you do? Chime in here, let us know your thoughts.

— Bruce Benidt

Melissa-McCarthy-Spicer-650x330

 

 

Hillary — Meet the Press, Dammit

Let’s just say it out loud: Hillary Clinton is wrong, selfish, stupid and irresponsible to not hold regular press conferences. Or at least one for goodness sake.

She is either a coward, or her ambition has crowded out her soul and what shreds of ethics she may still keep in a jar by the door.

If you read Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman in Charge, you’ll take this great journalist’s view that her ambition leads her to do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to go. Whatever it takes.

Including spurning much of the media. She hasn’t had a news conference in almost nine months. Yes she does some interviews one-on-one. Yes she calls in to some chosen news shows. Yes she sat down with Chris Wallace of Fox, one of the best, most fair and toughest interviewers out there. And she stuck her foot in her mouth.

But this is part of how you let America see you. You meet the press. This is part of what we voters deserve. To see how you handle tough inquiries from reporters in an uncontrollable scrum. Unruly? Sure. Unpredictable? Yes, thank god. And an important part of democracy. The media is not part of your marketing department, Madame Secretary. I’ve worked with a few public relations clients who felt that way. It’s wrong. It’s cynical.

Listening to Clinton answer journalists like Anderson Cooper’s questions on why she doesn’t hold a press conference is excruciating. If Clinton listens to herself she must shiver like someone tasting spoiled milk, or like John McCain every night when he realizes he’s gone another day without retracting his endorsement of Donald Trump. “Well Anderson I talk to lots of reporters, as I am right now with you, and I have done hundreds of interviews and…” blah blah blah. Answer the question. Answer them all.

Are you a less-skilled communicator than Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s VP nominee, who in 1984 took questions from 200 reporters for nearly two hours about shady financial dealings she and her husband were accused of? She stood there and took everything they could throw at her. And here’s Ragan’s PR Daily’s assessment of the outcome, from a 2011 piece on Ferraro’s death:

It helped reverse the narrative that she was not transparent;

It turned her into a more sympathetic figure;

It offered Ferraro a vital opportunity to show her mettle as a female candidate who could endure the intensity of the media’s scrutiny.

Don’t you have Ferraro’s guts, don’t you have what it takes, Madame Secretary? Is that why you’re hiding?

I’m a former daily newspaper reporter and a former college journalism teacher and I believe deeply in the role of the free press in helping us make crucial civic decisions. Those who avoid the press, who seek only to manipulate it and use it for their own ends, are putting their own interests before the best interests of the country. It’s wrong. It’s pathetic. Stop hiding, Hillary. Let us see how you handle tough times. Yes, we’ve seen you stand up to tough questioning before, as with the House Benghazi committee. Get out there again. Regularly.

Your failure to meet the press undermines any criticism you rightly make about Donald Trump’s despicable and willful refusal to release his tax returns. His failure is greater, but it’s on the same scale of cowardly hiding of what the public has a right and duty to know and understand.

Some people in your campaign are saying you’re playing a “run down the clock” campaign now, lying low to not blow your lead. If you are doing that, you risk my vote. I’m very liberal, I agree with you on most policy positions, but your actions are showing deep character flaws. I hope you thank god every night that the idiot Republicans have put up a barbarian to run against you. An actual human being would defeat you. And you’d deserve it.

— Bruce Benidt

The Trump Train Adds Another Car

David Duke

Donald Trump likes to boast of how many people are joining the “Trump Train” so I’m sure a Tweet from @realDonald Trump (AKA The Great Conductor) will be forthcoming welcoming David Duke aboard.

For those of you who do not inhabit the fringes of racist politics, Duke is a former Louisiana state representative who has run unsuccessfully for Congress, governor and president. He’s also a convicted felon and has in recent years hosted a radio show where he promotes his point of view that Americans of European descent are the real victims of discrimination.

And, oh yeah, he’s a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan.

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Duke is jumping back into politics now after almost 20 years off the trail. In the New York Times, Mr. Duke credits Donald Trump for making the environment welcoming:

“‘I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years,’ said Mr. Duke, who had an early foray in politics as a supporter of George Wallace, the Alabama governor whose name remains synonymous with segregation.”

And he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of the Trump campaign:

David Duke 2

You might remember that when Mr. Duke and the KKK first jumped on the Trump Train, it took The Great Conductor – AKA Donald J. Trump – a couple of days to decide how he felt about the riders. This caused most of us – who have pretty firm views on the KKK that are easily recalled and expressed – to pause. After an unseemly long time, The Great Conductor said they couldn’t ride. That remains the official position of The Great Conductor as revealed by His Oracle who told the Times that ““Mr. Trump has disavowed David Duke and will continue to do so.”

The problem, though, is that even someone as powerful and dominating as The Great Conductor doesn’t actually get to pick and choose who rides his train. When you lay your tracks right into the dark heart of racism and intolerance, when you spend 14 months stoking the boiler with a powerful mix of dogwhistle code words, encouragements to violence, calls to “take our country back” and to blame people who don’t look like you for all their problems, you can’t credibly claim surprise – or even dismay – when the David Dukes of the world hitch their car to your train.

Welcome to The Great Conductor’s Train, Mr. Duke. You two deserve one another.

– Austin

 

Better Writers Than Me

A couple weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend who also blogs on occasion. We were discussing our free-floating anxiety around Donald Trump and he made the observation that it was hard to find something to say about the Republican nominee that wasn’t already being said – and said better – by others.

He’s right. Everywhere I turn reporters, columnists, editorialists, op-ed authors and others are describing in detail every aspect of Donald Trump’s unsuitability for elected office – any elected office truthfully but most especially the oval one at 1600 Pennsylvania.

As an excellent example of this phenomenon, I offer you today’s Washington Post editorial:

WP - Editorial

The whole editorial is well worth the two or three minutes it will take to read it. It’s worth sharing with your friends, family and neighbors. It’s worth printing out, highlighting and taking door to door in Eden Prairie, Chanhassen, Elk River or any other place with a high concentration of Republican voters.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

“Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew.”

“[T]here is nothing on Mr. Trump’s résumé to suggest he could function successfully in Washington. He was staked in the family business by a well-to-do father and has pursued a career marked by some real estate successes, some failures and repeated episodes of saving his own hide while harming people who trusted him.”

“[H]e displays no curiosity, reads no books and appears to believe he needs no advice. In fact, what makes Mr. Trump so unusual is his combination of extreme neediness and unbridled arrogance. He is desperate for affirmation but contemptuous of other views.”

“He also is contemptuous of fact. Throughout the campaign, he has unspooled one lie after another — that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11, that his tax-cut plan would not worsen the deficit, that he opposed the Iraq War before it started — and when confronted with contrary evidence, he simply repeats the lie. It is impossible to know whether he convinces himself of his own untruths or knows that he is wrong and does not care. It is also difficult to know which trait would be more frightening in a commander in chief.”

There’s more. Annotated, fact-based, sober in tone and language.

I submit that the best thing you can do for our democracy this evening is share this editorial with everyone you can reach. Send it to your contact list. Post it to Facebook, Tweet it, paste it on construction sites. Don’t just send it to the people who agree with you, send it to your uncle who’s wearing the Trump hat or the coworker who keeps forwarding you the “Hillary for Prison” e-mails. You don’t have to argue, debate or persuade; just ask them to read it.

As the Post notes, Mr. Trump is everyone’s problem now. The Republicans have made their choice – as Paul Ryan noted – and they chose poorly. Now the rest of us have to clean up the mess. There’s two ways to do that: 1) to turn out every possible vote in November for Hillary Clinton and, 2) to give those who might be inclined to support Donald Trump every possible reason to reconsider.

– Austin

 

 

“I Believe…”

4917998Parsing the various ways that “establishment” Republicans support their presumptive presidential candidate is a wonderful exercise in linguistics. You can tell that most of them are using talking points that have been honed to within a micron of their rhetorical content. Even the simple word “support” is subject to a range of definitions that have come into play only in the last several months. To some, it means voting for, endorsing, campaigning for. Some say their support means voting for only. Some have yet to tell us what their support means.

A regular feature, though, of all of these tortured pronouncements is a phrase along the lines of, “I believe that Donald Trump believes that…” I’ve seen it used to justify supporting him because of vacancies on the Supreme Court, on gun rights, on abortion, on supporting the family values and religious freedom concerns of the evangelical voters, on immigration, on trade, on foreign policy. Check out Tom Cotton’s use of the phrase in The Atlantic to explain how a classic conservative hawk – someone who believes in a muscular, robust, outward-looking foreign policy – could support a man who has advocated pulling out of NATO, reneging on bilateral treaty commitments in every corner of the world, supporting the spread of nuclear weapons and wants to turn our foreign policy into a series of one-time financial transactions.

These people are deluding themselves. No one, not even Donald Trump, knows what he believes. No one, especially not Donald Trump, considers the candidate bound by anything that comes out of his mouth. Like his approach to foreign policy, Mr. Trump treats every utterance as a one-time transaction in which he will say literally anything to close whatever deal he thinks is in front of him at that very instant.

Honest to God, I think if you could book Donald Trump into back-to-back conventions – say, for example, the White People’s Party annual convention and the National Black Republicans Association – he wouldn’t skip a beat:

“Thank you…thank you…what a great crowd…wow, it’s packed in here and I hear there is a huge line trying to get in. Thank you. What a great bunch of Americans, people who want to take their country back, who want to make America Great Again. And we are going to do that, don’t you worry. You’re going to get so tired of winning, you’ll beg me to stop. We’re going to win on trade, on the military, on our police – aren’t they great? – on immigration. And that includes winning on your issues. There will never be – I guarantee you – a president who’s going to more for your people and the issues you care about than Donald Trump. I will be so good to you. Because I’ll bring back the jobs. I’ve created so many great jobs – including hiring thousands of your people – and built such a great company with the best properties that it’ll be easy. So easy.”

Of course, I am – thankfully  – not in Donald Trump’s head so I can’t say for sure that his calcified brain is wired this way, but I would submit that his entire career and his entire candidacy is built on this mindset: Donald Trump will say whatever he needs to say to get the deal, the loan, the government approval, the wire transfer, the contract, the work done, the item placed on Page Six, the interview, the caucus win, the primary votes and then – when the deal is closed – he’ll do whatever he wants.

Repeat over and over and over for more than 40 years. End up as the Republicans’ nominee.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sad! Trump’s “Crowds” Ain’t What They Used to Be

Poor Donald Trump. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that he’s not as rich as he’s always claimed (my leading theory for why he won’t release his tax returns is that they would confirm this) and now he’s no longer quite as popular – even with the true believers – as he once was.

Exhibit A in this argument is a couple of photos from yesterday’s Trump “rally” in Manchester, NH – in case it’s easier to track his rallies by gaffes rather than geography, it’s the one where he made a joke about the Mexican plane and didn’t take issue with his supporter’s “heebee-jabbies” comment – that shows by my count maybe 100 people in the audience:

2016-07-01_15-57-4702tfd-trumpwomen-web1-superJumbo

What should be even more worrisome for the campaign than bad advance work (really, did the same advance team that did the garbage backdrop do this one too?), is the complete lack of energy the crowd is exhibiting. In the face of a full-on Trumping, his audience responded thusly:

Sad!

– Austin

PS – Photo credits: Top image is a screen grab from CBS, lower image and audience isolates are credited to Brian Snyder/Reuters.

 

“The Suspense is Terrible…I Hope It Will Last”

Maybe this is what it’s like to get old.

My theory of aging is that you start getting old the moment when you stop keeping up. By that I meet keeping up with what’s going on in society, how technology is evolving, how to use it. Understanding the big flows in the global economy, how the pieces fit together and affect one another. Keeping up with your family and how they in turn participate in their communities.

For my parents, this process started happening when my father retired. Bit by bit over the next couple of decades they went from participants to observers to finally patients. They went from the people who I would call first for help and advice to the people I hid bad news from to a couple of fearful, confused people who didn’t understand the world around them.

Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. Without realizing it maybe I crossed that first threshold sometime in the recent past and didn’t realize it.

I’m thinking along these lines as part of my effort to understand the panicky feeling that’s been my constant companion ever since it became clear that Donald J. Trump would be the Republican nominee. His enduring success suggests I no longer understand the world and what moves it. The notion that he’s got a 45-55 chance to become the next president of the United States – and thus the most powerful person in the world – makes me anxious in a way I’ve rarely felt.

When I try to disassemble my anxiety, I end up sorting it into several buckets:

  1. The top line. A Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for the United States, its citizens, our allies and world. I believe this with every fiber of being. Donald Trump lacks the experience, temperament, education, judgement, emotional maturity and almost every other quality I think is important in a president.
  2. The subtext. Do 39 percent of Americans REALLY believe Donald Trump should be president? According to the latest Fox News poll they do. If this number is even remotely correct then I feel a lot like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (or Kevin McCarthy if you prefer the 1958 version).
  3. The counter-narrative. What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve missed something so fundamental about the state of our country that those 39 percenters are right to want to elect Donald Trump? If they are, then what else am I wrong about?

For reassurance on all three levels I find myself compulsively reading the news, watching CNN, etc. I feel mildly encouraged by reports that suggest the Democrats are getting their act together or that the Republicans and the Trump campaign are in disarray. I find myself watching Trump’s rallies and speeches hoping for – at last – something that will irrevocably take him from legitimate threat to our democracy to universal joke.

In other words, when I step back and look at my behavior, I have to wonder,

“When did I get so fucking old?”

<sigh>

Austin

 

 

 

Reaping the Trumpian Harvest

It’s early days in terms of calculating the damage Donald J. Trump has already done to America but there are already many signs that he has emboldened racists, misogynists and other species of political fungi that have been mostly consigned in the shadows of American politics.

Let’s not even get started on how many of our allies are already rethinking their relationship with a country that may end up led by a man who thinks it’s a good thing that they’re “rattled” by his candidacy. Here, too, the damage he’s already done is considerable.

In fact, Mr. Trump could drop out of the race tomorrow and we’d still be years recoMatthew Ericksonvering.

Or maybe his candidacy is the kind of damage a democracy like ours is ill-equipped to recover from. Take a few minutes to watch the announcement speech of one Matthew Erickson, the Republicans’ latest candidate to succeed Congressman John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Mr. Trump likes to boast about his success in bringing new people into the political process. If this is a representative example, he’s done us no favors by creating a new class of candidates and activists who think his example is worthy of following. We may never wring this stain out of our national fabric.

I weep for our country.

– Austin

 

American Exceptionalism Defined

The PeripheralLast summer I read an extraordinary book – The Peripheral by William Gibson (@greatdismal) – that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to look 20 – and 100 – years into the future. It’s such a good book, in fact, that I’ve re-read it (something I almost never do). Twice.

At one point in the book, the primary character is explaining why she refuses to do something terrible to people who are actively trying to hurt her and her family even though her refusal put her and her loved ones in danger. In three simple sentences, she explained American exceptionalism in words even Donald Trump can understand:

“They’re assholes. We’re not. But we’re only not assholes if we won’t do shit like that.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, appears to believe that American exceptionalism means we have to one-up the assholes. If you’ve ever caught one of his rallies, he loves to tell the (apparently pants-on-fire false) story of how Gen. John Pershing “took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood,” and shot 49 Muslim rebels. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

In Mr. Trump’s worldview, ISIS’ burning captives to death or conducting mass drownings isn’t a sign of its illegitimacy, it’s the nation-state equivalent of a “your momma” diss that has to be outdone.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

The LA Times Applies a Factual Standard

NEW SLAUGHTERTalk about setting dangerous precedents.

The Los Angeles Times recently declared that it was no longer going to run “factually inaccurate” letters about climate change. Anyone who follows the, uh, “debate” on that issue knows what the paper is talking about. Climate science is up there with abortion and gun control in terms of setting off an irrational, emotional explosion among a certain faction of the public … with the notable difference that there is actual science involved in the mechanics of human-caused climate shifts.

A reporter at Mother Jones then called around to nine other big mainstream papers to see what their policies are regarding … reader opinions that have no basis in fact. He got some great weasel-word quotes. The best/worst came from the Denver Post, who said:

Continue reading “The LA Times Applies a Factual Standard”

Bangladesh to Pope and All of Us: We Are You

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

We are responsible for the deaths of garment workers in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Just as we are responsible for the deaths of garment jobs in the United States. Our never-slaked appetite for more and cheaper consumer goods hurts the livelihoods and lives of millions of other people.sweatshops-240x265

I always sound so preachy when I write something like this. I buy stuff I don’t need too — so I’m talking to myownself here, as well. I am a child (old man) of the Sixties and global ecological consciousness just won’t leave me.

What if we had fewer clothes, and better clothes? Made of good material by skilled workers who are treated and paid well, whether in the US or Bangladesh. What if companies made less profit? Top executives made fewer millions? Investors looked at human, not just financial, return? Business journalism measured and covered more than just financial factors? I know, I know, this is all so “Imagine,” so John Lennon.

Continue reading “Bangladesh to Pope and All of Us: We Are You”

A Personal View of Mark Andrew’s Bridge to a Great City

When I drive over the evocative Hennepin Avenue Bridge, I think of my friend Mark Andrew and the surprising good that government can do.

Mark was on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners when the bridge was built, and he played a big role in choosing its design. At a time when public works mostly looked like Soviet bad dreams, this bridge, opened in 1990, gracefully echoed the original 1855 suspension bridge on the site, the first ever spanning the Father of Waters. Mark showed me that government can do things that are practical, on budget, and add to the richness of life.
HennepinAveBridge
Mark is now running for mayor. I am biased — he’s been a dear friend for decades. And I am not speaking for the rest of the Rowdy Crowd here — just putting in my two cents’ worth.

Mark would be a kickass mayor.

He announced his candidacy Thursday at Washburn High, with school board member Dick Mammen among those standing with him. Andrew, Mammen and I graduated from Washburn in 1968, the most tumultuous year in my lifespan, a year that smashed together revolution, despair, blood politics, the failures and promise of democracy and the ideal of public service. So here are Mammen and Andrew, 45 years later, sleeves rolled up, working to make Minneapolis a better place for everyone to live. I’m proud of my brothers.

Decades ago, they, with others, created the Youth Coordinating Board, which brought together the city, county and school board to deal with kids’ issues. And to give kids a voice in policy-making. Revolutionary idea. This shows Mark knows how to be a catalyst to bring together groups and agencies that don’t normally work together.

In Mark’s professional work lately, he’s been working with sports teams and public agencies to create green facilities and get companies and utilities to sponsor green public works, sharing in the reputational value of being good stewards of land, water and air. Back in his county board days, Mark helped get the Minneapolis Greenway built, the recreational corridor using old below-grade railroad tracks just north of Lake Street. That Greenway has helped spur development and boost property values — a central tenet of Mark’s approach: environmentally sound projects can create jobs, build tax base, and attract residents. Going green is the right thing to do, which Mark has known since being the first president of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group way back in the 1970s, and it’s also good for the city’s economy. Mark also helped bring together a whole bunch of governments to get light rail going in the Twin Cities — which has been a boon to transportation and development in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

More important, the guy’s got a soft heart, boundless (sometimes maniacal) energy, and a million ideas on how to make things better. He knows politics — was state DFL chair — but hasn’t lost his soul to it. He’s still a human being.

When Mammen was running for school board a couple of years ago, he said, “This is our town, boys, it’s in our hands now.” It’s like, when we were kids in South Minneapolis, we were borrowing dad’s car. Now it’s ours, and we have to take care of it. Mammen and Andrew are doing that.

I’d love to see Mark Andrew be mayor. Minneapolis would be better for his caring, his creativity, and his inability to give up.

— Bruce Benidt

(Bridge photo from Wikipedia)

R. T. ‘s Wonderfully Intemperate Words

You go boy. R. T. Rybak deserves kudos for telling it like it is on gun control. We seldom hear politicians saying something that sounds like a real human, but R. T. is laying it out on the political dancing going on over whether we can curb military weapons in our streets and communities.

With President Obama in Minneapolis Monday calling for tougher background checks and limits on automatic weapons and ammunition magazines, R. T. got his two cents’ worth in, at a premium. He was quoted in The New York Times, the Star Tribune and many other news outlets. (It’s not clear from the stories, and I can’t find anything on YouTube, whether R. T. said this stuff from a podium or to reporters. Anybody know?)

RT gunFrom The Strib: Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed outrage at politicians who already were talking down the proposal’s chances. “Well, guess what?” Rybak said. “People are dying out there. I am not satisfied with the main sort of front from the people in Washington, that this is sort of a game. Where are the other people on this issue? Get a spine, get a backbone. People are losing their lives.”

From The Times: R. T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis, mocked politicians in Washington who are unwilling to support an assault ban. “Oh, it’s not going to pass,” Mr. Rybak said. “Well guess what? People are dying out here, and I’m not satisfied with the lame kind of response we’ve gotten from some of the people in Washington who look at this like some kind of game… I don’t think any of us should accept anything other than complete effort and knocking off the political wimpsmanship that I think too often takes place around these issues. Get a spine. Get a backbone because people are losing their lives.”

“Lame.” “Political wimpsmanship.” “Get a spine.” These are not measured words, not the stuff of gentlemanly debate. They’re pissed-off words. They’re intemperate. They’re real. They are the words of a leader, strong enough to move us. They are a call.

Outstanding. More.

— Bruce Benidt

(Image from Newsobserver.com)

Note From the Management

ray_gunsFor 35 days, the banner on our web site has been black in mourning for the lives lost last month in Newtown, CT.  This evening, we resumed our normal practice of posting to that space the topical, the whimsical and the pretty pictures that we occasionally find on The Internets.  Please do not mistake this action as a sign that the pain of that tragedy is lessened or that the urgency we feel to address the issues of gun violence is ebbing.  It isn’t.

I was encouraged by today’s inaugural remarks on the topic and by the recommendations announced last week.  They aren’t enough, we should do more, but they are a start.

Hug your kids, hug your grandkids, hug the kid next door; if we can do something that might save one of their lives some day, shouldn’t we?

– Austin

The Silence of the NRA, The Voices of the Children

Only once in my crisis-counseling career have I advised a client to just stay quiet. Say nothing. Don’t return media calls. It was an organization accused of something, and they knew worse was likely to be disclosed. Nothing was going to help — not getting out in front of it, not giving a short, straight explanation, not an apology. They just had to keep their heads down and take a beating.

Usually the communications advice in a crisis is to say something, even if it’s just to say “We’re looking into this and will get back to you.” (I am not one of those who advises people to mouth that empty cliche, “We take this very seriously…” — Well, duh, what are you going to say, “Nah, we don’t really care”?) The advice is usually to get your point of view in the mix as soon as possible.

The National Rifle Association has kept its head down since the shootings in Connecticut. Not a word. Not a reply to reporters’ calls, according to The New York Times. No tweets, no website comment for several days after the shootings. Don’t even return reporters’ calls? That’s a no-no in our business. But, really, what could they say?

Newtown Connecticut shootingNow there is a post on NRA.org that says the organization was allowing time for mourning and that the four million NRA moms, dads, sons and daughters were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the tragedy. Then: “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again. The NRA is planning to hold a major news conference in the Washington, DC area on Friday, December 21.”

Stay tuned. In the week since the shootings, the weather has changed for the NRA. Politicians are starting to find their spines. Some reasonable forms of gun and bullet control, once passed and then rescinded, may return as public horror and anger grow. Brian Lambert’s take on leadership in his most recent post lays out the issues well. Leaders at many levels — city, state, federal — are stirring.

But follow the money. The NRA can stay silent in public but speak with their dollars in elections. That’s their MO. A story in Tuesday’s New York Times shows how they take out legislators who are insufficiently loyal to their view of the Second Amendment.

But money cuts both ways. Pressured by the California teacher’s pension fund, Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity fund that owns several gun companies, is selling them. “The move by Cerberus is a rare instance of a Wall Street firm bending to concerns about an investment’s societal impact rather than a profit-at-all-costs ethos,” the Times reported. Some public employees don’t want their pension money supporting 30-bullet magazines. Way to go.

The NRA has been speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Maybe, this time, at last, their voice, and their money, will be overwhelmed by the voices of little children, eloquent in death.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from guardian.co.uk)

Wake Up And Smell the Coffin Arrangement

George Allen has risen from his self-excavated grave to run a close race with Tim Kaine for the U.S. senate in Virginia. Allen makes me think that, whatever happens on Tuesday nationally, this may be the high-water mark for the Republican Party. I know our conservative readers will say I’m engaging in wishful thinking, but Allen is a symbol of an America that is passing away with little grace.

Allen buried his own senate re-election race and his hopes for the presidency in 2006 when he waved at a James Webb campaign worker who was shadowing his campaign and called him “Macaca.” The outrage was over the word — did it have excretory implications, how disrespectful was it, etc. The word can mean “monkey” and is a slur against African immigrants in Europe. But what Allen said after that is what, I believe, dooms people like him and, perhaps, his party. Allen said to the young Webb worker, who is of Indian descent, “Welcome to America, welcome to the real world of Virginia.”

The Webb volunteer, S. R. Siharth, didn’t look like George Allen. Didn’t look like the white folks at the Allen event. He looked foreign. He looked “other.” “Outsider.” Not American. At least, he didn’t look like the “good” and “real” Americans Allen knows and pals around with and represents.

Sidarth was born in America. Was born in Virginia. He just didn’t look white. And, hello George, more than half of America doesn’t look white.

George Allen showed his views and values that day. They are views and values grounded in the Know-Nothing and Nativist movements in America, in the America of “No Irish Need Apply,” in the America that has denigrated Blacks and Jews and Italians and Native Americans and Japanese and Vietnamese and anyone who doesn’t look like what, apparently, a real American looks like: George Allen.

Good luck with that, George and the GOP.

Not all Republicans are channeling the 1950s. But…Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu, whom Romney has not chastised or muzzled and so must agree with, is another grumpy old white guy who’s saying President Obama needs to learn how to be an American and Colin Powell endorsed Obama because they are both African American. Other. Not like us.

Well, John and George, old white guys like you and me can no longer treat America as our own private Augusta golf club. That guy with the dark skin from whom you just ordered a drink? He’s running the club, babe. And you are history.

Allen lost to Webb in 2006. He didn’t become the next president of the United States. And, come Tuesday night, I suspect he’ll slink back into the past so many in his party rue the passing of. And whatever the Republican percentage of the vote Tuesday, it all drains down from here.

— Bruce Benidt

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

Showing Up for the Show in Denver.

It is a fact of modern public life that show biz matters. Or, put another way, that when up in front of a crowd, especially a large one, you have to deliver a compelling performance. So, to pile on, Mitt Romney schooled Barack Obama in that regard last night.

Content is, of course, a whole other beast.

But, I have to tell you I hadn’t seen either of the two guys on the stage in Denver Wednesday night. Here, at long last, was Mittens Romney the super salesman, the super CEO with all his homework done and ducks in a row for the big pitch to the next company he’s going to “harvest”. The obfuscations, mathematical sleight of hand and deflective narrative all … superbly rehearsed. The only other time we got a glimpse of that guy was in the notorious “47% video”.

By contrast, here was Mr. Cool, Mr. “I Got this One”, Mr. “I’m a Great Fourth Quarter Player” Barack Obama playing man to man defense full court, refusing to slap back and down at Romney’s most egregious assertions — “that $5 trillion in additional middle class taxes or deficit may not be in your plan, Governor, but there is no way it works without one or the other or both, unless of course you’d like to offer some details”. WTF?

I seriously doubt there’ll be any significant change in the end result of this campaign based on Romney’s performance — a “win” for him — in the first (and likely most-watched) debate. But the Obama performance is disconcerting.

As much as I admire what he’s been able to accomplish in the face of a wholly obstructionist Republican caucus (and partisan media), and the way he’s restored some honor to the country’s international standing post-the Cheney/Bush debacle (the drone thing is problematic), he is still too confident in and reliant upon a Lincolnesque attitude toward adversaries. Most liberals have been driven to distraction by his willingness to concede unearned territory to the Tea Party-inspired GOP. Likewise, in Denver, his biggest mistake — the essential fault of his performance — was the unwillingness (certainly not inability) to draw some of Romney’s blood.

Had he simply brought to the show the mantra, “The devil, Governor, is in the details. So I ask again, what exactly are you planning to do?”, he wouldn’t be taking a ripping today from the full run of the ideological spectrum.

And don’t get me started on Jim Lehrer. I may be in a very small  minority when it comes to a substantial re-think of how the established media covers politics, but even Lehrer’s set-up questions were broad to the point of pointless. Did anyone watching really not think Romney and Obama have “differences” on … every issue?

Old school, heavily self-modulated moderators like Lehrer are almost genetically incapable of asserting themselves and demanding a full answer to their question (assuming they asked something that had an actual answer, instead of eliciting a stump speech). They don’t want to be part of the show.

But … they are part of the show, and a critical part at that. By refusing to flash a bit of impertinence and impatience, their old school good manners merely allows the drama to spin off into a torrent of dubious claims, lofty-sounding pitches and salesmanship.

Mitt’s Character Moment

Michelle Obama said last week, “I have seen first-hand that being president doesn’t change who you are — it reveals who you are.”

So too does running for president and today was a revealing moment for those of us wondering about the character of Mitt Romney in his statements regarding the deaths of our ambassador and three others in Libya.  What I see is not very appealing: a man who 1) leaps before thinking 2) is willing to perpetuate an untruth for political advantage 3) will do most anything if he thinks it will get him a step closer to the presidency.

One of the pundits on TV noted that it was about this time four years ago when Lehman Brothers melted down and shortly thereafter John McCain “suspended” his campaign in order to deal with the economy.  In hindsight, this was seen as the moment when Senator McCain’s campaign went irrevocably off the rails.  I wonder if we’ll mark this moment as when Governor Romney’s campaign went the same way.

I wasn’t voting for him anyway, but this makes me more sure than ever that Governor Romney peaked when he did his groundbreaking work in making the world safe for another office supply company.

– Austin

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Well, that was different.

I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention.  Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair.  Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.

His performance makes two things abundantly clear:

1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks.  Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”

2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:

  • “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
  • “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
  • “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
  • “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
  • “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
  • “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
  • “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
  • “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
  • “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN

And on and on and on.  As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech.  Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.

Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:

Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.

Couple last  night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.

Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.

Oh well, there’s still the debates.  Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.

– Austin

 

Book Club Reminder

Hello Crowdies.  Just a reminder that our Same Rowdy Crowd Book Club is scheduled to meet a week from today to discuss Thomas Mann’s and Norm Ornstein’s book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

I’ve extended an invitation to the authors to participate but haven’t heard anything in response.  Not surprising given their schedules, but I figured it was worth an e-mail.

My plan is to post an initial take on the book, pose a couple of questions and then step back to watch the fur fly.  I’ll try to be close to the computer that day so as to facilitate as needed.

The book is an easy read so it’s not too late to get in on the fun.

– Austin

U Learn from U10?

On the anniversary of the I35W bridge collapse, I still wonder if Minnesota collectively learned the lessons that will help us prevent future infrastructure disasters.  I’m just not sure the news media was at its best on this story, as former Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman points out today on his blog.  The Star Tribune’s Tony Kennedy did uncover photos of the bent gusset in the investigation file, and that was some terrific journalism.  But that story begged for important follow-up questions that I’m not sure ever were posed.

The questions I had on November 14, 2008 when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) came out with its final report are the same questions I have today.  And four years later, I worry that a smaller group of news reporters has even less capacity to investigate such complex stories than it had then.

For old times sake on this sad anniversary, my earlier bridge collapse questions from my November 14, 2008 post follow.  They weren’t comfortable to pose then, because no one likes finger-pointing.  They are no more comfortable to pose now.  But if we want to learn from history, the questions have to be asked…

U See U10, U Fix U10?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has concluded that the I35W bridge collapse was caused by undersized gusset plates and oversized construction load, and that corrosion did not cause the collapse. I’m as far from an engineer as you can get, but all of that makes logical sense to me.

But it strikes me that the NTSB made an error of ommission. It failed to explore why no steps were taken to address a gusset plate that was known to be badly warped, more than four years before the collapse.

Some terrific investigative reporters at the Star Tribune discovered that Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) bridge inspectors had a June 12, 2003 photo of a very warped U10 gusset plate in their inspection file. U10 is the plate that NTSB says failed.

That part of the process seemed to work well, and we should be comforted by that. Inspectors spotted and documented a major problem.

But then what? Did the inspector report the problem to superiors? Did the inspectors’ superiors discuss options for strengthening the warped plate? If strengthening or replacing was technically infeasible, did MnDOT consider closing the bridge, as they have in the face of similar problems in St. Cloud and Hastings?

Assuming the plate couldn’t be fixed, why didn’t someone at least warn against parking several tons of construction equipment — reportedly the largest load the bridge had ever borne, equal to the weight of a 747 jet — directly on top of the badly warped U10 gusset?

These are legitimate questions that the NTSB seems to have bypassed.

Think of it this way. Imagine if a doctor spotted a tumor, stuck a PET scan of it in the file, labeled the tumor an unfortunate biological design flaw, and took no further action to prevent further damage from the flaw. The doctor would be 100% correct; the tumor is a design flaw, and not her fault. But the doctor would still need to explore all options for removing, killing or slowing the tumor.

And so it goes with MnDOT. The NTSB seems to have done excellent work examining the strictly technical issues behind the collapse. But for whatever reason, it stopped short of delving into the human and process issues.

I have no interest in villifying MnDOT. They do amazing work that keeps us safe, and keeps our society and economy humming along. I just want to see a great agency get better. There was a gap between inspectors seeing the flawed U10 gusset plate and MnDOT doing anything about it. To prevent future catastrophes, NTSB needs to help us understand the reasons for that gap.

Politics and Substance Both Call For Dayton to Sign Teacher Seniority Reform Bill

I support teacher’s unions, but they are wrong to oppose reforming “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher termination practices. Even great organizations sometimes are off-base, and Education Minnesota is wrong on this issue. The logic for changing this system is overwhelming, presented nicely here by an education reform organization called Students First.

The politics of the issue are as compelling as the logic. A statewide poll commissioned by Students First found that almost two-thirds (64%) of Minnesotants believe a measure of teacher performance should be the most important factor in deciding who to keep, while only 15% of voters say seniority should be the most important factor, as it currently is.

Looking at those numbers, it is clear that Education Minnesota is compelling DFL legislators to jump off a political cliff. Governor Dayton should save DFL legislators from themselves, and sign this bill. It’s the right thing to do, both substantively and politically.

As with most issues, I know that the devil is in the detail. I know that you have to do all you can to build a solid performance evaluation system to make the new system fair to teachers. I know that evaluating teachers is particularly tricky. But no performance evaluation system will ever be flawless, so waiting for a flawless system to be developed makes perfect the enemy of the good. Almost all large employers have performance evaluation systems in place, and there is no reason why school administrators can’t do the same, and continue to refine the system over time.

I’m glad Governor Dayton isn’t caving to Republicans on corporate property tax cuts, paid for by short-term accounting gimmicks. I’m glad Dayton is fighting Republicans to get a better bonding bill to repair the infrastructure, and put unemployed and underemployed Minnesotans to work. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Republicans are right on this issue.

– Loveland