AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

The hundred days…

Dear America,

Donald Trump has been president now for (almost) 100 days. Civilization has not collapsed. We’ve not all been forced to start speaking Russian. There are still 50 states. And as far as I can tell, not one left-leaning celebrity has actually carried through with their promise to leave the country.

From my vantage point, the country isn’t all that much different than it was at 11:59AM on January 20th. The Democrats in Congress are fighting a long war of attrition hoping to gain ground during the mid-terms. The Republicans in Congress are at war with themselves. No major legislation has been passed and we’re racing towards another impending government shutdown at the end of the month. Abortion is still legal. Everyone can still get married. And states still don’t have to recognize the 2nd Amendment.

The 25% of the population who think’s President Trump can do no wrong are the same 25% of the population who thought President Obama could do no right. The 25% of Americans who think President Trump can do no right are the same ones who though President Obama could do no wrong. The 50% of us in the middle are still utterly perplexed by the extremists on both flanks.

Our politics is brutal and ugly, but the market keeps ticking along flirting with Dow 21,000. Home sales are brisk. Unemployment continues to trend down through the statistical area known as “full employment.”

FDR, with the help of a willing Congress, set a ridiculous standard for the first hundred days of a new presidency. In contrast, Lincoln saw seven states leave the Union before he was even sworn in to start a hundred day countdown. All I’m saying is that the first 2400 hours of an administration may not be the single best tool by which we measure where we are and how it’s going.

My suspicion is there have been far better and far worse times to be both alive and American simultaneously… but that it’s neither as bad nor as good as some of us think it is in the moment.

Best regards,

Jeff

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

A fractured coalition…

From my vantage point I’ve always thought the conservative coalition that makes up the Republican Party in America consisted of three mostly aligned legs – the religio-social, the economic, and the defense oriented elements of the Grand Old Party. For the last fifty-odd years their interests have more or less aligned and policy differences have been manageable. What I’m looking at now in the wake of a caucus and two primaries, though, seems to show a coalition that’s fragmenting further each day. I suspect the primary results we’re seeing are the first deep clefts in a political party that’s in the process of shredding itself.

There’s no constitutional ordination that requires there be but two political parties in America, though for most of our history there has been a two party system. It’s a system that has mostly given a helpful shorthand for people deciding between differing opinions on large blocks of issues. In Great Britain there are currently 13 parties represented in the House of Commons. In other parliamentary democracies that number can be much higher. If you think politics in a two-party system are challenging, you wouldn’t believe the circus that leading a real coalition government can bring along with it.

I’m not saying the two party American system is an artifact of an earlier age, just that other options exist and are practiced. I am saying, however, that there’s a very real chance that in our lifetimes we might expect to see the Republican Party fractured into a handful elephant.fail.JPGor more of its constituent parts. It’s not as if the evangelicals, budget hawks, libertarians, tea partiers, and defense hawks even have all that much in common any more. Most of us on this side of the aisle stand in one or more of those camps, but damned few of us stand in all of them. It’s harder still when each group cries that they are the only “true” conservative voice.

For better or worse, America is changing. We can seek to manage that change in appropriate and productive ways or we can collectively decide to pretend it’s not happening at all. Conservatives led this country through the fat years of prosperity in the 1950s, the opening of relations with China, and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. We could be that party again, but it’s going to mean giving up the bullshit of having some kind of purity test. It means being a little less fanatical and a little more tolerant of new ideas and different solutions. It means we have to talk not just to ourselves, but also to the Democrats, the moderates, the unaligned, and to anyone who’s willing to listen to our best-reasoned alternatives rather than to our inflamed rhetoric.

By way of alternative we can stay the course and let the party descend into factional squabbling and ensure that a conservative doesn’t sit in the Oval Office again for twenty years. The choices are ours – and so are the consequences.

They’re not master debaters…

Tonight is the next in what promises to be a mind-numbingly endless series of Republican primary debates. Say what you may about the group of people who have ended up on that stage, but you don’t tend to rise to that level in American political life without convincing a fair number of people – and more than a few people with very deep pockets – that you’re The One.

One thing I know based on observing the last go around with this bunch, but none of them are master debaters. I didn’t see any sign of one of them being able to simply mop the floor with the others. I don’t expect any of them to land a knockout punch tonight. Hitting that hard just isn’t likely when you’re in the ring with that many other people. We’re still in the phase of the nominating process where death by a thousand cuts is most likely. I fully expect some of the old familiar faces will fall and a few new ones are yet to make an appearance before we get around to any real voting (or caucusing – Iowa, you freak).

This early in the game I’m not sure I even know what a “win” for tonight looks like. For some, it might be as simple as not wetting themselves on national television. For others it might be advancing a policy point or two. For Donald Trump it’s probably to say something outlandish enough to make sure none of the others get any coverage at all after the event.

All I know is we’re still one hell of a long way from Election Day 2016… and I’m not sure I can deal with watching these guys playing with themselves that long.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pumpkin Spice. I have no understanding at all of the obsession with making everything pumpkin spice flavored. In all my long years the only thing I’ve ever wanted to taste like pumpkin is Thanksgiving pie. Coffee, cookies, doughnuts, scented trash bags, english muffins, beer… all things that are fine in their “usual” flavors. I’ll be pleased when this fetish of the moment passes… except then there will be some new flavor to obsess over. Be on the lookout for eggplant parm yogurt, coming soon to a grocer near you.

2. “Small Government” Conservatives. My friends on the extreme right wing like to say they’re the party of small government. That’s great, except it’s not really true. You can’t really be in favor of small government but still want a government big enough to regulate what services are or aren’t available from healthcare providers. Small government means just that – it’s less intrusive, less regulatory, and less concerned with what legal activities its citizens engage in. A believer in small government is concerned with maximizing personal liberty and limiting how much influence that government has on our day to day lives. My read on most of our dearly beloved members of Congress who claim the mantle of “small government” are really just busybody prudes who think the universe needs to behave exactly as they want it to. I’m sure there’s a name for that but it sure as hell isn’t small government.

3. Apple. God love them. They rolled out a lot of slick looking new kit yesterday. Much of it immediately landed on my want list, but I didn’t see anything that fills the gap as a “must have” bit of equipment. I’m leaning towards upgrading to the 6S+ to get more phone real estate, especially after seeing them in use “in the wild” for a year. And while the new features, most notably the upgraded camera, look like something I’d get mileage from, I’m decidedly underwhelmed at the prospect of getting up at 3AM Saturday morning to drop in an order at full retail price (since AT&T insists I’m seven months away from upgrade eligibility). We’ll see.

From the Mailbag…

Thanks to everyone you sent questions last night and today. I’ll work on coming up with some answers over the next few days. Churning up a few hundred words on a topic you hadn’t even thought of until someone asks the question is harder work than you’d think, so before anyone decides to hop on the “you haven’t answered my question” train, try to remember that patience is a virtue. If anyone still has any topic burning to be set free, it’s not to lait to get in on the fun…. But without further delay, here is the answer to the first question from ye olde mailbag.

The Question: Jeff, as I remember you have always been an outspoken republican supporter. What are your thoughts on Gary Johnson, as he was a republican who has joined the Libertarian movement?

The Response: Well, to be completely up front about it, the name Gary Johnson barely caused a twitch when you brought it up. I’ve been purposely ignoring politics other than the occasional glimpse of the story of the day on CNN and Fox. I probably should be embarrassed to admit that, but the caliber of candidates, their hinky positions, and the general tone of political debate over the last decade just don’t appeal to me in the least. With that being said, at first blush there seems to be a lot to like about Governor Johnson.

I like the fact that in two terms as governor he didn’t raise taxes in New Mexico. I can really get behind is basic idea about simplifying the tax code, too. In the same vein, I’m a fan of his idea to hand back some federal entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid back to the states. I need to do some more reading on exactly how he proposes dealing with Social Security.

I’m a little less in love with a few of his civil liberties issues. He appears to be completely opposed to airport screenings, long-term detention of terrorist prisoners, and the Patriot Act. I tend to think all of those things have at least a nugget of value and take legitimate steps towards improving national security. Of course they could all use a little bit of tweaking in how they’re implemented. In the area of drug decriminalization and same sec marriage, he’s very close to belief in maximum individual freedom consistent with public safety.

The one area where the opinion of governor and I make an extreme and rapid departure is in his position on the role of the Defense Department and more generally defense related spending. He wants to cut 43% of defense spending in his first budget, which for obvious reasons is an idea I just can’t get behind. Worse yet, he calls for the deepest cuts in overseas basing, intelligence, personnel, R&D, and the nuclear program – all areas that I’d argue should be getting more funding rather than less. I’m even more discouraged by his opposition to the war in Afghanistan and stated belief that Iran doesn’t represent a national security threat to the United States.

Could I vote for Governor Johnson for president? Sure I could. He’s definitely not the worse candidate I’ve ever seen. Hell, he’s not even the worst candidate I’ve ever voted for. I’d still have an awfully hard time pulling the lever for a guy I know wants to put me out of a job, though. The more important question might be, would I vote for him. In this case, the answer is “well, maybe.” That would largely depend on who the other options are and, as always, if I believe him to be the lesser of the available evils.