July 22nd, 2017

Mongolia’s Got Talent

Of course it does.

This is indescribable, so I’m not going to attempt to describe it. I’ll just sit back and let you watch and listen:

July 22nd, 2017

Will Mueller be fired, and if so what would happen next?

The subject of this post is worthy of a tome. But I’m actually trying to go somewhere this afternoon (fancy that!) and so it will be a condensation, perhaps with a sequel to follow at some point.

Rumors are flying that President Trump is getting set to fire special counsel (similar to a special prosecutor) Mueller, and this is raising a ton of concern and controversy. Of course, although the discussion is of the possibility of Trump firing Mueller, Trump would not actually be empowered to do it himself, because the law requires it be done through the AG’s office (see this):

The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General. The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal.

There is a caveat, though: “the current special counsel regulations were promulgated by the Justice Department and have no underlying statutory basis.”

However—as President Nixon learned* during the event known as The Saturday Night Massacre (see this for more details)—such a firing would almost certainly be politically dangerous. In Nixon’s case, it took him some time to get someone in the Justice Department to refuse to resign, do Nixon’s bidding, and fire Archibald Cox. The entire episode was instrumental in ultimately sealing his fate, because the GOP turned on him.

Trump isn’t a popular figure in the GOP; he’s merely tolerated at this point. I think if he fired Mueller without clear and obvious and nearly unequivocal cause, enough of the GOP would turn on him that his position would become untenable. That prediction may be incorrect, but I’m making it. And I’m making still another prediction, which is that Trump won’t actually have Mueller fired.

No matter what party they are appointed to investigate, I have a non-partisan dislike of the entire idea of pecial prosecutors/counsels. Let Congress investigate, or the FBI if it must. But independent counsels are invitationss to fishing expeditions and the temptation of the power granted to the attorneys involved is just too great. The check on this power—the ability to fire for cause—can hardly ever be put into effect because the political hue and cry would be way too great.

We don’t want a chief executive with no checks on his power, but neither do we want an unelected special prosecutor with no checks on his power, and yet at this point it’s hard to trust Congress to check either of them.

[NOTE: *The law has been changed since Nixon’s time, but it’s not substantially different in most important respects. See this.]

July 22nd, 2017

Good news and bad news on ISIS

First, the good news: the war on ISIS has been going well lately:

ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been “dismantled,” with tens of thousands of its jihadist fighters dead…

The bad news? Thanks to our media, which continues to have its own arrogant agenda:

…[A] promising lead on its leader “went dead” after a media leak, according to a key U.S. military official.

“We have absolutely dismantled his network,” Gen. Tony Thomas, speaking of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, said at the Aspen Security Forum. “I mean everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everybody who stepped to the plate the next time [is] dead or gone. Down through a network where we have killed, in a conservative estimate, 60,000 to 70,000 of his followers, his army.”…

“Unfortunately, [a good lead on the leader’s whereabouts] was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead,” Thomas said. “The challenge we have [is] in terms of where and how our tactics and procedures are discussed openly. There’s a great need to inform the American public about what we’re up to. There’s also great need to recognize things that will absolutely undercut our ability to do our job.”

Thomas appeared to be referring to a New York Times report in June 2015 that detailed how American intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information.”

This is nothing new; these damaging leaks have been going on for a long time.

July 22nd, 2017

Reality and health care insurance reform

I saw the title of this article by James C. Capretta at the American Enterprise Institute (“The GOP’s collision with health-care reality”) and, before I read it, I expected it would cover the fact that any bona fide Republican effort to reform our health care insurance system would be inherently difficult because the public wants to have its cake, eat it too, and pay next to nothing for it—and in addition, the GOP is hopelessly divided between moderates and conservatives.

But the article wasn’t really about the basics; it was mostly about tactics. Capretta points out that the GOP promised repeal without having a plan for replacement, and that Trump the candidate and then president has been very hazy about giving any specific direction and leadership at all. These things are certainly true, but I don’t think they get to the heart of the GOP’s failure to confront reality, which I think is even more basic than that and goes under the heading of “there is no free lunch” and “the MSM will tear into any flaws in any system the GOP can devise,” as well as “the public has gotten used to the perks of Obamacare and would like those perks without the drawbacks” (maybe that last one is the same as the first one).

Which brings us to Capretta’s final suggestion for the GOP, a piece of advice that seems even more divorced from reality than the GOP’s actual behavior:

To get a better result with a renewed push, the GOP should include willing Democratic senators in the conversation. The party should understand that the goal should be a plan that costs less, reduces regulations, and injects serious market discipline into the system, even while ensuring all Americans have ready access to insurance. That may mean finding a compromise approach on giving individuals strong incentives to enroll in health insurance. The party should also work with GOP governors to find a reasonable and affordable compromise on Medicaid, one that provides for significant reform of the program, with more state control and clear federal budgetary restraints, while also providing a safety net to all Americans with incomes below the poverty line.

It would have been easier, and more fruitful, to pursue a bipartisan deal of this kind in the weeks after the election. That was when Republicans had the most power. But they still have some leverage. They should use it when the time is right to begin the process of moving health policy in a direction more to their liking. That will inevitably be less satisfying to some than writing a bill entirely on their own because of the compromises that will be necessary, but this kind of legislation would be far more likely to pass, and also survive when political control inevitably changes again.

The sole exception to the disconnect from reality expressed there is one sentence that makes sense to me: “The party should also work with GOP governors to find a reasonable and affordable compromise on Medicaid…”. Other than that, I’m not sure what world Capretta is living in, but it’s not the one I’ve been observing for well over a decade. I don’t see any possibility of compromise on the part of the Democrats, who threw down the partisan gauntlet when they passed Obamacare in the first place. On Obamacare, the only compromise they will accept is complete capitulation from the GOP.

And even if reasonable compromise were possible, I doubt the GOP’s base would stand for it.

We’ve reached a pretty pass, haven’t we?

July 21st, 2017

Sean Spicer resigns

To tell you the truth, I can’t say I blame him. What a difficult job it must be:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned Friday in a move apparently tied to the hiring of a new top communications aide, marking a major shakeup in the president’s press shop at an already tumultuous time.

Spicer’s departure was confirmed just moments after President Trump met with the man being tapped for White House communications director, Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci….

While Spicer is close to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Priebus told The Associated Press that he supports Scaramucci “100 percent.”

“We go back a long, long way and are very good friends,” Priebus said of Scaramucci. “All good here.”

There are rumors, however, to the contrary about Priebus:

…[Scaramucci’s] appointment would be unusual, given his lack of a traditional communications portfolio. But he has been seen as an avid and effective defender of the president on television…

Mr. Scaramucci was recently the subject of a retracted story by CNN that dealt with investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. He accepted an apology from the network, but Mr. Trump’s supporters were gratified by Mr. Scaramucci’s approach to getting the story removed.

It is unclear if Mr. Scaramucci’s appointment will be blocked by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff. Officials have said Mr. Priebus helped jettison an earlier plan to put Mr. Scaramucci in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Oh, so it’s that Scaramucci.

And now I’ve got an earworm. Want one too (hint: can you do the fandango?)? See 3:11 to 3:17:

July 21st, 2017

Obama and Trump: the wild MSM pendulum swing

A few days ago I was thinking how extreme the media has become, beginning during the Obama years. That’s not to say that, prior to Obama’s candidacy, the media was trustworthy or objective. But I noticed that with Obama it became ever more obvious that the media was almost worshipful of him and increasingly unafraid to reveal that fact.

And with the advent of the Trump candidacy, the MSM pendulum has swung even further in the opposite direction. It’s not that Donald Trump is above criticism—au contraire, and I’ve done my bit here to add to that. But let the criticism be warranted, proportionate to the offense, and let it be based on fact.

That’s not the media’s approach, although it would have you believe it is.

But yesterday Victor Davis Hanson put it better than I could have, so I’ll leave it to him:

Between 2008 and 2016, the media were unapologetic about their adoration of President Barack Obama. Now, they are energized by their thorough loathing of President Donald Trump. In tragic fashion, the hubris of deifying Obama has now come full circle to the nemesis of demonizing Trump. The common denominator of the two extremes is the abandonment of disinterested reporting…

If the media became unhinged in the adulatory Obama years through hubris, it might have earned back its respect and professionalism by covering Trump in even-handed fashion. But Nemesis does not work that way: those it destroys, it first makes mad.

Please read the whole thing.

I would add a few observations, though. The first is that the press didn’t have much credibility even before Obama’s election, although I agree it destroyed the last shards of lingering respect by its behavior during his administration. However, plenty of people still trust the press in the sense that they believe most or at least much of what it prints. There are other people who are subtly influenced by its propaganda whether they admire it or not. Propaganda can work that way, just as advertisements can work that way, and it can sometimes operate without the person even realizing what’s happening.

My second observation is that part of the press’s extreme antipathy to Trump comes from their sense of utter shock at his election. Not only did they consider him a travesty, and an evil one at that, but the vast majority of them were completely convinced that his election was quite literally impossible.

For example, we have Rachel Maddow speaking to her viewers on the night of the election, when the reality of the Trump presidency had set in and yet not set in:

I maintain that they have never accepted that “this is real.” It’s something they believe is a bad dream that they can wish away, talk away, and above all write away. The pen is mightier than the sword—after all, they slayed the dragon once before (Nixon), and he was a legitimate president with a bona fide political history. I believe they reason that Trump—with all his manifold and obvious flaws—should be a much easier target.

July 21st, 2017

Heroes, military and otherwise: the case of John McCain

Commenter “Frog” has a question about what makes a hero:

What makes a military hero? What defines heroism? Was McCain in ‘Nam a Sgt. York equivalent? York risked life and limb many times in accomplishing victories in combat and saving lives of his fellow soldiers. Was York an equal to those that suffered in the trenches, getting gassed or getting trench foot or both, never being able to ‘take it to the enemy’?

Those are interesting questions, because there are indeed many kinds of heroism as well as many kinds of courage for those who serve in the military. I would say that strictly military heroism involves heroism (bravery and acceptance of risk) in the accomplishment of military exploits—that is, fighting the enemy. It is usually defined actively—not just by slogging it out in a trench but by engaging the enemy more directly—although even those in the trenches could be called “heroic” in terms of endurance.

Then there’s heroism in terms of saving fellow military members (or civilians). That’s a sort of heroism that is sometimes performed by those in combat but can also be shown by medical personnel or chaplains, who have received medals for such exploits.

Then, of course, there’s the sort of heroism—or courage, or character, or all of the above—shown by McCain and others as a military member while a prisoner of war. This can involve not just endurance of a truly exceptional nature, but defiance and self-sacrifice.

I maintain that John McCain showed all three types of heroism during his military service, although to differing degrees. The part of his story that is most well-known is the prisoner-of-war part, but it’s not the only part. McCain didn’t have all that much of a chance to be a hero in the strictly conventional sense of a military (combat) hero because he saw so little service outside of his prisoner of war status. But he made the most of the short time available to him.

McCain volunteered for combat duty. He was sent to Vietnam to serve as a pilot on the carrier Forrestal in May of 1967. The ship got to Vietnam on around July 25, 1967. McCain flew five successful missions. On July 29, 1967, the following disaster occurred:

McCain was almost killed on board Forrestal on July 29, 1967. While the air wing was preparing to launch attacks, a Zuni rocket from an F-4 Phantom accidentally fired across the carrier’s deck. The rocket struck either McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk or one near it. The impact ruptured the Skyhawk’s fuel tank, which ignited the fuel and knocked two bombs loose. McCain later said, “I thought my aircraft exploded. Flames were everywhere.” McCain escaped from his jet by climbing out of the cockpit, working himself to the nose of the jet, and jumping off its refueling probe onto the burning deck. His flight suit caught on fire as he rolled through the flames, but he was able to put it out. He went to help another pilot trying to escape the fire when the first bomb exploded; McCain was thrown backwards ten feet (three meters) and suffered minor wounds when struck in the legs and chest by fragments. McCain helped crewmen throw unexploded bombs overboard off the hangar deck elevator, then went to Forrestal’s ready room and with other pilots watched the ensuing fire and the fire-fighting efforts on the room’s closed-circuit television. The fire killed 134 sailors, injured scores of others, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and took 24 hours to control.

That may not be Sergeant York territory, but it sounds pretty heroic to me, especially in the second sense (attempting to save other people).

Not to mention the next assignment for which McCain also volunteered:

As Forrestal headed to port for repairs, McCain volunteered to join the undermanned VA-163 “Saints” squadron on board the USS Oriskany. This carrier had earlier endured its own deck fire disaster and its squadrons had suffered some of the heaviest losses during Rolling Thunder. The Saints had a reputation for aggressive, daring attacks, but paid the price: in 1967, one-third of their pilots were killed or captured, and all of their original fifteen A-4s had been destroyed.

I would argue that it takes a certain amount of bravery to volunteer for that kind of mission. It may not be heroism, but it’s not too far behind.

In his short stint of service with that group, McCain’s record wasn’t heroic enough to draw exceptional attention, but it certainly was heroic enough for me. Remember when you read this that he didn’t join Oriskany until September 30 of 1967, so the time frame of all this activity is very compressed:

He volunteered to fly the squadron’s most dangerous missions right away, rather than work his way up to them. During October 1967, the pilots operated in constant twelve-hour on, twelve-hour off shifts. McCain would be awarded a Navy Commendation Medal for leading his air section through heavy enemy fire during an October 18 raid on the Lac Trai shipyard in Haiphong. On October 25, McCain successfully attacked the Phúc Yên Air Base north of Hanoi through a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile fire; credited with destroying one aircraft on the ground and damaging two, the raid would garner him the Bronze Star. Air defenses around Hanoi were at this point the strongest they would be during the entire war.

McCain was shot down less than one month after arriving for his Oriskany tour. Here are the circumstances:

On October 26, 1967, McCain was flying his twenty-third mission, part of a twenty-plane strike force against the Yen Phu thermal power plant in central Hanoi that previously had almost always been off-limits to U.S. raids due to the possibility of collateral damage. Arriving just before noon, McCain dove from 9,000 to 4,000 feet on his approach;[105] as he neared the target, warning systems in McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk alerted him that he was being tracked by enemy fire-control radar. Like other U.S. pilots in similar situations, he did not break off the bombing run, and he held his dive until he released his bombs at about 3,500 feet (1,000 m). As he started to pull up, the Skyhawk’s wing was blown off by a Soviet-made SA-2 anti-aircraft missile fired by the North Vietnamese Air Defense Command’s 61st Battalion…

I have no problem assigning the word “hero” and/or “heroic” to John McCain.

Someone might have pointed out some of these facts to armchair critic Donald J. Trump, the man who joked that he fought his own personal Vietnam by fending off the perils of venereal disease while boffing a variety of models.

[NOTE: I figure I don’t need to describe McCain’s heroism as a prisoner of war. The story is quite well-known, but you can find a short summary here.]

July 20th, 2017

Mueller stretches

With the caveat “if this report is true” (something we have to state more and more frequently these days about MSM news), Special Counsel Mueller appears to be doing exactly what was predicted would happen when he was appointed: going on a fishing expedition against Trump:

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.

“Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.

William Jacobsen at Legal Insurrection has a lengthy post today about this. And in late June, Andrew C. McCarthy wrote extensively on the subject of the way-too-broad scope of the Mueller investigation, which I discussed here.

That’s why, when I first looked at the headline of today’s Bloomberg article (“Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions”), I immediately thought “There it is.”

July 20th, 2017

Jeff Sessions and civil forfeiture

The topic is way outside of my field of expertise, but this position of Jeff Sessions sounds like a bad, bad idea:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions should reconsider his plan to expand the use of civil asset forfeiture in the service of the so-called war on drugs. If he fails to do so, Congress should reconsider it for him — indeed, Congress ought to act on asset-forfeiture reform irrespective of the attorney general’s views on the matter.

Asset forfeiture is a constitutionally questionable practice whereby property — often cash — is taken from citizens by police agencies who suspect, or at least say they suspect, that the property may have been come by illegally, often through the drug trade. Cash seized through asset forfeiture can be used by police departments, as can cash generated through the sales of seized property such as vehicles. The fact that police personnel can materially benefit from forfeiture proceedings creates a conflict of interest that would render forfeiture problematic even if it were used with discretion in accordance with the highest degree of procedural protections for the rights of the accused.

It isn’t…

The specific issue here mainly touches on Sessions’s plan to revoke certain Obama-era restrictions on asset forfeiture. In response to the general unjustness of asset forfeiture and specific cases of abuse associated with it, many states have limited the use of the process, and 13 of them require an actual criminal conviction before seizing assets. But the federal government offered police agencies operating under more restrictive state rules an out in the form of cooperative seizures — “equitable sharing,” they call it — under which federal authorities accepted seized assets in a cooperative capacity and then shared them with local agencies. Which is to say, the federal government set up a program of official money-laundering in order to make an end run around state laws. Cute, that. The Obama-era reforms cut back on that, and Sessions means to return to the status quo ante as part of an aggressive new campaign to expand the use of forfeiture against drug traffickers.

Which is to say, conservatives should object to this on due-process grounds and on Tenth Amendment grounds — if the states wish to restrict the use of asset forfeiture, then Washington has no business interfering.

Sessions appears to be letting his determination to fight drug traffic cloud his vision considerably. He needs to drop this particular crusade.

This is not something new for Sessions, either. He was singing the same song in December of 2016, against much the same negative reaction from all sides.

July 20th, 2017

John McCain diagnosed with brain tumor

John McCain is a controversial figure within the Republican Party. Although he was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008 (or maybe because of it), he’s disliked and even hated by many conservatives because he’s the quintessential RINO, the “reach across the aisle” guy who often undercuts conservative positions.

And yet he’s got a history that makes most people admire him (except, perhaps, Donald Trump, but let’s not go there) when he was a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 long years in what was sarcastically called “The Plantation.” You can find some of the story here, and it shows an impressive strength of character and body:

They took me out of my room to “Slopehead,” who said, “You have violated all the camp regulations. You’re a black criminal. You must confess your crimes.” I said that I wouldn’t do that, and he asked, “Why are you so disrespectful of guards?” I answered, “Because the guards treat me like an animal.”

When I said that, the guards, who were all in the room—about 10 of them—really laid into me. They bounced me from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes. Then I was taken to a small room. For punishment they would almost always take you to another room where you didn’t have a mosquito net or a bed or any clothes. For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards. My left arm was broken again and my ribs were cracked.

They wanted a statement saying that I was sorry for the crimes that I had committed against North Vietnamese people and that I was grateful for the treatment that I had received from them. This was the paradox—so many guys were so mistreated to get them to say they were grateful. But this is the Communist way.

I held out for four days. Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5½ years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope.

I said, O.K., I’ll write for them.

They took me up into one of the interrogation rooms, and for the next 12 hours we wrote and rewrote. The North Vietnamese interrogator, who was pretty stupid, wrote the final confession, and I signed it. It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities. It was unacceptable to them. But I felt just terrible about it. I kept saying to myself, “Oh, God, I really didn’t have any choice.” I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.

Then the “gooks” made a very serious mistake, because they let me go back and rest for a couple of weeks. They usually didn’t do that with guys when they had them really busted. I think it concerned them that my arm was broken, and they had messed up my leg. I had been reduced to an animal during this period of beating and torture. My arm was so painful I couldn’t get up off the floor. With the dysentery, it was a very unpleasant time.

Thank God they let me rest for a couple of weeks. Then they called me up again and wanted something else. I don’t remember what it was now—it was some kind of statement. This time I was able to resist. I was able to carry on. They couldn’t “bust” me again.

McCain was left with permanent injuries from his time as a prisoner.

Now he’s been diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer called glioblastoma. The prognosis is not good although the tumor was apparently removed during a surgery; the average survival time of glioblastoma patients after diagnosis is 14 months with treatment, although 10% live 5 years or longer. I’d bet on McCain surviving longer than average for two reasons.

The first is that he’s tough, and the second is that it appears his tumor may have been diagnosed earlier than usual and before he had any symptoms except a blood clot and some problems mild enough that most people would not even have gone to a doctor about them. He was visiting the physician as part of routine periodic screenings he has for possible recurrence of the melanomas that have plagued him for about nearly two decades.

I have some political quarrels with John McCain, but I very much hope he recovers and lives much longer than average, symptom-free.

[NOTE: The photo at the top of this post is of McCain in a Hanoi hospital shortly after he was taken prisoner in October of 1967.]

July 19th, 2017

SCOTUS mainly upholds the travel ban for now

See this at Legal Insurrection for some of the details. The gist of it is that “The majority stayed only part (as to refugees), but not the absurd expansive definition of close family used by the District Court.”

July 19th, 2017

Deja vu all over again: coverage of Trump

I read roundups of the news every day, and I continually get that deja vu feeling.

Sometimes I even wonder if I’m looking at a cached version of the news. But no; there are a few themes that are rammed home day and day after day.

The first is the “Trump administration is in chaos” theme. A subset of this is the theme “Trump is going crazy and is dreadfully unhappy” or “Some member of the administration or relative of Trump is going crazy and is dreadfully unhappy.”

Then there’s the “Republicans will lose in 2018” theme.

After that we have the “Democrats lost in 2016 because they failed to successfully spin things to better appeal to those racist, bigoted, stupid white people in the rust belt, and next time we should do a better job of pretending to serve those idiots” articles.

Next we have the perennial favorite “The world hates us even more than before because of Trump.”

Lastly we have “Trump and Russia, Russia, Russia.”

I’m sure I missed a few. But those are the basics.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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