What Hath Obama Wrought? Drone Warfare in the Trump Era.

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President Barack Obama was going to be different.

“Eight years ago, Mr. Obama suggested a messenger from a dreamy, multicultural future,” said Adam Shatz, a Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities. “America would be steered back on track, working with other countries to meet the challenges of what he often called an ‘interdependent’ world…”

“But it hasn’t worked out that way,” Shatz said. “Despite the best of intentions, Mr. Obama became one of the midwives of of this dangerous and angry new world , where his enlightened cosmopolitanism increasingly looks like an anachronism.”

One area where the dreamy optimism eroded was with the drone strikes carried out from operations centers around the world that President George Bush initiated and Obama escalated.

Pressed by public interest groups, in July 2016 the Obama Administration released its estimates of the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, all countries where the United States is not officially at war. The three-page report, titled “Total Number of Strikes Against Terrorist Targets Outside Areas of Active Hostilities”, said 473 U.S. drone strikes in those three countries during Obama’s two terms killed 64-116 civilians. The report also said 2,372-2,581 combatants were killed in U.S. airstrikes from January 20, 2009, to December 31, 2015.

The government acknowledged that its figures differed substantially from estimates by non-governmental organizations. The Long War Journal, for example, estimated 207 civilian deaths just in Pakistan and Yemen, New America estimated at least 216 civilian deaths in the two countries   and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that 380-801 civilians died during Obama’s presidency.

The U.S. defended its conclusions, however, asserting that:

  • U.S. government post-strike methodologies for determining combatant and non-combatant deaths were superior
  • The government relied on a more extensive collection and analysis of multiple sources of intelligence before, during, and after a strike, and
  • Some figures released by others have been tainted by the deliberate spread of misinformation by some actors, including terrorist organizations.

President Bush’s embrace of drone killings (he authorized about 50 non-battlefield drone strikes) stirred angry protests by liberals, but the massive escalation of drone strikes under Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Obama, including strikes on American citizens, hasn’t stirred up much public turmoil.

Until now.

Now, with President-elect Donald Trump about to take office, public debate and concern about the drone program is resurfacing in liberal circles.

“That any president has this kind of power is concerning on its own, but it’s even more alarming now that Donald Trump, who has praised repressive dictators like Vladimir Putin and shown little respect for things like international law and the Geneva Conventions, is going to be in the White House,” reported Vox on Jan. 10.

If Trump does go even more hog-wild with drones, a supine Congress, deferring to the Bush and Obama administrations, set him up for it by tolerating aggressive presidential behavior and being willing to watch passively as executive power was stretched beyond its constitutional bounds.

“…the truth is that both major parties under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have worked to remove the restraints on the presidency and drastically exaggerate its authority,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently in The Week. “If Donald Trump wants to wield nearly unlimited power, he’s seeking an office that provides it.”

Creating A New Blue Bubble

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One week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, editors from CNN, Slate, Univision, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post plan to huddle for a discussion on how to cover the Trump presidency.

The collusion has begun.

“Join Slate for a conversation with top editors in New York about how the news media can and should proceed to cover the Trump presidency,” says an e-mail making its way around the major media universe. “The panel will discuss strategies they are implementing at their outlets, and how journalists and media companies at large can play a bigger role in making sure that fact prevails over fiction in the coming months and years.”

The e-mail, reported by Mediaite, says proceeds from the Jan. 25 event at the NYU Skirball Center will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit dedicated to the global defense of press freedom. This is the same committee actress Meryl Streep urged people to support in her controversial Golden Globe remarks.

Slate is bringing the media together to advance a liberal  post-election agenda, just as the Democratic Party is using the confirmation process for Trump’s cabinet nominees as a first step in a rebuilding effort.

“That effort includes getting opposition research and outside messaging groups into high gear, fundraising off of certain confirmation hearing highlights or controversies regarding some  nominees, and coming up with a way to paint the administration they will run against in four years in an unflattering light,” said Caitlin Huey-Burns in Real Clear Politics.

The gathering is consistent with a call by New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg for reporters to present “a united front”.

A united front for press freedom is an admirable goal. A united front to attack a presidency is not.

But if you regularly follow Slate, Univision, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post, they are already consistent in their disparagement of Trump and his coterie of advisers and supporters.

The current New Yorker, for example, has a cover portraying Trump as a child taking off in the family car with the hope he’ll be apprehended before he can do too much damage.

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The magazine itself features multiple stories denigrating Trump and his allies. One accuses Trump of being “a clumsy bigfoot” with his comments on contributions to his campaign from an L.L. Bean family member. Other stories lambaste Trump’s inaugural festivities, liken Trump to Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, in an upcoming movie that “conspires to smooth any wrinkles of villainy”, and take on Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump supporter, in an odd piece about his views on Star Trek vs. Star Wars,

This all reminds me of the much-maligned JournoList, a private Google Groups forum for discussing politics and the media with membership consisting of 400 left-leaning journalists, pundits, academics and others. The forum, active during 2007-10, was accused of encouraging and facilitating coordinated messaging supporting liberal views, though many critics asserted any conspiracy theory was overblown.

JournoList did display, however, the inclination for the progressive community to bond over common political and personal biases. The new Slate-driven consortium of progressive publications is likely to head in the same direction, reinforcing their blue bubble as they battle Trump and his policies.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote shortly after the election:

“Much of the mainstream, legacy media continues its self-disgrace. Having failed to kill Donald Trump ’s candidacy they will now aim at his transition. Soon they will try to kill his presidency.”

 

 

Algorithm Politics: A Threat to Democracy

It’s not the Russians or fake news, the overhyped threats du jour, I’m most worried about. It’s algorithms.

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We’re all being sliced and diced like in an autopsy, analyzed and scrutinized so we can be messaged and manipulated. We are being told what we want to hear or what fits our biases. We accept lies because we’re being trained to do so.

As Howard Beale shrieked about television’s voice in the movie Network, “But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell…We deal in illusions, man! None of it is true!”

We’ve gotten so used to the manipulation we usually don’t recognize it.

While recently strolling about the Washington Square mall’s new Amazon bookstore, I noticed that some of its racks had embraced the a fortiori tactic of many online sellers, “If you like …, you’ll love ….”

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On one shelf, printed notes said that if I liked Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room”, I’ll love Paul Pen’s “Light of the Fireflies” (“which deals with some very deep and disturbing topics, including incest”), Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects” (featuring “…an incredibly flawed and fragile character…”) and Wally Lamb’s “I know this to be True” (an Oprah Book Club Pick in 1998).

It looks like the store is just being helpful, but it it is really steering your purchasing decision  in a particular direction based upon your characteristics and previous behavior.

It’s like LinkedIn alerting you to job openings that might appeal to you and Twitter feeding you promoted tweets based on your profile information, mobile device location, IP address or apps on your device.

It’s like Facebook delivering information to you on topics you’ve already signaled an interest in with a bias you’ve already displayed, and cutting out contrasting views, or not showing you certain ads based on your ethnicity (as it did until recently).

In Sept. 2016, ProPublica, an independent, non-profit that produces investigative journalism, wrote about Facebook having a comprehensive set of dossiers on its more than 2 billion members.

“Every time a Facebook member likes a post, tags a photo, updates their favorite movies in their profile, posts a comment about a politician, or changes their relationship status, Facebook logs it,” ProPublica said. “When they browse the Web, Facebook collects information about pages they visit that contain Facebook sharing buttons. When they use Instagram or WhatsApp on their phone, which are both owned by Facebook, they contribute more data to Facebook’s dossier.”

And in case that wasn’t enough, ProPublica said, Facebook also buys data about users’ mortgages, car ownership and shopping habits. Talk about invasive.

In a TED Talk, Eli Pariser, Moveon.org’s Board President, called this the “invisible algorithmic editing of the web.”

It’s like Breitbart and The Daily Beast satisfying their conservative and progressive audiences with red meat, allowing each group to retreat to what University of Wisconsin Journalism Prof. James Baughman has called “safe harbors”.

Algorythms are being used to personalize all your communications, constantly reaffirming and constraining your current perspectives, establishing and solidifying your opinion silos. As they get more sophisticated and widely used algorithms are creating what Pariser calls your “filter bubble”, accentuating rifts and perverting our democratic system.

When you log on to Facebook, an algorithm takes into account countless variables to predict what you want to see. Facebook also uses algorithms to categorize your political bent, taking into account your full range of interactions, including the pages you like and the political leanings of people who like the same pages you do.

If you want to know how Facebook categorizes you, just go to facebook.com/ads/preferences. Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab. You may have to click on “More” to find it. Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.

This and other information is used by opinion influencers to target you. Among those influencers are media of all stripes and politicians of all persuasions.

Politicians have long sought to appeal to different segments of voters with targeted messaging and carefully constructed personas, but until recently the process has been fairly rudimentary.

The image-making tactics described in Joe McGinnis’ groundbreaking book “The Selling of the President” about marketing Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential race, came as a shocking surprise to a naive general public back then.

But the tactics that were pathbreaking almost 50 years ago are now old hat. They’ve been superseded by once unimaginable data collection and analysis and unforeseen content delivery systems.

Algorithm advocates are adamant that what’s being done is good for you. “Humans are facing an increasing number of choices in every aspect of their lives,” Netflix’s VP of Product Innovation Carlos A. Gomez-Uribe and Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt wrote in a co-published paper last year. “We are convinced that the field of recommender systems will continue to play a pivotal role in using the wealth of data now available to make these choices manageable, effectively guiding people to the truly best few options for them to be evaluated, resulting in better decisions.”

Gomez-Uribe and Hunt argued that Netflix’ impressive system, which breaks down films into over 75,000 hyper-specific sub-genres and uses those, and your past behavior, to make recommendations, is obviously a great thing because 80% of hours streamed at Netflix end up being of recommended films.

But Issie Lapowsky, at Wired, is less sanguine about the implications of algorithms, arguing that there’s a dark side to their use. “This (2016) election has shown us how the same platforms that put a world of facts and information at our fingertips can just as easily be used to undermine basic truths,” she wrote on Nov. 7.

In Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil argued that algorithms pose as neutral tools, but too often exploit people and distort the truth, contributing to the erosion of democracy.

“The social network (i.e. Facebook) may feel like a modern town square, but thanks to its tangle of algorithms, it’s nothing like the public forums of the past,” she said. “The company determines, according to its interests and those of its shareholders, what we see and learn on its social network. The result has been a loss of focus on critical national issues, an erosion of civil disagreement, and a threat to democracy itself.”

Algorithms cause us to “contribute to our own miseducation”, reinforcing echo chambers and making us more partisan, O’Neil said.  “Thanks in part to filtering and personalization… our information has become deeply unbalanced, skewed, and has lost its mooring.”

The increasing sophistication of data gathering and analysis reflected in algorithms is also allowing politicians to shape shift for almost each individual voter. A politician used to be one person, or maybe two if you didn’t like him. It used to be that a presidential candidate delivered similar personas and key messages to  all audiences. If he didn’t, his duplicity was exposed. Today, multiple personas and positions are carefully constructed  and messages are carefully targeted so they can be delivered to tiny slices of the electorate, often with no broader public awareness.

Micro-messaging allows specific online messages to be delivered to a certain group, such as just to attendees of the 2016 National Right to Life Convention at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport  in Herndon, VA, or even to two members of a family in the same house with different views.

Often the dissection of voters allows a message to be massaged such that the recipient on social media or other channels believes she and the politician are in agreement, even if that’s not the case.  For example, an anti-union Congresswoman might tell a same-minded constituent of by her support for a right-to-work bill, while telling a union supporter about her vote for higher infrastructure spending that tends to reward unions.

Stanford Prof. Neil Malhotra’s research led him to suspect that this kind of  hypocrisy helps explain how members of Congress can get away with voting in a highly partisan or polarized way when their constituents are actually much more moderate.

“These people are good strategic communicators who can potentially take very extreme positions that are out of step with their constituents but then massage them with language,” Malhotra said in a Stanford Business article.

Of course, targeting voters is hardly a new thing; politicians have been doing it forever. But now the databases are substantially more comprehensive, sometimes scarily so, the messaging vehicles, such as social media, can be much more individualized and the political elite are fully embracing the new technology.

“Algorithms show us what we like, not what is ‘right’ ”, said Sebastian Buckup on Quartz. “As a result, they increase ideological segregation rather than creating a digital agora. Influencers no longer waste their time with facts…Rather than seeking truth, the age of data is creating its own.”

That new truth will put more power in the hands of manipulators who won’t have our best interests at heart.

Asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”, Ernest Hemingway replied, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

That’s how our democracy will collapse, too, if algorithmic tools aren’t tamed to function in our best interest.

 

Would #NeverTrump Stalwarts Now Support Sweet Cakes?

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Liberals like those who condemned the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa are now giving a shrug to NeverTrumpers who are discriminating against Trump supporters by refusing to associate with them or patronize their businesses.

The liberals’ unlikely hero in all this today is Phoebe Pearl, a member of the famous dance troupe the Rockettes.

“Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed,” Pearl said in an Instagram post today. “…please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts #notmypresident”.

Online comment sections lit up with endorsements of Pearl’s post.

“Proud that you stand up for your views/ beliefs especially to all those trumpies who are always on attack mode ready to become the vicious evil fake definitely not Christians judgmental psychos,” was posted by truthisabitch.

 Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby praised the Rockettes in an article titled, Freedom of Association Isn’t Just for the Rockettes.

“The right to discriminate — to choose with whom we will and won’t associate — is vital to human liberty,” he wrote today. “No one should be forced to play a role in a celebration they want nothing to do with, or to hire themselves out to clients they would prefer not to serve. A liberal baker who declines to create a lavish cake decorated with the words “Congratulations, President Trump” is entitled to as much deference as a black baker who declines to decorate a cake with the Confederate flag…”

Pearl’s post follows actions by other NeverTrumpers asserting their intentions to discriminate against Trump supporters.

HeatStreet, a conservative leaning news website, reported in early December that some Wash., DC homeowners were removing their Airbnb listings so they wouldn’t be put in the position of renting to “…the residents of flyover country.”

“I have a visceral reaction to the thought of having a Trump supporter in my house,” said one Airbnb host. “No amount of money could make me change my mind. It’s about moral principles.”

Television chef Anthony Bourdain said he wouldn’t patronize a restaurant at the newly opened Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. “I will never eat in his restaurant,” Bourdain said. “I have utter contempt for him, utter and complete contempt”.

Designer Sophie Theallet gained some notoriety when she flamboyantly announced on Twitter that she would not dress or associate with Donald Trump’s wife Melania when she becomes first lady. She also called on other designers to follow her lead, saying “Integrity is our only true currency.”

Is all this a liberal double standard?

In 2013, Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes bakery in Gresham, OR refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding of a lesbian couple because of the Klein’s Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.

In early 2015, then State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian made a preliminary finding that the Kleins discriminated against the lesbian couple on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In July 2015, Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages to the couple for emotional and mental suffering they experienced because the Kleins had refused to sell them a wedding cake.

Liberals enthusiastically endorsed Avakian’s decision.

“The Kleins are religious zealots, and not very bright,” wrote one supporter of the decision. “They should stick to baking cakes, and leaving their religion in the back room and/or at home and at church. When one opens their doors to a commercial enterprise, they don’t get to tell people to —- off based on purposeful discrimination.”

“A sign saying “no lesbians are allowed to purchase wedding cakes in my store,” is every bit as discriminatory as a person verbally saying “no lesbians are allowed to purchase wedding cakes in my store” and the business in question should be held accountable,” Mat dos Santos, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, wrote in an opinion column in The Oregonian.

The federal government, while asserting that you can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on a person’s political bent. So the NeverTrumpers aren’t breaking the law when they support the ability of businesses to ban politically offensive customers, but how is that position morally different from the position the Kleins took?

Do the liberal NeverTrumpers denying services to Trump supporters now want to reverse Avakian’s decision or should they be held to the same standards as the Kleins?

De-Le-Git-I-Mizing Trump: Hillary and the permanent campaign

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The media are reporting that the Hillary Clinton campaign is supporting calls by some members of the Electoral College for an intelligence briefing on President-elect Donald Trump’s ties with Russia ahead of their Dec. 19 vote.

Huh? The Clinton campaign still exists? Thirty six days after the presidential election?

Of course, because unlike with past presidential candidates, Clinton’s team see themselves as part of a permanent campaign to delegitimize the winner.

It began with the campaign’s support for the effort to discredit Trump’s win by echoing accusations that Trump wasn‘t the “real” winner because even though he won the electoral votes, Clinton won more actual votes

It continued with the campaign supporting the recount effort in three states by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. On Medium, the Clinton campaign’s counsel, Marc Elias, said that while the campaign wasn’t going to contest the results itself, it had decided to take part in the effort to “ensure that it is fair to all sides.” Oddly enough, in Wisconsin, the one state which completed its recount, Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton increased by 131 votes.

Clinton’s campaign kept up the barrage by endorsing calls by some electors for CIA briefings on Russia’s role in the election. On Dec. 12, 10 electors published a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for an intelligence briefing before their Dec. 19 vote.

John Podesta, chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, followed up with a statement saying, “The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security,” Podesta said. “Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed.”

“We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump. This should distress every American,” Podesta added, leaving out that there is no unanimity on this point among the government intelligence agencies. The FBI, for example, has suggested that the CIA’s assessment so far lacks definitive evidence.

Leftist New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has gone so far as to call the presidential election “illegitimate” and “tainted” by Russian interference and the actions of FBI Director James Comey.

“So this was a tainted election,” Krugman wrote on Dec. 12. “It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.”

“Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election?,” Krugman aid. “Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more,” Krugman wrote.

“If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?”

And if pigs could fly all would be well.

Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, D.C., have piled on, asserting in the Washington Post that Trump needs to create a blind trust for his assets in order to assure the electors that he won’t be violating the Constitution when he’s sworn in.

“Above all, Trump’s refusal to create a blind trust — and his procrastination in providing a credible plan to solve the constitutional issues his business plans pose — is not fair to the electors who must cast ballots on Dec. 19, before Trump’s “busy times” will allow him to explain his arrangements in January,” they wrote. “ “He needs to assure the electors now that his businesses will not receive payments from foreign governments. That is necessary so that both Trump and the electors can do their jobs as required under the Constitution.

It’s tempting to assume that the Clinton partisans are little more than a ship of fools bitter at the results of the presidential election, but more is at work here. The agitators are trying to delegitimize Trump from the outset, setting the stage for years of hard-edged conflict.

Buckle your seat belts, America.

The City Club of Portland: Still in its Blue Bubble

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Hundreds gathered at a City Club of Portland Friday Forum on Friday, Nov. 11 to commiserate on the results of the Nov. 8 election.

“Elections 2016: What Just Happened?” was the topic. After an hour of dialogue, it was clear that what didn’t happen in Portland was a new understanding of why vast areas of middle America and rural areas of Oregon rejected liberal dogma and the Democratic Party.

Instead, the discussion swarmed with complaints of racism, misogeny, Islamaphobia and xenophobia by Donald Trump and his supporters.

The panel moderator was Sarah Mirk, online editor of ‪@BitchMedia and host of feminist podcast, Popaganda Backtalk. Her perspective was revealed the night of the election when she tweeted, “Should have brought anti-nausea meds to watch the election results.

The panel included: Jesse Beason, Director of Color PAC; Amy Herzfeld-Copple, co-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, and; Julie Rabadi, chair of Young Republicans of Oregon.

“So many of us are still reeling today in shock and despair,” Mirk observed in her opening remarks. “No question this election has left us scared, stunned and angry,” Herzfeld-Copple added. “Many of us are grieving.”

Studies showed that Trump supporters were “much higher on the racial resentment score,” Beason said. This was “the first election I can remember where someone running on a racist and misogynist platform wins. Either voters themselves have racist proclivities, or it just didn’t matter enough that their presidential nominee did, for them not to vote for him.”

“…the ugliness and targeting of marginal communities” won’t stop until Americans “who perceive themselves as losing power get to less than a majority,” opined Herzfeld-Copple.

What the panel didn’t talk about

What the panel didn’t talk about was this map of the U.S., showing how the Republicans swept most of middle America and then some:

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or this map showing Hillary Clinton’s loss of most of rural Oregon, including Lake County, where Donald Trump captured 79 percent of the votes for president:

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or the clear evidence that economically anxious blue collar voters, particularly whites, feel they’ve been forgotten, that America’s middle class is under seige, that many Americans were deeply offended by Hillary Clinton calling many of Trump’s supporters “deplorables” and “irredeemable.”

The Friday Forum panel didn’t talk about the fact that, in contrast to much of middle America, they and their City Club audience were largely higher income, educated, upwardly mobile professionals

What wasn’t discussed was that the Forum participants were largely liberal Oregonians living in a blue bubble. As Michael Moore said, “Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber…” and don’t understand the anger of Americans at “… all who wrecked their American Dream.”

What the Friday Forum, taking place in a liberal “Sanctuary City”, didn’t talk about was how much of America is struggling to deal with massive immigration, both legal and illegal, and changes to American culture. Beason even said, “…illegal immigration is actually not a significant issue here in America.”

Finally, what they didn’t talk enough about was the need to listen to and try to understand people not like themselves. “No one wants to hear an opposing viewpoint.,” said Young Republicans Chair Julie Rabadi. “No one wants to consider it, to understand why somebody else thinks a different way.”

Not a good sign.

 

A “Throw the Bums Out” Election? Not exactly.

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Despite all the current cultural and political turmoil, a lot less has changed with the election than you might think.

Nationally, after Tuesday’s election, despite Trump’s surprising win, Congressional delegations in most states in January will look pretty much almost exactly like they do now.

Similarly, in Oregon, despite the crushing defeat of Measure 97, backed by unions and Democrats, and Republican Dennis Richardson’s success in the Secretary of State race, the make-up of the next state Legislature will hardly change.

At the national level, races were competitive on Tuesday in only 40 of the 435 seats in the House, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report. Many seats were so safe for one party or the other that there was only one candidate.

Some of that may be due to skillful gerrymandering of congressional districts, but it may also be due to the increasing tendency of people of a like mind congregating in the same geographies, the birds of a feather flock together trend.

Americans may say they prefer living in diverse communities, but the Pew Research Center says people don’t practice what they preach.

“Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities that reflect not only their politics but their demographics,” Pew said in a January 2016 report.

That’s certainly true of Oregon.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), a state-oriented national organization that seeks to elect Republicans to state legislatures, identified the Oregon State Senate and House of Representatives as targets in the 2016 elections. You’d never know it.

Senate

A total of 16 seats out of the 30 in the State Senate were up for election in 2016. Of the 16 seats, Democrats fielded unopposed candidates in five and Republicans fielded unopposed candidates in two. In other words, voters really had no choice in almost half the seats.

Meanwhile, 4 incumbents—one Republican and three Democrats—didn’t run for re-election. Only one of those seats had competition between a Democrat and a Republican in the general election.

That meant there were only 9 Senate seats where there was competition between Republican and Democratic candidates. Incumbents won seven of those races. The other 2 seats were open races. In one case, Republican Senator Doug Whitsett decided unexpectedly to leave politics. In the other case, Democrat Senator Alan Bates died.

According to Ballotpedia, incumbents almost always win re-election in state legislative elections. Since 1972, except for one year, the win rate for incumbents hasn’t gone below 90 percent.

House

 All 60 seats in the Oregon House were up for election in 2016. Democrats fielded candidates unopposed by Republicans in one district and Republicans fielded candidates unopposed by Democrats in five districts. So voters really had no Republican vs. Democrat choice in 20 percent of the seats.

That meant only 24 House races involved competition between Republican and Democratic candidates. Incumbents who ran won every single one of their races. In the seven districts where no incumbent ran, the winner was from the same party in every case. No revolution there.

———

What does all this mean? In Oregon, there will be some new faces, but the ideological split will likely remain pretty much unchanged. Maybe that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Democrats will still control both chambers of the Oregon Legislature. However, they lost their chance to pick up an extra seat in the House to secure the three-fifths majority necessary to potentially pass bills to raise taxes without Republican support.

With the defeat of Measure 97, that hobbles the Democrats’ ability to go it alone on taxation alternatives.

As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.

 

Vote, Even if You Can’t Vote for Clinton or Trump

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With so much national attention focused on the presidential battle, the implications of votes in down-ballot races are too often being ignored.

Mirah Curzer, a lawyer, feminist, feminist, photographer, slurper of noodles and drinker of scotch, is urging progressives who can’t abide voting for Clinton to still vote for progressives in the House, Senate and all the way down to city council. In a Medium essay, Curzer points out that a lot of down-ballot races are in play and progressive votes could tip the scales.

Assuming that Hillary Clinton will win, despite the unwillingness of some progressives to vote for her, Curzer says, “Progressive voter turnout would make the difference in all those contested races, and the difference between a Democratic or Republican legislature. Imagine what we could do with a Democratic House and Senate and a new Supreme Court justice appointed by a Democratic President!.. A serious shift left in down-ballot races would shape the political landscape in a subtle but profound way for years to come.”

Indeed. Imagine what progressives could do with a Democratic House and Senate, a new Supreme Court justice appointed by a Democratic President, an onslaught of progressive judges, city councils, school boards, local prosecutors, and a slew of successful progressive-initiated ballot measures.

Good grief. It would be a disaster for conservative principles for years to come.

So I would offer the same advice as Curzer, but with a twist. If you’re a conservative and can’t vote for Trump, show up to vote for responsible conservative down-ballot candidates.

 A serious affirmation of conservative values in down-ballot races would shape the political landscape in a subtle but profound way for years to come.

Hypocrisy alert: Billy Clinton and the liberals

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Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens excoriated a conservative Trump supporter today for supporting a reprobate.

“Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council brushed aside the controversy by insisting his support for Mr. Trump rested on “shared concerns” not “shared values,” Stephens wrote. “That marks a milestone: The president of an organization ostensibly devoted to the preservation of family values has endorsed a man who wants to sleep with other men’s wives.”

A milestone? Hardly.

How about a little history here for those who didn’t live through the mess.

When Bill Clinton’s tawdry exploitation of Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old White House intern, became public, one of the oddest reactions was that of some liberal women and their organizations.

“President Clinton’s sordid entanglements with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and now Monica Lewinsky have drawn barely a squeak of protest from the powerful writers, lawyers, activists, politicians, and academics who call themselves feminists,” Marjorie Williams wrote in Vanity Fair in 2007. Nor did Bill Clinton’s “… routine use of staff members, lawyers, and private investigators to tar the reputation of any woman who tries to call him to account for his actions.”

The chorus of women who had supported Anita Hill in her charges of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas was silent or contemptuous when it came to Bill Clinton’s transgressions.

Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, said of Monica Lewinsky, “If anything, it sounds like she put the moves on him.”

 “We’re trying to think of the bigger picture, think about what’s best for women,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, defending the organizations silence.

 And then there was Senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D- IL) who declared on Meet the Press, “Not so many years ago, a woman couldn’t be a White House intern.”

There was a reason some liberal women excused Bill Clinton. Clinton was on their side on most issues they cared about, like abortion, equal pay and affirmative action. It was more important that they keep an ally in the White House then that they be consistent in their public condemnation of reckless, inappropriate behavior towards women.

In January 1998, The Observer gathered 10 Manhatten women in a private room at Le Bernardin, an expensive French restaurant in New York City, to talk about the Clinton imbroglio. Their issues weren’t with Clinton’s abuse of a 21-year-old intern, which they casually dismissed, but about things like “a virile President…suddenly fulfilling this forbidden fantasy” and why Clinton had sex with a young woman, who might talk about it, rather than a mature woman who would have been discreet.

Then there was this exchange:

Nancy Friday, author of The Power of Beauty – “Don’t we all think that he could have chosen a better place? I mean, come on, I mean in the end, oral sex in the Oval Office … so many O’s-oral sex in the Oval Office is just bad timing, bad placing-

Elizabeth Benedict, author of The Joy of Writing Sex – “But what fun!”

I guess politics trumps morality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Manafort mess: I’m shocked, shocked!

casablanca-17

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!,” said Captain Renault in Casablanca, as a croupier handed him a pile of money.

I feel the same way about comments from political figures in the U.S., including Hillary Clinton, who have expressed astonishment and dismay over allegations that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, provided campaign assistance to Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was forced to flee from Ukraine to Russia in 2014 after violent several months of political crisis and violent protests.

I’m equally unsurprised by attempts to tar Manafort as a villain because he has lobbied in the U.S. for Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines

Hillary Clinton’s campaign leapt at the chance to draw blood. “Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them,” said Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook.

Good grief. Everybody’s in such high dudgeon.

But wait a minute.

We’re not all rubes, as so many politicians and media outlets assume. We know that Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments and special interests, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Take John Podesta, the Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In 1988, he and his brother, Tony, founded Podesta Associates, Inc., a Washington, D.C., government relations and public affairs lobbying firm. The firm later changed its name to the Podesta Group, Inc.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, which works to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent, the Podesta Group has been a registered agent, or lobbyist, for a number of foreign governments, including the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the National Security Council of Georgia, the Republic of Kosova, the Government of Albania and the Kingdom of Thailand.

In 2013, for example, the Podesta Group reported being paid $840,196.21 by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The previous year, the corruption watchdog Transparency International awarded the crown of “Corrupt Person of the Year” to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. “Despite its massive oil resources, … Azerbaijan is plagued by endemic corruption that prevents ordinary Azerbaijanis from sharing in their country’s natural wealth and is a significant barrier to Azerbaijan’s development,” the organization said.

That same year, public protests against human rights abuses led to brutal crackdowns, arrests, and undemocratic trials.

2013 was another awkward time for the Government of Azerbaijan when election authorities released vote results re-electing Aliyev – a full day before voting had even started. The announcement followed intimidation of activists and journalists and free speech restrictions.

Freedom House, a promoter of global human rights, lambasted the country’s government. “Azerbaijan is ruled by an authoritarian regime characterized by intolerance for dissent and disregard for civil liberties and political rights,” the organization said in 2013.

The federal  Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

Late last year, the Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The study said the leader of the pack was Omnicom-owned Ketchum PR, which made $37 million representing human-rights violators, followed by Qorvis Communications/MSL Group at $20.6 Million dollars.

In 2013, Ketchum was behind a Vladimir Putin-led PR push tied to Syria. When the New York Times ran a highly visible op-ed about Syria submitted by Russian President Putin in Sept. 2013, Ketchum arranged it (and likely wrote it).

“From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future,” Putin said. “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” The op-ed went on to say, “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force…”

According to ProPublica and Ketchum reports, Russia paid $1.3 million for Ketchum’s professional services for the period ended in May 2013.

In 2014, the New York Times reported how Angus Roxburgh, a former Ketchum consultant and journalist for the BBC and The Economist, recounted his experiences working with Ketchum. “The Russian officials…were initially convinced they could pay for better coverage, or intimidate journalists into it,” Roxburgh told the Times. “They were eventually persuaded to take reporters to dinner instead.”

According to the Times, Roxburgh told The Daily Beast that Ketchum’s aim “means helping them (Russia) disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia, under fire for human rights abuses, hired a cornucopia of U.S. PR/lobbying firms to tell its story in a favorable way and influence legislation.

In March, the Saudi Royal Embassy retained DLA Piper and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. That same month, it also hired Targeted Victory, which uses expansive data to put together digital campaigns for political clients, and Zignal Labs, which uses big data analytics, media monitoring and business intelligence to provide insights that drive public outreach efforts. In September 2015, the Saudi government expanded its efforts further by signing contracts with PR leviathan Edelman and the Podesta Group.

Just a few things to remember when attack dogs and establishment politicians, including Hillary Clinton, feign surprise and horror at amoral U.S. PR and lobbying firms doing business with foreign governments and foreign leaders with bad reputations.

Don’t be shocked.

 

Addendum

On 8/25/16, PoliticoPlaybook reported that the FBI and DOJ are looking into the Podesta Group’s work in Ukraine:

K STREET WATCH  The FBI and DOJ’s probes into the Podesta Group’s work for a non-profit tied to the former Ukrainian government are sending shockwaves downtown, where the investigation into the firm’s work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine has led to widespread nervousness. Reps from multiple firms who lobby for foreign entities think this might be a tipping point, and the feds might take a much broader look at other firms and clients. “It’s right in the purview of the DOJ – they don’t need a referral,” said one lobbyist.