The End of the American Experiment?

After the stunning results of the election on November 8, I was slowly coming to terms with Donald Trump as President of the United States and trying to figure out how best to resist the tide.  But things kept happening.  First, there was news of the Jill Stein recount and the remote possibility that Hillary Clinton could win three more states and thus the election.  Then, there are the so-called Hamilton Electors.  Finally we have the CIA confirming that Russian operatives interfered in the election to make Trump President.

I can understand the Stein recount; I can’t understand why Trump is so opposed.  I thought he was alleging massive voter fraud, especially in Pennsylvania one of the states being recounted so maybe this fraud will be uncovered.  I don’t have a lot of hope that all three states, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will flip, but even one would eat at his margin in the Electoral College.

Which brings us to the Hamilton Electors.  I heard someone talking about them and had to look up what/who they were.  According to Matthew Rozsa in Salon

With just days to go until the real election of 2016 — the Electoral College — the rogue faction known as the Hamilton Electors is making one last-ditch effort to save America from Donald Trump by denying him the 270 votes he’ll need to be officially named president.

But can the Hamilton Electors convince enough of their fellows in the Electoral College to view Gov. John Kasich of Ohio as our era’s George Washington?

Their leaders, who named their group after Federalist Paper No. 68, say it’s still possible that they’ll succeed.

These so-called Hamilton Electors are, interestingly, led by Democrats.

Remember way back before the Democratic National Convention when the chair of the party was Debbie Wasserman Schultz?  Remember that she was removed after her email showing that she was a Clinton partisan and not neutral as a party chair should have been was leaked.  In a long article in Esquire published in October, Thomas Rid wrote

According to Reuters, the FBI first contacted the DNC in the fall of 2015, obliquely warning the Democrats to examine their network. It wasn’t until May, however, that the DNC asked for help from a cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike, which had experience identifying digital espionage operations by nation-states. CrowdStrike immediately discovered two sophisticated groups of spies that were stealing documents from the Democrats by the thousands.

CrowdStrike was soon able to reconstruct the hacks and identify the hackers. One of the groups, known to the firm as Cozy Bear, had been rummaging around the DNC since the previous summer. The other, known as Fancy Bear, had broken in not long before Putin’s appearance at the St. Petersburg forum. Surprisingly, given that security researchers had long suspected that both groups were directed by the Russian government, each of the attackers seemed unaware of what the other was doing.

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

So while Trump and his advisors may be right in saying they have no reason to believe the CIA, the group that told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a lot of people have known for a long time that Russia was hacking the DNC.  Plus it is now suspected that the Republicans were also hacked but the results never leaked.

Will the revelation of the Russian interference make more electors consider becoming Hamilton electors?  Would this be a good thing?  My long-time friend, Garrett Epps, doesn’t think so.  In his recent column for the Atlantic, he writes

As far as I am concerned, a system in which electors pretend to support one candidate and then go shopping their votes after the fact is dangerous. If you doubt that, consider the frank admission by former Republican vice-presidential nominee Bob Dole that, had the 1976 election been slightly closer, his party was “shopping—not shopping, excuse me. Looking around for electors … We needed to pick up three or four after Ohio.” Turning the post-election pre-vote period into a bidding war would be the one thing most calculated to make the electoral-vote system more of a disaster than it is.

On the other hand, there’s also nothing wrong with saying that on December 19, the electors chosen in November will be responsible for choosing the next president.  Not the voters of their states, not the leaders of their parties.

They themselves. Their individual votes will determine the result.

And each of them must make his or her own choice.

The electors for New Hampshire for example who are all Democrats and all voting for Clinton, have asked for an intelligence briefing before they vote.  Would an intelligence briefing for electors change some Republican minds?  (If you are a Democrat, you really don’t want to be voting for John Kasich, do you?)  I don’t know.  Maybe.

So, as Garrett urges, think about what you would do if you were an elector.

Imagine you were an elector. Imagine you had promised to support a candidate whose platform was American greatness. And imagine before your vote—the vote that would count for history, the vote that could never be recounted or taken back—you received evidence suggesting that the candidate was unfit for the office that he seeks?

And imagine that he wouldn’t do anything to dispel suspicion or refute the evidence.

Don’t look at the popular-vote tracker. Don’t look at the “Founding Fathers.” This is a new problem, and the only place to look is your own conscience.

This is a real crisis for American Democracy:  One candidate won the popular vote by almost three million votes; the other got to the magic 270 in the Electoral College.  Should enough electors decide that in good conscience they can’t vote for Donald Trump because of foreign interference in the election in addition to a growing realization that perhaps he is unfit for the office, what happens next?

Photograph of Putin:  Getty

 

 

7 great cartoon responses to the Charlie Hebdo killings

7 great cartoon responses to the Charlie Hebdo killings

Je Suis Charlie.

Fusion

We’ve selected some of the more interesting cartoon responses to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. All images are used with permission from the artists or their representatives, unlike some sites we could mention.

An homage to the slain cartoonists by Tom Tomorrow, creator of This Modern World:

tomtomorrow-charlie670

Jack Ohman’s take for the Sacramento Bee:

Ohman-CharlieH670

Clever use of layout from Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff:

Latuff-Hebdo

Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News makes a similar point in a different way (via Cartoonist Group):

Wilkinson-CharlieH

From Patrick Chappatte of the International New York Times. Born in Pakistan to Lebanese and Swiss parents, Chappatte is based in the U.S. and Switzerland:

Chappatte-CharlieH670

From well-known Argentine cartoonist Liniers, creator of Macanudo:

liniers_charlie_640

An artfully-rendered take on the pens-drawn motif by Darrin Bell:

Bell-CHebdo

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Random thoughts on the state of the world on the first day of spring

Today, the first day of spring, is warmish outside.  I think it actually broke 50!  We had a few hours of sun, but now it is mostly cloudy.  I finally purchased John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row”.  I had been resisting but succumbed because I loved “A Time to Kill” and I ended up getting 45% off the cover price.  Don’t know if a new Grisham is a sign of spring or not, but I’m going to take it as one.

It is hard for me to concentrate on much the last few days.  There is just too much news! Between the missing Malaysian airliner, Crimea, and worrying about the Democrats retaining Congress in the fall, things are pretty depressing even for someone who tends to be an optimist.

Unfortunately, I think that time ran out a long time ago for the passengers on the airliner and now all we can do is watch as the world tries to locate the remains of the plane and the black box.  While everyone points out that they did eventually find the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, it was very difficult even though we had a much better of idea of where it went down.  I see the families on television and wonder what I would feel if I just didn’t know what happened.  At this point one almost has to treat it as a forensic mystery to be solved.

I don’t think we are on the verge of a war over Russia and the Crimea, but I do think that things will be difficult internationally for a while.  This will affect negotiations in Iran and Syria as well as people in the Ukraine and Crimea.  But the ultimate losers may be the Crimeans.  David M. Herszenhorn had an article in the New York Times yesterday which pointed out that the troubles there may just be starting.

Many A.T.M.s in this sun-dappled seaside resort city in Crimea, and across the region, have been empty in recent days, with little white “transaction denied” slips piling up around them. Banks that do have cash have been imposing severe restrictions on withdrawals.

All flights, other than those to or from Moscow, remain canceled in what could become the norm if the dispute over Crimea’s political status drags on, a chilling prospect just a month before tourist season begins in a place beloved as a vacation playground since czarist times.

He points out that Ukraine could cut off electricity and water supplies and that there is no direct overland route between Crimea and Russia.  The story ends with this

Some Crimeans said they were already feeling the financial sting from political instability.

As crowds in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol held raucous celebrations well into Monday morning after the vote, here in Yalta, Ihor B., the owner of a small travel business, went to bed with a growing sense of dread: The roughly two dozen bookings that he had received since the start of the year had all disappeared.

“I got 10 requests from Germany, and 10 assignments from Ukrainian agencies for Western tourists; a couple of requests from Dutch tourists and cruise ships,” said Mr. B, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisal by the new Russian government. “At the moment, all of them, absolutely all of them, are canceled.”

In the same issue of the Times was a long cautionary story about South Ossetia which was liberated from Georgia five years ago.  But things have moved on and South Ossetia is not doing very well.

When Russia invaded Georgia, repelling a Georgian attack on South Ossetia and taking control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it seemed most unlikely that the Kremlin was thinking about long-term consequences.

As in Crimea, the war was presented to Russians as a humanitarian effort to protect its citizens, and more broadly as a challenge to encirclement by the United States, which was aligned with Georgia. Television stations gave the intervention blanket coverage, and it was wildly popular in Russia, lifting the approval ratings of Dmitri A. Medvedev to the highest point of his presidency.

The aftermath of recognition, however, has presented Russia with a long series of headaches. This week, economists have warned repeatedly that Crimea, if it is absorbed, will prove a serious drag on Russia’s budget, but their arguments have been drowned out in the roar of public support for annexation.

Aleksei V. Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russian officials “will be shocked” with the challenges they face when trying to manage Crimea — reviving its economy, distributing money and influence among its ethnic groups, and trying to control the corruption that accompanies all big Russian projects. And, judging from precedent, the public’s euphoria will fade, he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the society forgot about Ossetia, and if it weren’t for the Olympics, the majority of the society would also forget about Abkhazia,” Mr. Malashenko said. “Of course, Crimea is not Ossetia. But anyway, the popularity of Crimeans, and the Crimean tragedy, will be forgotten in a year.”

So maybe we don’t need to do anything except some sanctions and make sure that Russia and Putin’s next move is not to march into eastern Ukraine.  Forget John McCain’s mockery and advice.

As for domestic politics, I recalled Andrew Sullivan’s March 13th blog entry on The Dish. The Boring, Relentless Advance Of Obama’s Agenda.  To read the entire piece one has to subscribe [which I would encourage you to do], but here is his conclusion.

…One side is theater – and often rather compelling theater, if you like your news blonde, buxom and propagandized. The other side is boring, relentless implementation. At any one time, you can be forgiven for thinking that the theatrics have worked. The botched roll-out of healthcare.gov, to take an obvious example, created a spectacular weapon for the GOP to hurl back at the president. But since then, in undemonstrative fashion, the Obama peeps have rather impressively fixed the site’s problems and signed up millions more to the program. As the numbers tick up, the forces of inertia – always paramount in healthcare reform – will kick in in defense of Obamacare, and not against it. Again, the pattern is great Republican political theater, followed by steady and relentless Democratic advance.

Until the theater really does create a new majority around Republican policies and a Republican candidate, Obama has the edge. Which is to say: he has had that edge now for nearly six years. Even if he loses the entire Congress this fall, he has a veto. And then, all he has to do is find a successor able to entrench his legacy and the final meep-meep is upon us. And that, perhaps, is how best to see Clinton. She may not have the stomach for eight years in the White House, and the barrage of bullshit she will have to endure. But if you see her as being to Barack Obama what George H.W. Bush was to Reagan, four years could easily be enough. At which point, the GOP may finally have to abandon theater for government, and performance art for coalition-building.

Plus, it is spring.

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

President Obama and leadership

Like many of his supporters I am frustrated at times by what appears to be indecision on the President’s part.  You have to admit that he can take a long time to make a decision while speculation dominates the media and the blogs as to what he will do.  Look at the still to be announced appointment to be Chair of the Federal Reserve.  But when I get frustrated I tell myself that he is playing a long game.  Farah Stockman had an interesting op-ed in the Boston Globe today explaining better than I could the Obama style of leadership.

I am going to quote most of it because I can’t figure out where to cut it (and because one can’t read it from the link without a Globe subscription) and it isn’t that long..

Before we start hand-wringing over the gridlock in our domestic affairs, let’s savor the good news on the international front: Last week, after years of paralysis, the UN Security Council mandated the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and endorsed a political transition plan that might finally sweep Syrian President Bashar Assad aside.

And after years of Iran’s refusal to talk seriously about its nuclear program, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that he wants to resolve the issue in 12 months. He and President Obama even spoke on the phone, the first such contact since the 1970s.

Of course, we’re still a long way from solving those two problems. But we’re on a far better path than we were three weeks ago. Back then, we were on the verge of launching a unilateral military strike that would have inflamed the situation in Syria and hurt our chances of getting a nuclear deal with Iran. So how did that no-win situation in Syria turn into something positive? And what does this bizarre chapter in US diplomacy tell us about the nature of leadership itself?

Recall that Obama announced that he had made a decision to strike. Then he asked Congress to give its blessing. Those moves allowed time for Americans to debate, with the whole world watching. Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus were forced to contemplate the possibility of a US strike. The uncertainty of what would happen next weighed on them more heavily than a knee-jerk cruise missile. In the end, the threat of US military action proved more powerful than the action itself. Our adversaries finally agreed to a diplomatic solution that they had refused in the past.

Of course, Obama got called a lot of names for the delay that made that outcome possible: “weakling,” “ditherer-in-chief,” and— nastiest of all, in some corners —  “community organizer.” I must admit that I thought he was crazy for going to Congress, which often seems more eager to tar and feather him than to approve of anything he wants.

But political theorist Dennis Thompson, co-author of the book “Why Deliberative Democracy?” says Obama’s moves mirrored a style of leadership Thompson taught at Harvard. Thompson believes that, in a true democracy, a leader ought to explain the reasoning behind the course of action he or she wants to take. But in the end, wherever possible, the group itself should debate it and have the final word.

It stands to reason that a country that believes in democracy should have faith that a decision debated openly by a group will usually produce a better outcome than a decision one man makes alone. So, why then were some Americans so infuriated that Obama took the issue to Congress?

“It is as if we expect decisions of war and peace to be made by the president rather than society as a whole,” said Archon Fung, another Harvard professor who has studied the virtues of “deliberative democracy.” “Decisions about when to use military force . . . involve killing as a state act. If any decision should be made democratically, it’s this one.”

Peter Levine, a professor at Tufts University, sees the public reaction as a sign of the times. Americans have grown less interested in the public deliberations that that make democracies work. Participation on juries and PTA meetings are at an all-time low, he said. Voters expect their elected leaders to solve their problems. Debates over the best way to go about it are seen as a sign of failure or weakness.

“Our system is supposed to be deliberative,” Levine said. “But we live in a profoundly anti-deliberative moment.”

So maybe this episode says as much about us as it does about our leader. We like John Wayne presidents, saviors who rescue us with their quick trigger fingers. We don’t like leaders who admit uncertainty, who ask us to help choose between imperfect options. But, at the end of the day, the Syria debate taught us that when Americans deliberate as a people, we can come up with a better outcome. It’s a lesson we shouldn’t forget.

President Obama is certainly not John Wayne, but he is the leader of a democracy.  We need to remember this when we get frustrated.

Dorothy in Iraq…or is it Afganistan? Or maybe Syria or Lybia?

It may work out that because he needed to save face, President Putin is going to end up saving President Obama and the Congress from a collision that neither can win – and saving us from another war as a bonus.  As I write this, it appears that Putin’s proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control will be coming before the Security Council.  Our Congress is very good at stalling so waiting for the Security Council to act should not be a problem and we may actually get a peaceful resolution.

While we wait, we can enjoy Tom Tomorrow’s updated Dorothy back from Oz.

Tom and Dorothy

Thank you, Ruben Bolling.

(Click picture to enlarge.)

American defectors: life for Edward Snowden in Russia

Now that Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia (I suspect they mostly just wanted him gone from the airport.), it is not so certain he will have an easy life.  No matter how terrible you think surveillance is in the United States, I can guarantee that it is worse there.  And he likely has nothing more to trade to get better treatment.  NPR ran this story a few days ago.

If NSA leaker Edward Snowden is allowed to leave the Moscow airport and enter Russia, as some news reports suggest, he’ll join a fairly small group of Americans who have sought refuge there.

So how did it work out for the others?

In short, not so well. Some became disillusioned and left, like Lee Harvey Oswald. Others were sent to Josef Stalin’s gulags, where they served long sentences or were executed. Some lived out their days in an alcoholic haze.

“There’s little evidence from historical records that [Snowden] has anything good to look forward to,” says Peter Savodnik, a journalist and author of the upcoming book, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union. “Essentially, nobody from the U.S. who has defected to Russia has gone on to think that’s a smart decision.”

In the 1920s and ’30s, hundreds of American leftists moved to what was then the Soviet Union, motivated by a desire to build socialism.

Alexander Gelver of Oshkosh, Wis., was taken there by his parents. But when the 24-year-old wanted to return to the U.S., he was stopped by Soviet police outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He was arrested and disappeared. Only in the 1990s did his fate become clear: He was executed in 1938, one of Stalin’s many victims.

The Associated Press documented the case of Gelver and 14 other Americans who disappeared in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and ’40s. All were either imprisoned or executed. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of other Americans, met a similar fate during the rule of Stalin, who suspected that foreigners were spies.

A famous case in the Cold War era has parallels to Snowden. William Martin and Bernon Mitchell, cryptologists at the NSA, defected in 1960. But they came to regret their decision and became alcoholics. Martin died in Mexico in 1987. Mitchell died in Russia in 2001.

One defector who did return was Oswald. He left for the Soviet Union in 1959, returned to the U.S. three years later, and became infamous as the assassin of President Kennedy in 1963.

Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker seen here in a photo taken in July, has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Thursday, he left Moscow's airport for the first time in more than a month.

Let’s hope that Snowden has better luck.  It will be tough not knowing many people and not speaking Russian.  Personally, I don’t think he made a good choice or got good advice.  I have never understood why he couldn’t go directly from Hong Kong to South American someplace.

Photograph:  Tatyana Lokshina/AP

A sort of apology

I generally don’t have a lot to say about international politics, but I am interested in education, especially education for girls.  This story was in the Guardian.

A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban has written an open letter to Malala Yousafzai – the teenager shot in the head as she rode home on a school bus – expressing regret that he didn’t warn her before the attack, but claiming that she was targeted for maligning the insurgents.

Adnan Rasheed, who was convicted for his role in a 2003 assassination attempt on the country’s then-president Pervez Musharraf, did not apologise for the attack, which left Malala gravely wounded, but said he found it shocking.

“I wished it would never happened [sic] and I had advised you before,” he wrote.

Malala was 15 when she and two classmates were targeted by a masked gunman who picked them out on a school bus as they went home from school in Pakistan‘s northwest Swat valley last October.

Last week, she celebrated her 16th birthday by delivering a defiant speech at the United Nations in New York, in which she called on world leaders to provide free schooling for all children.

In the letter, Rasheed claimed that Malala was not targeted for her efforts to promote education, but because the Taliban believed she was running a “smearing campaign” against it.

“You have said in your speech yesterday that pen is mightier than sword,” Rasheed wrote, referring to Malala’s UN speech, “so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school.”

Malala Yousafzai speaking at the United Nations

Malala Yousafzai speaking at the United Nations

I think most of us know that what the Taliban was interpreting as a “smear campaign” was her advocacy of education.  An educated person, and an educated woman in particular, is a threat to any kind of fundamentalism.  (Ask Rick Perry.)

The letter doesn’t make a lot of sense:  “they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school”.  Huh?  Do you think he considers education a sword?  Or maybe talking about education.

He admitted that the Taliban are “blowing up” schools, but justified the attacks on the grounds that the Pakistani army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps use schools as hideouts.

Hundreds of schools have been targeted in Pakistan’s north-west: activists say some had been used by the military, but many attacks were motivated by the Taliban’s opposition to girls’ education.

The Taliban commander also justified recent attacks in Pakistan on health workers vaccinating children against polio by claiming the west was trying to sterilise Muslims.

The letter is clearly intended to influence opinion in Pakistan: although in much of the world Malala has been hailed as a symbol of courage, at home she has been the subject of intense criticism and vilification. Online commentators have described her as a “drama queen” and even accused her of spying for the CIA.

Rasheed contrasted international support for Malala with the lack of coverage given to those killed in US drone attacks – a source of intense grievance in Pakistan.

I understand the anger about civilian deaths from drone attacks since I don’t think they can simply be excused as collateral damage, but I think that may be the only part I do understand.

Rasheed wants Malala to return to Pakistan and attend a female seminary so she can advocate for Islam.  I think that her advocacy for women and for education generally can do a lot to show people in the West who think of Muslims as only terrorists another side of Islam.  She IS an advocate,  Rasheed.

Photograph:   Rick Bajornas/UN Photo/PA