Well, it’s been about 8 days since Donald Trump officially became President.  Here are some facts that have jumped out to me about his administration:

1. Trump is influenced heavily by what he sees on TV, especially CNN and Fox News.

Starting with the crowd size kerfuffle, it’s clear that image matters a lot to President Trump.  He was upset when he saw reports on CNN comparing his smaller crowd with the one at the Inauguration of President Obama in 2009. He was so incensed that he sent his newly-minted spokesman out to argue with the Press Corps about it. This was widely seen as a huge disaster, since it was done in such haste and with such lack of preparation, and was ultimately a losing argument anyway.

That has been a pattern throughout the week: Trump reacts to what he sees on television. Perhaps the most striking example was this:

Bottom line: Trump watches the news, and responds to what he sees. This is interesting because it inadvertently makes Fox News and CNN way more powerful than they already were, since they are clearly influencing the opinions of the most powerful man in the world.

If I were an executive at either network, I’d be delighted by this. It means that their reports now carry unprecedented weight. This could be used to shape the President’s agenda in a variety of ways.

2. Stephen Bannon is the driving force behind the administration’s actions.

Not really a surprise, but good to have it confirmed.  Bannon’s hand was obvious in Trump’s inaugural address, and all subsequent actions have conformed to Bannon’s pro-nationalist, anti-globalist philosophy.

Clearly, Bannon is the main guy Trump listens to.  What is not yet clear is whether Trump’s other advisors are ok with this, or if they are disagreeing with Bannon and being overruled. I suspect, based on the leaks that have occurred so far, that at least some of them are not satisfied with this state of affairs.

There appear to be two distinct lines of command that go as follows:

trump-org-chart

Note which one of these branches is tasked with crafting substantive action, and which one was used for a pointless and unwinnable argument with the press.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.”–Polonius. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2.

In an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump once again complained about the Saturday Night Live sketches mocking him:

“It’s a failing show, it’s not funny. Alec Baldwin’s a disaster, he’s terrible on the show and, by the way, I don’t mind some humor but it’s terrible.”

People have again expressed amazement at how thin-skinned the guy is.  And he is, but there’s actually a bit more going on here besides that.

SNL isn’t exactly the only shop in the Trump-mocking business. Making fun of the President isn’t a niche or novel concept, and Trump is currently very unpopular. Lots of comics and satirists are mocking him. MAD magazine mocks the hell out of him, and I’ve yet to hear him complain about it.

If Trump were just hellbent on responding to everyone who mocks him, he’d never do anything else. No, he singles out SNL.

Why?

I have a theory: NBC, which broadcasts SNL,  is also the network that aired Trump’s show The Apprentice. I suspect Trump has some feud with the upper management at NBC, and so is fighting a proxy war against them by attacking one of their shows.

Another frequent target of Trump’s wrath is CNN, which he repeatedly attacks as “dishonest” or lately, “fake news”. But CNN isn’t the only news organization to report negative stories about him–CBS does that too, as does ABC.  And PBS does too. (Yes, I know he plans to shut that down, but that’s a standard Republican wish-list item. I don’t recall him tweeting about it.)

It makes more sense once you know that the President of CNN is one Jeff Zucker, who had been President of NBC until a few years ago.  In fact, Zucker originally signed Trump for The Apprentice. I don’t know all the details, but it seems likely that Trump had some sort of falling out with him.  I hear Trump can be temperamental, believe it or not.

My point is, Trump isn’t just randomly lashing out at any group that insults him.  Rather, he is deliberately lashing out at specific organizations tied to people whom he most likely personally dislikes.

Read Richard Branson’s account of meeting Trump–it indicates that Trump has personal animosity towards specific individuals. Most of the people Trump personally knows, whether as friends or enemies, are wealthy men like himself. So I’m guessing that when he starts attacking something, it’s usually because it’s owned or managed by some personal foe of his.

boris-grishenko-20090224055451786-000

It’s worth asking.  It was a very close election, and so a little careful cheating could have changed the outcome.

The experts seem to take it for granted that the election couldn’t possibly have been stolen.  But the experts also took it for granted that Trump couldn’t possibly beat Clinton.

I’ve always assumed that in a country as big as the USA, there is bound to be some cheating in national elections, but that it is on a small scale, and people from both sides do it, so it more or less evens out.

There is, however, reason to think 2016 was particularly ripe for cheating, due to two facts:

  1. Earlier in the year, the FBI warned that the Russian government was hacking U.S. voting systems.
  2. Donald Trump was singularly sympathetic to Russia throughout his campaign–not only in comparison to Clinton, but also in comparison to his rivals for the Republican nomination.

I am not saying that the Russians hacked the election in order to ensure their preferred candidate won.  I am just saying that if that did happen, it would look exactly like what has happened.

Trump and his staff kept saying throughout the campaign that the polls were wrong, and they had secret supporters in the Rust Belt. And sure enough, that is exactly the way it appeared to play out on election night, with Trump narrowly pulling upsets in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Maybe Trump is an instinctive political genius who could intuitively sense what the professional analysts were all missing. Or… maybe those secret Trump supporters were really deep cover. As in, perhaps they only existed as lines of binary code.

Again, I’m not saying I think this is the case.  To my mind, the election results match up perfectly with what the charisma theory would predict. That seems like the most likely explanation.

But because the Press got their predictions of how it would play out so wrong, it seems to me they should at least look into whether it might have been stolen, rather than simply assuming it wasn’t–just as they previously had assumed Clinton couldn’t lose.

Supporters of both Presidential candidates will often say the opponent is “just out for power”, or “doesn’t care about principles–they just want more power”.  The Republicans constantly say Clinton is so corrupt, and involved in so many scandals, that it shows she just wants power and will stop at nothing to get it.

Democrats say that Trump is trying to gain the powers of the Presidency to satisfy his own ego, and that his willingness to lie, scream and bully his way into office reveals him as a power-hungry maniac.

If you asked Clinton if she wants power, she would probably say no, she wants to “bring us together” and “help people”. If you asked Trump the same question, he would probably say no, he just wants to “fix things” and “make America great again”.

In politics, it works like this: “I want to help people and solve problems. They are power-hungry monsters.”

The truth is, both of them want power.  How do I know this?  Because there is no other reason to want to be President.  Actually, I imagine that being President is fairly miserable, since you can’t go anywhere or do anything on your own, and you and your family live under constant threat.  The reward for all that is the power.

“Power” is just the ability to get things done–to accomplish meaningful change.  But it has a negative connotation. Nobody gets mad when someone says “I want to make a difference in the world”, but they do if someone says “I want power”.  And yet, they are the same thing.  Power = ability to make a difference.

The real question is “what will someone do with power once they have it?”  That’s the important part.  To figure that out, you have to study the candidates’ policies, background and statements.  But all politicians try to sidestep this by using the rhetorical maneuver that condemns their opponent for the simple fact they are seeking office.

For the record: Clinton seems likely to use Presidential power in much the same way that both her husband and Barack Obama did as President.  A Clinton administration would be close to a third term of Obama.  Trump, on the other hand, seems very impulse-driven and knee-jerk.  If he had power, he would probably do whatever struck him as a good idea at any given moment.

In the words of Prince Feisal in the movie Lawrence of Arabia: “You may judge which is more reliable”.

The most effective part of Trump’s speech was a brief, apparently ad-libbed line.  The crowd had begun chanting “lock her up”, a phrase they had used all week and which many commentators felt crossed the line from heated rhetoric into a promise to jail political opponents, in the style of a third-world dictator. (Or Woodrow Wilson)

But Trump, for once, didn’t egg the crowd on, but instead pulled them back.  “Let’s defeat her in November” he said, in a tone of friendly correction.

This was a mix of showman Trump–guy who can play the crowd–and politician Trump, who can remain within the bounds of political propriety.  He used his rapport with the angry mob to calm, not to incite.

It reminded me of one time in ’08 when Obama was speaking about McCain and the crowd started booing McCain’s name.  Obama quickly said “You don’t need to boo, you just need to vote.”  It made him seem very (dare I say it?) classy and professional about the whole thing.

Granted, Trump has many more inappropriate remarks to make up for than Obama did at this point–but still, he showed he can at least momentarily maintain discipline and not give in to the blind rage of his cheering base. Whether he can do that over a long period remains to be seen.  My bet is he can’t.

[For the record, my use of this ad does not imply endorsement of the candidate it advertises.  My 2016 endorsement was already made four years ago.  I endorsed Russ Sype then, and I still say he is the best candidate now.]

I had never heard that song until I saw Sanders’s ad above.  It is a good song, and I normally am not even a big Simon and Garfunkel fan.

What I find interesting is that there are a number of lines in the song that fit the 2016 candidates, on both sides:

  • “I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”: Trump
  • “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike”: Christie
  • “We’ll marry our fortunes together”: Bill and Hillary Clinton
  • It’s not in the ad above, but the line “Michigan seems like a dream to me now” is in the full song, and could fit either Clinton or Sanders after last week.
  • Again, not in the ad above, but it also includes the line “Be careful his bow tie is really a camera”. I am not sure why, but this somehow fits Cruz, even though he doesn’t wear a bow tie.

 

I’ve always liked Bill O’Reilly–which is weird, because I don’t agree with the majority of his political views at all.  His bombastic style is definitely not “real journalism”, but I’ve always found it entertaining–a lot like John McLaughlin.  People say he’s a bully, and I can’t really disagree, but his manner reminds me of my Irish family members–they’ll yell and swear and browbeat somebody in an argument, and then afterwards shake hands and say “great to see you”.

Yeah, I guess I’m probably in a tiny minority as a liberal who likes O’Reilly and can’t stand Olbermann.  I like to be different.  I once read that Robert Frost said “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

Anyway, so O’Reilly has been caught misrepresenting his role in various events–saying he was present in “a war zone” during the Falklands conflict, when in fact he was not; saying he was knocking at George de Mohrenschildt‘s door as de Mohrenschildt committed suicide, when O’Reilly was not even in the state at the time.  Coming so soon on the heels of the Brian Williams scandal, people are calling on Fox News to suspend him, just as NBC suspended Williams. Of course, Fox has not done that.

The reason for this discrepancy is that O’Reilly is an entertainer, whereas Brian Williams is a news reporter.  People who watched Williams expected to get factual information, and when he didn’t deliver, they got mad.  People who watch O’Reilly just want to be entertained.  Some love him, some hate him, but they all just want to see what he’s going to do next.  Whether any of it resembles truth is not relevant. This was proven quite conclusively when O’Reilly totally screwed up the history of the Malmedy massacre, saying the Americans committed the atrocity against the German SS prisoners, when actually it was the Germans committing it against the Americans. That’s a pretty pathetic error to  make.

But who cares if O’Reilly doesn’t know history?  He’s an entertainer.  Hence the comparison to McLaughlin–no one knows what he’s talking about half the time, even the other panelists, but it’s fun to watch, by golly!

That’s why NBC had to punish Williams, but Fox doesn’t need to punish O’Reilly: they’re not really in the same business.  In NBC’s business, credibility matters.

Horrible.  There are no words.  I can only express my grief for the victims and my condolences to their families.

Beyond that, I can only wonder, along with the rest of the nation: is there a way to prevent these terrible shootings?

The most common idea I’ve heard is gun control laws.  You all know the claim:  “We need more sensible gun laws, we need to ban weapons like this, and that will stop the problem.  But the NRA will never allow the government to do so, no matter how many shootings there are.”

The second part seems true, although with a really big effort and favorable press, it might be possible for the Executive branch to unilaterally take some measures to deter gun sales.  But that’s not the real question. The real question is: would gun regulations have prevented this?

Maybe.  I am not sure that tougher gun laws would prevent this sort of crime, as the killer was obviously hell-bent on carrying it out.  Norway has some of the toughest gun laws in the world.  That didn’t prevent a madman from getting hold of weapons and using them to commit mass-murder.

We ban drugs in most of this country, and yet they still get smuggled in.  And most of the smugglers also have access to weapons.  If weapons were banned, the criminals could probably set up a massive black market for them.  Likewise if they are regulated so you can’t buy a 30-round magazine, or a semi-automatic rifle.  If the demand exists, the market will meet it, legally or no.

Gun regulations cut down on different sorts of crimes—spur-of-the-moment robberies, crimes of passion, things like that. A guy who thinks “hey, I’ll go rob a bank” and swings by the gun shop to purchase the weapon can be deterred by some simple regulations.   But a psychopathic mass-murderer who is bound-and-determined to do it will probably figure out a way to get the weapons illegally.

I also want to point out that in cases like these, it’s no use saying “ban ‘assault weapons’” or something like that—even a hunting shotgun or a so-called “varmint rifle”  would have been enough to commit this atrocity.  Nor can you say “we will disallow the sale of firearms to mentally-ill individuals”. He didn’t buy the weapons in this case.  Background checks are meaningless if applied to the wrong person. If you think preventing easy access to guns is what must be done, it seems to me that there can be no half-measures.

I am not convinced that even a total gun ban would work—so large and so lucrative is the market that if firearms were banned in the U.S.A, the arms dealers of the world would flock here to sell them illicitly.  That said, I have no objection to passing such laws anyway—there’s a chance I could be wrong.

But, whether banned or not, I personally think that a good way of preventing this stuff is better security at schools.  The government could mandate that all schools have armed policemen on the premises.  This would make them much better equipped to respond instantly, and if nothing else buy the teachers time to evacuate the students. Of course, it would be expensive. On the other hand, while watching the television coverage of the Newtown atrocity, I noticed a lot of police on the scene were wearing body armor and helmets, and equipped with what appeared to be variants of the standard U.S. military rifle, the M16.  They looked like light infantry.  And yet in the end they did not stop the shooter.  Maybe it would be better to spend money to place policemen as security guards in the schools than to outfit the police with all that gear when they can’t arrive in time to use it.

I sometimes get the impression security is better at high-schools than at middle and elementary schools, probably because at the former people are more worried about unstable students.  But it seems to me only right that elementary schools should have the best security, as it is those students who are least capable of protecting themselves.

Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan said one of his favorite bands is Rage Against The Machine.  The band’s guitarist, Tom Morello, wrote a response to him in Rolling Stone, saying that Ryan’s beliefs are antithetical to what the band believes, and what their lyrics say.  But, Morello notes, Ryan says “he likes Rage’s sound, but not the lyrics.”

I’ve never understood that.  I don’t know much about music, so I just listen to it as background to the lyrics.  If I like the lyrics, I’ll like the song.  If I don’t, I won’t.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care at all about the music, but it’s definitely a secondary element for me.

That said, it’s easy to like music that is ideologically opposite from oneself.  I like a lot of Marty Robbins‘s songs, even though he was a hardcore conservative.  I think Warren Zevon was a conservative as well, but he’s still one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever.

Anyway, Paul Ryan says he likes RATM’s “sound”.  I’ve only heard a few songs by them, and they seem like the sort of thing he would like.  Too much random loud noise and screaming of the lyrics for my taste; makes them hard to understand.  It’s too bad, because the lyrics themselves are pretty good.  If Ryan is just in it for the “sound”, I’d have to say he’s lucky he still has his hearing.

As Morello is winding down his article, he writes:

But Rage’s music affects people in different ways. Some tune out what the band stands for and concentrate on the moshing and throwing elbows in the pit. For others, Rage has changed their minds and their lives. Many activists around the world, including organizers of the global occupy movement, were radicalized by Rage Against the Machine and work tirelessly for a more humane and just planet. Perhaps Paul Ryan was moshing when he should have been listening.

I think Morello is making a mistake here, because I suspect that most of the band’s success comes from those same “moshers”.  Morello shouldn’t insult them, even if he is understandably upset that one of them is a candidate for national office despite not listening to the band’s message.

While we’re on the subject, why are so many irrelevant details of Paul Ryan’s life making the news?  First there was the thing about his clothes, now it’s his musical tastes.  People are also excited about his hobby, bow-hunting. (Ugh!) Although at least that’s tangentially related to his policy decisions, because one of his major achievements is lowering taxes on arrow makers.

Official Portrait of Congressman Paul Ryan

No doubt you are all reading about the big political announcement of the day. Everyone is talking about it.

I am referring, of course, to William Russell Sype’s announcement of his candidacy for President in 2016.  As long-time friends of my blog, he and his campaign manager P.M. Prescott will have my support.  I will not even expect him to appoint me Chairman of the Federal Reserve in exchange for my endorsement. (hint, hint.)

But there is actually another political announcement in the news today.  Apparently, the candidate the Republican Party Doesn’t Want But Thoroughly Deserves has gone and picked Paul “Andrew” Ryan as his running mate.

Yes, the man who said “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” is now running for Vice-President.  That statement, on the face of it, would probably have made Ayn Rand ill, since saying “public service” to an objectivist is like saying “it” to the Knights Who Say “Ni”.  But, perhaps they would be willing to make an exception for someone willing to attack the irrational values of charity from within, a la Darth Sidious.

In my opinion, this does not really change anything about the campaign, although it does excite the base.  The Democratic base, that is, because I think they dislike Ryan more than the Republicans ever really liked him.