donald_trump_signs_orders_to_green-light_the_keystone_xl_and_dakota_access_pipelines_bannon_cropI wasn’t the only one to notice that Stephen Bannon is driving policy decisions in Trump’s administration. All the major news media has noticed that this week as well. And so they decided it’s time to find out some stuff about this Bannon guy.

I’ve read some of the articles, and I have to say, Bannon and I have some things in common.  We both are interested in making movies. We both study military history and strategy. We even seemingly have the same unorthodox theory of politics: globalism vs. nationalism. We just happen to be on opposite sides of that divide.

There are two competing narratives about Bannon. Some think he is a mastermind who brilliantly oversaw Trump’s stunning victory and now is laying the groundwork for a powerful, militaristic, authoritarian nationalism. Others view him as a washed-up hack writer who Trump has appointed to positions for which he is patently unqualified.

Bannon is clearly a slob in his personal appearance–even when he wears a suit and tie, he looks disheveled. But don’t let that fool you.  Bill Belichick is also known for dressing like a vagrant, and he is a strategic genius in his own field. Looks can be deceiving.

In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if Bannon does that on purpose: people underestimate him because he looks like a slovenly bum, thus giving him an advantage.

Bannon’s beliefs are reprehensible, and his personal conduct even more so, but I don’t doubt his skill as a strategist.  And unlike the President he advises, he does have a coherent political philosophy that guides his thinking.  Not “right” or “moral”, you understand, but coherent.

So keep an eye on him, is all I’m saying.

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:


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.

Last year, there was an online service that was in very high-demand.  It was hyped, but its rollout was very rocky. When it was released to the public, it tended to crash a lot.  It couldn’t handle the number of users it was getting.

People criticized the organization that created it for being unprepared for the number of users, and for designing the system poorly.  It was quite embarrassing, especially since the organization behind it has always been a lightning rod for controversy.

You probably think I’m talking about the Health Care website.  But I’m not. I’m talking about the video game SimCity 4. It’s not the only game that had this kind of problem, though.  Same thing happened with Diablo III in 2012.

The game companies got flak for it, too–gamers hate Electronic Arts about as much as Republicans hate President Obama, but with the additional problem that they aren’t allowed to filibuster EA’s products and demand they come back with new ones.  It’s the equivalent of if Republicans had to pass and endorse all Obama’s pet projects or else leave politics entirely.

But at what point does this sort of thing start to constitute a pattern?  When the U.S. Government and two separate large electronics companies cannot roll out a satisfactory online service, you have to wonder if anyone knows what they are doing as far as building online services.

One argument might be that in all cases, the people making the service thought so many would have to use it–because of the law in the one case, and because of the gaming industry hype machine in the others–that they felt no reason to do a good job on the service in question.

But I don’t buy that for the Health Care case, because it’s one of the major political issues of the time, and even if you are so cynical as to believe the architects don’t care about the people, many of them will find their careers riding on the success or failure of the program.  So they had good reason to make sure the product worked from the get-go.

I don’t have any real explanations for this myself.  I just think it is interesting that wealthy organizations, who ought to have enough resources to understand what they can and can’t make, keep failing at debuting web products like this.

CNN ran an article last week by Professor Gabriel J. Chin, explaining why Texas Senator Ted Cruz is eligible to be President.  For those of you who don’t know, there is some concern over whether or not he is a “natural born citizen”, because he was born in Canada. His mother was a U.S. citizen, but his father was a Cuban citizen.

So, in the opinion of this legal scholar, someone who was born in a foreign country still qualifies as a natural born citizen, even if born in another nation, as long as their mother was a citizen. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating.

And so once again, I must ask the question: why didn’t the press mention this any of those times when people were alleging President Obama was ineligible because he had been born in Kenya? That would have been a much better way of counter-acting the so-called “birther” conspiracy than anything else.  Where Obama was born never even mattered from a legal perspective.

I don’t remember any CNN articles pointing this out when they talked about the conspiracy theory.  I mean, the conspiracy stuff is ridiculous enough as it is, but when you throw in the fact that even if it were all true, it is totally unimportant, that would make them look really bad. And yet, nobody seems to have bothered to consult any legal experts when the questions were raised about Obama.


Try to ignore the awful background music, and focus on what Senator Santorum says.  Notice first of all that Santorum tries to get in all kinds of subtle digs at Romney.  He even makes an allusion to “telling stories about having a dog”.  Maybe that was just coincidence, but I suspect it was calculated to evoke this.  He suggests that Romney is not an “idea man”, he repeatedly emphasizes how unlikable Romney is, and that he says he “offered” the Romney camp advice, not that they took it.

People thought Palin had “gone rogue” towards the end of the 2008 campaign; heck, here’s Rick Santorum putting down the nominee in the middle of the Republican convention.  Santorum does everything except say “Romney is not likable, and he won’t win for that reason.”  I am pretty sure that such pessimism, even when totally warranted, is frowned upon at political conventions.  He actually compares Romney to Al Gore and John Kerry!  It’s a highly accurate comparison in many ways, but I bet the Romney campaign is none too pleased.

This was the most interesting thing I’ve seen at the convention so far; a bit of subtle, passive-aggressive psychological manipulation that would make Darth Traya proud.

My word, watching the Republican convention last night was dull and dreary.  So many of the party’s ideas contradict each other; it’s hard to listen to.  Also (and this is true of every convention I have ever seen) it was painfully obvious that everyone had been told to include certain points.  All the speakers I saw made sure to mention the untrue claim that Obama removed the work/welfare requirement, for instance.

I think businessman Phil Archuletta’s speech really summed up the party’s beliefs the best of anyone.  I didn’t watch Ann Romney’s speech (she was supposed to “humanize” her husband, which ipso facto says he’s not likeable) or Chris Christie’s (I hear he mostly talked about how great he is).

Mostly though, it just seemed like a boring waste of time.  Nobody wants to say anything controversial, they are all giving speeches based on some sort of Master List of talking points, and, finally,  their obligatory assessments of Romney’s abilities are, at best, heavily biased data points.

It’s kind of like watching pre-season football, actually.  Your just seeing people going through the motions of politics and running the most basic of talking points.  Almost no one will remember anything that was said at the convention come November–unless somebody makes a truly awful gaffe–and so it’s just a lot of empty talking.

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.


The 19th-century German Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke said that “No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy”.  Despite this, military people always make plans anyway.  They have to, I guess, to gather intel. Or at least to feel like they’re doing something, so they can be accused of idleness in the face of looming disaster.

There’s a minor controversy over an article published in something called the “Small Wars Journal”.  It’s by Col. Kevin Benson (ret.) and Jennifer Weber, and it concerns what an American civil war in 2016 would be like.  It puts forth an imaginary scenario in which “an extremist militia motivated by the goals of the ‘tea party’ movement takes over the government of Darlington, South Carolina.”  (I assume the authors picked South Carolina for the irony, since that’s where the real Civil War began.)  They go on to postulate how it would play out, and how the Federal forces should respond.

Needless to say, the article has generated a backlash from Tea-Partiers, who are both understandably upset at the idea that they would try such a thing, and by the fact that, by all appearances, the government is thinking about how to wage war against them.  The Washington Times published an editorial denouncing it as “a choppy patchwork of doctrinal jargon and liberal nightmare.”

First of all, I understand why the Tea Partiers are upset, and I think Col. Benson and Dr. Weber would have been better served by leaving politics out of it and just using generic rebels in their example. There are some real lunatics in the movement, but most of the Tea Partiers I’ve seen are just rural, usually older, people who yell slogans they heard on talk-radio.  Most of them seem harmless, apart from tending to vote for bad candidates.

Having said that, I do understand why they wrote the article, and why they filled it in with political details: because military people love war-gaming  hypothetical scenarios.  My guess is they used the Tea Party because the military tends to lean conservative, and they were trying to compensate, and clearly that didn’t work.  But then, with all the money we spend on defense, it’s not surprising to see them wargaming all kinds of “what-if” scenarios.  It’s related to the old saying “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

I do think it is a very disturbing article–mostly because of its context.  I think there have been tons of “awful civil war in the future” novels, movies, etc. but to see it presented dryly as something that might really happen is something else altogether.  Plus, it gives the people who are always getting ready for the apocalypse even more fodder for their beliefs.  (Which is ironic, since they are doing the same thing as the people who wrote this article: getting ready for all sorts of unlikely eventualities.)

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.

Romney may have gotten one good line in, but as I mentioned, his answer to NBC’s Brian Williams’ question on gun control was awful.  The only place I was able to find a full transcript was a Conservative website, but here it is:

Williams: As governor you signed an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts. And you said at the time, quote, ‘These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.’ Do you still believe that?

Romney: Well, I actually signed a piece of legislation, as you described, that banned assault weapons in our state. It was a continuation of prior legislation. And it was backed both by the Second Amendment advocates like myself, and those that wanted to restrict gun rights, because it was a compromise. Both sides got some things improved in the laws as they existed. And I happen to think that with regards to the Aurora, Colorado disaster, we’re wise to continue the time of memorial and think of comforting the people affected. And political implications, legal implications are something which will be sorted out down the road. But I don’t happen to believe America needs new gun laws. A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.

Let’s break this down bit by evasive, mealy-mouthed bit, with my comments in red.

  1. “I actually signed a piece of legislation, as you described, that banned assault weapons in our state. It was a continuation of prior legislation.”  [He is basically trying to say: “it’s not my fault, it was like that when I got there.”]
  2. “And it was backed both by the Second Amendment advocates like myself, and those that wanted to restrict gun rights, because it was a compromise. Both sides got some things improved in the laws as they existed.” [It was an assault weapons ban–that means it restricted guns, period.  Don’t try to retcon everything so that you were more radically conservative.  He’s trying to appeal to the hardcore NRA members by lying to them, and what’s worse is that it’s not even a very good lie, as it makes him look like an incompetent governor.]
  3. “And I happen to think that with regards to the Aurora, Colorado disaster, we’re wise to continue the time of memorial and think of comforting the people affected. And political implications, legal implications are something which will be sorted out down the road.” [I said something similar on the day of the atrocity; I thought we should wait until more facts were known before talking about what to do to prevent it.  But now, more facts are known.  Romney is trying to dodge the question so that he doesn’t have to alienate any voters.]
  4. “But I don’t happen to believe America needs new gun laws.” [What happened to what you said in the previous sentence?  Do you want to talk about the political angle or not?  If America doesn’t need new gun laws, then tell us: what does it need?  Surely something can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy.]
  5. ” A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.”  [What? Yes, everyone knows mass murder is illegal, and yet it still occurs.  That’s true.  But the point is, you can make it harder for the crime to be committed.  What Romney said is a trivial generality; an attempt to dodge the question again.  And it succeeded, because Williams then moved on to another topic.]