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.

Do you care more about the process or about getting results?

I suspect most people would say “results”. Maybe not everyone, but my feeling is that most people care about the bottom line. I could be wrong, though.

In theory, these two things should be complementary.  If you have a good process, it will generate good results. Most processes get created for the purpose of getting better results.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

Except sometimes–especially in large, bureaucratic organizations–process takes precedence over results.  This is especially true in government, because the organization doesn’t have to worry about making money. In that setting, people will start to focus on implementing new processes mindlessly–just because it gives them something to do.

If you focus only on results, on the other hand, you can sometimes get extreme cases where people are willing to do anything to get results.  This can include doing illegal things. (This is why you see cheating in highly competitive fields–anything to get an edge.)  In fact, from a certain perspective, morality is a sort of process that people follow by social or religious custom, and that some people (criminals/politicians) ignore in order to achieve results.

Bottom line: in a good organization, processes exist and are followed, but only with the goal of ensuring good results. Good organizations do not implement new processes for their own sake; but only with the intention of getting better results.

JANE: We’re gonna be outnumbered…

DAN: To hell with numbers. We had the Johnnies outnumbered well and truly. You know, it took us four years to do what we should’ve done in a few months–because they had Will and Purpose. If you’ve got those two things… numbers ain’t shit.

–dialogue from Jane Got A Gun.

ATRIS: You offer your aid? After turning your back on me… on the Council? The Jedi is not something you embrace out of fear.  The commitment is stronger than that–something you never seemed to understand.

EXILE: But I always understood war. And that’s who you need.

–dialogue from Knights of the Old Republic II

You know which political slogan annoyed me most, of all the ones used in the 2016 campaign? More even than the stupid “lock her up” chant or the abbreviation of Trump’s stolen campaign catchphrase to the caveman-sounding “MAGA”?
This one:
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Seemingly, you can still get these from Clinton’s campaign site.

There are so many things wrong with this slogan. For one, it repeats the opponent’s name.  That’s a huge marketing mistake.  It would be like if Microsoft made a line of devices and marketed them with the line “they will be the apple of your eye”.

That’s not even the biggest problem.  The biggest problem is that it illustrates a fundamental flaw with modern liberalism: liberals don’t know when hate is an appropriate response.

This wasn’t always the way.  The old liberals of the early 1900s had quite a bit of hatred in their hearts for those who oppressed the working people.  I think the big reason that the throwback-style socialist Bernie Sanders inspired such a following was that he seemed genuinely furious about what he perceived as injustice in the world.

Love is a wonderful emotion, but it is not a great motivating emotion to win political struggles.  Hate is.

Moreover, talking about “love” and “hate”in the abstract is pointless.  Love of what?  Hatred of what?  These are the key questions you need to answer.  If somebody says they are motivated by love, that sounds good. But if they go on to say they are motivated by love of the pure-blooded Aryan Fatherland, that sounds not so good.

It’s healthy to hate evil.  But in 2016, liberals–who battled such evils as sexism, racism, child abuse, misogyny,  and countless others–forgot that they were fighting against something.  They thought it was enough to proclaim their love for everyone, and that by so doing, they would defeat opponents who were driven by hatred of liberalism.

We all know which side won.

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2016 U.S. Presidential Election results by county. Image via Wikipedia. Made by user Ali Zifan.

The big lesson from the 2016 election is that hate is a more effective tool for rallying your base than love is.

Now, this isn’t the whole story. After all, Clinton actually won the popular vote. But, as I discussed, the liberals have another problem in that they are all packed in cities and a few states on the coasts.  In a lot of states, they are completely surrounded, as the map above shows.

In military terms, the Republicans can effectively lay siege to Democratic stronghold cities.  Look at my hometown of Columbus, Ohio–it’s that blue dot in the middle of the state. We liberals are concentrated in small areas that are physically cut off from one another, surrounded by lots of very angry people who hate liberals and who have tons of weapons.  This is an extremely bad situation.

Since the election, there have been lots of anti-Trump protests and demonstrations. But ironically, almost all of them have taken place in cities and states that are liberal strongholds.  That’s not effective protesting.  There’s no point in blocking traffic in a heavily Democratic city to protest a Republican President.

Contrast that with the Republicans during the campaign: they would pour in to the heavily Democratic cities from the surrounding countryside to see their hero speak at his vitriolic rallies.

These, then, are the lessons that liberals must learn from the 2016 defeat:

  1. A little righteous hatred now and then can be a good thing.
  2. Take the fight to the opponent

 

If you follow politics, you probably hear a lot of people saying that the central debate in American politics is about the size of government.

Those people are wrong.

Most of them are not lying, however; they are just repeating something they heard from someone else.  And they even have some evidence for the claim.  After all, the Democrats tend to favor expanding Federal social programs, whereas Republicans favor cutting these programs.

But the tip-off that this really is not the central debate is that sometimes these positions get reversed.  For example, the Republicans generally support increasing military spending, whereas Democrats favor cutting it.  As fielding an army is one of the oldest and most basic functions of government, this clearly shows that the divide is a bit more complex than just some random debate over what percentage of GDP the Federal government outlays should comprise.

“Size of Government” is a vague concept anyway.  What does it mean?  Government outlays as a percentage of GDP?  Number of people employed by the government?  Even then, it’s not like “government” is some monolithic entity–is it spending most of its money on education or on the military, for example?

Then there are those who say the debate is over the “role of government”.  This is so vague that you can’t really call it a lie, but you also cannot call it terribly useful.  The role of government is to govern–the questions are, what kind of society shall it govern, and how shall it govern it?

I know I’ve talked about this before, but it never ceases to fascinate me how the Republicans can miraculously understand and believe in Keynesian economic theory when military spending is at stake, and then forget all about it later.

By the same token, I do think it was a mistake on the administration’s part to make those cuts during a period of sluggish economic growth.  If you buy into Keynesian macro-economics, you have to admit, even if you oppose the military-industrial complex, that it is a useful economic tool.   Maybe not the best way to build an economy in the long-run, as Richard Nixon kind of alluded to in the famous “Kitchen Debate“, but even so, it certainly does work the same way as any other fiscal stimulus program.

This kind of doublethink is quite irritating, but at the same time it’s important to see what underlies it: the huge divide between Republicans and Democrats.  It is not just a matter of disagreement on economic theory, but on what the nation ought to be like and what it ought to produce.  It’s much deeper than just economics.

I feel truly sorry for the people who get their political and macroeconomic ideas from Rush Limbaugh.  The man is a skilled entertainer, but he twists and distorts terms to try to justify his ideology.  Actually, this isn’t even about ideology; it’s just about trying to make his slogans sound good.  When you go around telling everyone “OMG! Government is so bad, amirite?” people start to internalize that as a pillar of their ideology, and then the government goes and does something you think is cool. What’s a poor millionaire talk-show host to do?

The answer: redefine everything to fit his ideology. What I’m talking about is this: a guy called in to Limbaugh’s show yesterday and pointed out that the Mars Rover–which Limbaugh had been singing the praises of–was a NASA project, and NASA is a government program full of government employees run by taxpayer money, and Limbaugh is ordinarily against that sort of thing.

Well, Limbaugh came up with a twofold rejoinder:

  1. Some government stuff is okay.
  2. This rover wasn’t really a government project, anyway.

This is a very suspicious defense, right up there with the old “I didn’t do it, you can’t prove I did it, and  it didn’t hurt anything anyway”.  Think I’m distorting what he said?  Here it is:

RUSH:  In the first place, I’ve never said that government never gets anything right.  Secondly, throughout the course of this program, I have always heralded NASA for the contributions they have made to the advancement of science and the human standard of living, American standard of living.  Obama shut it down.

And then a bit later:

RUSH: You know, one might say when speaking of NASA that the space flight realm of NASA, the vast majority of it is actually done by private aerospace companies bidding for the jobs.  Private aerospace companies bid for certain aspects.  Like the government didn’t build the rover.  They got a contract for it.  A private sector firm — yes, with Obama bucks — I take it back.  The money was allocated before Obama came along.  That’s probably why the money was still there.  But it was our taxpayer dollars that were rewarded to a private sector company, probably a bunch of ’em combined, built various aspects of the rover.  The rocket.  Somebody won a bid to build that parachute, for example.  The rockets to slow the rover down as it approached the Martian surface.

Well, okay.  Then I suppose you won’t do anymore whining about Solyndra, right?  I mean, it was a private company!  Well, yes, it was given tons of money by the government and wouldn’t have existed without it, but still; private company!

Limbaugh and his listeners aren’t against government; they’re against certain things government does and certain individuals in the government, but it also does a lot of stuff they like, like space exploration and especially military stuff.  And the weird part is, they don’t even seem to realize or want to admit it!

People are lauding Chief Justice Roberts for his decision.  It seems like he doesn’t like the law, but decided against overturning it because he felt there was not much of an argument for doing so.  Which is what Judges are supposed to do.  Don’t take my word for it, though.  Take this guy’s:

Anyway, it is rather funny that what saved the law was interpreting it as a “tax”.  The Democrats tried to desperately not to call it that, because people hate taxes, but in the end that is what it needed to be to stand.

CBS News reports:

New York state lawmakers have proposed a ban on anonymous online comments. Called the “Internet Protection Act” (A.8688/S.6779), the legislation would require a web site administrator to pull down anonymous comments from sites, including ‘social networks, blogs forums, message boards or any other discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.’

The reason for this is to prevent cyber-bullying. A laudable goal, no doubt.

Now, it might occur to people who use the internet, and especially people who have blogs, that the above plan is bothentirely feasible and utterly senseless. If a web administrator is looking at the comment, s/he knows the contents of the comment. If you must make a law, wouldn’t it be more intelligent to require them to pull down comments–anonymous and otherwise–that are insulting or cruel? Why make them waste their time on anonymous comments that are perfectly civil?

It sounds to me like the people who wrote this legislation may not be aware of the concept of “comment moderation”.  It would be nice if the people making laws about it were  familiar with how commenting on the internet actually works.

(Hat Tip to Immoral Minority.)

Yesterday, President Obama said: “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress”. He also apparently added that the Supreme Court is “unelected”.

Republican writers have been attacking him for this, laughing at how stupid this statement is. After all, Supreme Court Justice is by design an unelected position, and to complain about this is to complain about the whole system. More to the point, it is not in the least unprecedented for the Court to overturn a law passed by Congress. That’s what it’s there for.

So, why did Obama say that? Republicans would have you believe it’s because he’s an idiot, and a sham Constitutional lawyer. But they are, of course, wrong.

This statement of Obama’s is calculated for the ears of low-information voter. The people who don’t pay much attention to politics, or have much knowledge of the system. The statement is calibrated to inflame animosity among this demographic towards the Supreme Court. (Which, by the by, indicates he’s concerned they’re going to overturn it.)

Now, a cynic would say the President is lying to stupid people to win their votes. But this is an unduly bleak way of putting it. As I have said, merely because a person is not well-informed about the political system does not mean that person is stupid. And both sides try to court the low-information vote. Indeed, when any part of the political system is not presently working to the advantage of one party, that party will demonize that part of the system, and the other will praise it. Yet, when circumstances change, and the party that had benefited now suffers from this part of the system, the situation will be reversed. This happens frequently with the filibuster.

In other words, this is a non-story, Obama is not an idiot, and you Republicans will just have to think of something else. Just another day in politics.

Via Huffington Post, Rick Santorum has written an essay detailing his interpretation of the First Amendment, in which he further explains his problem with JFK’s 1960 speech in which he said “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

Santorum’s objection:

While the phrase “separation of church and state” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, the concept of protecting religion from the government does.

The first part of the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from establishing a state church, such as existed in England and in some of the states in 1791, and from discriminating for or against particular faiths. The founders were determined to ensure that the new national government had no jurisdiction over matters of religion, in large part to insure that each American would be free to pursue the religion of their choice without state interference. Far from reflecting hostility toward religion, our founders, rooted in their own faith convictions, knew that faith was not just an essential element, but the essence of civilization and the inspiration of culture.

Santorum says that “Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to protect the government from religion.”

For background, here’s the First Amendment in its entirety:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

At present, we are concerned with the religion bit. “respecting an establishment of religion”. According to no less an authority than something quoted on Wikipedia this:  “‘prohibits the federal and state governments from establishing an official religion, or from favoring or disfavoring one view of religion over another.'”

Whoa! “Favoring or disfavoring one view over another” is a big step from just not establishing an official religion. And you can’t tell me that Christianity doesn’t get preferential treatment over Zoroastrianism in this country. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a Zoroastrian congressman, and yet there are apparently 11,000 practicing Zoroastrians in the United States. I wonder if they feel Congress grants them equal favor?

Then we come to the bit that says Congress shall not prohibit “the free exercise thereof”. Okay, then. I guess if somebody wants to form an Esoteric Order of Dagon and sacrifice people to the Deep Ones in exchange for jewelry, the Congress is powerless.

Obviously, this isn’t the case. Congress can prohibit the free exercise of religions if they determine they’re a threat to the population at large. And that could really be anything, especially since most religions seem to hold that all the other religions are a threat.

So, Santorum opposes abortion and contraception, apparently because his religious beliefs tell him to. He doesn’t want the government to fund these things. He wants Roe v. Wade overturned, because his religion tells him so. Other people feel just the opposite way on these issues. But Santorum’s religion tells him these people are wrong.

Let’s get something clear: no amount of parsing or interpreting the First Amendment will ever solve this fundamental disagreement. If there were an amendment that said:

The interpretation of meteorological conditions being necessary to the enjoyment of a walk in the park, the right of the people to disagree about the weather shall not be infringed

…it would not be of any help to us if I say it is a going to rain and you say it is going to be sunny. All it says is that we’re allowed to disagree. But eventually, we’re going to have to answer the question anyway.

Santorum’s “vibrant marketplace of religions”(?) has the same problem. Yes, we’re all allowed to have different religion, and the government isn’t allowed to ban them (except under extreme circumstances) but we still have the massive problem of determining which policies are good and which aren’t. Suppose some religion advocated something stupid, such as selling the strategic oil reserves to build a massive golden calf. At some point, the government have to say: “Your religion’s ideas are lousy. We will not listen to you.”

Santorum seems to be just sort of rambling off on a tangent in this essay, trying to avoid getting into a discussion over his actual beliefs.

P.S. Once again, I’m not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar. If anyone can explain the flaws in my reasoning, I’d love to hear them.