Nine Thoughts on the Mueller Findings

  1. My overwhelming reaction is positive. It’s been easy to lose track of what the investigation was about. It’s not about getting Trump out of office. I’m glad that Trump is essentially cleared of collusion. Our president shouldn’t be working with Russia and shouldn’t be betraying America to be President. I’m glad he didn’t. (Yes, yes, collusion is not a real crime. I use it as shorthand for the concept we all understand.)
  2. 15 months ago I predicted the outcome of the investigation. It was quite spot on. 
  3. Don’t lose sight of the real story. Russia interfered in the election. If Trump didn’t actively collude, he was a willing recipient of their aid (and some of his campaign and friends were actively colluding). Efforts by Obama and others to do something about the interference were blocked by Mitch McConnell. Efforts to do anything to beef up election security continue to be stymied by the Republican party.
  4. Is Trump guilty of Obstruction of Justice? Hard to say without seeing the underlying evidence, but I’m inclined to defer to Mueller, Barr, and Rosenstein, all of whom say there is not enough there for a criminal indictment.
  5. Don’t lose sight of differing standards of evidence. There may not be enough to indict Trump on collusion. At the same time, there may be more than enough evidence to impeach him in regards to Russia and election interference.
  6. Don’t lose sight of the scope of the special counsel. Unlike Kenneth Starr, Mueller was restricted to issues relating to Russian interference in the election. Unlike the Starr investigation, he was not allowed to go chasing whatever else came up along the way. Ergo, being ‘cleared’ by the Mueller investigation does not mean Trump and crew are innocent of other crimes. As we know from the investigations Mueller has passed off to the New York DAs.
  7. Don’t lose sight of how much was uncovered by the investigation. Flynn, Manafort, many others…  this many indictments is a big deal. It’s not a witch hunt when you find real witches. Manafort particularly is a traitor to the country and should be put in front of a firing squad.
  8. AG Barr: Lots of liberals are jumping all over him. Relax. He said he’ll be more transparent, give him a chance to follow through before threatening more lawsuits and investigations.
  9. Let’s give Trump some credit. Despite the incessant liberal fear-mongering, it does not appear that Trump interfered with the investigation in any meaningful way. He resisted, explored what he could do, but didn’t do anything material to undermine it. The GOP refused to pass bills protecting the investigation, claiming they were unneeded. It appears they were right.

On the 2018 Midterms

What does Muttroxia think about the midterms? Not much. Glad to see the Democrats got the House. It could have been better, it could have been worse. Get ready for two more years of gridlock, partisanship, and dysfunction.

Three takeaways from the midterms:

  1. The Democrats overreached on Kavanaugh: For all the legitimate reasons to fight the nomination, it was never going to change the outcome. Instead of looking the grownups in the room, they looked just as bad as the Republicans. Playing to the base also means riling up the other base.
  2. Lying and Cheating works: Many Republican candidates out and out lied in their campaigns. Particularly on health care, where they have been fighting and sabotaging the ACA, it takes serious chutzpah to deny that and accuse the other guy of stripping pre-existing conditions (for example), but that’s what happened. The tone comes from the top, where Trump made up an immigrant caravan crisis that doesn’t exist for the midterms, on top of lies about middle-class tax cuts and innumerable others. When the president doesn’t care about truth and has no shame about it, it is no wonder that more candidates do the same. The sadness is that it works. Then there’s the voter suppression, the gerrymandering, etc.
  3. The USA is governed by a minority party. Trump was elected with a minority of the votes, as was Bush in 2000. The only time in the last 20 years the GOP has gotten more votes for the Presidency was Bush’s reelection. The House of Representatives hasn’t been close to a GOP majority for a while, but has been held by the GOP on and off. The Senate votes have also been majority Democrat. The Supreme Court justices have then been put in place by Senators who represent less than half the votes. The fact is, the Democratic party represents over half the country and has for some time, but the GOP has tightened its hold on the levers of power.

A Bathroom Puzzler

You are out at neighborhood restaurant. It’s the trivia tournament playoffs. he bathroom is a single, only one person at a time. Security is tight, there’s only a few minutes for everyone to go. There is a line of five men waiting to use it.

Which is worse?
A) Wash your hands appropriately, using precious seconds they need to do their business before the second half begins.
B) Leave without washing.

Laying out Donald Trumps Strategy

Steve Schmidt was a GOP operative for many years, who recently ‘defected’, believing Trump to be a threat to liberal democracy and the American Experiment. In a wonderful episode of “Stay Tuned with Preet” this especially stood out.

For audio, start at around 38:00. I’ve attempted to transcribe this because I think it is so accurate and so chilling (with slight edits to clean up grammar for the written page).

(Coming out of a discussion about the role of fear in politics and policy)
Question (Preet): What circumstances have to be present for the message of fear to win out over the message of hope? Is it about the messenger, or is it about something else?

Answer (Steve Schmidt):

Let’s look at what Trump is doing right now. There are five specific things, behaviors, that I think are deliberate and are not accidental.

First thing is that Donald Trump incites fervor and creates a cult of personality, through mass rallies and constant lying.

Second thing is he scapegoats vulnerable minority populations and assigns blame to them for every complex problem the country and the world is facing. Guatemalean children for instance.

Third thing is he alleges conspiracies — that there is an active conspiracy hidden and unseen, the deep state, that is harming.

Fourth thing, the victims, his base. He creates a sense of mass victimization. You turn on Fox News, there is no higher virtue in Trumpistan than being a victim. What Trump understood distinct from Sarah Palin, who always cast herself as a victim, is that victims will never pick another victim to lead them. They need a leader to validate their victimization, and that’s what Trump does.

Last thing is he asserts the necessity of exercising powers that heretofore, no one ever imagined an American President claiming he could exercise, for the purposes of protecting the victims against the conspiracy and the scapegoated minority populations. He requires in exchange only one thing: The subversion of personal sovereignty, your intellect, and objective truth itself to submit to this idea. That truth is what the leader says is true. Truth is what the leader believes is true, no matter what evidence is plainly before your eyes.

And that is happening in the country for 40% of the population right now.

Manafort, Cohen, Trump: A Few Thoughts

What does it all mean?

The case against: It doesn’t mean very much.

Paul Manafort: His crimes are bad, but so far have little to do with Trump or Russia. Just another white-collar criminal. The important phase is the next trial, which directly relates to his relationship with Russia. He used his position as campaign manager to (try to) clear his debts with Russia. He’s a traitor to the country, and that will come out.

Michael Cohen and campaign law: Yes, he unquestionably broke the law. Also, so what. Does it really matter? The actual harm is… let’s see… what was it again… that America didn’t know he had an affair with Stormy Daniels during the campaign. But is there anyone who didn’t already believe Trump wasn’t faithful? That he had affairs with multiple women already? That he wasn’t a piece of disgusting trash with women and his marriage(s). We knew all that going in.

The affair isn’t germane. Politicians and rich people having affairs, mercy me! Kennedy had affairs while in office. Clinton had an affair while in office. Trump had affairs before he was in office. Most of the country resisted Clintons impeachment because the blowjob had nothing to do with his professional role as President and the rest was legal ‘gotcha’. In the same way, most of the country will see that Trumps affairs have nothing do with his professional role as President, and the rest is legal ‘gotcha.

Let’s remember the end goal here.

First, Trump is manifestly unfit for office, and should be removed for any number of reasons. But most of those reasons are within the normal prerogatives of the duly elected President. If he is removed, it must be done for reasons that don’t set such awful precedents for successors that it ends up harming more than helping.

Second, America and the Western World was and is under attack by Russia. Understanding, publicizing, and resisting that is vital. To whatever degree Trump allowed a foreign power to influence our country, he is a traitor, and should be removed from office and hung in the middle of Time Square. But neither of these convictions come close to that level.

The case for: It’s a big deal.

It will convince some that Trump really is a liar. Some might think, if he bald-faced lied about this and changed his story continually as new evidence was revealed, I wonder if his continually changing story on Russia might indicate lying there?

It makes it harder to shut down Muellers investigation, the Witch Hunt excuse got much thinner.

New York will not indict a sitting President, but Trump is also unable to pardon himself from New York sentences. Given his personality and history, Trump is likely act in more outrageous ways to defend himself and punish/reward his confederates, and these will add to the impeachment fire.

It gives Republicans more cover and reason to speak their mind. This is the truly key dynamic. Trump is enabled by a partisan Congress. To effect real change in this presidency, Congress needs to change.

It will convince some that Trump truly is corrupt. He has surrounded himself with criminals, and has done criminal acts.

It gives Democrats a potent campaign issue. They can reasonably paint a portrait of Trump as lethally corrupt, and that anyone who enabled that corruption is corrupt themselves.

What’s the conclusion? Your humble blogger author thinks that in the end it doesn’t mean much. The next trial of Paul Manafort will mean something. Whatever else Cohen spills might mean something. Allen Weisselberg (Trump Organization CFO, granted immunity and talking) probably means something. Whatever Mueller knows that hasn’t been made public means something.

Keep your eye on the ball. It will take something very big to get Congress to resist and/or impeach Trump, and these aren’t enough.

How to Improve Professional / World Cup Soccer

Even the most popular sport in the world could stand some tweaks. Overall, I want fewer games decided by chance and referee decisions.

  1. Two referees: Twenty two people is a lot to keep track of. Too many. Get two referees out there, maybe three. They could split the field similar to NBA referees. They can concentrate more, see more, make better calls. It also reduces the chances that any given game will rely on one single call.
  2. More substitutions: Fans tell me it is great to have few substitutions, you end the game with the players you start with. That’s fine, but why not take that to its conclusion and have no substitutions then? Three is such an odd number (ha ha). I would bump this to at least six, or ten, or unlimited.
  3. Penalties for flopping: I mean, c’mon. It’s cheating. You can give it fancy names, you can say it’s part of the game, but it’s cheating, plain and simple. Players who flop should be penalized. If not during the game (it is hard to tell), then after the game on review. Again, the NBA does a good job here. Cheating is cheating.
  4. 4. Decrease size of box: The less area a goalie can use his hands, the less pass-backs there will be, the more chance of something going wrong. Not only does it result in more goals, it results in more exciting playing, since the frontline can apply more pressure when the other team has the ball.
  5. Increase penalty shot distance: The shot is too easy. When the goalie is literally guessing which way the ball will go, it has stopped becoming sports. Push the shot back a bit to give the goalie a chance. I do have a concern with this – that the harder this shot gets, the more incentive for the defense to deliberately foul. Not sure what to do about that…

Ten Good Things about Trump

Muttrox is not a fan of Trump. He’s a singularly awful President and person, in a multitude of ways. And yet, that doesn’t mean that everything he does is wrong. In the spirit of even-handedness and checking my own thinking, here is a list of some good things from the Trump administration.

Please add on. Please tell me there is more than this pathetic enumerations of “Well, at least he didn’t…”

  1. Mueller investigation: He hasn’t made any serious moves to fire Mueller. For all the hysteria and constant articles about “laying the groundwork”, he hasn’t taken any real actions to stop or slow the investigation. Trump genuinely believes he is innocent, he will be cleared, and the whole thing is ridiculous. It’s a low bar to keep from openly obstructing justice in the same way that led to Nixon’s resignation, but it’s something.
  2. The Space Force: It’s a silly sounding name, but it’s a good idea.
  3. China: Calling them out for their rampant intellectual theft. It’s easy to forget this was one of the stated reasons for the tariffs. And he’s right, China has gotten away with it for too long. I’m not in favor of the tariffs, but I don’t think it’s as bad as some say, and there are benefits to bring the topic into the open. The problem with rational cost/benefit calculus (a la Obama administration) is that it incents the other party to be bad – just not bad enough to blow up the whole relationship. Trump changes that calculus for China.
  4. Lowering the corporate tax rate: I don’t know a lot about this. Then I heard a podcast of Freakonmics where four Chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisors to the President (under Bush I, Obama, and Trump) all agreed it should be lowered. I defer to their expertise. Now it was done in an awful way (not paying for it, blowing up the deficit), but on its own it’s a good thing.
  5. Increasing the standard deduction is a winner also.
  6. Conslidating / re-arranging the cabinets: This is a hard one, because you can’t assume a good faith effort to make the government more effective. You have to assume the re-org is being done as a step to keep government crippled, at least the parts that help the poor. Nonetheless, on its own, it’s a good thing to move some of the cabinet functions around. A Department of Welfare (with a better name) could be more effective than having the various pieces scattered all around.
  7. Calling out Congress on immigration: I only wish Trump was even more vocal about this. You want to know why immigration is a mess? Because of Congress. At any point, they could straighten this out with a deal that all parties can live with. The votes are there and have been for over a decade. Political dysfunction keeps it from happening. More recently, Congress mandated Obama do something aggressive about the illegal immigrations, but didn’t really fund it. So Obama did the best he could with the dollars he was given, and prioritized dangerous immigrants over harmless ones. Then the GOP freaked out about Obama subverting the Constitution and such. Trump has the same dilemma. You can’t haver zero tolerance without paying for it, and he doesn’t have the money. Same with the DREAMers, Congress could pass a bill tomorrow that would be okay with most of the country, but political dysfunction keeps it from happening. (Political dysfunction mostly refers to the Hasert rule, a proundly counter-productive un-democratic partisan strategy. I have a whole other rant about that.)
  8. North Korea: Yeah, he got snookered a little at the summit and gave away a decent amount for literally nothing. But just like every president before him, Trump was faced with a lot of losing hands and ended up doing the same thing the other presidents did – stall for time. Could have been worse.
  9. Not wrecking the economy: It’s a low bar, but he cleared it. He was handed a fantastic economy. Sure, he signed on to the tax bill that blows up the deficit, sure he’s launching us into a trade war (that he’ll have to back down from) for no good reason, and welched on a bunch on international agreements, but um… what was my point? Oh yeah, it could be worse.
  10. Privatizing the Post Office: It is no longer a vital function. Every citizen has plenty of ways to communicate with and send/receive physical packages from the rest of the world without relying on government. Of course, he can’t do it because of this little thing called The US Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7), but it’s a nice thought.

Not a very impressive list. Best I could do.