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Posts published in August 2016

Trump 86: Incurious

trump

The last time we had a president who was widely described as "incurious" - that is, not terribly interested in learning about new things, or simply learning more - this country experienced, let's say, a wide variety of problems.

Presidents may run for office based on a collection of ideas or proposals, or subject areas, that are of particular interest to them. That's normal and may be unavoidable. But what's also unavoidable is that, once in office, any president is going to be confronted with a whole bunch of problems unforeseen before the inauguration, but which cannot simply be ignored. A president has got to stretch and grow, and a capacity to learn more, and to learn outside of one's comfort zone, is an important qualification for the presidency.

Many of our presidents, maybe in part because politicians tend to be social animals and do need to absorb and use a good deal of information, have had this quality to some degree. The absence of it is a problem.

How often does Donald Trump indicate he's learned something new? Since his whole persona is based on the idea that he knows it all already, he rarely does that. You could put it down to a campaigning style, but there are other indicators as well.

Maybe the best is this: How often does he read? Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, George H.W Bush and Richard Nixon, among others, read extensively, have been strongly self-educated in addition to their formal educations. Trump does not seem to be a reader - at least not of books.

He has said so himself, that he doesn't "have the time" to read books.

He is said to have kept a book by Adolf Hitler (accounts differ on which) on his night stand for some years, but there are also indications he never read it.

Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Mr. Trump’s best seller “The Art of the Deal,” said in a recent interview, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” (Or write one: You didn't really think he sat down at a typewriter to work on any of those books bearing his name, did you?)

Others who know him well have made similar allusions. And columnist George Will remarked in a July 30 writing, “It would be fanciful to suggest that Trump read a book.”

But then, why read if you already know everything there is to know?

Just to be clear, that last sentence was sarcasm. - rs

Trump 87: Trump University

trump

Lest it not be forgotten - since it first came to light many months ago - Trump University constitutes a useful comprehensive disqualifier for Donald Trump as president.

Consider what happened here: He sold a lot of people a bill of goods, said he would do for them many things he never did and had no intention of doing. Surely we can consider this ample warning of a Trump presidency.

The Wikipedia account seems a reasonable, and reasonably dispassionate, description of TU:

Trump University LLC (formerly the Trump Wealth Institute; later named Trump Entrepreneur Initiative LLC) was an American for-profit education company that ran a real estate training program from 2005 until 2010. (A separate organization, Trump Institute, was licensed by Trump University but not owned by the Trump Organization.) After multiple lawsuits, it is now defunct. It was founded by Donald Trump and his associates, Michael Sexton and Jonathan Spitalny, in 2004. The company offered courses in real estate, asset management, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation.[3]

The organization was not an accredited university or college. It did not confer college credit, grant degrees, or grade its students.[4] In 2011, the company became the subject of an inquiry by the New York Attorney General's office for illegal business practices that resulted in a lawsuit filed in 2013, which remains ongoing.[5][6][7][8]

Trump University is also subject to two ongoing class action lawsuits in federal court. The lawsuits center around allegations that Trump University defrauded its students by using misleading marketing practices and engaging in aggressive sales tactics. The company and the lawsuits against it have received renewed interest due to Trump's candidacy in the 2016 presidential election.

That's the situation in outline, but the closer you look, and them more you hear about individual cases, the slimier it appears.

By the way, the point to know when someone suggests there's a political component to the lawsuits against TU, is to recall that the suits were launched in 2013 - long before Trump became or was seriously considering a presidential candidates. These cases got to court on their own steam.

One sample among many: "In his affidavit, Richard Hewson reported that he and his wife “concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the [organization’s] free seminar and three-day workshop.” But “the whole thing was a scam.” (That one appeared in the conservative National Review magazine.)

New Yorker writer John Cassidy signed off one article outlining a stream of TU outrages by suggesting, "If the revelations about Trump University don’t do any damage to Trump, it’s time to worry—or worry even more—about American democracy."

There you are. - rs

(Less than) 3 months to go

stapiluslogo1

One of the online places political junkies get their fix – it’s really hard to stay away for long – is the fivethirtyeight.com web site and especially its election forecast section.

There are other polling analysis sites around the web, but 538, led by the remarkable statistician Nate Silver, is the most sophisticated. Most prominently it has a section showing, based on current information, how the candidates for president are doing. It updates the information whenever a new data point becomes available, which may be several times in a day, or even several times in an hour. Every time I check back in, it seems to have changed. And there’s more: The site offers three rounds of current estimates, the “now cast,” which estimates who probably would win and by how much if the election were held now; the “poll only,” which analyzes polls and nothing else; and the “polls-plus,” which adds in economic, historic and other factors.

As I write this, 538 estimates Democrat Hillary Clinton has an 86.3% chance of beating Republican Donald Trump, according to “polls only.” The number will change, up or down, by the time you read this.

538 also breaks down the probability estimates by state. As I write this, the odds Trump will win Idaho have been calculated – polls-only – at 96.3%. It is the third highest probability of a Trump win in the country, behind only West Virginia and (in first place) Oklahoma (at 98.7%). The polls-plus probability of a Trump win in in Idaho in November hit 99.1%, which is almost as close to a certainty as 538 gets, while the now-cast (if the election were held today) is at 98.2%. The now-cast estimates that in Idaho, Trump would get 54.6% of the vote, Clinton 35.7% and Libertarian Gary Johnson 7.8%.

You can see a consistent pattern here.

Some states, especially many of the battlegrounds, are polled frequently, but Idaho isn’t, which creates an obstacle for analysts like 538. They’re relying in large part on three polls from Dan Jones & Associates.

Polling analysts put a lot of attention into not so much the snapshots that individual polls can generate, but the trend lines – are numbers rising or falling over time – and comparisons between pollsters, when those are available. In Idaho, those numbers have been mostly stable all year.

Idaho’s neighboring states have been a little more variable, swinging around significantly during July (the month of conventions) in blue Washington and Oregon, red Utah and Montana (though not red Wyoming, which stayed stable) and purple Nevada. In the first couple of weeks of August, however, all have begun to settle into familiar patterns.

The most interesting of the neighbors – in the possibility it might break from familiar patterns – is Utah. Utah actually has been polled with some regularity this year, and by several pollsters. Trump is given an 80% probability (polls only) of winning it, but that’s far less than Idaho or Wyoming. At 80% probability, you have an operating assumption that Trump will take the state, but the chance of an upset is not completely off the charts. Put another way, the chance Trump may lose Utah is greater than the chance that he wins the November election. If he did lose Utah, might that affect the Idaho percentages in reflection of how the large LDS vote might turn?

Utah is one of several western states of interest, in having polling numbers that force both parties to keep a wary eye on them. Nevada and Arizona are near-battlegrounds, Colorado is in the gray area for battleground status, and party activists might be wise to keep an eye on Montana, where Trump has a probability of winning now sitting at 76%, which is less than secure.

For the time being, though, after all the post-convention talk about changes in the races, Idaho still looks pretty well locked down.

Trump 88: The elusive statements

trump

In political (and diplomatic) circles there's a certain amount of slipperiness, lubrication, that goes with the territory. Officials in and representatives of a democracy need a certain amount of space to negotiate and compromise and meld alliances. That doesn't explain all the dissembling that goes on, and doesn't excuse all of it either, but it does point to the reality that "telling it like it is" in politics is at best a near matter, not an absolute. Forget about honest George Washington and the cherry tree; George was a spymaster during the revolution, a pretty good one too, and he understood the realities of dealing in a human society.

But there's such a thing as the occasional necessary lie, and the lying that becomes so constant that memory starts to fail. The toughest thing about lying is keeping the lies straight, remembering what the story is supposed to be. It's a tough task under the best of circumstances. When the lies pile up (check out the story of an undercover cop sometime, for example), the difficulties can become overwhelming.

That's a problem Donald Trump has encountered, and his fabrications - which often as not have to do with not just facts but ideas, positions, stances - have come so fast that the conflicts crop up at startling speed. Watch a Trump speech from anywhere in early spring 2016 on, and you'll probably be able to find easily enough a flat contradiction, if not of fact then of idea. He's rapidly losing track of his own ideas, what he's said here and there, even just minutes ago.

Here's an example.

On July 23, at 3:42 am, Trump tweeted that "Pocahontas [Senator Elizabeth Warren] wanted VP slot so badly but wasn't chosen because she has done nothing in the Senate. Also, Crooked Hillary hates her!"

Exactly 13 minutes later, Trump tweeted about the Wikileaks email release at the Democratic National Committee and the internal criticisms there of Bernie Sanders which, Trump said disapprovingly, "mock his heritage."

So he tut-tuts about the heritage mocking of Bernie Sanders exactly 13 minutes after mocking Elizabeth Warren over her heritage.

Presidents need to keep track of what they're saying. Their words are parsed everywhere, and the kind of daily slips Trump delivers would not go unnoticed. - rs

Minority relations

carlson

Been pondering the complicated issue of relations between minorities in Idaho and between law enforcement and those minorities. As most people know, Idaho is one of the more lily-white states in the nation, with 83.5% of its appoximately 1.6 million citizens characterized as white.

People of African-American heritage are less than 1% of the state’s population. Chances of an Idahoan working with or knowing a black family are practically nil. Most Idahoans exposure to African-Americans is limited to watching talented and skilled members of the black community playing football or basketball in exchange for a college education.

Idaho’s largest minority is its Latino community with 11% of the state’s population being so identified. As in other western states, the Latino community is growing more rapidly than the white population and other minorities.

Already, in the State of California demographers report the combined birth rate of minorities is more than 50% of new births. Indeed, the far-seeing eye of history may be recording a reversion of the west back to its Spanish and Latino roots.

The United States may have appeared to win the Mexican War of 1848 with its subsequent turn-over of millions of acres which eventually became new states in the union, not to even mention the “annexation of Texas, but it looks to many like an Hispanic and Latino recolonization is well underway.

Idaho’s native Americans are also few in actual numbers. They represent 1.1% of the state’s population. As most people know minorities are disproportionally imprisoned, are more likely to come from poor economic circumstances and are under-educated. It should come as no surprise then that minorities commit more crimes.

This inevitably leads some in law enforcement to develop either a subconscious or a fully cognizant bias against one or more minorities, whether ethnic, gender or sexually based. And it often can lead to feelings on the part of the minority interest that they are being subjected to some kind of profiling which whites seldom if ever experience.

So is there an answer to this challenge in Idaho? There is certainly no one size fits all solution, but allow me to make five suggestions that could and should make a difference. If acted upon in a timely manner, especially in the Treasure Valley and the rapidly growing counties of Ada and Canyon:

1) All of Idaho’s cities and certainly all of its largest counties should “add the words” that have a community going further in its commitment not to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender identity, age or ethnicity. And the LDS members of the Idaho Legislature should recall the many years in which being Mormon resulted in discrimination, and take the lead in passing a state version of add the words.

2) Members of Idaho law enforcement should hold town meetings, or ice creaam socials, around the state once a month or once a quarter with various minority groups and primarily listen. The goal though should be to establish good dialogue on how to address issues of mutual concern.

3) A large community’s police force should reflect the larger minority interests in the community. If Nampa’s Latino population is 20% of its population, there should be approximately 20% Latinos in the police force. Yes, most people don’t like quotas but the benefits outway the negatives.

Spokane has almost 30,000 Russian speakers within its borders. Yet unless things have changed recently there are no Russian speaking members of the force. Ever tried to resolve a touchy domestic dispute but had to wait a couple hours for an interpeter to be found and brought to the scene?

4) Members of a police force should be required to live in the jurisdiction which they police. The benefits should be obvious. In addition, police officers should be incentivized to locate in tougher neighborhoods either through a rent subsidy or a mortgage subsidy.

5) Patrolman and police officers should be allowed to drive their cars home when they go off-shift. The mere sighting of a patrol vehicle can be a deterrent and it speaks loudly to the city’s commitment to public safety. Studies also show it is more cost effective than having to check a car in and out of a car pool every day.

There is no perfect answer, but Idaho, more so than most states is in a position to do it correctly the first time.

Trump 89: The Cohn connection

trump

Those old enough, or historically-minded enough, to spot out the similarities in style and approach between Donald Trump and long-ago Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy have pinpointed a live connection. The link between the two is less-known, but just as significant.

He is Roy Cohn, an attorney by profession, who served as a behind the scenes key advisor for both Trump and McCarthy.

Cohn was born in New York, son of a politically well-connected Democrat who became a judge. (Perhaps because of his father's connection, Cohn self-identified as a Democrat but generally supported Republicans in local and national politics.) After earning his law degree, he worked briefly in the U.S. attorney's office, working on cases involving alleged Soviet spies. That brought him to the attention of McCarthy, then just coming to national attention as an anti-Communist crusader.

That description, of course, doesn't begin to cover what McCarthy did, spreading fear and suspicion as he took on witch hunts across the range of the federal government, among other places. Cohn was in the middle of it all, maybe most especially the famed Army-McCarthy hearings (wherein came the famous line addressed to McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"). McCarthy crashed, and Cohn returned to New York.

There he thrived professionally, in a specialized way. A profile in the Daily Beast captured it: "But instead of fading into obscurity, Cohn became a socialite with a roster of high-powered, famous, pious, and allegedly murderous clients. He represented Andy Warhol, Studio 54, Roman Catholic Cardinals Francis Spellman and Terence Cooke, and mafia leaders Carmine “Cigar” Galante and Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno. Cohn’s tactics were thought to be so unethical and dishonest by the legal establishment (he was eventually disbarred) that Esquire dubbed him 'a legal executioner'.”

Trump met up with him in the early 70s at the exclusive Le Club, and they became tight - kindred souls, evidently. Cohn did legal work for him, and Trump's take on that presumably was captured in his quote by the Associated Press: “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy." The young man just getting started in New York business got quite an education from Cohn.

The New York Times, which has written extensively on the connection, described Cohn's influence on Trump this way: "If Fred Trump got his son’s career started, bringing him into the family business of middle-class rentals in Brooklyn and Queens, Mr. Cohn ushered him across the river and into Manhattan, introducing him to the social and political elite while ferociously defending him against a growing list of enemies. Decades later, Mr. Cohn’s influence on Mr. Trump is unmistakable. Mr. Trump’s wrecking ball of a presidential bid — the gleeful smearing of his opponents, the embracing of bluster as brand — has been a Roy Cohn number on a grand scale."

Joe McCarthy hit a wall in time, before the damage he could do would become really massive. We'll see soon enough whether Donald Trump hits a similar wall. - rs

Premier’s dilemma

mendiola

At a recent Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) meeting in Pocatello, Premier Technology Chief Business Officer and Co-Founder Douglas Sayer (pictured) testified that his Blackfoot-based design, engineering, manufacturing and construction management company is on the horns of a very challenging dilemma.

Since its start in 1996, Premier Technology has grown to employ about 300 highly skilled professionals, including engineers and machinists, at its cutting edge 210,000-square-foot fabrication plant conspicuously seen west of Blackfoot’s main Interstate 15 interchange.

Its welders are stringently trained to work with a variety of metals, ranging from stainless and carbon steel to exotic elements such as titanium.

Premier has done extensive sophisticated custom work for the Idaho National Laboratory and other U.S. Department of Energy contractors, but Sayer told LINE commissioners at Idaho State University that it’s a misconception to believe that private companies securing government contracts have grabbed brass rings.

He said it’s an uphill battle for relatively small businesses to get bank loans for such contracts as they struggle to make large capital investments. Only about half of Premier Technology’s business mix is related to the nuclear industry, Sayer noted.

“Food processing and mining allow us to participate on the nuclear side,” he said, mentioning that if it were up to his wife Shelly, Premier’s chief executive officer since 2013, the company would not be involved in the nuclear business due to its significant expenses and difficulty breaking even. Premier has heavily invested in research and development for new technologies.

Premier believes it has a moral obligation to maintain top quality levels of manufacturing to protect the environment and Idaho’s Snake River Plain aquifer, Sayer said, but pointed out companies in such countries as India are not held to the same standards or pay scales, making it more difficult to compete.

Competitors in Missouri and the United Kingdom see the economic advantages of developing Small Modular Reactors as the wave of the nuclear industry’s future and are aggressively pursuing the development of SMRs. NuScale Power has indicated it could start placing orders for SMR components as soon as 2019.

“We’re a little bit behind the eight ball if we want to get serious about it,” Sayer said, adding Premier Technology has imposed 60-hours-per-week mandatory shifts at its plant to keep up. “We’re short on human capital. … There’s a shortage of qualified talent in Idaho now.”

Unlike Chobani, which can tap the resources of the College of Southern Idaho, a community college in Twin Falls, for its yogurt plant employment needs, the nuclear industry’s requirements demand much higher training proficiencies. “There’s a difference between teaching and training,” Sayer said.

The Premier Technology executive urged LINE committee members to create a subcommittee to address the compelling need for trained, qualified personnel in the nuclear industry and initiate an effective strategy. The INL needs “top shelf talent” and is not a place for on-the-job training, Sayer stressed. “We’ve got to think outside the box.”

He also emphasized that Idaho ranks among the lowest states in terms of education investments. “We can’t wait any longer,” Sayer said, adding Premier Technology has considered acquiring oil and gas companies in Utah and Wyoming to secure their pipeline welding talent.

He also noted there is a large difference between nuclear performance-based welding requirements and those of the petroleum industry. Many if not most welding instructors in ISU’s College of Technology hail from the oil and gas industry. Idaho has not addressed the dire need for nuclear-qualified welders, machinists and crafts, he said, mentioning he has been working with ISU for 15 years.

“Five years ago I could operate every piece of equipment in our facility. Today I cannot operate any of them. That’s how far manufacturing has advanced,” Sayer said.

Premier Technology offered someone in Carlsbad, N.M., a quarter million dollar salary, a $50,000 relocation stipend and six weeks vacation to move to Idaho, but the individual turned it down because he was making the equivalent amount working part time, Sayer said. “And Carlsbad is not the prettiest place on earth,” he remarked.

Trump 90: Easily baited

trump

The presidency isn't the only job where a certain cool and steadiness is necessary. A lawyer in a trial, a surgeon in the operating room - at such times, such people simply cannot allow themselves to be rattled or baited. It happens, unfortunately, and when it does lives can be ruined or ended. But capable professionals strive hard to keep a clear head, to do what's necessary and not be thrown into doing what isn't - or what might be harmful.

The presidency can be the same, on a far more vast scale. One of the most praised attributes of Barack Obama has been his cool, his resistance to being rattled, to do what he thinks he needs to do in his own time and his own way. Rarely is he provoked into a sharp response.

Donald Trump is easily baited.

On the last day of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton said during her acceptance speech that Trump should not be trusted with the nuclear arsenal because he is "a man who can be baited with a tweet." Just that had after all happened already during the campaign, as both sides well knew. And you would expect that with that near-warning - an implicit threat that we'll be trying to bait you and waiting for your reaction - that Trump would have been cautious enough to avoid fulfilling the prediction. Surely most candidates would have; it would have been an easy enough test for him to crow later about passing.

But the Clinton people knew their opponent. They knew he couldn't help but respond to a smackdown. And just as predicted, as if they could see the future - or at east predict Trump perfectly - he took fresh bait the very next day.

Shortly before Clinton's speech one of the DNC orators was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fellow NYC billionaire but no fan of Trump. He took some pungent shots at Trump, and Trump could not help but tweet the next day, July 28: "'Little' Michael Bloomberg, who never had the guts to run for president, knows nothing about me. His last term as Mayor was a disaster!"

What if anything useful Trump thereby accomplished for his campaign is unknown. But what he revealed about himself was plain enough. As writer James Fallows put it on the Atlantic: "Think of the strategic outlook you are seeing demonstrated on Trump’s side. On national TV, a woman has said that it is easy to get under his skin — after a much richer real billionaire has made fun of him with, 'I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one.' And Trump’s response is … to take the bait and show that it has gotten under this skin."

Only hours later, he did it again in a much more explosive way, snarking at the Gold Star Khan family, which lost a (Muslim) Army captain in action on the far side of the globe. Republican Matt Mackowiak commented: “Trump is proving that Hillary’s criticism of his temperament has merit. He can’t even pretend when lashing out was predicted. Took bait.”

He would be the most easily manipulated president in the history of the United States. - rs

Trump 91: Assassination?

trump

This dog whistle sounds pretty clear from here.

He can in the kerfluffle afterwards, as he so often does when he steps in it in a big way, call it a joke, as he already has, or he can maintain that he simply was walking about political activism by an interest group.

No sale.

On August 9, Donald Trump was talking at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, when the subject turned to Hillary Clinton and the Supreme Court. If Clinton becomes president, he warned, she will appoint liberals to whatever court appointments come up. (True enough.)

Then: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.”

Only slight translation is needed here. "The Second Amendment people" would mean most generally people especially motivated by the subject of their rights to own and use firearms; that is to say, gun enthusiasts. He did not say the "gun lobby" (or the National Rifle Association) or "gun owners voting in large numbers," or something similar. He spoke of individual people highly motivated to action on the subject of gun rights, and he spoke of them in the context of being the last hope to avoid the specter of "liberal" (presumably, anti-gun) Supreme Court justices.

Just what do you think he's referring to here?

There's no need to get too cute about this. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: "Don't treat this as a political misstep. It's an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis."

Trump backers, and even some others who aren't supporters (Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, for example) write it off as a wisecrack. But as security officials were noting soon after the statement, words spoken at the presidential level are taken seriously, by people who may interpret them in many ways.

"Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" called out, legendarily, England's King Henry II. He meant it rhetorically, not as an order of execution; but Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, did not live much longer anyway.

This is no mere Shakespearean construction. Here's the reaction from the New York Times' Thomas Friedman:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated.

His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a “traitor” and “a Nazi” for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.

But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them.

The Secret Service has said it was closely monitoring the situation. Let's hope so.

No major presidential candidate in this country's history has ever spoken in terms like this. Never. Imagine what terms he might employ if he actually got into the White House. - rs