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Reputation

Over the coming weeks, we may be getting an object lesson in the importance of a person’s reputation. Reputation matters. Reputation is something that is built up by years of discipline and habit. Reputation is not character – character is what you are; reputation merely what people think you are. However, if one is in the public eye enough, so that the public has had a sufficient amount of actions to judge a person by, than reputation can serve as a rough approximation of character.

James Comey has a strong reputation built through three decades of diligent service in the law. Perhaps the most dramatic example of James Comey’s independence and willingness to go where the evidence lay was in 2004 when as Deputy Attorney General, he faced down the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff and refused to agree to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program

I’m not a President Obama fan, but I was impressed by his decision to appoint James Comey to the FBI Directorship; it showed Mr. Obama was serious about the FBI investigating alleged crimes without fear or favor. Mr. Comey had built a reputation for fair play that both parties appreciated.

Then there’s President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has built a reputation over the course of the last three decades too. It’s one of brashness, attention-seeking and ignorance.

Yesterday, Mr. Comey said accusations the White House had made about him and the FBI “were lies, plain and simple.” Today, Mr. Trump answered in kind, saying what Mr. Comey said wasn’t about their meeting wasn’t true. Whom to believe? It’s times like these that you wish you had built up a reputation for integrity and truthfulness. Mr. Comey has; Mr. Trump hasn’t. And in the next few weeks, Mr. Trump may come to wish he had.

-1TF

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Tomorrow, voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls to vote for Parliament. The terrorist attacks they have endured will be on their minds as will the ramifications of Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party has fallen precipitously in opinion polls in the past month, from a lead of 20 percentage points when May called the election to just a single point this week. The Labor Party ought to be ready to sweep into 10 Downing Street. But that’s unlikely due to its standard bearer.

The Opposition Leader is one Jeremy Corbyn. an avowed socialist, advocate for unilateral disarmament, former supporter of the Provisional IRA (not simply the regular IRA, but the actual violent wing), who used to be paid to appear on an Iranian government TV show. In short, the Labor Party nominated someone who is anathema to a lot of regular Britons might otherwise be tempted to support a change in government.  Labor has the good fortune in that voters simply vote for their own particular Member of Parliament, but having Corbyn on the ticket – even with him performing better than expected in the campaign – is probably a drag on their ticket.  Political myopia seems to be a problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  Amongst the major parties of Britain, France and the United States, only the UK Conservatives chose a candidate who wasn’t eventually detested by the other side (and May is merely perceived as “okay, although we have our doubts”.)  Conservatives are poised to hold onto power by default; May ought to avoid pretending she’s got a significant mandate.  Her steep fall in the past month indicates she will not.  Were it not for Jeremy Corbyn helming the party of the left, she might not even have 10 Downing Street.

-1TF

Today is D-Day, the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy invasions which began the Allied retaking of northern Europe. It is good to reflect on the bravery and devotion to duty of so many who gave up so much – for some it was their very lives. For many on the homefront, it was, like today, a relatively quiet Tuesday – they didn’t yet realize their son or brother, husband or fiancee, or father was being torn from them.  We owe the dead and wounded our gratitude.  We also owe it to learn and employ the important lessons their sacrifice yielded.  A few of those lessons are particularly timely these days.

The first lesson is that hard undertakings are a little easier when there is effective cooperation.  D-Day involved the cooperation of many allies, primarily Americans, British and Canadians, but also some Australians, Free French, Irish and citizens several other countries helped in the assault.  America is the strongest nation, but we’re not the only nation.  Other Western nations are usually our friends, and as frustrating as they (and we) can be, we should be try to care and feed these relationships as best we can.

The second lesson is the importance of security; be careful whom you allow access to information. Operation Overlord involved loyalty and secrecy. Allied headquarters conjured an entire fake Army division to convince the Germans we were either attacking at Calais or even into Scandanavia rather than Normandy. Given recent headlines, one is left to wonder if a similar diversion could be used to today, given the willingness of some in the press’ interest in printing anything in the rush for clicks, and the willingness of those trusted with secret clearances (e.g. Snowden, Manning, Winner) to provide their favorite press outlet with secret information.

The third lesson is that completing a great enterprise will entail patience and perseverance. The Normandy invasions were not initially successful. Anyone who watched Saving Private Ryan saw some of the difficulty in achieving a beachhead. None of the major military objectives were taken on that first day (although the Allies were able to establish a beachhead).  It took six weeks of effort for the Allies to capture the last of those objectives, the village of Caen.  The enemy was working hard to stop them.  Another enemy is working hard to stop the West.  Patience, vigilance and perseverance are still key to eventual victory.

Appreciate what those brave soldiers did, and learn from their efforts so that we may be up to the challenge we face, just as they were.

-1TF

 

Perhaps I’m getting jaded. I read today where there’s a plan to publish the daily morning scriptural meditations that Hillary Clinton reportedly received from her preacher, the Rev. Dr. Bill Shillady. My first thought was, “I guess she’s really planning on running again.” She barely uttered a word about religion in the 2016 race. Her campaign appeared to see the business community and the secular progressive party base, neither of which cotton to a lot of “God talk” as the key to victory in November, and campaigned that way.

Now, she may be seeing something different. Hillary may also be channeling Mitt Romney. In 2008, like Hillary, Romney ran for his party’s nomination and finished second. The second time around, he won the nomination (albeit with little party enthusiasm) and was defeated in the general election. Had he thrown his hat in late in 2016, the party establishment may well have welcomed him. And in a general election, he, like most Republicans, would have had a good chance against the polarizing Democratic nominee. Secretary Clinton may see a path like that opening up for her. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 would have a very good chance against the incumbent were he to run for reelection. And Clinton may well think she’s got as good a shot as anyone in a contested primary next time.

For those who think it can’t happen, picture this – several Democrats (e.g. Senators Warren and Booker, Governors Cuomo and Patrick) all run to the left, trying to get that energetic movement progressive vote; that leaves an open lane for the one so-called centrist (really the one ambitious non-ideologue) in the race, especially if those progressive candidates – all of whom see a savior of the progressive cause in the mirror – refuse to drop out early. In short, she runs the Trump campaign on the Democratic side Trump was the least conservative (and for my money, least likable) candidate in the Republican nominating race. But the conservatives – all spoiling for a run against Hillary – failed to drop out, and split the base vote, allowing Trump to win.

This also appears to channel Bill Clinton’s comeback after losing the Arkansas governorship in 1980. Bill Clinton had been perceived as being more liberal (particularly by hiring some liberal out of state staff) than he had let on in the 1978 campaign. The Clintons called in Dick Morris, tacked to the center, and won the mansion back in 1982.

As much as many of us would like to see the Clintons move on to a dignified retirement, I just don’t believe either retirement or surrender is in their vocabulary. It’s a bit early to write Hillary’s political obituary. I admit it’s jaded, but I really have to wonder if this book of morning meditations is the first move in a long game for 2020. Maybe she’s sincere – maybe. With the Clintons, one often has to wonder.

-1TF

Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan each died on this day. It’s also World Environment Day; I must admit, I hadn’t realized “WED” existed; I’m trying to understand how it’s different from Earth Day. Nevertheless, in the spirit of World Environment Day, I thought I’d write a little about something these two prominent American political figures offer us in our current political environment.

As it happens, RFK and Reagan each offers something particularly valuable to his party’s opponents. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, showed that sometimes, when you feel your own party is on the wrong track, you need to speak up. Kennedy saw Johnson as being from a different wing of the same political party.  He also found Johnson to be a dishonest, deeply flawed human being on a personal level. Nevertheless, Kennedy supported President Lyndon Johnson on subjects like civil rights and poverty, where he agreed.  But then Kennedy came around to thinking (rightly or wrongly) that Johnson had gotten the country mired in an unwinnable war in Vietnam early in 1967. He, like many in the media, saw a “credibility gap”, where the facts on the ground in Southeast Asia didn’t square with what the White House was saying.  At that point, Kennedy challenged Johnson on the subject. RFK knew that party loyalty had its limits. He was not going to continue following a man he loathed who was enacting policies he opposed.  Republicans may want to note this.

In 1976, Reagan also opposed a leader of his own party (ie. Gerald Ford); that was mostly ideological, not personal, as even Reagan would tell you Ford was a decent man. Democrats may want to take a fresh look at Reagan for a different reason. Reagan’s overarching philosophy in the 1980 campaign against Carter wasn’t all that different from Barry Goldwater’s in 1964, but his approach was miles apart. Goldwater saw himself as a courageous speaker of hard truths. Reagan was a bit more of a pragmatist, and crucially, he appeared transparently to like people, even those who disagreed with him. Democrat attacks on him as apt to start a war didn’t square with the warm images voters saw on television. It was said of Reagan that when a baby saw him, the baby smiled. People are more likely to tolerate policies from the other side of the political center if they believe the person is pushing those ideas actually likes them. Many of the 2016 voters who surprised with their votes were those who had felt forgotten or disregarded by the party in power. In the 80’s, it was different. Reagan liked the American people, including his opponents – and even his opponents knew that. Perhaps that’s one reason the political environment was a bit healthier then.

– 1TF

I’m still trying to process President Trump’s speech pulling out of the Paris Accord. I found the speech to be a bit of a Rorschach Test. Those inclined to like Trump and espouse an “America First” ideology thought it great; I can see Pat Buchanan and company standing up and applauding. Those instinctively set to dislike him were probably horrified.

The most memorable line of the Trump speech was “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That was going to be a winner amongst his supporters, many of whom, like the Brexit supporters, have an understandable concern about their country’s sovereignty being usurped by unelected technocrats. However, the Pittsburgh Trump hails is the Pittsburgh of history. There are no steel mills left within the Pittsburgh city limits (although some remain in the surrounding area). The citizens of Pittsburgh are far more likely to be freezing in an overly air-conditioned office park than they are to be sweating it out by a blast furnace. The mayor of Pittsburgh responded to Trump’s speech by saying the city would still abide by Paris.

Trump’s pithy Pittsburgh comment is really more about the small mountain towns of western Pennsylvania and the West Virginia panhandle, where folks are desperate to hear that better times are ahead. But Trump is offering sandcastles in the air to those folks by making coal workers think that brute force by the federal government can bring back coal. But it can’t. While the previous administration was unfriendly to coal, the main reason for coal’s demise isn’t in Washington, it’s in the market. Coal has new competition in the form of natural gas. Take away the fact that natural gas is safer to extract and cleaner to burn (or any other advantage it may have), and you’re still left with the fact that currently, and for the foreseeable future, natural gas is less expensive than coal. The market is speaking loudly, and President Trump can’t change that.

I’m a little puzzled by what Trump expects to get out of this. He is exasperating much-needed allies. And my admittedly limited understanding is that much of the Paris Accord is voluntary anyway. Trump could have pointed to certain parts of it and declared we wouldn’t abide by those parts. Instead, he junked the whole thing. Again, I respect that he’s fulfilling a campaign pledge. But I think that pledge may have been unwise in the first place.

– 1TF

College

David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote an interesting column complaining about declining funding for college. He held that declining state funding for college was leading to declining economic diversity, especially at four-year colleges.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria was on CNN lamenting the lack of ideological diversity on campus, citing in particular the Notre Dame students who walked out on Vice President Pence’s graduation speech and the Middlebury students who shut down Charles Murray’s speech. There have also been problems reported at Berkely and at Evergreen State. It also seems each year, while the vast majority of graduation speakers are liberal, only conservative speakers get protested.

I wonder if these things might be tied. I went to school with a lot of working class & middle class students. They weren’t trying to “discover themselves” or “save the world” – they were learning to better their lot in life and become productive citizens. Many, like me, were working part-time to put themselves through school.
When you’ve actually got to struggle to get that education, you’re a little too busy to look for new things to be angry about. I suspect part of the problem of the Yale kids who berated two professors who had the temerity to think the school didn’t need to police Halloween costumes is they didn’t actually have real struggles to worry about. These Evergreen State kids who abused the professor who didn’t want to participate in a “Day Without White People” or whatever they wanted to call it need to see some actual hardship.

Some professors will try to guide them properly, but they appear to be becoming an actual aggrieved minority. Just look at what happened to the Duke University professor who didn’t want to attend diversity training, and advised other faculty members not to attend. He’s no longer employed at Duke. He should have been more diplomatic, but I also think had he been undiplomatic in supporting a liberal position, he’d still have a job.

Duke had someone undiplomatically express a conservative opinion (held in secret by many other faculty) and he is no longer employed. Yale had a mob assault a faculty member, and Yale just gave two of the mob leaders an award. People see this – and makes them wonder what the students are actually learning. And whether they want the government to pay for that.

Mr. Leonhardt may well have a point about lack of funding for higher education aid to poorer students.  And I appreciate that he also cited the money wasted on student centers and expensive never-pay-for-themselves athletic programs and other lower utility budget items as culprits in this problems.  But he may want to take a look at the ideological diversity of the faculty as another culprit.  The waste and the ideological litmus test (which are another form of waste by ruling out better qualified right-of-center applicants) makes people on the right less interested in funding overall.  But I’m really curious why those on the left seem less interested in financial aid.  Could it be that letting in more working-class, pragmatic students might interfere with the entitled liberal ones who may start protests but also vote the ‘right way’?

– 1TF