Later On

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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

Malignant Narcissism diagnostic checklist

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Interesting and perhaps even useful, at the personal or national level.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2018 at 7:33 am

Robert Mueller’s Indictment Song

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2018 at 5:41 pm

Your Party or Your Country? It shouldn’t be a difficult choice.

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Mike Lofgren, a former career congressional staff member who served on the House and Senate budget committees, writes in the Washington Monthly:

Imagine your house is on fire. Do you reach for a bucket of water or gasoline? That shouldn’t be an agonizing decision, but for American politicians these days, it is an open question, with a majority of them seemingly leaning in the direction of the gasoline.

After the Republican candidate Troy Balderson’s squaker victory in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, Ron Brownstein, the political insider’s political insider, posed the essential questions: Did Donald Trump’s appearance in central Ohio days before the election get Balderson over the finish line? Or did it actually hurt him with suburban voters? Did Ohio governor John Kasich’s endorsement help Balderson? Or was Kasich, the mainstream media’s favorite Mugwump Republican, an electoral negative for the Republican base that turns out in a special election?

Those questions (which were never quite answered) setup an extended musing about the dilemma for NeverTrump Republicans like Kasich: If Trump is poison for America, should they continue to campaign for GOP candidates in the hope that they will be a force for moderation and sanity, and thus maintain some credibility within the party Or is Trump so dangerous, so transcendently awful, that they should support Democratic candidates and thereby lose their political home?

This dilemma reminds me of a similar one that must have faced Reichstag deputies in 1933: Do I vote for Hermann Göring’s to be president of the Reichstag, as he might be a moderating force in Hitler’s government, or do I throw my vote and influence away by casting my ballot for the token social democrat?

That is an outlandish and sarcastic historical analogy, perhaps, but it’s useful in morally clarifying the situation. How can electing more Republicans do anything but strengthen and vindicate Trump? If there is one thing we know, with vanishingly few exceptions, it is that congressional Republicans will vote in lockstep for Trump’s agenda—every time.

Trump did not fall from the sky onto the hapless GOP. From Devin Nunes to Robert Goodlatte to Mitch McConnell himself, their congressional faction is riddled with bad actors who have enabled Trump since his day one, including by interfering in and obstructing investigations into his dealings with Russia. Exactly how will helping Republicans, the very people who got us into this mess, maintain a congressional majority diminish their influence?

Trump is a moral disaster for America, and what’s more, one who has his finger on the nuclear button. What is more important: one’s country or one’s “credibility” in the Republican Party? John Kasich and dozens of other Republican elected officials have made a gamble that could be naïve or, just maybe, extremely cynical and self-serving. They think they can salvage the party by playing the inside game before the country is too severely damaged.

Having your state’s industries devastated by Trump’s tariffs may be a bad thing, but so is subverting our nation’s alliances and throwing global trade into chaos. Moreover, forcibly separating toddlers from their mothers and subjecting them to intolerable conditions may be a crime—and that little Russia matter gets more distasteful by the day. All of these injustices will require  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2018 at 2:20 pm

“Rigged Witch Hunt,” Meet Trump’s “Red Wave”

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A leader who lives in a delusion does his followers great harm. Susan B. Glasser reports in the New Yorker:

Donald Trump’s Presidency is often described as a reality-show version of the White House, with Trump himself as the producer, director, and main character. There’s something to the metaphor, of course; Trump is a showman, a veteran of the reality-TV genre who relishes the notion of himself as a master manipulator, able to dominate the news cycle at will by changing plotlines and introducing new controversies to distract us from the old. But the President’s volatile behavior and untethered public comments in recent days suggest that the analogy misses the mark: Trump’s act today is an unreality show. The President is not so much trying to shape our perception of events with his theatrics as he is trying to sell the American public, or at least his narrow slice of it, on an entirely opposite version of what is actually happening.

honesty wins!” the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon, and, arguably, ever, tweeted on Thursday morning. On Wednesday, he announced that he had revoked the security clearance of John Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, who has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest public critics, citing as grounds Brennan’s supposed “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary,” an example if ever there was one of a President projecting onto his enemies his own attributes. To bolster his case, Trump paraphrased his friend Sean Hannity, the Fox TV host, accusing Brennan and an array of other former national-security officials of a grave crime, the very one that Trump and his advisers are being investigated for: “They tried to steal and influence an election in the United States.”

For months, Trump and amplifiers like Hannity have promoted an increasingly elaborate and Orwellian version of the 2016 election meddling, in which the actual outrage was not the Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, or the serious possibility of the Trump campaign’s collusion with it. Instead, there was a vast conspiracy to benefit Hillary Clinton by Brennan and other former officials of the Obama Administration; the special counsel, Robert Mueller; James Comey and the rest of the F.B.I.; Trump’s own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions; “17 Angry Democrats”; and a rotating cast of others. In a revelatory interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump even tied the plotlines together, announcing that he had decided to withdraw Brennan’s security clearance because of “the rigged witch hunt” and “sham” Brennan helped lead. “It’s something that had to be done,” he declared.

The “Rigged Witch Hunt” may have become the signature story of Trump’s unreality show, but there are many other examples. Over the next ten weeks, expect the President to emphasize, with increasing urgency and intensity, the personal campaign he has started to reshape public perceptions of the upcoming midterm elections. The numbers, the polls, the battleground map, and the entire previous history of midterm elections in the modern era suggest a Republican defeat in November of large and possibly massive proportions. And yet President Trump now insists that there will be no “blue wave,” and that a “red wave” is coming instead.

Trump first started tweeting his “red wave” slogan in June, responding to California primary-election results showing Trump’s Republican Party in serious trouble in the historically G.O.P.-leaning suburban districts that the Party needs to keep to retain control of the House. Trump insisted the opposite. “Great night for Republicans!” he wrote. “So much for the big Blue Wave. It may be a big Red Wave.”

Ever since, the President has adopted this as his election mantra. Earlier this month, he tweeted this reality-defying version of his latest plotline: “Presidential Approval numbers are very good – strong economy, military and just about everything else. Better numbers than Obama at this point, by far. We are winning on just about every front and for that reason there will not be a Blue Wave, but there might be a Red Wave!” Three days later, buoyed by a series of rallies for the Trump faithful at which he repeated his new slogan, Trump tweeted it again. “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win! I love the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!” The President repeated it again after this week’s contests: “Great Republican election results last night. So far we have the team we want. 8 for 9 in Special Elections. Red Wave!”

The problem with all these tweets is not so much that they are riddled with factual inaccuracies, although they are. (Obama’s approval numbers were better at this point; pending the results in Ohio’s Twelfth District, Republicans have only won seven of nine special elections for this Congress.) The problem is that there is no red wave in sight, nor do the Republicans who have to deal with that reality expect one to somehow magically materialize. “No, there is no red wave. There is no one who thinks that,” a Republican strategist who has been advising the Party’s keep-the-House efforts told me on Thursday. “It’s like the phrase from his book, ‘The Art of the Deal’: Lying isn’t lying if it’s in the service of Trump.”

The Republican strategist told me that he and his colleagues at the national Party know what they are up against. “He’s not convincing political operators in Washington, D.C., but that’s not his goal,” the strategist told me. “He’s convincing people wearing maga hats in Waffle Houses across the country.” Even the Wall Street Journal’s conservative opinion pages, owned by the Trump promoter Rupert Murdoch, have taken issue with this particular Trumpian alternate reality. “Our sense is that Republican voters haven’t recognized how much jeopardy the party is in. Many are content to listen only to their safe media spaces that repeat illusions about a ‘red wave’ and invoke 2016 when the media said Mr. Trump couldn’t win,” the Journal editorialized last week. “But that’s not an excuse for ignoring the evidence of GOP trouble.”

That evidence is overwhelming. “I haven’t spent thirty seconds thinking about a red wave, because I think it is totally delusional. Any Republican pollster or strategist worth their salt just rolls their eyes at the thought of it,” Charlie Cook, the dean of American election forecasters, told me. Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, has followed closely every midterm election since 1974, when the Republicans suffered historic losses amid Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, reshaping Capitol Hill for a generation. His team at the Cook Political Report currently assesses thirty-seven Republican House seats as highly vulnerable, up from twenty in January, including three more moved to “toss-ups” after the primary-election results Trump touted in his red-wave tweet this week. Another fifty Republican-held seats are currently assessed as potentially vulnerable. Given that Democrats only need to defend their two vacant seats and pick up twenty-three more to win back control of the House, they have many possible routes to a majority. As for other metrics used to assess the midterm-election outlook, Trump’s approval ratings remain historically low, hovering around forty per cent, and Democrats register leads of between eight and twelve points in most recent national surveys of generic congressional-ballot preference. Over the last twenty-one midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average of thirty seats in the House and four in the Senate. No wonder Trump is trying to sell the one metric that is trending in his favor, the strong economy. But, even here, he is selling an alternate reality by declaring that the economy is “better than ever,” a conclusion that would surprise, among others, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, each of whom saw growth numbers as good or better, depending on which ones are cited.

Cook told me that he currently believes that “we are looking at a twenty- to forty-seat loss” for Republicans in the House, along with significant losses in state legislative and gubernatorial contests. (The U.S. Senate, he said, is a much murkier picture, with anything from a small G.O.P. gain to a small Democratic gain possible.) What’s more, he added, “Republican losses would be looking in the sixty- to seventy-seat range right now,” if not for the uneven battleground dictated by partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures. In short, he said, the midterm election is shaping up to be a “train wreck” and “a complete shit show” for Trump and his party. So, yes, there is a blue wave—the only question is how big. Cook was categorical that Trump would not be able to somehow turn things around between now and November. “We have never seen a midterm election change directions between midsummer and Election Day,” he said. “I have never seen it happen. They either stay the same or they get worse; we’ve never seen it diminish or reverse.”

For Cook and others, Trump’s red wave comes from the same place that his “Rigged Witch Hunt” originates: Trump’s insistence on the legitimacy of his election victory in 2016 and his unwavering belief that it was the product of his own, precedent-defying brilliance. “The President is emotionally incapable of dealing with the fact that he got elected on a statistical fluke,” losing the popular vote by a wide margin and yet still winning the Electoral College, Cook said. Trump’s alternate reality for 2018 is built on the conviction that he can break the political laws of history once again, never mind that the only evidence to support that conviction, so far, is his own certainty of it. “All the experts said he was wrong and he won, and therefore there’s no reason to listen to an expert ever again.”

On Thursday, I spoke with one of the Democrats who is hoping to ride an actual blue wave this November. Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official under the Obama Administration, is running against a Republican incumbent in the Seventh Congressional District of New Jersey, a largely suburban district that includes Trump’s Bedminster golf club, where the President just spent his August vacation. (“We jokingly talk about turning his putting green blue in November,” Malinowski told me.) A Republican has represented the district since 1981, but Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Trump there in 2016, Democratic turnout far exceeded Republican turnout in the June primary for the first time, and Malinowski has so far outraised the incumbent, Leonard Lance. Cook ranks the race a toss-up, and  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2018 at 12:22 pm

Trump can’t understand anything: Agent Orange example

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Jeet Heer reports in the New Republic:

Trump argues with veterans about napalm, Agent Orange and Apocalypse Now.

The Daily Beast reports that on March 17, 2017 President Donald Trump met with a delegation of veterans’ groups and got into a bizarre dispute about a film classic. Rick Weidman, co-founder of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), brought up the problem of Agent Orange, asking the president to broaden the number of veterans who can receive VA benefits for treatment from the herbicide, which was used during the Vietnam War. The president seemed to confuse Agent Orange with napalm, an incendiary gel that was also deployed in that conflict. The president claimed the problem with Agent Orange had already been dealt with.

The the conversation took a strange turn. As The Daily Beast describes the scene:

Attendees began explaining to the president that the VA had not made enough progress on the issue at all, to which Trump responded by abruptly derailing the meeting and asking the attendees if Agent Orange was “that stuff from that movie.”

He did not initially name the film he was referencing, but it quickly became clear as Trump kept rambling that he was referring to the classic 1979 Francis Ford Coppola epic Apocalypse Now, and specifically the famous helicopter attack scene set to the “Ride of the Valkyries.

Source present at the time tell The Daily Beast that multiple people—including Vietnam War veterans—chimed in to inform the president that the Apocalypse Now set piece he was talking about showcased the U.S. military using napalm, not Agent Orange.

Trump refused to accept that he was mistaken and proceeded to say things like, “no, I think it’s that stuff from that movie.”

Eventually the president said the problem was that Weidman “just didn’t like the movie.”

The exchange is in keeping with the haphazard way that Trump has handled veterans’ matters. The Daily Beast also notes that veterans’ issues had been part of the portfolio of former reality show star Omarosa Manigault-Newman. According to one veterans’ advocate, during a February 2017 meeting Manigault-Newman “showed up late, interrupted us, and said she was taking the lead.”

Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that a small cabal of the president’s cronies, none of them holding public office, were shaping VA policy. These wealthy friends of the president all belonged to his private club Mar-a-Lago. Members of this cabal sometimes tried to use the VA to promote their private interests.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2018 at 11:56 am

Trump Goes for Broke on Claim Military Received No Money Before His Watch. (He’s Still Wrong.)

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Linda Qiu reports in the NY Times:


“Last year, we secured a historic $700 billion to rebuild our military. And now the National Defense Authorization Act paves the way for 1,700 — listen to this now. So we’ve been trying to get money. They never gave us money for the military for years and years. And it was depleted. We got $700 billion. And next year, already approved, we have $716 billion to give you the finest planes and ships and tanks and missiles anywhere on earth.”

— President Trump, speaking to Army soldiers at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Monday



Mr. Trump’s claim is wrong on two fronts: that the approved funding levels are “historic” and that the military “never” had money “for years and years.” It’s also not clear what he was referring to when he said the act “paves the way for 1,700.”

The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019, which Mr. Trump signed on Monday, provides $716 billion for the Pentagon’s basic operations and war spending, as well as the Department of Energy’s national security programs.

That’s not the largest military budget in recent history, let alone all of American history. Even if inflation is not taken into account, President Barack Obama signed a $726 billion National Defense Authorization Actfor the 2011 fiscal year.

Adjusted for inflation, Congress authorized more money for the Pentagon every fiscal year between 2007 and 2012, during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Trump may have been referring to the sequester, in which Congress placed limits on military spending in 2011; they were effectively lifted in February. But his statement — that the Pentagon “never” received money during that time — is patently wrong. As The New York Times has previously reported:

From 2012 to 2017, the Pentagon’s annual budget had decreased as a percent of the economy. But it still hovered around $600 billion — a far cry from “no money” at all.

The United States’ military spending has consistently outstripped the rest of the world’s. In fact, it has been higher than the next seven to 11 countries combined since 2012, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.


After the signing of the bill, Mr. Trump made several more inaccurate claims at a fund-raiser in Utica, N.Y.

Source: Senate Armed Forces Committee, Pentagon comptroller, Congressional Research Service

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 12:39 pm

Rod Rosenstein still doesn’t get the problem with forensics

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein gave a speech on Tuesday to the National Symposium on Forensic Science in Washington. This isn’t his first such speech: He gave a similar talk in February to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences conference and another about this time last year to the International Association for Identification.

I critiqued that last speech here at The Watch. In the year since, nothing much has changed. Despite a stream of crime lab scandals, the doubt cast on forensics by DNA exonerations and blistering critiques of entire fields of forensics from the scientific community, Rosenstein insists that we should stop insisting that “forensic science” meet the standards of “science,” and that we should trust the Justice Department to fix these problems internally, without input from independent scientific bodies.

For decades, police and prosecutors have pushed the fields of forensics known as pattern matching as a science.

They got away with it because the scientific community largely steered clear of the criminal-justice system. But in the 1990s, DNA testing — a field that was developed and honed in the scientific community — became common. DNA tests started to show that some of the people that forensics experts had declared guilty were, in fact, innocent. In the years since, the scientific community has become increasingly vocal about, well, the lack of science in forensic science, particular in pattern-matching disciplines.

In most pattern-matching fields, an analyst looks at two pieces of evidence — fingerprints, bite marks, the ballistics marks on bullets, footprints, tire tracks, hair fibers, clothing fibers, or “tool marks” from a screwdriver, hammer, pry bar or other object — and determines whether they’re a match. In others, like blood-spatter analysis, experts don’t even attempt to match two pieces of evidence. They simply draw conclusions based on assumptions about how blood moves through the air. These are entirely subjective fields. And that’s the heart of the problem. Even objective fields of science are plagued by confirmation bias. Scientists have to be vigilant about combating unconscious bias by conducting double-blind studies and subjecting their work to peer review and statistical analysis. To gain acceptance in the scientific community, studies must also be reproducible. To be legitimate, a scientific test should have a calculable margin for error.

None of this is true in the pattern-matching fields of forensics. So in response, defenders of these disciplines have shifted: These fields aren’t really science. They’re “soft sciences,” similar to fields such as psychiatry or economics. They might not undergo the rigors of the scientific method, the argument goes, but they still have evidentiary value.

This is the line that Rosenstein and his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have taken at the Justice Department in brushing aside scientists’ criticism. The Obama administration created the National Commission on Forensic Science so that scientists could assess the reliability and validity of some of these areas of forensics. One of Sessions’s first acts as attorney general was to allow the commission’s charter to expire without renewal. In his talk last year, Rosenstein announced a new program that would evaluate forensic fields, but it would be within the Justice Department, it would not include any “hard” scientists, and it would be led by a career prosecutor with a history of opposing efforts to bring transparency, accountability and scientific accuracy to forensics. Here’s Rosenstein’s argument from his talk on Tuesday.

Most of you work on the front lines of the criminal justice system, where forensic science has been under attack in recent years. Some critics would like to see forensic evidence excluded from state and federal courtrooms.

You regularly face Frye and Daubert motions that challenge the admission of routine forensic methods.

Many of the challenged methods involve the comparison of evidence patterns like fingerprints, shell casings, and shoe marks to known sources.  Critics argue that the methods have not undergone the right type or amount of validation, or that they involve too much human interpretation and judgment to be accepted as “scientific” methods.

Those arguments are based on the false premise that a scientific method must be instrument-based, automated, and quantitative, excluding human interpretation and judgment. Such critiques contributed to a recent proposal to amend Federal Rule of Evidence 702 for cases involving forensic evidence. The effort stems from an erroneously narrow view of the nature of science and its application to forensic evidence.

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 uses the phrase “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge,” which makes clear that it is designed to permit testimony that calls on skills and judgment beyond the knowledge of laypersons, and not merely of scientists who work in laboratories.

Forensic science is not only quantitative or automated. It need not be entirely free from human assumptions, choices, and judgments. That is not just true of forensic science. It is also the case in other applied expert fields like medicine, computer science, and engineering.

Often when pattern-matching analysts testify, they go to great lengths to describe how careful and precise they are at collecting and preserving evidence. They talk about all the precautions and steps they take before performing their analysis. It can sound impressive — and it’s all entirely beside the point. You can be the most careful, precise and cautious expert witness on the planet when it comes to preparing evidence for analysis, but if your actual analysis is no more than “eyeballing it,” your method of analysis still isn’t science.

Rosenstein’s speech on Tuesday has a similar effect. It’s all true, it all sounds impressive … and it all misses the point entirely. That the federal rules of evidence allow for expert testimony that “is not only quantitative or automated” is precisely the problem. That’s how the system got into trouble.

Rosenstein then went on to describe what the Justice Department is doing to improve forensic testimony, such as closer monitoring and evaluation of the testimony of FBI experts, and instituting uniform language that experts should use to quantify their level of certainty. Both initiatives, he said, are “designed to maintain the consistency and quality of our lab reports and testimonial presentations to ensure that they meet the highest scientific and ethical standards.”

Again, both of these initiatives sound impressive. But if the testimony of pattern-matching experts is being evaluated by other pattern matching experts, by federal law enforcement agents who buy into pattern-matching analysis, or really by anyone who stands to benefit from a less-skeptical outlook on forensics, you aren’t really changing anything. I’ve used this analogy many times, but it fits: If you were to assemble a commission to evaluate the scientific validity of tarot card reading, you wouldn’t populate that commission with other tarot card readers. Yet this is one of the most common critiques law enforcement officials make of the various scientific bodies that have issued warnings about forensics — that they lack any members who actually practice the fields of forensics being criticized.

There’s a similar issue with uniformity of language. Yes, if there were a standard set of phrases all forensic analysts used to express their level of certainty about a piece of evidence, that would be preferable to not having such a system. But if the analysis itself is based on little more than each expert’s subjective judgment — if there’s no measurable, quantifiable, reproducible explanation for why a hair sample is “consistent with” a suspect rather than “a match” to the suspect — then everything boils down to the credibility of that expert.

None of this is to say that all pattern-matching fields are useless. Some — like bite-mark matching — have little to no value at all and should be prohibited from courtrooms. Other fields could be useful in excluding possible suspects but are less reliable at identifying one suspect to the exclusion of all others, such as hair fiber analysis. And a few, like fingerprint analysis, could still be useful for that sort of identification, though even here analysts often overstate their certainty.

So how should we assess which fields of forensics are legitimate and which aren’t? Since Rosenstein and other advocates object to the term “scientific” — though note that in the very same speech, Rosenstein can’t help using the term to describe the Justice Department’s reforms — let’s set that debate aside. If we’re going to allow forensic expert witnesses to “match” two or more pieces of evidence in order to implicate a suspect, what is it that we want that testimony to be? If it isn’t that it be scientific, or that it adhere to Justice Department standards, or that it be within the guidelines of some obscure forensic governing body, what is it?

I think there are two things we’re looking for. First, we want these analysts to be right. If an expert says the evidence implicates a suspect, we want that suspect actually to be guilty. If a fingerprint analyst says a print found at the crime scene matches a suspect, we want that suspect to at least have been at the crime scene.

Second, we want expert testimony to be reliable. In too many areas of pattern-matching forensics, you’ll often have two reputable, certified experts offer diametrically opposing testimony about the same piece of evidence. If two well-regarded experts can look at the same piece of evidence and come to opposite conclusions, there isn’t enough certainty about that particular field to include it in a court of law. (Of course, if two experts contradict one another at trial, that also invokes the first rule — one of them must be wrong.) At this point, jurors are no longer assessing the facts; they’re assessing which expert they find more credible. And when we assess experts’ credibility, we tend to look at all sorts of factors that have little to do with the facts, such as their clothes, their mannerisms and the attorney questioning them. In fact, witnesses who offer their opinions with resolute yet baseless certainty will often seem more credible to jurors than experts who couch their opinions in the careful language of a scientist.

So here’s a proposal: For each field of pattern-matching forensics, we need an independent body to administer a proficiency test that measures accuracy, reliability or both. In the field of ballistics, for example, it wouldn’t be difficult to ask analysts to match a given number of bullets to a given number of guns. If they don’t meet a minimum level of accuracy, they’d be barred from testifying in court. (Given the stakes, that minimum standard should probably be close to 100 percent.) You could do the same for many other fields: If you’re giving testimony about footprint matches that sends people to prison, it doesn’t seem overly onerous to ask you to first prove that you know how to match footprints.

For some fields — such as bite-mark or blood-spatter analysis, or tool marks on human skin — an accuracy test would be difficult: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2018 at 9:38 am

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