September 28, 2018

Historic Hearing

Yesterday, Brett Kavanaugh proved beyond doubt that he is unqualified to be a judge, much less a Supreme Court justice. After showing himself to be a mean and vindictive witness, it is easy to imagine him as a mean drunk, as he has been characterized by a number of women.

After being coached by Trump’s minions at the White House, Kavanaugh changed his demeanor from innocent choir boy to cornered and enraged tiger. He exhibited a huge chip on his shoulder and wove a conspiracy theory about Democrats out to get him to even the score for Trump’s electoral victory, oppose his political views, and repay him for his role in the Ken Starr investigation. He complained about the millions spent to oppose his candidacy, ignoring the millions spent in its favor. He inveighed against damage to his reputation and family but showed no sympathy for the trauma and indignity endured by Dr. Blasey.

Kavanaugh evaded questions and talked incessantly in order to use up the little time each senator was allotted for questioning. He had the nerve to ask one senator a question, as if she were on trial. Most importantly, when repeatedly asked if he would request an FBI investigation of the charges against him, he consistently evaded the question, saying that such an investigation was up to the committee and, in any case, would not draw conclusions. (This last assertion is beside the point, of course. The FBI could solicit sworn testimony that would likely cast doubt on Kavanaugh’s indignant show of innocence.)

Kavanaugh’s questioning followed that of  Christine Blasey Ford. Dr. Blasey’s performance was nothing short of totally believable. Even an outside prosecutor could find no contradictions or suspicious details in her story. Though admittedly nervous, she maintained her composure and was forthright about what she could and could not remember. She declared herself 100% certain of the identity of her attacker and was even helpful in pointing out how some missing details of her story could be filled in. She, too, asked for additional FBI investigation.

It was expected that the hearing would be a he-said-she-said affair requiring a difficult choice of whom to believe. It was not! Any reasonable, objective person—apparently no GOP senator on the committee is in this class—would conclude that Blasey told the truth and that Kavanaugh lied and evaded. If Christine Blasey Ford was not telling the truth, she should be scooped up by Hollywood, as her performance was of Oscar caliber. If she was not telling the truth, she is the greatest actress of this age, perhaps of any age.

Kavanaugh, on the other hand, has shown himself to have a mean streak in his personality and a disregard for truth and the search for it. He is a privileged white male angry that anyone should attempt to limit his privilege. He lacks a judicial temperament. Not only should he not be a Supreme Court justice, but he also should be removed from his current position as a federal appellate judge.

NOTE: I am writing this about an hour before the Senate Judiciary Committee is almost certainly going to forward Kavanaugh’s nomination with a positive recommendation to the full Senate. I hope his nomination will be stopped in that body.

September 26, 2018

Stanislav Petrov Day

On this day in 1983, Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov (1939–2017), who was the duty officer at the Soviet Union’s command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, likely saved the world from nuclear war. The system he was monitoring indicated that six missiles had been launched from the United States targeted at the Soviet Union. In September 1983, relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were tense, and a nuclear attack, though unlikely, was not inconceivable.

For a variety of reasons, Petrov guessed that the alarm was false. He was, of course, correct, and he did not report an attack to his superiors. It is feared that, given the political tensions of the time, Soviet leaders might well have launched a counterattack, which would have elicited a similar response from the U.S.

As it happened, the warning that Petrov received was the result of a confluence of unusual circumstances misinterpreted by a relatively new monitoring system. He did not know this, however, and his failure to report an American attack may well have saved the world from nuclear holocaust. The incident ultimately resulted in changes to the Soviet early warning system.

Petrov received little recognition in his native Russia but has received a number of awards from the West. More information about him and his heroic inaction can be found on Wikipedia.

On this day, it is appropriate that we offer a moment of silence or prayer in thanksgiving for Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov.

Stanislav Petrov
Stanislav Petrov in 2016 (photo by Queery-54)

September 24, 2018

In What Year Did Brett Kavanaugh Stop Assaulting Women?

A second woman (and possibly others) have accused Supreme Court justice candidate Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. First, it was an incident in high school. Now we have a charge of an incident in college. We are told that Kavanaugh has led an exemplary life. We must ask, however, in what year did he stop abusing women? When did he become the paragon of virtue described by the president and GOP senators?

Kavanaugh’s truthfulness and his expansive view of the presidency have already come into question. But the president and his minions in Congress have attempted to hurry through the Kavanaugh nomination before he is thoroughly vetted and before any more damaging information comes to light.

Under the circumstances, it is time for Brett Kavanaugh to withdraw from consideration to become a Supreme Court justice. This country is in danger of having a Supreme Court 22% of whose members are likely guilty of sexual improprieties. Of course, this is no concern of those radicals who see the reversing of Roe v. Wade as the highest priority of the United States of America.

Let’s get this increasingly ugly mess out of the way. Let the president find another, more appropriate, candidate to elevate to the Supreme Court. How about Merrick Garland?

Kavanaugh: Withdraw!
Click on image for a larger view.

My earlier posts on Judge Kavanaugh can be found here, here, and here.

September 22, 2018

Clean Your PC

My PC, which was once very quiet, has been quite noisy of late. Initially, this was worrisome, as I feared the noises, which were clearly coming from some rotating device, indicated that my hard drive was about to fail. On careful listening, however, it didn’t seem like the hard drive was making the noise.

Like many computer users, I keep my “desktop” machine on the floor under my desk. I knew that the fans in the computer tend to suck in dust, a particular problem because I have two cats who cannot seem to keep all their fur attached. Once before, I wiped off the accumulation of dust from the perforations on the side of the computer and decreased the noise made by the PC by doing so. That trick didn’t work this time. Almost certainly, the fans designed to keep everything cool were working very hard to move air through an accumulation of dust and making unusually noises in the process.

I opened the case and began a more thorough cleaning. My computer contains three fans, each of which can suck in dust. There is a small fan at the back of the power supply, a larger one below it ventilating the case generally, and a fan mounted atop the CPU heat sink. In each case, I used the suction function of my vacuum cleaner to remove dust. I also dusted other components with a soft bush, a shaving bush, actually, which comes in handy for such tasks.

When finished, I replaced the side panel of the case and turned on the machine. I now hear only the slightest hum, but I have become acutely aware of the noises made by my refrigerator.

If you are hearing loud whirring sounds from your PC, you might want to try cleaning it as I did mine. It’s a good idea to remove power from the computer first. Keep metal implements away from internal components. Oh, and be careful with that vacuum cleaner. Don’t let it get near anything other than a fan intake.  I inadvertently sucked up a USB drive that was lying nearby and had to retrieve it from the dust bag.

September 20, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Round 3

I want to address the charges Dr. Blasey has brought against Judge Kavanaugh as this psycho-political national drama moves toward a conclusion. My first post on this subject can be found here. My most recent post is here.
As of this writing, it is unclear whether Christine Blasey Ford will testify against Brett Kavanaugh before the Judiciary Committee. Senator Grassley is insisting that the testimony be given at a session on Monday and that Dr. Blasey deliver a statement to the committee by tomorrow. Dr. Blasey, on the other hand, wants there to be an FBI investigation of her charges before she testifies. It is unclear how this standoff will end. Although the GOP line is that an FBI investigation would be irregular, there was such an investigation, albeit a less than intensive one, after Anita Hill brought forward her charges of sexual harassment against judicial candidate Clarence Thomas.

We should ask whether the assertions of Dr. Blasey, if determined to be true, will make any difference. The alleged rape attempt took place a long time ago and may well be dismissed by senators as a “youthful indiscretion.” If Judge Kavanaugh has not carried his drinking and sexual predation practices into adulthood, does this one incident really matter? If he has since lived an exemplary life, should he be denied his chance to become a Supreme Court justice?

Of course, if Dr. Blasey’s story is true, we must ask whether it was an aberration on the part of her attacker or whether it was part of a pattern of which we are presently unaware. An FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh’s youth might be indicated.

Dr. Blasey’s charges are certainly serious. It is clear, as I am sure she will testify, that the incident has been deeply troubling and has engendered a long-term psychological burden. That burden is particularly heavy for having been visited on a 15-year-old girl. Will this matter to the senators on the Judiciary Committee? Anita Hill, to whose situation that of Dr. Blasey is being compared, wrote this two days ago in The New York Times:
In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.
I fear that the committee will fail again.

Her accomplishments make it clear that Dr. Blasey is a smart woman. She knows what Anita Hill went through. It is almost inconceivable that she would make the charges she has were they not true. If committee members are convinced that Dr. Blasey’s story is true, and if Judge Kavanaugh continues to insist that it is not, then he must be a liar. It is difficult to see how this would not be disqualifying. Ironically, it would be easier to excuse his actions were he to admit to them.

If there is a hearing with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey as witnesses, difficult questions will be asked of the reputed victim, and many will not be answerable. On what date did the attack occur? At whose house? Who was in charge? Who else was there? How do you know that Brett Kavanaugh was your assailant? Are you sure? Who did you tell about the attack? If you told no one, why did you not?

Questions must be asked of Judge Kavanaugh as well. Did you know Christine Blasey? Did you ever attend a party with her? Did you go to many parties? Were you a frequent drinker? Did you ever not remember events of the night before after drinking heavily? Were you sexually active at 17? Did you date younger girls when you were 17?

Without an investigation to shed more light on the situation, the proposed hearing will degenerate into a he-said-she-said affair. Democrats will believe Dr. Blasey and vote against the nomination. Republicans will pretend to believe Judge Kavanaugh and will send his nomination to the full Senate with a recommendation to consent to the nomination. And the country will take another step on the road to perdition.

September 19, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, Round 2

I was writing a new post about the charges leveled against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when I learned that his accuser is requesting an FBI investigation of those charges before she testifies before the Judiciary Committee. I’ve put that post on hold, so I can write about the situation we now find ourselves in. My original post on the Kavanaugh-Ford matter can be found here. In the interest of clarity in what follows, I will refer to Kavanaugh as Judge Kavanaugh and to Ford as Dr. Blasey, by which name she is known professionally. In the incident described by Dr. Blasey, of course, she was simply Christine Blasey.
Dr. Christine Blasey, through her lawyer, has requested that the FBI investigate her charges against Judge Kavanaugh before she offers testimony before the Senate. This is problematic. Dr. Blasey has agreed to testify, but committee chair Senator Chuck Grassley has scheduled testimony to be heard on September 24, five days from now, and he appears to view the date as non-negotiable. Not only does this leave insufficient time for an investigation, but the president and the FBI have rejected the investigation sought by Kavanaugh’s accuser.

The FBI asserts that it has added Dr. Blasey’s charges to its background file on Judge Kavanaugh and is not going to investigate what it construes to be a crime that is a state, rather than a federal, concern. This, of course, is nonsense. Government background checks do not merely collect rumors, but attempt to discover actual facts about the person being investigated. (Republicans no longer believe in facts. But I digress.) Adding a devastating charge to a background check without indicating if it is to be taken seriously is simply irresponsible.

President Trump has suggested that the Senate committee should investigate. This is reasonable in the abstract, but not in actuality. Such an investigation would be controlled by Republicans, who are not objective investigators. Moreover, the Judiciary Committee lacks both the resources and time to carry out such an investigation.

Why has Dr. Blasey made the request she has? This question is easy to answer. A hearing conducted now (or next Monday), absent more information than is now known, will simply become a he-said-she-said affair. There will be no objective means to determine who is telling the truth. Republicans will believe Judge Kavanaugh; Democrats will believe Dr. Blasey; and Judge Kavanaugh will likely become Justice Kavanaugh.

As I said in my earlier post, no one has a right to become a Supreme Court justice. The Judiciary Committee can use whatever criteria it chooses to decide Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness for office. The life tenure of Supreme Court justices should demand that the suitability of a particular candidate be established beyond a reasonable doubt, however. It should not be necessary that serious doubts about a candidate’s suitability be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is time for an investigation, preferably by a reasonably objective body such as the FBI. Perhaps there are witnesses who can establish that both Kavanaugh and Blasey attended the same party or that Blasey left unexpectedly and distraught. Perhaps there is evidence that would exonerate Kavanaugh. We won’t know unless we look into the matter. That should be done forthwith.

Note: An earlier version of this post asserted that the FBI has said that the Senate should investigate the charges against Judge Kavanaugh. It is the president, not the FBI, that has made this statement.

September 17, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford

Senate Republican leaders in the hours after The Post’s article was published indicated that they intended to move forward with voting on him. Republicans planned to argue that unless corroborating information came to light, they had no way of verifying her story and saw no reason to delay the vote, according to a person involved in the discussions.
The New York Times, 9/16/2018
The United States Senate is facing a challenge. GOP senators have been moving at breakneck speed in their attempt to elevate Brett M. Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court. This is happening despite the fact that voters largely object to Kavanaugh, as do Democrats, almost universally. The appeals court judge has a record of favoring corporate interests over personal ones, showing little interest in the rights of women, and believing that the President of the United States should be above the law. None of these are mainstream American views.

Installing Kavanaugh would be a triumph for the president, to whose agenda (and whims) Republicans seem obsequiously committed. In their haste, they have prevented senators from gaining access to thousands of documents relating to Kavanaugh’s service in the executive branch.

It is ironic, but understandable, given the ultra-partisanship of today’s Republican Party, that a GOP Senate blocked even consideration of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland on the flimsy excuse that a presidential election was “close,” more than half a year away. Kavanaugh’s nomination is being considered on an expedited basis despite being even closer to what may be the most significant election in the nation’s history.

Now comes an allegation of a sexual impropriety—seemingly, an attempted rape—against the Supreme Court nominee. What was, only a few days ago, an anonymous charge is now an assertion made by a respected psychologist willing to submit to questioning by the Senate.

Not surprisingly, Kavanaugh has denied sexual improprieties with Ms. Ford—then Christine Blasey—or with anyone else. Such a denial might be expected whether or not the allegations are true. Clearly, they would be hard to prove. Kavanaugh may well believe in his innocence, given that Ford has provided him with an excuse for forgetting the incident and for failing to follow through with the rape—he was falling-down drunk at the time. (He seems to have been proud of his drinking in high school.)

Ford’s charges against Kavanaugh cannot but bring to mind the allegations that Anita Hill brought against Clarence Thomas when he was being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court. Like Hill, Ford, assuming that she is the rational human being she seems to be, has no reason to expose herself to Republican hatred and ridicule other than a concern for her country and its judiciary. There is no apparent reason to disbelieve Ford’s narrative, just as there was no apparent reason to disbelieve that of Hill. Persons of goodwill may legitimately quibble about the relevance of Hill’s story, as well as Ford’s. What is likely, however, is that Ford, like Hill, will be publicly pilloried and, ultimately, ignored.

It would be easy to dismiss Ford’s story as less significant than Hill’s. Hill described relatively recent actions of an adult nominee; Ford told the story of an adolescent that happened many years ago. On the other hand, attempted rape is more serious than mere harassment. And victims of sexual assault commonly attempt to suppress its memory, a fact that helps explain Ford’s not having brought forth her charges earlier, perhaps years ago.

In this age of #MeToo, one might hope that Republican senators would reconsider how the charges against Clarence Thomas were handled and tread lightly in the present circumstances. After all, if Kavanaugh’s nomination is derailed, President Trump will get another chance to name a Supreme Court justice. (But, should the Senate change hands, will Democrats pull a Merrick Garland? Who knows?) In any case, there is strong evidence that Kavanaugh lied under oath when he was being considered for his present judgeship, and his recent answers before the Judiciary Committee have been, at best, guarded. Can he really be trusted to tell the truth? No one has a right to be a Supreme Court Justice. Surely there are better candidates—even Republican candidates—available.

September 10, 2018

Thoughts on “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”

Last Wednesday, The New York Times, published an op-ed essay anonymously written by “a senior official in the Trump administration.” The piece has elicited extensive commentary, addressing both its content and the decision of the Times to publish it. Fearing that I may have nothing original to say about “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” I nevertheless feel compelled to offer my own thoughts about the piece.

Four obvious questions come to mind:
  1. Who wrote the essay? This question has been given a lot of attention in the past few days.
  2. Why was it written? What was the author trying to accomplish?
  3. Why did The New York Times choose to publish it?
  4. What are we to make of the substance of the op-ed?
I am not a Washington insider and have no idea who might have written the essay. Many writers have speculated about the author, seemingly in the absence of actual evidence. We are unlikely to have our curiosity assuaged anytime soon; Deep Throat remained anonymous for decades. That many administration figures have denied authorship should hardly be taken at face value. The authorship question is entangled with the question of motivation, which I address below.

Saving America
Delcan & Company for The New York Times

Ironically, the president, who regularly calls the Mueller investigation a witch hunt, wants to initiate his own witch hunt —which my dictionary defines as “the act of unfairly looking for and punishing people who are accused of having opinions that are believed to be dangerous or evil”—for the writer. Trump claims the hunt for the author is a matter of national security, his motivation for everything from a border wall to outrageous tariffs. The op-ed is certainly not a threat to national security and is unquestionably not illegal, though one may quibble about its ethicality.

It is unclear why the op-ed was written, though speculation as to motive has more evidence to draw on. I think it unlikely, but some have suggested that the piece was written at the behest of the president. (The writing is too coherent to have been written by Trump himself, and the president surely could not have personally pitched it to the Times.) This theory posits that the essay is intended to appeal to the president’s base by casting him as their embattled champion. I doubt that Trump’s ego would allow him to conceive such a convoluted plot that relies on devastating criticism of himself.

In other words, I believe the op-ed was indeed written by a highly placed official in the Trump administration. I have no reason to think that The New York Times would mislead us in this regard. A cursory reading suggests that the writer intends to reassure citizens that, despite the president’s mercurial nature, there are adults in the White House intent upon preventing Trump from doing anything crazy. Indeed, we are told that “many Trump appointees” are engaged in this project. (It has even been suggested that the op-ed is the project of multiple authors, a notion that enhances the credibility of the assertion that patriots in the White House will be able to “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”)

The headline asserting that the writer is part of the “Resistance,” is somewhat misleading, The “Resistance” of the op-ed is not the Resistance of the left, which has claimed that name from the beginning of the Trump era. The author is explicit about the distinction and writes that “[w]e want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” Democrats and other opponents of this administration most definitely do not believe that Trump has made America safer and prosperous. We believe that Trump has been a singular disaster for America and for the world, a disaster whose consequences have yet to be fully realized.

The op-ed is, I think, aimed at three audiences. The True Believers, particularly the president’s evangelical supporters who may be having doubts related to Trump’s character, are being reassured that his worst proclivities are being held in check. The traditional Republicans—surely there are some left somewhere—are being told that Trump really is implementing a conventional, conservative GOP agenda. Those who believe that Trump’s is a ruinous presidency are expected to take some comfort that there are surreptitious forces restraining the chief executive. The author(s) probably hopes that the latter group will overlook the fact that those anonymous forces are not really on their side.

“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” is, in the end, a defense of an administration that many of us believe is indefensible.

We actually have concrete information as to why the Times decided to publish the anonymous op-ed in the form of a “Bulletin Board” post titled “How the Anonymous Op-Ed Came to Be.” (I am inclined to take “the failing New York Times” at its word.) Apparently, the piece was unsolicited and was brought to the paper by a trusted third party. According to Jim Dao, writing for the Times,
[W]e concluded that the author’s principal motivation was to describe, as faithfully as possible, the internal workings of a chaotic and divided administration and to defend the choice to nevertheless work within it.
Of course, the op-ed was also a significant scoop for the paper, as evidenced by the amount of attention it commanded.

The essay mostly confirmed the chaos in the White House of which we were already aware, thanks in part to excerpts from Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Fear: Trump in the White House. Of course, there is value in getting such information, even anonymously, directly from someone in the administration, unfiltered through a journalist. For most Americans, and particularly for Democrats, the op-ed offers little solace. Yes, there are adults in the room that may sometimes keep Trump from doing something stupid or reckless, but those “adults” still appear to be far-right conservatives intent on destroying as much of the government as possible.

The writer(s) expresses appreciation for “free minds, free markets[,] and free people,” but admits that Trump “has attacked [these ideals] outright.” His inclinations are “anti-trade and anti-democratic.”
He “shows a preference for autocrats and dictators … and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.” However well-meaning the administration’s “Resistance” may be, it has been, in the end, feckless. The essay raises the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, but it is clear that such a move is not going to happen.

The fundamental problem with Trump is described this way:
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.
I agree that Trump is “not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” The author(s) has made a significant mistake, however, in calling the president amoral. Admittedly, particularly in the American context, being amoral is a bad thing. But Trump is not amoral; he is immoral. He is hateful, vindictive, self-righteous, ignorant, mendacious, untrustworthy, callous, and boorish. He is very nearly evil personified. Consider the so-called seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Every one of these can be applied to our president. He believes himself to be best at everything, all evidence to the contrary. His life has been one of greed, pursued without scruples. I need hardly comment on lust! He envies other countries who have “cheated” the U.S., and one suspects that he envies those people whom, in his heart of hearts, he knows are in some way better than himself. As evidence of gluttony, I offer his weight, which he tries to minimize, and his love of junk food. His wrath is apparent every day; it seems a substitute for happiness. Finally, there is sloth. Trump has taken far more vacation days than other presidents, clearly enjoys golf more than governing, and appears to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting down in front of the television watching Fox News. Would that these were his only sins!

“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” offers insights into the workings of the current administration, but it offers no comfort. Whoever wrote the piece is engaging in self-serving self-righteousness in order to keep a job that is as much enabler as disruptor. He (or they) should resign, declare him- or herself, and admit to the American public that the emperor has no clothes. If indeed a cadre of Resistance folks resign at once, at least they will distract the president from his more evil enterprises for a time.