29 July 2016

An incomplete list of dumb ideas

An incomplete list of political positions Trump has taken that are morally reprehensible or stupid. More importantly, this list all contradicts common public perceptions. For example that he is "isolationist", "non-interventionist", "realist" on foreign policy. Or that the more common perception that he is "softer" on social issues than his Republican counterparts. How this is relevant when he is still far to the right of Democrats or libertarians is not clear. 
One can agree with some or any of these as policy agendas, but one should not be able to examine a list like this and come away with the interpretation that these are positions compatible with the above views. This should not also be taken as a complete list of Trump's dumb ideas (in my view) but rather a list which refutes certain common narratives which I see frequently expressed. His views on immigration more broadly and any number of other issues I take to be quite awful as well, but I would prefer to focus on stuff people haven't paid as much attention to or might take to be false if they have casually involved themselves on the subjects at hand. 
1 - Mercantilism motivates most of his trade and foreign policy positions. This was a discredited economic perspective over 200 years ago, involving zero sum competition and tariffs/protectionism rather than mutual cooperation and trade (a position which allows for more economic and social growth). Global trade and competition does involve winners and losers, but the "losers" are easily predictable ahead of time and could be accommodated through domestic policies. 
2- Colonialism motivates the remainder of foreign policy perspectives, the idea of taking over the strategically valuable territory or resources of a country if it is attacked or invaded. This is idiotic. Such resources are used or sold on open markets. So long as the country attacked or invaded is not attempting to impose export tariffs on the goods or resources it is capable of distributing abroad, it's virtually irrelevant to consumers where such things will come from. On economic grounds. People may have moral concerns about the government or non-state actors, but that's different from the economic viability of trade. In either event, naked conquest for the purpose of resource extraction or tribute extraction is an idea which was last common in the 19th century as European powers conquered Africa and SE Asia. 
3 - Opposes 14th amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship. This is not merely a statement about opposing "illegal immigration" but an effort to reduce legal migration and immigration by adding an additional step to provide for the guarantee of citizenship rights. There is a minority legal position that in any way the 14th amendment does not provide for birthright citizenship, but it does not appear to be held in mainstream legal theories or have clear legal precedence that could make this likely to be overturned. In fact most of his legal views are inscrutably bad, suggesting he has little or no familiarity with the legal and judicial system, or otherwise no idea what he is talking about where Constitutional concerns would arise. 
4 - Supported a government shutdown attempt over Planned Parenthood funding (last year). His views on abortion may have "evolved" but the belief that they are more socially liberal is based upon positions he held almost 2 decades ago. I would prefer to evaluate someone on the basis of what they now hold to be the case rather than what they implied when I was still in high school. 
5 - Stated women who receive abortions should have legal penalties. It was his first instinct to respond with the most aggressive possible legal sanctions. This was walked back, slowly. 
6 - Stated he would attempt to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v Wade. The list of judges that was leaked was viewed favorably by anti-choice groups for the likelihood of doing so.
7 - Buys into the "War on Christmas" narrative.
8 - Wants to abolish IRS rules on religious organisations and political campaigning.
9 - Supported NC House Bill 2, a bill removing LGBT anti-discrimination protections enacted by local governments. (He did change his mind on this, but he now supports it).
10 - Expressed same position on same sex marriage for over two decades. Which is that he does not support it. His supreme court short list included a number of anti-LGBT judges and he suggested after Obergefell that he would seek to overturn it.
11 - Suggests having the DoJ investigate Black Lives Matter protesters and organisations. In addition to other first amendment violations regarding freedom of the press; somehow expanding libel laws, attempting to bar disfavored reporters or media organs from covering his events, etc. 
12 - Mocked a reporter with a visible disability during a speech, suggesting no sympathy for people with physical maladies and disabilities. 
13 - Supports using stop and frisk searches (a highly questionable and probably unconstitutional practice of searching people without a clear Terry basis for a stop).
14 - Supports torture and capital punishment.
15 - Opposes legalisation of marijuana, and supports increasing enforcement efforts in the drug war
16 - Supported Iraq war and Libya, and generally supports the same policies as Clinton for Syria, and her pre-treaty positions for Iran. All of which are quite hawkish positions.
17 - Long history of deploying racist or fearmongering propaganda where it concerns Native Americans.
18 - Is fine with nuclear proliferation, which increases risks of very damaging military conflicts, which may or may not involve us, or nuclear terrorism (a fear which I would tend to ignore under ordinary circumstances). This is not a favorable non-interventionist position if it increases the danger or risk coming from foreign powers to an unacceptable degree. The purpose of non-interventionism is to get along with other nations on a neutral but friendly basis and thus reinforce acceptable international norms (things like "you don't need nuclear weapons" being among them). The point is not to increase the mayhem and chaos of the world but to engage with the world in a responsible manner. 
19 - Generally gives favorable approval of "strongman" behavior (Turkey's post-coup behaviors for example). This does not indicate interventionism, but it reinforces the probability that he might wish to govern in an aggressively anti-democratic way. 
20 - Can't make up his mind about Ukraine, but seems to be demanding we become more involved or makes demands that NATO become more involved. 
21 - Wishes to maintain very close ties to Israel, while putting forward positions on NATO/West Pac that are favorably viewed by rivals or hostile states in those regions (Russia/DPRK/China). As a general strategic view of the world, this is very unusual. Israel alone requires military aid without qualifications? Even though it has already a stronger and more advanced military and economy than any of its neighbours/rivals? As a theory of politics it suggests we should only help those who don't need it by being already strong. 

19 July 2016

Stateless actors

One of the key elements in "fighting terrorism" I have noted is a reliance upon occupation and bombing campaigns of other places in a theory that fighting terrorism abroad means we won't have to deal with it here. This sort of logic lay under a lot of late 20th century foreign policy, through offshoring and other proxy fights with communist rulers across the globe on a theory that preventing the spread of communism to new countries would prevent it from spreading here. A more sensible understanding was that communism was never going to be that fertile in the US anyway, and much of Western Europe and other allies either and that all that was necessary was containment while the ideology destroyed itself. The mythology that Reagan won the Cold War has some pieces of merit, but at no point did he directly confront the USSR militarily in battle either (indirectly in Afghanistan and other places, yes). This should be instructive to understanding the limitations of the fighting abroad logic.

But what is really demonstrative is comparing the chaos caused by terrorism now to that of the 19th century anarchists (and some communists). This period spawned shootings, bombings, and political assassinations all over the world for several decades. The common cause was ideological, sometimes vaguely, and this inspired individual actors with guns and bombs to mayhem and violence. There was no other country to go invade or bomb to put a stop to it, as there is not really today either. The problem was growing and incubating within each country itself. It came from an idea, not a border. The problem now resembles this far more than the Cold War rubric that seems to dominate strategic action or what passes for strategic thought today. There is a "state" in the form of ISIS, which functions in a bureaucratic sense to administer territory, but the relevant feature of that state is not its ability to threaten us, or even its neighbours, with invasion and devastation in military conflict. It cannot do any such thing. It is the ability of this state's ideology to inspire action abroad to make small scale isolated attacks in an attempt to terrorize or at least annoy their perceived enemies. When or if it is crushed as an illegitimate state force, this result will be largely irrelevant. Other groups carry similar ideological beliefs (al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, etc), and have inspired or carried out large scale attacks of their own. Conflict in military arenas is not the appropriate strategic realm on which to fight this problem in the first place, but appears to be the only dominant method we have considered executing.

It flows nicely from the "we must do something, this is something, let's do it" logic that I suspect pervades much public action. What we "know how do to do" is bomb locations or targets, and defeat enemies militarily with logistics, stealth, and firepower. Therefore that's what we're going to do by Jove. But almost all of which is useless against ideas. And typically involves a very expensive method of attempting with violence and force, and mostly failing, to stablize regions and governments that might spread and sponsor such ideas. This should be recognized as a dysfunctional method of response. Or at best, only a part of a response.

It is by now a common set of wisdom however that if they hit us, we hit them back. This is not a solution to most problems at the age of 4 or 5 in observing the play of children. It is hardly a solution to most problems for adults. Much less nation-states. A better analogy might work something like this. It is reasonable to take steps to deter a mosquito bite, to try to prevent mosquitoes from approaching you or an outdoor patio when one is in a summer or spring repose taking in the day. It is even reasonable to slap and kill the mosquito when it should bite you. It is not reasonable to decide after such a bite that you shall endeavour to exterminate any insects of any kind near you, most of which have done and will do nothing so remarkable even as to provide a small itchy patch of skin. This is generally what our responses look more like than the more limited "slap the mosquito" response.

In a foreign policy or national security explanation, we should be attempting to gather intelligence. On suspected terrorists, not on everyone, with a more strict limitation on what constitutes "terrorism". We should be taking reasonable but not onerous and super-expensive security steps. So some minor security screening to get on airplanes, with those having secured cockpits and alert but not paranoid passengers. And not rigorous and endless lines involving the removal of shoes and belts and toothpaste at great expense of time and energy (and lives) for little or no gain in actual security or deterrence of threats. We should be operating intelligence along the outer rim of groups that are deemed at risk of violent action (white supremacists, Islamic radicals, anti-choice radicals, etc), to try to identify and deter possible violence before it happens. But we should not be treating anyone with a generic Muslim heritage, members of biker gangs, or anyone using vaguely anti-government rhetoric as a potential terrorist either. Same with mental health issues and on down the line as subjects we have highlighted for prejudicial assessment in this way. We should not be deploying weapons of war to our own local and state police forces. These are of little use for most towns and cities in the project of anti-terrorism. They are of great use in the oppression of citizens local rights instead. And we should not be seeking to conduct bombing campaigns aggressively in other countries in the hopes of possibly killing "terrorists". Who are often insurgents, at least in parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, and no thus no threat to us here.

Violence that we would prefer to avoid is in this sense a disease. It is not solved by spreading it to more people than those who are already afflicted by it. Or afflicting yet more violence upon those already at risk of it.

05 July 2016

Thoughts on the email/Clinton scandal

I have generally been meh in reaction to this as a scandal. In so far as I agree it is a scandal, there is that. But it also does not present much useful information for me. There were a number of reasons I was not very moved for or against Clinton.

It was always to my mind extremely unlikely she would be prosecuted or charged with a crime. High government officials are rarely held legally accountable for their behavior. David Petraeus essentially did the same thing. He in fact deliberately leaked information, something which would be hard to prove in Clinton's case, and only got probation and a fine. There were numerous scandals and public officials under investigation during the Reagan administration. Very few of them went to jail; one was a cabinet official convicted of bribery involving public housing projects and building contractors. Agnew was convicted of tax evasion, but Nixon was pardoned for Watergate. Albert Fall was the first cabinet official ever convicted of a crime while in office and that took until the Harding administration and Teapot Dome. And so on. This makes no statement of whether the legal system should be more involved in the accountability of public officials in the executive branch. It's a statement that they usually aren't charged and convicted when something sketchy legally occurs, and that any expectation that would happen here should be tempered by the knowledge that it hasn't happened very often. As to why it does not happen more often.
a) It can be really hard to prove an actual crime was committed deliberately. Bribery for example has to usually show there was some significant political favor purchased with the bribes. It isn't as simple as showing that money moved from point A to point B. These are rarely cases involving direct physical evidence like a murder or robbery that can be examined separate from the case itself.
b) Justice department officials and public executive officials, like local police and prosecutors, more or less have to work with each other and have strong incentives not to rock the boat too much where it concerns a high official who if they screw up the prosecution and gets off, then is likely to still be The Boss. And probably will not be very happy with whomever tried to grind an axe and failed.

Without a legal charge, there was little probability that it would have a major impact on the campaign. As a scandal it largely fit the processing of how many people already saw the Clintons (both Bill and Hillary). This is more a statement about us than it is about her. If people already saw her as hypocritical or duplicitous, then behavior which appears hypocritical or duplicitous simply reinforces the existing narrative. Many people already held this view of the Clintons and of Hillary in particular. This was not changed or altered in some fundamental way such that it actually matters in campaign horse race terms. I generally see coverage to the contrary as media attempting to get attention for something rather than reporting on something new and interesting. Such as any policy shifts she has made, and proposed to make, and whether those will be good for the country/world or not.

As a statement about her judgment it says very little. A more concerning feature of judgment is her assessments of waging war in Libya. Without a probable long-term campaign to re-stabilize the country after deposing a ruler, or risking any long-term diplomatic strategy for getting China and Russia on board if a more significant foreign government/dictator actually needed to be deposed, like, say, Assad in Syria. The Benghazi "scandal" has largely ignored this question during investigation, most likely because many elite Republicans favored intervention in Libya, much as they favored intervention in Iraq (as she did too). The email scandal meanwhile has occasionally been linked into questions over her support for NSA metadata collection, opposition to publicly available encryption, continued processing of far too many government documents as classified or other attempts to keep them from public view, and so on.

These to me are the far more important questions of her judgment being in error as these potentially negatively impact the civil liberties of millions of American citizens and residents, something a President has enormous power and sway to do. Likewise pushing for an ill-advised bombing campaign for the purpose of regime change in an unstable area without likely stability in the form of new leadership (which is judged in some way morally superior), seems like a poor judgment. The bigger picture seems more important than whether or not some sensitive documents were hacked because they were improperly handled. That's more or less par for the course right now, in my estimation, because that's kind of how the internet works right now. Documents will be hacked if someone wants to hack them. Or leaked if someone wants to leak them.