Sunday, August 20, 2017

Week 77: "Charlottesville" (August 20, 2017)

Dear Readers,

My apologies for disappearing for two months without notice! It had become increasingly difficult for me to write a paragraph about current events without descending into a string of expletives. I am finally calmer, and so here is the next edition! For all past newsletters, make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

Charlottesville

On Saturday, August 12th, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a far-right “Unite the Right” rally consisting of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other awful and radical groups was held to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure you’ve heard about the events of the rally thousands of time by now, so I’ll summarize. Counterprotesters gathered, and 2o-year-old Ohioan James Alex Fields Jr., a self-proclaimed white nationalist, drove his car into a group of counterprotesters. More than 30 people were injured, and one person, Heather Heyer, was killed.
In response, President Trump “[condemned] in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, many sides” a statement that neo-Nazi publication The Daily Stormer considered a victory. Their live-blog said “Trump comments were good... [He] implied that there was hate on both sides, so he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. ... God bless him.” Similarly, Richard Spencer, president of a white supremacist think tank, happily tweeted that Trump denounced antifa (a militant, fringe, far-left group present among the counterprotesters).
Two days later, Trump finally spoke out against racism and racist groups, declaring “those who cause violence in [racism’s] name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” That lasted all of a few hours, because the next day, at a press conference to present infrastructure plans, Trump said “You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.” He also equated Robert E. Lee to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and said their statues would come down next because they were slave-owners. In case you think for a second that this wasn’t bad, David Duke instantly tweeted out praise for Trump’scomments: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

After all this, there was a lot of fall-out. First, four CEOs resigned from the American Manufacturing Council. The Manufacturing Council was then disbanded, as well as the President's Strategic and Policy Forum, another collection of CEOs, which also saw several resignations. The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities also all resigned, sending the president a letter where the first letter of every paragraph spelled out “Resist.” Now, these councils don’t have very much power, but the image of three councils disbanding because of one event does not inspire confidence in the administration.
In addition, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, faced criticism from fellow Jews and his classmates at Yale for failing to denounce the president. In response, Mnuchin denounced neo-Nazis but insisted “the president in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways.” Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, also Jewish, stood on the stage on Tuesday as Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides,” and yet neither have resigned or even criticized the president.

Scary Steve Steps Down

Speaking of hate groups, Trump’s longtime advisor Steve Bannon -- known before his role with Trump for being the executive chair of Breitbart -- stepped down this week. He instantly returned to Breitbart and was praised by the president, who tweeted“fake news needs the competition.” Following this news, a cheer broke out on the floor of the stock exchange. Bannon had given a strange interview a couple of days earlier, calling out some of Trump’s cabinet officials, criticizing Trump’s actions regarding North Korea, and dismissing the far right as “losers.” Read it here, I highly recommend it. Bannon claims that he had resigned two weeks earlier, which would mean that this interview was not the reason for his stepping down, but it’s not entirely clear. Since returning to Breitbart, Bannon has said he’s “going to war” for the Trump agenda, and the site published an article today going after national security adviser H.R. McMaster as weak on terrorism. Bannon’s influence will still be felt, whether he has an official title or not, and only time will tell what may happen.

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to reply or comment.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Week 76: "Hung Parliament" (June 11, 2017)

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

The 2017 UK General Election

After months of excitement (ah, those Brits with their two-month elections. So civilized...), the citizens of the UK finally headed to the polls. A once confident Theresa May had seen her lead in the polls slip from 20 points to just 4. In the end, May’s Conservatives won the popular vote by only 2.4% and failed to secure a majority of seats. They won 317, requiring 326 for a majority. However, the very conservative Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland won 10 seats, enough to secure the Conservative government a very tenuous majority. May will remain Prime Minister for now, though many people on both sides of the aisle have called for her to step down.
So, faced with this failure, you may ask why the Conservatives bothered to call an election. Well, for starters, they were up 20 points in the polls at the time. “But still,” you say, “why risk loss?” Well, the Conservatives held 330 seats, just barely above a majority, and wanted to gain seats so they could pass more ambitious legislation. They couldn’t have predicted the massive swings to Corbyn and Labour during the campaign, but the decision has come back to bite them.
The other parties’ results deserve some attention. The Scottish National Party, who won nearly every seat in Scotland in 2015, lost 21 seats, mostly to the Conservatives but also some to Labour and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems gained a few seats, but also lost some seats they hold now. UKIP fell from 12% in 2015 to just 2% on Thursday. In Northern Ireland, only two parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, won seats, for the first time in recent memory (often the Ulster Unionists and SDLP will also win seats). And, of course, Labour gained 30 seats and won more raw votes than any Labour campaign since Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide with 12.87 million.

Comey Under Investigation

As Britain voted, former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In this testimony, Comey revealed he had given memos about his conversations with Trump to Robert Mueller, the special counsel over the Russia hearings. He also was questioned bizarrely by John McCain, who claimed he stayed up late watching a baseball game. Comey was also quoted as saying “Lordy, I hope there are tapes [of his conversations with Trump]”. He accused Donald Trump of lying, confirmed that Michael Flynn was under FBI investigation, and in general achieved a balance of actually giving valuable information and getting his name in the headlines (because Comey likes being in the news). And the effects are potentially disastrous for Trump, with Comey calling him a liar and opposing many things Trump has claimed.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply or comment.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Week 75: "More Important Things to Do" (June 4, 2017)

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

Pittsburgh, not Paris

Our President announced this week that America would be withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. He called the deal “draconian” and justified it, somehow, by saying he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Sorry, Mr. Trump, climate change is gonna have the same effect on the people of Pittsburgh as it will on the people of Paris. Elon Musk decided to leave the government panels on business he was previously on, and Thom Yorke called Trump a “f***ing clown.” Foreign leaders denounced his decisions, and Al Gore called his decision “indefensible” and a “threat to humanity.” Truly people from all walks of life are calling him out on this one, and this one may have some actual consequences. But sure, it’s obviously just the elite French with their silly science who care about this, and real Americans are indifferent. You keep telling yourself that, Donald.

The Twitter President Has No Decency

In response to the terror attacks in London, Trump had the opportunity to be professional and offer his prayers for the victims, as most world leaders might. Instead, he retweeted Drudge Report’s coverage on the attack, then defended his travel ban, then offered his support for the victims and the country of England. As if it weren’t bad enough already, he took to Twitter at 4 AM this morning to offer these kind, presidential words.

“We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don't get smart it will only get worse”

“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’"

“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That's because they used knives and a truck!”

Yes, a terrible attack in the center of a major city and all our president can do is try to prove political points on gun control and... political correctness? Oh, and he makes fun of a Muslim man. A Muslim man who, rightly, said his remarks were taken out of context (that quote was from a remark about increased police presence, not the attack itself) and said he had "more important things to do than respond to Mr Trump."

England Votes in 4 Days

On Thursday, the UK will hold their general election. Campaigning was suspended today following yesterday’s attack, but polls are tightening a lot in recent days. Prime Minister May has used the attacks as an excuse to push for greater government surveillance and “security.” While it is still likely the Conservatives will win, the polls are becoming less and less clear. We shall see what happens, but it hold importance for the world.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply or comment.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Week 74: "The World Burns" (May 28, 2017)

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

Trump Abroad

Our president has concluded his first foreign trip this week. After his time in the Middle East earlier, he met with NATO in Brussels. In both locations, he called on other nations to try to support themselves so the U.S. could stop giving so much in defense spending and other aid, which seemed a little out of place and demanding. He affirmed our alliance with Saudi Arabia, while scolding Iran. He had an awkward handshake with Emmanuel Macron, and rode in a golf cart as the G7 leaders walked down the street. He also met with the Pope, and nothing awful happened, which is much better than I would have expected. Yes, through it all, Trump appeared unprofessional, unprepared, and certainly unique. But there’s no denying that Trump is an American, and it’s clear he wants what he thinks is best for our country (even if it means a push toward isolationism.) And yes, he doesn’t get along with many world leaders. But there were no illusions that he would, since he comes from such a different style and background. No, this trip could have been much worse for our country, and thankfully it wasn’t. Domestically, on the other hand...

More Fun With James Comey

You thought we were done with this guy now that he got fired? How wrong you are. Yes, Comey weaseled his way back into the news by doing something else dumb eight months ago. It seems when he began investigating Hillary Clinton’s email server - yes, the event that possibly shifted the course of the election - he was doing it because of evidence he knew was fake. Yes, Russia created some faked emails from then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, which Comey found out were fake, and presented to Congress anyway. Which brings us to the question of: What the hell was this guy’s motive? Why would a nonpartisan official who serves a defined term want to play with fire by bringing his name into the headlines. The whole story is incredibly bizarre, and this probably won’t be the last we hear from this guy.

Kushner in Trouble

This week, Jared Kushner went from a supposed innocent voice of reason to the focus of FBI investigation. It has been reported that he requested a secret communication with Russia during the transition, and the FBI are interested in his meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. However, Kushner appeared interested in keeping these discussions secret from Trump’s team, and that is very bizarre. Kushner has always been an interesting figure, and it doesn’t seem totally off that he’d want to renew ties with Russia, but this all is very suspicious and looks strange.

Middle-Schoolers Fear Ryan

Now, for some lighthearted fun: We awoke today to reports that half of an eighth-grade class in New Jersey refused to be photographed with Speaker Paul Ryan. In fact, some students were surprised so many agreed to be photographed with the politician. Ryan’s healthcare bill is clearly not earning him any fans, and he even is scaring away children. The Republican party has such a great image these days...

Quist Falls to VIolent Gianforte

Alas, it was not to be. Everyone’s favorite gunslinging cowboy-turned Democratic congressional candidate, Rob Quist, was defeated 50-44 in the Montana at-large special election. This was still a great swing for a district that also happens to occupy an entire state, considering Trump won the state by 20 points, but Gianforte was harmed last-minute by a surprise event - he body-slammed a reporter. A problem was that many voters voted by mail, before the event happened, and many people regretted their decision. This was a winnable special election, although the one next month in Georgia is much more important. Farewell, Rob Quist. You tried your hardest,

And How’s Britain Doing?

Oh right, the U.K. vote in their election in some ten days. While polls have tightened slightly in recent days, it still seems likely Theresa May’s Conservatives will win with a huge majority with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor likely to lose seats. However, anything can happen in the last week and the momentum seems to be in Labor’s favor.

Delegate Fight in St. Vincent the Grenadines

The real important international news this week occurred at a UN conference in St, Vincent. Apparently, delegate Mohammed Ali El Khamlichi, a Moroccan working at the embassy in St. Lucia, attempted to break up a heated argument between Soufiane Mimouni, an Algerian diplomat, and the Moroccan ambassador. Mimouni then got angry and punched El Khamlichi in the face, sending him to the hospital. This reverberated overseas, with Morocco demanding the Algerian government apologize for their minister’s actions.


Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply or comment.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Week 73: "The Single Greatest Witch Hunt"

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

Nyet!

Well, what a surprise we have. It turns out that when our president met with Russian agents behind closed doors in front of only Russian press, he accidentally gave out some valuable classified information! Who would’ve ever expected that, right? While technically the president can de-classify information at any time, he still shouldn’t be giving information about intelligence against ISIS away to a questionable foreign power, especially when...

Special Counsel

... That same foreign power probably meddled in our elections and a special counsel was appointed this week to help clear up that situation. Bob Mueller, former head of the FBI, was placed in charge, and clearly means business. Trump responded by calling it “The single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” The Internet as a whole promptly laughed at him, and he retracted his statement as per usual. Though he insists there has been no collusion, he continues to be very, very defensive about the whole thing, and it makes one wonder.

Saudi Arabia

This week, Trump went on his first trip abroad, to Saudi Arabia. He made a speech against Islamic extremism, in front of the Wahhabism-sponsoring Saudi government. He participated in a sword dance, both making a fool of himself and supporting a sexist tradition. Rex Tillerson did his part too, denouncing human rights conditions in Iran in a country that’s not known for its human rights, and not inviting US press to his press conference.

Thanks for reading, sorry this week’s was so short.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Week 72: "Among the Bushes" (May 14, 2017)

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

Among the Bushes

First, some lighthearted fun at the expense of everyone’s favorite White House press correspondent, Sean Spicer. Spicer, early this week, was entrusted with the lovely job of telling the world that FBI Director James Comey had been fired (more on that later), and afterwards, meets with his team in the bushes outside the White House. Sorry, what’s that? Oh, my bad, Sean. Apparently, Sean wasn’t “in” the bushes. He was hiding “among” the bushes. Well, that changes everything. How much more dignified can one get than being among the bushes! Boggles the mind.

Next Casualty: James Comey

"He wasn't doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job." Donald Trump submitted the dismissal of Comey as FBI Director this week, calling Comey a “showboat”. And he has a point there. Comey clearly did care about his own image more than the image or goings on of his agency. However, it’s a wee bit suspicious that Comey was fired just after he started investigating Trump’s ties with Russia and Russian hacks of the 2016 election. He’s not the first to be dismissed after beginning this sort of investigation, either - remember Sally Yates? Or Preet Bharara? While each of those may have had some legitimate reason to be fired, it doesn’t look good for Trump and it totally makes it appear like he has something to hide.

Another Casualty: John Thompson

“Who is John Thompson?” You ask. He’s the coach of the Georgetown men’s basketball team, don’t you know? But we’re here to talk about another John Thompson. Thompson was the director of the Census Bureau, and he suddenly resigned this week. We don’t really know why, but the reasons could stretch from something harmless to nefarious politicizing of the Census. You might think, “How can the Census be exploited for political gain?” Well, Census data is used to apportion House seats (and decide electoral vote totals), and to help draw congressional districts. And while it’s hard to manage actual intense political gains from sending out forms, it’s still best to avoid any possibilities of that. While I don’t want to buy into conspiracy theories of this type, and indeed it’s likely he resigned for a personal reason and no politicking was intended, we really have no idea why Thompson resigned and any possibilities are fair game.

Smiling Trump Greets Russians...

To add another level of “totally-not-suspicious” to this week, Trump invited Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak (a key figure in the investigation of Russian meddling with the election) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Oval Office. No American press was allowed in - but Russian state press was, strangely enough. Trump took photos with them with a grin on his face, and those aren’t the only sketchy parts. A reporter asked Lavrov afterwards how the firing of Comey affected the meeting. His response was sarcastic: “Was he fired? You are kidding. You are kidding.” This all made for a very disturbing scene, considering everything about the Russian-American relationship in this day. Again, nothing about this scene expressly indicates that there is something weird going on, but Trump isn’t doing anything to assure us otherwise, and the optics are awful and make us assume the worst, and we can’t be blamed for it, either.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply or comment, as usual.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Week 71: "En Marche!" (May 7, 2017)

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

En Marche!

Today was the second round of the French election. With polls showing centrist Emmanuel Macron ahead of right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen by over 20 points, there was little doubt about what would happen. It took all of ten minutes for Le Pen to concede, and she wound up winning just two of France’s 102 departments and losing by 32 percent. In the choice between boring centrists and anti-immigrant reactionaries, France easily made the choice America, Britain, and the Philippines couldn’t, and one Austria, the Netherlands, and Peru only barely made. Indeed, it’s a sweeping victory for globalization and the establishment, one we haven’t seen in many month, and should be very hopeful for the future of the EU and immigration rights in Europe.
While some have noted the high abstention rate and the fact that Le Pen’s share of the vote was double her father’s in the 2002 runoff as reasons she actually succeeded, a two-to-one election result in a country as large as France is still very rare, and should be recognized as very impressive. Le Pen underperformed the polls in both rounds, and Macron survived a Russian email hack a day before the election.

Another Health Care Bill

Paul Ryan and his House cronies worked hard to quickly pass a new healthcare bill that nobody read. The bill passed by all of 4 votes, with many Republicans in close seats voting against it, and was insulted by pretty much every Republican Senator. Many Republicans who voted for the bill are already feeling pressure about their votes, and none of them are trying to defend it. The bill was passed before the Budget Office could analyze it, and was a very clearly political ploy to erase Obama’s legacy.

Meet Rob Quist

The Montana house seat special election is a couple weeks ago, and as I learn more and more about Democratic candidate Rob Quist, I become more and more impressed. Quist is a country songwriter born in Cut Bank, Montana, with little affiliation to the Democratic party and a very anti-Washington outlook. He’s attacked his opponent (Greg Gianforte) on being a billionaire from New Jersey, with great lines like:
“Here's what my opponent had to say about the health care vote: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But we all know he's a YES, b/c he's for billionaires & not us.” and “We need an independent voice in Congress who will fight for affordable health care—not a bill that's really just a tax cut for millionaires.” (These are from his wonderful Twitter.) He’s also run some great ads that showcase his unique outlook.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply or comment!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Week 70: "Crimes" (April 30, 2017)

Dear Readers,

It has been an eventful week. For all past newsletters (and more), make sure to go to the blog at http://www.electreport.blogspot.com

100 Days: An Evaluation

Much as it annoys me as an arbitrary milestone, I suppose it’s my duty as a political columnist to evaluate Donald Trump’s first 100 days in the White House. So, what has our President done? Instead of just looking at his accomplishments, let’s compare them to this "plan for the first 100 days" (from October) from his website.
Among other things, Donald promised to:
★ Propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress. Nope!
★ A hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health). He did, but has since reversed it.
★ A five-year ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service. No such thing
★ A lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. Not only has this not happened, numerous Trump administration officials have been busted for being paid by foreign governments.
★ I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Yes
★ I will direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator. Depends on what day you ask him.

★ Begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. Gorsuch is on the court.

★ Begin removing the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back. Yes.

★ Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered “extreme vetting.” He wasn’t successful, but he sure as hell tried.

So this doesn’t look so bad, until we realize that there is a second page. On that second page he lists about a dozen “Acts” he would try to get Congress to pass. The Healthcare one is the only one he’s even come close to proposing, and we all saw how well that went. All of Trump’s actions have been through statements and executive orders, even though his party controls all three branches of government.  Trump has been terrible at dealing with Congress, even though he theoretically has an advantage in that department.

Trump Is Scarily Friendly Toward Rodrigo Duterte

Yesterday, President Trump had a “very friendly conversation” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. That should be a good thing, right? Wrong. Duterte, in case you had forgotten, authorizes extrajudicial killing, and has led the Philippines as a near-dictatorship. This quote from Adam Blickstein, a writer for the Huffington Post among other things, sums it up: “The Hague is considering charging Duterte with crimes against humanity. And Trump just invited him to the White House.”

Flynn the Criminal

"I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law. As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else. And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate. And there are repercussions for the violation of law.” No, this attack on Michael Flynn did not come from a Democrat. It came from House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz. Even hyper-partisan Utahn Republican Chaffetz knows that Flynn unquestionably did wrong, and Flynn has barely tried to defend himself. The second victim among the Trump administration (remember Andy Puzder?) has dug himself in a great hole, and will certainly never return or recover.

Ros-Lehtinen Will Not Try for Re-Election

Moderate Floridian Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2018. Ros-Lehtinen, a pro-gay rights, relatively anti-Trump moderate, has been re-elected many times in a district that voted for Clinton by 20 points and Obama by 7. The South Miami seat will now be near the top of the Democrats’ target list for 2018, and this is a move I’m sure Thomas Perez is thrilled about, since every seat will certainly count.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to reply or comment.