The First Casualty is the Truth

It has been said of war that “The first casualty is the planning,” or several similar variations on that theme; to the unfamiliar, it is an observation of a known tendency for things to go quickly in a different way than the planners had foreseen, and thus, very soon after the battle starts, chaos reigns.  Only one side can win.  Sometimes neither does.  Who plans for a stalemate or for a loss?

Our current Presidential campaign illustrates something similar to that adage.  Once the campaigning begins, the truth is the first casualty.  Here also, only one side can win, and our political competitions, once contests of broad themes and debates over policy, where the voters listened to opposing views, decided which program was more appealing for the country at large, and cast their votes accordingly.  In the current era, it seems candidates feel free to distort their own or their opponents’ records, their accomplishments, and even matters of objective fact.

If voters were more critical of candidates’ positions and records, this turn of events would not be possible.  However, they are neither critical nor curious, for the most part, and so campaigns of half-truths and outright lies have become the norm.  And when one campaign of less than truthful utterances wins out…well, what advantage will the candidates see in being truthful when the next election rolls around?  Winning is the objective of both sides, of course, but we are cheapened as a democracy when winning is the only objective.  In another slide downward, each candidate (and his/her followers, of course) appear to justify this tendency to distort or ignore the truth by assuming that Candidate X is so noxious (dangerous, treacherous, reckless–you can supply your own adjective) that our side only did what was necessary to prevent a calamity of national proportions. ” Just think,” this line of reasoning goes, “what might have resulted if my opponent had won!  That is a horror of a magnitude too stark to contemplate!  So we had to do a little bit of spinning, and anyway, they were doing the same thing.”  And so a negative is perpetuated.

The 2016 campaign is rich in examples of the truth-slaughtering I’m talking about here.  Anyone who is a reader of this blog will think I am about to excoriate the Trump campaign.  OK, that’s true, but I’m also going to do a bit of slicing and dicing on Secretary Clinton’s campaign.  Neither is deserving of a clean grade.

Let’s first take a look at Trump’s claims regarding immigration.  This is a subject with which I am familiar, because of my career background, which included several thousand applicants interviewed for immigration to the US via standard immigrant (non-refugee) programs outlined in US visa law, many thousands more who were applying for nonimmigrant (tourist, student, temporary worker, etc.) status, and a hitch as the US Refugee Program coordinator in Nairobi in 2002-2003.

One claim I hear endlessly (followed by “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.”) is that Hillary Clinton wants open borders.  Let that sink in.  That means that anyone in Lower Slobovia who takes a notion to go to the USA and throw out an anchor would be able to do so.  Have you ever heard such a pronouncement from Secretary Clinton to that effect?  Of course not.  Neither have I, since there is no such statement.  Often such a claim is an “interpretation” of a much more innocuous statement, magnified and divorced from context and sometimes, from reality, but I cannot even find any statement from Mrs. Clinton that even suggests she wants such a state of affairs.   The claim gets repeated over and over, though, and some people take the repetition as evidence that it must be true.  As far as I can tell, this accusation is totally fabricated.  Anyone who knows where it came from, please tell me.

Secretary Clinton herself, while not as prone to utter fabrication as the Donald seems to be, does shade the truth in whatever way she believes is favorable to her.  I am well aware of the adage that “all politicians” engage in this sort of thing, and I would not dispute that, though I hate such formulations that claim “All…” anything.  Witness her statement not long after FBI Director Comey found no reason to recommend indictment in the e-mail “scandal.”  “No recommendation for indictment” became Mrs. Clinton’s “Director Comey said I had spoken truthfully.”  I have written on this topic several times, and you may be as sick of it as I am.  Memo to the Secretary: EVERYBODY SEES THIS STUFF ON THE NEWS.  SOME OF THEM CAN EVEN REMEMBER FOR A DAY OR MORE, AND THEY ARE NOT MOLLIFIED BY YOUR MASSAGING OF SOMEONE ELSE’S QUOTE.  Sincerely, all of us.

And now we are going to be treated to a round of speculation about the Secretary’s activities on behalf of the Clinton Foundation while Secretary of State.  There will be whispers about nefarious use of government time and employees to make money for her.  Nothing will ever come of this, but Trump has already labeled her time as Secretary of State as “a criminal enterprise.”  But also, once again, Mrs. Clinton demonstrates a curious tone deafness about her own activities.  She could have severed ties with the Foundation when she announced her candidacy for President.  But again, she didn’t.  For some guy making $25,000 a year selling and installing tires, or a woman making about the same money as a home health attendant, the odor of the thing becomes the thing.

Back to Trump.  Again, I have previously written of his claims that he is going to “build a wall” along the southern border and of the utter impracticality of the claim.  Lately, though, the claim has been that he wants to “secure the southern border” and “make us safe.”  To pose a simple question, if all it took to “make us safe” were a wall on the southern border, why wouldn’t someone else have thought of it before 2016?   This rhetoric is often accompanied by claims that non-Americans are “pouring across the border.”  The fact is that the border is fenced in large degree, patrolled, and under constant surveillance by drones, cameras, and microphones in some inhospitable places, and by agents of the Border Patrol in others.  Is it 100% effective?  Of course not.  It’s a border of more than 2500 miles, and there are 21,000 Border Patrol agents, meaning that 8+ agents could be devoted to each mile of territory around the clock, providing only that none of them ever went off-shift, on vacation, or got sick, and the northern border were left alone.  Despite the impossibility of “securing” the border 100%, the incidences of illegal crossing peaked in 2007.  A problem, in other words, that was worse nine years ago than it is today.  Why, then, harp on this issue?  Because it can be used to frighten the Trump base constituency and prod them into getting out to vote because Trump will “do something.”

By the way, what about the northern border?  It’s much longer and much less heavily patrolled.  Just saying…

Syrian refugees.  “Secretary Clinton wants to admit thousands of Syrian refugees…”  Refugee admissions are steered by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.  The President sets a target figure and State sets the process in motion, with the ultimate decision to admit or not to admit a particular refugee up to the Department of Homeland Security.  And they are vetted.  Fingerprinted, investigated, etc., etc.  They are not admitted if there is some reason even to suspect they are involved in criminal or terrorist activities.

I am embarrassed by the attitude of some Americans on Syrian refugees, and it’s easy to explain why.  The wretched condition of Syria today, where the noxious Assad government is known to target whole towns thought to be insufficiently loyal to Bashar Assad, means that the majority of that country’s population might well qualify for refugee status.  For that to happen, a person must be in some other country than his home country and have a well-founded fear of returning to that country because of political violence or oppression or discrimination, etc.  As I write this, the estimates  of Syria’s population track at about 22 million, but approximately five million have left Syria altogether.   When I visited Lebanon (which borders Syria) two years ago, estimates were that Lebanon was host to 1.5 million of them.  Lebanon is about as big as the state of Delaware.  Yet the US, a prosperous nation of 320 million souls, is said to be unable or unwilling to accept any appreciable refugee flow from Syria.  We did accept 1500 in fiscal year 2015, and projections for acceptance in FY 2016 are about 10,000.  Give me your tired, your poor…

Aiding and abetting slanderous crap by one campaign or the other are anonymous people who post pictures and text on the internet.  As an example, I recently saw a picture of Hilary Clinton speaking to a reporter, and the supposed text of that conversation was spelled out below.  According to the text, Mrs. Clinton had said (and it was in quotation marks) something to the effect that in her first year in office, she would be going after the NRA (National Rifle Association) and an assault on the Second Amendment (which protects the right to bear arms in the US) would soon follow.  The item was supposedly published in a newspaper in Topeka, Kansas, and on a specific date.  The problem was that the story never appeared in that newspaper at all.  It was completely fiction.  It was traced to a website that traffics in conspiracy theories involving the Clinton family.  (“Snopes.com” is a great debunker of garbage online.)

I’m sure there is a story or two about Trump that shades the truth in a way that is unfavorable to him.  This is no less contemptible than slanders about Clinton, but I am not as knowledgeable, and can’t bring an example to mind.

Richard Nixon (the Tricky one himself), revealed much about this mindset.  In a book by the historian Steven Ambrose (Nixon, the Education of a Politician, 1913-1962) Nixon said, of his particularly vicious campaign to unseat an incumbent Congressman in 1946, “Of course I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn’t a Communist.  But I had to win.  The important thing is to win.”

So there you have it.  Not integrity. Not honesty.  Not even basic decency.  The important thing is to win, and if the truth gets in the way, it can be ignored.  After all, you have to win.   Just don’t expect this state of affairs to yield a candidate of serious integrity.

Things I Never Want to Hear or See Again

Not politics this time.  Well, maybe a little…no, really.  None.

There are things I hear or see so much of every day that, given my choice, and after a certain day in the near future, I wish I could live peacefully without ever hearing or seeing  again.  You didn’t ask, but here are some of them.

SONGS

“I Will Survive.”  “At first I was afraid.  I was petrified…”  OK, we get it.  It’s a song about a woman, post-breakup, who has discovered she is strong enough to go on alone.  But she’s been going on now for 38 years or something like that, and I feel a seizure coming on every time that shrieking vocal assaults my ears.  Survive in silence, please.

“Another Brick in the Wall.”  OK, OK, I confess–I really do not connect with Pink Floyd at all.  I have heard all their stuff over and over, and can honestly say that I have never heard one song of theirs that I was ever even tempted to go out and buy.  That would probably be true of dozens of other popular music acts over the span of time that I have listened to music, and you would probably not like a lot of the bands who bring a smile to my face.  But this song makes me cringe.  A children’s choir intoning, “We don’t need no education…” is hardly a “hook” for a song.  It strikes me more as a tantrum.  Come to think of it, that probably sums up Pink Floyd’s career–40 or so years of droning about their failed socialization.  All while they count the money they made on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere.  A lot of us never grew up, and didn’t even get rich, either.  Get over it.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADS ON TV

Do you mentally “tune out” the audio of TV commercials?  I usually do.  But don’t get up and go to the kitchen for two hours or so of television time on US TV, and process just what the tube is coaxing you to try, and just what it seems to be saying about its audience.  In that span, you will hear certain exhortations repeatedly, like, “Ask your doctor about…” or “Ask your doctor whether XXXXXX is right for you.”  If it were right for you and what ails you, shouldn’t your doctor know about it without a prompt?  And really, after watching network TV for a while, what is your impression of American health in general?  Do we all suffer from impotence?  Incontinence? Crippling moods that can only be regulated by use of this or that drug?

As tempted as we might be to make light of all this, it’s worth remembering something: all this advertising is written off by the drug companies (AKA Big Pharma) as a cost of doing business, to reduce their tax liability.  So these humble companies that wish only to remedy human suffering produce some combination of chemicals that reduce the agony of “restless leg syndrome,” and then they advertise it to make more people aware that there is such a thing, make money from their remedy, and use the fees they pay for commercials as tax offsets on their yearly balance sheets?  In grandma’s time, if you said you had restless legs, she would say “Take two aspirins and go to bed.”  It was OK in the morning.  Really.

ADS BY LAW FIRMS

Have you or a loved one suffered crippling pain, injury or death because of blah, blah drug or XYZ medical procedure (that maybe you saw advertised in the same place just a few weeks ago)?  If so, you may be entitled to compensation, blah, blah… (emphasis mine)

Daytime and basic cable TV advertising is filled with this stuff.  An earnest pitchperson looks into the camera and tells you that Blank Blank Law firm “For the People” has won millions in settlements for people just like you.  (By the way, if you’re entitled, why should Blank Blank even be in the picture?  Just saying…)

I am a little troubled by the notion that the death of a near relative brings you such pain–but that the application of a few million dollars from the drug company, hospital, doctor, pharmacy, or whatever will make it all go away.  Minus, of course, Blank Blank law firm’s cut.

Of late, I have even gotten robocalls featuring a recorded message advising me of riches to be had via this method.  These strike me as even more exploitative than the TV ads.

Narcissistic “Selfies”

Believe it or not, boys and girls, there was a time long, long ago when you had to point a camera at people to take a picture.  I’m talking about Stone Age times, something over 20 years ago.  If you were on vacation and you wanted memories preserved photographically, it took an apparatus devoted to picture-taking.  You could even take pictures of yourself, but they tended to look goofy, so those were kind of rare.

Now, given the technological revolution of mobile phone cameras and the social media revolution of Facebook, Snapchat, etc., no one in the world need ever be deprived of the joy of seeing your every moment in life!  Lunch?  Sure–posted on Facebook and captioned with all the details, like “Ham sandwich at Pimply’s with my BFF.”  Yeah, uh-huh.  Why this should be interesting to anyone other than you, your BFF, and presumably Pimply himself and a waitperson (because they have a real interest in this, you see) is open to debate.  But let’s give this one the benefit of the doubt.

No benefit of such doubt is due to those who simply must repeatedly pose in the  de rigueur shot of the era –standing before a mirror, phone in hand, poised to show the world their beauty, often in some state of undress.  OK, just a moment of daring naughtiness once or twice, but…is some starlet’s (or wannabe starlet’s) hide all that interesting after the tenth time?  Discuss among yourselves.

And you knew it was coming, right?

Anyone or anything named Kardashian, and now I’m going a step farther and adding “Jenner.”  Or, a revolutionary idea: give them all their own TV station (or magazine, or newspaper, or whatever) and restrict their appearances to that medium.  This should work for everyone, since those who want to see all their antics will be able to do so in every minute detail, and without even searching.  That clan will be able to indulge its exhibitionistic needs without even trying so hard, and last but not least, we (OK, I) will be able to avoid them with absolutely no effort.  Come on, you know you caught yourself nodding…

Alright, I quit for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Optics: Why We Have Two Unlikeable Candidates

Before beginning a discussion of the topic at hand, I should restate a couple of things from my own background, just so no one later decides that these are “AHA” revelations that I should have revealed before expressing any opinions.  First, I am a retired US Foreign Service Officer (State Department), and four years of the time I spent in service to State were the tenure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  Second, everything I say here is only my own opinion, and I beg you to differ with me if you think I’m wrong.  Third, I will vote for Secretary Clinton in November, but without any real enthusiasm, as I have stated in earlier posts.

Now, with that out of the way, the current presidential election campaign has some of the features of a 25-car pileup on an interstate highway, caused by some fool (or more than one fool) taking unnecessary and foolish risks: the results are not pretty to behold, but we, the public, can’t seem to look away, and we talk endlessly of what bad decisions led to the current tableau.

Both major parties have nominated candidates for president who are viewed by the public as untrustworthy and/or dishonest by larger segments of the public than has been the case in any other election campaign since such metrics became widely polled.  Consider the gravity of that just for a moment.  Richard Nixon in 1972, Herbert Hoover in 1932, Bill Clinton in 1992–just these three names, in their time, brought millions to the brink of apoplexy.  And both The Donald and Hillary exceed the “unfavorable” levels recorded by those three. (Interestingly enough, two of those three actually won their elections, maybe illustrating that, as I once heard of Lyndon Johnson, a vote doesn’t have to come with hearts and flowers–but I digress.)

I have thought many times over the last few months that surely both know of this unfavorable impression they make, and that both are intelligent enough to be aware that making a more favorable impression on voters should make them more electable.  Some have speculated that Trump actually does not want to serve as President, but it seems to me that anyone with his outsize ego would not sabotage himself in advance like this.  He would much more likely to try to win, and, at some point, resign or even refuse to serve rather than  to present his most unlikeable self and lose.  Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, is in it to win and be President, for sure.

So, starting from the premise that both want to win the election, and both are certainly intelligent enough to know they are not beloved figures, is there some reason why, in the face of a need for change in self-presentation, both doggedly present their unpopular selves and plod toward the resolution of this contest, unchanged?  The most likely conclusion is that such change is extremely difficult as to be impossible in the short time until the election. If this is the case…WHY?

I’m happy to throw a conjecture out there for discussion.  All humans are, to some extent, products of their environment, and I believe both major party nominees this year are even more such products than most people.  Just as you can’t try to make a boa constrictor a pet and then act shocked when it at some point suffocates the dog or the cat, you can’t realistically expect these two to act or present themselves in a very different light than they have before today–even more so when you consider that both are, shall we say, not spring chickens, with Trump already aged 70 and Ms. Clinton poised to pass her 69th birthday before Election Day.  Sure, an old dog can learn new tricks, but he’s not as anxious to do so as a puppy is, and both candidates can reasonably be viewed as successes in life–both might reasonably ask, “Why change?”

Look, then at the milieu from which each emerges; ladies first.

Hillary Clinton is a former First Lady, US Senator, and Secretary of State.  BUT before she was any of those, she was a lawyer.  If the business of a lawyer, as Thomas Jefferson once said (partially, while denigrating a Congress which numbered 150 lawyers among its members, by the way) is “…to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour…” then it is no surprise that many find her answers to direct questions less than satisfying.  Lawyers, by and large, speak in such a manner as not to be trapped into saying something that may later be used against their positions.

Thus the e-mail server controversy keeps rising like some Frankenstein’s monster, and like that monster, keeps sending the villagers to fetch torches and pitchforks.  I have written a bit about this controversy before, but it is poorly understood by the public and exploited at every turn by Hillary’s political opponents.  It is not a breach of any kind to delete your e-mails when leaving the State Department.  Indeed, I did so after leaving every foreign post, saving only those which I might need later; Secretary Clinton’s fault was to circumvent the State Department’s server and use a private one, thus leaving no permanent record in  the Department.  She is absolutely correct in saying she followed the precedent of Secretary Colin Powell, who did the same thing, but use of e-mail became much more robust in the Department between the tenures of Powell and Clinton.  It is evident from the FBI investigation’s summation given by director Comey most of the fuss over “classified e-mails over the private server” resulted from someone from another agency (cough, cough, CIA, cough) reviewing content and deciding after the fact that something merited classification.  One cannot just willy-nilly relay information from the classified e-mail system to a public server.

There is also much that remains little-known, though available for anyone who wants to dig it out, such as the Secretary’s request to use a classified Black Berry, similar to that used by President Obama; other agency heads willing to bend for the President were not similarly inclined in her case.  And so on…

Even with all that, when questioned about this matter. Clinton reverts to lawyer form, having been quoted to the effect that this arrangement “…was not illegal…” at the time she set it up.  In the lawyer’s vernacular, “not illegal” equals “no problem.”  It’s the optics–how she looks when answering, that cause the explosive reactions.  She is derided for obfuscation in the public eye, and the narrative that she is untrustworthy gains further traction.  Similarly, the revelation that “her lawyers” deleted thousands of e-mails feeds into that perception.

I’m not excusing the Secretary in this matter, as I’ve referenced before.  It was a monumental blunder, and probably violation of Department procedure, and she is being smeared with it every day, but if the FBI recommended “no indictment,” you can be sure there is no criminal wrongdoing.

So, what should she have done?  Simple.  Five minutes after the private server became public, go on a non-attack-minded media outlet (anybody but Fox “News,” Breitbart, etc.) to say “I tried to set up an alternative, but parts of the bureaucracy were unwilling to devise a workaround, and my lawyers advised me there was no problem.” Then apologize and accept responsibility. Almost any American would have accepted that explanation, if grudgingly. (Of course, those who are convinced the Clintons are operating a vast criminal conspiracy with the US government as its front will never be satisfied, but that’s another matter.)  You’re not trying to win a judgment in court, Madame Secretary.  You’re just trying to get more people to trust you.

To Trump–well, this is an easier and a shorter explanation.  He is a real estate “developer.”  This does not mean he physically labors to put buildings on lots.  It means be buys real estate, builds on some of it, and sells other pieces of it, in order to make money, money, money.  He is a product of New York City, where his blustery style, and his litigious history are right at home.  He has dealt with unions, contractors, property owners, and others for years in a style meant to cow anyone who opposes him.  His business bankruptcies, while I (and maybe you?) would find them expedient as a means of legally stiffing people he owed money to, were not illegal (heh, heh…).  Trump uses lawyers, which may help explain his lack of regard for his opponent.

Also, Trump appears to be a proponent of the “run government like a business” school of thought.  Therefore, since he is (at least, in his mind) a major success at business, he would be a major success.  The business of tax returns will come up time and time again before November, and I can’t help but think he would release them if not for something that would be revealed by doing so.  The “Russian connection” to his business empire is one reason that has been suggested.  I would bet that there is a different reason.

What would be the biggest blow to a man of unbounded ego, a man who brags incessantly of his wealth and success, who parades his residences before the cameras, “brands” everything he acquires with his own name (even if many of these acquisitions later go bankrupt–Trump Steaks, Trump Water, Trump Airlines, etc.)?  Simple.  To be revealed as a phony.  What is in those tax returns that would cause such a revelation?  Most likely, a figure on the “Federal income tax” line that reveals he is not concerned about taxes because he pays little, for all the braggadocio, or maybe that the income figure was low enough to be laughable after all the bragging.  Only Trump knows, and he’s not telling, citing an audit, despite IRS statements that an audit does not prohibit public release.

There are a lot of other examples–his statements that show his racial or ethnic prejudices, for example, or his misogyny.  Taken as a whole, Trump’s methods of operation and of campaigning paints a picture of a bully and as Fareed Zakaria recently termed him, a “BS artist.”  (Zakaria did not resort to the euphemism.)

Whatever Trump and Clinton are, both have significant problems with the optics, how they look or are made to look, and with both it is a problem of their own doing.  This is a discouraging election year.