Inspector General’s Report

The link below is the full 500+ report, which as I predicted, is being reported very differently by Republicans and Democrats.    Fox News headline is:  “Disaster for Comey”  with the implication that whatever is bad for Comey,  makes the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton look bad.   They further go on to say “Trump breaks silence with damning IG report, say it vindicates move to fire FBI boss.”

The New York Times headline avoided the same adjectives, such as bombshell (seen on Fox News)  but reported “FBI Faulted in Clinton Case.”   They mention the  part of the report that Democrats like –  the conclusion that political opinions of some at  FBI involved in the Clinton email investigation  did not influence the outcome.

So, both Republicans and Democrats can reach different conclusions.   And, finally the reason most Americans will not bother to read it (beyond laziness), is best summed up by one blogger:, “The IG is just as crooked as the rest of the FBI and DOJ.”   So,  paranoid conspiracy bloggers don’t need to read and can just troll the internet for big conspiracy advocates.

The IG’s conclusions are based on the information as given in the 500 pages of documentation.   I think that’s pretty good.

2016_election_final_report_06-14-18_0

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

The Inspector General’s Report on DOJ’s handling of Clinton’s emails

The Inspector General’s report is over 500 pages long, and the average American is likely not going to read any of it.  So,  Republicans and Democrats are going to have a field day, finding their favorite sentences.   If they don’t find what they want, they will invent some things.

I won’t be commenting on the report right away.  I like to wait until the dust settles.

But to give folks an inkling of what’s coming up from the pundits, here are my predictions:

Republicans:  It is a scathing indictment of the FBI rife with political corruption, which did everything they could so Hillary Clinton could get elected.

Democrats:   The report shows the FBI, for the most part, did a thorough and complete investigation.   The disclosure of results should have been done differently.

 A lot of the focus will be on Comey’s  four announcements, which helped and hurt Clinton as follows:   (1) Opening the investigation in mid 2015 (hurt Clinton), (2) Declaring she did nothing criminal in July 2016 (helped and hurt Clinton, because he added her handling of top secret documents was extremely sloppy)   (3) Re-opening the investigation just before the election (hurt Clinton),  (4) Closing the investigation on October 29, 2016 (helped Clinton).

Rob Rosenstein criticized Comey both for actions that hurt Clinton and helped her.    He claimed that Comey had “usurped” the authority of DOJ when he said that no reasonable prosecutor would file criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.   Rumors right now are that the IG report will reach similar conclusions.   I personally think “usurp”  is too strong, and didn’t take into account the massive campaign waged by Trump every day she was the target of an FBI investigation.

Best to wait for the report, and ignore the noise which is “full of sound and fury.”   (thanks WS).

Stay tuned,

Dave

What keeps democracies working?

I think it’s a fair question.    I think two pillars of a working democracy are a system of laws, in which no one is above or has special privileges  and freedom of the press.  Where democracies are failing, there is almost a universal attempt to silence dissent, usually by jailing journalists.  Access to the internet, particularly sites like mine, are banned.

This doesn’t happen in the US.   We may have a president who regularly bashes certain newspapers, such as the Washington Post or the New York Times, but this is strictly politics.  Commentary he does not like, he refers to as lies.  Those reporting the news,  in an inquisitive manner, are not failing.  They are working hard to get their facts straight.

Democracy was at work when the Miami-Herald wanted documents about the failed FIU bridge.  It wasn’t  headline news.  The Miami-Herald is  seeking release of many documents from the state government  including minutes of  meetings of involved parties prior to the collapse of the FIU bridge.  There were reports of cracks appearing in the bridge about 10 days before the installation.  The judge will decide in two weeks (around June 21) and whatever the decision, the state may either appeal the decision or comply.   Our judiciary branch,  not the legislature nor the executive branch, has the final word on the rights of people. Certain information can not be disclosed by government.   Any document related to the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of the FIU accident is considered confidential and the Miami-Herald is only asking for documents prior to the investigation.

Countries with failing democracies, resort to use of the police and their military, to suppress dissent.   It is our system of laws which protect us from being thrown in jail or otherwise intimidated for our beliefs.   The system is imperfect and sometimes misunderstood.  The police and FBI  must use all means of investigation at their disposal, which includes legal wiretap and informants.  It is not spying on our citizens, but doing its job in crime enforcement.

This same system of laws may mean that certain information is not made public.  The media is always filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and when the governments refuse, they go to court.   It is our system working to have these clashes.   I don’t like Judicial Watch (JW) because of their strongly Republican bias and frequently politically motivated headlines, but I respect their constitutional right to seek release of information from government.

I would add a third pillar to democracy which is an informed and participating public.   We’re not doing too good here.  Only 43% of Americans voted in our last election.  We can do better.

In sum, democracies need a system of law for everybody, freedom of the press, and an informed and participating public to keep working.

My New York Times (print copy) just came, and my Washington Post is waiting to be opened.  Sorry Donald – Got to go.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Luna – all’s fair in love and war

And in divorce.   Particularly if your name is Farhad Akhmedov,  a Russian billionaire, who married Tatiana Akmedova in 1993.   The Luna is a yacht, but as today’s New York Times describes it, “With a spa, a swimming pool, two heliports, and room for 18 guests, the Luna is more like a floating villa than a yacht.”  It is worth about 500 million dollars. It has been awarded to Farhad’s ex-wife in 2016, but she’s been unable to gain possession of the yacht.

The divorce war began in 2013, when Tatiana filed for divorce in the UK.  All seemed to be settled in December 2016, when the High Court ordered poor Fakhad to pay his ex-wife, the equivalent of $646 million dollars.   When he refused, and the judge could not force payment,  he ordered him to turn over the yacht to his ex-wife.

It’s not like burying the family jewels in a coffee can somewhere on a farm.  This thing is huge – 380 feet long.    Just in case of any attack, it has an anti-missile detection system, an anti-drone system and bulletproof windows and bombproof doors.    Almost forgot the mini-submarine, and the 8 relatively smaller boats that it carries.

Fakhad’s assets are incredible, with houses in France and England, a private plane and a couple of helicopter.  His net worth is pegged at 1.4 billion dollars.

The Luna went from  Germany, to Norway and finally Dubai.   In Germany, it underwent a 50 million dollar refit.  Once it got to Dubai, it was impounded by authorities.

Farhad had challenged the divorce in a number of ways.  He claimed he was already divorced in Russian court, but the UK court found the documents were forged.  He transferred ownership to a handful of companies controlled by Farhad and his allies, in the Isle of Man, Panama, and Liechtenstein.  Finally the yacht ended up in a family trust with the name Straight.  UK Judge Haddon-Cave stated the trust was “the antithesis   of its name.”  Cute.  On April 19, 2018, he ordered the yacht to be given to Tatiana, so Farhad handed her the keys and wished her well.

Ok, the last bit about handing over the yacht never happened.  Instead, Farhad is going to the Dubai courts, hoping for  a judgment that says the British order to transfer the yacht is unenforceable in Dubai.   His trump card:  he claims to be Muslim.  His wife is Christian.  Yet his wife claims he’s not a practicing Muslim, however he has given generously to restoration of mosques.     Farhad want this to be considered a matrimonial issue to be decided by local Shariah law in Dubai, which could go bad for Tatiana.

All eyes are on the Dubai courts. The Court of Appeal of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) said that the country’s lower court had no power to seize the ship – and agreed with lawyers acting for the family trust which owns the yacht on May 10, 2018.   The yacht isn’t going anywhere right now as a further court hearing will be held in July 2018 in Dubai.   I’m certain what Farhad wants is for the courts to accept his line, that the marriage was dissolved in Russia back in 2000.  It’s pretty crazy as they were together for 13 years following the divorce.

Tatiana is ready  to settle out of court while  Farhad wants to win at all costs.  His lawyer stated, “He (Farhad) would rather see the Luna rot in the Dubai heat than see it handed over to Tatiana.”

Dubai is hot in July – and even hotter inside the courthouse, where the Luna could end up (a) Sold by Tatiana,  (b) Back to Farhad, or (c) A rusted old yacht at the bottom of the sea.

Links:

https://www.superyachtfan.com/superyacht/superyacht_luna.html

Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5713091/Billionaire-oligarch-centre-UKs-costliest-divorce-wins-latest-battle-ex-wife-yacht.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farkhad_Akhmedov

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/financial-services/russian-billionaire-s-400m-superyacht-given-to-former-wife-in-divorce-case-1.3467568

 

US-North Korea Summit Cancelation

Trump may uncancel the Summit.   But when he did cancel it, he wanted to make sure to point the blame at North Korea.  At least, that is what President Trump wanted to hear from other world leaders.   And of course, none of them are saying this.

President Moon of South Korea, said the cancellation of the Summit was regrettable.  Others have said leaders in Seoul are perplexed.

It was Churchill’s famous quote,  “To jaw-jaw is always  better than war-war.”  If history has shown us anything, it is that long term enemies can first learn to co-exist, and then become friends.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Animosity doesn’t have to end in bloodshed.

Nobody really knew how the planned summit was going to turn out.    Many experts on North Korea seemed surprised at Kim Jong Un  sudden  willingness to seek some kind of discussion on nuclear disarmament and reconciliation with South Korea after showing so much hostility and threats mainly to the US.    From their perspective,  they were achieving parity with South Korea, which they consider to be a nuclear power, given the strong military  support from the US.

Certainly,  much of the credit for bringing North Korea  leader to the summit goes to  the  newly elected South Korean President Moon Joe-in.    The invitation by President Moon to the Olympic games was the first real diplomatic outreach.   This was followed by the inter-Korean summit, in April 27, 2018, which was the first summit in eleven years, and the first time President Moon and Chairman Kim have met in person.

The cancellation seems outright weird and dumb.   Weird is the right word, because it has to do with an exchange of words between Vice President Pence that North Korea could end up like Libya (North Korea could follow the Libyan model)  really made no sense.    This weird Libyan comment started with John Bolton, then Donald Trump and then Pence said the same thing.    The leader of Libya was killed in 2011 by his own people in the city of Sirte,  during the Libyan civil war.   However, there was covert aerial support by NATO including the US  in spotting the convoy that Qaddafi was in.

The actions taken by the US and our European allies, in support of the Libyan civil war, have nothing in common with nuclear disarmament.    Qaddafi had already given up his nuclear program and dismantled terrorist training sites in 2003.  The Bush administration took Libya off of the list of  state sponsored supporters of terrorism.   This was an enormous help to the Qaddafi regime.  Many (including myself) believe Qaddafi did this for economic reasons.    I also believed he was becoming more worried about unrest in eastern part of the country, centered around Benghazi, as a potential future threat.  Benghazi is where the first hostilities broke out in 2011.

The intervention in Libya occurred after UN Resolution 1973 (17-Mar-2011) during the Obama administration, was presumably to protect civilian lives.  At the time, it was highly likely that Qaddafi would have bombed Benghazi and other cities which were rebelling against his authority.   If he had bombed Benghazi, a city with a population of over 600,000 inhabitants, the death toll would have been enormous.  Putin and others were highly critical of the US implementation of the Resolution, as we used it as a rationale to bomb Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, late in 2011.

Many consider Hillary Clinton’s support of the intervention in Libya, and demonstrations against Putin in Moscow 2011 as the reason for Russia’s interference in US elections in 2016.   The Arab Spring uprisings were against many autocratic regimes, including the Russian government.

The aftermath of the civil war and  Libya’s “Arab Spring” rebellion, is a long drawn out disaster, and none of relates to North Korea.   I think the only fair take away message from Libya, is that the outcome of intervention, can be very unpredictable.

Perhaps what is so obvious to the North Korean regime, is the “Iran Model”  where the US unilaterally pulled out of a nuclear disarmament deal, even though Iran was in compliance.

The day the talks were cancelled, the New York Times printed a story, about how China would likely be the greatest beneficiary as more acceptance of North Korea with other countries, is not in their game plan.

Diplomacy requires careful driving, and a clear focus on acceptable outcomes.   Mike Pence following John Bolton’s inflammatory rhetoric is the quickest way to veer off the road and slam into a telephone pole.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

Sunday’s tweet storm

There was some speculation that this tweet storm was coming.  The weather in Washington was poor over the weekend, so no golf for the Donald.   Theses tweets included  name calling (crooked New York Times) and unfounded allegations all centered around the Mueller investigation, and the media.  It reminds me why I subscribe to the New York Times, because it provides hard facts, often taken from court filings.  Revealing the name of the FBI informant is a diversion, and it won’t work, as all law enforcement depends on keeping sources confidential.

A totally open investigation, where confidential information in FISA warrants and names of informants, is given to the public, not only can ruin this investigations, but severely limit future investigations.

Mueller has obtained either indictments or guilty pleas for key campaign officials:

Paul Manafort, under house arrest awaiting trial, Trump’s campaign manager, June to August 2016,  Faces many charges, including financial fraud, conspiracy against the US, failure to register as a foreign agent working for Ukraine.

Rick Gates,  plead guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, worked as number 2  along with Manafort, and then continued after the election, in planning the inauguration ceremonies.  His cooperation with the Mueller investigation may uncover more Russian links.

General Michael Flynn,  pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.  Joined Trump’s campaign in February 2016 as a foreign policy adviser.  Trump appointed him National Security Adviser, a position he held for 24 days until resigning as facts surface on his contacts with Russian officials which he had lied about to Vice President Pence.  He is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

The list goes on.  George Papadopoulos,  former campaign foreign policy advisor,  has also plead guilty to lying to FBI agents and is also cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

This is white collar crime, involving bank fraud, conspiracy with Russian agents,  campaign finance violation and money laundering.  It must be investigated and prosecuted.  The investigation is not completed, but the tweets say one thing:  Donald Trump is scared of what is likely to be revealed.  When you’ve got nothing to defend yourself, you can always pound the table.  Or send your TV lawyers to Fox News to do it for you.

Keep informed.  It’s a complex story, and not everything will connect up.   It will take time for Mueller to complete the investigation.  See links below on the tweet storm and summaries of the investigation.   And kudos to the New York Times,  Washington Post (I subscribe to both newspapers) and Wikipedia (send in your donation today!).

Stay tuned,

Dave

 Checking Facts: 11 false things Donald Trump said in 5 tweets Sunday morning

Wikipedia: Special Counsel investigation (2017–present)

(Getting results, slow but sure)

Vanity Fair: RICK GATES COULD BE MORE DANGEROUS THAN TRUMP’S ALLIES THOUGHT 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Gates_(political_consultant)

More Trump’s attacks on the FBI

I’m calling them Trump lies.   As President, he can call up the Justice Department, and ask the Attorney General if this allegation is true.   Instead he prefers Fox News.

The New York Times calls this a “distortions of the truth.”    Here is Trump’s tweet on Friday:

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he tweeted Friday. “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true — all time biggest political scandal!”

The big problem are “reports” and  “implanted”     Of course, Trump is saying, “I’m not making this up”  however these are not Justice Department nor FBI reports.  It is just something he heard,  on Fox News.   A commentator is not a news reporter, particularly true on Fox News.  Welcome to the echo chamber, from Hannity’s mouth, to  a flurry of tweets from Trump and then back to Fox News.  Ping pong garbage.

A marketing principle: “You can not turn a lie into the truth by telling it a thousand times.  But the lie will seem credible enough to the public, after they hear it a thousand times to be believed as the truth.”    A second rule is “Never concede you are wrong.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post has been very cautious in their reporting.   This is how the Washington Post presented the story:

In mid-July 2016, a retired American professor approached an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign at a symposium about the White House race held at a British university.

The professor took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Carter Page, whom Trump had named a few months earlier as a foreign policy adviser.

But the professor was more than an academic interested in American politics — he was a longtime U.S. intelligence source. And, at some point in 2016, he began working as a secret informant for the FBI as it investigated Russia’s interference in the campaign, according to people familiar with his activities.

There is no evidence that there was a paid FBI spy within the Trump campaign.   This is a lie, and very regrettable that President Trump finds it necessary to attack the FBI in this manner.  When Russia agents are making contacts either abroad or  in the US, with the objective of interfering with the US elections, then this is likely a crime.  The duty of the FBI is to find out who the Russian agents are working for, and their US counterparts.  If this requires striking up a conversation with campaign advisers, this is just good law investigation  tactics.

However, as pointed out on CNN, this reporting was based on leaked information to the New York Times and Washington Post.  They know who this individual is but have refused to disclose it.  I hope it stays this way, at least until Mueller’s investigation is finished.  As reported today in the New York Times,  Trump’s congressional allies are demanding full disclosure of the informant, in an attempt to “investigate the investigation” and disrupt or discredit the investigation.   And as collateral damage, weaken the public’s general confidence in the FBI.

According to the New York Times:

“Law enforcement officials have refused (hand over documents on the informant),   saying it would imperil both the source’s anonymity and safety. “

It would also open the door to more  unprecedented congressional inquiries, and interference of the judicial process  in the name of “oversight.”  The only basis for wrongdoing is Trump’s tweets based on Fox News – that’s how screwy things have become.

Robert Mueller is conducting a serious criminal investigation with the help of the FBI.  He runs a tight ship, with the only information surfacing in the media is from Trump’s personal lawyers or through court filings.

The FBI investigation had its first big break in May 2016 when George Papadopoulos, who  like Carter Page, was a foreign policy adviser,  talked to Australia’s ambassador in London, about obtaining political dirt on Hillary Clinton including Clinton’s hacked emails, to help influence our elections in favor of Trump.    Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

The adage “the best defense is an offense” seems to be Trump’s strategy.    Trump and Mike Hannity (Fox News)  are trying their best to create an alternative reality, where conspiracy theories and deep state nonsense can thrive.   This is shameful.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Supreme Court: Ideological Differences

The Supreme Court is not split Republicans verses Democrats.   There is however an ideological split, which influences their decisions.   This is all highly simplistic, as I don’t want a blog about textualism, or judicial activism ideas.      I consider Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan to be in the liberal camp and Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy and Gorsuch to be in the conservative camp.    So, in theory, every decision will be decided by the group of 5 in the conservative camp.  Wrong, wrong and wrong!

I’ll start with  my conclusion.  Liberals tend to stick together more than conservatives, at least in the current term in the Supreme Court, so if the liberals can attract one or more conservatives, then they will prevail.   Sometimes, liberals join with conservatives.   There are unanimous decisions, where ideological differences are unimportant.   The most recent case,  the New Jersey State Gambling case,  was a 6 to 3 vote, with Kagan, normally on the liberal side, voted with the conservatives.

This is different from politics, where a Republican who supports a Democratic bill, in a close vote, is likely be pressured to change his vote.

I use Scotusblog.com  in the current term for my statistics.  Here is the agreement of votes from the liberal block, in the range of 96 to 100% agreement.

Ginsburg and Breyer   100%,  Ginsberg and Kagan  96%,  Ginsberg and Sotomayor 100%,  Breyer and Kagan 96%,  Breyer and Sotomayor 100%,  Sotomayor and Kagan  96%. 

The conservatives block of 5 justices, range from 68% to 100% as follows:

Thomas and Alito:  100%,  Thomas and Roberts 68%,  Thomas and Gorsuch 81%,  Alito and Roberts: 75%,  Alito and Gorsuch 81%,  Alito and Kennedy 86%,  Roberts and Gorsuch 85%,  Roberts and Kennedy: 89%,  Kennedy and Gorsuch 81%.  

There was a lot of talk about Kennedy being the swing justice.   But, a very good argument can be made that Roberts is also a swing justice.  In fact,   Roberts has agreed with Ginsburg and Sotomayor the same percentage of the time (68%) as with Thomas.  Gorsuch is the new justice, and statistics show he sides with the liberals at times.

There are some important caveats to this.  First, this is all cases, and not broken down in ones where there was an ideological difference.  I don’t know how many cases were involved in calculating these statistics; it may be quite a small set.  Finally,  in a number of cases, justices concur in part, but not in all of the decision.  The statistics don’t distinguish between partial or full agreement.  Both cases are considered agreement.

The Supreme Court has to make judgement on the most difficult cases.  It decides each case on its merits, and in relationship to the law.   It has been noted that the Supreme Court is producing less opinions in the current term.  It may be that Roberts has tried to obtain more of a consensus among the justices, by keeping the opinions more narrowly focused in some of the cases.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Ideological leanings of U.S. Supreme Court justices (Wikipedia)

Judicial activism

Textualism

http://www.scotusblog.com/statistics/

US Supreme Court Opinions  (Recent slip opinions)

The Supreme Court always provides their legal  reasoning for their opinions, and dissents, soon after a decision is rendered.

Pulling out of the Iranian Nuclear Deal

If there ever was a lose-lose proposition, this is it.  It is a loss for the US, for Iran and for our allies.   It may also be a win for Russia, in the long term.

So many experts have stated the most obvious reason for staying in the agreement – Iran was in compliance with the terms of the agreement.  The agreement called for the release of Iranian funds that the US and other countries had frozen.   The US did not get everything it wanted from the accords, but it got the really important part – Iran would not be building a nuclear weapon any time soon.

Moreover,  if we’ve learned anything from history, it is that unilateral sanctions don’t work.  They certainly were a failure in Cuba and  Libya.

It is a major win for the hardliners in Iran, who will wage a narrowly focused campaign against the US.  They will likely blame Iran’s economic problems on new US sanctions, instead of needed reforms.  The losers will be the Iranian people not the Mullahs.  Had the Iranian nuclear deal continued with the US support,  there would have been no guarantees that the moderates in the country would succeed in reforms, but now, with the help of Trump,  the hardliners have new ammunition against any progressive program for disarmament.

It makes North Korean discussions more difficult.  How can North Korea trust us, when we break our word with Iran.  Bad all around, in my opinion.

Opening of our embassy in Jerusalem:

The US ignored the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, and with it, lost any chance of being a fair broker in peace negotiations.  After a UN vote condemning the move,  UN Ambassador Nikki Haley,   held a reception for “Friends of the US” and I’m not sure who went.  The invitees were the countries that either voted against the UN resolution condemning the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.   There are only four  countries with a population of over one million people who voted against the resolution –  Israel, Guatemala, Honduras  and of course, the US.

The opinion piece by columnist Dana Milbank, summed up my thoughts on the “peace” celebration in Israel, entitled, “Nothing says ‘peace’ like 58 dead Palestinians.”   Jerusalem was to be a city to be shared between Palestinians and Israels, as a result of peace negotiations.

“The move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv could have been a moment of unity and brotherhood. Instead, as with most everything Trump touches, it became a symbol of division and bitterness. It could have been the capstone of a peace deal, as Republican and Democratic administrations alike had hoped. Instead, it all but dashed hope for a two-state solution.”

Israel invited representatives from all 86 countries with consulates in Israel to attend opening ceremonies, but only 32 attended.  Of the 54 countries absent from the opening ceremony were France, UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, India, China, Russia and Australia.  In South America, only Peru and Paraguay attended.   Like the “Friends of the US” reception in January 2018,  a lot of familiar friends are not with us.  See links

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/opens-embassy-jerusalem-countries-attended-180514141915625.html

 

 

Trump’s Approval Rating

The Gallup poll has surveyed the president’s approval rating for 13 presidents from Truman to Trump.   Arbitrarily,  I’ve decided that a 75% approval means that there is strong support for the president’s recent decisions.  Getting above 75% is tough, and it doesn’t last long.      I drew a 25% approval line, which shows only three presidents hit this line or were really close:   Truman, Nixon and George W. Bush.    These were presidents during the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars.   But,  Nixon’s sharp drop in popularity was tied to Watergate.

So,  let’s make this real easy.  Over 75%, the country loves their president (more or less) and under 25%, we hate our president.   In between these two extremes,  a well liked president is able to be above the 50% line, and a not so liked president will be under 50% approval.    Many presidents start at high approvals  and go into a slump towards  the end of the term.   This is true for all presidents,  except Clinton, who started low and ended high.

Three presidents (Truman, Nixon, and George W.  Bush) all went above the 75% “we love you” line and managed to end their term very close to the 25% “we hate you” line.   Truman still holds the record of low approval rating, at 22%, with a slight uptick towards the end of his term, which ended in Jan 1953.     Eisenhower ended the Korean conflict, and enjoyed a number of  pops over the “we love you” line.

All this makes sense, as a president has a certain “honeymoon period” where people are cutting him a lot of slack because he’s new on the job.  After some time, and finding out that everything the candidate promised, is not what the president elect can deliver, there should be disappointment in the president.

So, let’s get to Obama’s line,  going into a slump about two years into his first term, crossing below 50%, but crossing back above 50% towards the end.   Of course, Obama got very  high ratings from Democrats and very  low ratings from Republicans.

What really distinguishes Trump’s approval rating, is the lack of variation, as compared to all the other presidents.  He started at 45% approval rating in his first 9 days in office, which dropped to 35% in August 2017, and the most recent surveys show a 42% rating (as of May 6, 2018).

There has certainly been a lot of misinformation out there, coming  particularly from Donald Trump.  His approval ratings do not seem to be impacted at all by the Michael Cohen/ Stormy Daniels scandal.   One reason,  is the Republicans  still love him at an 87% approval rating, and Democrats still hate him, with a 9% approval rating.   These numbers change only a few percent with each new survey.  If the country can be assumed divided 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats, then Trump would have a 48% approval.  Independents drag down his approval,  they have only 33% approval rating of Trump.

I’m getting pretty tired of hearing about how Trump’s approval ratings have soared with minorities, particularly blacks.   There was a 15% approval rating when he was elected president, and it’s 13% now.   Basically, since election day,  they have hated him.   Obama had a 91% approval rating and it stayed pretty much that way throughout his term.   Hispanics also hate Trump with a 22% approval rating, that is basically a flat line, never once crossing above 25% line.   Obama’s approval rating with Hispanics varied,  from 85% to 44%,  so he wasn’t consistently above the “we love you” line.

So, all this stuff about Trump being more popular with blacks or Hispanics  is nonsense.   When approval ratings are very low, there is more statistical variation of the results, particularly when only one small subset is examined.   Also, some polls use only people who were registered to vote in the last election.    Or they survey people who say they intend to vote in the next election.   These factors can make a difference.

Obama never got a “we love you” or “we hate you”  approval rating, and I suspect this will never happen with Trump.   Obama followed a Democratic agenda, had extremely strong support from Democrats,  and very little support from Republicans.  Vice versa with Trump, but the outcome is similar, a lack of variation in poll numbers, as compared to prior presidents.    Perhaps in the past, we focused more on the president himself and now it is more the party’s policy he represents.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Politifact.com: Trump’s False claim that his presidential approval rating is ‘not bad’

Politifact.com:  Donald Trump’s misleading claim that Kanye West’s praise doubled his African-American support

Gallup Poll on Presidential Approval Ratings

The 538 website compares Trump’s popularity (green line) with the 12 prior presidents.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

NYT: Trump Falsely Claims His Approval Among Black Americans Has Doubled

Is Donald Trump’s Approval Rating the Lowest in Recent History Before an Inauguration?

Iran Nuclear Deal

It is likely that Donald Trump will pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal on May 12, just 5 days from today.  The deal was not perfect by any one’s standards, but the flaws were blown way out of proportions by Republicans in Congress.   Trump has used this, and almost everything else negotiated by Obama (and other presidents) as terrible.   The response from Iran is unknown to the US pullout.  Our allies, France, Germany and the UK, have all been trying to keep Trump in the agreement.

The deal is working and Iran is in compliance.    Only  Benjamin Netanyahu,  the president of Israel, is against the agreement.   It will impact our negotiations with North Korea, who will see the US as a country which can not be trusted.   One president makes deals and the next one breaks  the deal when the other side is in compliance.

I hope I’m wrong.  If not, I would list this as the worst decision of the Trump administration,  followed by the pull out of Paris Climate Accords.  The third on the list, is the very brazen efforts by  EPA Director, Scott Pruitt, and Interior Department Secretary, Ryan Zinke,  not to protect  the environment or the interior, but to let the fossil fuel companies to do what they want, in the guise of deregulation. I believe the EPA should be changed to EDA, or Environment Destruction Agency.   As long as I’m criticizing Trump’s appointees,  this last one, John Bolton, as National Security Adviser, would be best described as the person most capable of turning a small problem into a larger one, through inflammatory rhetoric.

I won’t go into any more details on the Iran Deal, as there is a lot of commentary on the Internet.  I’ve included a link from Wikipedia below.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Link:

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

 

 

 

VW Emission Scandal

It was reported on May 3, 2018, that ex-CEO of VW, Martin Winterkorn,  was indicted by a Grand Jury in Michigan for making “false representations to regulators and the public” about the emission levels of VW vehicles.   As reported by the BBC (link provided below), US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the indictment showed that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went “all the way to the top.”

Kudos to Sessions, federal prosecutors,  and the US justice system.   But even if found guilty by US authorities, it’s unlikely Mr Winterkorn, who resigned soon after the scandal broke in 2015, will ever see the inside of a US courtroom, much less prison, as Germany does not extradite its citizens. according to the BBC.

It was front page news in 2015, that VW had special coding within their cars’  computer to detect when their cars were being tested by the EPA, and make the necessary changes so the cars would pass the emissions tests.  The problem was the nitrous oxide levels (NOx).   The problem was enormous.   If they made their cars compliant for emission standards, the fuel economy would be substantially lower.  In the US,  it is mandatory to post the fuel mileage on the window of new cars.  It is also an obvious selling point,  as it suggests to an owner of an older model, that they could save on both car repairs and fuel costs by trading their old car for a new one.   It is also obvious, that consumers would select VW over other car manufacturers based on better fuel economy.   So, any attempt to fix emissions, would result in a fraud case, by all consumers based on gas consumption.

The Wikipedia summary is very good, but I have supplemented it with a couple of links, relating nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere with health problems and agricultural crises.   I would have a requirement that all automotive engineers take at least one course in environmental science.

Things go wrong in companies all the time.   I worked for an oil company (Texaco) and fortunately, never was directly involved in  engineering decisions involving deceit or fraud.   But, I knew of a number of cases, where if an engineer did go public with certain information, it would likely result in the engineer getting fired, and the whole matter covered up.   It is a real tough situation.  This is exactly the situation VW engineers faced.

The real documentation of the fraud in  VW case, is  the computer program itself, which is stored in a non-readable binary machine code in every car that is sold.   It isn’t a problem of the code being locked or encrypted, but the form of the code. There is a solution to this, but let’s wait to the end of the story.

Eleven million cars produced by VW, from 2009 to 2014, had the rigged software.   Of the 11 million, 500,000 cars were sold in the US.   These were diesel cars, which are not very popular in the US.  My guess is engineers were told a lie.  If caught, we’ll do a recall and fix the error.  This has become standard operating procedure.   Of course, it wasn’t fixable.   Perhaps, a second lie was also told, “we can’t get caught, because it’s all buried in the unreadable machine code.”

Per Wikipedia, “Engineers had recognized inadequacies in emissions tests, dating back to 1989.   The Washington Post also reported that in the late 1990s, EPA engineers at Virginia Testing Laboratory had built a system called ROVER, designed to test a car’s emissions on the road. The project was shut down in 2001, despite preliminary tests indicating gaps between emissions from lab tests and real world tests of about 10 to 20 percent.”     They didn’t contemplate how “on the road testing could catch cheaters.”

It was completely by chance that VW got caught. Under a $50,000 grant,  in early 2014, two professors and two students began testing emission under road conditions, using a portable emissions measurement system.  Under real-world driving conditions the Jetta exceeded US emissions limits “by a factor of 15 to 35” while the Passat exceeded the limit “by a factor of 5 to 20, according to Wikipedia.

Now, what Michael Winterkorn is charged with, is not the initial crime of cheating the testing, but the later concealment from the consumer,  after he learned  the VW cars had the defeat device.

Cars have computers to fine tune the performance.   It was pretty inconceivable that the engineers would create the defeat device,  but they are encouraged to be “problem solvers” and to innovative to gain  a competitive advantage over the other car makers.  It seems a simple solution has been suggested,  to require only readable and public code  to be used in cars.     Unfortunately,  EPA is pretty dysfunctional with Scott Pruitt at the helm.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia:  VW Emissions Scandal

BBC: Diesel emissions scandal

Nearly half of Michiganders live in unacceptable smog levels, EPA says

Why ozone levels pose a challenge to food security

 

The counter attack Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels and Mueller’s investigation.

Wow.  What a mess!  What was going on in the last couple of weeks of the elections – if people knew, Trump would have lost for sure.

It started with the Russian influence in the US elections was a “made up story”  by the “fake news media” or the Democrats,  to explain why they lost.  Then 13 Russians were indicted by the Grand Jury and big names in the Trump campaign are either headed for trial (Paul Manafort) or have pleaded guilty (Michael Flynn,  Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos).    A lot more is coming in the Russian probe.

No country should ever be allowed to influence the US elections.    The best chance for criminal justice and truth is with the Mueller investigation.

The Stormy Daniels story changes depending on how much hard evidence the prosecutors have, and how much Trump feels that Cohen might flip.   Another words, this saga has evolved from some rogue attorney, who felt so honor bond to Donald Trump, to pay $130,000 out of his own funds, to shut up Stormy Daniels, to part of a legal agreement (note attorney-client privilege) to fix problems for Donald Trump as part of retainer fees.

Calm and precise Jeff Toobin, legal commentator for CNN, summed it up nicely, “How stupid does he think we are?”  meaning of course Trump.

It isn’t the FBI or the Department of Justice that has caused a problem for Trump, but the president.

As his associates get caught,  they’re flipping.  The indictments and convictions will depend on a massive amount of information, not available to the public, including financial records, bank statements,  emails, and other documents.

O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!
Walter Scott

I’m leaving off the usual links, except for the Wikipedia, which is the best factual summary I could find.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Link:

Wikipedia – Special Counsel

 

Comey’s book “Higher Loyalty”

I’ve read the book, cover to cover.  It has received excellent reviews.  Some may be disappointed that he does not provide details in the Russian investigation by Robert Mueller.    In interviews, he has carefully refused to comment on the ongoing investigation.

It is not an anti-Trump book, only there was little to admire about his interactions with the FBI Director Comey.   In fact, there is hardly a mention of Trump until the very few last chapters.   It is rather a pro-FBI and pro-Department of Justice book.  It is a memoir, from early childhood  to his various assignments in public office.

In many areas, it is a book in praise of those who have shown outstanding courage, conviction and values.   A defining moment came with the “Stellar Wind” episode, where Comey had to race to the hospital bed, where Attorney General John Ashcroft, re-affirmed that Comey had full authority to refuse to reauthorize a warrantless  surveillance program on constitutional grounds, despite White House objections.   The hero, was Attorney General John Ashcroft,  very ill at the time with pancreatitis,  surrounded by White House attorneys who wanted him to override James Comey, who was acting AG while Ashcroft was in the hospital:

And then John Ashcroft did something that amazed me.  He pushed himself up on the bed with his elbows.  His tired eyes fixed upon the president’s men and gave Card and Gonzales a rapid-fire blast.  He had been misled about the scope of the surveillance program, he said.   He vented that he had long been denied the legal basis for parts of the program now that he understood it.  Spent, he fell back on his pillow, his breathing labored.  “But that doesn’t matter now,” he said, “because I’m not the attorney general.”  With a finger extended from his shaking left hand, he pointed to me. “There is the attorney general.”

There’s more to this story.  Although hesitant at first,  President Bush makes sufficient revisions to the Stellar Wind program,  and the program is re-authorized by the Department of Justice.  It is a positive example of a president, who is respectful of the independence and authority of the Department of Justice.

Most of the interviews I’ve listen to, are focused on Comey’s interactions with President Trump, which are in the last three chapters of the 14 chapters in the  book.   Comey writes there was a lack of humility in Trump as follows:

As I’d seen from other leaders, being confident enough to be humble – comfortable in their own skin – is at the heart of effective leadership.  That humility makes a whole lot of things possible, none more important than a single, humble question” “What am I missing?”

Later, in a discussion of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with Comey and CIA Director Clapper with the new Trump team,   Comey writes,“What I found telling was what ask…. how the United States might prepare itself to meet that threat [in future elections]. “

Impatient readers will likely dive bomb into the last chapter of the book, which are strictly on the Trump presidency bypassing most of the very positive messages of the book.    By March 30, 2017,  Trump wanted Comey  to “lift the cloud” of suspicion surrounding his involvement with Russian agents, as it was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.” This was repeated on April 11, 2017.    Comey’s firing came on May 9, 2017, in a very humiliating way, in his fifth month on the job.  He writes, “It may sound strange, but throughout my five months working under Donald Trump,  I wanted to succeed as president… We need our presidents to succeed. ”  

Comey doesn’t venture beyond his go beyond his congressional testimony as a private citizen,  on the reasons for his firing.  He stated then,

And on May 9th, when I learned that I had been fired, for that reason, I immediately came home as a private citizen.  But then the explanations, the shifting explanations, confused me and increasingly concerned me.   

He goes not to say they confused him for three reasons: (1) Trump said on occasions that he was doing a great job,  (2) Trump  said he was fired for the Russian investigation (Lester Holt interview)  and (3)  The initial explanation was based on  decisions Comey  made during the election year at  the conclusion of the email scandal.  I will add to this third reason, which I considered a made to order pretext for firing Comey  in an upcoming blog.

The 3 page epilogue leaves no question about how he feels about Donald Trump as president, as he writes, “Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good for this nation.”   At this point, it is no longer about a particular event or policy, but of violated norms and values.   It ends on a positive message, as he writes, “The next president, no matter the party, will surely emphasize values – truth, integrity, respect and tolerance – in ways an American leader hasn’t needed to for more than forty years. “

Stay tuned,

Dave