Thursday, November 9, 2017

Trump and Tragedy

[T]he essence of tragedy is killing eternity.
—Miguel de Unamuno, —San Manuel Bueno, Prologue

Events of the last six weeks have given us the opportunity to see how creatively DJT can respond to violent attacks-attacks that were similar in that lots of people were killed and injured, but different in how DJT responded to each of them.

The first attack took place in early October in Las Vegas, Nevada. Six hours after the attack, DJT sent his condolences to “the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting” and described the act, committed by an American citizen, as an “act of pure evil.” In describing the shooter, DJT said the shooter was “a sick demented man” whose “wires are screwed up.” Since the attacker used a variety of firearms, DJT was presented with an opportunity to discuss the role firearms play in the United States where more than 30 people a day are killed by guns. When asked about that, he said that the U.S. would “be talking about gun laws as time goes by.” He did, however, somewhat inexplicably, say of the event: “What happened is, in many ways, a miracle. The police department, they’ve done such an incredible job. And we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on. . . .” He was less reserved in addressing the attack four weeks later in New York City. Unlike his response to Las Vegas, he saw no reason to wait with taking action with respect to the massacre as “time goes on.” He acted immediately.

The New York City perpetrator was a green card holder from Uzbekistan. And the fact that he was an immigrant was seized on by DJT with his first tweets about the attack. Unlike his belief that it was too soon to discuss gun legislation, following a slaughter enabled by guns, he had no reluctance to address the fact that the New York city killer was an immigrant. In a tweet he said: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this.” What part of the New York City tragedy suggests that some would favor viewing the tragedy through a politically correct lens is not explained. And since there are many more gun deaths in the United States committed by United States citizens than by immigrants, it is not clear how DJT’s extreme vetting will reduce the number of terrorist attacks that take place in the United States

The recent killings in the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, evoked a different response from DJT. Whereas the Las Vegas tragedy was “an act of pure evil” perpetrated by a “a sick demented man” whose “wires are screwed up” and the New York City killing was effected by a legal immigrant, DJT said of the Texas massacre that this “isn’t a guns situation” but a “mental health situation.” And when DJT uttered those words, he had already taken steps to address the mental health issue that he believes triggered the Texas shooting. He did it when he submitted the budget for FY 2018 in May 2017. In that budget he proposed cuts for the federal mental health and substance abuse treatment agency by $400 million, and the Community Mental Health Services block grant by $116 million. According to the American Psychological Association, that proposed budget: “threatens critical health, scientific research and education programs that contribute to the social safety net for millions of Americans.” So you could say that DJT is batting zero for three in taking meaningful action to confront the tragedies of the last 6 weeks, unless reducing funding for mental health counts as meaningful action.

Although DJT’s comments dominated the news following these events, he was not the only commentator to make news. Following the Texas shooting, Greg Abbott, that state’s governor, went on “Outnumbered Overtime” on Fox news to suggest we should be happy that things are not worse than they are. He said: “Remember, even though we’re facing these severe tragedies — whether it be what happened in Sutherland Springs, or what happened in Las Vegas, or what happened in New York last week, or what happened in London earlier this year — we have acts of evil taking place, and because they are close in time to us right now, we think this is something heavy right now. But put this in the context of history. Look at what happened with Hitler during the horrific events during that era and Mussolini and go back in time before that to the earlier ages, the Middle Ages, when people committed horrific crimes, and when you go back through the history of the Bible, there was evil that took place from earliest stages of the Bible to post-New Testament, so evil is something that has permeated this world.” The fact that the United States has not yet descended to the levels of Hitler’s Germany, notwithstanding the licenses to hate that DJT has issued to his followers, is of no comfort to most citizens. Someone should mention that to Greg Abbott.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Black Prince

(T)he Senate is much given to admiring in its members a superiority less obvious or quite invisible to outsiders. . . .
—Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

It’s nice to have him back from Abu Dhabi, the country to which he moved in 2010. He moved there, according to one of his colleagues, because, he “Needed a break from America.” Some of you may be wondering why he needed a break. It all had to do with the bad publicity his company, Blackwater Worldwide, was receiving as a result of activities the company and its employees were engaged in while working in Iraq.

Erik Prince founded Blackwater in 1997. It was a security firm that helped guard government facilities and U.S. personnel in assorted venues overseas, including Iraq. It did not have an unblemished record. In fact, a congressional report found that Blackwater personnel were involved in almost 200 shootings in Iraq between 2005 and 2007. The one with the longest lasting impact (other than on the families who were shot by Blackwater employees), occurred on September 16, 2007. In that shooting, Blackwater guards protecting a U.S. convoy killed 17 unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. As a consequence, four of the Blackwater employees were criminally charged in the United States and, in 2014, convicted in federal court for their role in the massacre. (In October 2017, sentences imposed on three of the men were thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court for resentencing. The conviction of the fourth defendant was thrown out and a new trial ordered.) In late December 2010, Erik sold the company, then known as Xe Services LLC.

Notwithstanding its sale, Blackwater’s travails continued to follow Erik. They were not limited to the 200 shootings that took place during Blackwater’s tenure in Iraq. In 2010 Xe Services LLC, settled State Department allegations of hundreds of export and other violations committed by Blackwater, and paid fines of $42 million. The offenses with which it was charged included “illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in South Sudan, and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers.” Those transgressions all occurred while Erik was running the company. Erik was reportedly unhappy with the bad publicity his company had received as a result of Blackwater’s activities. And that is why, in September 2010, he moved to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, while retaining his residence in Middleburg, Virginia.

Although he moved to Abu Dhabi, Erik has remained actively, if not publicly, involved in politics. During the last election he reportedly became became a close advisor to @thereal Donald Trump. In January, following the election of @the real Donald Trump, Erik participated in a meeting in the Seychelles that had been arranged by the United Arab Emirates. According to a report in the Washington Post, Erik had become an unofficial advisor to the incoming Trump administration, and the meeting in the Seychelles was an effort to establish a back-channel communication link between Moscow and the Trump administration. When asked about the Post report, Erik said the meeting with the Russians was a meeting with “some kind of fund manager we’ve done business with.” Whatever.

In early October 2017, the peripatetic Erik, accompanied by his family, made a visit to Wyoming. Tired of being a resident of only Abu Dhabi and Virginia, he went to Wyoming in order to explore the possibility of establishing residency there so that he could run for the U.S. Senate in that state. (Erik has already said he will not run from his home state of Michigan, but might favor Wyoming with a candidacy even though it already has a Republican senator.)

In order to run for the United States Senate from Wyoming, the only requirement, under Wyoming’s Ballot Access Laws, is that the person running be a registered elector in the state. To become a registered elector in Wyoming you must be a resident of the state. Mr. Prince already owns a house in Wyoming, so he can simply register to vote and will then be qualified to run for the U.S. Senate.
In explaining why he would consider running in Wyoming he said: “I identify with Wyoming. I love the state of Wyoming. I love the people. It’s a fantastic state-people that live in rugged conditions and who make their living doing things in the outdoors. I can relate to ranchers and roughnecks and professional game guides and farmers and homemakers.” That pretty well includes everyone in the state and those are not the only people he relates to. He also relates to Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News and more recently the White House, and more recently still, (again), Breitbart News. Mr. Bannon has encouraged him to run. His election would mean two Prince siblings are in federal government. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is the Secretary of Education. According to recent polls, she is the most unpopular member of @thereal Donald Trump’s cabinet. The prospect of Erik in the United States Senate is exciting not only to Mr. Bannon. Erik’s election to the senate combined with his sister’s position in the cabinet, would prove you can’t get too much of a good thing.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Evil communications corrupt good manners.

The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

It is time for a brief lesson on the art of reporting about tweeting, and how tweeting is affecting the identities of those in the Tweetisphere. Since the tweet is being used almost exclusively by someone who identifies himself as @realDonaldTrump (to distinguish himself from someone who, inexplicably, might seek to establish an on-line presence as @unrealDonaldTtrump or @fakeDonaldTrump), the question assumes an importance it did not have until @realDonaldTrump assumed the office he now enjoys. Although not privy to the complete etiquette of tweeting or what might be called “Tweetiquette”, two things have become obvious over the last few months.

The first is that the tweet does not stand alone when being reported by the print media. It has become accepted that when reporting on a presidential or, indeed, any other tweet, the text of the tweet is reported verbatim in the context of the paragraph in which it is being reported. That paragraph is then immediately followed by an indented, and sometimes smaller fonted, repeat of the tweet. Thus, for example, a recent edition of the Washington publication, The Hill, contains a report by Jacqueline Thomsen about DJT’s description of his brilliant success in helping Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma. In her report she quotes the Trumpian Tweet saying: “Nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciation. So much work!” That paragraph is immediately followed by the tweet itself. It includes the Trump face, followed by the name Donald J. Trump, followed by the tweet’s text. The same protocol was followed in an article describing the same tweet that appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Another example of quoting and then repeating the tweet, is found in a CNN description of the dispute between @realDonaldTrump and Senator Bob Corker. The CNN report quoted verbatim the @realDonaldTrump tweet saying; “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out . . . .Didn’t have the guts to run.” That report is then followed by the transcription of the three tweets that quote comprises, all from the @realDonaldTrump. The CNN report then continues with another verbatim quote of @realDonaldTrump in which tweet a description of Senator Corker’s efforts on the “Iran Deal” are described followed by the appearance of the tweets themselves. The foregoing practice seems to be universally accepted in the publishing world and, accordingly, one has come to treat it as tweet protocol. Although this is nothing more than speculation, it may have become the custom in the publishing world because so many of the tweets that emanate from @realDonaldTrump are so preposterous, inane, or suggest an unhinged creator that, were the tweets simply reported verbatim without the benefit of publishing the tweets themselves, they would not be credible, and people would accuse the publication of publishing “fake news.” Publishing the tweet itself eliminates any possibility that the tweets were created by the entity reporting the tweets.

Another feature of the tweet is that its handle, as it were, has become a part of the identity of the place being referred to, or the human with whom the tweet is associated. Thus, in DJT’s tweet about Puerto Rico, he doesn’t simply refer to “Puerto Rico” but #PuertoRico. This enables the reader to click on that word and be taken to a source that tells the reader more about Puerto Rico. More difficult to understand is the reason for the use of @ when referring to people such as the president or the vice president.

When Vice President Pence walked out of a football game in Indiana, without waiting to see if his favorite team won or lost, (the walkout reportedly taking place according to a pre-arranged scheme between DJT and Mr. Pence), DJT tweeted that he: “asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.” Playing along with those ways of describing each other and, in this case, Mr. Pence’s wife, after @VP Pence left the stadium he explained his departure. He said: “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.” (It is unclear why the “Flag” was capitalized and “soldiers” was not.) By referring to @POTUS, @VP Pence assumed that tweet readers would know he was referring to @realDonaldTrump.

This piece is not meant to be the final word on the practice of attaching “@” or” #” when naming people or places. By alerting readers to these practices, however, it may make the readers’ journeys through the tweetisphere more enjoyable and give them things to look for. And on the bright side, the advent of these practices are among the least harmful things that have been introduced into our world since @realDonaldTrump became what he has become.