Monthly Archives: June 2018

Donald Trump, Russian Agent

511 days into the Trump presidency it’s clear that Donald is the most destructive US President in recent history. He’s divided the nation, alienated our historic allies, and made worse the planet’s most pressing problems. Although there are several possible explanations for Trump’s disastrous behavior, it’s likely that he is acting on behalf of Russia.

It’s difficult to remember a time when the United States was more polarized.  (Certainly not since the sixties.)  Trump makes no attempt to be conciliatory; he plays to his base all the time.  On issue after issue he demonizes Democrats and all those who oppose him. Trump has legitimized hate and exacerbated racial and ethnic antagonism.  He’s an unapologetic misogynist.  To paraphrase George W. Bush, Trump is “a divider not a uniter.”

The overall state of the nation has deteriorated under Trump.  (The latest Pew Research Poll indicates that 62 percent of respondents are dissatisfied “with the way things are going.”)  A recent report ( https://thinkprogress.org/u-s-developed-world-income-wealth-inequality-un-report-788b1300e4be/) found that: “the United States is leading the developed world in income and wealth inequality;” and placed the blame at the feet of the Trump Administration.  (For example, Blue-collar wages are down (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/06/chart-of-the-day-blue-collar-wages-are-down-under-trump/ ).)  Trump has jeopardized American democracy.

Why Trump is doing such a terrible job?  One answer is that he isn’t up to the task; he lacks the intellectual and emotional strength to be President.  And it doesn’t help the situation that many of Washington’s “best and brightest” don’t want to work for Trump; as a result he has a thin and second-rate staff.

Another explanation is that Trump is obsessed with eradicating the legacy of Barack Obama — Donald wants to be the anti-Obama.  Therefore his legislative agenda is to reverse Obama initiatives.  Obama was for affordable healthcare; Trump pushed to overturn “Obamacare.”  Obama signed the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy; Trump reversed it.  Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Accord — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;” Trump unilaterally withdrew.  Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement; Trump plans to withdraw.  In other words, if Obama was for it, Trump is reflexively against it.  Trump has a negative agenda.

By nature, Obama was a collaborator; a believer in “win-win” negotiation.  By nature, Trump is individualistic competitor; a believer in “I win, you lose.”

A third, more sinister explanation is that Trump is a puppet.  The question is who is pulling the strings?  One theory is that Trump is controlled by a small group of Republican oligarchs including Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, and Charles and David Koch.  This might explain some Trump actions, such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a key Adelson issue.  However it does not explain many Trump actions such as the crackdown on immigrants, particularly the Trump’s reversal of the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which the Koch’s oppose.

Another theory is that Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin and Russian Oligarchs. Under this line of reasoning, Putin and his inner circle are calling the shots; Trump goes along with them because he has no choice.

There are many Trump actions that support the notion that Putin is telling him what to do.  The most obvious is Trump’s attitude towards Russia.  For example, even though there’s indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump refuses to acknowledge this ( https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/13/politics/trump-unconvinced-russia-meddled-election/index.html).  Even though it appears to many observers that Russia is at war with the US — cyberwar — Trump continues to cozy up to Putin.  (Recently Putin told an Austrian news outlet that he talks to Trump “regularly.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/05/putin-says-he-talks-to-trump-regularly.html ))  Trump recently declared that Russia should be brought back into to the G-7 discussions.  (They were expelled after the invasion of Crimea.)  He plans to invite Putin to the White House.

Given that Putin is controlling Trump, what is Putin’s strategy?  There appear to be three aspects.  The first is to use Trump to weaken western alliances: the United Nations, NATO, the G-7, etcetera.  There’s no doubt that Trump has done this; the most recent example being the June G-7 meeting where Trump left early and refused to sign the group communique.

US global military alliances have also been weakened.  For example, Trump just called off the annual United States-South Korea military exercises — something that was requested by North Korea and Russia.

Trump has weakened US alliances in general.  By withdrawing from the Paris Climate accord, Trump signaled that the United States will no longer work with the rest of the world on climate change issues.  By withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Trump indicated that he reserved the right to act unilaterally throughout the world.  Now, Trump has shaken up trade relations with America’s largest trading partners (the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea…).  Trump has drastically curtailed the US role in all global endeavors such cybersecurity, health, immigration, tourism, etcetera.

Putin also wants to weaken the relationship between the United States and the European Union.  From the onset, Trump has disparaged the EU by actions such as supporting Brexit and demonizing Germany. As a result our EU partners no longer trust the US.

Finally, Putin wants to weaken US democracy, weaken our resolve.  There’s no doubt that Trump has divided the country and as a consequence turned us inward, diminished our role as a global power.

Putin is winning.

Politics by Walking Around

When I was a technology developer, in Silicon Valley, I adopted the technique of “managing by walking around.” Recently I’ve talked to two outstanding 2018 Democratic political candidates who’ve adopted this same technique in their campaigns. While it may not be obvious, “politics by walking around” addresses one of 2018’s burning political questions: what does the Democratic Party stand for?

“Managing by walking around” was originally developed in the 1970’s at Hewlett Packard.  I adopted “managing by walking around” because I was working on a large IBM campus, in Santa Clara, and the engineers who were developing different aspects of my product were widely dispersed.  While I could have relied upon emailed progress reports or formal meetings, I found it more informative to talk to them in person.  (I also thought that engineers were likely to be more candid in a face-to-face conversation.)

In fact, “managing by walking around” is a technique long-used by community organizers.  After returning to India in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi would routinely leave big Indian cities and walk through the sprawling countryside visiting village after village, talking to peasants about their concerns.  Barack Obama used this same technique when he was a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980’s.

The basic notion in “managing by walking around” is that one stands a better chance of understanding what is going on by getting out of the office and going to visit folks where they live or work.  Interestingly enough, that’s the technique being used by two formidable 2018 Democratic candidates: Stacey Abrams, who is running for Georgia governor, and Beto O’Rourke, who is running for Senate in Texas.

One of the notable political characteristics of 2018 is the fact that a disproportionate number of Democratic candidates are women.  Stacey Abrams ( https://staceyabrams.com/) is the Democratic candidate for Governor of Georgia.  If I only told you that Ms. Abrams is an unmarried black woman, you’d think she had no chance in this race.  But if I introduced you to Stacey — a graduate of Yale Law School, who is the Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives — you’d come away believing that she is the most qualified candidate.  (On May 29th, Ms. Abrams won the Democratic primary with 76 percent of the vote.)

Stacey Abrams got to this point by systematically going around Georgia and talking to the folks in its 159 counties.  Ms. Abrams is the founder of The New Georgia Project which, for the last four years, has been working to register voters, primarily people of color.  (In 2008, Barack Obama lost Georgia by 200,00 votes and there were 700,000 unregistered black voters.)

While walking around Georgia, Stacey Abrams learned what issues were foremost on the minds of Peach State voters.  The first is economic fairness: “building a diverse economy with good-paying jobs and expanding opportunities for families to thrive.” Stacey learned that Georgians are much more interested in economic issues than they are in Republican shibboleths such as “cracking down on illegal immigrants.”  Another major concern is education: “Georgia must invest in addressing the needs of the whole child from cradle to career – and our investment must extend beyond the walls of a classroom to acknowledge the totality of their needs.”

Does Stacey Abrams have a chance in November?  Yes, says the 538 website ( https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/can-stacey-abrams-really-turn-georgia-blue/) but she’s a long shot:  “Georgia is one of the most [inelastic states], its electorate is composed mostly of solid Democrats and solid Republicans, with very few persuadable voters. The result is that Democrats have a tendency to get close in the Peach State, but they have a very hard time getting over the hump to 50 percent plus one.”

Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke is in a similar tough race for Senate in Texas (https://betofortexas.com/ ).  He’s the underdog to incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz.  The Cook Report classifies this race as “Likely Republican.”  The 538 website notes: “Texas is about 12 percentage points more Republican than the country overall. If the national environment favors Democrats by, like, 7 points (where the generic ballot has been lately), that might make Texas have a 5-point Republican lean in this political environment.”

If you talk to O’Rourke, you won’t know that he is an underdog.  So far he’s raised more money than Cruz.  And he’s made himself more visible by traveling to each of Texas’ 254 counties — often going to communities where in recent memory no Democrat has visited.

Like Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke has learned a lot by walking around his state.  This is reflected in his ” We should all have a chance to to succeed” platform: “Jobs for Texans who are ready to work and the education and training to be competitive for them.  It means that every one of us is able to get healthy and stay healthy…”

As we approach the critical November 6th midterm elections, many Democrats lament the absence of a unifying national theme.  The Dems most recent attempts targets Trump’s culture of corruption ( https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/democrats-new-2018-strategy-targeting-trump-s-culture-corruption-missed-ncna880006).

The campaigns of Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke indicate that rather than adopt some abstract national theme, state and congressional Democratic candidates should instead practice the politics of walking around.  Democrats should talk to their constituents and run on their concerns, which differ from state to state and district to district.

Talking to voters; a winning concept.

All the President’s Men: Mike Pompeo

The Trump Administration is so dreadful they’ve made the George W. Bush Administration seem almost acceptable in comparison.  Dubya surrounded himself with qualified staff.  Trump has surrounded himself with syncophants. One of the most influential is the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Unlike many of those in the Trump inner circle, Pompeo had an impressive career before entering politics.  After graduating from West Point — number one in his class — Pompeo served five years in the Army.  Then he went to Harvard Law School and briefly worked for a Washington law firm.  In 1996, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, and helped form Thayer Aerospace — with funding from the Koch brothers.  In 2006, he was elected to the House of Representatives — once again with help from the Koch brothers.

In Congress, Pompeo aligned with conservative Republicans such as the Tea Party and the Congressional Constitution Caucus.  He’s socially conservative, a climate change denier, and, as a member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, an ardent critic of Hillary Clinton.

On January 23, 2017, Mike Pompeo became Trump’s Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Notably, Pompeo personally delivered Trump’s daily intelligence briefing at the White House; as a result, the two men have a close relationship.

After Trump fired his first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, he nominated Pompeo for the position.  Pompeo was confirmed on April 26, 2018.  By most accounts, Pompeo has been more effective than Tillerson.  State Department moral appears to be improving.  (http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/15/pompeo-lifts-hiring-freeze-on-state-department-diplomacy-tillerson-restore-diplomats-swagger-tackle-low-morale/ )

At the moment, Mike Pompeo probably has more influence on Donald Trump’s foreign-policy actions than does anyone else in the Administration.  In most regards, Pompeo’s stated beliefs align with Trump’s.

North Korea: Pompeo has been Trump’s point man on negotiations with North Korea — Trump sent Pompeo to negotiate with Kim Jong-un before Pompeo was confirmed as Secretary of State.

In these negotiations, the key issue is “denuclearization.”  On May 13th, National Security Adviser Bolton offered a very specific definition of what North Korean “denuclearization” meant: “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons… taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee… getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”  Bolton said the process should follow “the Libya model.”

North Korea was offended by Bolton’s remarks and denounced him.  Apparently, Kim Jong-un is looking for a “phased and synchronous” approach to denuclearization; that is, a step-by-step approach whereby they gradually denuclearize while receiving commensurate economic assistance.  Nonetheless, Pompeo seems to be aligned with Bolton, telling the Senate Foreign Services Committee that the U.S. wants “rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time.”

At this writing, Pompeo is meeting with North Korean representatives.  He says the negotiations are “making progress” but does not know if a June 12th meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un will occur.

Iran: Pompeo has long been opposed to the Iran nuclear agreement –technically the “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA) signed November 24, 2013 .  As a Congressman, Pompeo said, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”  On May 8th, Trump declared he was withdrawing the United States from the JPA.

Trump wants to negotiate a new JPA that specifically limits Iranian missile testing, gives inspectors unfettered access to Iranian military bases, and extends the (old) JPA’s expiration date beyond 2030.  It’s unlikely that either Pompeo or Trump can gain the support of the other signatories: China, England, European Union, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia.

Russia: To say the least, Trump’s attitude towards Russia has been inconsistent.  On the one hand he called Putin to congratulate him after he was “reelected” Russian president.  On the other hand, he’s claimed, “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.”

In contrast, Pompeo is more hawkish.  During his Secretary-of-State confirmation hearing, Pompeo said: “[Russia] has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe, and doing nearly nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of ISIS.”

China:  To a lesser extent, Trump’s attitude toward China has also been inconsistent.  Pompeo is a China hawk.  In January,  Pompeo told the BBC that China is as big a threat to U.S. Security as Russia is, citing efforts by the Chinese to steal American commercial information.

Strategic Alliances: Trump has also been inconsistent with regards to support for NATO.  Pompeo has been more conciliatory but echoes the White House mantra that our European allies should spend more on defense.

Global Climate Change: While many statesmen believe that Global Climate Change is a national security threat, Trump and Pompeo do not agree.  In 2013, while still a congressman, Pompeo said, “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment… Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda.”  Pompeo opposed regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to bolster “clean” power.

Summary: Pompeo is more capable than most of Trump’s inner circle.  Nonetheless, he’s a fellow-traveler, a close associate of the Koch brothers.  Pompeo’s role is to ensure that Trump’s policies align with those of the Republican oligarchs.