Trump Junior and Russia

This weeks’ Fifth Column Podcast had an excellent discussion of Donald Trump Jr. and his attempt to get opposition research from the Russian government.

I have been pretty skeptical that the Trump administration and campaign actually did anything wrong with regard to Russia. I thought Trump was a poor candidate because he seemed very comfortable with authoritarians like Putin, which together with many positions he’s taken made me concerned about authoritarian policies he’d implement. Some of that concern has been well founded (e.g. appointing Jeff Sessions, removing an FBI Director he didn’t like), but in other places it has not. Trump seems to be bothered by criticism and a free press, but it’s clear the press is as robust and independent as ever.

I also thought Trump surrounded himself with really bad people, some of them with obvious terrible connections to the Russian government, like Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Flynn (all of whom were fired). Again, this points to his friendliness with authoritarians and perhaps his incompetence with whom he surrounds himself with, not that he’s had contact with the Russian government itself.

I thought the intense media scrutiny over Russia wouldn’t provide anything, and it was dragging on for far too long. I thought the worst thing we would find would be that Trump fired FBI Director Comey for investigating his ties to Russia, not for any connections to Russia itself. But I was wrong. The New York Times reporting on this was so impressive that Donald Trump Jr., the target of the Times‘ article actually felt it would be better if he published these emails himself!

Thus, I’m literally typing these word for word from Trump Jr.’s twitter account. He got an email saying “…and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”

Trump Jr’s response: “…if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer”.

I don’t know if this is illegal, as Trump Jr. has some amorphous relationship with the Trump campaign and allegedly isn’t involved in the administration at all, despite regularly going on TV to defend the administration. However, it’s at the very least unpatriotic and seems pretty unethical. If agents of a foreign government are reaching out to you to attack political opponents, your response should be to forward it to the FBI, not to set up a meeting as soon as possible. Trump was elected to “drain the swamp”.  I thought that meant that many legislators are too close to special interests or are lobbied by large companies to pass favorable legislation. This is certainly problematic, but actively trying to get help from foreign governments to get into office seems at least as bad. Donald Trump Jr. is a swamp monster if ever there was such a thing.

Additionally, just like Hillary Clinton lied constantly about her email scandal (she didn’t have a private server; ok she did but there was nothing classified; ok it was classified but it was secure…), it turns out Trump Jr. and many other campaign members just straight up lied about having pursued Russian opposition research. Trump Jr. stated in a March interview that he had met people that were Russian but not meetings “…that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.” Here’s a full timeline, it’s pretty damning. This is the undermining of democracy that I thought Trump supporters claimed he was there to fight.

I wish all presidents were subjected to this sort of scrutiny. We had wall to wall media coverage for months with very few real stories until this week. The Obama administration crushed leakers and transparency, blocking FISA requests in an unprecedented manner. They brought government secrecy to a new level, while waging wars in several middle eastern countries without Congressional approval. Trump has only been in office for 6 months, and so it’s not hard to argue that the Obama administration was much worse in terms of doing illegal things, murdering civilians, spying on Americans and journalists, etc. Yet, media coverage has been much more aggressive on Trump (at least from the left, while the right-leaning media has often been at least as sycophantic as anything we saw under Obama on the left).  I guess it’s better late than never, but the media needs to be far more adversarial in the future long after Trump is gone.

 

Links 2016-9-7

Living in the Age of Outrage. Maybe we’ve surpassed the point at which additional connectivity and interaction will continue to benefit the human brain.

The NSA spying on us is now officially putting us all at risk. Written by Bruce Schneier whose blog you can find in the sidebar.

Cool post on taking back the word “neoliberal”. More from a British perspective than American, but same idea I think as this blog and neoclassical liberalism.

Duke Professor Michael Munger (blog linked in the sidebar) gave a short talk about different healthcare systems, and some of the problems in the American set up.

An interesting healthcare idea mentioned in the last link, and discussed at length in this Cato paper. An idea I had previously thought about what having insurance cover increasing progressive percentages of healthcare costs as your costs went up. This is essentially like a high deductible plan, but perhaps you pay for 100% of your first $1000 healthcare costs, 50% of your second $1000, 25% of the next $2000, and so on. However, high deductibles don’t really work for low income individuals. Instead, this paper proposes that for very expensive procedures, the insurance company would pay the patient an amount to forego the procedure. If it’s just something they are considering, they will just take the money. If it’s really required, they’ll go through with it. It’s true that more low income individuals will forego the procedure, but if we argue that shouldn’t be allowed, we are arguing they shouldn’t be allowed to get free money. Not very ethical.

Paid parental leave isn’t a free lunch. Author is a blogger at EconLog, linked in the sidebar.

Interesting point by Bryan Caplan on a “reverse Animal Farm” situation. In the Soviet Union, Pravda would talk about how much better things were while things were actually awful; today, the media focuses on how terrible things are despite us being in an unparalleled era of peace and prosperity. Weirder still, Pravda was a propaganda outlet, but our media is competitive meaning that they are spouting what we want to hear. Of course, that also explains lots of overly emotional happy stories of dogs being rescued or clickbait listicles, so it’s not all doom and gloom as Caplan says.

The reasonableness of radicalism. An good read from Libertarianism.org that makes you think about the historical context of various beliefs. By historical standards people today are radical democrats, radical egalitarians, and radical libertarians. Therefore, we can justify beliefs thought radical today by asserting future societies would find those beliefs obvious. Of course, the author largely ignores that we could guess the wrong direction the world moves in; many left-wing intellectuals (and others) in the early 20th century thought it was obvious that communism or at least socialism was the future. They believed their support of overthrowing the bourgeoisie was the right way to approach things. Communists today are a bit wacky. Perhaps it would be safer to just argue for incremental changes in the right direction.

When you change the world and no one notices. Apparently it took about five years for the anyone to notice the Wright Brothers had already invented fixed-wing flight. Someone even predicated flight was a long way off a year after the Wright Brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk.

Last week had an excellent episode of The Fifth Column (podcast website). I recommend skipping the first 20 minutes unless you’re really interested in the Colin Kaepernick debate. Michael Moynihan makes a great point which is that Donald Trump is a pussy. He did talk about the border wall with Mexico’s president, but when asked about it, he said they didn’t discuss it. Then later when he was safely back in Arizona, then he said Mexico would definitely pay for the wall. But when actually in Mexico, he chickened out and avoided the subject. It’s remarkably politician-like and unpresidential. The whole rest of the episode though is great.

In the quest to get more people to know about Gary Johnson, BalancedRebellion.com has an amazing video from “dead Abe Lincoln” to let people know they can use the website to find another voter who would otherwise vote for the “other candidate”, and together they can both vote for Gary Johnson like they want to without the risk of accidentally helping to elect the person they hate more.


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