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Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
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Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
Some Initial Thoughts On Trump's Win -- Five Lessons For Moving Forward

The world is spinning in the wrong direction for many Americans today. Donald Trump is President-Elect On The United States Of America.

I could (am) write a book about all this, but here are some very quick thoughts (excuse typos, thoughts are my own):

1.  We have never been more divided since the Civil War

On one hand, Donald Trump won last night because a huge group of people feel disenfranchised, angry, alienated and scared. Their concerns have not been addressed in generations. I come from Trump land, rural America where people supported Trump, and the Tea Party before that. Their concerns need to be addressed.

On the other, Trump and his movement has disenfranchised, angered, alienated and scared minorities, women, immigrants (both legal and illegal), and plenty of white people. The fear is real, and THIS needs to be addressed. To his credit, Trump's acceptance speech was gracious and may have started this process, but it hardly erases all the things that said and happened during the campaign. Clinton and Obama, for their parts, have also already helped move the country toward reconciliation. But these divides could get worse before they get better.

2. Some people are afraid -- they have that right.

Perhaps no person has better summarized the fears of those who opposed Trump than Van Jones. He was gracious, and yet his message was alarming and heart warming. His message directly addressed item 1. 

3. The left's message is falling flat and alienating many

In 2000, we had just enjoyed a decade of relative peace and prosperity. George W. Bush "won." No president has a better job creation record than Obama, and despite his obviously-flawed foreign policy, his presidency has been nearly scandal free. Trump won. 

In the last few years we've seen a lot of discussion of some painful topics: sexism, racism, LGBT discrimination, rape culture -- and I think those conversations have been constructive. People are less afraid to be open about their sexual orientation, for instance, and technology has enabled the Black Lives Matter movement to address a decades-old-problem.

But there has also been an incredible amount of insensitivity on the left, which has helped spark the "war on PC." There is an elitist tendency to throw out EVERYTHING about our culture because of its flaws. Our comedians are criticized, popular music is ridiculed, TV shows are disparaged.  In this process I have learned that some of my own behavior, and much of the culture that I considered to be "normal," was indeed deeply flawed. And it should be changed, and it should be addressed.

On the flip side, many people who are leading this process claim to know how it feels to be constantly under attack, and yet they are constantly attacking those who disagree with them.

A good example is racism. I'm not talking about the KKK here, I'm talking about inherent bias that is often subliminal. Through education, one can teach a person about their biases, and that individual can begin to address those problems, but if they are attacked in the process they will shut down or, worse, reject that message. The war on PC is this process being played out on a national stage.

4. Trump's stated policies are a disaster, so let's hope he's a lot like other presidents

Every presidential candidate has political operatives who help shape his or her positions, and every president has policy experts who actually help decide the direction the country. When one becomes president they are the head of an organization of life-long experts on defense, economics, law enforcement... and those people have significant influence over the Commander In Chief.

Traditionally, this means that presidents tend to not drive the train off the rails and that change has happened within the margin of stability. This safeguard has been weakened of late (Obama, for instance, largely rejected the foreign policy recommendations of the State Department, Department of Defense, and CIA). And Trump's stated policies are often FAR outside of this tradition. A little rebellion is fine, it's what sparks progress. A lot could lead to a train wreck. 

Trump said a lot of things on the campaign trail that were deeply troubling. But politicians say many things to get elected. What happens next is anybody's guess, but it seems reasonable to expect that Trump will be somewhat more moderate and measured in his implementation of policy. And there's still Congress, the Supreme Court, and other safeguards in place to help avoid the worst case scenarios.

5. Two or four years from now, the Republicans will be responsible for EVERYTHING

The GOP has the White House, the House, the Senate, and the majority of state houses under their control. They have their mandate.

Right now, unemployment is low, job growth strong, wages are rising, the dollar is strong (or it was yesterday, not so much today), and more people have health care than they did eight years ago. THAT DOES NOT MEAN THERE ARE NOT PROBLEMS, but it means that things are, relatively speaking, OK. 

So when we have a discussion about the direction of the country during the 2018 midterm elections or the 2020 presidential race, let's remember that there's nobody left to stop the GOP from getting its way. If things are worse, the American people should know exactly who to blame.

Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
The Facts: Clinton is Surprisingly Truthful, Trump Is Alarmingly Dishonest

The fact checkers sure don't think Clinton is lying. Facts?! Meh, who needs them? Certainly not people supporting Trump

Full disclosure -- I have never voted for Hillary Clinton. Not in 2008, not in 2016 (I'll write more about why later). But if one thing about Clinton strikes me, it's that she is actually incredibly honest in her political rhetoric, which is ironic since both supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump often refer to her as dishonest, the latter calling her "Lying Crooked Hillary" in just about every sentence.

It's ironic because, according to the non-partisan fact-checking organization Politifact, Clinton is the most truthful politician running in 2016, more truthful than Sanders, and light-years more truthful than the GOP nominee, one of the worst liars in the history of the Politifact index, Donald Trump. That study was done in March, but the numbers have not changed very much for Clinton.

In March, 36% of Trump's statements fell into either the "false" or "pants on fire" categories, the least truthful statements on the Politifact website. That number has now risen to a stunning 54%. Only 15% of Trump's statements that have been fact-checked by the organization are true (4%) or mostly true (11%).

Last night Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for the Democratic Party. Her speech has been fact-checked by NPR, itself the most balanced name in news, and is nearly completely accurate.

NPR did quibble with one claim about income disparity, calling it "half true" since it references some older statistics which have somewhat improved. They also thought Clinton's statements that Donald Trump offered "no solutions" in his speech accepting the GOP nomination was an oversimplification (though, depending on your viewpoint, that may just be a subjective analysis).

Still, going on the truthfulness of her speech, Clinton was nearly flawless.

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FACT CHECK: Hillary Clinton's Speech To The Democratic Convention, Annotated

Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president Thursday night, delivering a speech that lays out her plan to address terror threats and create jobs. NPR's politics team is live annotating Clinton's speech below - we will continue as Clinton speaks. Portions we commented on are highlighted, followed by analysis, context and fact check in italics.

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Jul 29, 2016 17:02 (GMT)
Watch the speech here:

Donald Trump's speech has also been fact-checked by NPR. While many of the statements in the first quarter of Trump's speech are true, mostly true, or half-true, many are also lacking context. As we see, however, as the speech goes on, Trump's truthfulness begins to fall apart.

Trump mischaracterizes the power of the president, the role of the federal government, and the positions of both Hillary Clinton and sitting-president Barack Obama. He glossed over major policy differences between Trump and his own running mate Mike Pence. He also made references to illegal activity done by Hillary Clinton despite the fact that the FBI and Justice Departments say that no crime took place.

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FACT CHECK: Donald Trump's Republican Convention Speech, Annotated

Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night, delivering a speech that lays out America's struggles with crime, terrorism and immigration and how he plans to address them. NPR's politics team has annotated Trump's speech below. Portions we commented on are highlighted, followed by analysis, context and fact check in italics.

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Jul 29, 2016 17:13 (GMT)
That speech can be watched here:

Here is the bottom line:

In 2008, Clinton's likability numbers were very high. Since then, she has gained significant and important experience in her role as Secretary of State. She has made several high-profile mistakes, most importantly her use of a private email server for her work at the State Department. But this practice was also done by several other Secretaries of State including her predecessors (Republicans) Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. The FBI has thoroughly investigated this and found that no crime was committed. It may have been a bad call, and she may have been dishonest in her response to this controversy. But she's hardly a criminal in any sense of the word we mean in America. If Clinton had been accused of a crime, she would be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the courts. She has not even been accused of a crime.

Trump, on the other hand, has not yet been accused of a crime but is being sued for fraud over the false claims of the now-defunct Trump University. The trial will begin in November -- after the election. 

It is striking that the character of these two officials is now the central focus of the American public. This strikes this author as nothing more than false equivalence, a logical fallacy that compares two situations or cases which are in fact very different, often in order to excuse case A by comparing it to case B. 

The only way to escape this character debate is to focus on the facts and the issues. Clinton's statements about policies and positions are plethora and would be impossible to summarize here. She has a long public record, and her time as Secretary of State has been heavily studied by the media. Beyond this, her own website lists detailed statements on 36 specific issues.

Donald Trump, however, often refuses to speak to reporters or answer questions about specific policy plans. As of today his positions page is uncomfortably thin, offering only few details on only seven issues:

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A Google search reveals that Trump's website also has a separate issues page which does not appear to be linked to from his front page. It consists of 21 videos, mostly of Trump speaking, on various topics, from his own personal experiences and beliefs (which are not really policy-focused) to his defense of Trump University (not a policy) to broad claims about his policy ideas which often parrot false claims already debunked by the fact-checkers.

There are serious issues facing the country. The next president will have to deal with them all. One candidate is largely telling the truth on policy, the other is mostly spreading falsehoods. Many journalists, experts, and former officials have warned that the nature and tenor of this debate needs to change because very dangerous ideas have been expressed by Donald Trump. So far, however, the American people appear to be focused on their own false equivalence and mud throwing. The issues are being lost at a time when the issues are critically important.

Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
Are There Any Patriots In America?

Fireworks explode over the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 2016 (AP/Jose Louis Magana)

The Most Important Question Of 2016: Is America The Greatest Country In The World?

Last Monday, America celebrated its celebration of the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It's hard to explain the 4th of July to non-Americans, but it is an occasion to reflect on not just our independence from Great Britain, but on the ideology of the American Revolution and the promise of democracy itself.

Few would argue that the 4th came at a time where optimism in the U.S. is at historical lows and Americans are more divided than ever. Just days after the parades and fireworks, video released on-line showed police shooting two black men. The week ended with a terrorist attack against the Dallas police force which left five officers dead and ten others wounded. There were riots in the streets, and there were riots on social networks, and the brief unity which this country feels every July was immediately shattered.

All this has me reflecting on how our founding fathers, the legendary American "Patriots," would feel about how their "great experiment," is turning out. It also had me reflecting on the word "patriot" itself.

The word "patriot" should not be applied to our founding fathers. Or, perhaps it should, but then the word means something radically different -- nearly the opposite, in fact -- from what it means today. Sam and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and George Washington are only now branded "patriots" because they so hated the behavior of their country that they committed treason, and unlike other geographical revolutions which have followed since (the Whiskey Rebellion, the Texans, the Confederacy, ect) they won their war.

The founding fathers were admirable and unique for other reasons. What they did was to stand up for a set of principals which they believed were right (and, by the way, they WERE RIGHT, another important distinction from their historical analogs in the South and how the word is used today). They fought not out of some misguided pride -- in fact they fought for the opposite reason, that they were disappointed with their country and were no longer willing or able to ignore its shortcomings. They reflected deeply on their choices, they applied the principals of the enlightenment, THE ENLIGHTENMENT, to their set of beliefs, and determined that they had the right and responsibility to stand up and fight for a more just system.

When I hear Americans say that this country is the greatest in the world, I can literally feel Thomas Jefferson roll over in his grave. We are playing a game with a hand stacked with aces. We are the third largest country in the world both by population AND by landmass -- the only country blessed with both. Russia and Canada have more land, and worse climate, and a tiny fraction of our population. China and India have overcrowded cities, a comparative lack of natural resources, and stiff regional competition. We have been able to thrive in our land of plenty because we have been separated from the world's competing superpowers by two giant oceans. Our oldest cities are hundreds, not thousands, of years old, and we have the luxury of having cities with streets laid out in grids, something which is nearly unheard of in the Eastern Hemisphere.

We SHOULD be the best in the world, because we're the luckiest people in the world. If we are not the best it is because of our own failings as a society. We won the game, then we set the rules, and yet we are still falling behind in nearly every category (except the awful ones, like percentage of the population in prison and size of wealth disparity).

America could be #1 at everything again. That latent capacity is there. If we are not excelling, it is because we, collectively, have chosen the wrong paths. Today's "patriots" seem to ignore all of that. They pretend that we have nothing to learn by looking abroad, building coalitions, or changing our ways. Patriotism has now become synonymous with fear of change. It has become nationalism. History teaches us that this is a major mistake.

The day before the fall of Rome, the greatest country in the world was the Roman Empire. On July 4, 1776, the most powerful country in the world was the British Empire. Do not mistake history and power with greatness or stability.

WE, however, have something that all the other great empires did not have -- hindsight. Will that translate to foresight? For 240 years, the answer has largely been yes. Right now? It'd be a miracle if this country, in its current form, lasted another 240 years, or even another 20, unless we have a serious rethink of some of our behavior.

But it's not all doom and gloom. We have time. For all the racial tensions, this is not 1968 (yet). For all of our external threats (most of which we are ignoring) the fall of American Rome is not on the horizon (yet). Regional separatism is here, but it has no moral weight and is not seriously being discussed (yet). Our economy is still an unrivaled juggernaut (though perhaps only because the Chinese system is so flawed) and there's no reason to believe that its flaws will lead to a collapse (yet, but the warning signs are there).

I believe in America. We can pull it together. We can right the course. We can lead again. No country is more capable of greatness than we are.

We'd better do it soon, because history shows that in any number of ways , the barbarians are at the gates. A true "patriot" would recognize that and stand up and fight. Unfortunately, right now, it seems that all the wrong people are the revolutionaries.

But we've still got time.

Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
Make America, Or At Least The GOP, Sane Again

As an "unenrolled (read "independent") voter, tomorrow, Super Tuesday, I get to cast a vote using whichever ballot I would like. This year I will be voting in the Republican primary for a single, yet crucial reason.

It's time to make the GOP sane again.

Before the New Hampshire primary I was listening to Boston Public Radio when they interviewed Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich is neither radical nor angry. He speaks the truth, has extensive experience working with leaders on both sides of the isle to tackle our country's problems -- large and small, and is immensely personable. Even when I disagree with Kasich, I find him a reasonable and well-meaning individual who has proven through the years that he is willing to listen to and work with those who disagree with him in order to get things done.

I have heard Kasich speak before and am familiar with his positions, so hearing him on the radio did not surprise me. But it was refreshing. Kasich is neither divisive nor derisive, but is instead both cordial and honest. Still, what shocked me were the callers and emails that followed.

Boston Public Radio spoke to half a dozen callers and read off just as many emails -- from Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Every single call or email spoke highly of Governor Kasich, but what was truly unnerving was the fact that every single person used one of the following words to express why Kasich was different from his Republican colleagues: he was intelligent, reasonable, logical, and sane.

Sane? I have been on search committees for many open job positions. In our efforts to interview perspective employees, I have never heard the words "reasonable," "logical," or "sane" used as desired qualities in an applicant for any position. They go without saying, even when filling the positions of church music director or school principal. Yet in the selection of the person who, if elected, would hold the nuclear launch codes, potential voters were not struck by Kasich's proposed policies, his solutions to complicated problems, or his vision for America. They were simply relieved that, unlike most of those running from his party, this man was sane. If Kasich won an election, there would not be a sudden epidemic of people jumping from tall buildings or fleeing to Canada to escape the coming hell. Has this become the best we can hope for from the "Grand Old Party"?

John Kasich is still a Republican, one whose positions on many issues are very different from his Democratic colleagues. But a closer look at Kasich reveals that he most closely resembles the Republicans of the past -- conservative yet "reasonable" people who could work with their opponents to make government better. It is for this reason that The Boston Globe chose to endorse Governor Kasich before the New Hampshire primary:

Unlike some of his competitors, Kasich entered the 2016 race little-known outside his native Ohio, which he served as a congressman and then, after a decade-long break from politics, where he was elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. He has a record of pragmatic Midwestern conservatism, and has demonstrated an aptitude for the horse-trading and coalition-building that's so lacking in today's Washington. (It's no small irony that one of Kasich's finest accomplishments as a congressman - joining the bipartisan deal to impose a 10-year ban on assault weapons - is one that he barely mentions now.)
As governor since 2011, Kasich has had a mixed record. He picked an unproductive fight with the state's labor unions, which ended in political humiliation for the governor, but backed body cameras on police. He snubbed the Obama administration's offer of $400 million for high-speed rail service between Cleveland and Cincinnati, but broke with virtually every other Republican by accepting the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. That decision, in particular, showed considerable independence: Scorched-earth opposition to Obamacare has been a litmus test for many conservatives. He's also departed from Republican orthodoxy by resisting calls to require photo identification to vote, a measure that disproportionately affects minority and low-income voters.

N.H. Endorsement: Republicans should vote for John Kasich in New Hampshire primary - The Boston Globe

New Hampshire Republicans can do their party a critical service on Feb. 9 by voting for an experienced political figure with a record of results, and thus dealing a blow to the divisive, demagogic candidates running on nativism and other political simplicities.

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Mar 01, 2016 07:03 (GMT)

The Republican party is a shadow of its former self, at least on the national stage. Dwight Eisenhower built the national highway system to system to improve national defense and stimulate economic prosperity. He also worked to desegregate the military. Richard Nixon signed an executive order to establish the Environmental Protection Agency in order to address the environmental crisis, and he also proposed major changes to the health care system in order to get more American citizens the insurance they need, even proposing an employer mandate to expand coverage. Even the vaunted Republican Ronald Reagan, who was much further to the right than his predecessors, was not afraid to raise taxes when the budget called for it, and his Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 looks downright progressive when compared to today's current debate. Are these politicians radically out of touch with what conservatism should be, or has the GOP become a party of cranks, xenophobes, and obstructionists?

Listen to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush talk about immigration reform. These supposedly-conservative stalwarts sound absolutely nothing like today's Republican candidates.

The Republican party has been moving further to the right for decades, and with little to show for it in terms of the economic performance of the nation, nor the performance of states which are consistently governed by Republicans. What is more, they have done this over a thirty year period of time where, with the exception of the very successful and fairly moderate Bill Clinton, they have dominated the control of the White House.

But there has been a more disturbing trend at play for the last few election cycles -- reason, logic, and the truth itself are being squeezed out of party. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from moderate Democrats and in order to cater to the base emotions of fear and hate, too many Republican have moved so far to the right that they have had to abandon rationality in order to stake out their political positions, not on fertile ground but on vitriolic lava.

As a long-time watcher of Massachusetts State politics (#MaPoli ) and a former Democratic campaign manager, I have seen what happens when Republicans and Democrats work together to solve problems. In 2010 I was the campaign manager for Massachusetts State Senator Richard T. Moore. Senator Moore was perhaps the best regarded state legislator in the entire country, and was elected as the President of the National Conference of State Legislatures, an honor that can only be won by having a national reputation for bipartisanship. During the time in the Senate Moore was the linchpin of a policy to always strive to vote on all legislation unanimously. In this fairly liberal state, that meant that Moore was able to address the concerns of his Republican colleagues to keep government efficient, cost effective, competitive, and non-invasive. In nearly every category, because of the bipartisan cooperation in the state government, Massachusetts moved from a middling state to a leader in nearly every category, from health care to education, the income of its citizens and the outcome of their collective work, leading Slate Magazine to dub it the best state in the Union in 2012 when Massachusetts' Republican Governor Mitt Romney ran for President of these United States.  

I have also seen how the fear mongering of right-wing political propaganda have pushed this kind of bipartisan progress right out of the mainstream. In 2010, the year of the Tea Party, Senator Moore won with the support of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. In 2014 he lost handily to a more radical and dishonest Republican, despite the fact that Moore's achievements had won him even more recognition from his colleagues on both sides of the isle. As someone who has worked on campaigns in central Massachusetts for a decade and a half, it is no surprise to me that those who feel abandoned by the two parties are likely to flock toward the anti-candidate, Donald Trump.

The hate, lies and vitriol of the Trump campaign would take a book to describe in detail, though John Oliver has done a fantastic job of summarizing the key problems in Trump's brand: racism, deceit, and a surprising resume of failure. But what has been disappointing to me is that so many of his GOP colleagues followed him right into the muck. This shows they not only is Donald Trump not worthy of leading this country, but neither are those who have bargained with the devil, making their own campaigns a little racist, a little hyperbolic, a little divisive in order to maybe, hopefully convince some of Trump's supporters to join their fold.

But what's described below, just the tip of the iceberg, has no place in American politics -- not even a little.

On Tuesday, March 1, I will be casting my vote for John Kasich. I am under no illusion that he could win. It is not my job, as a voter, to play the ballot like a chess piece. Instead it is my duty to take a long, hard look at the candidates and choose who best reflects the values of America and who would best lead the country into the promise of the future, not the darkness of the past. Republicans and independents should join me in voting for Kasich to send a message to the GOP that civility, rationality, and, yes, sanity are the true future of the party, and only those politicians who accept this will be partners in shaping the future of this country.