Flights of Fancy

Seton Hall was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament this year – a bit of bad officiating might have done them in – but life isn’t fair. The Arkansas Razorbacks won that game, not the Seton Hall Pirates – but Seton Hall still has a good law school. Chris Christie – a far better lawyer than a governor – got his law degree there. Peter Rodino – the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that oversaw the impeachment process against Richard Nixon – taught there for years. So did Andrew Napolitano – the former New Jersey Superior Court Judge – for eleven years (1989-2000) – before he got into television, finally ending up on Fox News.

He fits in there:

Napolitano has promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories. In 2010, he said, “it’s hard for me to believe that it came down by itself… I am gratified to see that people across the board are interested. I think twenty years from now, people will look at 9-11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn’t possibly have been done the way the government told us.”

Judge Napolitano sees what no one else sees – he’s a smart man – and Fox News is the place for smart people who see what no one else sees – the New Black Panther Party taking over America, the massive War on Christmas, that “terrorist fist-bump” that Barack and Michelle Obama exchanged during the 2008 campaign, and what really happened in Benghazi that they can’t quite specify yet – but something awful happened, and Hillary Clinton ordered it. Smart people know that.

Judge Napolitano fits right in at Fox, until he doesn’t:

In March 2017, he spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that Britain’s top intelligence agency had wiretapped Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign on orders from President Obama. The conspiracy theory was later asserted as fact by President Trump, with him citing Fox News and Napolitano. The British intelligence agency in question, GCHQ, responded, stating that the claims were “nonsense, utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” Fox News later disavowed the statement by Napolitano. Later that day, the channel’s senior breaking news anchor, Shephard Smith, admitted: “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop.”

Fox News had to say that. Earlier in the day, Trump had forced their hand:

Asked by a German reporter at a joint White House press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel to address the diplomatic row, Trump instead pointed the finger of blame at Fox News.

“All we did was quote a certain, very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television,” Trump said. “I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

Fox News knew then that people would be talking to them. Their “full stop” denial was preemptive. They weren’t going to be drawn into this. They threw the judge under the bus, knowing that would cost them a big chunk of their loyal viewers. That’s better than being called in to testify in front of the House and Senate intelligence committees, but there’s more to the story:

Larry Johnson, a former intelligence officer, said he served unknowingly as a source of Fox News senior analyst Andrew Napolitano, who incorrectly used his information to back the claim that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower.

Johnson, a former CIA analyst and former Fox News contributor, told CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday that Napolitano made him a source unknowingly and “didn’t get it right or accurate either.”

“I think judge should have had a different approach to it,” Johnson added.

Johnson said two sources told him that the British intelligence agency had been passing information through back channels about our own the intelligence community’s meddling in our politics – but this has nothing to do with Obama, who hadn’t ordered anything. Johnson’s sources didn’t see that at all, and said so – but Judge Napolitano put two and two together, or putting it another way, he made up that stuff about Obama directing that the wiretaps on Trump be done by the Brits, and that they willingly did that for him. He’s a smart guy – a “very talented legal mind” after all. The president said so – and the British are still livid – and Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, has said, that in spite of all the reports in the press, we didn’t apologize to the British government for what Trump had said, and we never would. That Seton Hall Pirate would have won but for a bit of bad officiating or something.

This is going to get awkward:

The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that new documents provided to Congress by the Justice Department provided no proof to support President Trump’s claim that his predecessor had ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower.

“Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was, and the information we got on Friday continues to lead us in that direction,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

He added, “There was no FISA warrant that I’m aware of to tap Trump Tower” – a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a federal law that governs the issuance of search warrants in U.S. intelligence gathering.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat, also said there is no proof of a wiretap: “We are at the bottom of this: There is nothing at the bottom.”

Oops:

Nunes and Schiff spoke a day before their panel is scheduled to have its first public hearing on alleged Russian attempts to interfere in last year’s presidential election – a subject that is certain to include discussion of contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russian operatives.

They’ll talk about that, not about Judge Napolitano’s flights of fancy:

Nunes said the new Justice Department documents, submitted Friday in response to a congressional request, included “no evidence of collusion” to swing the election in Trump’s favor and repeated previous statements that there is no credible proof that there was any active coordination. The lawmaker said he remains primarily concerned about leaks of U.S. surveillance of conversations between [former National Security Advisor] Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“That’s the only crime we know has been committed right now,” Nunes said.

But Schiff said there was “circumstantial evidence of collusion” at the outset of the congressional investigations into purported Russian election meddling, as well as “direct evidence” that Trump campaign figures sought to deceive the public about their interactions with Russian figures.

That’s more than enough to talk about. Forget the perfidy of the Brits and the treason of Obama. Judge Napolitano just made that up and Donald Trump just says things.

Call them flights of fancy, but some of those flights, as the Washington Post notes, are more dangerous than others:

At a news conference Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump “reiterated” his “need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense.” He followed up Saturday with an impolitic double-barreled tweet-shot, writing that Germany owes America “vast sums of money” for NATO. And, he argued, the country should pay more “for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides.”

Those two tweets came down to this:

Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!

That may have been another flight of fancy:

Security experts quickly attacked the flaws in Trump’s logic. On Twitter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder wrote that increased defense budgets by Germany aren’t transferred to the United States. He also pointed out that NATO decided to make the 2 percent requirement mandatory just a couple of years ago. The alliance gave all member states until 2024 to reach that goal, and Germany is on track.

“Trump’s comments misrepresent the way NATO functions,” Daalder told us. “The President keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.”

There’s been a misunderstanding here:

This line of argument has been a near-constant refrain for Trump and his administration. Since the campaign, he’s argued that other countries aren’t contributing what they should for the defense alliance. NATO members are urged to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to defense spending. Germany pays 1.2 percent; the United States kicks in more than 3 percent. Four other countries – Greece, Estonia, Poland and Britain – also meet their obligation.

Those numbers, though, don’t tell the whole story.

Since World War II, Germany has intentionally kept its military small. The country defines itself by its pacifism and its commitment to the idea of “never again.” Germany’s defense spending – or lack thereof – has frequently been criticized and mocked in the past. In 2014, for instance, German forces made headlines when they were forced to use broomsticks instead of machine guns during a NATO exercise, exposing the state of its underequipped military.

But, Germans argue, they make up for this in other ways. As Merkel argued in a speech last month, mutual security goes beyond military spending. International development aid on things like hospitals and schools does as much for peace as warheads in Europe. “When we help people in their home countries to live a better life and thereby prevent crises, this is also a contribution to security,” Merkel said in Munich. “So I will not be drawn into a debate about who is more military-minded and who is less.”

And there’s this:

She and other German leaders also point out that they’re bearing the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis, spending 30 to 40 billion euros a year. If that was included in the tally, they say, they’d be putting more than 2 percent of their budget a year toward security. (They’re also quick to note that U.S. military interventions are one reason there are so many displaced people from the Middle East.)

In short, they’re paying through the nose for the mess we’ve made of things, and there’s more:

Germany says it will increase its military spending by about 3 billion euros per year for the next eight years. By 2024, the country will be meeting its NATO commitment. That plan though, still needs to be approved by the German government and parliament.

And Trump may be making that harder. As Marcel Dirsus, a German security politics scholar, argued, the president’s public criticism of German defense spending could backfire, making it harder for Merkel to increase the country’s defense budget, particularly just months before a tough reelection campaign.

An “increase in defense spending is unpopular, and so is Donald Trump. By ‘ordering’ Merkel to increase spending, he will make it harder for her to sell that increase at home,” he said. “Nothing would be worse for Merkel than being seen as taking orders from Trump. Ultimately, I predict Germany will increase spending – but at the pace it had already committed to.”

And there’s another minor point here. NATO members owe that money to NATO – not to the United States. They’ll eventually pay NATO – not the United States. Actually, the just spend more of their own money on their own military.

Donald Trump has said they must pay us for what we do for them. He’s asking for direct payment to the United States, right now – “the United States must be paid.” It’s no mystery why he’s unpopular over there. They see a voluntary alliance, by treaty. That’s what they thought they had. They see Trump trying to run a protection racket now – like some minor mob boss in Queens or something. Slip him the cash, weekly, and your family will be fine. Miss a payment and something unfortunate could happen to your children. The world’s a dangerous place. Things happen. Capiche?

No one likes a thug, and it seems that Americans don’t even like their own thug:

With two months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s ratings continue to fall. The commander in chief’s approval rating fell to a new low over the weekend to 37 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll. That marks a sharp drop from the 45 percent of a week earlier and comes as Trump’s disapproval rating hit 58 percent, also a high point since the real estate mogul was sworn into office.

Needless to say, those are the worst numbers for any president this early in his administration in the history of modern polling.

This was inevitable:

The dip in Trump’s approval rating comes after a tumultuous week in which the president struggled to sell a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and questions continue to swirl about Russia’s involvement in his campaign.

The Independent points out that Trump mocked Obama for his “record low” 39 percent Gallup approval rating in August 2011, a level he has now surpassed.

The latest Gallup numbers come on the heels of another poll that showed 57 percent of young Americans see Trump’s presidency as illegitimate. GenForward’s poll found that only 22 percent of 18-to-30-year-olds approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 62 percent disapprove.

That last poll is interesting. A majority of young Americans see Trump’s presidency as illegitimate, which may have to do with his flights of fancy:

Trump’s rhetoric as a candidate and his presidential decisions have done much to keep the question of who belongs in America atop the news, though he’s struggling to accomplish some key goals. Powered by supporters chanting, “Build the wall,” Trump has vowed to erect a barrier along the southern U.S. border and make Mexico pay for it – which Mexico refuses to do. Federal judges in three states have blocked Trump’s executive orders to ban travel to the U.S. from seven – then six – majority-Muslim nations.

In Honolulu, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson this week cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the travel ban, citing Trump’s own words calling for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

And yes, Trump did say in his campaign announcement speech on June 6, 2015: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He went farther in subsequent statements, later telling CNN: “Some are good and some are rapists and some are killers.”

It’s extraordinary rhetoric for the leader of a country where by around 2020, half of the nation’s children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group, the Census Bureau projects. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to be a minority by 2044.

Yeah, but Trump knows what he knows. He has flights of fancy. Muslims and Mexicans are the problem. They’re the only problem. They’re out to get us. Deal with Muslims and Mexicans and all our problems go away. Just like Judge Napolitano, Donald Trump puts two and two together, because he’s a smart man, and comes up with five.

Only thirty-seven percent of Americans agree with him about that now, and the number keeps dropping, even if it will never drop to zero. So these unapologetic flights of fancy, or bad math, will be laughed at soon enough – but not soon enough. The problem is the trip down:

El Carnaval de Puebla, a major Cinco de Mayo celebration in Philadelphia, has been canceled following recent federal immigration crackdowns, organizers said.

Edgar Ramirez told a local NBC affiliate that as many as 15,000 people gather for the annual parade through South Philadelphia, marking the city’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Ramirez told NBC the decision was “sad but responsible” amid reports of more immigration enforcement arrests on the part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

They know what’s happening:

ICE announced this week alone that 248 people in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia were in federal custody awaiting deportation following two weeks of immigration raids.

Ramirez said that the Mexican-American community, including both legal and illegal residents, was disheartened by reports of large-scale arrests.

“The group of six organizers decided to cancel unanimously,” Ramirez said. “Everyone is offended by the actions of ICE. They did not feel comfortable holding the event.”

Expect the Cinco de Mayo stuff to disappear this year, everywhere. The guys from ICE could wade in and arrest everyone, and sort them out later. Organizers of the Philadelphia event said they hope next year will be different, but of course they’ll have to watch the poll numbers, and there was this:

Brenda Carrillo wasn’t sure she’d heard the waiter right.

She and a friend had just been seated and were waiting for two others on the outdoor patio of Saint Marc, an upscale eatery in Huntington Beach, when he posed the question.

“Can I see your proof of residency?” the waiter asked.

Her friend repeated the question in disbelief, Carrillo recalled, and the waiter replied, “I need to make sure you’re from here before I serve you.”

The two women sat in stunned silence. “It was kind of hard to process because we’ve never experienced this,” said Carrillo, 23, who lives in Santa Ana and works for an organization that provides social services to families and youth.

Moments later, Carrillo’s sister, Diana, and another friend joined them and were asked the same question. The four women spoke to the manager, who apologized and offered to re-seat them, but they declined and left.

At first the friends thought the waiter might be joking. “But he didn’t have a smile,” said Diana Carrillo, 24, who works for a mortgage broker company. “There was no indication that he was trying to make a joke or even possibly flirt with us.”

Diana Carrillo said the encounter left all of them shaken. “I’ve never felt so judged in my life. It sends a chill through your entire body.”

That’s one cost of Donald Trump’s flights of fancy, even if the restaurant later fired the waiter, who got things wrong:

Carrillo, 52, came to the United States from Mexico more than 30 years ago. She’s been a citizen for nearly two decades, juggling two jobs while raising her four daughters alone.

She works as a security guard at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where she’s been employed for more than 20 years, and has a second job pressing clothing at a manufacturer for an upscale women’s clothing brand. She says she works more than 12 hours a day, six days a week.

“I raised my kids and taught them how to work, how to be a good person. I’ve been working hard all these years,” the elder Carrillo said, before choking up and excusing herself.

The costs do mount up, and there was this:

After a four-day trip to Paris to celebrate his mother’s 80th birthday last weekend, Hassan Aden was eager to get back to Alexandria, Virginia – to his wife, his two sons and the law enforcement-focused consulting business he runs there.

On Monday, Aden, a 52-year-old former police chief, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

“Then, ‘Wham,'” he told NBC News on Sunday. “Welcome home.”

In a long and blistering Facebook post, Aden wrote Saturday that he was held for 90 minutes because he shared a name with “someone on some watch list.”

Perhaps so, but they picked on the wrong guy:

Aden, who worked as a police officer for 26 years in Alexandria before becoming chief in Greenville, North Carolina, said he had no problem with being stopped and given an extra check – so long as the authorities followed what he described as the proper rules.

“I know how the databases work,” he told NBC News. “It doesn’t take 1½ hours to check someone out when you have their passport.”

Aden wouldn’t describe the hold as illegal. But, he said, “An hour and a half becomes unreasonable detention.”

Aden, who grew up in France and Italy and became a citizen 42 years ago, said it was unclear why it took Customs and Border Patrol agents so long to process him.

There’s no answer to that:

Inside what Aden described as a repurposed storage facility, he said, he pleaded with an agent, telling him that he was a citizen, a lifelong police officer and a retired chief.

The agent, he wrote, “stated that he had no control over the circumstance and that it didn’t matter what my occupation was.”

There are more and more stories like this, but there’s one reason for them all. Donald Trump makes stuff up. Sometimes he likes what Judge Napolitano makes up. And the Brits are livid. And the Germans are disgusted with us. And our own citizens feel shut out of their own country, or actually get shut out. Trump heard something. It must be true. He says it’s true. Enough people believe him, so then he insists it must be true – but there’s nothing fancy about that. These are flights of something else. These are flights of nonsense. This is also America now.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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