Steve Coon Blog

What the two Ukraine documents tell us

caricature-of-steve3 2On the morning of Thursday July 25 of this year, President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke by telephone for half an hour (9:03—9:33 am EDT).

Speculation and allegations regarding the content of that conversation apparently prompted a government whistleblower to file an “urgent concern” alleging abuse by President Trump. The informant claims President Trump is using his office to seek interference by a foreign country (Ukraine) in the 2020 presidential election.

Both the whistleblower complaint and the Trump-Zelensky telephone transcript have been released. The combination has prompted the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to launch official impeachment procedures against President Trump.

I have read both documents and here is what I know:

Telephone Call

The transcript of the conversation is a compilation of notes from those assigned to listen to the call, to take notes then share their recollections and impressions. The listeners apparently try to reach a consensus on the official transcript.

There is no indication whether both Trump and Zelensky spoke English or whether there were interpreters present for both leaders. The latter certainly would have necessitated further clarification and deliberation for the final document.

The final transcript is not a verbatim regurgitation and apparently no actual electronic recording exists of the conversation. My sources say this procedure has been standard practice since the 1970s.

President Trump does ask President Zelensky to look into the Crowdstrike matter. This refers to the U.S. cyber security company that investigated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by foreign operatives during the 2016 American presidential campaign. Trump implies that the hackers were in Ukraine and he suggests that U.S. Attorney General William Barr work with Ukraine’s counterpart to investigate.

The Ukraine leader acknowledges his desire for improved relations between the two countries and expresses hopes for a meeting with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Mr. Trump expresses disappointment that Ukraine’s prosecution of alleged corruption involving a U.S. company there was stopped. Trump implies but never specifically mentions that former Vice President Joe Biden applied pressure against the Ukraine prosecutor because Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings that was under investigation.

Zelensky pledges that his new government will have a new prosecutor and will look into the company.

Although President Trump says he will have both Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani work with Zelensky and his government on the investigation, subsequent contacts involving all officials apparently never took place.

Whistleblower Report

The unidentified whistleblower acknowledges that his allegations are hearsay—based solely on secondhand information from sources purportedly privy to the US-Ukraine phone call and related discussions.  He, himself, never heard the conversation.

In other words, these are rumors with no factual foundation.

While it is possible that his sources, who he claims heard the telephone conversation, perceived that there was a specific quid pro quo requested by President Trump, the transcript of that call does not support that.

The whistleblower claims that electronic transcript of the phone call was removed from the usual “customary” computer systems and transferred to another system used for more sensitive content. The implication is that nefarious forces prompted this action.

But he also concedes that although one of his sources labeled this as abuse, the whistleblower himself doesn’t know if similar steps were taken with the other notes on the conversation.

Later he further acknowledges that Mr. Giuliani reportedly traveled to Spain to meet with President Zelensky’s advisers but doesn’t know if the meetings actually occurred.

Conclusion and Prediction

The House of Representatives—based on these two documents—now begins an official impeachment investigation.

In order for this to be an honest attempt to arrive at the truth regarding the allegations, the House must do the following:

1—Identify and invite or subpoena those members of the administration who listened to the telephone conversation and participated in the subsequent exchange of notes and/or conversations that resulted in the final draft.

What information in the notes was excluded and why? Who was satisfied with the final document and who was not? Why?

2—Identify and invite or subpoena those members of the administration who allegedly were privy to the telephone conversation, were not part of the subsequent discussions debating the final draft, but nevertheless expressed concern. What was their concern and why? What steps did those officials take other than share their feelings with the whistleblower?

3—What agenda might these purported sources have that prompted them to express their concerns to the whistleblower? Are they persons who believe that their views on other administration policy decision have been disregarded? Are they former employees or colleagues of President Trump opponents, e.g. democratic representatives, senators or party leaders?  Or do they simply dislike President Trump?

4—Both administration supporters and opponents who have knowledge of these events must be given equal opportunity to state their case.

Only after the House of Representatives has taken every possible fair, honest, balanced, non-partisan steps to seek the truth, can members be of the lower chamber render a judgment that Americans can believe is just.

I hope this is what happens.

But my observations of our contemporary bitter partisan rivalry both in Congress and across our nation give me no confidence that this will be honest, fair or just.

Improving the game of football

caricature-of-steve3 2This has nothing to do with making the sport safer. Football is a contact sport where big, heavy, strong, fast athletes wearing suits of armor collide to stop opposing players.

As long as all those ingredients remain, the contest will remain physically dangerous.

I’m writing about changing some rules to speed up the contest, penalize properly infractions and hold players, coaches and officials accountable.

SCORING

A touchdown would remain 6 points but there would be no Point After Touchdowns (PAT)–either the one or two point variety.  That’s a senseless reward for having done what you were supposed to do anyway–score points.

Field goals would be remain 3points from distances of zero to 40 yard. Then they would be four 4 from 41 to 60 yards. Any field goal more than 61 yards long would be 5 points.

DURATION

All four plays during an offensive series must be completed within two minutes—that’s a 30-second limit for each play.

The officials could not halt plays to permit the entry or exit of either offensive or defensive players. It’s the responsibility of the teams to get players on and off the field quickly—even if one or both teams employ a fast offense.

Official reviews would have to be completed within 60 seconds after viewing the play in question from the same 4 video angles that TV viewers see. Failure to complete the official review on time would automatically reverse the ruling on the field.

No review decisions would await action from arbiters sitting in remote viewing locations.  That’s a waste of time.

Each team would be permitted one challenge per half to a decision made by officials.

The challenging team would be charged with a time out for the challenge—win or lose. Each team would have 3 timeouts per half.

Game delays of more than 2 total hours due to bad weather will force the cancelation of the contest. The two teams will be permitted to play a makeup game at the conclusion of the regular season if both teams agree. If they do not, either team is permitted to schedule a game with another team in order to complete a 12-game season. But the first choice for the makeup game must be offered to the original two schools.

PENALTIES

Players penalized and ejected for any violation would be escorted from the field. They would not be permitted to play in the next game. Any ejected player who makes any physical gesture when leaving the game will not be permitted to play in the next 2 games and his school will be fined $10,000.

The team without the ejected player will be forced to play the remainder of the half minus either one offensive or one defensive player.

Any post-score celebration that results in an unsportsmanlike penalty will cause that team to have 1 point deducted from the score.

OVERTIME

The current college overtime structure works and the professional teams should adopt it too.

CONCLUSION

 Football can be an exciting, entertaining game. But it can be improved.

The suggestions here will do nothing to end the systemic, endemic corruption of college and professional football.  But these changes will at least make the individual games better.

How to improve our presidential elections

caricature-of-steve3 2When you live in Iowa during the quadrennial presidential campaigns, it’s nearly impossible to leave your home without tripping over a candidate for the White House.

There was a flock of Republican hopefuls traversing Iowa in 2015 until the precinct caucuses in 2016. Yes, Iowa is the first state in the union to vote on the presidential wannabes. So you have to make your mark here if you hope to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.

So far this year the Democratic aspirants have visited Iowa 600 times and The Des Moines Register predicts that we may see almost 2,500 visits by this gaggle before next February 3.

To date there are 791 declared presidential candidates.  Most of them have virtually no chance to be elected.

The 20 leading candidates for the Democratic Party nomination will square off in two back-to-back debates July 30 and 31. These folks are the only ones with serious prospects of carrying the party’s flag into the general election in fall 2020.

It’s not surprising then that some of us ask if the presidential campaign lasts too long and if there are too many candidates?

The British news magazine The Economist yesterday argued that America, in fact, fields too many hopefuls and suggested ways to reduce the number.

Is the campaign season too long? Yes. Several candidates including President Donald Trump declared their candidacy for the 2020 election as early as 2017. That’s way too soon.

Do we have too many candidates? No.

Better campaign calendar

November–No persons should be permitted to register as presidential candidates with the Federal Elections Committee (FEC)  until one calendar prior to the next election. That would be November first of this year for the 2020 vote.

That means no official campaign news conferences, no campaign visits across the country and no political ads or commercials.

This would not bar any likely candidate from testing the waters unofficially—including attending the August Iowa State Fair, pressing the flesh and tasting every one of the 82 “food on a stick” munchies this year.

The hopefuls just couldn’t declare their candidacy or promise what they would do as president.

February of election year—Iowa can retain its first-in-the nation status with our quaint but anachronistic precinct caucuses. Although Iowa is not representative of America, presidential wannabes could still trek through the 99 countries trying to persuade the few thousand people who show up on a cold winter night to decide the candidates’ fate.

And New Hampshire can keep its February primary, too. The new calendar, however, should reduce the number and frequency of candidate sojourns.

Spring primaries—Hold four Super Primaries in March, April, May and June for the remaining 48 states.  Each month would comprise 12 states.

The delegates from each state to the Democratic and Republican Conventions would be the same ratio as the primary voting results.

For example, California will send 495 delegates to the Democratic convention next summer.  If in the California primary election Kamala Harris received 54 percent of the vote and Joe Biden garnered 46 percent, then the preferred delegates for Harris would be 267 and delegates for Biden would be 228.

These would be preferred delegates; they would not be bound to vote for either candidate.

Summer national conventions—The Democratic National Convention would be held in July; the Republican National Convention would be in August.

All delegates elected during state primaries would be preferred delegates—none would be legally bound to any candidate.

Likewise, there would be no super delegates pledged to a specific candidate.  That rigged system was a disaster for the Democrats in 2016.

These national conventions would return to their historical role of actually choosing the party’s presidential nominee—not simply rubberstamping the results of state primary elections.

Reducing number of candidates—Despite the large number of GOP presidential contenders in 2016 and Democratic hopefuls this year, both major parties devised methods for reducing the number of candidates appearing in nationally televised debates.  And America’s voters further winnow the field in state caucuses and primaries.

My plan will shorten an excruciatingly and unnecessary long presidential campaign season. But it retains the fairness of the vetting process while assuring every eligible voter a voice in the system.

 

The bogus threat of Climate Change

caricature-of-steve3 2It’s time to tell the truth about Climate Change.

First, our climate is changing. The average worldwide temperature is rising slowly resulting in glacial melting and rising sea levels.

Second, human activity certainly has contributed to the warming of the earth. And there are steps we can take to mitigate the exhaust from carbon-based fossil fuels that pollutes our environment.

Third, but Climate Change is not the so-called “existential threat” it is portrayed by environmental activists who would have us believe we have only about ten years to prevent this catastrophe.

FEAR

Climate Change has become the latest hot political topic. Virtually every candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination of 2020 has hopped on the global warming bandwagon. Extreme political activists have embraced The New Green Deal promoted by New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey.

Recent reports indicate that the fear of warmer weather, rising seas, eroding shorelines and flooding of low-lying island nations and coastal communities is a leading concern in Europe.

Recognizing the potential danger of global warming, The Paris Agreement of 2015 formed an international effort to confront the threat of Climate Change through a comprehensive plan to limit the rise of the world’s temperature to fewer than 2 degrees Celsius.

The United States two years ago withdrew from the treaty. President Trump claimed the agreement violated America’s sovereignty and would force the nation’s companies to reduce production and lay off workers.

FACTS

The world’s climate is constantly changing. And there is little that humans can do to prevent the inevitable climatic fluctuations caused by the movement of our planet.

These range from the earth’s rotation from day to night, the tilting of its axis resulting in changing seasons and much longer transformations including periodic ice ages due to the Milankovitch Cycles.

This includes our most recent last ice age–the Pleistocene Epoch–from which we are emerging, hence the expected rise in worldwide temperatures.

RESPONSES

Although it’s futile to believe our species will ever be able to control long-term Climate Change, there are short-term steps that we can take to limit our contribution to atmospheric pollution and its greenhouse effect.

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for energy production certainly would be helpful. And we have made significant progress in switching to alternative energy sources.

Iowa, for example, still generates most of its electrical production from coal.  But that production percentage has dropped from 76 percent to 45 percent in the past decade while energy from wind has soared to 34 percent.

Other proposals range from the obvious to the interesting.   Adoption of technology to derive more energy from solar, thermal and tide sources makes sense is an example of the former.  Reducing methane production from agricultural practices has prompted creative research in less apparent areas.

CONCLUSION

Climate Change is a fact. And humans have contributed to a degree. But it is not life threatening. We have far more than a decade or two to reduce our role in polluting the planet.

Ignore the scare tactics of the alarmists who would have us believe that we are on the verge of extinction.

We have proved to be an extremely adaptive species that has learned to adapt to changing environments. Our genius for creative solutions will continue. We will survive.

New York Times’ decision to publish bigoted cartoon was a failure on several levels

caricature-of-steve3 2The New York yesterday apologized for publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon last week. I insert the offensive cartoon below.

Despite the publication’s apology, the question remains how this editorial misstep occurred? Who failed to see how repugnant this would be to many readers?

Diversity in American society should increase our awareness and sensitivity to persons and issues that may not be immediately apparent to individuals whose history lacks exposure to different realities.

Homogeneous societies usually have limited experience with alternative religions, racial and ethnic groups and the culture and experiences of those persons.  The hope of diversity is that we all should expand our understanding of these alternate truths and considers them when debating the important issues we all face.

The goal of American newsrooms to recruit more women, persons of color, different religions, sexual orientation and of national origin is to think broadly about stories, persons and issues previously ignored.

The fact that the New York Times or any news organization could have published this repugnant cartoon demonstrates blatantly how flawed the editorial process remains.

If newsrooms are sufficiently diverse, why don’t we hear editors and reporters asking what reactions will arise from this cartoon, photograph, story or commentary?

Are these diverse voices in news media still excluded from editorial meetings?  Are they intimidated by their counterparts who see them as token representatives only?  Has the news publication truly opened its doors and mentality to different views and suggestions?

If diversity were working as intended, this never would have happened.  This was failure that was avoidable.

BIGOTED CARTOON

 

Rethinking journalism practices

caricature-of-steve3 2When I began my career as a broadcast journalist I followed the standard practices of the time both universal for all news organizations and some specific to broadcast.

Now I’m having second thoughts

Universal standards

 The trinity of fairness, accuracy and balance (FAB) still is a useful discipline for journalists. It demands vigilance in how editors and reporters approach a story, collect information, portray newsmakers and disseminate the final report.

Changing practices

I see little value in interviewing prosecuting attorneys and defense lawyers about the guilt or innocence of individuals on trial. Prosecutors will always claim that the person accused committed the crime. Likewise, the defense will assert that its client did not.

Interviewing spokespersons for each side of a trial remains a good practice for no other reason than to record the occasion when a surprising statement is made. But so rarely do those persons deviate from predictable pronouncements that to use the hackneyed replies is a waste of time. Interview yes, but don’t publish trite answers.

Television reporters always appear on screen either at the beginning of their stories (live shot) or midway through the report (standup bridge). The only reason for this is to demonstrate to viewers that the news organization had one of its journalists at the scene of the event. But too often the location is at a time and place where nothing is happening.

An equally bad practice is the reporter’s obligatory greeting to the news anchor when in fact the journalist is supposed to be telling us the story. It makes us feel as if we’re eves dropping instead of being the intended recipient of the story. This technique should be scrapped.

The insistence of asking interviewees to look at the reporter instead of the camera is a questionable technique. With the increasing use of Skype and Facetime, the interviewees look directly at the screen at us. It’s time for TV photographers to ask newsmakers to do the same thing in taped stories.

Quite simply the business of journalism has changed and effective storytelling devices have evolved. The FAB standard has proved to be an effective tool. But other practices should be filed in a cabinet reserved for quaint but anachronistic implements.

When is it acceptable for journalists to claim racism?

caricature-of-steve3 2The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook long has been the reference of choice in America’s newsrooms regarding recommended use of language in media stories.

Does the latest edition (2019) actually say it’s all right for news organizations to call someone or some incident racist?

Doris Truong, writing for the Poynter Institute apparently believes so.

I disagree on several points;

First, there is nothing in Ms. Truong’s commentary that illustrates exactly that the new AP Stylebook says it’s all right to label some action as racist. The specific citation should have been inserted in the commentary—otherwise I can only infer that this is Truong’s inference or shall I say wish?

It’s never acceptable for any journalist to use the term racist or racism unless the reporter is quoting someone else.

Second, I am also suspicious of journalists and pundits who sprinkle their stories and commentaries with contemporary jargon and buzzwords.

Journalists should not be “framing” their stories. They should be publishing facts and observations without adjectives. “Framing” implies putting a spin on an event in order to make it conform to the writer’s hopes or advocacy.

Furthermore, Mrs. Truong’s reference to hyphenated-Americans as microagressions (another buzzword) implies she has embraced the identify politics meme. I’m a White-German-English-American but never use either that racial and ethnic truth. It’s irrelevant to me as simply an American.

I go so far as to say that any reference to anyone as the first of his or her racial, ethnic, religious, class or gender to achieve some notable achievement is also irrelevant. If the person so noted wants to mention it as a source of pride or example, then journalists should report it. Otherwise, I would ignore it.

Reference to identity allows our audience to interpret facts erroneously. Is a so-called “openly gay” politician going to promote a “gay agenda?” That is a fair inference by readers, listeners, viewers if journalists continually mention that the sexual orientation of the politician or candidate.   And what, in fact, is a “gay agenda?” I could list some ideas here but I suspect the person is interested only in the same issues that every other American is concerned about. So sexual orientation again is irrelevant.

Despite Ms. Truong’s well-intended efforts, her commentary reads more like the work of an activist that a reporter seeking an accurate, balanced, unvarnished description of persons, places and events.

DISCLOSURE: I have yet to read the latest AP Stylebook because I’m retired and have no need for it professionally.  However, I welcome the views of those who have perused it and are willing to share their opinions.