Saturday, September 21, 2019

Briefs



The Phone Call
Maybe I'm overoptimistic, but this time it feels different.  Unlike the convoluted complications of the Mueller Report, the Tr*mp-Zelensky phone call is easy to understand — easy for people with only casual interest in the news to think about.  It might be enough to convince Pelosi and the Red State Democrats that impeachment isn't so bad an idea.

Iran
No matter where the drone attack on the Saudi oil installations was launched, everybody knows Iran was responsible.  That, of course, is what the Iranians intended: their layer of deniability was paper thin.  They showed the Saudis how vulnerable they are, and upped the ante on Tr*mp, who now is forced to choose between tanking his re-election chances with a war nobody wants, or looking like a wimp to his base.  Yes, Our President has been having a bad week.

Israel
If Avigdor Liberman manages to keep the ultra-Orthodox parties out of the ruling coalition, he'll have done one good thing in his life.  Benny Gantz is moderate only by comparison to Bibi (and, maybe, Liberman), so if he successfully forms a ruling coalition, it won't make much difference to anybody outside of Israel – nor to the Palestinians.  Still, it does provide the prospect of Bibi going to jail.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Notes on the debate



Kudos to the ABC/Univision moderators of Thursday's debate, whose questioning of the Democratic candidates was immeasurably more professional than that of the moderators from MSNBC and, especially, CNN.  As I watched, I wondered if their professionalism reflected the older, more traditional ethos of broadcast news, rather than cable's appetite for drama.  The next debate is back on CNN, in cooperation with the New York Times.  One hopes that the Times will serve as a moderating influence – or that CNN will have learned from its mistakes.

Joe Biden was better rehearsed in his talking points this time around; but by hour two, he seemed to be tossing out talking points at random, shifting subjects midstream.  Why anybody thinks he could hold his own against Tr*mp is a mystery to me.  Contrary to popular (and pundit) opinion, I sincerely believe he is the weakest contender the Democrats possibly could nominate.  It's not his age, necessarily.  Biden's entire political history is replete with gaffes, missteps, and confusion.  Frankly, I think he's just not smart enough to win.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders did better this time at explaining how universal health care can be funded, but they still haven't nailed it.  Sanders correctly observed that US health care is twice as expensive per capita as Canadian health care, and Warren emphasized total cost to families and the profits taken out of the system by private insurers; but neither produced the kinds of sound bites favored by TV – so the message won't go out as it should.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Catching up


There's been too much news lately.  As soon as you try to focus on one story, you're distracted by another.  Really, there's no time for analysis, and it doesn't help that so much of what's happening seems so totally bizarre.  It's been apparent for months that Our President is increasingly unstable, and that the opportunists, sycophants, and incompetents who make up the modern Republican Party will do nothing to restrain him.

So, I won't bother to comment on the Sharpie incident, the Taliban "peace conference," the Scottish golf course brouhaha, etc.  I'll just observe that "the leader of the free world" is out of control, and leave it at that.  Instead, I'll point to what may be some good news.

The craziness in the UK over the past week may have eclipsed the craziness in the USofA, but only because a sizable chunk of Conservative MPs broke with their leadership, throwing a monkey wrench into Boris Johnson's threat of a no-deal Brexit.  The outcome remains uncertain, but the willingness of those rebels to subordinate party loyalty to national interest was good to see.  Will they set an example for others?  (Probably not on this side of the Atlantic.)

Equally strange and wonderful was the ability of Italy's Five Star and Democratic parties to form a government, sidelining Matteo Salvini and his Leaguers.   — and, perhaps, slowing the distressing growth of ethnonationalism in Europe. Five Star and the Democrats will be strange bedfellows, but they may be able to weaken the League before they're forced to hold new elections.

As Emily Dickenson put it, "Hope is the thing with feathers - That perches on the soul."  There are a hell of a lot of hungry cats on the prowl these days, but hope flutters on.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Crazy?


Tr*mp's teleprompter comments on the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings got a lot of air time — especially the parts where he suggested he might be open to some degree of gun control — but one line kept getting dropped off: "we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement."

Thomas Szasz
The movement to deinstitutionalize psychiatric patients was kicked off by Thomas Szasz in the 1960s, beginning with his very influential book, The Myth of Mental Illness.  Granted, his arguments for the civil rights of psychiatric patients may have had less impact than the desire of states to close down the very costly state facilities where they were warehoused; but the process was a civil rights victory nonetheless.  Now, that victory may be undone.

Granted, the Tr*mp speechwriter's chief intent was yet another reiteration of the standard Republican line: guns don't kill people, crazy people (and minorities) do.  In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, it's normal to think the gunman "must have been crazy" — and people with psychiatric problems are "other" enough to fit the Republican template for victimhood quite readily.

It remains to be seen whether or not Tr*mp's call for involuntary confinement will become a major Republican talking point in a debate over how to deal with gun violence.  If the private corporations currently running so many of our prisons decide to get into the business, the likelihood will increase exponentially.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Democrats


Joe Biden was better rehearsed in his talking points for the second debate, but that's all he had: talking points, delivered with a singular absence of charisma.  Primary voters who imagined him on a debate stage with Tr*mp much have felt more than a little queasy, even as they tried to figure out which of the other establishment white males were which.


Kamala Harris is trying to bridge the divide between the progressives and the moderates, but was visibly stressed during the second round of debates; and Pete Buttegeig's base of supporters seems to have topped out.  Unless there's an unexpected surge by Amy Klobuchar or Tulsi Gabbard, Biden is likely to remain the anointed choice of "moderates" in the party's leadership — potentially with devastating results.

Here's my nightmare scenario: Democrats go to their Milwaukee convention next July with no clear leader.  Hoping to maintain the Democratic advantage among women, Bernie Sanders releases his delegates to Elizabeth Warren, and it comes down to a choice between Warren and Biden.  Elected delegates are split, and establishment super-delegates throw the nomination to Biden.  On Election Day, large numbers of young progressives stay home in disgust: Tr*mp redux.

 ̄ ̄ ̄ ̄
One last thought: in the September debate, I genuinely will miss Marianne Williamson  — the only candidate to make a consistently moral argument against Tr*mpism.  Hopefully, some others will be more inclined to call out evil when they see it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Shorts


Mueller speaks
It's hard to believe that those who didn't read the Mueller Report watched him on TV for five hours.  The impact of the report on specific individuals will depend entirely on the video clips chosen by their news outlets of choice.  California Republican Tom McClintock's analogy comparing Mueller's report to a flaming sack of sh*t must have had the Congressman's aides rolling on the floor when they wrote it, and I'm sure it will get a lot of play on conservative media.  Less likely to get much play in those quarters will be Mueller's uncharacteristically biting reply.

Wrestling with hate
Watching some video of last week's North Carolina Tr*mp rally took me back to 1967, when I took a date to Pittsburgh's Civic Arena for a heavyweight wrestling show.  The villains back then still included a "Nazi" and a "Jap," along with a more contemporary "Commie."  My date and I left early, not because of the wrestling, but because of the fans — who were dead serious about what they saw in the ring.  Their howls and chants of pure hatred against the "bad guys" — the others — were genuinely horrifying.

The UK's new PM
There's an excellent chance that Boris Johnson will cheerfully lead his country into economic catastrophe with a no-deal Brexit.  Since Conservative MPs are every bit as spineless as Republicans in our Congress, a no-confidence vote seems impossible.  Johnson is far more intelligent and literate than Our President, to whom he frequently is compared; but they share a similar instinct for appealing to the basest populist instincts of their electorates.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Meanwhile, on the Arabian peninsula...


Given all the craziness going on in the USofA lately, our news media have paid scant attention to the ongoing crisis in Yemen — so you may have missed it when the UAE announced that it is ending its military cooperation with Saudi Arabia and withdrawing its forces.  After four years of war, it seems that the Emiratis have concluded that fighting the "Iranian threat" posed by the Houthis just isn't worth the effort and the expense.

This leaves the Saudis in an awkward position: they actually will have to learn how to use the hundreds of billions of dollars in weaponry purchased from the US over the past ten years in order to have any hope of winning their genocidal war, and they will have to take over the task of corralling and controlling the numerous and fractious "pro-government" militias fighting in Yemen.  Given the leadership style of Saudi Crown Prince MbS – macho incompetence – there is little reason to expect the Saudis will achieve those goals.

Emirati forces already have been withdrawn from the port city of al-Hudaydah, where international agencies offload food and medicine to relieve the suffering of the Yemeni people.  Whether the Emirati withdrawal will result in more or less aid getting through remains to be seen.  What is clear, though, is that Our President – who admires macho incompetence – will continue to support the Saudi war effort until a veto-proof majority in Congress acts to stop him.