Monday, March 19, 2018

The Pelosi Problem

Conor Lamb's recent victory in Pennsylvania's 18th CD has added to talk about replacing Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader in the House, but the talk is nothing new.  While some on the left see Pelosi as too "establishment," likely to impede an aggressive progressive agenda if Democrats regain control of the House, the main objection to Pelosi's leadership is more practical: she is seen as a drag on the party's electoral prospects because Republicans have falsely branded her as wildly radical; an "enemy of traditional American values."

Using thirty-second spots like this one, Pelosi has been demonized.  The thrust of the campaign is that she is a "San Francisco liberal" — and while young people may think of San Francisco as the home of tech billionaires, much of America still associates San Francisco with hippies, the Haight, and free love.  More important, though, is that Pelosi is a Person With A Vagina — a tough, aggressive PWAV of the variety that makes more conservative voters very uncomfortable.  A male member of Congress willing to "take orders" from such a woman, it is understood, must be less than a man.

Tough and aggressive, Pelosi is a very effective leader: if getting a bill though Congress were the criterion, Obamacare more properly would be called Pelosicare.  Republicans fear Pelosi (in much the same way the Russians feared Hillary Clinton.)  If the Democrats regain control of Congress, and Pelosi becomes Speaker again, she will be no less effective than she was in the past.

There are many good reasons to end the Washington gerontocracy, but the leading candidates to replace Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Joseph Crowley, are just as old.  If Democrats replace Pelosi, they will be knuckling under to the Republican defamation campaign— not acting out of any sense of "principle."  She was ready to retire had Hillary Clinton become President, and she will be no less willing if the Democrats can regain the White House in 2020.  In the meanwhile, she is a better leader than anybody likely to replace her.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rex, ex

Rex Tillerson has been a terrible Secretary of State.  Mike Pompeo will be worse.  Tillerson's life as a global capitalist necessarily made him a globalist; Pompeo is a Christian conservative who entered government with the Tea Party.  Totally comfortable with Tr*mp's "America First" ideology, he would be on-board for Holy Wars in Iran, Korea, or anyplace abortion is too readily available. Corporate America, barring defense contractors, cannot be pleased by his appointment.

Pompeo likes power too much to continue Tillerson's dismantling of the State Department, so many currently vacant positions will be filled — inevitably with like-minded ideologues.  America's European allies will not be pleased; Putin, on the other hand, should be knocking back shots of vodka and dancing the kazatsky about now.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Extortion by Tariff

Remember the Bush steel tariffs of 2002?  (Don't all raise your hands at once!)  They were abandoned after eighteen months, having done more harm than good.

Unlike Tr*mp, Bush genuinely wanted to help the American steel industry.  Tr*mp, along with the usual political pandering, is trying to use traditional Tr*mpian "negotiating" tactics to strong-arm concessions on other fronts from American allies.  Of course, those allies will be familiar with Tr*mp's history of paying his bills — so the tactics are likely to fail.

The administration is not even trying to disguise its attempt to gain advantage in the ongoing NAFTA talks; more threatening, though, are the concessions Tr*mp may hope to extract from major steel exporter South Korea.  President Moon Jae-in has been demonstrating far more independence than his right-wing predecessors; and you can be sure the White House is displeased.  Maintaining the threat of war with North Korea is far more important to America's military contractors than an increase in the price of steel: after all, their increased costs will be paid by the US government and its taxpayers.

Moon's domestic support is based largely on the prospect of rapprochement with the North: hopefully, Moon will hang tough.  North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, its hard-won protection against external aggression.  Having provided evidence of his offensive capacity, Kim Jong-un will be willing to stop testing bombs and missiles for a time.  The world's best hope is that the Kim-Tr*mp summit will lead to years of talks — years with no immanent threat of war.

Nobody seems to be talking about the country likely to be hurt most by the new tariffs: Brazil, a major exporter of steel to the US.  Even if there is something the US wants to extort from Brazil, Brazil's government is too tied up in corruption scandals to negotiate effectively.  Of course, a bit of corruption won't stop the Chinese from stepping in to fill any gaps the tariffs leave in the Brazilian economy.

The Tr*mp tariffs may last a little longer than the Bush tariffs, but not long enough to justify opening new steel plants; or even to reopen the older, inefficient plants that still can be made operational.  The steel companies will be content just to raise prices.  Some businesses that use steel, though, may decide it's time to offshore production.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Teachers with Guns

I was doing a mental inventory of my colleagues over thirty years of teaching, considering which of them might be willing to pack heat in the classroom and which could be trusted to do so.  The categories don't intersect.  Granted, I didn't work in Idaho or Kentucky, but even in such gun-friendly places, I doubt the circles of the Venn diagram would overlap.

There will be volunteers, of course: some teachers will volunteer for anything that pays an additional stipend.  There will be training, probably by local sheriff's deputies — but even if the teacher volunteers refrain from grading papers during the PowerPoint presentations, the whole idea of turning educators into a sweater-vested SWAT team is absurd.

Given the suicidal nature of school shooters, arming teachers will have no deterrent effect: some shooters might welcome the "extra challenge."  We need to ask more questions about whom the "guardians" might end up shooting in a "combat" situation.  Do Our President and his NRA anticipate running gun battles?  Real life is neither an action movie nor a video game, and it is terrifying to think about what might happen in those states already enacting legislation to arm school personnel.

I have no problem with those who own guns for hunting or target shooting, but I'm sure they could manage quite nicely using bolt-action rifles and shotguns.  By contrast, people who own hand guns and semi-automatic rifles for "self-defense" all too often share a characteristic that should preclude gun ownership: unhealthy levels of fear.  It doesn't matter whether they fear home invasion, street crime, or a government imposition of shariah law: their fear inevitably makes them less rational.  We don't need people who are both armed and irrational in our schools.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Gun politics
The manufacturers of the "Bumpstock" profited mightily from the free advertising provided by Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter; but now that sales have dropped off again, Our President is willing to consider a ban.  Whoopie.  Wayne LaPierre of the NRA says those who support gun control are "socialists" — but, apparently, not Maoists, who believe that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."  I don't believe those wonderfully articulate young socialists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will change any Republican votes on gun control, but I feel certain they are helping themselves by channeling their grief and trauma into activism.

Tsuris for Bibi
It looks like years of corruption accusations finally have caught up with Bibi Netanyahu as his co-conspirators prepare to turn state's evidence against him.  Nevertheless, an impending indictment won't interrupt his plans to attend the AIPAC conference in Washington starting March 4, and to meet with Tr*mp for the fifth time.  AIPAC, which always has represented not Israel but Likud, will greet Bibi with cheers.  Tr*mp and Netanyahu can commiserate, and nobody should be surprised if Tr*mp recycles the comment he made about Rob Porter: "He says he's innocent."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Rob Porter
You would think one would cease to be amazed by how the Tr*mp White House can turn what should have been an easy executive decision into a fiasco.  Even if Kelly and company decided to take their chances on a wife-beater for the sake of employing somebody less incompetent than the rest of the crew, they should have had plenty of time to cook up a coherent response for when the skeletons rattled the closet.  Oh!.. and has anyone asked Hope Hicks if she's still dating the creep?

Meanwhile, in Europe...
Southern Europe may turn out to be the big winner from the German election that put members of the far-right AfD party into the Bundestag.  It forced Angel Merkel to enter another coalition with the Social Democrats, the SPD — but this time the SPD will control the finance ministry. and the austerity obsessed Wolfgang Schaeuble will be gone.  Southern Europe still needs stimulus; and that now may be possible.

And in Israel...
One wonders if part of the motivation for recent Israeli bombing in northern Syria was to inspire patriotic support for Bibi Netanyahu, currently facing corruption charges.  Also, one wonders if US recognition of Jerusalem was a Trump/Kushner political gift to Bibi, intended for the same purpose.  Of course, such speculation may be wrong, even though it feels so right.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Tr*mp Slump?

Many are saying that the "problem" that caused the recent slip in stock prices is a tight labor market, leading to rising wages: corporations actually might have to spend more on labor, leaving less for dividends and executive bonuses.  Inflation, of course, will eat up wage increases, just as it's been doing since the 1970s.  Real wages will stay flat.

Have no fear, plutocrats!  You'll have plenty of money from the new tax code to resume your stock buybacks and top-level compensation increases.  There will be inflation and higher interest costs, though, thanks to that same tax legislation.  Adding an economic stimulus to an economy already experiencing steady growth and low unemployment guarantees more inflation.  On the bright side, you'll pay your higher labor costs with cheaper dollars.

The Fed has plenty of room to raise interest rates, of course, and plenty of motivation to do so.  Rates have to be increased significantly, so they can be dropped again as stimulus when the next recession arrives.  Other factors, including the irrelevance of the labor movement and the absence of any real competition among our corporate giants, make a wage-price spiral unlikely.

So what caused the slip in stock prices?  Sorry, but it wasn't Trump — no more than it was Tr*mp who created the bull market.  It's just that those computer algorithms that control a large majority of today's stock trades still are inclined to overreact to factors that human beings just don't notice.  Program trading brought us the bull market, and it's the most likely suspect when things get weird.

You can stop looking for the man behind the curtain, Dorothy — he's gone.