Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Briefs


Kavanaugh
Anybody who ever was a drunken high school boy can have no doubt that He Did It, whether he remembers it or not.  If he does remember, he'll lie about it — but far more disqualifying are the lies he already told during his 2006 confirmation hearings for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, regarding his service in the Bush administration.  He was an adult by then, and presumably sober.

Trade War
China's threat to respond to the latest Tr*mpian tariff escalations by disrupting US supply chains must be taken very seriously, given that key components of important manufactured products just are not available outside of China.  Even unregenerate supply-siders like Larry Kudlow are able to see that; Our President, though, only will listen to his paleo-mercantilist trade advisor, Peter Navarro.  Can mainstream corporatist Republicans stop them?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Big Lie
Jaws agape, anybody who has been paying any attention at all over the past forty years stared in amazement as Our President declared that Democrats want to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  Will his base believe him?  As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods." 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

"Adults in the Room"


Now that a "senior official in the Trump Administration" has assured us that there are some in the White House who "have vowed to thwart the president's worst impulses," I suppose we're all supposed to feel better.  Indeed, it's good to know that somebody will try to stop Our President should he decide to nuke North Korea (or Canada), but that is small comfort when the so-called "adults in the room" all are Republican loyalists.  It would be absurd to expect contemporary Republicans, wholly captured by the corporations and the super-rich, to control what the anonymous Times editorialist calls "the root of the problem... the president's amorality."

Corporations, by their nature, are amoral.  They exist solely to generate profits for their investors, and their political activities are directed towards that same goal.  The Republican Party has served them well, especially under the current administration, with regulatory rollbacks, attacks on organized labor, and massive, permanent cuts in their tax liability.  The Supreme Court was stacked in their favor even before Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, and looks likely to remain that way for a long time.

Corporate political operatives might have preferred President Scott Walker, President Marco Rubio, or even President Ted Cruz, but they needed Tr*mp to win.  They needed Tr*mp the demagogue to mobilize the fear and the anger that drove the 2016 election — and if that meant putting up with somebody who "is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective," so be it.  Given his limited intellectual capacity and curiosity, they thought he would be easy enough to control once in office: Ryan and McConnell would take care of business while the new president played golf.

It didn't work out that way.  Tr*mp has been so outrageous, so dangerous and divisive, that the "adults in the room" can't keep him under control.  He has become a threat to the Republican Party, and a threat to corporate hegemony: even corporatist Democrats are being pushed aside by those further to their left.

It is possible that the Times editorial was the opening salvo in an effort to jettison Tr*mp by those who brought him to power.  We might never know for sure, but it will be interesting to see what develops between now and Election Day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Catholics in Crisis


Power struggles have been characteristic of the Roman Catholic hierarchy throughout the history of the Church, but the Church typically kept its internal conflicts contained.  Recent events, though, have created the greatest threat to unity since the Protestant Reformation.  The open letter to Pope Francis from Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ² bears little resemblance to Luther's 95 Theses, but may prove equally disruptive.  Backed by American  Catholic conservatives, who have much more in common with Evangelical protestants than with the Jesuits and other relative liberals who back Francis, ViganĂ² is calling on Francis to resign.

While the current hostilities appear centered on who knew what about the sex life of the now-discredited Cardinal McCarrick, the real conflict is more fundamental: Francis and the liberals want to keep the Church relevant to modern worshipers; the conservatives want to keep it pure.  While  everybody condemns the priestly diddling of altar boys, it is the liberal suggestion that divorced Catholics might somehow receive Holy Communion that drives conservatives insane with rage.

To hold the interest of the laity, though, it's best to keep the conversation about sex; so the Church's worldwide pedophile problem gets the most attention.  The conservatives claim the root cause was too much tolerance for homosexuals, while the liberals blame "clericalism" — the idea that priests assert too much power and authority.

The Church always has attracted homosexuals because it has been a socially acceptable refuge for those temperamentally incapable of heterosexual family life.  Some know they are gay to begin with, some discover it in the single-sex environment of the seminary, and some are the self-hating variety whose militant denial makes them natural conservatives.

For the pedophile, though, joining the Church may be less about sanctuary than about opportunity —  the unquestioning trust the devout invest in those with "spiritual authority."  It is a power all too easy to abuse, so Francis and the liberals are right to blame "clericalism" — but blaming clericalism is not a solution.  Without his spiritual authority, a priest is just another ordinary man, and the power structure of the Church as a whole is undermined.

While nobody currently can be sure just who knew what about whom, it seems obvious that every institution that lays claim to moral authority feels pressured to cover up moral lapses; and that the broader and more complex the institutional structure, the more elaborate the coverups will be.  For now, Francis opts for silence, possibly concerned that anything he says could provoke genuine schism within his Church.  Whether or not he can come up with a better response remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Slow News Month?


August is supposed to be a slow news month, a good month to take a break — but we don't have slow news months anymore.  We're battered by news, oppressed by it.  Sometimes it seems there's just nothing more to say.

Everybody with a shred of decency was horrified by the separation of refugee children from their parents at our southern border, and continues to be horrified because the immediate crisis remains unresolved and the damage to children will be permanent.  One needn't recognize any religious faith to recognize evil.

Nobody could have been even mildly surprised by the "Omarosa revelations" — if she has more tapes to share, they will be more of the same.  Tr*mp continues to alienate America's allies, and Democrats still struggle to solve their "Pelosi problem."

The Cohen plea agreement and the Manafort convictions have made no noticeable impact on Congressional Republicans, much less on the rabid Republican "base."  Giuliani's assertion that "truth isn't truth" could have been based on observation.  Wildfires, both literal and figurative, continue to burn.

Still, I will look forward to the "reality television" of the McCain funeral, which potentially could have more political impact than babies ripped from their mothers' arms.  Truth isn't truth, you know.  It's only the perception that counts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Faith-based Fascism


If you assume that the goal of the new "Religious Liberty Task Force" recently announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be to find new and better ways to discriminate against the LGBT community, you probably are underestimating the Attorney General and the administration he serves.  Rest assured that the Task Force also will investigate new ways to justify restricting women's reproductive rights, expand federal funding for religious schools, and aggressively erode the separation of Church and State.

Political authoritarians and religious hierarchies enjoy a natural partnership.  Both are essentially conservative, demanding that followers  accept the immutable rules and mythologies they hand down.  Neither can tolerate opposition based on anything so heterodox as rational thought, and both perceive those from outside their networks of believers as threats to be resisted, repressed, and demonized.  Working together, they keep their followers unquestioning and compliant.

Such partnerships may be as old as human civilization, but there are plenty of contemporary examples.  Conservative Islam, either Sunni or Shi'a, dominates the autocracies of the Middle East.  The Orthodox parties in Israel recently cooperated with Netanyahu's Likud to enact legal changes that make Muslims and Druse second-class citizens.  In India, Modi's Hindu nationalists stay in power by persecuting Muslims, and the generals of Myanmar have solidified Buddhist support by doing the same.

Of course, the relationship that most resembles Tr*mp's alliance of interests with Evangelicals is Putin's alliance of interests with the Russian Orthodox Church; and in Russia, too, the effort to strengthen church-state solidarity began by attacking homosexuals.  Perhaps "moral" considerations motivate religious conservatives to endorse and facilitate authoritarian political leadership, but the process is inevitably corrupt.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Socialism Redux?


Eugene Debs won 6% of the vote when he was the Socialist Party candidate for president in 1916, and he still won 1% when he ran again, from Federal prison, in 1920.  For American socialists, it was downhill from there.  Although FDR appropriated some major chunks of the Debs platform in his response to the Great Depression, and although Americans ignored the "socialist" label when LBJ introduced Medicare, it took Bernie Sanders to make socialism almost respectable again.  Almost.  When it comes to selling a policy, what you call it still counts for a lot.

"Medicare for all" has a nice ring to it.  People like Medicare, so calling government sponsored health care "Medicare for all" makes it a lot more appealing than calling it "single payer" (too dry) or "national health care" (too European) or, heaven forbid, "socialized medicine."  "Medicare for all" it is, then!  Beyond that, it will be far easier to extend an existing system than to create a new one from scratch, so "Medicare for all" may have to be more than a politically palatable label.

The main obstacle to universal Medicare, though, is that most people don't need it.  Most Americans have medical insurance through their employers, their benefits often are considerably better than those offered by Medicare, and they assume Medicare will be there for them when they retire.  How, then, can today's socialists garner popular support for national health insurance?

The simplest answer is to sell Medicare coverage to employers, in direct competition with private insurers.  Not required to turn a profit, Medicare can undercut private competitors; and as it grows, economies of scale would make it even more competitive.  The risk pool of Medicare's users would become younger and healthier, and the new cash flow would alleviate the problems of finance that Congress fails to address.  Mass enrollment also would create pressure to improve Medicare benefits, which currently are less than generous.

Contrary to popular opinion, socialists do not have to be oblivious to the power of markets; they do not have to be visionary idealists divorced from economic realities.  They do have to be committed to democracy, though — because in any economic system, only the power of the many can constrain the corrupt avarice of the few.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Question of WHY


Some might think Our President's recent fiasco in Helsinki finally might penetrate some red caps and shake the fanatical loyalty of his base.  Sorry, but true Tr*mpistas are made of sterner stuff, and are capable of enduring a lot more cognitive dissonance before they succumb to doubt — so Republicans in Congress will have to find a way to squirm through to the next train wreck.

In the meanwhile, the rest of us continue to puzzle over why the President of the United States is so unswervingly loyal to Vladimir Putin.  Let's look at some of the most prominent suggestions:

The Pee Tape Hypothesis
By comparison with some other embarrassing episodes that have come to light, the tape described in the Steele dossier is small potatoes.  Even if Tr*mp was in the bed, naked, and photographed from an extremely unbecoming angle, religious conservatives would find it in their hearts to give him another "mulligan" — and the rest would call it a CGI "forgery" by "Hollywood liberals."

The Fragile Ego Hypothesis
While his reluctance to believe that Putin helped him win the presidency may explain Tr*mp's hostility to the Mueller probe, it does not explain his affinity for Putin.  In truth, he ought to be more likely to resent Russian interference if it detracts from his "glorious victory."

The Fred Trump Hypothesis
It seems obvious that Our President's hyper-authoritarian, racist, and conscience-free father was instrumental in warping young Donald's tender infant psyche and demagnetizing his moral compass.  While this helps to explain Tr*mp's admiration for the likes of Rodrigo Duterte and Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Fred never taught his son to knuckle under to a competitor — and certainly not to a competitor significantly weaker than himself.

The Arrant Corruption Hypothesis
The Nixon-era admonition to "follow the money" seems like the most  promising path to understanding the Tr*mp-Putin connection.  It remains unclear whether or not the Mueller task force has gained access to Tr*mp's tax returns, or how carefully cash transfers from Russian kleptocrats to the Trump Organization may have been laundered, but investors in Manhattan real estate never have been known for their moral rectitude.  If the corruption hypothesis is correct, it may be advisable for Tr*mp to give up the presidency in time for President Pence to issue a blanket pardon.