Saturday, October 19, 2019

Quick Takes


Obliged to juggle alternative realities on a daily basis, is it surprising that Mick Mulvaney was, shall we say, a bit confused?

Let's start a pool!  How long will it be before Rudy Giuliani goes under the bus?

Vladimir Putin is the only world leader likely to bring a semblance of peace to Syria.  If that happens, should he be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize?

We all know we're not supposed to judge people by their appearances, but sometimes you just can't help it!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Saving the Republican Party


As I'm sure you've noticed, Our President is batshit crazy — and he's been getting worse.  As impeachment pressures grow, his general demeanor is deteriorating and his rants and rage-tweets are increasingly bizarre.  Up to this point, Republican efforts to rationalize Tr*mp's irrationality have been strained, but effective enough to mollify his base.  The Zelensky phone call opened some cracks in GOP unity– even at Fox News – but none large enough to do real damage.

The Erdogan phone call, however, is different.  Tr*mp's base may not understand much, but they understand treachery and betrayal; they recognize a stab in the back when they see it.  After years being told of the bravery and loyalty of the Syrian Kurds – consistent "good guys" in all the media – Tr*mp's abandonment of America's allies against ISIS has to feel like a gut-punch to his admirers.  Real damage has been done, and none of the President's arguments for American self-interest or realpolitik is likely to reverse it.

In other words, Tr*mp's chance at a second term took a serious hit over the past few days; and since a narrow win in the Electoral College looked like his best  path to victory, the situation is dire.  A serious drubbing by Democrats in 2020 will endanger Republican control of the Senate as well.  What's a Bible-thumping stooge of the plutocracy to do?

Here's an idea: sidestep that embarrassing impeachment inquiry and invoke the 25th Amendment. With all due sympathy for his "illness," dump Tr*mp and give the presidency to Pence.  Our Vice-President has kept a low enough profile over the past three years to maintain his undeserved reputation for moral probity.  He could win.

It won't happen, of course.  Pence doesn't have the chutzpah to start the ball rolling, and the sycophants, enablers, and co-conspirators in the Cabinet would be too terrified to follow through.  Still, should you happen to run into Charles Koch any time soon, pass the idea along: he just might like it.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Продовжуйте поширювати шмальц


You don't have to read Ukrainian to figure out Volodymyr Zelensky's basic approach to dealing with Our President.  The "reconstructed transcript" of their telephone conversation omits any mention of the incomparable sexiness of America's First Daughter, but nobody will be too surprised if it shows up in a later edition.  The joint press appearance at the UN offered more of the same: Did Zelensky feel "pressured" by Tr*mp?  Of course not!

In the meanwhile, it's hard to argue that Biden won't be hurt by his son's lucrative employment by an Ukrainian oligarch.  Hunter's sinecure may have had no impact on America's foreign policy whatsoever, but the optics are terrible.  The "electability" argument for Biden's nomination has suffered a severe hit.

It will be a mistake if Democrats ignore Tr*mp's numerous other abuses of power to zero in on the Ukraine affair.  Those other abuses, including the numerous instances presented in the Mueller Report, demand greater scrutiny over the course of the impeachment inquiry: ignoring them is tantamount to endorsing them.

On the lighter side, congressional testimony on Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani promises to rank among the funniest absurdist comedies in TV history, and may require creating a new category for the Emmy Awards.  Granted, one shouldn't be laughing a senile dementia – but as a (Medicare) card-carrying geezer, I'll claim special dispensation to LMAO.

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.