Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Last Honest Republican


Now that George Herbert Walker Bush is in the ground, I think we can lay off the eulogies and take a realistic look at what he actually did.

Well, he certainly picked a good time to die.  Although nobody actually put it into words, it was inevitable that he would be compared to the current occupant of the White House — and by that standard, even William Howard Taft would have come off well.  We also shouldn't forget that he had the advantage of leading in far less threatening times, when the Soviet Union was collapsing and Islamic holy warriors were our allies in Afghanistan.

I give him full credit for not invading Iraq after pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and I wish he hadn't subscribed to the parenting style of letting one's children make their own mistakes.  Did he resent Dick Cheney?  If not, he must have been very nearly as saintly as his eulogizers claimed.  I like to remember him, though, as the last honest Republican: the man who coined the phrase, "voodoo economics."

Ever since Arthur Laffer first drew his magical curve, Republicans have espoused the fiction that tax cuts "pay for themselves" by spurring economic growth that increases government revenues.  Variously called "Reaganomics," "supply-side," and "trickle-down," this big lie has justified every transfer of wealth from ordinary Americans to the ultra-rich for forty years, culminating in the recent tax travesty that will send our budget deficit over one trillion dollars next year.  George H. W. Bush knew it was a lie — and when push came to shove, he violated his "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge, and became a one-term president.

I can admire that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A little bird told me...


So, Our President went to the G-20 and had dinner with Xi Jinping; since they didn't release a joint statement, it's safe to assume there wasn't much of an agreement.  Nevertheless, Tr*mp did some enthusiastic tweeting on his way home from Argentina, and markets rose.

What actually was said at that dinner?  Here's my guess: Tr*mp volunteered to hold off for ninety days on the new tariffs he'd promised, then presented his wish list of what he hoped for in return.  Xi smiled and nodded, but committed to little more than a few soybeans.

So why were Tr*mp's tweets so enthusiastic?  Most likely because he's in the habit of claiming victories he hasn't won — but there could be another explanation.  Barely more than a day later, he sent out his "tariff man" tweet, which sent the major stock indexes crashing down over three percent in one day; and certain predictable stocks lost even more.  If you had shorted some of those shares on Monday, you could have made a lot of money on Tuesday.

Personally, I missed that opportunity, and I suppose you did too — but there might be individuals, LLCs, and/or hedge funds with more "insight" into what Our President might tap out on his phone than your average Wall Street algorithm has.  Previous Presidents took great care to minimize the impact of their statements on financial markets.  It doesn't seem to matter to Tr*mp.

Then again, it might matter to him a great deal.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Transactional?


Nobody can claim to be surprised by the way Our President responded to CIA assurances that Prince MbS did, indeed, order the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  Tr*mp did stop short of claiming that Khashoggi was an Iranian agent, but only by a hair's breadth.

News analysts, once again, had to come up with a term to describe Tr*mp's approach to foreign policy.  Seizing on his emphasis of $110 billion dollars in imaginary arms contracts, once again they settled on transactional.

Other terms come to mind — "morally bankrupt" is a strong contender — but rule books at major media outlets demand the appearance of neutrality, and transactional is such a neutral sounding word!  It started me thinking, though.  Rather than transactional, they could have used corporate.

The Supreme Court long has recognized corporate personhood.  (The recent Hobby Lobby decision maintains that a corporation is enough of a person to have religious beliefs!)  Unlike your average person, though, corporations have but a single objective: to increase the wealth of shareholders.  Pretty much any corporate "person" would have made exactly the same decision as Tr*mp: their values appear to be identical.  Tr*mp just might be the embodiment of corporate personhood.

If a corporation really were a person, driven by a single goal to the exclusion of all others, that person would be diagnosed as psychotic.  Presumably, Our President has a variety of goals; but, as we've seen, his approach to all of them is the same — transactional.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Well, duh!


I haven't posted lately because I try to avoid belaboring the obvious. but I'll make an exception this time to reassure my readers that I'm still alive:

  • Voter suppression works, as demonstrated by Brian Kemp, the new governor of Georgia.  
  • "Florida Man" can be a woman, as demonstrated by Brenda C. Snipes, election commissioner of Broward County.   
  • Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker again, if only because nobody else is willing to take all that grief; but she's also the only one capable of doing the job at this time.   
  • MbS personally ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but the Tr*mp Administration will find a way to ignore that fact.   
  • Fox News and Russia's TASS news agency are locked in a bitter struggle to determine which can be more slanted and misleading.   
  • Nobody has any clear idea of how to cope with the ecological catastrophe that is California.   
  • Matt Whitaker is an affront to the rule of law, but then so is the rest of the Tr*mp Administration.   
  • You can't fight a trade war with China and expect them to maintain sanctions against North Korea at the same time.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Pelosi Problem


Some of Our President's most ardent supporters mightily resent that burdensome restriction of their religious liberty that stops them from burning witches.  The first one they would consign to the flames, of course, would be Nancy Pelosi, whose least flattering photos have appeared in more Republican campaign commercials than Ronald Reagan and George Washington combined.

So what is it about Pelosi that makes her the GOP's go-to personification of evil?  Democratic Speakers like Tip O'Neill or Jim Foley never incurred such vitriolic animosity, although they were every bit as partisan and every bit as powerful.  What makes Pelosi so "special?"

Correct!  You got it on the first guess!  She's a woman.  Conservatives are staunch upholders of "traditional values" — and what deeply held belief is more "traditional" than misogyny?  To the conservative mind, the very idea of a woman exercising great power is unsettling — frightening — as unnatural as a cat quoting the Book of Revelation (or, perhaps, a black president.)

It's kind of pathetic: the chief motivator of conservatives in general, and the Republican base in particular, is fear.  Xenophobia, usually defined as fear of strangers, has a more generalized definition: fear of anything perceived as strange.  It's a debilitating condition.

Personally, I think it's time for the gerontocracy to give up the reins, but if Pelosi becomes Speaker again, it will be fine with me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Khashoggi, part two



I suppose this is conjecture, but it really feels right: Erdogan went public with lurid details of Jamal Khashoggi's murder because the Saudis didn't respond to his first blackmail attempt.  MbS couldn't imagine that anybody — especially the President of the United States of America — would be all that upset by the loss of a troublesome journalist.  After all, nobody paid much attention to the Kingdom's numerous other egregious abuses; how much difference could one more dead body make?

MbS was right about Tr*mp, of course, but others were less sanguine, and/or more opportunistic.  Under pressure, all MbS could do was "blame the help;" but given that the Turks almost certainly do have audiotapes, and possibly video as well, we can expect the negotiation of some very inexpensive "loans" to Turkey by the Kingdom in the near future.

Nobody actually believes the latest Saudi narrative, and even some Republicans will resist looking like complete idiots by pretending to swallow it — but it's the best anyone can do right now.  Will the whole thing blow over before Congress can curtail US participation in war crimes in Yemen?  As the Magic 8-Ball might say, "Ask again later."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Real Khashoggi Question


A journalist is missing, probably dead, and whatever happened to him can be attributed to the government of Saudi Arabia.  That certainly is upsetting, but one wonders why it has drawn more media and Congressional censure than ongoing war crimes in Yemen; the imprisonment of women's rights advocates, including one sentenced to death; the imprisonment and near-fatal flogging of a mildly dissident blogger; the kidnapping and mistreatment of the Prime Minister of Lebanon; the Qatar blockade; and an host of other abuses.

Oh, yeah, there was that little matter of the Saudi royal family's involvement with al Qaeda prior to 9/11.

Jamal Khashoggi's reputation for "liberalism" dates from when he lost his job as editor of the Saudi journal Al Watan for failure to censor an article suggesting that Ibn Taymiyya, the 14th century founder of Wahabbism, may have been less than infallible.  It was just a minor glitch, though — more significant, since the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were close ties to ousted defense minister Turki al-Faisal.  One suspects that most of Khashoggi's royal friends were among those rounded up by MbS for the great Ritz Carleton shakedown.

Clearly, criticism of MbS is enough to get a person murdered these days, but there seems to be one question nobody is asking: why did Turkey go so public so soon, and what's in it for Recip Tayyip Erdogan?  It would have been easy enough for the Turks to pretend ignorance: instead, they leapt at the chance to spread grisly tales of torture and dismemberment, thereby revealing a practice of bugging foreign embassies and consulates.  (Nobody actually will believe the "Apple watch" story.)

My guess is that Turkey is tired of being pushed aside as America's favored partner in the Middle East, especially now that Erdogan has tanked the Turkish economy.  How can Americans complain about a little Turkish authoritarianism when the Saudis are so much worse?  The release of Evangelical agitator Andrew Brunson signals renewed Turkish interest in close partnership with the United States — not just an end to sanctions, but some sort of financial rescue.

Crown Ponce Jared won't like the idea, and neither will his "uncle" Bibi: a falling out with MbS will throw their alleged "peace plan" into disarray.  It won't go over too well with American corporations heavily financed by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund either.  Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!