Thursday, January 16, 2020

Warren v. Sanders

When, at their private meeting, Elizabeth Warren told Bernie Sanders that she was entering the Democratic primary, his first thought had to be "She'll split the progressive vote, and Biden will get the nomination.  How do I talk her out of this?"

One obvious albeit ill-considered argument: "I don't think a female candidate can beat Trump."  Maybe it slipped out before he had a chance to reconsider: I seriously doubt that Sanders actually believes it.  Almost a year later, it must be hard for him even to believe he said it — but, be that as it may, his denial at the debate did amount to calling Warren a liar.  (I winced.)

I was hoping for something more like this:  "I don't remember saying anything like that, but if I did, I apologize — I certainly don't believe a woman can't be elected."  Then, he could have gone on about Clinton's victory in the 2016 popular vote, et al.

Hopefully, the progressive wing of the party can get its act together in short order, because failure to do so only empowers the Democratic establishment.  Americans wanted change in 2016, and they still want it in 2020. Frankly, I have strong misgivings about Biden (much less Buttigieg) defeating Tr*mp in November.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Qassim Suleimani
The Suleimani assassination would have made sense had there been reliable intelligence that it would set off a destabilizing power struggle within the Iranian government; but reliable intelligence, in either sense of the word, is not characteristic of the Tr*mp Administration.  The action's chief impact has been to put a damper on resistance to Iranian influence in Iraq.  While many attribute the killing to Our President's shoot-from-the-crotch strategic incompetence, one still wonders: How does it benefit Putin?

Mark Galli
Back in the 90s, liberals were broadly accused of practicing situation ethics: choosing to violate basic moral codes for the sake of some "greater good."  Currently, that philosophy's main adherents are conservative Christians, most of whom were outraged when Mark Galli's editorial in Christianity Today identified Tr*mp as "a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused."

Carlos Ghosn
Given the 99.9% conviction rate in Japanese courts, nobody can be surprised that somebody with the wealth and influence of Carlos Ghosn would find a way to jump bail.  Was Ghosn under-reporting his income, as charged?  Probably: it's what the super-rich do.  Does that explain why he was indicted?  Highly unlikely.

Elizabeth Warren
Clearly, the drop in contributions to the Warren campaign was a direct outcome of her waffling on "Medicare for All":  the left wing of the Democratic Party is in no mood for compromise.  Granted, some sort of compromise will be required to get any such program through Congress, but facing up to reality is never a winning strategy in electoral politics.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Speleunking the Wine Cave

If you were a gay multimillionaire hoping to change America's stereotype of gay men, could you find a better avatar than Pete Buttigieg?  He's articulate and intelligent (Harvard, Oxford), a decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and good-looking – but not at all effeminate.  He's comfortably out, and happily married.  Who could ask for more?

It's safe to assume that a lot of the early money that turned a small-city mayor into a viable presidential candidate came from wealthy gays; and entirely understandable that they wouldn't be comfortable with press coverage of his fund-raising events.  Democrats being Democrats, none of his opponents is willing to say that his sexuality detracts from his "electability" — but a "wine cave" sounds like exactly the sort of place a cabal of mega-rich gays would like to hang out and be gay together.  The coding is subtle, but clear.

Personally, I have a different problem with Mayor Pete: it's hard for me to trust someone who seems to have prepared a list of accomplishments prerequisite to political power while still in high school, and then carefully checked off each item, one by one.  It makes me wonder if that person has any higher objective than power itself.  I'm not at all clear regarding why Pete Buttigieg wants to be President of the United States; and it bothers me.

It was inevitable that one of his opponents, however subtly, would have to inject sexuality into the primary debates.  I'm just sorry it turned out to be Elizabeth Warren.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Quick takes

• I can't help thinking that if the Inspector General investigated ten random FISA applications, he'd probably find the number of problems he found in the Carter Page application is about average.  The problem is that the FISA court is secret, so FBI agents can cut corners without much chance of getting caught.  Most of the fruits of FISA warrants remain secret, even after they're executed; and secrecy always invites abuse.

• The impeachment proceeding is just the latest manifestation of an epistemological crisis: apparently, Pat Moynihan was wrong, and you can have your own facts.  For godfather of the current crisis, I nominate Rupert Murdoch, who brought the spirit of British tabloid journalism to American television.  It's hard to stay involved in the ongoing "drama" in Congress when everybody's already guessed the ending.

• I'm curious to see how the Liberal Democrats fare in tomorrow's British election, with their straightforward, unequivocal support for remaining in the EU.  It wasn't that long ago that the LibDems propped up a Conservative minority government.  Might they do the same for Labour?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Afghanistan update

Last week, Our President pardoned two turkeys and three war criminals.  Then he flew off to Afghanistan, where he announced resumption of peace talks with the Taliban.  The Taliban's response: "Huh?"

Presumably, this means negotiators will take up where they left off, with the Taliban agreeing not to attack NATO forces as they fully withdraw; and to hold separate peace negotiations with the Afghani government – in China.  While this is not good news for more westernized, urban Afghanis – particularly women – the frequently innocent victims of US bombing raids won't mind at all.  Anyway, nobody seems to have a better idea.

Clearly, the Taliban must recognize that a treaty with the United States may not be worth much, given US withdrawal from the Iran pact; and it's unlikely that Taliban leaders will feel any great obligation to follow through on their own commitments once foreign troop are gone from their country.  It's also unlikely that they will see a bitterly divided Afghani government as a credible negotiating partner, given the ongoing dispute between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah regarding who actually won the past couple of elections.

Of course, most Americans really don't care what happens in Afghanistan once our troops come home: so America's longest war finally may be coming to an end.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Too much television

I've never been inclined to binge-watch TV — even the most dramatic and convoluted fictions just can't hold my interest for more than an hour or two.

Then I got hooked on the impeachment inquiry — not for new revelations nor even for the inevitable confirmations of my preexisting beliefs.  I was hooked on the human drama: the personalities of the witnesses, and their distinctive responses to the singular circumstances of Congressional scrutiny.  It was "reality television" at its best.

The career diplomats (aka "deep state") expressed a degree of moral clarity rarely encountered in our day-to-day lives.  I felt I could trust Alexander Vindman with all my passwords and account numbers; Marie Yovanovitch's grace under fire tempted me to join in the standing ovation she received as she exited the hearing room; Fiona Hill's testimony, of course, was literally breathtaking; and the earnest courage of the less senior diplomats, who disobeyed Tr*mp's orders to ignore Congressional subpoenas, was genuinely inspiring.

The most interesting character study, though, was Gordon Sondland.  Gregarious, self-assured, and puckishly self-deprecating at times, he came across as somehow likeable as he sought to thread a narrow path between perjury charges and presidential revenge.  His role in the Congressional teledrama was, to me, Shakespearean: a "man of parts" brought down by vain ambition — and wishing he'd blown that million bucks on anything else.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Quick take

Many were amused when Lindsey Graham suggested that the Tr*mp administration is just too incompetent to hatch a plan which would force Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.  Well, Tr*mp & Co. certainly were too incompetent to get it right.  Sondland's amateurism and Giuliani's dementia made sure of that: they got caught.

I think it's just as amusing tha their incompetence – and Tr*mp's – are now the basis of the Republican defense against impeachment.  "Ukraine got the money," they say.  "There weren't any investigations."  Right.  The plan didn't work.  They got caught.

Clearly, Jim Jordan was added to the intelligence committee to provide sound bites for Fox.  I can't help thinking his greatest qualification is that he, like Tr*mp, actually believes the conspiracy theories about Ukraine, rather than Russia, being responsible for the 2016 election interference; and that it was done to benefit Democrats.  The Red Hats, needless to say, happily will believe it as well.