Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Briefs


Jon Ossoff
A vast majority of the people who voted for Tr*mp also voted for Romney, and the same people voted for Karen Handel. The big winners were the consultants and media outlets in what the Times called "the Lululemon-and-loafer subdivisions of Dunwoody and Roswell."

Otto Warmbier
Warmbier was far from the first young man to lose his life for doing something trivial and stupid, albeit most such deaths do not have geopolitical consequences. Tr*mp now admits his China-North Korea policy is dead. For China (and South Korea), keeping the North stable is more important than restraining its military capability.

The American Health Care Act
It's pretty clear that a lot of Congressional Republicans wish the whole "repeal and replace" controversy would just go away. Fingers crossed, maybe it will.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Muddying the Waters


Tr*mp's friend Christopher Ruddy was interviewed on the PBS NewsHour last night.  I had to watch the interview three times.

 According to the CEO of the conservative media outlet Newsmax, Our President is "considering" firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.  Ruddy also noted that Mueller had been personally interviewed by Tr*mp as a possible replacement for James Comey as FBI Director the day before he was appointed special counsel.  So, what are we supposed to make of this?

There is no doubt that Republicans would love to delegitimize Mueller's investigation: special investigations always find something, even when the original focus of those investigations comes to nothing. (Think of Whitewater.)  Tr*mp's base would not believe anything bad about their hero even if he did shoot somebody on 5th Avenue — but the rest of the country might not be so cooperative.

If there actually was collusion between Russian intelligence and the Tr*mp team, I'll eat one of those red caps.  Why would Russia bother to "collude" with loose cannons like Carter Page or Eric Prince?  Of course, that doesn't mean mean Tr*mp associates were not compromised by Russian agents — and who knows what kinds of financial connections might come to light?

Pointing to Mueller's meeting with Tr*mp — not to mention Tr*mp family connections to Mueller's law firm — just might help to shake public confidence in Mueller enough to limit the length and scope of his investigation.  Tr*mp won't fire Mueller — even he's not that stupid — but Republicans will do all they can hold him in check.

Friday, June 9, 2017

That "meddlesome priest"



Just a few things the major media failed to emphasize:

     ✽ Bill Clinton's tarmac meeting with Loretta Lynch on June 27, 2016, was the straw that broke the camel's back for Comey, leading to his July 5 hatchet job on Hillary.  Did Bill intend to screw her, or was it just passive aggression?  You decide.

     ✽ The persistent parsing of the word "hoping" by Senator James Risch is a pretty clear indicator that the Utah Republican really believes Tr*mp is guilty of obstruction of justice.  As Queen Gertrude said in Hamlet (Act III, Scene II), "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

     ✽ Somebody would have had to explain to Tr*mp who Becket and Henry II were, and the relevance of the "meddlesome priest" comments.  He probably didn't get it.

Correction: an earlier iteration of this post substituted "turbulent" for "meddlesome."  Although more frequently cited as Henry II's description of Becket, it was not the analogy employed by Comey.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Foreign . . . policy?

Vulcan mind meld?
 
Can Tr*mp even find Qatar on a map?  Pretty clearly, "his" generals neglected to mention the two enormous American military bases there before he launched the tweetstorm that created his latest international dumpster fire.

To anyone who has been paying attention, the Saudi problem with Qatar is clear: Qatar maintains lines of communication with Iran.  Saudi accusations that the Qataris "support terrorists," including IS and al-Qaeda, are the height of hypocrisy.  Al-Sisi may be more justified in his dislike of Qatar, based on Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood: after brutally overthrowing the Brotherhood's democratically elected government in Egypt, al-Sisi might not feel much confidence in the organization's renunciation of violence back in the 1970s.

So, Tr*mp's profound geopolitical ignorance has left America's military and foreign policy establishments scrambling to clean up his mess, even as they scramble to close the rifts he created with NATO allies on his recent European trip, and his alienation of the British arising from his responses to the terrorist assault on London.  He's already antagonized Mexico and Canada — even Australia!  Who's next?  (Probably not Russia.)

It helps to remember what "America First" meant the last time it was a popular political slogan: isolationism — and "peaceful co-existence" with the Nazis.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Afghanistan


Tr*mp's "foreign policy" consists of listening to "his" generals.  The generals want another 5000 troops to "stabilize" the country — not to win, mind you — we couldn't win with Obama's far larger "surge" — but just to delay losing the war until they're all "honorably" retired.  Who knows?  It might even lead to a round of negotiations!

Attempts at negotiation to date have been fruitless, largely because neither side seems to have much to offer the other.  Well, it's time to think outside the box.  Here are some ideas that just might work:

• Afghan government will be decentralized, with regional chieftains and warlords retaining their local power and meeting in a traditional loya jurga to make decisions that affect the nation as a whole.

• All foreign forces will leave Afghanistan, with Afghan leadership committing to subdue or expel foreign Islamist forces, including IS and al-Qaeda.

• NATO nations will contract to purchase the entire Afghan opium crop, thereby maintaining the Afghan economy and sharply reducing the availability of opioids on worldwide markets.

• Afghanistan will contract with multinational corporations based in NATO countries to exploit its deposits of rare earths and other minerals, creating cash incentives for all parties to the negotiations.

• The West will commit to end all efforts to influence Afghan religious practices, and let the Afghans handle their own political corruption problems in whatever ways they see fit.

A general consensus has emerged that "nation building" does not work, and that attempts to foment cultural revolutions in the Third World create nothing but chaos and antagonism.  If the West can live with Saudi Arabia under Sharia law, it can extend the same courtesy to Afghanistan.  Cultures change at their own rates, each in accordance with its own needs.

I'll pick up my Nobel Peace Prize in person, provided I can fly first-class.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Briefly

Middle East
Islamophobic?  Not Tr*mp!  The biggest difference between Sunni and Shi'a, it seems, is $110 billion in military contracts.  Okay, absolute despots who quietly finance radical jihad may not be the nicest people in the world, but why let a few little human rights get in the way of a sweet deal? Meanwhile, the Iranians were putting unprecedented pressure on their own religious radicals in a exercise of something that looked a hell of a lot like democracy.
     (Breaking fake news!!! The "prayer note" Tr*mp slipped into the Wailing Wall said, "No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.")

Budget
The President's budget proposal is understood as an opening bid in a negotiation, designed to lower the adversary's expectations and leave room for expected "giveaways." The Tr*mp document is so extreme that a "compromise" could wind up looking like Paul Ryan's wet dream. The objective of every Republican since Reagan has been to further fatten the fat cats while thoroughly screwing everybody else.  Tr*mp, the alleged "populist," continues the tradition — in spades.

Turkey
Even Erdogan's goons attacking Kurdish and Albanian protesters in downtown DC failed to draw press attention to the extension of "emergency powers" in Turkey in the service of political repression. One can only hope that a criminal investigation into Michael Flynn's employment by Turkey will draw a little more attention to the ongoing decimation of Turkish democracy.  Erdogan paid Flynn a lot more than the Russians did.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

WannaCry: What if . . . ?


You won't actually need any hard evidence to believe this, will you?  Oh, good!  I didn't think you would.

So the usual sources are blaming North Korea for the WannaCry ransomware attack, a reflex response when they can't think of anything better.  I can think of something better!  First, let's review the "facts" that have been made available.

The attack exploited a vulnerability in Windows first discovered by the NSA, then "mysteriously" leaked on the darkweb.  Microsoft promptly released a patch to block that vulnerability, which was automatically downloaded and installed on the newest version of its operating system, protecting all those who had paid for the software.  The scale of the attack was unprecedented, as was the publicity surrounding it.  Almost none of those targeted have paid the suspiciously low ransom to have their data decrypted, possibly because the scale and publicity of the attack makes it seem unlikely that the hackers ever would keep their promises to the victims.

So who's been hurt?  Well, there were those using older versions of Windows, like the British National Health Service — starved for cash under the Conservatives, and still limping along on Windows XP for want of money to pay for an update.  Then there were the vast numbers using pirated versions of Windows, especially in Russia and China, whose systems couldn't download the patch.  Also, presumably, there was a tiny fraction who had paid for the latest version of Windows but had the automatic update feature off.

Now, as they like to say in Latin, cui bono?  Who benefits from a worldwide attack, especially considering how all of the ransom money actually paid is still sitting in inactive Bitcoin wallets?  Who, perhaps, has been royally pissed off because of all the piracy of Windows software, and not terribly pleased with those who figure they don't need all the bells and whistles of Windows 10?

Microsoft had access to all the code involved; Microsoft's good customers had the patch in advance.  Just one more step is necessary: if it turns out that you can recover all your data just by buying and installing the latest version of Windows, well . . .

This conspiracy stuff is fun! 😈


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Adventures in Tr*mpland


Despite the past week's avalanche of insanity; despite all the claims, counterclaims, and contradictions; despite a truly extraordinary display of administrative disorganization and incompetence; it's not that hard to understand what's happening in Tr*mpland.

The Russian Connection
It is impossible to say just how much impact Russia had on November's election, but one thing is certain: nothing Russia did required collusion with the Trump campaign.  Neither Paul Manafort, nor Roger Stone, nor Erik Prince, nor Michael Flynn, nor Jeff Sessions, nor any other Tr*mpista had anything to contribute to the hack of the DNC's email or the flood of damaging fake news.  Russia needed no assistance from Tr*mp associates.

This is not to say Russia had nothing to gain by arranging meetings with individuals close to Tr*mp.  Any less-than-public contact with people close to the campaign made those individuals susceptible to blackmail, and gave Putin a tool to pressure the new American administration if Tr*mp happened to win.

Tr*mp happened to win.  Did he even know some of his minions were canoodling with the Russkis?  It doesn't matter, nor does it matter that nothing that happened in their meetings could have had any impact on the election.  In politics, appearances are everything.

The Comey Firing
Everything in Rod Rosenstein's memo criticizing the FBI director was true, and largely echoed Democratic critiques.  Comey probably deserved to be fired — three months ago — but not even Tr*mp's loyal base is gullible enough to believe that the Clinton email fiasco had anything to do with Comey's sudden departure.

More revelations about the Russia connection are sure to emerge, no matter who is confirmed to lead the FBI.  Comey was fired not to prevent more revelations, but to better control how they are made public.  Tr*mp wants a loyalist as director, someone who will minimize the ensuing damage.  (Rosenstein should start updating his résumé ASAP.)

Lock him up?
It is very unlikely that Tr*mp's dismissal of Comey will constitute obstruction of justice.  Proving obstruction of justice would require demonstrating Our President's state of mind when he made his decision, and Tr*mp's mind, to date, has proven so disjointed as to be unfathomable.

At the rate he's going, though, Tr*mp may achieve lame duck status faster than any president in history — possibly even before the 2018 Congressional elections.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Macron v. Schaueble?


Needless to say, those of us who are not fascists were quite relieved by Emmanuel Macron's substantial victory over Marine LePen in the French election.  It is understandable that many on the French left were uncomfortable supporting a banker/financier, but despite the refusal of Jean-Luc Mélanchon to endorse his centrist rival, most progressives managed to overcome their misgivings.

One voice of the left who is quite positive about Macron is Yanis Varoufakis.  You may remember Varofakis as the Greek envoy to the EU for bailout talks a couple of years ago.  He resigned as finance minister to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when Tsipras caved in to German demands that Greece accept yet another round of austerity in return for loan "renegotiation" — in essence, accepting who knows how many more years (still counting) of Greek suffering for the sake of staying in the Eurozone.

The architect of European austerity was German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble.  Austerity measures have provided moralistic gratification to northern European Protestants raised on the fable of the grasshopper and the ant; but, more importantly, they make it possible for German and Dutch banks to avoid writing off a lot of bad loans to southern Europe.  When Varofakis opposed more austerity, he had an important ally: Emmanuel Macron.  Macron resigned from François Hollande's government at about the same time Varofakis resigned from Tsipras's.

Only aggressively stimulative economic action will do anything to alleviate double-digit southern European unemployment, and Italy and Spain have suffered under austerity almost as badly as Greece.  Perhaps Macron will shift the balance of power in the EU away from Germany; perhaps the French will accept some softening of their ironclad job protections in exchange for a great many more job opportunities.  Upcoming contests for seats in the French Parliament are likely to determine just how much or how little Macron can accomplish.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Strongmen


Surprising his State Department, Our President got it into his head to invite the irrepressibly murderous Rodrigo Duterte for a White House sleepover.  To Tr*mp's surprise and chagrin, I'm certain, Duterte said he might be "too busy" to come over and play.

So what is it with Tr*mp and his passion for authoritarian bad boys like Duterte, al-Sisi, Ergogan and, of course, Vladimir Putin?  Hell, he was even saying nice things about North Korean meatball Kim Jong-un the other day!  Is it time for our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to have a peek at the Presidential brain?

It's hard to believe there isn't something psycho-sexual involved in Tr*mp's bizarre infatuations, uncomfortable as it may be to entertain the imagery afflicts the imagination while entertaining such thoughts.  Fred Trump, one imagines, was the kind of father who could generate psychiatric fortunes over the generations — except that none of his sons ever could be so weak as to need a therapist.

I hope we don't have to bomb the Philippines.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *
More shit, quoted from the Times:
In a discussion last year about the cost of the Marines in Darwin, The Australians came in with a data-heavy presentation asserting that United States Marines eat more that typical Australian soldiers, and therefore strain sewage systems more, and argued that the Americans should pay more of the costs of improving wastewater lines on military bases.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

100 Days


True, 100 days are not enough to evaluate a presidency — but they may be enough to evaluate a president, by his own standards if by none other.  Donald Tr*mp has just one motivator: winning.  This is different from the broader definition of success because winning always must be accomplished at the expense of another.  You can't be a winner without a loser.

So far, Tr*mp has chalked up an impressive series of losses to refugees, in the courts, and a rather stunning loss to Barack Obama, whose Affordable Care Act stubbornly survives.  The latest effort at repeal might make it through the House, but the Senate is a different matter.

If Tr*mp's campaign promise to uproot the establishment ever was serious, it is clear that the establishment has won.  Perhaps his failure to fill many government posts makes the swamp a bit more shallow, but its miasma is no less foul.  The usual moneyed power brokers remain just as entrenched as ever, if not more so — and his recent PowerPoint slide posing as a "tax plan" suggests they have nothing to fear from Tr*mpian "populism."

In foreign policy, it took Xi Jinping ten minutes to revamp Tr*mp's attitude toward China.  Trudeau and Peña Nieto took about that long to reverse the "master negotiator's" dismissal of NAFTA.  Let's hope he doesn't have a sit-down with Kim Jung Un.

If there is a "loser" to date, it is the environment.  The rollback of rules and regulations to protect public lands and slow the rate of climate change for the benefit of extractive industries may represent, in Tr*mp's narrow mind, a "victory" over Obama – or Al Gore – or Woodsy Owl.  Who knows?  We only can hope that Our President's irrepressible incompetence will minimize the damage done.

Monday, April 17, 2017

North Korea


So Pence has been rattling Tr*mp's saber in another exercise in ball-swinging as foreign policy.  Sad to say, there are those in Washington dumb enough to think that may be an effective strategy.  Far more, I suspect, are not so optimistic.

Lots of Republicans are happy to revel in the short-term political popularity that chest-thumping inevitably elicits from all too many Americans, and plenty of Democrats just wish it were Hillary tweaking Kim Jong-un's button nose.  Wiser heads, though — people who actually have been paying attention since Kim came to power at the end of 2011 — are aware of a few basic truths:

• Kim has absolutely no reason to give up his nuclear weapons, and only major concessions will persuade him to suspend development of his missile program.  He will not disarm.

• China cannot "control" Kim Jong-un.  North Korea is a greater threat to China than to the United States, and its economy already is so dreadful that more Chinese sanctions cannot make it notably worse.

• The government of North Korea long has considered its citizens expendable in pursuit of ideological purity and political survival, so regime change only can be accomplished by total devastation — inevitably accompanied by similar devastation of South Korea and Japan, not to mention the American troops stationed there.

So what's to be done?  Not much.  We could hope for a political revolution, but those always begin with the middle class — and North Korea doesn't have one.  Anyway, Kim is enormously popular with his people, having elevated populism to levels Tr*mp only can dream about.

We could hope for a coup d'etat, but Kim started his political career by killing his uncle and anybody else in his government who might threaten his control.  Recently, he even took the trouble to eliminate his largely innocuous half-brother.

So here's an admittedly outlandish idea: we could work to fully integrate North Korea into the world system of trade, elevating living standards and raising popular expectations.  Interdependence works a lot better than sanctions when it comes to drawing a rogue nation into the international community — and at this point, it's the only strategy we haven't tried.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Presidential Powers


"What I do," said Our President, "is authorize my army."  Presumably, this follows consultation with "my generals."  L'état, c'est moi.


Tomorrow, another president who shares that attitude expects to formalize that same relationship with the state he leads.  Turkey will go to the polls to decide whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan may legally assert presidential powers that will serve to legitimize his authoritarian rule.  It is very probable that his referendum will succeed: according to international monitors, he has stacked the deck in his favor.  He has muzzled the press, arrested opposition leaders, and led a massive purge of potential adversaries from positions of influence — down to the level of schoolteachers.

In truth, though, his suppression of opposition may not have been necessary.  Most Turks, like most Americans, vote ideologically rather than rationally.  Conservative Muslims, Erdogan's "base voters," are more impressed by the symbolic value of the enormous new mosque under construction on an Istanbul hilltop than the potential for loss of personal freedoms or estrangement from NATO and the European Union.  Are conservative Christians in the United States any less impervious to reality? 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Why Tr*mp Attacked Syria


It should be obvious why Tr*mp ordered the attack on Syria: because Obama didn't.

More than anything, it was an exercise in ball-swinging.  Obama, the effete intellectual, responded to the crossing of his "red line" by enlisting Russian cooperation to negotiate the removal and destruction of 600 metric tons of chemical weapons.  It was an effective response, but sorely lacking in theatrical machismo.  Real men respond with cruise missiles.

The bombing of one of Assad's airfields offered emotional satisfaction to many, in both parties.  Still, there were a few effete intellectuals who noticed that the action was clearly illegal: the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (PL107-40), used by both Bush and Obama to justify military action, requires at least a hint of a connection between the people being targeted and the 9/11 attack.  The Assad regime is fighting against al-Nusra and IS.

What next?  Nobody knows, almost certainly including Tr*mp and his generals.  Congress has been ducking blame for America's military involvements since 2002, but maybe it's time for those with the "Power... To declare War" to accept their Constitutional responsibility.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ethics


Sure, the USofA has always been plutocratic, but out and out kleptocracy is looking more and more likely.  With Tr*mp, the Kushners, DeVos, Mnuchin, Ross, and a long list of others, it's the richest administration in history.  So, how much can they steal?

We've had big money in the Executive Branch before, or course — poor people don't find their way into the upper reaches of power — but the ethical situation in Tr*mpland is especially strained.  Many of the Tr*mpistas would have us believe that giving over active control of their business interests should satisfy ethics requirements.  That would make sense if we were worried about them using their businesses to benefit the government.

That's not the problem.  As long as they own those businesses, their actions can benefit those businesses.  It really doesn't matter whether management is by close associates or total strangers if government action can boost corporate profits.  Donald Jr. and Eric are no more an ethical problem than some random managers hired off monster.com.

* * * * * * *
Speaking of ethics, Flynn's request for immunity probably is intended to avoid legal liability for shady and unreported business his company conducted with both Russia and Turkey.  I doubt it has anything to do with "the Russian connection" to the election.  Somebody on the Tr*mp team would have been smart enough to realize you don't assign delicate, illegal operations to an insane clown.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

House Divided


 The Freedom Caucus, by making the thoroughly odious the enemy of the merely malevolent, is said to have nailed shut the coffin of Ryancare.  Impressively, the renegade Republicans stayed ideologically pure, resisting the temptation to give the rich a major tax cut and screw over millions of poorer folk who benefit from the expansion of Medicaid.  One wonders if the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist regret financing Tea Party primary challenges against more "moderate" Republicans.  (John Boehner, deposed by those same ideologues, must be smirking pretty hard today.)

In truth, though, the Ryan bill would have had a hard time even without the Republican schism.  It was pure Reaganomics, and despite compulsory genuflection at the shrine of Saint Ronnie, there are Republicans who understand it's not the 1980s anymore — and everyone can see that Donald is a far cry from Ronald.

Well, on to tax reform!  Sadly for Ryan, he was counting on the tax cuts from the failed health bill to make the numbers look vaguely reasonable in his tax package.  There's also quite a bit of division among his party's corporate contributors over those ideas for boosting exports and making imports more expensive.  There could be more chaos on the Hill forthwith.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Nobamacare



Don't count on conservative "opponents" to torpedo the Ryan plan for ending Obamacare.  The Freedom Caucus is making noise, but at the heart of the current proposal is a goal dear to the far right: the destruction of Medicaid.

Most Americans who have health insurance enjoy it as an employee benefit, and are entirely indifferent to the cost of purchasing their own.  Nevertheless, the insurance exchanges got most of the attention in debates over the ACA — even though it was the law's expansion of Medicaid that was most significant in bringing health care to millions who lacked it.  The Republican "Patient's Choice Act" will not merely eliminate Medicaid for those enrolled in the expansion, but create a system of block grants to the states that will destroy the program entirely.

The single most important goal of the Obamacare repeal, like virtually every other piece of Republican legislation since Reagan, is to cut taxes on the rich.  Finding the money to do that inevitably involves reducing benefits for everybody else.  Ending Medicaid — which pays for half the babies born in the United States and half the elderly in nursing homes — uses a lot of money that otherwise might be lining rich people's pockets.  Sad.

The Patient's "Choice" Act will give poor patients a "choice" between medicine and food.  The chief hope for its failure is defections by Republican senators from states where Medicaid was expanded under the ACA, and where its elimination may do some real political damage.  Those senators now are working hard to figure out just how much damage might be done, and how well that damage might be offset by the gratitude of wealthy donors.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tapping the Tower


Colbert called it "truthiness" — people believe things that feel like they ought to be true.  To those who distrust and despise Obama, the idea that he ordered communications tapped at Tr*mp Tower prior to the election is a perfect fit, and that is what sucked Our President down his latest rabbit hole.  He, himself, is no less impressionable than his "base."

I read the Breitbart report on the Mark Levin conspiracy theory that seems to have inspired the tweetstorm that initiated the latest political crisis. Breitbart makes Levin more "credible" by tacking on a time line.  The time line offers no actual evidence, but it looks like evidence.  For truthiness, that's good enough.  The proverbial fan was well-spattered at 7AM.


Congressional Republicans, some of whom are rational, had to respond — and Congressional investigations, which frequently stretch on until their original focus is forgotten, are the most rational course of action under the circumstances.  (Democrats are not the only ones struggling to survive the Tr*mp presidency.)  This latest bit of executive irrationality, though, leaves an extremely large lump under the carpet, and Democratic glee seems well justified.

In the meanwhile, though, Russian government interference in the recent election will be investigated by the very same committees investigating the "breach" of Tr*mp Tower, and it wouldn't hurt to remember that we haven't seen the evidence for that either — we base our belief on the "authority" of the intelligence agencies.  Okay, those agencies are more authoritative than Mark Levin — and anyway, it just feels right.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Regarding Jeff Sessions



We heard the question, we heard the answer, and no matter how hard Sean Spicer and Michael Mukasey and Paul Ryan try to spin it, it's clear that Sessions lied.  Does it really matter?

They couldn't get Al Capone for bootlegging, much less murder, but they got him for tax evasion — and that was good enough.  Jeff Sessions can get away with being a fascist; but if we can dump him for being a liar, that's good enough too.

Just before "the Russian connection" hit the news, Sessions was making something less of a stir for deciding the Justice Department no longer had to investigate racist police departments, nor enforce agreements already secured by Loretta Lynch to alleviate abusive practices by police in Baltimore and Chicago.  For Sessions (and for Tr*mp as well), the problem is that police haven't been aggressive enough.  Sessions also has shown no interest in protecting anybody's civil rights, unless you count the "religious rights" of Bible bigots to discriminate against the LGBT.  He will not prosecute infringements of voting rights, and backs the same old "states' rights" arguments that justified Jim Crow.

Speaking of fascism, Tr*mp's "VOICE" program, which will publicize crimes committed specifically by immigrants, is chillingly reminiscent of Hitler's program to publicize crimes committed specifically by Jews. Fascists always need an "enemy within" to justify authoritarian overreach; and as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would observe if he were here today, after they come for the immigrants, they'll be coming for you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Briefly


Health Care
Tr*mp says, "I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject.  Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated."  Nobody?  Well, duh!

Voter Suppression
Our President had to stock his Cabinet with plutocrats, presumably because he just couldn't find enough wingnut ideologues — but he does have unreconstructed Confederate warrior Jeff Sessions, who has dropped the government's argument that the Texas voter ID law was designed to suppress minority voting.  Can the other plaintiffs win without the backing of the Justice Department?  We'll see.

Federal Budget
Congress never pays much attention to presidential budget proposals, so we can ignore Tr*mp's speech and just wait for Paul Ryan.  We are most likely to see yet another attempt at implementing supply-side economics, and need only look to Kansas to see how well that works.

Military Spending
It is obvious to the simple-minded that more military spending will "make America stronger" — except that it won't.  Fortunately, this particularly dumb idea would have to be funded with cuts to enough programs popular in the various states to ensure it won't happen.

Antisemitism
The cemetery vandalism will turn out to be the work of drunken young men, possibly wearing red caps; and the bomb threats not part of any organized plot, but individual acts inspired on 4chan or by the Daily Stormer.  This doesn't make the problem any less serious: antisemitism is an inevitable accompaniment to any kind of xenophobia, and enough empty threats might inspire some demented individual to attempt a real bombing.

* * *
Update (11PM): Well, he gave the campaign speech again.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Distractor-in-Chief


Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain!

Our President, like much of his "base," is profoundly ignorant.  Completely out of his depth, he will do what he must to maintain his pose as "the most powerful man in the world" — and any effort by progressives to remove him from office is the equivalent of trying to fire the Aflac Duck.

Behind the curtain are most of the usual suspects, jostling a bit, but largely willing to accommodate each other.  Congress is finding new ways to further enrich the plutocrats with tax cuts and banking deregulation, the religious right has put dibs on the courts, fossil fuel has Scott Pruitt, the white supremacists have Jeff Sessions, and the more generalized forces of darkness have Steve Bannon serving as Tr*mp's brain.

Yes, importers and exporters will come into conflict over trade policy, big agriculture will fight threats to its pool of slave labor, and foreign policy may devolve even further into chaos, but the "stakeholders" in the Tr*mp presidency largely will be gratified.  The only obstruction they might face is Tr*mp, whose need for approval and approbation just might gum up the political machine.

If anybody manages to force Tr*mp out of power, it won't be the left.  It is abundantly clear that most Republicans would be overjoyed if an opportunity arose to have Mike Pence in the Oval Office instead of their temperamental figurehead, but they don't have a way to accomplish that.  Trump is their most effective pitchman since Reagan — but unlike Reagan, he can't stick to the script.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dysfunction Junction


By any rational standard, yesterday's Tr*mp news conference was bizarre — but what about by an irrational standard?  Was the Huckster-in-Chief effective?  From the perspective of his base, most likely he was.

In the meanwhile, the chaos has been chaotic indeed.  The Michael Flynn debacle was predictable, given the former general's in-your-face lunacy; and the "extreme vetting" proposed for immigrants apparently was not in place for a Labor Secretary nominee outed as a wife beater by Oprah.  Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been wrestling with Tr*mpian pronouncements that keep sandbagging their legislative plans.

Tr*mp's admission that he didn't exactly read the Executive Order naming Steve Bannon to the NSC would have been breathtaking had it not been lost in the incompetent planning and execution of his seven-country refugee ban; and his aggrieved attacks on the court system are alienating every judge in the country, probably including Neil Goresuch.

Nevertheless, the Tr*mp "brand" remains strong among his supporters (even though they can't afford to buy Ivanka's merchandise), and I'm sure they enjoyed yesterday's attacks on the press immensely.  Okay, I know I'm supposed to show empathy for the red-hat crew.  I'm trying to empathize, really I am.  Does pity count?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Turning Points


One great consolation of senescence is that the memory of hard times past survives.  While younger people think of Tr*mpism as unprecedented, I have not forgotten "the Reagan Revolution."

Reagan conspicuously inaugurated his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964.  He went on to slash taxes on the rich, decimate the labor movement, deregulate banking and industry, cripple environmental regulation, demean feminism, ignore the AIDS epidemic, shred the social safety net, double the military budget, finance third-world despots and their death squads, and preside over the glorification of greed.  His "base" was virtually indistinguishable from Tr*mp's: working class whites threatened by socioeconomic change.  Tr*mpian appeals to nationalism and the restoration of an imagined golden age — once known as "Morning in America" — inspire in this old man a powerful sense of déjà vu.

Reagan did immense damage; and one institution that suffered spectacularly was the Democratic Party.  Democrats responded to America's rightward lurch by empowering the Democratic Leadership Council, so-called "centrists" who led the party's stampede to the right during the Clinton years.  Only by comparison with Bill Clinton can Barack Obama be considered "progressive."  Obama came to power surrounded by the same Robert Rubin acolytes who guided Clinton era economics, and his social policy echoed rather than led cultural change that already was underway.  In the meanwhile, Republicans crippled Democratic power in Congress and in the States.

Right now, Democrats are confronting an existential choice: either continue the disastrous course of the Clintonian establishment, or line up behind populist progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Keith Ellison.  The next Chair of the Democratic National Committee will be elected at the DNC's winter meeting, February 23–26.  The leading candidates are the progressive wing's Keith Ellison and the establishment's Thomas Perez.

Only a genuinely progressive agenda can reclaim the support of the "Reagan Democrats" and revitalize the Democratic Party.  I encourage serious activists to put aside their Sharpies and poster board long enough to make personal contact with Democratic leaders in their localities, and demand support for Ellison.  "More of the same" no longer is a viable option.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Perils of Religious Extremism


Religious extremists are threatening our American way of life.  They are not immigrants: they are homegrown.  They are Christians.

Supreme Court candidate Neil M. Gorsuch found in favor of the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs, allowing private employers to claim religious beliefs as justification for denying the legal rights of their employees.  He can be counted on to let business owners discriminate against any customers who don't meet their "moral standards."  Opposition to abortion, of course, was a precondition for his nomination.

Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, supports school vouchers — long a goal of religious institutions seeking government subsidies for their indoctrination of the young.  She supports taxpayer funding for "Christian Academies" that disparage science, nurture authoritarian mindsets, and provide a convenient escape from integrated public schools.  Just add Jerry Falwell Jr. to direct the accreditation of for-profit colleges, like the vast online cash cow milked by his own Liberty University, and the educational Apocalypse is complete.

At yesterday's National Prayer Breakfast, Tr*mp promised to overturn the Johnson Amendment, which has forbidden political activity by churches since the Eisenhower administration.  Granted, the churches already actively endorse candidates without much government interference, but overturning Johnson would free those tax exempt organizations to spend tax deductible contributions on political campaigns.

Tr*mp's moral compass points unerringly up his own ass, but he has Pence to show him the way.  Religious bigots are much too important a segment of the bigot population for any right wing demagogue to ignore.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Batshit Crazy


The whirlwind of lunacy emerging from the Oval Office since the inauguration has been nearly overwhelming, but one unifying principal (-al, not -le) has emerged, and his name is Stephen K. Bannon.  Now elevated to a leading role on the National Security Council, at the expense of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head white nationalist and dispenser of agitprop appears to be firmly in charge of the Tr*mp administration.

It's time to ignore the Imperial Tweets in favor of those tooled leather folders from which Our President so enjoys displaying his flamboyant signature.  The tweets are just little bursts of fandom for Bill O'Reilly (or, in the case of torture, the fictional Jack Bauer) — the leatherbound executive orders come straight from the twisted brain of Bannon and his not-especially-comic sidekick, policy chief Stephen Miller.

Fortunately, those executive orders are not being ignored.  The immigration ban drew strong criticism not only from traditional progressive quarters, but from essential Republican power brokers like the Koch brothers.  While it's traditional for a new administration to begin with a flurry of executive orders aimed at gratifying its base of support (like the inevitable Mexico City Policy/Global Gag Rule), Tr*mp seems to be tossing just a little too much red meat to his ravening hoards.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tr*mp Won the Popular Vote!


I figured I'd lead with a lie, in honor of Our New President.  The sad part is that the poor, self-deluded asshole probably believes it.

I attended the Women's March in Philadelphia on Saturday, and was especially pleased to see representatives of a wide variety of dissenting groups.  The women took the lead, but there were plenty of others, including environmentalists, free speech advocates, LGBT rights advocates, Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights activists, and more.  It may be that the Tr*mp presidency will do more to unite progressives than a Clinton victory could have accomplished.

It's about time.

There has been a lot of talk about "identity politics" lately.  Now we have a real opportunity to bring disparate groups together into a mass movement, rather than just assembling the factions into faux unity for the sake of an election.  Lip service to "progressive politics" is not enough.  We have to actively support each other, in letters to Congress, mass demonstrations, public outreach, and every other conceivable means to bring about real and lasting change.  Let's get started!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Question of Legitimacy


A leader is politically legitimate when citizens accept his right to lead them.  They willingly cooperate, accepting his decisions even when they disagree, because they trust his intentions will be in accord with their nation's broadly accepted laws and practices.

Congressman John Lewis will not be attending the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony on Friday because he believes the incoming President is not legitimate.  Lewis cites illegitimate means the President-elect's campaign used to secure his victory — but that is not the test of legitimacy.  What matters is whether or not the mass of the American public accepts that Tr*mp is entitled to lead.  It is not a matter of how he achieved office, but of how willing Americans are to follow his leadership.

A significant minority of the American public never granted legitimacy to Barack Obama.  They were emotionally incapable of accepting the leadership of a black intellectual, so were willing to believe he was a foreign-born socialist Muslim  A recalcitrant Republican Congress acted as if that minority's misguided beliefs were true — but Obama had sufficient public support to guide the direction of the country through eight years in office despite bitter opposition.

Whether Tr*mp will enjoy that level of legitimacy remains to be seen.  His significant deficit in the popular vote is working against him, as well as his bizarre affection for Vladimir Putin — but the emotional element is key.  To many Americans, his innate persona inspires feelings ranging from distaste to utter contempt.

It is true that most people just make do with whatever government they get, so many authoritarian governments manage to persist by coercive repression of a small number of vocal opponents.  If the opposition is sufficiently vigorous, though, even those governments fail.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

That Dossier

Invited by Buzzfeed to judge for myself, I slogged through the 35 pages (some blank) of opposition "research" on Donald Tr*mp. It was less than enlightening.

For one thing, there is nothing to indicate that former MI6 agent Christopher Steele had more than a single "informant" with connections to the Kremlin, no way to decide if said informant was at all dependable, and no way to distinguish between genuine intelligence and disinformation.  Protestations by central figure Michael Cohen notwithstanding, there is no way to know whether or not the Tr*mp lawyer was in Prague at the key times: he was inside the Schengen Area of the EU, and border crossings need not have been noted on his passport.

As for the "Golden Shower" allegation, the document does not claim the self-described germophobe actually was on the bed formerly used by the Obamas when it was anointed by Russian hookers.  Even so, the scene described is suspect.  Had Tr*mp wished to dishonor the Obamas by wetting the bed they had used, wouldn't you think it would have been more satisfying to pee on it himself?

Still, it seems probable that the source for the dossier was Russian, and almost certainly a Kremlin insider — but whose side was s/he on?  Tr*mp will become the US President with the least political legitimacy since John Quincy Adams was awarded the office by the House of Representatives in 1825.  Did the Russians have reason to further delegitimatize him?

Probably.  Driving a wedge between Tr*mp supporters and establishment Republicans discourages any concerted action at all by the US government, leaving openings for international machinations by Russia to go entirely unopposed, and further weakening the confidence of Americans in their government — confidence which already is scraping bottom.

The dossier was "all over Washington" well before the election.  Who was the original leaker, prior to the Buzzfeed publication?  It just might have been the Russians.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Corruption


In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invalidated most of India's cash in an effort to fight corruption.  Many believe his attempt at a cure may be more devastating than the admittedly severe disease, but it certainly is a valiant attempt.

In the United States, many believe that our President-elect will not be tempted to use his office to further enrich himself because "he's already rich."  Well, he was born rich, and had more money, decades ago, than you and I could spend in a lifetime — but somehow that didn't slow his pursuit of lots more.  Becoming President is not likely to change his behavior.

A little thing like the Emoluments Clause won't stand in his way.  A Republican Congress is not about to impeach and convict a Republican president for a little bit of self-dealing — nor, for that matter, a lot of self-dealing.  We can expect revisions to the tax code to make the party's benevolent billionaires even richer, at the expense of the rest of us.  We can expect windfalls for military contractors, the banking industry, any company that takes advantage of "public-private partnership" opportunities and, of course, property developers.

Deficit hawks will insist such expenditures be "paid for" with spending cuts in other areas.  The most "obvious" places for cuts already are being eyed hungrily by GOP ideologues: environmental protection, health care (including Medicare and Medicaid), Social Security, the tattered remains of the rest of the social safety net, and regulatory enforcement.

Anybody who expects our President-elect to start behaving like a "normal" president when he takes office is even more delusional than he is.