Friday, December 15, 2017

Briefs

The Tax Bill
 I guess there never were any real deficit hawks, and apparently no Republican is willing to stand in the way of what is best described as an economic coup d'etat: a massive transfer of wealth from those who work to those who profit from investments.  Action to cut social safety net programs is likely to come quite soon: cuts may not be possible after the midterm elections.

Alabama
While Roy Moore's appetite for young girls certainly played a role in his defeat, his racism may have proven the decisive factor.  Democrats have taken black voters for granted for too long, but outreach to typically disinterested or fatalistic black voters in Alabama made the Jones victory possible.  Perhaps Democratic leaders will recognize that pandering to the racially resentful Rust Belt children of Reagan Democrats is not the best way to win elections.

R.I.P. Net Neutrality
Since most broadband access in the US must be purchased from monopolies or duopolies, Ajit Pai's free market promises of investment and innovation are just the usual hypocritical Republican blather in service to the plutocrats.  Changes won't come immediately, but drawing on their experience providing cable TV, ISPs can be expected to nickle and dime us into significantly more expensive internet access over time.

Impeachment
If the Democrats can win the House in 2018, the president could be impeached; albeit not convicted by two-thirds of the Senate.  It certainly would exacerbate Our President's paranoid tendencies. leading to even more outrageous outbursts that would damage his party — but do we really want him to be more paranoid?  North Korea will still have its nukes, you know...

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Jerusalem: Why now?


Are you ready for the end of the world?  The core voters of Tr*mp's base not only are ready, they can't wait!

Christian fundamentalists have eagerly been anticipating the onset of the Apocalypse at least since 1947, when the creation of the state of Israel began to fulfill one of its preconditions: the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.  When the End of the World arrives, they expect to be "raptured" straight to heaven, while the other 90% of the world's population is relegated to eternal damnation.  That makes Tr*mp's recognition of Jewish suzerainty over the "Holy City" a very encouraging development.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, Roy Moore's campaign still is threatened.  For Moore to win, substantial numbers of Alabamian Christian conservatives will have to choke back the vomit and vote for a child molester.  Tr*mp's recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel is a reminder to support their favorite President's agenda by electing his fellow sexual predator — and Moore's vote may be required to pass the tax bill.

At the same time, Tr*mp is providing a much-needed political boost to Bibi Netanyahu, who has been fighting corruption charges; and, certainly, moving our embassy to Jerusalem will make Sheldon Adelson happy.  All in all, it was a smart political move, especially since most of America doesn't care one way or the other.  Hopefully, the ensuing chaos will be confined largely to the Middle East.  If not, well...  I'll see you in Hell.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Bull Market


The American economy really doesn't need the stimulus of a tax cut right now – but it does need a redistribution of wealth that is the exact opposite of what the Republicans are doing with their tax bill.  Don't worry though!  Stock values will continue to rise because inequality is really good for the market.

Corporate America has been quite profitable for years now, but new investments to expand production remain rare.  That's because corporate America has found "better" uses for its money.  With added wealth from tax savings, we can expect even more stock buybacks, more monopolistic mergers and acquisitions, and higher dividends paid.  All of those make stocks more valuable — but even so, most 401Ks still won't add up to enough to finance a worker's retirement.

Since the tax bill increases the deficit and the debt, the next "obvious" step is to reduce them with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs that might come in handy even before your 401K is used up — and cuts to entitlements just might push the markets even higher.

 The temporary cuts to taxes on some less lofty incomes might create some temporary consumer demand; but short-term demand won't justify new investment and expanded production, and producers won't bet on the cuts being extended.  When demand falls again with the consumer's disposable income, corporate managers will respond with more stock buybacks.  The markets won't suffer — because the transfer of wealth will be complete.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On sexual harassment


I have absolutely nothing to add to this brilliant analysis by Stephen Marche, which recently appeared in The New York Times:


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tr*mp to Kurds: F*ck you


So, the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks sat down in a room to "resolve" the civil war in Syria.  Needless to say, the chief objective of the Russians and the Iranians is to keep Bashir al-Assad in power.  Turkey, a purported NATO "ally," is anxious to cooperate with Iran to achieve its own most cherished goal: suppression of the Kurds.

The Kurds have been America's only dependable ally in both Syria and Iraq, and were instrumental in reclaiming territory from the Islamic State.  They are the only force now standing in the way of Assad exercising complete control over Syria.  According to the Washington Post, when Turkish strongman Recip Tayyip Erdogan asked Tr*mp to stop providing arms to the Syrian Kurds, Tr*mp's response was, "Sure, buddy!  Anything for a pal!"

Tr*mp, of course, admires Erdogan's style of leadership; but America's stubborn loyalty to an undeniably autocratic Erdogan seems to have just one real objective: maintaining the US presence at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.  To do that, both the Administration and military leaders seem willing to empower both Iran and Russia.  Iranian client Hezbollah appears to have solidified control over Lebanon, Iranian ties to the al-Abadi regime in Iraq are stronger than ever, and we can assume Russia's military occupation of Syria will expand: without US support, Kurdish control of northern Syria is doomed.

Now that Erdogan has destroyed the secular legacy of Ataturk, the Kurds are the only ones in the region willing to keep government separate from the practice of Islam; and even though Turkey is Sunni and Iran is Shi'a, Erdogan and Rouhani see no impediment to uniting against the Kurdish "threat."  Haider al-Abadi will happily join the club, anxious to gain control of Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.  America's fourteen-year investment of lives and money in Iraq will have been entirely wasted.

The Kurds, after a century of oppression, deserve to have an independent homeland; and it is in the best interests of the US that they succeed in their quest.  Deserting them now only means more regional power for Russia and Iran, and diminished US influence in the Middle East.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Pressing Concern


The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been giving some thought to the disturbing fact that Donald Tr*mp has the power to order a nuclear first strike against North Korea — or, perhaps, Venezuela or Iran or Nigeria (having confused it with Niger.)  Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts has proposed legislation that would limit that power to attacks on countries upon which Congress had declared war.

Don't hold your breath awaiting passage.

Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) protects the United States against nuclear attack just as well today as it did when the Soviets first acquired the bomb — better, since now we can respond with submarine-based missiles even if our ground-based capacity is destroyed in a first strike.  That also means no other country would risk involvement should Our President get it into his head to lob one at Pyongyang.  Kim Jong-un really does need his own bombs and delivery system.

The utility and safety of our submarine-based capacity also makes our ground-based missiles unnecessary and obsolete.  It certainly is not worth replacing them, as proposed, at a cost of $100 billion.  The submarines also make it possible to delay a response to an attack — long enough so that the decision does not have to be made by one person.  The choice to engage in nuclear war, at the very least, should be a decision by a nonpartisan group of trusted individuals.

Yesterday, Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, said he would disobey an "illegal order" from the President to launch a first strike.  It's a nice sentiment, but the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs produces plenty of graduates who are both military leaders and Christians eagerly awaiting the Apocalypse.  No matter what Hyten would do, somebody would obey joyfully if an apocalyptic command came from Tr*mp.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Can the Middle East get even worse?


Sure it can — and the cheerful young man you see here is just the one to bring that about.  Now apparently in complete control of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman already has exacerbated regional turmoil, and promises to do more.

For the past four decades, Saudi Arabia was stabilized by oil revenues, religious authority, and gerontocracy.  MbS, as he's known, aims for continued stability, with special emphasis on the stability of monarchical rule.  He very much enjoys being the man in charge — of everything.

Admittedly, keeping Saudi Arabia stable will not be simple for anybody, direct descendant of Ibn Saud or not.  MbS needs to diversify the national economy away from oil and gas while engaged in a complex contest for power with Islamic authorities.  Ultraconservative Islam has been the foundation of his family's rule, but also its most significant rival for power.  Attempts to relax the Kingdom's medieval interpretation of Sharia Law are met with powerful opposition.

The greatest potential for making things "even worse," though, arises from MbS's efforts against regional rival Iran.  After over two years of war crimes in Yemen (with US collusion) and spending many times what Iranians give Houthi rebels, he has produced what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth, and no sign of resolution of the conflict.

Nobody doubts considerable Saudi pressure on Saad Hariri when he announced his resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon from Riyadh, nor that the move was intended to delegitimize Iranian ally Hezbollah's role in Lebanese government.  Apparently, MbS thought the pleasure of sticking a finger in Iran's eye was worth the risk of the Syrian Civil War spilling over the border into Lebanon.

The boycott and blockade of Qatar continues, punishing the Qataris for the sin of conducting diplomacy with Iran, with which they share vast natural gas reserves under the Persian Gulf.  The pure, spiteful pique involved is positively Tr*mpian.

Actually, it was just after a sleepover party with First Boy Jared Kushner that MbS seized all police power for himself and had about two hundred potential rivals arrested, including the oft-mentioned eleven princes.  The White House is quite fond of MbS, who exercises the kind of arbitrary authority Our President wishes he could have for himself.  In return for American support, we can expect MbS to weigh in on upcoming Israeli-Palestinian "negotiations," pressuring the Palestinians to accept whatever Bibi deigns to offer them.  (The Tr*mp "negotiating team" consists of three Orthodox Jews and a Coptic Christian.)

Saudi Arabia has potential as a manufacturing center because of its energy resources — including a huge and uninterrupted supply of solar when the oil runs out.  All MbS will need is a reliable pool of cheap labor.  Saudi men are unlikely to take those jobs, so "progress" in allowing women to work outside the home is a strong possibility, provided religious authorities can be brought along.  Failing that, there are bound to be plenty of impoverished Palestinians in the neighborhood.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Tax Plan

It was never a convincing argument, but now we're hearing it again: reduce their tax load, and businesses will create more jobs and pay more in salaries.  It's never happened, and it never will.

Businesses expand based on increased demand for their products; demand increases when consumers (read workers) have more money to spend.  In the absence of increased demand, businesses sink extra cash into stock buybacks, shareholder dividends, and executive bonuses.

Right now, American corporations have a lot of extra cash just sloshing around, providing no economic stimulus at all.  They don't need more cash; they need more affluent customers.  The Republican tax plan may provide a fleeting infusion of cash into some middle-class wallets, but most of the $1.5 trillion addition to the national debt will wind up in the pockets of the very rich — as usual.

Still, there are some features of the plan that make good economic sense: most notably, the cap on mortgage interest deductions.  It is hard to justify subsidizing the McMansions of the "comfortably well-off," their claims to middle-class status notwithstanding.  Builders will complain – McMansions are much more profitable than the kinds of homes families earning less than six figures might afford – but an impetus for builders to provide more affordable starter homes and fewer rococo monstrosities is long overdue.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Shorts

The Future of the Fed
Credit for recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 belongs almost exclusively to the Federal Reserve.  The fiscal stimulus Obama managed to extract from Congress was just barely large enough to register, so monetary policy had to be stretched beyond its previous limits.  Led by Bernanke and Yellen, the Fed had to use unorthodox mens to engineer our long, slow recovery.

Now, the future of the Fed is in the short-fingered hands of the author of The Art of the Bankruptcy.  His personal swamp of banker-advisors care only about curtailing the Fed's regulatory powers, and with four open positions on the Fed's seven-member Board of Governors, there is a strong possibility that technocratic non-partisanship could be swept away.

Right now, most attention is focsed on who will serve as Chairperson.  Since the very competent Janet Yellen was named to the post by Obama, and Tr*mp is temperamentally incapable of letting anything Obama did stay in place, she won't be reappointed.  That leaves candidates John B. Taylor, who would like nothing better than to destroy the institution entirely, and Jerome H. Powell, who would be content merely to destroy the Fed's regulatory function.  The smart money is on Powell, the "compromise" candidate.

The Opiate "Emergency"
Our President has it all figured out, once again demonstrating just how smart he is: if nobody ever started using opiates, nobody ever would become an addict!  The obvious means to achieve that goal is an advertising campaign.  Let's see, we'll need a really clever and original catchphrase.  Oh, I've got it!  We can use Just Say No!

Clearly, no Federal money can be spent on addressing the opiate crisis: it's hard enough already coming up with ways to offset the costs of tax cuts for the rich, and the Good People really have little interest in helping a bunch of junkies — even if most of them are white.  Hey, does anybody remember where we stashed those promos from Nancy Reagan?  It's time to run them again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Briefs

"Not my fault"
He still can't find Niger on a map, and still doesn't know it's different from Nigeria, but that wasn't the problem.  "Why can't they give their kids names someone can remember, Kelly?  Tell me that!"

NAFTA
It's a real dilemma when the guy who wants to slash your taxes also insists on screwing up your supply chains and demolishing your agricultural exports — not to mention the little problem of a five-year renewable trade agreement being the same as no trade agreement at all.

Tax Reform
Reagan exploded the deficit and the debt, so Republicans just might be willing to do it again to satisfy their wealthy patrons.  With mortgage interest, charity, and 401K deductions proclaimed "safe," and elimination of the deductions for state and local taxes on thin ice, the "deficit hawks" might have to reveal themselves as the hypocrites they've been all along.

Sexual Politics
Predatory behavior by powerful men may suffer a setback in light of scandals in Hollywood, the tech sector, and at Fox News, but America still has a long way to go to overcome its stubborn belief in female inequality.  Who's going to "reform" the religious right?  Mike Pence?

The Republican "Rebels"
It would be nice if some Republicans who weren't about to retire (or die) were willing to point out some of their nominal leader's glaring flaws, but things may have to get a lot worse before that happens.  Self-interest continues to outweigh the interests of their party or their country.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Representative Government?


The sock puppet you see here is Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York's 1st Congressional District, the east end of Long Island.  I live there.

Zeldin was elected in our Tr*mp-leaning district by a collection of xenophobes afraid of our Latino immigrants, religious bigots afraid of our homosexuals, and rich people who just don't want any of their money spent on anybody who isn't them.  Based on his voting record in the House, he needn't worry about being "primaried" from the right. 

One might say Zeldin's supporters got what they wanted, but they're about to get something they won't like at all.  Long Islanders pay seriously high state and local taxes, and Zeldin soon will vote to make those taxes non-deductible.  Why?  Because Zeldin's party loyalty is absolute.  The people he "represents" don't matter.

Ours is a swing district, so if Democrats mount a competent campaign,  Zeldin's vote on taxes ought to cost him his seat in 2018.  Most congressional districts, though, are not swing districts: they are heavily gerrymandered "safe" districts whose "representatives" can safely ignore the needs of their voters.  Only the deep-pocketed donors who dictate party policy positions must be satisfied.

Voters in very different districts have very different needs.  If legislators were truly representative of those who send them to Washington, far more legislation would be the product of bargains, trade-offs, and compromise.  Today's extreme partisanship is a clear indicator that our democracy is broken.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Leaving his mark


Do you remember this guy?

He's Stephen Paddock — and in case you've forgotten, Stephen Paddock was the guy who brought an arsenal to his Las Vegas hotel room and shot all those people at the country music concert.  He would have been quite upset had he anticipated you would forget his name so quickly, consigning him to a broad category of "mass shooters."

I think I understand his supposedly mysterious motive: Paddock was 64, rapidly approaching that magical age of 65 when many men believe their lives are effectively over.  It's a time when we older gentlemen are likely to observe that our greatest accomplishments are behind us — and not especially memorable.  Most of us greet that observation with a shrug and a sigh.

Stephen Paddock's accomplishments at 64 actually were admirable.  Starting as a low-level postal clerk, he rose to become a comfortably wealthy landlord and investor who was enough of a high-roller to earn comps at various Nevada casinos.  He should have been satisfied with the arc of his life, but he was one of those poor suckers who found his late-life existential crisis especially irksome.

If you want to leave a mark on history, it's a lot easier to do it as a monster than as a hero or a saint.  All it takes is one especially heinous act (preferably record setting) to "win" your place in the books.

I can think of another old man with an unhealthy desire to leave his mark on the world.  He has no great regard for how he does so as long as he's the "winner" — and he's a man who controls a much larger arsenal than Stephen Paddock did.  Let's hope somebody can stop him from making his existential crisis into ours.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Guns again


It's no surprise that the NRA endorsed "regulating" the bump stock when you remember that the NRA doesn't lobby for "gun lovers" — it lobbies for gun manufacturers.  The bump stock isn't marketed by gun companies — it's an aftermarket add-on that provides no profits at all to the major players.

Don't feel sad for Slide Fire® or the other small businesses that produce these items, though.  Bump stocks were slow sellers until Stephen Paddock made them a must-have item for all the paranoids and toy soldiers who previously hadn't realized just how much they needed them.  Now they've sold out, and the aftermarket sellers have plenty of capital to invest in technology that legally can convert a shotgun into a bazooka.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Money Matters


“I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me. Believe me.”

Rule of thumb: every time Tr*mp says, "Believe me," he's lying.  The Republican tax plan, whatever it turns out to be, will be great for him.

At the moment, the tax and budget proposals are too vague for fiscal analysis — a big plus from the Republican perspective because that makes it impossible for the CBO or anybody else to estimate their real impact.  What is clear is that they depend on the same supply-side fairy tale that has failed to produce a happy ending since Arthur Laffer first drew his magical Laffer Curve back in 1974.

Despite the threat of immense budget deficits, the "deficit hawks" are silent — predictable, since they never really cared about deficits.  What really bothers them is the thought of government spending on anybody not already a multimillionaire.

Some proposals, like ending the inheritance tax, probably are included as "giveaways" to be "sacrificed" in order to get the big-ticket items, like the hyper-expensive tax cut for "pass-through" income.  Hopefully, though, there will be ample fractiousness among mega-rich factions to ensure that nothing at all gets done.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

More briefs


Chad?
Do you think Our President even knew Chad was a country before he signed that order barring its citizens? This time, it seems, the Administration will claim its Muslim ban is based purely on "security concerns" rather than religion, and adding Nicolás Maduro's in-laws and some mythical North Korean tourists to the list of personae non gratae is supposed to make the case stronger. Uh huh.

"Judge" Roy Moore
Confirming just who those people are in Tr*mp's base, Alabama gave the radical Christian extremist its Republican nomination for Senate over the garden-variety rabid reactionary.  Moore likes to be called "Judge Roy" to remind us of Judge Roy Bean, the legendary Texas Justice of the Peace who shared Moore's disregard for due process and civil rights

The NFL
Absolutely nobody seems to remember that those national anthem protests are supposed to be about unarmed black men killed by white policemen; and no matter what Our President says, it's not about patriotism either.  As usual, Tr*mp has made it all about Tr*mp.

"It's an island!"
Yeah, we know — but even though Governor Ricardo Rossello was so careful to stroke Tr*mp's ego in the days following the hurricane, the FEMA response in Puerto Rico has been dreadful.  Oh, right.  They speak "Mexican" down there.

And what if . . .
Suppose the deranged dotard really did try to start a nuclear war.  Would "his" generals let him do it, or would the USofA have its first military coup?  Think about it.  Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster would have lots of popular support, including from liberals.  Yikes!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Briefs



Graham-Cassidy
Why do some governors favor block grants even though their states will lose billions?  Given enough "flexibility," it lets them divert federal funds to influence peddling, pork barrel spending, and just plain theft.  The further the funds pass down the ladders from state to regional to local government, the greater the opportunities for corruption and abuse.

Tauntology
In the battle of the schoolyard bullies, "Rocket Man" pulled ahead when he called Our President "the mentally deranged US dotard."  To date, neither has referenced the other's mother.  Watch Twitter for further developments.

Kurdistan
When would be "the proper time" for the Iraqi Kurds to hold a referendum that will start them on the path toward statehood?  While the US might prefer to delay Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian outrage, the Kurds represent the best chance for a secular state in the Middle East; ideologically, their strongest commitment is to capitalism.

What Happened?
I've heard enough interviews with Hillary so that I feel no need to read the book.  Could things have been done differently?  Maybe.  Would it have made a difference?  Probably not.

Puerto Rico
"Recovery" from Marilyn most likely will consist of privatizing anything that might turn a profit for off-island investors — essentially a vast, neoliberal social experiment.  I suggest that all boricuas left on the island move to Alabama, register to vote, and take over the state, thereby finally achieving the full rights of US citizens.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Medicare for All?


It's obvious that Bernie's "Medicare for All" bill is not about to become law, but that doesn't make it an exercise in futility.  It is a means for ambitious Democrats to define themselves as progressive, not slaves to the party establishment.

The single greatest obstacle to national health insurance is not Republican or industry opposition – it is employer provided health coverage.  As long as most Americans have that, they will not be especially concerned for those who do not; so public pressure for national health insurance never will be sufficient to bring about change.

There must be a means to transition from employer provided insurance to public insurance – and the most direct route begins with allowing employers to purchase Medicare for their workers.  This "free-market" approach would put a government-run program in direct competition with private insurance.  Profit-free, Medicare should have a competitive advantage; and by introducing younger, healthier participants into its insurance pool, Medicare should become more economically viable.  The new money in the system also would make the prospect of future cuts in benefits or increased premiums less likely.

The impact on the private insurance industry would be gradual, as employers switched over.  Since Medicare is far from a "Cadillac" plan, many employers also would shop private markets for supplementary, further softening the impact on the industry.  Over time, there would be plenty of public pressure to improve the coverage that Medicare offers, and to offer Medicare as an option in the ACA insurance markets.

Once a majority of Americans already are covered by Medicare, it would be far easier to find support for universal coverage, paid for by a combination of individual and business taxes.  Here in the USofA, "creeping" socialism is the only kind that ever wins the race.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Shariah Law Advances in US


The anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks seemed like a good time for an update on religious extremism.  Even without those emails from your crazy uncle, you should know that fanatics are working tirelessly to warp the American legal system with their primitive beliefs.

Okay, it's not exactly "Shariah" because the religion involved isn't Islam, but the chief objectives of all those Abrahamic preachers are the same: the subjugation of women and the de-eroticization of sex.  Leading the American jihad are Evangelical Christians, aided and abetted by conservative Catholics and orthodox Jews.  With the ascendance of the Tr*mp Administration, they have attained unprecedented prominence and power.

Much like the rulers of Saudi Arabia, they know that women are temptresses who lead men into moral peril, and hence must be denied birth control and abortions as a means to regulate their unbridled lust.  Babies will keep them at home, ready to satisfy the physical needs of their husbands and unable to tempt upstanding men like Mike Pence into the sin of adultery.

Speaking of Mike Pence, homosexuals are even more threatening than women because their only motivations for sexual activity are animal lust and immoral gratification.  Worse yet, the transgendered may be especially adept at enticing Mike Pence good Christians into carnal sin.  The Holy Warriors are determined that vulnerable members of the armed forces and bakers of wedding cakes will be spared temptation.

Health and Human Services and the Justice Department have attracted the most attention so far, but the fanatics are in all departments: the drive for "school choice," for example, is a campaign for publicly funded religious education.  Religious extremists are pervasive in the Republican Party, at all levels of government, working to deprive the rest of us of out civil rights.

No local stonings nor autos-da-fé have been reported from Kansas or Alabama so far, but religious extremists enjoy close cooperation with the NRA.  They are extremely well-armed.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Silver Lining?


Is there an upside to having a President who is impatient, self-indulgent, intellectually lazy, easily frustrated, not terribly competent, and pathetically in need of love?

He sided with the Democrats on limiting the debt ceiling extension to only three months, and tying it to disaster relief.  Will Republicans in Congress go along?

He punted DACA to Congress, giving it six months to do something.  Will Congress do anything?

 Maybe.

For years now, we've watched the expansion of the imperial presidency.  We've watched as signing statements and executive orders have supplanted legislation while Congressional gridlock took root and metastasized.  Well, Congressional gridlock works when Congress can count on a strong Executive to keep the wheels of government turning.

What happens when the Executive Branch is in disarray, and the President is out-to-lunch?  Will Congress get its act together and reassert its Constitutional powers?

The single most important power Congress has abrogated to the Presidency is the power to make war.  Given that Our President's negotiating skills are somewhat less than advertised, do we dare  hope for enough genuine leadership among the time servers, corporate clients, and party hacks in Congress to avert catastrophe in Korea or the Middle East?  (A good start would be to child-proof that red button!)

Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have been either too fearful or too lazy to give us genuine representative government for far too long.  If they can't or won't do their jobs, they must be replaced with individuals who will.  Historically, there always is one group willing to take the reins when a government becomes too dysfunctional — and, sad to say, the most trusted leaders in government right now appear to be the generals.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Random grumbling


• The pardon of that terrible old man Joe Arpaio should have been no surprise to anybody: one racist authoritarian narcissist pardoning another.  More upsetting is the fact that the people of Maricopa County, Arizona, kept reelecting him for twenty-four years.

• We can be certain that a great many Texans sincerely believe Hurricane Harvey was Divine Retribution for something or another; and equally certain that they'll find a way to blame it on Obama.

• As one more example of Republican through-the-looking-glass vindictiveness, Ronald Reagan will be joining John L. Lewis, Cesar Chavez, Mother Jones, and Bayard Rustin in the Department of Labor's Hall of Honor.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

About that "base"


Don't bother setting that cross on fire: it will serve well enough as-is.

There is a segment of America that fiercely supports Tr*mp no matter how badly or insanely he behaves.  That "base" is estimated to be about 30% of the population.  Who are they?  Some are Klansmen or Neo-nazis, but those are relatively tiny splinter groups.  The noisily Ayn-Randian "alt-right" internet trolls are even fewer in number.

The bulk of Tr*mp's base consists of white Evangelical Christians — the people who used to be called "fundamentalists."  Best known for their reactionary stance on social issues and disdain for science, their  loyalty to a lying, self-serving, egomaniacal sexual predator certainly seems misplaced — but Tr*mp embodies their desires and ambitions better than any conventional politician ever could.  (If he turns out to be the Antichrist, that's fine too.)

Basic to Tr*mp's appeal is his promise to restore an imagined "golden age" of America — that mythical time before rationality beat so hard at the bulwarks of ideology, before their God-given right to define the parameters of truth was challenged.  Tr*mp is waging a holy war on the political and intellectual "elites" who either belittle or ignore them.  It's all about self-esteem — economics doesn't even come into the picture.

While black Evangelicals and more mainstream Christians reject the President for his moral bankruptcy, white Evangelicals seem to be taken with what theologians call antinomianism — the idea that those who have been "saved" by faith are no longer bound by earthly moral codes.  Tr*mp really could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and they would be unfazed.

Democrats can stop worrying about "winning back the white working class" — the Evangelicals won't budge, and the rest of the white working class will come home once the Republicans are finished screwing them.  To win elections, Democrats have to mobilize their own base voters by generating some excitement.  They did that with Obama in 2008.  Can they do it again?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Monumental Errors


My favorite public monument is on the east side of Columbus Circle, commemorating the sailors lost in the sinking of the battleship Maine.  It is enormous, and enormously busy, jumbled with classical figures in tragic or heroic postures, dripping with gilt and allegory.  It is an extraordinary representation of American grandiosity and self-satisfaction at the end of the nineteenth century.

The sinking of the Maine, you may recall, was America's excuse for making war on Spain and stealing a bunch of its colonies.  Both the monument and the Spanish-American War came about due to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day.  Spain's defeat left the US nominally in control of the Philippines, which came with several ongoing anti-colonial revolutions.  One of those was the Moro Rebellion, the setting for Our President's racist lie about General Pershing and bullets dipped in pig's blood.  The Moros have been in rebellion against Spain, the United States, Japan, the Philippine government, and anybody else who tried to control them for about four hundred years now, most recently in a loose partnership with ISIS.  They never quit.

New Yorkers rarely even notice the Maine monument, including the Puerto Ricans, the Filipinos, the Cubans, and the occasional transplant from Guam (yes! Guam!) whose peoples suffered the adverse effects of American imperialism.  On the other hand, a plaque honoring Robert E. Lee on a tree in a Brooklyn churchyard will be coming down.  Some memories from the nineteenth century remain distressingly fresh.

I'd have less problem with Confederate monuments if the likes of Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson were portrayed not as heroes, but as the losers they were.  I also have a problem with the numerous Confederate traitors on display in the US Capitol, sponsored by a gaggle of southern states.  The State of New York could sponsor statues of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the Capitol, but I guess New Yorkers don't have the same sense of "heritage."

As for the monument pictured above, sponsors hope to locate a suitable site in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Object Permanence


Did you happen to notice how quickly that gathering of neo-fascists in Charlottesville VA diverted public attention from the threat of nuclear annihilation?  America appears to have an ongoing problem with object permanence: the difficulty infants have in grasping the continued existence of an item after they stop looking at it.

Granted, the threat of American fascism is considerably greater than any threat from Kim Jong-un.  Historically, fascism has been one of the more disagreeable outgrowths of plutocracy — and our widening wealth gap, failure to enforce antitrust restrictions, and antidemocratic actions like the Citizens United decision all have broadened the powers of the megawealthy over the rest of us.

The fascist penchant for militarism has been characteristically American for at least a century, along with the propensity to demonize foreigners and scapegoat minorities.  True fascism in the United States has been countervailed more by cultural and regional disunity than by democratic institutions, but the growth of information technologies has broken down those barriers.  All that remains is a stubborn affection for civil liberties — and those are under systematic attack.

Next week, something new will happen: a venereal disease will be traced to avocados, or Tr*mp will declare war on the Moon.  Will America forget the threat of fascism?

Probably.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

North Korea


How do you deal with a leader who is unstable, immoral, and incompetent?  For starters, you can do your best to keep him from being reelected in 2020.  In the meanwhile, you can hope that the people around him won't let him do anything too stupid.

As for Kim Jong-un, he certainly is immoral, but he is neither unstable nor incompetent — and even a far less competent Dear Leader would recognize that a viable nuclear deterrent is the only real guarantee of national survival given the regime-changing proclivities of the world's foremost military superpower.  Kim saw what became of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

A nuclear deterrent works only if your adversaries know you have it; hence, the bomb and missile tests, and the pictures of Kim with that rocket-ready nuclear warhead.  When American experts conceded that the threat was real, our own Dear Leader and National Id reacted predictably.  Kim countered Tr*mp's dire warnings with a specific threat against the air base on Guam, demonstrating his superiority at the freak-em-out rhetoric game.

Having lived through decades of Mutually Assured Destruction, beginning with the times I hid from atom bombs under my elementary school desk, I find it hard to take the current situation all that seriously.  Rex Tillerson has been downplaying Tr*mp's bellicose pronouncements for all he's worth, and I'd like to think that even if Tr*mp did have a psychotic break and ordered a preemptive attack, "his" generals would not comply.  (You don't think they'd have given him the real nuclear suitcase, do you?)

Over the next couple of months, the world will settle down to a nuclear-armed North Korea, China will be ignoring the economic sanctions it approved last week, and the USofA will move on to its next crisis.  We all can put our old classroom desks back in storage.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Mess in Venezuela



Back in the early Seventies, I met a Venezuelan general named Felix at a bar overlooking the Orinoco River.  Hearing I was from New York, he wondered if I knew his friend Nelson.  Nelson?  Sí.  Nelson Rockefeller.

Now, Venezuela is falling back into militaristic authoritarianism, but this time without the domination of the USofA.  The American news media are presenting a simplistic, Manichean model of a socialistic "dictator" versus a "democratic opposition."  The situation is not nearly so simple.

President Nicolás Maduro is heir to the "Bolivarian Revolution" of Hugo Chávez, a program that nationalized Venezuela's oil fields and used the profits to better the lives of Venezuela's poor.  The program was understandably popular, and worked fairly well until oil prices collapsed.  Maduro's efforts to maintain benefits to satisfy his base voters made the inevitable economic disruption much worse that it would have been otherwise, multiplying government debt and stoking triple-digit inflation.  There was no money to pay for imports of food, medicine, and other essentials.

As beleaguered leaders are wont to do, Maduro makes sure that whatever goods are available go to his security forces.  Those forces, along with substantial numbers of poor Venezuelans still fiercely loyal to the memory of Chávez, have kept Maduro in power — but the Presidente has another important advantage: there is no unified opposition.

The two former mayors recently moved from house arrest to prison agree with each other on almost nothing.  Another opposition "leader" is Venezuela's Attorney General, a pro-democracy Bolivarian who is a member of Maduro's political party.  Then there are the business interests calling for libertarian free markets, allies of the multinational oil companies that want their oil fields back (including remnants of the failed US backed coup attempt of 2002), a vast splintering of student groups, and more.

Typical of such situations, the largest group consists of people who really don't care who is in charge so long as their families have access to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

The US sanctions against Maduro and his close associates will accomplish nothing: it appears that the Bolivarians, unlike most political leaders, failed to enrich themselves personally while in power.  An embargo on Venezuelan oil would make the lives of ordinary Venezuelans much worse (and elevate gasoline prices in the US.)  At this time, there's nothing to do but "wait and see."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Extra brief briefs


• The bizarre stream of consciousness Our President delivered to the Boy Scouts this week makes the 25th Amendment seem more and more applicable.

Tweeting the purge of transgender personnel from the military was both bizarre and absolutely vile — but maybe it's supposed to make up for the impending martyrdom of Jeff Sessions.

• Tr*mp will never find an AG the equal of Jeff Sessions, given that Adolf Eichmann was executed in 1962.

• If the Democrats' "Better Deal" had included single-payer heath care, somebody might have paid attention.

• Popular protest in Poland prompted a veto of "judiciary reform" by Andrzej Duda, demonstrating that marches still can accomplish something, somewhere.

• Sadly, it seems that "somewhere" does not include Turkey.

• Anthony Scaramucci,  Wow.  Anthony Scaramucci.

• We knew that playing football caused brain damage — now we need data on watching football.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Big Fail


Jerry Moran? Who's Jerry Moran? It wouldn't be very surprising if even Kansans couldn't come up with the name of their Senator — but it was Moran, along with Mike Lee, Susan Collins, and Rand Paul who spared their fellow Republicans the jeopardy of voting on so-called "repeal and replace."  Here's how the New York Times counted the votes:

The "no" group consists of the four named above plus the forty-eight Democrats.  We can be sure that the "no" Republicans were personally selected by Mitch McConnell -- discipline is tight.  Collins is the party's token moderate; Paul and Lee can claim ideological purity and avoid being "primaried" from the right; but what about Jerry Moran?

Moran gained some cover by "teaming up" with Lee in announcing his opposition, and it well could be that fellow Kansans Charles and David Koch (who bankroll primary challenges from the right) preapproved Moran's "defection."  Be that as it may, somebody had to save those thirty-four "unclear" and "concerned" Republicans from the political damage they would have suffered by voting for an extraordinarily unpopular bill.

It's interesting that the three Republicans selected to prevent consideration of a straight repeal, with no replacement, were all women.  As Republicans know, women are allowed to have "soft spots" — they can be forgiven a failure to be unfailingly "tough" on the poor.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Your best argument for Medicaid


The half of all Americans whose employers provide them with health insurance may be far too indifferent to Republican plans to demolish Medicaid. If they have parents, they should be paying more attention.

More than half the residents of nursing homes are supported by Medicaid, which assumes the costs after those residents have spent down their personal wealth. The average annual cost in the US is over $75,000 per year, so personal wealth tends to disappear quite rapidly. Not too far in the future, large numbers of baby boomers will need the level of care nursing homes provide.  What will their children do if Medicaid isn't available?

Essentially, they have three choices:

• Cover the costs themselves.  Ouch!
• Put mom in the spare bedroom, and tend to all her needs.  Eeek!
• Euthanasia.  (Don't get caught!)

When you put it that way, most people will understand why it's a good idea to get on the phone to their representatives in DC and raise a ruckus.  Spread the word, and do it now!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Still No Collusion


Don Jr., along with the other two stooges, Jared and Paul, didn't collude with the Kremlin when they met with with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya — even though that certainly was their intent.  Had it been an FBI sting, they would have ended up guilty of something, but Veselnitskaya was not working for the FBI.  It also is very unlikely she was working for the Kremlin.

Based on her activities in the US over the past several years, it looks like Veselnitskaya is employed by some of the Russian businessmen hurt by sanctions under the Magnitsky Act of 2012, the sanctions that inspired Putin to "retaliate" by stopping adoptions of Russian children by Americans.  Pretty clearly, nobody in the Tr*mp campaign would have been interested in discussing the sanctions, so Veselnitskaya tried a bait-and-switch.  The campaign would be interested in some good dirt on Hillary, even if it came from the Russian government.

Junior and his pals were interested — but they were disappointed.

As I've previously observed, Russia never needed any help from Tr*mp and Co. to interfere in the American election — but certainly had no qualms about compromising individuals who might become part of a future Tr*mp Administration.  Given the high levels of both cupidity and incompetence on the Tr*mp team, the Russians didn't have to try too hard.

Just the same, those investigating Russian interference in the election are not going to get much mileage out of the new Confusions of Young Witless, Tr*mp's "high quality" son.  We've already seen all the "there" that's "there."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Patriots


Judging by the explosions, there are a lot of patriots in my neighborhood.

Patriotism makes me nervous.  It seems to require a wholesale suspension of judgement, and a memory of history riddled with more holes than a speed limit sign in rural Texas. It is not, as Dr. Johnson said, "the last refuge of a scoundrel." Rather, it is a well-worn tool from the tool kit of every scoundrel engaged in politics.

There are those who maintain that patriotism somehow is different from nationalism, but they fail to explain just how it is different. Interestingly, no matter how different the nation-states or ruling elites that use it, the forms and functions of patriotism remain remarkably consistent.  Its imagery is militaristic, and so is its central demand: unquestioning allegiance to the State.

Patriotism is so closely related to and interwoven with religious fervor that the two often are indistinguishable. Every "just war" is jihad, every "fallen hero" a martyr.  Ideology displaces rationality; symbolism justifies devastation.

(It's gone quiet out there.  Is it still the American Century?  I guess we'll have to wait and see.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Theology of Health Care


Back in the 16th century, when European merchants were energetically inventing capitalism, John Calvin arrived to tell them they could forget all that stuff about camels passing through the eyes of needles. God, he assured them, rewards His favorites in this life as well as the next, so their wealth was a sure sign they were saved. It followed that the poor, being congenital sinners, were not deserving of any consideration at all.

The twenty-first century version of Calvinism is called "Meritocracy." Meritocrats assume that those who prosper have earned their wealth by being better than the rest: their success is the fruit of their personal "genius" and "grit."  They claim to "make their own luck," and discount the importance of institutional barriers faced by others — like inequality of opportunity or discrimination. Hence, to their minds, those who fail to prosper deserve to fail; and certainly don't deserve any share in the wealth of their betters. It follows that taxing the rich in order to provide health care for their inferiors is nothing less than a crime against nature.

There seem to be some Republican Senators who genuinely believe in the New Calvinism (and some who still believe in the older version.) Many more, though, are just the lazy lackeys of their major donors, content in their safe, Red-State seats, mindlessly voting with their leadership.  A few, though, face more complex political situations -- and there even may be one or two who see a moral choice awaiting them after the Fourth of July.  Let's hope they bring their camels along.

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.