Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Pelosi Problem


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Khashoggi, part two



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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Real Khashoggi Question


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Next point of business, please...


Now that he's confirmed, let's just hurry up and get the postmortem behind us.

Kavanaugh's chief qualifications for the Court are that he will be dependably pro-corporate and pro-plutocrat.  Born to wealth, power, and privilege, he never will find anything in the Constitution that might threaten the prerogatives of his class; and he'll vote to expand those prerogatives whenever the opportunity arises.  He might not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he'll happily approve states legislating it into irrelevance.  After all, if some high school drunk knocks up one of his daughters, she won't have any trouble securing a safe, medical abortion.

Had Democrats genuinely wanted to stop Kavanaugh because of his moral failures, Feinstein's office could have had a quiet word with the White House Counsel while Kavanaugh was just a name on a list — but they said nothing.  It was only after he was nominated that Blasey-Ford's story –and her name– were leaked to the press.  Once her name was public, she had no choice but to testify.  Republicans may have been the ravening beasts, but Democrats were the ones who tossed her into the arena.  Throughout the entire sorry spectacle, Blasey-Ford was the only individual who behaved well .

Clearly, women will be better off if Democrats capture the House next month, and the same is true for anybody who is not part of the so-called "one percent" — but those who want the kinds of change that genuinely will make a difference have to do more.  We have to grab the Democratic Party by the neck and shake out the corporatists, the neoliberals, and the rest of the entrenched leadership.  When Bill Clinton and his "New Democrats" moved the Party to the right, they abandoned its principles.  It's time for real Democrats to take our Party back.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A few more briefs...



Brexit
It's going badly for Theresa May.  Apparently, EU leaders are not about to let the UK "have its cake and eat it," so the prospect of a hard Brexit looms ever more likely.  The idea of giving the British public a vote on the terms of an agreement, should there be one, is gaining popularity.  With support from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin, British voters might get the choice of remaining in the EU — but Corbins is unsure what political ramifications might ensue for Labour.

Migrant kids
Thousands of young migrants are being transferred from shelters, where they are entitled to schooling and access to legal representation, to tent encampments along the Mexican border, where they receive neither.  The number of minors in detention has climbed rapidly due to Tr*mp administration policies that put potential US sponsors in jeopardy of deportation.  Despite all the other crap in the news, let's not forget the kids.

Oh, yeah, Kavanaugh...
Yes, Kavanaugh's angry testimony in the latest round of hearings was designed to impress the usual "audience of one," and that objective certainly figured into Lindsey Graham's fit of pique as well.  For those wondering why hired gun Rachel Mitchell was pushed aside when it was Kavanaugh's turn, I'd suggest it was so the judge would not have to be seen thundering angrily at a woman.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

In Case You Forgot...


Last week, a terrorist attack by Arab separatists in predominantly Persian Iran killed twenty-five and wounded at least seventy others.  Iran blamed the attack on a group financed by an ally of the United States.  In all likelihood, that claim was correct, and the American ally was either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Although the carnage was appalling, it was insignificant compared to what the alliance of Gulf State monarchies continues to visit upon Yemen, with financial and logistical support from the United States.  Bombing attacks are carried out with virtually no effort to avoid civilian targets, and medical facilities, such as hospitals maintained by Doctors Without Borders and other international aid groups, seem to be particular favorites for destruction.  A shipping blockade creates widespread malnutrition and a lack of medication to combat an epidemic of typhus. A UN report points up clear violations of international law, and a strong suggestion that war crimes are being committed.

Members of Congress from both parties have expressed concerns, primarily in response to particularly egregious actions like the bombing of a school bus that killed forty children, but the power to end US involvement lies with the Administration.  Sadly, Our President's bromance with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman makes an end to US involvement unlikely. “We have not seen any callous disregard by the people we’re working with.  So we will continue to work with them, [to] reduce this tragedy,” said Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who does not appear to be working at it especially hard.

Current American preoccupation with the sexual history of an entitled frat boy seeking a seat on the Supreme Court has pushed Yemen to the back pages of the press, but Americans should not forget that their tax dollars are funding atrocities.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Briefs


Kavanaugh
Anybody who ever was a drunken high school boy can have no doubt that He Did It, whether he remembers it or not.  If he does remember, he'll lie about it — but far more disqualifying are the lies he already told during his 2006 confirmation hearings for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, regarding his service in the Bush administration.  He was an adult by then, and presumably sober.

Trade War
China's threat to respond to the latest Tr*mpian tariff escalations by disrupting US supply chains must be taken very seriously, given that key components of important manufactured products just are not available outside of China.  Even unregenerate supply-siders like Larry Kudlow are able to see that; Our President, though, only will listen to his paleo-mercantilist trade advisor, Peter Navarro.  Can mainstream corporatist Republicans stop them?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Big Lie
Jaws agape, anybody who has been paying any attention at all over the past forty years stared in amazement as Our President declared that Democrats want to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  Will his base believe him?  As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods." 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

"Adults in the Room"


Now that a "senior official in the Trump Administration" has assured us that there are some in the White House who "have vowed to thwart the president's worst impulses," I suppose we're all supposed to feel better.  Indeed, it's good to know that somebody will try to stop Our President should he decide to nuke North Korea (or Canada), but that is small comfort when the so-called "adults in the room" all are Republican loyalists.  It would be absurd to expect contemporary Republicans, wholly captured by the corporations and the super-rich, to control what the anonymous Times editorialist calls "the root of the problem... the president's amorality."

Corporations, by their nature, are amoral.  They exist solely to generate profits for their investors, and their political activities are directed towards that same goal.  The Republican Party has served them well, especially under the current administration, with regulatory rollbacks, attacks on organized labor, and massive, permanent cuts in their tax liability.  The Supreme Court was stacked in their favor even before Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, and looks likely to remain that way for a long time.

Corporate political operatives might have preferred President Scott Walker, President Marco Rubio, or even President Ted Cruz, but they needed Tr*mp to win.  They needed Tr*mp the demagogue to mobilize the fear and the anger that drove the 2016 election — and if that meant putting up with somebody who "is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective," so be it.  Given his limited intellectual capacity and curiosity, they thought he would be easy enough to control once in office: Ryan and McConnell would take care of business while the new president played golf.

It didn't work out that way.  Tr*mp has been so outrageous, so dangerous and divisive, that the "adults in the room" can't keep him under control.  He has become a threat to the Republican Party, and a threat to corporate hegemony: even corporatist Democrats are being pushed aside by those further to their left.

It is possible that the Times editorial was the opening salvo in an effort to jettison Tr*mp by those who brought him to power.  We might never know for sure, but it will be interesting to see what develops between now and Election Day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Catholics in Crisis


Power struggles have been characteristic of the Roman Catholic hierarchy throughout the history of the Church, but the Church typically kept its internal conflicts contained.  Recent events, though, have created the greatest threat to unity since the Protestant Reformation.  The open letter to Pope Francis from Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ² bears little resemblance to Luther's 95 Theses, but may prove equally disruptive.  Backed by American  Catholic conservatives, who have much more in common with Evangelical protestants than with the Jesuits and other relative liberals who back Francis, ViganĂ² is calling on Francis to resign.

While the current hostilities appear centered on who knew what about the sex life of the now-discredited Cardinal McCarrick, the real conflict is more fundamental: Francis and the liberals want to keep the Church relevant to modern worshipers; the conservatives want to keep it pure.  While  everybody condemns the priestly diddling of altar boys, it is the liberal suggestion that divorced Catholics might somehow receive Holy Communion that drives conservatives insane with rage.

To hold the interest of the laity, though, it's best to keep the conversation about sex; so the Church's worldwide pedophile problem gets the most attention.  The conservatives claim the root cause was too much tolerance for homosexuals, while the liberals blame "clericalism" — the idea that priests assert too much power and authority.

The Church always has attracted homosexuals because it has been a socially acceptable refuge for those temperamentally incapable of heterosexual family life.  Some know they are gay to begin with, some discover it in the single-sex environment of the seminary, and some are the self-hating variety whose militant denial makes them natural conservatives.

For the pedophile, though, joining the Church may be less about sanctuary than about opportunity —  the unquestioning trust the devout invest in those with "spiritual authority."  It is a power all too easy to abuse, so Francis and the liberals are right to blame "clericalism" — but blaming clericalism is not a solution.  Without his spiritual authority, a priest is just another ordinary man, and the power structure of the Church as a whole is undermined.

While nobody currently can be sure just who knew what about whom, it seems obvious that every institution that lays claim to moral authority feels pressured to cover up moral lapses; and that the broader and more complex the institutional structure, the more elaborate the coverups will be.  For now, Francis opts for silence, possibly concerned that anything he says could provoke genuine schism within his Church.  Whether or not he can come up with a better response remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Slow News Month?


August is supposed to be a slow news month, a good month to take a break — but we don't have slow news months anymore.  We're battered by news, oppressed by it.  Sometimes it seems there's just nothing more to say.

Everybody with a shred of decency was horrified by the separation of refugee children from their parents at our southern border, and continues to be horrified because the immediate crisis remains unresolved and the damage to children will be permanent.  One needn't recognize any religious faith to recognize evil.

Nobody could have been even mildly surprised by the "Omarosa revelations" — if she has more tapes to share, they will be more of the same.  Tr*mp continues to alienate America's allies, and Democrats still struggle to solve their "Pelosi problem."

The Cohen plea agreement and the Manafort convictions have made no noticeable impact on Congressional Republicans, much less on the rabid Republican "base."  Giuliani's assertion that "truth isn't truth" could have been based on observation.  Wildfires, both literal and figurative, continue to burn.

Still, I will look forward to the "reality television" of the McCain funeral, which potentially could have more political impact than babies ripped from their mothers' arms.  Truth isn't truth, you know.  It's only the perception that counts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Faith-based Fascism


If you assume that the goal of the new "Religious Liberty Task Force" recently announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be to find new and better ways to discriminate against the LGBT community, you probably are underestimating the Attorney General and the administration he serves.  Rest assured that the Task Force also will investigate new ways to justify restricting women's reproductive rights, expand federal funding for religious schools, and aggressively erode the separation of Church and State.

Political authoritarians and religious hierarchies enjoy a natural partnership.  Both are essentially conservative, demanding that followers  accept the immutable rules and mythologies they hand down.  Neither can tolerate opposition based on anything so heterodox as rational thought, and both perceive those from outside their networks of believers as threats to be resisted, repressed, and demonized.  Working together, they keep their followers unquestioning and compliant.

Such partnerships may be as old as human civilization, but there are plenty of contemporary examples.  Conservative Islam, either Sunni or Shi'a, dominates the autocracies of the Middle East.  The Orthodox parties in Israel recently cooperated with Netanyahu's Likud to enact legal changes that make Muslims and Druse second-class citizens.  In India, Modi's Hindu nationalists stay in power by persecuting Muslims, and the generals of Myanmar have solidified Buddhist support by doing the same.

Of course, the relationship that most resembles Tr*mp's alliance of interests with Evangelicals is Putin's alliance of interests with the Russian Orthodox Church; and in Russia, too, the effort to strengthen church-state solidarity began by attacking homosexuals.  Perhaps "moral" considerations motivate religious conservatives to endorse and facilitate authoritarian political leadership, but the process is inevitably corrupt.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Socialism Redux?


Eugene Debs won 6% of the vote when he was the Socialist Party candidate for president in 1916, and he still won 1% when he ran again, from Federal prison, in 1920.  For American socialists, it was downhill from there.  Although FDR appropriated some major chunks of the Debs platform in his response to the Great Depression, and although Americans ignored the "socialist" label when LBJ introduced Medicare, it took Bernie Sanders to make socialism almost respectable again.  Almost.  When it comes to selling a policy, what you call it still counts for a lot.

"Medicare for all" has a nice ring to it.  People like Medicare, so calling government sponsored health care "Medicare for all" makes it a lot more appealing than calling it "single payer" (too dry) or "national health care" (too European) or, heaven forbid, "socialized medicine."  "Medicare for all" it is, then!  Beyond that, it will be far easier to extend an existing system than to create a new one from scratch, so "Medicare for all" may have to be more than a politically palatable label.

The main obstacle to universal Medicare, though, is that most people don't need it.  Most Americans have medical insurance through their employers, their benefits often are considerably better than those offered by Medicare, and they assume Medicare will be there for them when they retire.  How, then, can today's socialists garner popular support for national health insurance?

The simplest answer is to sell Medicare coverage to employers, in direct competition with private insurers.  Not required to turn a profit, Medicare can undercut private competitors; and as it grows, economies of scale would make it even more competitive.  The risk pool of Medicare's users would become younger and healthier, and the new cash flow would alleviate the problems of finance that Congress fails to address.  Mass enrollment also would create pressure to improve Medicare benefits, which currently are less than generous.

Contrary to popular opinion, socialists do not have to be oblivious to the power of markets; they do not have to be visionary idealists divorced from economic realities.  They do have to be committed to democracy, though — because in any economic system, only the power of the many can constrain the corrupt avarice of the few.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Question of WHY


Some might think Our President's recent fiasco in Helsinki finally might penetrate some red caps and shake the fanatical loyalty of his base.  Sorry, but true Tr*mpistas are made of sterner stuff, and are capable of enduring a lot more cognitive dissonance before they succumb to doubt — so Republicans in Congress will have to find a way to squirm through to the next train wreck.

In the meanwhile, the rest of us continue to puzzle over why the President of the United States is so unswervingly loyal to Vladimir Putin.  Let's look at some of the most prominent suggestions:

The Pee Tape Hypothesis
By comparison with some other embarrassing episodes that have come to light, the tape described in the Steele dossier is small potatoes.  Even if Tr*mp was in the bed, naked, and photographed from an extremely unbecoming angle, religious conservatives would find it in their hearts to give him another "mulligan" — and the rest would call it a CGI "forgery" by "Hollywood liberals."

The Fragile Ego Hypothesis
While his reluctance to believe that Putin helped him win the presidency may explain Tr*mp's hostility to the Mueller probe, it does not explain his affinity for Putin.  In truth, he ought to be more likely to resent Russian interference if it detracts from his "glorious victory."

The Fred Trump Hypothesis
It seems obvious that Our President's hyper-authoritarian, racist, and conscience-free father was instrumental in warping young Donald's tender infant psyche and demagnetizing his moral compass.  While this helps to explain Tr*mp's admiration for the likes of Rodrigo Duterte and Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Fred never taught his son to knuckle under to a competitor — and certainly not to a competitor significantly weaker than himself.

The Arrant Corruption Hypothesis
The Nixon-era admonition to "follow the money" seems like the most  promising path to understanding the Tr*mp-Putin connection.  It remains unclear whether or not the Mueller task force has gained access to Tr*mp's tax returns, or how carefully cash transfers from Russian kleptocrats to the Trump Organization may have been laundered, but investors in Manhattan real estate never have been known for their moral rectitude.  If the corruption hypothesis is correct, it may be advisable for Tr*mp to give up the presidency in time for President Pence to issue a blanket pardon.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Briefs


Formula for Profits
Delegates to the UN's World Health Assembly were blindsided by US opposition to a resolution encouraging breast feeding and condemning misleading promotions of infant formula; apparently they forgot that breast milk is free and that infant formula is the product of a $70 billion industry.  Ecuador, threatened with trade sanctions and suspension of military aid, had to withdraw its sponsorship; other developing nations faced similar threats.  The final, slightly weakened resolution had to be sponsored by Russia.

Kavanaugh
Susan Collins says she won't vote to confirm a Supreme Court candidate who shows "hostility" to Roe v. Wade.  Rest assured that Kavanaugh will show no hostility at all until he votes to overturn it.  Given that readiness to overturn Roe was a requirement for inclusion on the list of jurists the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation prepared for Tr*mp, Collins should have opposed all of them from the start, including Neil Gorsuch.

NATO
While insisting that all NATO members rapidly increase their military spending to 2% of GDP, Tr*mp strongly suggested the extra money be used to patronize American military contractors.  In truth, 2% of GDP seems a very reasonable expenditure for defense, and the US could set a good example by reducing its military spending to 2% of GDP (from 3.5%).  Do we really need all that overpriced hardware to combat jihadists wearing suicide vests?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Let the Fireworks Begin


On this date in 1776, an assembly of wealthy planters and merchants signed a document asserting it was "self-evident, that all men are created equal."  It was America's founding hypocrisy.

What actually is self-evident to anybody over the age of 12 is that wealth creates power, and that power creates wealth.  With only minimal interruptions, that has been the story of America — and the story of the world.  Once in a while, economic disaster combines with an especially incompetent plutocracy, resulting in a need to make enough concessions to placate an angry mob.  If things are especially bad, a new gang of plutocrats will push the old gang aside.

Whoever replaces Anthony Kennedy, rest assured she or he will be a committed corporatist, just as Kennedy has been.  Kennedy joined in the Epic Systems v. Lewis decision, which places crippling limitations on class-action lawsuits, making most legal actions against corporate abuse exercises in futility, for both consumers and labor organizations.  Janus was just the icing on the cake.

Since corporate America really couldn't care less about abortion rights, the fate of Roe v. Wade will be purely a political decision; but the Supreme Court already has allowed reproductive choice to be nickel-and-dimed away over much of the country, so there may be little practical change no matter how Susan Collins chooses to vote.  (Corporations do care about trade policy, though — so Tr*mp's hold over corporatist Republicans may be less secure than he believes.)

So, what's a frustrated leftist – or even a small-d democrat – to do?  Historical approaches include mass civil disobedience, boycotts, and strikes, preferably cloaked in populist patriotism.  Sharpen your pitchforks, peasants — but always remember to point them where the money is.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"Civility"


Fuck civility.

I don't have to be "civil" to Nazis.  I don't have to be "respectful" to white supremacists, oppressors of women, gay bashers, holy hypocrites, baby snatchers, or any of their self-serving enablers.  Kirsten Nielsen can choke on her fajita, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders can shove her cheese plate up her ass.

I don't have to feel any sympathy for the gun toting cretins in their MAGA hats, no matter how fearful or confused or flat-out stupid they happen to be.  When they parrot their despicable Fox News hatemongers, I will not be bothered to hide my disgust or restrain my contempt.

Recent actions in the service of our Psychopath-in-Chief, too numerous and too despicable to describe in this small space, have left me to choose between anger and despair.  I choose anger.  Watch out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Bargaining Chips


Most Americans are horrified by the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at our southern border, and plenty of politicians, whatever their real feelings, have concluded it is in their best interest to say they are as well.  Even our Psychopath-in-Chief has mouthed concern, while blaming Democrats for the damage he has done.

The "deterrent effect" claimed by Jeff Sessions is a ruse: desperate families are unlikely to believe that emigration to the US presents a greater threat than the gang violence and poverty that drives them from their homes.  Immigrant children are just the latest bargaining chips in the Republican effort to remake American immigration policy: holding DACA recipients hostage was not enough to sway Democratic votes in Congress, so Republicans have upped the ante.  "If we kidnap the babies," one imagines Stephen Miller whispering in Tr*mp's ear, "you'll get your Wall."

 One only can hope this latest "negotiating tactic" is ineffective: that Democrats will hang tough, and that enough Republicans will find (or feign) the decency required to reject the radical and racist Ryan "compromise" bill, forcing a humane, immediate resolution of the current showdown.  Too much damage already has been done.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

More "Diplomacy"



Our President has advised us that we can "sleep well tonight" because "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."  Presumably, that means he will ignore entreaties from John Bolton and refrain from a first strike: there never was any threat that North Korea would begin a war with the US.

While Tr*mp is deciding where to display his Nobel Peace Prize, most of the world is trying to figure out just what the US may have gained from the strikingly nebulous Singapore agreement.  Kim achieved his primary objective: China and Russia now can gracefully back out of the US imposed sanctions regime.  As a surprise added bonus, he got an end to the annual joint military exercises the US has conducted with the South.  (Tr*mp accurately described those as "war games.")

As for the "Great Negotiator," one more opportunity to strut across the screens of Fox News viewers seems hardly worth the trip.  One wonders whether North Korea's famously skilled hackers may have penetrated Russian computers and secured a copy of the Piss Tape.  And wouldn't it be wonderful if Canadian, French, or German hackers could do the same?


Monday, June 11, 2018

"Diplomacy"


Reflection on the G7 meeting leads to two inevitable conclusions:
  • The "American Century" has ended a bit early.
  • That piss tape must be truly extraordinary.

It is hard to imagine anything more Our President could have done to antagonize our closest allies and advance Russia's diplomatic agenda; and his ad hominem attacks on Justin Trudeau were the icing on the cake.  While ignorance, hubris, and a perishingly fragile ego may go a long way towards explaining the latest presidential tantrum, it is hard to ignore the fact that so much of the Tr*mp "agenda" accrues to the benefit of Vladimir Putin.

I will not venture to guess what new mayhem may be unleashed tomorrow in Singapore, but I have a strong suspicion that Kim Jong-un is the better prepared and better advised partner to the negotiations — and that, somehow, Russia will come out ahead.  In the meanwhile, here's my nominee for tweet of the week:


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Media Muck


We all know "The N-Word Rule," delineating who is "allowed" to use that powerful term.  Is there a "C-Word Rule" that follows the same logic?  Far be it from me to mansplain such matters.  Still, I do see a correspondence between Samantha Bee's vulgar reference to Ivanka and Roseanne Barr's racist tweet: both women put their employers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide what to do about them.

Roseanne appeared on ABC, which is a subsidiary of Disney: a company that has been polishing its family-friendly reputation for as long as anybody can remember.  Disney gambled on the self-control of an unstable racist, and it lost.  Full Frontal with Samantha Bee appears on TBS, which is owned by Time-Warner; and Time-Warner soon may become part of AT&T,  a company nobody likes anyway.  Marketed as a foul-mouthed assault on Tr*mp and company, the show won't lose any viewers; queasy sponsors will be replaced as soon as public attention is diverted by the next outrage.  The show stays on the air in an instructive illustration of "corporate ethics."

There are a great many late night shows that can be mistaken for MSNBC with a laugh track — possibly too many.  Watching TV, of course, is not a form of activism — but it can feel like it is.  Do the comedy shows ever inspire any action, or are they just profit-making wall decorations inside the liberal information silo?  When did comedy get so depressing?  And, tell me, are you bored yet?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Church and State


Franklin Graham, son and heir to evangelist Billy Graham, says that "progressive" is just another word for "godless;" and that what godless progressives want most is to take away the tax-exempt status of religious organizations.  In the real world, of course, you're unlikely to find any politician willing to endorse ending religious tax breaks; but that doesn't make it a bad idea.

Religion and politics are inseparable.  Both are systems of social control, evolved to limit certain individualistic behaviors by defining them as deviance: the immoral and the illegal largely overlap.  It follows that every sermon is political speech: no clear line ever has separated Church and State.  Religion has been integral to American politics since the arrival of the Puritans, entangled in every major political debate.  Inevitably, a contribution to a church is a political contribution.

Property tax exemptions for religious organizations deprive local governments of revenue, subsidizing church members at the expense of everybody else, irrespective of need; and the deductibility of donations lets individuals use government funds to advance sectarian ideologies.  Granted, the only feasible path to reform is to make all charitable contributions non-deductible, but given the political abuse of 503(c) corporations and similar manipulations, the time for genuine "tax simplification" has arrived.  Donors will have to give out of genuine altruism; religious donors, perhaps, to avoid joining godless progressives, and anybody else who doubts their "truth," in Hell.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wage Growth


Some economists are pretending to be amazed by the extent to which wage growth is lagging behind economic growth.  With the unemployment rate under 4% —full employment, by all historical standards — employers are supposed to be competing for workers by offering higher wages. They're not doing that, for two main reasons: they don't want to, and they don't have to.

The "free market" model never had much relevance to the real world, and today it is less predictive than ever.  This is especially true of labor markets, distorted by decades of neoliberal policy under Republicans and Democrats alike.  Corporate combination goes virtually unchecked, and when a few major players dominate an industry, they don't have to compete, even with no active collusion.  If any single company offers higher wages, the others have to follow; so nobody begins a process that would result in higher labor costs for all.  They may compete for a small number of high-value, highly specialized employees, but the bulk of their labor force is completely fungible.

Even outside the oligopolies, though, workers have become largely interchangeable in most job areas, especially in lower-wage occupations.  Much is made of technology's potential to replace jobs, but its greater impact may be in how it makes jobs easier, reducing the skills needed to do them.  At the same time, higher educational attainment is expected of today's workers, so jobs once done perfectly well by high school graduates now employ people with bachelor's degrees.  A tight labor market is not really a problem when almost anybody can do the job and somebody is willing to take it.

A substantial slice of corporate profits in recent decades came from suppressing labor costs: part-time jobs with "flexible" hours, "gig economy" contract workers, and legal restrictions on labor unions all facilitate the ongoing transfer of wealth from the many to the few.  Any economist claiming wages soon will "catch up" with corporate profits is either a liar or a fool.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bully Diplomacy


I hate bullies; but even more, I despise those who succumb to bullying.  Now that bullying is America's official, default foreign policy, I only can hope that its intended victims have the courage to resist.

Iran, of course, has no choice but to resist: it is not about to "negotiate" regime change, and nothing less than that will satisfy the Tr*mp gang (which includes Bibi and MbS.)  The courage will have to come from Europe, and how much courage European leaders can muster remains to be seen.

Despite the easing of sanctions under Obama, US investment in Iran was minimal following the nuclear agreement: US companies continued to be limited by other sanctions protocols, and benefits to the Iranian economy fell far short of what Rouhani and his moderates hoped to see.  Europeans were less restrained, so the impact of US withdrawal from the deal depends on European willingness to go along.  It still remains to be seen what secondary sanctions the Tr*mpistas decide to impost on European companies that remain in Iran.

While secondary sanctions against US "allies" would be economically damaging, Macron and Merkel might be willing to endure them for the political advantage that might entail.  Anti-Americanism is a tried and true means of garnering nationalist support, so a "principled" stand against the Tr*mpians well might draw away supporters of the National Front in France and the AfD in Germany.  Suing the US at the WTO would be a good start, but withdrawing their ambassadors to the US in protest would be a sure bet for solidifying voters behind them.

If any diplomatic intelligence remains in the Tr*mp administration, secondary sanctions against the Europeans will be minimal, and the denuclearization of Iran can continue.  If the yahoos prevail, though, we only can hope Europe finds the courage to resist.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Rudy


Contrary to the claims of numerous ageist commentators, Rudy Giuliani is not senile — he's always been incompetent.  His reputed "success" as mayor of New York City was grounded in unconstrained, racist policing.  His "response" to the attack on the World Trade Center consisted of showing up at Ground Zero, mouthing platitudes, and working to divert attention from the fact that he'd insisted that the city's emergency response force be headquartered there, despite an earlier terrorist attack.  Marion Barry, even high on smack, could have done just as well.

It's reported that Giuliani cooked up the current confusion in collusion with his pal, Tr*mp.  Even so, Our President couldn't resist taking a swipe at his loyal ally and brand-new legal mouthpiece while aggravating the ongoing gobsmackedness of the press.  (By the way, Tr*mp too is not senile — even though Dr. Ronny Jackson said he's not.)

Confusion, obfuscation, and chaos have served Our President well over the course of his career, both in business and in government; and the current brouhaha may serve the purpose of making evidence collected in the raids on Michael Cohen's offices appear to be "just another version" of events.  While the truth may be "out there," the "truthiness" is where modern political battle lines are drawn.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Waffle House Conspiracy


Travis Reinking, the 29-year-old, Tr*mp inspired "sovereign citizen" who invaded a Waffle House restaurant in a black suburb of Nashville on April 22  sought an interview with the President last July.  Although denied a meeting, his name did come to the attention of White House officials.  Anonymous sources report that he was of particular interest to Stephen Miller, the 33-year-old speechwriter and Tr*mp-whisperer who has maintained a suspiciously low profile in recent months.  Those sources say that a Miller aide contacted Reinking the following week, and helped him plan the attack.  "Don't wear pants," the aide suggested, "and they won't look at your face.  Nobody will know it was you."

Miller apparently believed that a racist massacre would help to distract media attention from the seizure of incriminating documents from Tr*mp attorney Michael Cohen, as well as other White House problems connected to the Mueller investigation.  "They'd have preferred more prominent victims, like in the Dylann Roof attack," said one insider, "but the guy was crazy, so they had to take what they could get."

All of the above is a total fabrication, of course, but no more incredible than the story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor.  You'd expect that somebody might believe it, though — right?  Well, no.  Conspiracy theories aimed at liberals are far less effective than conspiracy theories aimed at conservatives.  "That's because conservatives are stupid," you reply.  Sorry, wrong again.  There are plenty of stupid liberals.  The difference is attributable to the different personality characteristics of liberals and conservatives.

Research shows that conservatives have a far greater need for cognitive closure: they find it much harder to tolerate ambiguity, and so are more willing to accept new "information" that confirms their preexisting beliefs.  Conservatives also are measurably more fearful than liberals, hence more responsive to stories they see as threatening.  Fear overrides logical inconsistencies, and demands an immediate, aggressive response.  Fear feeds authoritarianism.

Nonpartisan internet entrepreneurs who monetized fake news during the 2016 election quickly abandoned attempts to make money on liberal-themed sites, but the conservative clickbait was highly profitable.  There is little reason to believe that Facebook and Google will correct their algorithms in time for the 2018 midterms, so we can expect the lies to flow on unabated.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Exit Ryan


The response to one-time wunderkind Paul Ryan's "retirement" announcement has been surprisingly underwhelming.   Credit for the massive corporate tax cut largely has accrued to the Orange Imbecile, despite years of efforts by Ryan to enrich the most affluent at the expense of everybody else.  He has been praised in some quarters for having the "courage" to publicly endorse screwing the poor by annihilating food stamps, Medicare, and Social Security, but Obamacare limps on despite his best efforts.

Ryan made his decision to leave for all the obvious reasons.  His position as Speaker was imperiled by the widely anticipated "blue wave," and there was no guarantee that even his seat in the House was safe.  It was a lot easier being Speaker under Obama, when all he had to do was lead a chorus of Republicans chanting "no."  Most important, though, he must despise having to defer to the whims of a buffoon like Tr*mp.

Quite possibly, he does want to spend more time with his teenage children, who are just the right age to start reading Ayn Rand novels.  He'll also have opportunities to start making some serious money on the lecture circuit and as the leader of some Koch-funded superPAC.  I don't expect him to become a lobbyist, but doors certainly will be open.

What Ryan seems to enjoy most of all is playing the role of "smartest person in the room," so we can expect to see his teddy bear ears flapping regularly on cable news.  In the meanwhile, he remains Speaker; and it will be interesting to see if his lame-duck status frees him up to be just a little bit more critical of the Administration.  Personally, I don't believe his "courage" is up to the task.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Wrinkle in Trade?


While the news media and the markets are captivated by Our President's current game of chicken with China, the US has advanced a very unorthodox idea at the NAFTA renegotiationand it's a surprisingly good idea.

To avoid US tariffs on automobiles produced in Mexico, manufacturers there would be obliged to pay their assembly line workers $15 an hour.  That is twice the US federal minimum wage, and considerably more than starting salaries at non-union assembly lines in the southern United States. The $15 figure is just an opening gambit, of course: nobody really wants to see underpaid Alabamians sneaking across the border for better-paying jobs in Mexico.  Nevertheless, demanding better pay for foreign workers could be a more intelligent approach to both balance-of-trade and unauthorized immigration concerns.

Labor standards have been a part of trade negotiations for many decades, but usually receive short shrift when agreements are finalized, and seldom are enforced.  Negotiated by and for multinational corporations, they rarely go beyond banning slave or convict labor — not an especially high bar.  (The TPP would have included somewhat higher standards, had it been ratified, but that ship has sailed.)

Globalization has lifted tens of millions out of abject poverty in the developing world — at least in countries like China, where not all the newly generated wealth was co-opted by plutocrats.  If the Tr*mp administration advances a new paradigm that benefits the working poor around the world, it will be ironic — but also very welcome.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Paranoids with Real Enemies



Immigrants
Nobody believes the Tr*mp administration wants the citizenship checkbox on the 2020 census form so that Jeff Sessions or any Republican successor will be better able to enforce the Voting Rights Act — but they had to say something.  Democrats say immigrant families, including legal residents who may have undocumented relatives, will be undercounted because of "fear" that they may be targeted by ICE.  That "fear" usually is portrayed as unjustified because it is illegal for the Census Bureau to share personal data; but the bureau did give the FBI and the military the census data they needed to accomplish the Japanese internment.  Does Tr*mp respect the law any more than Roosevelt did?

Facebook users
The "experts" who commented on Cambridge Analytics' use of Facebook data on behalf of the Tr*mp campaign seemed to concur that the company's campaign could not have been effective.  In other words, they were saying that Facebook's business model is ineffective.  Targeting people based on measures of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism may not have changed any votes, but if the goal was to motivate and mobilize the "basket of deplorables," Republicans probably got their money's worth.  What does Facebook know about you?

Veterans
Our President described Dr. Ronny Jackson as "straight out of central casting," and looking good behind a lectern will be the next VA Secretary's primary role.  His lack of bureaucratic and political experience will free up Republican political appointees to privatize veterans' health care: the Koch brothers, after all, see the VA health system as a shameful example of socialized medicine.  Of course, socialized medicine is exactly what the VA provides; and, even underfunded, it delivers better and more efficient care than for-profit models.

Friday, March 23, 2018

John Bolton?


John Bolton was described by a Bush administration State Department official as a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."  Also a frequent Fox commentator, you might think he'd be the ideal Tr*mp appointee.  I'm not so sure.

Bolton is one of the people who brought us the war in Iraq, and has called for "preemptive" wars against North Korea and Iran.  Understandably, a lot of people are terrified by the prospect of a rabidly belligerent warmonger becoming National Security Advisor to a loose-cannon President.

Having Mike Pompeo at State only makes matters worse, but there still is cause for hope.  First, both Mattis and Dunford are likely to find Bolton intolerable; more important, though, is the fact that Bolton is a grandstander.  He is sufficiently full of himself to extemporize to the press, and just outrageous enough to distract attention from Our President.  Unless he suddenly can tap a previously undiscovered reservoir of self-effacement, he will grab the spotlight from the Narcissist in Chief once too often.  His reputed talent for flattery can save him for a while, but Tr*mp's propensity to nurture resentments should lessen Bolton's influence and eventually seal his fate.

Hopefully, that will happen before it's too late.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Pelosi Problem


Conor Lamb's recent victory in Pennsylvania's 18th CD has added to talk about replacing Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader in the House, but the talk is nothing new.  While some on the left see Pelosi as too "establishment," likely to impede an aggressive progressive agenda if Democrats regain control of the House, the main objection to Pelosi's leadership is more practical: she is seen as a drag on the party's electoral prospects because Republicans have falsely branded her as wildly radical; an "enemy of traditional American values."

Using thirty-second spots like this one, Pelosi has been demonized.  The thrust of the campaign is that she is a "San Francisco liberal" — and while young people may think of San Francisco as the home of tech billionaires, much of America still associates San Francisco with hippies, the Haight, and free love.  More important, though, is that Pelosi is a Person With A Vagina — a tough, aggressive PWAV of the variety that makes more conservative voters very uncomfortable.  A male member of Congress willing to "take orders" from such a woman, it is understood, must be less than a man.

Tough and aggressive, Pelosi is a very effective leader: if getting a bill though Congress were the criterion, Obamacare more properly would be called Pelosicare.  Republicans fear Pelosi (in much the same way the Russians feared Hillary Clinton.)  If the Democrats regain control of Congress, and Pelosi becomes Speaker again, she will be no less effective than she was in the past.

There are many good reasons to end the Washington gerontocracy, but the leading candidates to replace Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Joseph Crowley, are just as old.  If Democrats replace Pelosi, they will be knuckling under to the Republican defamation campaign— not acting out of any sense of "principle."  She was ready to retire had Hillary Clinton become President, and she will be no less willing if the Democrats can regain the White House in 2020.  In the meanwhile, she is a better leader than anybody likely to replace her.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Rex, ex


Rex Tillerson has been a terrible Secretary of State.  Mike Pompeo will be worse.  Tillerson's life as a global capitalist necessarily made him a globalist; Pompeo is a Christian conservative who entered government with the Tea Party.  Totally comfortable with Tr*mp's "America First" ideology, he would be on-board for Holy Wars in Iran, Korea, or anyplace abortion is too readily available. Corporate America, barring defense contractors, cannot be pleased by his appointment.

Pompeo likes power too much to continue Tillerson's dismantling of the State Department, so many currently vacant positions will be filled — inevitably with like-minded ideologues.  America's European allies will not be pleased; Putin, on the other hand, should be knocking back shots of vodka and dancing the kazatsky about now.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Extortion by Tariff


Remember the Bush steel tariffs of 2002?  (Don't all raise your hands at once!)  They were abandoned after eighteen months, having done more harm than good.

Unlike Tr*mp, Bush genuinely wanted to help the American steel industry.  Tr*mp, along with the usual political pandering, is trying to use traditional Tr*mpian "negotiating" tactics to strong-arm concessions on other fronts from American allies.  Of course, those allies will be familiar with Tr*mp's history of paying his bills — so the tactics are likely to fail.

The administration is not even trying to disguise its attempt to gain advantage in the ongoing NAFTA talks; more threatening, though, are the concessions Tr*mp may hope to extract from major steel exporter South Korea.  President Moon Jae-in has been demonstrating far more independence than his right-wing predecessors; and you can be sure the White House is displeased.  Maintaining the threat of war with North Korea is far more important to America's military contractors than an increase in the price of steel: after all, their increased costs will be paid by the US government and its taxpayers.

Moon's domestic support is based largely on the prospect of rapprochement with the North: hopefully, Moon will hang tough.  North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, its hard-won protection against external aggression.  Having provided evidence of his offensive capacity, Kim Jong-un will be willing to stop testing bombs and missiles for a time.  The world's best hope is that the Kim-Tr*mp summit will lead to years of talks — years with no immanent threat of war.

Nobody seems to be talking about the country likely to be hurt most by the new tariffs: Brazil, a major exporter of steel to the US.  Even if there is something the US wants to extort from Brazil, Brazil's government is too tied up in corruption scandals to negotiate effectively.  Of course, a bit of corruption won't stop the Chinese from stepping in to fill any gaps the tariffs leave in the Brazilian economy.

The Tr*mp tariffs may last a little longer than the Bush tariffs, but not long enough to justify opening new steel plants; or even to reopen the older, inefficient plants that still can be made operational.  The steel companies will be content just to raise prices.  Some businesses that use steel, though, may decide it's time to offshore production.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Teachers with Guns



I was doing a mental inventory of my colleagues over thirty years of teaching, considering which of them might be willing to pack heat in the classroom and which could be trusted to do so.  The categories don't intersect.  Granted, I didn't work in Idaho or Kentucky, but even in such gun-friendly places, I doubt the circles of the Venn diagram would overlap.

There will be volunteers, of course: some teachers will volunteer for anything that pays an additional stipend.  There will be training, probably by local sheriff's deputies — but even if the teacher volunteers refrain from grading papers during the PowerPoint presentations, the whole idea of turning educators into a sweater-vested SWAT team is absurd.

Given the suicidal nature of school shooters, arming teachers will have no deterrent effect: some shooters might welcome the "extra challenge."  We need to ask more questions about whom the "guardians" might end up shooting in a "combat" situation.  Do Our President and his NRA anticipate running gun battles?  Real life is neither an action movie nor a video game, and it is terrifying to think about what might happen in those states already enacting legislation to arm school personnel.

I have no problem with those who own guns for hunting or target shooting, but I'm sure they could manage quite nicely using bolt-action rifles and shotguns.  By contrast, people who own hand guns and semi-automatic rifles for "self-defense" all too often share a characteristic that should preclude gun ownership: unhealthy levels of fear.  It doesn't matter whether they fear home invasion, street crime, or a government imposition of shariah law: their fear inevitably makes them less rational.  We don't need people who are both armed and irrational in our schools.
 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shorts


Gun politics
The manufacturers of the "Bumpstock" profited mightily from the free advertising provided by Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter; but now that sales have dropped off again, Our President is willing to consider a ban.  Whoopie.  Wayne LaPierre of the NRA says those who support gun control are "socialists" — but, apparently, not Maoists, who believe that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."  I don't believe those wonderfully articulate young socialists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will change any Republican votes on gun control, but I feel certain they are helping themselves by channeling their grief and trauma into activism.

Tsuris for Bibi
It looks like years of corruption accusations finally have caught up with Bibi Netanyahu as his co-conspirators prepare to turn state's evidence against him.  Nevertheless, an impending indictment won't interrupt his plans to attend the AIPAC conference in Washington starting March 4, and to meet with Tr*mp for the fifth time.  AIPAC, which always has represented not Israel but Likud, will greet Bibi with cheers.  Tr*mp and Netanyahu can commiserate, and nobody should be surprised if Tr*mp recycles the comment he made about Rob Porter: "He says he's innocent."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Briefs


Rob Porter
You would think one would cease to be amazed by how the Tr*mp White House can turn what should have been an easy executive decision into a fiasco.  Even if Kelly and company decided to take their chances on a wife-beater for the sake of employing somebody less incompetent than the rest of the crew, they should have had plenty of time to cook up a coherent response for when the skeletons rattled the closet.  Oh!.. and has anyone asked Hope Hicks if she's still dating the creep?

Meanwhile, in Europe...
Southern Europe may turn out to be the big winner from the German election that put members of the far-right AfD party into the Bundestag.  It forced Angel Merkel to enter another coalition with the Social Democrats, the SPD — but this time the SPD will control the finance ministry. and the austerity obsessed Wolfgang Schaeuble will be gone.  Southern Europe still needs stimulus; and that now may be possible.

And in Israel...
One wonders if part of the motivation for recent Israeli bombing in northern Syria was to inspire patriotic support for Bibi Netanyahu, currently facing corruption charges.  Also, one wonders if US recognition of Jerusalem was a Trump/Kushner political gift to Bibi, intended for the same purpose.  Of course, such speculation may be wrong, even though it feels so right.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Tr*mp Slump?


Many are saying that the "problem" that caused the recent slip in stock prices is a tight labor market, leading to rising wages: corporations actually might have to spend more on labor, leaving less for dividends and executive bonuses.  Inflation, of course, will eat up wage increases, just as it's been doing since the 1970s.  Real wages will stay flat.

Have no fear, plutocrats!  You'll have plenty of money from the new tax code to resume your stock buybacks and top-level compensation increases.  There will be inflation and higher interest costs, though, thanks to that same tax legislation.  Adding an economic stimulus to an economy already experiencing steady growth and low unemployment guarantees more inflation.  On the bright side, you'll pay your higher labor costs with cheaper dollars.

The Fed has plenty of room to raise interest rates, of course, and plenty of motivation to do so.  Rates have to be increased significantly, so they can be dropped again as stimulus when the next recession arrives.  Other factors, including the irrelevance of the labor movement and the absence of any real competition among our corporate giants, make a wage-price spiral unlikely.

So what caused the slip in stock prices?  Sorry, but it wasn't Trump — no more than it was Tr*mp who created the bull market.  It's just that those computer algorithms that control a large majority of today's stock trades still are inclined to overreact to factors that human beings just don't notice.  Program trading brought us the bull market, and it's the most likely suspect when things get weird.

You can stop looking for the man behind the curtain, Dorothy — he's gone.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Nunes Memo


Something everybody seems to be forgetting at the moment is that the FISA court was created specifically to add a veneer of "due process" respectability to the desire of Federal agents to spy on anybody, anywhere, for any purpose whatsoever.  Although created in the post-911 panic, nowhere in the authorizing legislation does it say that the subject of intrusive surveillance has to be named Mohammed.

Getting the FISA court to issue a warrant is easier than getting the proverbial grand jury to indict the proverbial ham sandwich — there's nobody there to oppose the warrant, it is assumed that the warrant is, well, warranted, and the judges want to go to lunch.  If there isn't a big rubber stamp to mark "APPROVED" on every application, it's just another example of gross government inefficiency.

Carter Page, notoriously sleazy, might have justified a warrant by reputation alone.  Personally, I still don't see why the Russians would have needed Republican help to interfere in our election, although compromising some idiots in the Tr*mp campaign probably was just too easy a proposition to pass up.  The cover-up, as usual, is likely to be worse than the crime.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2020


Do you remember this guy?  He's Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland: a traditional liberal who could have been President of the United States.  Think back to the Democratic primary debates of 2016 — got it now?  He was that "other guy" on stage with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  I don't doubt for a moment that he would have been a stronger candidate against Tr*mp than either of his opponents.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing O'Malley get the nomination in 2020, if he decided to try again — but he won't.  Neither will Oprah, who is one of the smarter celebrities out there.

Can the Democrats blow it again with the wrong candidate?  Here's a hint: they ran Adlai Stevenson against Eisenhower a second time after he lost spectacularly the first time.  Even against Tr*mp, the most unpopular president in any living person's memory, Democrats could go wrong.

The Tr*mp presidency has liberated intrinsic American racism and sexism.  Despite backlash from #blacklivesmatter and #metoo, the infection is deep, virulent, and not nearly so embarrassing to the infected as it was a decade ago.  To win in 2020, Democrats just might have to put yet another white male at the top of their ticket.  Have no doubt that the Democratic establishment is struggling with the problem of satisfying its black and progressive female voters while bringing along enough of Middle America to gain an electoral victory.

Obama won the presidency because he never seemed black enough to threaten white America.  Corey Booker has those skills and much of the same charisma, but party leadership must be wondering whether Obama used up that particular kind of appeal.  Kamala Harris could do well with Democrats on the left, but her chief appeal to the party leadership might be as a black female running mate to a "dependable" white male.

Elizabeth Warren's focused sincerity, intellect, and genuine populism might make her the strongest female contender, but too many men (like Tr*mp) find her threatening.  Kirsten Gillibrand is too strongly identified with feminism for those same men — and there are lots of them — but would be another strong contender for the number-two slot.

So what about the white males?  The geezers in contention are Bernie Sanders, who sounds ready for another run, and Joe Biden, who wishes he hadn't dropped out last time.  Are millennials ready for more gerontocracy?  Neither Sanders nor Biden is much older than Tr*mp, and Biden would have a strong shot at the presidency even if the Republicans dump Tr*mp for a less embarrassing candidate.  The most attractive candidate among the younger white men might be Sherrod Brown: progressive, handsome, and from Ohio.

With any luck, Andrew Cuomo will be too wrapped up in ethics investigations to have a serious chance at the nomination.  I've sworn off making predictions, but I see a very strong possibility that frightened Democrats will dust off Biden and let him try again.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Who's to blame?


Our President was not happy to learn he had to cancel his $100,00 per couple party celebrating his first year in office.  He sincerely was looking forward to hearing a pack of fat cats tell him how great he is, but alas, that was not to be.  Just the same, I'm willing to bet he kept the money.

A major problem with using a partial government shutdown as a political bargaining tool is that most Americans don't notice it happening.  The current shutdown has distracted media attention from other matters, like payoffs to porn stars, for example, but given that chaos is what America has come to expect over the past year, a little thing like failure to fund the government for a while is unlikely to have much lasting political impact.

I suppose it's interesting to see the Democrats take a stand on something that resembles principle — even though saving DACA currently is more of an excuse for a fight than an ideological imperative to party leadership.  Most important is to demonstrate that Democrats can be just as obstructionist as Republicans were under Obama.  What we have now is a political power struggle, pure and simple.

Of course, this particular battle could have been averted had the President displayed any consistency in the positions he took regarding immigration policy over the past week — or any of his self-proclaimed genius for negotiation.  Sadly, Tr*mp's pathetic need to please empowers whoever last occupied his brief attention span — and Stephen Miller effectively ensures that those people always will be conservative extremists.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Shorts

Fire and Fury
Unlike many other commentators, I suspect, I actually read Michael Wolff's chatty and frequently amusing chronicle of his sojourn in the Tr*mp White House.  Anybody who's been paying attention cannot be surprised by any of it — including the general consensus among White House insiders that their boss, in the words of his Secretary of State, is a "f*cking moron."  (Granted, the brutality of their contempt for Jared Kushner exceeded expectations.)

I did wonder what combination of hubris and alcohol inspired Steve Bannon to babble his way into a schism with Rebekah Mercer, his primary financier.  Breitbart, apparently, concluded that its association with the Mercer billions far outweighed its association with Bannon.  If Bannon makes a comeback, it would be evidence that his "populist" movement was more grassroots than astroturf.  Don't hold your breath.

Sh*thole countries
Yes, the asterisk is absurd — but necessary for stylistic consistency with my spelling of "Tr*mp."  In truth, the vulgarity itself was less meaningful than Tr*mp's invitation to Bob Goodlatte, Tom Cotton, and other anti-immigration extremists to his meeting with Lindsey Graham and Richard Durbin to discuss their bipartisan proposal for action on immigration.  Tuesday's televised bipartisan dog-and-pony show was, after all, on Tuesday.  Somebody else must have bent Our President's ear in the intervening two days — most likely Stephen Miller.

Tr*mp, predictably, went to Twitter to deny saying what he said, but the outlook for DACA recipients is not good right now — and the same may be true for an agreement to prevent a partial government shutdown on January 19.

The Koreas
One truly must admire South Korean President Moon Jae-in for crediting recent diplomatic rapprochement with the North to Our President's infantile bellicosity.  Granted, the ploy was so transparent as to be laughable, but nobody ever lost a nickle by overestimating the Tr*mpian appetite for praise.  Presumably, we are safe from nuclear holocaust — at least until after the Winter Olympics.

It would be nice if the Senate finally got around to confirming Dr. Victor Cha's appointment as ambassador to South Korea.  Unlike certain other Tr*mp appointees (see Pete Hoekstra), Cha has both the experience and the expertise he needs to do the job.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Mess in Iran


To begin understanding the current situation in Iran, it may help to remember some history.  In 1953, US and British intelligence agencies fomented a coup against Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister.  When Mossadegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry, the oil companies thought they'd rather do business with the Shah, unencumbered by democracy.

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi ruled a police state until he was ousted in 1979.  Under his rule, Iran westernized and secularized; the cities prospered and women got the vote, while enemies of the state – Islamists and Communists – were executed or forced into exile.  Resistance to the police state came to be associated with resistance to westernization, so Islamic clerics came to lead the political resistance, and conservative Shi'a Islam became the ideology of revolution.

In the quarter-century the Shah was in power, though, a lot of urban Iranians came to lead quite secular lives.  While the rural population welcomed Islamic rule, city dwellers never quite came to terms with rule by the Ayatollahs. Still, US support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War helped maintain their support for the Islamic Republic.

Teheran, though, has remained relatively quiet in recent days; the strongest opposition to the regime comes from the small cities and towns far from the capital.  The most loyal supporters of the Ayatollahs now are expressing the greatest discontent.  Economic problems caused by mismanagement and corruption are the focus of their concerns, problems magnified by economic sanctions that were loosened but certainly not eliminated by the Iran nuclear agreement.  Exclusion from the US banking system makes trade even with willing partners very difficult.

A few demonstrators are reported to have called for a return of the Shah, but the largest number of Iranian monarchists currently are growing old in Los Angeles, and no news organizations are clamoring to interview the Crown Prince.  Our President's tweets "in support" of the protestors help only the current regime: any Iranians who long for a return of Anglo-American petroimperialism are well-advised to their heads down.

Word is that the budget documents that sparked the current unrest were leaked to the public by Hassan Rouhani, to call attention to large expenditures on religious institutions and the Revolutionary Guard.  Iranians might have tolerated a reasonable amount of graft and cronyism in a better economic climate, but not while living standards continue to decline.

The thing to watch for now is how the demonstrations alter the balance of power between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's archconservatives and President Rouhani's moderate reformers.  Security forces are likely to put an end to the demonstrations quite soon, but the political impact on Iran remains to be seen.