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.