Saturday, March 16, 2019

College Admissions Q & A


Q.  Was anybody even remotely surprised by the recent college admissions scandal?

 A.   You must be kidding me.

Q.  Why would a coach at an important school want to take a bribe?

A.  Jealousy, pure and simple.  Resentment of the salary pulled down by the football coach.

Q.  If the kids were chronic "underachievers" even with all the private tutoring and fancy private schooling their wealthy parents must have given them, how did their parents expect them to graduate from a top-tier school?

A.  They were paying full tuition — of course they were going to graduate.  It's much harder to get into a top school than it is to graduate from it.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Red-baiting returns!


Anybody who came of age during the Cold War will remember "red-baiting" — the practice of tarring liberals and their ideas with the brush of "communism."  Needless to say, "communism" and "socialism" were used interchangeably; so even a popular socialist program like Medicare (1966) was attacked as a threat to "democracy" by "the red menace."

Red-baiting died down somewhat with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but if you're too young to remember it at its worst, don't worry — because it's back, and likely to play a major role in the 2020 election cycle.  It was the central thrust of the President's recent speech to CPAC, and most of his party already is on-board.

n truth, totalitarian communism has more in common with monopolistic capitalism than with democratic socialism.  In one, a tiny elite controls the government, which controls business and industry.  In the other, a tiny elite controls business and industry, which controls the government.  The Soviets needed more democracy; the United States needs more socialism.

The new red-baiting may be a good sign: an indicator that socialist ideas have become thinkable again.  The “Green New Deal,” “Medicare for All,” and free higher education are mainstream ideas today, and steadily growing more popular.  There is reason to hope that red-baiting will be far less effective in today’s politics than it was in the past.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Ilhan Omar


Let's get one thing straight: criticism of Israel is not the equivalent of antisemitism, and criticism of AIPAC is even less so.  It has been years since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee could be said to lobby on behalf of the State of Israel.  Today, it lobbies on behalf of Israel's Likud Party and, more specifically, on behalf of Bibi Netanyahu.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby!”
It's true that AIPAC itself makes no political contributions: it merely "suggests" that favored candidates for office enjoy the largess of wealthy Jewish (and Evangelical) supporters and those supporters write substantial checks to favored candidates and their superPACs.  (I can't help thinking that part of the problem with Omar's remark was that "Benjamin" sounds like a Jewish name.)  Pelosi forced an apology for that one, even though much of the uproar was motivated by prejudice against Muslims.

"Allegiance to a foreign country"
Dual loyalty is a "Jewish stereotype" that, frankly, I'd never heard of before.  I do remember people questioning whether John F. Kennedy would be more loyal to the Constitution or the Pope, but somehow I missed the part about Jews and Israel.  (Granted, my Hebrew school taught more Zionism than Hebrew, so I guess it's plausible.)  Notwithstanding all that, "allegiance" was a very poor choice of words.

Congressional support for Israel, not limited to Jewish members, is more a conditioned response than a true allegiance.  The US has supported Israel since 1948, usually with ample justification; but Netanyahu's Israel has become a different country.  The Palestinian "territories" are governed like the bantustans of apartheid South Africa, and Bibi is forming political alliances with open racists — not just the closeted ones.  This is happening with the encouragement and support of American conservatives, not all of whom are Jews.

The rebuke of Ilhan Omar seems to be intended as a warning to other young, progressive Democrats who might have the temerity to suggest American support for Israel might become a little more conditional.  I hope they don't knuckle under: it really is time for a change.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Cohen


I listened to the Michael Cohen's testimony on and off, and caught the highlight reels later on.  You'll have heard much of the endless commentary.  What I don't understand is why nobody, Cohen included, is not mentioning the most obvious reason to believe him: if he's caught lying to Congress again, they'll throw the book at him.

In his heart of hearts, I'm sure he's still a sleazebag – but he's in no position to misbehave.  It would be very surprising if the Southern District of New York didn't have a laundry list of charges they still could bring; they had a reason to ask for a longer sentence than the one recommended by Mueller.

Cohen's performance was impressive   He seemed a lot more intelligent than he was back when he still was a Tr*mp mouthpiece., butI guess that's easier to do when you don't have to do riffs on the lies of an idiot.  Now he'll have three years of otherwise unproductive time to work on his book.  Maybe I'll read it.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Extra brief briefs


  • National Emergency: He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but this weekend he's golfing at Mar a Lago again.
  • The Green New Deal: Market forces will not address climate change, so radical action is required.  More to come.
  • Blackface: If you can't recall any stupid, insensitive things you did when you still were in your twenties, you're still in your twenties. Northam should not resign.
  • Amazon: The company plans to add 5000 jobs at its New York headquarters – most likely more – with no bribery required.  Other cities and states should take note.
  • Brexit:  The question nobody seems to be asking is cui bono – which powerful individuals and corporations in the UK will profit from a "hard" Brexit?
  • Ilhan Omar: Antisemitism?  What she forgot to mention was that AIPAC doesn't represent Jews, or even Israel; it represents Likud.
  • Howard Schultz:  Just what we need! Another messianic billionaire!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Venezuela


Venezuela is a mess — and in a list of countries that could benefit from a coup d'état, Venezuela would be pretty close to the top.  That said, it should be their coup d'état, not ours.

The Venezuelan economy was not destroyed by socialism: it was destroyed by incompetence. Venezuela's oil fields were nationalized in 1976, but by the late 1980s they once again had fallen under the control of foreign multinational oil companies, with profits going primarily to big oil and Venezuelan plutocrats.  Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, on a promise of returning oil profits to the people — and he did.  There were massive improvements in education, health care, and other social goods.  The main beneficiaries were the poor.

That's when the incompetence kicked in.  Valuing loyalty over expertise (sound familiar?), Chavez replaced virtually everybody who knew anything about running an oil company with a political supporter.  As time went on, maintenance was neglected, equipment wasn't replaced, corruption flourished, and production fell steadily.  Persistent US economic sanctions (the oil companies were really pissed!) didn't help at all.

The Bush Administration organized a coup attempt in 2002, which accomplished nothing but alienating most of Latin America — even though the Bush team at least tried to be sneaky about it.  When Chavez died and Nicolás Maduro took over, oil revenues continued to fall, and so did the fortunes of the Venezuelan people.  Maduro seems to have no goal other than to stay in power.

Juan Guidó recently claimed the presidency following an encouraging phone call from Mike Pence; and John Bolton cheerily applauded the impending privatization of Venezuelan oil.  Guidó comes from a far-right political party that represents only a fraction of Maduro's opposition, but a lot of Venezuelans seem willing to take what they can get, provided it's not Maduro.  Even many of the poor are deserting the Chavezistas in the face of economic catastrophe.  The oil barons are licking their lips.

If Guidó does come to power, at least Venezuelans will get an influx of sorely needed economic aid.  Hopefully, he can do it without the American invasion Our President says is "on the table."  Maduro is right when he says it could turn into another Vietnam: numerous past US interventions in Latin America have left us few real friends south of the border. Of course, Tr*mp might invade just to distract attention from the Mueller investigation.

We'll have to wait and see — probably not for long.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

State of the Union



I'm sure we're all looking forward to Our President's State of the Union address, wondering how he'll manage to put a positive spin on recent events, and ready to count how many standing ovations he gets from the Republican side of the aisle.  They'll do their best to look enthusiastic, I suppose, despite the damage he's done to their party — not to mention their country.

I confess that the shutdown lasted twice as long as I expected: it turned out that McConnell was more adroit at ducking the blame than anticipated.  Eventually, though, there were enough pointing fingers to poke him into action.  Plutocratic fingers, of course, are especially pointy — and McConnell's first and foremost goal as Leader has been to keep the dark money flowing (and dark.)  It's not unreasonable to suspect that some of those extra-pointy fingers started poking pretty hard.

I won't presume to predict what will happen when the temporary funding bill expires.  Will the Congressional conference committee toss Our President enough crumbs to save a smidgen of face?  Will Tr*mp decide a "state of emergency" will shore up his base and distract attention from the Mueller inquiry?  Will some brand new craziness emerge over the next three weeks?

I don't know about the first two options, but number three seems like a safe bet. The state of the union, as I'm sure you've noticed, is wack.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Creep


No, not that creep — albeit the creep you're thinking of may be poised to accelerate the creep I'm thinking of: the creeping accretion of presidential power.

Every American child learns about the three branches of government, and the idea of "checks and balances."  Formulated by the Founders as a check on tyranny, it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.  What they failed to foresee was the advent of the professional politician, and how that development would throw their plan for checks and balances into disarray.

Politicians hoping to win reelection do their best to avoid any action that might stir controversy: they much prefer to leave such actions to the President.  The last time Congress used its constitutional power to declare war was in 1941, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor; and all our current conflicts – in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – are unconvincingly based on the Authorization of Military Force against al-Qaeda, enacted in response to the 9/11 attacks.

 Congress also allows the President to act without its approval in cases of national emergency, but national emergency has never been well-defined.  Until now, presidents have used it primarily to impose economic sanctions on specific governments and individuals — actions Congress could have initiated on its own had it been so inclined.  In those instances, Congressional inaction may have been motivated more by laziness than by political peril, but still served to accelerate the creep of authority from the Legislature to the Executive.

Currently, Our President is very likely to use his emergency powers to build his wall, diverting the needed funds from Army Corps of Engineers projects currently budgeted to help victims of recent hurricanes and wildfires.  Most congressional Republicans seem ready to allow it, even though doing so would mean ceding fiscal authority to the executive — thereby compromising the single most important legislative check on executive power and further eroding what remains of our putative democracy.

Congress does have the authority to stop it, under the National Emergency Act of 1976; but that would entail Mitch McConnell, that most professional of professional politicians, letting a challenge reach the floor of the Senate.  He won't.

And the creep goes on.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Meanwhile, elsewhere...


Preoccupied with the chaos of our own national politics, it's easy enough to ignore the political chaos going on elsewhere.  Despite the best efforts of Our President, America certainly can't claim a monopoly on dysfunction; so let's take a moment to check in on a couple of our friends overseas.

If the test of a true compromise is that neither side is happy with it, Theresa May's Brexit deal passes with flying colors, unable to gain majority support even within her own Conservative party.  It is scarcely less contentious among Labour and Liberal MPs; only UKIP remains committed, and that minority party of xenophobes and neo-imperialists appears to be in rapid decline.  In the meanwhile, it looks like the UK is headed for a hard Brexit – with no negotiated exit plan – at the end of March.

Most economists agree that a hard Brexit will damage the British economy, but most Britons, like most Americans, pay scant attention to economists: typically, economic arguments just aren't visceral enough to sway the average voter.  Brexit is an ideological controversy that somehow managed to detach itself from party politics; and since the political parties are divided, no coherent approach to addressing it has emerged.  While a second Brexit referendum seems like the only logical approach to resolution, it probably would further divide the British public.

Nevertheless, the British deserve a new referendum, given that the first one was largely based on lies.  This time, the choice is more clear: between a hard Brexit with none of the advantages of EU membership, and remaining within the bloc, accepting the restraints membership entails.


Meanwhile, in France, Emmanuel Macron has been gobsmacked by the yellow vest movement, a genuinely populist, virtually leaderless series of protests by working class citizens — despite the best efforts of Jeanne-Marie LePen on the right and Jean-Luc Mélanchon on the left to jump out in front and lead the parade.  Even though the protests are dying down, the sentiments underlying them remain strong.

Macron was supposed to be France's savior — the new leader of a new party that would sweep away the old dysfunction.  When he turned out to be yet another entitled rich boy with strong corporatist tendencies, the French were sorely disappointed.  Unlike our own entitled rich boy, though, Macron has been smart enough to make some concessions.  Will they be enough to salvage his political career?  Probably not.  His tax cuts for the ultra-rich seem firmly entrenched.

*     *     *
Chaos notwithstanding, the multi-party democracies of Western Europe at least hold out the possibility of compromise and change.  In the US, though, it seems that our entrenched two-party system only can generate more division and more chaos.  The next two years of divided government are bound to be what the apocryphal Chinese curse calls "interesting times."