Saturday, April 29, 2017

100 Days

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Presidential Powers

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

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

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Why Tr*mp Attacked Syria

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017


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

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

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

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