Saturday, December 10, 2016

Of Love and Squalor

Or Which Way Will this Bromance Turn?




It is hard to understand why Obama didn't release this "intelligence" during the campaign rather than wait until now to give the green light to CIA to inform Congress of the hacking that took place during the election.  The assessment points to a number of operatives with connections to the Russian government, but stops short of making a direct link between the Kremlin and the DNC computer hacking.  For his part Julian Assange says he got the information from other sources.

It is no more damning than was Comey's report to Congress that the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails should be reopened because of the link between Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton via Huma Abedin.  But, it would have gone a long way toward casting doubt on the relationship between Trump and Putin.

Throughout the election, Trump praised Putin and felt the US should have stronger ties with Russia.  He never really gave a reason for this beyond fighting ISIS, but it was felt by many that Russian banks are underwriting a great number of his projects, since Donald found it difficult to get the loans he wanted in the US.  With no release of his tax returns, there is no way to prove this, so like everything else we can only guess.

Even odder is why Putin, a self-professed man of the people claiming he only has his President's salary to live in, would so actively support Trump?  After all, Vlad's rise to power was predicated on putting oligarchs like Mikhail Khodorkovsky behind bars.  Time and again, Putin chastised Russian billionaires for their profligate ways, demanding a closer accounting of their companies.  This meant tightened tax laws, which is what landed Khodorkovsky in jail.

Trump would appear to be the very embodiment of everything Putin hates, yet on several occasions the Russian president took the opportunity to praise Trump for his business acumen and continues to do so.  A large part of this bromance hinges on Trump doing away with the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia as a result of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.  Trump feels we should let bygones be bygones and move on, believing he has a valuable partner in his fight against ISIS, which he used as his most effective campaign rhetoric.

However, if we look at the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has resulted in a diaspora of approximately 5 million refugees, Russia has done more to exacerbate the crisis than it has to resolve it with the ongoing support of Bashar Assad and its own air strikes.  Syria was already in turmoil with its long-running drought and civil conflicts, but it turned into a nightmare with the raid on Aleppo, a once thriving city of 2.5 million people reduced to rumble.  It is the same kind of scorched-earth campaign Putin used in Grozny to bring Chechnya to heel.  All for what, to keep Assad in power and maintain Russia's foothold in the Middle East?

Obama didn't make things any better by pressing for Assad to step down in the wake of the Arab Spring.  His famous "red line" speech rings very hollow today, and may well have been the reason Trump was so effectively able to use Syria against Hillary.  By not delivering on this threat, Obama made himself look weak, and Hillary in turn.  Putin has since been viewed as having gotten the better of both of them.

It was pretty clear to everyone that Hillary would run for office in 2016 as no other major Democrat was coming forward.  Putin has had long-standing animosity toward her and vice-versa.  She spoke out harshly against him while serving as Secretary of State, notably at a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, where she openly chastised Russia in 2011.  So, it isn't much of a stretch that he would orchestrate a cyber-campaign against her.  With no direct evidence, the CIA assessment comes across as little more than idle speculation.

Vladimir Putin very much knows how to get his way.  He has orchestrated a re-alignment of political interests by using such dubious figures as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Julian Assange and a variety of Eastern European politicians to create instability in the EU, which joined the US in sanctions against Russia in 2014.  His patience comes from not being challenged in his home country, so he has plenty of time to conduct his campaigns without worry of being voted out of office.  European and American leaders don't have that luxury.  Putin is thriving off the current chaos in Europe and the United States, while his own authority was never in doubt despite US and EU efforts through joint sanctions.

We currently see the ruling parties in France and the Netherlands scrambling to stave off what appears will be a hard push from the Far Right in the upcoming elections.  PM Renzi was forced to eat his words on the referendum he tried to push through Italy that would have solidified his power base.  Austria found itself in a hotly contested presidential election, although in this case the "good guy" won.  Yet, stock markets are soaring and there is a general positive view of the near economic future seemingly because of less tensions between the US and Russia in the wake of Trump's victory.

However, it feels more like the calm before the storm.   Too many things have happened this past year to be so rosy about the future.  Brexit will ultimately destabilize the EU, especially if other countries follow suit, which some political leaders have vowed to do.  I don't think the US is ready for the shock and awe a Trump presidency will bring, nor is the rest of the world.  Trump has already hinted at a trade war with China.

But, if he is going to be BFF with Vladimir Putin then he has to be careful how he treats Vlad's friends.  He can't very well alienate China if China is part of a new alliance with Russia and Turkey.  Iran is also part of that alliance, so Trump better be careful what he has to say about this country as well.  After all, Russia was a major player in the nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration in an effort to mend fences.

Trump is literally walking into a mine field, as would have Hillary if she had been elected President.  Putin has very cleverly forged alliances that make it difficult for the US to flex its muscle in Asia without triggering a massive counter response.  So, all those bellicose words best be kept in private conversations.

It is highly unlikely this CIA assessment of Russian hacking during the campaign is going to wipe that Cheshire grin off Putin's face.  He is sitting in catbird's seat and he knows it.  He played this election perfectly and has what many regard as a "useful idiot" soon to be in the White House.  The only question is whether Trump realizes he is being played.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Lost in the counting




One of the problems with the recount taking place in Wisconsin is that many of the ballots are being run through the same computers as they were November 8, so major errors are not likely to be found.  The question all along has been whether the electronic voting machines were hacked, but it seems it will take a Congressional investigation to get to the bottom of this and that could be a very long time in the making.  Republican leaders are not in any hurry.

Even if they did, it is doubtful they would find anything as they would most likely look in all the wrong places.  If such ballot tampering took place, it probably occurred at the local level, which more likely than not would be connected to local RNC affiliates.  After all, these are the guys who stood the most to gain with a Trump victory, especially in Republican-led states like Wisconsin and Michigan.  North Carolina should also be questioned, as should Florida and Ohio for similar reasons.  It is highly doubtful this was a Kremlin-backed plot.

We simply can't bring ourselves to believe that our political parties would stoop this low, but after this ugly election cycle I wouldn't put anything past guys like Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Pat McCrory, Rick Scott or even John Kasich.  These are governors who will do anything to win, and they all threw their support behind Trump, except for Kasich, who probably regrets that he didn't now.  He was evidently Trump's first choice for Vice-President.

Wisconsin is particularly suspect because here we get the nexus of Republican chicanery in Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus, who somehow managed to turn a union blue-collar state into a right-to-work red state with the help of the Koch Brothers in eight short years.  It is really hard to believe Cheese-heads willingly submitted themselves to this, knowing the impact this would have on their state.  All the votes should be counted by hand, which is what Jill Stein tried to have done but failed.

We have deluded ourselves into thinking that the two parties play by the same rule book, when the Republicans threw the rule book out the window long before they found a straw man in Obama to attack.  The main aim had been to stifle voter turnout with voter ID laws and a smaller window of early voting, but this election had a very good turnout, second only to the 2008 election in recent election years.

Hillary amassed over 65 million votes, matching Obama's count in 2012.  She will finish close to 3 million votes better than Trump, yet find herself losing the electoral college because of three key states -- Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- all thought to have been solidly in her column before the election.  There was little reason to doubt this given that Obama had won Wisconsin by 200,000, Michigan by 450,000, and Pennsylvania by 310,000 votes in 2012.  If anything, the economic situation is better in these three states now than it was in 2012, yet magically they all turned for Trump.

All three states had slightly lower turnouts than in 2012, but not enough to account for this amazing turnaround, especially since none of these states had voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, and that included George W. Bush who won two terms in the White House.  So, why Trump?  Did these Upper Midwesterners truly believe Trump would bring their manufacturing jobs back?  Or, that Hillary was actually the devil in disguise?

The same people that believe nothing is out of the ordinary in the Upper Midwest believe that the only reason Hillary won the popular vote is because millions of illegal immigrants voted for her in California.  True there was a spike in voting in California this time around -- but only 500,000 votes.  Hillary's margin of popular victory was 2.65 million votes.  So, where did all these other mysterious votes come from since she lost Florida despite an influx of Puerto Rican voters this year?

One can't make the case that Democrats were less excited about Hillary than they were Obama, given she matched his 2012 popular vote total.  She just didn't get those votes in the right places, which is why scrutiny should be brought to bear on the states that voted for Obama in 2012 but against Hillary in 2016.  For all these states to go Republican this time around seems a bit incredulous to the say the least.

Yet, Obama himself is asking everyone to accept the results and move on.  For her part, Hillary has asked Americans to do the same.  It seems they would rather accept the questionable outcome than have our electoral process called into question.

It's not like this hasn't happened before.  Many persons still believe that Nixon lost the 1960 election thanks to the chicanery of Democratic political machines in Illinois, Texas and California.  Nixon was encouraged to dispute the outcome of the very close election but chose not to, presumably for the sake of the country.  The 2000 election similarly remains disputed given the Bush family connections in Florida.  It seems like an unwritten rule that both parties accept the results regardless of how dubious they might be.

Jill Stein has tried to challenge the system, but finds herself running up against a brick wall.  Wisconsin agreed to a recount but only doing so electronically.  Michigan has blocked her completely, and it is doubtful her petition will be accepted in Pennsylvania.  This means that once again state election officials are left off the hook.

Instead, some Democratic electors are trying to get Republican electors to deny Trump the presidency by being "unfaithful" to their states when the Electoral College meets later this month.  This so-called Electoral College Revolt is no more likely to happen than mysterious hacked ballot boxes are to turn up in Wisconsin.  Yet, many of us simply can't accept Trump won this election "fair and square."

We fool ourselves into thinking our vote is as valuable as everyone else's, when votes are still disproportionately weighted by the states we live in.  Even with the huge outpouring of votes for Hillary in California, these votes are worth less in the Electoral College than are votes from Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, when you divide the population of these states by their electoral votes.  She could have won 100 per cent of the California vote and she still wouldn't have won the electoral college.

This antiquated system was derived by our Founding Fathers as a compromise to the Southern states, which felt they would get trampled in national elections by the much more populous Northern states.  Southern legislators also pushed for the notorious 3/5s rule, allowing for slaves to be counted toward their electoral votes, even though they had no right to participate in the process.

The Founding Fathers were determined to move beyond a confederation of states and become a nation.  They tried hard for 12 years but the populist victory of Jefferson in 1800 and later Jackson in 1828 ended any dreams of Federalism.  The Electoral College is not so much an anachronism, as it is a reflection of this deeply divided nation.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Incident at Standing Rock




In a surprise move, President-elect Trump met with Al Gore this week to discuss global warming.  It had been billed as a meeting between Al and Ivanka, but apparently that was just the prelude.  Could the Donald actually be considering the former Vice-President and ardent environmentalist as his Energy Secretary, after Harold Hamm said no?   Of course, Coal-tar Joe Manchin would be the more obvious choice, a man who hasn't seen a pipeline he doesn't like, but it seems Ivanka may be steering her father in a more environmental-friendly direction.

Gore has also been a sharp critic of the Dakota access pipeline, and the Keystone Pipeline before that.  Both of which are nothing more than cash cows for the wealthy elite who own shares in these two ventures.  The last 8 years has shown us we don't need these pipelines as there is a surplus of oil thanks to a pro-sustainable energy policy by Obama, which has seen a big rise in wind, solar and biomass energy.  So much so that coal and oil production has dropped off precipitously.

Nevertheless. Energy Transfer Partners has pressed for the Dakota Access Pipeline, down to the last leg at Standing Rock Reservation on the Dakota border, largely to bring oil from the Bakken oil reserves in North Dakota to storage tanks in Illinois, where presumably it is more easily transportable to refineries in Texas.

However, the good folks at Standing Rock were having none of it and rose up in protest.  A stand off that has gone on for the better part of four months with numerous celebrities lending their guest appearances and Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders both making the pilgrimage.  Jill even got arrested.  Al Gore described what was going on as an "absolute atrocity," as state officials stepped in to try to remove the protesters, seeming to forget that Native American reservations are under federal, not state jurisdiction.  But, what finally tipped this issue was the arrival of 2000 military veterans, who vowed to stand with the Sioux in defiance of this stretch of the pipeline that crossed onto their reservation.  They looked like the cavalry, only in this case coming to protect the Indians.

With winter setting in and the potential danger of loss of lives, President Obama finally denied a permit that would have allowed the Dakota Access Pipeline through part of the Sioux tribal reservation.    However, there is a cautious optimism at Standing Rock with many Native Americans refusing to go home.  Energy Transfer Partners are furious because they have to rethink about 20 miles of their pipeline.  They are banking on Trump to reverse this executive order, having contributed to his campaign.

But, the man who would be President has divested in the pipeline and seems to be tipping in favor of the populous fervor in regard to the pipeline.  It's not just spritely film actresses like Shailene Woodley and uppity politicians like Jill Stein who have defiantly protested against the pipeline crossing into the Indian reservation, conservatives who claim brotherhood with the Native Americans are also against this corporate trespassing.  This makes it a whole new issue for conservative politicians to contend with.  Even the Oil Queen Sarah Palin has been surprisingly quiet on the issue.

The pipeline was started when times were good in North Dakota, enjoying a big oil boom thanks to reserves found deep underground.  Problem is that this led to a glut in supply and oil prices went tumbling, resulting in many of these oil wells being abandoned.  It is an ecological nightmare as these companies, many of them the fly-by-night variety, didn't bother to address the mess they left behind.

Looking at the big picture, the roughly $4 billion spent on this pipeline would have been better invested in solar and wind infrastructure.  If you are going to call yourself an "energy transfer partnership" then you need to look at energy more broadly than simply delivering oil from dried up fields in North Dakota that currently have little market value, and are not likely to gain value in the near future.  This was one of those projects dreamed up when oil prices were soaring but now looks like a failed mortgage company venture.

Maybe this is why Trump chose to meet with Gore, hoping to gain some insight into the energy issue that eluded him during the campaign.  He was the Coal and Oil King during the election cycle, vowing to return all these lucrative jobs to the good folks of West Virginia and North Dakota, but now it seems the Donald is having second thoughts, and decided to take stock in sustainable energy, which has a far greater future.

Bakken is a veritable wasteland, emitting a foul and pestilent odor over North Dakota.  There have been attempts to clean it up, but it is a slow process, especially now that many of these wildcat drillers have pulled up stakes and no longer consider themselves accountable for the damage.  It is a perfect example of why we so badly need environmental regulations.

In a very unusual political year, the Incident at Standing Rock stands out as what people can do if they stand up against the government, forcing the President to finally intercede on an issue that should have been a no-brainer.  But, I guess Obama didn't want it impacting on Hillary's campaign, which was already struggling to contain Hurricane Donald.  Now all that remains to be seen is whether Trump will honor the decision that was made and offer a cleaner energy vision of the future than the one he expressed during the campaign?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dressing Melania



What's a poor girl to do when she can't even get Tom Ford to dress her.  But don't worry, Melania won't have to go in her birthday suit to the inauguration. Tommy Hilfiger said he would be proud to dress her.  It's just the latest in the faux couture outrage being sparked by a Trump administration.  It's not like Melania had anything to worry about as there are plenty of designers ready to drape her in their garments.

However, it is doubtful that Melania will be the face of this new administration.  Trump leaned heavily on his daughter, Ivanka, throughout the election cycle and it is safe to assume this is the image he will project during his administration.  He also leaned heavily on her husband, Jared Kushner, who is said to have been the brains behind the improbable victory, not Bannon or Conway, who are often given credit.  So, Melania will have plenty of time to work on ridding the web of cyber-bullies.

It is safe to say we have never had a first lady quite like this one.  She was known more for her racy photo shoots than for the garments she wore (or didn't wear) as a model.  Donald had great fun with her during the surprisingly long courtship that ultimately led to the wedding aisle in 2005, one of the hottest tickets that year.  He even had Billy Joel singing Uptown Girl at his reception.

No doubt it was a dream come true for the Slovenian model, who now finds herself a folk hero back in her hometown of Ljubljana.  They even named the Christmas tree after her.  But, she drew the line at honey and underwear.  After all, the first lady has an image to protect.

As for Ivanka, it is hard to imagine what she thinks of all this.  She's been surprisingly quiet in the wake of the election victory.  Even before the big day she had been keeping a low profile.  Maybe she felt her father had gone too far with some of his more vicious outbursts, or she too had a hard time reconciling the audio tape of her father bragging about all his affairs.  One assumes all is forgiven now that she stands to be the most powerful first daughter in American history.

Only Alice Roosevelt can serve as a measure for Ivanka.  The sassy first daughter of Teddy Roosevelt didn't let herself be defined by anyone, and like Ivanka had to deal with a stepmom in the White House.  Teddy's first wife, whom Alice was named after, had died, leaving a great hole in the family.  Ivanka is older and presumably wiser at 34.  Alice was 24 at the end of the Roosevelt administration.

Ivanka is also a better dresser than Melania and much more confident in her appearances.  Of course, it all comes natural for her as she was raised in an opulent lifestyle, attended the best schools and married a savvy husband, who clearly knows how to play the system when it comes to media strategy.  The two no doubt will work hard to keep their father out of trouble over the next four years.

One imagines they are also trying to temper his cabinet appointments, which is leading to some buyers' remorse among his more vociferous supporters, who thought he was going to pull from their ranks.  The appointment of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary has the alt-right up in arms.  They also aren't very happy about Nikki Haley as UN ambassador, as she once criticized the Donald.  But, you figure the media strategy is to play both ends against the middle.

Anyway, it doesn't look like this election will be overturned by the recounts or the electoral college.  Like it or not, someone will have to dress Melania.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

We interrupt this programming to bring you a ...




Fake news is now being credited for Trump's victory.  The Washington Post reports that much of it emanated from Russia Today and Sputnik, on-line propaganda arms of the Kremlin, and was furthered along by botnets and paid trolls.  Of course, there is also a veritable rogues' gallery of homegrown reactionaries who love to spread fake stories and conspiracy theories.  Alex Jones is often credited as the source for much of Trump's false claims.  But, is this just another means of deflecting blame, as the major news media outlets often lent credence to many of these false stories by inviting the purveyors of this news smut on their shows?

CNN is the chief culprit, having many of Trump's supporters as panelists on their round table discussions, most infamously Corey Lewandowsky.  Over the years, they have also hosted Orly Taitz, principal leader of the Obama birther movement, and Roger Stone, who likewise will use any venue to spread his ludicrous conspiracy theories.  Of course, the anchors will do their best to discredit these persons, but why the hell invite them on your network in the first place?

At least Jeff Zucker is honest in saying that Trump may not be good for the nation but he's good for CNN. Zucker is the same guy who gave Trump his first high profile television platform in The Apprentice, riding the orange-maned steed to unprecedented television ratings.  It was a conscious decision on his part to give Trump all this free air time and make his surrogates an active part of his programming, regardless if what they said was often blatantly false.  Who cares as long as they boost ratings.

Everyone got in on the Trump ratings bonanza, including John Oliver who began to devote more and more of his time to Drumpf, as he liked to call him.  Trump was everywhere.  You simply couldn't escape him no matter how hard you tried.  So, these poor souls, including myself, set out to refute him or make fun of him, but we were no match for the Trumfinator.  He became the walking, talking embodiment of every false news story being spread through the Internet, daring anyone to fact check him because he knew it didn't matter.  Once the story was out there, there was no taking it back.

The aim was simple -- create as much doubt and confusion as you can leaving persons to rely on their own anecdotal observations rather than anything the mainstream media had to say.  You spread stories of welfare fraud and voter fraud and just about everyone can come up with an example to prove the allegations in their minds.  News pundits who tried to discredit Trump ended up looking like stammering idiots.  They were no match for the power of social media, which became Trump's primary weapon.

One can guffaw at what is said on social media, but any attempt to do battle on facebook or twitter quickly proves a futile effort.  As many times as I have used Snopes or Politifact or FBI or Census Bureau data to rebut some of the more outrageous stories spread by conservative friends, I am trumped by their personal observations or a link to some shady conservative website like Prager U, operated by the notorious Dennis Prager.

There no longer is any baseline in these "info wars."  This is what Alex Jones set out to do.  By creating a world of dark conspiracies that one could never fully disprove, he called all information into question, turning it into a battle of who could make the most outlandish argument and get away with it, simply by repeating it over and over again so that many persons actually think there is some element of truth in it.  He is our modern day Tail-Gunner Joe McCarthy.

He's not alone.  There are many, many more just like him, spreading fake news far and wide.  The Russians just figured out how to tap into all this anxiety and spread it even further, using their propaganda news programs as conduits.  But, none of this would have been allowed to grow to such gargantuan proportions had not the mainstream media lent credence to these bogus stories by allowing persons to air them on their programs.  Anderson Cooper devoted an entire segment to the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories in his attempt at "keeping them honest."  Much like the birther claims, CNN simply couldn't let a story like this go.  They hopped all their sanctimonious high horse to debunk a story that gained more traction the more they talked about it.

The evening news became a commodity, bought and sold with little regard to the truth, peddling its reality show premises rather than offer any kind of hard news, much less serious criticism until the damage is done.  It is like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

Now these former bastions of journalistic integrity are looking for scapegoats, whether it be the Kremlin or Alex Jones or Donald Trump himself, when they only have themselves to blame for helping to perpetuate this surreal world we now live in.  This is why news should not be part of the corporate media.  Mainstream television and print media can no more serve as news watchdogs than facebook, youtube and twitter, especially when they make their news feeds part of social media.  

All you can do is counter it and hope you will get as many likes and shares as the next person.  This is now what drives all media, whether it be Kylie Jenner's scanty selfies or Katy Bolduan's hot legs.





As we move toward an evermore automated society, a little reality check is in order.  Westworld offers a glimpse into a future where robots are so life-like that they assume memories as their own and struggle to reconcile them, in the process crossing the artificial plane into consciousness.

This is a theme that has run through science fiction for decades.  Probably the most famous novel along these lines is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which served as the basis for the movie Blade Runner.  Jonathon Nolan has taken a lot from Philip K. Dick, but Nolan pushes artificial intelligence to a whole new existential level, turning a popcorn movie from the 70s into a television series that pushes viewers to question the meaning of life.

One can argue that there is a lot of pretense here.  After all, it is a western landscape peopled by androids that assume the roles of the Wild West.  Nolan doesn't seem overly interested in the western genre.  He offers us a few stereotypical scenes, but his androids appear to be driven by a ghost in the machine, impelling them to reach for more.  The maze becomes the central theme of the narrative, as various androids and a lone guest (referred to as the man in black) go in search of it.  At the center presumably lies the meaning to their existence.  

This is very similar to Dick's novel, in which a bounty hunter in search of renegade androids is drug deeper into a corporate maze that ultimately leads him to question his own identity.  Nolan chooses to use Western characters, as they represent the prototypes of our American mythos.   Nolan's androids also come in various generations, although in this case it is the earlier models that hold the secrets to the maze.

Humans seem incidental to the action in this show, all except Ford (impeccably played by Anthony Hopkins) who lords over his creations like a god.  To some degree, he has given his androids free will based on what he calls "reveries."  These are simulated backstories around which their narratives are based.  The better androids have been reused several times over the 30-year span of Westworld, so they have embedded past lives that they now find emerging as a result of these reveries.  At first confusing, but then ultimately a tool to better establish their identities and learn to manipulate situations to their advantage.  Again, very similar to Dick's novel.  What makes this show particularly intriguing is the way the "hosts," as they are called, interact with their technicians and guests, blurring the line between artificial and real intelligence.  

Ford opins at one point that there is no significant difference, other than one controls the other.  As much as the hosts struggle to understand their roles and even rebel against their prescribed narratives, they are brought back in line with simple voice commands.  It really comes down to how much leeway they are given in terms of emotional intelligence, and whether they can use their cunning or charm to their advantage.

As viewers, we are left to wonder just how fixed is our own genetic code?  Are we as free spirited as we would like to think we are, or as Ford also noted, subject to the same repetitive loops with very little variation.  Here, Nolan pushes into quasi-religious themes, which fortunately he chooses to keep at arm's length in the first season.

I won't give too much away because Nolan does a great job of drawing you into his story, creating a fair amount of suspense along the way.  The first season is spread out over ten parts with the final installment coming this Sunday.  Like his androids, it is an intricately plotted narrative, slowly revealing the back stories of the central characters, and setting the stage for what one hopes will be a long run.  If there is any fault, it is that Nolan takes his premise too seriously.  After all, it is ostensibly a Western and he could have had more fun with the genre.



Monday, November 28, 2016

Enfant terrible




If there is one thing our President-elect can't stand it is being challenged.  His spokeswoman said that Donald may not be so forgiving if Hillary Clinton presses ahead with the recount in the Upper Midwest states.  Donald also tweeted that the popular vote is a sham due to illegal votes being cast, reviving his own fraud charges from the campaign.  Seems he also doesn't like the fact that he wasn't popularly elected.

I don't imagine Team Hillary would have signed onto the recount if there wasn't something to indicate that irregularities occurred in Wisconsin.  This does open up a potential Pandora's Box, which seems to be what the Obama administration is worried about.   A rigged electronic voting machine would potentially throw all state vote totals into question.

This has been a crazy election cycle, so it is a fitting capstone that the results are being challenged.  One can bet if there had been this much uncertainty surrounding the 2012 results, Team Romney would have at least challenged the Ohio vote count, as he and his staff were so sure they had the Buckeye State in the bag.

Never has there been so much concern regarding a foreign country interfering with the election as there has been this year with Russia.  Not only were the hacks into the DNC computers believed to have originated from the Kremlin, but one of the Kremlin's spokesmen said he was in contact with the Trump campaign team, knowing them all personally, although he eventually retracted that statement.

It's not like the hacking has to originate from Russia anyway, there are plenty of cyberpunks around the country glad to crack into computer systems if for no other reason than to create chaos.  This is basically the MO of Wikileaks, which has turned from whistleblowing to cyber theft.  What Assange did is no different from what Nixon's band of crooks did at Watergate, yet no one is holding anyone accountable for these hacked e-mails.  Given Assange's cozy relationship with Russia Today, all this could have been easily orchestrated by the Kremlin, but because of the relative anonymity of the web very hard to prove.

That is the case with the alleged tampering of electronic voting machines.  One can demonstrate how easy it is to hack the older machines, which are still in use in many states, but very hard to prove whether someone actually did it without having a paper ballot to run the electronic results against.  It doesn't seem that such duplicate ballots exist.

Trump should be more magnanimous given the likelihood of turning the results in Wisconsin are very slim.  Hillary would have to make up more than 20,000 votes and most likely whatever hacking may have taken place would have altered the outcomes in very small degrees, hoping for a close election to tilt the balance in favor of one candidate.  The only real danger is in discovering a machine was hacked, but even here the RNC can pass it off as an isolated incident and push for state officials to validate the results.

It makes no sense for Trump to be lashing out like this, but sadly it is his nature and if these election results hold up we can expect much more of this behavior in the years ahead.  He is an angry, vindictive man who cannot tolerate being challenged and will stop at nothing to get his way.  He made no effort to disguise this ugly trait during the campaign, so one can only assume many Americans accept his bilious nature and are hoping he "drains the swamp" by vanquishing anyone who stands in his way, especially Hillary, who they would love to see hung in effigy for the perceived sins of the federal government.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

So long, Fidel




In the end it seemed the Republicans stole a page from the Castro Guide to Political Resistance by defying Obama the past eight years and getting away with it.  Of course, Fidel had been defying the US for very nearly 60 years, having outlived 10 presidents and very nearly an 11th president despite worst-laid efforts to eliminate him.  It's almost sad to see him go.

For decades Castro had served as the poster image for conservative nightmares in the Caribbean rim.  It all stemmed from the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the  Cuban missile crisis, which effectively put Cuba in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.  It didn't have to be that way.  Castro had actively courted American support after his revolution, but it seems Ike didn't like what he saw and went to the golf course instead.  No one could have imagined Fidel would turn out to be the worst thorn in the side that America ever had, surviving numerous assassination attempts and an embargo that has lasted 56 years.

You would think the door is open to a better relationship between the US and Cuba now that Fidel is completely out of the way, but there are those who won't give an inch until every last Castro is gone, insisting on a meaningless blockade that has done much more harm to US-Latin American relations than it has to Cuba, who long ago figured out how to skirt the economic barriers and survive just fine on its own.

His brother Raul has been running the country since 2008, as Fidel didn't consider himself fit enough to lead anymore, but you figure Raul pretty much kept to his elder brother's playbook, even if he took a kinder, gentler approach.  This resulted in the most amicable relationship yet between the US and Cuba when Raul and Obama exchanged greetings at the Nelson Mandela memorial in South Africa, 2013.  That much derided handshake led to a formal opening of relations at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, 2015.

Republicans bemoaned each step of this rapprochement, having thought they had rendered Obama irrelevant after the 2014 midterms.  They stuck to their defiance, much like Fidel, who similarly expressed his displeasure from his hospital bed.  Little brother had moved out of his shadow and was trying to forge new relationships on his own.

Fidel probably worried about the long term prospects of such a relationship having gone through something similar himself nearly 20 years before when Pope John Paul II pushed for closer ties in 1998, essentially shaming the US for its long-standing blockade.  All this led to was a renewal of the Helms-Burton Act when George Bush came to Washington.

However, there is little to suggest Trump will be so harsh on Cuba.  He seems to bear no grudge against the Cuban people and the mood has changed significantly over the years in regard to Cuba, with many conservative leaders now pushing for normalization of relationships with the island state.  Of course, you still have guys like Little Marco, who wants to reimpose harsh measures, but he speaks for the minority, even in his own Cuban-American community.

Cuba has long been moving toward a managed national economy like China, in which it can still retain the basic tenants of Communism but without all the ideological restrictions.  For years Cuba has been a vacation destination for Europeans, and happily supplies cigars, rum, coffee, sugar and other products to Europe and other countries.  It also has trade ties with Canada, which is helping to find oil reserves within its territorial waters and open up relationships with US refineries.  Cuba is not like North Korea, cut off from the rest of the world, although that is the image many Republicans have of the country.

Fidel's legacy is inextricably tied with this new economic climate.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, he had to forge new ties and did so with relish.  Brazil and Venezuela helped buoy his government during the worst of times, but as the economy slowly began to improve he courted European and Asian trade ties and even managed to reach out to Canada.

I think this is what galled conservatives the most.  They thought they finally had Fidel on the ropes and here he was backing himself out of the corner again, looking to be stronger than ever with the Pope on his side.  Bill Clinton gave in as much as he could, providing badly needed humanitarian aid in the late 90s, but that generosity dried up quickly with George Bush.   I'm sure the conservative hardliners will push Trump to do the same.

However, Fidel's death changes things considerably.  Other than citing the obvious that Castro was a brutal dictator, Trump seemed open to better relations with Cuba in his early morning tweets.  It's not like the anti-Castro community helped him win Florida.  The Cuban-American vote was split and so he has very little need to placate Cuban-American hardliners, much less Little Marco, by rolling back Obama's executive orders.

Nevertheless, Fidel will be missed, not just by his own people who very much revered him, but by others who saw him as the defiant face of resistance to US imperialism in Latin America.  There is no one left of that symbolic power.  It only remains to be seen what will happen to Cuba as the country opens up to greater investment from other countries, hopefully not going back to the days of Fulgencio Batista, which is what led to the revolution in the first place.

Here we go again



It seems Jill Stein is feeling a bit of guilt over the election results and has raised enough money to demand a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  On Friday, she officially filed a petition for a recount in Wisconsin.  She like so many others never thought Trump had a chance, but now that the damage is done would like to see Hillary in the White House.

Jill had hoped to siphon Berniecrats away from Hillary during the campaign and managed to win about one per cent of the vote nationwide.  Her 31,000 votes in Wisconsin would have been enough to give Hillary the victory, assuming all her backers would have shifted their allegiance.  The same was true in Michigan, where the difference between Trump and Clinton was even less.  Her votes would not have made up the difference in Pennsylvania.

So now here she is demanding a recount be made because some computer geeks in Michigan think that the electronic voting machines may have been tampered with.  They have no proof of this.  They are basing their assumption on the difference of results between counties that used traditional ballots vs. those that used electronic ballots, and noted a 7 per cent differential in results.  It does raise eyebrows, but will the electronic ballots be counted any differently this time?

The other thing to consider is that Wisconsin and Michigan both have Republican administrations, so even if discrepancies are found, we are very likely to see a situation much like in 2000 when Jeb Bush chose to stop the recount and declare his brother the winner before the December 19 deadline.  An infamous decision that was eventually held up by a study conducted by news organizations.

Judging by Michigan, the closest of the three states, Hillary made up very little ground in absentee ballots which would appear to indicate that there was no tampering with the machines in that state.  She still came up 10,700 votes short, a net gain of only 2500 votes.  As much as many of us would love to change the outcome of this election, it doesn't look like it is going to happen.

Still, there is a certain poetic justice in questioning the results, since Trump went out of his way to cast doubt months in advance, claiming that the election would be rigged.  He specifically targeted these states, so maybe there is something to his claims and that these states do need looking into.

Assuming there was some tampering, it was probably done within razor sharp margins so as not to draw unwanted attention.  That means it will take a very close examination to reveal irregularities, which could take months and see Trump installed as President in the meantime.  If irregularities are found and it is enough to reverse results, we would see a scandal that would make Watergate seem like child's play.

More likely, the votes that would have gone to Hillary in the Upper Midwest appear to have fled these states, judging by her overall popular vote lead that now exceeds 2 million, a 1.5 per cent differential.  In the end, national turnout was a little higher than it was in 2012 with Hillary getting more than 64 million votes, roughly on par with Obama's 65 million in the last election.  The problem is that she didn't get those votes where she needed them most.  This is why we should get rid of this insidious electoral college, which allows key states to become players in a national election, when every vote should count exactly the same.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fuck your hair dryer!




While Bruce, Ellen, MJ, DeNiro, Bill and Melinda battled for the limelight, Barack had a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Margaret Hamilton, the brains behind the onboard flight software for the Apollo moon lander.  She probably would have been overlooked if she hadn't become a highly popular meme last year when IBM launched its infamous #hackahairdryer campaign belittling women in science and technology.

Margaret was literally writing code long before Gen X'ers were even a gleam in their parents' eyes.  She is one of the many unsung heroes who get little or no attention until someone stumbles across them in response to sexist and other misguided ad campaigns.  It is so good to see her get her due, especially when the men she helped land on the moon have been immortalized in mainstream media.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Party like a Russian!




As Robbie Williams sings, Party like a Russian, or in Trump's case like an oligarch replete with gold plated penthouse flat and full size Simba for little Barron to ride.  It is very hard to wrap our American thoughts around a first family like this, since we have never seen one like it before.

However, some computer geeks in Michigan are saying not so fast.  There are irregularities popping up in the Midwest vote count.  J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, is telling the Clinton camp to demand a recount of the Midwest ballots because he feels electronic voting machines could be off by as much as 7 per cent.  Is it one last desperate gesture to derail a Trump White House, or could these guys have found a ghost in the machine?

So far the Clinton camp is not responding publicly, but one imagines they are looking into it.  One can see Trump swinging Ohio, but Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin too?  It seemed too good to be true election night, even if Michael Moore says he saw it coming.  The closeness of the tallies alone warrants a recount in all three states, which Hillary would need  in order to turn the electoral college.

At this point, she has a nearly 2 million popular vote lead over the Donald, thanks to her big wins in New York, California and Illinois.  In the eyes of the electoral college, a Californian is worth only one-fourth a Wyomingite, as the low populous states get an inordinate share of the electoral college ballots.  A slave counted more during the antebellum days, thanks to the three-fifths rule in the Constitution.

But, Donald is doing his best to have none of this rain on his parade.  He feels he won the election fair and square and has big plans for his first 100 days in office. A large part of it revolves around his new brother in arms, Vladimir Putin, who he appears to be on very close terms with for a man who says he has never actually met the Russian president face to face.  Billboards in Russia proclaim a brand new day in American-Russian relations not seen since World War II.

Trump has also vowed to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and look more closely into our NATO alliances.  In Trump's world view, every country has to pull its weight, no more handouts from the US.  This means the Baltic nations are scrambling to meet the minimum investment of two per cent of their GDP to be considered full members.  They aren't very keen about this cozy relationship developing between Russia and the United States.  At the moment, there is a strong NATO presence in the region, which Balts feel is the only thing that keeps Vlad the Impaler from storming the three tiny countries, and reclaiming them as his own, like he did Crimea.

This is one reason some Senate Republicans have raised a red flag.  Putin may be AOK in Donald's mind but cold warriors like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are not so happy about this new relationship.  Russia still views Eastern Europe as being in its sphere of influence, and has been staunchly opposed to any militarization in the region.  They fought George W. Bush bitterly over a missile defense system in Poland and Hungary, and have been very upset with the NATO joint exercises in the region during the Obama administration.  Recently, Putin declared the Baltic Sea a no-go zone for NATO warships, and is beefing up his presence in the port city of Kaliningrad.

The Donald doesn't seem to be losing any sleep over it.  What do the Baltic countries matter in his great vision of the world?  Too cold and inhospitable for golf courses.

Fortunately, Trump seems to be considering Mitt Romney as Secretary of State.  Mitt at least has a broader world view and most likely would want to maintain our long standing relationships with Europe.  However, he too seemed smitten by Putin at one time, although he later walked back that statement and labeled Russia our number one security threat.  If Trump is looking to establish a good relationship with Russia, Mitt might not be the best choice.

It seems Putin is getting an unprecedented peak into Trump's administration, with some suggesting that Donald is running his cabinet picks by the Russian strong man, at least those that interest him.   The two appear to be in constant communication, plotting a joint strategy for when he gets into office.   Meanwhile, the acting President has been warned in no uncertain terms not to over-stretch his authority over the next two months.

No one really knows what a Trump administration will bring, since he has surprisingly kept his thoughts pretty close to his sleeve these past two weeks, preferring instead to lash out at SNL and the cast of Hamilton.   One can only hope that there might indeed be a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours in the Upper Midwest beyond Flint, and that these ballots are called into question.  I don't think we are ready for the United States of Trump, even those who supported him.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Out of Towner




Mike Pence had come to New York to enjoy a few moments with his commander-in-chief and maybe catch a play.  A ticket Trump no doubt arranged for him because it is pretty hard to get a seat for Hamilton on such short notice.   Poor Mike had no idea the reception he would receive at play's end.  Trump immediately turned to Twitter to voice his indignation with the cast of Hamilton.

The incident has been blown out of proportion like everything else surrounding this crazy election year.  It is hard not to suspect it might have been staged by Trump, hoping to draw attention away from the firestorm his settlement regarding Trump U. and initial cabinet member selections have set off.  Our man Donald is great at creating distractions, as well as igniting cultural wars, which only serve to endear him to his own audience which sees urban Americans as arrogant bastards, much like the diverse cast of Hamilton.

Trump is demanding an apology from Lin-Manuel Miranda, as are others.  But, what they seem to forget is that good theater isn't a feel-good show.  It is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable.  The whole idea behind Hamilton should make conservatives cringe as Hamilton is portrayed as a half-breed son of a British merchant and Mulatto wife, and his bitter rival Aaron Burr as Black in this musical.  One has to ask what the hell was Mike Pence doing there in the first place?  

If this is any indication what the next four years are going to be like, we can expect many more such incidents because I doubt the entertainment industry is going to ease off on Trump.  Alec Baldwin looks like he has a whole new gig as Trump's doppelganger on SNL, which the President-Elect isn't too happy about either.  But, maybe it is just a way to keep us entertained so that we don't focus too much on his administration.  

He's already made some very dubious choices, like Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.  Sessions is a sanctimonious little prick from Alabama, who has been sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee since god know's when.  He will easily clear the Senate despite whatever misgivings Chuck Schumer may have.  Ted Cruz, who was previously being considered, would have had a much more difficult time given all the enemies he has made on Capitol Hill.

We're still waiting on Trump's Secretary of State nominee.  It is looking more and more like Mayor Rudy, who would have seemed a natural fit for AG, but the Donald apparently wants to test the Senate by proposing a man who has absolutely no foreign policy experience as America's top diplomat.  

However, experience doesn't seem to matter for a man who has no experience himself.  The only honest man to come forward so far is Dr. Ben Carson, who turned down a job as Secretary of Health and Human Services citing lack of experience.  I guess that leaves Dr. Oz available for this spot, or maybe the great self-help doc is angling for Surgeon General?

So, one can see why this little flair up after Hamilton might be a good thing.  It should float around in the news cycle for the next few days and make many viewers pity poor Mike Pence, who is just a good Indiana boy looking for some light entertainment before flying back home again.  However, I think what Lin-Manuel Miranda needs to consider is Trump: The Musical. He can even have a small role for Mike Pence forever in search of a safe and special place.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

First We Take Manhattan




The loss of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell over the last week adds to the somber mood that has gripped a large segment of this country.  Kate McKinnon, who has been impersonating Hillary Clinton on SNL Cold Open, somehow found a way to bring it all together in her haunting solo of Hallelujah.   This truly seems like the end of an era, one we won't fully realize until the reality of Donald Trump's presidency sets in next year.

Cohen's music always carried with it a sense of tragedy.   The songs have often been romanticized by other singers who covered them, but in their original form they evoke a feeling of despair, which we struggle to fight our way through.   Songs like So Long, Marianne grew even more haunting with his recent live appearance, even though he had a sardonic grin at the end of each performance, as if to say it will be OK. 

Leon Russell had his own way to evoke a sense of loss, rooted in blues and early minstrel traditions.  You listen to his original version of Masquerade and it conjures up an entirely different impression than George Benson's cover, which became a runaway hit.  For the most part Russell kept to himself after his peak in the 1970s, seemingly content to write songs for others, but he too enjoyed a comeback in his August years.

2016 has been a very rough year for music.  We lost so many great songwriters and performers.  Some we knew would have to go, but the deaths of David Bowie and Prince took us by surprise, and left many with an inconsolable sense of loss.  Their music will help ease us through what is going to be a very troubled time come January.  Leonard Cohen's  First We Take Manhattan in its own odd way can serve as our call to arms to take back our country.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

#notmypresident




What worked most effectively for the Republicans over the last eight years was their determination not to work with the President on any piece of legislation that went against their interests.  They also filibustered key judicial and cabinet appointments, giving Harry Reid no option other than to go "nuclear" to get key positions filled before the 2014 Midterms, after which the Republicans regained the Senate.

The Democrats have to adopt the same policy.  They have to be an opposition party.  There is no reason to work with Trump, much less Congressional Republicans over the next two years.  Their sole aim should be to regain the Senate in 2018 and make Trump a one-term president, assuming he survives that long with all the lawsuits hanging over his head.  If they can, filibuster Trump's pick for the Supreme Court throughout these next two years.  Democrats also have to make damn sure Trump and the Republicans own their mistakes, not try to pass them off on the Obama administration.

We have to be extremely wary of Trump, who will most likely try to play one side off against the other in Congress, as he so effectively did with the media.  He's already signaled he is willing to retain parts of Obamacare, largely because neither he nor the Republicans want to tell 20 million Americans they will no longer get health insurance if they repeal the Affordable Care Act in full.  

At this point, Liz Warren or Bernie Sanders would make a much more effective minority whip for the Senate Democrats than would Dick Durbin or Patty Murray.  Liz and Bernie have a much better sense of the pulse of the nation, and are less likely to score deals with Republicans that will ultimately erode confidence in Democrats to challenge what will be a Conservative oligarchy.  The Republicans once again have control of all branches of government, as they did in 2004.  At the time, the Democrats stood their ground and refused to make Bush's tax cuts permanent.  They have to have that same steely resolve.

More importantly, Democrats have to win back Midwestern states.  Walker, Snyder and Kasich along with their Republican legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio have been able to rewrite voting districts and stifle voting rights by herding Democrats into more narrowly defined districts.  In 2012 Democratic Rep. Kucinich found himself running against fellow Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur for the new broader Cleveland-area district.  Kucinich, a 2008 presidential candidate, lost, and the Dems had one less Representative in Congress.  This has to stop, otherwise we can expect the Midwest to stay red, as there will be no effective way to vote Republicans out of office.

This has been the Republican long con ever since Reagan.  They felt the voting districts across the country favored Democrats and set about to rewrite this wrong.  Most persons are oblivious to this until they show up to vote at their realigned voting precincts.  Democrats have to make sure people know what is going on, and that their voice is being underrepresented at the state and national level, which was made painfully obvious once again.

Also central to a new Democratic strategy is to reach out to rural and suburban dwellers, which they all but gave up on during the Obama years.  They wrongly assumed there were enough votes in the urban centers to make up for these large swathes of red, only to find out many of these cities have declining populations.  While the population of Michigan has risen slightly over the last few years, the population of Detroit has dropped precipitously, meaning more of the Michigan vote is now concentrated in rural and suburban areas favorable to Republicans.

Democrats need to make Republicans own their mistakes at the state level as well.  This is what Kathleen Sebilius did in Kansas, winning two terms as governor before being picked to head Pres. Obama's Health and Human Services cabinet.  If a Democrat can take Kansas, he or she can take any state.  

A presidential candidate relies heavily on a governor's campaign team to get the vote out.  This is what helped vault Obama to the presidency in the Midwest in 2008.  He even took Indiana that year, thanks to what was left of a strong Democratic campaign team in that state, even though Mitch Daniels had recently won the governorship.  Obama lost in 2012 because Daniels now had the better campaign outreach, securing the state for Mitt Romney.

It's not like these Republicans have made life better in these states.  In fact just the opposite if we look at Wisconsin, Michigan and Kansas, where severe austerity measures were imposed after the 2008 banking crisis, seeing investment dry up in these states.  Yet, for some absurd reason all three governors were re-elected in 2014.  Obviously, Democrats have to find young, energetic leaders who will offer a better alternative.  

They did this out West.  Catherine Cortez Masto took Harry Reid's hotly contested seat in Nevada over teabagger Joe Heck.  In doing so, she became the first Latina Senator.  Democrats have to offer bold choices, not trot out past political icons like at an Oldchella concert.

The only way for the party to remake itself is to have a dynamic DNC chairman, who isn't going to play elections by the numbers.  The Democrats have to inspire a new generation to vote.  Millennials are theirs for the taking.  Look at how so many young Americans have come out against Trump in the past few days.  But, the DNC can't expect them to be inspired by retreads.

These young voters also expect the Democrats to stand up to Trump, not cower to him like they did George Bush when he shoved the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and the Iraq War down their throat his first term in office.  Few Millennials are accepting Trump as their president and for good reason.  He doesn't speak for them.  That means Democrats have to speak for them as Obama did eight years ago and again Monday night in Philadelphia and Manchester. 

This is your chance, Democrats, don't blow it!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Small Town Blues



I was expecting to do an autopsy on the Republicans, but now I find myself looking at the corpse of the Democratic party.  How could things go so wrong when all the major polls pointed their way in the final days?

Probably Hillary's biggest mistake was drawing on celebrity endorsements to carry her to victory.  She had Jay Z and Beyonce lighting up the stage for her in Cleveland.  She had the Boss in Philadelphia.  Lady Gaga introduced her in Charlotte.  Madonna staged a last-minute rally for her in New York.  It seemed like all the stars were aligning for her.  Even the President and First Lady were on hand to give her their seal of approval Monday night in Philly.

Much of this was gauged to bring the black vote out in inner cities, but it seemed to do the reverse with rural and suburban white voters standing in long lines on election day to cast their ballots.  It was painful to watch John King scroll up a bigger picture of Milwaukee looking to see if there were any votes left in this urban center that might tilt Wisconsin her way.  He even called Clinton HQ to see if they had a more up to date vote count.  There simply weren't enough votes left to overcome a 20,000 vote deficit.

The single biggest mistake the Democratic Party made was to cede Small Town America to the Republicans.  They ignored the large swatches of red, sure that those little islands of blue held enough votes to offset the rural vote.  After all, it worked for Obama twice, why not Hillary this time around?

One of the things that made the Bernie campaign go was that it ventured into every corner of the political map.  It knew it had to draw small town votes to offset Hillary's clout in major cities.  He had a grass roots network second to none, which would have been happy to mobilize voters for Hillary if only she had asked.  Instead, her arrogant campaign team led by John Podesta played this election by the numbers and ultimately got burned.

The Democratic Party used to represent the small guy, but over time the party has become entrenched and relies more and more on urban voters to carry elections.  After resounding losses at the state and Congressional level in 2010 and '14 you would think they would change their strategy.  Look to the red counties and see if there are any openings.  After all, there were plenty of blue collar folks upset with their Republican local and state officials over the stagnation of small town America.  But, the Democratic Party turned a cold shoulder, giving these areas up because there were just too many to justify a concerted effort.

It was close in Iowa at one point, but Hillary hardly set foot in the state after the primaries, and once Iowans got over their initial distaste they became Trumpkins like so many other rural folks because at least he made the effort to appeal to them.  In Florida, Trump hopped all over the state, while Hillary concentrated her efforts in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, figuring this was enough to carry the state.  Her campaign call in North Carolina was Charlotte.  What appeared like a comical side trip in Minneapolis, nearly carried the state for Trump.

Of course, none of it makes much sense if you try to analyze it in any depth.  Failed Republican governments are largely responsible for the decline of Middle America.  Wisconsin is a basket case after 6 years of Scott Walker, but thanks to voter suppression legislation and a visceral contempt for establishment, cheeseheads decided to go for Trump, who himself skipped out on the state the last weekend.

One of the major problems with a presidential election year is that all these folks look to the top of the ticket rather than their own local and state candidates.  They let themselves get easily taken by sloganeering because they see the national election as a spectator sport.  It all comes down to who can come up with the best zingers, and Donald delivered them in shovel fulls.  Hillary stumbled each in every time to drive one of her slogans home.  Listen to her draw from Jay Z in Cleveland. Talk about curbing your enthusiasm.

If nothing else, Hillary should have laid out her vision from the start, talked up re-energizing Middle America.  She didn't necessarily have to go to these small towns personally.  She could have used surrogates.  Bernie should have been the go-to guy here but we hardly heard a peep out of him in the general election.  Hillary was contented to let John Podesta crunch out the numbers, believing he had a blue firewall in the Upper Midwest that would offset Ohio, which quickly turned red after it got over Trump's blatant misogyny.

The only problem with this math is that all these cities are in decline.  Population has dropped substantially in Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  Former industrial cities have been drying up for decades.  It was only a matter of time before the small town vote would outweigh the big city vote, but Podesta was undeterred.  He stuck with the same game plan that carried Obama to victory, believing there were enough votes in urban centers to carry the day.

What next disheartened Democrats?  Crying isn't going to help.  It only makes us look like a bunch of pussies.  Time to pull up our sleeves and get dirty.  It isn't likely the situation is going to get any better in these Midwestern states under Trump, so now is our chance to go back out to the small towns and farm regions and reclaim these folks.  Dismissing them as uneducated voters sure as hell didn't work.  Time for Plan B.  Talk to people!



Friday, November 11, 2016

It's the End of the World As We Know It




Who ever thought that the two songs Trump used throughout his campaign, REM's End of the World and Rolling Stone's You Can't Always Get What You Want would prove so prophetic.  Both actually fit with his message.  The first in that he obviously was referring to the breakdown of conservative society in America, and the second in direct response to the liberalization of America taking place.

Allegations of voter suppression may have set the stage for his upset victory but what sealed the deal was all the liberal reform taking place in a country that is historically slow to accept change.  Just when it seemed most Americans had come to accept our first Black President, giving him an approval rating well in excess of 50 per cent, along comes Black Lives Matter, the Transgender movement and a Supreme Court decision that sanctions gay marriage across the country.  All worthy causes, but we had to expect a "whitelash," as Van Jones put it.  A major segment of our society simply wasn't ready to accept these changes all at once, and shouted out emphatically, No More!

We cheered cities as they raised minimum wages, opening up public bathrooms to transgenders and giving Black Lives Matter free reign without taking into account how much this galled rural and suburban Americans.   All the while, these outlying conservatives were fed a steady stream of news saying how these liberal forces were destroying the country as they knew it, with Trump and his surrogates reinforcing this message on the campaign trail.

Ultimately, this presidential race was determined by social issues, not the economy as Bill Clinton once emphatically stated.  Midwesterners are enjoying relatively low unemployment rates, so it is not like they are out of work.  They may be paying too high health insurance premiums or carrying too much personal debt, but they have jobs.  This notion that NAFTA sucked the life out of the Midwest, as Michael Moore intoned, is absurd.  Jobs have come back, not necessarily the same ones they had before, but jobs just the same.  The citizens of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are all enjoying average salaries above $50,000 per year.  Ohio and Michigan above $45,000.  Granted, only Minnesota is above the national average, but if you can't get by on 45 grand per year, you need to look at your budget.  Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi all have significantly lower average salaries.

What appears to have driven the conservative electorate this year was the fear a new liberal Supreme Court judge would institutionalize liberal America.  Mitch McConnell would make Machiavelli smile.  It is very much the same thing that led to Nixon's victory in 1968 and Ronald Reagan's landslide in 1980.  Make America Great Again wasn't so much about restoring the economy of this country, which is doing fine, but about a restoration of conservative values.  No more marriage equality.  Certainly no more transgender bathrooms.  No more affirmative action.  No more illegal immigrants and unwanted refugees living off the largesse of this country, and so on.

This was something liberals didn't understand because they looked at the polls that said more than half the country supported gay marriage.  They dismissed the stories of caterers being forced to bake cakes for gay weddings or the pizza parlor that refused to serve gays as aberrations.  When you look at the nearly one million dollars Memories Pizza got in donations you see that these isolated incidents were actually harbingers of a conservative backlash.  

Americans prefer to live in their own Private Idahos, to borrow from the B-52s, and when you infringe on these private domains you face "whitelash."  Hence the Gadsden Flag, "Don't Tread on Me."  We can shout and scream how awful this is, but all you have to do is look at an election map like this and see there are a lot more "Private Idahos" out there than we could ever imagine driving across this great land of ours.

This Nativism is nothing new and Eric Foner cites it for the reason Reconstruction came screeching to a halt in 1876.  It was a similarly split election where Rutherford B. Hayes won out over Samuel Tilden in the electoral college, despite losing the popular vote.  It led to the Compromise of 1877 that formally ended the Reconstruction of the Southern states.  These recalcitrant states were essentially allowed to go back to the practices they had before, turning slavery into sharecropping, but they had a very hard time restoring the antebellum lifestyle.

I have to hold out some hope because President Obama and President-elect Trump appeared to have a cordial first meeting.  Hard to believe this was the first time these two men had actually met, given all the nasty words spoken between them, but Trump said that he was impressed by Obama and that the 90-minute meeting could have gone on longer as far as he was concerned.  Surprising for a man who generally doesn't want to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes in a meeting.

Then again, autocrats can be quite charming when they need to be, as can psychopaths, so there is no reason to relax one's guard.  Obama appeared to be forcing a lot of words out of his mouth at the press conference afterward.  He couldn't remember Melania by name, referring to her as the new First Lady.  He also had to summon his inner fortitude to praise Trump for his openness during the meeting.  It was a lot like the meeting Trump had with the President of Mexico in September.  We can't expect for one moment that he will go back on many of the things he said during the campaign.  It will be wise for Obama to grant Hillary immunity from any further investigations, as Rudy Giuliani continues to insist she must be prosecuted.  Trump's more vociferous supporters are demanding her head, although it is doubtful he would pursue it.

His victory also means we can expect a Republican Congress to take up gay marriage and other divisive social issues in their next session as they believe they have a sympathetic man in the White House to pass their bills.  We can also expect Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which so many conservatives believe to be the bane of our health care system.  As for Cuba and Iran, Congress might not find such a sympathetic figure in the White House, as Trump has nothing against Cuba, and if he wants to stay friends with Vladimir Putin he won't touch the Iran Nuclear Deal, as this was a multilateral deal instigated by Russia, in the spirit of rapprochement in the region.

For President Donald Trump now comes the hard part -- how to govern when you have such an unruly cross segment of society, and in Congress, which believes he represents their Nativism.  Trump struck an oddly conciliatory tone with Obama that suggested that he is open to bargaining, as he always is.