Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

Those words are hollow following the seventh school shooting of 2018, and by far the deadliest.  But, rather than have a debate on gun control, conservative pundits are busy pointing out a flawed story by an advocacy group called Everytown for Gun Safety that cited 18 school shootings so far this year.  Like it really matters whether there were 7 or 18.  One is too many.

We have received the response we expected from the NRA-sponsored Republican Party.  The gun  rights advocacy group spent $30 million alone on Donald Trump in 2016 and has bankrolled just about every Republican in Congress.  They're the ones who got Republicans to let the federal assault weapons ban expire in 2004 after retaking Congress once again.  Since then the proliferation of assault weapons has skyrocketed with the AR-15 by far the most popular weapon on the market.  There are over 5 million in circulation and no doubt there will be another stampede at Walmart and other suppliers now that the cry for gun control has been raised yet again.

Even more disconcerting is that a kid like Nikolas Cruz can legally buy an assault rifle at 19.  He can't even buy alcohol yet.  The kid also had a history of mental problems that should have come up on a background check.  But, gun advocates will tell you that if Nick hadn't been able to buy his rifle at a gun store, he would have gotten it some other way.  Fact is that when the assault weapons ban was in place there were far fewer mass shootings because such weapons were harder to get.

The only way to get Congress and state legislatures to act is to vote out conservative legislators backed by the NRA.  Until that happens, these "lawmakers" will continue to play dumb on gun control because they think that is what their constituency wants.  Listen to Marco Rubio and ask yourself, Floridians, why you voted for this mindless idiot?

Of course, we can argue that it takes an unstable person to go on such a shooting spree, but why should we make it easy for them.  Stephen Paddock also legally acquired his arsenal, which he used to great effect in Las Vegas last year.  Nevada, like Florida, and like many other states for that matter, provides very few limits, and what few they do they do so begrudgingly.

Until there is a will to fight gun violence at the state and federal level, we will continue to hear conservative politicians and pundits go on about second amendment rights.   Judge Nap gets a lot of things wrong in his Fox News screed.  The most blatant being the second amendment was never about personal self-defense, but rather the rights of states to form militias after the federal government had disbanded the Continental Army.  It's judges like him who over the decades interpreted this amendment to be about individual rights.

The first amendment allows pundits like Judge Nap and Laura Ingraham to voice their opinions despite their glaring inaccuracies.  Yet, these same folks will take Everytown for Gun Safety to task for overstating the number of school shootings this year.  Conservative talking heads would rather deflect attention away from the root cause of this violence rather than confront it, offering their thoughts and prayers instead.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Churros anyone?

In this age of social media it seems no action goes unnoticed.  Take for instance Shaun White dragging the American flag on the ground after winning the gold medal in the halfpipe.  Social media immediately slammed Shaun for this faux pas.  It didn't matter that he apologized afterward, the American flag brigade was relentless in its online shaming, even going so far as to call him a "traitor."

Meanwhile Chloe Kim found how a meaningless tweet can become part of a new lexicon after she won the women's halfpipe in stunning fashion.  Social media went gaga for her "hangry" remark and soon everyone was running with it, including the Today show, which had churros especially made for her visit to the set at PyeongChang.  Hoda and Savannah must have mentioned "hangry" a dozen times during the short span of the interview.  Maybe Chloe will get a churro named after her like Shaun White had his nickname, "The Flying Tomato," put on a hamburger.

But, social media can get intense when political battle lines are crossed as we are finding out in the Adam Rippon v. Mike Pence twitter war that Donald Trump Jr. felt compelled to jump in.  Rippon is the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in the Olympics and let it be known what he felt of the Vice-President's view of the gay community.  For his part, Pence tried to downplay the war of words, but Adam was having none of it and soon this became one of the top stories of the Olympics.  Donnie Jr. saw an opening and pounced.  Only problem is he got a few facts wrong and left himself looking like a fool.  Nothing new.  However, do we really need this in the Olympics?

The Olympics are basically treated as human interest stories because this is the extent most of us see of these athletes over a four year period.  Some, like Lindsey Vonn have a post-Olympics afterlife, but the vast majority will never be heard from again, unless they are unfortunate to have a movie made about them.

Social media changes that to some degree as these athletes all have webpages with a huge number of followers.  Chloe Kim is already up to 272K twitter followers, and I'm sure that number will soon be over one million with the attention she is getting during the Games.  Adam has amassed 261K followers since he became a media sensation.   Shaun is King of the Hill with almost 2 million followers.  He even has more followers than Lindsey Vonn, but he may slip after the flag incident.

It seems we need these athletes to live vicariously through each Olympic fortnight.  The personal stories are compelling like the one about the Brandt sisters competing on separate hockey teams.  No sooner did the Brandts adopt Korean-born Marissa than Mrs. Brandt found herself pregnant with Hannah.  The two girls grew up in Minnesota, which explains their love for hockey.  Hannah made the American team and Marissa is playing for the unified Korean team.

The stories tend to focus mostly on American athletes, but the occasional foreigner gets his or her due.  The leggy Nigerian bobsled team has garnered a lot of attention this year, but as it turns out they have American ties.  The winsome trio is competing in the two-person bobsled event, with one of them serving as the alternate.  They used GoFundMe to realize their dream.

The Canadian ice dancing pair also garnered a lot of attention for their daring interpretation of Moulin Rouge on ice.  Tessa Virtue and Scot Moir have been around for quite a while, having won gold at Vancouver and silver at Sochi, and are the odds on favorite to take gold again on the ice.

Of course, you also get a lot of attention with an agonizing wipe out like this one by Yuto Totsuka on the halfpipe.  Fortunately for him, it looked a lot worse than it actually was and he will be OK.  Everyone has been complaining about the weather conditions for the freestyle and alpine events, but as American Jamie Anderson said, you have to go with the flow, winning her slopestyle gold in an epic battle of attrition.

It's all pretty amazing to watch.  These athletes literally appear to defy gravity, as we hug the cushions of our couches.  There's something about the Winter Olympics that is more personal and captivating than the Summer Olympics.  Even the curling is fun to watch, especially when you have a team that bills itself as "Housewives with Stones."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Playing the Propaganda Game

Singing the song of One Korea

It didn't take long for the American media to push back on Sister Kim.  Seems a lot of folks are very unhappy with the reception Kim Yo Jong got in PyeongChang, and are now reminding us of the brutality of the North Korean regime and how we shouldn't be appeasing its tyrannic leader.  All well in good except for the inconvenient fact we support tyrants all over the world and don't seem to bat an eyelash at their atrocious human rights records, so why should we get so angry with Rocket Man?

I think this is largely due to the fact Kim Jong Un outsmarted the United States, which sadly isn't very hard to do in the Age of Trump.  Kim seems to be much more aware of the wave of feminism sweeping the planet and very cleverly sent his sister to represent him in South Korea.  The cheerleaders were a nice touch as well. 

According to the agreement reached between the IOC, South Korea and the United States, Trump was expected to send a high level delegation to PyeongChang, to match that of North Korea.  The White House not very smartly sent Mike Pence, when it just as easily could have sent Ivanka, who would have helped soften the situation.  She will be on hand for the closing ceremony, but it is too little too late.

Most of the White House genuflecting is aimed for a domestic audience, which has been led to believe the fate of the free world hangs on ousting Kim Jong Un from power, much like we turned Saddam Hussein into Boris Badenov back in the early 2000s.  Treating Kim Jong Un as the "World's Greatest No-Goodnik" has largely failed because without the help of China and Russia there is very little pressure the US can exert on North Korea short of a military strike, one that very likely would trigger a World War.

North Korea is not as isolated as we would like them to be.  They have numerous other allies as well, as far flung as Bulgaria, Benin, Congo and Madagascar.  If there is anything this country has learned to do over the last 70 years it is how to survive, largely thanks to a very enterprising ruling family, which has made friends in the strangest places.

If we take exception to North Korea's human rights record, we must also question the atrocious human rights records in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan and Israel, among other nations we count as our allies.  North Korea didn't even make the Top Ten of Amnesty International's Worst Attacks on Human Rights Across the World.

What upsets us about North Korea is that they have not so quietly amassed a potent military force with a small but rapidly developing nuclear arsenal that challenges our hegemony in Northeast Asia.  Of course, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea wouldn't be in this position had they not received military support from the former Soviet Union, which was looking to counter the American presence on the Korean peninsula.  In a large sense, we are still fighting the Cold War here with Russia continuing to support Pyongyang.

For decades, we accepted North Korea because we didn't see the country as a major threat beyond the peninsula, but in recent years Kim Jong Un has upped the stakes by showing he has ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads far beyond these boundaries.  Obama had too many things on his foreign policy plate to tangle with the Rocket Man.  He was busy trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran and re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba, which incensed traditional Republicans.

Trump came into office vowing no more appeasement of any kind and quickly launched twitter attacks on North Korea, Iran and even Cuba, but it was North Korea that really got his goat as Kim Jong Un answered his twitter attacks with test missiles.  What's a petulant president to do but issue more hollow threats.

I'm really impressed the IOC and South Korea got the Trump White House to tone down its incendiary rhetoric during the Olympics.  This was mostly Moon Jae-In, who appealed to Trump's ego by saying that all those empty threats brought Kim Jong Un to the negotiation table.  We all know  the IOC and South Korea pulled off this diplomatic detente largely on their own, but it doesn't hurt to give Trump some credit.  This is a very Asian way of doing things.

In the meantime, the Trump White House tries to play it both ways, pushing a hard line while saying it is open to negotiations, as though its "tough talk" is a real factor in the "thaw" taking place on the Korean peninsula.  Similarly, the media lets its talking heads carry out the debate in a public forum in true reality show style.

The only thing saving the Trump White House at this point is that Kim Jong Un doesn't really want confrontation, seizing the opportunity to show the world that he can play nice.  It goes without saying we can't trust him, but then is he really any different than the other strong arm leaders we do business with around the world?  As George F. Kennan noted a long time ago, foreign policy is about containment and avoiding open conflict.  This is the attitude that had guided American foreign policy for decades until George Bush tried to make a "just war" out of Iraq.  Even Trump saw the folly in the Bush Doctrine during the 2016 campaign, and he would be wise not to repeat the same mistake in North Korea, which really does have weapons of mass destruction.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Stand By Your Man

Or Big Trouble in Brotopia

You can almost hear Tammy Wynette singing Stand By Your Man as Kellyanne Conway tries to defend Rob Porter from his ex-wives, both of whom have accused him of sexual abuse.  Jennie Willougby, one of those ex-wives, wrote this essay for Time.  Interesting that Hope Hicks, who is purportedly dating Porter, has been mum on the subject.  Just the same, Conway is once again trying to provide cover for a White House that resembles Trump's infamous "locker room."

I'm more inclined to believe Jennie than I am Kellyanne.  After all, she lived with the man and probably has a much better idea who he is than does Conway.  For Trump's mouthpiece this is all part of a smear campaign against the president, taking down those around him.  For his part, Trump also defended Porter, although he apparently wasn't too happy Hope hadn't given him a head's up on the breaking story, as one of Rob's ex-girlfriends had alerted her to the White House aide's history of domestic violence.

Trump has surrounded himself with strong virile men, along with a few tough women, to pump up his image of being a man's man.  After all, this is what appeals to the base of the Republican Party.  As a result the White House has become a "brotopia" where you can easily imagine the guys sharing their latest conquests at the gym.

The guy who should be reining this in, John Kelly, is further enabling this attitude by defending Porter rather than expressing his regret over the incident, although he apparently offered his resignation once again.  All those years in the military I guess has inured him to incidents like these.

Guys will be guys.  You have to keep your testosterone level high if you want to compete in politics.  Just ask Bill Clinton.  However, the big difference is that Bill tried to keep his excessive libido under wraps.  Not so with the Trump White House, which looks like they start their Friday night by watching The Wolf of Wall Street.  Kellyanne sitting on the sofa with her feet curled up underneath her and flipping through her smartphone as the guys root on Jordan Belfort.

What is worse is old farts like Orrin Hatch coming to the rescue of Rob Porter.  This is the same senator who teamed up with his conservative colleagues to mercilessly grill Anita Hill when she had the temerity to accuse Clarence Thomas of sexual abuse.  Porter, a Mormon, is apparently considered a fine upstanding man based on his religious identification, even if he and his wife Jennie had spoken to their bishop about the domestic violence.  Jennie was asked to stand by her man.  It's a good thing Orrin is retiring, otherwise he might face the same ignominy that has befallen other crusty old patriarchs.

This good ol' boys network is still alive and well despite the sexual abuse allegations rocking Hollywood.  Politicians apparently consider themselves immune to such allegations, unless you are a relative newby and on the wrong side of the political aisle as was the case with Al Franken, who stepped down after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.  The charges against him pale in comparison to Rob Porter, who is accused of physically beating his wives.

These accusations didn't emerge recently.  Both wives have long accused Rob Porter of domestic violence, and it seems so too have his numerous girlfriends, but it took the #MeToo campaign to see their complaints come to light.  Nevertheless, the White House is treating this like an isolated incident despite the 20 complaints registered against Trump himself.

As with Bill Clinton you get the feeling that what will ultimately bring Trump down is the highly toxic atmosphere of sexual abuse.  It's not only been rumored that His Trumpness has been flirting around the White House but that no woman is safe in these hallowed halls.  Of course, one can argue as I am sure Kellyanne will, that this has always been the case, but we live in a new world, one where a man is answerable for his actions, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct.

If Donald Trump wants due process for Rob Porter then he should be held accountable as well.  After all, this is a man who not only falsely accused Obama of not being born in the USA, but insisted that the so-called Central Park Five should be executed for a crime they turned out not to commit, not to mention the thousands of other unsubstantiated allegations he has leveled at business and political rivals.  Or, as Kristen Gillibrand has suggested, "if he wants due process for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let's have Congressional hearings tomorrow."

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Lost in PyeongChang

It's clear that Kim Yo-Jong has won the diplomatic battle in PyeongChang, making Mike Pence look like a relic of the Cold War, as he refused to even cast a gaze at her during the Opening Ceremony as she sat right behind him.  It's quite a coming out party for the sister of Kim Jong-Un, as she appears to have charmed everyone with her appearance at the Olympic Games, if not our dour Vice-President.

Trump really missed an opportunity not sending Ivanka to the Games.  She would have more nimbly walked the political tightrope than the stick-in-the-mud representing his government at the Games.  Not only was Pence outclassed by Kim's sister, but he also tried to shrug off the snub he got from gay Olympian Adam Rippon by saying he never extended an invitation to meet the figure skater despite evidence to the contrary.  Ivanka would have found a way to have smoothed things over, not Mike, who remained surly to the end and is now flying back to Washington, claiming South Korea and the US are more united than ever against North Korea.

It sure doesn't look that way, Mike.  The South Korean President Moon Jae-In has bent over backward to accommodate the North Korean delegation, clearly trying to make the most of the opportunity to encourage peace between the two countries as the whole world watches.  For North Korea this is a huge diplomatic coup.  A summit between the two nations is now being arranged, making the US look like the aggressor nation.

Why the United States didn't seize on this opportunity is beyond me.  All the Trump White House had to do was play along.    Even Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked to North Korean ceremonial leaders at the Games.  The Trump administration could easily claim their tough talk led to this rapprochement, but instead all Pence could babble about was imposing tougher sanctions while shunning the North Korean delegation.

It is downright embarrassing and further erodes any confidence Asian leaders have in the US to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula.  It doesn't matter that every leader in the region has said that Kim Jong-Un doesn't respond to sanctions, but rather sees them as a red badge of courage.  Jimmy Carter recognized this a long time ago, when he tried to encourage peace talks with North Korea.  He has offered his services once again to try to bridge the divide, but of course the Trump administration has no interest in Carter's shuttle diplomacy.  It would rather continue its policy of "fire and fury," which at this point appears to signify nothing.

Mostly what South Korea's president wants is a successful Olympic Games.  He didn't want the threat of a nuclear war hanging over Pyeongchang the way confrontation loomed over the Sochi Games with all the unrest in Ukraine four years ago.  Moon Jae-In went out of his way to make the feeling between the two nations as amicable as possible, even if many South Koreans are "side-eyeing" North Korea's "charm offensive," personified by an all-female cheering squad on hand to encourage the country's 22 Olympic athletes.  The North Korean women's hockey team was crushed by Switzerland, but the most important thing was that they were part of the Games.

It also helps to brush over the rather odd decision by the IOC to allow so many Russian athletes to compete under the Olympic flag after banning Russia from the Games for the massive doping scandal at the Sochi Games.  Supposedly, these are younger athletes who are getting their first Olympic exposure, but in watching the luge finals this isn't true.   The top "OAR" luge finalist, Roman Repilov, is a former European champ, so it seems Russia managed to smuggle some of its top athletes into the Games.  But, it wasn't Repilov's day.  He finished out of the medals, overshadowed by the American Chris Madzer who took home a historic silver in the event.

There is no way to avoid the politics that surround the Olympic Games but it is refreshing to see this spirit of reconciliation at a time the world comes together to enjoy a fortnight of highly competitive games.  It's just too bad Mike Pence was oblivious to it.  Maybe he should have stayed home.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Never Enough

You'd think a guy who has five Super Bowl rings wouldn't be so hard on himself after a loss, but Tom Brady was downright morose after the Eagles pulled off their first Super Bowl victory.  I suppose he wanted to cap off a great season in which he won MVP for the third time, but it was not to be.  The "journeyman" Nick Foles beat him at his own game, driving his Eagles the length of the field for the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

The shame of it is that for all his accomplishments Tom Brady doesn't get the respect he thinks he deserves.  Three years ago he had to suffer through the ignominy of "Deflategate."  Not even a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX was able to wipe away the criticism over his under-inflated footballs.  He appealed the charges against him, only to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the 2016 season.

Then came the "MAGA" cap incident, where Brady was caught with a Trump campaign hat in his locker.  He tried hard to distance himself from this too, but to no avail, Brady became inextricably linked to Trump even when he chose not to attend a reception for the Patriots at the Trump White House after staging one of the most improbable comebacks in Super Bowl history, erasing a 25 point deficit against Atlanta.

Even 2017 was not without incident, as news spread that Brady wasn't happy at New England.  For years he had foregone a massive contract extension so that Belichick could afford the supporting players he needed.  News spread that Brady wanted to pull a Michael Jordan, demanding a one-year contract worthy of his spectacular accomplishments.  Brady himself dismissed such talks, being the team player that he is.   Still you had to wonder if it stung a little bit to see guys like Mathew Stafford, Derek Carr and Andrew Luck pulling in 25 mil per year while you had to settle for 20.5 million.

Brady is worth more than all those quarterbacks put together, but this time he couldn't overcome the controversy that was generated around him, losing the Super Bowl in the most ignominious of ways by having the ball stripped from him in what should have been his game-winning drive.  He still had time to pull the game out, but his Hail Mary on the last play was batted away.  This time the Patriots had to settle for second best.

His wife Giselle explained the loss to their heartbroken kids by saying, "Their whole life they never won a Super Bowl.  You have to let someone else win sometimes."  I'm sure that didn't go over too well with Eagles' fans.

Meanwhile, poor Tom struggled through his post-game interview as if he was the one who was always coming up short in life.  You have to wonder what he is going to do with himself after he is eventually forced to retire, relive these losses?

Come on, Tom, any person would kill to be where you are in life.  No quarterback has accomplished what you have in the NFL or probably ever will.  Five Super Bowl rings is not something that is going to be matched by anyone in the foreseeable future.  Nor, are they blessed with a supermodel wife and three lovely kids.  Even if you are getting paid less than you are worth, you will be in demand for decades to come because everyone loves a winner.  So, smile for god's sake!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Man Who Would Be King

Or my kingdom for a wall

After a year of vacillation with several Republican senators openly criticizing the president, and even pondering his removal, Congressional Republicans now appear to have made their bed with him.  They clapped like a bunch of sycophants at each and everything he said in his State of the Union address.  Even when he called on Congress to give him more authority over federal departments, they all clapped, oblivious to the fact that his main aim is to "cleanse" the FBI.  To hear Paul Ryan, such an idea is not out of the question.  Congress already gave the president the authority to "cleanse" the VA, which he highlighted in his speech.

The White House and its conservative mouthpieces are convinced there is a deep state in the federal government aimed at bringing him down.  This is why he wants to "100% release" the Nunes memo, an artlessly contrived memo designed to discredit the FBI and in turn the current investigation into the White House links to Russia.  Congress has already agreed to release the memo, but is refusing to release Democratic criticism of the memo.  Devin Nunes is the same guy who was scurrying over to the White House at odd hours of the night in an effort to support Trump's claim that he was being surveilled.  But, House leader Paul Ryan stands behind Nunes, and thinks that the Democrats are just trying to distract the public.

It really makes you wonder what Bob Mueller has found if Republicans appear on the edge of granting the president unprecedented powers to clean house.  All these agencies are supposed to be independent, serving the country not elected leaders.  This includes the DOJ, which Trump has openly complained about throughout his tenure.  He believes these guys should work for him.  What turned to have so many Republican now openly contemplating a purge of this contrived "deep state?"

This is like a bad television version of a Shakespeare tragedy where the king, let's say Richard III, is trying to crush the rebellious forces against him.  Trump openly believes that Obama has planted moles throughout the federal agencies and that these persons are trying to bring him down.  Why not, this is what his friends at Fox have been saying for months.  It doesn't matter that many of the persons who have been identified have long served in the FBI, DOJ and other federal agencies, they are seen as sympathetic to Obama and therefore antipathetic to Trump.

Obama is seen as a king in exile by the more ardent conspiracy theorists, plotting his return to power.  How such a Machiavellian plot would unfold is anyone's guess.  There's also one about Clinton and Soros teaming up together to overthrow Trump.  I suppose Obama is working with Richard Branson.

The degree of paranoia among Republicans is growing, especially in the wake of their special election defeats.  The only way to retain hold of government at this point is to grant the President more authority, given the very real possibility they may lose Congress this fall.  This would be unparalleled in American history, except during times of war.

Of course, Trump continues to threaten war with North Korea despite the fact the country has opened up to South Korea.  Rather than claim success for this rapprochement, Trump appears anxious to maintain an antagonistic relationship.  His advisers are well aware of the war powers a president would gain and how these powers could be used to entrench their hold on government.  Note the Republican Congress refused to grant Obama such authority.  With Syria now essentially wrapped up, thanks largely to Russia and Iran, the only place left to turn is North Korea.

Trump's State of the Union address should have given lawmakers pause, not a reason to cheer.  It was the speech of an autocratic despot, not the President of the United States, constantly referencing nationalistic themes in an effort to turn his conservative base against anyone who would defy him in Congress.  After all, Trump continues to enjoy an 80% approval rating among the Republican electorate.

It is for this reason that Republicans are afraid to stand up to him in an election year.  Trump even managed to get a  wayward Democrat to join him in the cheering section -- Joe Manchin -- who now finds out it didn't do him any good to cuddle up with the Republicans.  I don't feel sorry for Joe in the least.

Democrats need to stick to their guns, and fight the Republicans to the bitter end.  The real war is right here in America over the heart and soul of the nation.  They must continue to openly defy the Republican sycophants who are aiding and abetting Trump on the road toward an autocratic state.  This has been the game plan all along.  The reason for all the political gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and other attempts at disenfranchising a large cross section of American voters.  But, when these efforts no longer work to retain their hold on state and federal government, then the only recourse is autocracy.  This is what Trump offered in his State of the Union address.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

I first heard about the "Mandela Effect" from my daughter.  I thought she meant Mandala but she insisted it was Mandela.  Sure enough a "paranormal consultant" penned the term in 2010 to describe how alternate memories can be retained by perhaps thousands of people.  It doesn't matter that he was released from prison in 1990, a major story covered by all the international press, or that he went on to become President of South Africa from 1994-1999, many persons insist they saw television clips of his funeral back in the 80s.

So, were there two Nelson Mandelas or is it just memory playing tricks on us?  This is what The X-Files explored in its most recent episode, The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, which will renew your faith in Chris Carter.   It was a humdinger of an episode that has a lot of fun with the concept of "false memory."

The best character is Dr. They, a mysterious little man who long ago figured out how to play with memories and reconstruct the way we view the past.   It no longer becomes our memory playing tricks on us but rather an ominous government plot to foil our memories so that we lose all semblance of what is real and what is fake.  At least this is the way Reggie explains it, a man who insists he worked with Mulder in the early days of The X-Files before Scully pitched up to spoil the fun.

This sounds a lot like "gaslighting," another recently coined term to describe when false information is presented to a person to make him doubt his own memory.  It has become so pervasive that psychologists are warning us to not succumb to this very dangerous game.  The Mandela effect is apparently more benign, simply one holding onto a memory of an object or event that in the end turns out to be a little different than what we imagined.  Nelson Mandela did die and had a widely televised funeral, but not until 2013.

I suppose the two can easily become blurred.  Our susceptibility to the "Mandela effect," allows us to be easily "gaslighted," reaching a point where we lose all semblance of reality and end up being carted away in a 1960s vintage ambulance to the sanatorium.   In the past, psychologists would have called this schizophrenia.

We do appear to be living in an ever more fragmented society, in which it is more difficult to discern what is real and what is fake.  This is especially true when we see multiple narratives emerge to describe past events.  Kind of a Rashomon Effect that refers to Kurosawa's great film, in which a murder is described in multiple conflicting narratives.  Of course, you can just as easily call it the Faulkner Effect, as he used this technique repeatedly in his books, most notably The Sound and the Fury.  The technique is also quite prevalent in Russian literature, particularly Dostoevsky.  With no objective truth available to us, the best we can hope for is a consensus opinion.

Unfortunately, that seems hard to find these days.  Even when 97 out of 100 scientists say that man is responsible for the climate change taking place, the three stray scientists carry a lot of weight among those seeking to refute this consensus opinion.  All you need to do is come up with a compelling conspiracy theory.

Of course, this what The X-Files thrives on.  For the most part, Chris Carter is having fun here.  In the first episode of the season he mocked the moon landing, and played on our deep-seated fear of vaccinations as a means of spreading an alien virus through the population.  Most viewers take it for what it is -- entertainment.  Alas, there are many persons who really believe these conspiracy theories, making them easily susceptible to manipulation, which ultimately is what Chris Carter tries to show.

It is probably no coincidence that Fox News emerged from the same network that first gave us The X-Files back in 1993.  It seems that Roger Ailes saw the perfect format for disseminating a new strain of news, an alien virus if you will, that would easily infect a gullible public anxious for a conservative interpretation of events.

Conservatives had lost the White House and felt that a new liberal order was being installed in this nation, given how the mainstream media fawned over the Clintons.  Fox News was going to set the record straight, or at least offer an alternative version of events that would satisfy conservative viewers the same way The X-Files did conspiracy theorists.   What seemed like a farce soon grew into a major news network, eclipsing the other news networks within ten years time. 

Fox News thrives on the Mandela effect, gaslighting, Rashomon effect and other post-modern forms of manipulation to twist events to the point they are no longer recognizable in any objective sense.  Fact is no longer fact, but just another opinion.  So what if 97 scientists assert that man is causing global warming, I will find three who say climate change is either non-existent or just a cycle of nature, including John Coleman, the guy who founded The Weather Channel.  He called climate change baloney.

With the advent of the social media in the new millennia, anyone could turn a conspiracy theory into a blog and get thousands if not millions to subscribe to his or her point of view.  Objective truth now seems a quaint idea, relegated to the day academic science and history journals were seen as the ultimate authority.  Now, we have "paranormal consultants" offering us theories on how alternate realities lead us to have different impressions of events.  There really may have been two Nelson Mandelas, one who died in prison in the 1980s, and another that went onto become President of South Africa and died in 2013.  There may even be more Nelson Mandelas floating out there in other dimensions.  Fiona Broome has many subscribers, and to read her bio is a major influence on pop culture and pop psychology.

It would be nice to think that in an alternative reality Hillary Clinton won the electoral college and that the US was spared Donald J. Trump.  Better yet, Trump died in the early 1980s by falling off the yet-to-be-completed Trump Tower and and we never had to be subjected to his malignant narcissism.  Sadly, we are forced to reconcile ourselves with the reality we live in.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A chilly reception

If you are like me, listening to Trump is the equivalent of having someone run his nails across an old chalkboard.  Apparently that was the case for many who were forced to listen to him at Davos as he made his pitch to the world.  As a journalist, you have to cover him no matter how painful it is.

Trump wasted no time bashing Clinton, claiming if she had been elected the stock markets would have crashed.  Of course, we have no way of knowing, but most likely they would have still reached record heights, as Trump inherited an economy on the rise with the stock market already at a record high.  Not that the Dow is the best indicator of an economic recovery, as conservative pundits told us throughout the Obama administration.  But now that Trump is President the Dow is once again regarded as the top economic indicator.  Just listen to Richard Quest crow about the stock markets.  In a few years we can expect Quest to be filling Lou Dobbs seat at Fox.

A lot of persons are surprised the stock markets have been doing so well, as the economy doesn't seem to be supporting such high expectations.  Fourth quarter reports show that the economy failed to reach Trump's target of 3.2% growth.  Yet, the stock markets just keep rising.  It seems a lot of persons are betting on these tax cuts and the deregulation policies coming out of Washington to usher in another highly speculative environment like we had in the middle years of Bush.  However, major retailers continue to shut down stores and lay off employees.

Part of it is that the internet has become the chief hub of retail sales, but it also appears that big business remains cautious.  After all, the last time we saw stocks soar like this we ended up with the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression.  What goes up, eventually comes crashing down, as we are currently seeing with crypto-currency.

Trump also has a way of hitting the wave late.  This is the same guy who decided to open a mortgage company in 2006, proclaiming that the real estate market is going to remain strong for a long time to come.  Real estate was already beginning to slump with foreclosures on the rise that year, and it all came crashing down two years later.  Little wonder the folks at Davos weren't overly impressed with his sales pitch.

Of course, that doesn't stop others from blowing Donald's trumpet.  Ed Rogers thought the Big T was in command of Davos.  Allana Petroff went even further to proclaim Davos loves the Trump tax cuts.  Seems like Trump brought his own cheering section to counteract what he called the fake news.

Many were wondering what he was even doing there since so many of his statements run counter to the prevailing wisdom of Davos.  Lithuania's president, Dalia GrybauskaitÄ— tried to explain it in an interview with CNBC, saying that she is more concerned with America's actions than she is Trump's tweets, and from what she sees America still plays a strong military and economic role in Europe.

Macron is credited for having convinced Trump to come to Davos.  On Amanpour last night, Sylvie Kauffmann, the chief editor of Le Monde, and Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, tried to explain why Macron was cultivating this relationship with Trump.  Their general impression was that Macron saw security as the main issue here and that it was in Europe's interest to retain America's involvement in the counter-terrorism effort, especially since France has proven weak in this regard.  Haass was a little bit more circumspect than was Kauffmann.

Oddly enough, Trump talked little about security.  He mostly crowed about the American economy, taking full credit for its robust growth.  Meanwhile, Europe and the rest of the world is bracing for the eventual downturn, knowing full well the wave lasts only so long.  Trump once again appears utterly oblivious to the warning signs.  What, me worry?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Our Man in Jerusalem

Mike Pence was in Israel these past few days, assuring the government of America's unwavering support.  The trip served no real purpose other than re-stating the Trump administration's position on Jerusalem and offering a few photo opportunities for our Vice-President, although he seemed to be pondering the enormity of it all at the Western Wall before returning to the United States.

It is safe to say there will be no meaningful negotiations over the next three years.  To be fair, Obama didn't do much in this regard either.  Ever since the War in Iraq and the Rise of ISIS, Palestinians have been relegated to the back pages of political discussion.  Hard to believe that at one time "Peace in Israel" was the number one foreign policy issue.  I guess Dubya did succeed in shifting American FP a little further to the East.

Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have no time for Mike Pence or Jared Kushner or anyone else Trump sends to the Levant.  Abbas was in Brussels seeking assurances that the EU would continue to play a role in peace talks and back recognition of East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine.  Trump wants to sell the Palestinians some land outside Jerusalem instead, oblivious to the fact that is where Ramallah is located, which serves as the Palestinian Authority's provisional capital.

Unlike Israel, Palestine held up to its end of the bargain by leaving Jerusalem a "corpus separatum."  Israel has been treating Jerusalem as its capital virtually since independence, with only the embassies officially located in Tel Aviv, although many countries have consulates in Jerusalem.

Pence gave a timetable for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  The first country to do so.  The Trump administration imagines the move will take place next year, and I'm sure they will get the authority from Congress on this one, since it has long supported the move.  If nothing else the state department can sell off their possessions in Tel Aviv to pay for the move, similar to what was done in moving the embassy in London.

None of this furthers the path toward peace in the region, but of course this didn't stop Magic Mike from hailing the negotiations skills of his Chief.  Not that Trump has made much effort at negotiations himself other than greeting Abbas at the White House last year.   Since then it has been all Jared, who has done more in promoting his business interests in Israel than he has negotiating any settlement.  But, he and Ivanka sure do make a dashing couple!

I suppose this all goes with the role of being in the White House, and if nothing else Trump likes to keep up appearances.  He can sell whatever comes out of Israel to his adoring conservative public because none of them care whether Palestine eventually becomes a state or not.  Announcing the embassy move to Jerusalem played very well among his electorate.

As for Mike, his political status has eroded over the past year.  You might remember he was greeted with open arms when he first came to Europe last February, but he is pretty much seen as Trump's fool now.  At this point, his reassurances ring hollow as foreign leaders have lost all hope they can negotiate with Trump's emissaries in any meaningful way.  Whatever his surrogates promise, Trump is sure to tweet the opposite the next day.

Israel is one of the few countries where the Trump administration is warmly welcomed, as Donald and Bibi are pretty much on the same page.  Netanyahu even had a new train station named after Trump upon formally recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.  Can't beat that!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I don't know what's more a joke, the White House or Mitch McConnell trying to blame this shutdown on the Democrats?  The last minute measure the House Republicans tossed in the Senate lap would have only kept the government open for another four weeks, so it wasn't any solution at all, especially given nothing fundamentally changes now that government has "shutdown."  All essential services are still in place.  Even the national parks are still open.  Basically, non-essential workers have a temporary layoff, to be reimbursed later once Congress finally settles on a spending bill.

Yet, Donald Trump and his surrogates tried their best to throw the blame on the Democrats for this impasse, despite his saying time and again what this country needs is a "good shutdown."  Careful what you wish for.

Chuck Schumer took a calculated risk but one that should pay off big time for the Democrats, as the Republicans own this shutdown because of their unwillingness to negotiate immigration reform, too afraid they will be seen as compromised heading into the 2018 midterms.  After all, these assholes did exactly the same thing in 2013, and now they want to cry foul!

The biggest hypocrite of all is Donald J. Trump, who put the 2013 shutdown squarely on Barack Obama's shoulders.  Yet, the assclown doesn't want to take the blame this time despite he being the one to make DACA an issue by signing an executive order in September to revoke it.  So, why is the mainstream press even entertaining conservative arguments?  Any objective view of the situation confirms Chuck Schumer allegation that this is Trump's shutdown.

Unfortunately, news isn't news anymore but a 24/7 reality show we are forced to endure with talking heads representing the extremes of the political spectrum arguing it out on national television.  It is so fucking embarrassing to watch these news networks prostrate themselves in front of us for television ratings!  They figure the only way they can "sell" news is to make it a spectator sport.  So, they allow this "blame game" to go on as long as viewers tune in.  If only it was as entertaining as watching Jessica Lange and company parody "The Name Game" in American Horror Story.

The funny part in all this is how the political landscape is playing out much like the last season of AHS when Ally Mayfair-Richards turned the tables on Kai Anderson and made the world he created under Trump into her own vision, leaving the men to scratch their heads and wonder what went wrong?

Women are now dominating the news cycle, not only winning key state legislative seats but filling in Senate seats where their male colleagues strayed.  The Virginia assembly saw a record number of women win seats, almost turning the assembly in the Democratic favor.  Call it Hillary's revenge, or whatever you like, but Republicans (and for that matter Democrats) are going to see a backlash like they never saw before with a record number of women in Congress next session.

At that point, Donald Trump will have a lot of answering to do and it is unlikely he will be able to squirm out of it like he is trying to do now over the government shutdown.  He's the one that made any kind of compromise impossible with his petty demand for a wall at the expense of DACA.

The last minute gesture on the part of the House to add child health care to make it look like the Democrats were the ones throwing the baby out with the bathwater was so pathetic that even some Republicans had to do a double take.  Jeff Flake openly admonished his fellow Republicans for this bit of grandstanding, and three other Republican Senators similarly said no.  Even Mitch was forced to admit defeat, as the best he could muster were 50 votes, 10 short of the 60 needed to carry the bill. But, of course, he blamed the Democrats.

They can play this blame game as long as they want, it won't change matters.  Trump has unleashed a fury among women voters that is not likely to abate between now and next fall.  Not only that but he has managed to unite minorities against him with his racist comments and tweets that will spell the doom of many Republican candidates vying for Congressional seats.  It's the "perfect storm" Republicans were hoping to avoid, but now find themselves sailing straight into it in November.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Hold my drink

A looming government shutdown doesn't keep the Donald away from the golf course.  He's off to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend while Congresspersons desperately try to reach an agreement on a budget.  Whatever spending bill Congress cobbles together will have to have his imprimatur, but I guess he figures no deal will be reached so why waste my time in this shithole when I could be in sunny Florida.

This last-minute scrambling is the result of Trump's hasty decision back in September to scrap DACA.  He was so desperate to have his wall that he figured he could force Congress to act on it.  Instead, Congress kicked the budget down the road, which I'm sure is what they will do today as well, as there appears to be no agreement.  For the time being, Dreamers have been saved by the federal courts, but this is just a stop-gap measure until Congress has the guts to deal with immigration.

For his part, Chuck Schumer has said having Tom Cotton and Dave Perdue on the Senate immigration reform committee is a non-starter.  These two guys have no interest in a compromise solution and appear to be egging on the President when it comes to standing tough, even if they walked back his comments on immigration.  A kind of "closet toughness" as if to make themselves appear as though they are arbitrators.  In reality, it is the kind of slinkiness we have come to expect from Republicans, which is why Schumer is having none of it.

The Donald has other things to worry about as well, such as the fate of a Pennsylvania House seat, which in any normal election would be considered a safe seat.  After losing a safe seat in Wisconsin this past week, Pennsylvania Republicans are taking no chances and invited His Trumpness to Pittsburgh to make a pitch for Rick Saccone, the kind of ugly Republican voters no longer seem to want.

CNN kept breaking away from its "State of America" to cover the event, which was impossible to watch.  Trump acted like he was at some television network luncheon trying to see how many persons he could call out around the table, including Saccone, who came up on stage and looked like he was going to plant a big wet one on Trump before wisely choosing not to.  If Trump loses this race, he's pretty much sunk.  No one will want to get within a 10-mile radius of him during the summer.

I'm not sure where Kate Bolduan has been recently.  Nia-Malika Henderson has stepped into her shoes on the political chat show.  Just as well as Nia-Malika is much less irritating to listen to.  She tried to get her Republican commentators to offer something approximating a candid opinion on Trump's report card for 2017, but it was hopeless.  His surrogates continue to try to prop him up like you would a cardboard dummy that has been left out in the rain.

Surprisingly, this guy still commands an 80% approval rating among Republicans, which is the only thing that keeps him the mid-30s in overall approval rating.  It certainly isn't translating into votes as Roy Moore found out in Alabama.  Republicans may still support Trump, but enthusiasm has clearly waned.  So, Saccone better hope something gets Republicans to the polls on March 13 because his commanding lead is shriveling up fast. 

He faces a tough challenge in a young, battle-tested Democrat, who has reawakened the party in Western Pennsylvania.  Conor Lamb has both a military pedigree and has served as state prosecutor.  His limited government experience should be an asset in a district that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, but has since soured on the President.  Murphy's sleazy past doesn't help either.

As Barack Obama recently described in an interview with David Letterman, it is the Republicans who now find themselves in a bubble of their making.  They have screened out all the mainstream news, and would still like to think they are riding the 2016 wave.  Democrats have flipped 34 seats since November '16, the Republicans only four in state and federal elections.  Patty Schachtner shocked Wisconsin Republcians by winning the 10th District state senate seat, a usually reliable conservative seat.  Gov. Scott Walker issued a wake-up call to fellow Republicans but it appears to be too late.  There just isn't any excitement for these conservative candidates, whereas the Democratic Party appears re-energized.  Obama will apparently be campaigning heavily for Democratic candidates across the country this summer, no doubt leading the news media to keep a tally of who comes out on top, Obama or Trump, in their list of endorsements.

In the meantime, our federal government is on hold until a budget can be approved.  So, enjoy your time in sunny Florida, dear Donald, because it looks like things are getting ugly in Washington.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Unfortunately, no trust!

This is starting to resemble a behavioral experiment from the 60s with Republicans ganging up on Dick Durbin and trying to convince him that he didn't hear what he heard last Thursday.  There were at least ten persons in the room when Trump made his comments on immigration reform, including seven senators.  Durbin was the lone Democrat.

After hearing the comments, Durbin immediately went public.  After some time, Lindsey Graham, who is working with Durbin on a compromise solution to save DACA, supported him.  But, no other Republican in the room would substantiate the comments, and on Sunday Dave Perdue and Tom Cotton flatly repudiated Dick Durbin's statement.  This is a little odd because Friday the two conservative senators simply said they couldn't recall Trump saying "shithole countries."  For his part, Trump has since said he wishes he had recorded the meeting, noting "unfortunately, no trust!"

This is quite telling.  Did Trump honestly expect his comments to stay in the room, or was he setting up Dick Durbin and the Democrats for the fall on DACA?  It's very clear Trump has no intention of signing off on any bill that protects DACA unless he gets a "down payment" on his wall.  Durbin, acting on the behalf of Senate Democrats, was willing to give the president $1.5 billion toward the wall in exchange for his support on DACA.  Apparently, this wasn't enough, so Trump went off on a tirade, which Durbin later aired to the public.

Senators Cotton and Perdue are staunchly against any compromise.  They not only want zero tolerance toward illegal immigration but want to cut legal immigration in half, especially those coming in from south of the border.  The other Republicans apparently fall somewhere in the middle and are keeping tight-lipped about the whole thing.

If this is some kind of negotiation strategy it is one of the strangest we have seen yet and not likely to get the Democrats on board the spending bill Republicans are trying to ram through Congress.  This time they can't do it through budget reconciliation, so if Mitch wants to force a simple majority vote he would have to resort to the "nuclear option," which is not going to sit well with ranking Republicans like Lindsey Graham.  Mitch only has two votes to spare.

The thing about DACA is that we are talking about kids here, relatively speaking anyway.  Most Americans don't want to see kids made to pay for the errors of their parents.  Also, most of the kids are now so thoroughly "Americanized" you couldn't tell them apart from any other kid in this country.  But, Trump is so determined to get his wall that he will use anything to get it, including holding these "Dreamers" hostage.

This tells you a lot about the man.  Imagine if it was his daughter or son being threatened with deportation.  After all, Ivana and Melania are both immigrants, and mothers to four of his children.  He is the son of an immigrant mother, who some argue arrived illegally from Scotland.  Yet, he seems to have no feeling whatsoever for these kids who arrived in the country alone or with their parents, most at a very young age, and have since carved out good lives for themselves in America.  They are nothing more than a bargaining chip to him.

Yet, in typical Trump fashion, he tries to make it look as though the Democrats are holding the "Dreamers" hostage by not signing off on a spending bill, which so far has no provision whatsoever for DACA children.

The cynicism is mindnumbing.  Even more mindnumbing is why Republicans would play along with him.  None of them really want this wall.  There are many other ways to deal with illegal immigration.  Yet, they continue to float out various figures they hope will appease our puerile president, and stand by him even when he says the most atrocious things.

It's hard to believe someone didn't catch Trump's words on his mobile phone, just as the Wall Street Journal recorded their conversation with Trump last week, forced to remind him what he said.  As Joe Manchin later said, there is no reason to suspect Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham made this up, and every reason to suspect Donald Trump is lying.  This wouldn't be the first time Trump was forced to eat his words.  Only now, Dave Perdue and Tom Cotton will be made to eat them as well.

Yes, Donald, unfortunately no trust!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our shithole in chief

I suppose Trump's beef with the embassy in London and "shithole" countries around the world is nothing more than a distraction for Republicans unwilling or unable to come to the table to discuss a bipartisan immigration bill.  After all, they had been down this road before in 2013 and it wasn't pretty, so why not let Trump fly off the handle and avoid even discussing such a bill in a hotly contested election year.

Trump let his "shithole" comment linger in the air like a fart for the better part of 15 hours before finally trying to deny he said it.  The only problem is that everyone heard him, and at best the Republicans who were in the room with him can only claim they didn't hear it.  That didn't stop Democrats from responding, and even Lindsey Antebellum has finally come forward to say yes, Trump said it.

Dear old Lindsey wanted to make himself the Republican point man on the new immigration bill, but even he appeared to have second thoughts.  Trump's comments reflect the feelings of most Republicans when it comes to immigration.  They are tired of seeing all these colored folk seeping into America, and would prefer to see more Nordic faces.  Senator Graham knows it is an uphill battle, especially trying to get such a bill through the House, where the last immigration bill stalled when the Speaker John Boehner invoked the so-called "Hassert rule."  Boehner claimed he had to have the majority support of his party to bring the bill to a floor vote, even though there were enough Republicans to go along with Democrats to pass the bill.

Of course Trump would like to pass the blame for the impasse onto Obama, like he did his reason for not attending the grand opening of the new US embassy in London, but it would only be more egg on his face.  The "fabulous new embassy" has received raves across the board, not least of all the fact that it didn't cost US taxpayers an extra penny.  It was financed entirely by the sale of London properties, including the old embassy at Mayfair.  Trump only wants to go where he will be met by an adoring audience, and there is no such audience in London.

Nevertheless, his friends at Fox and across the conservative blogosphere are defending his comments, claiming that this is what you would hear in any bar across America.  I suppose that may be true in Trump country, but is this really the level we want to discuss foreign policy?

Our president has literally turned our foreign policy into a shithole bar.  No one can trust him at this point, as no country knows from one day to the next what Trump will say on a subject, leaving it up to his beleaguered state department to try to explain his comments.  The US ambassador to Panama resigned rather than deal with the fallout from Trump's latest comments.  I suppose Trump can send John Bolton down there for a "friendly visit."

Much of this damage is irreparable, as the US's position in the world continues to erode with China, Russia and Germany filling the void we leave behind.  No longer is the US an initiator of events, but a monkey wrench.  Trump once again signed off on the Iranian nuclear deal despite his voluble misgivings,  but all the other countries involved want at this point is his signature.

Simply put, the US is no longer a player on the world stage.  It is a bystander.  Yes, Trump can get rowdy at times as he has done with North Korea, but whatever strategy that still remains in place is guarded by the Pentagon.  Trump has no real interest in what is going on around the world, except as to how it relates to his business interests.  Diplomacy is a thing of the past, which is why his embassy and "shithole countries" comments are perfectly in keeping with his puerile mindset.

The funny thing is that no one really cares anymore other than to affirm their views on Trump.  This was certainly the case with Sadiq Khan, who hailed the cancellation as Trump getting the message that London doesn't want him.   Madame Tussands couldn't resist the opportunity to park his wax likeness in front of the embassy.

At this point, no one wants him.  To use Jesse Waters' analogy, I imagine much of the "bar talk" these days is how do we get rid of Trump, as you would an unruly patron who has obviously had way too much to drink and is embarrassing everyone around him.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Everyone is talking about Oprah

After her Golden Globes speech, Oprah is the most talked about person on television.  She brought the auditorium to its feet with as she recounted how Recy Taylor bucked the system back in 1944, and her impressions of Sidney Pottier winning the Oscar for Lilies of the Field.  It was a life-affirming speech like the ones Barack Obama enjoyed giving and the parallel was not lost on anyone.  Many persons started chanting Oprah for President that evening.

Why not?  Any thoughts that experience matters were thrown out the window when Donald J. Trump won the office last year.  This seemed to be the only thing holding Oprah back.  Now she just says, "oh, oh."

Americans no longer place much value on a candidate's resume, at least when it comes to serving in government.  We have become extremely cynical, believing that a politician is only in it for the money.  Jokes abound like the one where politicians should wear patches of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do, or that the only good politician is a dead politician, politically dead anyway.

Yet, we have elected our share of first-timers over the years and they haven't proven anymore adept at managing government than have traditional candidates.  Ronald Reagan comes to mind.  Bad actor turned governor and eventually president, he pretty much left management up to those around him.  The result was one of the most corrupt governments in modern history with over 20 indictments.  Trump's administration is well on its way to matching those numbers.

Many Americans are desperate for anyone other than Trump, and feel that only someone with a big personality like Oprah can topple him in an election.  No names are emerging from the Democratic field other than Bernie and Joe Biden, both well past 70.  Oprah seems youthful in her early 60s and is looking better than ever with her wavy black hair and healthy full figure.  She looked absolutely radiant Sunday night.

Oprah is worth considering.  She has been a positive spokesperson for so many issues over the years and has grown into one of the most powerful persons in the entertainment industry.  An unlikely rise when you consider her roots.  Most importantly, she would have the wholehearted support of Democrats across the political spectrum, assuming she runs as a Democrat.

However, I'm afraid this would be a major setback for traditional politics.  The grassroots campaign that gave us candidates like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and Barack Obama will be lost.  How could such a candidate compete with larger-than-life personalities?

Maybe it just a phase we are going through.  The idea of "Oprah" has been tossed about for the better part of two decades.  She couldn't be any worse than Donald J. Trump.  Maybe we should just skip the primaries all together and go straight to the general election in 2020 and let these two battle it out on prime time television -- the Reality Show of the Century!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The problem with Cory Gardner's argument

or any Republican for that matter

Cory Gardner took exception to Jeff Sessions switch on marijuana.  The Colorado senator claims that Sessions promised he wouldn't go after state legalized cannabis but it seems the Attorney General has had a change of heart.  Sessions has long made it known he doesn't like all this pot being made freely available, and it was only a matter of time before he used his federal authority to contain it.  He not only has the blessing of Trump but many state governors, who have file suits against states that have legalized pot.

The problem goes well beyond marijuana.  Gardner wants to present himself as a moderate Republican by voicing his libertarian view on pot.  This is similar to Rand Paul, who has also been pro-pot.  But, these senators have no problem going after health care and other issues that blur state and federal lines.  Both voted for the tax cuts bill that will eliminate federal mandates for buying state and federal health insurance.  They had previously voted to gut the ACA, and in fact have stuck to the party line on almost every issue.  Gardner has a whopping 94.6 score of voting along with Trump's position on issues.  This is double how he was expected to vote in 2017, according to fivethirtyeight.  The only place he seems to have veered is on pot, which makes you wonder if he bought stock in marijuana companies, which are currently taking a nosedive.

This is a pattern that has emerged over and over again.  Collins, Murkowski and McCain were treated like heroes for voting down Mitch's last ditch effort to gut the Affordable Care Act, only to vote for a tax cuts bill that did the very same thing.  In fact, every single Senate Republican voted for the final version of the notorious bill, including Bob Corker, who had previously been the lone Republican to stand against it.  Yet, we keep hoping that one of these Republicans will emerge to challenge the party orthodoxy.

They won't because they are part of a political party that is run like a mafia.  The Republican leaders make very few concessions, instead they threaten their party members by either pulling election funding or reminding them that there is a strong core of Republicans that continues to support Trump, no matter how daft he might be.  In other words, they face certain defeat in the primaries if they go against the grain.   This leaves young turks like Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse, and Rand Paul in a tough bind.  They might want to challenge the orthodoxy, but if they want to stay in the Senate they have to succumb to Mitch's lead.  

It's a little harder to figure out Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who have said they will not be seeking re-election this Fall.  They love to attack Trump, but in the end pretty much go along with his position on key issues.  Both have a Trump score over 85% on 538.  Susan Collins flirted with running for governor of Maine, but has since decided to stay in the Senate, where she is once again proving loyal to the party, although her score of 82% puts her a little bit in danger in the primaries.  She hopes her vote on the tax cuts bill makes up for it.

In fairness, the Trump Score is a bit deceiving.  It isn't so much that these senators are voting along with Trump, as Trump has taken the party line on almost every issue.  It's his volatility that worries Republican senate leaders, like that time he went along with "Chuck and Nancy" on a short-term spending solution, kicking the budget down the line.  In the end, however, this worked out well for Republicans as they were able to get their tax cuts bill through budget reconciliation rather than bringing it to a full vote in the Senate where they would have needed 60 votes to pass.  Basically, Trump will take a "win" anyway he can get it.  Since that little relapse, he has been very harsh on the Democrats, much to Mitch's approval.

There has also been a long history of the Republican Party letting its members stray on their pet issues, as long as they don't go against the big issues.  As far as Mitch is concerned, Young Cory can go after Jeff Sessions on cannabis, as long as he sticks to the party line on tax cuts, repeal of "Obamacare," cuts in Medicare, overhaul of Social Security, and so on.  

The orthodoxy was a upset with Murkowski, Collins and McCain over the health care vote, but they brought these wayward senators back into the fold when it came to what really mattered -- a sweeping tax bill that used cuts in health care to help fund the $1.5 trillion cost of the bill.  They all plan to eventually seek re-election.

One can argue that we see a similar situation with Democrats.  After all, they were only able to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress by "bullying" some of their wayward members and convincing Arlen Specter to switch parties.  It was much tougher as the Democrats needed 60 votes, and at most had 59 in 2009, until Arlen joined them.  

I think Mitch never forgave the Democrats for this and has demanded total loyalty from his members ever since.  As you might recall Mitch was thrilled as punch when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Special Election to fill John Kerry's vacated seat in late 2009.  Number 41 they called him.  Democrats were unable to pass anymore major legislation after that upset victory.

It doesn't stop Democrats from hoping they can steer disgruntled Republicans to their party.  They flirted with Murkowski, who won as an "independent" in Alaska after being "teabagged" in the primaries in 2010, but she chose to caucus with the Republicans, and ran as a Republican in 2016.  So, don't let her defiance on some issues fool you.  She knows which side of her bread is buttered.  She along with Susan Collins and John McCain are not "heroes" because they stand up to their Republican Party from time to time.  They consistently vote along the party line, even when it is against their own best interests.  Murkowski introduced the bill to open drilling in the Alaskan Arctic Circle.  Kind of like making Lisa shoot a family member to prove her loyalty to the party.

As for Young Cory,  he is essentially making a big fuss about nothing in an attempt to endear himself to Coloradans after voting for the noxious tax bill.  Jeff Sessions' position on pot is largely symbolic.  It is doubtful that federal prosecutors will aggressively crack down on possession, cultivation and distribution of cannabis in states where it has been made legal.  Like everything else in the Trump administration, it was about erasing the Obama legacy, which had adopted a policy of non-intervention.  Sessions wanted other states to not become part of this "reefer madness" by placing a federal warning on pot.