Monday, September 25, 2017

Trump vs. the NFL




"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.  He is fired.  He's fired!'"

Leave it to Dotardly Don to blow the NFL national anthem protests out of the water.  Owners had been hoping that the protests would fade out over the course of the year but thanks to his fiery stump speech in Alabama, where he was promoting "Big Luther," they were forced to come to the defense of their players.  Even long-time friend Robert Kraft voiced his disappointment in Trump's coarse references.  Other owners stood with their players during the national anthem on Sunday, while entire teams stayed in their locker rooms while the anthem was being played.

This may come to be known as Black Sunday, the day the NFL stood up to the President of the United States, and to much of its fan base who seem to believe players have no right to express themselves in public.  The emerging hero among conservatives is Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva, who defied his coach's orders, and stood in the tunnel saluting the flag, while the rest of his Pittsburgh teammates sat in the locker room.  Coach Tomlin was none too happy about his player's decision, but wisely chose not to publicly chastise him.

All kinds of false quotes are being attributed to Jerry Jones, who has said he believes all his players should stand for the national anthem, but hasn't publicly threatened them.  Dallas was one of the few teams in which no player showed signs of protest.  The Cowboys may again become "America's team," although Chicago will get a lot of new fans for beating the defiant Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime.

Who knows maybe NFL ratings will go up now that Dotardly Don has chosen to chime in on the anthem protests?  He later defended his unsolicited comments, calling on fans to boycott the NFL until these unruly players are "fired or suspended."   This isn't the air traffic controllers union, but Trump seems to think he can influence owners to bring players in line.

What he got was an ethics violation slapped in his face.  Not that it will matter as Trump has little respect for the law.  He has crossed the line so many times since assuming office in January, but the Republican Congress refuses to hold him accountable.

His wrath spilled over to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, when he "uninvited" the team to the White House after Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant stated they wouldn't attend.  This showdown had been brewing for months but reached its ugly head over the weekend, with many NBA players condemning the President for his outlandish comments.

Our Twitter King is oblivious to such responses.  He is hoping to strike a chord with conservatives who have lost faith in him, knowing full well how much the flag means to these people.  In this sense, he is no better than the white supremacists who used the Charlottesville Robert E. Lee statue to try to solicit support.

Trump knows the value of such symbols and will use them for all they are worth, especially now that the Graham-Cassidy health care bill is in its final death throes.  Where's he going to come up with the money to pay for the greatest tax cuts in American history?  Sens. Graham and Cassidy hoped their bill would go a long way toward achieving this goal.

He could have also been upset that he got "out-tweeted" by Kim Jong Un, who had Americans racing to their dictionaries to find the meaning of "dotard."    Which would you rather be called: "rocket man" or "an old person who has become weak or senile?"

Whatever the case, he has chosen to vent his anger on overpaid athletes, since his generals probably nixed a direct strike on Pyongyang.   It was an easy scapegoat, as he still nurses a grudge against the NFL for the demise of the USFL back in the 1980s.  Trump had tried to muscle his way into the league, moving the USFL season from the summer to the fall in direct competition with the NFL.  Some analysts felt Trump was angling to get the NFL to expand and include his New Jersey Generals, but with two NFL teams already playing in the Meadowlands, there was no hope for such a merger.  This seems to be some kind of perverted payback, which also allows him the opportunity to shroud the failure of the impending health care vote this week.

The odd part is that Trump relied heavily on NFL owners, coaches and players to tout him during the campaign.  At a rally on the final evening of the campaign, he brandished a letter from Bill Belichick, proudly telling an audience in Manchester, New Hampshire, that he had the full support of both Belichick and Tom Brady, obvious fan favorites in New England.

It's the kind of love/hate relationship you can expect with Donald Trump.  One that we have seen played out numerous times over the past three decades since the man rose to be a Wall Street Pop Star.  No one could have imagined him ever becoming President, but here he is resorting to the same cheap tricks that got him all that attention back in the turbulent 80s.  The amazing thing is that his loyal supporters are totally blind to it.

Trump may very well have to move to Alabama or Kentucky when all is said and done, as he is isolating himself from most of the country with his constant rants on twitter.  But, his support of "Big Luther" may not be enough to pull the interim senator across the line, as many Alabamans prefer insurgent, Roy Moore, the so-called "Ten Commandments Judge."  Trump may not find the hospitality he longs for in the "Heart of Dixie."


Friday, September 22, 2017

The Jimmy Kimmel test




One would have thought that after the long break, Republicans would have come back with a new resolve to work with Democrats on improving the Affordable Care Act.  But, we should know better by now.  They appear to have no shame, especially Bill Cassidy who four months ago went on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! and vowed that he would not support any bill that didn't pass the "Jimmy Kimmel test."  Needless to say, Jimmy Kimmel let Bill Cassidy know what he thought about this turn of events.

Cassidy and Graham have teamed up to push yet another "last ditch" attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, which appears to be gaining traction in the Senate thanks to compromises meant to appease wayward senators like McCain and Murkowsky.  The GOP has apparently given up on Susan Collins.  They need both McCain and Murkowsky because Rand Paul is opposing the bill on different grounds.  No one is sure how many persons Paul can drag with him, but Sen. Thune seems to think the GOP is still five votes short.

So why go through this humiliation once again?  I suppose Republicans are trying to assure their constituency that they are on their side, even if it appears to be very shaky ground.  Polls show that 60% of conservatives disapprove of the way Congressional Republicans have handled health care, albeit for different reasons.  It seems Republican politicians are more concerned about losing their financial backers than they are their voters.

Sens. Graham and Cassidy's cynical bill would phase out federal subsidies over the next ten years, providing money for the much anticipated tax cuts Republicans have long been pushing.  Over a 20-year period, they project roughly $1.1 trillion would become available, therefore the tax cuts would not represent any significant increase to the national debt.

So what if the bill throws all those babies out with the bathwater, which is what has Jimmy Kimmel so upset after making his plaintive cry to the public.   He strongly felt that babies like his wouldn't have survived without the ACA because too many people don't have health insurance to cover such intensive care.

Cassidy countered on Fox & Friends that Jimmy doesn't understand the complexities of the bill.  He's not trying to kill babies.  But, the AMA and virtually all healthcare related organizations have come out in opposition to this latest Republican smoke and mirrors bill, siding with Jimmy, not Bill.

Once again it comes down to at least three Republican senators to vote no.  The Republicans appear to think they have McCain in the bank.  They are hoping to secure Lisa as a bonus, so that if they can't bring Rand Paul on board they can isolate him.  This is the way they negotiate health care.

No attempt to sit down with their own Republican governors, much less Democrats, who want to see a more comprehensive health care bill that deals with the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act.  Many Republican states signed onto Medicaid expansion when it appeared that the ACA had become the law of the land, among them Lisa Murkowski's home state of Alaska.   Many Republican states also began assessing the feasibility of hosting their own health insurance marketplaces.  This bill would wipe out all those efforts, and reward those states that remained loyal to the GOP.

This not only fails the Jimmy Kimmel test but any test of decency.  It is a horribly cynical attempt by the GOP to come up with a way to cover their proposed tax cuts, and if that means purging health insurance for 30 million Americans then so be it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Life of Brian




I came into the middle of Love & Mercy last night, which was a bit confusing since there was a "Brian - Past" and "Brian - Future," played by Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively.  The "Brian - Past" was more interesting as it revolved around the making of the Beach Boys' classic Good Vibrations, a polyphonic gem of a song.  Director Bill Pohland meticulously recreated the studio scene featured in the "lost studio footage" that appeared in 2012.

Seems everyone recognized Brian's immense talent except his father, who taunted and abused him for years, making Brian feel that his songs never measured up to his father's standard.  Not only that but he ended up with a domineering psychotherapist in the 1980s, who insinuated himself into every aspect of Brian's life.  By this point, Brian was so strung out that it probably took a domineering figure to bring him back onto the stage, but Dr. Landy didn't stop there.  He became partner in subsequent book and music deals that netted him a nice share of the pie.  He even managed to get himself written into Brian's will, but unfortunately the good doctor died before he could collect.

Genius comes with a heavy price.  Brian Wilson heard music on a level few of us could even imagine and transposed those sounds into multiple layered songs that defied the pop genre of its time.  Paul McCartney can only wish he wrote a song like Good Vibrations, which beautifully captured the psychedelic era in a wistful breezy way that plays just as well today as it did when it first appeared in 1966.

I thought the song originally appeared on Pet Sounds, but was released separately later the same year.  Brian had started it along with the other songs on the album, but couldn't quite resolve the harmonies before releasing Pet Sounds in May.  Seems critics didn't know what to make of these new Beach Boys, but the release of Good Vibrations along with one of the cuts from Pet Sounds, seemed to put it all together, as the single was a huge hit worldwide.  The Beach Boys had moved well beyond "surfer music."

Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations took harmonies to a whole new level.  This is something no other pop group at the time, or for that matter since, could pull off.  Crosby, Stills and Nash probably came the closest, and their harmonies seem clumsy by comparison.  There doesn't appear to be a note out of place in Wilson's best compositions, so carefully layered together that it takes many listenings to sort them all out.

There were critics.  Pete Townshend thought the harmonies were manufactured.  There was no way to repeat this on stage, which he thought was the whole point of rock and roll.  Brian was after something bigger.  If it took four studios and a wide variety of studio musicians to pull it off, so be it.  Needless to say, the song became the gold standard for subsequent productions.

It is hard to fathom why Murry tormented his sons so much, particularly Brian.  I suppose he thought they were veering off into a new music that wouldn't fetch the sales of previous singles and albums.  Murry was a businessman above all else.  The degree of abuse and manipulation he inflected on his sons could only be speculated until this letter came to light in 2010.  Murry was truly a sick, demented man.

Bill Pohland tries to cover a lot of ground in his movie, enough to fill a mini-series, but alas it fails to capture the mood of either the 60s or the 80s, which clash harshly in this biopic.  I suppose that is why the movie pretty much went under the radar, despite its impressive cast.  I think it is best to focus on one aspect of Brian Wilson at a time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fire and fury signifying nothing




Yesterday being a Tuesday, I should have known anything could happen.  Trump dropped the bomb on the UN, giving what some reporters have called George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech on steroids.  John Kelly's facial expressions said it all.

Trump veered wildly off course, not only lashing out at North Korea's "rocket man," but all "rogue leaders," as if he was the new sheriff in town.  He said he would "totally destroy" North Korea if he had to, which would be unsettling if he had any support among his staff, much less Congress, for such wild rhetoric.  Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson similarly appeared dazed and confused by Trump's hyperbolic rhetoric.

He chortled on twitter that he "met with leaders of many nations that agreed with much (or all) of what [he] stated in [his] speech!"  The only one smiling was Bibi Netanhayu who is trying to get Trump to tear up the Iran nuclear agreement so that he can take out their nuclear reactor.  Theresa May also supported Trump's positions on North Korea and Iran but was less gleeful.  There was no show of support for his comments by any other nation.

It's painfully obvious that there is no point in prepping Trump for an important speech as he refuses to stick with the script.  Any gathering is a rally for him.  He imagined all those world leaders in red MAGA caps and fired away.  I'm sure Presidents Putin and Xi must have been shaking their heads back home, wondering how much longer the US Congress can tolerate a man like this.  As for Kim Jong-Un, I'm sure we will see another rocket flying soon, maybe even in the direction of Guam just to gauge his fellow man-toddler's reactions.

Representatives of Iran, Syria and Venezuela, who were also tagged in Trump's angry speech, could be seen tweeting responses back home.  Most international representatives sat frozen in their chairs, as they usually do, inured to such hyperbolic speeches over the years, including Bibi's infamous red line speech, but they certainly didn't expect one like this coming from the United States.

Trump set a new low for the United States in world diplomacy, literally threatening to bring down the world around him, if that is what it takes to get people to notice him.  He is singularly obsessed with Kim Jong-Un, who has refused to cower to Trump's overblown gestures.

For the record, Kim's ballistic missile tests over Japan were 770 km into space and therefore did not violate Japan's airspace.  The rockets fell harmlessly into international waters.  As such, they do not infringe directly on any nation.  Yet, that hasn't stopped the Trump White House and an angry Shinzo Abe from declaring these missile tests an "outright challenge to the international community."

At this juncture, the missile tests represent an existential threat moreso than a real threat, as they show Pyongyang's rapidly developing long-range missile capabilities, yet he hasn't infringed on anyone's territorial limits.  We can no longer treat the "rocket man" as a laughing stock, which is the point he has been trying to make all along.  Yet, Trump continues to egg him on with such epithets, seeming to want to provoke the North Korean dictator into making a direct attack, thereby justifying a massive counter attack in response.  His UN speech is just a continuation of this coarse language.

Everyone recognizes the threat Kim Jong-Un poses, but the UN policy remains one of containment.  One can see the next gesture of the United States being to present a "white paper" to the Security Council calling for pre-emptive action.  However, the UN has been down this road before and I doubt will show anymore sympathy for the Trump administration than it did the Bush administration.  The UN will continue to press for negotiations, which are attached to the sanctions.

As Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom stated, "it was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Big Whiff




Looks like it was a big whiff at the UN for Donald Trump on Monday.  His speech was remarkably bland by his standards.  A bit disappointing since his aides indicated Trump would have some strong words to say to the general assembly.  Basically, he just talked, which is something he admonished the UN for in a December 2016 tweet.  So, was this stage fright, or did the president just get lost in his own words?

Of course, he was quick to condemn North Korea and Iran, but there wasn't much fire or fury in his comments.  Seems he has pretty much accepted there isn't much he can do about Pyongyang, when there is little will on the part of China and Russia to back sanctions.  Putin chose not to attend, preferring to watch the fireworks show along the Baltic border instead.  President Xi similarly skipped the assembly, having decided enough was said in a telephone conversation and there was no more to add.  This doesn't say much for Trump's ability to unite nations against North Korea.

Trump once again lends the impression of being irrelevant on an international stage.  No one seems to even care what he has to say anymore, preferring instead to talk with Mattis or Tillerson or Jared Kushner, since talking directly with Trump can be a very frustrating experience.  The main reason being that Trump seems so badly informed on any subject that you usually spend the entire time explaining matters to him as you would a child.

For his part, Trump doesn't seem to care.  This whole White House thing has become such an incredible drag that he is just counting down the days to when he can be on one of his golf courses in New Jersey or Florida or Virginia.  He makes appearances for appearance sake.  There's no fire in him at all.  Alex Jones thinks the president is being "covertly drugged."

All could be he has been put on some kind of medication, as he was flying off the rails at most public events.  There are still moments when the medication appears to be wearing off.  He just can't stop posting GIFs of him bashing his opponents.  He couldn't resist sharing a GIF of him whacking Hillary with a golf ball that came at 5:45 am.

It's hard to say what is going on in that perverted mind of his, but Hillary took a stab at it, referring to a time Trump questioned how long it took her to go to the bathroom.  Like most Americans, Trump seems to pick over trivial matters, imagining some foul and pestilent odor lurking there, yet shrugs off far more serious matters because he simply doesn't understand them.  This is what you get from a man who has almost no intellectual curiosity, except when it comes to women's hygiene practices.

The UN must be a huge mystery for him.   It is doubtful he has made much effort to familiarize himself with its goals.  He has left it up to Nikki Haley, the so-called velvet hammer, to "revamp" the UN, although no one seems to know what that entails.  Having survived James Bolton, I'm sure the UN figures it will survive Nikki Haley.

One can only hope that Trump's aides remember to give him meds before addressing the general assembly as a whole today.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hear MOAR roar!




So much for the Mother of All Rallies.  No more than 1800 Trumpers pitched up to show their support for the president, turning the rally into prime fodder for late night comics.  As it turned out, the Juggalos drew a bigger crowd, holding a free concert by the Lincoln Memorial to protest the FBI designating them as a "hybrid gang."

Yet MOAR has to be happy it got as much coverage as it did.  Even BBC devoted a segment to them last night.  It seems no matter how small the Trump rally, it still gets coverage as the media loves nothing more than showing what a Trump supporter looks like.  This is pretty much how the Birther campaign gained traction in 2009.  

Our flighty president escaped to his New Jersey retreat after another week marred by controversy.  He was getting it from all ends.  Right-wingers were furious he backtracked on DACA by working on a "deal" with the Democrats.  Others were upset when he once again equated Antifa with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, claiming he was vindicated by comments on social media supporting his viewpoint.  Worst of all, the fashionistas ganged up on him for his mismatched suit.

It seems Trump wants to expand the definition of "hate groups" to include what he regards as militant left-wing organizations, or "some very bad people" as he calls them.  In the wake of the Charlottesville riot, the right-wing media has been quick to portray Antifa and Black Lives Matters as "black supremacy" organizations.  Conservative pundits are desperate to create a leftist equivalent to white supremacist groups, so as to deflect attention away from their own biases.

Trump has repeatedly played into this loose talk, which is why Jemele Hill called him a "white supremacist," among other things.  Naturally, he took offense to this and vented his wrath not only on her but ESPN for not dismissing her the way it did Curt Schilling.  Here again we see a false equivalence.  As this article points out, Schilling had been warned, then suspended, and then ultimately fired for his ongoing rants on social media.  Hill has not reached that stage of impudence.  Not only that, she apologized for her comments.  Something Schilling never did.

It is this false equivalence that is so frustrating.  Trump and his supporters used it to great effect throughout the campaign, pointing their fingers at Hillary whenever the media brought up Trump's numerous transgressions.  Attempts to draw his supporters out on talk shows were easily diverted by bringing up Hillary's e-mail controversy as if this trumped anything the Donald did.

Fortunately, it is proving a little harder to deflect attention away from Trump's ever-equivocating statements on white supremacy because no one wants to be called a racist, no matter how racist they are.  Not even Richard Spencer.  Equivocation has become a very effective technique among white supremacists.  

Bringing up Charlottesville again helps to mitigate whatever damage his vacillation on DACA did among right-wing groups.  Trump wants to play both ends against the middle, hoping to force Congress to act on his wall, the ultimate symbol of white supremacy.  This seems to be the only issue he holds dear, except maybe for his Muslim ban, which he recently brought up again too.

For its part, Congress refuses to act on either one, which frustrates Donald to no end.  Maybe he thinks by playing nice to "Chuck and Nancy" he can get Democrats to go along with his tougher border security.  But, Chuck said the wall is a non-starter, so one can expect Trump to drop DACA again soon.  The Dreamers never really mattered to him.

However, it seems his supporters are confused by all these mixed signals, which maybe why so few turned up for this big rally in Washington.  Organizers hoped to draw one million loyal Trumpers.  They fell 998,000 short of that mark. This can't sit well with a president who judges his popularity by the size of his crowds.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

There's Something About Hillary




In case you haven't heard, Hillary Clinton has a new book out.   Not surprisingly, response has been all over the board, largely because she seems to take pretty much everyone to task, except herself, for her electoral loss.

One of her favorite targets is Bernie Sanders, who she thinks undermined her in the primaries, and laid the groundwork for Donald Trump's "Crooked Hillary" campaign.  That's a pretty bold assertion, especially given that he campaigned for her quite actively in the general election, particularly in the Midwestern states where she was most vulnerable.

What's most interesting in her attacks on Bernie is that she portrays him as a shallow politician, pushing gimmicks rather than solutions.  She compares him to the "deranged hitchhiker" in Ben Stiller's There's Something About Mary.  Not having seen the movie, I had to watch a clip to familiarize myself with this character.

It seems Hillary picked up her metaphor from a meme, which has been floating around the past few years, rather than the movie itself.  The "deranged hitchhiker" is how she feels about Bernie for crashing her party.  That damned sense of entitlement.

It wasn't so much that Bernie was pitching "abs routines," as he was pushing her further to the left than she wanted to go.  The minimum wage battle was a classic one.  Hillary opted for the more conservative $12/hour, whereas Bernie wanted $15. Bernie didn't do this just to make it bigger.  This was the minimum amount deemed to be a "living wage."  Several cities had already adopted the $15/hr. minimum wage and Bernie stood by it.  After a whole lot of hemming and hawing, Hillary decided to go with $15 too, as she saw this was the direction the Democratic Party was headed.

But, Hillary doesn't stop there, she goes after the "so-called Bernie Bros," who she claims harassed her supporters on line.  That maybe so, as in this day and age pretty much anything goes on line, but Bernie's supporters cut across gender lines.   There were a lot of women who had concerns with Hillary, as made painfully clear in the general election, when she failed to nail down white women.  To be fair, white women generally vote Republican but here was a white woman running for president.  Surely, she could do better than 43 per cent!

For a self-described political wonk, this seems to be a very glaring mistake, especially when one of Bernie's most visible supporters was Susan Sarandon, an actress loved and respected, although some of that respect probably fell off after her strident comments during the general election.  Susan made no apologies for her disdain of Hillary.

Where Bernie had difficulties was in allying minority voters to his cause.  Here, Hillary was able to outstrip him and ultimately secure the Democratic nomination.  He didn't stand a chance throughout the South, and Hillary thrashed him in California.  However, none of these states mattered in the general election except maybe Florida.

The states that did matter were the Midwestern states, seen as a  Democratic "blue wall."  Bernie beat her in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota.  As it turned out, Michigan and Wisconsin were very pivotal states, which for some odd reason she chose to limit her campaign.  I suppose she felt she had these states in the bank, particularly Michigan, which Obama won by 450,000 votes in 2012.  Obama had won Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin by more than 1 million total votes.  Kind of like spotting Team Hillary 21 points in a football game.

In the end Bernie won 23 states, not because he "impugned" her character, but because there were a lot of folks in the Democratic party who didn't want Hillary, or felt that Bernie stood for something bigger.  It was basically a repeat of 2008, in which she entered the campaign as a heavy favorite only to be outmaneuvered by a younger, more dynamic Barack Obama, who took full advantage of the discord in the party.

Her big advantage this time around was that she had the Democratic establishment in the bank, having secured all but a relative handful of superdelegates before the primaries began.  This put Bernie in a 500 delegate hole, which he was never able to get out of.  It also helped that she faced no challenge from the Democratic orthodoxy.  The other "Democrats" who ran were also outsiders like Bernie, and dropped out within the first few weeks of the primaries.

It seems that Hillary no more wants to confront the truth of this election than do her most avid supporters.  This is what could do lasting damage for the Democratic Party, as there are many Democrats who hold onto Hillary as if she is the Susan B. Anthony of our generation.  It's just too bad she got tripped up by a "deranged hitchhiker" like Bernie Sanders.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bad Karma




So many ironies to the two hurricanes.  Between the global warming denials, the conspiracy theories and just plain stupid comments made by religious political leaders, one would like to think there might be more acceptance of the fact our planet is changing after all the destruction these past two weeks, but probably not.

Rush Limbaugh was forced to evacuate after insisting Irma was a liberal conspiracy.  He claimed on radio that this faux storm was nothing more than a means for retail and grocery stories to have clearing house sales and for the liberal media to preach to us about global warming.  Mercifully, he was off the air for a couple days as the massive storm passed over Florida.

For years, he and fellow global warming denier Rick Scott have been trying to tell Floridians there is nothing unusual about these prolonged hurricane seasons or that the cyclones are two, three, even four times bigger than they ever were before.  Irma dwarfed Andrew, which hit South Florida in 1992.  Both packed Category 5 winds when they crossed over the West Indies, but Irma's diameter was at least twice the size, meaning it inflicted a far broader path of destruction that took in the entire peninsula of Florida, with flood waters from Miami to Jacksonville.

Meteorologists predict no end in sight for these superstorms, which means cities like Miami, New Orleans and Houston will either have to build enormous seawalls or seek higher ground, because this is something they will have to deal with again and again.

Houston wasn't prepared at all for a storm of this magnitude, suffering a fate similar to what New Orleans went through with Katrina.  Miami has had to weather many such storms.  The sandy soil means the flood waters retreat pretty quickly and rebuilding will soon begin.  But, in the not so distant future Miami may find itself underwater permanently, as rising sea levels take over coastal towns along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.  What then?

It is doubtful Rick Scott or "Wheels" Abbott will have any epiphany.  They will continue to deny climate change because it is the conservative thing to do.  Fortunately, Governor Rick's tenure will come to an end in 2018, but "Wheels" can remain governor of Texas as long as the people will have him.  Texans put up with Rick Perry for 11 years before he stepped down on his own volition.

A lot of persons refuse to accept climate change, quick to point to exceptions.  Even in Houston, many are blaming city planning problems rather than global warming for the cataclysmic events.  If only Houston had heeded the flood zones.  But, these arguments don't really hold up because a storm like Harvey would wreck the best city planning efforts.  A Superstorm of this magnitude will no longer be a "one in a thousand year event."

This is the part conservatives can't seem to get in their heads.  It's not like we haven't had storms like these in the past.  The Galveston hurricane in 1900 is still considered the deadliest hurricane ever, creating a massive storm surge that inundated the Texas coastline and left anywhere from 6000 to 12,000 people dead.  Houston was just a dot on the map then.  The problem is that these storms are now occurring with greater frequency, and the hurricane season now extends into October due to warmer waters, which these superstorms feed off.

You can be sure Rush won't be offering a mea culpa, or that Donald Trump will reconsider his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, or that Rick Scott will allow state officials to use the word "climate change."  To them, storms like Harvey and Irma remain anomalies, climate change is a liberal conspiracy designed to undercut oil and coal, and future generations have nothing to worry about.  Hurricanes are a right of passage.

However, you have to ask yourself how much insurance companies will be willing to cover after two huge storms like this.  It is bad enough having to pay out claims on one superstorm, but now they will be forced to make payouts on two.  The economic cost of Harvey and Irma is expected to be around $290 billion.  This puts the burden on federal and state governments to make up the shortfall.  Something, Congressional conservatives are loathe to do, unless of course these superstorms occur in their home states.

It is highly doubtful the Trump administration will develop any strategy to deal with such crises.  He will do what he can to avoid having the "Katrina" tag pinned on him, which proved to be George W. Bush's downfall in 2005.  Rush will continue to spout his nonsense on radio and all will be forgotten until the next superstorm hits, which may very well come again this year, as we aren't out of the hurricane season yet.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Is there nothing sacred anymore?

Jim Bakker's Food Pyramid

We can assume Alex Jones and Jim Bakker aren't as stupid as they look.  They are successfully using tragedies to promote their own products -- a tried and true method for Evangelists for decades.  But, it really takes the cake when you use a film as ludicrous as Geostorm to promote a theory that Irma may be government engineered.  Even more amazing is that Media Matters devotes time to Jones' half-baked conspiracy theories.

For a guy who is constantly urging his viewers to buy his products to keep his show on television, it is amazing how much money Alex Jones has managed to sock away.  His Infowars is valued at $75 million by the Worth of Web Calculator.  Of course that's pretty small potatoes compared to Trump, but it really makes you wonder just how gullible many Americans are?

Jim Bakker has been hawking Doomsday Survivor Kits for quite a while now, so using Irma to give his business a boost should come as no surprise.  He looks slightly more respectable with his white hair, as if he might have come face to face with the burning bush himself, but it is probably as fake as everything else concerning his television ministry.

These Evangelist hawkers have been around for quite sometime.  I grew up with Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts on the television set.  They would come on every Sunday morning, trying to take advantage of Christians too lazy to go to church.  Not that my mother was a big fan of these TV ministers, but she did have a soft spot for Oral Roberts.  My dad placed them on the same level as WWE wrestlers.

Surprisingly, Uncle Pat is still around, although he has been eclipsed by younger more dynamic ministers like Joel Osteen, who found himself in a bit of hot water over Harvey.   Osteen has become the TV minister Evangelists love to hate, but he is no more phony than the rest of them.  Joel's sin was praising Obama his first months in office.

Evangelism is actually a very interesting branch of Christianity.  There are any number of denominations preaching their own form of religion, not beholden to any doctrine other than their unquestioning love of Jesus.  As such, you have very liberal as well as very conservative Evangelical churches, but you would never know it to see the hucksters on television.  They learned a long time ago that what viewers want to hear are fire and brimstone sermons, using the flames of hell to stir followers and of course buy their products.

Alex Jones uses this very same method on his show, as John Oliver pointed out.  Seems Donald Trump was also using Harvey to hawk his products, namely his $40 USA cap which you can buy at Walmart for $9.99.  I'm sure he will have Melania's FLOTUS cap available soon, as it is very much in demand.  Such mark-ups are not unusual as the product doubles as a donation to the church or cause, but most organizations are explicitly asking for donations and the cap or other item is a bonus for your generosity.  Jones, Bakker and Trump appear to be simply hawking products at inflated prices.

You would think Internet-savvy buyers would shop around, but I guess they feel they are showing their loyalty to their favorite celebrities.  This is pretty much what you see on Youtube with all sorts of "vloggers" peddling their products to gullible teens.  I was forced into buying a TRXYE sweatshirt for my daughter, as that was what she wanted most for Christmas.  Fortunately, it was delivered as promised.  It's a great business and now she is trying to make a brand for herself.

Of course, Trump is the master of this.  He values his name brand at a staggering $5 billion.  Now that he is President it is probably worth ten times that amount in his mind.

It is at the grass roots where this is most bothersome, as Jones, Bakker and other hucksters are preying on the weak and the weary to buy into their conspiracy theories and the Apocalypse to purchase their products.  Their goods don't come cheap.  Fear is their principal motivating force and pensioners seem particularly susceptible to it.

There no longer appears to be any truth in advertising.  The Federal Trade Commission doesn't have the manpower to rein in all these hucksters, as they sprout up like mushrooms on the Internet.  Facebook claims it will crack down on false advertising, as have other social media outlets, but that's a pretty tall order given how many subscribers these networks have.

Internet sellers pay to plug their products directly on facebook timelines, and are able to get your user information to boot.   Judging from the items I've seen advertised, they even know my birth year and other personal information, which they appear to have extrapolated from my posts as I don't have that information directly available.  I am unable to fully block the ads.  This is even more bothersome.

I can only hope Alex and Jim don't weasel into my timeline, but I suppose it is only matter of time given I have "friends" who post information from their websites.  What a tangled web we weave!



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Are you ready to rumble?




Maybe rescinding DACA is just a means to draw Obama out of retirement.  Trump badly needs a bogeyman to rally his base behind him, and who better than the man they all love to hate -- Barack Obama!

The former president had laid down the gauntlet during the transition period, urging the incoming president not to touch DACA.  Here we are 7 months into Trump's term and he does exactly that, using Jeff Sessions and the "rule of law" to drive a dagger into the heart of Obama's signature immigration reform measure.

Not sure what sort of demons this will unleash.  Senators in a rare show of solidarity have vowed to go back to immigration reform.  The only problem is getting such a bill through the House.  Boehner refused to even put the 2013 bill on the floor, saying he required a majority of Republicans to do so.   The RNC turned immigration into an effective campaign issue in the 2014 midterms, winning full Republican control of Congress.  There was no action on DACA or any other kind of immigration reform over the next two years because the people had spoken.

Trump thinks he still has the conservative vox populi behind him, and can use it to bludgeon any wayward Republicans in 2018 primaries.  What he needed was the face of DACA -- Barack Obama -- to drive this campaign home.  Obama couldn't help but respond.  Democrats have been waiting for him to stand up to Trump as no one else in the party has to this point.  Whether it will be enough to bring out Democrats in the midterms remains to be seen.

It couldn't have been scripted any better.  Trump may indeed be shrewder than I gave him credit for.  Using children as the bait is a classic Hollywood trope.  Kind of like Spielberg and Donner's "Goonies" writ large, with 800,000 "Dreamers" trying to keep their home in America.  This is the way Trump thinks.  He knows how to use cheesy melodrama to his advantage.

I'm not sure what he hopes to gain from all this other than the full devotion of his Trumpkins.  I don't think holding the Dreamers hostage is going to play well among the broader electorate in 2018, but then he proved very effective at dividing the electorate in 2016, so who is to say?

Congress has to step into the breach and protect DACA, as they talked about doing back in January.  It wasn't just Obama who voiced his worries at the time, but Republicans dragged their heels so here we are now with the fate of these "Dreamers" on the line.  Congress has until March, 2018, to act before these kids' work permits start to expire.

You can see not only Jeff Sessions grinning ear to ear, but Trump as well, as this will push Russiagate and every other unsavory scandal surrounding Trump to the edges, as all the media will talk about for the next several weeks is the Dreamers.

Of course, there is the chance Hurricane Irma may drown out any talk of the Dreamers if it makes landfall in Florida in the next week.  Nothing the media loves more than showing heroism in the face of nature's fury.  But, Trump will be forced to make an appearance, something that he doesn't seem to relish although his famed Mar-a-Lago may be in the path of this hurricane, so he finally has something at stake.   I hope he updated his flood insurance.

I don't think DACA is going away.  It has been a contentious issue for the past 5 years, with conservative states threatening law suits against it if Trump didn't act. Now states vow to mount law suits in defense of it because Trump has acted.  He thinks he can win this battle if he has Obama to go up against.  Hillary was just a surrogate, now he can go mano-a-mano with The Champ.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Restless natives




The problem with Trumpism is that there is no break from it.  Everything he tweets or says is dissected by the press.  Even his hand gestures have come under scrutiny as to possible white supremacist links.  Just as it is hard for him to separate fact from fiction, it is hard for us to any longer determine what is real or fake about this administration.

It seems we have reached a tipping point, however, as calls for war grow louder from the White House.   Trump and his generals have backed themselves into a corner on North Korea and there no longer seems a way forward short of confrontation.  Trump let Gen. Mattis and UN ambassador Nikki Haley do the talking but the message was one he could have just as easily posted on twitter.

Former advisers say Trump is desperate for any sort of victory.  He would love nothing more than to fly onto an aircraft carrier like Bush did after declaring Iraq "mission accomplished" in  May of 2003.   This is the stuff of television ratings and Trump thrives on ratings, good or bad.

However, we are guessing at Trump's intentions like we do so much of what goes on in the White House.  We get all sorts of leaks and reports that have painted an Oval Office in chaos.  Certainly, the revolving door of close aides suggests this is an administration desperately in search of its identity.  Right now it is being defined by the "Church Lady," as Gen. Kelly is apparently called in the White House, but as we have come to know Trump doesn't like anyone taking away his limelight.  Just ask the Mooch.

Trump has long thrived on chaos.  His campaign appeared in constant disarray, changing managers from one month to the next, who would then go dutifully on talk shows to say there were no hard feelings.  That's just the way the Donald functions.  One day you're in, the next you are out.  But, there are a few familiar faces that have tagged along from the beginning, like Kellyanne Conway, who seems to know how to ingratiate herself to the boss.

You have to wonder why these persons put up with Trump.  They stand to make much more money on the outside.  Is it the fame and glory they want?  Mooch had a personal portfolio valued at around $1.5 billion.  What the hell did he want to be communications director for?  He lasted all of 10 days.

There appear to be so many competing interests in Trump's White House that it is little wonder it is in shambles.  Steven Mnuchin is another high-priced executive who seems to be there for no other purpose than to come up with a generous set of tax breaks for his fellow vulture capitalists.  Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO, doesn't seem the least bit interested in what is going on in the State Department.  Most of the heavy lifting is being done by Jared.  

Commander Rex's prime role was to make peace with Russia and open the Arctic Circle for deep-water oil drilling.  But, Trump's Russia policy has turned out even more woeful than that of Obama.  Vlad the Impaler must be wondering at this point why he invested any effort into the US elections if this is the outcome.

Still, Russia has to be enjoying the spectacle in Washington.  Seems like Putin himself has been leaking some information to investigators through backdoor channels in response to the ever-growing sanctions being leveled against his country.  Who knows, maybe soon he will reveal the infamous "golden showers" video tape of Donald Trump. That would be the final ignominy of our lecher-in-chief.  At that point, even Melania and Ivanka would stop defending him.

With all this intrigue, it is easy to see why the media is drawn to Donald Trump.  There has never been a president with this much baggage in the White House.  Yet, does that excuse the media for reporting every sordid little detail of his administration?  Aren't there more pressing concerns they should be reporting, like why is Congress taking such a deferential attitude to his actions, which would have been grounds for impeachment for anyone else?

Even Democratic leaders are asking their constituency to not rush to judgement.  Dianne Feinstein got an earful when she urged supporters to be patient.  The problem is that incompetence is not grounds for impeachment.  You need tangible evidence of a crime having been committed, and so far none has been found.

Trump has skirted around the edges of the law, making one wonder if this is some kind of sick game he is playing or if he is just damn lucky.  In the past, Trump was the master of obfuscation, but today it looks more like senility has set in and that he is no longer responsible for his words or actions.  This would probably be the path his lawyers would take if he were to be brought up on charges.   Not since we had Ronald Reagan, has a president's sanity been in question, and that time only after he left office.

How far do we go with this?  Is another war on the event horizon just because the Trump administration is unable to contain North Korea?  Do we let him and his cabinet officers continue to dismantle government as we know it, replacing it with a cronyism we haven't seen since the 19th century?  Do we allow him to tear apart the North American Free Trade Agreement because he is unwilling to sit down with Mexico and Canada and work out the flaws?  Do we let him build a wall between the US and Mexico for no other reason than his own vainglory?

He has made a shambles of foreign and domestic policy that will haunt this country for a long time.  Yet, until former FBI director Mueller finds some damning evidence of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia, Congress acts powerless to do anything about him.  

The natives are getting restless.  Trump's detractors want his head.  His supporters are planning an insurrection if Congress goes through with impeachment hearings.  Meanwhile, our president makes no effort to heal the divide.  Instead, he inflames it, whether intentional or simply by habit.  The news media can talk of nothing else, as they are enjoying their highest television ratings in years.  

It seems the only thing that gets higher ratings than Trump is a natural disaster and we have another one brewing in the Atlantic Ocean.


Monday, September 4, 2017

"I want dreamers to come from the United States"




Trump seems to enjoy nothing more than to make someone beg.  Like the classic bully, he goes after the weakest members of our society -- transgenders and now "dreamers."  Why is anyone's guess, as they represent no threat to him, or for that matter the constituency he has chosen to cater to in this administration.  Very few persons are actively calling for an end to DACA, just like few are calling for a ban on transgenders in the military.

Maybe he has to take his rage out on someone, given that Little Kim has made him look impotent, Russiagate isn't going away, and he was forced to make a return trip to Texas after showing so little heart the first time around.  This time he actually visited Houston and the waterlogged parts of Louisiana that were hardest hit by Harvey.  Trump never manages to get things right the first time, or for that matter any time.

Many persons dismissed his early morning tweet on a military transgender ban as a cruel joke, but after a month he actually followed through with an offical memo to carry out this action.  Gen. Mattis has 6 months to review the best procedures for implementing this ban given the surprising number of transgender servicemen and women.  By March, 2018, according to the White House memo, no trans service members will be allowed to stay in the military.

No official memo yet on how Trump will address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which Obama initiated in 2012, but few are holding out hope that His Immenseness will keep this program in place.  The odd part is that Republican Congressional leaders are calling on Trump to back down, but Trump is not very happy with Congress these days and will likely carry through on these deportations in open defiance.  Over 800,000 young undocumented immigrants await their fate.

There was a time Republicans were actually courting Hispanics, but Trump changed the dynamic by stirring up the deeply xenophobic feelings among the conservative electorate on the campaign trail.  While some of those feelings appear to have abated, Breitbart continues to insist there is a strong demand for tougher immigration policies.  Bannon and Gorka may be gone from his administration, but they still seem to have Trump's ear, especially on emotional issues such as this one.

Rather than move to the center, which many political pundits thought he would do after the election, Trump has steadfastly remained to the right on key issues that put him at odds with most of the country.  It seems that as long as he maintains a majority share of conservative opinion, he feels he can hold the Republican party hostage to his policies, especially Congressional leaders who face re-election bids in 2018.

McCain has the luxury of sitting out the next election cycle, which is why he responded with a  blistering editorial in the Washington Post to Trump's tyrannical view of politics, urging Congress to return to regular order by seeking bipartisan solutions to health care, immigration and other pressing issues.   We'll most likely have to wait until after the midterms to see any movement in this direction, as 2018 has become a mandate on Trumpism.

This is a politics driven by spite, responding to the resentment harbored by hard right conservatives in this country who feel Washington has made too many concessions when it comes to immigration and gay rights.  It is shocking to see a president stoop to this level of bullying in an attempt to shore up his support among the alt-right by preying on the weakest segments of our society.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Between the hashmarks




Football season is upon us and once again the main topic of discussion is the national anthem.  Some are sitting in support of Colin Kaepernick, who remained unsigned through the pre-season despite being the best quarterback available in free agency.  Denver would rather experiment with a slough of novices than sign a quarterback they were willing to trade for a year ago, but couldn't come to terms with the 49ers.  Colin would fetch a much lower price today.  Seattle had a shot at Colin but chose to stick with second-year quarterback Trevone Boykin, who ran into legal problems during the offseason and hasn't exactly shined in the pre-season.  Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti literally asked for prayers in helping to reach a decision on Kaepernick.

It really makes you wonder what's at stake here -- the integrity of the NFL or how to respond to a restless fan base that has very strong emotions when it comes to the national anthem?  The NFL has remained as equivocal as you would expect on the issue, saying it is the players' choice.  But, if it is the players' choice then why is Kaepernick being blackballed?  No team is willing to sign him, fearful of the repercussions it would bring.  The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business and doesn't want to see its ratings plummet anymore than they already have since Colin first took a knee during the pre-season last year.

Since then other players have joined his protest and others have voiced their opinion on the matter.  Aaron Rodgers offered one of the more cogent statements on the issue.  This is no longer seen as a "black issue" among NFL players.  Most sympathize with their teammates while they stand for the anthem.

If Colin doesn't get signed, it seems Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks will be the new lightning rod.  He's repeatedly voiced his support for Kaepernick and was notably upset Seattle didn't sign him when the front office had the chance.  As a result, Bennett is sitting for the national anthem.  He's been joined by other teammates, notably Justin Britt who stood beside Michael with a hand on his shoulder to show his solidarity.

Players haven't felt this strongly about an issue in a long time.  Mostly they don't like how league owners have colluded to freeze out Colin, when they have no problem signing ex-felons.  Michael Vick got a second chance, why not Colin Kaepernick?

In a strange way, Kaepernick's plight is similar to that of Tim Tebow, who found himself  blackballed a few years back when owners had a hard time coming to grips with his strong religious convictions.  Tebow had led the Broncos to the playoffs after a 1-4 start and became the darling of Evangelicals across the country.  In Tim's case, owners didn't want to deal with the enormous popular attention he was getting, it overshadowed everything else on the team.  Tebow was dumped on the New York Jets to make room for Peyton Manning, and the Jets dropped him after a tumultuous year where Rex Ryan tried any number of quarterbacks but not Tim.  No one picked him in the free agency market.

Some of the arguments used against Tim are now being used against Colin.  It's not political or religious, football pundits say, but has to do with mechanics.  Neither player is a greater passer.  It doesn't matter that Tim led a moribund team to the playoffs or that Colin led his team to the Super Bowl, if a quarterback can't hit a simple out route what good is he?  Stories like these quickly gained currency and Tim no longer had a chance of making any team.  The longer Colin sits out, similar stories will be generated.

The league is filled with journeymen quarterbacks who may be able to throw an out route but have done little else to make a name for themselves.   The NFL still prefers drop-back quarterbacks to option quarterbacks even though option quarterbacks led their teams to the Super Bowl 4 of the last 5 seasons.  Russell Wilson was the only option quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but the defense was largely credited for that victory.  So, the stigma remains.

Even Aaron sees the hypocrisy here, saying it is "ignorant" to think Colin isn't playing for football reasons.  Rodgers noted players on his own team that sided with Colin and the issue he tried to bring to the forefront with his protest.  The Green Bay quarterback says he understands fully what his black teammates have to deal with when it comes to racial profiling.

Yet, Bisciotti hasn't heard enough prayers, Seattle is determined to stick with Boykin as Wilson's back up, and Denver still hasn't settled on a starting quarterback.  The three teams that really could use a quarterback of Colin's capabilities.

How long Michael Bennett extends his protest into the season and if more players join him remains to be seen.  It was an easier decision to boycott the NFL when the protesting players were all black but now that white players have joined, it becomes a bit tougher.  Still many fans put their allegiance to the flag over football.

That would be nice if they expressed the same attitude toward white supremacists, whom they seem to believe are entitled to the right of free speech.  Woe be it to a football player to sits for the national anthem.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Jared and Ivanka




Correct me if I'm wrong, but there has never been an administration where the president's children carried so much weight in the White House.  Not even Pere Bush involved his two highly political motivated sons to this degree.  Enter Ivanka and Jared, who apparently have Trump's ear on many issues and even sit in for him on international summits.

It is hard to gauge exactly how much influence they actually have, as I can't imagine that their father's military transgender ban and press conference on Charlottesville sit well with them.  Nor his plans to scrap an Obama era provision that would have forced employers to file reports on the breakdown of salaries by gender, race and ethnicity.  This provision was seen as the first step in holding employers accountable when it comes to equal pay for women and minorities.  Yet, each and every time Ivanka defends her father's positions.

Jared keeps a lower profile given his heavy workload.  Not sure how far he has gotten with negotiations to reach a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, but he did meet with Abbas this week so he seems to be following through on one of his many tasks in his father-in-law's White House.  One would think you would have your state department negotiating thorny settlements like this, but it seems Trump likes to keep things in the family.

I suppose that's the only place he finds "loyalty" these days given the massive shake-up in the White House.  Yet, the leaks keep coming, adding further embarrassment to an administration that has yet to record a major legislative victory or major international deal.

Ivanka and Jared are as badly out of their league as is their father.  They bring no real experience to the White House other than an ability to plug their own brand and negotiate real estate deals.  Even here, neither appears to be particularly good at it.

Yet, they have become the most highly influential children in the White House.  Before Gen. Kelly took over as Chief of Staff, Jared was apparently the conduit to Trump.   He, more than Rex Tillerson, appears to be Trump's point man on foreign affairs.  And, he is heading a "SWAT team" to reinvent government along corporate lines.

Ivanka is serving the traditional functions of first lady given Melania prefers to spend time with Barron and shopping on line.  Like a good wife, or in this case good daughter, Ivanka defends Donald's every move, even his infamous Charlottesville comments by not saying anything.  We heard a lot about how she would tame her father's rage, but so far no signs of it.  Trump is as defiant as ever, often sticking his foot in his mouth, and Ivanka just smiles.

One would think that with Bannon and Gorka now gone, this is "Javanka's" moment to step up.  I imagine if anyone can get around Gen. Kelly's iron grip of the White House it is these two.  Yet, Trump can't get through a prepared speech without going off the rails and seems determined to alienate Congress with his many attacks on Republican legislators.  This is what happens when you have no close adviser that understands the dynamics of Washington.  Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were supposed to fill that role, and we saw how far they got with Trump.

Presidential powers are limited, as His Trumpness is finding out the hard way.  He thought he could come in and be CEO of the nation, but you can't get any legislation done except through Congress.  He's managed to revoke a great number of Obama executive orders, but few of them had actually taken effect.  The one place he can make his mark is on foreign policy and so far all he has managed to do is burn bridges.

Jared is left with the thankless role of picking up the charred pieces and seeing what he can rebuild.  So, it seems he has done some good.   Again, why wasn't Rex Tillerson assuring Canada that NAFTA was still good instead of Jared?

I'm not sure what these two gain from serving in such a major capacity in their father's White House, other than sweet deals like the one Ivanka snagged when the Chinese premier visited Mar-a-Lago.  One assumes Jared's interest is mainly in trade deals as well.  They have become America's ultimate Millennial power couple.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Yet another shot across the bow




While Trump is contending with Hurricane Harvey, Little Kim decided to take a shot across the bow of the good ship Japan this week, firing a ballistic missile over the northern island of Hokkaido.  Just last week, Donald J. Trump loudly proclaimed "[Kim Jong-Un] is starting to respect us."  It doesn't seem so.

If there is anything we have learned by now it is that Little Kim loves shooting off missiles.  It is going to take far more than bellicose words to get him to hold back.  The young dictator even went further to call this missile test a "meaningful prelude" to containing Guam, where the US has a sizable naval base.

Not only that but Russian officials said the US and its Western allies provoked this missile test with their joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan, along with the even more restrictive sanctions.  If the US was hoping that Russia and China would help contain North Korea, the opposite appears to be occurring.

Trump has squandered whatever good will he may have had from Russia prior to his election.  To hear him on the campaign trail, this was going to be the cornerstone of his foreign policy.  Instead, it has become an albatross around his neck.

Ever more allegations point to collusion between his campaign and Russia, with Trump now the focal point of the investigations.  After all, if he is going to pardon whoever the FBI brings under indictment, then you go after the president himself.  Kind of like bringing down the kingpin of a crime syndicate.  He can't very well pardon himself.  That's up to his successor.

Russia may have been some help in containing North Korea, especially given that it has assisted the country in developing its military arsenal.  During the Cold War, the Soviet Union saw North Korea as a deterrent to US presence in the region.  After the collapse of the communist nation, North Korea was forced to deal elsewhere for supplies, notably China and Pakistan.  It even showed interest in an agreement with the US in 1994 for light-water nuclear reactors if it began disarmament, but as we know that never came about and our relationship with North Korea has only grown worse since then.  Meanwhile, Russia has rebuilt its military and is once again exporting weapons technology.

Like Syria, North Korea is a well-placed bargaining chip.  It helps to foil whatever designs the US has in the region and so it is in Russia's interest to keep the Kim dynasty in place.  It also forces the US to recognize Russia as a geopolitical force, not simply a "regional power," which former president Obama casually dismissed it.  As such, any attempt to rein in North Korea involves not only China but Russia as well.

This pretty much allows Little Kim to act the way he does in the region.  He can bully South Korea and Japan because he knows China and Russia have his back.  The US can flex its naval muscles all it wants in the Sea of Japan, but it will not risk provoking a catastrophic war.  At least that was the case before Donald J. Trump became commander-in-chief.

His Trumpness is feeling cornered these days and who knows how he might lash out.   Gen. Mattis is having to spend more time containing his commander's ego than he would like, distracting him from far more serious concerns.

Little Kim is not stupid.  He sees what is going on and is taking full advantage of the situation.  He loves nothing more than giving Trump a black eye, or any US President for that matter.  The only difference is Obama refused to be taunted.  Trump appears to enjoy it.

Trump is the most shameless president we have ever had.  You look at all the indignity he has faced in the press and this guy just comes back for more.  It truly is "unpresidented."  It doesn't seem to matter how many "red lines" Kim crosses, Trump just keeps shouting "fire and fury."  But, at some point Trump has to deliver on these threats or he will lose what's left of his political audience.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey




Seems Hurricane Harvey isn't done with Houston yet.  The category 4 storm circled over Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana to end up in the Gulf of Mexico again, where it has gathered strength once more and is aiming back to the same coastline, sure to dump even more torrential rains on the low lying regions.  Into this maelstrom goes Donald Trump aboard Air Force One in an effort to put on his best presidential face after spending most of last week blowing up his ego rather than getting FEMA ground crews in place for Harvey's first landfall.

Trump will use another Tuesday to deliver a speech to the waterlogged Texans and Louisianans who have to deal with unprecedented floods.  Hopefully it goes better than his Phoenix rally, which once again had pundits and politicians questioning his judgement, especially after he delivered on his vow to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio this past Friday.   If Congress has any notion to impeach the president, Roger Stone warned them of insurrection among Trump ranks.

Right now, Americans are mostly concerned about what is happening in Houston, a major city that finds itself mostly underwater after more than 30 inches of rain.  For the fundamentalists, the flood appeared of Biblical proportions, as the waters rose above the 500 year floodplain.  One would like to think more people will now take global warming seriously, even if the president does not.  Two weeks ago, Trump rescinded Obama's executive order to create stronger building restrictions in flood zones.

As you might recall, this executive order presaged the roll out of his new infrastructure plans at Trump Tower, but got lost in the angry firestorm of comments and tweets that followed his press conference.  He's spent the better part of the last two weeks reeling from his Charlottesville comments.  Last Tuesday didn't help matters, as he was as belligerent as ever in Phoenix and Friday delivered on his promise to free Sheriff Joe despite the protests of his own justice department.

The week probably would have been better spent gearing up for Harvey.  Instead, an awestruck Donald resorted to twitter to offer a running commentary of the encroaching storm rather than making sure his FEMA crews were in place to deal with the aftermath.  As it turned out, FEMA and just about everyone else was overwhelmed by the deluge, with thousands of volunteers coming to the rescue in their bass boats, kayaks and jet skis to help get stranded residents out of their homes.

As with New Orleans, not only was FEMA slow to react but so too was the mayor of Houston, who didn't think an evacuation order was necessary.  Donald now has a Texas-sized mess to clean up or his name will be mud, even among his own constituency, which is still waiting for him to deliver on his many promises.

If the Phoenix rally was any indication, Trump's ranks are diminishing.  He can blame George Gigicos for the sparse crowd but fact is just about everyone is tiring of the Donald and his antics.  This is his last chance to make things right by overseeing a speedy recovery effort in Houston and its surroundings, not letting it drag out for years as was the case with New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  This storm will either make or break him.

Trump seems to know the stakes here, but does he have the resolve and the forces to muster bold action?   Mostly, he is counting on his generals to deliver for him.  He recently pulled Gen. Kelly from Homeland Security to serve as his Chief of Staff, leaving the task of managing FEMA to Elaine Duke.  Trump's White House is still in transition and not fully prepared to deal with crises of this magnitude.  This will literally be a trial by storm.

Monday, August 28, 2017

McGovernism




The left wing of the Democratic party is searching for a hero and seems to have found one in the ghost of George McGovern.  A new biography frames McGovern as the champion of social democracy long before Bernie.  This was a guy from the heartland of South Dakota, who served with distinction in WWII and went on to be one of the most progressive legislators in Congress.  Mercifully, the first volume of this two-part biography stops at 1968, leaving him as a hero in liberal Democrats' minds.

It's hard to believe that at one time liberal social policy got you elected in states like South Dakota.  Today, even Wisconsin and Michigan have turned Republican, as social democratic values have been soundly rejected at the polls.  This doesn't stop liberal Democrats from resurrecting a bygone era.  After all, Bernie scored well among socialist-minded Democrats in last year's primaries, which seems like an eternity ago now.

We'll never know how Bernie would have done in the general election.  He never rose above the status of a folk hero thanks to the collusion of the DNC and Hillary's campaign personified in Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the media treating Sanders as a fringe figure.  In the end, Trump was able to sponge off some of Bernie's more ardent supporters because of the bad taste that was left from the Democratic primaries.  It proved enough for Trump to win the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a total of 70,000 votes.

It behooves the DNC to not write off the left wing again, but at the same time it can't let itself become hog tied by it, the way the RNC has with the radical right wing of its party.  America will always swing right, it rarely ever swings left.  McGovern is a case in point.

Gorgeous George represented everything good in the Democratic party at one time.  He swept through the 1972 primaries, dispensing with stodgy old Ed Muskie and conservative "Scoop" Jackson to gain the nomination at a highly contentious convention.  He might have even challenged Nixon had not his campaign got mired in the bad publicity surrounding his first choice for Vice-President -- Thomas Eagleton, whose psychological profile the Republicans mercilessly attacked.

It is still doubtful McGovern would have won the election even with the country still mired in Vietnam and an economic recession of category 3 proportions forming on the horizon, but he certainly wouldn't have been trounced like he was.  McGovern was unable to overcome the ignominy of having failed to control his convention.  There was a lot of desertion among the Democratic ranks and Nixon won every state except Massachusetts and DC.  Even South Dakotans turned their backs on their senator.

With that in mind, it will be far more interesting to read the second volume of Thomas Knock's biography, helping to explain why McGovern lost so "bigly."  This is the object lesson Democrats will need to learn before leaning too far to the left in the upcoming elections.  They will have a litmus test of sorts in 2018.  There will be highly progressive candidates running for Congressional seats in key states.  How they do will tell us a lot about which direction the Democrats should go in 2020.

My guess is they won't do very well outside liberal states.  "Social Democracy," as Bernie Sanders insisted on calling it, has a limited audience, namely twenty- and early thirty-somethings, the generation that grew up with "Friends."  There will be a time this generation comes to define America but not by 2020.  With this in mind, Democrats should tread very carefully on this new found "McGovernism" lest they want to repeat the mistakes of the 70s.

As we've seen time and again, this country moves forward in baby steps.  It took 100 years to pass a civil rights bill, despite decades of beastly Jim Crow laws resulting in chain gangs, lynchings and many other horrible forms of torture throughout the South.  FDR was so worried he might lose Southern Democrats that he dreaded the anti-lynching bill that was being pushed through Congress.  Fortunately for him, the bill never got through the Senate.

The Southern states no longer represent a powerful political bloc like they did then, but sadly much of that recalcitrance has spread through the Midwest and even into the Northeast.  Trump broke through the "Blue Wall" in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Even Maine and New Hampshire can not be counted on, which Hillary narrowly won.  Their 7 electoral votes have to be considered in the strange calculus that determines our president every four years.

Populism may have worked for Trump, but it won't necessarily work for a Democratic populist.  Like it or not, we live in a conservative country.  This is what Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all recognized.  They knew their limitations and played their campaign to the middle, not to the outer edges, despite whatever progressive ideas they had in mind.

There was good reason for this cautious approach, which Hillary stuck to.  Even though she lost the electoral college, she still won the popular vote as did Al Gore in 2000.  Playing to the middle keeps Democrats competitive in a general election.  If they swing too far to the left they go down badly in defeat.

Yet, we see all the early warning signs that the Democrats are ready to swing left again.  Democrats are sick of their Congressional leaders and are looking for a younger version of Bernie to lead the nation against "Trumpism."  You can't really blame them when the best Chuck and Nancy can come up with is a "Better Deal."  Not very inspiring.

Whether there is another "McGovern" waiting to emerge in 2020 remains to be seen.  So far, the closest we have come is Bernie and he isn't even a Democrat.  Whoever this mystery man or woman is, Democrats better prepare themselves for the media onslaught from the right.  If you thought their attacks on Obama and Hillary were vicious, just wait to hear what they will say about someone who proudly proclaims himself or herself to be a Social Democrat.