Friday, March 23, 2018

You're Fired!

Or How Long Will We Allow this Asshole to Remain President?

Trump at 2003 Playboy party with Melania and Victoria Silvstedt

With the "removal" of former Gen. McMaster, Congressional Republicans may want to rethink their position on Mueller.  No one is safe in the Trump universe, least of all American interests.  This guy operates on the one simple premise: anything to protect himself.

A "blunt warning" simply doesn't cut it.  This man has no respect for anyone in Congress or throughout the country for that matter.  We saw that in how he chose to dismiss Tillerson, a billionaire oil executive, and now McMaster, a 3-star general.  Both were well respected, the latter exceedingly so.  But, they are both gone because their recognition of Russia as the most serious threat to our national security and global interests didn't resonate with their Commander-in-Chief, who continues to dodge any serious sanctions, much less strong words against Russia.

Instead, he initiates a trade war with China, which has everyone saying, "what the fuck?"  This is a trade war the US simply can't win, because our economy is too dependent on Chinese cheap imports.  Even Donald's line of merchandise is largely made in China and Bangladesh, not to mention much of Ivanka's already high-priced line of clothing.  Are Americans willing to fork out the extra dollars for a MAGA cap?

At what point, do we say enough is enough?  We've allowed this madman to run the country for 14 months.  The only thing keeping his head above water is a bouyant economy left by his predecessor.  I won't mention names here.  However, Trump's reckless trade policies and his recent decision to roll back financial regulations threatens to sink our economy at a time most Americans are finally benefiting from it.   Basically, he's cutting off his nose to spite his face, and all of ours in turn.

Why are Congressional Republicans at such great pains to act?  They have to know Trump will do everything in his power to thwart Mueller's investigation and if that means firing him, so be it!  Why should he care about hollow threats coming out of disgruntled Republicans like Jeff Flake.

Trump loves controversy.  He's thrived on it all his life because he has always had a big cushion to fall back on.  Even when his businesses went bankrupt, Trump enjoyed the Life of Reily.  He was even able to parlay all these failures into a long-running reality show, The Apprentice, giving us his eponymous "you're fired!"

What we are finding out through Mueller's investigation is that Trump has long relied on Russian financial backing to cushion his falls, especially after Papa Trump died.  His properties became part of an elaborate money laundering scheme for Russian oligarchs, when no one else would touch them.  This is what Putin has on Trump, along with numerous other things, including the infamous pee tape, which may indeed be real.  This guy has no moral scruples, given the recent allegations from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, that a "pee tape" is certainly not out of the question.

Do we really want to be dragged into Trump's depraved life anymore than we already are?   He has made the United States into an international embarrassment, far greater than anything we had to suffer under George W. Bush.  No one respects Trump.  He has become the laughing stock of German parades and public toilets in Ireland.  No previous president suffered these kinds of indignities.

Yet, our president appears to crave this attention, as he makes ever more stupid decisions that led Jean-Claude Juncker to scratch his head and ponder what the appropriate response is to Trump's recent steel and aluminum tariffs, saying "we can also do stupid."

The rest of the world can only sit by while Trump runs America into the gutter, but Congress can act.  It has the power to tell Trump, "You're Fired!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Divide and Conquer

Watching this season's Homeland, it struck me just how easy it is to manipulate our country right now.  Not just the President, but every facet of our society.  We have become so entrenched in our petty beliefs that all it takes is a snapshot taken out of context to be distributed through social media to set off an armed conflict.  This is what Homeland showed in episode 4.  The identity of the mysterious photographer was revealed in episode 6.  Spoiler notice: the agitator turns out to be Russian.

One might call this fantasy but Russian on-line trolls tried to do just that in 2016, creating phony protests throughout the country by advertising them on social media.  In one incident, these trolls managed to stage a rally in Houston, Texas, bringing out both state secessionists and an Islamic group to the same site through phony facebook groups.  Mercifully, no major confrontation took place.  The two sides yelled at each other from across the street.  It shows how easily people can be manipulated through social media.

Recently, it was found out that the guy behind the Cambridge Analytica algorithm, which allowed the research company to harvest 50 million facebook profiles, is Russian.  Alexander Kogan presented his findings to Lukoil, a huge Russian energy firm with direct ties to the Kremlin, supposedly to help its marketing effort. Kogan is a Cambridge academic, previously from St. Petersburg.  This information was allegedly used to sway opinions on Brexit, and ultimately used to influence the American elections in 2016.  Not only that but much of the information that was harvested was used by Trump, Ted Cruz and other prominent Republicans during the campaign, through the notorious Stephen Bannon.

Of course, many companies can simply buy information from on-line retailers and social media groups, using it to target customers.  However, it seems our wily politicians with the help of Russian techies have figured out how to target potential voters in a big way.  Yes, the algorithm probably could have been developed by a "400-pound guy sitting in bed" with too much time on his hands.  However, one has to be able to quickly spread this information through the social media and it is doubtful that such a person would have these connections.

This is what Homeland is exploring this season as it charts how quickly a meme can spread through the web through a series of automated sites around the country, rapidly picked up by those on social media that feed into the views expressed.  It is a form of cyberwar that is very effective in a country as polarized as ours today.

It's not just that information is now much easier to harvest and that one can tailor make consumer and political advertisements for a specific audience, its that we have become an easily agitated mass prone to hysteria whenever a story hits a strong emotional chord.  I've seen my friends distribute these memes on facebook without thinking for one moment where these memes came from.  They simply responded to them because the images appealed to their emotional view of a subject.  All a troll has to do is find that soft spot and exploit it.

I would like to think we are wising up a little after the 2016 debacle.  Certainly, these early special elections reflect a new consciousness that has Republicans deeply worried with the mid terms right around the corner.  However, one can expect operatives to continue to use hot button emotional issues to sway close elections right down to the wire.  All it takes is a few hundred votes to tip a close election as we recently saw in Pennsylvania.

One can imagine Vlad sitting back watching all this with a big Cheshire grin on his face.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The shit hits the fan

You really have to wonder why John Kelly felt the need to tell us that Tillerson was sitting on the can when he broke the news to him on Friday that Trump was letting him go.  Rex gave everything he had to the role.  Granted, it wasn't much, but still he deserved a better send off than that.  I think McMasters is dreading going to the toilet now that it is rumored he is next on the chopping block, and that Trump plans to bring John Bolton in as the next National Security Advisor.

As ugly as that sounds, it was even more ugly the way Trump dumped Andrew McCabe the following Friday.  The deputy FBI director was two days away from retirement.  Trump took absolute glee in this decision, proclaiming it a "great day for Democracy" on Twitter.  He even wanted to strip McCabe of his pension.  As it is, Andrew will take a huge cut unless Rep. Mark Pocan is true to his word and gives McCabe a short term job to complete his retirement package.

As for Tillerson, he was none too pleased with the forewarning, which I think is why he voiced his agreement with British officials in pointing the blame on Russia for last week's attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter.  Strikes me that Rex has had enough of this charade and took a jab at Donald, leading the POTUS to make his announcement on Twitter before formally telling Rex he was sacked on Tuesday.

I also think this is the reason McMasters is on notice.  The former general pushed to have the White House finally impose sanctions on Putin's cronies after Trump dragged his feet for the better part of a year.  McMasters specifically referenced the ongoing conflict in Syria, believing Russia is complicit in the huge death toll.  Trump really had no choice in the matter, but has to find a way to placate Vlad, who is none too happy about these sanctions, especially on the eve of the World Cup in Russia.

Putin is still smarting from the Olympic Athletes from Russia's poor showing in South Korea -- a far cry from their dominant display in Sochi four years ago.  Now, here is Europe and America making Russia look bad just before the World Cup.  You can sense his anger in a recent interview with Megyn Kelly on NBC.

Many have speculated why Trump holds Putin in such high esteem -- his love of autocrats, Putin's massive chest, but the consensus is that Putin has compromised our President, and Trump doesn't want an embarrassing revelation that would sink his administration.

Trump has taken most of his anger out on the FBI, but it has spilled over to members of his staff who want to see harsher sanctions placed on Russia for a broad number of reasons, not least of all the election hacking, which has been corroborated by numerous national security agencies, not just the FBI.  The closer Mueller gets to the heart of his Russian connections the more Trump lashes out.  He has been warned repeatedly not to touch Mueller, so he went after McCabe, who is the subject of a renewed investigation into the Clinton e-mails, which Trump had ordered.

As we know, our president watches Fox and Friends and numerous other conservative programs, which have been spreading this theory of a "deep state" determined to bring him down.  Comey and McCabe are the favorite targets of this conspiracy theory.  In conservatives' addled minds, this was all "confirmed" by the recent GOP memo penned by House "Intelligence" chairman Devin Nunes, Trump's hatchet man in Congress.

This leads one to wonder if Trump is truly oblivious to the Russian business and political ties that have surfaced, insulated all these years by his sons and advisors; or if he is just using the "deep state" as a convenient smoke screen in his attempt to discredit the FBI, and Mueller's investigation in turn.  I suppose you could make a case for the former, depending on how deep you believe Trump's dementia to have set in, but more likely the latter as the FBI has long been a favorite target of conspiracy theories, even before The X-Files.  Trump is trying to get as much mileage out of this public antipathy toward the FBI as he can.

Republican Congresspersons are hamstrung by the overwhelming support Trump still gets from the base of the party.  To come out harshly against Trump is to commit political suicide in the upcoming midterm elections.  A few senators believe they can withstand the wrath of Trump, but Corker took a second look at his Tennessee voting base and decided to creep back to the White House after his spat last year with Trump, as he apparently wants to run for re-election after all.  Most just choose to remain deferential, harboring what ever troubling thoughts they have about Trump until Mueller's investigation is completed.

But, if you are a cabinet member or in the employ of the federal government, you really don't have much choice in the matter.  So, Trump made a public example of Tillerson and McCabe sure to earn the approval of his comrade Vladimir Putin.  This is how you deal with insubordinate subordinates!  A show of strength that is also sure to endear him to his base.  It's just too bad Trump hasn't kept himself fit, then maybe he could join Vlad on one of those hunting or fishing trips.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meet Conor Lamb

If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and that seems to be what the Republicans are doing in the wake of their electoral defeat in District 18 of Western Pennsylvania.  No sooner did Kayleigh McEnany make the absurd claim that Conor Lamb "ran as a Republican" than did Paul Ryan and no less than Dotardly Don himself.

Of course, many Republicans would love to run on Lamb's moderate values, but they would never make it out of the primaries.  Lamb won because he was able to siphon off just enough Republican voters to tip the final count in a deeply conservative district in his favor.   This is something the base of the Republican Party would never allow from one of their own.  Just ask Rick Saccone, who had to veer staunchly to the right on issues like abortion and "right to work" to placate this base.

This was the same reason Ed Gillespie lost Virginia and why the Republicans lost Alabama.  Ed was as moderate as they come, but his campaign advisers convinced him to be like Trump.  In the end he lost to Ralph Northam, who many Democrats felt was too conservative for their tastes, but had no problem remaining to the left of Gillespie.  Even if Luther Strange had made it out of the Republican primaries in Alabama, there was no guarantee he would have won against Doug Jones, as GOP operatives would have told him to fully embrace Trump and run the same ugly attack ads against Jones, which Roy Moore did.

Trumpism, or more appropriately Bannonism, appears to be dead.  The tactics that carried the GOP through 2016 no longer work in 2018.  This notion of appealing to the worst instincts in America was successful when Republicans were able to make Hillary Clinton their principal target and remind everyone she would appoint a liberal judge to the Supreme Court, crushing conservatism to its core.  Republicans tried desperately to replace Clinton with Nancy Pelosi in Pennsylvania.  It didn't work.  In part because Lamb said from the get go he didn't support Pelosi, but mostly because he ran his race on local issues.

The latter is why Lamb won in Pennsylvania and Ossoff lost in Georgia.  Both were about the same age, giving the Democrats badly needed fresh faces.  However, Lamb was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania.  He knew the people of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.  Ossoff was a ringer.  Someone brought in from Atlanta to run a Congressional race outside his district of residence.  He represented the party ideology and was unable to reach beyond Democrats in a conservative district.

The other key factor is that Lamb raised most of his money within the district.  He avoided having his campaign nationalized, which was the case with Ossoff, who saw money pouring into his campaign from all over the country, and got a huge shot in the arm from the DNC.  Lamb kept his campaign local, and the folks of District 18 appreciated it.

It was the Republicans who tried to nationalize the campaign by bringing in Trump twice, Donnie Jr. several times, Mike Pence, Kid Rock, the NRA.  You name it.  The RNC poured $10 million into Saccone's campaign because he had been so inept at raising funds of his own.  The last week saw a bombardment of attack ads run against Lamb, but he didn't flinch.  That's what you expect from a Marine.

Still, he was only able to eek out the election by 700 votes.  This shows you how tough the battle is.  There are die-hard Republicans who would sooner vote for an old goat before they would vote for a Democrat.  You can only hope to work with Republicans on the fringe of the party.  At the party's core is a deeply embedded conservatism reinforced by a sophisticated media apparatus that has bought up most of the local newspapers and television stations.

Lamb's win throws virtually every district into play across the country if the DNC can find more candidates like him.  This is the Republicans' worst fear.  They have drifted so far to the right that young Democrats can run like Reagan Republicans and garner support from the more moderate fringe of the GOP, while still not losing support within their own party.

Lamb offered a near perfect balance of conservative social values combined with moderate views on health care and labor that turned Western Pennsylvanians in his favor.  Doug Jones offered essentially the same pragmatic view in Alabama.  They are often referred to as Blue Dog Democrats, and there are many of them, but in the rush to elect Hillary Clinton as our first woman president, the DNC alienated the Blue Dogs, and as a result suffered badly in 2016.

It seems Tom Perez might not be such a bad DNC leader after all.  He has a much better understanding of the balance of electoral power in this country than did his predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  You have to be able to tailor your message to a representative district.  There is no one-size-fits-all message.  It may make it tougher to control the House with all these different views within your ranks, but with effective leadership you can strike a balance.

This also may be a tipping point for Republicans, realizing they can no longer run solely on conservative social issues.  They have to address labor and health care in a meaningful way, not just keep tossing out more tax cuts, which made little impact on the voters in Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Bannonism is dead.  All that bluster that he was going to lead a revolution in 2018, calling out the Republicans on the hill, makes him look like the shoddy conservative hack, Brett O'Keefe, on Homeland, forced to spread his message from the basement of a rural Tennessee home in Season 7.   Its hybrid, Trumpism is also dead.  The petty name calling, false innuendos, and inflammatory rhetoric no longer plays well among the factory workers and miners Trump claims to represent.  His rambling campaign rally speech last Saturday only garnered nervous laughs.  Few people can take him seriously at this point, other than to wonder how deep the dementia has set in.

What Conor Lamb showed us is that you don't have to respond to Trump's rhetoric or allow your opponent to label you.  Let your constituents know who you are, and that means going to door to door, which you can do in a manageable district like that in Western Pennsylvania.   There is no reason the Democrats can't take back the House if they just put their feet on the ground.

So, fuck you Donald J. Trump!  He didn't say very nice things about you.  He ignored you.  He didn't allow you or your surrogates to bully or in any way influence him.  He kept his focus on the issues that were most important to his constituents in Western Pennsylvania.   Let that be a lesson to anyone running for office.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dumber than a Bag of Hammers

Nice to know that our education system is in such good hands.  We can thank Rep. Jared Huffman for that colorful tweet, as he reflected the opinion of many after Betsy DeVos' painful interview on 60 Minutes.  Maybe the White House lawyers should have blocked this interview from airing on national television instead of being so worried about Stormy Daniels.

Of course, Betsy didn't fair much better at her Senate hearing last year, but Republican Congressmen OK'ed her just the same, with the help of their sixth man, Mike Pence.  Murkowski and Collins voted against her.  She's made a fool of herself time and again, from misspelling W.E.B. DuBois to a tweet riddled with grammatical errors, which she later passed off on her staff.  Worst of all, she made no attempt to reach out to the students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when she had the chance to ease their anxieties over the mass shooting last month.  But, this interview may have been the last straw as there is nothing Trump hates more than to be made look stupid, and that is exactly what Betsy DuVos (sic) did.

Of course, one could argue that his entire cabinet is dumber than a sack of hammers, having members like Betsy, Ben and Rick.  In their rare statements, they actually make Donald Trump look smart by comparison.  This may explain why he let go of Rex Tillerson this weekend, as he might have had a hard time beating the former Secretary of State in an IQ test.  Trump never likes to be challenged.

This has resulted in a cabinet that is far and away from the "best and brightest" that Trump promised on the campaign trail.  Most had little or no experience in regard to the titles they assumed.  Rick Perry had vowed to get rid of the Dept. of Energy all together if he was elected President, and here he is now its Secretary.  A man Trump openly ridiculed on the campaign trail for being dumb.

Betsy was supposed to be a little brighter and had been involved in setting up a charter school in Chicago, so it was assumed she had some experience in education.  But, she has time and again revealed her ignorance on the subject.  You could see her literally shrinking when former Sen. Al Franken challenged her knowledge in the Senate, like a student not ready for a pop quiz.

The White House will greatly limit her public engagements after this fiasco, but you have to wonder why they ever allowed such an interview to take place.  She has fared horribly under scrutiny, even the mildest form as Leslie Stahl did not ask her very tough questions.  It seems her only role is to keep the seat warm, while his budget director, Mick "the Knife" Mulvaney seeks to pare down the department to the bare minimum.  Republicans would love nothing more than to get rid of the Department of Education all together, leaving education entirely in state and local hands.

We are all appalled by Betsy's dull performance, but when you have a blunt-headed President, who treats his cabinet like Celebrity Apprentice, what can you expect?  The only thing you can somewhat admire is the honesty of Ben Carson for at least admitting he knew nothing about Housing and Urban Development, but then he turned this into a callous view of public awareness that seems to be the only "experience" you need to be a member of Trump's cabinet.

Betsy DeVos is equally callous, judging by the way she dismissed the students of Parkland, Florida.  For her, public schools are like an infectious disease and the only answer is more charter schools, which haven't turned out to be the panacea described in such documentaries as Waiting for Superman.  If Trump really wanted someone who would have promoted this vision, he should have picked Michelle Rhee, who is a far more articulate advocate than Betsy DeVos.

Monday, March 12, 2018

On the Road Again

It was not so much a political rally as it was a vaudeville act.  Trump stumped for the sad-eyed Rick Saccone, who finds himself trailing his young challenger, Conor Lamb, in Western Pennsylvania.  You heard very little about Saccone throughout Trump's rambling speech in Pittsburgh.  It was mostly about himself and how badly he is treated in the media.  He called Chuck Todd a son of a bitch, and Maxine Waters a "very low IQ individual."  Every once in a while he came back to the theme of the special election, bragging that his recent tariffs would return steel to Pittsburgh and that he needed guys like Rick Saccone in Congress to push his message.

The only problem is that Saccone, who appeared to kiss Trump square on the lips when the President first came to Pittsburgh in January, probably regrets a second visit, as it isn't lifting him in the polls.  Like so many of these special elections around the country, it is a referendum on Trump, and if history is precedent, sad-eyed Rick is in for a miserable Tuesday evening when the returns roll in.

Trump staged a similar rally for Roy Moore in Pensacola in the days leading up that Alabama Senate special election, only to see the Ten Commandments judge go down in ignominious defeat.  Apparently, the President had been warned not to go to Alabama in support of the skirt chaser, so the Northwest Florida city near the Alabama border was the next best place.  Just the same he couldn't carry Moore across the finish line.  If he can't do that in the Heart of Dixie, where can he do it?

At least Saccone doesn't have a history of chasing after 14-year-olds, otherwise this election would have long been over.  He seems to be holding his own mostly thanks to blue collar workers who still  think the GOP represents their interests, even if steel isn't coming back to Pittsburgh.  The city transitioned long ago and is now one of the leading high tech centers in the Midwest, just don't tell Trump that.  He seems to think his presence alone is enough to resuscitate the steel industry.

Trump has become the Democrats best weapon, but this doesn't stop Trump from hitting the campaign trail.   This Fall, he plans to be on the road most of the week in support of his charges, largely because he enjoys these rallies.  He lets fly with anything in his head, usually forgetting who he is campaigning for, putting on a great show if nothing else.  People turn out just to see if he might explode on stage in a fantastic moment of spontaneous self-combustion.  The media loves it, parsing out each and every word of his rambling speeches for all to see.

Luther Strange, Roy Moore, Rick Saccone become incidental characters in these mostly one-man vaudeville performances, and when it is over are quickly forgotten.  Trump seeks out a new foil to regal his audience.  Probably the most honest thing he said in his recent Pittsburgh speech is "Remember how easy it is to be presidential?  But you'd all be out of here right now.  You'd be so bored."  So, he plays his audience for laughs and they love it.

For Trump, the world is a reality show.  He joked about North Korea.  He joked about Maxine Waters.  He joked about drug dealers.  He joked about Chuck Todd.  Conor Lamb's boyish good looks and charm didn't go unnoticed, as he declared himself better looking before dubbing the young candidate "Lamb the Sham."

None of it made any sense whatsoever, but the audience was eating it up like they would a Rodney Dangerfield performance from the 1980s.  Only Trump isn't self-deprecating, he's self-destructive.  It's pretty hard to overcome a president like this when you are desperately trying to reach out to moderate voters in these midterm elections.

Trump takes comfort in Rasmussen polls, which has his approval rating ten points higher than other polls, and Putin's latest compliments, as the wily Russian president butters him up for the kill.  Even more amazing he accepts an offer from the North Korean tyrant to come to Pyongyang, seeming to forget that the person of strength is the one who declares the venue, not the one who is in a position of weakness.  Why on earth would he want to go to Pyongyang anyway?

All the GOP can do is roll its eyes.  They try to back up Rick Saccone in other ways, but he has shown himself to be a very weak candidate.  The best you can say for him is that he isn't Roy Moore.  The RNC had to send in troops just to get his campaign off the ground, as he was unable to mobilize the conservative base in Western Pennsylvania, falling woefully behind Conor Lamb in fundraising.

It all looks like too little too late for the woebegone conservative candidate from Pennsylvania District 18, soon to be written off the map.  It really doesn't matter who wins or loses this race as in 6 month there will be new districts forged in Pennsylvania, better representing the political demographics.  Republicans had hung onto this district for so long by gerrymandering it to favor their conservative voters in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Sad-eyed Rick appears to be the last in line of a generation of conservatives who can no longer pretend that steel is the backbone of Western Pennsylvania.  High tech jobs are, and who to better represent this than the young Conor Lamb, who is much better looking than Donald Trump.  No contest.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wilbur, the talking Campbell's soup can

Things have apparently gotten so bad in Allegheny County that the Trump White House thought steel tariffs might rally voters to Saccone in the final days of his election campaign.  The Trump surrogate had fallen behind Conor Lamb in the conservative 18th Pennsylvania district and the GOP is making a last ditch effort to salvage his campaign.  It is doubtful it will do any good since Western Pennsylvania is no longer steel country.  That honor falls to Indiana these days.  But, what do you expect from a White House that seems stuck in the 1970s.

Trump's latest round of tariffs landed with a dull thud.  No one seems particularly happy about them, certainly not Republicans who have long opposed such measures, knowing full well it will only lead to inflated steel prices.  Still, the White House tried to sell the idea by sending Wilbur Ross on the talk show circuit, illustrating how a 25% bump in steel prices would have a negligible affect on canned goods.  Poor ol' Wilbur doesn't seem to understand that cars and trucks and planes and ships are all made of steel, and if you raise the price of the alloy metal 25% it is going to drive the costs of these goods up far more than a Campbell's soup can.

Our President doesn't seem to mind.  He thinks trade wars are good and easy to win, showing once again how hopelessly out of touch he is with the current global market.  The Dow and other stock exchanges reacted as you would expect from such announcement, dropping precipitously.  So, in an effort to shore up the markets, Trump's team announced it would lift the ban on leveraged buyouts, which is expected to fuel another highly speculative environment like we saw between 2006-2008.

It seems Trump wants to be a player and is taking whatever advice comes his way, bad or good, as long as it feeds the news cycle.  What better way to divert attention away from another inglorious special election loss for Republicans and the ever tightening investigation by Robert Mueller that appears to have taken down at least two more members of his inner circle this past week -- Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn.  As Chris Matthews said, the White House is looking like sinking ship.

The only thing that could make it worse is if the Kremlin decides to leak the infamous pee tape to the press.  As it is, Trump is having to deal with the backlash from his campaign's attempt to hush Stormy Daniels.  We are being treated to a virtual "golden shower" of news that makes it difficult to know which way to turn.

The problem is that Republicans keep on losing.  They are already looking for ways to spin another bad loss in Western Pennsylvania, a seat that won't even exist this November as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn the gerrymandered districts to make them much more competitive this Fall.

Nothing seems secure anymore for the Republicans, not even Texas, which saw Democrats turn out in full force in the primaries, sending shivers down the GOP spine as districts they once thought safe are now up for grabs.  Republicans knew they were going to take a hit this November, but I don't think anyone expected it could be potentially this bad.  Even Ted Cruz has started to sweat, given how unpopular he has become.

What makes this so odd is that Republicans seemed like they had their finger on the pulse of the nation in 2016, but here they are now hoping to at least hang onto the Senate, before getting more bad news that Thad Cochran is retiring, leaving  his seat open this Fall.  He wasn't scheduled to defend his seat until 2020.  If Alabama turned blue last December, could Mississippi change color this Fall as well?

A major part of the problem is a president and inner circle that seems utterly clueless.  Even Gary Cohn thought the tariffs were a terrible idea, but Trump went along with Wilbur or whoever gave him this bad advice anyway.  It's like the President is working from an election playbook written in the 1970s when the US was still a dominant power in the steel industry.  The US still plays a strong role, but most American industries have come to rely on cheap imports, which is why they all balked at the talk of tariffs.

Nevertheless, Trump's minions thought this would play well among the conservative faithful in the "Rust Belt," oblivious to the fact that most of these former steel centers have rebuilt themselves, notably Pittsburgh, which is now a thriving tech center in this post-industrial society.

The Republicans never looked more anachronistic than they do now, which is why it is fitting that a young Democratic maverick like Conor Lamb is very likely to defeat Rick Saccone next Tuesday.  Joe Biden was on hand to spur his candidate across the finish line.

Trump has never looked more isolated, but then this is what he pitched on the campaign trail in 2016, so sure he would resuscitate all these old industries across America.  Most of the country has been making the switch to high tech, even the folks in Kentucky.  This is what happens when you surround yourself with old codgers like Wilbur Smith, who don't know which end of a Campbell's soup can is up.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Bend of Time

Einstein and Godel on a walk

Reading James Gleick's Time Travel, one of the theories gaining traction in Physics is that we don't so much make choices but select alternative paths.  We may take one path, but the other path still exists in a space-time dimension, and if only we could find a "wormhole" we could cross through the metaphorical woods and see what it would be like on the other path, presumably retaking that path if we grow tired of the path we are on.  Fortunately, we come to other crossroads, and can branch again, creating yet another path not taken.

This kind of multi-dimensional universe is not so hard to grasp, especially in an ever expanding universe.  To a large degree, Lewis Carroll imagined it in Alice in Wonderland, using rabbit holes as his means of moving from one dimension to another.  Historians prefer "what-if" scenarios, imagining what it would have been like if the fledgling united states had lost the Revolution or Hitler defeated the Soviet Union or Hillary won the electoral college.  In a multi-dimensional world all those possibilities exist, so we try to construct them as counter-arguments to the world we live in.

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick presented one such counter-argument in "The Untold History of the United States," imagining what it would have been like if FDR had stuck with Henry Wallace as his VP in 1944 rather than allow the convention to select that Haberdasher from Missouri, Harry Truman, who ended up succeeding Roosevelt as President upon his death.  Stone projected we would have reached a better accord with the Soviet Union, would have created a more socialist United States, and avoided the perils of the Cold War.

All well and good, but most physicists and philosophers still believe the past is what it is and we have to come to terms with the present for better or worse -- kind of like an arranged marriage.  Many physicists and theologians take it a step further and say we can't alter the future either.  We are stuck on this time line and that it is best not to let our imaginations run away from us, otherwise we become hopelessly lost.

Of course, physicists and theologians arrive at this conclusion from opposite ends, yet they both see the space-time continuum as unalterable.  For physicists it makes it much easier to work out their equations, assuming t to be constant, for theologians it makes it much easier to accept an omnipotent God in a fatalistic universe.  This means we are stuck with Trump for an unforeseen length of time, hopefully no more than four years, but who knows how much time he has on the inscrutable line that stretches into infinity.

Kurt Godel in his walks with Einstein pondered if that line bent and circled back on itself.  Einstein was open to the suggestion, according to Gleick, that time might indeed repeat itself.    Godel imagined it had to be a very long cycle, since we perceive time as a straight line, much like we do the horizon.  How many "years" is anyone's guess, since our concept of a year is limited to our relationship with the sun.

We often see history repeating itself.  We go through progressive periods, only to revert back to more conservative times when things start to move too fast.  This was certainly the case during the 2016 campaign when Americans were confronted with too many things going on at once and decided to slam on the brakes.  Transgender rights, a renewed push for gender equality, the Black Lives Matter movement, athletes taking the knee during the national anthem.  Individually, each of these events seemed like the right thing but taken together it was too much too soon.

America's slow road to progress is one of fits and jerks, not some great watershed moment.  If it had been, Trump would have been banished in 2011 when President Obama put him in his place at the now infamous White House Correspondents Dinner.  Instead, we ultimately saw Trump get his revenge, as he systematically tries to eliminate any semblance of Obama ever having been President.

We can take some comfort in that no one can erase history no matter how hard he tries.  We all know Obama was an effective president, able to navigate the United States through a very difficult time after the 2008 economic collapse.  All Trump can do is try to revoke his predecessor's executive orders, and even here he is finding it difficult as the Supreme Court recently upheld DACA.  That "stupid dumbass Obamacare" manages to linger on as well.

We can alter, even bend time to some degree, but it seems we can't completely change its trajectory.  Obama once said we still are living in the trajectory of Reagan in what was probably one of his most trenchant moments on the 2008 campaign trail.  He took a lot of guff for that one-minute clip, but here again we are confronted with a similar dynamic as in 1980.  Has Obama altered the trajectory enough that Trump and the Republicans find themselves in a similar quandary as was Clinton in 1992?

The excesses today are largely seen as coming from the conservative side, and the public appears to be reacting to these excesses by voting out Republicans in special elections, which the RNC is notably concerned about.  Unfortunately, they are stuck with Trump, who personifies all these excesses in a nepotistic White House that sees him elevate Jared and Ivanka at the expense of more seasoned advisers, cabinet members and diplomats, and now we see Trump pondering what it would be like if he was "President for Life."

History can be brutal, and no more brutal than when someone tries to overreach the limits of his powers.  This is what brought England down repeatedly, brought Hitler down in 1944, and ultimately brought the Soviet Union down in 1991.  The Republicans now find themselves in the same uncomfortable spot.  What they thought was a watershed moment in reclaiming the White House, reasserting their influence over the Supreme Court, and holding majority control of Congress is turning out to be their worst nightmare, because they simply can't hold onto it, anymore than Obama was able to hold onto his moment in time.

All you can do is try to affect as many positive changes as you can and hope that enough of them will survive the push back of recalcitrant forces.  This seems to have been Obama's strategy during his time in office, which maybe why he is so sanguine in this "Age of Trump."  Or, maybe he found one of those "wormholes" and saw the fate of Trump before we did.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Dear John letter

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the polls, along come John Kasich and John Hickenlooper to tell us the two-party system is fucked.  If I didn't know better, I would say we have another case of false equivalence being established before the upcoming midterms.  Kasich along with other ranking Republicans know they are in deep trouble unless they can find some way to drag the Democratic Party down with them, so John enlists a Democratic governor to reinforce his message.

I have no idea why Hickenlooper is playing along with Kasich, unless they really do plan to make a run at the White House together in 2020 as Independents, similar to Gary Johnson and Bill Weld in 2016, although they were both disgruntled former Republican governors.  It isn't in the Colorado governor's interests otherwise, as right now the Democratic Party is looking pretty good.

It is the Republican Party that is reeling at the moment, having suffered an inordinate number of special elections defeats this past year, which has Republican operatives anxious to turn the tide.  The next big test is coming up in March with a special election in Pennsylvania that pits young Democrat Conor Lamb against GOP stalwart Rick Saccone for Tim Murphy's vacant seat. 

Scott Walker has refused to hold special elections for two vacant legislative seats in Wisconsin, afraid of the potential outcomes.  He's being sued by the Democratic Party.

Glenn Beck made an emotional appeal on Brian Stelter's Reliable Sources yesterday, and Brian played right along with Glenn on his "healing message."  This is exactly how Hillary lost the election in 2016.  Each time some damning new story emerged about Donald Trump, Republicans were quick to say Hillary was just as bad and the mainstream media allowed conservative surrogates to switch the narrative almost every time.

Not surprising, Kasich comes out now in what appears to be a last ditch effort to save this traditional Republican seat in Western Pennsylvania by claiming the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans.

Well, I call Bullshit!  Kasich is a phony.  He is your typical milquetoast Republican who tries to play both sides of the political divide for his own gain.  It worked in Ohio where he won two terms as governor.  It worked in Colorado too where Hickenlooper is nearing the end of his second term.  Where are two self-described moderates to go after their state political careers are over, other than to Washington.

Kasich says he has the plan to beat all plans to save health care.  Mind you, this is the guy who begrudgingly went along with Obamacare in Ohio and is now calling for a "slow rollback" in Medicaid expansion after having accepted the package deal back in 2013, much to his Republican Party's chagrin.  He is hoping to make this the issue that gets him back into the political mix.  Hickenlooper is a virtual nobody outside Colorado, and is seeking wider national recognition.

The media is anxious for a story, and so falls all over this "middle way" approach the two governors are pushing.  There is no middle way until the Republicans show they are serious about entering bipartisan talks with the Democrats, who extended their hands time and again between 2008 and 2014 only to be rebuffed each and every time.  Republican senators Graham, Grassley and Susan Collins were all invited to take part in talks on a health care plan, but in the end they all pulled out of discussions, afraid to buck the GOP hard line.  The Democrats only managed to get one cross-over Republican, Arlen Specter, who became the infamous 60th vote on "Obamacare."  This was after innumerable compromises on the Affordable Health Care Act.

But, it will take more than just an acceptance of health care reform to reverse the tide.  The recent shooting at Parkland exposed the GOP once again, only this time the students took action, resulting in a major shift of opinion on gun control.  The Wisconsin GOP-controlled legislature tried to steal some of the thunder from a Democratic gun control measure by pushing one their own, but they went in the wrong direction, steamrolling a bill that would call for more guns in schools.

Things really blew up in Marco Rubio's face when he took part in a CNN-sponsored forum on gun control in Tampa, which saw angry parents and teachers tee off on the senator when he expressed a more cautious approach in the wake of the devastating mass shooting.  Nevertheless, Rubio was lauded by the media for participating in the event.

This just shows how desperate the Republicans have become to shore up any support they can get in states that look like they will turn blue in November.  Time will tell if the media lets them get away with this grandstanding.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Donald Trump's very bad week

Or the not-so-"stable genius"

Things got off to a rough start when a story was recirculated that put Donald's English language skills at a fourth-grade level, and got worse when a panel of political scientists ranked him the worst president of all time with a score of 12.34 after his first year in office.  CNN and other news outlets were quick to toss these findings into question but there is little to support Orrin Hatch's argument that he is the best president ever.

One only has to listen to his jumbled speeches to hear that Trump has a very poor grasp of English, but Harry Truman barely managed a sixth-grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid chart and yet the same political science poll ranked him in the Presidential Top 10.  Why is Trump such a bad president in so many scholars' minds?

It's not just that his intellectual level is so low, but his emotional level is that of a bully who has repeated the fourth grade for the fourth time.  This is a man who loves to tell everyone he graduated with honors from the Wharton School of Business and that he could beat Rex Tillerson in an IQ test, but has yet to exhibit much in regard to language skills or logical thought.   His bragging resembles a man trying to overcome an inferiority complex.

It has been suggested that he never measured up to his father's high standard, and that he never got the love he craved from his mother.  He was bailed out time and again by Fred when his early business ventures went belly up, and Mary apparently had little time for her truculent son.  His father also underwrote his infamous Trump Tower, which he sees as a monument to himself.  Even by the 90s Trump was still in debt to his father over his failed casino venture in Atlantic City.

It was only when he landed on NBC as the host of The Apprentice in 2004 that his personal fortunes began to really look up, and Donald became a celebrity with his infamous "you're fired."  Where he failed in business he succeeded on television by capitalizing on his notoriety.  This was the "Golden Age" of recycling has-beens on reality shows like "The Surreal Life."  Donald took it one step further with "Celebrity Apprentice."

All along the way we have been continually reminded of his best-selling business book of all time, The Art of the Deal, ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz, who has been telling us since the campaign trail that Trump is a "deeply disturbed" and "utterly untrustworthy" man.  For three decades Schwartz's role had been kept under wraps and we were led to assume that the book was Trump in his own words.  He would later project himself as the inspiration for Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's Wall Street in one of those rare confluences of art and life converging in the same year, as the book and movie appeared in 1987.  Stone and the screenwriter Stanley Weiser credited a variety of popular Wall Street sharks at the time, notably Asher Adelman and junk bond king Michael Milken, not an advance copy of Trump's book.

Trump emerged as a brand name in the 80s, but here again he owes a large debt to his father.  Nevertheless, you have to give him credit for marketing it the way he did, even if Trump Shuttle went bust almost immediately.  His name became synonymous with failed business ventures, but no matter, he still valued "Trump" at $5 billion when he claimed he was worth no less than $10 billion on the campaign trail.

The problem is that all this improvisation hits a brick wall when you actually have to run a "company" the size of the United States.  You can't keep making things up on the fly, especially when confronting foreign leaders at NATO and the EU.  You have to show some basic comprehension of global markets and foreign policy, which Trump has repeatedly failed to demonstrate.  He gets such basic things about the stock market wrong that you wonder what era he lives in.  Surrounded by sycophants virtually his entire adult life, he never had to really think for himself.  Persons were so anxious to endear themselves to Trump because of his father's reputation, that they kept him inside in his 1980s cocoon of Trump Tower.

He relishes his role as the Rodney Dangerfield of politics, especially when he crows about his electoral victory in 2016.  He really doesn't care what the press, political or climate scientists think as long as he is President.  He has shifted his electoral attention from Hillary to Oprah, as he eyes 2020, ignoring the "blue tsunami" forming in the Atlantic that threatens to wash away the tenuous support he has on Capitol Hill.  State after state has turned against Trump, most notably Alabama, which elected a Democratic Senator for the first time in three decades.

The way he is handling the Parkland shooting incident isn't helping him at all.  The so-called "listening session" was upstaged by the hand-written notes he held between his tiny hands to guide him in showing empathy for the parents of the victims.  In the end, he just mouthed the NRA position to the tragedy -- more guns in schools -- resulting in incredulous side-eyes from parents and students sitting next to him.

Of course, he has two-and-a-half years to pull his act together, but given his lack of attention span and his inability to grasp issues even on the most fundamental level, it is doubtful we will see much improvement.  In fact it is very easy to see a President who simply gives up at a certain point, especially if the Democrats take Congress in November.

I don't think those polls are far off.  If anything, the Flesch-Kincaid gives Trump too much credit, as I've heard many fourth graders show a better grasp of the English language than Donald Trump.  This is a guy who faked his way through business school knowing full well none of it mattered because his Dad was worth millions.  His "gift," if you can call it that, is a complete lack of shame.  It allows him to keep getting up in the morning oblivious to the tongue-lashing he gets virtually every night from political pundits and late-night comics.  He has turned Rodney's "I get no respect" tagline into a red badge of courage, and shockingly "The President of the United States," which I doubt his father or mother would have ever imagined.

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.