Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's the end of the world as we know it

Trump may have been onto something when he played REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It" over and over again at his rallies.  It's an incredible song as it foreshadows a Trump administration, even if Michael Stipe was pissed off he received no royalties from its use.

The chaos and confusion that spills out in the song is a very close approximation to what we see day to day from Trump.  We think it couldn't get any worse, but somehow he finds a way to top himself, or bottom himself as the case may be.  As bad as his NATO summit and meeting with Theresa May went, nothing compares to the Helsinki summit, in which he capitulated to Vladimir Putin in the worst possible way, laying our country prostrate before the Russian leader's feet like a vanquished opponent in a virtual reality Medieval battle.

We have no way of knowing what deals were struck, what level of infiltration occurred, what degree of collusion took place during and after the 2016 election, but it is clear beyond a doubt that Putin has something very big on Trump.  Something so big that Trump is utterly powerless to offer any resistance in Putin's presence.

Stood up for over an hour, all Trump could do was privately huff at Putin's lack of respect for him.  In the end, Putin tossed him a football as if to say "good boy."

Trump looked lost on stage, painfully reading a speech that seemed more like a ransom note written by Putin himself.  You could see this in the way Vlad carefully followed Trump's reading, checking each word to make sure there were no omissions.  When Trump did object, he objected to questions regarding the ongoing FBI investigation, meandering all over the place in his defense of Putin.

When Putin was asked if he had something on Trump, the Russian leader paused for a moment, letting the question sink into the room, before dismissing it as nonsense.

It was an impeccably stage-managed event with Russia clearly in control.  Mind you this is a country in economic turmoil, which probably will go deeper into debt after its lavish World Cup, and whatever influence it has on the world stage is along its borders.  Yet, somehow Putin is able to project himself as a world leader that all of us should defer to.

Maybe it is that video Vlad shared with Donald, showing how easy it would be for him to blow Mar-a-Lago off the face of the planet.  Several times, Trump referred to Russia's massive nuclear arsenal and how the two countries controlled 90 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons.  But, it is more than nukes that is eating at Trump.  Putin's GRU appears to have created a cyber-world par excellence, able to reach anywhere and exfiltrate a foreign leader's deepest, darkest secrets, making him easily compromised.

Donald was willing to give up everything to Putin.  He nodded his head as Vlad suggested that the two countries should join in a cyber-security network without even a touch of irony.  Vlad went so far as to invite Mueller to Moscow to question the 12 GRU officials listed in the indictment, but of course that would mean reciprocal arrangements in which Russian authorities would have access to the material.

A crestfallen Trump was publicly shamed in front of the whole world, and the worst part is that he knew it.  His hangdog expression, the way he slumped in his chair, the indifferent reading of his script, all suggested a man who was well aware he had no say in the matter.  This was a beaten man.

At this point, only Russia feels fine.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Baby Trump

What have we learned about Trump on his latest European trip?  He doesn't like women, at least those who would be consider his peers.  He doesn't like immigrants, especially Pakistanis who become important mayors.  He doesn't understand that you are supposed to come before tea time, leaving the Queen checking her watch on the royal stand.  And, he hates to be mocked, but then we already knew that.

Trump left a lot of persons scratching their heads this time around.  Determined not to be a wallflower again, which he was when he attended the NATO summit last year, he immediately ripped into Germany at breakfast the first day, claiming that it was "captive" to Russia because of the Nordstream pipeline.  This had less to do with Germany's reliance on cheap Russian natural gas than it did his animosity toward Angela Merkel, who had stolen all his thunder at the last NATO summit.  He was determined not to let that happen again.

Then came the infamous Sun interview, which he now discredits as "fake news."  In it, he lambasted Theresa May's Brexit deal, offered Boris Johnson as an alternative PM and lashed out Sadiq Khan for allowing the Baby Trump blimp to fly over London.  If that wasn't enough, he lamented that immigrants were destroying Europe's culture, a rather thinly disguised attack at first generation Pakistani-Briton Khan becoming the mayor of London.

Trump walked back most of what he said in that notorious interview during his press conference at Chequers, but stuck with his harsh stance on immigration, calling it "a very negative thing."  To her credit, Theresa May challenged him on this, saying immigration is what makes Britain great, but Trump was having none of it.

These incendiary comments are a direct reflection of the extreme right-wing populist parties in Europe.  Steve Bannon was also in town stoking this rhetoric among those who would listen to it.  Trump and Bannon are stirring the embers of these national parties, hoping to get similar election results to what happened in Italy recently.

All this feeds into Vladimir Putin's hands, whom he is scheduled to meet with on Monday in Helsinki, despite an ever growing chorus that he should cancel this "summit."  The reason being that Trump's DOJ issued a scathing indictment on 12 Russian GRU agents it held directly responsible for hacking into the DNC and other servers, as well as attempting to influence the 2016 election with fake social media sites.  The Republican response is to condemn Rod Rosenstein.

Trump's response is to put all the blame on Obama for not responding what it was first suspected Russia was tampering with the 2016 election, but as Joe Biden points out, Mitch McConnell was unwilling to be part of a bipartisan statement condemning Russia, so Obama chose to publicly scold Putin instead.  Trump has taken virtually no action against Russia other than expelling some low level diplomats in the wake of the Novichok poisoning in Great Britain, which Russia responded in turn by expelling low level American diplomats.  Trump still regards the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian election meddling as a witch hunt, repeating it in his press conference with Theresa May.

Our President has repeatedly shown his admiration for autocratic leaders over democratic ones.  What's worse, he has particular scorn for democratic women leaders.  Why caught our first glimpse of this the way he treated Hillary Clinton during the campaign, particularly in the town hall debate, where he literally stalked her around the stage.  It seemed so crudely comical at the time, but here he is now stalking Merkel and May.

We all know his scorn for Muslims, so it is not surprising that he would have little regard for Sadiq Khan.  This feud has been ongoing since the 2016 election campaign when Khan spoke out against Trump's proposed Muslim ban.  But, Trump took it to a whole new level by publicly condemning immigration in Europe, claiming it has led to an increase in crime and terrorism in Germany and Britain.  Trump promotes the idea of a White Europe as he does as a White America.  In his mind, Muslims need not apply.  They have irreparably "changed the fabric" of Europe, namely by running for public office.

In his mind, Britain would be much better off with Boris Johnson than it would Theresa May or Sadiq Khan.  He tried to walk this back somewhat in his press conference, but still lavished praise on Johnson at Theresa May's expense.  Johnson is part of the Russian propaganda effort that led to the Brexit vote, having been a frequent contributor to RT, as was his comrade-in-arms Nigel Farage.

And you wonder why so many Britons mock him.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Moscow Mules

We all know of Trump's questionable relationships with Russia, but I don't think anyone was quite ready for a delegation of 7 Republican Senators and one Representative to visit Moscow as a prequel to Trump's Helsinki summit with Putin.  The unannounced visit had apparently been planned months in advance before any knowledge of a summit with Russia's strongman.  So, what exactly is the purpose here other than taking in a bit of Moscow's cultural scene?

Russian oligarchs not only funneled money into Donald's campaign, but also various GOP Congressional campaigns, including that of John McCain, one of the more ardent Russophobes on Capitol Hill.  Albeit, McCain's sugar daddy hailed from Ukraine, so he might have been confused in thinking he was supporting a different cause.  Maybe Mackie planned on going before being sidelined with the recurrence of his cancer that garnered him so much sympathy.  One would like to think their intents were noble, to restart negotiations after years of indifference, but all that money says otherwise.

The other big question is why July 4?  Shouldn't all these senators and lone representative be celebrating our independence at home, not in Russia?  Sens. Kennedy and Thune tried to pretend they were back at home by offering generic congratulatory tweets, but it was pretty hard to cover up such a large American delegation in Moscow.

This all comes after Trump essentially turned his back to the G-7 in Quebec, questioned our membership in the World Trade Organization and is once again harping on NATO members not meeting their military obligations.  All things that play right into Putin's hands, as he tries to drive a wedge, or rather several wedges through traditional Western allies.

He already has succeeded in turning Hungary against the EU, as he foments anxiety among Eastern European countries.  He also scored a big victory in Italy a few weeks ago, when an anti-immigration coalition took control of their parliament.  He chips away at Europe, much like Stalin did back in the 40s, finally getting FDR to give in at Yalta.  Will Helsinki become another Yalta, with Trump conceding Crimea, and essentially giving Putin the green light for other incursions into the West?

Whatever purpose these senators and representative seem to have is to give Moscow the assurance they have support in Congress.  Whatever tactics Russia used in 2016 to help sway American voters toward the GOP will be on full display again, as the Republican Party is taking no chances when it comes to key Congressional races.

It really makes you wonder how we got here?  How the US could turn its back on traditional allies and actively court Russia at a time of so much unrest is a mystery historians will be left to sort out, as the American media hasn't been very good in doing so.  They seem to go whichever way the wind blows, contributing to this country's attention span deficit. 

For many conservatives, Russia is now the "good guy," as it supports a set of values similar to their own.  Marriage equality is not recognized in Russia.  Gay pride rallies are banned, as is the gay pride flag, leading some ingenuous activists to make this quiet protest during the World Cup.  Russia is tough on abortions.  The news media is kept in check, if need be maliciously.  Moscow is a conservative's wet dream, except for the fact that gun laws are much tighter in Russia.

It doesn't seem to matter how much intelligence is provided that shows the extent of Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, these conservative legislators are willing to turn a blind eye as long as they stay in power.  Whatever talk there was about meddling in the election was kept to a minimum so as not to upset their Russian counterparts.

Dana Milibank tried to come up with names for this deceitful lot but couldn't settle on one.  Moscow Mules seems as good as any.  One would think this would hurt them in the midterms, but to no surprise none of them are up for re-election this time around.  It's mostly Democrats, with Republicans looking for any edge they can get to hang onto their +1 advantage in the Senate.  Plus-2 if you count their man Pence.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Jefferson wines

Imagine the surprise to find a bottle of 1787 Lafitte handpicked by Thomas Jefferson.  This is what Bill Koch thought when he purchased four bottles in 1988 at well over $100,000 each.  It would have been a great find if it was real, but as it turned out there were a couple of glaring clues that these bottles were fake.

The first was that the signature Th.J was inaccurate.  According to Monticello's resident historian, Jefferson initialed his name Th:J.  The second and most telling is that Jefferson made no record of these purchases in his diaries, and as we all know he was an extremely dutiful diarist, cataloging his life in exquisite detail, except for his relationship with Sally Hemings.

So, why didn't a billionaire like Bill Koch do his due diligence before making such a hefty purchase?  For one, he trusted their providence since the bottles were originally sold at Christie's, a well-respected auction house; and two the temptation was just too great to pass up.  When would bottles like these next appear on the market?

Vintage wines became a gold mine for speculators in the late 80s and 90s, with prices soaring through the cellar roof.  Bill Koch quickly amassed an enormous collection, having to greatly expand his cellar under his West Palm Beach home to accommodate all these rare vintages.

Yes, he is one of the infamous Koch brothers, so no reason feeling too sorry for him, but as you can imagine he was none too happy when he found he had been cheated.  He did what any tycoon would do, hire an investigative team to track down the source of this fraud.

It turned out to be a man who went by the name Hardy Rodenstock.  This alone should have tipped prospective buyers off, but Hardy not only had an uncanny way of finding extremely rare bottles of wine, but also the ability to convince people they were genuine.  The self-professed German nobleman very quickly amassed a fortune to go along with his faux wines, staging lavish wine-tasting parties with no spitting allowed.  He would only bring out his prized vintages at the end of the night, by which time everyone was pretty well sloshed and he could have given them bottles of cheap Merlot for all they knew.

Nevertheless, these parties became the talk of the wine world, and Hardy grew richer and richer and greedier and greedier, until he came up against the wrong man.  Koch finally cornered Rodenstock in 2007.  By this point, he was also hounding another dubious wine dealer named Rudy Kurniawan, who had sold him some fake Burgundies, and was the subject of the documentary, Sour Grapes, which lifted the lid off this fake wine business.  Unlike Kurniawan, Rodenstock managed to skate clean, as charges were brought against him in the US, and Germany refused to extradite him.  Rodenstock quietly passed away earlier this year, still claiming the Jefferson wines were real.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Dispossessed

While CNN and BBC focus almost exclusively on the 12 Thai boys and their coach being led out of the water-logged caverns of Chiang Rai, little progress is being made in reuniting over 2000 displaced children with their parents. 

The Trump administration has been slow to meet a court order to return all these displaced children by July 26, claiming they don't have enough information.  DNA tests have ensued in an effort to match families, but the problem is that many parents have already been deported and it will be difficult to get these tests done. 

ACLU lawyers say the US government is trying to extort some parents by making them give up their asylum claims in return for their children, adding another pernicious layer to this very ugly drama.  These kids are spread out through the entire country, as US officials didn't have enough space in their detention facilities along the border to house them.  Many of these kids find themselves in Christian foster homes, with additional reports that parents are having to confirm they are Christian before getting their kids back.  It's a lucrative business with the government paying as much as $700 per night to house these children.

With no plan in place before or during this fiasco, the Trump administration is scrambling to reunite these families in an effort to save some kind of face in a crisis it manufactured.  There was no reason to split these families in the first place, but this administration thought it would serve as a deterrent, not foreseeing the legal efforts that would be made on the behalf of the parents to get their kids back.  It's like they saw the immigrants as cattle that could be sorted into lots and no one would care.

Many came peacefully seeking asylum, only to find themselves detained at the border.  A process that would normally be treated with civility.  However, this administration made no distinction between asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, denying them their rights, and subsequently having to face lawsuits filed by the ACLU and other legal organizations on behalf of these detained families.

The administration is now resorting to DNA tests to reunite families, which also serve as a handy way to identify these kids and parents should they ever try to seek entry again.

It really makes you wonder how our country could stoop this low.  The only thing saving the Trump administration at this point is that so much attention is focused on the rescue of the Thai boys that the news media is barely covering the story.  But, after the kids have been evacuated from the caverns, the focus will shift once again onto the US-Mexico border where a far greater drama is being played out.

Heads should roll.  Most notably Kirstjen Nielsen, who has been overseeing this fiasco from her perch as Secretary of Homeland Security.  Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will also find himself under much greater scrutiny as a result of his zero tolerance policy that resulted in this crisis.  ICE may find itself on the chopping block as a result of their extralegal activities.  But, will it do any good when the root of the problem lies at the top in a president who actively condoned these activities until public pressure forced him to rescind his executive order?

It's not just these illegal separations.  The Trump administration is flushing immigrants out of the military, and is even questioning the legality of recently naturalized citizens, and is seeking to denaturalize those it determines lied on their applications.  It is part of a broad crack down on immigration that threatens tens of thousands of persons who have been living legally in the United States for decades, not just those who have been doing so illegally.  The Trump administration has already broken apart families as a result of these harsh policies.

It's understandable the media took a break from this ongoing crisis to cover the trapped Thai young footballers.  It's the kind of story that viewers love to watch unfold, as it has a clear beginning, middle and end.  Not so with the families ripped apart at the US border.  It will take months to reach a conclusion to this crisis, if any conclusion is reached at all.

We hear the horror stories: a 14-month old boy returned to his mother covered in dirt and lice because no one thought to bathe him the 85 days he spent in a detention facility, among many other similar cases filed in a 1000-page report.  The trauma is unimaginable, but such stories help bring the enormity of the crisis home.  The US government finds itself in the same position as the Turpin parents having to defend the indefensible.

The Trump administration will claim that many of these kids came unaccompanied, foisting the blame on their parents, rather than admitting to their own heinous policy.  This is how it is being played in the conservative media, which acts as a propaganda arm of the Trump administration.  Yet, the records speak for themselves, with the Department of Homeland Security admitting to 1995 forced separations.  So, even if we accept the other 500 kids as unaccompanied, that's only 20 per cent of the total number of officially reported detained children in the last several months.

The television media has focused far more extensively on the plight of the 12 Thai kids trapped in a flooded cave, replete with cut-away sections of the cave and other visualizations, than they have the plight of these kids trapped in the American legal system.  Why haven't they similarly tracked down the whereabouts of these 2500 children, as has been the case in the print media?  They could be helping to reunite the families instead of treating the story as an ongoing reality show in a brief hiatus.

Most of the work is being done at the grassroots level with thousands of volunteers scouring the country in search of these kids, and acting as a conduit to their bereaved parents.  It's just appalling the way this administration has handled the crisis, but it is in under-reported rallies throughout the country that we see condemnation of this heinous policy, while CNN brings in talking heads to debate the issue.  Until some of these kids start speaking for themselves, as was the case with the Parkland teenagers in the wake of a school shooting, the television media continues to treat this crisis as faceless.

The Trump administration knows Americans have a more difficult time grasping abstract issues.  As long as these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are viewed as a mass or swarm, there is no way to identify with them, as we are currently doing with the Thai kids.  It is time to give these detained children and their parents a face!

Sunday, July 8, 2018


Imagine my surprise when Doris Kearns Goodwin appears at the beginning of episode five of American Horror Story's Roanoke House.  She lends credibility to the story of Edward Mott, a late 18th century English dandy who builds a private mansion near to the fabled Roanoke Colony, which forms the mystical backdrop to season 6.  Doris had me there for a moment, but Mott's delicious tale, like much of Roanoke House, is contrived.  She was just having a good time.

The Roanoke Colony is prime fodder for a horror tale, but sadly the writers just turn it into a bunch of pagan nonsense, linked to ancient Druid societies rather than embedding it in Native American folk tales.  The only thing they took from the local culture that flourished before Sir Walter Raleigh arrived was the word "Croatoan," which they turned into some sacred word to ward off evil, when in actual fact it was the name of the tribe that lived on Roanoke Island, or at least the bastardized English interpretation of their name.

No one really knows what happened to this lost colony.  John Smith was told by Chief Powhatan himself that he had killed what was left of the settlers when he took out a rival tribe which had absorbed them.  Smith, however, was well known for putting words in other person's mouths for his own gain, and this led King James to send in reinforcements to subdue the local tribes.

There were actually two colonies at Roanoke set up by Raleigh, as the island served as a strategic point in raiding Spanish galleons coming up from the Caribbean on their way back to Europe.  It was never really intended as a permanent settlement.  Some of the colonists got rides back with Drake two years later, while others fended for themselves further inland, which forms the basis for AHS's tale.

What is a bit hard to swallow is Lady Gaga's role in all this.   She's a mysterious dark figure who the writers decide to ground in some ancient Druid legend rather than in a Native American folk tale.  She apparently came over on an earlier English voyage, but there were none. Raleigh's was the first to America in 1585.  As we found out with Mott, it really doesn't matter.  Gaga's "Scathatch" provides the baseline for the series' witches in Coven, the third season, as most of these characters are part of the show's own mythology linking the seasons together, but they're supposed to be actors in a dramatic re-enactment of events the first half of the season.

Nevertheless, it is quite fun to watch once you get past the exceedingly dull introductory two episodes.  The writers set up their narrative much like The Blair Witch Project, and spend way too much time on this before letting the fireworks begin.  What makes AHS work is its shameless disregard for history and contemporary events, twisting them into their narratives whether they fit or not and just going with the flow.

It helps having great actors like Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett and Frances Conroy to embody the roles.  It seems Jessica Lange had enough by this point.  Evan Peters gets better and better with each season, making the most of his characterization of the flaming Edward Mott.  Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding, Jr. aren't very convincing as the young couple who buy the haunted mansion at auction.

Anyway, you shouldn't expect too much, especially in regard to the ealry Roanoke settlers, but I imagine it has led to increased visitation of Fort Raleigh National Historic Park on Roanoke Island. However, woe be it to anyone who tries to search out the Edward Mott House, as you will only find it among the AHS fandom.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Dirty Laundry

The Freewheeling Donald Trump has been all over the place in recent rallies, bragging about his crowd sizes rivaling that of Elton John, how great his writing skills are, lashing out at Maxine Waters, John McCain and George H.W. Jones, but he seems most obsessed with Elizabeth Warren.  It has reached the level of stalking, and one wonders why so many people play into his insidious tweets and rally calls for Elizabeth to take a DNA test to "prove" her Native American claims.

Our dear Megyn Kelly felt compelled to chime in on the issue, making one wonder why she ever left Fox News.  NBC granted her a legitimacy she doesn't deserve, as she was never more than one of those "bubble-headed bleach blondes" Don Henley alludes to in his song Dirty Laundry.  That's pretty much what all this talk about Elizabeth Warren and Pocahontas is.

Trump picked it up on the campaign trail in 2016 when Warren openly challenged him.  It refers back to a time Warren was listed on the Harvard register as being "Native American."  She grew up in Oklahoma, so all could be she has some Native American blood in her, as this is where so many tribes ended up being resettled in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

It's not like you would be able to "see it," as Scott Brown claimed in the 2012 Senate race, anymore than you can see all the other latent genes inside of us.  This is why DNA kits have become so popular, revealing loads of surprises when it comes to one's ethnic heritage.  Look what happened to these persons when they went on a DNA journey.

Elizabeth Warren doesn't have to "prove" herself, anymore than it seems Donald Trump has to "prove" himself, since he hasn't been forthcoming when it comes to his own heritage.  He boasts of his mother's Scottish heritage, while rarely if ever accepting his father's German heritage, from which his name is derived.  No surprise since his father went out of his way to hide his German heritage at a time anti-German feelings were running high in America.  Fred Trump claimed he was Swedish.

So why does he continue to go after Warren, or anyone else for that matter?  The guy is a walking, talking, harrumphing contradiction of himself!  Yet, he refuses to let the Pocahontas rant go.

I suppose part of it is that Warren is thinking of a 2020 run, but mostly he can't stand being called out by a woman.  Megyn Kelly should know this, having similarly fallen on Donald's bad side when she questioned him on his misogyny in an early Republican debate.  But, here she is feeding into yet another of Trump's misogynistic attacks, intoning something far more than a DNA test in his attack on Warren at the Montana rally yesterday.  Maybe she should have focused on the many wild accusations he made instead of Elizabeth Warren.

NBC must fire Kelly.  She hasn't boosted their ratings, much less given them anything of substantial value in her presence on the network.  She may have gotten under Putin's skin in her first interview, another man who hates to be questioned by women, but she just ended up stoking his ego, which is why he granted her a second interview.   She now does this with Trump by defending his puerile rants.  This isn't news, and in no way should be treated as such!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth?

If you look close you can see the states and territories on the caps.  One kid represents "Porto Rico,"  The little Eskimo Alaska, and I assume the kid in the grass clothes Hawaii.  All were territories in 1902, and only Puerto Rico remains a territory, yet it is the closest to the mainland of the United States.

More than that, the image shows the cultural diversity of the country at a time such matters weren't openly discussed.  Lady Liberty is telling Uncle Sam, "It's all right!  There's no fighting!  The noise you hear is just my family celebrating."  Words we should take to heart.

Alas, this Fourth of July is a bittersweet one as our president and conservative pundits have turned patriotism into a sledge hammer, appealing to the xenophobes among us who want to see a whiter America.  This was made even more apparent by an order issued by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to revoke Obama-era guidance in regard to diversity on college campuses, although an ax would be a more appropriate metaphor in this case.

This administration is either oblivious to or is actively trying to recall the segregationist ghosts of the past that led to Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of Americans who weren't white.  It's like Commander Jeff was holding a seance with George Wallace back home in Alabama.

It's not just the manufactured crisis on the border, it's a pernicious attitude that has crept into American society much the same as in the early part of the 20th century, which led Puck to publish that image.  This Nativist attitude rears its head time and again, but since 1964 we had been effectively able to keep it to the fringes of political discourse until the 2016 election.  Now, it is front and center once again, taking on all kinds of ugly manifestations.

Republicans try desperately to disavow the uglier Nativist insticts of their base, but their mantra "America First," is what is spawning cretins like Holocaust-denier Arthur Jones, who won the Republican primary for US Representative of the 3rd Congressional District outside of Chicago.  He doesn't have much chance of winning given it is a heavily Democratic district, but Ted felt impelled to voice his disdain just the same.

The only question is why Ted isn't similarly condemning Corey Stewart, who is running against Tim Kaine for a Virginia Senate seat.  Stewart is every bit as outside the pale as Arthur Jones.  So much so that Virginia Republicans are deeply worried Stewart will drag down the whole party in November.  But, Cruz stays mum, and worst of all Trump actively supports Stewart, essentially condoning the hatred this man engenders among the Republican base.

So many Republicans are running on xenophobic agendas, hoping to stir their base into action this Fall to offset early losses in special elections.  For them, the only good America is a white America, and they are especially proud of their President, who has been championing their cause throughout his 18 months in office.

Granted, there are those Republicans who are deeply worried about the direction Trump is taking their party, but given the poll numbers they are very much in the minority.  Trump currently enjoys a 90 per cent approval rating among GOP voters.  Some moderates in the party have actually switched sides like Steve Schmidt, but other moderates try to create a false equivalence and promote themselves as a "third option."  Mitt Romney remains coy, playing both sides of the Republican divide in his bid for Orin Hatch's Utah Senate Seat this Fall.

A party that once stood for universal suffrage now promotes voter ID laws, draconian immigration policies, the end of affirmative action and just about anything that smacks of cultural diversity.  They once again try to evoke Reagan's "Colorblind Society," twisting the words of the Constitution as Reagan once did Martin Luther King, Jr.

We'll see how it plays out this Fall, but as Corey Stewart has intoned, it is going to be a "vicious, ruthless" campaign, as he and other Republican candidates take demagoguery to an even lower level in these mid-term elections.  This time the noise you hear will give Uncle Sam reasons for concern.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

It's shaping up to be a wild one.  One can still feel the reverberations of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' victory.  So much so that Alex Jones is warning conservatives of a plan to launch a Civil War on July 4 by the Democrats.  Of course, it's nothing new from InfoWars, but Alexandria's embrace of democratic socialist values has lit up the conservative blogosphere, exclaiming a new socialist revolution is underway!

Meanwhile, the Democratic Den Mother, Nancy Pelosi, downplays Alexandria's surprise victory, noting the broad range of values represented in the party.  Alexandria isn't the first "Berniecrat" to raid the big tent.  That title went to Nanette Barragan two years ago, who rode into the US House of Representatives on pretty much the same message as Ocasio-Cortez, although with a stronger political background.

I think what galls many about Alexandria's victory in the New York primary is that she is a bartender from the Bronx.  People are ignoring the fact she majored in economics and international affairs at the highly respected Boston University, and worked briefly for Ted Kennedy, before returning home and taking on low-end restaurant jobs to make ends meet with her struggling family.  This is the kind of story normally reserved for Tea Party candidates.  It's like a page has been stolen from their playbook and turned upside down.

Conservatives are now desperate to frame the mid-terms as a battle against socialism, fearing a leftist revolution rising up from the grass roots.  They make no distinction between National Socialism, which spawned Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany and Franco's Spain; and Democratic Socialism, which is the prevailing form of government in Europe today.  If they look for contemporary examples, they invariably point to Venezuela, the basket case of South America.

Bernie alluded to the Danish health care system repeatedly on the campaign trail, and Alexandria sounds the same drum, noting the successful universal health care systems in Europe, and also the fact that many European countries have low-cost universities and affordable housing.  This is something we could have in the US if we just put our tax dollars in the right place, rather than plunging so much of it down a military rabbit hole never to be seen again.

Woe be it to anyone to intelligently discuss universal health care, tuition-free college or affordable housing.  This is America, bitch, and we do things the old-fashioned way with everyone pulling themselves up by the boot straps!  It doesn't matter that we already have a rudimentary socialist system in place, many Americans see a "free market" and "socialism" at diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum and refuse to accept any compromises, even if their social security check is a perfect example of socialism.

The only difference between Medicare and universal health care is that you have to wait until your 65 to collect the former, whereas everyone can have the latter from cradle to grave.  Given how much we pay in FICA each year, there is no reason why we can't have universal health care in the US!

If conservatives in Congress have their way, they will gut Social Security to help pay for all the tax cuts they passed in December, 2017, even if it means only pennies back on the dollar to the typical worker.

I'm glad to see we finally have a revolution taking place, albeit a very nascent one, that may eventually force us to rethink how we spend our tax dollars.  The US pours over 5 per cent of its annual GDP into the military, which has essentially become a welfare state for millions of Americans, when it could be providing tuition relief, universal health care, and affordable housing to everyone, not just service men and women and their dependents.

Our bloated defense budget is sucking up a major portion of our tax base, which Republicans continue to chip away at each Congressional session.  There is no way to balance the budget based on current revenues, which is why Paul Ryan wants to pry open the social security reserve to help cover expenses.  As it is, over $5 trillion is covered by Social Security.  It is mismanagement that has led to our debt crisis, not domestic programs.

Sadly, you will have a hard time convincing many Americans of this.  They prefer to think that more cost cutting is the answer, even if it means undermining the programs that help keep them going, i.e. food stamps, which many in the military have come to rely on to make ends meet, because the Pentagon would rather spend its budget on weapons than soldiers.  The image persists of the welfare queen gaming the system so that she can drive around town in a shiny new Cadillac.  Today, the cell phone has become the symbol of this gaming, even if you can buy a refurbished iPhone for a hundred bucks or less.

I'm glad to see that candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are reaching the base in their districts.  I can only hope that other candidates find a way to reach disenfranchised conservatives who have allowed themselves to be played by cynical Republicans.  This is what really roils Alex Jones and his conservative ilk.  They don't want their base to turn on them when they find out there is very little that will trickle down to them in the form of tax cuts.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

O Canada

Today is Canada's National Day and for Americans that's not a good sign.  New tariffs kick in which will have a big impact on American manufacturing and agricultural industry.  The United States and Canada haven't been at odds like this since the early 1970s, when President Nixon declared the "special relationship" between the two countries dead in the wake of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's decision to diversify Canada's economy, so that it was no longer so dependent on trade with the US.

Eventually, the US forgave Canada for its insolence, but a love-hate relationship has remained, especially when liberal leaders come to power like Justin Trudeau.  We tend to prefer conservative leaders, like Stephen Harper, who preceded him.  It was Harper who pushed the Keystone Pipeline to get his ugly crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta down to Houston refineries, which Republicans tried in vain to get through Congress.

Donald Trump wasted no time approving the deal his first 100 days in office.  As deals go, it was a pretty bad one as far as American interests go, as all we did was pay for most of a 2150-mile pipeline and refine Canada's crude for export, making us nothing more than a middle man.  I'm sure the pipeline builders and refineries got a cut, but it did little to boost our economy, something His Trumpness was so intent on improving.

For Trudeau's part, he retained his end of the deal, much to the chagrin of the liberals who elected him, as the project was too far along to turn back without ruffling a lot of feathers.  Instead, the young prime minister focused his attention elsewhere.

This is why it came as quite a shock to see the US placing tariffs on steel and aluminum.  The US imports the bulk of these metals from Canada, as it does its foreign oil.  Trump seemed oblivious of it at first, thinking he was taking punitive actions against Mexico, from which we get 11 per cent or our steel.  Canada is 20 per cent.  Brazil and South Korea also provide more steel than Mexico.  When Trump was made aware of this, he doubled down on the tariffs so as not to appear the fool.

Congressional Republicans were dismayed by his actions, but did little to stop him.  Instead, we got Wilbur "The Talking Campbell's Soup Can" Ross to explain to us how little these tariffs would impact us, noting the small amount of aluminum in the cost of a can of Campbell's Soup.

Yet, auto builders and other manufacturers rely on this cheap steel to keep their costs down, and now that they will pay higher prices, they will either be forced to make cuts to compensate for the tariffs, or pass along the cost to the consumer, which is generally how tariffs work.

Trump thought he was bringing steel back to America, but the US has long scaled back on steel and aluminum production.  You would think we would be recycling these metals, especially aluminum, but much of the aluminum waste is shipped abroad.  Same with plastics.  It's cheaper to have China or India or Brazil recycle these materials and ship the finished products back to us than it is to do it ourselves.  So much for self-sufficiency.

The question remains why should Canada be penalized for our own shortfalls?  If we really wanted to be self-sufficient, we could have been a long time ago, especially with so many "right to work" states.  Instead, we became a global player, given our many interests abroad, not least of all Canada, our third largest trading partner behind the EU and China.  Why sacrifice this "special relationship?"

This is what has Canadians scratching their heads, and many Americans as well.  The border has long been a porous one, but apparently no more.  As this trade war heats up, so will ugly sentiments between the two countries.  Canada has vowed not to back down, and Trump appears determined to carry this trade war to the bitter end, like he would one of his petty fights on The Apprentice.

The sad part is that many of his followers are willing to stand behind him, even go to war with Canada if necessary.  In their mind, Trump can do no wrong.  Whatever facts you lay before them are discarded, as they simply won't heed any information contrary to His Trumpness's tweets.

What Congressional Republicans have to do is find a way in which Trump can retreat with dignity from these tariffs and restore the balance between the two countries.  We've long considered Canada our brother in arms and there is no reason to jeopardize this special relationship over one man's overblown ego.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thanks for all the hits!

It's a very pleasant surprise waking up to see I had 1539 hits yesterday.  I'm lucky if I get that many hits in one month.  Not only that but there have been an additional 457 hits so far today.  Not sure what I owe the pleasure of all this visitation to, but it appears to come largely from the United States, and to a small degree Vietnam.  I'd like to think a few persons have taken interest in the blog, but the hits were mostly to the main page, with no significant increase in individual posts.  Alas, that means no comments.   So, I have no idea why you took a look, except maybe by accident.

If so, I hope you at least scanned or maybe even read one of the posts.  I've been keeping this blog going for the better part of nine years with the hope I might rekindle some fire after most of the old NYTimes followers left.  The blog was a safety net for those who had kept the American History forum alive in the old NYTimes reading forums.  The individual sites can no longer be reached without Mick Sussman's secret key, assuming he is still there.  Over time, I turned it into my personal blog, commenting largely on the state of American politics the last two years.

It's hard to keep track of all the twists and turns in the Age of Trump.  No sooner did I post on the recent Supreme Court decisions than Anthony Kennedy retires.  He has been regarded as one of the moderate voices, especially when it comes to abortion and civil marriage rights.  His departure allows Republicans to stack the deck even more in their favor with a judge less sympathetic to these rights.

Everyone from Chris Matthews to Rachel Maddow has been urging the Democrats to block any Trump appointee, but the guy in control here is Mitch the Turtle, who will no doubt seek a replacement in the shortest order so that we have a new conservative justice before the end of the year.   It was the Turtleman who offered Trump a choice of four picks in January, 2017, and His Trumpness was most impressed with Neil Gorsuch, being the rugged, good-looking guy he is.  Kind of like the Marlboro Man.  I'm sure Mitch will have a similar buffet of judges offered in the coming weeks, who will be acceptable to potential Republican naysayers like Jeff Flake and Susan Collins.  Don't want to leave confirmation in the hands of a potentially Democratic Senate next January.

If Trump had his way, we would probably see him nominate Jeanine Pirro, as Donnie Jr. has intimated.  However, at a well-manicured 67, she doesn't fit the age profile.  His Trumpness is looking for someone in his or her late 30s or early 40s who will sit on the bench for the next 45 years, and be as conservative as hell.   Unless Jeanine has discovered the Fountain of Youth, she is a no go.

Of course, this defeats the whole purpose of a Supreme Court, which is supposed to be a non-biased bench whose sole task is to properly interpret the Constitution.  Unfortunately, that isn't the way it has turned out with justices offering political moreso than legal opinions on the recent rulings.  In that sense, Jeanine Pirro, or anyone of the Fox judicial pundits, would be right at home on the bench.

The Supreme Court has a long history of going through so-called liberal and conservative cycles.  It was the last "liberal" cycle that gave us Roe v. Wade, which Republicans have been trying for the last 45 years to reverse.  They may do so if they get a favorable conservative judge on the bench, which is what has Chris Hayes moaning that a battle over abortion is on the horizon.   This was one of the only good things about Kennedy, as for the most part he took the conservative side on decisions.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wow, indeed!

Remember all this talk about how Obama would appoint "activist judges?"  Well, it seems the Republicans have an extra ace in the hole in Neil Gorsuch.  For some strange reason, unbeknownst to any Constitutional law, five Supreme Court justices have decided to uphold Trump's self-professed Muslim Ban.  Granted, the executive order had gone through three writings in an attempt to remove the most contentious aspects of it, but nevertheless this is a ban that should have never been allowed to happen because the motives were clear.  As a result of this 5-4 vote, Trump is now fully emboldened to carry out an immigration policy that will be the most punitive we have  seen since WWII.

This past week, the Supreme Court also empowered Texas to gerrymander voting districts so that Republicans could maintain their hold on the state's politics.  We can expect more such cases from other states, as gerrymandering has become de rigueur in the Republican effort to maintain a chokehold on American politics.  Even if they suffer massive defeats this November, they will still have the Supreme Court to fall back on, as they did throughout the Obama administration.

We learned just how important holding political sway on the Supreme Court is!  Republicans have held the majority in the highest court of the land for the past 45 years.  Yes, forty-five fucking years!  They made it their mission during the Nixon administration, and haven't let go since.  Granted, a few of these picks didn't turn out to be as conservative as Republicans thought, but even with the occasional break, Republicans have to be happy with what they accomplished.  It's like having your own Supreme Council, as in Iran, that can overturn anything the Democrats try to do.

This has almost nothing to do with the Constitution, other than the perversion of it, as we have seen in some of Justices Thomas's, Alito's and now Gorsuch's opinions.  This court has undermined the 15th amendment and Voting Rights Act to uphold corporate sponsorship in the infamous Citizens United case, and now goes a step further in accepting Texas' notoriously gerrymandered districts.

For these conservative judges, the Constitution is something they can pick through to justify their opinions, similar to the way conservative politicians use the Bible.  They take passages out of context, yet proclaim they are ascribing to the "original intent" of the Constitution.  I suppose to some degree they have a point, since initially the Constitution gave no voting rights to minorities.  This was something we had to fight for 80 years later in the most bloody American war.

However, the Founding Fathers did give room for amendments, and Congress has utilized that right, and the Supreme Court upheld these amendments, so why is the current conservative court working so hard to undermine them?

Part of the problem is that judges like Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch are no more than proxies for conservative political interests. All had rather unsubstantial careers on the bench, especially Thomas and Alito, but here they are now in the most powerful court in America.  Justices Roberts and Kennedy's rare dissents have been most welcome, but they are indebted to these same conservative interests.

Upholding the Muslim ban makes no sense at all.  This was one of those times you expected Roberts and/or Kennedy to vote with the so-called liberal faction.  This was a ban issued by an impetuous president determined to make good on his campaign promise, which is exactly how the lower federal courts read it.  There was no reason to think otherwise.  Yet, Roberts and Kennedy chose to support it, I suppose not to undermine the authority of the President, as it is seen as his prerogative to protect the nation.  But, these same judges had no problem holding Obama in check when he overstepped his executive authority, which is exactly what Trump did here.

Justices Roberts and Kennedy look more like political hacks than Supreme Court justices after this decision.  It has tarnished whatever impression they were trying to give as being neutral.  They have made one of the worst decisions in the past 80 years.  Vox compares it to the Supreme Court decision to uphold the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  This leads one to suspect if persons try to take the unlawful detentions taking place along the border all the way to the Supreme Court, these same justices are most likely going to hold up this heinous immigration policy as well.

Little wonder Trump is crowing in his tweets.  This is the sorry state of American politics we have descended to.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Overcoat

Anyone remember anything about the North Korea summit?  It seems like Trump's great foreign policy coup is completely forgotten in the wake of the border crisis unfolding before our eyes.  The protest to the separation policy grew so loud that His Trumpness was forced to retract his edict, and send Melania down to Texas to show that he cared.  Only problem is that her jacket said just the opposite, so now the media is trying to figure out what the hell is going on, as kids get tossed back and forth between detention facilities, with only a relative handful being reunited with their parents.

The jacket has gotten the most attention, given the wacky theories that have emerged, such as Zara reawakening the 1930s in the messaging on their clothes, and that Melania is a willing accomplice.  Of course, His Trumpness dismisses such conspiracy theories, saying it was just a dig at the media.  Whatever the case, the media is not letting go, and neither are celebrities who have donned their versions of the jacket to mock Melania.

Meanwhile, no one really knows where the kids are.  There have been reports of reunification, with parents chasing all over the place to find their kids, but for the most part these children remain caught in the system.  Like so many of Trump's actions, there wasn't a lot of thought put into this separation policy, and now that he has to undo it, there is no plan in place to carry it out.  It does appear that some families are being reunited, only to find themselves head to Ft. Bliss to await processing.  Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is determined to carry out this zero-tolerance policy on immigration, whether it be illegals or asylum seekers, who have become lumped into the same group.

All this is making His Trumpness angry, who has taken to twitter and campaign rallies to vent his rage against Washington.  In his mind, this is all the Democrats' fault for not passing an immigration bill when they had Obama in office.  Of course, he can't be bothered to remember that it was his own House Republicans who stymied an immigration bill in 2013, making sure it never got to Obama's desk.  One he lobbied against at the time.

Most Republicans never wanted an immigration bill because they could so effectively use immigration to rile up their masses on the campaign trail.  Now that they are faced with the actual challenge of doing something about it, they would rather pass the buck to the Democrats, which may very well be the case this November. 

The House attempt at passing a draconian immigration bill failed miserably with more than 40 Republican dissenting.  Not that it ever would have gotten through the Senate if it had passed, which Trump grumpily noted.  It was more a loyalty test than anything else.  The House is littered with Trumpkins, all vying to get Il Duce's attention during the primaries.

Trump figures he can thwart history once again by pulling off an epic "red wave" this November.  Fox has been pushing this surge theory for the past couple months to counter all this talk of a "blue wave" sweeping the country.  It doesn't matter that the Democrats have turned over far more seats in state legislature special elections than have the Republicans, the success of a handful of Republicans retaining their House seats was enough to indicate all is well in America.  Trump still considers himself five-for-five, discounting "Lamb the Sham's" surprising victory in Pennsylvania.  He took time to bash Conor Lamb once again on twitter, still smarting from this one unrecognized loss.

The Republican National Committee is not as confident, funneling huge amounts of money into the election cycle, hoping to offset the grassroots swell favoring Democratic candidates.  Ever since Trump took office, Democrats have been swinging seats across the country.  The biggest shock was in Virginia, where Democrats virtually created a split in the general assembly.  They fell short by a coin flip, after gaining 16 seats in the 2017 statewide election.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and other Midwest states are also swinging back into the blue column in special elections, after Trump broke the "Blue Wall" last November. 

Tariffs, a draconian immigration policy, rising oil prices and a stagnant Wall Street all seem to be conspiring against Republicans in the midterms.  The tariffs made no sense at all, and Republicans are still trying to get Trump to shift course but to no avail.  This is leading to a backlash from Canada, the EU and China, which is sure to impact vulnerable Midwestern states, where Republicans were hoping to score big wins this November. 

Republicans didn't expect immigration to blow up in their face either, but thanks to Trump it is now a yuge albatross around the necks, and Melania didn't make it any easier with her inflammatory jacket.  They can't afford to accept a compromise that favors the Democrats, which is why they are scrambling so hard to come up with something that will at least bring all their US Representatives on board, and hopefully sway a few edgy Senate Democrats who see their political fortune in peril, if a red wave were to actually appear on the horizon.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Spoken into the Void

Except for the occasional spikes in viewing, I feel like I'm speaking into the void.  This was the lead story in a collection of essays by Adolf Loos at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in describing the state of European architecture at the time, resulting in his most famous essay, "Ornament and Crime," but figured his essays were falling on mostly deaf ears if any ears at all.

He likened ornament in architecture to tattoos on convicts.  He felt that we as Europeans were above all that but today the proliferation of tattoo parlors across Europe and America says otherwise.  The tattoo has long been an emblem of identity, but was largely viewed as one among marginalized persons, gangs and miscreants.  When sailors, merchant marines and other sea men came back from the Pacific with tattoos emblazoned on them, tattoos began to reach a broader segment of the population and have proliferated over the decades.

Some prefer modest tattoos in immodest places to be seen only by loved ones.  Others literally cover their bodies head to toe in tattoos, proudly showcasing themselves on social media.  The boldest emblazon their crudest political and religious supremacist beliefs on themselves as if they are begging for a fight.  Whatever the case, it is irremovable other than to go through a painful laser operation, often leaving scars.

Right now, America is going through such a process.  Regardless of your political view, all Americans are being branded by the Trumpism taking place, and it will be a painful process to have this stain removed.

I'm still scratching my head as to what Republicans saw in Trump to nominate him for President.  Given how the general election turned out, it seemed like any of their nominees could have beaten Hillary Clinton, as Trump was the worst nominee imaginable.  Polls consistently showed him as the least liked among the broad field of candidates, but there he was after a tortuous serious of primaries - the last man standing.

In the end, Republicans embraced him, some even rode on his coat tails into Congress and state governments.  There was this belief that he would "pivot" at some point and embrace a broader set of ideas, enlarging the party into a "big tent," but as each month of his presidency has gone by that tent has gotten smaller and smaller.

Many Republicans now try to disown him, while others have left the party, remarking that Trump has turned the GOP into a cult of his personality.  But, they all served as his enablers, as so few spoke out against him during the election.  Even those who tried to keep a low profile, like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, were enablers as they waiting out the election.

Whatever good instincts his supporters claimed he possessed have all but disappeared in the wake of the immigration crisis along the border.  We have seen the most vile, ruthless manifestation of Trumpism yet.  One which he tried to pass off on "Democrats" before him, but in reality was the product of his own shameless administration, using women to try to defend this heinous separation policy, and now his wife and daughter to put a kinder, gentler face on the crisis.

You'd have to go back to WWII to find a similar analogy, as Laura Bush referred to in her condemnation of the immigration policy.  This was when Japanese-American families were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps, purportedly for their protection.  It took decades to finally reach a settlement with the survivors of those atrocious policy.  The scar still remains.

It seems that the only good immigrants are white immigrants in American society.  Darker hued immigrants are seen as a taint on the purity of our founding fathers' vision of America.  The Constitution is greatly overblown, as it never had plans for persons of color to become full members of our society.  That only came about through amendments over the years, starting with the 13th amendment, which eliminated slavery in the country, and even then it was permissible "as a punishment for crime."

For decades Southern states got around the 13th amendment by locking up blacks for a variety of  minor crimes and putting them on chain gangs for indefinite periods of time.  This split apart families the same way slavery had.  It was only with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that these wrongs and many others were addressed.   Yet, here we are 50+ years later, seeing it play out all over again as the Trump administration takes a "zero tolerance" approach to illegal immigration.

The last comprehensive immigration bill was signed by Reagan in 1981.  Since then we have had several attempts to tighten the policies, most notably a 1996 illegal immigration "reform bill" that allowed the government more severe measures in dealing with this unwanted problem.  It was a product of the new wave of conservatism at the time, resulting in the notorious "Contract with America" that was going to restore the original intent of the Constitution, among other things.  Bill Clinton begrudgingly signed onto it, making this new reform bill the law of the land.

This is what many conservative pundits point to in defending the heinous actions of Trump, even though there was nothing explicitly written in that bill that allowed for the separation of families illegally crossing into the country.  All the bill did was allow more severe punishment for what is regarded as a misdemeanor crime.  It is only in this broad sense that the Trump administration could "justify" its policy, which it has now formally retracted.

To hear Trump, he was simply redressing a bad "Democratic" policy.  He continues to refuse to own up to the policy at his campaign rallies.  He makes it sound as if he was enforcing the law of the land, putting the onus on Congress to come up with a new immigration bill.

Maybe this is Trump's style - manufacture a crisis in order to get Congress to act, but he does so in the crudest way imaginable and appears to gloat over his decisions like a ruthless mobster extorting local businessmen.  This mobster mentality is something we've only seen before in autocratic governments - notably the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany - and today in Russia and China.  It is the product of a criminal mind, not a civilized mind, determined to attain power at any cost and hold onto it as long as humanly possible.  Persons become meaningless in society, especially ones who are viewed as outsiders.  We are all just extras in a dark game being played out.

In this sense, Trump's unquestioning supporters are just as much pawns as are the immigrants being detained along the border.  Trump is playing on their Nativist sentiments, hoping to put pressure on conservative state and federal legislators who speak out against him.  It is a form of extortion that has led to a new wave of Trumpist candidates scoring victories in Republican primaries, which he hopes will carry over in November, increasing his power base.

The only problem is that his tactics are so crude and openly vengeful that he is helping to energize the Democratic base like never before, ensuring strong opposition even in conservative states like Texas, where Beto O'Rourke is gaining on incumbent Ted Cruz, running a highly charged grassroots campaign.  So much so that Ted is now looking for any good photo-ops he can, whether it is a pick-up basketball game with Jimmy Kimmel or reversing his position on family separations.  Anything to make him look human.

It's hard to believe Ted Cruz was once a serious challenge to Trump in 2016, but given the choice the Republican establishment chose to side with Trump.  You'd think Ted would be embittered by the way he was dumped, but he was quick to embrace Trump rather than risk losing favor among the Teabaggers-turn-Trumpists.

This is a movement that began in 2010 with the rise of the Birthers and Tea Party, which Ted and Trump were quick to embrace and turn into their political fortune.  Ted turned into a successful Senate bid in 2012, whereas Trump became our 45th president, as hard as it is to believe.

But now a fatigue has set in, which is all too common among such rebellious movements.  If no appreciable gains are seen, at least ones your elected officials can take credit for, then apathy is sure to follow.  Trump continues to talk a good show, but the reality on the ground doesn't favor his bedrock supporters.  So, he does what any embattled autocrat would do - blame it on the other side.

You can get away with this to some degree, but the fact that he has done nothing to expand the base of the GOP puts Senators like Ted Cruz in a difficult place.  They now have to try to create a little bit of space between themselves and Trump if they hope to stay in office, hoping that their electorate will see the difference.  But, you can't create too much distance, as Mark Sanford did in South Carolina, otherwise Trump will lash out at you as a traitor to his cause.  Sanford was merely too soon in condemning the family separations.  Trumpist Katie Arrington may well win the conservative South Carolina district, as Sanford won by 20 points two years ago, but the mood changes quickly even in the reddest of Congressional districts.

It's like Americans want to have this tattoo removed, no matter how painful the process.  They've had to wear it for two years whether they wanted it or not, and it has come time to take it off.

There is little to suggest Trump will save the GOP, as he aims his tirades at all the wrong people, splitting the Republican Party in the process. West Virginia was considered a Senate seat they could win, but after a bitter Republican primary in which ex-con Blankenship is now running as an Independent, Joe Manchin holds as much as a 13-point lead over his Republican challenger.  For many Republicans, this tattoo is permanent.

For the rest of us, the mid terms is the one chance we have between now and 2020 to corner Trump and make his Presidency as insufferable as possible in his remaining two years.  We won't remove the stain entirely, but at least we can make it less visible.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

We're America, Bitch!

The shit just keeps getting deeper.  Not only does the White House refuse to take any action on the growing crisis along the border, but has now officially removed itself from the UN Human Rights Council.  Nikki Haley issued a truly ugly speech that rings hollow in the wake of all the atrocities the US is committing at the moment as it separates migrant families at the border.

You just have to wonder if there is anyone even considering "damage control" at this point?  Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin is resigning, and it appears John Kelly will soon follow suit, now that John Bolton is clearly exercising his influence on the White House.  There is no longer any room for more temperate minds like Kelly in the Oval Office.  All though, it must be said he has done a horrible job of managing Trump.

It is really hard to fathom what Trump has to gain from all this.  If he is using the kids to push Congress to come up with an immigration bill, it certainly won't be one that favors his interests.  Republicans are trying to get him to cease and desist on the separations so that they have a better chance of reaching a compromise with Democrats, but Commander Donald continues to double down like the truculent toddler king that he is.

Trump is bitter that he didn't get rave reviews from the media over his summit with Kim Jong-un.  Most analysts feel he was played by the North Korean leader, which doesn't sit well for a man who considers himself King of the World.  So, he lashes out at everyone around him, blurting all kinds of nonsensical statements that threaten to topple his highest approval rating since he first took office.  Not that it was any great shakes at 45 per cent.  This is a man who constantly needs to have his ego massaged, and right now his ego is taking a beating.

This spills over to his minions.  Nikki Haley, the once respected governor of South Carolina, is left with no choice but to defend him, despite the fact it tarnishes what little good reputation she had remaining.  In the eyes of the world, she is no better than one of the wives on The Handmaid's Tale, as she defiantly supports her Commander's position. This is a long fall for a woman who once was regarded as a future Republican presidential candidate.

This is what happens when you bring a guy like Bolton on board.  The talking mustache has no time for the UN or any international organization.  If he has his way, the US will pull out of the UN all together in the coming months, barring a Congressional override.  Bolton is the paragon of the "We're America, Bitch!" policy, in which the US takes no guff from anyone.

You can't really call it a doctrine, as Jeffrey Goldberg writes, if there is little evidence of thought.  What you have is a "glandular" president, who preaches from the gut.  His deplorable audience loves it, but all this hyperbolic venting doesn't lead to anything coherent in the way of foreign policy.

What you get instead is a badly warped manifesto that is cobbled together from reactionary statements over the years, and filtered through Fox News pundits, like Bolton himself.  There is nothing original in what Trump says.  However, it's frightening that these thoughts have moved from the fringe to the center now that he commands the highest office in the land.

Many hoped that Trump would confine himself with an American agenda, but apparently he feels he can awake the same yearnings in Europe, which is why he named Richard Grenell as Ambassador to Germany.  Grenell is another firestarter like Trump, who wants to embolden right-wing groups throughout Europe from his perch in Berlin.  Protocol be damned!

After all, Trump is that same guy who dubbed himself Mr. Brexit, much to the chagrin of Nigel Farage, who considered himself the original Mr. Brexit.  Much like the situation in America, Trump hasn't made any attempt to take the pulse of Europe, making outlandish statements concerning Germany, in the lead up to a NATO summit next month.  He treats Germany, as he does Canada, as an enemy, because their leaders aren't willing to play ball with him.  So, he needs someone like Kim to play ball with, figuring he can win this schoolyard game against a much smaller opponent.

In the process, he has dragged America's international reputation into the gutter as no president has done before.  Not even George Bush made such a mockery of American hubris.   At least he tried to work within international conventions, even if he tried to undermine them at the same time, through surrogates like Rumsfeld and Cheney.  Trump makes his intentions abundantly clear to everyone, leaving no room to negotiate.

He takes any reaction to his policies, if you can call them that, as a personal affront and immediately vows further retaliation as we are currently seeing in his trade wars with China and Canada.  This has resulted in the Dow taking another nosedive, and a spike in oil prices, both of which he bellyaches about without realizing he is the root cause.  He blames Wall Street and OPEC instead.

Obviously, there is no one in his administration who will stand up to him.  Instead, we see Pence, Bolton and Miller egging him on, leaving it up to the women in his administration to explain his vile actions, whether it be Aunt Sarah, Aunt Kirstjen or Aunt Nikki.  It would be comic if it weren't so damn serious!

Is there any other recourse but to initiate impeachment hearings?  Of course, Republicans won't act fearing it would dominate the election cycle and ruin what slim chance they have of holding their majority in Congress.  Instead, they are left to try to cajole a tyrannical president into lessening his grip on power, and think of the greater good of the party this Fall.  Fat chance!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The border crisis is really heating up and is quickly turning into the signature issue of this election year.  For its part, the Trump administration is doubling down on its heinous policy, although you get a broad interpretation of events from its various faces.  The most blunt was Hitler Youth poster boy Stephen Miller's statement, "it was a simple decision."  Others either deny there is anything inhumane about the separations taking place, or try to pin the blame on the Democrats, as Trump is doing himself.

In the "alt news media world," pundits dismiss the cages as walls out of chain link fences, Democrats are using child actors, and that the whole thing is a "manufactured crisis," while they defend Trump's
horrible immigration policy.

On the campaign trail, Trump's surrogates double down on this "zero-tolerance" approach, like Rep. Lou Barletta, who is now running for the US Senate.  He seems to forget that Senate elections are statewide, not regional, and that he has a lot more people to convince than his conservative 11th district.  He's running against popular Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who currently enjoys an RCP average 16.5 percentage lead in the race.  It's doubtful his statement will make a dent in that gap.

It's not just Democrats who are lashing out at this atrocious decision by the Trump administration, but conservative religious stalwarts like Franklin Graham, former First Lady Laura Bush, and even Trump's own wife, Melania.  Graham called the policy "disgraceful."  Laura Bush likened it to the Japanese internment camps during WWII, and Melania said it is just plain wrong, being an immigrant herself.

Several Democratic male leaders used Father's Day to make their protests seen, partly in response to the callous tweet by Ivanka honoring her father and husband on Sunday, but also noting that no parent should accept what is going on along the US border.

Women are making the biggest gains in elections across the country, scoring victories in special elections and taking their party's nominations in primaries.  Democratic women have been the most successful, but you see the occasional Trump woman surrogate defending his noxious views.  It's not clear cut how women will vote this Fall, but safe to say very few women can accept seeing children separated from their mothers.

For once, the press is really grilling Trump, Huckabee and Nielsen on the separations, holding them accountable for their steady stream of lies.  You can see the strain on Aunt Sarah's and Aunt Kirstjen's faces as they try to justify Commander Donald's policies.  It's playing out like a scene from The Handmaid's Tale before our eyes.  You just wonder how long before their faces crack.

The Democrats can't afford to let up the pressure or give in on a compromise immigration bill that would provide Trump funding for his wall, which seems to be what he is after.  His efforts to use Dreamers as bargaining chips has been stymied by federal courts, so now he takes his aim on the recent wave of refugees.  Any compromise would be viewed as a sell out at this point, which is why Democrats have to make sure Chuck and Nancy don't cave.

Unlike 2016 when Trump was successfully able to use immigration as a rallying tool for conservatives, it has mobilized Democrats across the country this election year and appears to be turning Independents and Moderate Republicans as well.  This doesn't bode well for the GOP, as Trump surrogates scored well in the primaries but will have a very tough time generating broad support in the general election in November.

Trump has thrown his support behind his loyalists like Corey Stewart of Virginia, who is this year's Roy Jones.  Virginia Republicans are deeply worried Stewart will drag down the entire party in the state, as he resurrects all the issues that have divided Virginians and led to a huge turnover in the State Assembly.  But, Trump is either oblivious to the shifting political tides or simply doesn't care.

To a certain degree we have become inured to the crossover of politics into popular television.  Most reporters now see the Trump administration as a reality show presidency, and treat it accordingly.   However, by making it funny or lashing out at it as various comedians have done, they only help popularize his presidency.  What had been lacking was a sobering view of the consequences of Trump's policies, and we are now seeing it play out in real time along the US-Mexico border.

He can try to run from it, but it shouldn't work this time around.  He's been in office nearly 18 months.  Any effort to pin these policies on Obama or the Democrats, who lost any control they had in Congress in 2014, should fall on deaf ears.  The news media, which he has openly vilified throughout this time, should not give an inch.  This is their moment.