Sunday, June 25, 2017

No mas

Bloomberg throws in the towel

So much for the good fight, Mayor Bloom's retreat is the equivalent of giving up after 7 rounds in what one hoped would be a long fight.  Of course, the former New York mayor appears to have tentatively announced his own run for President in 2020 in the process, but who will support a guy who now says, "Let's just hope that Donald Trump is a good president of the United States?"

The funny thing is that the Russia investigation is finally starting to heat up.  The President was forced to admit that meddling took place, but in typical Trumpian fashion passed the blame off on Obama for not having responded sooner.  In fact, the Obama administration announced several times during the campaign that Russian hacking and meddling had taken place, but the media was too caught up in the many personal scandals surrounding Trump to care.  As a result, Russian hacking was relegated to the back pages.  Now, it seems Trump and his accomplices are actually starting to worry.

This is the time to turn up the heat, not "sit back" and wait four years to see how all this shakes out.  Of course, Mayor Bloom supported the rights of others to continue their protests, but he seems to believe it is a lost cause.  "The public has spoken," apparently in reference to the recent House special elections in which Republicans successfully defended all their seats.

If anyone thought Bloomberg was going to be their champion against Trump they were sadly mistaken.  Like Trump, he's only looking after his own self-interests here despite putting on a big show regarding the Paris Climate Agreement, in which he vowed to cover America's dues.  One wonders if the former mayor will still honor his pledge?

So, what gives?  Did Trump threaten a nasty tax audit or find some other way to twist Mayor Bloom's arm into submission?  Or, maybe Donald just threatened to sit on him?

Donald has long claimed to have the dirt on everyone, having once threatened the Ricketts family on the campaign trail.  He not only got the Chicago Cubs owners to cease and desist in their campaign against him but to support him in the general election.  Will we now see Bloomberg invited to the White House to take part in Trump's economic forums, sitting next to Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos?  It's truly amazing how Trump has all these billionaires eating out of his hand.

My guess is that they are sniffing rough times ahead and are looking for whatever tax breaks they can get out of Washington.  It was only a matter of time before we faced another recession and with Trump that will come sooner rather than later.  He's done nothing to spur the economy or anything else of note in his first 150 days, despite his tweets to the contrary.  Rather than stand up to him, our billionaire class is caving in.  Content to ride out the storm with all their major personal assets safely hidden away in offshore accounts.

The rest of us will have to go through Hurricane Donald as we went through Hurricane George nine years ago.  We should know by now that our elected leaders never learn from their mistakes, repeating them ad nauseam.

Even more nauseous is having Bloomberg lecture to us on The View that we should work together with a guy who clearly doesn't have the better interests of this country at heart.  Trump has shown that time and again.  I can only hope that Democrats won't be as sanguine as Mayor Bloom or we just might be forced to ride out this storm for eight instead of four years.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

District 6

It is understandable that the Democrats saw a ray of hope in this Georgia district after Hillary nearly took it in the 2016 Presidential election (47-48 per cent).   It is a traditionally red district that looks like it is shifting demographically, even though Tom Price handily won re-election as US representative.  All they had to do was find someone who would secure the Democratic vote, and maybe take 5 per cent of the disgruntled Republican vote.

Enter Jon Ossoff, a guy no one outside of his circle of friends had ever heard of.  He is young, charismatic, articulate, although some saw that as a fault.  He very nearly took the election in the first round of voting with 48 per cent.  The Republicans had no less than six candidates to fill Price's shoes and they split the remaining 52 per cent of the vote.

Karen Handel emerged from the conservative heap to be the GOP representative.  She is the mirror opposite of Ossoff in every way, relying solely on the Republican political machine to carry her to victory.  Ossoff raised an unprecedented amount of cash during the campaign because Democrats across the country rallied behind him, pouring over $20 million of contributions into his coffers.  The GOP belittled these efforts, claiming Ossoff wasn't representing Georgia but rather California, attaching him to Pelosi in the same way Democrats attached Handel to Trump.

Unfortunately, the second round shook out the same as the first round, with Handel getting all 51.9 per cent of the conservative vote.  Ossoff remained at 48.1 per cent, despite a much higher turnout which had raised expectations of an upset in the making.

This election will be sliced and diced for the next several weeks, especially now that Pelosi is under fire for having gone 0-4 in special elections to fill vacant House seats.  Granted, these were all deeply red districts, but surely the Dems could have knocked off one Republican given how poorly Trump's administration is doing.

You would never know it to hear Trump.  He thinks he single-handedly won the day for Republicans with his election-day tweets.  For him it was another great victory for the Trump brand!  Yet, it was precisely his vulnerability in this district that Democrats were hoping to exploit.

The only thing that made this election close was that Karen Handel was "charismatically-challenged," as Bob Dornan once said of the 1996 Presidential field.  Like Trump, she was an awful candidate, but conservative voters would sooner accept one of their own than they would a rank liberal outsider who didn't even live in District 6.

I'm not sure if Ossoff chose to run on his own volition or if he was put up to it by Democratic strategists.  He has a fine political pedigree, having interned for John Lewis and spent five years as a national security aide to Hank Johnson, Democratic representative from Georgia's fourth district, where he lives.   He also produced a documentary for BBC Three exposing the atrocities committed by IS in Iraq.

Ossoff grew up in District 6, which made him eligible to run as its representative, but from the beginning he was portrayed as an outsider, beholden to national Democratic interests and not local interests.

Oddly enough, Karen Handel was seen as closer to District 6 roots, despite having grown up in Washington, DC, and Maryland, and serving as deputy chief of staff to Marilyn Quayle, whose husband Dan was Vice-President of the United States.  Karen eventually settled in the Atlanta area, serving as Georgia Secretary of State.  She immediately decided to purge voter rolls, which led to voter suppression allegations from the ACLU and other organizations.  No matter, Republicans were determined to secure their power base.

She's one of these groomed candidates, like Sarah Palin, put up by conservative political action committees to fill seats where they need them.  Karen has far more experience than Sarah, who rose from mayor of Wasilla to governor of Alaska virtually overnight, but nevertheless Karen really has no idea what being a US representative entails.

Of course, the bar for serving in Congress has been lowered considerably over the years to look at this rogues' gallery.  It no longer seems to matter how much experience you bring to the table.  What's most important is that you fit the new conservative profile.  Much is made of how Ossoff raised far more money on the campaign trail than Handel, but she clearly had the advantage when it came to Super PACs.  Neither would have gotten where they were without outside money.

Republicans complain that much of Ossoff's contributions came from outside the state.  Yet, there wasn't this outcry when Arizona Sheriff Arpaio raised over $12 million for his re-election bid last year, most of which was outside money.  When a local or state election becomes politically important, the playing field expands and Republicans know that as well as anyone.

The big problem here is that the Democrats lost after having invested so much money and effort in getting young Jon Ossoff elected.  It doesn't matter that the Republicans had to call in its heavy hitters and resort to terrible scare tactics to fend off the challenge in what was considered a safe district for them.  Close only counts in hand grenades and horse shoes.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The White Rabbit

It feels like we are following the white rabbit in Trump, as we slide deeper into an alternative version of reality that changes from one day to the next.  An "unpresidented" amount of innuendo and misinformation spews from the White House, largely through his never ending stream of tweets, which he regards as his way to skirt the "dishonest media."

There are a few polls and news sources he likes.  Rasmussen is generally favorable to him, currently giving him a 50 per cent approval rating, which he boasted on twitter as "great news."  I suppose when you spend so much time in the red, it's a boost to see a daily tracking poll give you an uptick.  The bounce appears to come from the way he handled the Shootout in Alexandria, which got favorable press almost across the board.  Even Stephen Colbert paused to thank Trump for his appropriate response.

Yet, His Trumpness wasted no time undermining this moment of unity by tweeting his anger over finding himself now under investigation for obstruction.  Something that would have probably been ignored by the press for a few more days had he not immediately called attention to it.

I was listening to political scientist Michael Genovese on CNN this morning.  He commented on the degree to which Trump calls attention to himself in his tweets.  Whether consciously or otherwise, he is distracting himself from his duties of office.  All this self-pity comes across as "un-presidential," not to mention narcissistic.  It opens him up to allegations and investigations that probably wouldn't have taken place if he could only keep his tiny little fingers off his cell phone.

It's become a serious problem, as the investigation is not so much into his possible collusion with Russia as it his attempt to obstruct justice with the many threats he has issued in the Oval Office and on Twitter.  A few weeks back he hinted that he had taped his conversations with James Comey, and now Congress is considering a subpoena to force him to admit whether he actually did so.  Naturally, our dear president is now saying he was only joking.

More and more the joke is on him, as was presented in an audio tape from "Down Under" where Australian PM Turnbull was cracking quite a few jokes at Trump's expense.  One can only imagine what the next phone conversation between Trump and Turnbull will sound like.

In the meantime, Trump delivered on his pledge to Cuban-Americans to tighten the grip on Castro's Cuba once again.  The recent executive order serves to remind us that whenever in doubt repeal another Obama executive order.

Like so many of his executive orders, it is self-defeating.  After more than five decades, President Obama finally acknowledged that the embargo had failed and reopened diplomatic ties with Cuba, with the hope Congress would repeal the Helms-Burton Act in its next session.  It was a measure many Republicans lauded, including Jeff Flake, Mark Sanford and other Congressional members who joined Obama on his trip to Havana.  With the flourish of his Cross Century II black lacquer pen, Trump has once again showed how terribly insecure he is in the White House.

So who is this "White Rabbit?"  Is he there simply to distract us from far more pernicious measures soon to appear from the bowels of Congress, or is this just the kind of game he likes to play so that he can see himself in the news 24/7?

Trump appears to go by the adage that any news is good news as long as the focus is on him.  He relishes these twitter wars, considering it his political wrestling ring.  He rounded off his 86.7 million followers on social media to 100 million, I guess so that Katy Perry wouldn't have any edge on him, although Katy's following is on Twitter alone.  With Trump you have to add together every outlet from Snapchat to Youtube to Facebook to Twitter to come up with a number in the same ballpark.  Safe to say many of them are duplicates. This tells you a lot about our POTUS, who gauges his popularity by what he presumes to be his fan club.

Fact of the matter is that anyone can follow Trump and many do so just to troll him, given some of the responses he gets on Twitter.  Everyone from J.K. Rowling to former WH photographer Pete Souza trolls Trump on social media, usually to devastating effect.  No matter, as far as Trump is concerned it all adds to his subscriber list, which is why I have assiduously avoided addressing Trump directly.  It's bad enough I still get White House e-mails, which I have since relegated to the spam box.

The guy is so thin-skinned yet seems to exhibit no shame, which is a pretty hard thing to pull off.  You would think that a man of his wealth and stature would be above 10-year old bullying on social media, but obviously not.  As you recall, Melania promised to ayberbullying as first lady.  She can start with her husband.  I'm sure his WH staff and personal lawyers would greatly appreciate it.

In the meantime, we just keep following the white rabbit, even if he appears to have no particular time table.  For Trump everyday is his Unbirthday!  Of course, the best "unbirthday gift" of all would be to finally see him held accountable for his actions.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Guns, politicians and anti-vaxxers

America is in such a state of denial it is hard to know where to begin, but I'll start with a little fray I had on facebook with an American friend living in Sweden over vaccines.  Like me, he is an expatriate, but has isolated himself in some remote part of the country, living the spiritual life he longed dreamed of.

He likes to post anti-vaccine memes on facebook.  One of his favorite news bites is of the Amish living just fine without vaccines and any other ties to the pernicious world around them.   Yet, the Amish aren't so secluded.  In fact, their children attend local schools, and many parents have their kids vaccinated.  However, the vaccination rate is low in some of these Amish counties, which is why there was a measles outbreak in Knox County, Ohio, in 2014. 

Back in 1996, Andrew Wakefield published an article in a medical journal linking the MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella) to eight cases of autism.  The highly specious article was quickly debunked, but these types of stories have a long after-life, fueling more stories on the Internet, which have led many parents, not just Amish parents, to question vaccines and the MMR vaccine in particular.

The story probably would have died had not Donald Trump picked it up on the campaign trail.  Back in September, 2015, he linked vaccines to autism in a rambling answer to a question posed by Jake Tapper at an early Republican presidential debate.  However, my friend in Sweden is also an anti-Trumper, so it seems this issue cuts across political lines.  For some, it is part of a homeopathic need to do away with big Pharma all together, and vaccines are linked to Big Pharma.  Trump hasn't let the issue go, selecting none other than Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head a "vaccine safety commission." 

When I pressed my friend on this, he said his biggest concern is the high mercury level in vaccines.  So, I did a little research and found that pharmaceutical companies use Thimerosal, which contains trace amounts of ethylmercury, as a preservative in vaccines.  They have been doing so for decades.  The CDC says that the level is so low that it is eliminated very quickly.  But, it has been ingrained in our heads that any level of mercury is too much, and so the mere thought of it being in a vaccine is enough to frighten parents.  As a result, the CDC recommended that Thimerosal be taken out of vaccines in 2001.  Those companies that kept it as a preservative were required to label their vaccines accordingly.

End of argument?  No.  Like so many questionable claims they persist, and it is hard to get them out of your head no matter how much information is presented to the contrary.  

The same can be said for the gun control debate.  No amount of information is going to convince "the second amendment people," as Trump referred to gun rights activists on the campaign trail, that there is a real danger in the country.  It isn't so much the amount of firearms in circulation that is the problem as it is the open-carry and stand-your-ground laws that have been passed in so many states.  Guns are now on full display, making it that much harder to sort out the good guys from the bad guys.

One would like to think that the Shootout in Alexandria might turn some people's heads, but conservatives are woe to admit guns are the issue here, but rather a man deluded by liberal ideology who took his anger out on Republican legislators at a softball practice game.  One of those shot was Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is responsible for getting votes on House bills.  You, might remember that Frank Underwood started out as a Whip on House on Cards.

Surprisingly, no talk that Scalise's staunch defense of the American Health Care Act, which threatens to cut 23 million persons off health insurance might drive a 66-year old man over the edge.  Instead, everyone from Bernie Sanders to Barack Obama is being blamed for having inspired James Hodgkinson to "go postal."  

Conservatives rarely are willing to admit any culpability in such incidents, which is what makes it surprising that Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican, said that Trump is partially to blame for the shooting because of the high level of hateful rhetoric that came out of his campaign.  One of the most hateful presences in Trump's campaign, Ted Nugent, has apparently took pause from the incident and says he is no longer going to incite hate.  This is a guy who once threatened to kill both Obama and Hillary Clinton at a rock concert.  

Like so-called Conservatives, so-called Liberals come in all stripes.  The interesting part to me is how the two ends of the spectrum seem to circle back on each other, making our political views a closed loop.  Some issues are harder to define politically than others.  Vaccines seem to be one.  By contrast, gun control appears to break along strong political lines.  Sadly, neither is very easy to resolve.

Many parents still insist on throwing caution to the wind by refusing vaccines for their children, committed in their belief that Big Pharma is putting all sorts of unhealthy things into them, or worse there is some X-Files conspiracy here.  With guns, it is more a misplaced sense of our historical right to bear arms that drives "the second amendment people," twisting the Bill of Rights into a personal issue.  Either way, politicians have learned to exploit these deeply emotional issues for their gain, until something like the shootout in Alexandria happens.

I suppose Republicans thought themselves immune from such violence, as previously it had been directed largely at Democrats, Gabby Giffords being the most high-profile case.  Fortunately, Scalise like Giffords will live.  Whether his views change remains to be seen, although unlikely.  The most frustrating part is how hard it is to have a rational conversation on such subjects without it devolving into bellicose rhetoric, which is why I don't expect Ted Nugent to hold his tongue as promised, or my American friend in Sweden for that matter.  It's just the way we are.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The "Ugly American," has become synonymous with the uncouth American traveler who makes no effort to integrate into a country he is traveling through.  Rather, he puts his chauvinistic attitudes on full display, like this man at a Shanghai airport recently.  Fortunately, it seems that more Americans try to be respectful when traveling abroad.

However, this isn't what William Lederer and Eugene Burdick were writing about in the mid 1950s.  They were appalled by the poor attitudes of American embassies in Asian countries, whose ambassadors seemed to have no idea what was going on around them.   The 1955 novel was based on their own experiences, as summed up in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Sarkhan.  The Ugly American in this case isn't an uncouth traveler, but rather a homely, hard-working man who sees an opportunity to do good in a country that has only seen the worst side of the United States.

Homer Atkins is a millionaire engineer, who tries to initiate projects that actually help people, and some felt he was the progenitor for the Peace Corps.  Apparently, Kennedy spread numerous copies of the book among his staff, hoping to create a similar proactive environment with his state department.  Eventually, this led to the Peace Corps.

From his description, Homer sounds more like a modern-day Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, using his millions to spread relief around the world, counter-acting the policies of his own government. We also see a similar case where Michael Bloomberg has offered $15 million to continue to pay our dues in the Paris Climate Agreement in spite of the current presidential administration's decision to pull out of the landmark agreement.

One assumes Lederer and Burdick would be proud their book had such a profound impact on American foreign policy.  Many ambassadors now take the trouble to learn the language of the country they serve in, as do members of their embassies.  The US Embassy in Vilnius is actively involved in promoting programs to improve the education system in Lithuania at the local level, picking up where the Peace Corps left off in 2002.

Still, there is a lot to question in the way the State Department distributes and manages aid around the world.  USAID has often come under fire for its dubious practices.  A lot depends on the administration in the White House.

I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of the book and hope that we can generate a discussion.  In the meantime, I've checked out the 1963 movie based on the book, with Marlon Brando and Pat Hingle as the main characters, Ambassador MacWhite an Homer Atkins.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Many saw Trump taking out Jeb Bush in the early days of the primaries as beginner's luck.  One by one the others went down in this Hungry for Power Games, including rising star Marco Rubio,  GOP bad boy Ted Cruz, and even a last ditch appeal to reason in Governor John Kasich.  They all proved no match for the Donald.  In the end, he took out 16 Republican rivals!

Maybe this is the reason Republican leaders aren't willing to go after him on Capitol Hill.  Even John McCain, who suffered an inordinate amount of abuse from Trump on the campaign trail despite not running himself, seemed lost in his questions to James Comey.  He conflated two separate investigations seemingly for no other reason than to drag Hillary Clinton once again into this mess.   Even Mackie's Republican colleagues appeared confused and eventually Chairman Burr brought his abstruse line of questioning to an end with a gavel.

There are two separate theories as to why the Republicans are so reticent to go after Trump, who has repeatedly shown he has no respect for the Grand Old Party.  One is that his reality-show-style presidency provides a great cover for them to push through ugly legislation in Congress, like the so-called American Health Care Act.  The other is that they are genuinely afraid of the potential chaos an impeachment trial would bring, as it could potentially undermine the entire party.  After all, there are many in the GOP who went along with him during the campaign, including Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who continue to give him every benefit of the doubt.

Whatever the case, Trump continues to enjoy all the executive privileges that come with being Commander-in-Chief.   To this point, we have been relatively lucky in that he doesn't seem to understand the full magnitude of his authority, repeatedly sidetracked by his insatiable need to tweet.  Even in regard to the Comey testimony, he couldn't leave well enough alone, saying he is 100% willing to testify about his nine separate interactions with James Comey, claiming that the former FBI director is a liar and a leaker.  I'm sure his third-rate lawyer had to gasp when he heard the President blurt this out during a press conference with the Romanian president.

Trump apparently had a hard time finding a lawyer willing to act as his private legal counsel in this investigation.  Some say he was rejected by no less than four top Washington law firms before finally retaining Marc Kasowitz of New York.  Kasowitz has a rather dubious set of clients, but I suppose at this point beggars can't be choosy.  The statement Kasowitz prepared following Comey's testimony was riddled with typos and wrong dates that essentially rendered it nonsense.  He also seemed to have a poor grasp of what executive privilege entails, as Comey was perfectly within his rights to reveal the nature of his conversations with Trump as long as they didn't compromise ongoing investigations.

Maybe Trump has been watching House of Cards where President Francis Underwood finally decides to testify in penultimate episode before Congress only to use the moment to admonish the judicial committee as being just as guilty as he is for abuse of power?  It would certainly make for great theater, but I doubt Congress wants to give Trump an open mic at this point.

It is clear that Trump is not going to be quiet on the matter.  He thrives on confrontation.  The press has been gleefully waiting for this moment to watch Trump punch, or rather tweet himself out of another tight corner.  We saw how he survived a slough of allegations during the primaries and general election.  The danger here is that if he survives, what will be left of our government?  He left an election cycle in total ruin.

The odd part is that Republicans don't seem to care, at least not publicly.  We hear there is a lot of anxiety behind the scenes but Ryan and McConnell put on pretty good poker faces when asked about Trump at press conferences.   So, either they have some sort of exit strategy or taking down the government has been the plan all along.

It really makes you wonder how deep this Russian collusion might be.  Did they sell the GOP soul to the devil in a last ditch hope of turning an election that seemed lost the day Trump descended the escalator?  Or, do they see Russia as a conservative ally in their fight against the Liberal Hegemon Europe has become, hoping to go back to a more conservative world order which they better understand?  Or, have conservatives shrunk so far into themselves that they would rather live in some tarnished past than confront the ever-changing political landscape of the world we live in.  Whatever, the case, the United States is looking a whole lot like the United Kingdom after World War II, seeing its global influence recede with Russia helping to expedite this process.

The irony of all this is that Trump repeatedly said the US had lost its global authority.  The world laughed at us, he would often jibe the Obama administration.  Yet, here we are now literally the laughing stock of the world.  Whether or not some collusion took place between Russia and conservative agents in America, the damage is done.   We showed ourselves to be extremely vulnerable to outside influence.  We allowed fake news stories to carry more weight than real news stories to the point a false equivalence was established between two candidates who couldn't have been further apart politically, ethically or morally.   Trump emerged as the Post-Truth President, where a political candidate could literally get away with saying anything and no longer be held accountable for his words, let alone his actions.

Maybe this is why James Comey didn't trust Trump when he first met him at Trump Tower during the transition period, leading him to keep a journal of their unprecedented number of conversations?   President-Elect Trump was no different than Candidate Trump, a man who curries favors in exchange for loyalty the same way a seedy real estate developer would.   Only now Trump is trying to peddle influence on a much larger scale, considering himself above the law.

Of course, the former FBI director is no boy scout as we saw with the way he undermined Hillary's campaign at the 11th hour by briefly re-opening the investigation into her e-mail server.  Maybe this is what poor Mackie was trying to get to, but couldn't quite figure out the line of questioning?   After all, this was presumably the original reason why Comey was fired.

It is becoming ever more doubtful we will ever understand what actually happened on the Campaign Trail 2016.  There appears to have been many conflicting forces at work and that Russia has become a convenient fall guy.  In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, our faith in democracy has been shattered and that there is little hope of getting it back.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Coal Miners' Blues

It seems the good leaders at the G7 summit in Italy tried to nudge Trump toward accepting the Paris Climate Agreement.  The best they could get in the way of a response from his staff is that Trump's views on climate change are "evolving," and that he will get back to them next week.  Of course, his view can't get much worse than it is now, so we will take this as a positive turn.

At the heart of the climate exchange "debate" is the cognitive bias (to use a gentle term) being exhibiting by a large number of conservatives who see global warming as a conspiracy,  voiced by Trump on the campaign trail, to limit US industrial production.  These persons see power as only being produced by coal, oil and natural gas, and refuse to accept alternative forms of energy production.

These conservatives are oblivious of the number of new jobs the solar and wind energy sector has created this past decade, outpacing all of the fossil-fuel industries by a wide margin. In fact, coal companies are themselves switching to solar, turning the old adage, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," on its ear.

However, many fossil fuel advocates are actually fighting wind farms in "coal country," believing they take away their jobs.  Coal and oil companies hire engineers and scientists to lambaste the proliferation of solar and wind farms.   This particular article, penned in 2011, points to the inordinate bird kill by malicious wind turbines along a West Virginia mountain ridge line.

The irony is that coal kills far more birds than all the other energy sources combined.  In fact solar and wind power resulted in the fewest bird kills of any energy source, except maybe hydropower and geothermal which aren't listed in the chart.  Yet, this cognitive bias remains prominent in conservative circles because it helps to feed the arguments against turning to sustainable forms of energy.

I suppose this has been the case throughout history as our country switches from one major energy source to another.  The whale oil industry wasn't at all happy with the introduction of kerosene in the 19th century, fighting it tooth and nail.  Coal has managed to survive the ever-shifting energy landscape, but now finds itself in a very precarious situation.  There was a big push for coal liquefaction a few years ago, but the cost of producing it far outweighed its economic gain at the pump.  Coal is going the way of whale oil, like it or not.

But, Trump made all these promises on the campaign trail.  He vowed to bring the coal industry back, even when many within that industry are making the shift.  I suppose this is part of his "evolving" view on climate change.  There really isn't this driving force to re-energize the coal industry at home or abroad.

Many power plants are switching to natural gas and other cleaner and more efficient sources to meet the energy needs of their clients.  This is something Trump's advisers should have told him on the campaign trail.  However, it would have made him sound too much like a Democrat or one of those RINO's like Arnold Schwarzenegger.   Trump based his campaign entirely on appealing to the lowest common denominator of the conservative political base.

I avoid saying Republican, because you will find many of these cognitively biased conservatives in the Democratic Party.  Kentucky and West Virginia are prime examples of this.   Many notable Republicans support renewable forms of energy, although the big push for years has been nuclear power.  Yet, somehow this doesn't translate into the mainstream conservative media, which all of the sudden has this great concern for birds.

Mostly, conservatives don't like the idea that this change is being imposed on them, kind of like when Jimmy Carter tried to impose the metric system on the US back in the late 1970s.  It was a failed experiment, quickly overturned by the Reagan administration in the early 80s.  Many conservatives prefer their antiquated notion of American society even if the only thing that is still marked in the English system on cars is the odometer, speedometer and radius of tires.

As it would have been no big deal to switch to metric back in the 70s, given metric equivalents to all the English standard sizes, it is no big deal to switch to sustainable forms of energy today.  Such a switch generates jobs because of the need to retool industry and society itself.  This is what Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni gently hinted at in his private conversations with Trump at the summit.

The real culprit is not so much the President as it is the oil and coal companies that currently have Trump's ear.  If we can get these so-called energy companies to make the switch then what choice does Trump have?  We can only hope that more coal companies like Berkeley Energy Group in Kentucky see the light.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Ugly American

Trump is making it clear he doesn't like Europe.  The NATO speech was largely aimed at his following back home, so to some degree we can excuse him for this.  However, the contempt he demonstrated throughout the summit was beyond the pale.  He had little respect for any leader, especially one from a small country like Montenegro.  Too busy chatting with his new buddy, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, to pay any deference to Premier Dusko Markovic.

Once again he dissed Angela Merkel, complaining about the trade deficit the US has with Germany, not stopping to think that most of the cars Germany sells in the US are made in the US, which is more than can be said for Ford or GM.

His Trumpness was obviously peeved when the new French President Macron chose not to shake his hand first, turning to Merkel instead and then three others before finally turning to Trump.  Upset, our President gave Macron one of his patented pile driver shakes, only for Macron to grab his arm to stop.

The embarrassments never stop with Trump, yet he is pretty much forgiven back home.  In fact, a new culture has emerged in the Trump era where just about any crude behavior is rewarded at the polls.  Gianforte apologized to the Guardian reporter he "body-slammed" in his acceptance speech, but he should have been thanking Ben Jacobs for making something out of a nondescript race that otherwise wouldn't have garnered any national, much less international attention.  The brusque new US Representative gets the opportunity to act magnanimous in victory.

We've seen similar behavior on airlines all across the world, as Trump supporters aren't afraid to voice their allegiance.  If these guys think they are "making American great again" by crudely expressing their opinions wherever they go, maybe they should check out The Ugly American.  There's nothing wrong with taking pride in your country, but not to the point of demeaning others.

I suppose we will overcome this ugly chapter in American history, as we did George Bush, but the damage being wrought by the Trump administration has the potential of being far worse.  It's not just Trump, but the people he has chosen to associate himself with that raises concern.  Not only did he appear to be quite chummy with Orban, a tool of the Russian government, but gave away the position of US nuclear subs to Filipino strongman Duterte in a telephone conversation last month.  Duterte was in Moscow recently to negotiate an arms deal with Putin to help him fight his drug war.  He cut the trip short after declaring martial law back home, essentially setting up what will in all likelihood be a military dictatorship in the Philippines.

At this point, it is very clear that Trump would rather enter the US into bilateral agreements with countries like Russia and various other autocratic regimes around the world than engage with NATO, our long standing military alliance expressly set up to deal with such thugs.

How we have gotten to this point is the subject of a much deeper investigation than is currently going on in Washington.  It seems that in an effort to battle what the GOP sees as a liberal world order, Republicans are forming a strange set of alliances that further conservative interests.  It makes sense in a cold pragmatic way, as these GOP senators and representatives have long supported international corporate interests.  The global attempts to reduce carbon emissions, like the Paris Agreement, and put in place stronger labor laws, like the International Labour Organization, obviously go against these corporate interests, so our conservative lawmakers have opted to associate themselves with foreign leaders who likewise don't believe in global warming or give a rat's ass about labor laws.

Fighting Trumpism, as it has come to be known, has to be done abroad as well as back home.  This is why you see Macron snubbing Trump, who had tacitly supported Le Pen in the French elections.  Or, Obama joining Merkel prior to the NATO summit to praise liberal global democratic politics.  A gesture many conservatives saw as a slap in the face to Trump and may be why he was in such a surly mood in Brussels.

The GOP today is not content with rewriting American law, they want to see a return to the old laissez-faire policies that prevailed in the global marketplace before this latest wellspring of liberalism crept into international politics.  This also helps to explain the cabal the Kremlin has created with conservative leaders around the world, using their English-speaking RT as a conduit for conservative double speak.

Basically, Russia wants to see an end to NATO and a much weaker EU, which they have been trying to drive a wedge into ever since the Eastern European countries joined these"Western" organizations from 1999-2004.  Russia supports autocratic leaders, like Orban, who would like to steer these countries back toward their economic sphere of influence, largely based on trading oil and gas for goods they don't produce in Russia.  NATO and the EU are essentially thorns in their side, as the military alliance and trade policies make it difficult for Russia to get what it wants at the price it wants to pay.

This is the same with the World Trade Organization, which Russia fought for years to get into but now has no interest in honoring.  Maybe Dubya was right in keeping Russia out of the WTO.  Ironically, it was the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, which pushed for Russia's accession only to have Obama finally be the one to formally admit Russia in 2012.  When Putin reclaimed the Presidency the same year, he wasted no time criticizing the deal that was reached by his predecessor Medvedev.

It was also about this time that we saw many GOP leaders begin to praise Putin as a stronger leader than our much-too-conciliatory Obama.  Is it any real surprise that Trump adopted the same attitude during his campaign?

Here we are in 2017, with much of the gains made over the past eight years in regard to fair labor practices, human rights and combating global warming in very real danger of being undone by a conservative cabal who wants to see these negotiations, accords and treaties torn up and cast to the four winds so that we can return to the laissez-faire politics that put us in this mess to begin with.

Trump holds any liberal-thinking world leader in contempt.  In his mind it is strong men like Putin and Erdogan and Duterte who should be praised and kept abreast of our military maneuvers for "humanitarian reasons." These are the leaders he chooses to converse with on a regular basis, not Merkel or Macron or for that matter Theresa May, who he seemed to ignore at the NATO summit.  I guess it was difficult owning up to the leaks in his own intelligence department over the Manchester bombing, but what do you expect when the President himself leaks confidential information on a regular basis, considering it his "absolute right."

I don't expect Fareed Zakaria to be as effusive in his praise for Trump in Brussels as he was for Trump in Riyadh.  Trump's desire to gloat far outweighs his expressed claim to keep confidential matters under his sleeve.  For all we know, he ordered that missile strike in Syria just to impress Chinese General Secretary Xi, like you would a fireworks show on a balmy Florida night.

This is the type of man we ware dealing with, and once again I say we shouldn't be giving him any benefit of the doubt.  He has once again turned our nation into The Ugly American, personified by himself.  There are those who are proud of this, but the rest of us should be deeply worried.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Take Me Home, I Hate Masada!

Trump's big play in Israel landed with a dull thud.  The second leg of his "historic trip" got off to a bad start when Melania refused to take his hand on the tarmac of the airport.  Bibi was having a tough time himself, unable to get his ministers to fall in line behind him to greet the president at the airport.  He and his wife ended up complaining about the press to Donald and Melania before he gave his amazing speech on the tarmac.

A big day of events got very little attention beyond his "historic visit" to the Western Wall, a first for a sitting president.  We can only guess what is going on in that head of his, but CNN tries its best to fill the void.

Trump was ready to go home after two days, complaining like a little kid at summer camp that he has had enough.  Unlike his campaign visits where he usually got back to New York the same night, Trump is having to spend an insufferable eight nights on the road.  Not sure why they didn't put his signature Serta mattress into Air Force One.  I guess they no longer have any in stock.

Day three has been upstaged by what is believed to be a terrorist suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing over 20 and injuring 60 more in the audience.  Conservatives took to the social media to vent their misplaced rage.  Not the kind of advertising you want when you are trying to broker a "historic peace deal" in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Gen. Flynn is trying to stonewall the Congressional investigation committee by not complying with the Senate subpoena.  He is refusing to hand over papers and threatening to invoke the fifth amendment at his mandatory testimony.  It only makes him look that much more guilty.

So, not even one third of the way through this "historic trip" and it is already unraveling.  It was never anymore than a PR stunt.  I suppose his handlers were hoping that if they could keep him on the road for nine days and away from twitter, it might suck some of the juice out of the scandals coming out of his White House.  Unfortunately for Team Trump that is not happening.

Everyone knows that no peace deal will come out of the Middle East anytime soon, if at all.  It is nice that Trump is even suggesting it given his bellicose rhetoric on the campaign trail and his attempts to impose a travel ban on Muslim nations.  However, you can't have it both ways.

Much of what he has said on this trip is in direct opposition to everything he promised his rabid followers, who want an isolationist America no longer dealing with anyone in the Middle East, especially the Saudis, who he assailed time and again on the campaign trail.  This didn't stop him from registering eight companies in Saudi Arabia on the off chance he actually won the Oval Office.  He can now reap what he sowed.

His Trumpness also showed no misgivings over the $100 million Saudi Arabia and UAE pledged to Ivanka's foundation set up for women entrepreneurs.  You remember all the heat Trump gave Hillary for taking money from the Saudis for her foundation.  This isn't the first time Ivanka has benefited from these state visits.  If nothing else, Trump is being a good daddy.

Yet, the mainstream media has given Trump mostly kudos on his first foreign trip.  Fareed Zakaria praised the president's speech in Riyadh, saying it was the kind of speech Obama could have given.  David Faris was not so forgiving, calling the groveling speech what it was: a callow attempt to curry favor with the Saudis despite their long list of atrocities, not to mention their heinous view toward women, minorities and homosexuals.  This is why so many persons turn to the Internet for news and political opinion.

It is really hard do fathom why anyone would give Trump the benefit of the doubt at this point.  Melania obviously doesn't.  She is just there to be his trophy wife, nothing more.  She has kept a notoriously low profile throughout his 120 days in office.  One wonders if she will ever move into the White House and if she does you can bet they will have separate wings.  Yet, the mainstream media continues to fawn over Trump as if at some point he will change his tune and become "presidential."

It ain't going to happen folks. This is the attitude of a battered wife.  I'm glad to see Melania stands up to him.   Even if Trump does make it through his first presidential trip abroad without further incidents, you can bet the shit is really going to hit the fan when he gets back to the White House.

I'll leave you with Allan Sherman's classic song about Camp Granada.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Golden Shower

His Trumpness was feted by the House of Saud in an evening he probably won't be able to live down anytime soon.  Getting a gold chain that even Jay Z would be envious of is standard procedure, but the royal horse escort and the sword dance was something I don't remember seeing before.  King Salman went all out to honor Trump, knowing exactly how to appeal to our extremely vain president, who summed up the royal reception as "tremendous!"

At the center of this "historic event" is a $115 billion arms deal, which the Trump administration claims it negotiated itself.  In actual fact, it was a deal struck last September before he was even elected, but that Obama had held off on because of egregious human rights violations.  His Trumpness appears less concerned about this, as his administration put precision-guided munitions back into the deal.  We will see if these warheads come back to haunt us.

Trump was so anxious to deflect attention away from the ongoing probe into Russia collusion in the 2016 election, that he would agree to just about anything to cast him in a favorable light.  Not sure how this arms deal does this, but he offered up a speech on Islamic terrorism to make clear what those arms are intended for.   It must have taken all the reserve he could muster to tone down his usual rhetoric and call for unity in the face of this scourge, largely bankrolled by Saudi oil sheiks, with connections to the royal family.

You won't find Saudi Arabia on the travel ban the Trump administration is still trying to push through the courts.  Trump himself has sizable investments in the oil-rich country.  He registered eight companies in the country during his campaign alone, and the deal he ultimately struck with the House of Saud promises up to $300 billion in investments during his term, in addition to a free flow of arms, which is why you see a happy Rex Tillerson joining in the sword dance.  I guess this is designed to help offset the stagnant oil prices.

It is going to be pretty hard to top this performance over the next week. Trump had hoped to fly into the Masada by helicopter but Israel nixed the idea.  The disgruntled president chose to abandon his trip to Masada all together, but I'm sure he will try to make the best of his short stay in the Levant.

Bibi Netanyahu has to be a bit disappointed that the Trump administration hasn't been more favorable to his government.  He is having a very hard time keeping his ministers in line.  Meanwhile, Trump's advisers are strongly cautioning him to maintain an even keel here, as one of the goals of this administration is to restart discussions on a separate Palestinian state, something Netanyahu has tried to avoid ever since he came back into power in 2009.  Israel has ratcheted up settlements in the West Bank and doesn't seem in any hurry to discuss tedious land negotiations, as Israel has carved off about 10 per cent of the West Bank as its own over the five decades since it annexed the Palestinian territories.  But, I'm sure Bibi will make some kind of gesture toward restarting negotiations to please His Trumpness.

Beyond that, who knows how this trip will turn out?  He obviously won't get a royal welcome at the Vatican or anywhere else in Europe.   He will get the opportunity to address both NATO and the G7, which will at least make him look "Presidential."   It's a long time to be on the road, and it is going to a lot of coddling aboard Air Force One to keep His Trumpness happy.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Melancholy of Resistance

Virgil, quick, there goes the Robert E. Lee, 
And the P.G.T. Beauregard too.

You may or may not know the lyrics to the Band's classic song, but you can hear it playing in the background as New Orleans takes down its Civil War monuments in the dead of night.  Workers are even wearing masks to hide their identities out of fear of reprisals.

City officials have now removed three of four monuments.  Gen. Beauregard was a native son of Louisiana, born on a plantation outside New Orleans, and rose to prominence in the U.S. Army, serving as an engineer to Gen. Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War from 1846-48.  But, it is not for these deeds that he is remembered.  Beauregard was one of the prominent generals in President Jefferson Davis' Confederate Army.  He led the siege on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April, 1861, that served as the toll bell for the Civil War.

Colonel Robert Anderson, from the slave state of Kentucky, chose to defend the federal fort rather than give it up to South Carolina.  It was a massive structure, meant to serve as part of the coastal protection system the United States devised should the Brits think of invading America again.  Anderson was literally caught between a rock and a hard place, defending the last of the federal military sites in the recently seceded Southern states, while a newly elected President Lincoln tried to hold onto border states like Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, hoping to stop this war before it began.  

As we know, the sentiments ran too deep among the Secessionists to turn back . Lincoln only succeeded in retaining Kentucky and newly created West Virginia.  General Beauregard launched his first cannon balls in the early morning hours of April 12.  Surprisingly, no one was hurt in the two-day bombardment.  It was only when Anderson chose to surrender the fort, as Lincoln's reinforcements were late in coming, that two Union soldiers died from the backfire of their own cannons in paying tribute to the American flag as it came down.

I had the great pleasure of leading an Historic American Buildings Survey team in the documentation of Fort Sumter during the summer of 1991.   I prepared an historic structures report to go along with the meticulous drawings my team did.  The fort is steeped in history from before, during and after the Civil War, with reams of documents and drawings available in the national historic park's archives.

I discovered that the fort was actually listing toward the Atlantic side when I surveyed the five corners of the pentagonal walls.  At first I thought this was a miscalculation on my part, but later I found in the archive documents that this had been a problem from the outset, as the fort was built on a sandbar and no amount of timber caissons and rock ballast was going to keep the fort level.  By the 1950s this tilt was significant enough that the Army Corps of Engineers tried to address the problem, but by my calculations the fort had sunk even more in the 40 years since those reports were prepared.  I wrote all this up for the Cultural Resources Management Journal, which you can read in the article, Fort Sumter: Preserving its Crumbling Walls.

History is one thing.  Monuments are another.  There are any number of cultural heritage sites from the Civil War preserved throughout the Southern states.  These are valuable markers in our historic American landscape and need to be preserved.  However, monuments come into being for a variety of reasons, mostly political, and serve an entirely different purpose.

These political markers are designed to establish authority, much in the same way statues of Lenin and Stalin were erected throughout the Soviet Union and its satellite countries in Eastern Europe.  As we saw in Vilnius and elsewhere when these countries gained their independence in 1991, these statues came down.

For New Orleans this had been a long time coming.  The demographics of the city has changed substantially since the Civil War, and most residents no longer wanted to be continually reminded of that era in the form of Lee and Beauregard and Jefferson Davis casting their shadows over the city.  There are obviously those who took exception to this decision, and have protested the removal of these iconic statues.  

I can understand to some degree the disillusion being expressed here, somewhat akin to that of Virgil in The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  The idea of a Lost Cause has a noble ring to it, no matter how ignoble the events that inspired it.  

When the dust settles I think the vast majority of residents will move on.   After all, this is a city far more proud of its jazz heritage and Mardi Gras than it is its Civil War legacy, and deservedly so as jazz is something New Orleans not only gave to the nation but to the world.  The Civil War is a painful legacy that one struggles with, like the death of a contentious relative.  We don't need to be reminded of this everyday.

I'm sure the bronze statue of P.G.T. Beauregard on horseback will find a place somewhere.  Who knows maybe even a Dixieland theme park, like Grutas Park in Lithuania, aka "Stalin World," where these monuments can find a home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Plot Thickens

Seems our man in the Kremlin is enjoying the way events are unfolding so much that he wants to get his hand in yet again.  Vladimir Putin has offered to hand over transcripts of the meeting that recently took place between Trump and Lavrov to calm anxieties in what he regards as a "political schizophrenia" taking place in America.

I'm not sure what the game being played here is, but it is very similar to what took place between Russia and Turkey in Syria.  If you recall, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in December, 2015, which Erdogan said encroached on Turkish air space following a bombing mission over a border Syrian town.  Things got quite heated with Russia placing economic sanctions of its own on Turkey in the form of a tourist boycott.  This apparently shook Erdogan up so much that after a few months he apologized to Putin, and ever since the two have been comrades in arms in the ongoing battle over Syria.

Trump has been unable to even bring up the subject of sanction relief in regard to Russia since assuming office, let alone disavow NATO which he had done repeatedly on the campaign trail.  As much as he would like to be friends with Russia, US lawmakers and members within his own cabinet have said no.  He even went so far as to order a missile strike on Syria, while eating chocolate cake, over the alleged use of chemical weapons in a recent uprising.  All of which has stung Russia but Putin being the ever patient man that he is just bided his time.

Who knows what the inscrutable Russian president has on his mind.  Is he trying to save Donald or sink him ever deeper into the vortex of his downward spiraling administration?  I don't know how House of Cards is going to compete with the current Oval Office when it begins a new season later this month.  What could possibly trump this ever-widening Russian scandal, which Putin so blithely dismisses as paranoia on America's part?  Will Trump accidentally divulge he is a closet homosexual and that he went through three marriages, countless affairs, and at least five children in an effort to disguise it?

Putin is right in that we have blown the Russian connections out of proportion to the crimes being committed here.  The filtering of "fake stories" into the American news cycle, which Russia is accused of doing through an internet army of trolls and bots, would never have occurred if Americans weren't so gullible.  Not only conservative blogs and radio stations picked up these stories, so did the mainstream media in the soap opera that was Hillary's e-mail server scandal and the subsequent DNC e-mail hacking.

None of the mainstream media outlets have yet to admit culpability in this,.  They spent so much time poring over the divulged e-mails on wikileaks and other websites that they ignored the statement issued by the White House in July of 2016 that Russia was believed to be behind the hacks.  All these e-mails were just too good to pass up on, and so the Russian hacking story got buried.

We also had all those salacious stories of Donald Trump's misogyny that began filling the news cycle in early October.  This appeared to doom our would-be President, but FBI Director Comey decided to re-open investigations into Hillary's e-mail server in late October, sending her substantial lead in the polls into a tail spin.

Through it all, the media was riddled with fake stories originating from RT and Sputnik, focusing mainly on Hillary's criminality.  These stories linked Hillary to a "shadowy cabal of global financiers" and potentially escalating tensions with Russia to the point of nuclear war.  Most of the stories were as absurd as Mel Brook's High Anxiety, but they gained traction in the American media because they fed into the narrative set by conservative media and the Trump campaign of "Crooked Hillary."

Obviously, Vladimir Putin is not willing to leave well enough alone.  This latest missive is gauged to put the American news media into a total frenzy.  I don't think he is trying to save Donald but rather undermine what little there is left of his administration by giving the American media one more reason to play up the Russian connections.

His aim all along was to undermine what little American faith there is in its news media by planting stories that would turn the general election into a farce.  None of it could have happened without American media's complicity, either directly in the case of the more nefarious conservative blogs or indirectly in the case of the mainstream media's insatiable appetite for news stories wherever they came from.  With literally no checks and balances on the dissemination of  news stories, the American media was an easy mark.

We've seen virtually all the major news networks get punked time and again, forced to issue painful retractions.  What really stung the media this time around was how badly they missed the final results of the election, which Trump has continually boasted about.  This is obviously something the media hasn't gotten over as it tries now to act as a watchdog to all the malfeasances occurring in the White House, playing each one up like it will be Trump's last act.  Putin is a very unsavory figure, but at some point our media has to hold itself accountable for the debacle that occurred last November, when Trump was elected to the highest office.

I don't think that will ever happen so in the meantime we see Count Vlad prodding the American media yet again.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Throughout its 120-day tenure, this administration's biggest source of leaks has been the President himself.  He has revealed his hand time and again, much to the chagrin of his White House staff, which seems to have absolutely no control over him.  As a result, their prime duty is damage control.

No sooner is it revealed that Trump divulged high security "intel" to Russian state department officials, than his Secretary of State and National Security Adviser are sent out to vehemently deny these allegations.  By morning Trump negated McMaster by admitting to the leaks in his tweets, saying he had the "absolute right" to share this information with Russian officials.  This forced McMaster to come out a second time to explain the angry tweets.

I suppose I could parse all this out, but what's the point?   It is reported further down in the Washington Post article that Trump prefers single-page, bullet-point security briefings, and often ignores even these condensed reports.  It has reached the stage where Trump doesn't appear to distinguish between classified and non-classified information, pretty much ad-libbing his meetings and phone calls based on his very sketchy idea of the briefings, augmented no doubt by what he hears on television.

So much for the bombshell, as GOP Congresspersons are just saying that is his prerogative.  McCain, Graham and Corker are willing to look the other way, offering very little criticism of the latest allegations undermining the credibility of the White House.  How much rope do they plan on giving Trump?

The interesting thing to me is how porous the White House has become.  Obviously, there are a lot of unhappy campers in the Trump administration with job security being the number one anxiety.  Kellyanne Conway is reported as being the most unhappy, if we are to give Morning Joe any credibility.  Her duties have been significantly reduced over the last four months, forced to come on shows like Morning Joe principally to do damage control.

Yet, his top advisers continue to defend him, when they should be coaching him.  Unfortunately, Trump is not one to see mental or physical exercise of any use.  He claims that it runs down our "finite amount of energy," as if we are nothing more than batteries.   Of course, one could argue the opposite that exercise serves to re-energize us and that if he took advantage of the White House gym he might actually get himself down below the obese level without lying about his height.  For Trump, standing for an hour in front of an adoring audience is all the physical exercise he needs.

Even that is proving hard to do these days with his approval ratings continuing to slump.  This may explain why he has taken to the golf course 21 times while in office.  He opted for golf rather than arranging to meet his wife and son on Mother's Day.

If Trump can't even bother to read security and intelligence briefings before important meetings, how can we expect him to form anything approaching a coherent foreign policy?  Either he is outsourcing this to his son-in-law Jared, or simply letting things lie where they will and leaving it up to others, like Sergei Lavrov, to sort things out.  Either way, I would think the Senate Foreign Relations committee would be up in arms, as it was when Obama offered no clear strategy on how to deal with Syria back in 2013.

This was at issue this time around as well with His Trumpness revealing critical sources of information on ISIS to his Russian counterparts. I suppose he sees Russia as our ally in this battle against ISIS, at least in Syria, so what's the harm in giving Lavrov and Kislyak "code-word information?"  Just imagine the outrcy if Obama had been so careless in divulging such information.

Sadly, we have come to expect this from Trump, as John Oliver recently demonstrated.  We can no longer treat the Trump administration like a reality show.  His advisers have to stand up to him,  Congress has to stand up to him, before it is too late!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn

Protests have emerged in New Orleans and Richmond over the removal of Civil War monuments, notably the statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two of the most revered figures from the era.  The protest in Richmond looked like something out of Birth of a Nation, replete with blazing torches.  For many white Southerners these statues represent heritage, but in most cases the monuments were put up long after the war and more in response to federal efforts to "reconstruct" the Southern states.

Lee Circle in New Orleans is a prime example of this.  Protests were less ominous in tone but displayed the same ignorance.  The Circle was renamed in 1877, the year Reconstruction was officially repealed, and the monument erected in 1884.  This monument had less to do with Lee, who died in 1870, than it had to do with winning the battle over Reconstruction.

Southern states had fought this reform act tooth and nail ever since it began in 1863.  Louisiana was one of the first states to undergo Reconstruction, having fallen to Union forces in 1862.  With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the imposition of federal authority, New Orleans went through quite a metamorphosis in the 1860s and 70s, often met with violent protests.

The infamous election of 1876 was the turning point.  Rutherford B. Hayes edged out Samuel Tilden by one electoral vote thanks in large part to Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina still being under federal authority and the Republicans able to stuff the ballot boxes.  In a gesture of compromise, Hayes called for the repeal of Reconstruction, which was pretty much dead anyway, paving the way for Southern states to reclaim their political voice.  It was under these circumstances that Place du Tivoli became Lee Circle.

Throughout the South there were many examples of this.  The Civil War monuments became a way for Southern states to reclaim their "heritage."  However, these monuments were little more than acts of defiance made further manifest in the Jim Crow laws that most Southern states passed in the early 20th century, subjugating Blacks once again to plantation-style politics.

Most of these states had been Democratic before the War and were even more staunchly Democratic after Reconstruction.  Louisiana would not see a Republican governor again until 1979.   I remember my father registering as a Democrat just so he could vote in primary elections as Republicans were so few in Northwest Florida that they often ran unopposed in the primaries, only to lose in the general election.

The second turning point came with the Civil Rights movement.  Southern Democrats, or Dixiecrats as they were referred to then, had long kept the Democratic Party from initiating any change in the plantation-style politics of the South.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was too afraid to sign onto an anti-lynching bill in 1938 out of fear he would lose the Southern vote in the 1940 general election.  He picked Harry S. Truman to replace Henry Wallace in the 1944 election, similarly to placate Southern interests, as Wallace was deemed too radical in his progressive views.

The South literally held the country by the balls, stopping any sort of Congressional legislation that would affect their interests. This came to a screeching halt with the death of John F. Kennedy.  Lyndon B. Johnson was effectively able to use this cathartic moment to pass Civil Rights legislation through Congress, allying Republicans to offset the loss of Dixiecrats.  LBJ was being modest when he said "we have lost the South for a generation."

What started as a trickle became a raging torrent with the election of Ronald Reagan, as a vast number of Southern Democrats had turned Republican by the 1980s.  They had gotten over their aversion to the Party of Lincoln, and now cast the Democratic Party as traitorous to their cause.

To hear conservative demagogues today, you would never know this. They see their party grounded in Lincoln, thanks to a proliferation of conservative books on the subject, and the Democrats as the ones who initiated all those Jim Crow laws.  They have even reframed the Civil Rights Bill as a Republican piece of legislation.  Yet, they still want to claim Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as their heroes, both of whom were Democrats.  For obvious reasons, Lee endorsed Horatio Seymour over U.S. Grant in the 1968 election.

Many southern conservatives want to hold onto their antebellum history in the form of Civil War monuments and Dixie flags, but also be seen as Lincoln Republicans.  I really don't know how you reconcile this, but quite a number of prominent conservatives have tried, recasting Lincoln less as a liberal progressive and more as a conservative pragmatist.

Perhaps the saddest thing in American History is that the Civil War is still alive and well in many persons' minds.  It doesn't help that Civil War books are often bestsellers, like Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, and made into to equally popular movies.  You will find reenactments of famous battles throughout the South.

I was once locked out of the antebellum mansion I was staying at near Charleston by a Civil War guard unit that had commandeered the site for the weekend.  They wouldn't let me pass in my truck.  I had to call the director of the Charleston Historical Society, which owned the mansion, to gain entry.  I probably should have just gone away for the weekend, as I had to put up with the infernal racket of musket fire throughout the day and campfires at night.

As long as we keep the embers of this war alive there really will be no reconciliation.  The monuments mean different things to different people.  Richmond and New Orleans have determined it is time to put the Civil War behind them, as the demographics of these cities have changed considerably since that time.  No doubt, there will still be museums to honor this peculiar legacy, but public monuments will come down, just as the Dixie flag has come down at statehouses throughout the South.

You can still have a Dixie flag on the rear window of your pick-up truck or stretch out on a Dixie beach towel at the nearest beach, flaunting this divisive "heritage," as is your peculiar wish, but don't expect the rest of us to play along.  As Rhett Butler said to Scarlett, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."