Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

Carrie Fisher watches her mother on stage

Debbie Reynolds had been one of those constant presences, like Betty White, that you just couldn't imagine leaving us.  There aren't many links left to the golden age of Hollywood, and few were as glorious as Debbie -- a woman who could do it all.   One of her most memorable roles was that of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which I remember watching as a child.  It was a mixture of music, dance and drama, which was the staple of Hollywood for so many years.  Here she is lighting up the dance floor with Grover Dale and Gus Trikonis in one of the earlier scenes in the movie before the Titanic found its iceberg.

For her daughter, Carrie Fisher, it must have been very hard to follow in the footsteps of a mom like that.  Wisely, she charted her own course, even if she could never live down that gold bikini in Star Wars.  To see her go earlier in the week was hard on all her fans, but much harder on Debbie, who obviously couldn't bear the emotional weight of the loss of her daughter.

Debbie did so many things over her long illustrious career that it is hard to know where to begin.  She could sing, she could dance, she could act, she could light up your day with just a smile.  Her tumultuous romance with Eddie Fisher gave us Carrie Fisher, whose trademark acerbic humor was largely lost in Star Wars, but perfect in such movies as Blue Brothers and Hannah and Her Sisters.  It's too bad really that she will always be remembered as Princess Leia.

No one role defined Debbie.  In her later years, she took on numerous mother roles, most notably for Mother, in which she had to deal with her son, who decides to move back into her house to unlock the secrets of the past, setting up a perfect comic situation for her and Albert Brooks.   She also had numerous appearances on Will and Grace, as Grace's mother.  In many ways, she had become everyone's favorite Mom, but no relationship was dearer to her than that between her and Carrie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Just trying to hack my way to happiness ; )

It seems that coming up with a clever title is half the battle in having a successful book.  I was listening to a CNN interview with Anna Akbari on her new book, Startup Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way to Happiness, in which she uses the small business model as a means of improving one's life.  Don't let yourself get down over failures, Anna says, just pivot as start-ups so often do, finding success in earlier failures.  But, it seems the major success here is Anna, who found a way to cash in on other peoples' misfortunes.

We're pretty good at that in America.  Much of our economy hinges on being able to take advantage of peoples' insatiable desire to score it big.  The self-help book industry is just one part of it.  Investment bankers, stock traders and many others are always trying to convince you of huge paybacks if you invest in their products.  We now even have a prosperity theology, which convinces persons that if they invest monetarily in God they will get huge financial rewards.

Getting rich quickly has long been a dream of Americans, which is why whatever little bit of extra cash one has at the end of the week usually goes into a lottery ticket. or on-line gaming or the horse track, as the case may be.   The well-placed bet that will turn one's life around is cemented into our psyches, especially since we see it happen on television and on rare occasions with our neighbors.

Television and now the Internet stokes our fantasies.  We see vloggers like PewDiePie and Zoella, offering little more than gaming skills and beauty tips, become overnight sensations, commanding huge audiences and drawing in big revenue thanks to advertising.  It seems so easy until you try it yourself.

I hooked up my blog to Adsense, but all I got were unwanted ads and no revenue.  This blog averages about 2500 hits per month, not enough to draw advertisers willing to pay for space.  Every once in a while I see an upsurge in hits thanks to a Russian audience which for whatever reasons plugs in for about a week boosting my monthly hits to over 5000.  More likely this is some kind of bot that embeds unwanted links in posts, diverting actual readers away from my blog.

Not that this blog was ever for the money.  It was an attempt to keep an American History reading group going after the New York Times closed down its reading forums.  I still have contact with some of my NYT friends through facebook but they very rarely visit this site because they often find themselves re-directed as the result of these unwanted ads.  I encourage them to get AdBlock as it works for me, but I guess mainly they lost interest in the topic.

That's why I "pivoted" more to contemporary subjects, principally politics, serving mainly as a personal journal.  Occasionally, I link a post to facebook to see if anyone is interested, but inevitably I'm told they have been redirected.  I tried contacting Blogger about this but got no answer, and the advice I've picked up on the Internet has failed to address the problem.  So, I assume I too have been hacked by Russia.  I suppose I should take this as a compliment given my limited readership.

To make a long story short, I've decided to give this blog more than just a new look but an entirely new feel.  With the Age of Trump soon upon us I've been trying out my literary chops on a serial novel, which I have given the working title "Deep Cover."  Not very catchy, but I will work on that.  I don't want to say too much as it is a spy novel, you might even say a "thriller," as I have no ending in mind yet other than attempt to explain in an indirect and roundabout way how Trump got elected.  It is meant to be satire but if some unsuspecting news blogs pick up on it and run it as a true story, so be it.  Maybe it will increase my readership, assuming they give me credit for the story.

Anyway, I'm just trying to have fun and add a little life to this blog.  I hope you enjoy it.  First installment due January 1.  The other posts will remain if you should ever want to peruse them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Parting Words

President Obama sparked a fair bit of controversy by implying he could have won a third term if he ran with the same message he did in 2008 and 2012.  Of course, that was quickly disputed by Donald Trump and his Trumpkins.   Who is to say?  It was such a wacky election cycle that anything was possible.

A lot of blame has been foisted on Hillary for failing to deliver.  Joe Biden even suggested her heart was not in it, which was a pretty strange thing to say given the amount of energy she poured into her campaign.  Obama was more circumspect, saying that the media played a big role in undermining Hillary's campaign.

While the media did in fact play a major role in this debacle, we can't look past the Democratic Party, which failed the last 8 years to build on its 2006 and 2008 victories.  It essentially allowed the Republicans to set the narrative by attacking Obama at every turn.  It reached a point in 2012 and 2014 where Democrats ran away from Obama in state elections only to find themselves suffer even more for it.  Their failure to not only stand behind their leader but offer a clear message proved to be their ultimate undoing.

There was never any strong defense of the Affordable Care Act or an attempt to come to terms with the huge debt we had accrued largely thanks to the Bush tax cuts and a bloated military budget that Republicans refused to consider when it came to cuts.  Instead, the Dems let the Republicans pin domestic programs like "Obamacare," expanded Medicaid, food stamps and other "handouts" as the reason we found ourselves so deep in the hole.  All too often, the Dems walked away from these issues rather than confront them, implying weakness.

Even something as simple as global warming, which 97% of scientists can agree on, the Dems were unable to convince the electorate of the importance of cutting back on fossil fuels.  In fact, we saw Blue Dog Democrats like Joe Manchin and Mary Landrieu promoting the Keystone Pipeline, despite plummeting oil and coal prices as a result of the growth of renewable energy sources.  The Dems essentially conceded the "jobs" argument to the Republicans even though renewable energy suppliers have created far more jobs than has the coal industry in the last 8 years.

Time and again, the Dems ran away from the issues that defined them.  They treated renewable energy, Obamacare, gay marriage and other "liberal" issues as scarlet letters because they didn't play well in their states.  2014 represented the nadir, seeing just about every Democratic candidate run away from Obama in the midterm elections, only to suffer their worst electoral defeat during his administration.

Of course, many of them blamed Obama afterward, saying that he put them in untenable situations with his support of issues that ran counter to their states' interests.  Yet, Kentucky, where Allison Lundergan Grimes ran against Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat, had one of the most effective health care exchanges in America thanks to a proactive Democratic governor, much to the chagrin of their leading senator.  Texas has made a massive investment in wind energy, so much so that it now has an oversupply, cutting into oil and coal.  Many other "conservative" states have made similar investments.  Las Vegas is now run totally on renewable energy, at least during peak hours.  Yet, you hardly hear this mentioned on the campaign trail.   Why don't Democrats trumpet these successes?

Instead, we now find Kynect being dismantled by a Republican governor due to the fact only 19% Of state voters turned out for the 2014 elections.

I think this is what has beguiled Obama throughout his tenure.  Here is a man who has done everything in his power to promote affordable health care, renewable energy and broader civil rights, but until this election cycle was treated as anathema by his own party.  Only now have Democrats tried to rally around him thanks to his high approval rating, but it turned out to be too little too late.

The damage was already done.  Many Americans viewed Obama as a failure, especially in crucial states that turned the electoral college for Donald Trump.  Democrats played into the Republican narrative rather than challenge it, and the results have been disastrous.  Many have tried to explain why, but the basic reason is that Democrats have shown little backbone, acting as though "sanity" would win out over the radicalization of the Republican Party. Now Dems face their most monumental defeat, losing the White House to a man totally unqualified and unprepared to lead the nation, riding to power on a wave of manufactured popular unrest.

This was the result of the Democrats being unable to convey any clear, much less united message in response to the constant refrain of doom and gloom presented by the Republicans.  Dems thought it was enough to look at the positive growth rate tables and job reports, but few bother to do this.  You have to constantly remind people of the state of the economy, and Dems did not do so.  They allowed Trump and other conservative candidates to bandy about figures that made no sense like a 42% unemployment rate.  Granted, the media aided and abetted this false narrative by giving Republicans a platform to spout such absurd numbers, but many persons now rely on social media for the bulk of their "news" and this is where these fake stories spread like wildfire with the Dems doing little to combat them.

Well, the Democrats, and for that matter the Republicans, won't have Obama to kick around anymore.  Democrats now have to deal with a post-Obama political world and find young leaders who can re-energize the party, otherwise it is going to be a very long four years.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Trump Force One

Our President-Elect seems to be having a lot of fun playing Lockheed-Martin off Boeing in his ongoing Twitter wars.  This is a tactic he has used throughout his career.  In his book, Art of the Deal, he boasted how he forced Holiday Inn to buy him out when he made a highly publicized bid to buy them out in the 80s.  He didn't have the capital but it was enough to send stock into frenzy, grossing him 6 bucks on the dollar.  Recently, he sent Boeing and Lockheed stocks into a nosedive by tweeting misleading numbers and making it look like he is trying to negotiate better deals on Air Force One and the notorious F-35's.  However, all he is doing is creating an unnecessary market panic largely for the consumption of the news media.

The Boeing tweets were really something as the new fleet of Air Force One super-planes are scheduled to come in at $2.7 billion, not $4 billion as he stated in his tweets.  He used a number supplied by analysts for rhetorical sake and then made a big show of getting Boeing to promise it wouldn't exceed that cost.  Essentially, he forced the Boeing CEO to meet with him, lending the air of a man in charge of the media-manufactured moment.

Stoked by his success, Trump decided to go after the much derided contract the US government has with Lockheed-Martin for a new fleet of fighter jets.  This deal dates back to the late 90s and has gone much over budget, now estimated at a whopping $1.35 trillion.  Unlike the new Air Force Ones, the F-35 is already in production and jets have been delivered.  Israel has greeted the first part of that order, a deal they signed onto back in 2003.  But, Donald thinks he can do better and asked Boeing to price its F-18's to see if he can find a competitive alternative.  Even in business, this isn't how contracts work.  Once you've made a deal you stick with it unless one or the other partner in the deal fails to deliver.  Lockheed-Martin may have made a cash cow out of the program but they are delivering on their jets and for the most part the Navy is happy with what they are getting.  The Lockheed CEO doesn't appear very anxious to sit down with Donald.

Twitter is going to be Donald's principal weapon in the White House to bring corporations and other nations to heel, although it didn't work so well with China.  He's testing out his power in his Trump Tower before taking over the Oval Office.  Sensing the volatility of the market, Boeing chose to use discretion rather than standing down the President-Elect, much like other industrialists who don't want to get on the Donald's bad side.

Back in 1988, his "bid" at a hostile takeover of Holiday Inn was purely motivated by his dislike for the corporate CEO Mike Rose, who had slighted him in public.  Anyone who doesn't think his administration won't be one of the most vindictive ones ever seen has another thing coming.  Omarosa warned us in a Frontline interview, although it seems he will have to battle "Pootie" for the title of most powerful man in the universe.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

So this is Christmas?

Our President-elect sure has a way of compounding tragedy with mean-spirited comments, leaving it up to his minions to explain his positions afterward.  I was watching a Trump spokeswoman on CNN trying her best to downplay his harsh rhetoric these past two days for attacks that took place in Europe.   Once again, he evoked his Muslim ban and called the incident in Berlin an attack on Christianity, before backpedaling and calling it an attack on humanity.

Trump convened a special meeting with his national security adviser, General Flynn, to address the violence in Berlin and Ankara.  As usual, he took the events out of context, projecting them on American soil like he did similar European attacks during his presidential campaign.  In his mind, this affirms his view that Muslims need to be screened.  Somehow, he is able to make just about everything about himself!

It would have been more appropriate for him to send his condolences to Germany and Russia, as President Obama did, and offer them our support through this difficult time.  The contrast is startling and tells us a lot about the nature of these two men.  It also brings a heavy sense of foreboding to the New Year given that Trump will assume office in late January.

Trump is not alone in his condemnation.  His Dutch counterpart similarly voiced his indignation over the attacks, foisting the blame on Angela Merkl for opening the borders to a "tsuanami" of Islamic terror in Europe, gruesomely reported by Fox News and other conservative blogs.

We should know by now to expect such attacks during the holidays because this is when the most attention will be paid to them.  Rather than recognize these extremists as anarchists, we continue to identify them with Islam, when their actions have absolutely nothing to do with the religion.

Islam, like Christianity, is similarly going through a spiritual season, Mawlid al-Nabi, albeit completed recently.  They too know the sanctity of this month and most everyone chooses to honor it in a peaceful way.

Yet, Il Comandante is ready to wage holy war over what he perceives as an attack against our Christian faith since one of the incidents took place at a Christmas bazaar in Berlin.  The Siege of Aleppo has been going on unremittingly for five years with virtually no respect given to Muslim holy days.  As awful as the tragedy was in Berlin, it doesn't begin to compare with the loss of lives and property in Aleppo, yet we pay little respect to the ongoing bloodshed in this city.  In fact, our President-elect cheered the Syrian and Russian military forces in October.  One can only hope that Army Lt. General Flynn will fill Trump in on Russia's dubious record of fighting terror, since our President-Elect doesn't seem to show much interest in intelligence briefings.

Most of all, it needs to be remembered we aren't the only religion celebrating events this holiday season.  Virtually all religions have a commemoration in December and early January, given that it is the time of year that our days start getting longer in the northern hemisphere.   We need to be showing unity, not sewing seeds of division, particularly in the face of terrorist acts.   Maybe Trump should learn from the message given by Berlin's Muslim community.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

You Gotta Fight!

Leave it to Lyin' Ted to lash out at Democrats for what he foresees as an "unpresidented" level of obstruction in the years ahead.  It is going to be pretty hard to trump the "Green Eggs and Hams" filibuster but maybe Al Franken can regal the Senate floor with an ongoing "Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley."

If there is anything we have learned this past year it is that obstruction works, so too does obfuscation and a complete disregard for any facts that might stand in your way.  It's not like Democrats have to totally give up on truth, but they do need to do a better job of bending it and completely distorting it if necessary to drive a point home.  As we saw on the Campaign Trail 2016, you can pretty much throw out any facts and figures and dare opponents to refute them.  If you are going to drop truth bombs you better make sure they are going to go off!

On a more practical level, the Democrats need to reclaim their Blue States, starting with Wisconsin and Michigan, like they have in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.  Then they can move onto other failed states like Kansas and Florida, which have seen the worst of the Republican shock treatment.  Democrats have to go on the offensive.  They sat back this election thinking the Republicans would undo themselves.  It sure looked that way early on, but one can never underestimate the ability of the electorate to look past these many indiscretions.

They also need to reclaim Jesus.  This will probably be more difficult, but they have to make the effort.  It was ironic seeing Bernie Sanders trying to do this at Liberty University late last year.  Hillary essentially treated the Evangelical vote as a no woman's land, and made little effort to reach out to the disgruntled religious masses, who have been led to believe Democrats are godless socialists.  There is no reason why the Republican Party should be able to claim it is God's party when so many of its actions fly in the face of Christianity, and put up a President who probably only set foot in a church for his weddings and that at the insistence of his wives.  This will go a long way toward reclaiming some of the rural vote that has tilted so heavily in the Republicans' favor ever since Reagan.

Hard as it is, Dems also have to learn not to talk down to voters.  They have to get in there and mix it up at the county fairs, tent revivals and fish fries and show that they are one with the people.  For too long they have relied on urban centers to carry battleground states for them.   They have to find a way to make their message resonate in the heartland, which Democratic leaders once were able to do.

For his part Obama has vowed to coach young leaders, but the Dems can no longer rely on Barry to carry the day.  They have to recruit young dynamic leaders and rebuild their party base in the Midwest.  It also needs to continue to make in-roads into the South.  There is a lot of dissatisfaction in Dixie that has been falsely directed at Democratic leaders.  They were able to retake North Carolina. There is no reason they can't tilt Georgia if they make a strong effort.

Most of all they have to shed the Clinton legacy.  This was obviously what dragged the Democratic Party down this election.  We saw the first signs of it in 2014 when Bill and Hillary were unable to rally voters around their chosen candidates.  Particularly painful was the loss of Allison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, considered a sure thing early on in the Midterms.  Bill Clinton invested heavily in her campaign only to see her go down in defeat to the highly unpopular Mitch McConnell.   Bill is an old horse that should be put to pasture.

Bernie showed the direction the party should go in.  It is important that the Democratic National Committee champions a social-minded agenda, not continues to play it safe.  No more Donna Brazilles or Debbie Wasserman-Schultzes.   It has to be confrontational but at the same time know when to pick its fights.  Most of all, it can't allow itself to ever be hacked again!

It's a sad day, that's for sure, but just because we are forced to swallow Donald Trump as President, it doesn't mean we have to accept him.  Democrats have to fight him every step of the way.  They have to remind the electorate of each and every one of his indiscretions each and every day making his time in the White House as miserable as possible.  We also have to take this fight to Congress, letting the Republicans know just what it's like to obstruct each and every bill they try to put forward because we all know their prime objective is to gut the government and funnel the money to their cronies in the corporate world.

It will be pretty hard to top the level of obstruction we saw the last 8 years, but the Democrats should make every effort to do so, unless we all want to wake up and see our Social Security and Medicare, not to mention other social programs, carved up and divvied out to private carriers.  As the Beastie Boys would sing, "you gotta fight for your right to ..."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

For the first time the Russian hacking story is gaining traction in the news.  Even Lindsey Graham took to the political talk show circuit to say he had been hacked too.  He wouldn't go so far as to admit the leaked DNC e-mails gave Trump an unfair advantage.  Good ol' Lindsey was willing to accept the results.

For his part, President Obama used his press conference in part to scold the press for taking the bait rather than questioning the source of these e-mails, Wikileaks.  Obama even went so far as to imply Putin was directly behind the hacks, providing the information to Assange, who in turn released a steady stream of these e-mails over the closing weeks of the campaign.  But, as one NYTimes reporter put it on CNN it is pretty hard to resist all these e-mails describing the inner workings of the DNC.  In the mind of the collective news media, the e-mails were fair game.

This points to the fundamental problem with the news media -- its inability to scrutinize the information it receives.  It has a long history of taking information from whatever source is willing to provide it.  Woodward and Bernstein never questioned "Deep Throat," or revealed his identity.  They were too excited to have something that could bring Nixon down and so we had Watergate.  Imagine if it had been nothing more than a red herring, which is essentially what these DNC leaked e-mails were.  What would have the media looked like then?  As it was, it took months of investigative work to pin the allegations on Nixon's campaign staff before charges were formally brought against him.

With the DNC leaked e-mails, the press simply ran with them, never for a moment questioning the source or its connections to the Kremlin, the much bigger story in this case.  Assange is still in exile, afraid to face charges in Sweden for two pending sexual assault cases, which he claims is nothing but a ruse to get him extradited to the US for more serious crimes.  Assange came to prominence when he pulled the plug on the Bush White House in regard to the Iraq War, then came the embarrassing State Department leaks during the Obama administration, followed by more such leaks from the DNC.  It doesn't take much effort to connect the dots here.  The Kremlin has been backing him along, because he is the "useful idiot" it needs to disseminate this information without drawing too much attention to itself.  But, when Assange took a gig at Russia Today, the cloak was off.  I assume it was a reward for all the good work he did in casting a cloud over the American State Department.

Now, the Kremlin has a "useful idiot" in the White House, one who at the very least will give them carte blanche to do whatever Russia wants in Central Asia and the Middle East.  If all goes well, Trump may even pull American troops from the Baltics and cut defense programs throughout Eastern Europe, taking away what is essentially the only line of defense these former Soviet countries and satellite nations have against Russia, which has been flexing its military muscle throughout the region.  In their wildest dreams, Trump may actually call for an end to NATO.

We shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves.  After all, we have such stalwart Cold Warriors as John McCain and Lindsey Graham in Congress to push back against Trump.  Marco Rubio and other Republicans have also voiced their concerns over Trump's links to the Kremlin.  But, so far not one of them has cast any doubt over his legitimacy as President-Elect, even if the writing was on the wall throughout the entire campaign.  The FBI was aware Russia was hacking into the Democratic National Committee database back in 2015 but when one of its special agents warned the DNC he was subsequently demoted, and the issue was treated as a prank.

Time and time again, Trump praised Putin on the campaign trail, saying our president should be tough like Vlad.  In fact, this had been pretty common throughout the GOP.  Even Mitt Romney praised Putin back in late 2013 before the Russian president invaded Crimea.  Mitt had different thoughts after that.  Not Trump.  In an effort to brush away what appeared to be an appalling lack of insight into the region, he thrust the blame on Obama for the annexation of Crimea.  In the end saying he could accept what Russia did.  In so many convoluted words, Trump backed Russia's claim for the embattled peninsula, flying against both State and UN policy.  Yet, few in the press gave this story much coverage.  It was picked up mostly by blogs like Politico, which gives it the taint of being a partisan issue.

The only question really is when Russia chose to back Trump?  Was this their plan all along, using Trump as an American version of Nigel Farage, or were they waiting to see who emerged from the GOP pack and work with that candidate to get their message out?  Trump made it easy for them, by vaulting to the lead in the polls early in the campaign and being only mildly challenged throughout the primaries.

Obama noted the double standard in the press, saying that they took up almost any story against Hillary, no matter how small and insignificant, yet turned a virtual blind eye to the connection between Trump and Russia.  There was some scrutiny of Paul Manafort, when Trump hired him in April to give his campaign a kick start after the poor leadership of Corey Lewandowski.  Manafort had extensive ties to Russia, notably through his work with former Ukrainian strong man Viktor Yanukovich.  Manafort subsequently stepped down and all seemed to be forgiven.   Pretty amazing really, since Manafort continued to lend the Trump campaign advice.

One assumes this will all eventually come out, as Manafort and others are under investigation.  In time, this could blow up like Watergate, but the problem is that Trump will already be in the White House, surrounded by his pro-Russian cabinet and most likely will have set the wheels in motion for a normalization of relations with Russia.  He will experience some push back from Congress and maybe even from his own VP Mike Pence, however it is doubtful there will be anymore resistance than there was to Bush's war in Iraq.  By that point, Russia will have gotten pretty much what it wanted, an ease in sanctions, possible troop removals from Eastern Europe, and freedom to exercise its influence throughout the world as long as it doesn't press too hard on American interests.  A modern day version of the Treaty of Tordesillas.  Russia will move from being a "regional player," as Obama often dismissed it, to a global player with far flung geopolitical interests.

I don't think the Trump administration has any idea what this implies, as one of the main aims behind this Russian "globalization" is to end the American monopoly on oil when it comes to petrodollars, allowing for greater flexibility in oil prices.  This is pretty much what it bases its economy on, and having greater latitude will allow it to be a much more powerful global player.  This won't end the mini-Cold War we have seen arise since Putin came back to the Presidency in 2012.  Instead, it will escalate it, as eventually our interests and those of Russia will clash.

It's not to say that we shouldn't try to have better relations with Russia, but we shouldn't lose sight of Putin's broader ambitions here.  He wants to rebuild the empire.  If he can do so economically that's all well and good, but as we have seen in Chechnya, Georgia, the Ukraine and Syria he has no misgivings when it comes to taking military action, essentially setting our relationship with Russia on a collision course.

I have Russian and Ukrainian friends who would argue otherwise.  They say the only way to contain America's own imperial ambitions is to have a counter weight, and that Russia provides this through its vast deposits of oil and mineral reserves along with a potent military infrastructure.  It doesn't have to be a Cold War, rather an amicable recognition of being equals on the international playing field, rather than blithely dismiss Russia as a "regional player," as Obama has done repeatedly.

But, the question remains did Russia hack into the DNC database and other databases to skew the American elections so that they got a more amenable president?  We can point to the underhandedness of Russia to do something like this, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves how did we so easily fall prey to what was a rather obvious attempt to influence the elections?  What is it in the American psyche that allows so many persons to look the other way when it was there for all to see throughout the campaign?  In that sense Trump was the perfect agent for Russia, as the media became so obsessed with his personality disorders that they didn't make much effort to examine his motives.

Friday, December 16, 2016

"I'm Here to Help"

You can look at the so-called Tech Summit any number of ways.  Most of those who attended have cast the meeting with the President-Elect in a positive light, saying that Trump was willing to listen to their ideas and voiced no notable exceptions to what they had to say.  However, his cabinet picks tell a different story.

Probably the cabinet pick they were most concerned with was Energy, as many of these tech gurus are involved in sustainable energy in one way or another.  Elon Musk has invested heavily in electric cars and his Tesla has become the standard by which all electric cars are measured.  So, you would think that if Trump was genuinely concerned about our sustainable energy future he would pick an advocate.  Instead, he picked Rick Perry.

Former Governor Rick is neck deep in the oil industry.  In fact, he currently sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, which is behind the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline.  Some are noting that Perry voiced no objection to wind energy in his state as a good sign, but this guy clearly doesn't have much interest in sustainable energy.  If it wasn't oil he was promoting, it was coal, ushering in 11 new coal plants during his 14-year tenure in Texas.  Between Perry, Tillerson and Trump's pick for Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, it is safe to say that the prime focus of his administration is going to be on fossil fuels.

So, why are these Tech CEOs so excited?  I suppose they are just looking for Trump not to get in their way.  The President-Elect indicated he wouldn't.  Mostly what Trump wants from them is more investment in American infrastructure, which he has made his signature issue.  He's hoping this will boost the GDP and create jobs.  Not that there is much he needs to worry about as the US saw a boost of 3.2% in GDP last year and more jobs added to the payroll than at any time in the last decade.

This meeting was mostly a great photo-op for Trump.  It helped create the impression that Trump is more than just a real estate developer.  He has his hand literally on the pulse of the nation, even if all he knows about the hi-tech industry is what he learned on Twitter.

The worrisome thing is how easily all these guys played into Trump's hand.  I understand they don't want to get on his bad side, but why all the plaudits?  Trump doesn't give a rat's ass what they do as long as it fuels the economy.  You aren't going to see Trump drive a Tesla.  He's not all that interested in the space programs Musk and Bezos are heading.  Probably his biggest interest is getting Tim Cook to manufacture more i-phones in the US, hoping to score another Carrier-like victory.

Even Bill Gates, who did not attend the meeting, likened Trump to JFK in encouraging greater innovation.  Isn't that what President Obama has done the last eight years?  In fact, guys like Elon Musk would probably be out of business if it wasn't for Obama.   His administration helped keep Tesla afloat by offering a great deal of subsidies.  Obama also helped underwrite solar and wind energy initiatives, which no president had done before.  We saw a boom in sustainable energy largely thanks to the tireless effort to sneak these incentives under Congress's nose, as they refused to sign off on an energy bill throughout his tenure.   So, why the fuck is Bill Gates praising Trump, who hasn't done a damn thing yet?

Basically, these guys are all trying to cover their asses, lending the impression they will work with Trump anyway they can and Trump has responded in turn.  What this guy covets are persons like this paying deference to him, as if he were royalty.  They all seem much too happy to oblige.  If any of them had any influence they would have pressed Trump to at least pick a competent person to head the Department of Energy, not some asswipe who couldn't even recall the "agency" when pressed to name the cabinets he wanted to shut down during a 2012 debate.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

As snow fell on New York

Donald said God came to visit him in Trump Tower.  He said it was totally unexpected but there he was in the flesh.  Well, the spirit anyway, telling him he should open up his heart more to the people.  Trump asked if there was something God could do for him.  God seemed a little peeved but then said "What do you want Donald?"  Could you turn the thermostat down a little.  I don't want this global warming thing hanging over my head the whole time I'm President.  I made all these promises to oil and coal companies, and you know, it doesn't look good with the Arctic melting.  God said he would think about it, but told Donald once again to go easy on the people and the hair gel.

Trump knocked himself in the head for not taking more advantage of the opportunity.  He could have asked whether he would have one or two terms in office, or if maybe Ivanka would one day be the first woman president, or who would be in the Super Bowl so that he could place his bets accordingly.  Something like this only comes along once in a lifetime, maybe twice, who knows?

He pondered this propitious moment when he went to bed that night, not sure whether he should tell Melania or not.  The next morning he woke up and it was snowing outside.  That had to be a sign from God and so he decided to share his visit with the media.   This sealed the deal as far as End Times pastor Tom Horn is concerned, Donald Trump is the messiah!  Others were more circumspect but as the unexpected snow fell outside, some had to think that God may indeed work in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Prince

The way I see it, the fatal flaw of the Democrats is their attempt to appeal to reason.  Hillary tried to show what a horrible choice Trump would be, including three debates in which she clearly demonstrated how ill prepared Donald was to be Commander-in-Chief.  If that wasn't enough, she had the better jokes at the Al Smith Dinner.  Yet, here we are with Donald Trump as President-elect.  Obviously, reason, or for that matter good humor, did not prevail.

Obama had managed to beat Romney because Romney was also trying to appeal to reason, as jumbled as it might be.  Donald made no such effort.  He appealed to the lowest instincts of Americans, playing on their xenophobia, sexist and racist biases, and ignorance of how government functions.  Easy enough to do since he doesn't know how government functions either.  He won because he turned Campaign 2016 into a television reality show.

Now, I could parse out how dumb the electorate has become, but it would only feed into the very effective campaign Trump ran against cultural elitism, which has been a favorite whipping post for conservatives for decades.  Nixon ran very much the same sort of campaigns in 1960 and 68.  What Trump did is nothing new, he just managed to succeed at a level few of us imagined could be stooped to and win, especially given the demographic changes since the 60s.

After all, we had such populist candidates as Harry Byrd, George Wallace and Ross Perot do very well in past national elections.  We also had crazy characters like Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee do very well in Republican primaries.  Few, however, imagined that such a candidate could ever win a national election by preying on the lowest instincts of Americans.  We naturally assumed Americans were better than this.  Yet, here we are with a populist President-elect who garnered nearly 63 million votes, the most ever for a Republican candidate, even if he fell short of Hillary by nearly 3 million votes.

Reason no longer wins elections, if it ever really did.  Obama won because he was able to project a confident image of change that many Americans desperately wanted.  Yes, he appealed to a higher set of instincts, but it was his personal sense of character that captured our imagination and the fact that he was relatively new to the game.  He had only been a prominent national figure since 2004 when he was elected to the Senate, giving a rousing keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that year.  By contrast, Hillary carried all this baggage, and try as she might to project herself as the voice of reason she failed because everyone kept looking at her bags.

Obama made the trenchant observation on The Daily Show that the news media focused almost exclusively on the content of the leaked e-mails from the DNC, implying collusion with the Hillary campaign, rather than how these e-mails became public knowledge.   The news media virtually ignored the statement released by the White House on October 6 that the CIA and other surveillance organizations had reached the conclusion that Russia was meddling in the election.  Two days later, the Access Hollywood tape came out creating a media shit storm that effectively buried the far more consequential story.  Americans pretended to be blind-sided by these tawdry revelations, but after a week or so the groping scandal was essentially forgotten and the focus once again was on the steady stream of DNC e-mails being released by Wikileaks.  Then along came FBI Director Comey's fateful letter to Congress.

By this point, it didn't really matter anyway, as we had been going through arguably the worst presidential campaign in American history.  Most Americans wanted it to end.  Comey's letter may very well have served as the final dagger in Hillary's campaign, but the real damage had already been done.

The Republican primaries had been an absolute farce.  Hardly a single intelligent comment came out of any of the candidates and the news media was eating it up.  There was hardly any interest shown toward the Democratic candidates, who slogged it out for five grueling months, refusing to give in to craven interests.  Bernie could have gone after Hillary on the e-mail server scandal but chose not to.  In fact, whenever the question came up he dismissed it out of hand.  He and Hillary wanted their campaigns to be about issues, but as it turns out no one gave a fuck!

Instead, we became glued to the ever growing force of Donald Trump, slaying each Republican candidate in turn until only "Lyin' Ted" was left.  Trump had a nickname for just about everyone, and they all stuck, as bad as many of them were.  Ted may have lied a great deal on the campaign trail, but Donald lied even more.  In fact, he won the dubious distinction of being the most dishonest presidential candidate of all time.  A whopping 78 per cent of his statements were false.  However, in this day and age brash confidence scores more points among the electorate than does a grasp of the issues that impact their lives.  Something anyone would have learned at Trump U.

Hillary was unable to project this bold sense of confidence.  Here was a woman who rose from a humble background to gain an Ivy League education and serve the country in one form or another for 30+ years only to find herself labeled as part of the "cultural elite."   Her experience was viewed as negative, not positive, in a new electoral mindset that railed against the "establishment."  Donald branded her "Crooked Hillary."

By contrast, Trump was literally born with a silver spoon in his mouth, got into Wharton School of Business thanks to his father, never did an honest day's worth of work in his life before inheriting his father's vast real estate wealth.  He eventually parlayed what remained of this wealth into a reality show after just about everyone of his business ventures went belly up.  Yet, he was seen as a man of the people thanks mostly to a red trucker's cap.

It defies all credulity, but Trump was able to tap into a bottomless well of resentment toward the "cultural elite" in this country, and use a level of demagoguery not seen since the 1950s to draw on this bilious indignation.  It was stunning to watch, and most of us simply could not believe it, but here he was drawing bigger and bigger crowds at his rallies, which he continuously bragged about.

Bernie had drawn even bigger crowds but it didn't matter.  It was only when the Democratic race neared the end that the media showed any interest.  They smelled a nasty convention battle, playing up a donnybrook in Philadelphia.  However, Bernie sorely disappointed the media by not challenging Hillary, instead choosing to get his issues on the Democratic platform, like any reasonable candidate would do when he sensed defeat.  He didn't even raise much of a stink over the leaked DNC e-mails, other than demanding the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was going to step down anyway to serve in Hillary's campaign.

At no point in this presidential campaign was reason rewarded.  The mainstream media shunned it like they would someone who had leprosy.  Instead, they once again turned their attention back to Trump and the possibility the Republicans might try to steal his nomination away from him at the convention by freeing the delegates to "vote their conscious" on the convention floor.  Intrigue, mischief and mayhem repeatedly won out over reason.

So, what are Democrats to do in future elections?  Do they continue to take the high road, as they believe they are doing, or do they consider the low road?  I suppose a lot depends on how the Congressional investigations into election tampering play out.  If heads start to roll and Americans find themselves with serious buyer's remorse, it may be that the Democrats win out in the end, as they will be seen as the only alternative to the greed and unscrupulous behavior that led to this "historic" GOP victory.  But, if the Russian election tampering story gets buried again then Democrats have to consider new tactics, as obviously the playing field has been changed dramatically as the result of this election.

They can no longer swear by some election rule book that no longer has any validity, as the Republicans threw it out long ago.  We are now playing a form of Russian Roulette when it comes to politics, and a surprising number of people seem to be fine with it.

Trump has had a steady stream of unlikely figures go through the gilded doors of Trump Tower to talk to him about the future of his presidency.  Everyone from Mitt Romney to Leonardo di Caprio to Al Gore has paid a visit with hopes of bending the President-elect's ear on one issue or another or getting a cabinet appointment.  Donald has also been on the phone with Tim Cook, Bill Gates and many other corporate kingpins, who now speak warmly of Trump and hope to likewise influence his decision making.  It is hard to believe we are seeing a kinder, gentler Donald Trump, given some of the persons he has chosen to fill cabinet positions.  This is the sort of fawning usually reserved for autocrats like Putin, hoping to curry favor in his administration.

Obama appears to be trying one last time to turn American attention to the "rigging" that actually occurred during the campaign with the hope that the Electoral College might re-evaluate the general election.  He is not saying so directly as that would look like election tampering, but if enough doubts are raised maybe some Electors will have second thoughts.  Clever move but one not likely to affect the outcome of this election because in the end these Electors know that they would be seen as trying to steal the election away from Trump.  Can't have that!

The time for Machiavellian politics was during the campaign.  What Democrats have to do is brush up on The Prince, as this is the only useful guide to winning elections and effectively running government, especially when you are in the opposition.  Playing by the rules is a losing game.  What everyone wants to see is intrigue, which is why such shows as Game of Thrones and House of Cards are so popular and why The Apprentice will be returning this winter with Donald Trump staying on as one of the executive producers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

To Russia with Love

As Russiagate heats up, Trump adds further fuel to the fire by putting Rex "Tillie" Tillerson forward as his nominee for Secretary of State.  This does little to deflect attention away from the allegations that the Kremlin manipulated the elections, as Tillie is a great buddy of Vlad, having cut deals with Russia's oil giant, Rosneft, which is exploring oil leads in the Arctic Circle.  This has sent up a number of red flags in Congress, and even Trump's press secretary in waiting, Reince Priebus, had to admit Tillie is not a done deal.

But, Tillerson is just part of the problem.  At the roots are so many links between Trump and Russia that it is not surprising he put a guy like this forward for his top cabinet official.  The amazing part is that his Russian ties gained so little traction during the campaign, despite being first aired during the primaries.  The media was too obsessed with Hillary's ongoing e-mail scandal to pay that much attention to Trump's love for Russia, which extended far beyond hosting Miss Universe in Moscow, 2013.  This was just icing on the cake.

The scandal has reached such proportions that a group representing the Electoral College has demanded an intelligence briefing on Russia's role in the election.  The FBI apparently knew Russia was perusing DNC e-mails last year, but didn't let the Democratic National Committee onto it until it was too late. This may be the first time the Electoral College has been put in the position of serving as a jury on the election.  At stake are 37 electoral votes.  Anything less than 270 electoral votes would void Trump's win.  Right now he stands at 306.

This doesn't necessarily mean the electors would cast their vote for Hillary.  They may simply choose not to vote for Trump or put up some other names.  If Trump fails to gain a clear majority, the decision as to the next President is kicked to the House of Representatives.  They may choose to stick with Trump, but it significantly lessens the "mandate" he believes he won in the election.

We've really never encountered something like this before.  The closest we came to it was when Taiwan was accused of tampering with the 1996 election by funneling money indirectly into Bill Clinton's campaign through the infamous "Charlie" Trie and other Taiwanese Americans.  This resulted in investigations by the Department of Justice and Congress.  But, the campaign finance controversy is pretty small potatoes compared to the Kremlin hacking into DNC e-mail accounts and releasing them through wikileaks, greatly undermining Hillary's campaign.  This is Watergate proportions and one has to wonder how much the Trump campaign was in on it, as he made his infamous call for Russian hackers to find Hillary's missing e-mails back in July.

It's not like he even did a very good job concealing his ties.  Rather, he chose to obfuscate them by tossing out outrageous claims at such a rate that no one paid much attention to his Russian connections until now.  Trump no longer seems to care, putting forward a man for Secretary of State whose former company would have the most to gain from renewed ties with Russia, as the 2014 sanctions forced ExxonMobil to dissolve its partnership with Rosneft.

This has been a monumental con job pulled off right in front of our eyes, yet a huge cross section of the country refuses to see it.  They are deluded by the promise of a renewed industrial America and the return of traditional blue collar jobs, not taking into account all that has happened since the 1960s to make us what we are today.

The worst of it is the relationship American industries have forged with Russia, much like those they did with Hitler's Germany in the 1930s, smelling a whole new market to be exploited regardless of the autocratic nature of Putin's government.  It's not just ExxonMobil.  The broad list includes such American giants as Boeing, GE, General Motors and Pfizer, all helping to fuel Putin's Russia, or were before the sanctions in 2014.

Putin made a big show of blacklisting McDonalds in 2014 to show his contempt for the American-backed sanctions, but he sure didn't toss ExxonMobil under the bus.  He awarded Tillerson with an Order of Friendship.  Sound familiar.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Of Love and Squalor

Or Which Way Will this Bromance Turn?

It is hard to understand why Obama didn't release this "intelligence" during the campaign rather than wait until now to give the green light to CIA to inform Congress of the hacking that took place during the election.  The assessment points to a number of operatives with connections to the Russian government, but stops short of making a direct link between the Kremlin and the DNC computer hacking.  For his part Julian Assange says he got the information from other sources.

It is no more damning than was Comey's report to Congress that the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails should be reopened because of the link between Anthony Weiner and Hillary Clinton via Huma Abedin.  But, it would have gone a long way toward casting doubt on the relationship between Trump and Putin.

Throughout the election, Trump praised Putin and felt the US should have stronger ties with Russia.  He never really gave a reason for this beyond fighting ISIS, but it was felt by many that Russian banks are underwriting a great number of his projects, since Donald found it difficult to get the loans he wanted in the US.  With no release of his tax returns, there is no way to prove this, so like everything else we can only guess.

Even odder is why Putin, a self-professed man of the people claiming he only has his President's salary to live in, would so actively support Trump?  After all, Vlad's rise to power was predicated on putting oligarchs like Mikhail Khodorkovsky behind bars.  Time and again, Putin chastised Russian billionaires for their profligate ways, demanding a closer accounting of their companies.  This meant tightened tax laws, which is what landed Khodorkovsky in jail.

Trump would appear to be the very embodiment of everything Putin hates, yet on several occasions the Russian president took the opportunity to praise Trump for his business acumen and continues to do so.  A large part of this bromance hinges on Trump doing away with the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia as a result of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.  Trump feels we should let bygones be bygones and move on, believing he has a valuable partner in his fight against ISIS, which he used as his most effective campaign rhetoric.

However, if we look at the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has resulted in a diaspora of approximately 5 million refugees, Russia has done more to exacerbate the crisis than it has to resolve it with the ongoing support of Bashar Assad and its own air strikes.  Syria was already in turmoil with its long-running drought and civil conflicts, but it turned into a nightmare with the raid on Aleppo, a once thriving city of 2.5 million people reduced to rumble.  It is the same kind of scorched-earth campaign Putin used in Grozny to bring Chechnya to heel.  All for what, to keep Assad in power and maintain Russia's foothold in the Middle East?

Obama didn't make things any better by pressing for Assad to step down in the wake of the Arab Spring.  His famous "red line" speech rings very hollow today, and may well have been the reason Trump was so effectively able to use Syria against Hillary.  By not delivering on this threat, Obama made himself look weak, and Hillary in turn.  Putin has since been viewed as having gotten the better of both of them.

It was pretty clear to everyone that Hillary would run for office in 2016 as no other major Democrat was coming forward.  Putin has had long-standing animosity toward her and vice-versa.  She spoke out harshly against him while serving as Secretary of State, notably at a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, where she openly chastised Russia in 2011.  So, it isn't much of a stretch that he would orchestrate a cyber-campaign against her.  However, the CIA assessment offers no direct evidence and comes across as little more than idle speculation.

Vladimir Putin very much knows how to get his way.  He has orchestrated a re-alignment of political interests by using such dubious figures as Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Julian Assange and a variety of Eastern European politicians to create instability in the EU, which joined the US in sanctions against Russia in 2014.  His patience comes from not being challenged in his home country, so he has plenty of time to conduct his underhanded campaigns without worry of being voted out of office.  European and American leaders don't have that luxury.  Putin is thriving off the current chaos in Europe and the United States, while his own authority was never in doubt despite US and EU efforts through joint sanctions these past two years.

We currently see the ruling parties in France and the Netherlands scrambling to stave off what appears will be a hard push from the Far Right in the upcoming elections.  PM Renzi was forced to eat his words on the referendum he tried to push through Italy that would have solidified his power base.  Austria found itself in a hotly contested presidential election, although in this case the "good guy" won.

Much of this political insurrection is being fueled by the refugee crisis, which Russia helped cause by standing behind Assad rather than seeking a new transitional government in Syria, which is what the US and EU were encouraging.  Syrians were sick and tired of the decades of the Assad regime, dating back to his father, and rose up during the Arab Spring.   Putin wasn't willing to risk a potential new government that would shift its allegiance to the West, as the Assads had long standing commitments to the Kremlin, dating back to the Soviet Union. The chemical weapons reportedly used by the Syrian government had Soviet markings.

Despite all this unrest, stock markets are soaring and there is a general positive view of the near economic future seemingly because of less tensions between the US and Russia in the wake of Trump's victory.  However, it feels more like the calm before the storm.   Too many things have happened this past year to be so rosy about the future.  Brexit will ultimately destabilize the EU, especially if other countries follow suit, which some political leaders have vowed to do.  I don't think the US is ready for the shock and awe a Trump presidency will bring, nor is the rest of the world.  Trump has already hinted at a trade war with China.

But, if the Donald is going to be BFF with Vladimir Putin then he has to be careful how he treats Vlad's friends.  He can't very well alienate China if China is part of a new alliance with Russia and Turkey.  Iran is also part of this alliance, so Trump better be careful what he has to say about this country as well.  After all, Russia was a major player in the nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration in an effort to mend fences.

Trump is literally walking into a mine field, as would have Hillary if she had been elected President.  Putin has very cleverly forged alliances that make it difficult for the US to flex its muscle in Asia without triggering a massive counter response.  So, all those bellicose words best be kept in private conversations not on Twitter.

It is highly unlikely this CIA assessment of Russian hacking during the campaign is going to wipe that Cheshire grin off Putin's face.  He is sitting in the catbird's seat and knows it.  He played this election perfectly and has what many regard as a "useful idiot" soon to be in the White House.  The only question is whether Trump realizes he is being played, and if so what he plans to do about it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Lost in the counting

One of the problems with the recount taking place in Wisconsin is that many of the ballots are being run through the same computers as they were November 8, so major errors are not likely to be found.  The question all along has been whether the electronic voting machines were hacked, but it seems it will take a Congressional investigation to get to the bottom of this and that could be a very long time in the making.  Republican leaders are not in any hurry.

Even if they did, it is doubtful they would find anything as they would most likely look in all the wrong places.  If such ballot tampering took place, it probably occurred at the local level, which more likely than not would be connected to local RNC affiliates.  After all, these are the guys who stood the most to gain with a Trump victory, especially in Republican-led states like Wisconsin and Michigan.  North Carolina should also be questioned, as should Florida and Ohio for similar reasons.  It is highly doubtful this was a Kremlin-backed plot.

We simply can't bring ourselves to believe that our political parties would stoop this low, but after this ugly election cycle I wouldn't put anything past guys like Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Pat McCrory, Rick Scott or even John Kasich.  These are governors who will do anything to win, and they all threw their support behind Trump, except for Kasich, who probably regrets that he didn't now.  He was evidently Trump's first choice for Vice-President.

Wisconsin is particularly suspect because here we get the nexus of Republican chicanery in Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus, who somehow managed to turn a union blue-collar state into a right-to-work red state with the help of the Koch Brothers in eight short years.  It is really hard to believe Cheese-heads willingly submitted themselves to this, knowing the impact this would have on their state.  All the votes should be counted by hand, which is what Jill Stein tried to have done but failed.

We have deluded ourselves into thinking that the two parties play by the same rule book, when the Republicans threw the rule book out the window long before they found a straw man in Obama to attack.  The main aim had been to stifle voter turnout with voter ID laws and a smaller window of early voting, but this election had a very good turnout, second only to the 2008 election in recent election years.

Hillary amassed over 65 million votes, matching Obama's count in 2012.  She will finish close to 3 million votes better than Trump, yet find herself losing the electoral college because of three key states -- Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- all thought to have been solidly in her column before the election.  There was little reason to doubt this given that Obama had won Wisconsin by 200,000, Michigan by 450,000, and Pennsylvania by 310,000 votes in 2012.  If anything, the economic situation is better in these three states now than it was in 2012, yet magically they all turned for Trump.

All three states had slightly lower turnouts than in 2012, but not enough to account for this amazing turnaround, especially since none of these states had voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, and that included George W. Bush who won two terms in the White House.  So, why Trump?  Did these Upper Midwesterners truly believe Trump would bring their manufacturing jobs back?  Or, that Hillary was actually the devil in disguise?

The same people that believe nothing is out of the ordinary in the Upper Midwest believe that the only reason Hillary won the popular vote is because millions of illegal immigrants voted for her in California.  True there was a spike in voting in California this time around -- but only 500,000 votes.  Hillary's margin of popular victory was 2.65 million votes.  So, where did all these other mysterious votes come from since she lost Florida despite an influx of Puerto Rican voters this year?

One can't make the case that Democrats were less excited about Hillary than they were Obama, given she matched his 2012 popular vote total.  She just didn't get those votes in the right places, which is why scrutiny should be brought to bear on the states that voted for Obama in 2012 but against Hillary in 2016.  For all these states to go Republican this time around seems a bit incredulous to the say the least.

Yet, Obama himself is asking everyone to accept the results and move on.  For her part, Hillary has asked Americans to do the same.  It seems they would rather accept the questionable outcome than have our electoral process called into question.

It's not like this hasn't happened before.  Many persons still believe that Nixon lost the 1960 election thanks to the chicanery of Democratic political machines in Illinois, Texas and California.  Nixon was encouraged to dispute the outcome of the very close election but chose not to, presumably for the sake of the country.  The 2000 election similarly remains disputed given the Bush family connections in Florida.  It seems like an unwritten rule that both parties accept the results regardless of how dubious they might be.

Jill Stein has tried to challenge the system, but finds herself running up against a brick wall.  Wisconsin agreed to a recount but only doing so electronically.  Michigan has blocked her completely, and it is doubtful her petition will be accepted in Pennsylvania.  This means that once again state election officials are left off the hook.

Instead, some Democratic electors are trying to get Republican electors to deny Trump the presidency by being "unfaithful" to their states when the Electoral College meets later this month.  This so-called Electoral College Revolt is no more likely to happen than mysterious hacked ballot boxes are to turn up in Wisconsin.  Yet, many of us simply can't accept Trump won this election "fair and square."

We fool ourselves into thinking our vote is as valuable as everyone else's, when votes are still disproportionately weighted by the states we live in.  Even with the huge outpouring of votes for Hillary in California, these votes are worth less in the Electoral College than are votes from Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, when you divide the population of these states by their electoral votes.  She could have won 100 per cent of the California vote and she still wouldn't have won the electoral college.

This antiquated system was derived by our Founding Fathers as a compromise to the Southern states, which felt they would get trampled in national elections by the much more populous Northern states.  Southern legislators also pushed for the notorious 3/5s rule, allowing for slaves to be counted toward their electoral votes, even though they had no right to participate in the process.

The Founding Fathers were determined to move beyond a confederation of states and become a nation.  They tried hard for 12 years but the populist victory of Jefferson in 1800 and later Jackson in 1828 ended any dreams of Federalism.  The Electoral College is not so much an anachronism, as it is a reflection of this deeply divided nation.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Incident at Standing Rock

In a surprise move, President-elect Trump met with Al Gore this week to discuss global warming.  It had been billed as a meeting between Al and Ivanka, but apparently that was just the prelude.  Could the Donald actually be considering the former Vice-President and ardent environmentalist as his Energy Secretary, after Harold Hamm said no?   Of course, Coal-tar Joe Manchin would be the more obvious choice, a man who hasn't seen a pipeline he doesn't like, but it seems Ivanka may be steering her father in a more environmental-friendly direction.

Gore has also been a sharp critic of the Dakota access pipeline, and the Keystone Pipeline before that.  Both of which are nothing more than cash cows for the wealthy elite who own shares in these two ventures.  The last 8 years has shown us we don't need these pipelines as there is a surplus of oil thanks to a pro-sustainable energy policy by Obama, which has seen a big rise in wind, solar and biomass energy.  So much so that coal and oil production has dropped off precipitously.

Nevertheless. Energy Transfer Partners has pressed for the Dakota Access Pipeline, down to the last leg at Standing Rock Reservation on the Dakota border, largely to bring oil from the Bakken oil reserves in North Dakota to storage tanks in Illinois, where presumably it is more easily transportable to refineries in Texas.

However, the good folks at Standing Rock were having none of it and rose up in protest.  A stand off that has gone on for the better part of four months with numerous celebrities lending their guest appearances and Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders both making the pilgrimage.  Jill even got arrested.  Al Gore described what was going on as an "absolute atrocity," as state officials stepped in to try to remove the protesters, seeming to forget that Native American reservations are under federal, not state jurisdiction.  But, what finally tipped this issue was the arrival of 2000 military veterans, who vowed to stand with the Sioux in defiance of this stretch of the pipeline that crossed onto their reservation.  They looked like the cavalry, only in this case coming to protect the Indians.

With winter setting in and the potential danger of loss of lives, President Obama finally denied a permit that would have allowed the Dakota Access Pipeline through part of the Sioux tribal reservation.    However, there is a cautious optimism at Standing Rock with many Native Americans refusing to go home.  Energy Transfer Partners are furious because they have to rethink about 20 miles of their pipeline.  They are banking on Trump to reverse this executive order, having contributed to his campaign.

But, the man who would be President has divested in the pipeline and seems to be tipping in favor of the populous fervor in regard to the pipeline.  It's not just spritely film actresses like Shailene Woodley and uppity politicians like Jill Stein who have defiantly protested against the pipeline crossing into the Indian reservation, conservatives who claim brotherhood with the Native Americans are also against this corporate trespassing.  This makes it a whole new issue for conservative politicians to contend with.  Even the Oil Queen Sarah Palin has been surprisingly quiet on the issue.

The pipeline was started when times were good in North Dakota, enjoying a big oil boom thanks to reserves found deep underground.  Problem is that this led to a glut in supply and oil prices went tumbling, resulting in many of these oil wells being abandoned.  It is an ecological nightmare as these companies, many of them the fly-by-night variety, didn't bother to address the mess they left behind.

Looking at the big picture, the roughly $4 billion spent on this pipeline would have been better invested in solar and wind infrastructure.  If you are going to call yourself an "energy transfer partnership" then you need to look at energy more broadly than simply delivering oil from dried up fields in North Dakota that currently have little market value, and are not likely to gain value in the near future.  This was one of those projects dreamed up when oil prices were soaring but now looks like a failed mortgage company venture.

Maybe this is why Trump chose to meet with Gore, hoping to gain some insight into the energy issue that eluded him during the campaign.  He was the Coal and Oil King during the election cycle, vowing to return all these lucrative jobs to the good folks of West Virginia and North Dakota, but now it seems the Donald is having second thoughts, and decided to take stock in sustainable energy, which has a far greater future.

Bakken is a veritable wasteland, emitting a foul and pestilent odor over North Dakota.  There have been attempts to clean it up, but it is a slow process, especially now that many of these wildcat drillers have pulled up stakes and no longer consider themselves accountable for the damage.  It is a perfect example of why we so badly need environmental regulations.

In a very unusual political year, the Incident at Standing Rock stands out as what people can do if they stand up against the government, forcing the President to finally intercede on an issue that should have been a no-brainer.  But, I guess Obama didn't want it impacting on Hillary's campaign, which was already struggling to contain Hurricane Donald.  Now all that remains to be seen is whether Trump will honor the decision that was made and offer a cleaner energy vision of the future than the one he expressed during the campaign?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dressing Melania

What's a poor girl to do when she can't even get Tom Ford to dress her.  But don't worry, Melania won't have to go in her birthday suit to the inauguration. Tommy Hilfiger said he would be proud to dress her.  It's just the latest in the faux couture outrage being sparked by a Trump administration.  It's not like Melania had anything to worry about as there are plenty of designers ready to drape her in their garments.

However, it is doubtful that Melania will be the face of this new administration.  Trump leaned heavily on his daughter, Ivanka, throughout the election cycle and it is safe to assume this is the image he will project during his administration.  He also leaned heavily on her husband, Jared Kushner, who is said to have been the brains behind the improbable victory, not Bannon or Conway, who are often given credit.  So, Melania will have plenty of time to work on ridding the web of cyber-bullies.

It is safe to say we have never had a first lady quite like this one.  She was known more for her racy photo shoots than for the garments she wore (or didn't wear) as a model.  Donald had great fun with her during the surprisingly long courtship that ultimately led to the wedding aisle in 2005, one of the hottest tickets that year.  He even had Billy Joel singing Uptown Girl at his reception.

No doubt it was a dream come true for the Slovenian model, who now finds herself a folk hero back in her hometown of Ljubljana.  They even named the Christmas tree after her.  But, she drew the line at honey and underwear.  After all, the first lady has an image to protect.

As for Ivanka, it is hard to imagine what she thinks of all this.  She's been surprisingly quiet in the wake of the election victory.  Even before the big day she had been keeping a low profile.  Maybe she felt her father had gone too far with some of his more vicious outbursts, or she too had a hard time reconciling the audio tape of her father bragging about all his affairs.  One assumes all is forgiven now that she stands to be the most powerful first daughter in American history.

Only Alice Roosevelt can serve as a measure for Ivanka.  The sassy first daughter of Teddy Roosevelt didn't let herself be defined by anyone, and like Ivanka had to deal with a stepmom in the White House.  Teddy's first wife, whom Alice was named after, had died, leaving a great hole in the family.  Ivanka is older and presumably wiser at 34.  Alice was 24 at the end of the Roosevelt administration.

Ivanka is also a better dresser than Melania and much more confident in her appearances.  Of course, it all comes natural for her as she was raised in an opulent lifestyle, attended the best schools and married a savvy husband, who clearly knows how to play the system when it comes to media strategy.  The two no doubt will work hard to keep their father out of trouble over the next four years.

One imagines they are also trying to temper his cabinet appointments, which is leading to some buyers' remorse among his more vociferous supporters, who thought he was going to pull from their ranks.  The appointment of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary has the alt-right up in arms.  They also aren't very happy about Nikki Haley as UN ambassador, as she once criticized the Donald.  But, you figure the media strategy is to play both ends against the middle.

Anyway, it doesn't look like this election will be overturned by the recounts or the electoral college.  Like it or not, someone will have to dress Melania.