Friday, August 18, 2017

There will be blood!

It seems that our president knows no bounds.  Still embroiled in the growing scandal over his Charlottesville remarks, he alludes to a bogus campaign story about Gen. Pershing in response to the Barcelona attack yesterday.  Trump has no problem condemning Muslim extremists, but treats white supremacists with kids' gloves.

I can see why Trump would like to identify himself with Gen. Pershing.  He was the most highly decorated man in military history, putting down uprisings not only in the Philippines but Mexico as well by leading a punitive expedition to capture Pancho Villa in response to an attack on a New Mexico village.  While he never captured Villa, his unit routed Villa's army, making Pershing kind of a latter-day Sam Houston.

Trump, however, is recalling the time Pershing put down a Muslim uprising in the Philippines, a greatly overblown chapter in the famous general's history.  Trump circulated a story on the campaign trail that Pershing captured fifty Muslim rebels.  He had his unit dip their bullets in pig's blood before executing all but one extremist, who he let loose to tell his comrades of the devil they faced in "Black Jack" Pershing.

The story first gained credence after the 9/11 attacks and grew to include such graphic details as the American soldiers tossing pig guts into the mass grave of Filipino Muslims.  It's the kind of red meat conservatives love.  Trump used the general to great effect.

As we have seen in his cabinet, Trump likes to surround himself with strong men, as long as they are loyal to him.  I have to wonder what Generals Kelly, McMaster and Mattis are thinking right now?  They are three of the most highly decorated contemporary generals and to many persons represent all that is good in the military services.  Do they do Trump's bidding or do they speak out?  They are all retired so I assume they can speak for themselves.

We had a similar situation with Colin Powell, who was forced to make his president's case for war in Iraq before the UN in 2002.  It didn't go over very well and former Gen. Powell deeply regretted having been put in that situation.  One can only hope this serves as an object lesson for the generals on Trump's staff.

General Kelly is in the worst position as Chief of Staff.  He was called in to clean up the mess left by Reince Priebus, but you can't clean up the White House when you have a President who goes rogue whenever he gets slighted in the media.  The Pershing tweet has to sting, as you know Kelly has no time for this kind of nonsense.  If it had been a staff member, Kelly would have fired him immediately.  But, you can't fire the president, at least not on your own.  Kelly can only stand by the curtain with bowed head as Trump pours gasoline on the flames of Charlottesville and now Barcelona.

Kelly and the other generals have to realize they have a demented man on their hands.  Pershing found himself in a similar situation with Wilson, although it was more Wilson's inaction in regard to the war in Europe that galled "Black Jack."  Wilson waited three long years before finally summing up the courage to fight.  Trump seems to have no such trepidation.  He is always ready to pick a fight, sending out dog whistles to the alt-right every chance he gets.  Kelly has to find a way to bring the president under control and so far he hasn't found it.

So, what's next?  Does his cabinet allow him to continue to sully the good name of America at home and abroad or does it invoke the XXV amendment to determine if Trump is no longer able to discharge the duties of his office and submit its declaration to the House of Representatives?  It's a tough call, as there are those in his cabinet who will stand behind their president no matter what, as it seems 2/3s of the Republican electorate are doing.

If they act now, the US can start fresh in the fall.  Granted, Mike Pence isn't going to present a sea change in policy.  He will continue to carry out pretty much the same agenda Trump was elected upon, but at least Pence will offer more stable leadership.  Unlike Trump, the vice-president understands the dynamics of Congress and is able to gain the respect of foreign leaders.  For Republicans, this would be a huge step toward regaining their momentum in the upcoming mid-terms.

However, they risk a backlash from their Republican base, which for whatever odd reason stands solidly behind the Liar-in-Chief.  Worse, we could see a white conservative uprising in this country that could make Charlottesville look like child's play.  It's your call, Republican leaders, but the longer you let this man stay in power the darker this problem becomes.  He's already dragged 67% of your party into this dark hole, don't let him drag the whole nation.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Last Days of Donald Trump

Who knew David Duke and not Kim Jong-Un would prove to be Donald Trump's undoing?  The only support the president got in the wake of his Tuesday press conference was from white supremacists and some of his friends at Fox.  Little Kim sat on the sidelines and said he will watch "stupid American behavior for a bit longer."  Whether he was implying the Sea of Japan or Charlottesville is anyone's guess.

This week couldn't have gone any worse for Donald Trump.  All he had to do was offer a heartfelt statement regarding the events that transpired Saturday in Charlottesville and he could have gone back to playing golf at Bedminster National Golf Club.  Instead, he has been pilloried not only by the press but by many members of his own political party, world leaders and even Kim Jong-Un.  That can't sit well for a man who prides himself as much as he does.

No president has had to suffer this much indignity in decades, all because he couldn't sufficiently distance himself from white supremacists.   His vacillating statements led to a mass exodus from his manufacturing council, which he has abruptly disbanded.  Earlier, he had vowed to replace the "grandstanders."  The guy can't win for losing at this point.

He's dug himself many holes before but this may just be his deepest.  The Access Hollywood tape and his comments regarding a former Miss Universe winner were in the past, so many of his supporters were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  But, this is all happening in real time just like on one of his reality shows.  There is no way to duck it.  He finds himself right in the middle of a shit storm of his own creation.

The only real time precedent is the comments he made about the Gold Star family, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, after the Democratic convention.  There was much indignation expressed over that ugly scene but Trump eventually managed to skate clean largely thanks to wikileaks dumping nearly 20,000 emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee that implied they were in cahoots with Hillary to secure her nomination.  The Khan episode drifting into the background.

I don't think Trump is going to be so lucky this time.  He remains under immense pressure to denounce white supremacy in the strongest possible terms, but he just can't bring himself to do it.  Some have speculated it is because of his family's own white supremacy connections.  His father was arrested at a KKK rally in New York in 1927, but Fred claimed he was just an innocent bystander.  Exactly what Trump claims many of the white persons who joined the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville were.

Then there are those who see Trump's actions this week as part of a broader pattern.  Robert Reich believes the president is "trying to start a civil war" by inciting a conflict between his core base and everyone else.  It's pretty hard to dispute this given the inflammatory rhetoric we heard on the campaign trail and the fact that he hasn't exactly softened his tone since assuming office.  From day one, Trump saw his presidency as a battle between us and them, which had many persons shaking their heads in disbelief.  Granted, "them" seemed to be the rest of the world, but in rereading his inaugural address there appear to be an awful lot of dog whistles in it.  Watching The Handmaid's Tale recently, I had to wonder if what we are seeing is the incipient stages of a right-wing conservative revolution in this country.

Of course, all the leading Republicans have denounced the white supremacists in Charlottesville, but few have actually singled out Trump as having enabled these types of rallies with his highly provocative language.  This was on full display at his press conference on Tuesday, lashing out at the "fake media" and the "alt-left" in an attempt to justify the actions of the "alt-right."  He offered a spurious history lesson on monuments, repeating virtually all the talking points of white supremacist blogs, which he appears to read.

Robert E. Lee's own family has not only condemned the actions in their great-great grandfather's name, but said they had no problem seeing all these monuments come down.  Lee himself felt monuments put up so soon after the Civil War would not bring healing to the nation.   Seems that no time was the right time.  

So, in whose name are these white supremacists marching?  It seems to be in Donald Trump's name.  This is the man they identify with.  His golfing outfit replete with red MAGA cap has become one of the preferred costumes of young white supremacists.  They honestly feel Trump speaks for them.

He blew his one remaining chance to distance himself from the "alt-right" on Tuesday.  Any attempt now to disenfranchise himself will be seen as a hollow gesture.  He refused to face them head on as he has refused to face almost everyone head on.  He works best as a grandstander.  He is not a leader, which Jamie Dimon pointed out in his resignation speech.  

Trump is now officially a failed president.  There is little he can do at this point to salvage his name.  He has failed at virtually everything he tried to initiate from his 90-day travel ban to getting the Affordable Care Act repealed.  All he can point to at this stage of his presidency is a relative handful of meaningless executive orders like the one he almost forgot to sign on Tuesday.  The only question that remains is how he will go out.  Will he resign or will he force Congress to initiate impeachment hearings?  He no longer has any respect in this nation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

As Ronald Reagan might say,

No sooner did Trump manage to offer a carefully measured response on Monday, in regard to the events in Charlottesville, than he botched it by returning to his original message on Saturday.  Charles Krauthammer summed it up best in this war of words with Laura Igraham, calling Trump's Tuesday comments, "a moral disgrace."  Of course, Laura begged to differ, defending her president's response to journalists, who she believe derailed his speech on environmental regulations.

Over the weekend, Trump lost three key members of his manufacturing council including Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who he singled out in an angry tweet.  They all cited his lack of an appropriate response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, as their reasons for leaving.  Frazier had been the most vocal.  Obviously, something had to be done to lessen the fallout, so White House advisers cobbled together a speech for their president to deliver on Monday. He presented it as well as could be expected.

On Tuesday, Trump sought to further defuse the situation by rolling out an executive order that revoked much of Obama's climate change regulations, which he felt was handicapping industry in this country.   All Trump had to do was keep his mouth shut on Charlottesville, which he had to know would be the main topic of discussion.   Trump being Trump couldn't let it go.  Once again, we are back at square one and no one gives a shit about his latest "revocation order" signed at Trump Tower.

The optics couldn't be worse.  Not only did he single out one of the few black CEOs of a major corporation in Ken Frazier, but once again took aim at former President Obama, seemingly for no reason at all as he has already revoked much of Obama's environmental legacy.  Trump talks about Americans wanting to whitewash history by calling for the removal of Civil War monuments, but his entire reason for being appears to be to wipe out Obama's presidential accomplishments.

The Robert E. Lee statue was erected in Charlottesville in the 1920s, long after his death.  Lee himself never wanted to be remembered for his Civil War legacy, but rather for his tireless work in reviving Washington College, now known as Washington and Lee University.  But, the brainless idiots who chose to surround his statue Friday night with tiki torches wouldn't know that.  They believe Lee stood for white supremacy.  Little wonder that local residents and students took exception to this view the next day, when the neo-Nazis, klansmen and other white radicals staged a "Unite the Right" march down the main street of the city.

Of course, one has to ask why we even allow these people to stage such rallies.  The KKK, neo-Nazis and other white radical groups should all be listed as terrorist organizations.  Their only purpose is to express resentment and incite anger, using whatever means they have at their disposal.  At the black heart of this rally is Jason Kessler, who made no bones about this being a pro-white rally, using the Lee statue as a crutch to lean on.  Kessler, like so many others in the alt-right blogosphere, has been a fervent Trump supporter, although he had to wonder if his president still stood behind him after that speech on Monday.

No worries.  Trump still has the alt-right's back, once again bemoaning the violence "on many sides."  As Krauthammer said in his response to Laura Ingraham, no president since Woodrow Wilson has stood with the white supremacists in this country.  We all know that Wilson was a racist but even he recognized when he had gone too far in the case of William Monroe Trotter, admonishing himself for not having shown more restraint when confronted by the civil rights leader who had previously thought Wilson represented their interests.

This was the way Ken Frazier felt on Saturday.  He thought the rug had been pulled out from under him and chose to leave the Trump administration to its own devices.  The Manufacturing Council, which Trump established, was a joke to begin with.  Trump surrounded himself with America's top industrialists for no other reason than to promote himself as a dealmaker.  He has made no effort to follow their advice.  Elon Musk saw this when Trump chose to drop out of the Paris Climate Agreement.  It's hard to believe many others will stay on after this incident.

August is normally a slow month, but Trump has somehow managed to fill the void with false bluster over North Korea, a poor response to the violence in Charlottesville and even a military threat leveled against Venezuela.  Not even Nikki Haley saw that one coming.  His staff has tried its best to defuse each of these situations but to no avail, as Trump doubles and triples down on his "fire and fury."  You have to wonder if his cabinet is beginning to think enough is enough.

Trump is unable to restrain himself.  He flies off the handle at the smallest slight, and literally goes nuclear when dealing with existential threats.  What threat Trump sees in Venezuela is anyone's guess but Mike Pence traveled to Colombia to allay worries over a potential conflict.  Our president is an emotionally unhinged man, much like the white supremacists we saw in Charlottesville over the weekend.

If he suffered from Tourette's syndrome we might be able to excuse him, but this is a man with no redeeming traits. What we saw on Saturday and again on Tuesday is the @realDonaldTrump.  Monday was just a projected image composed by his staff.  He is a deeply confused man whose paranoia will only get worse the longer he stays in office.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Big Dick Ideology

Americans have always lived in a fantasy world.  Hollywood eventually provided films that gave these fantasies a verisimilitude that only celluloid productions can do.  The first great fantasy was probably Birth of a Nation, but The Wizard of Oz in gorgeous technicolor took it a step further, making us not only believe in witches and flying monkeys but in a world where all you have to do is throw water on evil and it will just melt away.

Our foreign policy is something that could have easily been contrived in Hollywood.  We see ourselves as the shining beacon of the free world and while it might take a world war to purge evil, everyone will be thankful to us in the end, just like the wicked witch's foot soldiers were when they saw the tyrant melt away.

His Trumpness is trying this out on Kim Jong-Un, but it isn't working as smoothly as he would like.  He's now thrown a second pail of water on Little Kim, and the young tyrant has the audacity to laugh in his face.  North Korea isn't going away that easily, as Gen. Mattis ruminated in an candid moment, but the defense secretary still seems to think that all these bellicose words being tossed around represents some kind of "diplomacy."

Of course, one can argue that all this highly-charged rhetoric is for domestic consumption, feeding into the narrow view most Americans have of the world, but this is exactly the type of rhetoric that got us into a war with Iraq and Afghanistan before that and Vietnam before that and Korea before that.  Americans expect their leaders to match their rhetoric with action otherwise they get voted out in the next general elections.  LBJ didn't want to be seen as the president who lost Asia.

That's why our lady senator from South Carolina is once again backing up the call to war.  Dear Lindsey knows how effective it is as a campaign tool and he needs something to bolster his drooping ratings in the Palmetto State.   Hard to believe Lindsey actually served in the military.  Granted it was the National Guard.  Probably helped him pay off college.  He never had to fight in a war, so he has no idea what it is like, unlike his colleague, John McCain, who is less anxious for a call to arms, especially knowing that the nuclear option is very much on the table here.

Like the witch's foot soldiers in The Wizard of Oz, we believe North Koreans are just waiting to be liberated from the evil reign of the Kim dynasty that dates back to 1948.  A couple documentaries have appeared on Netflix that are well worth watching:  Under the Sun and The Propaganda Game.  There are others as well.  Here's a short list.  It might behoove the president to watch these docs rather than rely on movies like The Interview or Team America, which seems to be what he is basing his "knowledge" of North Korea on.

Granted, it is easier to accept fantasy images.   One-quarter of Americans believe the Bible to be the literal word of God.  In fact, one pastor has even talked to God and said that the big guy upstairs has given the president "full control" to take out Kim Jong-Un.  Hard to trump that!

For many Americans, God is a living breathing entity that in one form or another shapes their lives.  They pray to him for guidance and in many cases literally believe that their lives are in his immense hands.  Trump could only wish he had hands so big.  So, our president does the next best thing he invokes God, whether he actually believes in him or not.

Such feverish imaginations are the lifeblood of Hollywood, and with the help of CGI they can make Biblical events look very real.   Many Americans would sooner accept the story of Noah's Ark than they would global warming flooding the earth, even though this too was made into a movie.

What makes this particularly amusing is that Kim's father was a big fan of Hollywood, and Little Kim grew up with the images played over and over in his head.  There is nothing new Trump can throw at the boy tyrant because he has literally seen it all.  Kim Jong-Un has probably watched The Wizard of Oz countless times and imagines throwing water on Trump.  So basically, we are seeing Dorothy and the Wicked Witch go at each other on the world stage.  Take your pick as to who's who.

Americans sit back and watch the spectacle as they would reality television, which of course Trump excelled in before assuming the title of "leader of the free world."  He pretty much runs the White House as he did The Apprentice, feeding into a low brow audience's insatiable appetite for tawdry melodrama.

Yet, it appears he has met his match in Little Kim.  The boy tyrant thrives off the caricatures made of him, using them to great effect.  But, we can accept that because it feeds into our image of an evil leader.

Trump's bad boy persona is a little harder to swallow, as deep down most Americans expect their leader to rise above such low-life persons and be the voice of quiet authority -- the so-called Big Stick ideology that characterized the Roosevelt administration and became the model for subsequent administrations.  Instead, we now have the Big Dick ideology characterized by Donald Trump and sadly a significant portion of the country appears to be just fine with that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Where America's Day Begins

If nothing else, Donald Trump now has everyone talking about Guam.  No sooner did our immenseness threaten North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen," than his alter ego fired back by saying he would now target Guam with his next missile.  This all may turn out to be just the latest "pissing contest" Trump has engaged in, but Guam is none too happy about the attention it is now getting.

It is doubtful a North Korean missile could actually hit Guam, but one has to wonder why Trump would even launch this kind of hyperbole given the active missile testing going on in North Korea.  Just recently the country fired a ballistic missile 2800 kilometers into space to see if it had the range to hit the US, which has long been Kim's mission ever since he inherited the country from his father.  Kim now has a new goal -- can he hit a remote island in the Pacific Ocean?  I would think Alaska to be a much easier target.

Rather than quell Trump's incendiary rhetoric, Gen. Mattis chose to echo his commander's off-the-cuff comment.  I would think the last thing the "Warrior Monk" wants is another war on his hands.  His track record hasn't been very good since 2002 with Iraq and Afghanistan still torn by civil strife and the situation in Syria even worse.  Does he really want to get into another hornet's nest in Northeast Asia where China and Russia have deeply vested interests?

What bothers me most about the general's message is how ignorant it sounds for a man considered to have one of the sharpest intellects in the military.   North Korea doesn't need to match our arsenal to wreak havoc on the world.  It has more than enough firepower to engulf the region in flames if it so chooses.  Why provoke an incident that could have extremely dire consequences?

Part of it seems to be that this administration takes Kim Jong-Un to be a petty man-child who is only capable of understanding these kinds of threats.  Of course, Trump talks this way with everyone so it is easy for him to play the role.  But, what good does it do?  North Korea is already feeling deeply hurt by the latest set of UN sanctions, calling it a "hostile policy."  At what point does Little Kim just say, "fuck it," and decides to take a pot shot at the US, his archnemesis?

One would like to think clearer heads will prevail, showing that you can communicate with Pyongyang in less blunt terms.  After all, this is what our Secretary of State has said for months, but has yet to make any such overture.  I don't think anyone will "sleep well at night" given the current rhetoric, especially the folks in Guam.

Monday, August 7, 2017

News of the Week

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blond who
comes on at five.
She can tell you 'bout the [train wreck] with a gleam
in her eye.

Who would have thought Don Henley could be so prophetic?  Here's Kayleigh McEnany giving us the "News of the Week" live from Trump Tower.  I guess Kayleigh got tired of being a punching bag on CNN.  Hard to say if she will be tag teaming with Lara Trump, or if she is now the face of Trump News.

You figure these are the first ginger steps into the water of news propaganda by Team Trump, as they try to give their facebook podcast a face followers can relate to.  If the first installment was any indication, it seems Eric may be the driving force behind this new mission.  Lara is not new to television.  According to Cosmopolitan magazine, she interned with local North Carolina television news stations and Inside Edition.

Better not let Stephen Miller know about this.  Can't have anyone with a cosmopolitan bias working for Team Trump.

Whatever its mission, the perky podcasts sure attracted television pundits.  No one let these installments go by without a comment.  The folks at CNN were particularly hard on Kayleigh, who told facebook followers of her departure before informing CNN officials.  I'm sure Team Trump will buy out her contract.

The whole thing is so cheap and tawdry that it just might work.  It has the look of local news, which is the way most Trump supporters get their news.  Team Trump can even offer its own real weather segment, highlighting the good weather around the country instead of the nasty storms that meteorologists all too often credit to global warming.  I guess we will just have to stay tuned for news at 11.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Lie of the Mind

Living in an age of reality television, it is pretty hard to imagine American Playhouse and other efforts to bring the theater to the television screen back in the 1980s.  But, if we take the "wayback machine" to 1984, we get our first formal introduction to the work of Sam Shepard in True West, an adaptation that featured the young John Malkovich and Gary Sinise.

Shepard had first made his mark in the 60s with his off kilter one-act plays and later traveling in Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.  Shepard no only kept a log of the road show, but wrote a song for Bob and worked with him on the screenplay for Renaldo and Clara.

He had his own band for awhile, the Holy Modal Rounders, known for its off kilter bluegrass style, whose songs were featured in Easy Rider, among other movies.  They even made a guest appearance on Laugh-In.  Yes, that's Sam Shepard on drums.

I saw Shepard once in Santa Fe.  He came into a bar and took over the drums for a short set before returning to his seat among a small circle of friends.  He seemed distant, as he always does.  I felt compelled to approach him at one point, not sure what to say other than I had enjoyed seeing one of his recent theatrical productions, A Lie of the Mind.  He nodded and that was the end of that.

By this point everyone knew him for playing Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff and his relationship with Jessica Lange, who wasn't with him that night, and Paris, Texas, a film he wrote for Wim Wenders.  He was the great existential cowboy, even when playing a test pilot, spending more time on a horse, where he obviously felt more comfortable than in a replica of a Bell X-1.

This was the peak of his career.   Voyager was the last movie I could say I enjoyed, mostly for the opening sequence.  He would go onto to do more plays, movies and reprise the Rounders from time to time, but it would no longer be the same Sam.  He was used almost exclusively as a character actor to help give some kind of legitimacy to the stars, as in Mud where he played Matthew McConaughey's father.

I had some hope for the new television series Bloodline, once again featuring Sam Shepard as a salty father figure, but the Key West setting and all the absurd melodrama was too much.  It must have been rough for him both physically and mentally to be part of such a bloated production that took itself way too seriously.  Shepard had been diagnosed with ALS and it was clearly a struggle for him to keep making movies, but I suppose the opportunity to work with Sissy Spacek one last time was too good to pass up.

By this point, he had touched so many actors' lives that it is not surprising to see the outpouring of affection for him.  It was said in the early days, his plays could be quite bruising, literally so, as he expected actors to engage in fist fights and throw each other through walls.  But, now he was the cantankerous old father figure like the character, Baylor, in A Lie of the Mind.

The 1980s seem so long ago and the 60s some distant past totally detached from the present day.  It's great to see his plays being revived on Broadway, although it is hard to imagine seeing this play with a big audience.  Shepard's plays have to be seen in an intimate setting, so that you are made to feel part of the production.

But, that no longer seems possible in this age of reality television.  We are more or less voyeurs, with the television or internet screen serving as portals into the private lives of others.  Sadly, this is the closest we get to the intimacy that made Off-Broadway the driving force of theater in the 60s.  Rest in Peace, Sam.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Colossus and the mobocracy

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to free.

Stephen Miller posed an interesting question, "which came first the Statue of Liberty or Emma Lazarus' poem, the New Colossus?  Miller suggested the latter and so in his mind it doesn't convey the "original intent" of the statue but rather some liberal notion of what it means.  I suppose he has a point in that the statue is a glorified harbor lighthouse, but its beacon was meant to signify much more than safe passage.

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi imagined it as symbolic of American independence.  He designed it in the early 1870s and Gustave Eiffel had a built in sent over to America in pieces starting in 1875.  The arm and torch was on display at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, but it would take 10 years before the statue was finally erected on Ellis Island, with no small measure of thanks to Emma Lazarus, whose poem was used to raise money for the construction of the star-shaped pedestal.

The poem was eventually engraved on the pedestal in 1903, which seems to have confused Stephen Miller, as he or more likely his staff dates the poem from this time.  The New Colossus was actually written in 1883 and is an integral part of the statue's history.

Clearly, Stephen Miller shouldn't have gone there.  He would have been better advised to say that the new immigration policy is little different from that of Canada or Australia, using a point system to determine the value of immigrants.  In fact, most countries prioritize economic-based applications, favoring skilled workers and investor applicants.  But, Miller tried to make it sound like this has always been the US immigration policy, which has clearly not been the case.

The US has long welcomed refugees and has had a lottery in place for decades that allows any applicant an equal shot at being selected, regardless of his or her ability to speak English or provide a specific skill.  The H-1B visa, which Miller seems to be referring to, is relatively new.  It was part of a 1990 Immigration Act, although some would argue it was never anything more than a cynical attempt to stuff the workplace with cheap, skilled foreign labor, particularly in the tech industry.

In fact, by favoring skilled immigrants over unskilled immigrants, Americans are far more likely to lose jobs in the years ahead.  Under the H-1B visa program, a company has to prove it couldn't find a qualified candidate in the US, but this process is easily abused.  So much so, in fact, that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has a page devoted to the subject.

The unskilled immigrants, which this administration has depicted as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, actually provide a boon to the economy by taking jobs virtually all Americans shun.  Very few Americans want to work in the agricultural or garment industries today, much less do the menial work that so many of these immigrants do.  We would much rather pay someone minimum wage to do these ornery tasks for us.  An immigration policy like that which the Republican Congress and Trump set is far more likely to encourage illegal immigration to fill the economic void than it is to discourage it, as these are the types of jobs hardest to fill.

If this is a cynical attempt to try to cap the number of ethnic minorities coming into the country, as Jim Acosta suggests, it probably isn't going to work.  Nor, is it going to protect American jobs.  Nor, can Emma Lazarus' poem be detached from the Statue of Liberty.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dr. Gorka

If you were curious who is the "military adviser" bending Trump's ear these days, it is Sebastian Gorka.  He's one of those characters a sci-fi writer would invent for no other purpose than to hate him.  Gorka comes from a British background but has been instrumental in shaping Viktor Orban's vision for Hungary.  Now, he is serving as one of Trump's advisers.

Currently, he's busy defending the trans ban, claiming Trump is doing transgenders a favor by not exposing them to the rigors of military life, given their high suicide rate.  Seems this self-professed expert doesn't bother to check out Snopes before he goes on air, as he would have learned that there are approximately 15,000 transgenders currently serving in the military, and an estimated 130,000 have served over the years.  Of course, estimates vary, but that's a significant number of persons to be dismissing from military service.

Gorka purportedly served in the British Territorial Army as an interpreter for three years before going onto work in the Hungarian Ministry of Defense after the fall of the Soviet Union.  He wormed his way over to America in the late 1990s, insinuated himself into conservative circles, notably that petri dish known as the Heritage Foundation, and now is one of Trump's top advisers when it come to military matters.

To hear him talk in his thick Hungarian-British accent is to immediately make you cringe.  He comes across as all knowing, yet doesn't seem to know how the American military functions, or for that matter the British military, which has allowed transgenders to serve openly for two decades without any detrimental effects.

So, why go down this alley?  This has befuddled the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which have refused to act on Trump's tweet.  It sounds like one of those actions whose sole purpose is to agitate the public and hope for some kind of ugly reaction.  Gorka is the type of person the Kremlin would plant in the White House, endearing himself to the alt-right and thus to Trump.

The Trump administration is riddled with dark spawn like Gorka, hovering around him like parasites hoping to instill in him the hatred that seethes inside them.  Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Anthony Scaramucci are the most visible of these parasites, but Gorka is popping up more and more on talk shows to defend Trump's positions, probably because he wrote them himself.

It's not just transgenders who Gorka hates, he has no time for Muslims either and loves nothing more than to go into the lion's den, so to speak, to argue his points.  Like Trump, he bullies his opponents, trying to make their views sound inconsequential, but Scott Altran amply holds his own in this debate on the nature of jihad on al Jazeera.  Gorka conflates Islam with militantism, assuming them to be one in the same, a view widely held in the alt-right community.

Despite all his credentials, he is reviled by most reputable conservative groups and generally ignored by counterterrorism experts, who see his views as dangerously oversimplistic.  But, that's Trump in a nutshell.  Little wonder he fits right in.

He managed to get a position that didn't require Congressional approval, like Bannon and Miller, and now appears to wield considerable influence in the White House, much as he did with Orban in Hungary.  You were wondering why Trump and Orban were so chummy at that NATO conference in Brussels.

Trump's had a long standing invitation for Orban to visit the White House.  This ugly attempt to whip up dissent in Europe building up to the Dutch and French elections this past spring was probably the work of Gorka as well, as he hates the EU as much as he does transgenders and Muslims.  It also points to complicity with Russia, which was also helping to fuel this dissent through the widespread dissemination of fake news in an attempt to undermine Macron's campaign.

Gorka's chief aim appears to be to create chaos and hoped he might stir up a hornet's nest with transgenders, who have captured the public's imagination.  It's one of those issues that can easily be dropped if things start to veer in the wrong direction, but for now it is deflecting a little bit of attention away from Trump's other failures, allowing his dark spawn to regroup and plot other strategies.

If you needed to point to one figure that acted as a go between the Kremlin and the White House it would be Sebastian Gorka.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mack the Knife

It seems there was a delayed effect to the chip the Democratic doctor planted in McCain's head after removing his tumor.  Despite giving a heroic speech on the Senate floor, it took most of the week for the maverick senator to buck his own party and turn his thumb down on the "skinny repeal" Mitch was sure he would get through Congress.

Best laid plans were laid to waste as the crestfallen Senate leader knew he would be getting a nasty call from the White House.  How could he let the president down on this momentous occasion?  The Vice President, who had been hovering around the Senate floor hoping to cast the deciding vote, was more sanguine, putting his arm around Susan Collins' shoulders and saying, "boy, are you tough."  I suppose it could also be a good cop, bad cop routine with Trump soon repealing all federal money to Maine, Alaska and Arizona in the wake of this vote.

Collins got a hero's welcome back in Bangor with persons spontaneously cheering her arrival at the airport.  She said that was the first time that happened to her.

As for McCain, he went from being goat to hero in the span of five days.  He was the deciding vote to let this charade proceed, after he gave a big speech in which he stated this was no way to forge legislation.  Lisa Murkowsky is the unsung hero, as she and Collins were the only two Republicans to try to stop Mitch's unorthodox attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act on day one.

The oddest part to me is how many other Republicans also spoke out against these repeal bills, notably Lindsey Graham, only to go along with the bills each and every time.  Dear Lindsey had stated he would vote no to the "skinny repeal" until he was assured the House wouldn't try to tack any riders on it in a conference committee.  But, Lindsey has always been one of those senators where no usually means yes.

All this drama really makes you wonder what the Republicans hoped to gain from these last minute theatrics.  Even if they had passed the "skinny repeal" and gotten the House to accept it "as is," it would have been a very superficial victory.  All it called for was a repeal of the individual mandates, which meant persons were no longer obligated to buy health insurance.  The vast majority of the Affordable Care Act would have remained in tact.

They were able to repeal the Cadillac tax but that wasn't good enough for His Trumpness, who has vowed retribution by withholding payments to insurance companies, or "bailouts" as he calls them, unless the Senate reconvenes and votes one more time to repeal Obamacare.  Needless to say, that isn't happening any time soon.

Virtually all of Trump's threats ring hollow and no one seems particularly scared of him.  The Wall Street Journal was very harsh on the president, calling him a Drama Queen, as Peggy Noonan and others questioned his manliness.   You really have to wonder how much longer this administration can survive, having failed to deliver on any of its signature promises, spending most of its time whining about how it is portrayed in the media.

As for McCain, this would be a great curtain call, retiring from the Senate as a "maverick." He wouldn't have to explain how he voted in line with Trump's positions 90% of the time the past six months.  All people would remember is the knife he drove into the back of the President on the last vote of the session, scotching any attempts to repeal the ACA any time soon.  Unfortunately, Mackie will probably stick around a while longer, with plenty of opportunities to ruin this great moment.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Madness of His Trumpness

Maybe Trump is suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.  How else to explain these surly morning tweets, taking out his frustration on Jeff Sessions and transgenders?

No one particularly likes Jeff Sessions, but you almost feel sorry for him.  Here's a guy doing his level best to satisfy the bloated one and look at the thanks he gets.  Trump seems to have it out for his entire justice department, treating them like a team of personal lawyers who aren't doing enough to protect him.

As for transgenders, he not only caught the LGBTQ community by surprise but the Pentagon as well.  No one saw this coming, not even his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who was enjoying a little bit of R&R when this shit hit the fan.  So far, the military is not reacting to the tweets, forcing Trump to deal with the shit storm himself.

Neither of these bold gestures makes any sense.  Sessions has been a steadfast supporter of Trump since the beginning of his campaign and is very popular among Southern conservatives.  Steve Bannon himself enlisted Sessions into the ranks. Transgenders in the military is a non-issue, but for some absurd reason Trump chose to make it one.  As a result, he has angered Republicans across the board, not to mention turn many in the military against him.

It seems that whenever Trump gets angry he has to act out, and woe be it to anyone who gets in his way to the bathroom.  Maybe something came up about transgenders on Infowars or Hannity that set Trump off as he definitely didn't consult any generals or military experts on this decision.  This one rose right up from his own bowels.

As for Sessions, one can understand Trump is frustrated that the Justice department can't sweep this Russia thing under the rug, but the AG has to at least make it look like he has studied the Constitution, which he swore to uphold.  Now, Trump wants Sessions to investigate Hillary all over again, as if this will throw the special counsel off the scent.

It's all so puerile that if Trump had any advice it probably came from the Mooch.  You can bet Congressional Democrats will push even harder for a commission to investigate Trump's physical and mental health.  There might even be a few Republicans who are beginning to wonder if Trump has gone wacko.

Gen. Mattis has no doubt rushed back to the White House to set Trump straight on the issue of transgenders in the military, and we hope to see a retraction on twitter in the coming days.  But, His Trumpness has a bad habit of doubling down on everything he says, leaving it up to the courts to decide the issue, as is the case with his travel ban.

Meanwhile, Sessions is keeping a low profile, hoping his boss will forget about him and vent his frustration on some other cabinet member, maybe Rick Perry, who got duped into a 22-minute conversation with the Russian Jerky Boys.  This is the man with the key to the nuclear codes.  Interesting that Trump chose not to tweet about Governor Rick.

But, maybe we are missing something here, as Rachel Maddow might ask?  Maybe the President is wilier than we think? Maybe His Trumpness thinks he is helping his boys out on Capitol Hill by deflecting attention away from their effort to repeal Obamacare? Heh, look over here, while Congressional Republicans work to strip health care from 22 million Americans!

No, I will stick with irritable bowel syndrome.  This is a guy who is unable to settle into his new role of leader of the free world, battling periodic bouts of constipation and diarrhea, venting his frustration on everyone around him.  Just like King George III lost America due to porphyria, it seems His Trumpness may lose the White House to his bowels.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Last Boy Scout

Trump is certainly not one to miss an opportunity, rallying a bunch of boy scouts at a national jamboree around his health care bill and contempt for Obama.  For a man who doesn't want to talk about politics, he sure spent a lot of time talking about politics. 38 minutes worth.

The jamboree became a backdrop for one of his political rallies, in which he openly chastised Obama for not having attended a jamboree during his tenure, although Obama did so via video in 2010, marking the centennial of scouting in America.  The rambling speech was full of many cringe-worthy moments, including one in which he turned William Levitt into a strange cautionary tale, although it didn't seem to go anywhere.

More odd was Trump putting Tom Price on the spot in regard to the health care bill Senate Republicans are trying to pass this week.  I imagine many parents are concerned about a bill that would make it that much more difficult for them to get coverage for their families, but Trump turned this into a political talking point at the expense of his audience.

Trump was never a scout, but he did commend those in his administration who were scouts, notably Mike Pence, who hosted a camp out on the lawn of the governor's mansion in May, 2016.  Oddly enough, the men standing next to him, Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke, are both Eagle Scouts.  Zinke proudly wearing his uniform, although no badges for some reason.  Surprised he didn't ride into the jamboree on a horse.

The list of Eagle Scouts is long and varied, and also includes Jeff Sessions.  But, the Donald seems angry with his AG for not taking a more proactive stance when it comes to the investigations into his administration's ties with Russia.  He excluded him from the event much like he excluded Sean Spicer from his audience with the Pope.

The Boy Scouts of America has long been a favorite conservative institution.  They can easily identify with its para-military style established by Robert Baden-Powell back in 1910.   The BSA very quickly made a connection with the White House in William Howard Taft, who became its first honorary president.  Theodore Roosevelt was absolutely bully about the boy scouts, organizing his own troop and eventually becoming Chief Scout Citizen, the highest honor ever bestowed by the BSA.   However, that changed to some degree in 2013 when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth.  Before that they had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy much like the military.  This spurred the Mormon church to scale back its involvement with the BSA, but hasn't seemed to deter other conservatives.

Ever since 1937, the Boy Scouts have been holding a national jamboree.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt attended the quadrennial event as have most presidents over the years.  Trump had no reason to castigate any former president, yet he used the event to call out Obama, who himself was a scout in Indonesia.  The Boy Scouts had become international in 1922, with troops all over the world, even in Russia.  They stage international jamborees as well.  The next one will be similarly held in West Virginia in 2019.

Not only did our freewheeling president break from tradition by politicizing the event, but he made a mockery of the jamboree, leading many parents to question the Boy Scouts.  Some parents were so livid about the nature of Trump's speech, they threatened to take their boys out of scouting.  But, what is the BSA to do?  It is an open invitation to each president every four years.  They can't control what their honorary president has to say.  They can only hope that he will stick to tradition.

Sadly, we have learned that Trump can no more stick to tradition than he can to a prepared speech.  Seeing such a big crowd no doubt made him feel like he was back on the campaign trail, and so he opened up, as he is wont to do, and let fly with anything and everything that was on his mind, kind of like grandpa at a wedding spilling out all the family problems rather than just congratulating his granddaughter on her day.  Now the Boy Scouts of America have to pay the price for his indiscretions.

The BSA is not at fault here.  Trump is.  This is a man who has repeatedly shown his disdain for our valued institutions. He similarly went off the rails at his CIA speech back in January and a Coast Guard commencement speech in May.  I think the NAACP was very fortunate Trump declined an invitation to attend its convention.  One hazards to think what he might have said there.

It seems the only way to curb him is to censure him, not that it would do much good.  Trump defies all conventions.  The more he does so, the more his base loves him.  A vicious circle that can only be broken once he is removed from office, and even then we would probably hear a great outcry in this country, a "second civil war" as Alex Jones calls it.  These yahoos seem to believe all our institutions have been pervaded by insidious "libtards" and that Trump is their deliverer, the right hand of God so to speak, to lead them out of this liberal dystopia they imagine.  For Congress to act against Trump would be for Republicans to face this wrath in the primaries, which is why you see so many GOP senators lining up behind this insidious health care repeal, including our venerable John McCain.

In Trump's eyes, the Boy Scouts are some kind of young patriotic front that he can rally behind his initiatives, much like Hitler or Stalin used youth organizations in their countries.  For him everything is political, with just about every organization forced to line up either with him or against him.

It would be nice to think the BSA could remain above this political fray, but it has already shown its contentious side on gay rights and still refuses to merge genders as the military has done.  So, it too is very much political in its own right.

How this plays out remains to be seen, but let's hope Trump is not around for the 2019 World Scout Jamboree.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Happy Trails, Sean

SNL won't have Spicy to kick around anymore, but the media couldn't resist reporting on one ignominious act in which Sean pilfered a mini fridge from his junior staffers in the early evening hours his first month in office.  I wonder if they will snatch their fridge back now that he's gone, but more likely they all pitched in for a new one from Walmart months ago.

It was a thankless job from the start as Spicer was forced to invent numbers surrounding the President's inauguration and it only got worse after that.  A press secretary's job is to cover for his boss but time again he had to sink to lower levels in doing so.

Sean's biggest problem was trying to explain Trump.  He would often go to great lengths to rationalize the president's tweets, making himself the brunt of jokes.  SNL had a field day with him, leading many to speculate how long Trump would keep Spicer, or "Melissa" as he affectionately came to be known.   It seems that as long as Sean was willing to take the abuse, he had the job because it deflected attention away from the Hairpiece in Chief.

However, everyone has his limits, and for Sean that came with the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director, a job in which he had been serving ever since Trump had chosen to have Sarah Huckabee lead the press briefings.  It was clear that Trump no longer had any place for Spicer and so Sean did the honorable thing -- resign.

Anyone hoping for a tell-all book, saw that quickly dashed when Spicy popped up on Hannity.  It's looking a lot like the time Trump fired Corey Lewandowski, who had been his campaign manager, only for Corey to serve as a very useful tool on the news media circuit.  Lewandowski even landed a gig at CNN, making him a permanent fixture throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Spicer should do better in this role as he can engage more freely in "round table discussions," like we see on CNN.  He can say what he will, even question his former boss from time to time so as not to look like a lapdog.  I'm sure he will soon have a permanent position at Fox or CNN.

As for the new communications director, Scaramucci is certainly a much smoother talker, and has already shown his ability to disarm the press.  Makes you wonder why Trump didn't pick him from the get-go, but then I suppose he still wasn't sure how loyal Tony would be to him.  My question is what does a highly successful investment banker gain by serving Trump in this capacity?

Trump  has already laden his administration with Goldman Sachs alums, making his attacks of Hillary on the campaign trail appear very hypocritical.  This was the charge leveled at Bernie Sanders when he first brought up her speaking fees on the campaign trail, claiming it represented a conflict of interests.

Trump co-opted Bernie's language during the general election but not his tenacity when serving as President.  Maybe this is why Spicer thought Scaramucci was such a bad choice, as Trump is supposed to be a Main St. President.  If nothing else, the President should at least be able to effectively communicate that, but how can he if he has someone so close to Wall St. heading up his communications department?

Not that it will probably matter with his electorate.  As low as Trump has slipped in the polls, he still hovers around 40 per cent, which means he continues to have the full support of the conservative faithful.

Sean is just the latest sacrificial lamb of the Trump administration, which periodically has to make an offering to give the impression of propriety in the White House.  Why else leak such a tawdry story of Sean running off with a mini fridge from the junior staffers' press room?  We can't have petty thieves in the White House.  Better to have experienced crooks like Scaramucci.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trump and his Ten-Gallon Hat

"We've signed more bills -- and I'm talking about through the legislature -- than any president."

We've come to expect such boasts from Trump, who made this one at his opening speech for Made in America Week.  Unfortunately, it was easily squashed.  It seems the only president he has "trumped" in this regard is Obama, who signed 3 less bills by this point in his administration.  Trump not only trails FDR and Truman, who he had previously mentioned, but Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Trump mostly signed bills reversing Obama regulations.  Others were simple procedural bills.  The only bills he should be legitimately proud of are those concerning the Veterans Administration, although the legislation began months before he assumed office.  What does it matter to a man who is looking for any excuse to say he has done more than his immediate predecessor?

It is clear by now that Trump only measures himself against Obama.  The major part of that is eradicating his predecessor's legacy, which is why the health care bill is so important to him.  He is convening a lunch today with Republican senators in a last ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, hoping to succeed where Mitch McConnell has failed in bringing wayward Republicans on board.

At last count, there weren't enough votes for a repeal only measure, with Lisa Murkowski voicing her objection.  The idea that the Republicans will have two years to come up with a replacement, as Mitch intoned, isn't fooling anyone.  Murkowski, like other moderate Republicans, want to sit down with Democrats and hash out a joint bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act, not literally throw out the baby with the bathwater.

But, Trump is not one to concede on any point.  He still stands defiantly behind his claim that he would have won the popular vote had there not been voter fraud, that he has signed more bills, created more jobs and numerous other boasts that defy all credulity.  Why should he give in on the one issue that he considers central to his administration -- the repeal of "Obamacare?"  This despite his own Health and Human Services department having published a report that states the ACA health insurance marketplaces are relatively stable.

Of course, Tom Price, the head of HHS, has backed away from this report, insisting that a new health care bill would be better in every way.  Unfortunately for the replacement plan proposed by the Republicans, the CBO doesn't appear to think so.

None of this matters to Trump.  For him it is all about the art of winning at any cost.  If 32 or 33 million Americans lose their insurance, so be it.  If insurance premiums skyrocket, so what?  His imperative is to remove any traces of the Obama administration in his White House and he will go to whatever lengths to do so.

At no time have we had a more ruthless, vindictive president as we do now.  Whether it all came from the ill-fated 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, we can only guess?  But, Trump clearly hates everything Obama stands for and is determined to erase his legacy, even if most Americans embrace that legacy.

For now, he just wants another bill to sign.  Preferably a big bill, a legacy-defining bill, like one his predecessor signed.  One would think he would be hard at work on an infrastructure bill, like that he championed during the campaign, and one Democrats said they were favorable toward.  However, Trump has made it abundantly clear he wants nothing to do with "Nancy P" or "Cryin' Chuck" Schumer, or any Democrat for that matter.

He would rather work around Congress by proposing a "vision" where much needed infrastructure improvements are carried out at the state and local level, which oddly is pretty much the way it is now.  He wants to further privatize America starting with the air-traffic control system, and if that works out expand it to the whole of transportation.  States and cities would become responsible for all road and bridge improvements.  At most, they could expect some money from the federal government to help defray costs, but much less than they are currently getting.

This is our man in a ten-gallon hat, the one who considers himself the Greatest President of All Time.  He essentially wants to sell off government like a fire sale.  Who knows, maybe he will sell Alaska back to Russia?

Sadly, there are many Americans who are just fine with this.  We have been told for decades how bad government is and that it needs to be turned upside down and all the fat-cat politicians shaken out of it.  Few stop to think that what made America great was the collaborative effort between government and business, summed up in Alexander Hamilton's Report on the Subject of Manufactures, published in 1791.  It still serves as the blueprint for large-scale building projects in this country.

Before Trump seeks out his place in history, it might behoove him to read a little history.  If he is going to spend the next 3-1/2 years fighting Congress at every turn, he is going to wear down his human battery faster than he would like.  Maybe, he should invite both Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House and at least make a show of reconciliation.  If nothing else, it should give him a boost in the polls.  Isn't that what it is all about, Donald?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I never promised you a rose garden

Lynn Anderson's song sounds so appropriate right now.  Trump made a last-ditch effort to get fence-sitting Republicans to go along with the Repeal and Replace Bill that Mitch was trying to push through the Senate, only to see two of these senators jump to the other side of the fence.  The irony is that Sens. Lee and Moran chose to abandon the effort because they didn't think the bill went far enough in eradicating "Obamacare."

Susan Collins was the only holdout who stood for the principles of the affordable care act, believing that Republicans should work with Democrats to make a better health care system.  Others like Lisa Murkowski and Shelly Moore Capito might have felt the same way, but were sucked in by Mitch's last minute inclusion of funding for opioid substance abuse to keep the bill alive.  

Mitch only needed 51 votes.  He had the VP on call, but in the end it didn't matter when Lee and Moran dropped their support.  There was no way he was going to get this "Better Care Reconciliation Act" through Congress, and it seems like he knew it.  Some are arguing that Mitch went through the act just to show those incalcitrant members of Congress and Trump himself that it simply wasn't possible.  Eventually, Republicans will have to work with Democrats if they want to get some of their provisions into the health care act.

More likely, the White House will now seek to undermine the Affordable Care Act, as they are currently doing the Environmental Protection Agency.  From their point of view, this should have been the game plan all along.  But, I guess they thought the fear of getting "Trumped" in the primaries would keep GOP members in line, and they could claim a huge victory in crushing the Obama administration's landmark health care bill.

Also, they hoped to roll back Medicaid expansion, using the money to help fund the massive tax cuts they are proposing.  Medicaid is primarily administered through the states so the White House has little control over it.   Both a blessing and a curse, much of our health care is state controlled, so you have some states with excellent health care coverage and others with horrendous coverage.  The ACA hoped to equalize this to some degree with Medicaid expansion, so that families living in poorly covered states would have a safety net, knowing these states were unlikely to accept the health insurance exchanges.  Even still, many states refused to accept Medicaid expansion.

Why is anyone's guess?  You have ardent Libertarians like Paul Rand who don't believe the government should be offering any kind of subsidies to Americans.  For them, it is pay as you go or fall by the wayside.  They seem just fine with the idea that 10 per cent of the country remains uninsured, but their form of free market capitalism would leave many many more uninsured in the future, as they also want to go after Medicare and Social Security.

The irony is that the US already pays more per capita for public health care than virtually any other country in the world, yet still has a large number of uninsured and underinsured citizens.  The problem isn't money but management, which is why the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association would like to see a single payer system like most European countries have.  However,  private insurance companies exercise tremendous influence over health care policy in this country and as a result we see a deeply fractious system that sees many persons falling through the cracks, even with the ACA.

One would like to think that Republicans may now finally realize they have to work with Democrats, but that is highly unlikely.  They have a constituency, which they have been telling for 7 years how evil the ACA is, even employing "death panels" to determine who would get health care.  Conservative politicians worked up so much resentment and anger among the GOP base that anything short of total repeal would be seen as defeat.  So, I really don't know how Mitch McConnell worms his way out of this one.

You can bet Trump will be pinning all the blame on Mitch, as he is not one to accept any blame himself.  Sadly, much of Trump's base will stand behind him, as they have throughout all his failures in his first 6 months in office.  That shining moment in the Rose Garden now seems so long ago.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pretty maids all in a row

Watching The Handmaid's Tale, it is eerie just how such a dystopian society might come into being.  I have alluded numerous times to a Third Awakening taking place where America goes through yet another religious revival.  We tend to dismiss these religious zealots but as Margaret Atwood made painfully clear in her book it is no laughing matter.  For some it is the equivalent of establishing Biblical law.

The Handmaid's Tale turns Christian fundamentalism into the equivalent of The American Taliban, a society in which women no longer have any rights whatsover, especially reproductive rights.  We are told of an environmental holocaust where fertile females have become a prized commodity to be bought and sold like chattel on an open market.  Atwood's America, or Gilead as she calls it, seems to have the upper hand as it has found a way to corner the market.  It is at once a feminist and capitalist nightmare.

Atwood wrote the book long before Trump became a political force, foreseeing the time religion and anarchist capitalism would cross-pollinate to create a new type of capito-religious order, for lack of a better word.  One could argue it was easy to imagine such events currently unfolding, as she wrote the book during the time of Reagan.  He had welcomed Jerry Falwell into the White House, and opened the door to religious yahoos like Pat Robertson, who subsequently ran for President in 1988.

Her religious whack jobs didn't use democracy to ascend to power, but rather staged a military coup.  Onward Christian soldiers!    What we have today is an infiltration of the Congressional ranks and even the Vice-Presidency by a host of newly awakened religious fundamentalists who want to see nothing less than a new religious order in this country.   A far more subtle revolution than what Atwood imagined.

What Atwood missed, and indeed the creators of this new television series. is that these Christian soldiers didn't need to take America by gun point.  They are doing a perfectly good job of convincing mainstream Americans to tilt toward their Biblical view of things by pointing out all the failures in modern society.  You get wonderfully articulate evangelical pastors like Joel Olstein and Congressmen like Ben Sasse who can make very compelling arguments to join their movement.

They preach of a prosperity theology where money is a form of salvation not the root of all evil.  This is why they seem to have so few misgivings with Trump.  Jerry Falwell's son defends our President to the hilt, as do many of the leading televangelists today.

But, the television series wisely avoids getting too explicit.  It sticks pretty close to Atwood's puritan sense of a theocracy, based on 17th century inspirations, rather than the modern-day evangelical megachurch.  The creators have to fill in a lot, as they have updated the story to the present day and have many hours to fill.  This is the first of several foreseeable seasons given how popular the first season has been.  Maybe it will shift over time, but for now this is Atwood's America.

In Atwood's interview with Emily Watson, she says that things can "un-happen" as easily as they happen, noting that history is not a straight line.  She praises the resistance to Trump, noting the "handmaidens" protesting his pernicious Trumpcare.  However, Atwood, also shows how resistance can easily be crushed in a society that enjoys its creature comforts.  It only takes a few rounds being fired to scatter a crowd, as protesters generally disdain violence in America.

These religious fascist movements have lacked the critical mass to gain sufficient momentum, but one gets the sense that is changing.  Who could have imagined Trump would get 62 million votes.  Even still, he fell 3 million short of Hillary, which gives us hope that America is not willing to go completely over to the dark side.

 Instead, we see states that have become dark holes, where the kind of religious order Atwood describes is being realized. We have seen it in states as far flung as Alabama, Kansas and Utah. where the church has been able to garner considerable influence in politics.  We tend to treat these states as aberrations, but when Trump takes 30 states you have to start to worry what is going on here.

This is what makes the new television series so compelling, as we can easily imagine such a religious coup taking place, military or silent.  The events occur over a very short period of time and before we know it the inhabitants of Boston find themselves plunged back into a society not much different than John Winthrop's shining City upon a Hill, which Reagan and subsequent conservative leaders have evoked on numerous occasions.   As such, The Handmaid's Tale remains as relevant today as when it was first published in 1985.