Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year of the Donald




I suppose it could have been worse.  Trump could have set the White House on fire or got us in a war with North Korea.  Instead, we pretty much had to put up with his bluster all year.  Not even his ban on transgenders in the military was able to make it through the courts, and in the new year transgenders will once again be able to enlist in the armed forces.

As Presidents go, Trump has already placed himself squarely at the bottom with his petulant behavior and his inability to stay focused on any one issue.  It reached a point where Congressional Republicans wanted Trump to keep his distance given his outbursts when any Republican broke ranks.  It was better that he go play golf rather than try to solicit votes, although he did try to do that with Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul on the golf course.  Not that he had to make much effort with Lindsey Antebellum, or even Little Rand for that matter.  Ultimately, the Donald got his way with Senate Republicans, even if they only gave him one-third of the "Cut, Cut, Cut" tax bill he wanted.  No matter, he blew it up to $5.5 trillion in his White House List of Accomplishments.

Now the President is touting a new infrastructure bill.  No one is sure how this will work.  It initially started out as a trillion dollar pipe dream, but now he wants big business to ante up most of the money.  I suppose this is payback for all the tax cuts they will get in the New Year.

He lashed out at amazon once again, saying the USPS charges them too little for shipping, oblivious to the fact that the tax bill he signed gives companies like amazon nearly $5 billion in tax breaks, almost enough to cover the USPS debt.  It is politically motivated, as Jeff Bezos, the amazon guy, also owns the Washington Post, which has posted some unsavory stories on the Donald the past year that really got his goat.

At one time Jeff Bezos was on Trump's American Technology Council, but when the President pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Bezos like many of the others on this panel left.  Not that they had accomplished anything as I think they held only one tech summit.  These are the guys who were supposed to be advising Trump on how to improve infrastructure in this country.

In his 11+ months in office, Trump has unleashed one of the greatest "brain drains" in government.  Not only was he forced to disband his tech council after the remainder threatened to walk out on him over his Charlottesville remarks, but the censorship he has imposed on the National Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency have resulted in many top scientists leaving these federal agencies.  In turn, he tries to replace them with persons like these.  Instead of the "Best and the Brightest" we now have "Dumb and Dumber."

Even faithful supporters like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson constantly find themselves under fire from the President.  Both have had to endure twitter assaults during the year, but remain loyal to Trump like one would a mafia don who is in the late stages of dementia.  Our last hope of sanity in the White House, former Gen. John Kelly, similarly chose fealty when defending the President's outrageous remarks to a war widow, turning the blame on a Florida Congresswoman who was privy to the call.  Still, Rex and Jeff tried their best to carry out the duties of their office, unlike their Commander-in-Chief, who continually undermined their efforts throughout year one.

While he hasn't let go of any cabinet members yet, Trump has virtually rebuilt his office staff.  The first to go was former Gen. Michael Flynn, who apparently lied to VP Mike Pence about his communications with Russia.  Just the same, the Donald heaped praise on a man who had been one of his most loyal supporters during the campaign, and was installed as Director of Homeland Security despite warnings from the Dept. of Justice, including Jeff Sessions himself.  Trump went with Jared on this one and paid the price.  He had to let go of Flynn less than a month into his term.

Sean Spicer never seemed comfortable in his role of Press Security, and when he became the brunt of SNL jokes you knew his time would soon be up.  Still, it was kind of sad to see Spicy go.  Like others who have come and gone in the White House, Sean is enjoying an afterlife as frequent talk show guest, as hosts hope he might have some juicy stories to tell about his former boss.  However, no one has yet to say much except the evil Dr. Bannon, who feels "Javanka" has far too much influence on the President.

This has always been a family affair for Donald Trump.  He pretty much made Jared his surrogate despite the young real estate developer's many shortcomings, and has gleefully promoted Ivanka throughout the year, like a good father would.  As John Oliver pointed out in one of his segments, neither have any qualifications for the enormous burden they have taken on in their father's White House.   Among Jared's many other overwhelming jobs has been tasked to forge a peace deal between Israel an Palestine, something that has eluded every presidential administration since Harry S. Truman.  It doesn't seem Jared has convinced Palestinians of his abilities to broker a deal.  And, we all feared the nepotism that might ensue if Hillary had been elected President.

Trump is trying to run the White House like he does his far-flung enterprises.  He invests way too much authority in his children, while driving businesses into the ground because he has no real interest in them other than collecting them as part of his portfolio.  "President" is simply the latest "accomplishment" he can add to his brief case.

He has shown no real interest in the job since the transition period, which he seemed to enjoy since he had no real responsibilities other than entertaining potential cabinet members and staffers.  Anyone who was anyone came through the revolving doors of Trump Tower during those two and a half months, including Al Gore an Leo DiCaprio who hoped they might turn Donald's ear on the environment.  In the end, Trump rewarded his cronies rather than seek a balanced administration, and so we pay the price.

Unfortunately, we can't turn back time, but we can put the pressure on Congress to hold the President accountable for what has been a very toxic administration, in which he has dragged the American flag into the mud.  Outside of Bibi Netanyahu in Israel you will find few world leaders that have any respect for him.  Countries are quickly learning how to work around the US, including Russia, which had hoped to forge a new relationship in the wake of Trump's shocking victory, which many still believe the Kremlin had a role in.

Trump seems content to ride out Robert Mueller's investigation, even as the focus turns to Jared and Donald, Jr.  He has noted there is nothing illegal about collusion, but when it crosses the line into treason that's another story.  We can only wait and see if Mueller comes up with the goods on the Trump family connections with Russia.

Meanwhile, we also hope Trump doesn't get us into a war we will sorely regret.



Friday, December 29, 2017

Trump Fatigue


Trump as Sisyphus rolling a golf ball up a hill.

Roy Moore's last ditch challenge to the Alabama special election was rejected and Doug Jones declared the winner in the hotly contested Senate race.  Few imagined a Democrat could take a Deep South seat, but you combine a notoriously bad candidate with what appears to be fading support of Trump, who backed Moore, you get Trump Fatigue.  Many Americans, including those in the Deep South, have had their fill of our Reality Show President and his reality show politics.

Nevertheless, we see our president gloating over his many accomplishments on twitter while he used a cargo truck to disguise him playing golf for the 87th time this year.  He spent virtually one-quarter of his first year on the golf course.  The most of any president since Eisenhower, who averaged 100 rounds per year.  Trump might still catch Ike, as he has a month left in his first year with plenty of vacation time on his hands.

This from a President who said during his campaign that he would have no time to play golf, while chastising Pres. Obama for the numerous times he played golf  -- 306 to be exact over an eight year period.  At Donald's rate, he should surpass Barry's record early in his fourth year, assuming he lasts that long.

We can go through Trump's "3800 word screed" listing his "rookie year" accomplishments and find numerous false claims.  The one that jumps out is ballooning the $1.5 trillion tax cut package Congress approved into $5.5 trillion, and claiming that 60% will go to middle class families.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He also boasts of removing "Obamacare's burdensome individual mandate," which he credits for boosting GDP.  It doesn't matter that the greater portion of the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" won't take effect until 2019, including the repeal of the health insurance mandate.  The screed goes onto list all the jobs created during his first year, $5 trillion in wealth added to the economy, and numerous other boasts that should more duly be ascribed to his predecessor, as the economy was booming before he stepped into office this past January.

This is quintessential Trumpian rhetoric.  He takes over a company and claims credit for its success without so much as having to lift a finger.  Fact of the matter is that many of the executive orders he signed and the tax cuts package he approved at the end of the year will have an adverse effect on the economy in the coming months, as it begins to weaken.  The boost in the housing market should be a warning sign, not a reason to gloat, as we went through this once before and it wasn't pretty.

Developers have a tendency to overbuild when times are good, flooding the housing market with new units only to have a hard time selling them.  Then come the too-good-to-be-true mortgage rates to try to sucker first-time home-buyers.  Donald should know this as he was involved in many shady real estate deals that left investors with little to hold onto when the dust settled.  Many of these projects never got off the ground, like this one in Tampa.  No matter for a wheeler-dealer like Trump, who had little invested in the project other than his name.

For whatever reason, voters ignored all these warning signs last November and flipped the switch for Trump anyway.  I suppose they thought the real estate developer and reality show star would become more humble once he understood the magnitude of the office, but obviously that hasn't happened.  Trump still revels in the same childish behavior that drew mean-spirited laughs during the campaign, but now only serves as a continual embarrassment as President.

At 71, it was wishful thinking to imagine him "growing up."  Trump is a man-child, or more appropriately a man-toddler.  His emotional and intellectual development appears to have peaked at 4 years old, judging by the way he has had his daily briefings reduced to bullet points to make it easier for him to glance over and usually dismiss out of hand.  Instead, he relies on Fox and Friends and other conservative news outlets to inform him on subjects, often retweeting the conservative talking points on his personal twitter account, without bothering to check their veracity.

Former General John Kelly has done a very poor job of reining Trump in, but the Chief of Staff claims it is not his job to watch over the President like a "church lady."  Instead, Mr. Kelly tries to limit those who come in contact with Donald, hoping this will allow the President to focus on his job.  He should be monitoring the President's internet usage.

As a result, we get this constant stream of tweets, with the news media pouring over virtually every one in turn.  Trump has managed to bemuse and anger just about everybody, becoming more surly as his approval ratings dip, in turn venting his rage on "fake news."  CNN seems to relish this ongoing battle with Trump, if for no other reason than its viewing audience has risen since the President made the cable news network the brunt of his attack.

Little wonder people are tired of Trump, whether they like him or not, and this certainly played out in Virginia and Alabama, whether the President is willing to admit it or not.  Republicans virtually lost control of the Virginia House of Delegates, with the House majority coming down to one seat.  As it is, the Democrats gained no less than 15 seats this year.

Whether politically motivated or not, the accusations against Roy Moore revealed a deeply flawed candidate, much like Trump himself, that most Alabamans weren't willing to accept.  Unlike the 2016 general election, there is no electoral college and Moore is being forced to accept the popular vote whether he likes it or not.

It still is worth noting that Trump was elected based on the electoral votes of three close Midwest states, which were seen as part of Hillary's "blue wall."  He lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, but that's the way our system works.  A voter in California has far less electoral clout than one in Alaska or Wyoming, and so we ended up with Donald J. Trump.

I think many who voted for him were just as surprised by the results as was CNN, which appeared rather somber election night, rather than reveling in all the red states turning blue as John and Wolf had done in the mid term elections of 2010 and 2014.  John King almost seemed to be looking for a way for Hillary to win Pennsylvania as the Philadelphia vote was slow to roll in.

If it is any consolation, CNN will probably delight in all the red states turning blue in the 2018 midterm elections, as all signs point to a major turnover in Congress.  Trump will then find himself virtually alone in Washington, as he went out of his way to alienate "Chuck and Nancy,"  making him look more a fool than Congressional Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi, who chose not to attend his WH photo op, after he belittled them on twitter.

So, Mr. President, enjoy the White House while you can.  2018 promises to be a very rough year for you.  If nothing else, you can retreat to the golf course or one of your many properties to avoid the "fake news" of your diminishing political stature.  People are exhausted from you.  It was one thing to tune in to you from time to time on television, quite another to have to endure your petulant rants on a daily basis.  Not even Alabama wants you anymore, and I imagine the same is true of Kentucky.




Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Jackson Magnolia




As Magnolia trees go, the Jackson Magnolia has lived a long life, nearly 200 years, but as with any venerable tree it is hard to see it go.  Not surprising the decision to cut back the tree significantly is being met with some indignation, especially since the burden of the decision fell on the Trump White House.  It remains to be seen what will be left of the tree.

Andrew Jackson had planted the tree back in 1829, in memory of his late wife, Rachel, who died shortly after he was elected President.  He took a seedling from his farm in Tennessee and had it brought to the White House.  Probably one of the few warm stories surrounding "Old Hickory."  The tree has literally spanned 38 succeeding presidencies and is immortalized on the $20 bill along with Jackson himself.

You might recall that Jackson was scheduled to be scrubbed from the $20 bill and replaced by Harriet Tubman, but like many of former President Obama's executive orders, this one is in danger of being rolled back by Trump, who has a special affinity for Andrew Jackson, as well as an overwhelming disdain for Barack Obama.

It seems it is this special affinity that led Trump, or rather his wife in this case, to retain a remnant of the Magnolia Grandiflora with the hope that it will regain some of its former glory.  More likely, the tree will be replaced by one of the seedlings taken from the Jackson Magnolia that have been secretly cultivated in a greenhouse-like location nearby.  All though, I don't think a seedling can grow to 8-10 feet in a matter of months.  As you read down the linked CNN article, you find Michelle Obama began this project in 2009.  Rest assured, Trump will give full credit to his wife.

Melania has tried to display her horticultural skills during the year, but was met mostly with derision given her designer clothes.  At least she has carried on one tradition left from the Obama administration, which is more than can be said for her husband.

As for Andrew Jackson, probably best to remember him as a tree.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Palestine Problem




Back in the 70s, my sister wrote a book on the situation in Palestine.  The PLO was still regarded as a terrorist organization, so there was little attempt to arbitrate a settlement after Israel annexed the Palestinian territories in 1967.  It wasn't until the 1991 Madrid Conference that the US and Israel entered into reluctant talks regarding Palestine, which ultimately led to the PLO recognizing Israel's "right to exist."  A new Palestinian Authority was established with its capital in Ramallah, about 6 miles north of Jerusalem, to avoid conflict with Israel, which had established its knesset in Jerusalem.

No foreign country recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  Instead, they located their embassies in Tel Aviv, which became the de facto capital of Israel.  All that changed on December 6, when Donald Trump formally stated that the US would be moving its embassy to the disputed city.  The US, like several other countries, had consulates-general in Jerusalem to ease diplomatic relations with Israel without coming into direct conflict with the 1947 UN resolution, which declared the city a "corpus separatum" under international control.

Of course, the UN has little jurisdiction over Jerusalem.  The city falls under Israeli control.  The best the UN has been able to do is help accommodate Palestinian interests in the city, which still amount to about 35% of the population.  As a result, we have East and West Jerusalem.

None of this seems to matter much as far Donald Trump is concerned.  He was looking for some juicy headline at the end of the year, as his "cuts, cuts, cuts" bill appeared to be in jeopardy.  He got it, and the UN duly responded with a resolution demanding he revoke his executive order.  In turn, Nikki Haley, our UN ambassador, issued a blistering condemnation of the UN resolution, in which she said the US will slash its share of UN funding by 25 per cent.  The most amusing part is Ms. Nikki chastising the UN for its "budgetary excesses," when the US hasn't balanced a budget in decades and carries a national debt in excess of $20 trillion.  Like the decision to pull out of UNESCO earlier this year, this is simply in response to the UN "favoring" Palestine over Israel.

The UN finds itself in a similar quandary to the League of Nations between the World Wars.  Its continued existence largely remains dependent on big nations, usually at the expense of small nations, or in this case a disputed territory that the US tried desperately to push under the rug after failing to negotiate a settlement between Israel and Palestine back in 1999.

The war in Iraq was largely designed to shift attention away from Israel.  This after President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon had bullied the Palestinian Authority into selecting a new leader, since they both refused to negotiate with a "known terrorist," Yasser Arafat.  While American forces waged battles against Iraqi insurgents, Israel literally walled off Palestine, hoping it would disappear from international attention.  But The Question of Palestine remained.

Our dear President may have unwittingly brought the issue back into the forefront with his latest declarations.  The UN hasn't been this outspoken on Palestine in a long time, but now there seems to be some genuine fervor to reopen discussions on a two-state solution despite the difficulties of piecing together a nation from the tattered remains of the 1947 Palestinian territory.

How effective the UN will be in such negotiations remains to be seen, which I suppose is why Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, is currently in negotiations with France to act as mediator, flatly refusing to work with the United States after Trump's December 6 statement.  Not surprisingly, Palestinians are now pushing to make East Jerusalem the capital of its future state.

In fairness to Trump, Congress had long ago penned an Jerusalem Embassy Act, which no president had acted upon until now.  President Bush toyed with the idea early in his tenure, but dropped it when he got bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq.  No sense further inflaming the Muslim world.

No one thought much about this act since then, but I guess Jared, our so-called special envoy to Israel, or someone else close to the president gave him a reminder, and here we are adding fuel to the fire in a region still very much in conflict.  Virtually every Muslim country has spoken out against the act, including Saudi Arabia, which thought it had gained Trump's ear with the lavish celebration they gave him earlier this year.  But, it seems Trump has long forgotten whatever advice King Abdullah gave him.

It remains to be seen if this move comes to pass anymore than the wall along the Mexico border.  All Trump has done is give Congressional Republicans one more contentious issue to defend in what promises to be very bitter midterm elections.  But, this seems to be the way our flamboyant president operates.  He relishes conflict, thinking he can somehow gain the upper hand in these situations, like he did on The Apprentice.  He runs the White House as he did his reality show.  Whatever blood comes out of it, he will wipe on someone else's hands.

One can only hope that this decision not only undermines what little is left of Trump's credibility as a world leader, but that of Bibi Netanyahu, who barely survived the last election cycle in Israel.  As for Palestinians, they have had to deal with oppressive Israeli rule for 50 years.  They will survive Bibi and Donald.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas, America



If we are lucky, this will be our first and last Christmas under Trump.  He has done about all he can do to divide this holiday season by rekindling the faux "War on Christmas," and declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, knowing full well the protests he would inspire, not least of all a universal rebuke by the United Nations.   No matter, the Trump band plays on.

He and his rowdy right-wing friends are doing their best to turn this holiday season into a family feud.  It will be pretty hard not to avoid Trump at the Christmas table, as he has put himself front and center this holiday season, gloating over his first major "legislative victory."  If that weren't enough, he managed to get Congress to go along with his "Drill, Baby, Drill" policy in the Arctic, formally approving his earlier executive order to open up the Arctic national wildlife refuge to the oil companies.  It was a busy December.

I guess it doesn't matter how unpopular these legislative victories are.  Congressional Republicans were determined to pay back their political benefactors, freezing Democrats out of the legislative process on all votes.  Even the so-called conscientious Republicans who voted against the "skinny repeal" earlier this year, went along with the tax bill that cut the mandates for the Affordable Care Act, in an attempt to balance the massive tax cuts that will make any future health care legislature difficult to finance.

Republicans probably know the gig is up and are looking to plunder the budget for whatever they can get while they are still in power.  This certainly appeared to be the case with Bob Corker, an adamant opponent of the tax bill until provisions were added that favored his personal interests -- the so-called "Corker Kickback."  It now seems "Liddle Bob" is back in Trump's good graces with Ivanka doing her best to defend his reversal.

It's not like they needed his vote, but apparently Susan Collins felt she had been duped and there were some worries the GOP would not get the votes it needed to pass the revised tax bill after it returned from the House.

Lost in all this merriment is that Trump originally asked for $6 trillion in tax cuts.  His financial team of Mnuchin and Mulvaney whittled it down to $4.5 trillion, using some phony GDP projections to claim the unprecedented tax cuts would pay for itself.  In the end, the Trump White House only got $1.5 trillion, which isn't even as much as the Bush tax cuts of 2002-2009, which came to about $1.8 trillion.  This has to hurt a little because Trump is not one to settle for second best.

At the end of the year, all the Republicans were back on the same page.  It seems the big upset in Alabama cowed "mavericks" like McCain and Murkowski into submission as they realized their seats are now in jeopardy.  If you can't win a special election in the Deep South, no matter how bad your candidate, your goose is cooked.  Republicans now try desperately to salvage what remains of a horrible legislative year by speeding bills through Congress before Doug Jones comes into office early next year, as their margin of error just became one less.

Not surprising that Trump rekindles the "War on Christmas," but this has always been a right-wing gimmick meant to placate its most conservative audience.  It does little to disguise the fact most Americans feel they have been fleeced by this tax bill.  It has received almost universal condemnation.  It's only saving grace is that much of it won't take effect until after the midterms, but it is doubtful that will save their hides in what promises to be a very rowdy election cycle.  After all, Republicans similarly used the Affordable Care Act bill to tar and feather the Democrats in the 2010 midterms, when they took back the House, although the health care act didn't take effect until four years later.

What goes around comes around, and once again the Republicans have fallen victim of their own dirty tactics.  They have proven very good at undermining legislation, but not so good at proposing any meaningful legislation of their own.  One would like to think the American public has wised up a little, given what we saw in Alabama, which turned out to be the best Christmas gift of all.  If 2017 taught us anything it is that we can never take anything for granted.

This holiday season will hopefully be a time to ponder the future.  If we want good governance, we have to elect leaders capable of governing, not reality show presidents and weak-kneed legislators who prostrate themselves before their corporate sponsors.  The GOP has proven time and time again it is incapable of leading.  It thrives only as an opposition party.  We can only hope we have seen the last of the "Trump Effect."



Sunday, December 3, 2017

Flynnflammed

or "Moscow Muellers" anyone?





While the late night passage of the Senate tax bill has garnered the most attention, perhaps the most telling event this past week was the guilty plea by Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI.  The White House and Congressional Republicans have tried their best to push this unsavory bit of news under the carpet so that they can bask in the glory of their first major legislative victory of the year, but this is the type of story that is going to grow in the succeeding months and there really is nothing they can do to stop it.

For Hillarycrats the Flynn plea has to provide a small measure of comfort, as he was the one chanting "Lock Her Up!" at the Republican Convention two summers ago.  It seems Flynn will avoid jail time for the testimony he is giving on his relationship with Russian officials. This doesn't look good for the Trump administration, which the former general was an integral part of.  In particular, it doesn't look good for Jared Kushner, who was perhaps Flynn's biggest champion.  It also doesn't look good for Donnie, Jr.

The major questions are: how much "Mogul" was aware of all these backdoor negotiations, and why was the Trump administration so anxious to appease Russia?  Mueller apparently now has access to Trump's financial records dating back decades to the original Trump Tower, with a long paper trail of real estate deals involving dubious Russian buyers.  It seems the Donald liked to Party like an Oligarch, even before Putin came to power.  This of course would have made him an easy target, as James Clapper pointed out at the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, Trump tries to play "smart," claiming he was well aware of Flynn's lies at the time of his firing.  He should have been, since he had been warned by Sally Yates that Flynn was a security risk.  But, this doesn't explain why he took Flynn on in this capacity to begin with since he had previously been warned by the Obama administration during the transition period.  So, he either chose to chuck all this information aside as worthless intel, or Flynn was a valuable go-between the Trump team and the Kremlin, which had been cultivating the disgruntled former general for quite sometime, and invited him to a high profile dinner with Putin in December, 2015, on the eve of the US election year.

My guess is these connections are also intertwined with Kushner's New York Observer, Breitbart, and other conservative outlets that funneled RT (Russia Today) stories through their websites.  What seems to have developed in 2016 is an elaborate set of ties between Russian and American conservative "news" sites allowing for the dissemination of "truthy" articles aimed at convincing fence-sitting conservatives and moderates that Trump was their man.

This was an active orchestration of news stories, not just happenstance, as the editors of these online news journals would like us to believe.  It still goes on today, as we see Trump reference not one but three articles from a far-right fringe group in Britain on his twitter feed, leading to a stern rebuke from Theresa May.  This was apparently meant to stir dissent over the deal the British Conservative government is trying to reach with the EU over Brexit.  Seems Brexiteers aren't happy about the 50 billion pound divorce settlement.  They would prefer no deal at all.

Flynn can shed a lot of light on all these connections, as he would have been a major part of it, given his close ties with the Kremlin.  In fact, his own son helped spread some of these stories, like the infamous Pizzagate conspiracy, which led to his ouster from the transition team.  It seems the Trump administration would like to make Flynn into an "Ollie North," a lone wolf who pursued these negotiations without any authority from the top.

How much any of this influenced the 2016 elections is anyone's guess, but it certainly casts a cloud not only over the Trump administration but the GOP as a whole.  Reince Priebus, the former Chair of the Republican National Committee, worked hand in hand with Flynn and other officials close to the Trump campaign team throughout the election and was rewarded with the position of Chief of Staff in the Trump White House.

This is particularly worrisome as one of the states that came under intense scrutiny after the election was Wisconsin, where Priebus hails from, as does Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, who is next in line to the President after the Vice-President.  Many of these coordinated Russian-inspired news stories were aimed at Wisconsin voters and other battleground state voters in hopes of turning key state elections in Trump's favor.  There is also the matter of whether the GOP would have sanctioned the tampering  of electronic ballot boxes by a mysterious third party?  After all, they showed no concerns when the Russians hacked the DNC e-mail server, a felony in its own right, passing it off as weak internet security on the part of the Democrats.

The only thing that might save the Trump White House is that the scandal is so murky that Mueller may never get to the bottom of it.  All he can do is work his way around the edges and hope to get persons like Flynn and Papadopoulos to come clean, but I imagine to a certain degree these two fear for their own lives knowing how the Kremlin has dealt with snitches in the past.

In the meantime, Trump and the Republicans will no doubt have another Rose Garden Party to celebrate their tax bill victory.  If the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree is any indication, there won't be much enthusiasm for the event.  This could very well be Trump's first and last Christmas in the White House.  As for the Republicans, many of them are likely to find they no longer have a seat in Congress after the 2018 midterms, given how unpopular this bill is among Americans, as they won't have the luxury of using the Russian political cyber-war tactics so easily this time around.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Never Learn Not to Love



Lost in all the attention given Manson upon his death at 83, is the fate of Leslie Van Houten, who for the second year in a row has been granted parole but awaits a final decision by Gov. Jerry Brown.  Last year, he rescinded her parole.

Like the other "Manson girls," Van Houten has spent virtually her entire adult life behind bars for committing murders orchestrated by Manson.  It was widely understood that the girls had been effectively brainwashed by the charismatic cult figure, but were held accountable for their own actions in a court of law.  She and Patricia Kerwinkel, who was denied parole, have each spent over 40 years in the California penal system, able to escape the death penalty thanks to a 1972 decision by the state supreme court, which declared capital punishment unconstitutional.  The other "Manson girl," Susan Atkins, died in prison in 2009.

There were other Manson girls, notably Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who tried to kill President Gerald Ford years later, but they weren't involved in the multiple homicides of 1969 that shocked the nation.  Linda Kasabian avoided jail time by serving as the state's key witness against Manson, "Tex" Watson, and the three "girls" who were directly involved in the murders.

If Manson was such a domineering figure and Watson his hulking "right hand," what choice did these girls really have?  He very quickly sold them out in an effort to gain his own freedom, claiming they committed the murders of their own free will, and even pushing for a mistrial when Nixon made the huge blunder of weighing in on his case.  This soon led the girls and Tex Watson to turn against Manson, but little good it did them in the eyes of the court.

The "girls" didn't stand a chance, especially the way they so proudly paraded themselves before cameras during the trial.  America wanted them hanged, and would have gotten its way had not the California Supreme Court stepped in.  But, all these years later, few Americans even know who the "Manson girls" are, much less care, which makes you wonder why Van Houten and Kerwinkel are still in prison.  Many other killers have gained parole for equally horrendous crimes.  Gov. Brown has released 80% of convicted murderers eligible for parole, but not Van Houten.  This is the price the girls pay for being involved in one of the most sensational murder sprees in American history.

It also doesn't help that NBC recently aired Aquarius, which referenced the Manson family.  I only watched the first episode which I found very dry.  Manson was more a fringe figure, haunting the troubled detective Sam Hodiak, as he tried to make sense of all the killings taking place in LA.  Murders spiked in 1967, the year Manson formed his family, and continued to grow through the remainder of the 60s.  The local police used a mole to infiltrate the drug scene that Hodiak believed was breeding these killers.  However, the murder rate was even higher in the 70s an 80s when the Manson family was safely behind bars.

This year, Manson played a prominent role in American Horror Story: Cult, serving as the inspiration for the cult leader Kai Anderson, both played by Evan Peters.  Kasabian was portrayed as selling out Manson.  Van Houten, Atkins and Kerwinkel were only briefly mentioned by name.

Over the years there have been many other movies and television shows which depicted or were inspired by the Manson family.  Numerous rock bands have covered his songs, and Marilyn Manson even took his name from him.  Charles Manson had to enjoy the irony of this given it has been largely theorized that the Beach Boys' song, "Never Learn Not to Love," is responsible for sending him over the edge.

As the story goes, Manson had approached Dennis Wilson with his songs, and got him to listen to "Cease to Exist."  Wilson apparently didn't think much of it, although not a bad song.  A few months later "Never Learn Not to Love" pitched up on the B-side of "Bluebirds on the Mountain."  It was apparent not only to Manson that this was a reworked version of "Cease to Exist," especially given the title is directly taken from the song, but no credit was given to him.  Initially, Manson tried to sue the Beach Boys, but when that failed his "family" made off with about $100 grand of Dennis' gold records and Mercedes Benz.  The following August, the Manson family went on a rampage, leaving seven persons dead including Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger and the LaBiancas in two separate incidents.

Atkins and Kerwinkel were involved in both multiple murders.  Van Houten was only involved in the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, replacing Kasabian who had previously lost her nerve.  The Manson girls tried to make it look like something "witchy," with copious amounts of blood smeared across the walls, and "death to pigs" spelled out on one of the walls.  This became the subject of a Nine Inch Nails song, "The Downward Spiral," showing once again how the murders captivated the public's morbid curiosity.  However, it was no more than a drug-fueled killing orgy inspired by a frustrated songwriter.

So why do we keep giving Manson so much credit all these years later?  And, why do we continue to make Kerwinkel and Van Houten, or for that matter Tex Watson, now an ordained minister, pay for his crimes?  They were merely his foot soldiers, so high on hallucinogenic drugs they probably had no real idea what they were doing those nights.  It's understandable Manson would be given a life sentence without parole, which he seemed to enjoy, but why his followers?  Surely, Leslie Van Houten can finally be given a reprieve.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Say it isn't so, Al

Or Men Behaving Badly




Our dear President had no problem attacking "Al Frankenstein" on twitter, but offered no words of condemnation for his buddy down in Alabama, Roy Moore.   Maybe it is as Trump says, the picture "speaks a thousand words," but so does an audio tape, in which Trump was caught admitting many of the same things to Billy Bush.

Supposedly Al's groping was meant in jest, being a former comedian, but it wasn't taken that way by Leeann Tweeden, nor was the big wet one he planted on her at a USO tour in Afghanistan.  Al immediately apologized after Ms. Tweeden exposed him, something Trump has never really done.  The Artful Dodger minced words back on the campaign trail before trying once again to turn the issue to Bill Clinton's past indiscretions.  I suppose this is why Leeann is forgiving Al, but Trump's accusers are still waiting for their day in court.

Even more interesting is a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey that found that Donald Trump voters are more likely to believe allegations of sexual abuse leveled against Bill Clinton than they are their President.  The gap is staggering -- 84 per cent as opposed to 6.  This despite Trump's numerous admissions to Howard Stern and Billy Bush, among others.  There is a gap among Hillary Clinton voters as well but not as extreme -- 53 to 83.  Trump and Hillary voters are relatively evenly split on Harvey Weinstein.

No wonder Alabama voters appear to be brushing aside the accusations against Roy Moore, at least among Evangelicals, who continue to support Moore by a staggering 73 per cent.  Some would call this hypocrisy, others would call it political expediency.  Evangelicals know how Moore will vote on issues dear to them.  They're not so sure about Doug Jones.  However, Alabamans in general appear to be turning toward Jones in the closing weeks of this brutal campaign, as he at least represents a decency they would like to see projected on their state, not a twice-deposed judge who liked to solicit teenage girls in shopping malls and restaurants.

The charges against Moore are pretty damning.  Although still in question, one woman claimed she was responsible for getting Moore banned from the Gadsden Mall in the late 1970s after numerous solicitations of teenage girls.  The former judge hotly denies this and other allegations, and now claims his missive in a woman's yearbook from the 1970s is forged.  If nothing else, cast doubt on the allegations since there are no pictures to "speak a thousand words."

For his part, Trump is willing to give Moore a pass, in part because he has shown a predilection for teenage girls himself, which also came out on the campaign trail last year.  Trump faced numerous charges of sauntering into the Miss Teen USA dressing room, although he only admitted to peeking in on the Miss USA dressing room to Howard Stern.

"Al Frankenstein" on the other hand is an easy target, because Al has been pretty harsh on Donald, and Trump saw this as an opening to exploit, especially if he could help his buddy Roy out by deflecting sexual abuse charges to another Senator.  I assume Alabamans know that Moore is not running against Franken.

It seems GOP strategists weren't able to get any dirt on Doug Jones, so they decided to expand the territory.  Or, they just figured if they lost the Alabama Senate seat they could get a Democrat ousted in turn.  Franken will go through an ethics probe on his own volition, but it is doubtful he will be expelled.

However if Moore is somehow able to survive this election, how will he be treated in the Senate?  At that point Franken may indeed be the sacrificial Democratic lamb to Moore's predatory wolf.   This in turn will open Congress to further inquiry on the subject, as it is highly doubtful other members haven't groped or solicited women in the halls.  At that point, everyone will be fair game.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Center Will Not Hold




A few years back, Everyman's Library came out with a collection of Joan Didion's essays entitled We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.  Many of her essays were available on the Internet so I took a pass, but after watching the recent Netflix biography by her nephew Griffin Dunne the book is on my Christmas wishlist.

It was touching documentary, as Dunne probed his aunt's private life, which he was privy to.  Joan had a way of finding the essence of a story that few journalists are able to do.  This was true of her early work in California as well as her later work in New York.  She was one of the few journalists to see that the boys accused of killing the Central Park jogger in 1989 were innocent, turning her famous essay into a mediation on race and privilege in New York.  It is one of the themes her nephew explores in the film.

Decades earlier, Didion had captured the pulse of the hippie generation in LA, culminating in the murder of Sharon Tate.  Her White Album focused on Nancy Kasabian, who sold out the Manson clan.  It must have been a very difficult essay to write, as she grew quite intimate with Kasabian, helping her to pick out a dress for her trial, and engaging in domestic banter far removed from the heinous crimes the young woman was involved in.  It is from the opening sentence of this essay that the title of the Everyman's Library collection comes from.

As it turns out, many of her essays are still available on-line, a testament to her lasting power.  Anna Wintour notes in the documentary that Joan not only had the unique ability to find the kernal of a story but was an impeccable craftsperson as well.  Anna learned much of her craft from Joan at Vogue back in the early 60s, one of the few to survive the tough editor.

It was at Vogue that Joan honed her talents, writing essays that went far beyond fashion and cosmetics.  She met John Gregory Dunne in New York.  He wanted a change in 1964 and they came out to the West Coast to begin life anew, at least for him, as she was a California pioneer's daughter from Sacramento.  They made their homestead in Malibu, and also rented a huge house in LA, perfect for Hollywoodesque parties that stretched to the early morning hours.  She became a celebrity herself thanks to the many stories she wrote that pulled the veil off the glamorous life, culminating in perhaps her most famous collection of essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

Over the years, her personal bibliography grew to include novels, movie scripts and even a theater adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Vanessa Redgrave, who similarly had to deal with grief in the loss of her daughter Natasha.  Joan and Vanessa grew quite close, as seen in the documentary.

It's a poignant biography of Joan, showing how time has softened the edges but you can still feel the toughness inside her at 82.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Ultimatum

or Covfefe Anyone?




You know things are getting dicey if Sean Hannity issues an ultimatum to Roy Moore to come clean on the allegations that he propositioned teenagers while Assistant District Attorney of Etowah County, Alabama.  Sean had been one of the Ten Commandments Judge's staunchest defenders. but when the former judge's wife used a five-month old letter to show her husband still had the support of 53 pastors, even Hannity had to wonder what was going on here.

Allegations broke last week when the Washington Post ran a story on the former judge's numerous solicitations to minors.  He was an assistant DA back then, but apparently liked the suffix DA so much he used it to sign a girl's yearbook.  The former judge tried to write it off as a smear campaign, but even his good friends at Breitbart were unable to refute the stories, leaving the judge to answer for himself.  Things went downhill from there.  Still, Sean was willing to buy the former judge's version of events.

Then came the backlash, not just against Roy Moore but against Sean Hannity.  Sponsors began pulling their ads, including Keurig coffee maker, which proved an easy target for Sean.  He exhorted his viewers to take their wrath out on Keurig machines on social media.  Surprisingly, Keurig buckled and began running ads again, which made Sean feel like a million bucks.  That euphoria was short lived, however, as Sean was finally forced to admit there might be something to all these allegations that had piled up during the week.

If all this makes about as much sense as Trump's infamous covfefe tweet, join the club.

Hannity has found himself up against a wall, similar to the time he defended Cliven Bundy.  Just about everyone wants Moore to drop out of the race.  The US Senate threatened to expel him if he wins the special election, but Judge Roy still refuses to back down.  This puts Republicans in a tough bind as well as they now stand to lose a Senate seat to the Democrats if Doug Jones does the unthinkable and wins in December.

This was considered a very safe seat until Moore upset Luther Strange in the primaries.  Luther has his own problems, but they are much easier to reconcile than soliciting 14-year-old girls.  Even Stephen Bannon didn't see this one coming, as he was banking on a Moore insurgent win as the first step in his take-over of the Republican Party.  Bannon had vowed to run insurgent candidates against all the incumbent Republican senators.  He might want to vet them more closely in the future.

As for Sean, he hopes to make a silk purse out of sow's ear, turning what had been his questionable defense of Roy Moore into a crusade against him, but few are buying it.  He dug another hole for himself and like Moore will have to dig himself out of it on his own.  This time there might not be a Keurig coffee maker waiting for him in the break room.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The Old Lunatic




The last stop on Trump's really big trip through Asia saw him in Manila for the ASEAN summit hosted by the Philippines.  For a guy who said "ixnay" to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP as it was called, it is easy to see why he was at great pains to participate in the group handshake among Southeast Asian leaders.

It was a rough trip for the Donald, thirteen days all together, putting him in contact with a number of world leaders he probably had no idea existed before.  He was even forced to visit Vietnam, which he went out of his way to avoid as a young man.  Yet, here he was getting a hero's welcome.  God knows why Vietnamese should be so enthralled with Trump.  Maybe they are big Apprentice fans?

Elsewhere, Trump is not so popular.  Only 17 per cent of South Koreans expressed confidence in his world leadership, as opposed to 88 per cent who were confident with Obama.  This is largely due to his handling of North Korea.  He was astonishingly quiet in Seoul.  I guess he didn't want to give away his GPS location to the "Rocket Man," while in his missile range.

Trump got a very warm welcome in China.  He was so impressed by President Xi  that he blamed his Oval Office predecessors for the trade deficit, being the bad negotiators that they were.  Who wouldn't take advantage of bad deals like that?  Later, Tillerson tried to clarify the president's comments, saying he was just making light of the situation.

In Vietnam, Trump could no longer hold himself in on Kim Jong Un.   He didn't take kindly to being called an "old lunatic" while in South Korea, but that is exactly how he appeared on this trip.  He used Vietnam as an opportunity to briefly meet with Putin, and accepted the Russian leader's claim that his country played no role in the 2016 US election hackings, referring to the ongoing investigation as a "Democratic hit job." 

This, of course, led to a flurry of condemnation among Republicans and Democrats alike, leading Trump to rephrase his comments in Manila.  He now said that he thought Putin genuinely believed his government played no role in the hacking, but that he still supported his intelligence community.  "Fake News" wasn't buying it though, leading many pundits to speculate as to what Putin holds in his hand to make Trump so acquiescent anytime these two meet.

It seems all these foreign leaders have learned that flattery is the best policy when confronting Donald Trump, except Kim Jong Un of course.  For his part, Rodrigo Duterte  sang him a song uring a lavish dinner, apparently at the President's request.  Trump has shown a lot of admiration for Manila's strongman and other Asian autocrats, no doubt wishing he had that kind of authority in America.  Instead, he has to deal with a pesky Congress that continues to question his leadership.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Democrats' Big Day!


Say hello to Danica Roem, Virgina's newest House of Delegates member

Maybe it took Trumpism to rattle Dems enough to get to the polls.  They turned up in big numbers in Virginia, New Jersey, Maine and cities across the country, where Democratic candidates won big.  It wasn't even close in the closely watched governor's election in Virginia.  The milquetoast Lt. Gov. Northam pummeled the insurgent Ed Gillespie, who went all in on Trumpism.  Not only that but Dems did extremely well in state assembly elections and are on the verge of taking back the House of Delegates.  They are only two seats short with five to be recounted.

The most interesting race in Virginia was between Danica Roem and Bob Marshall, the incumbent Republican.  Marshall is an avowed homophobe who sponsored a "bathroom bill" in the assembly, only to lose to a transgender woman.  A record number women ran for office in Virginia and at least 25 Democratic women took assembly seats.

Donald Trump was quick to distance himself from the debacle, calling Gillespie a lousy candidate after publicly endorsing him on election day.   Even the GOP bemoaned this as a repudiation of Trumpism.  His toxic image has turned off suburban voters in the state.

Trumpism didn't fair any better in New Jersey where Phil Murphy easily defeated the Republican challenger Mary Guadagno, although you can probably blame the highly unpopular Chris Christie just as much.  Republicans never had a chance in the state, which is why there was so little national attention.  Still, Guadagno dragged out all the appalling Trumpian tactics hoping to turn a few votes her way.

Despite all the criticism de Blasio has taken, he scored an easy win over Nicole Malliotakis in NYC.  Democrats won big in cities across the country.  Democratic women scored victories in Seattle, Charlotte, Manchester and will run off against each other in Atlanta.

Republicans have to be shaking their heads, especially in Virginia, where they saw a 66-34 House majority evaporate before their eyes.  If the Democrats flip Virginia this will be a huge victory.  Right now it is looking like a 50-50 split.

It is all rather amazing given the Democrats haven't been doing well in soliciting money and didn't seem to have a clear ground game.  Northam was widely seen as vulnerable heading into the election, especially after he flipped on sanctuary cities.  As it turns out, Virginia doesn't have any sanctuary cities, so it was pretty much a moot point.

Whatever momentum the New York truck attack might have given Republicans, the Texas church shooting had to weigh much heavier on voters' minds.  Phil Murphy made guns a big issue in his state, proposing a gun tax among other gun control measures.  Ralph Northam had similarly pushed tighter gun controls in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting.  Like Trump, the NRA is now seen as a liability in swing states.

In Maine, health care was a big issue with a referendum on Medicaid expansion.  The vote on Tuesday negated Gov. LePage veto of the bill.  A bruising loss for the staunchly conservative governor and avid Trump supporter.

All of the sudden, the special election in Alabama looks interesting, as conservative voters appear to be abandoning the Republican party.  Doug Jones is polling well in the race for Jeff Sessions vacated Senate seat.   A Fox Poll had him even with Roy Moore, aka the Ten Commandments Judge, as of October 18.

This eradicates whatever momentum the Republicans had from the Congressional House special elections back in June, which Trump referred to in his tweets.  Even in Georgia, Democrats made gains in the House of Delegates, and have been chipping away at state assemblies across the country.

Knowing that Trump's instinct is always to double down, this does not bode well for Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.  They clearly have an albatross around their necks in the President, who continues to make a fool of himself at home and abroad.  He could get a bump if the Republicans are able to push the "Cuts Cuts Cuts Act" through Congress, but the overall consensus is that this bill would add trillions to the national deficit without giving average Americans much in the way of tax relief, thanks to the new tax brackets the bill proposes.

It seems voters are becoming much more circumspect in the wake of Trump's big win last November, no longer trusting him or the Republicans to do anything in their best interest.  The Bushes recently came out against Trump, opening up the fault line in the GOP.  With Hillary now out of the picture there is even less reason for Republicans to stick with Trump or the brand of politics he promotes.

Americans are looking for new leadership across the board. The pressure is on Democrats to deliver in key states so that Congressional candidates will have something to extol in the midterms.  This is a golden opportunity to take back Congress, rendering Trump irrelevant for the remainder of his term, assuming he even lasts out the term.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Japan loves Ivanka

Trump not so much





Ivanka Trump told reporters she is ready to take over for her father should he decide to step down before his term is over.  President Trump offered no response to his daughter's strange announcement other than to say she would make an excellent president.

This followed a number of odd comments by the President during his tour of Japan.  Earlier he had pleaded with Prime Minister Abe, whom he called President Abe, to build Japanese cars in America.  When told by PM Abe that Toyota produced over 2 million cars last year in North America, President Trump simply murmured, oh.  President Trump also said he was astonished by the number of countries in the world when addressing a banquet the first evening.  Who knew?


Mr. Trump also seemed visibly agitated by the prospect of feeding goldfish, or koi as they are called in Japan.  He followed the Prime Minister in scattering a couple spoonfuls into the pond and then simply dumped the rest of the contents in the wood box, patting the Prime Minister on the back afterward as if to say, good job.

Ms. Kushner, nee Trump, seems equally confused by the customs of Japan, thinking Japanese anime was an appropriate precedent for skirt lengths when addressing a conference with the President, er Prime Minister of Japan.  All though, I must say she looked stunning in her Japanese-inspired floral dress, created by Italian designer Johanna Ortiz.  "Kudos, baby," said her father.


By contrast, the First Lady Melania Trump opted for a concentration camp blue dress, designed by Christian Dior no less, when visiting an elementary school with the Japanese First Lady.  I don't know if she was paying tribute to the American POWs held in Japan during WWII, or simply thought it was the appropriate attire for young children.


The Trumps will continue their Asian tour in South Korea, but not before a friendly game of golf with the Prime Minister.  Someone should brief the President that Hyundai also makes cars in America so as not to make another miscue in Seoul.  As for Ivanka, she might want to add to her hemline as South Korea is even more conservative than Japan.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Time to look in the mirror




One of the things about living in America is that one mass killing quickly cancels out another.  It had been less than a week before Devin Kelley obliterated any memory of the New York truck attack by venting his rage on a rural church between LaVernia and Stockdale, Texas.   Our President was quick with prayers, but he isn't blaming Greg "Wheels" Abbott for allowing such a heinous crime to happen on his home turf, unlike his twitter attacks on Chuck Schumer last week.  Instead, he considers the Sutherland Springs church attack a "mental health problem."

It was also interesting the local police were slow to name Kelley, as if they wanted us to imagine for a moment it could be another ISIS attack.  After all, former Texas Governor Rick Perry had long been warning us of terrorists spilling over the Mexican border.  Turns out Devin Kelley is entirely homegrown and served in the military, but was court-martialled in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child.  Seems like things pretty much went downhill from there.

We can expect little outcry from conservatives, just talk of another lone gunman having lost his marbles.  It doesn't matter that this guy was dressed in full tactical gear, unloading his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on the church.  Probably even had a notorious bump stock on it to increase the firing rate.  The NRA has voiced some concern with these bump stocks, but it is little more than a ploy to turn away our attention from the more than 5 million assault rifles in circulation since the ban was lifted in 2004.

The zombie-killing rifle has become a favorite of weekend warriors, but all too often ends up in the wrong hands.  It is the closest thing to a military-grade automatic weapon you can get your hands on legally, and has been behind the most lethal mass shootings in American history.  However, it is highly doubtful you will hear any talk of renewing the ban on Capitol Hill.  At best, we can hope for a ban on bump stocks, not that it will make one iota of difference.

What galls me is not so much the widespread availability of these guns but how conservatives turn the other way when one of their own is behind the shootings.  These same blowhards want to end the diversity visa lottery program and ban Muslims from entering the country whenever a deranged individual like Sayfullo Saipov decides to vent his anger.

Like Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, there was little to suggest Saipov was a dangerous man.  Law enforcement agents say it appears he acted alone.  Whatever relationship he had with ISIS was one he invented for himself.  ISIS was slow to take credit for the attack, but then they are mired down in their own battles in Iraq and Syria to take notice until the damage is done.

These incidents point to something far more insidious than outside agents.  Mass shootings occur almost daily in America.  Nearly 900 persons have been killed in gun violence since Stephen Paddock's assault on Las Vegas.  This is a major epidemic, yet our government at both the federal and state level refuses to recognize it, unless of course the attacker is a Muslim.

The United States has literally become a war zone with more than 17,000 persons reported killed in 2016, and we are well on pace to match that number this year.  Murder rates in small towns have significantly increased over the years, showing this is a problem that goes well beyond the notorious inner cities of Chicago and Detroit, which Trump vilified on the campaign trail in 2016.

Firearms are now so widely available that any attempt to curb their sales would have little impact.  One can try to limit the amount of ammunition available, but this would only lead to gun enthusiasts stockpiling ammo until such laws were passed.  Bump stocks sold out within a week when talk of banning them surfaced in the wake of the Mandalay Bay Massacre.

The odd part is that the number of Americans owning firearms has actually declined over the years, which means firearms are becoming consolidated in fewer hands.  The average gun-owning family now has no less than six firearms in their household.  Little wonder kids have so easy access to them.  If all this isn't enough to make your head spin, I don't know what will.  However, most Americans appear inured to the violence until it happens in their school or church.

We prefer scapegoats like Sayfullo Saipov rather than homegrown products like Stephen Paddock and Devin Kelley, so we can easily blame immigration as the problem.  Yet, the vast majority of these mass killings are carried out by white Americans.  Woe be it to blame ourselves.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

What a Week!




The White House has become a dysfunctional family sitcom, kind of like Homer Simpson in the Oval Office.  Trump's minions have tried their best to cover for him.  Gen. Kelly attacked Frederica Wilson's account of the phone call Trump had with Myeshia Johnson.  Sarah Huckabee defended Gen. Kelly in turn, telling us we have no right to question generals, as if they are the ultimate authority on all matters, including the Civil War.  But, according to the creator of Dilbert, Trump is more than capable of handling his own with his never-ending supply of "linguistic kill shots."

Scott Adams has arisen from nowhere to become an expert of sorts because he predicted Trump would "win bigly" with a probability of 98% back in November, claiming Nate Silver only gave the Donald a 2% chance.  For the record, Nate gave Trump a 28.6% chance of winning, which he got chastised for being too high.  No matter, Scott Adams used his best "persuasion" skills to convince a doe-eyed Smerconish how right he was then and now about Trump.

Adams, like Michael Moore, think we are badly misjudging Trump's persuasion skills.   He feels Trump has his finger on the pulse of America and knows how to play the country better than anyone.  It is hard to fault him since Donald won, but did Trump really pull this off on his own?

I liked Michael Stipe's take back in November 2016.  Americans weren't being racist, he said, but voting to "smash the machine."  Trump was the equivalent of the guy running for homecoming queen and the university students thought what the fuck, why not!  All those insults, or linguistic kill shots as Dilbert calls them, reduced the playing field to Donald Trump's level.  The more Hillary was touted as the most qualified candidate ever for the job, the more voters were willing to accept the Trump campaign's "Crooked Hillary" narrative.

In voters' minds, the system was rigged.  Donald pointed this out on numerous occasions, boasting that if he lost Pennsylvania, a key blue state, then you knew the Democrats had bought the election.  As it turned out Donald not only won Pennsylvania but Michigan and Wisconsin too, cementing his incredible upset.

Was all this clever stagecraft, as Dilbert and Moore suggest, or just being in the right place at the right time as Michael Stipe suggests?  Probably a little of both, but if there was any clever wizard here, it was most likely Stephen Bannon,  the man behind the curtain in this campaign who no doubt came up with most of the linguistic kill shots Trump effectively deployed.

Whatever the case, we are now stuck with Trump.  The news media counts the days on the wall like an inmate would his jail time, only in this case the situation is reversed.  It is Donald who is holding us all hostage with his endless stream of tweets.  A great panic was created when some disgruntled Twitter employee temporarily deleted the realDonaldTrump account.  The real question should be why does Trump still have a personal account after repeatedly violating twitter user policy, not how this outgoing employee was able to purge the account himself?  But, this is the perverted reality show Donald Trump's White House has become.  We seem to enjoy living in this prison we created for ourselves.

When has the media ever had more fun bashing a President?  I suppose they are trying to make life in the White House as miserable for Donald Trump as they feel he has for Americans.  There's a literal "whack-a-mole" game going on as the White House continues to try to find the moles divulging all the discord going on inside, which Trump continues to deny in his tweets and Sarah in her press conferences.  But, are we really that miserable?

If we are enjoying this White House sitcom, even in a perverse way, it will come to an end, as all sitcoms do, except maybe the Simpsons, which had predicted Trump long before Dilbert or Michael Moore did.

The only question is how low will Trump sink the White House before he is ousted from the Oval Office.  Many of us would like to think Robert Mueller has the silver bullet, but more likely we will be forced to endure Donald for the remainder of his term.  It's like we are trapped inside the television set with Homer Simpson, having to endure all those puerile jokes and pranks again and again and again.

These "linguistic kill shots" proved to be an effective campaign tool, but they haven't served in anyway to deflect our attention away form Donald Trump during his presidency.  They've only showed how truly incompetent he is, as his tweets affected the Bowe Bergdahl case and may undermine the case against the New York truck attacker, Sayfullo Saipov.  Similarly, he is again mouthing off at Jeff Sessions, which may lead to long overdue obstruction of justice charges being brought against him.  At the very least, a gag order, which may finally result in the deletion of his twitter account.