Thursday, August 31, 2017

Jared and Ivanka




Correct me if I'm wrong, but there has never been an administration where the president's children carried so much weight in the White House.  Not even Pere Bush involved his two highly political motivated sons to this degree.  Enter Ivanka and Jared, who apparently have Trump's ear on many issues and even sit in for him on international summits.

It is hard to gauge exactly how much influence they actually have, as I can't imagine that their father's military transgender ban and press conference on Charlottesville sit well with them.  Nor his plans to scrap an Obama era provision that would have forced employers to file reports on the breakdown of salaries by gender, race and ethnicity.  This provision was seen as the first step in holding employers accountable when it comes to equal pay for women and minorities.  Yet, each and every time Ivanka defends her father's positions.

Jared keeps a lower profile given his heavy workload.  Not sure how far he has gotten with negotiations to reach a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, but he did meet with Abbas this week so he seems to be following through on one of his many tasks in his father-in-law's White House.  One would think you would have your state department negotiating thorny settlements like this, but it seems Trump likes to keep things in the family.

I suppose that's the only place he finds "loyalty" these days given the massive shake-up in the White House.  Yet, the leaks keep coming, adding further embarrassment to an administration that has yet to record a major legislative victory or major international deal.

Ivanka and Jared are as badly out of their league as is their father.  They bring no real experience to the White House other than an ability to plug their own brand and negotiate real estate deals.  Even here, neither appears to be particularly good at it.

Yet, they have become the most highly influential children in the White House.  Before Gen. Kelly took over as Chief of Staff, Jared was apparently the conduit to Trump.   He, more than Rex Tillerson, appears to be Trump's point man on foreign affairs.  And, he is heading a "SWAT team" to reinvent government along corporate lines.

Ivanka is serving the traditional functions of first lady given Melania prefers to spend time with Barron and shopping on line.  Like a good wife, or in this case good daughter, Ivanka defends Donald's every move, even his infamous Charlottesville comments by not saying anything.  We heard a lot about how she would tame her father's rage, but so far no signs of it.  Trump is as defiant as ever, often sticking his foot in his mouth, and Ivanka just smiles.

One would think that with Bannon and Gorka now gone, this is "Javanka's" moment to step up.  I imagine if anyone can get around Gen. Kelly's iron grip of the White House it is these two.  Yet, Trump can't get through a prepared speech without going off the rails and seems determined to alienate Congress with his many attacks on Republican legislators.  This is what happens when you have no close adviser that understands the dynamics of Washington.  Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were supposed to fill that role, and we saw how far they got with Trump.

Presidential powers are limited, as His Trumpness is finding out the hard way.  He thought he could come in and be CEO of the nation, but you can't get any legislation done except through Congress.  He's managed to revoke a great number of Obama executive orders, but few of them had actually taken effect.  The one place he can make his mark is on foreign policy and so far all he has managed to do is burn bridges.

Jared is left with the thankless role of picking up the charred pieces and seeing what he can rebuild.  So, it seems he has done some good.   Again, why wasn't Rex Tillerson assuring Canada that NAFTA was still good instead of Jared?

I'm not sure what these two gain from serving in such a major capacity in their father's White House, other than sweet deals like the one Ivanka snagged when the Chinese premier visited Mar-a-Lago.  One assumes Jared's interest is mainly in trade deals as well.  They have become America's ultimate Millennial power couple.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Yet another shot across the bow




While Trump is contending with Hurricane Harvey, Little Kim decided to take a shot across the bow of the good ship Japan this week, firing a ballistic missile over the northern island of Hokkaido.  Just last week, Donald J. Trump loudly proclaimed "[Kim Jong-Un] is starting to respect us."  It doesn't seem so.

If there is anything we have learned by now it is that Little Kim loves shooting off missiles.  It is going to take far more than bellicose words to get him to hold back.  The young dictator even went further to call this missile test a "meaningful prelude" to containing Guam, where the US has a sizable naval base.

Not only that but Russian officials said the US and its Western allies provoked this missile test with their joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan, along with the even more restrictive sanctions.  If the US was hoping that Russia and China would help contain North Korea, the opposite appears to be occurring.

Trump has squandered whatever good will he may have had from Russia prior to his election.  To hear him on the campaign trail, this was going to be the cornerstone of his foreign policy.  Instead, it has become an albatross around his neck.

Ever more allegations point to collusion between his campaign and Russia, with Trump now the focal point of the investigations.  After all, if he is going to pardon whoever the FBI brings under indictment, then you go after the president himself.  Kind of like bringing down the kingpin of a crime syndicate.  He can't very well pardon himself.  That's up to his successor.

Russia may have been some help in containing North Korea, especially given that it has assisted the country in developing its military arsenal.  During the Cold War, the Soviet Union saw North Korea as a deterrent to US presence in the region.  After the collapse of the communist nation, North Korea was forced to deal elsewhere for supplies, notably China and Pakistan.  It even showed interest in an agreement with the US in 1994 for light-water nuclear reactors if it began disarmament, but as we know that never came about and our relationship with North Korea has only grown worse since then.  Meanwhile, Russia has rebuilt its military and is once again exporting weapons technology.

Like Syria, North Korea is a well-placed bargaining chip.  It helps to foil whatever designs the US has in the region and so it is in Russia's interest to keep the Kim dynasty in place.  It also forces the US to recognize Russia as a geopolitical force, not simply a "regional power," which former president Obama casually dismissed it.  As such, any attempt to rein in North Korea involves not only China but Russia as well.

This pretty much allows Little Kim to act the way he does in the region.  He can bully South Korea and Japan because he knows China and Russia have his back.  The US can flex its naval muscles all it wants in the Sea of Japan, but it will not risk provoking a catastrophic war.  At least that was the case before Donald J. Trump became commander-in-chief.

His Trumpness is feeling cornered these days and who knows how he might lash out.   Gen. Mattis is having to spend more time containing his commander's ego than he would like, distracting him from far more serious concerns.

Little Kim is not stupid.  He sees what is going on and is taking full advantage of the situation.  He loves nothing more than giving Trump a black eye, or any US President for that matter.  The only difference is Obama refused to be taunted.  Trump appears to enjoy it.

Trump is the most shameless president we have ever had.  You look at all the indignity he has faced in the press and this guy just comes back for more.  It truly is "unpresidented."  It doesn't seem to matter how many "red lines" Kim crosses, Trump just keeps shouting "fire and fury."  But, at some point Trump has to deliver on these threats or he will lose what's left of his political audience.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey




Seems Hurricane Harvey isn't done with Houston yet.  The category 4 storm circled over Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana to end up in the Gulf of Mexico again, where it has gathered strength once more and is aiming back to the same coastline, sure to dump even more torrential rains on the low lying regions.  Into this maelstrom goes Donald Trump aboard Air Force One in an effort to put on his best presidential face after spending most of last week blowing up his ego rather than getting FEMA ground crews in place for Harvey's first landfall.

Trump will use another Tuesday to deliver a speech to the waterlogged Texans and Louisianans who have to deal with unprecedented floods.  Hopefully it goes better than his Phoenix rally, which once again had pundits and politicians questioning his judgement, especially after he delivered on his vow to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio this past Friday.   If Congress has any notion to impeach the president, Roger Stone warned them of insurrection among Trump ranks.

Right now, Americans are mostly concerned about what is happening in Houston, a major city that finds itself mostly underwater after more than 30 inches of rain.  For the fundamentalists, the flood appeared of Biblical proportions, as the waters rose above the 500 year floodplain.  One would like to think more people will now take global warming seriously, even if the president does not.  Two weeks ago, Trump rescinded Obama's executive order to create stronger building restrictions in flood zones.

As you might recall, this executive order presaged the roll out of his new infrastructure plans at Trump Tower, but got lost in the angry firestorm of comments and tweets that followed his press conference.  He's spent the better part of the last two weeks reeling from his Charlottesville comments.  Last Tuesday didn't help matters, as he was as belligerent as ever in Phoenix and Friday delivered on his promise to free Sheriff Joe despite the protests of his own justice department.

The week probably would have been better spent gearing up for Harvey.  Instead, an awestruck Donald resorted to twitter to offer a running commentary of the encroaching storm rather than making sure his FEMA crews were in place to deal with the aftermath.  As it turned out, FEMA and just about everyone else was overwhelmed by the deluge, with thousands of volunteers coming to the rescue in their bass boats, kayaks and jet skis to help get stranded residents out of their homes.

As with New Orleans, not only was FEMA slow to react but so too was the mayor of Houston, who didn't think an evacuation order was necessary.  Donald now has a Texas-sized mess to clean up or his name will be mud, even among his own constituency, which is still waiting for him to deliver on his many promises.

If the Phoenix rally was any indication, Trump's ranks are diminishing.  He can blame George Gigicos for the sparse crowd but fact is just about everyone is tiring of the Donald and his antics.  This is his last chance to make things right by overseeing a speedy recovery effort in Houston and its surroundings, not letting it drag out for years as was the case with New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  This storm will either make or break him.

Trump seems to know the stakes here, but does he have the resolve and the forces to muster bold action?   Mostly, he is counting on his generals to deliver for him.  He recently pulled Gen. Kelly from Homeland Security to serve as his Chief of Staff, leaving the task of managing FEMA to Elaine Duke.  Trump's White House is still in transition and not fully prepared to deal with crises of this magnitude.  This will literally be a trial by storm.

Monday, August 28, 2017

McGovernism




The left wing of the Democratic party is searching for a hero and seems to have found one in the ghost of George McGovern.  A new biography frames McGovern as the champion of social democracy long before Bernie.  This was a guy from the heartland of South Dakota, who served with distinction in WWII and went on to be one of the most progressive legislators in Congress.  Mercifully, the first volume of this two-part biography stops at 1968, leaving him as a hero in liberal Democrats' minds.

It's hard to believe that at one time liberal social policy got you elected in states like South Dakota.  Today, even Wisconsin and Michigan have turned Republican, as social democratic values have been soundly rejected at the polls.  This doesn't stop liberal Democrats from resurrecting a bygone era.  After all, Bernie scored well among socialist-minded Democrats in last year's primaries, which seems like an eternity ago now.

We'll never know how Bernie would have done in the general election.  He never rose above the status of a folk hero thanks to the collusion of the DNC and Hillary's campaign personified in Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the media treating Sanders as a fringe figure.  In the end, Trump was able to sponge off some of Bernie's more ardent supporters because of the bad taste that was left from the Democratic primaries.  It proved enough for Trump to win the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a total of 70,000 votes.

It behooves the DNC to not write off the left wing again, but at the same time it can't let itself become hog tied by it, the way the RNC has with the radical right wing of its party.  America will always swing right, it rarely ever swings left.  McGovern is a case in point.

Gorgeous George represented everything good in the Democratic party at one time.  He swept through the 1972 primaries, dispensing with stodgy old Ed Muskie and conservative "Scoop" Jackson to gain the nomination at a highly contentious convention.  He might have even challenged Nixon had not his campaign got mired in the bad publicity surrounding his first choice for Vice-President -- Thomas Eagleton, whose psychological profile the Republicans mercilessly attacked.

It is still doubtful McGovern would have won the election even with the country still mired in Vietnam and an economic recession of category 3 proportions forming on the horizon, but he certainly wouldn't have been trounced like he was.  McGovern was unable to overcome the ignominy of having failed to control his convention.  There was a lot of desertion among the Democratic ranks and Nixon won every state except Massachusetts and DC.  Even South Dakotans turned their backs on their senator.

With that in mind, it will be far more interesting to read the second volume of Thomas Knock's biography, helping to explain why McGovern lost so "bigly."  This is the object lesson Democrats will need to learn before leaning too far to the left in the upcoming elections.  They will have a litmus test of sorts in 2018.  There will be highly progressive candidates running for Congressional seats in key states.  How they do will tell us a lot about which direction the Democrats should go in 2020.

My guess is they won't do very well outside liberal states.  "Social Democracy," as Bernie Sanders insisted on calling it, has a limited audience, namely twenty- and early thirty-somethings, the generation that grew up with "Friends."  There will be a time this generation comes to define America but not by 2020.  With this in mind, Democrats should tread very carefully on this new found "McGovernism" lest they want to repeat the mistakes of the 70s.

As we've seen time and again, this country moves forward in baby steps.  It took 100 years to pass a civil rights bill, despite decades of beastly Jim Crow laws resulting in chain gangs, lynchings and many other horrible forms of torture throughout the South.  FDR was so worried he might lose Southern Democrats that he dreaded the anti-lynching bill that was being pushed through Congress.  Fortunately for him, the bill never got through the Senate.

The Southern states no longer represent a powerful political bloc like they did then, but sadly much of that recalcitrance has spread through the Midwest and even into the Northeast.  Trump broke through the "Blue Wall" in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Even Maine and New Hampshire can not be counted on, which Hillary narrowly won.  Their 7 electoral votes have to be considered in the strange calculus that determines our president every four years.

Populism may have worked for Trump, but it won't necessarily work for a Democratic populist.  Like it or not, we live in a conservative country.  This is what Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all recognized.  They knew their limitations and played their campaign to the middle, not to the outer edges, despite whatever progressive ideas they had in mind.

There was good reason for this cautious approach, which Hillary stuck to.  Even though she lost the electoral college, she still won the popular vote as did Al Gore in 2000.  Playing to the middle keeps Democrats competitive in a general election.  If they swing too far to the left they go down badly in defeat.

Yet, we see all the early warning signs that the Democrats are ready to swing left again.  Democrats are sick of their Congressional leaders and are looking for a younger version of Bernie to lead the nation against "Trumpism."  You can't really blame them when the best Chuck and Nancy can come up with is a "Better Deal."  Not very inspiring.

Whether there is another "McGovern" waiting to emerge in 2020 remains to be seen.  So far, the closest we have come is Bernie and he isn't even a Democrat.  Whoever this mystery man or woman is, Democrats better prepare themselves for the media onslaught from the right.  If you thought their attacks on Obama and Hillary were vicious, just wait to hear what they will say about someone who proudly proclaims himself or herself to be a Social Democrat.



Monday, August 21, 2017

Time to put the "Lost Cause" behind us


John Hunt Morgan memorial, Lexington, KY

One of the most interesting things to learn from this brouhaha over Confederate memorials is how many of them there are and that they are spread all over the United States, not just the South.  You can find them as far west as California and as far north as New York.  There are dozens in Kentucky and West Virginia, neither of which were part of the Confederacy.

Kentucky had declared itself neutral at the outset of the war but when Major General Leonidas Polk got it into his head to invade the Bluegrass State, the governor solicited the United States for help and none other than Gen. U.S. Grant responded to the crisis.  The state was visibly torn on the issue.  A shadow government was formed that supported the Confederacy, but ultimately the state swore its allegiance to the United States.  Yet, no less than 60 Confederate memorials are scattered throughout Kentucky.  

The other irony is that Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home is in Knob Creek, not far from Louisville, which has three Confederate memorials despite the war never reaching this part of Kentucky.  At least Lexington is trying to make things right.

It's even stranger that West Virginia would have so many Confederate memorials, as it seceded from Virginia in order to stay in the Union.  Yet, there are scores of monuments scattered throughout this state as well.  It really makes you wonder if any of these persons studied their state's heritage?

Most of these memorials were erected during the peak years of segregation, and both these states were as notorious as their fellow Southern states in this regard.  The KKK and other white supremacist groups are still very much active here, even if Sen. Mitch McConnell says they are not wanted in Kentucky.  In fact, this photo surfaced a few years ago of Mitch getting an award from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which makes you wonder where his sympathies actually lie.  So far, nothing to disprove the image posted on twitter.

Sympathy for the South made it into the mainstream decades ago thanks to Gone With the Wind.  These feelings were further reinforced by Ken Burns epic series on the Civil War, which heavily featured the Dean of Southern Apologists, Shelby Foote.  There's something about a "Lost Cause" that attracts many persons, which I guess is what keeps Donald Trump going.

Conservative websites like The Blaze have jumped all over a recent Marist poll that showed 62 per cent of Americans feel the statues are part of history.  An astonishing 44 per cent of Blacks agreed.  Not sure what the matrix for these polls were but you can sort it out here at PBS.

Nonetheless, many cities and college campuses quietly took down Confederate monuments this past week -- Duke and the University of Texas among them.  After all, this is a local issue and if city councils and university boards feel the statues impose on their way of life it is their choice to make, regardless of what Condoleeza Rice or anyone else thinks.

A memorial isn't really a part of history.  It is a marker.  If you want to learn the history of your country it is better to read a book, not the bronze placard on a monument, which most likely was written by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or other similar organization.  This is "sanitized history," to use Aunt Condi's term, in which the South becomes some kind of evocative "Dixieland," as Elvis might sing.  These monuments might be beautiful but it doesn't make Dixie right, especially when you don't even know which states were in Dixie to begin with.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

'til Tuesday




We seem to have a short reprieve as Trump plans for his Phoenix rally on Tuesday.  Republicans walked back some of their earlier harsh condemnations following last Tuesday's press briefing.  Kasich wouldn't answer a single question Jake Tapper put forward on Trump, preferring to "look ahead," as he put it, and using the "State of the Union" to plug his successes in Ohio.  In the end, Governor John said he wants Trump to succeed.

I suppose a lot of these Republicans looked at the most recent polls and decided it is best to ride this current tweet storm out.  Alarmingly, 6 of 10 conservatives say there is nothing that would change their opinion of Trump.  It looks like a pretty rough primary in store for Jeff Flake, who will be going up against a challenger some say Trump will endorse at his rally in Phoenix this week.  The President still appears to be sitting in the catbird's seat as far as Republican voters are concerned.  

For Democrats, this is a golden opportunity to launch a major assault on Congress.  Only problem is that they haven't been able to inspire many persons to ante up.  They trail far behind Republicans in fundraising efforts.  Once again, his immenseness is sucking up all the air in the political war room.

Most likely 2018 will be a referendum on Trump as it was on Obama in 2010.  What helped the GOP then was their "Pledge to America."  It was a last ditch effort to turn the electoral tide that year and surprisingly it worked.  It looks like the Democrats still have time to come up with a better pitch than the one they currently have.  So, maybe we shouldn't waste all our energy at this juncture of the campaign.  Let Trump continue to dig a hole for himself.  Let the Republicans keep trying to defend him or ignore him or whatever.  Save all that self-righteous indignation for the home stretch.  After all, elections are a horse race.  You have to pace yourself.

Trump currently seems to have no idea what he's doing.  His administration is engaged almost entirely in damage control. The attempt to roll out a new infrastructure plan on Tuesday went hurtling off the rails because of his inability to stay on message.  He chose instead to vent his anger and frustration over the way the press portrayed his Charlottesville comments.  This led to a mass exodus of the CEOs who were helping him to forge a business plan for the future.  All he has now is Steve Mnuchin, who hasn't exactly distinguished himself in this regard.  Trump's threadbare staff seems as confused as he does as to where to go next.  The only thing positive to come out of all this is that no one is talking about the ongoing Russian investigation.

The weight of his administration has fallen on John Kelly, a retired general who doesn't have a head for this sort of thing.  His job is to put the White House in order.  Part of that was showing Stephen Bannon the door on Friday.  One has to think Stephen Miller and Dr. Gorka will be getting their walking papers soon, as Kelly is determined to purge the White House of ultra-nationalists.  This is a good thing, but it doesn't address the over-sized elephant in the room, although it does appear Gen. Kelly cleaned up Trump's tweets yesterday.  The last tweet didn't look like it came from the president's tiny hands.

Even when his cabinet members offer him a plan of action, Trump doesn't stick to it.  Doesn't seem as though he even bothers to read it.  This is a man who likes to wing it, which makes this Tuesday very dangerous.  He's already hinted he might pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  He's also tweeted he has no time for flaky Jeff Flake.  Looks like he is planning to stir up another hornet's nest in front of his most devoted supporters.

If nothing else, Trump knows how to create anticipation.  This is what drives him and what keeps America tuned in.  The guy has managed to drag us all into his pathetic reality show whether we wanted to or not.  Unlike The Apprentice, you can't turn him off.  He's there 24/7 continually threatening to bring the whole country down, largely through twitter.

Some estimate that he has at the very least a 20% hold on the social networking company that caters to news on the side.  Obama may have more followers, but Trump generates far more attention.  Same goes for the mainstream media, which hangs on every word he tweets.

Tune in Tuesday to see which way the world turns.

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.