Sunday, February 26, 2017

Say hello to Tom Perez




Looking at the other side of the aisle, the Democrats have a new party leader in Tom Perez.  I don't know much about him, or whether he will unite the fractured party, but first signs seem to be positive.  He immediately made Keith Ellison, his rival for the position, deputy chairman in an effort to unite the raucous crowd.

I also like that Perez said the party will focus more on down ticket races, rather than investing all this energy in the presidential race.  It really was amazing to me that the Dems were unable to retake the Senate given more Republican seats were up for grabs than at any time in the past 6 years.  They were only able to gain one seat.  Much too much money and energy was spent on Hillary at the expense of key Congressional races.

Personally, I was rooting for Keith Ellison.  His Muslim background had many Democrats questioning whether he was a wise choice.  Ultimately, it is a DNC leader's organizational skills that should be the focus and Ellison gets high marks here.  Perez is an unknown, having previously served as Obama's labor secretary, and never having run for elected office.  Ellison has run successful US House campaigns in Minnesota's fifth district since 2006.

Perez represents a decided tilt toward Hispanic voters.  He also has an excellent civil rights record, which should help placate the liberals that were behind Ellison, as he enthusiastically threw his support behind Perez.

This would normally not get so much attention, but the Democrats' poor showing last November has placed a lot of focus on the party leadership, which Sanders' supporters felt unfairly aided Hillary in the primaries.  The DNC was forced to clean up its act after the allegations were verified by leaked e-mails.  For Sanders' part, he wants to see the Democratic Party come together and push an agenda that favors the working class in this country.

Perez would like to return the party to its grass-roots base of 2008, which vaulted Obama to the presidency with a Congressional majority in tow.  Ellison was looking to build off Sanders' momentum in 2016.  It seems the Clinton era is finally over with Donna Brazille getting booed off the podium after announcing Perez's victory.  Brazille had been a close ally of the Clintons for decades.

I imagine the Clintons think they can still exercise some influence over Perez, but I'm not so sure after hearing his speech.  A bit too strident for my taste, but it is clear he wants to steer the party in a new direction.

The real test comes in 2018 with the midterm elections.  It is crucial that the Democrats respond to Trump and turn over a highly unpopular Republican Congress, which appears frozen at the moment as to what direction to take, especially in regard to the Affordable Care Act.  Now that he is out office, Boehner took a broader view on the battle over health care.  It will be a tough fight for the Dems to retake the Senate, as only 8 Republicans are up for re-election, whereas 23 Democratic seats are at stake.  Republicans have set their sights on 10 of those Democratic seats.  Looks like Perez will need all the help he can get in what promises to be a very vicious election cycle.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Evil Dr. Bannon




I was tempted to listen to the evil Dr. Bannon at the CPAC pep rally but pretty much knew what to expect.  CNN was literally dripping with anticipation last night as Bannon very rarely makes himself available to the public.  He's one of those that likes to lurk behind the scenes, whispering his demented thoughts into the ears of political leaders, kind of like CPAC itself.

Stephen Bannon is only slightly more acceptable than Sean Hannity and Alex Jones, who apparently also has the President's ear.  Bannon at least doesn't shout.  Unfortunately, the agenda is pretty clear.  Turn the notion of mainstream media on its ear, allowing for fringe media like that they represent to become part of the mainstream media.  At that point, listeners will be completely confused as to what is real and what is fake, as it will be competing with each other every night for their attention.  News will no longer have an ethical standard but will be judged by how many hits it gets on the social media.

It's pretty scary to think about, but this is the war on media that the Trump administration has unleashed.  He has revealed his list of acceptable media sources and not surprisingly CNN, Washington Post and the New York Times are not on that list.  They have essentially been blackballed.  Alex Jones already claims his inflammatory InfoWars has been invited to White House Press Briefings.  Who's to argue with him as he also claims that he and Trump are in constant communication?

The Conservative movement is currently in hyperdrive.  The time is now for their full frontal assault on American society, turning the public against the "corporatist global media" as Bannon calls it.  This would include Fox News and a number of other conservative corporate news syndicates, which own an alarming share of television and print media around the world, but Bannon wants everyone to know this is clearly a liberal cabal the Trump administration is fighting against.

Breitbart is kind of like Scientology.  It grew out of the ravings of a mad man and now has a cult of followers.  Bannon came to Breitbart after the founder's death in 2012 and quickly gained a far-reaching audience.  He had been a relatively successful investment banker and minor media mogul before that.  There was no way to imagine the kind of influence he would gain in 2016 when Trump made him head of his campaign.

Bannon regaled in all the wrong predictions and descriptions of their campaign in chaos, only to see the liberal media "crying and weeping" on election night.  Their electoral victory is their validation in his mind, and many many people believe this.  Certainly, the folks at CPAC, who like many conservative political action groups are now solidly behind Trump.

This really isn't much different than what went on in Germany in the 1930s.  Bannon, who has long championed white supremacy no doubt has a soft spot for Hitler.  One could argue that he is looking at this from a purely entertainment point of view, but the result is the same, he gave credence to white supremacy and other nationalist movements by constantly promoting them at Breitbart.

Of course, conservatives don't want to claim their ugly doppleganger.  Instead, they try to project this latent fascism on liberals and it seems to be working among their followers.  Why not?  It worked for Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and other autocratic leaders.  Obviously, the evil Dr. Bannon has studied all this and distilled the essence into his twisted view of the role of media in shaping agenda.

If you incite enough riots and keep your minions relatively in check, most Americans will begin to identify with your message.  This is the long range goal of the Trump administration.  Berkeley was just a precursor.  It didn't turn out quite as well as expected, but they will go after cities and universities that are declaring themselves "sanctuary cities," and make them look like they are the radical ones.

Bannon knows that as long as Trump keeps the alt-right conservative base happy, Republican leaders will be too afraid to challenge him.  As unpopular as Trump is nationally, he is very popular among his base.  An estimated 87 per cent of conservatives support his actions.  No Republican leader is going to challenge numbers like that, except someone like John McCain, who has secured his Congressional seat for another six years.

We shouldn't think for a moment that these guys are stupid.  Alt-right spin doctors like Bannon know exactly what they are doing and they are successfully turning this country against itself.  It is hard to say what Bannon's level of convictions are -- whether this is all part of some Dominionist plot to plunge the country into chaos or just simply a means of attaining power and control.  Whatever the case, he is looking more and more like Negan on Walking Dead.  He will use whatever means at his disposal to secure that power in an autocratic state.

In that sense, he's not much different than Dick Cheney either, who tried to do the same in the Bush White House until his old ticker began to give out.  Cheney had outsized influence during the first term, calling many of the shots in the White House.  It was only when things began to deteriorate in Iraq that Bush lost faith in his partner, and sought advice from others.

However, Cheney and like-minded conservatives had successfully put an apparatus in place that would allow future conservative regimes to consolidate a disproportionate share of power in the executive branch.  This is Homeland Security, which has a tremendous amount of authority.  Obama warned us of this, but no one seemed to take note as Obama was relatively benevolent in his use of this power.

It is clear from the first few weeks of Trump's administration that he will not be so benevolent, using the full extent of his executive authority to push through an alt-right agenda, largely contrived by the evil Dr. Bannon on the campaign trail.  Of course, CPAC and other conservative groups had a hand in it too, but it is Bannon who has cobbled together a wide-ranging agenda of conservative favorite themes into a more or less coherent package that is being serialized through executive orders.  As such, the base of the Republican Party is thrilled as punch.  This is what they had been promised for the past two decades, ever since the GOP first presented its "Contract with America."

One can't say that Republicans don't lack patience.  They have kept to their agenda for the past 6 presidential administrations waiting for the propitious moment when they could finally enact it on a large scale.  They had to content themselves with small victories at the state and national level during this time, but now all the forces appear to be in place for the final push.  All we can hope for is that there will be sufficient enough reaction against this agenda in the next two years to reclaim at least one chamber of Congress in 2018, otherwise we could be in for a very long winter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

46?

or The Madness of King Trump




To this point, Mike Pence, or Mike "Pants" as my wife calls him, has been "good cop" to Trump's "bad cop" in the latest version of a Marvel crime fighting duo.  However, it is starting to appear that Vice President Pence is cultivating larger aspirations.  His European tour was a big hit, making a strong impression on European leaders and Bono alike for his level-headedness and commitment to international norms.

Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Bannon appears to be tending the stables of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, waiting for that propitious moment to usher in Armageddon.   Things didn't work out very well with one horsemen, Milo Yiannopoulos, who has been dumped after his comments on pedophilia. The conservatives' "boy toy" tried to start a riot at Cal-Berkeley only to see his own reputation go up in flames.

It is really hard to understand what is going on in this White House.  There seem to be two main rival camps, one led by Pence and the other by Bannon.  Some say there is also a Priebus camp, a hybrid camp if you will, that tries to act as the middle way. Then there is the family camp led by Jared and Ivanka, which holds considerable sway, Trump being the family man that he is.  There also appears to be rogue warriors like Kellyanne Conway, anxious to carve out her own niche in the White House.

Increasingly, Mike Pence is emerging as the most reasonable voice emanating from the White House, offering assurances after his commander-in-chief's twitter-tantrums.  How much influence Pence really has is a matter of speculation, but it seems to be growing as more persons are turning to him to bring stability to the chaos that has plagued His Trumpness's first month in office.

I get the sneaky suspicion a coup is in the works.  Republican Senate leaders appear to have had their fill of Trump and are now looking for a way to get rid of him.  Pence is clearly their man.  The only potential problem is how much the former Congressman and Indiana governor was involved in the shenanigans surrounding Mike Flynn.  He claims to have been out of the loop completely, but a thorough investigation may say otherwise.  If Mr. Pence emerges as the only clean member of this foul administration, he is the heir apparent to the oval office, because it seems Congress is finally gearing up for full investigations into Russiagate.

Trump is obviously deranged.  His presser and subsequent rally in Florida sealed the deal.  The Sweden gaffe is the worst yet, as it has led to a flood of tweets, including several from the former Swedish PM, and an amusing video mocking His Trumpness.  He has truly become an international embarrassment.  He had to postpone his planned visit to the UK to avoid further embarrassment. Nevertheless, the core of the conservative electorate sticks with him, completely absorbed in his madness.  So, Republicans have to tread softly so as not to risk an ugly uprising in their party that could spark violent clashes.

Fortunately for them, Pence is seen as a pillar of the religious conservative community and an acceptable alternative to King Trump.  Congressional Republicans would love to ease Trump out and not have to go through the ugly spectacle of an impeachment.

But, here they run into the evil Dr. Bannon, who is not going to go down quietly.  He has been pulling the levers from day one, trying to keep Trump in line with the alt-right world that he justifiably believes is who put him into the White House in the first place.  But, Trump is wavering, as he is forced to come to terms with the enormity of his responsibilities.  He can no longer simply sign off on Bannon's hastily contrived executive orders, as they not only have failed to hold up in court but literally drive a knife right down the middle of the country.  So, Trump is beginning to defer more and more to other counsel, marginalizing Bannon and the radical conservatism he represents.  Still, the evil doctor has strong influence as witnessed at the Florida rally, a tailor-made event to satisfy the alt-right.

This will be a huge test of the GOP.  A successful transition of power from Trump to Pence would bring a measure of stability back to the Republican Party and restore faith in America as a global leader.  Trump has sorely tested the world's patience, even that of Putin.

Maybe this was the game plan all along, it was just that the evil Dr. Bannon wasn't privy to it?  We can only wait and see how it plays out.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

It Can't Happen Here




It seems 45 has unwittingly inspired a book club -- not the kind he would probably give a thumb's up too as many of the titles are apocalyptic in theme.  One of the books that has emerged at the top of the list is Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here.  It used to be fun back in the old days to speculate what the country would be like under a "bumbling, repressive and democratically elected American President," safe in the belief we would never be so easily deceived.  But, sadly it has happened.

The book followed pretty closely on the heels of the elevation of Hitler to Chancellor of Germany in 1933.  Other tyrants had come to power in Italy and Spain but there wasn't much of a democratic process in these countries, as they came to power through civil war.  Germany accepted Hitler, although at the time of Lewis' writing it was hard to tell how bad things would turn out.

That's kind of where we are now.  Trump is more laughing stock than tyrant, but given time he has the ability to consolidate power and the result could be much more grim, which is what transpired in the second half of Lewis' book as President Windrip strengthened his grip on power.  A prescient book in that it was written four years before war broke out in Europe, and an instructive one given the increasingly uncivil environment we find ourselves currently living in.

We've definitely had our share of populist candidates over the years, but they had either self-destructed on the campaign trail or the public grew weary of them and they failed to carry their candidacy all the way through to the end.  Trump is new ground, and one we must wrestle to come to terms with, which is why so many book references are coming up.

It's just too bad we have a president who doesn't read.  Maybe then he would be more aware of the limits of power.  Alas, this is a man who has never had to want for anything in his 70 years on earth, born into an extremely wealthy New York family and given all the fine things in life from a very early age.  The world was literally his oyster.

When Megyn Kelly asked Trump what his favorite book was (21:15 mark), he said All Quiet on the Western Front.  She asked him what he was currently reading and all he could come up with was that he read "passages."  No book in specific.   He rarely offers a quote from a book and when he does he usually botches it, as was the case when he tried to reference a chapter from the Bible at a Liberty University rally.  In true Trump fashion, he blamed his adviser Tony Perkins for the mistake.

George Bush had been similarly derided for not being much of a reader, although Karl Rove would have us believe the President read 90 books per year.  I don't think Rove thought about the math here, as that would mean almost two books per week, which would make Bush a veritable book worm.  Bush had a similar problem as Trump when asked to cite his favorite childhood book and came up with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was first published in 1969, when W was 23 years old.  In all fairness, it was probably a book he read to his girls later on.

Trump hasn't been pressed too much on his reading habits.  He's given the press much more to chew on.  But, I think it is cause to worry.  Most presidents have been avid readers, whether it was to provide a literary escape from the duties of their office, or to help inform them on issues and cultural events they had to address.  The one and only book Trump has repeatedly referenced is his own, The Art of the Deal, although one has to wonder if he even read it as it was ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz.

In fairness to our President, I tried to read his "classic work."  It is an insufferable account of Trump's daily habits that offers very little in the way of insights, other than the degree of his narcissism.  You would be much better off reading John Brooks' Business Adventures, which is considered a classic by many in the business world, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Now that we are in presidential territory, you would think that our commander-in-chief would at least pick up a biography about a past president that inspires him.  He claims to be a big fan of Andrew Jackson, which leads one to suggest The Age of Jackson by Arthur Schlesinger, but Trump is probably waiting until Bill O'Reilly catches up with Jackson is his serial killing series.  Baba has already provided him Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan to pour over.  However, the best we can hope for is that 45 might check out the movie on cable, but that too is unlikely as he is drawn mostly to fake news and reality shows.

Sadly, in his own odd way he reflects the tastes of his electorate.  You would never think a young man who grew up in a wealthy New York family and went to one of the "best business schools" would turn out to have the intellectual curiosity of Al Bundy.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Night He Drove the Grand Ol' Party Down




It was a pretty simple thing to do.  Just go in front of the press and announce his new pick for Secretary of Labor, say a few complimentary things about him, and quietly bid adieu.  But, His Trumpness wasn't going to let it go at that.

The first indication this was going to get messy was all of his handlers preceding him, but no sign of "Alex" Acosta.  They all dutifully sat in the front row to give their president emotional support.  I had thought Trump would stick to theme, as he initially spoke so calmly.  I tuned away only to come back twenty minutes later to hear him ranting about the classified information that had been illegally leaked out of his administration.  Not just the leaked phone calls of Mike Flynn, but that of his conversations with the Presidents of Mexico and Australia, all of which he claimed were misrepresented in the press, or to use his phrase, "real leaks, fake news."

It was clear to everyone his conversation with President Pena Nieto went off the rails, as has been everything concerning his relationship with Mexico, since he tweeted it himself!  Nieto tweeted in return as this now seems to be the official line of communication with the White House.  Whatever occurred in "private" only reinforced this deep chill in relations, as Nieto is having to defend himself against the public outcry back home.

The Prime Minister of Australia was more conciliatory, saying His Trumpness didn't hang up on him, but chose not to elaborate, indicating a rather chilly call over the 1250 refugees.  Trump tweeted he was very upset over the "dumb deal" the Obama administration had struck last year.

In regard to the disgraced General Flynn, he basically lauded his actions, saying he would have directed Flynn to contact Russian leaders if the former general had not done so on his own volition.  Trump's only qualm, apparently, is that Flynn wasn't forthright with Vice President Pence.  He blamed the media for blowing the story out of all bounds and forcing him to have to ask for Flynn's resignation.  A rather strange admission to say the least.

His Trumpness was only warming up.  He launched a full scale attack on the media, CNN in particular, as purveyors of fake news.  When the more audacious reporters challenged him, such as his claim that he had the biggest electoral victory since Reagan, he retreated ever so slightly, claiming that was how it was presented to him.  Not his mistake mind you, but one of his handlers.  You figure it was probably one of those sitting on the front row who he was glaring at.

The creme de la creme of the evening came when a black reporter asked him if he would include the CBC in discussions of his agenda for addressing urban policy.  Oblivious to what the acronym referred to, he asked her to set up a meeting for him.  She was referring to the Congressional Black Caucus.  Mind you, this is a guy who claimed he would win 95% of the black vote in 2020.

Of course, CNN had a field day with the press conference afterward, as did all the other networks.  Surprisingly, it was Shep Smith of Fox who was the most animated, castigating Trump for his demonstrable lies.  No wonder Trump limited his praise of Fox to the syndicated morning show, Fox and Friends.

On CNN, one commentator opined that the Trump administration was missing Hillary, as she had been such an easy target.  Hala Gorani noted that he evoked her name 6 or 7 times during the press conference, but that it was obvious the media was now his central target.  That and the judiciary, the commentator noted, although he did not believe Trump's attack on the judiciary would earn him the public's favor.

The King of Orange also lambasted the New York Times and Washington Post for leaking the leaks from his White House, calling it false reporting.  How can something be false if the leaks were real?  I suppose he meant to say that the Times and Post shouldn't have published these leaks out of deference to his administration, but what if any deference has he given to these journals?

The more he attacks the media, the more the media comes back at him, leading one to suspect this is what he wants.  It seems to play well with his constituency, which gets its news primarily through the social media.  Trump has set up a highly divisive atmosphere, which led Charlie Daniels to opin "it's only a matter of time before there is blood on the streets," evoking the Civil War in a very strange commentary for the Cybercast News Service, or CNS News as it likes to call itself.  It is unclear in that missive who Daniels is blaming for this discord, but it is safe to say it is not Trump.

Trump has created a wall that runs right down the middle of the country.  One he plans to exploit with "campaign-like" rallies to take his message to his people.  Both sides have dug in their heels and are preparing for rhetorical war, which hopefully will only result in bruised egos.  Obviously, it was a big blow for Trump to lose Flynn and Puzder in the same week.  He had barely survived an attack on his Secretary of Education last week.  His designated EPA chief is also under fire.

If Trump was the conciliatory man he claims to be, he would have picked an experienced, moderate Republican like Alexander Acosta to begin with, not a pathetic fast food mogul, whose idea of labor is having pin-up models like Kate Upton fake an orgasm over his burgers.  This is not Celebrity CEO Apprentice.  It is his duty to pick qualified individuals to lead his cabinet.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party stood ready to ram Puzder through anyway, until it looked like they would be one or two votes short and couldn't count on Mike Pence to break the tie.

The GOP doesn't seem to realize that Trump makes them look every bit as foolish by not challenging him.  I understand they are afraid the underbelly of their party will turn on them in the upcoming midterms, but surely there are enough moderate Republicans and Independents out there to counter the redneck vote!  What happened to the Party of Reagan and Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt?

Instead, Trump pays deference to Andrew Jackson, a Democrat who he obviously hasn't read anything about much less understands.  Morning Joe called Trump out on this highly questionable affection for Jackson in the midst of his rant on Stephen Miller, one of Trump's handlers present in the front row.

At what point has Trump gone too far?  For many it was this press conference, but it remains to be seen how the once Grand Ol' Party will react.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meet me in Ljubljana




Call me prescient, as I had started a novella in December about an old man bumming a light from a young American at a cafe in Ljubljana and then spilling out a story about Melania being a deep cover Russian spy, who by a surprising stroke of luck ended up becoming First Lady.  I thought it was too far fetched to go any further and dropped it after a couple of chapters, but maybe I should take it up again, as this strange request by Vladimir Putin has me thinking he has a mole in the White House, not that Melania spends very much time there.

I've never been to Ljubljana but they tell me it is nice.  Slovenia managed to escape the Yugoslavian blood bath relatively unscarred.  It was the first of the former Yugolav republics to join the EU in 2004, and has enjoyed a steadily growing economy ever since.  

Melania left her homeland before the break up, becoming a model in Italy and eventually migrating to the US on an H-1B visa, where she hit her stride in New York.  She met the Donald within two years of her arrival.  Trump helped her get a green card, thanks to her "extraordinary ability" as a model, and within a few years became his wife.

One can't imagine that Pootie foresaw all these things happening.  Hell, he wasn't even President in 1996 when Melania first came to America.  But, he was Deputy Chief of the Presidential Property Management Department, responsible for the transfer of foreign properties from the former Soviet Union to the new Russian Federation.  There is also that KGB past, which we know so little about, but one can imagine all sorts of things, including setting up deep cover agents in the US.  A practice that inspired the television series The Americans.

Trump had previously preferred blondes, but somehow Melania caught his eye.  As the story goes, they met at the Kit Kat Club, a theater that had gone under several names but was then being used for the popular revival of Cabaret.   Apropos, one might say.  The Donald was reeling from his separation from Marla Maples, so he probably wanted someone who didn't remind him of her, so why not a long-legged brunette with a thick Eastern European accent?

A lot of these deep cover agents were used to infiltrate the business sector, and Trump was the King of New York real estate, at least in his own mind.    He was also toying around with the idea of a presidential run on Ross Perot's Reform Party ticket.  So, he would have been a good score for a sexy spy.  

Russia is always looking for useful idiots, and they seem to have found one in Trump.  A savvy young woman like Melania would have little trouble massaging the Donald's ego and getting him to do someone else's bidding.   One can even imagine Trump calling her his "little Ninotchka."  What I have found most amazing during the campaign and first weeks in the White House is how easily he is led by others, especially for someone who prides himself on being his own man.  All you have to do is flatter him and you have his ear.

It seems the Donald may finally be wisening up a little, especially given his unflattering poll numbers.  This is a man who wants to be loved, as old pal Howard Stern noted, and these bad ratings are killing him.  He desperately needs something to boost his presidential cred and it seems Vlad has come to help him out, offering a meeting in Ljubljana to provide his sagging presidency the gravitas it is sorely lacking.

For Melania it will be a homecoming.  Ljubljana is thrilled as punch to have one of its own in the White House.  So much so that local residents are brandishing their products with her name, which has caused some branding concerns.

It's too bad Spy magazine is no longer around.  They would have had a field day with this connection.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Donald J. Trump v. United States Federal Courts




It's not surprising that a man with a very litigious past would find himself at odds with the federal courts so early in his term.  However, you would think he had lawyers who understood the Constitution enough to craft executive orders that weren't so easily shot down in court.  In fairness, he probably thought Jeff Sessions' boys knew the Constitution and trusted them when they drafted his "travel ban,"

It is an ideologically-driven executive order, not a Constitutionally-based one, using September 11, 2001, as its benchmark.  There is no specific act referenced that would explain why he chose to target seven countries that had absolutely nothing to do with 911.  He doesn't even mention the countries by name but rather refers to section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187 (a)(12), which is a 2015 Terrorist Travel Prevention Act that was rushed through Congress and signed by President Obama in response to the Paris and San Bernardino attacks that year.  However, this Act, which Trump's lawyers use as a precedent, didn't physically stop persons from these countries to enter the US, but rather tightened security background checks on these specific foreign nationals.

I suppose if you are trying to convince your electorate of the need for a 90-day travel ban, this kind of  specious argument would fly, but you can't expect a Federal Appeals Court to be as easily convinced.  Trump of course was furious, so much so that he threatened to take his case to a "real court," by which we can only assume the Supreme Court.  However, there are still only 8 members on the Supreme Court, and at best the White House could only hope for a 4-4 tie, which isn't enough to strike down the Appeals Court decision.  Sorry, Mike Pence can't cast the deciding vote.

Trump's legal team beat a retreat for now, withdrawing in its den to write a new executive order that won't have so much questionable language.  However, it is hard to imagine they will do much better a second time around, as it will be pretty hard to remove the ideological blinders.  His administration is convinced of the moral imperative of such a ban, and is looking to create far greater restrictions on immigration.  Congressional Republicans want to cut legal immigration in half.  One can only assume the undesirables are seen as being predominantly Muslim, but the language will have to avoid a religious litmus test, otherwise these executive orders and bills will be shot down in court once again.

What is odd about all this is that Muslims represent a sliver of the American population.  By Census counts, Muslims represent less than one per cent of the population, and many of these Muslims are converts like Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  So, the actual number of Muslims hailing from a foreign country is much less.  Yet, we are led to think by the endless stream of memes on social media that there is this yuge existential threat that Muslims will take over towns, cities and even states with Sharia Law.

One town actually was taken over by Muslims -- Hamtramck, Michigan -- and so far there has been no significant changes in the local laws or the general pace of life for that matter.  But, the conservative blogs have jumped all over this, claiming that the newly elected city council started enforcing Sharia Law immediately.

It's a slippery slope because most of us have no idea where Hamtramck is, much less follow what is going on.  We take whatever information we get from sources we trust.  So, our views are reinforced one way or the other.  This is what the Trump administration is relying on.  They hope to make news as obscure, unclear and as unintelligible as possible so that we as Americans will have no idea which end is up anymore.  This is the road descending into fascism.

Fortunately, we still have the courts to block such efforts, but that doesn't stop His Trumpness from besmirching them and if given enough time stacking them in his favor.  He doesn't seem to have a very willing ally in Neil Gorsuch, who took offense to the President's characterization of the Federal  Appeals Court of San Francisco.

This should be a cue to Trump to lay off, but as we know The King of Orange is not one to back away from a fight.  He will take his case to The People's Court if necessary.  Lest we make too much humor out of this situation, we shouldn't forget that we have four very contentious years ahead of us and every battle counts!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Curious Case of Vladimir Putin




Why is it you get the feeling there is a photograph of Putin hanging in the Oval Office?  Has there ever been a President who lavished so much praise on a contemporary foreign leader, refusing to even engage in criticism of the Russian president?  Trump dodged the question during his Super Bowl interview with Baba O'Reilly, essentially saying we all have blood on our hands.

There is no enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thing going on here.  If that was the case, Trump would be much more friendly toward Iranian leaders, as they are fighting ISIS too.  No, Trump has genuine admiration for the Russian strongman.  He sees him as a role model for his own administration, hoping to consolidate as much power as he can into the executive branch to carry out Steve Bannon's agenda.

Of course, there's that thing about the dossier on Trump's compromising situation with the Kremlin, which was put together by a former MI6 operative working for the Democratic National Committee.  Most of the allegations have been refuted, but it continues to haunt him as there are well-documented financial ties to Russian investors that the Kremlin can just as easily use as leverage.

Whatever the case, it seems Putin is losing his patience with Trump, as there seems to be no movement on lifting sanctions or pulling NATO troops out of Poland and the Baltic states, which are high on the Kremlin's wish list.  The Kremlin was also irked by Baba's line of questioning.  They would like to see Trump establish some order out of his chaotic start.

In all fairness, Putin got off to a rough start as well.  He had to deal with a sunken sub, terrorist attacks on a theater and school, and explosions in Moscow apartment blocks within his first term of office. All this while dealing with a badly sinking economy.  None of these incidents were handled particularly well, but eventually Vlad got the hang of things and brought some measure of order to the chaos that enveloped Russia at the dawn of the new millennium.

However, His Trumpness couldn't have inherited a more stable situation.  The former president left the White House in order, the economy is growing, and jobs are being created at their highest level in over a decade.  Russia also seems to have ISIS contained in Syria.  The Dow even reacted positively to his election, soaring to the unprecedented height of 20,000.

This is no nation in decline, but rather one enjoying a robust recovery.  All Trump had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.  Instead, he decided to make his imprint as quickly as possible, issuing a slough of executive orders, none of which included the lifting of Russian sanctions.  What is Vlad to think?

His Trumpness broached the subject, but seems to be deferring to his generals on this, particularly Gen. Mattis, who also thinks NATO is just fine as it is and should maintain its line of defense along the Polish-Baltic States border.  Trump himself gave Ukraine assurances that he would not be lifting Russian sanctions anytime soon.  As a result, Putin is preparing for war.  A rather ominous sign given that Trump based much of his campaign on restoring amicable relations with Russia.

We can only speculate what took place during the much-anticipated phone call with Vladimir Putin.  Trump didn't slam the phone down in anger like he did with the Australian prime minister over accepting 1250 refugees stuck in limbo in the Pacific.  So, one assumes it went reasonably well.  That's certainly what both administrations reported.  So, why did Vlad put his air force on high alert?  Again, we can only speculate.

So far, no direction has emerged from the Trump White House.  He seems to mostly be catering to his conservative base in executive orders aimed at fulfilling campaign promises.  The idea of a new affordable care act has been put indefinitely on hold.  Congress is now talking about "repairing" the existing act rather than tossing it out completely, as they don't seem to have any back-up plan.  Maybe they finally took the time to read it and find out that much of the ACA is based on a Heritage Foundation plan written back in 1989?  Even the name was taken from this old conservative blueprint.

Trump did get another photo opportunity with a big computer tech company, introducing 10,000 new "long-term jobs."  These jobs have been in the pipeline quite a long time.  However, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich graciously credited Trump for them.

But, again, when are we going to see this great Detente between the US and Russia?




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Making SNL great again




Saturday Night Live is enjoying its best television ratings in more than two decades, thanks to their ongoing satirical look at the Trump administration.  The latest addition is a caricature of Sean Spicer, by Melissa McCarthy, which is brutal.  Needless to say, this isn't going down well with Emperor Trump, who continues to admonish the show every chance he gets.

He is apparently so angry over the Spicer sketch that he can't even summon up a tweet in response.  Instead, we get some juicy insider info that Trump may dump Spicer over the sketch, as it makes him look weak.  If that isn't bad enough, SNL is considering Rosie O'Donnell for the part of Steve Bannon, who to this point has been portrayed as the grim reaper.  So, Herr Trump may not want to set a precedent with poor Sean, who took the caricature in stride at Monday's press conference.

It is hard to tell whether Trump really can't stand people making fun of him, or if he is the Rodney Dangerfield of Presidents?  I suppose he does feel that his new role as President warrants more respect, but Trump had to know that this kind of satire came with the job.  Maybe he is just trying to boost NBC's ratings?  Whatever the case, it isn't going to stop now that SNL is seeing its ratings soar.

Across the board, comics are having a field day with all things Trump.  Stephen Colbert took a shot at his Super Bowl interview, which drew a lot of fire for his unwillingness to criticize Vladimir Putin.  The interview itself was quite comical, as Baba O'Reilly went way out on a limb to try to get Trump to embrace the conservative view that Putin is our arch-enemy.  As far as Trump is concerned, we are all "killers."

SNL has become the alt-Trump channel, zeroing in on just about every aspect of his administration.  However, one has to ask if they risk "normalizing" Trump?  Tina Fey felt she had to walk away from her Sarah Palin caricature because it had become all consuming and actually gave Palin more credibility than she deserved.  Trump, being the entertainer that he is, probably realizes this and is egging the show on.

From day one, Trump made it clear the only Americans he is interested in are the ones who voted for him.  This endless ridicule only serves to strengthen his base of support.  Our mirth is actually his gain, as he can say to his base, "look at these guys.  They have no respect for me, ergo they have no respect for you."

Alas, this is true.  It is hard to have much respect for an electorate that could vote for such a guy.  The only problem is that these persons are not easily shamed.  In fact, they wear the ridicule like a red badge of courage, as we saw with Hillary's "basket of deplorables" quote, which they took as their label.

What to do?  Many of us need this humor to help ease the pain of his administration.  It isn't even a month old and already it feels like he has undid everything over the past 8 years and beyond.  Meanwhile, our former President is learning how to kite surf with Richard Branson.  We can only wish we could be so chill, especially since most of us are having to endure an especially cold February.

Fortunately, our federal courts are proving they still uphold the Constitution, blocking his ill-advised travel ban.  Trump plans to appeal the restraining order all the way to the Supreme Court, but he is not likely to get a fifth conservative judge anytime soon.  Roberts and Kennedy aren't exactly sure votes anyway.

This is a welcome relief given a GOP Congress that is unwilling to challenge Trump, even when it comes to someone as hopelessly incompetent to administer her cabinet post as Betsy DeVos.  She slid through the Senate 51-50, with VP Mike Pence breaking the deadlock, as only two Republicans chose to break ranks.  I suppose the Republicans fear the wrath of Trump voters.  Judges don't have such worries, but how long before he stacks the courts in his favor?

The satire would be even better if it went beyond the superficial ticks of this administration and began to explore the deeper underlying concerns of his administration, but I suppose that is too much to ask of SNL writers.  We can always turn to Andy Borowitz.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Bowling Green Massacre

or when fools rush in



When the facts don't suit your interests, you make them up.  That certainly appears to be the mantra of the new administration.  A few days ago we heard Kellyanne Conway try to establish a link between Trump's travel ban and that which she claims President Obama issued back in 2011 when two Iraqi terrorists presumably went on a rampage in Bowling Green, Kentucky. 

I suppose we can pardon Kellyanne to some degree as she was only to trying to stand by her man.  She's become a kind of work-wife for Trump, desperately trying to explain his actions to the media.  It is a thankless job as it must be a strain to constantly try to come up with precedents for the rash actions of her work-husband, who believes his decrees need no explanation.  

However, this one was a real doozy.  Not only was there never any Bowling Green Massacre, but no travel ban either.  Back in 2011, two Iraqi men were caught sending money and weapons to al-Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing US soldiers.  Congress was notably distressed about the situation and demanded the President increase vetting for the refugee program, which these two dastardly men had apparently sneaked through.  Vetting was indeed made more difficult, slowing the program to a crawl, but no ban was ever issued.

I imagine Trump was shocked to see Kellyanne walk this story back.  Trump would have just doubled down and used Sean Hannity as a reliable source.  But, it seems there is still and ethical bone in Kellyanne's frail body.  

If that wasn't bad enough, some "so-called judge" in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order on the temporary travel ban, allowing those persons from the countries Trump tagged to enter the US if their papers are in order.  Needless to say, this had our man-toddler flying off on another one of his twitter-tantrums.

I'm not sure if Kellyanne also has the job of consoling our toddler-in-chief, or if this is Melania's job.  His trophy wife staged a big ball for him in Mar-a-Lago over the weekend to help take his mind off federal judges and other naysayers who threaten to undermine his administration.  

Poor Kellyanne was left in Washington to deal with the media, but it seems the media no longer wants her.  CNN rejected an offer by the White House to have her appear on a Sunday program.  The cable news network was hoping for someone higher up in the administration, say Mike Pence, but the White House has chosen to shut out this "fake news" outlet.  

I'm really surprised she stayed on with the Trump administration.  She could have just walked away with the $2 million she made during the campaign and probably landed an even more lucrative gig on Fox or CNN as a Trump surrogate.  Instead, she chose to stay on for a comparative pittance and find herself being tossed around like a rag doll.

Not that I feel sorry for her.  Quite the opposite, as I find myself getting a certain amount of sadistic pleasure seeing her being forced to walk back at least one of her many tall tales and made look like a fool.  All through the campaign, we saw Kellyanne spin one story or another in an attempt to explain her man-toddler.  Trevor Noah doesn't even need PolitiFact to catch her in a lie.  The clearest sign is when "she tries to casually flip her hair afterward like she's all chill."  Kind of like valley girl meets Cruella Deville.

The only problem is that we may be having to put up with this for a very long time and that many persons will start to believe that events like the Bowling Green Massacre were real, simply because the Trump administration said so.  Eventually, he will stack the federal courts to uphold his decrees, rather executive orders, and may even get the all important fifth conservative judge on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and other USSC decisions the Republicans want shot down.  at 49, Judge Gorsuch could be with us a very long time if he is run through the Senate as Mike Pence imagines.

This is going to be a war of attrition that I don't think anyone of us is really ready for.  The man-toddler is used to getting his way and if not Kellyanne, some other blonde surrogate will be speaking for him in the press.  Who knows, he may even elevate Tomi Lauren to the counselor post if Kellyanne starts to get too soft.  Tomi would never walk back any statement no matter how absurd.






Friday, February 3, 2017

As Berkeley Burns




The Berkeley College Republicans got it into their heads to invite conservative firedbrand Milo Yiannopolous, a frequent contributor to Breitbart, to their university.  It seems they wanted to rile up the predominantly liberal student body and they got what they wanted -- a veritable riot, replete with flame-throwing, personal and property damage.  No one was seriously hurt, but the reputation of UC-Berkeley has been tarnished for its illiberal views, gleefully reported by conservative outlets.

Everyone knows the temperature of the country has risen these past two weeks, so why not add a little fuel to the flames, turning liberalism into a "self-defeating cause," as Fox News described.  Of course, no mention of Milo's well-catalogued incendiary rhetoric that would almost make G. Gordon Liddy blush.  Like Liddy in the 80s, Milo is touring college campuses in hopes of spurring young conservatives into action.  He hopes they will rally around Trump the way conservatives did Reagan back in Liddy's era.  The big difference is that Liddy's bravado was real, whereas Milo's is entirely affected.  He is more concerned in the cut of his Gieves & Hawkes suits and the hits he gets on YouTube than he is what he's saying.

This tailor-made right-wing talk is the new rage, presenting itself as an appealing alternative to stuffy, effete liberal academia.  Milo (33) is one of many such spokespersons that are gaining large audiences on social media.  There is also the loud and very obnoxious Tomi Lauren (24) who was given even broader exposure thanks to The Daily Show.  The Left doesn't really have anyone like this conservative Adonis and Aphrodite.  The closest we get are Jessica Williams (27) and John Oliver (39) and they use humor to get their political points across.  Jessica comes in at the tail end of this clip.  Milo and Tomi are utterly humorless, although Milo probably thinks he is being sarcastic.

I'm not sure which works best on college audiences.  I suppose it depends on the nature of the university.  But, much too much is being made of the blow-up in Berkeley.  It was no worse than the riots we see after a college football game, but you would think the whole campus was in flames.

Of course, Trump immediately seized on the incident, threatening to block federal funds to UC-Berkeley.  This is a sizable chunk of the university's research funding, so it is a very serious threat the President made.  Interesting that Milo responded immediately, as if this may have been a coordinated attack.  One of many we are likely to see as the Trump administration in tandem with its conservative news outlets goes after the liberal establishment.  This is a tactic Putin used very effectively in Russia.  Lest I sound too paranoid, let's remember that Stephen Bannon, the former editor-in-chief of Breitbart, is Trump's chief counsel.

Of course, the students of Berkeley should have exhibited a little more restraint.  Protesters could have heckled Milo's speech, like Liddy was when he visited the University of Florida during my college days.  There was no point in getting so violent, as it feeds right into the conservative media image of liberals running amok.  The incidents also heighten these conservative d-bags' clout in the social media, kind of like rap singers' run-ins with the law.  The Trump administration even invited him to a White House press briefing.

We have to control ourselves and fight this administration with sarcasm, peaceable protest and resistance to its policies.  This is what will sway people.  Violence only reaffirms the mushy moderates' view that the Left is just as illiberal as the Right.  At the very least, come up with some photogenic placards more suitable to post.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

It's working out very nicely




You have to marvel how Trump managed to set the world on fire in just two weeks in office.  He did such a bang up job that he decided to relax at Mar-a-Lago for a few days and let the tempest he stirred up blow over before issuing anymore executive orders.

He's been a veritable signing machine, plastering his gaudy imprimatur to no less than 7 executive orders and 11 memos since assuming office.  He's well on pace to shatter Obama's number within his first year in office.  But, who's counting?  Obviously, not the Republicans who feel it is "a waste of their fucking time" to have to respond to such questions.  This is rather odd for Congressional leaders who decried Obama signing so many executive orders his last two years in office.

Even odder is that Trump didn't feel it necessary to consult with Congressional leaders before signing off on highly contentious orders like his travel ban.  Even his own Homeland Security Department didn't know it was coming down until two hours beforehand, creating a panic at airports across the country as Homeland Security imposed this ban on returning guest residents and refugees alike, since the commander-in-chief didn't see fit to offer any exceptions to those who had green cards and valid visas.  Well over 100 such individuals were detained at American airports and hundreds more were trapped in limbo at European and Asian airports.

It is hard to say who forged this hastily contrived executive order.  Rudy Giuliani is gleefully taking credit, but the language points to Sessions' staffers, without consulting any ranking GOP leaders.  This kind of underhanded move left many Republican Congressmen scratching their heads in public, wondering why they were left out of the loop.  Problem is that it wasn't very well thought out and big chunks of it have been shot down by federal courts leaving Trump, Giuliani and Sessions with egg in their faces.  Non-plussed, Trump declared that things were "working out very nicely."

Then came the Monday Night Massacre with Trump forced to fire his acting attorney general when she refused to defend his travel ban in court.  What makes this all the more ironic is that his attorney-general-in-waiting, Jeff Sessions, specifically asked Sally Yates "if the attorney general has the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that is improper?"  Obviously, she thought the travel ban was improper, and is in a better position to ascertain this than is Trump's nascent judicial team, which is probably better versed in tax law.  Not surprising, Trump went down to Palm Springs the next day.

One can only imagine what will come next.  The travel ban essentially killed the big rally on Wall Street, as stocks tumbled this week from their record-breaking 20,000 plateau.  This so-called "Trump Effect" had many thinking the new president was good for business if nothing else.  However, the travel ban left many business leaders similarly scratching their heads, as they employ a great number of persons from Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries listed in the ban, making it very difficult for these persons to travel.  Mostly, they are appalled by the blanket nature of the ban, as are many protesters around the world.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz saw a great opportunity to cash in on the crisis by declaring he would hire 10000 refugees over the coming years.  I suppose the up side is that bucking Trump can also be good  for business.

There are also shockwaves abroad.  Iran retaliated with a travel ban against Americans.  Britons signed onto a petition to bar Trump from entering the country, amassing well over 1.5 million signatures.  The travel ban threatens the partnership the US has with Iraq in fighting IS, adding much unneeded tension in the war-torn country.  But, the worst incident was the slaughter of 6 Muslims attending worship service in Quebec by 20-something French Nationalist.  This came shortly after President Trudeau announced his country would accept all refugees turned away by the United States.

All this leads one to wonder what exactly is working out very nicely?  With the stroke of a pen, Trump plunged not just the United States but much of the world into chaos.  Does he see the World as a reality show to be pricked for his own amusement?  He seems to relish the headlines he creates, not pausing for one moment to consider the long term consequences of these rash actions.  I suppose he thinks he has his legal team to work things out while he catches up on his golf game.

Needless to say, his base is loving it, sharing memes all over the social media in reaction to the "fake news" being reported by CNN and other news channels.  For them, the Muslim ban doesn't go far enough.  All Muslims should be excluded from American soil whether they serve the country or not.  Attempts to appeal to these Nativists' better nature fall by the wayside.

Our dear president has stirred up a foul tempest of frustration, anger and hate like he would on The Apprentice.  He has chided Chuck Schumer for crying over the travel ban, but thinks what really caused the confusion at the airports was a glitch in the Delta reservations system.  Not even Richard Nixon would have been this cynical.

We can only wonder how much more of this Congressional Republicans will put up with. He is making it very hard for GOP leaders to explain these rash actions to their constituencies.  Not all of them represent red states.  Until then, we have only the courts to rely on before he stacks them with his own appointments in the coming months.