Sunday, December 30, 2018

Gen Next

Apparently the incoming freshmen class of Democratic representatives is causing some consternation among the old guard, including those departing because they were unable to hold onto their seats.  A bitter Claire McCaskill vented her frustration at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calling her a "shiny object."  Nancy Pelosi seems to think pretty much the same way, greatly reducing the scope of the climate panel that Alexandria championed and putting Kathy Castor in charge, rather than one of the new Democrats who pushed for a Green New Deal.

Why all this resistance to youth, which clearly drove the blue wave in November?  It seems that our elder, more experienced legislators have gotten very comfortable in their seats and don't like young upstarts who knock out 10-term Democratic incumbents in the primaries, as Alexandria did.  Basically, these old farts fear for their own seats in upcoming elections.  Unfortunately for them it may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy if they choose to snub the incoming freshmen legislators.

The odd part is that Alexandria supported Pelosi, as did many of the incoming Representatives, even those who campaigned against her in the primaries.  It was better to accept the 75-year old House leader than risk a nasty civil war in the Democratic ranks when they need unity to challenge Trump in the White House.  Republicans did their best to encourage this civil war by offering to strike deals with Pelosi in exchange for their votes should she fall short among her own party members.  Fortunately, this ugly battle was avoided and it looks like there will be little resistance to Pelosi, but what does this say about the future of a party that is clearly in transition?

The Democratic Party is becoming far too liberal for Claire McCaskill and other Blue Dog Democrats, who made their career out of playing both sides against the middle.  McCaskill reminds me a lot of Mary Landrieu, who similarly went out in a huff in 2014, blaming Obama for her loss.  For decades these Democrats could only survive in red states by sucking up to the conservative base.

Not all conservative Democrats turned Republicans.  In states like Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia many remained party faithful but hold to a pre-1964 view of the party before the Civil Rights Act turned everything on its ear.  You will still find a lot of Blue Dogs in the Deep South as well.  They vote Democratic in local elections and even for the occasional conservative Democratic governor, but in national elections tend to go Republican.  That may be changing a little in the Age of Trump, as we saw in Alabama where Doug Jones shocked Roy Moore, but this turned out to be a one-off situation against a very bad candidate.

Hopes that the Democrats might pick up a Senate seat in Mississippi evaporated in the run off election where Cindy Hyde-Smith held off Ron Espy, despite all her Confederate baggage.  The funny part is that Cindy only recently became a Republican.  She just as easily could have been another Mary Landrieu or Claire McCaskill.

It's not so much that the Democratic Party is becoming more liberal as it is returning to its roots.  The freshmen class uses much the same language as FDR in promoting its agenda.  They hope to restore the kind of liberal democratic values that once made the party great.  Alexandria is not afraid to call herself a democratic socialist, a term the media insists on.  She wants to see the US have the same kind of social democratic system most European country have, so that we no longer have to go bankrupt over student loans and health care bills.

It's pretty basic really.  The New Democrats want the same system we had before Nixon privatized health insurance in the 70s.  University tuition costs also exploded during this time, despite the substantial public assistance and private endowments many universities received.  We can fund wars but not health and education.  This seems to be the take away from the past five decades.

We now have the largest military-industrial complex ever known to mankind replete with its own social safety net, yet when it comes to the average working person, it is every man, woman and child for his or herself.  Our concept of security has changed drastically since the 1960s.  We now seem to view military intervention in countries like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as insuring our way of life, while we raid social security to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.

It makes no sense, which is what Noam Chomsky has been saying all along.  Bernie Sanders picked up this theme in the 2016 presidential primaries and now we are seeing a new generation question the thinking that led to a massive national debt largely the result of huge tax cuts and a mammoth military defense system that has essentially made us the "policeman" of the world, much to everyone's chagrin.

I can agree with Trump wanting to pull out of Syria, as this is just another civil war in which we have no winning option, but here he is generating so much hate over a border wall with Mexico.  What we need is a consistent humanitarian view like Jimmy Carter tried to establish so that we will no longer have to act as the world's policeman to rationalize our military-industry complex.  We can put these same tax dollars and energy into rebuilding our decaying infrastructure, creating meaningful jobs by going back to the same Works Progress Administration (WPA) that provided jobs and badly needed infrastructure during the Depression.

Re-building roads and bridges, new forms of solar, wind, water and thermal energy plants, high-speed rail and other forms of new transportation will give this country a badly needed boost, rather than continue to fund overpriced fighter planes like the F-35, which cost a staggering  $1.5 trillion over 20 years.  It's a question of establishing the proper priorities.  Why can't Lockheed or Boeing put that same money and energy into building more fuel-efficient domestic planes?

The future is here whether we like it or not.  Alexandria is not so much a "shiny object" as a throwback to the values that once made America great.  We always prided ourselves on being a self-sufficient nation, able to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and moving forward no matter the obstacles.  Sadly, we have sublimated this drive in our military.  What we need to do is harness that same energy to make ourselves a strong, resilient nation once again.  One we are proud to bequeath to the next generation.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Kingdom for a Wall

Day 8 of the government shutdown and no one seems to be blinking.  Trump now threatens to close the Mexico border and cancel trade deals if he doesn't get his wall in his puerile attempt to up the ante.  This after a surprise visit to Iraq to show he can actually go to a "war zone," despite his long-standing bone spurs.  That must have been a bitter inconvenience for him as he hates not spending the night in one of his signature mattresses but then they probably have one on Air Force One.

The Toddler-in-Chief is determined to carry his protest through the New Year, canceling a planned party at Mar-a-Lago.  I'm sure his family will be sadly disappointed. 

What's amusing about the whole thing is that it is entirely unnecessary.  All Trump needed to do was push Congress to update the Secure Fence Act of 2006 when he first came into office, changing the name to Secure Wall Act.  50 billion dollars was set aside over a 25 year period to improve and maintain border security, including building a more secure barrier.  Over 700 miles of fence have been built since that historic signing, border security personnel has been greatly increased and surveillance is state of the art.  In fact, illegal immigration across the US-Mexico border has steadily decreased in the 12 years since then. 

Nary a word from the press.  They cover Trump's sit-in the way they would a reality show, especially now that Lindsey Graham and other shameless Republican lawmakers have joined in the protest.  This is the type of story that sells advertisement, even Trump Serta mattresses.

We have reached the nadir of American politics when a president can hold up congressional spending bills for no other reason than being shamed by the right-wing conservative media.  Trump put himself in this situation by hosting Chuck and Nancy at the White House earlier this month and demanding $5 billion for his wall.  When he appeared to back down, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Steve Doocey let him have it, and so this childish sit-in protest began.

Republicans only agreed to sign onto this wall because the base of their party was sold on it during the 2016 campaign.  It was never anything more than a ploy by Trump, but seeing how well it played among the conservative faithful he stuck with it, making it ever more grandiose after each primary win.  Republicans never held him accountable, especially given his claims the Mexicans would pay for the wall.  Instead, we see conservative groups start gofundme pages to help pay for this ridiculous campaign promise oblivious to the fact that the US has been earmarking $1.5 billion in each spending bill toward border security since 2006.  That's roughly $18 billion to date.

You might ask what's $5 billion more?  That's probably what Trump is crying right now as neither Chuck nor Nancy return his calls.  In fact, Schumer has been willing to concede a larger amount, say $2 billion, as long as it goes to border security and not the wall, but for Trump and his Trumpkins it is "no wall, no deal!"

If you are on the outside looking in at this whole sordid affair you must be shaking your head at how American politics operates.  Never has the US had such a childishly truculent president who is willing to hold his own country hostage over a fetish like a wall.  It's not just the roughly 800 million federal employees who are working for no pay at the moment, but the threat of cutting off a border in which a huge amount trade between countries passes through each day or cutting off trade deals entirely.   This is a president who will use any piece of leverage he has to try to bend the will of Congress to his favor.

Good thing he issued this ultimatum on Friday when the stock markets are closed for the weekend.  As it was, the Dow dipped down 200 points at the end of the day, cancelling what would have been three straight days of a Santa Claus rally.

The Dow looks like it will close the year around 23,000, that's roughly 1500 points lower than it started the year.  If it wasn't for the rally, it would have been closer to 21,000.  It's not the Fed that is causing this bear market, but the reckless policies of a president that sees the United States as his corporate empire not a democratic institution.

Congress had a spending bill ready for him to sign, but he chose not to out of fear of alienating his base.  This is called the tyranny of the minority and it is wreaking havoc on our country.  So far, Trump has been buoyed up by a relatively strong economy, but now that his ill-advised economic policies are kicking in things don't look so good with many economist predicting a recession ahead.  What then?  More threats if the Dow doesn't bend to his will?

What's odd about these rallies is how they come at the end of the day.  Everyone expected Wednesday's rally, although probably not 1000 points.  The market was correcting for this huge gain the next day, down about 500 points when magically at the end of the day it surges over 800 points to end in the plus.  It seems like Mnuchin is calling in favors on Wall St. and he has enough investors willing to oblige.  Yesterday was the same story with Dow down about 200 points when it surged in the last hour only to peter out before the end of the trading day and dip back into the red.  As it is, they managed to keep the Dow above 23,000.

This is a a president who apparently lives and dies by the Dow.  As such, you would think he would be more attuned to how the market works.  It wants stability in the White House, not some man-toddler at the wheel.  As a result, billionaire conservatives like Les Wexner are abandoning the GOP.  They can't stand this kind of "nonsense."  We can all marvel at how Trumpkins have managed to raise $18 million for the wall, but when you lose your big time conservative donors you are in deep shit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

All Alone in the White House

Anyone hoping for a Scrooge epiphany from Trump on Christmas morning is sadly disappointed.  The President is still the same ill-tempered manchild he was before holing himself up in the White House in a pathetic effort to elicit sympathy from the public for the wall he so badly wants in the New Year.

In a surprise move, Trump chose to forgo his trip to Mar-a-Lago to stage what has basically turned into a sit-in strike to get Senate Democrats to accede to his demand for $5 billion in the temporary spending bill for his wall.  He managed to get the Senate Republicans on board, most of them anyway.  Outgoing Bob Corker called Trump's pathetic stand a "made-up fight."

Trump tweeted through out Christmas Eve as he wallowed in self pity.  At one point he forced Melania to sit beside him to field calls from children.  He couldn't even get through this simple task without questioning a 7-year old's belief in Santa.  Did I already say pathetic?

Meanwhile, Congress did go home for Christmas.  There was no work on a last-ditch bill before the New Year to appease Trump.  There were some behind-the-scenes discussions that yielded no fruit, leaving our Scrooge-in-Chief to ponder many things on twitter, notably the stock market which took another vicious hit on Christmas Eve.

The funniest thing about this latest plunge is that Trump chose to hail his Secretary of Treasury, Steve "Munchie" Mnuchin, who was directly responsible for the historic sell off by calling six banks to see if they had the liquidity to cover all the losses we have been seeing on Wall St.  In Trump's words, a "very low IQ" move.

If that weren't enough to get our sour president worked up, a 9-year Mexican girl made a mockery of his wall by flying a red balloon over it with a Christmas wish list, picked up on the other side by a 60-year old Arizona man who decided to be her Secret Santa by contacting a Nogales radio station and tracking down little Dayami and her sister to give most of the gifts she asked for.

Nothing seems to be working for this guy, but he won't give up.  This morning he was urging investors to buy the cheap stocks in hopes of a Santa Claus rally to get the Dow back above 22,000 before year end.  Sad.

While Trump chose to hunker down in the White House with Melania and Barron, the rest of the family went to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays.  Ivanka was caught jogging in her spandex tights Christmas morning.  One assumes Jared was fretting over the market declines back at the resort, as one of her secret service agents filled in for him on her run.  Donny Jr. served as man of the houseEric and Lara were also caught by cameramen on the gardens.  Lara looking pretty buff, which may explain why Ivanka chose to out for a run.

Donny Sr. really didn't need to go to all this trouble to shame the Democrats into bending to his will.  Nancy laughed his wall off as "beaded curtain," and Chuck was more worried about invasive bugs found on Christmas trees than he was Trump's puerile demands.  In fact, almost no one is paying Trump any attention other than the media.  So, Trump did what he does best - lie - in a pathetic effort to look like he is doing something in Washington besides firing off surly tweets at all his political enemies.

He'll owe Melania a big fat diamond ring for having to sit through his Christmas day protest with him.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The United States of Trump

Our president has dug in his heels like a three-year-old toddler and refuses to budge on the wall.  We can thank his talk show nannies, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh for this impasse, as he refused to listen to reason and sign a temporary spending bill that would have avoided a government shutdown.  His right-wing base is like that little devil on his shoulder saying, do it, do it!

It's not like government will actually shutdown.  Federal employees just won't get their checks until the spending bill is approved.  More a nasty inconvenience than anything else, as many of these workers were counting on their checks to carry them through the holidays.  Now, they have to put all their Christmas purchases on their charge cards.

Trump says he is prepared to shutdown government for a long time if he doesn't get his wall.  It's not like $5.7 billion will go far.  The wall is estimated to cost no less than $25 billion.  It's the principle that counts, at least as far as Limbaugh and Coulter and a host of other right-wing talking heads are concerned.  Coulter cried that Trump would "have no legacy whatsoever" if he didn't build this wall,  Steve Doocey added that if there isn't a shutdown "he's going to look like a loser," a fate worse than death for Trump.

For his part, Chuck Schumer is refusing to budge.  The current Senate spending bill has $1.3 billion earmarked for border security but zero for the wall.  Rather than sit down with Democrats and try to reach a compromise, Trump chose to huddle with like-minded Republicans to work out a strategy to pass the blame onto the Democrats.  Given that the Senate spending bill passed unanimously on Wednesday, I'm not sure how this works, but Trump will make sure to let all his twitter followers know he's on top of his game.

Meanwhile, the Dow has sunk to its lowest point since September, 2017, leading the President to ponder firing Jerome Powell, who refused to heed his advice and not raise the interest rate.  All last year, Trump based his economic acumen on the Dow, but when it began to tumble in late January after hitting a record high of 26,600, he's been virtually mum on the subject.  Many economists are now predicting recession, noting the similarities between the current markets and that of 1987.  It's not just the Dow, but housing and car loans have also dropped off, meaning that Americans are digging themselves in for economic hard times ahead.

This probably hurts Trump the most, as he predicated his presidency on his economic genius.  He crowed and crowed about generating the best economy ever and here we are now on the brink of collapse.  It was easy enough to forecast, as he stripped banking regulations and has been pushing the same economic measures that led to the 2008 recession.  It may not be as severe this time around as investors have been a little more careful, not wanting to repeat the worst recession since the Great Depression, as it is doubtful Congress would fund another huge bailout.

One can argue that if CEO's had invested more of their tax breaks into their businesses, as was the intent of the $1.5 trillion tax cut, we probably wouldn't be in this situation, but then unemployment was already at historic low levels so why bother.  Instead, we see companies like GM downsizing at the end of the year to cover their losses, which they blame on the tariffs.

Seems Trump outsmarted himself with the tariffs, creating a volatile economy subject to steep dips and marginal rises that leaves investors wondering what plan, if any, the White House has with trade negotiations in the months ahead.  His new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, USMCA, was largely panned by economists as an eleventh hour agreement that offered no significant improvements over the previous North American Free Trade Agreement.  Tariffs still remain in place as well as many other roadblocks that make our trade relationship with Canada and Mexico tenuous at best.

What we see is a president lurching back and forth, trying to keep himself aligned with his favorite conservative talk show hosts without screwing the pooch.  Trump desperately wants the economy to keep growing to validate his presidency, but at the same time doesn't want himself to be viewed as a sellout by his adoring following.  It's one or the other at this point, as the policies he promoted during the campaign do not lead to economic prosperity.

Making things immeasurably worse is the resignation of General Mattis, probably the last adult in the room as far as the White House is concerned.  Mattis was the only one offering our traditional allies assurances that the US wasn't deviating from its long-standing alliances, but that went out the window last week when Trump ordered the pull out of American troops in Syria without consulting Mattis, Congress or NATO allies.  It was the last straw for Mattis, who resigned the next day, leaving a gaping hole in the White House.

Trump was apparently coaxed into this decision by Erdogan, at least this is what the White House is saying.  Judging from Putin's comments, Erdogan was acting as a go-between to the president, as Turkey is part of NATO.  The decision isn't final, and if Trump is easily convinced by Fox & Friends to change course on the spending bill, he could do the same as Syria.  Steve Doocey similarly admonished Trump for pulling out of Syria.  However, it is doubtful Mattis will come back if Trump reversed his decision.  The WH is now entertaining the idea of Tom Cotton as the new Secretary of Defense, a man with every bit as volatile a temperament as Trump.

What we have is a sad case of the tail wagging the dog.  The right-wing conservative media is the tail and Trump is the dog.  He has banked his entire presidency on the support of a fanatic group of radical conservatives, who basically want to dismantle government as we know it, returning us to the days before FDR came into office and spawned all these social democratic institutions that they loathe so much -- namely social security, health care and welfare.  These same conservatives would like to see the US pull out of all international alliances, including NATO, as they don't believe these alliances serve our national interests.  Or, should I say Nationalist interests?

After two years of more or less playing both ends against the middle, Trump now seems prepared to move irrevocably to the right of the political spectrum.  It's my way or the highway, or in this case a big beautiful border wall that he has managed to convince his base is the only thing that stands between the US and the hordes of zombie immigrants threatening to destroy our country.

Welcome to the United States of Trump!  Congress can no longer afford to shirk its responsibilities, lest this great nation become an autocracy.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

I don't know if it is just me or the annual War on Christmas seems more subdued this year.  I suppose Fox is too busy trying to figure out what's up with Santa-in-Chief to give the air space they usually do for Christmas.  Trump backing down on the Wall really has them flummoxed.  Steve Doocey and his friends were beside themselves over the Democrats winning the battle over the government shutdown, lamenting that the President won't get squat for the wall now.  No need to worry, GoFundMe pages have been started to bail Trump out.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has promised Mexico and other beleaguered Central American states a whopping $10.6 billion Christmas gift in the way of development aid.  This has conservatives even more upset than Trump bailing on the wall.  Maybe he's disguising the wall as development aid.  Approximately $5 billion is earmarked for Mexico alone?

Even more perplexing is his recent decision to pull out of Syria lock, stock and barrel, claiming he's won the war on ISIS.  His tweet was the first many lawmakers knew about these plans, leaving Little Lindsey irked that he wasn't consulted on the matter.  The erstwhile South Carolina senator called the move "Obama-like," comparing it to the long-planned Iraq withdrawal in 2011, which many conservatives believed opened the door for ISIS.  Trump gave Obama no end of grief over the decision at the time, but here he is limping out on Syria when nothing is resolved in the country other than America's impotence.

ISIS or its equivalent still exists.  Battles rage for control of the northern part of the country.  Trump just couldn't see any more political mileage out of the long-running civil war and ceded it to Russia, Turkey and their Syrian allies.  Basically, he threw his hands up and said "no mas," as Roberto Duran did when he had enough of Sugar Ray Leonard's relentless barrage.  At least it saves Trump having to visit one war zone.

Trump's also not happy with the Fed right now, as it went ahead with its long-anticipated rate hike despite his protests.  He needs someone to apply pressure to Jerome Powell to get the Dow back on track.  It dropped over 2000 points this month alone, putting the index well below what it started at the beginning of the year.  All the American stock market indices are in the red, not a good sign for a businessman who was going to bring unparalleled prosperity to America.

Maybe there is some truth in Chris Matthews predicting Trump will resign in the coming weeks.  The guy definitely appears to have lost his swagger and is struggling to get through the year, much like the Dow he once so heartily boasted about.  Could this Christmas trip to Mar-a-Lago be his swansong?

I'm not so easily convinced, as Trump ended 2017 under a similar cloud and bounced back in the New Year.  He just needs to regroup, pull his closest advisers together and figure out a way to continue to dodge Mueller while appeasing his base with the "get tough" rhetoric they want to hear.  The only thing different is that Trump will face a much more belligerent Congress in the New Year, which may be why he threw out that carrot in development aid to Latin American countries.  This might appease the Democrats who think he's such a Grinch.

When you take all the events that have transpired since the midterm elections, Magaheads have never looked so sad.  It's pretty hard to rally behind a guy who seems to be looking for a hole to crawl into and sleep through the winter.

Nevertheless, the Trump 2020 campaign rolls on.  To hear him talk, he's the greatest president ever to set foot in the Oval Office.  No one has done more for the economy, the military, race relations, disaster relief, you name it than His Eminence.  Of course, you would be hard pressed to find any quantifiable proof of these claims, but to this point it didn't matter.  It was enough to say he was doing a great job for his Magaheads to believe him.

The message according to Fox & Friends is clear: no wall, no more unconditional love.  If you can't deliver on your signature campaign promise then don't bother coming back in January.  Magaheads will find someone else to believe in.  Who knows, maybe even Steve Doocey will run for President?

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Donald has been watching too many mobster movies.  You really have to wonder about his choice of language in going after Cohen -- the fixer turned flipper.  Trump isn't alone in conjuring up 1930s gangsterspeak, as the news media reports on the sinking Trump administration as they would a crumbling mafia dynasty.

You can recast the scene above with Trump as Cagney, Melania and Ivanka as the two women, and Michael Cohen as the "rat" hiding in the closet.  Mueller and the FBI come barging in before Trump gets the chance to pull the trigger.  This seems to be the way we view the White House these days.

It's not just the Russian ties or his shady financial deals, Trump is in over his bulging eyeballs with a wide variety of questionable activities and is having an especially hard time shaking himself clean.  He may be immune from New York City indicting him over tax fraud, but that doesn't mean the district attorney can't go after his children, who share in his real estate empire.  That however won't stop the Democrats from probing the mounting allegations being leveled against him, which may ultimately lead to impeachment hearings.

The latest target is his inauguration.  You might remember he raised more than any other incoming president for the event but had very little to show for it.  Partly because all the A-list stars he imagined anointing him in song chose not to come.  Most of the money appears to have been laundered through his properties, namely his newly restored Trump Hotel in Washington, which used to be the Old Post Office Building.  Visiting guests paid top dollar for the event, the lion's share appearing to go to Trump himself, or at least his family.

Russian and Saudi officials were among the many visiting dignitaries who got front row seats for his swearing in.  It was pretty clear who paid for Trump's presidency from beginning to end, and now they all want Trump to own up to his end of the bargain.  For Putin and his fellow Russian oligarchs, it is the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which froze assets and imposed sanctions on individuals who violated human rights.  The act was named after Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison.  The Act would also allow the US Congress to freeze assets and impose sanctions on Saudi officials tied to the Khashoggi murder.  So, it's something Saudi Arabia would like to see repealed as well, given the Crowned Prince, aka the Notorious MBS, has been tied to the murder.

Vlad and MBS are counting on Donald to use the full extent of his presidential powers to block the actions of Congress, especially now that things are heating up with the Democrats coming to town in January.  Vlad is also upset that this Maria Butina thing might blow up in his face, as she too is flipping in return for a lesser sentence.

Russia and Saudi Arabia have been influence peddlers in Washington for years, as they try to get US lawmakers to look the other way when it comes to their dirty deeds.  It's not just Trump but a whole host of other politicians that have accepted money from Russian oligarchs and Saudi royals.  This is why Republicans have gone out of their way to block probes, as many within their own party would be implicated, even a few Democrats too.

The House of Saud has been in this business the longest, with ties that stretch back decades, but in particular cozied up to both Bush administrations, claiming they could bring peace to the Middle East.  They got away with it until all hell broke loose in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia tried to pass the blame onto Iran, a convenient fall guy, but when their planes took out a Yemeni school bus earlier this year, it was no longer so easy to look the other way.  Everyone is now questioning our relationship to Saudi Arabia, even the feral Lindsey Graham, who Trump thought he had on a leash.

Lindsey has always been a rabid Russophobe, even if he is one of the politicians tied to a gang of Russian oligarchs who have been peddling influence in Washington.  He's particularly miffed over how we botched Syria and let Russia win in the country, a dispute that stretches back to the Obama administration.  Lindsey expected Trump to be tougher on Russia, but has seen the Kremlin use the White House as a doormat, with hardly a peep from Trump in regard to the nefarious acts taking place in the war-ravaged country.

Yemen is every bit as bad as Syria if not worse, but for years politicians looked the other way because Saudi Arabia was regarded as a loyal ally and the only Arab country strong enough to resist Iranian imperial ambitions.  But, our relationship with Saudi Arabia blew up on numerous fronts, most recently the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, one of Time's persons of the year, which looked like something out of Narcos.

Turkey has long been upset by how they are being left out of the picture and used the death to put themselves back into the center of Middle Eastern politics.  After all, Turkey has a sizable stake in Syria and Iraq and wants the US to recognize its efforts.   They are the ones who exposed the Khashoggi murder for the whole world to see, giving Saudi Arabia a black eye.

Trump is just not adept at handling so many egos bigger than his own.  Putin, MBS, Erdogan are all pressing him, and needless to say the man of very low IQ is sagging under the weight of all this pressure.  You can see his shoulders slump and his head dip below six feet, so that Melania now stands taller than him in high heels.  Awful for a man who once boasted of being 6 feet 3 inches tall.

Confidence in him has eroded to the point even his most faithful media followers are turning on him.  Never fear, he still has the backing of Rick Santorum and Susan Collins, who shamed themselves recently on CNN, offering up tepid defenses for Trump's payouts to starlets.  How low has the Great Lady of Maine sunk to be doing the bidding of the Trump White House?  We already knew that Rick Santorum was a sellout.  This is one of the few cases, where Trump actually traded up from hacks like Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson to Collins and Santorum.  Just the same, the two were slammed for their hypocrisy.

Trump must be really wishing he never was President.  This has all become way too hard!  He can take some solace from a Texas federal judge declaring Obamacare unconstitutional, but it is doubtful this decision will hold up.  In the meantime, he has to try to figure out how to keep Robert Mueller at bay and what to do with that rat in the closet, as the whole world appears to be closing in on him.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

I want to be left alone

Trump being a showman, I would have thought he knew the best thing going for him was a mysterious Melania, but after a couple interviews the mystery is gone.  Now we just have your bargain store variety model doing lingerie ads for JC Penney.  The Greta Garbo act worked much better for her.

Not only is Melania not very bright, she isn't very sympathetic either.  She supports both her husband and his policies, which is odd given she is a relatively recent immigrant.  We were told that her infamous jacket was just her way at getting back at the press for bullying her so much.  In her most recent interview with Fox's resident bully boy, she went after the press again, largely because Sean baited her into it.

Melania feels the press is nothing more than a bunch of "opportunists who are using my name."  Needless to say, the irony was missed as it is pretty hard to consider her anymore than an opportunist who saw a good thing in Donald Trump and has been riding his name for 20 years.  It is safe to say none of us would have ever heard of Melania Knauss if it wasn't for a chance encounter at Manhattan's Kit Kat Club.  Not bad for a recent Slovenian immigrant, who had apparently overstayed her visa.  No worries, Trump soon took care of that.

Of course one wonders how much chance was involved.  One can easily imagine Russian oligarchs using her as bait to lure Trump further into their network.  Vladimir Putin wasn't yet President of Russia, but he was working in Yeltsin's administration and had been a KGB foreign service officer for 16 years.  Trump would definitely have been regarded as useful. 

Sean Hannity is not the only one who can dabble in conspiracy theories.  It has been fun to think of Melania as our little Ninotchka, but after these recent interviews, she has either mastered the "dumb blonde" act or is just plain dumb.  For someone who has been living in the US all this time, she still has a rather poor command of language and appears to have virtually no sense of  humor.  If she had, she would have made light of the contemptuous news media, and continued to cater to the fashion and entertainment journals, who give her mostly favorable press, except for her red Christmas trees which were almost universally panned.

Melania has never been one with a great fashion sense, hiring others to decorate the White House for the Holiday Season.  Whoops, I mean Christmas Season.  We probably can't even hold her responsible for the poor choice, as it was most likely her chief-of-staff, Lindsay Reynolds, who made the decision. 

Our first lady has rather limited responsibilities and what few she partakes in haven't worked out very well for her, like her "Be Best" campaign in regard to cyber bullying.  However, the utterly naive nature of this initiative befits her, as it indicates just how clueless she is of her husband's administration.  It's not just his noxious immigration policy that led to the separation and caging of children, as if they were stray dogs and cats; but that her husband has repeatedly asked Congress to cut domestic programs specifically aimed at children.  If you are looking for a bully, you need look no further than the Oval Office, but Melania chooses to make the media into the bully, just like her husband.

Since Melania likes to crib Michelle's speeches, she might have taken a few pages from her initiatives, like providing healthy school lunches, which Congress recently sought to undermine.  Melania could have worked out a few appearances with Jamie Oliver, who likes to take on the American school lunch program.  I don't think Michelle would have minded.

Her cyber-bullying campaign has gone nowhere, largely because it involves working with the media, particularly the social media, to counteract all the abuse taking place.  She has proven herself hopelessly inept in this regard.  She is unable to convey any warmth or spontaneity.  She is the proverbial cold fish.  Instead, she relies on carefully calibrated appearances to try to show that she is sympathetic to various causes, but then she wears a silly jacket that ruins what otherwise would have been a heroic visit to the US-Mexico border.

She took full credit for that jacket, which shows you how hopelessly out of touch she is with reality.  She thought by spinning it against the news media, she might gain some sympathy, which she did among Trump's self-proclaimed "Deplorables," but otherwise it was a total failure.

If Putin was using her, he has to be thoroughly disappointed, because she just isn't catching onto her role as First Lady.  Maybe this was the reason for that look of horror when she and Donald met the Russian President in Helsinki.  Unfortunately, Sean didn't choose to talk about that epic meeting.  Whatever the case, Melania is clearly out of her realm as First Lady and her approval ratings are slumping badly.

This is shaping up to be a rather bleak Christmas for the Trumps in Washington.  I'm sure they will take off for Palm Beach soon, so as to put all these worries and bad tidings behind them.  Maybe Melania will stay in Florida or go back to her lavish penthouse in Trump Tower, where she can be left alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

All I want for Christmas is a wall

 or It's a manhood thing, you wouldn't understand

Our President loves a good show.  He had hoped to put Chuck and Nancy on the spot, make them cave to his demands in front of a live national audience.  For some reason, he thought he held the upper hand in negotiations over a year-end budget that should have been done months ago, but dragged because of his insistence on funding for his notorious wall.

Some Republicans are willing to give him this wall, notably Ted Cruz, who had to solicit Trump's aid to hold onto his Texas Senate seat.  But, Chuck and Nancy know the numbers don't favor Trump.  Many Republicans have no more interest in this wall than do Democrats, and it is doubtful such a spending bill will get through the House, let alone the Senate, where he needs 60 votes.

In typical Trump fashion, he laid out his hand for all to see, thinking he had a royal flush, but he had nothing.  Mike Pence sat like an elf on the shelf, listing to one side, saying nothing, while Trump prattled on, ultimately damning himself by publicly stating he would be proud to shut down government if he didn't get funding for his wall.

Sadly for Trump, the wall has become an issue among his base because they were led to believe this was the one promise he could deliver.  Ann Coulter has railed against him on the airwaves.  Tucker Carlson appears to have lost all faith in him.  Joe Walsh tells his conservative audience that Trump has "betrayed his country."  The wall was to be his defining accomplishment.  If he couldn't get the Mexicans to pay for it, then bloody hell he would get Congress to pay for it!

Instead, Trump threw himself behind a tax cut of $1.5 trillion, largely favoring the rich, never pausing to think that maybe he should tie his wall to it.  After all, $25 bil is pocket change in relation to $1500 billion.

Congress was willing to give him a down payment on the wall, $1.5 billion or something like that, which he took and some segments have been built along the border, but not enough to satisfy his base, which wants the whole border closed off so no more migrant caravans and gangs of rapists and murderers ride through the gaping holes.  So, Trump tried to attach his wall to the spending bill before Christmas, willing to freeze nearly a million federal employees salaries, just so he can appease his base.

The problem for Republicans is that Trump's base is their base, and he still carries a lot of clout among them.  Ted knows this.  He wouldn't have been re-elected without the Trumpkins coming out to vote this past November, barely hanging onto his seat as it is.  That's why he stood up in the Senate and demanded full funding for the wall.  Other Republican Senators are not so sure.  The past midterms showed they are vulnerable to a blue wave in the next election and aren't so keen to stake their political future on a wall no one really needs or wants.

It's not like the Democrats aren't willing to give him something.  Chuck and Nancy were offering an additional $1.5 billion toward the wall in the next budget.  What are numbers anyway.  He can always conflate them like he does everything else.  No, the Trumpster says $5 billion and nothing less, as if he were trying to swing a real estate deal.

Chuck hung his head while Nancy squared off with the Donald, refusing to give him any ground, as she knew she had to show her Democratic Party that she was tough enough to handle the Bully-in-Chief, which many feared she wasn't.  Adding salt to the wound, she questioned his manhood afterward.  There will no doubt be consequences, as the Donald isn't going to take the beating he took lightly, but for now Nancy proved herself Queen of the Hill.

The problem with Donald is that he is too easy to figure out.  There's no complexity, no nuance to his actions.  It is all plainly obvious what he is trying to do.  To a large extent, this is why his base loves him.  There is nothing to have to discern.  He is what he says he is -- a crass businessman who issues ultimatums and expects everyone around him to jump at his orders.

For the most part, he has been able to create the illusion that this has resulted in gains for Americans, as the GDP kept rising and unemployment kept sinking throughout 2018.  However, we have seen a volatile Dow Jones, which for all its ups and downs is at the same point now that it was at the beginning of the year.  This after enjoying a 5000-point rise the previous year that he made sure to remind everyone of each time it crossed another 1000-point plateau.

It's not just the Dow.  All markets have been flat around the globe, as investors wait and see what comes of the US trade wars with China, Canada, Mexico and the EU.  Trump proudly hails his tariffs as he now hails a government shutdown, oblivious to the volatility it causes in the markets.  For him it is a manhood thing.  He has to show everyone who's the boss.

His latest effort to show he is a big man was to have Canada arrest the chief financial officer for Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, who also happens to be the daughter of the owner of the Chinese telecommunications company.  This amounts to nothing more than kidnapping, holding her ransom over a trade deal Trump desperately wants with China to show his tariffs worked.  Sadly, this kind of thuggish behavior appeals to his base, which is why Trump does it.

He doesn't give a rat's ass about international protocol or the prospect of retaliation by China.  There are many Americans who work in China, some for big companies like Apple and Google, both trying to negotiate lucrative deals with the country.  What's to stop China from arresting their CFOs for some trumped-up charge?  As it is, China detained Canadian diplomat Michael Korvig to remind Canadian officials it shouldn't be acting as a proxy for the United States.

I'm really surprised Canada would put itself in the middle of this mess, but then it recently signed a new North American trade deal with Trump, so I guess it felt it had to honor the US Justice Department's request to detain Meng over charges that Huawei broke US sanctions in Iran.  This is a very slippery slope, as most countries aren't recognizing US sanctions in Iran, including Canada.  It was the US who broke with the Iran Nuclear Deal, ratified by China, the EU, France, Germany, the UK, Russia and Iran, all of which still honor it.  But, Trudeau didn't want to make a big spat with the US so soon after signing a "historic" trade agreement.  He's still trying to resolve the ongoing steel and aluminum tariffs the US imposed on Canada, which is crippling its auto industry.

The first year, Trump essentially got a free ride.  The economy was booming because Obama had left a strong economy in his hands.  The federal budget at times was in the black thanks to policies set by the previous administration.  After the ill-advised tax cuts at the end of 2017 and the tariffs that have dominated 2018, Trump now finds himself with a spiraling debt and an economy teetering on the edge of collapse.  Last week, the Dow dropped more than 1400 points in a 24-hour period, before rebounding slightly at the end of the second day of this precipitous drop. 

The Dow has had several nosedives over the past year.  It has managed to recover from each one, as it is currently recovering from its latest sharp fall.  Investors are skittish because they don't feel the Trump administration has command of the economy.  Steve Mnuchin, his Treasury secretary, and Jerome Powell, his Federal Reserve Chief, are offering nothing more than stop-gap remedies to a major crisis in the making.  It is very reminiscent of the efforts the Bush White House made to stave off a major recession back in 2006 and 2007, only for the economy to finally implode in 2008.  What took Bush eight years to destroy, Trump will need only four years, if not less.

For that reason, the wall is nothing more than a distraction, a way to divert the public's attention away from far more serious problems on the event horizon.  His advisers have him talking about his pet project because they don't want him talking about the economy, which he knows nothing about.  He still seems to think everything is fine.

What's a wall in the broader context of things?  We already have a wall, or at least a fence, along most of the border.  We just need to shore it up a little, make it more beautiful.  Plant some hedges on the American side so that no one sees it after a few years.  Come on, Chuck and Nancy, surely we can work out some kind of deal before Christmas?  Wake up, Mike, and take that silly cap off your head!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Show Me the Money

The NFL is really hard to figure out.  Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned after two years, but the Redskins dug deep to bring Josh Johnson out of retirement to relieve Mark Sanchez in a miserable performance this past Sunday.  Johnson hadn't had an NFL football snap since 2012, and had to quickly learn his teammate's names after being signed last week when Colt McCoy went down.

Dan Snyder had no problem signing Reuben Foster, who had been released by San Francisco as a result of domestic violence charges.  But, it was ixnay on Kaepernick when McCoy crumbled to the ground two weeks ago.  Instead, the Redskins went with Sanchez who has roved around the league almost as much as Johnson.  Mark is probably most famous for his butt fumble against New England three years ago, and for pissing away Philadelphia's playoff chances two years ago when Carson Wentz went down.   The Redskins were sitting pretty a few weeks ago at 6-3 atop in the NFC East.  Now they are 6-7 thanks to the combined efforts of McCoy, Sanchez and Johnson.  Yet, still no mention of Kaepernick, even after the drubbing they took Sunday.

The Redskins aren't alone in dismissing Kaepernick.  Minnesota was 13-3 last year and felt the only thing that kept them from reaching the Super Bowl was a top notch quarterback.  You'd think they might be interested in Kaepernick but instead spent $84 million on Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Hapless Redskins, and are now 6-6-1 after a humiliating loss to Seattle last night.

Even my favorite Seahawks aren't exempt.  They similarly took a pass on Kaepernick last year as a back-up to Russell Wilson, citing salary cap concerns.  At that point, Kaepernick wouldn't have cost the 'Hawks more than two million a year, but Coach Pete felt Colin deserved better than to sit on the bench.  The Seattle front office took another look at Colin in the off-season but said no again when he refused to give up his protests.

Arizona has been looking all over the league for a replacement to injury-prone Carson Palmer, who finally retired last year.  They have tried a handful of quarterbacks, none very successful.  They even tried Blaine Gabbert last year, who briefly started in place of Colin only to get benched in favor of Kaepernick during his last season at San Francisco.  The Cardinals are tied with San Francisco with the worst record in the NFL.  Gabbert is now a backup at Tennessee.

Still, the NFL owners claim there is no collusion in not hiring Kaepernick, who has sat out of the league two years after being let go by San Francisco at the end of the 2016 season.  This is going to end up a big lawsuit as it is pretty hard to explain why teams would take woeful journeymen like Gabbbert, Sanchez, Johnson and many others over Kaepernick, who led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2013, only to fall just short of the Baltimore Ravens.

No, the Redskins would rather have wife-beaters like Foster and child-beaters like Adrian Peterson than someone who had the audacity to kneel for the national anthem in protest of police violence.  Oh, and some guy named Josh Johnson, whom I'm sure no one had heard about until this past Sunday when Mark Sanchez had put the Redskins in a 40-0 hole.  To Johnson's credit, he posted two touchdowns.

The odd thing is that players continue to kneel for the national anthem, although you don't hear much about it anymore as Trump has collusion problems of his own.  Other famous kneelers like Michael Bennett and Eric Reid continue to play in the league, but not Colin.  He's considered too much of a lightning rod, and no team wants to deal with the fallout from such an acquisition, not even Seattle, which is as famous for its liberal attitude as for its coffee.  In fact, the front office let go of Bennett, along with Richard Sherman during the off-season, so as to have fewer distractions on the team.  Bennett ended up at Philadelphia and the ever-vocal Sherman at San Francisco, where he remains a staunch defender of Kaepernick.  Richard never could understand why Seattle didn't take Colin when they had the chance.

To Colin's credit, he's not giving up.  He still has the support of many players and even a few coaches around the league, but ultimately it is the owners' call on whether he gets taken back or not.  He did have a chance to play in the Canadian Football League, but turned it down. There will be a new football league starting next Spring, the Alliance of American Football or AAF for short.  However, it looks more like a minor league effort with only eight teams, and I doubt Colin will be anymore interested in playing for the Orlando Apollos than he was the Montreal Alouettes.

For now, he is content with the ad campaign he is doing for Nike, which according to Vox has been a huge success for the sportswear giant.  I'm not exactly sure what he sacrificed in this lucrative deal, but I guess it is the thought that counts.  Nike is never one to shy away from controversy.  Just too bad they don't show more concern for all the child laborers who make their sports shoes and clothes.

As for the NFL, it has gone out of their way to show their allegiance by sponsoring lavish anthem ceremonies and offering a huge line of armed forces-inspired apparel.  This is a symbiotic deal worth a crazy amount of money.  The NFL doesn't need guys like Colin mucking it up.

In the end, it's all about the money, and Colin is no more immune to this than anyone else.  After all, he is not criticizing Nike's child labor practices.  He's more recognizable now than he ever was.  His rogue jerseys are selling off the racks, with profits presumably going to charity.  It's a notoriety that suits him whether or not he ever gets a chance to play for an NFL team again.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

This was probably the high point of Trump's week -- tossing the coin at the annual Army-Navy game this weekend.  The coin toss was the only thing Navy won in that game, as Army stuffed the Midshipmen in a 17-10 win, capping off another great season.

It's been a rocky ride for the President ever since the midterm elections.  There's been a lot of talk  the new Democrat-led House committees will open up investigations of everything from his tax returns to his complicity in the Khashoggi murder to the never-ending Russian probe.  By all accounts, Special Counsel Mueller is closing in on the Trump family and many expect indictments to be handed to members of the Trump family, namely Donnie Jr. and Jared.  This has the President resorting to twitter to plead his case once again to the American people in all caps - NO COLLUSION!

I don't know how much of this is wish fulfillment or that Mueller finally has the goods on the Trumps.  He's been working on this investigation since May 17, 2017, and a lot of folks are getting anxious for something big to come from it.  There have been 36 indictments handed down, many of them to Russian nationals who will never see an American court.  However, the biggest indictments thus far have been Flynn, Manafort and Cohen, all of whom have cooperated with the investigation to one degree or another.

Manafort has been a bit of an odd case, as he apparently tried to act as a mole for the Trump White House in the investigation, but Mueller seemed to catch on early enough to use him against Trump.  The whole thing blew up last week when Mueller officially charged Manafort for lying to investigators once again.  Manafort could face the rest of his life in jail.

Time and again, the Trump White House has tried to tamper with the investigation, which in itself is a crime.  Mueller wants more than that, however, focusing to a large degree on a campaign meeting that took place in Trump Tower between members of his campaign and Russian operatives back in June, 2016.  Cohen stated that Manafort, who was head of the campaign at that time, was joined by Donnie Jr. and Jared.  The aim was to gain damaging information on Hillary Clinton, which the Russian operatives claimed they had.  Soon after, damaging leaks were revealed on Wikileaks from the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Manafort had worked extensively with Russian and Russian-backed political figures in Eastern Europe, and had ties to Kremlin officials.  It seems Manafort was trying to use the same tactics in the 2016 presidential campaign that he used so effectively in the Ukraine 2010 presidential campaign, which the Russian-backed candidate, Viktor Yanykovych won.  In this earlier election lies the contempt which Russia would later harness to influence the 2016 US presidential election. 

Russia felt Yanukovych won the election fair and square, but when Ukranians revolted in the 2014 Euromaiden protests, the Russian-backed oligarch was forced to step down.  Russia responded by forcibly annexing Crimea a few weeks later, inciting a civil war that continues in the Donbass region of the country.

Putin never hid his contempt for Obama, and immediately went to work finding a way to undermine the American political system after the American president imposed sanctions on Russia.  In Putin's mind, the revolution in Kiev was nothing more than a political coup sponsored by the United States.  So, he plotted a coup of his own.

Trump would not seem the obvious choice for your Trojan Horse, but the guy owed Russian oligarchs big money.  The Donald could no longer get building loans through American banks, so he sought financial backers overseas.  One of the projects that has now arisen is a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.  Cohen says a letter of intent was signed in October, 2015, after Trump had declared his candidacy earlier that year.   For decades, Russian oligarchs had been laundering their money through Trump properties and I guess they wanted to have a Trump Tower of their own.  The Donald was more than willing to put his name on it as he had similar ventures in other countries.

Where Trump failed in real estate, he succeeded in franchising his name.  He had very limited responsibility in these developments as they were being carried out by others.  It didn't matter if they failed, like the condo in Tampa, the only thing he had at stake was his name.  I suppose this was the way he felt about the proposed Moscow tower.

Only now it is coming back to haunt him like the ghost of Christmas past.  It's not so much the tower as the fact that he was actively engaging with Russian oligarchs during his presidential campaign, and at the very least was in communication with Dmitry Peskov, the offical Kremlin spokesman. Of course, Peskov brushes the e-mails off, but what emerges is a sordid picture of Moscow essentially buying Trump, much like they had bought Yanukovych and other candidates throughout Eastern Europe.

Russia loves working with oligarchs because they are easy to manipulate.  These wealthy men also seem to be appealing to the public, which naively thinks these successful businessmen can clean up government.  In this sense, Trump was an obvious choice.  He was widely portrayed as a successful real estate developer, eminently capable of commanding the air waves as he had done for years on The Apprentice and his earlier forays into politics.  He just needed someone close to Moscow to manage him.  Enter Paul Manafort.

It all seems so clear on the surface but you have to have proof, which is why so many persons are counting on Robert Mueller to deliver the goods in his final report.  Trump seems more worried than ever judging by his flood of tweets the past few days on the Russian probe.  It even seems the Kremlin is willing to sell him out, as their main aim all along was to disrupt the American political system, buying Russia time to secure Crimea and other geopolitical interests around the Black Sea.  For Putin, this is a chess game, and Trump was never anything more than a chess piece, which he effectively used against Obama and his would-be successor Hillary Clinton.

Trump can revel in the great college football rivalry, but underneath he is seething.  He has been played by Putin and at this point there is nothing he can really do about it.  The only question is how ugly all these revelations will become in the coming in the months, and at what point he is forced to admit the game is over.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Goodbye, Uncle George

Once again we see a hagiography being written for a venerable elder statesman.  This time George Herbert Walker Bush.  Historians as well as the mainstream media have either forgotten or are conveniently sidestepping the more onerous aspects of his administration out of deference to a 94 year-old man.  Not even any mention of the amusing groping incidents that were revealed last year, for which the former president apologized.  All told, eight women accused him of inappropriate behavior.

However, there are far worse allegations that can be leveled at George H.W. Bush, namely his role in propping up Manuel Noriega in Panama when he served as CIA Chief for President Ford between January 1976 and 1977.  It's hard to say how much Bush was aware of Noriega's double dealing, but he didn't do anything about it.  Republicans gave the dictator carte blanche in his war on communism, even if that meant looking the other way as he helped funnel drugs for Pablo Escobar into the United States.  When Bush finally became President in 1988, after an unsuccessful run in 1980, he made sure to bring Noriega to justice and eliminate any skeletons in the closet.

The invasion was largely viewed as a success in the American media, but Barbara Trent tells a very different story in The Panama Deception, which was made while Bush was still in office.  She presents the military incursion as nothing less than a coup, designed to not only take out Noriega, but the Panamanian Defense Forces, so that the US could wipe the slate clean.  This was a far more direct approach than previous incursions where the US provided financial and  logistical support to the "Contras" in Nicaragua and other rebel groups throughout Latin America.  Trent puts the number of Panamanian soldiers killed at over 4000, whereas the Bush administration issued an official result of 516.  Accounts vary widely.

Bush was neck deep in all the wars being fought in Latin America throughout Reagan's administration, as it had become the Gipper's prime concern to rid the Western hemisphere of Communists.  As the first season of Narcos illustrates, this provided an excellent cover for drug dealers, who went largely undetected until the later part of Reagan's tenure.

When it was finally found out that these "good guys" we had been propping up in Central America were helping the Medellin Cartel funnel drugs into the United States, we still focused largely on Nicaragua and not Panama.  It didn't matter to Escobar who was in power as long as they were willing to do business, which underscores the first season of Narcos.  Escobar actually hung out in Panama, courtesy of Noriega, until things settled down a little in Columbia.

At his peak, Escobar was so rich that he could afford to pay off Columbia's national debt but the new government refused his offer and a massive drug war ensued.  The US has been a close friend of Columbia ever since despite the fact the successive governments could be just as harsh on its' rivals as was the Medellin Cartel.

By Bush's tenure, the War on Drugs had become a dominant theme in American politics.  He revved it up a notch by initiating a much reviled zero tolerance policy that resulted in the confiscation of  property even for the pettiest of infractions.  Harsher sentences were also introduced, which meant the swelling of the prison population for little more than felony marijuana possession, which was 20 grams in most states.  Still is in Florida.

Nabbing Noriega helped take some of the pressure off Bush's draconian drug policy, although it was largely seen as an unwarranted coup by the rest of the world.  This would set the stage for the Persian Gulf War two years later when Bush felt the need to liberate Kuwait from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, another US ally who had gone rogue.

In between, the Berlin Wall came crashing down as did the Soviet Union, but Bush didn't seem to pay too much attention to these events, especially in Lithuania, which stood down the Soviet army in January 1991.  The same month he launched the Persian Gulf War, beginning our long-running war with Iraq continued by his son in 2003.

We hear all this praise being heaped upon George H.W. Bush by James Baker and others, but his foreign policy was awful.  Time and again, Bush misjudged events and often found himself having to play catch up, usually with devastating results.

No one inside the Reagan or Bush administration had any idea what was going on in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  The fall of the Eastern Bloc countries and eventually the Soviet Union caught them totally by surprise.  They had no plan to deal with it.  In fact, the Bush administration was working with Gorbachev to try to stabilize the Soviet Union when it was long past the point of no return.  After many breakaway republics declared their independence in 1991, the Bush administration was still funneling aid through Moscow, which meant these countries saw very little if any of it.

Bush was too absorbed in the Persian Gulf.  He achieved the short term gain of getting Hussein out of Kuwait, but the tyrant remained in Baghdad, and would for another 12 years before his son finished the job.

One of the few bright spots in his foreign policy was the backing of the Madrid Conference that led to the first negotiations between Israel and Palestine over a two-state solution to the long festering dispute over territorial rights in Israel.  He would leave the leg work up to his successor, Bill Clinton, as George H.W. Bush was soundly defeated in the 1992 elections.

Whatever good intentions George H.W. Bush may have had largely went for naught.  He left a world order in disarray that would further blow up in a war in the Balkans that would serve as the genesis for a resurgent Russia by the end of the 1990s.  Russian leaders treated the bloody civil war in Yugoslavia as a new rallying cry for pan-Slavism, led by a young Vladimir Putin, who was first appointed prime minister in 1999, and subsequently elected President in 2000.

The basic problem with Bush is that he grew up in the 1940s and 50s, and his world view was largely shaped by events from those decades.  He surrounded himself with similar Cold War-minded advisers so that he never really grasped how fast the world was changing in the 80s and 90s.  His foreign policy was hopelessly antiquated, more a product of Eisenhower, whom he revered, than it was the events shaping the world during those tumultuous later decades.  As a result, the United States got caught off guard and never really recovered.

The drug war continued.  The Middle East and Central Asia became embroiled in conflict.  The Balkans were in ruins.  What little attempt had been made to curb nuclear warheads in Russia had ended in a stalemate. China was rising as the dominant economic power in the East, eclipsing Japan, our Cold War ally.

We can remember Bush fondly if we like but this doesn't diminish his failed foreign policy legacy.  What makes it worse is that Bush is someone who should have known better, having served in successive Republican administrations since 1971 and was well acquainted with foreign leaders.  Yet, he was too ideologically bound to grasp the enormity of events that came together between 1989 and 1993 to really do anything about them.

At best we can view him as dotardly Uncle George, out of step with the world around him.  A throwback to a previous age where the adversaries were more clearly defined and you could follow the playbook handed down by George Kennan.  Bush thought he could just switch Latin American and Central Asian bad guys with Soviets and Chinese without realizing we were being played.

Unfortunately, we really haven't learned our lessons.  The Republicans still try to follow the old playbook, albeit to suit their cynical purposes.  Democrats are only a shade better in seeming to realize the world is much more complex these days, but are at a loss as to how to go about reconciling ourselves with it.  We still pine for the post-WWII days when we controlled world events,using the CIA to shape troublesome countries to our liking.  Now, we find our media being manipulated and our elections being hacked by Russia and other countries.

George H.W. Bush quietly slips away with heart-felt eulogies that praise his enduring character, the same way we would an uncle whose best years were long behind him, conveniently forgetting all the troubles he caused.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Billary: Between Two Ferns

I'm so glad Bill and Hillary saved this farewell tour for after the midterms, otherwise they would have dragged the Democrats down with their pompous display of hubris.   I guess they think we still owe them something, but judging from the prices who can afford to go to these events except rich bankers and NYTimes columnists like Maureen Dowd, who gave her two cents on the inaugural show in Toronto. 

They were greeted by rows of empty seats with those few who came herded up front to make it look like they had an audience.  Given how few came, they could meet and greet virtually everyone there.  Maybe they will get a bigger crowd at the Beacon Theater in their hometown New York next April.  I doubt the Sugarland crowd in Texas will be anymore welcoming than the Canadians for their final gig of the year.

What really has to gall the Clintons is that Michelle Obama is packing in crowds for her book tour, selling more copies in 15 days than Hillary was able to sell all together of her Living History.  Michelle's book deal was a staggering $65 million, which goes a long way toward Barack's Presidential Library in Chicago.  Safe to say the Clintons are now thoroughly eclipsed by the Obamas.

You would never know it to hear Bill and Hillary talk. They riffed on everything from Trump's cover-up of the Khashoggi killing to the ugly trade war between the US and Canada, which has abated somewhat after Trump finally managed to sign a North American trade agreement with Trudeau and Nieto at the eleventh hour.  Steel and aluminum tariffs remain, however, and so tensions remain.  Of course Bill and/or Hillary would have handled things much better, even if it was his NAFTA deal that drug Hillary down in the Rust Belt, where she lost the election to Trump.

The problem with the Clintons is that they will never come clean.  They will never admit to their shortcomings.  They will always think that what they did was best for the country.  Bill even commissioned Sidney Blumenthal to write a biography that essentially exonerated him from all the misdeeds Republicans accused him of.  Not that it did any good.

Bill's numerous missteps not only brought Al Gore down in 2000, but undermined Hillary's campaigns in 2008 and 2016.  It wasn't like the Monica Lewinsky affair was any big deal, but the way he lied before finally having to admit to it before a national audience brought great shame not only on himself but everyone associated with him, as they defended him throughout this tawdry affair.  Ultimately, the only thing that saved him were the Republicans hammering him too hard.  Public opinion slowly shifted in his favor after the even uglier impeachment trial.

Hillary got her chance to move out of the shadow of her husband when she won a New York Senate seat in 2000.  This was her chance to remake herself anew, but the Senate wasn't big enough for Hillary.  She wanted to be the first woman president and so threw all her might into the 2008 campaign, only to find herself upstaged by the younger, far more charismatic Barack Obama, who also knew how to run a much smarter campaign.

I don't think Hillary ever really got over this loss.  Fate had dealt her an ugly blow, much like the women's suffrage movement of the 1860s had to wait while black men got the right to vote with the 15th amendment.  Hillary is the Elizabeth Cady Stanton of our times.

She can blame her husband who went after Barack early in the 2008 campaign and ultimately cost her the nomination with his unwanted remarks.  Obama seized on these statements, turning the primaries in his favor.  But, it was the loss of superdelegates that really hurt Hillary, as the Democratic establishment lost confidence in her.  From there it was all downhill.

When the luster wore off Obama, the Clintons saw an opportunity to remake themselves.  Hillary stepped down as Secretary of State, and wrote another self-portrait.  For awhile she was the most popular Democratic figure.  Book sales soared.  She was running high in the polls.  Bill was back on the campaign trail promoting young Democratic candidates in the 2014 midterms.  They were setting the stage for another run in 2016.  But, Bill's chosen candidates lost and Hillary was being drug through the mud over Benghazi.  The Republicans had gotten the jump on 2016, and there wasn't much Billary could do to turn the tide.

Still there was hope when the Republicans selected Donald J. Trump as their nominee.  Who would vote for a shiftless rat like this?  Seems the American public was willing to take a "roll of the dice" with Trump as they had with Obama, leaving the Clintons out in the cold once again.

Now we have Bill and Hillary imagining all the what ifs, as they take in 13 North American cities.  The sad part is that they still haven't ruled out another run.  According to Dowd, "her consigliere, Philippe Reines, has prodded reporters on including her name when they write about 2020 candidates."

They want to rewrite the ending to the Clinton legacy just like the Underwoods in House of Cards.  After all, Frank and Claire were pretty much modeled on the Clintons, but like the Clintons they too had to finally submit to television ratings.  There simply isn't that much interest anymore.

We have new potential women candidates for president, namely Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, who are garnering a lot of attention.  Then there's this guy down in Texas who generated a huge grass roots campaign that garnered him 47% of the vote in a deep red state.  Imagine what Beto can do on a national stage?

The Democratic Party is moving on from the Clintons and maybe the Obamas as well.  A new generation is emerging that is hoping to flush out the old guard and return the party to its more liberal roots, which Bill and Hillary were never that comfortable to begin with.

They still have their supporters, but they look like the folks from Springfield Retirement Castle.  Bill and Hillary may be many things, but they are not the Rolling Stones, who can still command an arena audience well past 70.

Bill and Hillary would have been much wiser to have booked smaller venues.  A full room, even if it is no more than a hundred, looks much better than all those empty seats in an arena.  This is the image all the newspapers are picking up on this weekend.

Better yet, they should have joined Zach Galifianakis Between Two Ferns, which is what their set looked like.  On second thought, that didn't work out too well either.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The J is for Genius

Time and time again we hear Trump profess how smart he is.  At one time he was ready to challenge Rex Tillerson to an IQ test when it was revealed the former Secretary of State had called Trump a fucking moron.  He may have topped that audacious challenge with his recent proclamation that he is too intelligent to believe in climate change.

Tillerson wasn't the only political ally or close adviser to call him an idiot.  The list is pretty long.  You might notice that all of these persons are now gone.  He doesn't take kindly to anyone questioning his intelligence.

We've come to understand that the White House doesn't like facts that counter its policy decisions.  You can call it the inconvenient truth or whatever you like, but the most recent report on climate change was released by the White House.  Trump, however, chose to openly refute it, as he did a previous CIA assessment that the Saudi Crown Prince was fully aware of what transpired at the Saudi embassy in Turkey.  Never have we had a White House that so regularly disputes its own findings.

When Bush wanted a favorable assessment of Iraq's WMD's in his build-up to his war with Iraq, he got the CIA to provide him one.  The report was disputed by the UN and other international agencies, but the WH and the CIA were on the same page.  Similarly, Bush formed an Energy Task Force to provide him with a favorable report to support his push for environmental deregulations that would allow the US to tap into more of its oil reserves, initiate fracking, and build more oil pipelines in environmentally-sensitive areas to counteract rising oil prices.

Trump seems to have no idea what is going on in the White House, and for that matter neither do his closest advisers, who were similarly blindsided by this 1600-page report, compiled by 13 federal agencies, which obviously took months if not years to prepare.  Most likely it had been commissioned by the previous administration and no one was smart enough to cancel it when Trump came into office.  Just like no one seems to have discovered the solar panels on the WH roof that Obama had reinstalled after Reagan had taken them down in the 80s.

Our brilliant president seems clueless about a great many things, yet he continues to promote his "natural instinct for science," his ability to see through CIA and military intelligence reports, as well as his general disdain for troublesome news that cuts into his television time.

The climate change report is a little more difficult to dismiss, but Trump is once again relying on American skepticism to back him.  He also has his talking heads at Fox and CNN doing their best to downgrade the report to that of paid scientists promoting worst-case scenarios that most likely will never happen.  Katherine Hayhoe, who co-authored the report, was "bumped" by CNN in favor of paid contributor Rick Santorum, who accused Hayhoe and other scientists of being paid to produce these "alarmist theories."  Trump, who recently called for a "government-run TV news network" appears to have his friends at Fox and CNN.

Trump is also unaware of PBS and VOA, both news agencies of the federal government.  In addition there is the American Forces Network.  For someone so intelligent, he seems oblivious to the range of news his own government provides.  Instead, he has turned Twitter into the Voice of the President.  I guess we can call it VOP for short.  The whole world is hinged or rather becomes unhinged on his every tweet.

We could dismiss this all as the madness of a preening president if it didn't have such dire consequences.  Climate change is real, just as the Crowned Prince was fully aware of the atrocious killing of Jamal Khashoggi.   Trump can deny the laws of gravity for that matter, but it doesn't make it any less real.  He will still fall flat on his face tripping over his own statements.

The key is not just to point out Trump's many false declarations but to quit allowing paid shills like Rick Santorum, David Urban, Andre Bauer and many others to echo these ridiculous statements on CNN and other mainstream news networks.  What's worse is that you have television syndicates like Sinclair Broadcast Group that own an inordinate share of local television stations and shove Boris Epshyteyn onto unsuspecting audiences in the form of "must-run" commentary. This forces us to have to recognize these absurd positions rather than gain a deeper understanding of how climate change is impacting our lives, and why we should be more concerned with what Saudi Arabia is doing.

One can argue, as Rachel Maddow often does, that Trump is fully aware of the game he is playing on the American public, but more likely we are dealing with a man in the deepest stage of dementia, no longer accountable for anything he says, recently comparing himself to Elvis.  This maybe why his lawyers are so afraid to have him directly confront Robert Mueller, preferring instead to answer the special counsel's questions for the president.

It will be interesting to see what a new Congress has to say about our "stable genius," as more and more information comes available in the coming months on a wide variety of his affairs.  Maybe reality will finally have a chance to kick Donald J. Trump in the ass?