Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

I first heard about the "Mandela Effect" from my daughter.  I thought she meant Mandala but she insisted it was Mandela.  Sure enough a "paranormal consultant" penned the term in 2010 to describe how alternate memories can be retained by perhaps thousands of people.  It doesn't matter that he was released from prison in 1990, a major story covered by all the international press, or that he went on to become President of South Africa from 1994-1999, many persons insist they saw television clips of his funeral back in the 80s.

So, were there two Nelson Mandelas or is it just memory playing tricks on us?  This is what The X-Files explored in its most recent episode, The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, which will renew your faith in Chris Carter.   It was a humdinger of an episode that has a lot of fun with the concept of "false memory."

The best character is Dr. They, a mysterious little man who long ago figured out how to play with memories and reconstruct the way we view the past.   It no longer becomes our memory playing tricks on us but rather an ominous government plot to foil our memories so that we lose all semblance of what is real and what is fake.  At least this is the way Reggie explains it, a man who insists he worked with Mulder in the early days of The X-Files before Scully pitched up to spoil the fun.

This sounds a lot like "gaslighting," another recently coined term to describe when false information is presented to a person to make him doubt his own memory.  It has become so pervasive that psychologists are warning us to not succumb to this very dangerous game.  The Mandela effect is apparently more benign, simply one holding onto a memory of an object or event that in the end turns out to be a little different than what we imagined.  Nelson Mandela did die and had a widely televised funeral, but not until 2013.

I suppose the two can easily become blurred.  Our susceptibility to the "Mandela effect," allows us to be easily "gaslighted," reaching a point where we lose all semblance of reality and end up being carted away in a 1960s vintage ambulance to the sanatorium.   In the past, psychologists would have called this schizophrenia.

We do appear to be living in an ever more fragmented society, in which it is more difficult to discern what is real and what is fake.  This is especially true when we see multiple narratives emerge to describe past events.  Kind of a Rashomon Effect that refers to Kurosawa's great film, in which a murder is described in multiple conflicting narratives.  Of course, you can just as easily call it the Faulkner Effect, as he used this technique repeatedly in his books, most notably The Sound and the Fury.  The technique is also quite prevalent in Russian literature, particularly Dostoevsky.  With no objective truth available to us, the best we can hope for is a consensus opinion.

Unfortunately, that seems hard to find these days.  Even when 97 out of 100 scientists say that man is responsible for the climate change taking place, the three stray scientists carry a lot of weight among those seeking to refute this consensus opinion.  All you need to do is come up with a compelling conspiracy theory.

Of course, this what The X-Files thrives on.  For the most part, Chris Carter is having fun here.  In the first episode of the season he mocked the moon landing, and played on our deep-seated fear of vaccinations as a means of spreading an alien virus through the population.  Most viewers take it for what it is -- entertainment.  Alas, there are many persons who really believe these conspiracy theories, making them easily susceptible to manipulation, which ultimately is what Chris Carter tries to show.

It is probably no coincidence that Fox News emerged from the same network that first gave us The X-Files back in 1993.  It seems that Roger Ailes saw the perfect format for disseminating a new strain of news, an alien virus if you will, that would easily infect a gullible public anxious for a conservative interpretation of events.

Conservatives had lost the White House and felt that a new liberal order was being installed in this nation, given how the mainstream media fawned over the Clintons.  Fox News was going to set the record straight, or at least offer an alternative version of events that would satisfy conservative viewers the same way The X-Files did conspiracy theorists.   What seemed like a farce soon grew into a major news network, eclipsing the other news networks within ten years time. 

Fox News thrives on the Mandela effect, gaslighting, Rashomon effect and other post-modern forms of manipulation to twist events to the point they are no longer recognizable in any objective sense.  Fact is no longer fact, but just another opinion.  So what if 97 scientists assert that man is causing global warming, I will find three who say climate change is either non-existent or just a cycle of nature, including John Coleman, the guy who founded The Weather Channel.  He called climate change baloney.

With the advent of the social media in the new millennia, anyone could turn a conspiracy theory into a blog and get thousands if not millions to subscribe to his or her point of view.  Objective truth now seems a quaint idea, relegated to the day academic science and history journals were seen as the ultimate authority.  Now, we have "paranormal consultants" offering us theories on how alternate realities lead us to have different impressions of events.  There really may have been two Nelson Mandelas, one who died in prison in the 1980s, and another that went onto become President of South Africa and died in 2013.  There may even be more Nelson Mandelas floating out there in other dimensions.  Fiona Broome has many subscribers, and to read her bio is a major influence on pop culture and pop psychology.

It would be nice to think that in an alternative reality Hillary Clinton won the electoral college and that the US was spared Donald J. Trump.  Better yet, Trump died in the early 1980s by falling off the yet-to-be-completed Trump Tower and and we never had to be subjected to his malignant narcissism.  Sadly, we are forced to reconcile ourselves with the reality we live in.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A chilly reception

If you are like me, listening to Trump is the equivalent of having someone run his nails across an old chalkboard.  Apparently that was the case for many who were forced to listen to him at Davos as he made his pitch to the world.  As a journalist, you have to cover him no matter how painful it is.

Trump wasted no time bashing Clinton, claiming if she had been elected the stock markets would have crashed.  Of course, we have no way of knowing, but most likely they would have still reached record heights, as Trump inherited an economy on the rise with the stock market already at a record high.  Not that the Dow is the best indicator of an economic recovery, as conservative pundits told us throughout the Obama administration.  But now that Trump is President the Dow is once again regarded as the top economic indicator.  Just listen to Richard Quest crow about the stock markets.  In a few years we can expect Quest to be filling Lou Dobbs seat at Fox.

A lot of persons are surprised the stock markets have been doing so well, as the economy doesn't seem to be supporting such high expectations.  Fourth quarter reports show that the economy failed to reach Trump's target of 3.2% growth.  Yet, the stock markets just keep rising.  It seems a lot of persons are betting on these tax cuts and the deregulation policies coming out of Washington to usher in another highly speculative environment like we had in the middle years of Bush.  However, major retailers continue to shut down stores and lay off employees.

Part of it is that the internet has become the chief hub of retail sales, but it also appears that big business remains cautious.  After all, the last time we saw stocks soar like this we ended up with the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression.  What goes up, eventually comes crashing down, as we are currently seeing with crypto-currency.

Trump also has a way of hitting the wave late.  This is the same guy who decided to open a mortgage company in 2006, proclaiming that the real estate market is going to remain strong for a long time to come.  Real estate was already beginning to slump with foreclosures on the rise that year, and it all came crashing down two years later.  Little wonder the folks at Davos weren't overly impressed with his sales pitch.

Of course, that doesn't stop others from blowing Donald's trumpet.  Ed Rogers thought the Big T was in command of Davos.  Allana Petroff went even further to proclaim Davos loves the Trump tax cuts.  Seems like Trump brought his own cheering section to counteract what he called the fake news.

Many were wondering what he was even doing there since so many of his statements run counter to the prevailing wisdom of Davos.  Lithuania's president, Dalia GrybauskaitÄ— tried to explain it in an interview with CNBC, saying that she is more concerned with America's actions than she is Trump's tweets, and from what she sees America still plays a strong military and economic role in Europe.

Macron is credited for having convinced Trump to come to Davos.  On Amanpour last night, Sylvie Kauffmann, the chief editor of Le Monde, and Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, tried to explain why Macron was cultivating this relationship with Trump.  Their general impression was that Macron saw security as the main issue here and that it was in Europe's interest to retain America's involvement in the counter-terrorism effort, especially since France has proven weak in this regard.  Haass was a little bit more circumspect than was Kauffmann.

Oddly enough, Trump talked little about security.  He mostly crowed about the American economy, taking full credit for its robust growth.  Meanwhile, Europe and the rest of the world is bracing for the eventual downturn, knowing full well the wave lasts only so long.  Trump once again appears utterly oblivious to the warning signs.  What, me worry?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Our Man in Jerusalem

Mike Pence was in Israel these past few days, assuring the government of America's unwavering support.  The trip served no real purpose other than re-stating the Trump administration's position on Jerusalem and offering a few photo opportunities for our Vice-President, although he seemed to be pondering the enormity of it all at the Western Wall before returning to the United States.

It is safe to say there will be no meaningful negotiations over the next three years.  To be fair, Obama didn't do much in this regard either.  Ever since the War in Iraq and the Rise of ISIS, Palestinians have been relegated to the back pages of political discussion.  Hard to believe that at one time "Peace in Israel" was the number one foreign policy issue.  I guess Dubya did succeed in shifting American FP a little further to the East.

Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have no time for Mike Pence or Jared Kushner or anyone else Trump sends to the Levant.  Abbas was in Brussels seeking assurances that the EU would continue to play a role in peace talks and back recognition of East Jerusalem as capital of Palestine.  Trump wants to sell the Palestinians some land outside Jerusalem instead, oblivious to the fact that is where Ramallah is located, which serves as the Palestinian Authority's provisional capital.

Unlike Israel, Palestine held up to its end of the bargain by leaving Jerusalem a "corpus separatum."  Israel has been treating Jerusalem as its capital virtually since independence, with only the embassies officially located in Tel Aviv, although many countries have consulates in Jerusalem.

Pence gave a timetable for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.  The first country to do so.  The Trump administration imagines the move will take place next year, and I'm sure they will get the authority from Congress on this one, since it has long supported the move.  If nothing else the state department can sell off their possessions in Tel Aviv to pay for the move, similar to what was done in moving the embassy in London.

None of this furthers the path toward peace in the region, but of course this didn't stop Magic Mike from hailing the negotiations skills of his Chief.  Not that Trump has made much effort at negotiations himself other than greeting Abbas at the White House last year.   Since then it has been all Jared, who has done more in promoting his business interests in Israel than he has negotiating any settlement.  But, he and Ivanka sure do make a dashing couple!

I suppose this all goes with the role of being in the White House, and if nothing else Trump likes to keep up appearances.  He can sell whatever comes out of Israel to his adoring conservative public because none of them care whether Palestine eventually becomes a state or not.  Announcing the embassy move to Jerusalem played very well among his electorate.

As for Mike, his political status has eroded over the past year.  You might remember he was greeted with open arms when he first came to Europe last February, but he is pretty much seen as Trump's fool now.  At this point, his reassurances ring hollow as foreign leaders have lost all hope they can negotiate with Trump's emissaries in any meaningful way.  Whatever his surrogates promise, Trump is sure to tweet the opposite the next day.

Israel is one of the few countries where the Trump administration is warmly welcomed, as Donald and Bibi are pretty much on the same page.  Netanyahu even had a new train station named after Trump upon formally recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.  Can't beat that!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I don't know what's more a joke, the White House or Mitch McConnell trying to blame this shutdown on the Democrats?  The last minute measure the House Republicans tossed in the Senate lap would have only kept the government open for another four weeks, so it wasn't any solution at all, especially given nothing fundamentally changes now that government has "shutdown."  All essential services are still in place.  Even the national parks are still open.  Basically, non-essential workers have a temporary layoff, to be reimbursed later once Congress finally settles on a spending bill.

Yet, Donald Trump and his surrogates tried their best to throw the blame on the Democrats for this impasse, despite his saying time and again what this country needs is a "good shutdown."  Careful what you wish for.

Chuck Schumer took a calculated risk but one that should pay off big time for the Democrats, as the Republicans own this shutdown because of their unwillingness to negotiate immigration reform, too afraid they will be seen as compromised heading into the 2018 midterms.  After all, these assholes did exactly the same thing in 2013, and now they want to cry foul!

The biggest hypocrite of all is Donald J. Trump, who put the 2013 shutdown squarely on Barack Obama's shoulders.  Yet, the assclown doesn't want to take the blame this time despite he being the one to make DACA an issue by signing an executive order in September to revoke it.  So, why is the mainstream press even entertaining conservative arguments?  Any objective view of the situation confirms Chuck Schumer allegation that this is Trump's shutdown.

Unfortunately, news isn't news anymore but a 24/7 reality show we are forced to endure with talking heads representing the extremes of the political spectrum arguing it out on national television.  It is so fucking embarrassing to watch these news networks prostrate themselves in front of us for television ratings!  They figure the only way they can "sell" news is to make it a spectator sport.  So, they allow this "blame game" to go on as long as viewers tune in.  If only it was as entertaining as watching Jessica Lange and company parody "The Name Game" in American Horror Story.

The funny part in all this is how the political landscape is playing out much like the last season of AHS when Ally Mayfair-Richards turned the tables on Kai Anderson and made the world he created under Trump into her own vision, leaving the men to scratch their heads and wonder what went wrong?

Women are now dominating the news cycle, not only winning key state legislative seats but filling in Senate seats where their male colleagues strayed.  The Virginia assembly saw a record number of women win seats, almost turning the assembly in the Democratic favor.  Call it Hillary's revenge, or whatever you like, but Republicans (and for that matter Democrats) are going to see a backlash like they never saw before with a record number of women in Congress next session.

At that point, Donald Trump will have a lot of answering to do and it is unlikely he will be able to squirm out of it like he is trying to do now over the government shutdown.  He's the one that made any kind of compromise impossible with his petty demand for a wall at the expense of DACA.

The last minute gesture on the part of the House to add child health care to make it look like the Democrats were the ones throwing the baby out with the bathwater was so pathetic that even some Republicans had to do a double take.  Jeff Flake openly admonished his fellow Republicans for this bit of grandstanding, and three other Republican Senators similarly said no.  Even Mitch was forced to admit defeat, as the best he could muster were 50 votes, 10 short of the 60 needed to carry the bill. But, of course, he blamed the Democrats.

They can play this blame game as long as they want, it won't change matters.  Trump has unleashed a fury among women voters that is not likely to abate between now and next fall.  Not only that but he has managed to unite minorities against him with his racist comments and tweets that will spell the doom of many Republican candidates vying for Congressional seats.  It's the "perfect storm" Republicans were hoping to avoid, but now find themselves sailing straight into it in November.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Hold my drink

A looming government shutdown doesn't keep the Donald away from the golf course.  He's off to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend while Congresspersons desperately try to reach an agreement on a budget.  Whatever spending bill Congress cobbles together will have to have his imprimatur, but I guess he figures no deal will be reached so why waste my time in this shithole when I could be in sunny Florida.

This last-minute scrambling is the result of Trump's hasty decision back in September to scrap DACA.  He was so desperate to have his wall that he figured he could force Congress to act on it.  Instead, Congress kicked the budget down the road, which I'm sure is what they will do today as well, as there appears to be no agreement.  For the time being, Dreamers have been saved by the federal courts, but this is just a stop-gap measure until Congress has the guts to deal with immigration.

For his part, Chuck Schumer has said having Tom Cotton and Dave Perdue on the Senate immigration reform committee is a non-starter.  These two guys have no interest in a compromise solution and appear to be egging on the President when it comes to standing tough, even if they walked back his comments on immigration.  A kind of "closet toughness" as if to make themselves appear as though they are arbitrators.  In reality, it is the kind of slinkiness we have come to expect from Republicans, which is why Schumer is having none of it.

The Donald has other things to worry about as well, such as the fate of a Pennsylvania House seat, which in any normal election would be considered a safe seat.  After losing a safe seat in Wisconsin this past week, Pennsylvania Republicans are taking no chances and invited His Trumpness to Pittsburgh to make a pitch for Rick Saccone, the kind of ugly Republican voters no longer seem to want.

CNN kept breaking away from its "State of America" to cover the event, which was impossible to watch.  Trump acted like he was at some television network luncheon trying to see how many persons he could call out around the table, including Saccone, who came up on stage and looked like he was going to plant a big wet one on Trump before wisely choosing not to.  If Trump loses this race, he's pretty much sunk.  No one will want to get within a 10-mile radius of him during the summer.

I'm not sure where Kate Bolduan has been recently.  Nia-Malika Henderson has stepped into her shoes on the political chat show.  Just as well as Nia-Malika is much less irritating to listen to.  She tried to get her Republican commentators to offer something approximating a candid opinion on Trump's report card for 2017, but it was hopeless.  His surrogates continue to try to prop him up like you would a cardboard dummy that has been left out in the rain.

Surprisingly, this guy still commands an 80% approval rating among Republicans, which is the only thing that keeps him the mid-30s in overall approval rating.  It certainly isn't translating into votes as Roy Moore found out in Alabama.  Republicans may still support Trump, but enthusiasm has clearly waned.  So, Saccone better hope something gets Republicans to the polls on March 13 because his commanding lead is shriveling up fast. 

He faces a tough challenge in a young, battle-tested Democrat, who has reawakened the party in Western Pennsylvania.  Conor Lamb has both a military pedigree and has served as state prosecutor.  His limited government experience should be an asset in a district that went overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, but has since soured on the President.  Murphy's sleazy past doesn't help either.

As Barack Obama recently described in an interview with David Letterman, it is the Republicans who now find themselves in a bubble of their making.  They have screened out all the mainstream news, and would still like to think they are riding the 2016 wave.  Democrats have flipped 34 seats since November '16, the Republicans only four in state and federal elections.  Patty Schachtner shocked Wisconsin Republcians by winning the 10th District state senate seat, a usually reliable conservative seat.  Gov. Scott Walker issued a wake-up call to fellow Republicans but it appears to be too late.  There just isn't any excitement for these conservative candidates, whereas the Democratic Party appears re-energized.  Obama will apparently be campaigning heavily for Democratic candidates across the country this summer, no doubt leading the news media to keep a tally of who comes out on top, Obama or Trump, in their list of endorsements.

In the meantime, our federal government is on hold until a budget can be approved.  So, enjoy your time in sunny Florida, dear Donald, because it looks like things are getting ugly in Washington.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Unfortunately, no trust!

This is starting to resemble a behavioral experiment from the 60s with Republicans ganging up on Dick Durbin and trying to convince him that he didn't hear what he heard last Thursday.  There were at least ten persons in the room when Trump made his comments on immigration reform, including seven senators.  Durbin was the lone Democrat.

After hearing the comments, Durbin immediately went public.  After some time, Lindsey Graham, who is working with Durbin on a compromise solution to save DACA, supported him.  But, no other Republican in the room would substantiate the comments, and on Sunday Dave Perdue and Tom Cotton flatly repudiated Dick Durbin's statement.  This is a little odd because Friday the two conservative senators simply said they couldn't recall Trump saying "shithole countries."  For his part, Trump has since said he wishes he had recorded the meeting, noting "unfortunately, no trust!"

This is quite telling.  Did Trump honestly expect his comments to stay in the room, or was he setting up Dick Durbin and the Democrats for the fall on DACA?  It's very clear Trump has no intention of signing off on any bill that protects DACA unless he gets a "down payment" on his wall.  Durbin, acting on the behalf of Senate Democrats, was willing to give the president $1.5 billion toward the wall in exchange for his support on DACA.  Apparently, this wasn't enough, so Trump went off on a tirade, which Durbin later aired to the public.

Senators Cotton and Perdue are staunchly against any compromise.  They not only want zero tolerance toward illegal immigration but want to cut legal immigration in half, especially those coming in from south of the border.  The other Republicans apparently fall somewhere in the middle and are keeping tight-lipped about the whole thing.

If this is some kind of negotiation strategy it is one of the strangest we have seen yet and not likely to get the Democrats on board the spending bill Republicans are trying to ram through Congress.  This time they can't do it through budget reconciliation, so if Mitch wants to force a simple majority vote he would have to resort to the "nuclear option," which is not going to sit well with ranking Republicans like Lindsey Graham.  Mitch only has two votes to spare.

The thing about DACA is that we are talking about kids here, relatively speaking anyway.  Most Americans don't want to see kids made to pay for the errors of their parents.  Also, most of the kids are now so thoroughly "Americanized" you couldn't tell them apart from any other kid in this country.  But, Trump is so determined to get his wall that he will use anything to get it, including holding these "Dreamers" hostage.

This tells you a lot about the man.  Imagine if it was his daughter or son being threatened with deportation.  After all, Ivana and Melania are both immigrants, and mothers to four of his children.  He is the son of an immigrant mother, who some argue arrived illegally from Scotland.  Yet, he seems to have no feeling whatsoever for these kids who arrived in the country alone or with their parents, most at a very young age, and have since carved out good lives for themselves in America.  They are nothing more than a bargaining chip to him.

Yet, in typical Trump fashion, he tries to make it look as though the Democrats are holding the "Dreamers" hostage by not signing off on a spending bill, which so far has no provision whatsoever for DACA children.

The cynicism is mindnumbing.  Even more mindnumbing is why Republicans would play along with him.  None of them really want this wall.  There are many other ways to deal with illegal immigration.  Yet, they continue to float out various figures they hope will appease our puerile president, and stand by him even when he says the most atrocious things.

It's hard to believe someone didn't catch Trump's words on his mobile phone, just as the Wall Street Journal recorded their conversation with Trump last week, forced to remind him what he said.  As Joe Manchin later said, there is no reason to suspect Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham made this up, and every reason to suspect Donald Trump is lying.  This wouldn't be the first time Trump was forced to eat his words.  Only now, Dave Perdue and Tom Cotton will be made to eat them as well.

Yes, Donald, unfortunately no trust!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our shithole in chief

I suppose Trump's beef with the embassy in London and "shithole" countries around the world is nothing more than a distraction for Republicans unwilling or unable to come to the table to discuss a bipartisan immigration bill.  After all, they had been down this road before in 2013 and it wasn't pretty, so why not let Trump fly off the handle and avoid even discussing such a bill in a hotly contested election year.

Trump let his "shithole" comment linger in the air like a fart for the better part of 15 hours before finally trying to deny he said it.  The only problem is that everyone heard him, and at best the Republicans who were in the room with him can only claim they didn't hear it.  That didn't stop Democrats from responding, and even Lindsey Antebellum has finally come forward to say yes, Trump said it.

Dear old Lindsey wanted to make himself the Republican point man on the new immigration bill, but even he appeared to have second thoughts.  Trump's comments reflect the feelings of most Republicans when it comes to immigration.  They are tired of seeing all these colored folk seeping into America, and would prefer to see more Nordic faces.  Senator Graham knows it is an uphill battle, especially trying to get such a bill through the House, where the last immigration bill stalled when the Speaker John Boehner invoked the so-called "Hassert rule."  Boehner claimed he had to have the majority support of his party to bring the bill to a floor vote, even though there were enough Republicans to go along with Democrats to pass the bill.

Of course Trump would like to pass the blame for the impasse onto Obama, like he did his reason for not attending the grand opening of the new US embassy in London, but it would only be more egg on his face.  The "fabulous new embassy" has received raves across the board, not least of all the fact that it didn't cost US taxpayers an extra penny.  It was financed entirely by the sale of London properties, including the old embassy at Mayfair.  Trump only wants to go where he will be met by an adoring audience, and there is no such audience in London.

Nevertheless, his friends at Fox and across the conservative blogosphere are defending his comments, claiming that this is what you would hear in any bar across America.  I suppose that may be true in Trump country, but is this really the level we want to discuss foreign policy?

Our president has literally turned our foreign policy into a shithole bar.  No one can trust him at this point, as no country knows from one day to the next what Trump will say on a subject, leaving it up to his beleaguered state department to try to explain his comments.  The US ambassador to Panama resigned rather than deal with the fallout from Trump's latest comments.  I suppose Trump can send John Bolton down there for a "friendly visit."

Much of this damage is irreparable, as the US's position in the world continues to erode with China, Russia and Germany filling the void we leave behind.  No longer is the US an initiator of events, but a monkey wrench.  Trump once again signed off on the Iranian nuclear deal despite his voluble misgivings,  but all the other countries involved want at this point is his signature.

Simply put, the US is no longer a player on the world stage.  It is a bystander.  Yes, Trump can get rowdy at times as he has done with North Korea, but whatever strategy that still remains in place is guarded by the Pentagon.  Trump has no real interest in what is going on around the world, except as to how it relates to his business interests.  Diplomacy is a thing of the past, which is why his embassy and "shithole countries" comments are perfectly in keeping with his puerile mindset.

The funny thing is that no one really cares anymore other than to affirm their views on Trump.  This was certainly the case with Sadiq Khan, who hailed the cancellation as Trump getting the message that London doesn't want him.   Madame Tussands couldn't resist the opportunity to park his wax likeness in front of the embassy.

At this point, no one wants him.  To use Jesse Waters' analogy, I imagine much of the "bar talk" these days is how do we get rid of Trump, as you would an unruly patron who has obviously had way too much to drink and is embarrassing everyone around him.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Everyone is talking about Oprah

After her Golden Globes speech, Oprah is the most talked about person on television.  She brought the auditorium to its feet with as she recounted how Recy Taylor bucked the system back in 1944, and her impressions of Sidney Pottier winning the Oscar for Lilies of the Field.  It was a life-affirming speech like the ones Barack Obama enjoyed giving and the parallel was not lost on anyone.  Many persons started chanting Oprah for President that evening.

Why not?  Any thoughts that experience matters were thrown out the window when Donald J. Trump won the office last year.  This seemed to be the only thing holding Oprah back.  Now she just says, "oh, oh."

Americans no longer place much value on a candidate's resume, at least when it comes to serving in government.  We have become extremely cynical, believing that a politician is only in it for the money.  Jokes abound like the one where politicians should wear patches of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do, or that the only good politician is a dead politician, politically dead anyway.

Yet, we have elected our share of first-timers over the years and they haven't proven anymore adept at managing government than have traditional candidates.  Ronald Reagan comes to mind.  Bad actor turned governor and eventually president, he pretty much left management up to those around him.  The result was one of the most corrupt governments in modern history with over 20 indictments.  Trump's administration is well on its way to matching those numbers.

Many Americans are desperate for anyone other than Trump, and feel that only someone with a big personality like Oprah can topple him in an election.  No names are emerging from the Democratic field other than Bernie and Joe Biden, both well past 70.  Oprah seems youthful in her early 60s and is looking better than ever with her wavy black hair and healthy full figure.  She looked absolutely radiant Sunday night.

Oprah is worth considering.  She has been a positive spokesperson for so many issues over the years and has grown into one of the most powerful persons in the entertainment industry.  An unlikely rise when you consider her roots.  Most importantly, she would have the wholehearted support of Democrats across the political spectrum, assuming she runs as a Democrat.

However, I'm afraid this would be a major setback for traditional politics.  The grassroots campaign that gave us candidates like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and Barack Obama will be lost.  How could such a candidate compete with larger-than-life personalities?

Maybe it just a phase we are going through.  The idea of "Oprah" has been tossed about for the better part of two decades.  She couldn't be any worse than Donald J. Trump.  Maybe we should just skip the primaries all together and go straight to the general election in 2020 and let these two battle it out on prime time television -- the Reality Show of the Century!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The problem with Cory Gardner's argument

or any Republican for that matter

Cory Gardner took exception to Jeff Sessions switch on marijuana.  The Colorado senator claims that Sessions promised he wouldn't go after state legalized cannabis but it seems the Attorney General has had a change of heart.  Sessions has long made it known he doesn't like all this pot being made freely available, and it was only a matter of time before he used his federal authority to contain it.  He not only has the blessing of Trump but many state governors, who have file suits against states that have legalized pot.

The problem goes well beyond marijuana.  Gardner wants to present himself as a moderate Republican by voicing his libertarian view on pot.  This is similar to Rand Paul, who has also been pro-pot.  But, these senators have no problem going after health care and other issues that blur state and federal lines.  Both voted for the tax cuts bill that will eliminate federal mandates for buying state and federal health insurance.  They had previously voted to gut the ACA, and in fact have stuck to the party line on almost every issue.  Gardner has a whopping 94.6 score of voting along with Trump's position on issues.  This is double how he was expected to vote in 2017, according to fivethirtyeight.  The only place he seems to have veered is on pot, which makes you wonder if he bought stock in marijuana companies, which are currently taking a nosedive.

This is a pattern that has emerged over and over again.  Collins, Murkowski and McCain were treated like heroes for voting down Mitch's last ditch effort to gut the Affordable Care Act, only to vote for a tax cuts bill that did the very same thing.  In fact, every single Senate Republican voted for the final version of the notorious bill, including Bob Corker, who had previously been the lone Republican to stand against it.  Yet, we keep hoping that one of these Republicans will emerge to challenge the party orthodoxy.

They won't because they are part of a political party that is run like a mafia.  The Republican leaders make very few concessions, instead they threaten their party members by either pulling election funding or reminding them that there is a strong core of Republicans that continues to support Trump, no matter how daft he might be.  In other words, they face certain defeat in the primaries if they go against the grain.   This leaves young turks like Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse, and Rand Paul in a tough bind.  They might want to challenge the orthodoxy, but if they want to stay in the Senate they have to succumb to Mitch's lead.  

It's a little harder to figure out Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who have said they will not be seeking re-election this Fall.  They love to attack Trump, but in the end pretty much go along with his position on key issues.  Both have a Trump score over 85% on 538.  Susan Collins flirted with running for governor of Maine, but has since decided to stay in the Senate, where she is once again proving loyal to the party, although her score of 82% puts her a little bit in danger in the primaries.  She hopes her vote on the tax cuts bill makes up for it.

In fairness, the Trump Score is a bit deceiving.  It isn't so much that these senators are voting along with Trump, as Trump has taken the party line on almost every issue.  It's his volatility that worries Republican senate leaders, like that time he went along with "Chuck and Nancy" on a short-term spending solution, kicking the budget down the line.  In the end, however, this worked out well for Republicans as they were able to get their tax cuts bill through budget reconciliation rather than bringing it to a full vote in the Senate where they would have needed 60 votes to pass.  Basically, Trump will take a "win" anyway he can get it.  Since that little relapse, he has been very harsh on the Democrats, much to Mitch's approval.

There has also been a long history of the Republican Party letting its members stray on their pet issues, as long as they don't go against the big issues.  As far as Mitch is concerned, Young Cory can go after Jeff Sessions on cannabis, as long as he sticks to the party line on tax cuts, repeal of "Obamacare," cuts in Medicare, overhaul of Social Security, and so on.  

The orthodoxy was a upset with Murkowski, Collins and McCain over the health care vote, but they brought these wayward senators back into the fold when it came to what really mattered -- a sweeping tax bill that used cuts in health care to help fund the $1.5 trillion cost of the bill.  They all plan to eventually seek re-election.

One can argue that we see a similar situation with Democrats.  After all, they were only able to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress by "bullying" some of their wayward members and convincing Arlen Specter to switch parties.  It was much tougher as the Democrats needed 60 votes, and at most had 59 in 2009, until Arlen joined them.  

I think Mitch never forgave the Democrats for this and has demanded total loyalty from his members ever since.  As you might recall Mitch was thrilled as punch when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Special Election to fill John Kerry's vacated seat in late 2009.  Number 41 they called him.  Democrats were unable to pass anymore major legislation after that upset victory.

It doesn't stop Democrats from hoping they can steer disgruntled Republicans to their party.  They flirted with Murkowski, who won as an "independent" in Alaska after being "teabagged" in the primaries in 2010, but she chose to caucus with the Republicans, and ran as a Republican in 2016.  So, don't let her defiance on some issues fool you.  She knows which side of her bread is buttered.  She along with Susan Collins and John McCain are not "heroes" because they stand up to their Republican Party from time to time.  They consistently vote along the party line, even when it is against their own best interests.  Murkowski introduced the bill to open drilling in the Alaskan Arctic Circle.  Kind of like making Lisa shoot a family member to prove her loyalty to the party.

As for Young Cory,  he is essentially making a big fuss about nothing in an attempt to endear himself to Coloradans after voting for the noxious tax bill.  Jeff Sessions' position on pot is largely symbolic.  It is doubtful that federal prosecutors will aggressively crack down on possession, cultivation and distribution of cannabis in states where it has been made legal.  Like everything else in the Trump administration, it was about erasing the Obama legacy, which had adopted a policy of non-intervention.  Sessions wanted other states to not become part of this "reefer madness" by placing a federal warning on pot.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

13 Reasons Why

The Republicans are determined to protect Trump

The White House likes to push the stories going into the weekend, usually through Trump's tweets, but this weekend the only news is coming from the pages of Fire and Fury.  For his part, Trump tried to put on his best presidential demeanor before being shuttled by helicopter to Camp David, where he said he would discuss his agenda with ranking Congressional Republicans.  He left a list of demands for Democrats, if they want to save the DACA program.  Not surprisingly, Democratic leaders see these demands as a non-starter.

Just the same, CNN devoted virtually its entire programming last night to the book's many allegations, trying to walk a thin line down the middle, in which journalists questioned the veracity of some of Wolff's claims, while giving credence to others.  The talk show panels broke down the way you would expect, with condemnation from conservative pundits and modest praise from liberal pundits.

No one seems to know quite what to make of Michael Wolff.   Maybe it is as Joan Didion writes, "my only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.  And it always does.  That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out." 

Basically, Wolff made himself a fly on the wall during the most chaotic period of the Trump administration.  The reaction to his book is similar to the time Buzzfeed chose to present the infamous "Trump dossier" in its entirety, which many mainstream news outlets, including CNN, condemned.  That dossier hasn't gone away, and now Senate Republicans want to file charges against Christopher Steele, purportedly for presenting false information.  I suppose charges will come against Wolff as well, once Lindsey Antebellem and Chuck "Snake in the Grass" Grassley have had a chance to review his book.   Yet, Wolff claims to be able to verify everything he wrote, including his conversations with Trump.

This attempt by Republicans to bury the lurid stories surrounding Trump and his White House is even more amusing than Trump's attempt to be "presidential."   There was no allegation against Hillary Clinton, no matter how absurd, they didn't consider while launching investigation after investigation into her role in Benghazi and her infamous e-mail scandal.  It's still not over, as the FBI reopened the investigation into the Clinton Foundation, the so-called "pay to play" scandal.

You really have to wonder what is it the Republicans are trying to hide, given their overwhelming need to protect Trump?  Bannon described it as sitting on the beach with a category 5 hurricane on the horizon. 

It doesn't matter that Trump has shit on virtually all Republican Congresspersons, including Lindsey Antebellum, yet they continue to pay deference to him.  Even those that have challenged him in public, pretty much go along with his agenda in Congress.  One can only hope that Mueller's probe goes right into the bowels of Congress, as it is hard to imagine at this point that Congressional Republicans weren't involved in the Russian hacking of the 2016 election.  Everything they do appears designed to cover their collective ass.

Wolff states in his book that Trump never expected to win the election, nor did it seem Russia.  What Putin wanted was to damage Hillary Clinton, making it more difficult for her to address key foreign issues like Syria.  Republicans were ready to pounce on Hillary as soon as she came into office, but now here they are having do deal with the freewheeling Donald Trump.

Russian media could have never gained such widespread access into the American market had not many American outlets played along, namely Fox and Breitbart.  But, the RNC also stood to gain, as so many of these Hillary "hit pieces" were targeted at key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  At the head of the RNC was Reince Priebus, who hails from Wisconsin, as does Paul Ryan, the House Speaker.  They have a well-hewn political machine in that state, which helped turn the state to Trump despite having gone overwhelmingly for Democratic Presidential candidates since 1988.  Even Michael Dukakis won Wisconsin.  Obama won by 200,000 votes in 2012.  So how did this state change virtually overnight?

This is what Congress should be investigating.  Instead, Republican leaders go out of their way to put the Russian hacking stories behind them, making you wonder how much Ryan and Priebus might have been involved in the hacking, given how close the race was in their home state.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are a bit more murky, but these states have also been reliably Democratic since 1992, voting for Bill Clinton both times.  Obama had an even greater margin of victory in Michigan (400,000 votes) and in Pennsylvania (310,000 votes) than he did Wisconsin in 2012.  So, again what changed in these states, especially since turnout was even higher in 2016 than it was in 2012, which should have favored Hillary.

I think there is a lot to Wolff's claim that the Trump campaign never expected to win. They just wanted to make it close enough so that they could point to a few states as their reason for losing, and hope to undermine Hillary's legitimacy afterward, much like how the Republicans used Obama's birth certificate to try to undermine his legitimacy.

But, a funny thing happened -- Trump won -- and now the GOP scrambles to hide the reasons why.  I think just about everyone was surprised by this huge electoral upset, including the Kremlin, which had to rethink the way it was going to deal with Washington.

Wolff's book is just the beginning.  He went after the tawdry domestic side of the White House.  I expect more books in the coming year that try to answer the many questions that surround Trump's unexpected presidency, as Mueller seems to be taking his time to build his case against the Trump campaign. 

Sadly, the damage has been done.  Unless Mueller's probe reveals widespread complicity throughout the Republican Party, we will be saddled with Pence or Ryan or even Tillerson as President, depending on how many persons were involved.  More likely we are stuck with Trump for the duration, as Mueller simply is unable to find a direct link to the top.  After all, Reagan escaped the many probes surrounding the notorious Iran-Contra Affair, with Ollie North and others taking the fall.

The only saving grace is that it looks like the Republicans will lose "bigly" in the midterm elections, which will render Donald Trump virtually impotent in the White House.   If anything is being discussed at Camp David, it is how do they reverse this perfect shit storm that is headed their way.  They have until November to try to shift this storm onto the Democrats.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy New Year, Donald J. Trump!

If His Trumpness thought he might catch a break at the start of the New Year, he was sadly mistaken.  Michael Wolff has literally pulled the lid off the boiling cauldron that is the Trump White House, offering up a number of juicy anecdotes taken from Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and even Ivanka, regarding the effort it takes to make her father's hair stand on its own.

The evil Dr. Bannon has pretty much confirmed everything Wolff printed in his name, and added more scintillating stories of his own.  This led a livid Donald Trump to dump on his former strategist after having tried to pretend there was no bad blood between them.  It seems Bannon's prime targets are the Trump offspring and in-laws, calling out Jared, Ivanka and Donnie Jr. each in turn.  Not surprising, since he was never able to win their affection, not that he wanted it.  What he wanted was complete control over the Trump White House to carry out his nationalistic agenda, something "Javanka" warned "Daddy" against, but I guess Papa Trump felt he owed Bannon after his surprising victory.

To read the excerpts from Wolff's book, Trump never wanted to win the White House and Melania was in tears the night he pulled off his electoral upset because of all the pressure that would be put on her to play the role of first lady.  That role instead fell to Ivanka, with Hope Hicks apparently becoming Trump's surrogate daughter.  Melania has of course refuted all these stories, but you figure she was never more than a trophy wife for Donald, lending the allusion that he still had the vigor of a younger man, albeit pumped up on viagra.

You knew a book like this would have to come along soon.  So many persons have left the White House, but Wolff took most of his anecdotes while these figures were still in the West Wing.  The most stinging allegations are Trump's "semiliterate" grasp of language and reading skills, his blatant misogyny, and his insatiable appetite for McDonald's cheeseburgers and Diet Cokes.  The best revelation of all is Trump's unbridled need to gloat to anyone who will listen, which Wolff states is how so many of these stories have leaked to the press.  Trump is his own worst enemy.

Of course, Wolff deals in the sensational, contributing to The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today and the UK edition of GQ, but I imagine most of these revelations can be corroborated, as we are finding out with Steve Bannon, who seems to have given up on the Trump administration and is charting his own course to the White House, as he spilled out to The Atlantic.

This is a pretty good indicator that Trump's "base" is eroding, if he ever really had a strong base to begin with.  It seems the alt-right latched onto Donald for expediency's sake, as there was no one candidate they all could support.  Some liked Huckabee, others Cruz, yet others Ben Carson, and a small few gravitated toward Rand Paul.   About all they could agree on was their antipathy toward Hillary Clinton and "Establishment Republicans" like Jeb Bush.  Somehow, the idea of "Trump" was able to bring them all together under a golden roof, or hair piece if you like.  Now that his administration is unraveling before our eyes, these supporters are looking elsewhere and Bannon is hoping to coalesce them together under the Breitbart banner.  So why not shit on his former boss.  Everyone else is doing it.

Whatever course Trump plots in 2018 will be riddled with land mines.  He has made so many enemies that if the Democrats regain Congress this fall, it is doubtful Republicans will do much to defend his presidency.  Already, Congressional Republicans seem to be looking for ways to distance themselves from the Mad Man in the White House, who has fired off angry tweets not just at North Korea, but Pakistan and Palestine, forcing ambassadors to answer for his comments.  He doesn't seem to understand he is putting many Americans in jeopardy abroad, as the US has a sizable presence in Pakistan, not to mention other volatile countries.

Wolff's book deals mostly with the disarray in the White House, kind of a maniacal "Upstairs Downstairs" for an American reality show audience, revealing a president that has a very poor grasp of the magnitude of his office, and virtually no respect for those around him, including Jared, who he called a "suck-up."  I suppose for those still inside the White House, this is just more fuel to the fire, as they try to contend with Donald's volatility in their own ways.  It is hard to imagine why anyone would stay loyal to Trump, if half of what Wolff describes is true.  Trump is ready to throw anyone to the curb at a moment's notice, including his own children.

The broader story is how Trump is reacting these allegations.  He lashes out at the world at large, not just Steve Bannon, who apparently broke a confidentiality agreement he signed during the campaign. Since the release of the book, White House lawyers have filed a cease and desist order against Bannon, hoping to curb anymore unwanted revelations, but it will do little good when the book will no doubt vault to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

It also makes a mockery of Trump's puerile "Dishonest Media Awards," which are due out this week, especially now that he finds himself under attack from virtually every press outlet including Breitbart.

We may actually be seeing the last days of the Trump administration.  He might never return from the golf course, but issue a statement of resignation from his Mar-a-Lago resort, rather than face the scrutiny he will suffer back in Washington.  More likely he will return only to find himself a much weaker president forced to answer the many allegations via Twitter, as he is not someone who lets any slight go unpunished.

Happy New Year, Donald J. Trump!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Lost Year

Somehow the NFL managed to survive Trump and the millions of Americans who vowed to boycott the league this past year.  It was around week 12 that Trump lost interest in the national anthem protests, posting a rather lame tweet on November 28 that drew little attention.  X-fans were no longer bombarding the message boards with their faux outrage over the protests, and overall attendance at games remained pretty much the same as in 2016.  The Los Angeles teams had been suffering for lack of fan base, but as the Rams and Chargers playoff prospects improved, so did attendance.  The only place the NFL seemed to suffer was on television, where ratings had dipped, but by December things were pretty much back to normal as the playoff race heated up.

Still, there seemed to be something missing this year.  There wasn't as much excitement even as new teams like Jacksonville and Tennessee emerged as playoff contenders in the AFC, while Philadelphia and Minnesota made surprisingly strong showings in the NFC.

Injuries played a big part in this.  Indianapolis was Luck-less again this year.  Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers in Week 6.   DeShaun Watson was turning in an amazing rookie season until he went down in a practice session after his huge game against Seattle.  Houston had already lost J.J. Watt for the season.  The "All-Injured Team" was loaded with potential Pro Bowl players.

Surprisingly, no team picked up Colin Kaepernick despite so many being shorthanded at QB.  Green Bay insisted on Brett Hundley, who posted a miserable passer rating of 70.6.  Kaepernick had a passer rating of 90.7 on the woeful 49ers last year.  Houston only had one win after Watson went down.  It was to Arizona, which also had lost its star quarterback for the season, and finished 8-8 on the year.

Colin seemed to take it all in stride, continuing his civic outreach.   He only received $39 million of his "record" $126 million contract, yet he donated substantially to numerous causes, which earned him GQ Citizen of the Year, Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award and a slough of other honors including finalist for Time's Person of the Year.  This would have been quite a poke in the eye of Trump.  Of course, this only further outraged many Americans who held Kaepernick personally responsible for the national anthem protests.

One of the most amusing moments this year was seeing Papa John CEO, John Schnatter, try to sue the NFL for lost revenue due to the protests, only to find himself shaded by Pizza Hut, which noted  no fall off in revenue this year.  Just the same, Dallas Cowboy owner, Jerry Jones, came to Schnatter's defense, leading some to speculate that Jones might have actually prodded Schnatter to file the lawsuit.  In the end, Papa John's apologized for Schnatter's pathetic publicity stunt, and forced him to step down as CEO in December.

Jones saw his Cowboys crumble down the home stretch after Ezekiel Elliott was finally made to serve his 6-game suspension for domestic violence.  The Cowboys had filed numerous appeals, hoping to put off the suspension as long as possible, similar to New England's unsuccessful attempt two years back to overcome Tom Brady's suspension.  If the Cowboys had taken the suspension at the beginning of the year, they may have more easily overcome the loss of the star running back.  As it was, Jones paid dearly for the late season suspension, with the Cowboys missing the playoffs.

However, I do think the protests impacted teams, particularly my home team Seattle that seemed visibly torn over the proper response.  Michael Bennett even got into a tussle with Las Vegas police, claiming they unduly roughed him up.  Videos showed otherwise, but Michael held his ground.  These wayward emotions impacted their vaunted team unity, often looking disoriented in games, particularly their 42-7 loss to the Rams at home in Week 15, which pretty much ended their playoff hopes.  This after beating the high-flying Eagles two weeks before.

Fans want to see this matter cleared up over the off season and a return to normalcy next season.  It is doubtful that Colin Kaepernick will return to the NFL, but the owners will have to address the issues that emerged this season, namely the collusion that obviously took place to keep Colin off the playing field.  No player will ever feel comfortable again if they know they can get blackballed like this.

In the meantime, we have the playoffs to draw our interest.  The AFC looks pretty similar with New England and Pittsburgh at the top, but who would have figured Philadelphia and Minnesota would own first week byes in the NFC, or that New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams would win their divisions?  Let the games begin!