Friday, March 23, 2018

You're Fired!

Or How Long Will We Allow this Asshole to Remain President?


Trump at 2003 Playboy party with Melania and Victoria Silvstedt

With the "removal" of former Gen. McMaster, Congressional Republicans may want to rethink their position on Mueller.  No one is safe in the Trump universe, least of all American interests.  This guy operates on the one simple premise: anything to protect himself.

A "blunt warning" simply doesn't cut it.  This man has no respect for anyone in Congress or throughout the country for that matter.  We saw that in how he chose to dismiss Tillerson, a billionaire oil executive, and now McMaster, a 3-star general.  Both were well respected, the latter exceedingly so.  But, they are both gone because their recognition of Russia as the most serious threat to our national security and global interests didn't resonate with their Commander-in-Chief, who continues to dodge any serious sanctions, much less strong words against Russia.

Instead, he initiates a trade war with China, which has everyone saying, "what the fuck?"  This is a trade war the US simply can't win, because our economy is too dependent on Chinese cheap imports.  Even Donald's line of merchandise is largely made in China and Bangladesh, not to mention much of Ivanka's already high-priced line of clothing.  Are Americans willing to fork out the extra dollars for a MAGA cap?

At what point, do we say enough is enough?  We've allowed this madman to run the country for 14 months.  The only thing keeping his head above water is a bouyant economy left by his predecessor.  I won't mention names here.  However, Trump's reckless trade policies and his recent decision to roll back financial regulations threatens to sink our economy at a time most Americans are finally benefiting from it.   Basically, he's cutting off his nose to spite his face, and all of ours in turn.

Why are Congressional Republicans at such great pains to act?  They have to know Trump will do everything in his power to thwart Mueller's investigation and if that means firing him, so be it!  Why should he care about hollow threats coming out of disgruntled Republicans like Jeff Flake.

Trump loves controversy.  He's thrived on it all his life because he has always had a big cushion to fall back on.  Even when his businesses went bankrupt, Trump enjoyed the Life of Reily.  He was even able to parlay all these failures into a long-running reality show, The Apprentice, giving us his eponymous "you're fired!"

What we are finding out through Mueller's investigation is that Trump has long relied on Russian financial backing to cushion his falls, especially after Papa Trump died.  His properties became part of an elaborate money laundering scheme for Russian oligarchs, when no one else would touch them.  This is what Putin has on Trump, along with numerous other things, including the infamous pee tape, which may indeed be real.  This guy has no moral scruples, given the recent allegations from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, that a "pee tape" is certainly not out of the question.

Do we really want to be dragged into Trump's depraved life anymore than we already are?   He has made the United States into an international embarrassment, far greater than anything we had to suffer under George W. Bush.  No one respects Trump.  He has become the laughing stock of German parades and public toilets in Ireland.  No previous president suffered these kinds of indignities.

Yet, our president appears to crave this attention, as he makes ever more stupid decisions that led Jean-Claude Juncker to scratch his head and ponder what the appropriate response is to Trump's recent steel and aluminum tariffs, saying "we can also do stupid."

The rest of the world can only sit by while Trump runs America into the gutter, but Congress can act.  It has the power to tell Trump, "You're Fired!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Divide and Conquer




Watching this season's Homeland, it struck me just how easy it is to manipulate our country right now.  Not just the President, but every facet of our society.  We have become so entrenched in our petty beliefs that all it takes is a snapshot taken out of context to be distributed through social media to set off an armed conflict.  This is what Homeland showed in episode 4.  The identity of the mysterious photographer was revealed in episode 6.  Spoiler notice: the agitator turns out to be Russian.

One might call this fantasy but Russian on-line trolls tried to do just that in 2016, creating phony protests throughout the country by advertising them on social media.  In one incident, these trolls managed to stage a rally in Houston, Texas, bringing out both state secessionists and an Islamic group to the same site through phony facebook groups.  Mercifully, no major confrontation took place.  The two sides yelled at each other from across the street.  It shows how easily people can be manipulated through social media.

Recently, it was found out that the guy behind the Cambridge Analytica algorithm, which allowed the research company to harvest 50 million facebook profiles, is Russian.  Alexander Kogan presented his findings to Lukoil, a huge Russian energy firm with direct ties to the Kremlin, supposedly to help its marketing effort. Kogan is a Cambridge academic, previously from St. Petersburg.  This information was allegedly used to sway opinions on Brexit, and ultimately used to influence the American elections in 2016.  Not only that but much of the information that was harvested was used by Trump, Ted Cruz and other prominent Republicans during the campaign, through the notorious Stephen Bannon.

Of course, many companies can simply buy information from on-line retailers and social media groups, using it to target customers.  However, it seems our wily politicians with the help of Russian techies have figured out how to target potential voters in a big way.  Yes, the algorithm probably could have been developed by a "400-pound guy sitting in bed" with too much time on his hands.  However, one has to be able to quickly spread this information through the social media and it is doubtful that such a person would have these connections.

This is what Homeland is exploring this season as it charts how quickly a meme can spread through the web through a series of automated sites around the country, rapidly picked up by those on social media that feed into the views expressed.  It is a form of cyberwar that is very effective in a country as polarized as ours today.

It's not just that information is now much easier to harvest and that one can tailor make consumer and political advertisements for a specific audience, its that we have become an easily agitated mass prone to hysteria whenever a story hits a strong emotional chord.  I've seen my friends distribute these memes on facebook without thinking for one moment where these memes came from.  They simply responded to them because the images appealed to their emotional view of a subject.  All a troll has to do is find that soft spot and exploit it.

I would like to think we are wising up a little after the 2016 debacle.  Certainly, these early special elections reflect a new consciousness that has Republicans deeply worried with the mid terms right around the corner.  However, one can expect operatives to continue to use hot button emotional issues to sway close elections right down to the wire.  All it takes is a few hundred votes to tip a close election as we recently saw in Pennsylvania.

One can imagine Vlad sitting back watching all this with a big Cheshire grin on his face.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The shit hits the fan




You really have to wonder why John Kelly felt the need to tell us that Tillerson was sitting on the can when he broke the news to him on Friday that Trump was letting him go.  Rex gave everything he had to the role.  Granted, it wasn't much, but still he deserved a better send off than that.  I think McMasters is dreading going to the toilet now that it is rumored he is next on the chopping block, and that Trump plans to bring John Bolton in as the next National Security Advisor.

As ugly as that sounds, it was even more ugly the way Trump dumped Andrew McCabe the following Friday.  The deputy FBI director was two days away from retirement.  Trump took absolute glee in this decision, proclaiming it a "great day for Democracy" on Twitter.  He even wanted to strip McCabe of his pension.  As it is, Andrew will take a huge cut unless Rep. Mark Pocan is true to his word and gives McCabe a short term job to complete his retirement package.

As for Tillerson, he was none too pleased with the forewarning, which I think is why he voiced his agreement with British officials in pointing the blame on Russia for last week's attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter.  Strikes me that Rex has had enough of this charade and took a jab at Donald, leading the POTUS to make his announcement on Twitter before formally telling Rex he was sacked on Tuesday.

I also think this is the reason McMasters is on notice.  The former general pushed to have the White House finally impose sanctions on Putin's cronies after Trump dragged his feet for the better part of a year.  McMasters specifically referenced the ongoing conflict in Syria, believing Russia is complicit in the huge death toll.  Trump really had no choice in the matter, but has to find a way to placate Vlad, who is none too happy about these sanctions, especially on the eve of the World Cup in Russia.

Putin is still smarting from the Olympic Athletes from Russia's poor showing in South Korea -- a far cry from their dominant display in Sochi four years ago.  Now, here is Europe and America making Russia look bad just before the World Cup.  You can sense his anger in a recent interview with Megyn Kelly on NBC.

Many have speculated why Trump holds Putin in such high esteem -- his love of autocrats, Putin's massive chest, but the consensus is that Putin has compromised our President, and Trump doesn't want an embarrassing revelation that would sink his administration.

Trump has taken most of his anger out on the FBI, but it has spilled over to members of his staff who want to see harsher sanctions placed on Russia for a broad number of reasons, not least of all the election hacking, which has been corroborated by numerous national security agencies, not just the FBI.  The closer Mueller gets to the heart of his Russian connections the more Trump lashes out.  He has been warned repeatedly not to touch Mueller, so he went after McCabe, who is the subject of a renewed investigation into the Clinton e-mails, which Trump had ordered.

As we know, our president watches Fox and Friends and numerous other conservative programs, which have been spreading this theory of a "deep state" determined to bring him down.  Comey and McCabe are the favorite targets of this conspiracy theory.  In conservatives' addled minds, this was all "confirmed" by the recent GOP memo penned by House "Intelligence" chairman Devin Nunes, Trump's hatchet man in Congress.

This leads one to wonder if Trump is truly oblivious to the Russian business and political ties that have surfaced, insulated all these years by his sons and advisors; or if he is just using the "deep state" as a convenient smoke screen in his attempt to discredit the FBI, and Mueller's investigation in turn.  I suppose you could make a case for the former, depending on how deep you believe Trump's dementia to have set in, but more likely the latter as the FBI has long been a favorite target of conspiracy theories, even before The X-Files.  Trump is trying to get as much mileage out of this public antipathy toward the FBI as he can.

Republican Congresspersons are hamstrung by the overwhelming support Trump still gets from the base of the party.  To come out harshly against Trump is to commit political suicide in the upcoming midterm elections.  A few senators believe they can withstand the wrath of Trump, but Corker took a second look at his Tennessee voting base and decided to creep back to the White House after his spat last year with Trump, as he apparently wants to run for re-election after all.  Most just choose to remain deferential, harboring what ever troubling thoughts they have about Trump until Mueller's investigation is completed.

But, if you are a cabinet member or in the employ of the federal government, you really don't have much choice in the matter.  So, Trump made a public example of Tillerson and McCabe sure to earn the approval of his comrade Vladimir Putin.  This is how you deal with insubordinate subordinates!  A show of strength that is also sure to endear him to his base.  It's just too bad Trump hasn't kept himself fit, then maybe he could join Vlad on one of those hunting or fishing trips.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meet Conor Lamb




If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and that seems to be what the Republicans are doing in the wake of their electoral defeat in District 18 of Western Pennsylvania.  No sooner did Kayleigh McEnany make the absurd claim that Conor Lamb "ran as a Republican" than did Paul Ryan and no less than Dotardly Don himself.

Of course, many Republicans would love to run on Lamb's moderate values, but they would never make it out of the primaries.  Lamb won because he was able to siphon off just enough Republican voters to tip the final count in a deeply conservative district in his favor.   This is something the base of the Republican Party would never allow from one of their own.  Just ask Rick Saccone, who had to veer staunchly to the right on issues like abortion and "right to work" to placate this base.

This was the same reason Ed Gillespie lost Virginia and why the Republicans lost Alabama.  Ed was as moderate as they come, but his campaign advisers convinced him to be like Trump.  In the end he lost to Ralph Northam, who many Democrats felt was too conservative for their tastes, but had no problem remaining to the left of Gillespie.  Even if Luther Strange had made it out of the Republican primaries in Alabama, there was no guarantee he would have won against Doug Jones, as GOP operatives would have told him to fully embrace Trump and run the same ugly attack ads against Jones, which Roy Moore did.

Trumpism, or more appropriately Bannonism, appears to be dead.  The tactics that carried the GOP through 2016 no longer work in 2018.  This notion of appealing to the worst instincts in America was successful when Republicans were able to make Hillary Clinton their principal target and remind everyone she would appoint a liberal judge to the Supreme Court, crushing conservatism to its core.  Republicans tried desperately to replace Clinton with Nancy Pelosi in Pennsylvania.  It didn't work.  In part because Lamb said from the get go he didn't support Pelosi, but mostly because he ran his race on local issues.

The latter is why Lamb won in Pennsylvania and Ossoff lost in Georgia.  Both were about the same age, giving the Democrats badly needed fresh faces.  However, Lamb was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania.  He knew the people of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.  Ossoff was a ringer.  Someone brought in from Atlanta to run a Congressional race outside his district of residence.  He represented the party ideology and was unable to reach beyond Democrats in a conservative district.

The other key factor is that Lamb raised most of his money within the district.  He avoided having his campaign nationalized, which was the case with Ossoff, who saw money pouring into his campaign from all over the country, and got a huge shot in the arm from the DNC.  Lamb kept his campaign local, and the folks of District 18 appreciated it.

It was the Republicans who tried to nationalize the campaign by bringing in Trump twice, Donnie Jr. several times, Mike Pence, Kid Rock, the NRA.  You name it.  The RNC poured $10 million into Saccone's campaign because he had been so inept at raising funds of his own.  The last week saw a bombardment of attack ads run against Lamb, but he didn't flinch.  That's what you expect from a Marine.

Still, he was only able to eek out the election by 700 votes.  This shows you how tough the battle is.  There are die-hard Republicans who would sooner vote for an old goat before they would vote for a Democrat.  You can only hope to work with Republicans on the fringe of the party.  At the party's core is a deeply embedded conservatism reinforced by a sophisticated media apparatus that has bought up most of the local newspapers and television stations.

Lamb's win throws virtually every district into play across the country if the DNC can find more candidates like him.  This is the Republicans' worst fear.  They have drifted so far to the right that young Democrats can run like Reagan Republicans and garner support from the more moderate fringe of the GOP, while still not losing support within their own party.

Lamb offered a near perfect balance of conservative social values combined with moderate views on health care and labor that turned Western Pennsylvanians in his favor.  Doug Jones offered essentially the same pragmatic view in Alabama.  They are often referred to as Blue Dog Democrats, and there are many of them, but in the rush to elect Hillary Clinton as our first woman president, the DNC alienated the Blue Dogs, and as a result suffered badly in 2016.

It seems Tom Perez might not be such a bad DNC leader after all.  He has a much better understanding of the balance of electoral power in this country than did his predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  You have to be able to tailor your message to a representative district.  There is no one-size-fits-all message.  It may make it tougher to control the House with all these different views within your ranks, but with effective leadership you can strike a balance.

This also may be a tipping point for Republicans, realizing they can no longer run solely on conservative social issues.  They have to address labor and health care in a meaningful way, not just keep tossing out more tax cuts, which made little impact on the voters in Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Bannonism is dead.  All that bluster that he was going to lead a revolution in 2018, calling out the Republicans on the hill, makes him look like the shoddy conservative hack, Brett O'Keefe, on Homeland, forced to spread his message from the basement of a rural Tennessee home in Season 7.   Its hybrid, Trumpism is also dead.  The petty name calling, false innuendos, and inflammatory rhetoric no longer plays well among the factory workers and miners Trump claims to represent.  His rambling campaign rally speech last Saturday only garnered nervous laughs.  Few people can take him seriously at this point, other than to wonder how deep the dementia has set in.

What Conor Lamb showed us is that you don't have to respond to Trump's rhetoric or allow your opponent to label you.  Let your constituents know who you are, and that means going to door to door, which you can do in a manageable district like that in Western Pennsylvania.   There is no reason the Democrats can't take back the House if they just put their feet on the ground.

So, fuck you Donald J. Trump!  He didn't say very nice things about you.  He ignored you.  He didn't allow you or your surrogates to bully or in any way influence him.  He kept his focus on the issues that were most important to his constituents in Western Pennsylvania.   Let that be a lesson to anyone running for office.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dumber than a Bag of Hammers




Nice to know that our education system is in such good hands.  We can thank Rep. Jared Huffman for that colorful tweet, as he reflected the opinion of many after Betsy DeVos' painful interview on 60 Minutes.  Maybe the White House lawyers should have blocked this interview from airing on national television instead of being so worried about Stormy Daniels.

Of course, Betsy didn't fair much better at her Senate hearing last year, but Republican Congressmen OK'ed her just the same, with the help of their sixth man, Mike Pence.  Murkowski and Collins voted against her.  She's made a fool of herself time and again, from misspelling W.E.B. DuBois to a tweet riddled with grammatical errors, which she later passed off on her staff.  Worst of all, she made no attempt to reach out to the students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when she had the chance to ease their anxieties over the mass shooting last month.  But, this interview may have been the last straw as there is nothing Trump hates more than to be made look stupid, and that is exactly what Betsy DuVos (sic) did.

Of course, one could argue that his entire cabinet is dumber than a sack of hammers, having members like Betsy, Ben and Rick.  In their rare statements, they actually make Donald Trump look smart by comparison.  This may explain why he let go of Rex Tillerson this weekend, as he might have had a hard time beating the former Secretary of State in an IQ test.  Trump never likes to be challenged.

This has resulted in a cabinet that is far and away from the "best and brightest" that Trump promised on the campaign trail.  Most had little or no experience in regard to the titles they assumed.  Rick Perry had vowed to get rid of the Dept. of Energy all together if he was elected President, and here he is now its Secretary.  A man Trump openly ridiculed on the campaign trail for being dumb.

Betsy was supposed to be a little brighter and had been involved in setting up a charter school in Chicago, so it was assumed she had some experience in education.  But, she has time and again revealed her ignorance on the subject.  You could see her literally shrinking when former Sen. Al Franken challenged her knowledge in the Senate, like a student not ready for a pop quiz.

The White House will greatly limit her public engagements after this fiasco, but you have to wonder why they ever allowed such an interview to take place.  She has fared horribly under scrutiny, even the mildest form as Leslie Stahl did not ask her very tough questions.  It seems her only role is to keep the seat warm, while his budget director, Mick "the Knife" Mulvaney seeks to pare down the department to the bare minimum.  Republicans would love nothing more than to get rid of the Department of Education all together, leaving education entirely in state and local hands.

We are all appalled by Betsy's dull performance, but when you have a blunt-headed President, who treats his cabinet like Celebrity Apprentice, what can you expect?  The only thing you can somewhat admire is the honesty of Ben Carson for at least admitting he knew nothing about Housing and Urban Development, but then he turned this into a callous view of public awareness that seems to be the only "experience" you need to be a member of Trump's cabinet.

Betsy DeVos is equally callous, judging by the way she dismissed the students of Parkland, Florida.  For her, public schools are like an infectious disease and the only answer is more charter schools, which haven't turned out to be the panacea described in such documentaries as Waiting for Superman.  If Trump really wanted someone who would have promoted this vision, he should have picked Michelle Rhee, who is a far more articulate advocate than Betsy DeVos.


Monday, March 12, 2018

On the Road Again




It was not so much a political rally as it was a vaudeville act.  Trump stumped for the sad-eyed Rick Saccone, who finds himself trailing his young challenger, Conor Lamb, in Western Pennsylvania.  You heard very little about Saccone throughout Trump's rambling speech in Pittsburgh.  It was mostly about himself and how badly he is treated in the media.  He called Chuck Todd a son of a bitch, and Maxine Waters a "very low IQ individual."  Every once in a while he came back to the theme of the special election, bragging that his recent tariffs would return steel to Pittsburgh and that he needed guys like Rick Saccone in Congress to push his message.

The only problem is that Saccone, who appeared to kiss Trump square on the lips when the President first came to Pittsburgh in January, probably regrets a second visit, as it isn't lifting him in the polls.  Like so many of these special elections around the country, it is a referendum on Trump, and if history is precedent, sad-eyed Rick is in for a miserable Tuesday evening when the returns roll in.

Trump staged a similar rally for Roy Moore in Pensacola in the days leading up that Alabama Senate special election, only to see the Ten Commandments judge go down in ignominious defeat.  Apparently, the President had been warned not to go to Alabama in support of the skirt chaser, so the Northwest Florida city near the Alabama border was the next best place.  Just the same he couldn't carry Moore across the finish line.  If he can't do that in the Heart of Dixie, where can he do it?

At least Saccone doesn't have a history of chasing after 14-year-olds, otherwise this election would have long been over.  He seems to be holding his own mostly thanks to blue collar workers who still  think the GOP represents their interests, even if steel isn't coming back to Pittsburgh.  The city transitioned long ago and is now one of the leading high tech centers in the Midwest, just don't tell Trump that.  He seems to think his presence alone is enough to resuscitate the steel industry.

Trump has become the Democrats best weapon, but this doesn't stop Trump from hitting the campaign trail.   This Fall, he plans to be on the road most of the week in support of his charges, largely because he enjoys these rallies.  He lets fly with anything in his head, usually forgetting who he is campaigning for, putting on a great show if nothing else.  People turn out just to see if he might explode on stage in a fantastic moment of spontaneous self-combustion.  The media loves it, parsing out each and every word of his rambling speeches for all to see.

Luther Strange, Roy Moore, Rick Saccone become incidental characters in these mostly one-man vaudeville performances, and when it is over are quickly forgotten.  Trump seeks out a new foil to regal his audience.  Probably the most honest thing he said in his recent Pittsburgh speech is "Remember how easy it is to be presidential?  But you'd all be out of here right now.  You'd be so bored."  So, he plays his audience for laughs and they love it.

For Trump, the world is a reality show.  He joked about North Korea.  He joked about Maxine Waters.  He joked about drug dealers.  He joked about Chuck Todd.  Conor Lamb's boyish good looks and charm didn't go unnoticed, as he declared himself better looking before dubbing the young candidate "Lamb the Sham."

None of it made any sense whatsoever, but the audience was eating it up like they would a Rodney Dangerfield performance from the 1980s.  Only Trump isn't self-deprecating, he's self-destructive.  It's pretty hard to overcome a president like this when you are desperately trying to reach out to moderate voters in these midterm elections.

Trump takes comfort in Rasmussen polls, which has his approval rating ten points higher than other polls, and Putin's latest compliments, as the wily Russian president butters him up for the kill.  Even more amazing he accepts an offer from the North Korean tyrant to come to Pyongyang, seeming to forget that the person of strength is the one who declares the venue, not the one who is in a position of weakness.  Why on earth would he want to go to Pyongyang anyway?

All the GOP can do is roll its eyes.  They try to back up Rick Saccone in other ways, but he has shown himself to be a very weak candidate.  The best you can say for him is that he isn't Roy Moore.  The RNC had to send in troops just to get his campaign off the ground, as he was unable to mobilize the conservative base in Western Pennsylvania, falling woefully behind Conor Lamb in fundraising.

It all looks like too little too late for the woebegone conservative candidate from Pennsylvania District 18, soon to be written off the map.  It really doesn't matter who wins or loses this race as in 6 month there will be new districts forged in Pennsylvania, better representing the political demographics.  Republicans had hung onto this district for so long by gerrymandering it to favor their conservative voters in the Pittsburgh suburbs.

Sad-eyed Rick appears to be the last in line of a generation of conservatives who can no longer pretend that steel is the backbone of Western Pennsylvania.  High tech jobs are, and who to better represent this than the young Conor Lamb, who is much better looking than Donald Trump.  No contest.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wilbur, the talking Campbell's soup can




Things have apparently gotten so bad in Allegheny County that the Trump White House thought steel tariffs might rally voters to Saccone in the final days of his election campaign.  The Trump surrogate had fallen behind Conor Lamb in the conservative 18th Pennsylvania district and the GOP is making a last ditch effort to salvage his campaign.  It is doubtful it will do any good since Western Pennsylvania is no longer steel country.  That honor falls to Indiana these days.  But, what do you expect from a White House that seems stuck in the 1970s.

Trump's latest round of tariffs landed with a dull thud.  No one seems particularly happy about them, certainly not Republicans who have long opposed such measures, knowing full well it will only lead to inflated steel prices.  Still, the White House tried to sell the idea by sending Wilbur Ross on the talk show circuit, illustrating how a 25% bump in steel prices would have a negligible affect on canned goods.  Poor ol' Wilbur doesn't seem to understand that cars and trucks and planes and ships are all made of steel, and if you raise the price of the alloy metal 25% it is going to drive the costs of these goods up far more than a Campbell's soup can.

Our President doesn't seem to mind.  He thinks trade wars are good and easy to win, showing once again how hopelessly out of touch he is with the current global market.  The Dow and other stock exchanges reacted as you would expect from such announcement, dropping precipitously.  So, in an effort to shore up the markets, Trump's team announced it would lift the ban on leveraged buyouts, which is expected to fuel another highly speculative environment like we saw between 2006-2008.

It seems Trump wants to be a player and is taking whatever advice comes his way, bad or good, as long as it feeds the news cycle.  What better way to divert attention away from another inglorious special election loss for Republicans and the ever tightening investigation by Robert Mueller that appears to have taken down at least two more members of his inner circle this past week -- Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn.  As Chris Matthews said, the White House is looking like sinking ship.

The only thing that could make it worse is if the Kremlin decides to leak the infamous pee tape to the press.  As it is, Trump is having to deal with the backlash from his campaign's attempt to hush Stormy Daniels.  We are being treated to a virtual "golden shower" of news that makes it difficult to know which way to turn.

The problem is that Republicans keep on losing.  They are already looking for ways to spin another bad loss in Western Pennsylvania, a seat that won't even exist this November as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn the gerrymandered districts to make them much more competitive this Fall.

Nothing seems secure anymore for the Republicans, not even Texas, which saw Democrats turn out in full force in the primaries, sending shivers down the GOP spine as districts they once thought safe are now up for grabs.  Republicans knew they were going to take a hit this November, but I don't think anyone expected it could be potentially this bad.  Even Ted Cruz has started to sweat, given how unpopular he has become.

What makes this so odd is that Republicans seemed like they had their finger on the pulse of the nation in 2016, but here they are now hoping to at least hang onto the Senate, before getting more bad news that Thad Cochran is retiring, leaving  his seat open this Fall.  He wasn't scheduled to defend his seat until 2020.  If Alabama turned blue last December, could Mississippi change color this Fall as well?

A major part of the problem is a president and inner circle that seems utterly clueless.  Even Gary Cohn thought the tariffs were a terrible idea, but Trump went along with Wilbur or whoever gave him this bad advice anyway.  It's like the President is working from an election playbook written in the 1970s when the US was still a dominant power in the steel industry.  The US still plays a strong role, but most American industries have come to rely on cheap imports, which is why they all balked at the talk of tariffs.

Nevertheless, Trump's minions thought this would play well among the conservative faithful in the "Rust Belt," oblivious to the fact that most of these former steel centers have rebuilt themselves, notably Pittsburgh, which is now a thriving tech center in this post-industrial society.

The Republicans never looked more anachronistic than they do now, which is why it is fitting that a young Democratic maverick like Conor Lamb is very likely to defeat Rick Saccone next Tuesday.  Joe Biden was on hand to spur his candidate across the finish line.

Trump has never looked more isolated, but then this is what he pitched on the campaign trail in 2016, so sure he would resuscitate all these old industries across America.  Most of the country has been making the switch to high tech, even the folks in Kentucky.  This is what happens when you surround yourself with old codgers like Wilbur Smith, who don't know which end of a Campbell's soup can is up.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Bend of Time


Einstein and Godel on a walk

Reading James Gleick's Time Travel, one of the theories gaining traction in Physics is that we don't so much make choices but select alternative paths.  We may take one path, but the other path still exists in a space-time dimension, and if only we could find a "wormhole" we could cross through the metaphorical woods and see what it would be like on the other path, presumably retaking that path if we grow tired of the path we are on.  Fortunately, we come to other crossroads, and can branch again, creating yet another path not taken.

This kind of multi-dimensional universe is not so hard to grasp, especially in an ever expanding universe.  To a large degree, Lewis Carroll imagined it in Alice in Wonderland, using rabbit holes as his means of moving from one dimension to another.  Historians prefer "what-if" scenarios, imagining what it would have been like if the fledgling united states had lost the Revolution or Hitler defeated the Soviet Union or Hillary won the electoral college.  In a multi-dimensional world all those possibilities exist, so we try to construct them as counter-arguments to the world we live in.

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick presented one such counter-argument in "The Untold History of the United States," imagining what it would have been like if FDR had stuck with Henry Wallace as his VP in 1944 rather than allow the convention to select that Haberdasher from Missouri, Harry Truman, who ended up succeeding Roosevelt as President upon his death.  Stone projected we would have reached a better accord with the Soviet Union, would have created a more socialist United States, and avoided the perils of the Cold War.

All well and good, but most physicists and philosophers still believe the past is what it is and we have to come to terms with the present for better or worse -- kind of like an arranged marriage.  Many physicists and theologians take it a step further and say we can't alter the future either.  We are stuck on this time line and that it is best not to let our imaginations run away from us, otherwise we become hopelessly lost.

Of course, physicists and theologians arrive at this conclusion from opposite ends, yet they both see the space-time continuum as unalterable.  For physicists it makes it much easier to work out their equations, assuming t to be constant, for theologians it makes it much easier to accept an omnipotent God in a fatalistic universe.  This means we are stuck with Trump for an unforeseen length of time, hopefully no more than four years, but who knows how much time he has on the inscrutable line that stretches into infinity.

Kurt Godel in his walks with Einstein pondered if that line bent and circled back on itself.  Einstein was open to the suggestion, according to Gleick, that time might indeed repeat itself.    Godel imagined it had to be a very long cycle, since we perceive time as a straight line, much like we do the horizon.  How many "years" is anyone's guess, since our concept of a year is limited to our relationship with the sun.

We often see history repeating itself.  We go through progressive periods, only to revert back to more conservative times when things start to move too fast.  This was certainly the case during the 2016 campaign when Americans were confronted with too many things going on at once and decided to slam on the brakes.  Transgender rights, a renewed push for gender equality, the Black Lives Matter movement, athletes taking the knee during the national anthem.  Individually, each of these events seemed like the right thing but taken together it was too much too soon.

America's slow road to progress is one of fits and jerks, not some great watershed moment.  If it had been, Trump would have been banished in 2011 when President Obama put him in his place at the now infamous White House Correspondents Dinner.  Instead, we ultimately saw Trump get his revenge, as he systematically tries to eliminate any semblance of Obama ever having been President.

We can take some comfort in that no one can erase history no matter how hard he tries.  We all know Obama was an effective president, able to navigate the United States through a very difficult time after the 2008 economic collapse.  All Trump can do is try to revoke his predecessor's executive orders, and even here he is finding it difficult as the Supreme Court recently upheld DACA.  That "stupid dumbass Obamacare" manages to linger on as well.

We can alter, even bend time to some degree, but it seems we can't completely change its trajectory.  Obama once said we still are living in the trajectory of Reagan in what was probably one of his most trenchant moments on the 2008 campaign trail.  He took a lot of guff for that one-minute clip, but here again we are confronted with a similar dynamic as in 1980.  Has Obama altered the trajectory enough that Trump and the Republicans find themselves in a similar quandary as was Clinton in 1992?

The excesses today are largely seen as coming from the conservative side, and the public appears to be reacting to these excesses by voting out Republicans in special elections, which the RNC is notably concerned about.  Unfortunately, they are stuck with Trump, who personifies all these excesses in a nepotistic White House that sees him elevate Jared and Ivanka at the expense of more seasoned advisers, cabinet members and diplomats, and now we see Trump pondering what it would be like if he was "President for Life."

History can be brutal, and no more brutal than when someone tries to overreach the limits of his powers.  This is what brought England down repeatedly, brought Hitler down in 1944, and ultimately brought the Soviet Union down in 1991.  The Republicans now find themselves in the same uncomfortable spot.  What they thought was a watershed moment in reclaiming the White House, reasserting their influence over the Supreme Court, and holding majority control of Congress is turning out to be their worst nightmare, because they simply can't hold onto it, anymore than Obama was able to hold onto his moment in time.

All you can do is try to affect as many positive changes as you can and hope that enough of them will survive the push back of recalcitrant forces.  This seems to have been Obama's strategy during his time in office, which maybe why he is so sanguine in this "Age of Trump."  Or, maybe he found one of those "wormholes" and saw the fate of Trump before we did.