Sunday, October 28, 2018




One of the great things about America is that you can reinvent yourself.  This has long been the case with immigrants ever since the Mayflower.  Even today people come to this country hoping to start their lives anew.  That was probably the case with Cesar Sayoc's parents.  He was born to a Filipino father and Italian mother in Brooklyn, New York.  It seems things didn't turn out well with Cesar.  He got off to a good enough start, was attending college in North Carolina, but never seemed to find his footing.  Fifty-six years later he was found living out of the back of his white Dodge van, plastered with stickers regaling Donald Trump and lambasting all the things he hated.  A far cry from his humble origins.

What makes Sayoc even more curious is that he is a White Supremacist.  Maybe it was all the steroids he had been using to pump up his body, or just a series of bad breaks that ultimately led to him being homeless.  Whatever the case, Sayoc found a father figure in Trump, and became politicized in 2016, much like the ruffians that banded together in Kai's cult from season 7 of American Horror Story.  Maybe he even imagined himself as Kai, leading a shadow army on twitter and facebook?

Social media also allows you to reinvent yourself, cultivate a following or just be a thorn in the side of others by trolling their pages.  Sayoc was especially busy trolling Andrew Gillum's page, calling him a Soros puppet in his more civil moments.  I guess he had only so many envelopes and pre-cancelled stamps, so Gillum was spared one of these pipe bombs, but not George Soros.

All the persons who received Sayoc's personalized letter bombs were favorite Trump targets, but don't expect our President to hold himself in any way accountable.  Sayoc was quickly dismissed as a freak, yet such freaks now abound at Trump rallies, which Sayoc regularly attended.  He even became a celebrity of sorts among the Magaheads.

Trump loyalists have either dismissed the bombs as false flags or Sayoc as a plant, designed to break their momentum going into the midterms.  A high school friend posted a meme on facebook questioning whether Sayoc could have pulled off this elaborate letter bomb campaign because he would have had to hand deliver all these padded envelopes given there were no postmarks on the letter bombs.  A little fact-checking before he posted the meme would have answered his question.   You don't need a postmark if you buy pre-cancelled stamps at the post office vending machines or through stamps.com.  You can imagine a guy like this isn't going to go up to the counter and declare all these bulging envelopes addressed to prominent political figures.  However, Sayoc wasn't very careful in making the bombs or stamping the envelopes, as the FBI was immediately able to trace his fingerprints given he had a lengthy criminal record.  No one likes a sloppy anarchist in their ranks, especially when these miscreants are supposed to be on the Democratic side.

For weeks now, Trump has been egging his followers on with hyperbolic warnings of the Democrats rioting in the streets this November.  He has admonished his supporters to get out to vote and ensure he has a Republican Congress to clamp down on these unruly protesters after the elections.  He has attacked Democratic leaders, George Soros, the mainstream media and anyone else who questions his authority.  He's even condoned violence, saying we need more guys like Greg Gianforte who bodyslammed a British reporter back in 2016 when he felt the questions got too personal.  So, what's a guy like Sayoc to think?  He was just acting in the spirit of the rallies he attended, putting a little fright into Trump's loudest critics.  No harm, no foul.

The same cannot be said for the latest mass shooter who gunned down 11 persons in a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.  Fortunately for Magaheads, Robert Bowers isn't a Trump loyalist.  In fact, he thinks the President has sold himself out to the Jews like everyone else in this country, and that we need to get rid of these "children of Satan."  However, Bowers subscribes to a social media site, Gab, that is an internet haven for alt-right agitators, which many of Trump's supporters follow.  Donald Trump Jr. even has an account on Gab.

This lunatic fringe has spilled over into Trump rallies, representing a clear and present danger to our society.  Yet, our president continues to egg them on at rallies and on twitter with his highly-charged rhetoric.  This isn't any different than putting rifle crosshairs on Democrats, as Sarah Palin once did, then expressing shock when someone actually takes aim at one of these persons, as was the case with Gabby Giffords.  

Yes, you are responsible Donald J. Trump.  These are your demented political offspring, just as Palin owns Jared Lee Loughner.  You create an environment of hate, you bear the burden of those who act on your behalf, whether you like it or not.

Friday, October 26, 2018




Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Republicans are intent on keeping their Congressional and state legislature majorities by any means necessary.  Probably the most egregious example is Georgia, where the Republican candidate for governor is the current Secretary of State and he is doing what ever it takes to purge the number of registered voters ahead of the November election.  Reports vary widely but the number being floated around now is 340,000 persons dropped from the voter rolls. 

These efforts date back to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the pre-clearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Republican administrations have been busy clearing the voting rolls ever since under the guise of eliminating potential voter fraud, where persons are registered in more than one state.  Of course, determining who these persons are seems to be rather selective, as minorities tend to be hit the hardest by these purges.  This is especially the case in Georgia, which is why the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, is crying foul.  In a state where the two candidates are virtually tied in the polls, every vote counts.  Republican Brian Kemp appears to be taking no chances.

Another method of reducing the number of voters is to be slow in reinstating voting rights to former felons.  Florida is a particularly egregious example of this, where Gov. Rick Scott sits on the commission himself, denying an unprecedented number of applications.  John Oliver did a painful episode on this process entitled Felony Disenfranchisement

What makes all this interesting is that Republicans love to proclaim they are the "moral majority" in this country.  If so, why are they trying so hard to disenfranchise voters across the country by purging rolls, refusing to reinstate felons who served their time, requiring picture IDs, cutting back on the number of voting sites, and creating deadlines for voter registration months ahead of an election?  If they are the majority, they should be encouraging more voting, not discouraging it.

Yet, one finds it is Democratic states like Oregon that go out of their way to encourage more participation by automatically registering anyone who applies for a state driver's license, essentially killing two birds with one stone, as the person will have both a picture ID and be registered to vote.  Since Oregon's initiative, 12 states and DC have passed similar laws.  Of course, this still leaves many persons out of the loop, as not everyone applies for a driver's license.  So, why not automatically register everyone when they turn 18, and have them present their social security card at the ballot box?

This would be too easy, and no doubt Republicans would scream voter fraud.  Many conservatives like to think voting is a privilege, not a right, which is why they go out of their way to make the process more difficult.  This slaps of Jim Crow era laws that disenfranchised a great many Blacks throughout the South, which is what led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The Supreme Court had steadfastly supported this act until 2013, when Justice Kennedy surprisingly joined the conservative majority in undercutting this historic act. 

Justice Kennedy should have known better.  For that matter, so too should have Justice Roberts, but they both went along with the decision that so obviously favored a particular political party, as these purges were taking places in mostly conservative states.  Of course, they had their arguments, which they are so good at providing, but they held little water given that voter fraud is "vanishingly rare."

This is why the Supreme Court is so important.  They can weigh in on any legislative act and determine its "Constitutionality."  Because you have justices like Thomas, Gorsuch and Alito who firmly believe in the Constitution's "original intent," they can question all the amendments that have occurred since the initial Bill of Rights.  Roberts has been slightly more liberal in his interpretation of the Constitution, as was Kennedy.  We have yet to see how Kavanaugh will interpret the Constitution, but it is pretty safe to say he will similarly base his decisions on "original intent."

Conservatives don't see the Constitution as a living document but rather one set in stone, in some cases literally, which is odd since the Founding Fathers outlined the provisions for amending the Constitution as they weren't fully satisfied with what they had written.  As with any political document, there were many concessions made, like the 3/5 provision that allowed Southern states to count slaves as part of their population so that they would have greater representation in Congress, despite these slaves having no representation in government.

But, don't tell this to conservatives.  In their mind, the Constitution is this beautifully formed document like the gauzy pages of the Bible and shouldn't be touched in anyway, lest it fall apart.  Rather, it should be interpreted in a Judeo-Christian sense as David Barton and other religious conservative "scholars" have done.

So, here we are nearly 230 years later, and we are reverting to many of the old state laws when it comes to voter registration.  Some state legislators and even US Congressmen, like Ted Yoho, are proposing that the old property rights provisions be restored.  Again, if the GOP is the "moral majority," as Republicans so often like to claim, why is it being so restrictive when it comes to voting rights?  Surely, not every conservative owns property.

These Midterms are an important bell weather for so many reasons.  It isn't so much Trump as it is a toxic view of government that emerged in the 2010 Midterms that is being brought to light.  The GOP has moved so far to the right that it no longer represents mainstream America, but rather a religiously drenched view of our early post-Colonial government.  It basically wants to repeal everything that has happened since the so-called liberals rewrote the Constitution in the 1960s and return our country to its "roots." 

Being Anti-Politically Correct is a code word for gutting the Civil Rights Act, and recreating not so much a 1791 America but rather a 1630 "Shining City Upon a Hill," as Ronald Reagan famously evoked in 1989 Farewell Announcement. This is a puritanically white vision of America that most religious conservatives have, which is why you see so few Blacks and other minorities in their churches. 

They have made some states into religious conservative strongholds, particularly in the South, and will do anything to maintain a white majority government.  This is why Georgia and Florida are so important to them as the Democrats have put forward Black female and male nominees for governor.  Something not seen even during Reconstruction times.  So, Brian Kemp and Rick Scott will do whatever it takes to suppress minority voters in their states to make it that much more difficult for Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum in November.

These Midterms are every bit as important as the 2010 Midterms as they allow voters to undo the heinous conservative policies that emerged from the earlier Midterms and put this country back on track, not make it the slave of religious conservative interests.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Are you ready to rumble?




Politics is a strange beast.  You have scientists who study it in detail, examining poll numbers, sorting through the underlying trends, and to one degree or another predicting outcomes, much the way Nate Silver does on 538.  He's come up with a complicated set of algorithms to determine good polls, weed out bad polls and with a relatively high degree of certainty predict the outcome of an election.  Of course, he was famously wrong with Trump, having given Clinton a 71.4% probability of winning, but his forecast was decidedly less optimistic than other polls that gave her as much as a 99.9% chance of winning, and to his credit he had the crucial states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin light blue.

For every scientist there are a hundred or more pundits that go on gut feeling, so you can never expect anything more from them than an opinion.  When they are right, they shout it to the world.  When they are wrong, they crawl back into their holes.  We have an awful lot of opinions these days, including mine, which you can pretty much take with a grain of salt, as they are based on anecdotal references that may or may not carry any meaning.  But, persons tend to like opinions, especially if they reflect their own.  What scientists call cognitive bias.

So, we get conservative pundits predicting a red wave this November and liberal pundits predicting a blue wave and never the twain shall meet. It's kind of like Rock-em Sock-em Robots, the political edition.  This is why I turn to RCP and 538 to see what the latest polls say. 

There's quite a range in the polls, so RCP averages them out and comes out with a composite number, whether the poll is good or bad.  Case in point, CNN has Gillum up 12 points in his race against DeSantis for Florida Governor, whereas the St. Pete Polls has Gillum up only one point.  Taken with the three other polls conducted since 9/17,  RCP gives Gillum an average of +4.4 per cent.  

If we look at 538, Silver gives a much wider range of fresh polls and grades them based on qualitative analysis, and lets you decide which one you want to accept.  He's no longer offering probabilities after the 2016 fiasco.  Only one poll, OnMessage Inc, has DeSantis ahead.  Silver very generously gives it a C+, given it has only recently began taking public polls after having served a number of Republican candidates throughout the South, notably current Florida Gov. Rick Scott.  It is very likely to have a conservative bias.  Of course, if OnMessage is right, it will be sure to make everyone know.

So, why do we go through all this?  Why don't we just let the elections play out as they will and accept the results? 

To a large degree, we have become a gaming culture.  Polls become a form of handicap, with many persons literally betting on the outcomes, as they would a boxing or UFC match.  The attitude has affected the society as a whole, with conservatives and liberals (in the broad sense) staking their mental well-being on whether the Republicans or Democrats win the most seats in November.  As such the cheering becomes as frenetic as any epic fight when your side gains an edge in the polls, hence the shouts of "red wave" and "blue wave."

American politics has only two rivals: the Democrats and Republicans.  Every once in awhile you have a spoiler Independent candidate that voters immediately blame if their Blue or Red candidate loses.  It's kind of like allowing a third fighter into the ring and turning the match into a free-for-all. 

Independent candidate and current Alaska governor Bill Walker decided he didn't want to be the spoiler and dropped out three weeks before the election.  He threw his support behind Mark Begich, much to Democrats' delight, but that hasn't put Begich ahead of Republican Dunleavy in either the RCP or 538 polls.  Not all of Walker's supporters chose to get behind the Democrat, some support Dunleavy, allowing the Republican to maintain a sizeable edge over his Democratic opponent.

This is a good object lesson for Democrats who felt Jill Stein pulled voters away from Hillary Clinton in the Midwest.  Persons who vote for Independent candidates are not necessarily going to support your favored candidate.  Many of Jill Stein's supporters probably wouldn't have voted at all if their choice had simply been Trump v. Clinton.  Having a third or fourth or even fifth candidate, as was the case with Evan McMullin in Utah, allows persons to have another option given they don't like the main choices.  But, die-hard Clinton supporters are still blaming Jill Stein and even Bernie Sanders for drawing support away from their favorite. 

Many persons put such an emotional stake in the outcome of an election that they refuse to accept the results, hence #nevermypresident.  It's understandable when so much appears to be riding on the line in the way of health care, social security and other vested interests.  We desperately want our interests represented in Washington and in state capitals around the country.  If our candidates fail to win, we take the loss harshly.  This results in an entrenchment of beliefs that is pretty hard to overcome, especially when you have political pundits, not to mention a smarmy president, feeding these anxieties 24/7.

For what it's worth, Democrats continue to promote unity of vision.  Beto O'Rourke chose not to take Trump's bait at a political rally in Houston in support of his opponent, Ted Cruz.  Andrew Gillum chose to maintain a dignified confidence in his debate with the irascible Ron DeSantis.  These young Democrats seem to have taken Michelle Obama's now famous motto, "When they go low, we go high," to heart, hoping that reason, or at least calmer emotions, will prevail in November.

However, this uplifting message is a thin veneer for a growing anxiety in this country.  Democrats look at the polls that show Americans favor some form of gun control, more comprehensive health care, better education, and a free and open society, and wonder why this doesn't translate into victories at the ballot box?  How do Republicans continue to win running in opposition to what seems to be mainstream views in the country?

Political scientists and journalists offer a wide range of views on the subject, but what stands out is the gerrymandering and voter ID laws that have occurred in many states which Republicans took control of after the 2010 Tea Party movement.  A traditionally Democratic state like Wisconsin became an impregnable Republican state with the narrow victory of Scott Walker in 2010.  There was an effort to recall him the following year, but votes fell short and since then Walker has used voter IDs and gerrymandering to make the state legislature overwhelming conservative. 

Republican state legislatures have gone out of their way to disenfranchise voters, particularly those who traditionally would vote Democratic.  In a state like Virginia where Democrats won well over 50% of the vote in state assembly elections, they fell one seat short of a majority.  Even if your vote counts, it doesn't count enough to gain control of a state legislature.

This is also true on a national level where an electoral vote in Wyoming is worth 3 times more than one from California.  This is how Hillary Clinton can win the popular vote but lose the electoral college in a "landslide."

Well, I've kind of meandered a bit here, but it all goes to show how difficult American politics is to define, let alone analyze to a degree where we can make informed decisions.  There is a lack of perspective that has emerged, most noticeably on the Right, where Trump is able to turn a caravan of 5000 unarmed, hungry, barely clothed refugees into an "invasion" that needs to be met with military force.  You also see it to some degree on the Left, where Paul Krugman actively wonders if the current Congress will nullify the midterm elections if the Democrats win the House? 

Both sides play to our fears and anxieties, blocking our receptors that would allow us to make a reasonable, informed choice.  This is why it is so refreshing to see candidates like Beto O'Rourke and Andrew Gillum refusing to play into those emotions.  Is it enough to overcome the hysteria we are witnessing as these midterm elections approach?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Caravan




It's not a word that normally conjures up fear and loathing, but Trump and his political apprentices have been doing their best to agitate their conservative base into believing this migrant caravan slowly making its way up the Central American isthmus from Honduras and Guatemala to the United States has all the worst criminal elements and we shouldn't be fooled by the many images of children we see in the news.  CNN and other international media networks have been tracking it like they would a swarm of killer bees.

Polls show the Republicans doing very poorly in the midterms.  As many as 70 GOP seats in the House are considered vulnerable, and 5 of 9 GOP seats in the Senate.  This should have been a midterm where the Republicans solidified their hold of Congress.  Democrats had far more contested seats in the Senate (25) and had to fight against many GOP gerrymandered districts around the country for House seats, but the Dems are expected to retake the House and at the very least hold their own in the Senate.

No wonder the Republicans are scared.  This was going to be their chance to put in place their final solution on health care and social security, gutting the programs to help cover the costs for the enormous tax cuts they are proposing.  In addition to the $1.5 trillion they passed last December, the House recently approved a $3.8 trillion plan, pretty much giving the Trump White House all it asked for.  The Senate wants to cut a whopping $1.5 trillion in Social Security and Medicare to cover the enormous debt the initial tax cut bill has accrued, while the House wants to do away with the $3 trillion Social Security surplus all together.

Future generations of Americans would be left with virtually nothing in the tank.  As it is, the federal government has used an estimated $6 trillion of Social Security to cover roughly 30% of the national debt.  All because Congress refused to significantly raise the $128,400 annual income cap on the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA).  This means an uber-rich CEO like Jeff Bezos pays no more in FICA than a family earning $128,400 per year.  Of course Jeff is a smart man and declares a base annual salary of $81,400, even though he is worth an estimated $100 billion.

For decades we have allowed the wealthy to game the system, while the middle class carries the bulk of FICA.  It wouldn't be so bad if the rich paid their fair share of income tax, but no, they continue to get substantial tax cuts both in personal and corporate income to the point the federal government couldn't balance the budget if it wanted to.  So, it raids FICA to help cover the massive shortfall.  Yet, the Senate Republican leader is so cynical as to blame Social Security and Medicare for the ballooning national debt.

The GOP has for decades tried to make it sound like Social Security is insolvent and that Medicare is on its last legs, all the while denying how much of the national debt is carried by this program.  While you may find some Americans who were born before Social Security was enacted in 1935, you will find none who haven't benefited from this program over this long period, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who got through university thanks in part to his father's social security covering part of the cost.

Social Security is more than just a pension program.  It provides assistance on a broad level.  It maybe that it is stretched too far, but no farther than the incredible debt burden it has to carry thanks to largely Republican Congresses failing to balance the federal budget.  Since Trump has arrived in Washington, over $2 trillion has been added to the national debt thanks largely to the tax cuts and inability on the part of the White House and Congress to manage the debt.  If I didn't know any better I would say Republicans are intentionally trying to bankrupt our government.

Of course, the GOP doesn't want us to think about these things, so it stirs up all these unsubstantiated fears over a caravan of migrants slowly moving toward the US border to seek asylum.   Republicans continue to try to push emotional buttons to disguise their horrible fiscal management.  Trump and his apprentices have also tried to turn the #MeToo movement into an angry "mob of women" determined to overturn the ballot box in November.

It seems the GOP figures the midterms are all about mobilizing its base to counter what it sees as a highly charged Democratic base, much in the same way it did in 2016.  However, the Republicans no longer have Hillary to kick around so they have gone after a wide range of Democratic women, notably Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  The GOP also continues to use immigrants (of any kind) as a force undercutting white security in this country.  This is why you see an unprecedented number of political attack ads against Democratic minority candidates, presenting them as proxies for this war on immigration.

One would like to think at this point that Americans are sick and tired of this overblown rhetoric, or "truthful hyperbole" as Donald likes to call it, and will elect reasonable leaders to government.  After all, our economy is soaring, unemployment is at an all-time low and crime has gone down across most of the country.  What's to be afraid of?

Certainly not these migrants who are lodging a protest against American policies in Central America more than anything else.  Very few of them have any expectation of ever getting to the US border, and if they do, being granted asylum.  The Justice Dept. has made it very clear none is being offered.

For decades we have allowed thuggish governments to rule these countries so we could exploit them for banana plantations and other agricultural purposes so that we can have fresh fruits and vegetables year round.  Many of these people live in abject poverty as a result, subject to the worst kinds of abuse imaginable, and understandably hold the United States responsible.

AMLO, the incoming Mexican president, has offered a fig leaf, suggesting work visas to the caravan of Guatemalan and Honduran refugees that would stop the flow before it ever reaches the US border.  Trump is having none of it.  Instead, he is threatening to cut off aid to the Central American countries and deploy the military if necessary to beat back this "invasion," as it is now being called in the conservative blogosphere.

It's not like the current border security can manage the manufactured crisis as it deals with approximately 1 million persons crossing the border each day.  So, what is 5000?

One would think the Republicans would be focusing less on this "onslaught of illegal aliens," and more on the economy and the relatively low crime rate in America.  Yet, for some very strange reason the Republicans still see the elections as a culture war when they in fact hold the upper hand.  All they have to do is point to the current soaring economy and take credit for it.  Yet, the Republicans won't do that because they know it will come crashing down soon and then who will they have to blame for it, certainly not themselves.  No, much easier to go after immigrants.  It's the defining issue that won them back the House in 2010 and they will keep using it until it no longer works.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Beto and Julian in 2020




Julian Castro opted for a more traditional means of proposing his candidacy than did Liz Warren -- a memoir.  If you remember this was how many of us first heard about Barack Obama.  It pays to get your name out early and a heartwarming story about yourself generates a lot of positive buzz.

Castro, and for that matter Warren, probably would have run in 2016 had not Hillary taken so long to announce her candidacy.  She essentially froze out her potential competition, as no Democrat wanted to invest in a race they felt was hers for the taking, which she finally did but with the disastrous result we are still trying to come to terms with.

Bernie, a septuagenarian social liberal was the only serious candidate willing to challenge her and might have won had not the superdelegates been stacked against him from the start.  These were delegates who weren't supposed to commit themselves until the end of the primaries, but had already done so, which meant Hillary essentially started out with a 1000-delegate lead.  The DNC has since revised its rules on superdelegates so that 2020 candidates start out on pretty much a level playing field.

I like Liz,  but she's 69 and will be 71 come November 2020.  By contrast, Castro is 44 and ironically will be 46 come election day, given that he could be our 46th president.  I'm not an ageist, but it seems to me that if you want young people to vote why not go with a guy or gal more to the middle of the age spectrum rather than one who would be retired if she was in any other profession besides politics or the Supreme Court.

When Democrats won the White House, they did so with younger candidates, namely Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both of whom were 46 during their first election years.  Kennedy was 43 in 1960, Johnson 56 in 1964 and Jimmy Carter 52 in 1976. Democrats have not fared well with older candidates, and that's largely because the demographic they would most strongly appeal to generally votes Republican.

Bernie was the rare exception in that he said the right things that appealed to younger voters.  But, Hillary looked and acted like an old person, and was unable to captivate younger voters, even with all her young celebrity endorsements.

Millennials represent the largest young generation since the Baby Boomers.  They are much derided by conservatives and for good reason -- they aren't social conservatives.  Poll after poll shows that Millennials line up with progressive causes by an overwhelming majority.  They mostly want universal health care, free university tuition, higher minimum wages, easier access to housing loans and a more open society.  All things the Republican Party rejects.

Unfortunately, the Democrats haven't done a very good job of appealing to Millennials on a national level.  We see young candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the local level, who ousted a late-middle-aged white guy, but on the national level the name most bandied about for 2020 is Joe Biden, who will be 77 during the election year.

Joe is a pretty cool guy, but his social values are all mired in the past and he has "loser" written all over him.  He has twice ran for President (1988 and 2008), dropping out of the race early both times because he couldn't generate enough interest in his candidacy.  His views have not changed.  If anything they have become calcified like his knee joints, and he is prone to goofy pronouncements like challenging Trump to a fist fight, which he was later forced to recant.

We need a young candidate as our 2020 nominee.  Julian is a good choice on many levels, but there are more potential candidates out there if only we made the effort to look.  For instance, Kamala Harris (53), Cory Booker (49), Beto O'Rourke (46), among many others.  We need a wide open race in 2020 not another coronation attempt.  If Joe is smart, he will plug one of these younger candidates, not waste our time by pondering a run himself.

The sad fact is that senior citizens are going to vote Republican each and every time.  It doesn't matter that Republicans want to take away their social security and medicare, they just feel better with a conservative in the White House.  Democrats, no matter how old, will never win their vote.  So, you go after the demographic that will cancel the seniors out -- the Millennials -- and  this young generation is anxious to weigh in on politics, just as the Baby Boomers were in the 60s and 70s.

So, I'm glad to see Julian Castro is pondering a run in 2020, and win or lose in Texas, I would like to see Beto throw his hat into the race as well, as right now his name is gold among Democrats.  This guy generated over $36 million in individual contributions over a three-month period, which puts him in the same company as Barack Obama when it comes to mobilizing supporters.  I can think of no better ticket than these two young progressives to rejuvenate the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#MelaniaToo




Conservatives are outraged, and I mean outraged, by this video from T.I. speculating why Melania skipped out on a weekend with Donald at Mar-a-Lago.  Maybe it is just the audacity of the rapper taking a seat in the Oval Office because I can't imagine they would be so upset about the Melania look-a-like.  She's bared it all before.  But, I guess we should afford her more respect now that she is FLOTUS.

Melania would have us believe she is one of the most bullied persons in the world, which apparently was the reason for wearing that notorious jacket a few months back on her trip to the borderland to commiserate with the caged children.

For the most part, the media has been quite gentle on her, considering her relationship with Donald.  Most on-line periodicals focus on her fashion sense and have given her some credit for her philanthropy efforts, even if her "Be Best" campaign has seemed to have little affect on her husband.  For all the talk of bullying, she has yet to say word one about the tyrant-in-chief.

I suppose that's understandable as she wouldn't be where she is had not Donald picked her up in a nightclub 20-plus years ago.  It was quite a coup for the Slovenian model, who eventually landed a "genius visa" for her extraordinary ability.  People are still trying to figure out what that ability is other than being in the right place at the right time and becoming Trump's third trophy wife.  She managed to achieve what the two others didn't, access to the White House.  This roiled Ivana, who considers herself the true first lady.

The White House realizes that the best thing it has going for it right now is Melania.  Until this recent bout of self-pity, she had generally favorable reviews across the board, but people have been slow to warm to her, largely because she is seen as a bit of a cold fish.  No matter to conservatives, especially males, who fantasize over her as they would a glamorous porn star.  I mean princess.

On the surface there isn't much to Melania.  She never had a chance to establish herself.  Her fame is entirely linked to Trump.  She apparently started out in architectural studies in Ljubljana then switched to modeling after winning an international contract through Jana magazine.  She no sooner touched down in New York than she was introduced to the Donald and the rest as they say is history.

If one didn't know better one would almost think she is a spy.  Her accent gives her a bit of a "Natasha" feel, and the way it all happened so fast in her relationship with Donald feels like it was ripped from the pages of National Lampoon.  Of course, he had to get rid of Marla first.

As we are finding out in his presidency, Trump is a sucker for foreign dictators.  Useful idiot I believe is the term.  There isn't a single autocrat he hasn't complimented, yet takes umbrage with elected leaders every chance he gets.  Vladimir Putin would have been a relatively high ranking official in the KGB back in 1995, so it wouldn't be surprising at all if he had interest in Donald, as the real estate mogul was a highly visible figure.  Exactly the kind of guy you could use.

Russians had already been investing heavily in Trump properties, largely to launder their money during the chaotic early days of post-Independence Russia.  He had already turned to Russian banks for loans to cover his real estate ventures.  So, why not set him up with a beautiful Slovenian girl who could act as a mole.

There is very definitely something shrew-like about Melania in the way she puckers her lips, and those narrow eyes further add to her covert looks.  She even liked to play up this look in photo shoots like this one, although now she would probably say she was bullied into posing for those pictures.

Most Americans still give her the benefit of the doubt, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who questions her character.  Others have tossed around conspiracy theories as well.  Of course, it is mostly in jest but you really have to wonder what lurks inside those cold eyes of hers?  Maybe she just needs someone like T.I. to bring out the tiger inside her.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Donald Trump, Pocahontas and Liz




Maybe Liz Warren thought she was clearing things up by taking a DNA test, a very popular thing to do these days, but it seems she has only made the politics of Native American identity even more murky.

The Cherokee Nation has chimed in on the test with a rather ludicrous statement that this does not determine tribal citizenship.  Well, duh, since there wouldn't be a little red flag that says "Cherokee" in her double helix.  Native Americans come from a handful of pre-historic groups so the best a saliva test could do is determine if she has some of this pre-historic DNA in her.  It's not going to pinpoint her heritage to one tribe or another, anymore than it would determine a Cherokee is Cherokee.  Sadly in politics, all it takes is for the Cherokee Nation to issue a statement like this for the conservative blogosphere to run with it, disproving her claim once again.

What's "useless" is these kinds of debates.  Just about every American likes to claim he or she has Native American blood, especially with immigration being such a hot-button issue these days.  I've seen many persons on facebook claim to be part Cherokee or Pawnee or whatever because they have some distant grandmother or great grandmother who was part- or whole-blooded "Indian."   This was a fair claim on Liz's part, since her family originally hails from Oklahoma, where the Cherokee and other Appalachian tribes ended up after the Trail of Tears.  But, the Cherokee has re-established itself in the Great Smokey Mountains and has its image to protect.

As for Pocahontas, the moniker given to Warren by Donald Trump and others, she came from an entirely different tribe, and has been sullied in this political debate as much as has Liz Warren, who never used her alleged "Native American" roots to further her career, which is what Scott Brown claimed on the campaign trail back in 2012.

It's hard to believe Warren is only ending her first term in the Senate, a seat she won from Brown, who has since tried to claim residence in other states in an effort to get back into the Senate.  He is currently serving as US Ambassador to New Zealand.

When Liz Warren came to the defense of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail 2016, she became an easy target for Trump, who loved to give everyone nicknames, hence Pocahontas, which most Americans could easily identify with thanks to the Disney cartoon.  He didn't miss an opportunity to use the tag, smirking each and every time like this was the best nickname he had come up with yet.

Native American groups were upset with this misappropriation of one of their iconic historic figures, but to hell with their feelings.  Donald thought they were taking too much advantage of their gaming licenses anyway, because he didn't want the Ramapough Mountain People cutting into his profits from his Atlantic City casinos.  Trump considered them fake Indians and shouldn't be given tribal status.  In the end, Trump lost, but it wasn't Indian casinos that spelled the doom of his Atlantic City casinos, but rather his gross incompetence.  Trump being Trump, he had to blame someone other than himself.

On the campaign trail, Trump said he would administer a DNA test himself to Warren.  He also said he would donate a million dollars to a charity of her choice if she passed.  Now that she took one of these popular tests, he claims he never made such an agreement. 

Liz should have known better than to reopen this case, but apparently she has 2020 Presidential aspirations and wanted to settle this issue once and for all.  It's not like Trump will honor this test, anymore than he did Obama's birth certificate.  It's a no-win situation for Liz because Donald doesn't have to be right.  He hardly ever is.  You might as well argue with a wall for all the good it does.  That is certainly the case with his followers, most of whom it turns out are fake.

However, this was a point of pride for Liz Warren, proof of her grandmother's stories, which sadly the Cherokee Nation chose to throw a wet towel on.  It's not like Liz was applying for tribal status, but it seems the young Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. saw an opportunity to plug the Cherokee Nation, which has made a thriving concern out of its landholdings in the Great Smokey Mountains.

So, who is using who at this point?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hail the Chief!




Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Trump proudly displays this painting of himself sitting around the table with past Republican presidents, regaling in what appears to be a joke told by Lincoln.  It's by an artist friend of Darrell Issa, who dabbles in presidential portraits.  I don't think it was so much the smile, as it is Andy Thomas made Trump significantly trimmer, and gave him the most prominent light.  While Lincoln is clearly the storyteller, he is obviously saying something about Trump.

It reminds me of the paintings Stalin had commissioned of himself, although a little less pointed than this one.  You almost wonder if Thomas studied Soviet Realism art, or maybe he just stole the idea from Cassius Marcellus Coolidge of old dogs sitting around a poker table.

For many Trumpkins, November 9, 2016, or 119 as it is called in alt-right circles, represents year one of a new America, similar to what occurred in Russia after its horrible civil war, which started in 1917.  By 1922 all the remnants of the old "White Russia" had been destroyed or beaten into subjection and a new "Red Russia" emerged to be called the Soviet Union.  To his loyal supporters, we now live in the United States of Trump.

The process isn't complete.  We are still going through a civil war with ever increasing public unrest and midterm elections right around the corner.  If the Democrats don't gain significant ground this November, Trump will see this as a victory for himself, and it will be that much more difficult to unseat him in 2020.

For his part, Trump said he was fine with the protests and the way he is treated by the press during his interview with Leslie Stahl.  He was looking very sanguine as if he had plenty of time to review the questions beforehand.  The painting came into view during the walking tour part of the interview, and has since been the subject of scrutiny on social media.

The political homage plays straight into Trump's enormous ego, and serves as a counterpoint to this painting someone left in his DC hotel, although the hotel vociferously denies this was the case.  You can bet that someone in his White House, maybe Trump himself, wanted to send a clear message that he leads the Republican Party, not Vladimir Putin, or even Abraham Lincoln for that matter.

For all intents and purposes he does, as the GOP has essentially given up criticizing him.  You don't hear a peep from "Little Bob" Corker anymore.  "Oven Mitt" Romney went out of his way at a rally in Arizona to say that he stands behind the President, seemingly so secure in his bid for a Utah Senate seat that he is now campaigning on the behalf of other Republicans.  "Lindsey Antebellum" Graham is now one of Donald's greatest supporters.  The great Prevaricators, one might call them, all paying deference to the Supreme Leader of the Grand Old Party after openly criticizing him before.

The only major Republican to still be vocal in his criticism of Trump and the GOP is John Kasich, who has essentially rebranded himself an Independent, and is touring the country with Colorado Democratic Gov. Hickenlooper in what looks to be the 2020 Libertarian ticket.  However, Kasich works on the same false equivalences that many conservatives do when criticizing their party, saying the Democrats are just as bad.  Democrats certainly have their faults, but they are nowhere near the depraved level the Republican Party has sunk today, and I'm surprised Hickenlooper has chosen to be Kasich's sidekick.

Any illusion that disgruntled Republicans will break ranks is pure fantasy.  We saw that on the confirmation vote of Judge Kavanaugh.  It was obvious many Republican senators had their doubts, but only one broke ranks and then only on the vote to stop debate, despite the serious concerns expressed over Kavanaugh's nomination by the American Bar Association, the America Magazine of the Jesuits, thousands of the law professors throughout the country, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.  This goes beyond the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and other women who accused him of sexual abuse.

For Trump and key members of the Republican Senate it was a power play and they won!  Proper judicial committee review be damned.  This was all about getting Trump's man on the bench so that he could have an ace in the hole should the special investigation into his campaign's financial and political ties with the Russian government get nasty.

Maybe Abe is making some joke about the Supreme Court, which would help explain the grins of all the Republican presidents in this jocular setting?

Like it or not, Trump has completed his takeover of the GOP.  The only thing left now is to subdue his Democratic opposition and let his agenda wash over the country like a "red tsunami."  First a visit to the folks in the Florida panhandle and stomp for his fellow Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, who are polling behind their Democratic rivals.  This will help make up for his lack of response to the crisis after Hurricane Michael.



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Guess Who's Coming to Lunch?

and the Flight of the Swifties




This is certainly turning out to be one of the most entertaining midterm elections in a long time.  Not only did we have Kanye regal the President with images of a hydrogen-powered plane, which he called the iplane, but we have the full-on assault of the Swifties in Tennessee as Taylor Swift came out in support of a Democrat.  This seemed to grab Donald Trump's attention more than Kanye's ten-minute rant in the Oval Office.

Donald Trump would have us believe Blacks love him, especially after that stunning embrace by Kanye in the WH that seemed to catch everyone off guard.  If that wasn't cringeworthy enough, how about that picture of Donald with Ivanka and Jared and his new adopted son, Kanye, all wearing MAGA caps.  That's right, Kanye said Trump is the father figure he had been longing for 41 years.  Good thing his mother is not around anymore to hear that incredible pronouncement.

It all begs to ask the question, why?, but we know better by now.  This is the sad confluence of politics and entertainment writ large.  If the world wasn't laughing at Trump at the UN General Assembly, they are now, because you simply can't make this shit up.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, Taylor Swift rocked her native state by coming out in support of the Democratic challenger Phil Bredesen.  According to Fox polls, Bredesen is so far behind the Republican favorite Marsha Blackburn that this last minute endorsement essentially constitutes a Hail Mary, or in this case Hail Taylor!  As CNN notes, Swift doesn't take politics lightly, issuing a thoughtful statement in support of the former governor.

This endorsement apparently resulted in a swelling of over 50,000 new registered voters in the state before the deadline, which obviously caught some conservative pundits by surprise, as they figured that the average age of Swift's audience was 13.  Apparently, some of those young teens have grown up since Taylor first appeared on the music stage and can now vote!

Celebrity endorsements abound, but as we saw in 2016 they don't matter much.  Trump won Ohio despite LeBron James' effusive endorsement of Hillary Clinton.  She also had Demi Lovato working with her throughout most of the campaign but to no avail.  Not even Bruce could save Hillary!

While Trump is not officially on the ballot, he is acting like it, saying that a vote for Republican candidates is a vote for him.  Of course, this is what Democrats want voters to think as well, as they rally behind their candidates in battleground states, which have grown to include Tennessee and Texas, where the improbably seems distantly possible given how unpopular Republicans are right now.  A generic CNN survey puts them a whopping 13 points behind the Democrats going into the midterms.  Also, there appeared to be no "Kavanaugh bounce" for the Republicans.

Maybe this is why GOP election boards are trying to suppress Black voters rather than embrace them as Donald would want Republicans to do.  Yet, Kanye would have us believe it is the Democrats who are suppressing Blacks in America.

This seems an especially odd statement to make since there are more Black Democratic candidates than ever before, including the first Black Democratic governor nominee in Florida.  If this party is so bad for Blacks, why do so many Blacks continue to not only support the party but run as candidates for the party?

What is even more odd is that Kanye can't let the 13th amendment go.  In his Oval Office rant, he referred to it as a "trap door," before falling into free verse.  No one has any real idea what he meant by this, notably Trump who just sat there speechless, but it does have many people wondering if Kanye needs to check back into rehab.

It might behoove Kanye to know that a Republican Congress wrote the 13th amendment and a Republican President ratified that amendment expressly to abolish slavery so that one day persons like him could be free to express themselves in our society.  This was no "trap door" but rather a badly needed correction to the Constitution, which had enshrined slavery.

His friends like Dave Chappelle tell us Kanye has a big heart but sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him.  He's using his Yeezy brand to promote low-cost housing, and schools, which he calls "centers of ideation."  You have to hand it to the guy for getting an audience with the President ostensibly to promote these efforts, even hydrogen-powered airplanes, which he claimed he is working with Apple to produce.  No such confirmation from Apple and so far all these efforts remain on paper.

Taylor Swift was decidedly more low key in her support.  It's not like she threw a concert for former Gov. Bredesen, or even jointed him on the campaign trail.  She simply issued a statement on social media and the mainstream media went nuts.  It makes you wonder who has more clout here?

Pundits like former Gov. Huckabee seem to forget that Swift is almost 30 years old, and at the peak of her popularity, having garnered an impressive haul at the recent American Music Awards, using the stage to reinforce her political beliefs.  This is not just Swifties in Tennessee, but music fans all around the country.  Most of them young, but many voting age and anxious to demonstrate their power to vote.

This is unusual in a non-presidential election year.  Usually, no one takes any real interest, even if these elections affect state residents far more than does the man in the White House.  It's not just US and state legislators on the ballots, but any number of referendums that have a direct impact on residents.  Unfortunately, voter turn-out is notoriously low in mid-terms. 

Back in 2014, Matt Bevin won Governor of Kentucky, when only 19% of the state residents turned out to vote.  That meant the health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion former Democratic  Gov. Beshear worked so hard to bring to the state were cut over the next four years because not enough people showed interest to vote.

It seems celebrities are now concentrating more on their home states, seeing the impact of these policies on their friends and loved ones.  Others, like Kanye, seem to be grooming themselves for political office.  Given that he recently announced his move to Chicago, it seems that Yeezus wants to run for Mayor of the City, since a 2020 Presidential run now seems out of the question given his effusive love for the Donald.  Apparently, Kim will stay in LA.

While there is not much chance Taylor Swift will be able to bail Phil Bredesen out in Tennessee, it sets the stage for 2020, when it seems there will be many more registered voters given all this new found interest in politics.  The fact that conservative politicians continue to take aim at the LGBT community and politically assault women in politics is having its blowback among the young musical and Hollywood elite, which previously had been largely apolitical.  They have a pretty "yuge" following in social media.

The demographics are shifting in many so-called red states, and if the Republicans don't do more to reach out to women and minorities in this country, they may soon find themselves "Swifted."

Friday, October 12, 2018

Oh, Fuck!




A tumultuous week draws to an end with Wall Street in as much disarray as is the Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida.  Trump deals with it by entertaining Kanye West, or should I say entertained by Kanye, and signing a ceremonial Music Modernization Act into law that would allow guys like Kanye and Kid Rock to reap even more profits off their music.  Can't let all that good music be so easily listened to on Spotify and other on-line streaming services. How is Kanye going to justify his Yeezy brand without record sales?

Trump found time to assure us that what is going on with the markets is just a "correction."  Nothing to worry about.  The Dow lost 5 percent of its value over the last two days.  This after seeing Apple and Amazon become the first trillion dollar companies just last week.  Of course, this historic Bull run has to come to an end sometime.  We had a forewarning in Spring, and now it tumbles once again after regaining its losses over the summer.  It's not just the Dow, but stocks worldwide took a big hit the last two days.

For many this brings back memories of 2008 when leading economists kept telling us it was just a correction.  Things will get better.  I suppose in one sense they were right, we got a Democratic president who could better manage the economy than had his Republican predecessor, but it took him the better part of 8 years to get things under control.

If we're lucky, this market downturn might signal to voters to support Democratic candidates in the midterms and end the Republican rule in the House, which has stretched on long enough.  These morons just passed a $3.8 trillion tax cut bill, to add to the $1.5 tril in tax cuts they approved last December.  They will probably try to strap it onto budget reconciliation like they did last year so that the Senate can vote for it on simply majority.  This would permanently hamstring any Democratic Congress from taking the necessary measures to ease the looming economic crisis, as it did in 2009 with the Recovery Act.  If I didn't know better, I would think the Republicans are trying to bankrupt the country.

This means Northwest Florida will probably see little in the way of federal relief as there simply won't be the money to provide for it.  FEMA is already stretched with Hurricane Florence, and we all know the sad fate of Puerto Rico.  Who cares about the "Redneck Riviera?"

I do because I grew up along that coast and am very much familiar with Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach and Apalachicola.  I would pass through those coastal communities on my way from Santa Rosa Beach to Gainesville and back when I was going to the University of Florida.  Apalachicola was truly Old Florida, as hard as that is to imagine with all the palm tree and bikini-laden images we see on television of South Florida.  It was in this little hamlet that the first air conditioner was invented before Carrier cribbed the idea.  You can still visit the Gorrie House, where the good doctor came up with a primitive refrigeration system to ease the suffering of his yellow fever patients in the 1840s.

Hurricane Michael sure packed a wallop, with winds close to Category 5 level, fed by the unusually warm waters of the gulf.  Like so many oceans, gulfs and seas around the world, the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than usual, which now prolongs the hurricane season well into October.  But, sssssh, don't tell anyone it's global warming.

The chaos on Wall Street is indicative of the chaos throughout the country and indeed around the world these days.  No one seems to know what the fuck is going on, especially when a Saudi journalist simply disappears after paying a visit to his own consulate in Istanbul.  Fingers point to the maniacal crowned prince, who has assumed control of the oil sheikdom and is trying to rub out dissent in Saudi Arabia, even if it means extralegal activities like kidnapping a muckraking journalist for the Washington Post in Turkey and presumably feeding him to the crocodiles.

Trump says we don't need to overact here.  The Saudis bought $110 billion worth of arms from us, and will buy more.  You know how many jobs that is?  It is as Prince Mohammed bin Salman says, he has Jared in his pocket, and in turn Donald.  Mind you, Jared is the "hidden genius" Nikki Haley was telling us about, who is going to bring peace to the Middle East.

What we have now is a nexus of bad guys as nasty and mean-tempered as in any James Bond movie, stretching from Moscow to Beijing to Riyadh, who will do anything to gain control of the global markets and drive down the dollar so that they can introduce a new competitive currency.  BRIC, an economic alliance of Brazil, Russia, India and China, has been courting Saudi Arabia for years, along with other countries like Turkey, Argentina and South Africa, with the expressed aim of building a global shared market that would compete directly with the US and EU.  No one country is big enough on its own, but together they would easily rival the two largest economies in the world. 

The idea behind the TPP was to create a trade partnership in the Pacific Rim that would counter China and eventually BRIC, should it ever come together on the scale Putin imagines.  He's the Blofeld in this James Bond scenario, although Xi might beg to differ as China is the one with the cash behind this project.   So, if you thought George Soros was the evil currency speculator able to topple governments, wait till you see the scale at which these guys operate!

Starting to stray, as one does when trying to make sense of this incredible political situation we are in.  Not only is our President being manipulated by Moscow, it seems that ever since he touched the glowing orb of Riyadh he pledged fidelity to the House of Saud, as all Republican presidents have done for the last 40 years.  This means the crowned prince can do whatever he damn well pleases with his $110 billion worth of American arms, including bombing Yemen back into the dark ages.

And, you wonder why our global markets are so volatile, and why the warm waters keep churning up massive hurricanes and typhoons?  All this instability is a direct reflection of a world in chaos.  One we could have easily avoided if we had just elected sane leaders to contend with it.  Instead, we elected Trump, a man who feeds off chaos, relishes it and seems to become stronger for it, as no one seems to know quite how to respond to his antics.

The Congressional leaders will fold as they always do.  This joint statement by 20 US Senators to the President to take action against Saudi Arabia will be tossed into the round file, as all such statements are.  Trump has seen the dark side and he wants in, if for no other reason than to have a place to flee should Bob Mueller issue him the indictment we are all impatiently waiting for.

In the meantime, all our 401k's go up in smoke, little towns like Mexico Beach get wiped off the map, and musicians scrap for greater copyright protection.  None of it really matters in the global picture.  It is all about appeasing autocrats and hoping Rome, or in this case Washington, doesn't burn on your watch.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Deep in the Heart of Texas




Whether Beto O'Rourke wins or loses, he will certainly have made a name for himself.  He has been dogging Ted Cruz since Spring in Texas, covering the huge state county by county like no Democrat has done before.  Beto wants Texans to know that Democrats care, even if Republicans continue to paint them as effete liberals.

This has been an unusual race in many ways, as it has come down to who is more Texan -- Beto or Ted?  Beto was born and raised in El Paso, a fourth generation Irish-American, who became a Tejano of sorts by absorbing the customs and language of his classmates.  Ted comes from a Cuban-American background, who was born in Calgary and eventually relocated to Houston with his family.  Ted never had any need to learn Spanish, as he went to Baptist private schools, but seemed to absorb just enough that he can follow what is said around him.

Ted appeals principally to white Texas voters and a relative handful of conservative Tejanos, and has the demographics of the state working for him.  Beto is hoping to take advantage of the unrest and sense of displacement in rural Texas counties that haven't significantly benefited from nearly 25 years of Republicanism in the state.

It was another transplant, George Bush, who improbably beat the popular Democratic governor Ann Richards back in 1994.  Texas hasn't had a Democratic US Senator since 1993.

Beto knows the odds are stacked against him, but is using his huge personality to make up for the large gap.  Some polls have him even or even slightly ahead of Ted.  Others have him nine points behind.

Ted is taking no chances, calling in the Republican cavalry to bail him out, as if he was going up against Gen. Santa Anna.  This in itself is testimony to how deep Beto has reached into Texan politics to rattle the incumbent senator so badly.

The first and what seems only debate saw the two trade barbs with no clear winner.  Ted has since backed out of a CNN Town Hall, with the news network ceding the hour to Beto, giving him unprecedented national exposure in a state race.  I guess Ted thought he had said enough or was worried he might not hold up in a format that definitely favored Beto.  Will this give Beto the boost he needs to get him over the top?

Democrats are looking at this race not only as a potential gain in the US Senate but as a harbinger for 2020, as Donald Trump is definitely on the ballot here.

Ted solicited the help of the whole Trump family, with Donnie Jr. going down to Texas as well.  This would seem odd given that Trump repeatedly called him a liar during the 2016 campaign, said his wife was ugly, and claimed his father had a hand in killing JFK.  Ted is either the most forgiving guy in the world or is so desperate he will turn to the one man who might give his sagging campaign a lift.  So, if Ted goes down, so too does Donald.

By contrast, Beto is relying largely on his charisma, and support of popular Texans like Willie Nelson.  He has a genuine empathy for the people of the state, something sorely lacking in Ted, who was a GOP establishment candidate from the get-go, hand picked by Gov. "Wheels" Abbott.  Beto has represented his Democratic district well in the US House of Representatives, but rather than seek another easy re-election, went after the big prize, hoping to make Texas "Blue" again.

Texas hasn't really benefited from a generation of Republican governors and legislators, certainly nothing like it did when it had Democrats like Lyndon B. Johnson in the Senate, who brought the space program to Houston along with a number of other defense contracts.  This was a state that was so reliably Blue that John F. Kennedy, a liberal Catholic, won Texas in 1960.  Of course, it helped having LBJ as his running mate.

Beto has been compared to JFK, and has garnered the support of the Kennedy family, with young Joe Kennedy joining him on a ride through Texas.  The last time the Kennedys took this much interest in a young candidate it was Barack Obama in 2008.

It almost seems fated that Beto will win, but this is Texas and the GOP political machine is a mighty force to contend with in the state.  Whatever the case, Beto can hold his head up high as he has made a name for himself and given the Democrats one of the most fun rides it has seen in the last ten years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Was Nikki feeling Blue?




Maybe Nikki was the one who wrote the stinging op-ed to the NYTimes about a resistance movement within the Trump administration, and has been ratted out?  In order for both sides to save face, she resigned under the pretense of having to see her daughters through college.

It is odd that she should resign before the midterms and not afterward when there is usually some turnover over in a presidential administration.  Trump was rather sanguine about it up front, but who knows what will come out in his rallies.  He's not one to keep a tight upper lip.

My feeling is that Nikki had enough.  At 46, she still has a bright political future ahead of her, especially if she can shed her association with Trump.  Some are speculating she might be angling for Lindsey Graham's seat, should the antebellum senator be picked as new Attorney General after the midterms.  Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is pretty much finished in what turned out to be a thankless job for all the support he gave Trump during the campaign.

Speculation abounds that Donald may pick one of his offspring for the position.  Ivanka has apparently withdrew her name from consideration.  Trump could nominate Kanye West, who will be visiting Washington soon, ostensibly to discuss the violence in Chicago, where he plans to drop anchor.  He's kind of like an adopted son.  Most likely Trump will pick a nationalist pit bull like Richard Grenell, who is currently serving as his ambassador to Germany, fomenting nationalist sentiment in Bavaria and other conservative strongholds throughout Europe.

It doesn't seem like Trump cares what the world thinks of him, judging from his speech two weeks ago.  Interesting that Nikki's resignation follows so closely on the heels of that darkly adversarial presentation of his Me First, I mean America First doctrine.

As Fareed Zakaria pointed out, the United States is now pretty much alone in the world.  He referenced a new book, The Empty Throne, which castigates Trump's American First doctrine, noting how it creates a massive void in the geopolitical world that allows China and Russia to fill with little concern for the security crises that affect the United States.

The Trump administration revels in its short-term gains - resolving a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, while having no vision of how it fits within the larger global trading network. In the conservative mind, globalism is bad as it allows nations to form alliances often against America's best interests.

Trump has dredged up OPEC again as the reason for the soaring oil prices, but as the House of Saud pointed out, oil is traded as a commodity, no longer subject to the dictates of oil producing nations.  Also, the US could easily satisfy its oil needs within the new USMCA Trump is proposing, as all three North American nations have large oil reserves.  Fact is Trump didn't consider how much impact Iran has on the world oil supply, before launching another round of punitive sanctions.

This has been the problem with the Trump administration from the start -- it works on a very narrow range of self interests, ostensibly to feather the nests of its conservative billionaire backers, without taking into account all the forces at work in the world.  Trump and his immediate advisers seem to live in the 1980s before China, India and Brazil became big players on the international stage, and the EU was nothing like it is now -- an economic union that is virtually equals America in terms of GDP.

For their part, the Trumpists are trying to destroy the EU from within: pushing Brexit and promoting far-right governments in Italy and Austria that they hope will one day also decide to go it alone.  However, there is no sign yet the new Italian and Austrian governments have any interest in leaving the EU.  Their main concerns are immigration.

At the UN, the US has chosen to withdraw from UNESCO, the Human Rights Council and is no longer funding UN Palestinian refugees.  It seems only a matter of time before the US withdraws from the UN all together, which the Trump administration views as antithetical to its self-interests.  Nothing really new here as the Bush administration similarly took a belligerent tone with the UN, but it at least kept up appearances.

I imagine Nikki Haley had a hard time explaining all these rash actions to her fellow diplomats while at the same time maintaining a defiant stance to please Trump and his conservative backers.  In that sense, she was in the same precarious position as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but on a much larger stage.

It's interesting how Trump exploits women in this way.  It would make more sense to have men be his political bully boys, but it seems this is a calculated move to make it look like he is extending power to women to act on his behalf.  We heard a similar version of this in Kavanaugh's testimony, where he proudly proclaimed he will be the first Supreme Court justice to have all women clerks.  Women are essentially the "wives" seen in The Handmaid's Tale, allowed a modicum of privilege within a male-dominated society, but not so much that they have any ability to challenge it.

Maybe Nikki got tired of wearing a blue dress?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Bully for Trump!




It now seems like months or even years ago that Bob Woodward's Fear came out.  At the time, many persons thought this was it -- someone has finally taken down the president.  There was even an op-ed from a mysterious senior level official in his administration supporting Woodward's allegations, but that too seems relegated to history.  Trump survived yet another blow from the lamestream media, and it is safe to say he will survive the latest allegations by the New York Times that he duped authorities out of more than $400 million in taxes over a 20-year period.

It's a lengthy article.  I haven't gone through it yet.  The lead photo shows a smiling Donald in the back of his limo salivating over his rise to power on Wall Street, not much unlike Gordon Gekko.  This is the same guy who gamed Fortune magazine into believing he was one of the richest men in the world by claiming his father's assets as his own.  Trump wanted everyone to know he was a player.

1984 was Trump's breakout year.  He made it onto the Fortune 400 by creating an alias John Barron to relay to the magazine that Donald had taken control of his father's business and was now a billionaire.  Trump saw the value in projecting himself as one of the richest men in the world, whereas most real estate developers tried to keep a low profile, so as not to attract attention to their shady deals.  For Donald, it didn't matter.  He had spent years making phony claims on behalf of his father so that Dear Old Dad wouldn't have to pay so much in taxes.  He had developed the con to an art form and figured he could get away with anything.

He would spend the next 30 years promoting one or another of his real estate and business ventures, selling his name to other ventures and starring in his own reality game show where he was judge, jury and executioner.  Trump was king of the entertainment world, or so he liked to proclaim on twitter.  Nothing escaped his eye, especially celebrity relationships, a habit that has carried over into his presidential days.

These creepy tweets continue to pop up.  He can't resist the entertainment section of the news because he still sees himself principally as an entertainer.  Trump loves a crowd, especially an adoring crowd, going off on riffs that leave his press handlers scrambling to bring the damage under control the next day.  Case in point, he no sooner said that Christine Ford was a very credible witness than two days later he called her a fraud at a Mississippi rally and now thinks the FBI should press charges against her for libel.  This plays well among his rabid conservative base, but it isn't what mainstream Americans want to hear, so Sarah Huckabee Sanders is left with the thankless task of downplaying his incendiary comments.

We have become so inured to it that we simply don't care anymore.  Wall Street certainly doesn't care.  The market has finally regained most of its losses from the first half of the year, largely thanks to an economy that seems to be doing fine on its own.  Of course, the Trump administration will have you believe it's entirely his doing.  That's pretty amazing for a guy who mostly follows Fox & Friends and the latest entertainment gossip.

Trump has also been gloating over the new NAFTA deal, or USMCA as he calls the trade agreement.  It has yet to be ratified but no matter, he personally strong-armed Mexico and Canada into a deal that he has been promising for almost two years.  He had very little role in it, leaving it up to Jared to oversee matters.  Depending on what you read, it is either NAFTA light or MAGA 2.0.  Trump is demanding Congress ratify it as is, but no doubt will have its say on the matter, much to the Donald's chagrin.  At the moment, Congressional Republicans are busy trying to cram another tax cut bill through both chambers before the midterm elections.

This along with the Kavanaugh confirmation has pushed Woodward and Omarosa and all the other nay-sayers to the sidelines.  As of yesterday, Trump enjoyed a 51% approval rating in his favorite poll, with strongly approve and strongly disapprove cancelling each other for the first time in months, resulting in an approval rating index of zero.  He even had Fareed Zakaria praising his UN Speech as one of his most articulate statements yet on his America First policy, while others tried to assess whether the world was laughing at him or with him.  All in all, a great two weeks for the Trumpster.

CNN and other news networks gauge what this sudden upsurge in his approval will have on the midterms.  Only problem is that we are still four weeks away and Trump has made political stumping his chief priority, which means just about anything could come out of his mouth to send his approval ratings into another nosedive.

Trump's fortunes seem to roughly coincide with the stock market, which is currently hovering around 26,500, only a 100 points lower than it was when it hit its peak in January.  The Dow had spent most of the summer around 24,500, so this is a big improvement.  However, uneasiness remains, and all it takes is some incident like say a weaker than expected third quarter economic report to bring it tumbling down again.  It will be pretty hard to match that 4.1% GDP growth Trump crowed about in July, but then Trump has gamed the system before.  He has his own guy in the Fed just as he does the Supreme Court, so anything is possible, especially hearing some of the things Jerome Powell has said recently, although in this case Jerome fumbled the ball.  He'll need Steven Mnuchin to pick it up for him again.

Meantime, Donald Trump does what he does best, entertain, in his own bully way.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Tribalism and the End of History




I remember my father liked to say that in 100 years we will be able to rediscover Africa as the continent will revert to its tribal states.  Well, it seems tribalism has already happened in America.

Politics have always been partisan, but as one pundit noted there was still some hope when both parties sat down together to resolve the financial crisis of 2008.  Bush had asked leaders from both parties to join him in a round table economic discussion with the end result being the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP for short.

Staunch conservatives were outraged.  The Tea Party was formed expressly to return the United States to its revolutionary roots.  They loved waving around the Gadsden flag, designed in 1775, a year before the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, seeming to conflate pre-revolutionary fervor with the Constitution in an interesting hybrid of patriotic beliefs.

It was hard to take it seriously, but this movement soon gained momentum as persons within their midst began to question Obama's birth certificate, claiming he was born in Kenya.  All the media outlets entertained these Birthers, as they came to be known, even if there wasn't a shred of evidence to support their case.  Any movement needs a villain and Obama became that villain.

Unfortunately, our president was under the misplaced belief that reason would prevail, and tried to use humor to put these ugly rumors to rest.  Instead, he wakened a sleeping lion in Donald Trump, who plotted how he could use the Tea Party to his advantage, reining in all the strange elements like he did discarded celebrities on The Apprentice.  Soon these persons became folk heroes, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who chased after illegal immigrants with the help of action hero Steven Seagal; and the merry band of Oathkeepers, who helped Cliven Bundy defend his ranch against the evil federal government.  Donald Trump embraced them all.

Most of us just hung our jaws in disbelief.  How could such deplorable persons become national folk heroes?  It didn't matter that Cliven owed over a million dollars in grazing fees and penalties for using federal land to feed his livestock, or that Sheriff Joe defied the federal law when it came to racial profiling and other dubious police actions, they were seen as latter-day Robin Hoods by the alt-right movement.

A large number of Americans ate this stuff up like they did reality shows about duck hunters and dirty jobs.  A new primitivism emerged that was hard to rival, especially when it came to television ratings, and soon Donald Trump put himself squarely in the middle of all this nonsense hoping to cash in on it, as he had The Apprentice.

There were divisions within this new tribal culture, but they were patched over when a new villain emerged -- Hillary Clinton.  Whatever differences these uber-conservatives had were easily reconciled when it came to defeating the common enemy.   Trump brusquely took the vanguard of this movement even if just two years before he had praised Hillary as perhaps the best Secretary of State ever.  No one seemed to hold him to his past allegiances.

One of the things that happens when tribalism takes over is that reason is suspended.  Slogans and memes become the principal form of communication, regardless of how dubious they might be.  The will to believe becomes so strong that it takes nothing less than a monstrous cataclysm to dispel these beliefs, and even then the spell is hard to break, as the remnants of the tribes retreat into their corners waiting for a new day to emerge.

In the past, these tribes never got much further than taking over a state or menacing Congress.  No presidential candidate had won a national election on such staunchly held tribal beliefs until Donald Trump.  We are still trying to figure out how this happened.  Some say it was a massive election tampering effort coordinated between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.  Others think that Hillary was a very bad candidate. A few think it is just the fate of election cycles.  Whatever the case, we are stuck with the Lion King as President.

Making matters worse, the economy just keeps growing regardless of what this demented monarch does.  In the minds of his court jesters this is proof positive he was the right man for the job.  Of course, the same pundits were hailing Bush's tax cuts back in early 2000s until the economy collapsed in 2008, but this time they will get it right.  Steven Mnuchin and Jerome Powell will sort it all out.

Tribalism doesn't worry about historic precedent.  In the minds of the followers, history is dead, or at least being rewritten as we speak.

Even if the worst possible scenario emerges and the Lion King remakes the country into the United States of Trump, it won't last long, anymore than the Third Reich lasted long.  Sadly, there will be bloodshed, as these tribalists won't relinquish power easily, but they will be defeated.

Maybe we will learn a lesson from this, or maybe not.  It seems that we as Americans have a hard time reconciling ourselves with the past.