Sunday, August 18, 2019

Friends, you are going to love Greenland




I was half listening to the Lithuanian news when I heard Trump, Greenland and Denmark come up.  That was an odd combination of words, so I listened more intently.  I tried to make out what the anchorman was saying and as near as I could figure Trump was wanting to buy Greenland for 15 billion dollars.  This seemed too absurd even for Trump, so I googled this crazy notion and sure enough Trump had apparently floated the idea at a West Virginia rally.

The transcript read like parody.  There's no date on the rally.  Trump has frequently visited West Virginia since assuming office, heralding the state as one of his great economic successes, although you would be hard pressed to find much corroboration for these claims.  A voice search proved fruitless.  The story originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal and spread like wildfire with other periodicals taking liberties with the text.

The idea has apparently been floated in the White House with some of his advisers supporting the purchase.  I rapidly melting ice cap has made Greenland prime real estate, rich in mineral resources, notably oil.  But, the reactions of both the Prime Minister of Greenland and Denmark firmly suggest no such deal is even being entertained.  Danish PM Mette Frederiksen said, "may God deliver us from this delusional maniac."

This isn't the first time the idea has been broached.  Turns out Truman had his beady little eyes on Greenland after WWII.  Before that, Andrew Johnson thought about buying Greenland and Iceland in 1867.  The glacial island has long been seen as strategically important as far as military defense goes, and even moreso now with Russia flexing its muscles in the Arctic Circle.  So far, Denmark hasn't shown any interest in selling the island to the US or any other country.

The WSJ article points out that Trump has yet to bring Greenland up at a campaign rally, so the transcript does indeed appear to be bogus.  Someone having fun with Trumpspeak.  Nevertheless, this appears to be something the White House wants to have out there if for no other reason than to serve as a distraction.

It is increasingly hard from one day to the next to figure out what is going on in the Trump White House.  He appears to be bouncing off the walls, looking for anything to give him a boost in the polls.  He has flatlined at 42 per cent, a number that he has been stuck at since May of last year, if we are to take 538 as our gauge.   His once favorite news channel gives him only one extra percentage point, which helps explain why he has been so negative toward Fox lately

His constant bellyaching does draw attention away from the other candidates.  All the news channels pick up on his neverending stream of tweets, making it hard for any other candidate to get a word in edgewise, even prominent candidates like Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris.  When they do, it is usually in response to something Trump has tweeted, like his recent support of an Israeli travel ban on two US congresswomen, which Trump apparently initiated when he heard the two were planning on visiting Palestine.  Essentially, the Democrats continually get dragged into Trump's rabbit hole.

This is true of Greenland as well.  Such a purchase, if it were real, would have to be approved not only by Denmark, but by our Congress.  It is doubtful there are very many congresspersons, Republican or Democrat, who would go along with such a hare-brained idea.  Just the same, he has everyone talking about it.  End result, we don't talk about climate change, which is a serious issue in Greenland.  Or, the fact that this administration continues to gut environmental regulations which only makes the matter worse not only in Greenland, but also Alaska, which has been experiencing a record heat wave this summer.

Trump may indeed be the master of obfuscation, which Rachel Maddow seems to think, but more likely these ideas are being fed to him by smarmy advisers like Stephen Miller, who better know how to manipulate the press.  Trump is just the image on the screen.  It is doubtful he has any awareness what he is talking about, which is why it is easy to believe he actually said all that crazy stuff about Greenland at a political rally in West Virginia. 

We just need to find a way to not let ourselves get sucked down these rabbit holes or we end up like the poor folks in Jordan Peele's Us.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Deja vu all over again




After briefly topping 27,000 early last week, the stock has tumbled 1200 points due to concerns over the renewed trade war between the US and China.  White House economic advisers have cautioned the president time and again about going down this river, but His Trumpness seems to think this is a war he can ultimately win.  After all, trade wars are easy, he once infamously said, he just didn't say how long it would take.

What's interesting is that our president is resting his re-election prospects on what he will do in his next term.  We have yet to see one of these great deals emerge from all his negotiations.  The only international trade agreement his administration has accomplished is the renewal of NAFTA, which was redubbed USMCA, as if were a new branch of the marine corps.  It was a deal roundly panned by economists as it offered no substantial improvements over the old North American trade agreement.  It was rushed to completion at the end of last year before the new Mexican president was inaugurated, lest he not be favorable to it.  The new trade agreement has yet to be ratified by Congress.

It's little wonder financial experts no longer have any faith in the negotiating strength of Trump.  No sooner did he issue a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods than China cancelled all purchases of American agricultural goods and devalued their currency.  So much for buckling under the force of Trump's will.  This sent shockwaves through Wall Street last week, especially after the Fed had finally given Trump what he wanted in lower interest rates, against the Fed chief's better judgement.

As in 2007-08, the Fed is caving into worries that the economy is heading toward recession and thinks it can do a little tinkering here and there to stave off a collapse.  Not a very promising sign.  Trump of course wants the Fed to do much more, thinking he can dictate economic policy the way the Chinese premier does, but it doesn't work that way.  The Fed is an independent entity and tries to maintain a balanced view of the economy.

After 10 years of steady economic growth, it is not surprising that our economy would begin to lag a bit.  Of course, our dear president would like us to think that the best things have yet to come and if you vote for him in 2020, the economy will grow like you have never seen it grow before.  Unfortunately, there has been nothing in his economic policy to indicate such unbridled prosperity.  Instead, his treasury has borrowed $2 trillion to cover the tax cuts from 2017, which did little to boost the economy.

The Dow peaked in January, 2018, at 26,600, and here we are today at 25,900, a net loss of 700 points over a period of 18 months.  Over that long stretch, the Dow has been as low as 22,450.  At one point, Trump was cheering when the stock topped 25,000 again.  Not even in Obama's lowest ebbs, did he have such a long stagnate period.  At most our former president had a stretch of 6 months of stagnant stock numbers, before things turned up again.  This current stagnation can be directly attributed to Republican tax cuts and Trump's horrendous trade policies.

China and the US seem further apart than ever on a trade agreement.  The Trump administration promised a new deal back in January, but we were told China wasn't playing fair and it was time to lower the boom on President Xi, with Trump issuing his first round of tariffs.  That didn't go over so well, as China decided to buy soy beans from Brazil and Argentina, leaving American soy farmers with their worst shortfall in decades and not knowing where to turn.  Trump infamously bailed farmers out with $12 billion in agricultural relief, which hardly made a dent in the gaping trade hole.  After some talks, China agreed to buy some soy beans again, but apparently that wasn't good enough for His Trumpness, so more tariffs, and now farmers, as is everyone else, are completely in the dark as to what is going on in Washington.

For a man who prides himself on his economic acumen, this isn't very good.  This latest round of tariffs not only will see a sharp rise in the cost of domestic products, but has signaled to China and the rest of the world, that Trump can't be trusted.   With the first caucuses and primaries around the corner, it is unlikely any country will want to cut a deal with Trump, no longer sure he will be in the White House come January 2021.  It's pretty clear to everyone that the United States is on the brink of a seismic political shift, even the farmers have turned against him.

Always the huckster, Trump once again is promoting secret plans that he will only hatch if re-elected.  The economy doesn't work that way.  It doesn't wait for a two-bit conman to unveil his grandiose schemes.   Wall Street expects the president to react to what is going on at the moment and adjust his plans accordingly, as it would any corporate enterprise.  Sadly, the White House is at wit's end as to what to do next.  His economic advisers have tried every hook and crook to prop up our sagging economy.  There's nothing left that they haven't already done.

Concerns grow over the real estate market, the first to get hit in a recession.  Gold prices soar.  Hedge funds bet against Wall Street.  Even bitcoin has seen a rise in recent months, as investors now look at cryptocurrency as a potential haven against a slowly imploding economy.  All bad signs for Trumponmics.

The writing was on the wall the day Trump took charge of the White House.  He vowed to roll back all the Obama-era economic policies so that we would have the tumultuous markets we saw in the early 2000s.  Everyone made money then, and Trump wanted to make money again.  The lessons we learned from the 2008 economic collapse were thrown out the window.

Everyone got excited when the stock market soared 6000 points in the space of a year, an almost 25 per cent gain.  This was boom time, baby!  Investors hopped on board while the getting was good, knowing full well it wouldn't last long.  Now they retreat to their safe havens while middle class Americans brace for another heavy blow.

You would think at some point we would learn from our mistakes.  After all, we pride ourselves on our resiliency.  But, how much more of this can we take?  These volatile markets only favor the rich.  The average farmer wants stability, as he tries to raise a family and have a little left over for retirement.  Yet, Trump would like these farmers to think that if they stick it out long enough their fortunes will turn.  That faith has been shattered, as there is literally nothing to indicate the soy market will improve in the immediate future.  All those acres of soy beans will be turned over and farmers will try their luck with other products.  China was the biggest market they had, soon to be filled by Brazil, Argentina and Russia, all BRIC countries by the way, as we move toward a two-tier world economy.

This economic collapse is shaping up to be worse than 2008 because we can no longer count on key economic allies to be with us after the dust has settled.  In fact, we may see the end of the dominance of the dollar and a new world currency emerge.  Trump has squandered any good faith the rest of the world had in the United States.  We can no longer be trusted to be "the leader of the free world."

By turning our economy into a high-stakes casino game, Trump has undermined the sense of security we once had in our economy.  Nothing is safe anymore as Republicans openly discuss the liquidation of Social Security to offset the soaring debt.  We won't even have our meager social security pensions and medicare to fall back on, if conservatives have their way.  An 80-plus year institution will be dissolved because Republicans couldn't manage the economy, which they long prided themselves as the party best able to do so.

It's not Trump's fault entirely.  He just sped things up with his high-risk trade policies.  No one could imagine it would all fall apart so quickly, but here we are the brink of yet another economic abyss.  This one may very well be worse than the Depression.  Brace yourselves!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Doxed!




It seems there are a lot of Trump supporters who don't like wearing their red caps of courage.  They prefer to keep their contributions to his campaign quiet, as we found out when Joaquin Castro "doxed" prominent contributors in his district.  Political contributions are a matter of public record, so Castro didn't really dox these persons, but he did call greater public attention to them, and Republicans didn't like this.

Armie Hammer similarly called out the head of the television wing of Marvel for supporting Trump, suggesting fans should boycott the highly popular movie and television franchise.  This follows on the heals of the owner of popular fitness centers, Equinox and Soul Cycle, being called out as a Trumper, which Trump himself joked about at a Hamptons campaign fundraiser.

House Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy called it McCarthyism.  Not him of course, but that infamous "tail gunner" from the 1950s who liked to call out communists, and still has his ardent fans.  Little Kevin would never be so bold.  He, like many Republicans today, prefers to lurk in the shadows hoping this whole thing with Trump will blow over and they can return to their business of quietly undermining the social welfare system in this country.

Many conservatives like to think of themselves as libertarians.  They believe the social welfare system is a communist plot perpetuated by radical liberals like Saul Alinsky, and that Americans would be better off with an unbridled free market.   The best government is no government.  It's why Ayn Rand is so popular among conservatives these days.

The problem is most conservatives don't read, so they don't know who Alinsky or Rand is.  They glean these names from the Internet.  About the only thing you can coax them to listen to for more than five minutes is Fox News because it is so damn entertaining.  This is why memes have become the favorite form of communication.

It's not just the Russian troll farms, but Project Alamo and a whole host of other conservative digital information sites that like to collect your profile information and direct memes expressly tailored toward your political biases to your timelines.  It's this kind of subterfuge that conservatives today have become very good at.  It only works if you can remain in the shadows, which is why Little Kevin got so worked about conservative donors being called out.  Clandestine information gathering costs money, and conservative political action committees invest heavily in these projects.

We once thought we had a certain measure of privacy on the Internet, but not anymore.  Pretty much everything we do on the Internet is immediately available to anyone who wants to exploit that information.  Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants aren't keeping your personal information under lock and key.  They readily supply it to the highest bidder, as we found out with Cambridge Analytica.  You don't collect 80 million facebook profiles without someone in the organization being aware of what is going on, and that person is Mark Zuckerberg.

FB does nothing about it because their entire marketing model is built on selling information.  This is why advertisers love facebook.  They too can target their ads specifically toward your profile.  In fact it is this advertising model that became a political model, just like Zuckerberg cribbed his idea of a vast social network from amazon, which was the first large website to allow its patrons the ability to engage with each other on its platform in much the same way.

The beauty of this information gathering is that it can be done quietly with no one the wiser for what is going on.  However, when this blew up into an epic scandal,  persons began demanding greater privacy on the Internet.  We don't want our information falling into the wrong hands.

To this point, social media networks have been able to have it both ways.  They can freely collect your information, but it is very difficult for the user to control where that information goes.  Worse, it is virtually impossible, as David Carroll found out in his suit against Cambridge Analytica, to get that information back.  CA declared bankruptcy before having to expose its vast database.

I can understand why high profile San Antonians wouldn't be so keen to be called out in their support of Trump, but it is precisely the Trump campaign that actively used Project Alamo, CA and other digital information harvesters to effectively target key voters and swing the election in its favor. Team Trump used a vast array of misinformation to influence unsuspecting persons who were sitting on the fence in that election.  These frustrated voters didn't know they were part of an Orwellian social experiment first carried out in developing countries like Trinidad and Tobago.  For their part, these donors were probably not aware of it either.  Nevertheless, this is where their money went.

Misinformation has become the cornerstone of the Republican campaign strategy.  It began cleverly enough by twisting facts to suit their arguments, but now we see blatant falsehoods being peddled on the news and social media.  The other night, I heard a member of Republicans Abroad tell CNN host Bianca Nobilo that more than half of Americans own guns and that automobile deaths vastly exceed firearms deaths.  Both statements are demonstrably false but Nobilo, a British journalist filling in for Hala Gorani, failed to pick up on it.   The amazing part of this segment is that the man had no qualifications at all.  He was simply a Republican expat in London providing terribly misleading information in an effort to downplay the gun violence in America.

I was furious!  I expect this kind of misinformation on Fox News, but not CNN.  2016 marked the sad milestone when firearm-related deaths exceeded automobile-related deaths in the United States, with firearm-related deaths very nearly topping 40,000 in 2018.  When you compile all the civilian firearm-related deaths over the last 50 years, they exceed the death toll of all American wars combined since the Revolutionary War.  Gun violence is not something that can be so callously dismissed.

This is why Joaquin Castro and other Democratic politicians are also furious.  They are unable to get any gun control legislation through Congress because Republicans block them at every turn.  The same Republicans supported by the donors that Castro tweeted.  This goes beyond Trump, but to a political party that has blocked any meaningful gun control legislation since 2003, when they retook the House of Representatives and allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to expire in 2004.  Since then we have seen a vast number of states delimit gun control and promote open carry laws that allow persons to brandish loaded semi-automatic weapons in public.  These donors deserve to be outed!

Less than one-third of Americans own guns, a fact pointed out by CNN no less.  The vast majority of firearms are concentrated in very few hands.  Three per cent of Americans own nearly half of the 390 million guns in circulation in this country.  That's 10 million persons with approximately 195 million firearms, or roughly 20 guns per individual.  Ask yourself why we should give these persons so much political sway in our country, to the point kids are wearing bulletproof backpacks to schools, which now provide lockdown rooms in case of mass shooters?

No other developed country in the world has this kind of problem.  Even war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan have a lower homicide rate than the US, and virtually no school shootings.  It is utterly appalling, yet conservative donors keep contributing to Republican campaigns but want their communities to think they care.

Kudos to Joaquin Castro and Armie Hammer.  Conservative donors and their spineless political surrogates shouldn't be allow to operate in the shadows.  We need to rat them out, and let everyone see the hypocrisy that lies behind their empty rhetoric.  Thoughts and prayers no longer count.  Not that they ever did.  We have to take back our schools, malls and public spaces, and that begins by shaming the very persons who have allowed for a gun culture to flourish in this country and take so many innocent lives.






Friday, August 9, 2019

What makes El Paso different?




Mass shootings have become all too common.  The vast majority appear to be guys using firearms to vent.  They are disillusioned by the empty lives they are living and feel the need to let the world know they exist.  The AR-15 or whatever assault weapon they choose to use becomes an equalizer.

This was the case in Dayton, where a young man, 24 years old, managed to fire off more than 50 rounds in less than a minute, killing 9 and wounding more than 20 others.  Police responded immediately, but sadly the damage was already done.  Police took out the shooter, sparing us the process of a long drawn out court case.  

However, the situation in El Paso was entirely different.  Here we had a 21 year old man, who had driven 10 hours to specifically take out Mexicans at the border, after publishing his hate-filled manifesto online.  He picked the largest and busiest Walmart in the city and methodically went after persons that looked Mexican.  In this case, the police took the assailant alive, and so we are now left to sort out his manifesto and determine to what degree this young man was driven by the highly-charged anti-immigration rhetoric we have heard the past three years under Trump.

The White House would rather you look at Dayton because the assailant in this case left a trail on social media that indicates he was attracted to socialist candidates like Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders, and left-wing extremist groups like Antifa.  However, police have said there is nothing to indicate his attack was politically motivated.  Nevertheless, the WH is determined to establish a false equivalence, just like it did in Charlottesville, because they seem determined to protect the white nationalist views their president harbors.

Kellyanne Conway may be "hopping mad" at the perceived media bias, but to this point the public isn't buying it.  The El Paso gunman was very clearly carrying out an agenda, which to a large part has been one the president promoted at his rallies.  The language the gunman used is virtually the same as the president.  Words the assailant obviously took to heart.  By contrast, The Dayton man was not driven by anything Warren or Sanders specifically said.

You can say what you will about the Dayton man, but he is the all too typical mass murderer.  He will be instantly forgotten, especially since he is not around to defend himself.  The El Paso shooter will be front and center for months to come and this the White House can't stand.  Like the young man who shot up the African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, he was driven by white supremacist views.  A pattern that has become increasingly familiar during the Age of Trump.  Hate crimes have risen under this president, whether he likes it or not.  The Charleston mass shooting occurred in the summer of 2015, one day after Trump announced his candidacy.  

Trump has long used insulting, abusive and highly toxic language, driven by a very narrow view of what it is to be American in this country.  His father supported the Klan during a time it tried to extend its reach beyond the Mason-Dixon border, and it seems these white supremacist views stuck with Donald, although he is loathe to admit it.  This language reached an ugly head in 2011 when Trump adopted the Birther campaign and made it his own.  Ever since then he has been the American idol of the white supremacist movement, which poured large amounts of money into his campaign in 2016, and continues to support him in 2020.

Yet, Republicans persist in their effort to protect Trump on one hand while disavowing white supremacism on the other.  You can't have it both ways.

The El Paso mass shooting was a direct result of Trump's highly inflammatory speech, which is on full display at each and every one of his rallies, even the one he held in El Paso back in February.  It was here that Trump called special attention to his border wall, and where the first privately funded segments of his notorious wall were erected this past Spring, thanks to a gofundme campaign started last year.  You don't drive ten hours without a special purpose in mind, which is why El Paso residents are "hopping mad."  Little wonder none of the survivors of the malicious attack wanted to meet Trump after he had politicized his Dayton visit on twitter.

For Trump, it is not about giving condolences, its about clearing his name.  He is determined to show that he is no way responsible for these cowardly acts being carried out by the fringe of his radical conservative base.  It's the same with shock jocks who refuse to own up to their words, after they were parroted by mass murderers.  

One can argue that these aren't Trump's words, as he actively cribs his tweets and speeches from right wing sites, but he makes these words his own the minute he utters them at rallies.  He may think he is just playing to a crowd, as any stand-up performer would, but these words carry much more resonance coming from the commander-in-chief.  

We have never had a president that so firmly embraced the rhetoric of the white supremacist movement.  He repeats all the same talking points at his rallies, evokes much of the same language in his tweets, and has only marginally distanced himself from this radical fringe despite all the warnings from his own staff. Worst of all, he has two sons who are even harsher in their right-wing rhetoric, as they openly cater to this ugly underbelly of American society on Fox News and other conservative news outlets.  Little wonder that white supremacist leaders are ecstatic to have Trump in the White House, even if he hasn't exactly fulfilled all their abject agenda.

What Trump has done is sown discord, anger and hostility on a level we normally see only in television and movies.  He feeds off this chaos, churns it over again and again to keep himself at the center of attention.  Whenever this harsh rhetoric takes an ugly turn, he retreats to one of his golf courses to ride out the storm. It took two days for Trump to give a speech in response to one of our bloodiest weekends in civilian carnage.  Too busy with golf and weddings to issue a formal statement until Monday morning.  Even when he did, he mixed up cities, as he read from a carefully prepared script, amply illustrating what little connection he had with the events that took place over that fateful weekend.

It is this incredible disconnection with the mainstream of society that will ultimately prove his undoing.  Trump thrives on the fringes of society.  What Kellyanne Conway refuses to admit is that an incendiary figure like Trump is just as appealing to the extremists at both ends of the spectrum, as both left-wing and right-wing militants seek an end to society as we know it.  They both live in fantasy worlds with guns being their means of showing the world they exist.  You can talk all you want about involuntary commitment of the mentality ill, but very few of these persons show any outward signs of their "illnesses" until it is too late.  They are walking time bombs, only needing a match, which Trump provides at his rallies, to set them off at any moment's notice.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Hollow Debates




Round two of the Democrat presidential debates yielded no clear winner.  Biden bounced back, Kamala floundered, Cory hit a positive note, Liz showed she is still the most informed candidate.  Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang finally made names for themselves.  Yang probably did the best simply because he stood up for immigrants, noting that the country is full of successful immigrant stories, like that of his father, and we should quit using immigrants as scapegoats for all our perceived problems.

The problem is that there are too many candidates and too little time to present their cases.  It comes down to who is the most witty or has the best soundbite.  They all went after "Shoeless" Joe Biden after he got hammered in the first debate, but the old man held his ground this time, so moderates can breathe a sigh of relief.  Still, he showed himself to be quite vulnerable, with Tulsi Gabbard serving as his attack dog when she went after Kamala Harris on her prosecutor's record.  Tulsi seems to be angling for the #2 spot on Biden's ticket.

The questions were mostly geared at pitting the candidates against each other, with Jake Tapper being his usual irritable self in confining the candidates to the narrow debate parameters.  I have never been able to understand how news networks let themselves be hijacked by third-rate journalists, whose only job is to make names for themselves. This was a typical CNN reality show debate designed to eliminate candidates, not see what any candidate really had to offer.  In the end you hear more from the "judges" than you do the candidates.  Andrew Yang summed it up well.

Right now, Yang appears to be the most honest and straightforward of the candidates.  He has the luxury of being an outsider who has nothing to lose and everything to gain from these debates.  Marianne Williamson is in a similar position and made the most of her limited opportunities on stage in calling for a more humane society, which I think will probably click with voters who are tired of jaded politicians.

There are too many candidates vying for attention with Trump hogging up much of the media limelight with his outlandish rallies that grow more racist and xenophobic each day.  He is literally drowning out the opposition with his vitriol.  The media obliges the orange blob by amplifying all his horrific comments, just at they did during the 2016 campaign.  Trump sells ad space.  So far, none of the Democrats have been able to bring in a commensurate revenue to warrant significant media attention.

It seems like CNN was hoping to spice things up by purposely pitting the candidates against each other with purposely pointed questions.  It wasn't just Shoeless Joe that came under attack, but all the front runners, as the lesser known candidates vied for attention.  Yang cautioned on falling prey to this style of debate, as it will leave everyone bruised and bloody, but sadly this is what sells ads, which Chris Cuomo noted in the short interview with Yang.

Everyone likes to talk about how the political space needs to open up.  The candidates need room to expound upon their ideas, but the news media doesn't want to give them that space, so the candidates take to the late night talk show circuit to garner a little bit of spotlight.  I'm not sure how effective that is.  Who stays up till 11 o'clock to see candidates pitch themselves on television?

I suppose when the field winnows down to five or six candidates, the news media will give them more space, but until then the Democrats have to vie for polling position to qualify for the monthly debates.  The next one is scheduled for early September.

August is generally seen as a dead month in politics with Congress in recess, and politicians using the time for vacations.  Not much gets done during this month, but candidates can't afford to take any time off and so they take their show on the road, hoping to build up the so-called "ground game" that will carry them through the caucuses and primaries early next year.

In watching The Great Hack, it seems time would be well spent building a strong social media network, as this is apparently what worked so well for Ted Cruz in the early going and eventually Donald Trump.  They essentially cribbed Obama's social media strategy from 2008, courtesy of Brittany Kaiser who went from Team Obama to Cambridge Analytica, and eventually spilled the beans on how CA was able to manipulate voters, particularly in key states.

Still too early to tell how this election will shape up.  I'm hoping against hope that the news media doesn't fall into the same rabbit hole it did last time around.  We need to allow these Democratic candidates to be heard, and so far that hasn't been the case.  The news remains Trump 24/7 and that's the way Team Trump likes it.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Origins of Democracy?




I don't know what's more absurd, Trump trying to pronounce origins or Jamestown being called the origins of our Democracy?  Both were on display this week for all to see as Trump honored the first general assembly held in America in 1619, but not without a little protest to heighten the event.

This short protest was great on numerous levels.  First, it silenced Trump in a way he didn't expect.  Second, the young protester called attention to the way the president has denigrated Congresspersons of color ranging from Ilhan Omar to Elijah Cummings.  Third, he called attention to the fact Jamestown was a slave colony, with the first record of Africans being sold to English settlers the same year as the first general assembly.  This was probably what was discussed at that historic meeting.

The absurdity of honoring Jamestown as the cradle of democracy belies what a harsh autocratic society it was at the time.  We've seen the colony portrayed in movies like The New World and in a new television series simply entitled Jamestown.  Of course, there have been many sugar-coated portrayals of Jamestown like Disney's Pocahontas, but it is not like mainstream society is unaware of the harsh realities of this early English outpost in America.

Whatever democracy occurred in Jamestown was only among the elites.  It wasn't just women, natives and slaves who had no rights, but also indentured servants, as John Smith was portrayed in The New World.  This was a cruel, unforgiving society, which was why there were so many rebellions and the settlement was eventually abandoned by the end of the 17th century, after the capital of Virginia was moved to Williamsburg.

Yet, Jamestown lives on, thanks largely to the Pocahontas story.  These early English settlements along the Eastern seaboard, weren't about democracy.  It was a pretty unheard of thing back then.  It wasn't until the mid 18th century that we began to see the Enlightenment spread to America and colonial leaders experimenting with representative government. 

The 17th century was pretty much the dark ages of America, a ruthless society driven largely by fear of the unknown, as English settlers tried to stake out their claims in a new world inhabited by what they regarded as savages.  They used the Bible to justify their cruel and inhuman treatment not just of natives but of their own members, who had strayed.  Everything from witch trials, to expulsion of families that didn't subscribe to their narrow interpretation of the Bible, to executions of those who refused to heed their commands.  You would be hard pressed to find any of the hallmarks of what we regard as democratic government today.

Just the same, we feel this need to honor a piece of paper that really means nothing, other than a group of elites gathered together to form a government of sorts to better manage affairs at Jamestown.  It's fitting that they would invite Trump to the event, as he is the very epitome of the same autocratic mindset that pervaded Jamestown at the time.  These were basically the "oranges" of corporations, with the formation of a board to oversee the production of tobacco to be shipped back to Mother England.  The colony needed additional manpower and soon found it in a Dutch ship full of slaves, kidnapped from a Portuguese ship bound for the Caribbean. 

In this sense, Jamestown is the model of Southern aristocratic life, which would flourish in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  These "legislative" bodies ran their colonies, and eventually states, with an iron fist.  Hard to think of them as little democracies.

One of the few colonies to have anything approaching the idea of democracy was Rhode Island, established by Roger Williams, after breaking away from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He at least forged a tentative peace with the local native population, and gave them equal voice in decisions made in the colony.  It was a matter of self-preservation mostly, as Williams knew his colony couldn't survive without a joint effort.  Eventually, Rhode Island became like every other colony along the Eastern seaboard.

Anyway, I'm glad someone called out this charade for what it is.  I would like to see more of our youth challenge our myths of early American society.


Monday, July 29, 2019

Like a Wrecking Ball




On these hot summer days, my Yahoo! news feed is filled with mostly titillating stories like Miley Cyrus stripping down to beat the heat, but Trump has somehow managed to intrude with all his racist comments about Baltimore, his rants against Sweden, and his ongoing feud with Robert Mueller.  There's another Democratic debate coming up this week, but you would never know it as you have to scroll far down the headlines to find it.  First you have to read how annoyed Maryanne Williamson was after the ridicule she received from the first debate.  It's good to know she is sticking with her campaign theme, "love is the answer."

The Trump strategy this summer is just the opposite.  He is casting the Democrats in the worst possible light so as to make them defend themselves.  He's lashing out at everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Barack Obama to Joe Biden, but his harshest tweets have been directed at Elijah Cummings, leading many to view Trump as racist.  His staff says the president is an equal opportunity troll.

One wonders whatever became of Melania's project, "Be Best?"  Trump has degraded the office of the president to such a low point that his angry tirades hardly qualify as news anymore.  However, among his base, he is still thought of as the best thing to ever happen to the White House.

Trump appears to represent the disenfranchised mass of white voters, yearning to return to a time when they held the upper hand in American society.  A time when they could call a spade a spade, so to speak, and not feel ashamed to say it.  They long for dirty jokes at the water cooler, copping a feel at a waitress' expense, and using racial nicknames to describe the world around them.  They are tired of all this PC bullshit and want to be free to say whatever comes to their minds without facing any legal incrimination.

They also want to smoke in public places, not wear motorcycle helmets or seat belts, not have to pick up their dog's poop, which many local and state laws now require them to do.  Basically, they want the Libertarian dream of a country devoid of pesky rules and regulations governing human behavior.  They believe as individuals, they are entitled to say or do whatever they wish as long as it doesn't harm anyone.  In short, "No Harm, No Foul."

The problem is that there is a lot of harm that comes from Trump's demeaning tweets, and the behavior of trolls in general.  Baltimore is understandably very upset at being called a "disgusting ... rodent infested mess," as any city would be if disparaged like this by the President.  Baltimore isn't the first city to face abuse by the President.  He has similarly gone after Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago and even his home city of New York.  The pattern is easily discernible.  Cities are seen as Democratic strongholds, and he wants to project this image that Democrats can't even clean up their own urban messes, much less the United States.

I don't know when Democrats adopted their urban strategy, probably after the Civil Rights legislation of 1964, when our country became even more bitterly divided over race.  Much of the attempts at establishing social equality took place in cities around the country.  There was the now infamous attempt to impose busing on Boston, which was met with angry protests not only in Boston but all around the country.  No one wanted to be told what to do, especially when it came to their kids.

Cities began to be viewed as Democratic human experiments in social policies, and as such were viewed in a largely negative light.  This is why so many whites fled to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s, as they didn't want to be Democratic lab rats.  This left many American cities predominantly Black and/or Hispanic, so we saw a wave of newly elected Black and Hispanic mayors and police chiefs, which in many white suburban dwellers' minds made these cities "no-go zones."

Movies from the late 70s and early 80s cast cities in the worst possible light, such as The Warriors and Escape from New York.  What makes Escape interesting is that it was set in the near future, 1997, with Manhattan converted into a maximum-security prison.  After terrorists hijack Air Force One, forcing the president's plane down in this literally crime-filled city, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is called in to save the day, a la Rambo.  Cities had become so bad, they might as well be converted into penal colonies.

Trump projects this same urban dystopia in his tweets.  It doesn't matter that cities today are far cleaner, more lively, and in general have lower crime rates than they did back in the notorious 70s, he projects the old view that cities are horrible places to be and that the only way to escape this urban nightmare is to live in a tower, like he did on Fifth Avenue.

Many Americans share this view.  They prefer the pastoral view projected by Hollywood of small town America, even if this is an equally false view of what it is like to live in rural and suburban America.  Only in recent years have we seen this warm and fuzzy image of small towns called into question, most notoriously by David Lynch in Blue Velvet.

Just the same, the rural myth predominates in American politics.  The mainstream media still likes to refer to the vast plains of Middle America as The Heartland, and project the belief that this is the place where real American values lie, not in our congested dysfunctional cities.  This is why Iowa gets so much prominence in the primaries.  It is a principally rural state, with its economy largely tied to agriculture.

These are the voters Trump and his fellow Republicans prey on.  For whatever reason, Democrats felt they could win state-wide elections by appealing mainly to urban voters, discounting these wide stretches of rural America.  That's why if an election came down to real estate, Republicans would win almost every Congressional seat.  Democrats don't seem to want to travel these country roads, and so Republicans have made them their own.

Beto O'Rourke tried to shatter this view in 2018, by visiting every county in Texas during his race against Ted Cruz for one of the state's senate seats.  He very nearly won thanks to his boyhood charm and willingness to reach out to disenfranchised rural voters.  This was pretty amazing for a state that hadn't elected a Democratic senator since 1996.

There was a time when Democrats had strong pull in the Heartland.  Republicans were seen as the party of urban elites, but all that changed with Ronald Reagan, himself a Hollywood projection.  Barack Obama was very much correct when he said that the Gipper changed the trajectory of American politics.  Reagan fulfilled the Hollywood dream of a cowboy riding into town and cleaning up the mess left by his corrupt predecessors, in this case Democrats.  It took quite a few years to flush out the Democrats, but in 1994 the Republicans achieved their ultimate goal of retaking Congress and being able to rewrite Democratic legislation and setting federal budgets.

You wouldn't have had Reagan without the exodus of white voters to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s.  Although Reagan liked to project himself as "colorblind," his campaign was largely based on re-establishing a white vision of America.  One where affirmative action would be abolished and we would return to a so-called level playing field.  Not that the field was ever level to begin with.

For 12 years, his and George H.W. Bush's administrations fought a Democratic Congress tooth and nail over domestic programs and federal policies that supported affirmative action.  It was only with the surprise election of Bill Clinton in 1992 that white voters began to panic, especially when Toni Morrison declared "Bubba" Clinton the "first Black President."  Talk of new Democratic social legislation such as expanded health care led Republicans to offer their Libertarian vision in the so-called "Contract with America," that led to the conservative overthrow of Congress in 1994.

It didn't matter that Clinton was cut in the same mold as previous Southern Democratic leaders, white voters now saw Democrats in the same negative light they had previously seen Republicans -- urban elites.  Republicans capitalized on this phony set of impressions,  thanks to the start-up Fox News, which many viewers took to be news parody when it first appeared in 1996 on the heals of the Republican Revolution.  Fox very quickly rose to become the voice of disenfranchised America and the faux news juggernaut it is today.

Fox achieved its supremacy among news networks by casting all the other news networks as being liberally biased.  It din't matter that Fox was based out of New York, like so many of the other news networks, it projected the image of being the News of the Heartland, uniting rural and suburban voters in a shared view that the vast interior plains was where America's heart lay, and that we should all be afraid of cities and the urban elite.

Of course, it didn't help that all the major news networks tended to report urban crime and mayhem in disproportionate amounts.  You see very few feel good urban stories.  American cities became the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Books of Moses.  This had always been an effective political tool, but Fox was even more blunt, bringing in a slough of so-called experts to vouch for these assertions.

Most recently, they brought in Kimberly Klacik, to give us a rat's eye view of West Baltimore, which Elijah Cummings represents.  She focuses her camera on the appalling conditions she personally witnessed, and holds Cummings entirely to blame for this urban nightmare.  No one really knows who Klacik is, as she had no previous real journalistic experience.  She appears to be entirely a product of social media.  We don't even know if she actually is from Baltimore.  She is now a media sensation and "GOP strategist," who has taken great relish that Trump used her same words to describe Baltimore in his blistering attack of Elijah Cummings.

This provides Trump cover from the allegations streaming on mainstream media that he is a racist. He simply echoed the words of a Baltimore native.  It is the same way he uses Kanye West and other black celebrities to project the warped vision that he offers an alternative view to the "plantation mentality" that pervades the Democratic Party.  As long as he has a black person in his corner, Trump believes he cannot be viewed as racist.  An impression echoed by his  White House staff.

This vast open-ended discussion makes it difficult for the Democratic presidential candidates to get a word in edge wise, no matter how hard they try.  Kamala Harris saw right through Trump's attempt to project himself as A$AP Rocky's savior, but to no avail.  Trump is seen as the one being high-minded in trying to intercede on the rapper's behalf.  If this strategy continues to play out this way, Democrats are in real trouble come 2020, as Trump appears to have found a way to divide and potentially conquer the urban black vote, or at least relegate it to the fringes.  You might call him the "wrecking ball."


Saturday, July 27, 2019

45 is a puppet




It didn't take long for viewers to see there was something amiss about the presidential seal behind Trump as he took the stage of a youth rally sponsored by Turning Point USA.  I thought it was an on-line joke, but it turns out the techie who was in charge for the screen presentation was either grossly incompetent, had his presentation hacked or is the ultimate troll.  Whatever the case, this is a moment neither Trump nor Turning Point will be able to live down for a long time, as the seal has now become the unofficial emblem of the Trump White House.

The creator of the satiric seal has become an internet celebrity.  When he created this image at the height of the 2016 campaign, he could never have imagined that one day Trump would stand before it.  He will have a hard time holding onto the rights of the design, as I'm sure it will be plastered all over t-shirts and caps in the days ahead.  It's the perfect emblem for a faux president who thinks he is king of the world.

Trump has really outdone himself in recent days, venting before a North Carolina audience and now a group of conservative teens, about all the imaginary threats in this world.  One of them turns out to be Sweden, whose police had the audacity to arrest A$AP Rocky for starting a fight in Stockholm.  So now Trump is leading the #FreeRocky movement from the White House.  He was very disappointed that PM Stefan Lofven wouldn't act on his request to let the rapper go.  It seems the new mantra of his foreign policy will be "treat Americans fairly."

Former Swedish PM Carl Bildt had a few words to say in response.  He hasn't had a chance to learn that there is no winning a rhetorical battle with @realDonaldTrump on twitter.  He will soon enough.

Meanwhile, A$AP is milking this new found attention for all its worth and when finally allowed to leave Sweden, I'm sure will be stopping by the White House to personally thank Trump, maybe even with his main man Kanye West in tow.  A$AP is an up-and-comer in the World of Rap, and was badly in need of some street cred.  Of all the places to find it.

This level of absurdity underscores the White House, which is why Kamala Harris took time to address the issue at the NAACP convention in Detroit.  She, unlike others, sees the misuse of presidential power, not to mention the shameless attempt to pander to the African-American community.  But, she has gotten more flack than Donald Trump for not rushing to the defense of her young countryman, as other Democratic presidential candidates have done.

The only video evidence we have of A$AP's presumed innocence are the videos he posted on Instagram, supporting his claim he was being taunted by two men before he slammed one to the ground.  If a similar incident had taken place in New York, I doubt Trump would be defending the rapper.

Sadly, this is the state our presidency has deteriorated to.  Trump will falsely accuse Ilhan Omar of sleeping with terrorists and her own brother at a NC rally, but will rush to the defense of A$AP Rocky because Kanye and Kim interceded on his behalf, showing how easily he can be pulled in any direction.  What kind of mixed signal does this send to the African-American community in our country, or all Americans for that matter?  About the only purpose these twitter rages serve is to deflect attention from the real crimes being committed by this malevolent administration.  This is what Kanye and Kim or any American should be worried about, not A$AP Rocky, who is being treated by Swedish authorities much better than are the Central American migrants and asylum seekers in Trump's detention centers.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Shameless




I didn't expect much from the Mueller hearing, so I'm not surprised to read that it failed to live up to expectations.  What did surprise me is just how shameless Republicans are in defending their Commander-in-Chief.  They wasted no opportunity to besmirch Mueller's reputation, question his judgement, and point out what they regarded to be the many failings of his investigation.  To be fair, Democrats likewise used their allotted time to chasten the President rather than ask Mr. Mueller specific questions.

It didn't matter that he netted several persons within Trump's inner campaign circle, and showed that Russia actively interfered in the 2016 elections, which he had been charged by the DOJ to determine.  In their minds, Trump remains cleared of all charges, even when Mueller specifically said he didn't have the power to indict him.  Instead, he laid out ten incidents where the president could be seen as obstructing justice.

I will never understand why so many Republicans go out of their way to defend Trump, who has trampled over them on numerous occasions.  The way he treated Lindsay Graham during the campaign, with Lindsay bitterly responding to Candidate Trump comes to mind.  In December 2015, Graham called Trump "a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot," but 1318 days later Graham ardently defended Trump's race-baiting, xenophobic speech at a North Carolina rally, in which the president viciously accused Ilhan Omar of sympathizing with terrorists and committing incest.  It doesn't get any uglier than that.

Lindsay Antebellum is not alone.  We have seen other so-called moderate Republicans defer to Trump, like Susan Collins, who defended the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in the face of compelling evidence of sexual assault in the Supreme Court justice nominee's past.  Even if she didn't think there was enough proof to confirm the allegations, the way he conducted himself at the hearing should have given her pause.

However, no one represents this moral and ethical decay worse than Mike Pence, a Democrat turned Republican, former US Representative and Indiana governor, who now has his head so far up Trump's ass that he could only bear to grimace after witnessing the appalling conditions at one of his president's detention camps.  Back in the 90s, he had a radio show, where he was constantly calling Bill Clinton's character into question, but has no problem serving a president who has multiple sexual assault allegations leveled against him, and constantly demeans women on public record.  A self-professed born-again Christian, Pence is like so many conservative Evangelicals who have learned to look the other way when it comes to Trump.

The only Republicans who question Trump are those no longer in power like John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, and William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts.  Trump has successfully shut down any dissent within the active rank of Republican leaders throughout the country.  He's done so by securing the base of the party so that any Republican seeking public office has to subscribe to his cynical vision or face being "primaried" in his or her election bid. Even Lisa Murkowski, the GOP Senator from Alaska, is afraid to speak too harshly against Trump, despite having survived a primary challenge back in the wild Tea Party days of Mama Grizzly Sarah Palin. This is a very sad indication of how deep the Republican Party has sunk in its depravity.

It once was said that Republicans were smarter than Democrats, driven by pragmatism rather than ideology.  That is not the case today.  Fewer Republicans have a college education, and many never graduated from high school.  No matter, universities today are viewed as elitist institutions promoting political correctness.  Instead, we hear college-educated Mike Rowe promoting vocational training with college-educated Tucker Carlson, as if this is the answer to all our problems.

Not surprisingly, many Republican governors have advocated massive reductions in education funding, and our President supports a huge cut in federal education spending, sponsored by his Education czar Betsy DeVos.  It seems Republicans are purposefully dumbing down the electorate, hoping to get more converts.

Science has been widely discredited by religious conservatives who don't believe in evolution, global warming, vaccines or that we live on an orb, much less sent a man to the moonYoutube is largely blamed for spreading these conspiracy theories with all the spiffy videos calling basic science and medicine into question.  These dangerous theories are peddled all over social media to the point we have had the worst outbreaks of measles in decades thanks to the widely-held belief that MMR vaccines cause autism.  It was only after these outbreaks that Trump broke from his previously held belief that vaccines are bad to urge Americans to "get their shots.

The worst part is the utterly shameless way in which this information is transmitted.  There is little or no attempt to tell the truth.  It is all about convincing an audience with your power of conviction, much like tele-evangelists of the past.  Now, these charlatans have the added benefit of literally putting words into other person's mouths with voice apps , as well as altering photographs and forging documents in photoshop to make their case on Youtube.

It's not like Republicans have to go out of their way to deter young people from going to college.  Tuition rates and boarding costs have skyrocketed to the point many families simply can't afford to put their children through college without assuming crippling loans. The average student loan debt today is a whopping $30,000.  Factor in interest and students will probably not be paying down their loans for decades.  Vocational school aren't much cheaper, so kids would have to take out loans to become plumbers, welders and electricians as well.

This dumbing down of America has reached alarming proportions.  Persons are much more vulnerable to conspiracy theories, as they are more likely to turn to pundits offering shameless manufactured opinions than they are seeking out information on their own.  Fox News and local news syndicates have been the prime benefactors of this intellectual laziness, as more and more people turn to these so-called news networks because its pundits aren't afraid to speak their minds no matter how profoundly ignorant they are.

Chris Wallace, who is considered one of the sharper pencils in the Fox News box, glibbly dismissed Robert Mueller's testimony before it even really began in an interview with Stephen Colbert.  I suppose he had to make it up to Trump after giving his chief bully boy, Stephen Miller, a hard time a few days before.

Few people actually listened to Mueller's testimony.  Instead, they turned to their favorite news and comedy network programs to hear distillations of the proceedings.  Trump also offered his own color commentary to his devoted fan base, repeating many of the same Fox talking points, including Chris Wallace's demeaning account.

We no longer seem willing or capable of forming opinions on our own.  We prefer easily digestible opinions that can be further distilled into memes and spread across social media, dismissing fact checks as biased.  No wonder Robert Mueller looked completely exasperated.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Chutzpah




It takes a lot of chutzpah to use your Jewish identity to defend Trump's cages, but that's exactly what Little Stephen Miller did in an interview with Chris Wallace.  He flipped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's comments on the detention camps along the border into an attack on her, calling her allusion to concentration camps a "historical smear."  He claimed he was "profoundly outraged as a Jew."

Yet, he defended his President's malicious attacks on "the Squad," once again flipping the widespread criticism Trump received in the wake of his North Carolina rally into an attack on Democrats for trying to stifle free speech.  Wallace made attempts to counter Miller but to no avail.  It's like hitting tennis balls against a backstop.

Miller appears to be the dominant force in the Trump White House.  Trump supposedly went so far as to make him in charge of immigration when Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as Secretary of Homeland Security, no longer able to cope with the extralegal measures Trump wanted to impose on unwanted migrants and asylum seekers.  Miller has no qualms imposing such inhumane measures.  In fact, he was probably the one who suggested them.

At 33, he is two generations removed from the Holocaust, which he alluded to in his interview with Wallace.  If he knew his history, he would be aware that Jews were rounded up and placed in concentration camps long before war broke out in 1939.  The camps were a convenient place to lodge undesirables, get free labor out of them, and deter anyone else from speaking out against the state.

Given the similar rhetoric used by Trump, you get the feeling that Miller read Goebbels moreso than he has ever read the Torah.  Miller is very good at spinning words to appeal to the hardline conservative base of the Republican Party.  His interview was a prime example of this, as he torched the Squad by saying, "these four congresswomen detest America as it exists, as it is currently constructed."   What he meant by this is open to interpretation, but the message is clear, the Squad is a threat to state security.  As a result, they are being attacked viciously in conservative social media and receiving death threats. 

While many Republican leaders have expressed their concern with the language being used by the Trump administration, few have publicly admonished him for it.  As long as Trump has the overwhelming support of the Republican base, Republican congresspersons will say little to detract from him.  Miller knows this, and it has become an effective weapon in keeping the Congressional Republican leadership quiet while Trump carries out his zero-tolerance immigration policy which does look an awful lot like the Nazi concentration camps of the 1930s.  Even Vice-President Mike Pence had to grimace by not saying anything when he visited one of the detention facilities, although he too admonished the mainstream media in calling them "concentration camps."

The big question is what Miller and/or Trump hopes to gain from these camps.  Regardless of whether you liken them to concentration camps, the unvarnished reports we have received are deeply unsettling, and will be used in the general election against Trump.  The conservative core at the heart of the Republican Party may support this immigration policy, but it has not been received well among the electorate as a whole.  

Trump has backed himself into a corner on the detention facilities, and it will take a monumental effort in flipping the current perception of these "concentration camps" into an attack on the Democrats for being soft on border security, which it appears is what Stephen Miller is trying to do by saying the Squad wants "a socialist open-border country."

This too oddly reflects pre-war Germany, in which Hitler came to power over the fear that Communists would overtake the country following their strong showing in the 1932 elections.  Hitler's Nationalist Party only won 33 per cent of the vote, but being the majority in parliament was able to convince the Social Democrats and in turn the country of the threat of the Communist Party (which only won about 15 per cent of the vote) and form a coalition that made him Chancellor.  It took less than a year to dismantle the state government and declare himself Fuhrer, with control over all 661 seats of the Reichstag.  He quickly rounded up the Communist leaders and their collaborators and placed them in concentration camps like Dachau.    

Stephen Miller is certainly playing on these same fears among the conservative base. By holding the base tight and casting doubts among moderates he hopes to repeat the same magic that led Trump to victory in 2016.  

What's ironic is the way he used his Jewish identity as a means of attacking Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez.  Many Jews have themselves likened the detention camps to concentration camps and are calling for them to be closed.  AOC is far from alone in her view that these detention camps are an ominous reminder of our racist past.


Friday, July 19, 2019

Il Douche



You kinda get the feeling Trump is the Grinch Who Stole America, as he stumbled upon his catch phrase for his 2020 campaign.  At first, he appeared to be coming to the defense of Nancy Pelosi, who AOC accused of singling out persons of color in her criticisms, but very quickly it morphed into an attack on four Congresswomen, aka the Squad, who a large part of the conservative electorate believes are foreigners and should be deported.

From a political point of view, it would have been smarter for Trump to continue to support Pelosi in the tiff between the House Speaker and The Squad, as it would have divided Democrats, but Trump (or more likely Stephen Miller) saw a great opportunity to rile up the base, so Trump made Ilhan Omar the poster child of his anti-immigration movement.

Ms. Omar is the only one of the four who was actually born outside the US.  She came to America from Somalia at the age of 10 and is a naturalized citizen.  She has been in the country longer than Melania, not that it matters to the MAGA crowd.  Ilhan holds two degrees, beginning her career as a community nutrition educator before becoming involved in the campaigns of Minnesota politicians.  She is very active in her community, which is why she won her Congressional district in a landslide in 2018.

It didn't hurt that her district has a very large Somali-American population, probably the largest in the US.  In our ethnically diverse country, there are many ethnic pockets, which are usually represented by Congresspersons who have ethnic links to these communities.  It doesn't make them any less American.  However, Trump implied it does make them less American at his rally, to which his adoring crowd chanted, "Send Her Back!"

Trump has resurrected the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s.  At the time, Irish and Germans were seen as undesirables.  Blacks and other minorities of color didn't have the right to vote, so they weren't viewed as a political threat.  It's a theme that has run through American politics from the time of its inception, but reached its ugliest proportions during the Jim Crow era when states went out of their way to disenfranchise emancipated Blacks from the political process, and lynched anyone who challenged the post-antebellum status quo in the South.

We thought we had put these ugly sentiments behind us when we elected Barack Obama in 2008.  Many pundits were hailing America as now being a "post-racial society," but that turned out to be one of the many myths we are so good at projecting about ourselves.  Much of our country remains ethnically segregated.  People tend to live in homogeneous communities and shape their societal views accordingly.  Just look at anyone's facebook page, and you will see it is not very diverse ethnically, mine included.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I lived in a mostly Black community but had little contact, other than with my immediate neighbors.  People were friendly enough, but I was very clearly the outsider.  As it turns out, my black neighbors were worried about gentrification.  I was renting a basement apartment from a young white couple, who was always complaining about the noise from the adjoining townhouse.  You don't seem so bad, the black woman said to me.

We ended up in these ethnic pockets or "bubbles," as they have recently come to be called, largely because we were herded into them.  Blacks and other minorities weren't welcome in white communities.  Before that, Irish and Italians and Germans weren't welcome in predominantly British communities. In studying the labor history of Lowell, Massachusetts, many years ago, Portuguese were similarly discriminated against in the mill towns.  Many of them ended up settling in New Bedford, where there remains a large Portuguese-American community

This is the nature of our society.  Most political leaders embrace it the way Ronald Reagan did when he gave his farewell address in 1988, but not Donald Trump.  He and his political cronies appear to view these pocket communities as safe harbors for illegal immigrants, at least those of Hispanic descent.  It doesn't matter that the vast majority of  persons who live in these communities have been living in the US for three, four or more generations, they are viewed as outsiders.  This is very dangerous rhetoric to be used, as we saw in Nazi Germany before World War II, but then our nation has initiated similar purges, albeit not on the same scale as the Holocaust.

When Trump singles out Ilhan Omar, he is casting the entire Muslim-American population in a negative light.  He peddled false social media claims at his rally in a feeble effort to impugn her character.  This feeds directly into the ethnic biases of his following, who see all Muslim-Americans as threats to the country, particularly those from Africa.  This is the same tactic Trump used in questioning Obama's birthright when he first flirted with the idea of running for president in 2011.  It backfired terribly on him and he never forgot the humiliation he suffered.  Trump sees a fresh target in Omar to exploit.

These are the tactics of White Nationalists, whether in Germany, the US or any other predominantly white country.  The social media has taken to calling Trump "Il Douche," mockingly referring to the Italian strongman who introduced fascism in the 1930s.  Unlike his fascist predecessors, Trump doesn't seem to have the stomach for violence.  He prefers inflammatory rhetoric, hoping to get others to do the violence for him.  He drops his little word bombs at his rallies and then leaves it up to his following to interpret it how they will, a tactic derived from shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh.

It's very effective as we found out in the 2016 election.  A lot of white Americans are worried about the changing face of our country.  They see their white privilege as being lost in an increasingly multi-cultural society.  Other politicans had toyed with these tactics before, notably Pat Buchanan, but none were as successful as Donald Trump.  He proved he could peddle hate better than anyone imagined possible.

But, Ilhan Omar may end up benefiting from all this negative publicity.  Most Americans embrace diversity, and when Ilhan returned back to Minnesota, she was greeted with a much more welcome chant.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Going Back to Scituate




It's a big thing these days to track down your family roots.  My wife and I were watching Eurovision a few weeks back and the constant plugs for My Heritage had us thinking why not?  Some of our friends had gotten their results back on the DNA tests and were busy assembling their family trees on the interactive website.  We're still waiting on our DNA results, but we both started putting together our family trees.

I didn't expect much to come of it.  I had a fair amount of information on the Ferguson side of my family, but almost nothing on the Lahr side.  I figured my mother's father or his father was a German immigrant and not much information is on file, at least not in the US.  I didn't feel like going for the annual subscription just yet, so I started searching around the Internet for information on my mother's parents, mostly to fill in the blanks on the family tree.  Lo and behold I discovered my grandmother's mother was a Sprague, and there was a project devoted exclusively to this family that was freely available to search out connections.

The Sprague family line tapered off pretty quickly, but it turned out my Great Grandmother had Torrey and Hatch family connections, which took me all the way back to the early 17th century Plymouth village of Scituate, one of the earliest settlements in Massachusetts.  Here I was thinking I was mostly a product of Scottish, Irish and German ancestry and I find this deep English connection that I tracked all the way back to 1415 and the town of Sellindge in County Kent.  I was floored!

I imagine I will find much more once I choose to subscribe to the services that MyHeritage provides, as I have a slough of notifications I can't open until I do.  Meanwhile, I followed up on some old leads I had, and tracked my great grandfather on my father's side to Bicester, Oxfordshire.  Everyone in the family thought he hailed from Inverness, Scotland, but his Scottish father was an itinerant minister who ended up in this English town where my great grandfather was born.  I paid five pounds to The Genealogist, which gave me 50 credits, and I came up with a marriage notification for my Great Great Grandparents, and a historic birth record of my Great Grandfather.

Pretty much all these search engines cost money these days.  It seems MyHeritage and Ancestry cull together huge data bases to help ease the search.  They will find matches for you so that you can better fill in your family tree.  These sites also serve as a social network, as my wife found out when some guy in California wrote to say his tree overlapped with hers, and they have been sharing information ever since.

The flip side is that myths are often shattered.  My family believed our Great Grandfather came from some great Highland clan, but turns out he was of much more humble origins.  When he came to America in the early 1870s, he reinvented himself, as so many persons did, and those stories were passed down through the family.  He did eventually make a name for himself in starting a steamship company to bring silver ore from Alaska to San Francisco in the late 19th century, but died broke in a hotel in Denver, Colorado, in 1895.  Fortunes made and lost overnight.

My grandfather had pieced together a scrapbook that included photos, wedding and birth announcements and other sorts of fun information.  That book has been passed around quite a bit, and it is hard to say where it is now.  Fortunately, I made copies of it when it passed through my hands.  The photos and handwritten family notes helped a genealogist locate John Henry, when my wife and I visited Inverness a few years back.

Genealogy is fun.  It gives you a great sense of who you are, as long as you are willing to accept the findings.  Neal Ascherson made fun of Americans, like Trent Lott,  hoping to find Scottish clan connections, in Stone Voices.  It wasn't very hard to get a certificate signifying you had "royal blood."  I found a copy of Samuel Deane's History of Scituate online, which I hope to read in the days ahead.

I encourage others to do the same.  Having these search engines greatly speeds up the process of discovery.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

History repeats itself as farce




Never a dull moment in The Apprentice: The White House Years, as former apprentice Sebastian Gorka strutted over to tell Playboy journalist Brian Karem, "You're not a journalist - you're a punk!" to the chants of "Gor-ka, Gor-ka" from the right-wing media choir whom Trump was honoring at a social media summit on the White House lawn.  It's almost as bad as the time Reagan invited Jerry Falwell and his band of Evangelist ministers to the White House.

Trump may be the dumbest president we ever had, but he is not the worst.  We can thank Reagan for ushering in these kooks back in 1981 when he rode into Washington on the backs of the so-called "Moral Majority."  Reagan, or rather his inner circle, quickly sought to undermine the progressive reforms of the Carter administration and all things Democratic.  The only problem was that Congress was still Democratic, so the House and Senate often overrode his vetoes, like the Clean Water Act that the Gipper vetoed in 1986.  Reagan even removed the solar panels from the White House roof purely out of spite.

This was the beginning of a restoration project by the Republicans that led to them overturning Congress in an unprecedented rout in 1994 with their so-called Contract with America.  Since then Republican policies have held sway for the better part of the last 25 years.  There was a brief spell between 2006 and 2010 when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but the bloodletting over the Affordable Care Act allowed the Republicans to take back the House in 2010 and essentially stymie any further progressive legislation.  In 2014, the Republicans regained the Senate too, allowing Mitch to effectively block all of Obama's judicial appointments, including Merrick Garland as Supreme Court Justice after the unexpected death of Antonin Scalia.

Scalia had been a Reagan appointee.  He was a major proponent of the unitary executive theory, which gave the President autocratic control over the executive branch of government, and denied Congress or the federal courts any means of recourse.  As it turns out, this is not the case, as Congress does have oversight powers, and the federal courts can block executive orders which it deems unconstitutional.  Nevertheless, Republicans have tried to exercise this right in each of their administrations, especially when it comes to foreign policy, which they regard as solely under the authority of the President.

This unitary privilege allowed Reagan to funnel arms and ammunition to the Contras in Nicaragua, and fund other insurgent groups around the world, including the so-called freedom fighters in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, all in the name of fighting communism.

Reagan's administration was deep in scandals throughout his eight years, leading to the investigation, indictment and/or conviction of 138 administration officials.  The Iran-Contra investigation dominated the news, with former Col. Ollie North eventually being sent to prison, but others like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney skated clean, eventually to come back and serve George H.W. and W. Bush.

The Bush presidencies were also fraught with scandal, but at least H.W. Bush sought UN approval before going to war with Iraq.  His son chose to have his envoys and allies barge out of the Security Council when it was clear the other members of the council weren't going to give him such authority.  An effort they were convinced was organized by France resulting in a boycott of French fries and French toast on Capitol Hill.  As a result, we ended up in a war with Iraq that lasted the better part of ten years.  This on top of an ill-advised war with Afghanistan which continues to this day.

As bad as Trump is, his administration officials are rank amateurs by comparison, as seen in Sebastian Gorka's outburst on the WH lawn.  Hard to believe Gorka actually served as Trump's deputy assistant and strategist before returning to television in August, 2017.  It was part of a purge that also resulted in the end of Bannon's short tenure as Trump's chief adviser.  Before, the British-Hungarian con man served as Hungarian PM Viktor Orban's deputy assistant and strategist and was a frequent contributor to RT, or Russia Today.

Trump has essentially surrounded himself with clowns, which is why Dick Cheney is none too happy about the current situation.  In fact, many former Reagan and Bush advisers have been pretty harsh on the Trump administration, mostly because Trump appears to be too close to Putin.  For decades the conservative foreign policy had been all about keeping Russia isolated, but Trump has essentially given Putin free rein anywhere in the world, to the point that Russia effectively blocked American efforts to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela earlier this year.  However, this isn't really fair, as George W. Bush pretty much turned a blind eye to Central and South America, with Russian warships doing maneuvers off the coast of Venezuela back in 2008.

Obama tried to make lemonade out of lemons by re-establishing an embassy in Havana and hoping to appeal to Maduro's better self at a UN assembly.  It didn't work out in Venezuela, but things looked quite promising in Cuba before Trump came to Washington.  Since January, 2017, we have seen a return to the same hard line attitudes toward Central and South America that we saw under previous Republican administrations.

It's hard to say whether it is incompetence or weakness or both that underlies Trump and the chicken hawks in his administration.  John Bolton, another surly figure from the Bush years, was notably peeved when Trump refused to follow through on air strike after Iran took down an American drone.  Bolton had been doing his damnedest to initiate a war with Iran only to see it blow up in his face.  Is Donald really so squeamish that he worries over a few hundred civilian lives?  He doesn't seem to worry that much over the migrant children he keeps locked up in cages on the Mexican border.  Most likely, Trump got a call from Putin, who told him ixnay on an air strike, otherwise those pee pee tapes might leak out.

Trump's closeness to Putin has befuddled conservative hawks.  They can't figure out for the lives of themselves what Putin has over Trump.  Dear Donald doesn't seem to move without consulting Vlad first on foreign policy.  He even takes cues from Erdogan, who apparently encouraged Trump to pull out of Syria, but this too was probably at the behest of Putin, who has the Turkish president under his thumb as well.

What's confused neoconservatives even more is Trump's ongoing love affair with Kim Jong-un.  No one could have imagined the romance these two struck up after Donald spent his first year threatening the third-generation Kim with complete and total annihilation. These empty threats would come to characterize the Trump administration, which is why Iran didn't take his most recent threats very seriously.

Nevertheless, Trump has cultivated a devoted base, which we saw this past week at his social media summit.  Never has a president enjoyed such an loyal following that is willing to blow off his irregularities small or large.  The only conservatives who don't seem to accept Trump are the old-guard Republicans, but who are they going to turn to?  Certainly, not the Democrats.  They are forced to endure the reality show president, while Sebastian Gorka struts around like a prized cock on the White House lawn.  History repeats itself as farce.