Friday, May 31, 2019

Cruel Summer leaving me here on my own

It must suck to come back from a three-day state visit to Japan only to face more talk about impeachment, or the "dirty, filthy, disgusting word" as Donald called it.  Like so much that swirls around his head, he doesn't seem to have a grasp of what's going on.  He thinks the Supreme Court can block an impeachment trial, just as he is convinced "Jina" is paying the tariffs directly to the US Treasury.  Worst of all, the biggest takeaway from his state visit is the cover-up of the USS John McCain because staffers didn't want their president to confront his arch-nemesis once again, even if it was an aircraft carrier.  This after wishing Japanese soldiers Happy Memorial Day.

All this would be fine if it was a reality show based on the White House, but sadly this is the real thing happening in real time.  Robert Mueller laid out the Articles of Impeachment at his press conference two days ago.  The ball is squarely in Nancy Pelosi's court, but as she told Jimmy Kimmel on Late Night, this is exactly what Trump wants as he knows a House impeachment will never stand in the Senate and he will feel totally vindicated.  This would give him a healthy head of steam going into the 2020 elections.  But, is there really any choice at this point?

Trump has made himself impeachable, as Nancy once said. He twirls the word around in his mouth, daring the Democratic House to follow through on its threats.  For him it is like Wrestlemania, publicly taunting his opponents, knowing that he has been ordained to win the match.  He's got Mitch threatening to quash impeachment charges before they have even been delivered to the Senate, just like the Turtle Man refused to consider any Supreme Court Justice Obama nominated in 2016.  For her part, Nancy says the charges would have to be "ironclad," but I don't think that would make any difference to Mitch or his Republican colleagues who stand firmly behind the president.

Meanwhile, Trump continues to toss tariffs around as if they are a secret weapon.  He threatened Mexico with tariffs across the board yesterday when ICE busted over 1000 illegal immigrants crossing the border at El Paso.  It appears to be in response to the privately funded border wall Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach unveiled earlier in the week.  People were beginning to wonder where those millions of dollars to a gofundme page went.

As for Steve Bannon, it seems things didn't work out so well in stuffing the EU parliament with Euro-skeptics.  He was working with Far-Right leaders like Marine LePen and Matteo Salvini to undermine the EU.  In the end, the Euro-Skeptics made no appreciable gains in Brussels and remain on the outside looking in.  Like Trump, he needed to change the subject to get people to talk about something else, and quickly flew to El Paso to inaugurate the new steel fence.

Surprised Trump wasn't there himself, but he still owes the city nearly $500,000 for the security and maintenance it provided for a MAGA rally this past February.  He didn't want to return to the scene of the crime or was suffering from jet lag.  Tough flight to Japan having to cross the International Date Line twice.

If nothing else, Trump's handlers know how to continuously switch the subject so that you don't have time to dwell on any one misstep for very long.  They probably learned this from the Evil Dr. Bannon, the master of misdirection.  He's so good he often misdirects himself.

Once again, Wall Street gets the jitters.  The Dow had hit a new peak of 26,600 at the end of April only to take another nosedive and hover around 25,000 most of Wednesday.  It gained some of it back yesterday, only to take yet another hit this morning, with the prospect of a 1000-point loss very much in play.  Some think this is all part of a game the Don is playing, but I'm not convinced.  The vaunted Trump Effect ended January, 2017, when the Dow first hit 26,000, and has been bouncing back and forth between 23,000 and 26,000 ever since.  The Fed is doing what it can to stave off a recession with no thanks from His Trumpness, but the bond markets say otherwise.

Tariffs certainly aren't the answer.  They are kryptonite to the economy.  Global players like Ford, Amazon and Boeing rely on low tariffs to get their products to market cheaply.  Once you start slapping tariffs on everything, prices go up, consumer confidence erodes and soon Trump will talking about how dirty, disgusting and filthy recession sounds, because that is what he will have heading into the 2020 election.

Going full circle, it was the 2008 recession that doomed John McCain's bid for the White House.  Americans were not quite ready for a black man named Barack Hussein Obama and were giving old Johnny every chance in the world even if he had done nothing to deserve it.  Then came that ill-fated meeting at the White House in late September where Mackie looked like a deer caught in headlights when George Bush asked what he thought we should do to turn the economy around.  Mackie said nothing. That was the beginning of the end of his presidential bid.

Trump appears similarly clueless as to what to do in the face of all these ominous signs.  He lashes out at the Fed for not dropping interest rates.  He bemoans China for not caving in on his demands, and now he lashes out at poor Mexico for simply being the route Central American refugees take to reach the border of the United States.  It's like the whole world is conspiring against him.   Where's Vlad when you need him?

It is becoming more and more likely Trump will finally get his wish for an impeachment trial this summer as he has refused to comply with House requests for his staff to testify before its oversight committees or to turn over his financial records.  By formally presenting Articles of Impeachment, Trump will no longer be able to freely use executive privilege to block such requests, as they will now have the full legal weight of subpoenas.  For Mueller's part, he laid out the trail for the House Speaker to follow and to let him be.  This will certainly help the television networks make up for lost revenue with all the reruns they are airing.  Let the Games begin!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Say hamberder!

It's the Asian style to show world leaders respect even when they are dumb as a rock.  Japan's Shinzo Abe or Abe Shinzo pulled out all the stops to show His Trumpness a great time in his home country.  He even arranged a meeting with the emperor, which Trump crowed about on twitter.  It seems it was a happy time by all, judging from the photo above.

Yet, this is the same guy who complained when Obama visited Japan over Memorial Day weekend in 2016 in an effort to mend bridges by visiting Hiroshima, and giving this stirring speech.  No such memorable speech from Trump.  Instead, he indulged himself in golf, sumo wrestling and "hamberders."

The long overdue state visit was an attempt to try to get trade talks back on track, discuss North Korea, with Abe throwing in the bonus of acting as the American proxy in talks with Iran to stave off another war.  All of this makes Trump look very presidential, which is what he desperately needs right now.

All these vaunted hardball tactics have yet to result in a single international trade deal.  The only one his administration was successfully able to negotiate is USMCA, which came with many concessions, and still waits to be ratified by Congress.  Talks with China blew up last week over Huawei.  Trump declared a tech national emergency, bringing discussions to a grinding halt and the stock market plummeting.  The Dow is still reeling from these latest failed negotiations.  Meanwhile Japan plays nice with Trump because it has made too many investments in the US and doesn't want to see them blow up overnight in a twitter rage.

China on the other hand has decided to play hardball, as "Emperor Xi" figures he has the upper hand here.  One way or the other Huawei will get its 5G technology and make its claim to being the fastest cellphone on the market.  China isn't about to let go control over its industries or ease restrictions on foreign companies to operating inside its huge market.  Many tech insiders are saying that we are moving closer to a two-tier technological world where the US can no longer claim hegemony.  It will be like having two railroad track gauges and having a race to see who has the better rail lines.  The American edge is no longer that significant.

The Trump administration has given up the American upper hand on so many fronts that we can no longer really claim to be the leader of the free world.  The US GDP as a percentage of the world has dropped considerably during his tenure.  It had been on the rise since its low point during the recent recession, but 2017 marked a significant dip of 0.5 per cent.  With so many emerging Asian markets, it was inevitable that we would lose our grip on the world economy, but the Trump administration is making that happen more quickly.

If China were to form a trade union with Russia, Brazil, India and other countries around the globe, the size of their market will be demonstrably larger than the US.  The only recourse is for the US to enter into a similar trade agreement with world economic giants like Japan, Mexico and Australia.  Oh, but we did that.  It was called the TPP, which Trump abandoned his first 100 days in office, and now we are paying for the consequences.

We have been told Trump prefers bilateral deals.  He likes to work one-on-one with world leaders.  You might call it his "charm offensive," which he likes to think is his secret weapon, but the world economy doesn't function that way.  It is all interrelated, and all this bluster over tariffs isn't helping matters any because international companies rely on low tariffs to move their products worldwide as cheaply as possible.  This is particularly true of the auto industry, which Trump keeps threatening to tax.

For Trump the charm, or carrot, doesn't work unless there is a corresponding stick.  He seems to think that all these threats are what brings world leaders to the negotiating table where he can win them over with his charm.  He views this as having been particularly successful in North Korea and now wants to try it on Iran.  He doesn't stop for one moment to think that South Korea and Japan prepared that table for talks with North Korea, or that other Asian countries like Vietnam and Singapore played instrumental roles. Trump thinks that only by sending his ships into the Korean peninsula did Kim Jong-un wake up to the power he projects in the region.  This is what he is now doing in Iran.

The odd thing is that the US had a nuclear deal in place, cosigned by five other nations and the EU, but this wasn't good enough for Trump.  It was a product of the previous administration and he wants a signature agreement of his own to promote on twitter.  It seems Abe Shinzo is willing to help him achieve this goal, as Japan was not a co-signature on the previous agreement and it would allow him to be part of a bold new deal.  Abe may be more quiet but he appears to have a pretty big ego himself.

Anyway, this state visit took a little bit of the sting out of his failed infrastructure summit with Chuck and Nancy.  Maybe Trump will come back in a better mood this week.  He even wants to talk trade with Nancy, no doubt to get his USMCA ratified.  This after saying USMCA was too complicated for Nancy to understand.  We'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 24, 2019

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

A dark cloud fell on the Rose Garden as His Trumpness lashed out at Lady Pelosi for allowing investigations to proceed against his royal house despite all his best efforts to introduce new legislation.  At stake is a much ballyhooed infrastructure bill that Trump has been offering ever since the 2016 campaign.  Lady Pelosi and Lord Schumer offered to meet him halfway on the bill, but the annoying Duke of Orange was too upset with dear Nancy to even discuss the matter, storming out of the meeting after issuing a diatribe, and heading straight to the Rose Garden where a lectern decked in a "no collusion, no obstruction" banner awaited him to continue his tirade to the press.

Safe to say this show was all planned in advance, hoping to achieve maximum effect.  The only problem is that he was unable to stick to the script, spinning wildly out of control and looking like an aggrieved teenager whose mommy found a Playboy magazine under his mattress.  Trump still wasn't satisfied and called in his staff to tell everyone what a "stable genius" he is and that he is in complete control of the White House.

The petulant boy king never misses an opportunity to vent his rage.  It's pretty clear he has no infrastructure plan.  That went up in smoke two years ago when he disbanded his business council that was supposed to be giving him advice on the matter.  Many had already resigned over the remarks Trump had made in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville at a white supremacy rally, leaving him with only a handful of token advisers.

Whenever Trump isn't boasting about how great the economy is or how he is creating so many jobs, especially for black people, he is lashing out at Nancy Pelosi for putting roadblocks in his way.  Hard to believe Madame Speaker has only been in power four months. Trump claims these investigations are stopping him from proposing valuable legislation, but the only legislation he has ever proposed is a funding bill for a border wall, and more recently an outline for an immigration plan which would demonstrably favor European immigrants over those from Latin America and Muslim countries.  Call it the Wonder Bread Bill because it is white, full of air and has very little substance.

Infrastructure was never anything more than a way to lure Bernie Bros during the general election.  If such a bill was ever to be seriously considered in Congress it would no doubt heavily favor the fossil fuel industry.  Trump and his Republican allies refuse to acknowledge the growing strength of wind and solar power, the two fastest growing energy sectors.  Instead, these conservative dinosaurs continue to pitch "clean coal" and "drill, baby, drill."  Trump is determined to shed the clean air and water acts, making it more favorable for fossil fuel industries to operate with a minimum number of regulations.  This despite the growing number of toxic spills across the country.

Similarly, he refuses to accept the growing demand for electric cars and other forms of ecology-friendly transportation by capping fuel economy standards so that the Big Two auto companies can continue to dump their SUVs and oversized trucks on the market.  Chrysler has become the wayward stepchild nobody wants.  California and other states have refused to concede on this issue, meaning that Ford and GM would still be obliged to make lower carbon-emission cars to meet state regulations.

We are in the middle of a major transformation in energy use.  Tesla has shown us that an electric car is viable.  Their Model 3 has a 325-mile range, roughly equivalent to a tank of gas, and is very much in demand.  The only problem for Musk has been meeting that demand as his auto plants can't make the cars fast enough.  If you want to keep your old car, you can buy an electric conversion kit for virtually any model at a fraction of the cost of a new model.

Every foreign car maker now has an electric car on the market, but neither Ford nor GM has invested heavily in e-cars.  Ford has no electric cars on the road, and Chevy begrudgingly increased production of its Volt to satisfy the Obama administration after its 2008 bailout.  Chrysler, which is currently owned by Fiat, claims to be developing an electric mini-van for 2020, built atop a Peugeot electric car platform.  American car companies have fallen so woefully behind the rest of the world in innovative car solutions that the only sales they can rely on are SUVs, big trucks and revamped muscle cars, although Ford claims to be developing an electric Mustang.

Any transportation bill should include funding for new car innovation not to mention smart roads like this one recently introduced in Sweden, which allows cars or trucks to recharge while in motion.  We should also be providing money for high-speed electric rails so that we can reduce our reliance on airlines.  The aircraft industry is quickly becoming one of the largest producers of carbon emissions, as more and more people rely on airlines to get from point A to point B, given rail lines are minimal in this country.  These and many other ideas were outlined in the Green New Deal that was shot down in Congress because of the unwillingness to think outside the box.

If Trump was smart he would sign onto an idea like this.  It has already been written for him.  All he has to do is endorse it and he would expand his base two-fold.  Instead, he echoes the inane talking points by Fox pundits, lifted from some notes AOC made in haste.

The Green New Deal was inspired by FDR's New Deal back in the 1930s, which led to the creation of the Works Progress Administration.  The WPA built roads, bridges and dams all across the country, providing badly needed transportation improvements and clean energy in the form of hydroelectric dams. The Hoover Dam continues to power much of Southern Arizona, Nevada and California.  This is exactly the type of infrastructure plan we need now!

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond Trump.  Pelosi, Schumer and much of the entrenched Democratic leadership is as beholden to the fossil fuel industry as are the Republicans.  Nancy herself put the brakes on the Green New Deal, and the Senate put it up for a faux vote to table any further discussion on the matter.  There simply is no political will to take a new transportation and infrastructure bill seriously.  Too many vested interests.

So, why did His Trumpness have this meeting at the White House?  He proudly upped the price tag of a new infrastructure bill to $2 trillion after Lady Pelosi and Lord Schumer offered one trillion, but not a single penny came from these discussions.  It was just another attempt by Trump to stonewall Congress, hoarsely proclaiming he wouldn't work with the House or Senate on any legislation until the two chambers dropped all investigations into his administration, including his son Donnie, who he stressed to the press is a very fine man.

This is the sorry state of affairs our government has devolved to.  Yet, Pelosi remains reluctant to press impeachment hearings out of fear it would sap energy from the Presidential and Congressional campaigns.  It's now or never, Nancy.  You can't put off the inevitable as Trump continues to make a mockery of our country both at home and abroad.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A National Embarrassment

Trump has discovered a new tool - declaring a national emergency anytime he doesn't get what he wants from Congress or his trading partners.  He tried it out on the border wall and most recently declared a national emergency on the tech industry, banning sales and use of telecom equipment by foreign companies.  This ban is specifically aimed at Chinese-owned Huawei, which he and others have claimed is mining sensitive data through the use of their cellphones.

This is largely an attempt to stop Huawei from getting 5G technology from American-owned Qualcomm, which had reached a deal with the Chinese telecommunications company some months back, but was blocked by the FCC.  The Tech Cold War has been heating up since Trump took office.  He tried to first bully China by having Canada arrest the daughter of the Huawei owner for charges brought against her and the company for violating sanctions against Iran.  She has since been released on bail.

These actions have done much to undermine the trade deal the Trump administration has been trying to negotiate with China, which has resulted in yet another round of tariffs across the board.  Trump seems to think these hardball tactics work, proclaiming to his following that the economy is soaring because of the tariffs and that tens of billions of dollars are rolling into government coffers as the result of these new taxes.

Only his most die-hard supporters are buying it.  Farmers across America are feeling the pinch because China has retaliated in kind, cutting off agricultural imports from the US, and turning to Russia and Brazil.  Trump and his band of bully boys don't seem to realize that this is feeding straight into China's and Russia's broader ambition of creating a new trading block that stretches across both the Atlantic and Pacific to Brazil, Argentina, and eventually the entirety of Central and South America, which the US has turned its back on.   China has also locked up the African continent thanks to decades of development projects, while US efforts in the continent have largely gone for naught.

The US has never been more alone than it currently is under Trump.  His trade policies have undermined our relationships with traditional European allies, and he has created a testy relationship with Canada and Mexico, who signed onto USMCA solely because it was a last-minute deal before NAFTA expired, and the three countries are too economically intertwined to not have a trade agreement in place.  Only last week did Trump finally lift aluminum and steel tariffs that greatly impacted production in all three countries. 

His use of tariffs and now declaring national emergencies has severely eroded trust in the US as a trading partner.  This is pushing European countries back toward Russia and China as primary suppliers of oil, gas and durable goods, as the US can no longer be counted on.  Trump grumpily responds by trying to use sanctions on China to keep Europe in line, especially when it comes to tech goods.  Patience with the Trump administration is wearing thin, especially since its goal appears to be to break the EU apart so that he can pick and choose among countries as trade partners.

The Trump administration is fit to be tied it can't do business directly with European countries, that all trade has to go through Brussels.  Angela Merkel tried to explain this to him two years ago, but to no avail.  Since then he has billed himself as Mr. Brexit and has installed ambassadors in Europe who actively seek to undermine the EU, the most notorious being Richard Grenell as US Ambassador to Germany, which local officials are urging the government to expel.

This is not new.  George "Dubya" Bush tried to do the same when he was President, dividing Europe into old and new, as he reached out to the new Eastern European member states through the long arm of NATO.  But, Dubya didn't go to the ridiculous lengths Trump has gone to undermine our relationship with the European Union.  He understood how important our trade and military agreements were in terms of mutual security, or at the very least supporting him in his war in Afghanistan.

Trump seems to think he can do just fine with bilateral relationships.  Who needs multilateral trade and arms agreements?  It doesn't matter that Japan, China, Russia and South Korea were crucial in him getting to the negotiating table with North Korea.  He thinks he has a personal rapport with Kim Jong-un that trumps any negotiations on the sidelines.  Yet, he doesn't even have the patience to sit through a summit with North Korea's "supreme leader," abruptly walking out when his former lawyer gave a damning testimony of his relationship with the president before Congress.  Even when he has a golden opportunity to reach an arms agreement on his own terms, he fails to deliver.

Now Trump turns to Iran, using the threat of war to try to bring the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table for a new nuclear deal that he can sign his name to.  It's the same tactic he used on North Korea and no one is buying it, least of all Iran which has no interest in negotiating any deal directly with the US.  Iran is pushing its EU partners to stand up to the US, but so far the EU has laid low in this war of words, hoping it will blow over.  The only problem this time around is that we don't have "Tex" Tillerson and General "Mad Dog" Mattis to smooth things over.  We have "Pompous Mike" Pompeo and John "The Human Mustache" Bolton to further add to the incendiary rhetoric between the two countries.

Trump has now surrounded himself with a Celebrity Apprentice-like circle of advisers who are extremely hawkish and anxious to use a war to give the administration a greater use of executive authority. This is the so-called "unitary executive theory" that Dick Cheney was a big proponent of during the Dubya administration.  It would allow the White House to bypass Congress all together on foreign and domestic policy.

This descent toward autocracy makes the US look no better than China, which Trump demonizes to no end.  While it is true that China has taken advantage of trade policies, Trump's hubris isn't bridging the gap but rather burning whatever bridge there is left.  China feels increasingly empowered, and would love nothing more than to end US economic hegemony in the world.  If it can establish stronger economic ties with Russia, Brazil, India, Pakistan and even the EU, what is the US at that point other than a minor player? 

China has essentially called Trump's bluff and now it is time to put the cards on the table.  Trump has always been a terrible card player, relying on others to bail him out.   He is hoping the EU will back him, but he has so badly undermined this relationship that the EU folded.  Sorry, Donald, you are all alone now.  No national emergency is going to get you out of this one.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mayor Pete and Fox News

The Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, made the most of his hour on Fox, taking aim at the president, vice-president and conservative pundits.  He fielded questions from Chris Wallace, who is regarded as one of the toughest guys in the news media to do an interview with.  The Fox news host offered praise for Buttigieg afterward.  Not the president or Fox friends, however, who were almost as peeved Fox would host such a liberal personality as were progressive Democrats who would like to see their candidates boycott Fox, as Liz Warren has done.

I'm of two minds on this one.  I see Liz's point.  There's no reason to feed the beast, but then Mayor Pete showed you could take on the beast in its own backyard and win.  It's not like you are going to get the Fox audience votes.  Curiosity is the extent of it.  Nevertheless, it shows a Democratic candidate isn't afraid to go into the lion's den, so to speak, even if these lions are mostly toothless and clawless.

Fox News does have some decent persons on its news program.  Shep Smith tries in vain to school his audience on key issues, and has repeatedly pointed out Trump's lies.  Chris Wallace and Brett Hume have both been critical of the president as they adopt a moderate line on the network.  Judge Nap has been very critical of the president lately in regard to the Mueller Report.  There are also the token liberals, Juan Williams and Bob Beckel, who are generally forgotten on the network.  For the most part, however, this is a propaganda network, given its most popular news shows crank up the conservative rhetoric ten fold and offer no apologies for their inflammatory comments.

Media Matters, PoliticusUSA and Vox spend a lot of time analyzing Fox, and late night comics often use the news network as a punching bag.  All of which just further draws attention to the network.  As Mayor Pete says, "it's the nature of grotesque things that you can't look away."  This didn't sit well at all with Trump or his Fox and Friends.  Brian Kilmeade petulantly responded, "Don't hop on our channel and continue to put down the other hosts on the channel."

However, I think we must look away.  Fox benefits greatly from all this attention.  Having Mayor Pete was a huge coup for the network, as he is hot property right now.  Love him or hate him, and most people love him, he boosts ratings.  While Pete is not afraid to fight it out with conservative critics, it doesn't really further his message of reconciliation and hope.  He has yet to define his positions on key issues because he spends most of the time dealing with media perceptions.

You can argue that this is primarily what the viewing audience is interested in, but at some point you have to start addressing key policy issues, and so far Mayor Pete hasn't done that.  His campaign remains largely an idea, very loosely defined and drawing attention largely because of his unique character.  This makes it tough for other candidates like Liz Warren to get her message across because the media is focusing so much on the candidates' personalities.

We will find out soon enough where the candidates stand on key issues as the first Democratic debates are scheduled for June 26 and 27.  Fox was not invited.  Most of the candidates will be on stage in a debate format similar to the Republican one in 2015, except that the candidates' places on the stage are determined by a random draw, not where they stand in the polls.  No "kiddie table" debates this time around.

One hopes that this will winnow the field a little bit, which currently stands at 24 announced candidates.  New York Mayor Bill De Blasio was the latest to enter the race.  He has been poorly received by much of the media and especially by the president, who called Mayor Bill "the worst Mayor in the history of New York City."  I wouldn't go that far, but there is very little De Blasio brings to the table.  All he succeeds in doing is further muddying an already very muddy field, but maybe he thinks of himself as Kentucky Derby winner Country House?

You have to hand it to Mayor Pete for continuing to make himself one of the most significant voices in the Democratic field.  The Fox Town Hall was yet another boost for him, as he garnered even more attention in its aftermath.   He really knows how to play the media and in the long run this will be his greatest strength.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Your play, Nancy

After her showdown with Trump over the government shutdown at the beginning of the year, Nancy Pelosi has been rather quiet.  However, last week she made the interesting comment that Trump "is becoming self-impeachable in terms of some of the things he's doing."  She was referring to his continued attempts to stonewall the House investigative committees who are trying to assess the depths of depravity outlined in Mueller's redacted report.

It seems Trump is itching for a fight with Nancy, anxious to make up for the one he lost in January.  He has literally commanded his staff not to submit to the House subpoenas.  This puts House Speaker Pelosi in the uncomfortable position of having to hold the Trump administration in contempt of Congress, something she is anxious to avoid.  Conversely, members of her own party are becoming increasingly anxious that she is not doing anything to hold the Trump administration accountable.  Where's the Nancy that stared Trump down on the shutdown?

There are those who still think Trump will answer to reason, but he has made no attempt to do so thus far, so why should we expect him to do so now?  Bill Barr was called in specifically to serve as his fixer and has done everything in his power to do so.  He openly taunt Pelosi at a recent presidential event.  To her credit, she shot right back at him.  The question remains will the House ever see a full Mueller report?

Meanwhile, Stevie Mnuchin is refusing to comply with the House subpoena for Trump's tax returns.  This after The NYTimes released a decade of the president's tax returns from the mid 80s and 90s in which he lost a reported $1.2 billion, more than any other person in America.  These were Trump's high flying years when he built Trump Tower and the Taj Mahal, assuming a massive debt, followed by bankruptcy.  Ever since, he has been claiming those enormous losses against his tax returns, leading accountants to speculate he hasn't paid any taxes in decades.  Of course he is not alone in this regard.  Many individuals and corporations write off their losses, showing no profits and therefor paying no taxes.  However, this does not make it right.

It's the conduct more than the tax returns or the Mueller report at this point.  Trump considers himself immune to any Congressional oversight and he has Barr and other lawyers backing him.  There is a lot of gray area here, as the Constitution doesn't clearly lay out how this oversight is to be conducted.  So, the executive branch is taking the liberty to define these rules and daring the legislative branch to challenge it.  Trump has even gone so far as to say he would drag the Supreme Court into this if the House did decide to impeach him.  However, the rules are very clear here.  The judicial branch has no say in the impeachment process.

Nancy is determined not to go down this road as she fears it will turn 2019 into absolute chaos with the 24 Democratic presidential candidates relegated to the margins of the news.  As it is, the presidential hopefuls are having a hard time getting their voices heard, except for Joe Biden, which the news media has anointed as the only Democrat capable of beating Donald Trump in 2020, pointing to polls that show the former vice-president ahead of Trump in key states like Pennsylvania, where Biden kicked off his campaign.

Trump would love nothing more than to see the election upended by the spectacle of his impeachment, which would be subsequently overturned by the Republican-led Senate.  Trump would consider himself yugely exonerated at that point and impervious to any attack from the Democrats. 

However, it all comes down to how the Democrats handle the impeachment, which at this point they are pretty much committed to do.  You simply can't allow a president to get away with this kind of stonewalling, even if there is little chance the Senate would approve it.  Your play, Nancy.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Vagina Monologues

Political theater has been perversely twisted into legislative policy with men determined to govern women's reproductive rights with the harshest anti-abortion bill to date.  Amazingly, it was signed into law by the woman governor of Alabama.  This shameful act has made it into news all around the world.  In Vilnius, I was asked yesterday at lunch what I thought of this draconian law by one of my women colleagues.

With the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh last year as Supreme Court Justice, conservatives states are determined to overturn Roe v. Wade.  The startling victory by Democrats in the 2018 midterms spurred them on even more. Not that the feminine uprising had a big impact on Alabama.  Kay Ivey is a female surrogate for male conservative interests, and only four women sit in the state senate.  Two of these women spoke out against the legislation.  Their objections were shot down by the white male conservatives, who passed the bill by a vote of 25-6 with 4 abstentions.

Alabama, Georgia and Ohio have all recently passed tough new laws against abortion, and it looks like other conservative states will soon follow.  No doubt these Old Testament abortion laws will be challenged in federal court.  The process promises to be a long one, and these states feel like they have God on their side.

In the past, women had three months to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy, but with new ultrasounds a "heartbeat" can be detected as early as 6 weeks in many pregnancies, which means women are committing a felony once a heartbeat is detected, and will be subject to severe punishment.  Doctors who perform abortions face even harsher sentences.  These laws offer few if any exceptions.  In Ohio, the new "hearbeat bill" would have applied to an 11-year-old girl, who was raped by a 26-year-old man multiple times, had it not been scheduled to take effect this summer.   Why should someone so young have to literally carry this burden?

This legislation is ideologically driven, fueled by the rhetoric of Trump and other conservative politicians determined to roll back women's reproductive rights.  It is about power, not religion, which is why you see so many references to The Handmaid's Tale.  In Alabama, women literally had no say in the matter.  The last hope was that Gov. Ivey would veto the bill but she wholeheartedly endorsed it, citing Roe v. Wade as the ultimate challenge.  It makes her look like one of the blue wives in the dark television series.  Margaret Atwood didn't even need to update the novel, as we watch it play out in real time.

How this will impact the 2020 elections remains to be seen, but I would think even Alabama women would be furious at such legislation.  State senator Linda Coleman-Madison certainly is. Republicans have been running on these "moral issues" for decades and feel nothing has changed to alter their approach.  Obviously, states like Alabama and Mississippi are deep red, but Brian Kemp barely edged out Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and a decision like his is bound to have an impact on state and national races next year.  It may spur Abrams to run against David Perdue for the US Senate seat.  She is by far the most recognizable Democrat in the state.  For the moment, she plans to keep up her fight in Georgia.

This type of legislation exposes the fault lines in America.  This is a deeply divided country unable to come together on any issue.  As long as religious conservatives believe they have God on their side, they will continue to push Mosaic law.  In this sense, they are no better than the ayatollahs they demonize. Iran has less restrictive abortion laws than Alabama now has.  Welcome to the Biblical Republic of Alabama!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Welcome to the Redneck Riviera

Donald Trump was in my old backyard this past week and the crowd was loving it, as they would a Wrestlemania match.  It was the kind of taunting and absurd boasts we have come to expect, ratcheted up a notch when someone from the crowd shouted, "shoot them," when Trump rhetorically asked how do you stop the migrants?  Our President smiled and quipped, "only in the panhandle you can get away with that statement."  Not really.  You can get away with it most anywhere these days but it was amplified by the media and in turn became the subject of my old high school friends' posts on facebook.

It's not often you get a president in this neck of the woods.  It's not like South Florida.  It is a land of pine trees not palm trees, famous for the manufacture of turpentine in the early 19th century.  The panhandle has long been dubbed Lower Alabama and the Redneck Riviera because its history dates back to before the Civil War.  Andrew Jackson established the new American territory and became its military governor in 1822.  You can even find Antebellum mansions along old Highway 90 that runs through the north part of the state.

Several of my old friends attended the rally and weren't afraid to say they loved it.  Others chimed in and a lonely few chose to buck their views.  A flame war ensued.  I chose to watch this one from the sidelines.

What I find instructive about these facebook wars is what living in a bubble does to you. You might remember the Reverend Huckabee giving us a lecture on bubbles not that long ago.  He's the author of God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, who felt liberals were living in a Bubbleville created by Hollywood and the New York and Washington media.  Today, you see conservatives living in a bubble created by Fox and syndicated conservative news media, oblivious to the harsh realities surrounding their insulated world.

To them the migrant problem is easily fixable by guns.  More troops and poses comitatus and we would be done with all these foreign invaders.  They never stop to think for one minute that all that cheap food they eat is the result of cheap migrant labor, or that the shirt on their back is also the work of cheap migrant labor, or those front lawns cut every two weeks on their block, or the nannies that take care of their kids.  Those nasty migrants literally form the backbone of our menial labor industry.  Shoot them and you won't have those everyday low prices at Walmart.

However, there is no point bringing this up because Magaheads have become so insulated in their bubbles that any contradictory information simply doesn't make it into their thick skulls, which is why I have quit intruding on their timelines.  I'm usually scolded pretty harshly if I do.

It is better to remember my friends for the way they were rather than what they have become, especially the ones I thought were far more intelligent than this.  I'm not going to let Donald Trump turn my old friends into enemies!  This dark cloud will pass.  We will probably never see each other quite the same way again, but we can share some old memories and bring a smile to each other's faces from time to time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Progressivism is back!

2018 was a turning point for Democrats as we saw a lot of new faces take to the campaign trail.  Rachel Lears follows four women candidates from different corners of the country, who tried to knock out incumbent Democrats who they felt no longer represented their districts.  Alexadria Ocasio-Cortez emerged victorious, where as Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela all found out the harsh reality of politics when going up against entrenched incumbents.

The main reason AOC succeeded is that she had a lot less territory to canvas and a lazy incumbent who only pitched up at the end of the campaign to attend a debate and a couple of rallies.  Joe Crowley was the epitome of crony politics in the Bronx borough, whose views no longer matched the demographics of the district.  The most difficult thing for AOC was to get her name on the ballot.

It's too bad Lears didn't follow Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib, who did win House seats, but it was pretty hard to say back in 2017, when Lears started her journey, how all these House races would shake out.  Momentum built after the primaries for a historic victory in November, but Lears ends her documentary with AOC's stunning primary victory.

Unlike the other women in the documentary, Alexandria began receiving national media attention early on in her campaign.  The young Bronx bartender was perfect for prime time news, but the other women were far more compelling.  They all had personal reasons for waging campaign battles.  Vilela lost her daughter to a callous hospital, which refused to diagnose her deep vein thrombosis in time, resulting in the 22-year-old's untimely death.  Cori Bush was a nurse in Ferguson at the height of the riots in 2014 and felt that the incumbent US representative from that region, William Lacy Clay, hadn't done enough to address the issue of police brutality.  Paula Jean Swearengin is a coal miner's daughter, who had lost her father and other relatives and friends to lung cancer, and was determined to take on Big Coal.

They all had a significant financial handicap. None more so than Amy Vilela, who had to sell her home to finance her campaign.  She struggled with donations throughout, running a shoestring campaign with hand-painted signs and volunteers getting involved in the process for the first time.  If the news media had picked up her story earlier, she might have gotten some badly needed free advertising, but Amy remained under the radar throughout her campaign, coming in a distant third with only 9 per cent of the vote.

The women were all recruited by the Justice Democrats to run in their Congressional districts.  The progressive political action committee provided logistical and some financial support, but these women were mostly on their own.  For such a young PAC, founded in 2017, it did astonishingly well in the 2018 general election. 26 of the 79 candidates it endorsed won primary elections in 2018, and seven women won House seats in November.  A very strong base to build on.

It is great to see progressivism at the grass roots level again.  These are women and men not afraid to challenge the establishment by taking to the streets and going door to door to make their voices heard.  Now that Vilela, Bush and Swearengin have finally gotten the attention they deserve, they will probably run again for office in 2020.  With all the attention being placed on the presidential election, it is vitally important that the House and Senate races not be forgotten.  Republicans will mobilize much more strongly this time around, and with more voters coming out in presidential election years the stakes are much higher.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Crown of thorns

Not even the Kentucky Derby is safe from His Trumpness's influence.  He tweeted in Sunday that he thought the Derby had gone PC by disqualifying Maximum Security and awarding the race to Country House.

Trump has a way of injecting himself into any argument and making it political.  This was the case when Arizona picked Kyler Murray number one in the NFL draft.  Instead of congratulating the top choice, Trump gave his nod to second best Nick Bosa, a controversial defensive end out of Ohio St. who had deleted a great number of tweets supporting the president, as well as his views on Colin Kaepernick and other hot button issues.

It seems that Trump wants to make political correctness his top theme again this election cycle, railing against social media for cutting off his favorite white supremacists Alex Jones, Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos.  He thinks they are all victims of a PC witch hunt and should be restored on twitter, facebook and instagram.  It didn't matter that social media also pulled the plug on Louis Farrakhan and other extremists at the opposite end of the political spectrum.  He chose to come to the defense of his buddy Alex, who has faced a ton of long-deserved public scrutiny this past year.

In the Age of Trump, anything can and often does become politicized.  Lexi Thompson took a break from twitter after all the rage that was expressed on her page after posting a snapshot with Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh.  The world's eighth-ranked women's golfer had been invited to play a round with Trump at Mar-a-Lago last month.

It used to be an honor to play golf with the President or go to the White House to be feted by the Commander-in-Chief.  Today, not just individuals but entire teams turn down White House invitations because of their personal misgivings or the backlash they would get from their fans.

The Virginia Cavaliers recently said they will not celebrate their championship at the White House.  Instead, Trump invited the NCAA women's champions, the Baylor Bears, who seemed quite guarded in their picture with the President.  Baylor was the first major women's sports team to visit the Trump White House.  Some women's teams declined, but most were never invited.  Seems Trump prefers to hang out with the boys.

Then there is arts and culture, an area Trump has never shown much interest in.  He got into quite a row his first year in office over Kennedy Center Honors.  Norman Lear and other recipients threatened to boycott the event if Trump showed up, so the President quietly deferred.  Trump wasn't as sure of himself then as he is now, otherwise he probably would have taken Norman Lear's challenge.  Nevertheless, the President took a pass the second time around as well.

Trump has been more vocal about the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, which he intentionally missed for the third year in a row.  He took quite a skewering from Michelle Wolf the first year of his presidency, for which Michelle received a torrent of abuse, not just from the President but the mainstream media as well, for her raunchy send up to the absent guest of honor, with surrogate Sarah Sanders caught in the crossfire.

To say that Trump has a thin skin is an understatement.  The President has repeatedly called for an end to the WHCD, a tradition that stretches back to the time of Calvin Coolidge.  This year, he demanded that no one from his White House attend the event, essentially issuing his own boycott.  Instead, he held a rally in Green Bay, where his main topic was all the abuse he gets in the "fake news."

He's been particularly peeved with twitter, which flushed quite a few of his followers recently.  He personally called Jack Dorsey into the Oval Office to address the matter.  It turns out many of his "followers" are bots or other suspicious accounts.  It was part of a spring cleaning that Twitter and other social media sites undertook in an effort to curb influence peddling on their platforms.  Apparently what galled Trump most is that he lags far behind Obama in followers, who has nearly double his audience on Twitter.  Losing any followers is a big blow to Trump's ego.

All this points to a very insecure President who has far too much time on his hands, leading political pundits to ponder who is minding the White House when he goes off on one of his twitter rampages.  Trump was galled that the National Firefighters Union had the audacity to endorse Joe Biden, complaining that no president or man has done more for firefighters than he has done.  Some guy named Dan Bongino tried to offer succor to the President by claiming that no firefighter he knows is supporting Biden.  I thought Mr. Bongo might be a former firefighter, but turns out he is an ex-secret service agent who peddles conspiracy theories not much unlike that of Alex Jones.

Suffice it to say, we have never had a President so concerned with this social media profile and his standing in the public eye.  What had once been simple affairs like inviting a sports champion to the White House or honoring an outstanding culture figure have turned into political flashpoints for the President.

Inviting the Clemson football team to the White House during the government shutdown was yet another show of his callousness toward a very real situation.  He would rather fete a football team with McDonalds than reopen government so that federal employees, including his own White House kitchen staff, can get back to work.  He turned the event into a bully pulpit for his own political grandstanding.  Not only does he have incredibly bad taste and no regard for nutrition, he showed yet again how hopelessly out of touch he is with current events.

Trump has no real interest in sports other than as a commodity.  This was the case with his failed attempt to take over the USFL back in the 80s, as well as subsequent attempts to buy the Buffalo Bills and other sports teams.  The only sport he appears to have any genuine interest in is golf, but even here he treats it as a commodity, buying up a score of golf courses around the world and wooing the PGA to use his venues for their tournaments.

He had no horse in the race at the Kentucky Derby, or any real interest in the NFL draft.  He seized on the controversies as a means of playing to his political base.  It is doubtful his diminishing following has any interest in either event beyond the friendly bet, which in this case would have made Country House the fan favorite. 

If anything, what happened to Maximum Security is emblematic of what happened to his arch-nemesis Hillary Clinton.  The horse was trying to protect its lead over the feisty challenger and got called out for it.  What appeared to be a sure win ended in an ignoble loss, with the long shot taking home the roses.  Trump can't even get the Kentucky Derby right!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Overcoming Sex in the Sports World

A little off the beaten track, but it was interesting to read the reactions to Caster Semenya being forced to reduce her testosterone level in order to compete in women's events.  Caster is "intersex," exhibiting high male levels of testosterone that has given her a significant advantage in competitive women's sports.  She has not lost an 800 m race in four years, blowing away the competition.

While Caster's high testosterone level may be innate, it is a serious concern.  Back in the 1990s the IOC came down hard on Eastern European athletes who were pumping themselves up with testosterone and anabolic steroids to give them a distinct advantage in all sports.  The East German women swim team became synonymous with these "butch athletes," who cleaned up on the gold medals at the 1976 games.  The IOC had banned performance enhancing drugs in 1967, but it remained hard to regulate well into the 1980s.  It wasn't until the wall came down in 1989 that the extent of this doping program was revealed.

No one has touched Jarmila Kratochvilova's staggering run of 1:53.28 in the 800 meter set back in 1983, which she claims was the result of rigorous training and high doses of vitamin B12, although no one is buying it.  Caster is a full second off this time.  Even still, Jarmilla is no match for male athletes.  The men's record by David Rudisha is 1:40.91, set in 2012.

Caster also raises the thorny issue regarding transgender athletes, which she is often confused with.  Renee Richards won a landmark case back in the late 70s that allowed her to compete in women's professional tennis.  She had undergone a sex change to become a woman and felt it was in her right to compete in women's sports.  She did quite well on the tour, reaching a ranking of 20 at one point.  If it wasn't for her age, 43 when she began competing professionally, she probably would have done much better.

Given that women's sports have become very lucrative, there is a great temptation for crossover athletes to compete in these events.  This is what the IAAF is trying to avoid.  Semenya finds herself caught in the middle of this debate as she did nothing to alter her physiognomy.

Women have come a long way since the 1960s when the IAAF wouldn't even let them run an event longer than 1500 meters, presumably out of fear for their health.  Kathrine Switzer had to register herself as K.V. Switzer to compete in the 1967 Boston Marathon, a race she finished with a time just over 3 hours.  She obviously proved women could compete in these events and since then women have shaved a remarkable 45 minutes off that time with Paula Radcliffe running the 2003 London Marathon in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds.  Still, a 13 minute gap remains between men's and women's records, and it is not likely to be overcome anytime soon.

The difference goes far beyond testosterone to the way men and women are treated in sports.  After puberty, sports are separated by sex.  Before then girls and boys often compete together and there is little distinction between their capabilities.  By the time they reach high school age, the distinctions are profound.  I think this is largely due to attitude and training regiments, not physiognomy.  If girls were allowed to compete with boys throughout high school, I doubt you would see such staggering differences in time and strength.

Sexist attitudes continue through college and professional sports.  It took Title IX to bring some level of equality to sports in college, but you won't find men and women competing together except in a few designated mixed events.  They rarely even train together other than on their own time. This only serves to widen the gap.

Semenya says that the main reason she is so good at the 800 m is that she competed with boys throughout school, although her trainer claims that if she was forced to reduce her testosterone level she would lose as much as 7 seconds off her time, no longer making her Olympic caliber.  We can only wait and see if that will be the case.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Trump topped the magic number after his rally in Green Bay, where he regaled the audience with whoppers like a doctor and mother conspiring to murder her newborn baby in his grotesque reference to late-term abortions.  Yes, it does boggle the mind but somehow we get used to it.  How do you even begin to sort through 10,000 Lies?

The problem is that the media tries to each week, and before the week is done Trump has added another 80 or more whoppers to the list so the process is never-ending.  He is lying a whopping 12 times per day.  He consumes all the media attention.  There is very little room for others to get a word in edgewise as we are finding out with the roughly 20 Democratic candidates running for office.  The only time we do hear about them is when Trump references one or more of them at his rallies.

His lies range from the relatively harmless boasts, like claiming he once was named "Man of the Year" in Michigan, to the ones that inspire anger and hatred, like his constant assault on his perceived opponents.  He continues to go after Mueller even after proudly boasting that his report "fully exonerated" him, and won't let up on Ilhan Omar despite her answering service being flooded with death threats.

He makes no apologies but is quick to demand apologies whenever he feels he has been slandered by the press.  Unlike Trump, the New York Times did apologize for the widely perceived anti-Semitic cartoon it published this week.

It's not just Trump who lies, but the many others who lie in defense of his lies.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders has taken the brunt of abuse, especially when the Mueller Report singled her out for a number of false statements.  But, Trump has a whole host of apologists ranging from Franklin Graham to Lindsey Graham to Alan Dershowitz, who recently defended Trump against Judge Nap, who had the temerity to call out the the number of obstruction charges in the Mueller Report on Fox News.  Trump made sure to thank Alan on twitter, gainsaying poor Judge Nap and making up new lies in the process, which Judge Nap has since responded to.  It's a circle jerk by every definition, yet we continue to get off on it because it boosts ratings, baby!

Even as Trump's poll numbers sag once again with a majority of Americans saying they won't vote for Trump in 2020 under any circumstances, odds makers still make him a favorite to win re-election.  Maybe they think the Democrats will split, nominating a liberal with a moderate running as an independent to draw votes away from their main candidate, or any number of other scenarios where Trump somehow manages to eke out another term.  To listen to conservative pundits like Hugh Hewitt and Trump strategists, The Artless Liar is going to win even bigger in 2020.

Looking at this map, Trump is going to have a hard time holding onto the Blue States he won in 2016.  The colors have been reversed I assume to imply the dangers facing him in key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, all of which he flipped last time around.  Things have even turned dangerous for him in Iowa, where his net approval rating stands at -9.  Iowa elected three out of four Democratic US representatives in 2018.  Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all elected Democratic governors.  It is pretty hard to imagine a scenario where Trump adds more states to his electoral total.  He will be too busy defending states he won last time around against a surge of Democratic voters.  Yet, Trump has his eye on Virginia.

Much of how well a candidate does in a state comes down to how the state is shaped demographically.  In 2016, Trump did very well in industrial states where NAFTA and other Clinton-era trade deals were believed to have undermined their economy.  After 2+ years of Trump the situation isn't any better.  NAFTA has been rebranded USMCA but is still pretty much the same, and industries haven't exactly surged back into these states.  Farmers are also upset at the cost they had to pay for Trump's ill-advised tariffs.  As a result, his popularity has waned considerably in these once favorable states.

The will to believe is still very strong among his base, but not so strong among the many others who helped vault him to an improbable electoral victory in 2016.  It's not to say he can't still win Iowa or Ohio, but Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania now all seem a big stretch.  It all comes down to which Democratic candidate he faces next November, and how disenfranchised conservative and moderate Independent voters react to him or her.

We still may see William Weld or John Kasich or Vermin Love Supreme emerge as a serious third party challenge, which could split the independent vote.  Trump has a strong base of about 35 to 40 per cent of the electorate, so if one or more independent candidates could siphon off 20 per cent of the popular vote, especially in key battleground states, Trump has a chance.

The one thing Trump has going for him is that he is always in the news.  His audacious statements on twitter and at rallies are picked up by all the media outlets, become fodder for the late night talk shows and comedy news programs and filter back through social media the next day.  It is an endless cycle, which people seem to enjoy whether they love or hate Trump.  This kind of exposure is pretty hard to beat. 

However, this constant exposure also has a negative effect.  Call it Trump Fatigue.  At a certain point people just start tuning out.  This is one reason Mayor Pete became an overnight media sensation.  People were anxious for something new. Biden has also managed to garner a lot of attention as the only viable alternative to Trump in the news media's eyes.  Many political pundits now consider the other 20 Democratic candidates as vying for the number two spot on his ticket.

The lies just keep coming.  Trump will continue to up the ante, hoping to make the price too rich for any Democratic challenger.  He's banging on immigration, late-term abortion, the perils of socialism in the worst possible light.  It's like a demented camp counselor telling horror stories by the campfire.  His crowd eats it up.  No need to ask questions.