Saturday, August 31, 2019

Livin' on Tulsi time




I didn't pay much attention to Tulsi Gabbard until after the second Democratic debate.  She has  since become the darling of the conservative media, having won over Tucker Carlson, Meghan McCain and many others for openly clashing with her Democratic rivals and claiming she has been frozen out of the third debate.  Gabbard hasn't fared so well among liberal political pundits and comedians.

The Hawaiian US representative has taken some odd positions, notably her support of Assad in Syria, which has led many to wonder who she represents exactly?  This is the same guy Putin has been propping up ever since Obama drew his infamous red line in the sand.  Assad continues to use chemical weapons to this day.

Gabbard has drawn the most attention from conservatives.  She has done very poorly in generating support among the Democratic base, and failed to qualify for the September debate.  She's not alone.  Marianne Williamson also failed to reach the prescribed benchmark for participation and will have to sit this one out as well.  Their campaigns are all but dead because they simply don't appeal to Democratic voters.

This leads to an interesting quandary for Gabbard, should I stay or should I go?  She was a longshot candidate to begin with and now that we have learned more about her Libertarian views, she doesn't seem to fit the party at all.  The Libertarians are hoping to make inroads into the Democratic Party.  They had a lot of success with Ron Paul in the Republican Party a few years back, who left his son Rand to keep sowing discord.  These guys basically want to take down government as we know it.

The Libertarians have long served as "useful idiots" for Putin, especially in regard to their rejection of US foreign policy in Central Asia and the Middle East.  Gabbard believes her one-year stint in Iraq makes her an expert on the subject.  In her mind, Assad is not an enemy of the American people so we should leave him alone.  It's the kind of dangerous simplistic thinking that abounds in the Libertarian mind, and which Putin readily exploits.

One can argue, as Noam Chomsky has done, that our foreign policy has failed, but even he feels the US should stay in Syria if for no other reason than to protect the Kurds.  Unlike Tulsi, he sees all the forces at work in the region, not just the US and Russia.  He is equally appalled by the way Turkey has historically treated the Kurds, and without a counter balance the Turks may very well carry out another genocide on the Kurds.  He also has no sympathy for the Assad regime, whose authoritarian rule has dated back two generations.

Tulsi appears to be in the race for no other reason than to break someone's leg.  She successfully did this to Kamala Harris in the second debate.  I suppose turn about is fair play after Kamala blindsided Joe Biden in the first debate on busing, but Tulsi made it look purely like an act of retaliation as if she was angling for the number two spot on Joe Biden's ticket.  In that sense, it was a lot like what Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio in the lead up the New Hampshire primary in 2016, apparently for no other reason than to endear himself to Trump, as Christie dropped out soon thereafter.  Kamala Harris is still hobbled, but unlike Tulsi has qualified for the third debate, sitting a distant fourth in the polls.

Endearing herself to no one in the liberal media, Tulsi now turns to the conservative media to air her grievances.  She seems more comfortable on the Tucker Carlson show than on a Democratic stage.  I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her pitch up at the Republican National Convention next summer, endorsing Trump, especially if Kamala bounces back to take the Democratic nomination.  No love lost between these two.  Of course, Tulsi would put her own House seat in jeopardy, but then she can earn a place at the White House table, should god forbid Trump be re-elected.  If not, she can always go on Fox, where I'm sure she would be warmly welcomed.


Monday, August 26, 2019

Are You Talking to Me?




If Trump has always been this way, why do Chris Christie and other so-called moderate Republicans support him?  Big Chris offers the odd defense that he is OK with Trump as long as he doesn't veer too far away from traditional Republican policies.  That seems to be the way most Republicans think because the alternatives in their mind, "Sleepy Joe" Biden, "Pocahontas" Liz or  "Crazy Bernie," are infinitely worse.  That's why I don't put much stock in all these conservatives turning away from Trump come voting day 2020, unless some magical third party candidate emerges to capture their dull imagination.

Christie bemoans there are no moderates left, but he helped Trump slay the more centrist candidates in his party last time around when he went after Marco Rubio in the debates, and stood with Trump as he won the succeeding primaries in the South.  Christie could have signed onto John Kasich, who was still in the race, but chose not to.  He figured a plum cabinet position awaited, maybe even attorney general, but there was Jared Kushner standing in his way, the son of the loathsome real estate developer he went after in New Jersey.  After his brief stint on the Trump transition team, Big Chris was relegated to the bleachers, where he has been heckling the Trump White House ever since.

Still, the former New Jersey governor says he will vote for Trump in 2020, even if he is adamantly opposed to many of the consequential actions the president has taken.  He won't think about challenging Trump himself, as William Weld of Joe Walsh have done.  He'll just sit in the cheap seats and heckle some more.

The sad part is that Big Chris is not even very good at this, attempting to stare down a Cubs fan who had the gall to call him a hypocrite.  This is a guy who is all bluster and no action.  His eight long miserable years as governor are all the proof you need of this.  He drove the state's debt so far into the hole, that he had the credit rating cut 11 times by Moody's, an appalling record for any governor, liberal, conservative or moderate.  In short, Chris Christie is an abject failure, yet the press loves the garrulous former governor who always has something to say about everything.

Republicans are fucked!  Not only are they stuck with unquestionably the worst president in American history, but they have no one to challenge him.  Those who do are mostly crying sour grapes, like Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci, who briefly served as Trump's communications director before overstepping his position and being fired after 11 days on the job.  The Mooch claims there is a mutiny taking place in the White House and that Trump will drop out of the race before the Republican National Convention next summer.

The sad part is that we heard all this before in 2016.  As scandals dogged Trump through the general election, everyone including Republican Congresspersons were calling for him to drop out of the race, but there he was still in the race come election day and behold he won the electoral vote count the following day.  Safe to say that all these disgruntled Republicans bit their lips and voted for Trump.  Why shouldn't they do the same this time around as well?

It doesn't matter that Trump's dementia now runs so deep he openly waxes on buying Greenland, proclaims himself the "Chosen One," and contemplates whether he should defy the Constitution and run for multiple terms.  The Republican National Committee urges voters not to look at his tweets but at his record.  He has upheld the most sacred Republican positions on everything from gun rights, taxes to border security.  Even when he does stray a little, like suggesting that maybe better background checks are in order, it only takes one call from the NRA to set him straight again.  Donald may be pliable, but easily bent back into shape.

What Chris Christie can't stand is how Trump gets away with all the things he says and is still President.  Any other Republican would have been run out of Washington by now.  Not Trump.  The crazier he becomes, the more beloved he becomes.  The GOP base eats up everything he says at rallies, no matter how daft.  He never admits to a mistake no matter how painfully jarring.  Teflon Ronnie would have never had a chance against this guy.  Trump is iron plated.

However, Trump's numbers look pretty bad in key states, which does have some Republicans worrying he just might lose the White House in 2020, especially if the Democrats put up one of their more moderate candidates, say Joe Biden or Kamala Harris.  It seems Christie doesn't want Bill Weld or Joe Walsh running against Trump, as it might expose the Big Man and make him even more vulnerable to electoral defeat next year.

It's interesting because Weld and Walsh come from two totally different perspectives.  Weld never liked Trump.  He ran as Gary Johnson's Veep on the Libertarian ticket last time around.  Walsh, on the other hand, was an avid Trump supporter but felt the president had failed to deliver on his signature promises, namely the border wall.  A sentiment shared by many on the extreme right, including Ann Coulter.  Somewhere in between is Chris Christie offering his take at the weekly round table discussions.

It's all so comical now that we very well may see a backlash to Trump once the Republican primaries begin.  It is doubtful Trump will submit himself to anything approximating a debate, so these candidates will have to content themselves with cardboard cutouts on the campaign trail.  Just the same, come election day 2020 they will all stand behind Trump because they have nowhere else to turn.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

This is ...




It is very difficult to watch CNN these days.  They had Bill De Blasio on the line and let him off the hook in regard to the Eric Garner case.  He successfully passed the blame to the Department of Justice for his own inaction in regard to the agonizing five-year wait it took to fire David Pantaleo for strangling Garner to death over some contraband cigarettes.  This is the morbid equivalent of Trump saying he can't release his tax returns because they are being audited by the IRS. 

De Blasio likes to present himself as a man who got things done in New York.  One of his central campaign themes was police reform, following numerous allegations of police brutality throughout the boroughs.  He could have pressed the NYPD to fire Pantaleo immediately, but didn't want to risk further alienating himself from the men in blue.  Instead, he left the matter to the DOJ, much to the chagrin of the Garners as they awaited some sort of justice to avail itself.  During that time, Pantaleo collected over 100 grand a year on desk duty.  Sad that you read this in the CNN commentaries, but it doesn't make its way to the television screen.

Anyway, Mayor Bill will soon be roadkill on Campaign Trail 2020.  His bid was doomed from the start and this long-deferred case certainly won't help him gain any traction.

This brings us to the CNN segment that immediately followed this spurious interview -- Biden's seemingly insurmountable lead in the Democratic polls.  He appears to have boosted his lead in the CNN national poll after redeeming himself in the second debate.  He had been blindsided by Kamala Harris in the first debate, when she called him out on busing.  He's crept back up to 29 per cent, opening a double-digit lead over his nearest challengers Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at 15 and 14 per cent respectively.  Kamala slipped to 5 percent, a distant fourth, after a poor second debate.

Biden's strength rests largely on having consolidated the moderate base of the Democratic party.  What CNN's analyst David Chalian failed to point out is that those trailing Biden are all fighting over the progressive base of the party and together combine for no less than 48 per cent of vote.  No other moderate candidate polls more than 2 per cent.   This means that Biden's seemingly insurmountable lead is an illusion.  If he was such a commanding presence among Democrats, he should be garnering 40 to 45 per cent of the surveyed voters at this point.  All he has managed to secure is a substantial segment.

Unfortunately, CNN chooses to simply crunch the numbers as if all the candidates are equal in terms of representation.   As the progressive candidates begin to wane, the more liberal Democratic voters will consolidate behind one candidate, and Joe's commanding lead will shrivel up.  It also doesn't help that no less than four Democratic challengers poll ahead of Trump in the latest Fox Poll (starting on page 7).  This means Biden's contention that he is the most winnable candidate is also an illusion, as they all beat Trump by no less than 6 points.  No wonder the notorious Donnie T was so upset.  Fox only surveyed the president against four candidates.

CNN has fallen into the same trap as in 2016, obsessing over preliminary numbers and not taking candidates to task for their demonstrably false statements and false equivalences.  Worse, its so-called expert panels are largely made up of journalists all bucking for more air time.  The other night I watched Bianca Nobilo interview Jake Tapper, a fellow CNN journalist, in regard to Brexit.  He seemed to preface every statement with "I don't know," which makes you wonder why he was on the show other than to plug his program, State of the Union, appearing later that evening.  Why not invite someone who actually knows something about Brexit and the impact it will have on the world economy?

This is why it is so easy for Trump to use CNN as a whipping post.  Its often faulty, misleading exchanges suggest that its personnel don't thoroughly research the subject matter, which makes you question anything these so-called journalists have to say.  Amusingly enough, they don't even call themselves journalists anymore, but rather "current personalities."  There is an astonishing lack of actual experts on the news programs, with the notable exceptions of Fareed Zakaria GPS and  Amanpour, who interview a broad range of guests on their shows.  The round table discussions are invariably current personalities and paid political contributors, like Jason Miller and Rick Santorum, to represent the conservative side of whatever argument they have.

Every once in awhile you get a wonderful moment like the time Christiane Amanpour called out Kellyanne Conway on her program, but these moments are far and few between.  Most of the time the hosts let their guests say pretty much whatever they want with little or no push back.

A major part of the problem is Jeff Zucker, who has made CNN into a pale imitation of its former self.  Instead of hard-hitting journalists, Zucker fills the network with personalities who have risen up largely through city papers and the internet media, Jake Tapper being a prime example.   This is a guy whose breakthrough moment was reporting on a date he had with Monica Lewinsky in the Washington City Paper.  The title alone is enough to make you cringe.  To be fair, ABC hired him first, where he rose to Senior White House Correspondent, if you can imagine that.  After failing to land a more high profile gig at ABC, Zucker offered Jake a prime time slot at CNN.  Certainly not a pedigree what would endear him to Edward R. Murrow.

You can say this for almost all of the CNN personalities.  Very few of them have traditional journalist resumes.  The worst are the conservative political commentators they bring in to defend Trump and GOP policy.  None more so than Rick Santorum, who was unable to retain his congressional seat and later got drummed out of the presidential primaries in 2012.  Since then he has doubled as Trump apologist and CNN commentator, earning a cool million dollars per year.

Zucker also likes pretty women.  More and more can now be seen on CNN, ranging from the lovely Bianca Nobilo to the stunning Zain Asher.  Several of CNN's women personalities have even made Ranker, not that they would be proud of this notorious distinction.

So, what is CNN exactly?  Can we still call it a news network?  News seems to be rather low priority.  Much of its 24-hour news cycle is given over to discussions of one sort or another, unless a breaking story happens to gain traction like the Hong Kong protests.  CNN seems to live for the moment, not too concerned in providing a backstory to a current major event, but rather following an event until it breaks, then leaving it up to their panels of personalities to newsplain it to us, as if we are unable to interpret events ourselves.  Little wonder, since we are given so little to go on.

Gone are any penetrating documentaries, searing interviews and meaty discussions, which CNN was once known for.  That's pretty much been given over to PBS, which no one watches anyway.  Even Zakaria and Amanpour seem like pale imitations of their former selves, with Christiane having to split her segment with other personalities, as apparently it wasn't enough just to have her do the interviews.

Whatever you can glean that is worthwhile from CNN is from its website.  Here you find more in-depth coverage of news stories and sterner commentaries.  I suppose the news network still has some value, but sadly its television programming has been completely given over to dull personalities and their banal opinions.  They take no side on an issue but rather agree to disagree, as Kate Bolduan so often says on her show, State of America.  Boring!



Under your skin




What's in a human chain?  I was surprised to see Jordan Peele use Hands Across America as a leitmotif in Us.  The year was 1986 and politicians and celebrities hoped to get 6.5 million persons to stretch hands across America for 15 minutes to call attention to the plight of the homeless in the country.  The noble effort fell way short of expectations and was largely forgotten until Peele resurrected it in his movie.

Why Jordan Peele chose to use Hands Across America is anyone's guess, and just about everyone has chimed in on the meaning of this metaphor.  Peele himself has been pretty quiet in this regard, as he doesn't want to spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it yet.  I think mostly he wanted something that would catch our attention and he did so admirably.  He had everyone scrambling to Wikipedia and other sources to find out more about this largely commercial event, sponsored by the very same people that gave us We Are The World.

But, Peele seems to be alluding to so much more.  The reference to the thousand of miles of abandoned tunnels and mine shafts across the country appears to convey an "underground railroad" where all these "tethered" persons are forced to live out their soulless experience until Adelaide comes along.  Maybe it is as simple as Andrea Johnson suggests, but Peele is not one for simple explanations, so I think there is much more to it than meets the eye.

I remember the game red rover very well, a creepy schoolyard game where kids formed opposing human chains and called someone from the other side to try to break the chain.  Usually, you called the weakest person in your opposition to increase the length of your chain, but you had to be careful where you placed these persons, as obviously the other side was going to run toward these weak links.  It was a game that could go on the duration of recess, as it was almost impossible to form an unbreakable human chain. This was clearly the image Peele sets up when we first encounter the Wilson family dopplegangers dressed in red jumpsuits.

He's using familiar images to shock our sensibilities.  It's not enough to use a hall of mirrors, a familiar trope in horror movies, he is evoking failed human experiments and placing them front and center for us to confront.  This is what makes the initial confrontation between the Wilsons so compelling.  After that it becomes too much like a comic zombie movie, until the grown-up Adelaide is finally forced to confront herself in a very chilling underground encounter.  We can thank Lupita Nyong'o for giving the movie levity it otherwise lacked with her unnerving performance.

There's also the matter of 11:11, which crops up repeatedly in the movie.  The main reference is to Jeremiah 11:11 in which Lord vows to bring evil on the world and will not hearken to the peoples' cries.  This is pretty much the theme to all horror movies, but particularly apropos to this one.  Peele is also questioning our faith, as there is no one to appeal to in this chilling movie, as poor Kitty Tyler finds out.  White people suffer the worst in Jordan Peele's movies.  While the Wilsons survive their initial encounter (I thought for sure Gabe Wilson would go down), the Tylers are easy pickings for their red dopplegangers.

Peele brings this evil largely on white folks as a form of retribution for all the ills they have heaped on black folks over the centuries.  We also see this in the friendly feud between the Wilsons and Tylers.  The Wilsons are successful, but not as successful as the Tylers, who have a bigger vacation house, a bigger boat, and a back-up generator when the power goes out, allowing Josh Tyler to still be immersed in his music when their dopplegangers break into the house.

This must really piss off white supremacists!  Imagine if Jordan Peele next made a Christmas movie with a Black Jesus or Black Santa.  That would definitely make Fox pundits like Tucker Carlson and Tomi Lahren take notice.  Tomi is already up in arms over Black Ariel.  I don't think Peele is making movies to piss off white folks, but rather movies in which the black guy or the black family wins for a change.  You have to admit black folks have not fared well in Hollywood movies over the years.

This leads to an interesting digression.  There has long been a medical bias toward white folks, as John Oliver pointed out in a recent segment of Last Week Tonight.  Blacks were thought to better endure pain thanks to thicker skin, greater muscle mass, quicker coagulating blood and other nonsense that was actually written in medical books at one time.  As a result, they generally get less medical attention than whites.  Many of us continue to believe there are inherent differences between races.  Peele turned this concept on its ear in Get Out, which might be regarded as a cautionary tale about interracial romance as he delves into these myths about white or black mental and physical superiority.

Focusing too much on Hands Across America misses the point of the movie, which is what most critics have done.  As Andrea Johnson noted, this is the last indelible image little Adelaide recalls before becoming a prisoner of the underworld, and one she uses to unite the clones against the clone who stole her life.  However, I don't think Adelaide really cared how the battle turned out, as long as she came out on top.  Being the only one with a soul and it seems a brain in the underground corridors, she used as simple an image as possible to tether the "tethered" in her grand ambition.  As such, it becomes a Greek tragedy in its own dark way.

This is what made Us so compelling.  It lingers with me, even if I thought the scenes a bit too contrived.  Jordan Peele definitely knows how to get under your skin.

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 matters 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.