Monday, February 17, 2020

Victory lap

With his Senate acquittal, Trump literally takes a victory lap around Daytona, only to have the race postponed due to rain.  Nancy was sure to remind everyone that the stain of his impeachment can not be removed, but as far as our attention-grabbing president is concerned it no longer matters.  He is now free to do whatever he wants, and made sure to purge those pesky members of his administration who refused to heed his order not to testify so that there will be less rats in the kitchen.

Like so many descents into autocracy, what appears comical at first increasingly becomes more tragic. There are still enough checks and balances to keep his administration relatively contained, but the big fear is that if Trump were to be re-elected in the Fall, that oversight would diminish to a whisper.  Not only would he be able to stack the federal courts with favorable judges but turn the Department of Justice into his Ministry of Vengeance, seeking charges on all those who he believes conspired against him.  Attorney General Barr is already doing so.  It would all be in the name of national security, which Alan Dershowitz has told us is AOK.  A president has the right to protect himself in the name of the people.

The Trump administration has already done a great amount of damage at the federal level and threatens to do much more.  His budget proposal for 2021 would shift vast sums of money from domestic programs to national security, essentially militarizing our country and its borders the way a South American dictator would do.  At a whopping $4.8 trillion, we would see yet another trillion dollar debt increase, as this administration and its Republican cohorts in Congress have made no attempt to balance the budget during his tenure.  All those worries about a ballooning national debt during the Obama years appear to be suspended, as Republicans had no problem raising the debt limit with Trump in the White House.

You don't even hear much from conservative economic advisors.  Federal Reserve Chairman Powell continues to cut interest rates, despite his initial resistance to do so.  This is a stimulus measure.  If we had a strong economy, Powell wouldn't need to be doing this.  However, he received so much pressure from the Trump administration that he eventually relented, much like Greenspan did with Bush back in the early 2000s.

What the Trump White House had hoped to replicate was the huge economic boom that occurred between 2004 and 2006.  Ben Bernanke had warned against this approach, but by the time he took over from Greenspan it was too late.  Congress had freed up the banks and other lending institutions to provide as many home and business loans as possible to help create the "ownership society" George W. Bush imagined.  All these bad loans finally came due, but as is so often the case the borrowers are blamed and not the banks.  Everything would have been just fine if we turned over Federal Housing Finance Agency to Bush's administration.

Obviously, we don't learn from our mistakes.  All those foreclosures allowed real estate developers like Trump to pick up vast amounts of property on the cheap thanks to bank fire sales.  These banks can always apply to the government for bailouts to cover the shortfall, as they did in 2008.  Too big to fail, they said, well here we go again.

It doesn't do any good to sound the alarm because no one is listening.  Trump supporters have their heads so far up their asses they couldn't hear an air-raid siren at this point.  They will vote for Trump and their MAGA legislators come hell or high water.  For them, it is more important to protect unborn babies and keep gays out of wedding chapels and lock down our borders against nasty immigrants.

They don't seem to realize that the level of mendacity among businessmen of all stripes is so high now that not even trailer parks are safe.  These guys will literally buy up anything that turns a profit, leaving the vast majority of Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, fighting over whatever scraps are left available.  More and more Americans find themselves living on the edge of poverty, but woe be it to anyone to suggest providing a bigger economic safety net. That would be Socialism!

Mostly, we have to eliminate the predatory lending practices that put so many persons on the edge of economic ruin.  If you truly want to make America great again, reduce the number of temptations that increase the risk of personal bankruptcy.  Personal debt is enormous, and some of this debt is impossible to get out from under even if you do declare bankruptcy.

Student loans are a prime example.  Rather than easing this ever-increasing personal debt by offering some form of debt forgiveness, Trump's 2021 budget would eliminate public service loan forgiveness, and no longer provide any subsidies while still in school.  You would be responsible for the accruing interest from day one, where before this interest was covered by the government until you completed school, and deferments given depending on your economic situation after completion.  It's not likely that this mendacious plan will get through the House, but it is worth noting how this administration thinks.

For all the talk of taking back the government for the people, this horrendous budget lays bare Trump's pernicious greed for all to see, at least for those who choose to do so.  Many will simply see it is tightening the reins, not taking into account that these domestic cuts aren't being used to reduce the annual deficit, but rather transfer the money to other parts of the budget, which government contractors can more easily exploit.  By labeling anyone who calls him out as "fake news," he assures that his blind followers will take him at his word on twitter.

For Trump, the world is his stage and he has proven remarkably adept at convincing just enough persons to allow him to keep this reality show going.  He survived a Senate trial not because conservative senators thought he was innocent, but because they were willing to look the other way to maintain their own seats in Congress.  Trump has so thoroughly taken over the Republican Party that there are very few Republicans left to challenge him.  William Weld continues his fruitless campaign in the Republican primaries, and Mitt Romney became a national hero by voting for Trump's impeachment on the first article of abuse of power, but that's about it.

As long as he can keep the Democrats fighting among themselves and unsure as to what position to take in regard to a party platform, he ensures a low voter turnout next fall.  Disgruntled Democrats simply won't turn up at the polls.  That certainly seems to be the case among Black and Latino voters, who have virtually no choices left that represent their best interests.

Not that his current poll standing can't change at the drop of a flag. We have seen his fortunes rise and fall throughout his tenure.  For now, Trump can smile gleefully out the window of the Beast as it takes a victory lap around the Daytona motor speedway, knowing that many Americans live vicariously through him.  As long as he continues to play on their wish fulfillment, he has their votes in his back pocket.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

How fortunes have turned!

Many Americans have fallen in love with billionaires.  I don't know if it is because they like to believe some of that enormous fortune will trickle down to them, or if they imagine themselves rich one day and want the same tax breaks and other favors these billionaires get to live essentially rent-free in the state of their choice.

The number of politicians and pundits endorsing Bloomberg has continued to grow.  The former mayor of the Big Apple is joining Stacey Abrams at a voting rights event in Georgia, where one presumes he will formally receive her endorsement.  She is a rising star in the Democratic Party after her hard-fought campaign for governor of the state in 2018, which she narrowly lost.  Many wanted her to run against David Perdue for a Senate seat, but she deferred.  Bloomberg also recently picked up Sam Donaldson's vote of confidence, whatever that's worth these days.

Super Tuesday is shaping up to be boom or bust for Mike Bloomberg.  He has placed all his money on a big showing the first Tuesday in March, where 14 states, the territory of American Samoa and Democrats Abroad go to the polls to vote.  The biggest prizes are California and Texas, but a lot of Southern states will be voting where Bloomberg expects to do well.  He received the endorsement of the Alabama Democratic Party, led by Joe Reed.

It seems Black Democratic leaders, who initially favored Biden as the man who could beat Trump, are now laying their bets on Mayor Bloom.  It largely appears to be a case of pragmatics, as it is hard to believe there is much enthusiasm in supporting a guy who promoted the notorious stop and frisk law as Mayor of New York.  The same law that led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 by strangulation.  The former mayor has since apologized, but this is very much akin to Clinton apologizing for his notorious crime bill, which Hillary had to pay the price for during her 2016 presidential run.  You can expect a very low Black voter turnout come next November if Mayor Bloomberg is the Democratic nominee for President.

You can probably expect a low Black and Hispanic voter turnout regardless, as none of the candidates have appealed very much to minorities in this country.  It's not like they haven't tried, but there is nothing in their political records to suggest any close affinity, as there was for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  This election will largely come down to white voters, unless somehow Bernie, Pete or Amy find a way to tap into this deeply frustrated minority electorate.

Even among white voters, you are not likely to see a huge turnout among Millennials if it is Bloom v. Trump on the ballot in November.  So far, the only candidate Millennials have really warmed up to is Bernie.  Some are beginning to look at Pete more closely, but for the most part it has been meh.  This means this election strongly favors Trump if the vote comes down to white people born before 1980.

What had seemed like a very promising election is devolving rapidly into one that looks very much like 2004.  With all this deflating energy, Democrats will have a hard time holding onto the House of Representatives, much less win the Senate despite the high number of Republican Senators up for re-election.  They need to do something quick to re-ignite the fire among their voting base, lest they find themselves stuck with a billionaire con man of their own to go up against the Man of Teflon.

I guess I will have to learn to play Plutocracy: The Game, as that appears to be where we are headed if Democrats actually think this pint-sized billionaire is the answer to Donald Trump.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

A kiss is just a kiss

Euphemisms abound when trying to come up with reasons not to like Pete Buttigieg.  Sister Amy Klobuchar keeps harping on his "inexperience."  Joe Biden has started to mock it, hoping to channel his Lloyd Bentsen moment.   At least Bernie Sanders went after Pete's "wine cave" donations. But, they are all hinting at the same thing - Pete won't win because no one will vote for an openly gay president.

That might have been the case ten or twenty years ago, but today being gay is no longer a liability.  We have our first openly gay governor, and we have a whole host of LGBT members in Congress.  Mainstream Americans obviously no longer seem to mind, but when you are looking for faults the unprecedented nature of Mayor Pete's run raises eyebrows.

The young former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is by far the most articulate of all the candidates, he also appears to be the least ruffled by attacks.  The guy is unflappable, and he's banking on that to carry him through this nomination process.

Bernie and Liz have topped out at 35 per cent.  That's their voting share in Iowa and New Hampshire and it's not likely to get much higher in other states.  By contrast, 55 per cent of Democrats voted for moderate candidates in Pete, Joe and Amy.  If this was a two-person race between Bernie and Pete, the young mayor would win handily, but Joe refuses to concede and Amy believes she has "Klomentum" thanks to the endless plugging on CNN.  I believe it was Chris Cuomo who coined this ridiculous term.

Nevertheless, Pete continues to exceed all expectations.  He was expected to be no better than third in Iowa, and even after his surprise win he wasn't expected to challenge Bernie in New Hampshire, yet he came within 1.5 percentage points of the crusty old Vermont senator, and earned the same number of delegates.  Sound familiar?  That's exactly what Barack Obama did in 2008.

If Pete could somehow convince Joe and Amy to join him, they could easily save the Democratic Party from the vaccuous windbag Bernie.  The guy is an idealogue of the worst sort.  He refuses to concede his ignorance on any point, including the term "Democratic Socialist," which he claims to be in the European mold.  There are no Democratic Socialists in Europe.  There are Social Democrats (a more benign term) and they lead many European countries providing the social health and welfare network he champions on the campaign trail.

European men, gay or straight, aren't afraid to kiss each other in public.  Being gay is not a barrier.  There are currently three openly gay prime ministers in Europe, including the Prime Minister of Ireland.  President Pete would be in good company.

Bernie is so incredibly out of touch it's laughable, but like the crusty old uncle or grand dad in the family, no one says anything.  He's never once shown how he would get all his progressive legislation through Congress, and this from a man who has been sitting in the Senate for 14 years.  There is no way Congress will ever approve "Medicare for All," largely because we have 50 separate health care systems in this country.  One for every state.  Try to imagine the logistics in imposing such a comprehensive health care system on a country of 350 million people?  Bernie certainly hasn't.

By contrast, Pete offers a more pragmatic approach, dare I say like that of Obama, to augment the existing health care system.  Basically, all the next Democratic President has to do is strengthen the Affordable Care Act, which Trump and the Republicans have worked so hard to undermine, and most Americans will be happy.

From the get-go, our country was founded on the idea of a symbiotic relationship between government and private industry.  Alexander Hamilton outlined this relationship in his Report on Manufactures submitted to Congress in 1791.  There have been attempts to institute a broader federal government after the Civil War, during the Great Depression and  after the Civil Rights Act.  It succeeded in part, as we have a comprehensive health, education and welfare system underwritten by federal, state and local governments.  It is nothing like our European allies, but it works somehow.  Some states better than others.

That's the way most Americans want it, and that has been made perfectly clear in Iowa and New Hampshire.  This great "revolution" Bernie promised failed to materialize at the polls.  He failed to bring in any new voters beyond those he claimed to introduce in 2016.  What we have are the same Bernie Bros and Sistras pitching their poorly informed idea of a socialist government overhaul that the vast majority of Americans don't want.

If Bernie had been smart, he would have tried to educate Americans as to the meaning of the health and welfare system he imagines, but what we have found out is that he is not the great professor, but just another snake oil salesman who has finally been exposed.  You aren't going to make sweeping changes in this country without offering a practical path toward this new social welfare system he and his democratic socialist cohorts have championed.  It's all smoke and mirrors.

Most voters have seen through it, but quite a few cling to it.  So, who is the best candidate to unite the party and move forward?  It certainly isn't Joe Biden, who as James Carville pointed out, "hasn't roped a cow yet," referring to his previous failed presidential runs.  Amy maybe?  She certainly has become the media darling in the wake of Liz Warren's collapse.  The only viable candidate left is Pete Buttigieg, but no one wants to admit it, not even James Carville.

Of course, there are a few who hold out for Mike Bloomberg's triumphant entry into the race on Super Tuesday, but this will be a huge belly flop.  The guy has bought tons of airtime and has managed to convince more than a few political pundits that he's the man.  But, like Bernie,  he's not a Democrat.  He's a Republican turned Independent running as a Democrat in a pathetic attempt to draw attention to himself at the expense of Trump.

The only guy who has the temperament to be president is Pete Buttigieg.  I would argue that Liz Warren and Amy Klobuchar also have the temperament to be president, but the election isn't swinging their way.  It is swinging Pete's way, and the sooner we realize it the better for all of us.  This is a guy Americans can unite around, at least most Americans, and send that orange-haired fop in the White House into retirement, preferably at a federal penitentiary.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Caucus Chaos

... and the road to New Hampshire

Image result for pete buttigieg and bernie sanders

A lot was made about the faulty apps at the Iowa caucuses this past week, but by week's end caucus officials were able to count the votes and post results, verifying Mayor Pete's bold prediction that he had won.  Bernie Sanders is of course challenging those results, because Bernie challenges everything.  He and his Bernie Bros believe there is an active conspiracy to deny him the nomination once again.

The wily old codger is enjoying his moment in the sun.  At 78, he should be enjoying retirement, but instead honestly believes he has eight good years left inside him to turn our government on its head and impose his brand of "democratic socialism," which he thinks will make America truly great again.

Hillary has been assailing his autocratic vision and the misogyny she believes is rampant in his campaign.  In other words, Bernie is a democratic socialist variation of Trump.  That may be true, but he does have some high profile women supporting him, notably the notorious AOC, the young woman conservatives so much love to hate.  Of course, there are those who think she is just using Bernie to boost her chances for a presidential run of her own in 2024.  She would turn 35 that year.  However, Democrats desperately want to oust Trump from office this year.

Pete punched a hole into Bernie's campaign -- a big hole actually -- as Bernie considered himself the voice of the American heartland.  Bernie at least finished a very close second and should do well in New Hampshire, given he represents Vermont in Congress.  The guy who really took a "gut punch" is Shameless Joe Biden, who is now trying to turn his stutter into a political asset.  Joe had been the frontrunner throughout this campaign and finished a distant fourth in Iowa.

Biden takes some solace from the fact he has historically done poorly in Iowa.  His two previous presidential campaigns both ended in the Hawkeye State.  He is banking on a big turnaround in New Hampshire, but this race is likely to come down to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are from Vermont and Massachusetts, with Biden third or fourth.  The only thing keeping him going at this point is a Super PAC that is pouring money into New Hampshire in a last ditch effort to keep his campaign afloat.

Mayor Pete won't necessarily pick up Biden's support.  We have Mayor Bloom waiting in the wings, thinking he can reap all those disgruntled Democrats who don't subscribe to Bernie's socialist vision of America.  However, you have to think most of them will go with the affable young mayor from South Bend, who represents a much brighter future than does a New York mayor infamous for palling around with Donald Trump and promoting the notorious "stop and frisk" laws in the Big Apple.

If this race comes down to Pete and Bernie, I would think the other Democratic candidates will similarly throw their support behind Pete.  He tends to ruffle less feathers, as he is willing to brook compromise, which Bernie has historically proven unable to do.  I still hold out hope for Liz Warren but it isn't looking too good for her.  She has to have a strong showing in New Hampshire to have any chance in the subsequent primaries.

For all the promise this campaign held last summer, it has devolved rather disappointingly into a battle between youth and seniority for the nomination.  The odd part is that Bernie, a fierce independent his long political life, is trying to claim the Democratic party's highest honor.  Pete, the young upstart, only appeared on the radar screen this past year.  The party is being taken over by new faces, much like the Republican party has been, and we can only guess as to the outcome in this sea change of politics.

Pete at least represents Democratic values.  Bernie represents himself.  His is a vision that will not transcend America anymore than Donald Trump's vision has.  The only thing that has kept Bernie going to this point is his audacity.  People seem to view it as an antidote to Trump's toxic politics, but is it good for the nation?

It is highly unlikely Bernie would get a single legislative victory as President.  Not only does his abrasive style of politics upset Republicans, but many Democrats as well.  He would have to carry out his agenda by executive decree, which he repeatedly threatens to do, but there is a limit to what he would actually be able to enact, leaving us with four more years of highly contested government and more bitter feelings and recriminations.

Pete, on the other hand, offers us a way out of this cynical impasse.  Some say he has a lack of vision, but I think he is smartly avoiding any hard and fast positions so that he is not forced to retract them, as Liz Warren has done with "Medicare For All."  He's the conscientious pragmatist, in the mold of Obama, who is willing to work with Congress to come up with reasonable solutions to the social problems vexing our nation.  As such, he has much more appeal.  I believe this is why he won Iowa, albeit by a hair's breadth.

Hillary is right about Bernie.  He is not very well liked beyond his narrow base.  That base might be strong enough to carry him through the primaries, but I doubt it will be enough to carry him through the general election, and if it were we would be stuck with another irascible president determined to do everything his way to the detriment of the majority of the country.

While Liz is still my first choice, Pete represents a much better alternative to Bernie.  I would have no problem voting for Pete in November.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Golden Calf

Last year I made the effort to read the Books of Moses.  I wanted to see what I was missing in this steadfast devotion to Donald Trump that Evangelical Christians continue to have.  Is he really the second coming of Moses?  Or, is he Aaron, Moses' brother, who forged a molten calf from all the gold offerings of the people demanding he make a god for them to worship?

This is a pivotal chapter in the Bible, Exodus 32, as it shows the anxiety and greed among the Israelites, who thought Moses had abandoned them.  I'm not sure where they got all that gold, other than to plunder the Egyptians before they left, but we shouldn't examine the Bible too closely.  As Maimonides would tell us, the Books of Moses are largely allegorical.  It's the lessons these stories impart that we should be concerned about.

We have a very restless Evangelical Christian base these days.  For decades they have been told the second coming of Christ is nigh, and many of them have been preparing accordingly.  Some have even gone into seclusion fearing the Rapture will soon be upon us.  They are so wrapped up in the Book of Revelations that they take virtually every cataclysmic event, natural or man-made, as a Biblical sign.

This seems to be one of the few books of the New Testament they take to heart.  For the most part, they turn to the Old Testament, the Books of Moses in particular, as their guiding light.  Hence, you get the term "Old Testament Christians."

Their's is a decidedly Old Word interpretation of Christianity, driven largely by fear of God.  Certainly in reading the first five books of the Bible you can well understand this fear.   It was a wrathful God, who demanded complete and total devotion.  He wasn't going to let any golden calves stand in his way, as he saw these as pagan symbols.  His demanding path was the only way through the "wilderness," and his Israelites spent 40 years lost in the Sinai before finally reaching their promised land.

Aaron was dealt with pretty harshly, as were all the idolaters.  Something Evangelicals should take note of, as Trump is the Golden Calf.  He is a pagan symbol hastily forged from fire to give the restless masses something to worship in place of God.  This has become all too apparent in the way televangelists demand their online parishioners to follow Trump.

Fortunately for Evangelicals, we have had these golden calves before and survived them.  We will survive Trump too.  The only question that remains is whether they will recognize their foolishness or simply sublimate it in another phony zealot, who cons them into believing he is the chosen one.

The problem lies in the nature of Evangelism.  It is a sect formed on the singular belief Christ will return within our lifetime.  It was a sect that rose out of the Third Great Awakening in the mid 19th century and has many variants.  Mormonism is perhaps the oldest among them, but you also have Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and a whole host of other denominations that are impossible to keep up with these days.

It was a "religion" of convenience in the South, as it allowed slave-owners to justify their slave holdings, while Evangelists to the North became staunch abolitionists.  From the beginning, this "church" characterized by speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor in feverish delight, believing firmly that God was possessing them, split in numerous directions.  It still has many divergent paths, so to characterize Evangelicals as a monolithic faith is wrong.  However, the great majority of them have a strong religious conservative bent, vote Republican and have allied themselves with Trump come hell or high water.

The reason is quite simple.  They are staunchly anti-abortion, believe in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and believe the body should not be defiled in any way.  For years, these religious conservatives saw themselves politically as Democrats, but when the Democratic Party became increasingly liberal in its views in the 60s and 70s they turned to the Republican Party, which welcomed them with open arms.

The Moral Majority was born in the late 70s, largely in response to Roe v. Wade, and rallied behind Ronald Reagan in 1980, despite the only committed Evangelical Christian being  Democrat Jimmy Carter, an ordained Southern Baptist minister.   They rallied behind Reagan not out of faith or conviction, but rather political necessity.  They needed someone who would fight for their religious convictions.  Carter was too tolerant.  He believed in a separation of church and state.  He wasn't willing to challenge the heinous Supreme Court ruling that sanctioned the murder of unborn children, not that he had the power to do so.  These radical new Evangelicals were willing to accept all of Reagan's moral shortcomings as long as he promoted their religious conservative agenda.  Hence, a new power pact was formed, or rather strengthened, as Reagan was the perfect pitch man for this blend of religious conservatism and corporate greed that would come to characterize the 80s.

You would think this was a match made in hell, not heaven, as we read in the New Testament that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than it is a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Actually, it is an old Talmud saying that Jesus apocryphally coined.

Prosperity theology was born out of the televangelist era.  It is the belief that the more you give the more you get back monetarily.  Televangelists have become amazingly adept at luring money out of your bank account and into theirs.  Jerry Falwell, the creator of this Moral Majority movement, was one of the best at the game.  He was so successful he was able to create a university, if you can call it that, which is now one of the largest universities in the world with a huge online student body that dwarfs its Virginia campus.

Falwell realized like the Mormons had long before that you have to inculcate the Word of God into gullible young minds, and what better than a university to rival those secular schools that had been steering young minds away from God.  It is a university now presided over by his son, who is one of the most staunch defenders of Donald J. Trump.

Televangelism and megachurches are huge financial generators these days.  These pastors live lavish lives that would make Robin Leach drool with admiration.  Jerry Falwell Jr.'s net worth is estimated at $100 million.  Granted, it is only a small fraction of what Donald Trump is supposedly worth, but it is vastly more than any of his parishioners can ever imagine earning in their lifetimes.

That doesn't stop parishioners from believing that the more they give the more they will get back.  They continue to donate their hard-earned money to these supposedly non-profit televangelists with the hope that something good will happen to them, as Oral Roberts would say at the end of his television sermons every Sunday.  He too built a university in his name.

It's the golden calf all over again.  These poor parishioners are allowing themselves to be fleeced because of their impatience to see the golden world of heaven within their lifetimes.  It's not enough to be promised a key to the pearly gates upon their deaths, they want to rise to heaven on gossamer wings above their sinful neighbors left to endure God's wrath below.  A spiteful faith that God himself dealt harshly with upon Moses' return.

The saddest part about all this is these gullible parishioners end up voting against their own best interests.  This power pact doesn't favor them.  It only favors the rich, which very few of them are.  They can only look as their pastors get richer and richer at their own expense, writing off those lavish homes, fancy cars, yachts and jet airliners as church-related expenditures, but something they will never be able to share in. 

I really don't know how we get past this impasse, as these parishioners have become very politically active, delivering votes for these phony zealot politicians at the local, state and national level.  We do need some kind of watershed event to turn the tide.  What it is, God only knows?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Bernie Bloom and Biden

Makes me think of the three old farmers from The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  It is a sorry state of affairs when the Democratic primaries come down to three old white men, according to a recent Reuters Survey.

I thought at this point a younger candidate would emerge, but the only two major candidates under 50 still left in the race are Andrew Yang and Mayor Pete, both polling poorly in national surveys, although Pete is doing well in Iowa.  Of the women, only Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar remain serious contenders, while Tulsi battles it out with Hillary over a slander suit.

GOP strategists are licking their chops at the prospect of Trump going up against a candidate older than him.  So much for the age factor.  Trump can claim to be the spring chicken of the bunch at 73, no matter how miserably out of shape he is.  It was Bernie who had the heart attack back in October.  All Trump has to do now is dump Pence and put Nikki Haley on the ticket and his re-election will be sealed.

There's still hope fortunes will turn.  Liz Warren and Mayor Pete are both polling well in Iowa, and have a lot of support on the ground.  Amy Klobuchar is not that far behind.

Mayor Bloom has invested no energy in Iowa, and his prospects in New Hampshire look equally dim.  Nevertheless, there are those who believe he could steal the nomination.  Biden remains a paper tiger.  Bernie is the only one of the three old farmers who has a devoted base, energized by Hillary's recent comments.

It should be an interesting caucus next Tuesday.  Still, I wonder why Democrats have gravitated to these old guys?  I suppose it is name recognition.  These guys have been around a long time.  However, the Democrats have won with youth, not candidates who would all be in their 80s in their first term as president, if elected.

Yet, the only young candidate to gain any real traction is Mayor Pete, who barely qualified to run at 38.  Amy has been pounding on his credentials for months, claiming that a woman of his age and limited political experience wouldn't get any attention.  If AOC was a few years older, you bet she would be getting all kinds of attention.  As it is, Tulsi hasn't suffered in the media, and she is the same age as Pete.

What we should be questioning is the vitality of three old men to function in the most politically demanding role in the world?  We see how Trump takes virtually all his weekends off, and limits his work day to about four hours.  He rarely travels abroad and complains like hell when he does.  At least once, he has cut his foreign trip short, apparently because he couldn't get a good night's sleep thinking about the impeachment inquiry back home.  This is the sad fact of turning old.

Liz also crossed the 70 mark last June.  She at least looks ten years younger.  You wouldn't think her any older than Amy Klobuchar, who is 59.  It didn't hurt when some right-wing rag tried to claim she was having an affair with a 24-year old Marine.  That's one hot grandma!

Sadly, Bernie, Biden and Bloomberg all look their age. Yet, for some odd reason they seem to appeal to young voters, especially Bernie, who has AOC opening his rallies.  You'd think Millennials would be flocking to Mayor Pete or Andrew Yang, who better represent their interests.  However, one has to think apathy is winning out here.

If we are stuck with these three old guys after Super Tuesday on March 3, then things will really be depressing.  It is hard to imagine any real enthusiasm through the rest of the campaign.  We will once again be forced to rationalize our vote this November one way or the other.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Get Over it!

When Alan Dershowitz stands before the US Senate and argues, without a trace of irony, that the president was acting in the national interest when he engaged in a pro quid pro with Ukraine, and Republican senators buy it, you know the gig is up.  At this point, the president can do literally anything in the so-called national interest and get away with it. Laurence Tribe argues that accepting an interpretation such as this "puts us on a short path toward dictatorship."

It's bad enough we have to listen to reality show lawyers like Dershowitz and Starr, but why aren't Republican senators questioning these incredibly lame arguments?  Even Fox News legal analyst Judge Napolitano considers the whole thing a sham.  John Bolton, who desperately wants to testify for whatever reasons of his own, has now been labeled persona non grata at Fox.  I'm surprised Fox has retained Judge Nap's services, as he has been a vocal critic throughout the impeachment process.

At the center of this giant mess is Mitch McConnell.  He's the one who calls the shots and so far has made sure everything goes the president's way.  It's not like he had to be so obvious.  He could have at least pretended to have a trial with new witnesses and evidence, but has instead chosen to bar any new information.  Those Republicans who do feel Trump had exercised poor judgement are willing to give him a pass.  They don't regard his elaborate extortion attempt, which occupied virtually the entire cabinet, impeachable.  He literally had everyone from the Secretary of State down to the Secretary of Energy working on this.  It seems one of the few persons left out of the loop is Ben Carson.  Not only that but numerous senators were involved as well, notably Rob Portman.  Basically, Mitch has been asked to be janitor.

We will somehow survive Trump, but what does this say about the future?  Given the horrible precedent that is being set, any president can now claim that whatever bit of skullduggery he engages in is in the national interest.  Basically, all legislative oversight has been removed.  Chief Justice John Roberts is apparently fine with this, as he has voiced no objections.  One of the few times he has intruded on proceedings is to stop Paul Rand from calling out the whistleblower, not that it matters anymore.

After numerous attempts to deny Trump's attempt to extort Ukraine into reopening an investigation into the Burisma holding company, Republicans now accept it as just part of the job.  The president occasionally has to strong arm world leaders.  Get over it! as Mick Mulvaney once infamously said.

Hard to believe that this Republican Senate once proclaimed Obama a tyrant for using his executive authority to sign treaties without their approval.  The same Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, also blocked every single one of Obama's judicial appointments his last two years in office, determined not to have the former president "stack" federal courts.

What was considered imperial overreach for one president is now considered part of a day's work for another.  The level hypocrisy is so profound, you wonder how any of these Republicans can keep a straight face.  They only get away with it because they have 53 votes to the Democrats 47.

We had hoped that some Republicans, like Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander and maybe even Lisa Murkowski, might step forward and call foul, but no such luck.  Romney has been critical, but more often than not he has toed the Republican party line.  Alexander just wants it done, and Murkowski has been quiet as a mouse.

The sad part of all this is that it doesn't matter what the Democrats do, as most Americans regard politics as so inherently corrupt these days that it doesn't matter who is in office.  This is how Trump has been able to get away with his bald-faced charade.  The level of cynicism is now so deep that he could very easily win re-election, as voters generally tend to prefer the "devil they know" to the "devil they don't know."

This seems to be why so many Republican leaders are sticking with Trump, they don't want to fall out of favor with the dictator they have created.  The transformation toward an autocracy is very nearly complete.  In the future, His Trumpness won't even need a pretense to open an investigation on any Democratic rival, as it will all be in the name of national interest.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

With Love and Squalor

At one time, it was believed that an independent Palestinian state was at the center of peace in the Middle East.  Jimmy Carter deeply regretted not pursuing it when he had Israel and Egypt at the table back in the late 1970s.  This was before Israel greatly encroached on the West Bank, dotting it with settlements that have turned this UN mandated Palestinian territory into Swiss cheese.

This is what the West Bank looks like today. There is no integral Palestinian territory left.  Roughly 500,000 Israelis live in these fortified settlements, considering it a badge of honor.  They have no right to be here, based on UN resolutions, but Bibi Netanyahu has made it his mission to annex Palestine piece by piece until there will be virtually nothing left.  Obama did little to curb this development during his eight years in office.

Along comes Trump, or one should say his creepy son-in-law Jared, with a so-called peace plan that would allow Israel to formally annex all these enclaves, leaving Palestine to figure out what to do with the remainder.  So confident is he of his plan that he has called it the "Deal of the Century."  However, anyone looking at the plan can only marvel at the cynicism that resulted in it.  Palestine is virtually landlocked with only a little sliver of a border with Jordan.  How on earth can it hope to survive as a nation state on a patch of land like this?

The answer, of course, is that they aren't expected to.  Palestinians will forever remain a ward of Israel, with home rule over their remaining territory.  Our neglect for the past 20 years allowed this to happen.  We became too pre-occupied with the wars in the Middle East to care about the fate of the Palestinian people, even if Jared callously suggested they "screwed up."  

Christiane Amanpour gave the whiny-voiced Jared every opportunity to defend this indefensible plan in the 20-minute interview.  It is virtually impossible to listen to the whole thing, given the stunning display of arrogance and ignorance on Jared's part, with Amanpour offering little resistance.  Any time she questioned him on his plan, he would reject her criticisms, and ramble on with his real estate spiel.  Of course, this is what you would expect from a bogus real estate developer, whose only claim to fame is marrying into the Trump family.

This plan is nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to get Bibi Netanyahu over the top in the third national legislative election within a year.  Neither he nor Benny Gantz has been able to secure a majority in the Knesset.  It doesn't matter that this plan isn't worth the paper it is printed on.  The hope is that it will generate just enough attention to get Bibi a few more crossover votes and the 61 seats he needs to continue to rule Israel with an iron fist.  Netanyahu has a deeply personal interest in all this, as he faces indictment charges over fraud and corruption if he is not able to hang onto the Prime Minister's seat.

The deal Trump put forward yesterday is the kind of deal a mafia don would offer someone who has little choice in the matter.  There is nothing ennobling about this deal, nothing that would make anyone other than his tight inner circle proud of this so-called accomplishment, nothing that gives us any hope that the deep divisions between Israel and Palestine and the greater Arab world have been resolved in any meaningful sense.  It is all about exercising naked power.

The one advantage Trump has is that no one saw it coming.  We had heard about this plan for years.  Jared had supposedly invested all his energy into it, and met with various players in the region, but no one expected it to be unveiled like this.  Trump literally pulled this plan out of his ass, which I guess is where Jared has been hiding all these months, in an effort to draw attention away from the Senate trial that gained a bit of drama when excerpts from John Bolton's forthcoming book were leaked.  

Of course, Trump's deal will face scrutiny, but not from Tony Blair, who was on BBC last night asking us to consider this shameless plan.  He's been angling for a special envoy position for three years, desperate to get back in the thick of things. You never know when this guy will reappear on television.  He's like a little gnome.

No one stands up for Palestinians anymore.  They have become a forgotten stateless people with virtually no say in matters that concern what's left of their occupied territories.  Those who do stand up for the Palestinians are consigned to the fringes.  

Remember when Jimmy Carter called Israel's policy toward Palestine worse than apartheid?  He was roundly dismissed by the media, but here we are 14 years later, and Palestine looks exactly like the "Bantustans" South Africa carved out of its country to give the local tribes very nominal home rule.  In an incredibly callous move, Trump has legitimized this process and Palestinians are supposed to say "thank you."

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Winter of Our Discontent

You have to hand it to Greta for getting under everyone's skin.  Her Davos speech had all the big wigs responding, namely Steven Mnuchin who told Greta she needed to get an economics degree before telling the world to divest in oil and gas companies.  The funny part is that his wife later came out on Instagram in support of Greta.  I suppose Steve gave Louise a more private dressing down for contradicting him.

We all know that the so-called energy companies are contributing to climate change at an alarming rate.  The US was actually making headway with initiatives in place to become more energy efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels.  Since Trump took office, the government has made an about face, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, promoting fossil fuel industries and most recently gutting the clean water act.

It all seems so senseless, but Trump rode into office promoting coal-burning power stations and rolling back carbon emission standards on motor vehicles.  When California rebelled, the Trump administration revoked the state's ability to set its own emission standards.  He's also signed over more federal land for energy rights, resulting in a fracking boom on public lands.

Along comes little Greta to remind the US just how stupid all these actions are, not just environmentally but economically.  Big Steve was having none of that.  He wanted Davos to know how vital these foul-burning industries were to the economy, even if most European countries have made decisive shifts away from the fossil fuel industry and don't plan to backtrack now.

Of course, Greta was harsh on everyone.  She claimed basically nothing had been done to battle climate change and the clock is ticking, reduced to 100 seconds before midnight on the doomsday clock.  It's a tall order to get so many nations to agree on a means to tackle environmental Armageddon, but I'm glad our kids are reminding us that it is their lives at stake.

Most of us won't be around long enough to witness this environmental collapse, but we can see the changing weather patterns in our own backyards.  Here in Lithuania, it still hasn't snowed.  Not that I don't mind the mild winter but it's a bit ominous given this is what it looked like the same time last year.  Winter had already been reduced to January and February, now it looks like it will be February only.

Without question we are warming up the planet.  Of course, the problem goes beyond fossil fuels.  The inordinate amount of farm livestock we produce is the biggest contributor to the greenhouse effect.  There are nearly as many cows on the planet as there are humans, and they produce a tremendous amount of methane.  Add in all the land devoted to animal husbandry, and the impact this is having on our natural biosphere, and you begin to realize just how deep our carbon footprint is.  This is why many environmentalist are encouraging us to eat less meat, as it takes nearly 7 times more land to support livestock than it does to grow fruits and vegetables for human consumption.

The long term impact is beyond our control at this point.  All we can do is help mitigate it somewhat by being more conscious of our actions.  Coastal cities will not be able to stem the rising tide.  People will have to start moving inland.  More land will become barren leading to greater environmental migration, as people will no longer be able to live in some regions due to lack of arable land, access to potable water, and extreme climactic variations.

We aren't done for by any stretch of the imagination, but we will see food shortages on a much larger scale and drinking water will become a premium.  We can expect feudal battles over shrinking land and water rights.  We already see this happening in the Middle East.  The conflict in Syria is as much about the environmental collapse in the country as it is sectarian violence.  Millions of Syrians have been forced to leave their ancestral homes because the land no longer supports them.  This has been a major contributing factor in the ongoing civil war.

Similar situations have arisen in other parts of the world.  The danger is we could be reduced to a semi-barbaric state, similar to post-apocalyptic movies like Mad Max.  I don't think this is a world anyone of us would actually like to live in.

We can continue to ignore the climactic events reshaping our planet, as Steven Mnuchin would like us to do, or do better risk management as Christine Lagarde encouraged on the last day of Davos, after Greta Thunberg had spoken.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Trial of the Century

If there is any secret to Trump's success, it is to drag everything down to his level so that he makes you wallow in his own mud.  This is certainly the case with the latest memebers he has selected for his defense team.  Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr are reality show attorneys, who capitalized on their notoriety on Fox.  I'm surprised he didn't add Jeanine Pirro.  Trump is hoping to make this trial into one big ugly episode of Celebrity Apprentice, where viewers take sides based on their ideological bent, much like the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial and Clinton impeachment trial, which Dershowitz and Starr were part of.

This is a far cry from the way Alexander Hamilton saw the Senate trial.  In Article 65 of the Federalist Papers, he saw the Senate as the final authority on the articles of impeachment.  He imagined the upper legislative branch as a House of Lords able to render an impartial verdict on the charges levied by the House of Representatives, which he regarded as a very partial branch of government, driven by political biases.  He expected the articles of impeachment to be political in nature, as there was less burden of proof.  In the Senate, there should be a greater burden of proof.

But, this isn't what Trump's defense team is suggesting.  They are trying to make the case that there is no burden of proof in the articles of impeachment, and that they should be dismissed entirely.  Hence, absolving him of any charges.  That's not what happened with Bill Clinton or Andrew Johnson long before him.  Both retained the permanent stain of impeachment, as Nancy Pelosi made perfect clear in her press conference after submitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

The problem with Hamilton's argument is that it never worked in reality.  The Senate proved to be just as partisan legislative branch as the House of Representatives, even when its members were selected by state appointment.  It was made even worse during the Congressional battles over slavery, with Preston Brooks caning Charles Sumner, after he denounced the infamous Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1856.  It was considered the "breakdown of reasoned discourse," and nearly cost Sumner his life.  Ultimately, it led to the Civil War.

Holding a trial in the Supreme Court wouldn't work as well for the reasons Hamilton enumerated in the Federal Papers.  There really is no way to avoid the POLITICAL, as Hamilton wrote in all caps, as "the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strengths of the parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt."

With the House and Senate divided politically, and a two-thirds vote required to approve impeachment, it is highly unlikely that Trump will be removed from office.  Democrats would have to convince no less than 20 Republicans to join them in supporting the articles of impeachment.  What thy are hoping for is a fair trial and that enough Republicans will join them in calling for more witnesses and testimony regarding Trump's abuse of power.  So far, that hasn't happened.

Trump is not satisfied with simply and up and down vote on the articles of impeachment.  He wants this stain permanently removed from his presidency.  This in itself illustrates the autocratic nature of his regime.  From day one, he has never been willing to abide by the code of conduct of his executive branch.  He has wanted to rule the country as a chief executive officer, unbound by any oversight from the legislative branch.  This not only shows his horrible understanding of the Constitution but how a corporation works.

Even a corporation has a board that is provides oversight of the CEO, and has been known to fire its Chief Executive Officer from time to time.  2019 saw 19 CEOS either fired or forced to resign because of misconduct or poor management.  A CEO can challenge the decision in court, but it only gets more ugly, as the burden of proof generally falls upon him or her to defend his or her record.

There were any number of charges the House could have heard against Donald Trump.  His administration has been riddled with misconduct and poor management that has led to an unprecedented number of resignations and indictments over the past three years.  Most of these missteps and crimes were done to benefit him personally, as the Mueller Report made clear.  The chief investigative officer outlined 10 cases for obstruction of justice, all of which were impeachable, but Nancy Pelosi chose not to act upon them, fearing an impeachment inquiry would descend into a partisan blood bath, given how Trump had so deeply personalized the Mueller Report and demonized his opposition.

Her party was none to happy with this decision.  Many new Democratic representatives had been elected on the platform of holding Trump accountable to the Constitution, which they felt the Republican Party had failed to do when it controlled the House of Representatives.  So, when yet another case presented itself last summer in Trump's "perfect call" with newly elected Ukrainian President Zelensky, they jumped on it and Pelosi had no choice but to launch an impeachment inquiry.

The case is so compelling because so many persons have come forward with accounts that corroborate the original whistleblower's report.  You can't chalk this up to incompetence, as Dick Shelby and other Republican Senators have opined.  This was a concerted effort by the Trump administration to get the Ukrainian president to reopen an investigation into Hunter Biden's role in the troubled Burisma energy company, in a transparent effort to implicate his father Joe Biden, who is running for president.

It is as concrete a case of abuse of power as one can find.  Not only did the Trump administration make the effort to extort the new Ukrainian government into launching this investigation by withholding military aid, but it sought to undermine high-ranking state department officials opposed to the idea, namely Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was subsequently recalled by President Trump.  It was all part of a smear campaign orchestrated by Rudy Giuliani, acting outside the White House, but in direct communication with officials in the White House.

Unable to extradite himself from the burden of proof that has been presented, Trump now tries to make the case there was nothing illegal in what he did.  Others have done it before, citing Biden himself who he believes similarly strong-armed the Ukrainian government in ousting a prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who had refused to prosecute extraordinary corruption cases.  Even if we entertain this notion that Biden used his influence to pressure Ukraine, he did so not for his own benefit but for that of the United States' relationship with Ukraine.  Shokin was clearly corrupt, and subsequently dismissed, soon to find himself being approached by the Giuliani thugs for dirt on Biden.

Trump hopes he can drag everyone into his chaotic alternative reality, so that all the thin lines become blurred and no one can distinguish between right and wrong anymore.  His cynical view of the world is much like that one sees on television crime dramas, particularly those relating to crime mobs.  Trump wants us to view him like Tony Soprano, a man of dubious character but just trying to provide for his family, or in Trump's case the country.

Our President has surrounded himself with two-bit thugs and other miscreants, who would have never been considered for any high-level government job, let alone a job in the White House, but here they all are with security clearances personally provided by Trump.  One can only imagine the free flow of classified information going out of the White House, which in many cases Trump has provided himself, feeling it is his right to do so.

Gone is anyone who can hold him in line.  All his top generals resigned or have been indicted.  His previous Secretary of State was notified on twitter of his dismissal.  He has gone through a slough of communication directors and press secretaries, all essentially suffering burnout after the many lies they had tell on Trump's behalf to the public.  He even lost his Homeland Security Director, Kirstjen Nielsen, who refused to carry out his illegal border policy after his notorious family separation policy and child detentions were revealed.  Yet another impeachable act.

What Trump is left with is a bunch of sycophants like Bill Barr, Mick Mulvaney and Mike Pompeo, who will literally carry out his wishes no matter how contentious or ill-advised they are.  Not surprising all three are at the center of this Ukrainian extortion racket, having been named by two-bit thugs on the ground, and verified through e-mail records.

I don't think Alexander Hamilton would have any problem seeing Donald Trump put on trial for abuse of office.  Only problem is that we have a Senate literally split down the middle as to the President's culpability in these high crimes and misdemeanors, with a conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice presiding over the trial.  There's literally zero chance a fair trial will take place since Republican senators are on record as saying they think it is a sham.  In their minds, this impeachment should have never taken place.

This isn't how the system works.  Regardless of what you think about the Articles of Impeachment, it is the Senate's duty to hear the case that has been brought against Donald J. Trump and render a decision accordingly.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bruce Lee vs. Quentin Tarantino

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a technicolor re-imagining of 1969.  As such, it is fun to watch but one scene should have been left on the cutting room floor.  The fight between Cliff and Bruce Lee was totally unnecessary and has drawn a lot of unwanted attention to the film.

What has pissed off the surviving Lee family and Lee fans in general is Quentin's assertion that Bruce Lee said he could win a fight with Muhammad Ali.  He bases this view on a biography by Linda Lee, Bruce's wife, in which she offered a second-hand account from critics of Lee.  Nevertheless, Quentin is unrepentant in his view, citing Bruce's presumed arrogance.

I suppose these kinds of controversy sell tickets, but the film already had so much buzz it would have done just fine without this useless foray.  Like everything else in Quentin's movies, his portrayal of Bruce Lee is drawn from other movies, because when you listen to Bruce in interviews he is anything but arrogant.  He was a wonderfully articulate man with a great sense of humor.

The scene serves no purpose other than to further show Cliff as a quiet tough guy.  Quentin's hero is a former Green Beret who doesn't take any sass from anyone.  Bruce is shown on a movie set, offering his impressions of Muhammad Ali, who was at the peak of his career at the time, among a bunch of extras including Cliff.

One assumes the movie was Marlowe, with James Garner, as that was the only Hollywood film Bruce was working on in 1969.  He had briefly appeared in The Wrecking Crew the year before, which Sharon Tate also played in.  Mostly, Bruce choreographed the fight scenes.  He would not gain fame until the following decade with Fists of Fury.  For a director, who was so careful to give us a unique inside look at the Manson family, there are a number of gross oversights here.

Bruce's admiration for Muhammad Ali is well documented.  Lee not only thought Ali was the greatest fighter at the time, but modeled many of his techniques after the World Champion boxer.  At one point, Lee had set up a full length mirror to reflect clips from Ali's most memorable fights so that he could replicate the boxer's every move.  According to Bolo Yeung, a close friend at the time, Bruce said himself he was no match for Ali, noting his tiny hands compared to a man of that size, speed and strength. 

If such a fight were to have occurred, Bruce's only chance would have been to spend most of his time on the ground as Antonio Inoki did in this less than memorable fight, kicking at Ali's legs.  Hardly the kind of fight that would have increased either man's stature.

Ironically, Quentin could have worked Bruce Lee into the script if he had a better imagination.  Roman Polanski was apparently convinced at one point that Bruce Lee, and not Charles Manson, orchestrated the grisly murder of his wife and friends.  This all came about because Bruce had said he lost a pair of glasses, similar to the pair found at the crime scene.

Lee had been teaching Sharon Tate karate, and Roman wanted lessons as well.  Lee was making quite a bit of money on the side, as much as $1000 an hour, training celebrities in the art of self-defense.  He was also giving Jay Sebring lessons at the Polanski-Tate house the day the horrific murders took place.  If Tarantino really had a grudge to bear with Bruce Lee, this would have made an even better plot twist than the one he offers up at the end of the movie.

Friday, January 17, 2020

This Is Your Life with Lev Parnas

Some of you might remember the old television show This Is Your Life, hosted by Ralph Edwards.  It ran in the US from 1952-61 and was subsequently picked up by other countries, having its longest run in Little Britain.  Well, we have a new version playing out in real time as Lev Parnas and his lawyer post image after image of Lev with Trump, his family members, his top aides and numerous Republicans who all claim they don't know him.  Chris Cuomo ran a five-minute segment recounting all these meetings with Lev that seemed to slip the minds of so many prominent Republican figures.

In Lev's own words, he went from big-time party donor to close Guiliani confidante to Ukraine inside man for the White House.  He implicated virtually everyone in the White House in his interview with Anderson Cooper.  If that weren't enough, he went on the Rachel Maddow Show to go through these contacts once again, making her segment the most-watched news episode on television last night, beating out her arch-rival and Trump confidante Sean Hannity.

It is safe to say that Lev is the talk of the town and he seems to have dirt on everyone.  Not only does he have copious pictures but plenty of records too, including phone conversations with Devin Nunes that forced the Republican US Representative to admit he had contact with Parnas.  That's more than Donald Trump is willing to admit, as he continues to say he doesn't know the man.

None of this appears to be making any impact on Republican Senators who see the impeachment trial as an open and shut case of acquital.   Lindsey Graham is one of the few GOP leaders not to be pictured with Lev Parnas so far.

So, who is Lev Parnas and how did he come to be such an influential figure at the center of the "perfect call?" Young Lev came to America in the 80s, fleeing the Soviet Union, and finding work with a real estate company that peddled Trump Organization co-ops in New York.  He did well in real estate, accruing a small fortune and moving from Brooklyn to Boca Raton, where he continued to profit off his bogus development schemes, just like his mentor.  It was his son, Aaron, who apparently alerted him to Donald J. Trump running for President, at which point Lev decided to cast his lot behind the man he so openly admired.

To read the account in the New Yorker, he soon became a regular at Trump rallies and gatherings, contributing heavily to the campaign, and catching the eye of influential figures like Rudy Giuliani.  Lev became an associate of Rudy after the election, offering his services in regard to Ukrainian matters.  The Trump team was rather peeved that the Hillary team had been able to dig up so much dirt on Paul Manafort, a one-time campaign manager, and soon found Lev's services useful as a means of payback.

With Hillary not running in 2020, the Trump team had to look for someone else to dig dirt up on so they chose Joe Biden, the front-running Democrat and former Vice-President.  Lev promised he could deliver, aided by his sidekick Igor Fruman, also a Ukrainian native.  Since the Trump White House couldn't be involved directly in such affairs, they made Rudy the go-to guy, whom Lev and Igor communicated with, but Lev claimed everyone in the White House was in the know.

When this sordid story broke last summer, everyone tried to distance themselves as far as possible from Rudy, Lev and Igor, who appeared like a modern day version of the The Three Stooges.  They were literally caught together having lunch at Trump's Washington Hotel the day Lev and Igor were arrested trying to leave the country on one-way tickets to Ukraine.  Only problem is that none of them were willing to take the fall, so they started naming names.  Soon there was enough dirt to stretch the House impeachment inquiry out for months, but to the Democrats' credit they stayed focus.  That wasn't enough for Lev, who is dumping even more dirt in hopes of getting a lesser sentence for his role in this elaborate extortion racket.

So far, he has made a jocular game out of his association with Trump and his confidantes, but it threatens to turn more serious the longer this goes on.  Lev loved these photo ops, originally meant to clutter his "I Love Donald" room in Boca Raton.  Now he plays the jilted lover determined to remind Donald of all the good times they had together, much to the president's embarrassment.

For his part, Trump tries to keep a stiff upper lip but you can see it quivering a little as he denies once again ever knowing the man.  At some point, it will all come out and Republicans will have a very hard time washing their hands of the mess.  They acquit Donald J. Trump at their own political peril.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Trouble with Harry and Meghan

There has long been this absurd love/hate relationship with our "Mother country."  No where is it more absurd than the way we follow the royal family.  I suppose a lot of Americans were pleased as punch when Harry took an American wife, but they didn't figure all the trouble it would cause the royal family, namely in Meghan's awful estranged father and jealous half-siblings who have desperately tried to cash in on her new royal celebrity.

Every tabloid in England and America has given these pathetic individuals space to air their many grievances and tell us how rotten Meghan is at her core for not having taken them into the royal family as well.  Meghan's father Thomas seems to have modeled himself on King Ralph, hoping to find a special place at the royal table only to be rudely rebuffed.

It would all be quite funny if it hadn't gone on as long as it has.  Thomas Markle continues to opin in London papers long after he has been asked to cease and desist.  The royal family has sued the tabloids, as it often does, but to no avail.  The press just keep printing anything and everything they can get their hands on, with or without the consent of the persons involved.  It was Papa Markle who released a letter Meghan wrote to him to the Mail, without his daughter's consent.

It doesn't seem to matter that Meghan has long been estranged from her father and half-siblings.  Meghan was only 6 when her parents divorced.   It was her mother Doria who brought her up, and continues to play a strong role in her life. Papa Markle remained an influence, but nothing like he projects in the media.

The problems go deeper than the nasty in-laws, and to the royal family itself.  The Queen has tried to keep a tight ship while on the throne.  It hasn't exactly worked.  As we have seen in the Netflix series, The Crown, sister Margaret would often deviate from the norm.  Charles had a somewhat wild and reckless youth, eventually forced into a marriage he obviously wanted no part of.  Diana had to suffer through this for ten years before finally being granted a divorce and having her title lowered.  Andrew's storybook marriage also failed, apparently as a result of all his philandering with Jeffrey Epstein's underage girls, which he hotly denies.   The only thing positive to come out of all this after Diana's tragic death has been William and Harry, who the media has followed closely ever since.

Harry was having a hard time staying in William's shadow.  Any little misstep was immediately reported in the media, like the Nazi outfit he once wore.  He was a bit of a cut-up, just like his dear old dad but given no end of grief for it.  Two tours in Afghanistan appeared to settle him down.  He got actively involved in philanthropy.  He started the Invictus Games, which became a major event drawing the attention of the Obamas and leading to a friendly interchange between him and the White House couple, memorably captured in this video.  Harry went from royal ruffian to the most eligible bachelor in the world.

It was clear that Harry had a more liberal bent than his royal family.  He liked to travel and do things his way.  He met Meghan while in Toronto staging the 2017 Invictus Games, developing an immediate bond that led to a royal marriage a year later.  It was a splendid affair that held so much hope that he and Meghan and William and Kate would give Britain two royal power couples like it had never seen before.  Alas, there is only room for one royal power couple and so Harry did what Harry would do with or without Meghan -- opt out.

Sadly, the tabloids are making Meghan look like Yoko Ono in breaking up the royal family, but this was bound to happen eventually.  William is on track to be King of England.  Harry can never be anything more than a charming prince.  Meghan was his way to get out of this pomp and circumstance and carve out a life of his own with someone he truly loves.

In part, Harry's exit is to give more room to his brother.  For the past two years, the papers have focused almost exclusively on Meghan and him, as if he was next in line to succession.  After William's and Kate's third child, Harry is now sixth in line to the throne.  It would take a catastrophe tantamount to that in King Ralph, god forbid, to see Harry sitting on the throne.  However, Megxit, as the press is calling it, is being portrayed as a horribly selfish move by the Duke, inspired by his mischievous wife.

I personally don't find it selfish at all.   It appears refreshingly unselfish for a change.  For once, we see a royal scion wanting to strike out on his own and carve a place for his wife and him away from all the tedious obligations of the royal family.

Actually, this wouldn't be the first time.  Edward II abdicated his thrown to be with his American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, living their lives out in France.  This abdication is what paved the way for Elizabeth to eventually be Queen, as her father succeeded his brother to the throne.  Of course, it was much different back then.  Divorce was grievously frowned upon by the church and state, which The Crown has amply illustrated.

It seems the Queen has a soft spot for Harry, but was none too happy in the way this mini abdication played out in the press.  The royal family desperately needs fresh blood, and Meghan was the perfect star child to give the family a liberal bent.  The wedding and everything that came with it increased the value of the royal brand significantly.

Alas, Harry and Meghan want more than a place at the table.  They want to create their own unique brand, and not have to stomach such social obligations as a royal dinner with Donald Trump, or an appearance with Boris Johnson.  As part of the immediate royal family, they are bound to such duties.  As distant relatives, they become more free to do what they like.

The Queen seems fine with this as long as it doesn't bring shame on her brand, but what to do with Andrew, who has brought far more ignominy than Megxit ever would.  Andrew is the true rake.  A guy who has used the royal brand in the most unseemly ways and appears completely unapologetic for it.  This is a guy who hobnobbed with Jeffrey Epstein and a cast of other unsavory characters that probably even made his father Prince Phillip blush.  It is Andrew who should be stripped of his title and sent to Timbuktu or some other faraway place.

Long story short, we shouldn't give a farthing for all this nonsense.  Yet, we do.  The American press lambastes Harry for diminishing the crown, when Andrew and his own father Charles have done far worse.  Do they forget how horribly Charles treated Diana, the People's Princess?  I don't think Harry does.

Harry wants out and I don't blame him.  There is absolutely nothing in it for him to stay close to this royal family.  He and Meghan make the perfect power couple.  After the dust has settled from this messy exit, they will be loved all over again.  Wisely, they have chosen Canada as their second home.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Politics of Love

As Leonard Cohen might sing, "Now so long, Marianne, it's time we began to laugh, and cry and cry and laugh about it all again."  The improbable presidential run of Ms. Williamson is over, and with it her "politics of love" that never had much of a chance to begin with.

For a moment there, it seemed it might just catch on.  David Brooks wrote a glowing account of her in the New York Times, claiming she might just be the one to take down the Dark Lord of Hate himself, but she was never able to gain any traction in a field that had ballooned to over 20 candidates.  Still she hung on, hoping love might be the answer to all the frustration, anger and hatred rising out of the Democratic campaign.

Her candidacy exposed just how cynical politics has become.  It's all about positioning and taking advantage of people's hostile emotions, and hoping that you can hold your campaign together long enough to be the last man or woman standing.  In short, a battle of attrition.  Marianne tried to rise above the fray, focusing on issues close to the American heart like the water problem that goes far beyond Flint, Michigan.  However, it was impossible to shake the 500-lb. elephant in the room.  Donald Trump was always there to remind Democrats that they needed someone who could rid them of this unwanted beast.

Williamson had her flaws, to be sure.  She was a vaccine skeptic.  She relied a bit too much on psychic forces, like the time she wanted everyone to focus their minds on Hurricane Dorian and will it away from the Bahamas, but there was no denying her heart was in the right place.

She gave the debates brief moments of levity as the other candidates stumbled around to gain footing over each other.  As such, I liked her but never would have considered her for President.  Well, I don't really think she imagined herself winning the nomination.  I think she hoped to remind the other candidates that what's missing from their campaigns is a "politics of conscience."

Most likely, she will be dismissed as a fluke.  So be it, but for a brief moment Marianne gave us something to think about other than hate for Donald Trump.