Monday, February 26, 2018
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the polls, along come John Kasich and John Hickenlooper to tell us the two-party system is fucked. If I didn't know better, I would say we have another case of false equivalence being established before the upcoming midterms. Kasich along with other ranking Republicans know they are in deep trouble unless they can find some way to drag the Democratic Party down with them, so John enlists a Democratic governor to reinforce his message.
I have no idea why Hickenlooper is playing along with Kasich, unless they really do plan to make a run at the White House together in 2020 as Independents, similar to Gary Johnson and Bill Weld in 2016, although they were both disgruntled former Republican governors. It isn't in the Colorado governor's interests otherwise, as right now the Democratic Party is looking pretty good.
It is the Republican Party that is reeling at the moment, having suffered an inordinate number of special elections defeats this past year, which has Republican operatives anxious to turn the tide. The next big test is coming up in March with a special election in Pennsylvania that pits young Democrat Conor Lamb against GOP stalwart Rick Saccone for Tim Murphy's vacant seat.
Scott Walker has refused to hold special elections for two vacant legislative seats in Wisconsin, afraid of the potential outcomes. He's being sued by the Democratic Party.
Glenn Beck made an emotional appeal on Brian Stelter's Reliable Sources yesterday, and Brian played right along with Glenn on his "healing message." This is exactly how Hillary lost the election in 2016. Each time some damning new story emerged about Donald Trump, Republicans were quick to say Hillary was just as bad and the mainstream media allowed conservative surrogates to switch the narrative almost every time.
Not surprising, Kasich comes out now in what appears to be a last ditch effort to save this traditional Republican seat in Western Pennsylvania by claiming the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans.
Well, I call Bullshit! Kasich is a phony. He is your typical milquetoast Republican who tries to play both sides of the political divide for his own gain. It worked in Ohio where he won two terms as governor. It worked in Colorado too where Hickenlooper is nearing the end of his second term. Where are two self-described moderates to go after their state political careers are over, other than to Washington.
Kasich says he has the plan to beat all plans to save health care. Mind you, this is the guy who begrudgingly went along with Obamacare in Ohio and is now calling for a "slow rollback" in Medicaid expansion after having accepted the package deal back in 2013, much to his Republican Party's chagrin. He is hoping to make this the issue that gets him back into the political mix. Hickenlooper is a virtual nobody outside Colorado, and is seeking wider national recognition.
The media is anxious for a story, and so falls all over this "middle way" approach the two governors are pushing. There is no middle way until the Republicans show they are serious about entering bipartisan talks with the Democrats, who extended their hands time and again between 2008 and 2014 only to be rebuffed each and every time. Republican senators Graham, Grassley and Susan Collins were all invited to take part in talks on a health care plan, but in the end they all pulled out of discussions, afraid to buck the GOP hard line. The Democrats only managed to get one cross-over Republican, Arlen Specter, who became the infamous 60th vote on "Obamacare." This was after innumerable compromises on the Affordable Health Care Act.
But, it will take more than just an acceptance of health care reform to reverse the tide. The recent shooting at Parkland exposed the GOP once again, only this time the students took action, resulting in a major shift of opinion on gun control. The Wisconsin GOP-controlled legislature tried to steal some of the thunder from a Democratic gun control measure by pushing one their own, but they went in the wrong direction, steamrolling a bill that would call for more guns in schools.
Things really blew up in Marco Rubio's face when he took part in a CNN-sponsored forum on gun control in Tampa, which saw angry parents and teachers tee off on the senator when he expressed a more cautious approach in the wake of the devastating mass shooting. Nevertheless, Rubio was lauded by the media for participating in the event.
This just shows how desperate the Republicans have become to shore up any support they can get in states that look like they will turn blue in November. Time will tell if the media lets them get away with this grandstanding.
Friday, February 23, 2018
Or the not-so-"stable genius"
Things got off to a rough start when a story was recirculated that put Donald's English language skills at a fourth-grade level, and got worse when a panel of political scientists ranked him the worst president of all time with a score of 12.34 after his first year in office. CNN and other news outlets were quick to toss these findings into question but there is little to support Orrin Hatch's argument that he is the best president ever.
One only has to listen to his jumbled speeches to hear that Trump has a very poor grasp of English, but Harry Truman barely managed a sixth-grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid chart and yet the same political science poll ranked him in the Presidential Top 10. Why is Trump such a bad president in so many scholars' minds?
It's not just that his intellectual level is so low, but his emotional level is that of a bully who has repeated the fourth grade for the fourth time. This is a man who loves to tell everyone he graduated with honors from the Wharton School of Business and that he could beat Rex Tillerson in an IQ test, but has yet to exhibit much in regard to language skills or logical thought. His bragging resembles a man trying to overcome an inferiority complex.
It has been suggested that he never measured up to his father's high standard, and that he never got the love he craved from his mother. He was bailed out time and again by Fred when his early business ventures went belly up, and Mary apparently had little time for her truculent son. His father also underwrote his infamous Trump Tower, which he sees as a monument to himself. Even by the 90s Trump was still in debt to his father over his failed casino venture in Atlantic City.
It was only when he landed on NBC as the host of The Apprentice in 2004 that his personal fortunes began to really look up, and Donald became a celebrity with his infamous "you're fired." Where he failed in business he succeeded on television by capitalizing on his notoriety. This was the "Golden Age" of recycling has-beens on reality shows like "The Surreal Life." Donald took it one step further with "Celebrity Apprentice."
All along the way we have been continually reminded of his best-selling business book of all time, The Art of the Deal, ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz, who has been telling us since the campaign trail that Trump is a "deeply disturbed" and "utterly untrustworthy" man. For three decades Schwartz's role had been kept under wraps and we were led to assume that the book was Trump in his own words. He would later project himself as the inspiration for Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's Wall Street in one of those rare confluences of art and life converging in the same year, as the book and movie appeared in 1987. Stone and the screenwriter Stanley Weiser credited a variety of popular Wall Street sharks at the time, notably Asher Adelman and junk bond king Michael Milken, not an advance copy of Trump's book.
Trump emerged as a brand name in the 80s, but here again he owes a large debt to his father. Nevertheless, you have to give him credit for marketing it the way he did, even if Trump Shuttle went bust almost immediately. His name became synonymous with failed business ventures, but no matter, he still valued "Trump" at $5 billion when he claimed he was worth no less than $10 billion on the campaign trail.
The problem is that all this improvisation hits a brick wall when you actually have to run a "company" the size of the United States. You can't keep making things up on the fly, especially when confronting foreign leaders at NATO and the EU. You have to show some basic comprehension of global markets and foreign policy, which Trump has repeatedly failed to demonstrate. He gets such basic things about the stock market wrong that you wonder what era he lives in. Surrounded by sycophants virtually his entire adult life, he never had to really think for himself. Persons were so anxious to endear themselves to Trump because of his father's reputation, that they kept him inside in his 1980s cocoon of Trump Tower.
He relishes his role as the Rodney Dangerfield of politics, especially when he crows about his electoral victory in 2016. He really doesn't care what the press, political or climate scientists think as long as he is President. He has shifted his electoral attention from Hillary to Oprah, as he eyes 2020, ignoring the "blue tsunami" forming in the Atlantic that threatens to wash away the tenuous support he has on Capitol Hill. State after state has turned against Trump, most notably Alabama, which elected a Democratic Senator for the first time in three decades.
The way he is handling the Parkland shooting incident isn't helping him at all. The so-called "listening session" was upstaged by the hand-written notes he held between his tiny hands to guide him in showing empathy for the parents of the victims. In the end, he just mouthed the NRA position to the tragedy -- more guns in schools -- resulting in incredulous side-eyes from parents and students sitting next to him.
Of course, he has two-and-a-half years to pull his act together, but given his lack of attention span and his inability to grasp issues even on the most fundamental level, it is doubtful we will see much improvement. In fact it is very easy to see a President who simply gives up at a certain point, especially if the Democrats take Congress in November.
I don't think those polls are far off. If anything, the Flesch-Kincaid gives Trump too much credit, as I've heard many fourth graders show a better grasp of the English language than Donald Trump. This is a guy who faked his way through business school knowing full well none of it mattered because his Dad was worth millions. His "gift," if you can call it that, is a complete lack of shame. It allows him to keep getting up in the morning oblivious to the tongue-lashing he gets virtually every night from political pundits and late-night comics. He has turned Rodney's "I get no respect" tagline into a red badge of courage, and shockingly "The President of the United States," which I doubt his father or mother would have ever imagined.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Those words are hollow following the seventh school shooting of 2018, and by far the deadliest. But, rather than have a debate on gun control, conservative pundits are busy pointing out a flawed story by an advocacy group called Everytown for Gun Safety that cited 18 school shootings so far this year. Like it really matters whether there were 7 or 18. One is too many.
We have received the response we expected from the NRA-sponsored Republican Party. The gun rights advocacy group spent $30 million alone on Donald Trump in 2016 and has bankrolled just about every Republican in Congress. They're the ones who got Republicans to let the federal assault weapons ban expire in 2004 after retaking Congress once again. Since then the proliferation of assault weapons has skyrocketed with the AR-15 by far the most popular weapon on the market. There are over 5 million in circulation and no doubt there will be another stampede at Walmart and other suppliers now that the cry for gun control has been raised yet again.
Even more disconcerting is that a kid like Nikolas Cruz can legally buy an assault rifle at 19. He can't even buy alcohol yet. The kid also had a history of mental problems that should have come up on a background check. But, gun advocates will tell you that if Nick hadn't been able to buy his rifle at a gun store, he would have gotten it some other way. Fact is that when the assault weapons ban was in place there were far fewer mass shootings because such weapons were harder to get.
The only way to get Congress and state legislatures to act is to vote out conservative legislators backed by the NRA. Until that happens, these "lawmakers" will continue to play dumb on gun control because they think that is what their constituency wants. Listen to Marco Rubio and ask yourself, Floridians, why you voted for this mindless idiot?
Of course, we can argue that it takes an unstable person to go on such a shooting spree, but why should we make it easy for them. Stephen Paddock also legally acquired his arsenal, which he used to great effect in Las Vegas last year. Nevada, like Florida, and like many other states for that matter, provides very few limits, and what few they do they do so begrudgingly.
Until there is a will to fight gun violence at the state and federal level, we will continue to hear conservative politicians and pundits go on about second amendment rights. Judge Nap gets a lot of things wrong in his Fox News screed. The most blatant being the second amendment was never about personal self-defense, but rather the rights of states to form militias after the federal government had disbanded the Continental Army. It's judges like him who over the decades interpreted this amendment to be about individual rights.
The first amendment allows pundits like Judge Nap and Laura Ingraham to voice their opinions despite their glaring inaccuracies. Yet, these same folks will take Everytown for Gun Safety to task for overstating the number of school shootings this year. Conservative talking heads would rather deflect attention away from the root cause of this violence rather than confront it, offering their thoughts and prayers instead.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
In this age of social media it seems no action goes unnoticed. Take for instance Shaun White dragging the American flag on the ground after winning the gold medal in the halfpipe. Social media immediately slammed Shaun for this faux pas. It didn't matter that he apologized afterward, the American flag brigade was relentless in its online shaming, even going so far as to call him a "traitor."
Meanwhile Chloe Kim found how a meaningless tweet can become part of a new lexicon after she won the women's halfpipe in stunning fashion. Social media went gaga for her "hangry" remark and soon everyone was running with it, including the Today show, which had churros especially made for her visit to the set at PyeongChang. Hoda and Savannah must have mentioned "hangry" a dozen times during the short span of the interview. Maybe Chloe will get a churro named after her like Shaun White had his nickname, "The Flying Tomato," put on a hamburger.
But, social media can get intense when political battle lines are crossed as we are finding out in the Adam Rippon v. Mike Pence twitter war that Donald Trump Jr. felt compelled to jump in. Rippon is the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in the Olympics and let it be known what he felt of the Vice-President's view of the gay community. For his part, Pence tried to downplay the war of words, but Adam was having none of it and soon this became one of the top stories of the Olympics. Donnie Jr. saw an opening and pounced. Only problem is he got a few facts wrong and left himself looking like a fool. Nothing new. However, do we really need this in the Olympics?
The Olympics are basically treated as human interest stories because this is the extent most of us see of these athletes over a four year period. Some, like Lindsey Vonn have a post-Olympics afterlife, but the vast majority will never be heard from again, unless they are unfortunate to have a movie made about them.
Social media changes that to some degree as these athletes all have webpages with a huge number of followers. Chloe Kim is already up to 272K twitter followers, and I'm sure that number will soon be over one million with the attention she is getting during the Games. Adam has amassed 261K followers since he became a media sensation. Shaun is King of the Hill with almost 2 million followers. He even has more followers than Lindsey Vonn, but he may slip after the flag incident.
It seems we need these athletes to live vicariously through each Olympic fortnight. The personal stories are compelling like the one about the Brandt sisters competing on separate hockey teams. No sooner did the Brandts adopt Korean-born Marissa than Mrs. Brandt found herself pregnant with Hannah. The two girls grew up in Minnesota, which explains their love for hockey. Hannah made the American team and Marissa is playing for the unified Korean team.
The stories tend to focus mostly on American athletes, but the occasional foreigner gets his or her due. The leggy Nigerian bobsled team has garnered a lot of attention this year, but as it turns out they have American ties. The winsome trio is competing in the two-person bobsled event, with one of them serving as the alternate. They used GoFundMe to realize their dream.
The Canadian ice dancing pair also garnered a lot of attention for their daring interpretation of Moulin Rouge on ice. Tessa Virtue and Scot Moir have been around for quite a while, having won gold at Vancouver and silver at Sochi, and are the odds on favorite to take gold again on the ice.
Of course, you also get a lot of attention with an agonizing wipe out like this one by Yuto Totsuka on the halfpipe. Fortunately for him, it looked a lot worse than it actually was and he will be OK. Everyone has been complaining about the weather conditions for the freestyle and alpine events, but as American Jamie Anderson said, you have to go with the flow, winning her slopestyle gold in an epic battle of attrition.
It's all pretty amazing to watch. These athletes literally appear to defy gravity, as we hug the cushions of our couches. There's something about the Winter Olympics that is more personal and captivating than the Summer Olympics. Even the curling is fun to watch, especially when you have a team that bills itself as "Housewives with Stones."
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
|Singing the song of One Korea|
It didn't take long for the American media to push back on Sister Kim. Seems a lot of folks are very unhappy with the reception Kim Yo Jong got in PyeongChang, and are now reminding us of the brutality of the North Korean regime and how we shouldn't be appeasing its tyrannic leader. All well in good except for the inconvenient fact we support tyrants all over the world and don't seem to bat an eyelash at their atrocious human rights records, so why should we get so angry with Rocket Man?
I think this is largely due to the fact Kim Jong Un outsmarted the United States, which sadly isn't very hard to do in the Age of Trump. Kim seems to be much more aware of the wave of feminism sweeping the planet and very cleverly sent his sister to represent him in South Korea. The cheerleaders were a nice touch as well.
According to the agreement reached between the IOC, South Korea and the United States, Trump was expected to send a high level delegation to PyeongChang, to match that of North Korea. The White House not very smartly sent Mike Pence, when it just as easily could have sent Ivanka, who would have helped soften the situation. She will be on hand for the closing ceremony, but it is too little too late.
Most of the White House genuflecting is aimed for a domestic audience, which has been led to believe the fate of the free world hangs on ousting Kim Jong Un from power, much like we turned Saddam Hussein into Boris Badenov back in the early 2000s. Treating Kim Jong Un as the "World's Greatest No-Goodnik" has largely failed because without the help of China and Russia there is very little pressure the US can exert on North Korea short of a military strike, one that very likely would trigger a World War.
North Korea is not as isolated as we would like them to be. They have numerous other allies as well, as far flung as Bulgaria, Benin, Congo and Madagascar. If there is anything this country has learned to do over the last 70 years it is how to survive, largely thanks to a very enterprising ruling family, which has made friends in the strangest places.
If we take exception to North Korea's human rights record, we must also question the atrocious human rights records in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan and Israel, among other nations we count as our allies. North Korea didn't even make the Top Ten of Amnesty International's Worst Attacks on Human Rights Across the World.
What upsets us about North Korea is that they have not so quietly amassed a potent military force with a small but rapidly developing nuclear arsenal that challenges our hegemony in Northeast Asia. Of course, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea wouldn't be in this position had they not received military support from the former Soviet Union, which was looking to counter the American presence on the Korean peninsula. In a large sense, we are still fighting the Cold War here with Russia continuing to support Pyongyang.
For decades, we accepted North Korea because we didn't see the country as a major threat beyond the peninsula, but in recent years Kim Jong Un has upped the stakes by showing he has ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads far beyond these boundaries. Obama had too many things on his foreign policy plate to tangle with the Rocket Man. He was busy trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran and re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba, which incensed traditional Republicans.
Trump came into office vowing no more appeasement of any kind and quickly launched twitter attacks on North Korea, Iran and even Cuba, but it was North Korea that really got his goat as Kim Jong Un answered his twitter attacks with test missiles. What's a petulant president to do but issue more hollow threats.
I'm really impressed the IOC and South Korea got the Trump White House to tone down its incendiary rhetoric during the Olympics. This was mostly Moon Jae-In, who appealed to Trump's ego by saying that all those empty threats brought Kim Jong Un to the negotiation table. We all know the IOC and South Korea pulled off this diplomatic detente largely on their own, but it doesn't hurt to give Trump some credit. This is a very Asian way of doing things.
In the meantime, the Trump White House tries to play it both ways, pushing a hard line while saying it is open to negotiations, as though its "tough talk" is a real factor in the "thaw" taking place on the Korean peninsula. Similarly, the media lets its talking heads carry out the debate in a public forum in true reality show style.
The only thing saving the Trump White House at this point is that Kim Jong Un doesn't really want confrontation, seizing the opportunity to show the world that he can play nice. It goes without saying we can't trust him, but then is he really any different than the other strong arm leaders we do business with around the world? As George F. Kennan noted a long time ago, foreign policy is about containment and avoiding open conflict. This is the attitude that had guided American foreign policy for decades until George Bush tried to make a "just war" out of Iraq. Even Trump saw the folly in the Bush Doctrine during the 2016 campaign, and he would be wise not to repeat the same mistake in North Korea, which really does have weapons of mass destruction.
Monday, February 12, 2018
Or Big Trouble in Brotopia
You can almost hear Tammy Wynette singing Stand By Your Man as Kellyanne Conway tries to defend Rob Porter from his ex-wives, both of whom have accused him of sexual abuse. Jennie Willougby, one of those ex-wives, wrote this essay for Time. Interesting that Hope Hicks, who is purportedly dating Porter, has been mum on the subject. Just the same, Conway is once again trying to provide cover for a White House that resembles Trump's infamous "locker room."
I'm more inclined to believe Jennie than I am Kellyanne. After all, she lived with the man and probably has a much better idea who he is than does Conway. For Trump's mouthpiece this is all part of a smear campaign against the president, taking down those around him. For his part, Trump also defended Porter, although he apparently wasn't too happy Hope hadn't given him a head's up on the breaking story, as one of Rob's ex-girlfriends had alerted her to the White House aide's history of domestic violence.
Trump has surrounded himself with strong virile men, along with a few tough women, to pump up his image of being a man's man. After all, this is what appeals to the base of the Republican Party. As a result the White House has become a "brotopia" where you can easily imagine the guys sharing their latest conquests at the gym.
The guy who should be reining this in, John Kelly, is further enabling this attitude by defending Porter rather than expressing his regret over the incident, although he apparently offered his resignation once again. All those years in the military I guess has inured him to incidents like these.
Guys will be guys. You have to keep your testosterone level high if you want to compete in politics. Just ask Bill Clinton. However, the big difference is that Bill tried to keep his excessive libido under wraps. Not so with the Trump White House, which looks like they start their Friday night by watching The Wolf of Wall Street. Kellyanne sitting on the sofa with her feet curled up underneath her and flipping through her smartphone as the guys root on Jordan Belfort.
What is worse is old farts like Orrin Hatch coming to the rescue of Rob Porter. This is the same senator who teamed up with his conservative colleagues to mercilessly grill Anita Hill when she had the temerity to accuse Clarence Thomas of sexual abuse. Porter, a Mormon, is apparently considered a fine upstanding man based on his religious identification, even if he and his wife Jennie had spoken to their bishop about the domestic violence. Jennie was asked to stand by her man. It's a good thing Orrin is retiring, otherwise he might face the same ignominy that has befallen other crusty old patriarchs.
This good ol' boys network is still alive and well despite the sexual abuse allegations rocking Hollywood. Politicians apparently consider themselves immune to such allegations, unless you are a relative newby and on the wrong side of the political aisle as was the case with Al Franken, who stepped down after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. The charges against him pale in comparison to Rob Porter, who is accused of physically beating his wives.
These accusations didn't emerge recently. Both wives have long accused Rob Porter of domestic violence, and it seems so too have his numerous girlfriends, but it took the #MeToo campaign to see their complaints come to light. Nevertheless, the White House is treating this like an isolated incident despite the 20 complaints registered against Trump himself.
As with Bill Clinton you get the feeling that what will ultimately bring Trump down is the highly toxic atmosphere of sexual abuse. It's not only been rumored that His Trumpness has been flirting around the White House but that no woman is safe in these hallowed halls. Of course, one can argue as I am sure Kellyanne will, that this has always been the case, but we live in a new world, one where a man is answerable for his actions, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct.
If Donald Trump wants due process for Rob Porter then he should be held accountable as well. After all, this is a man who not only falsely accused Obama of not being born in the USA, but insisted that the so-called Central Park Five should be executed for a crime they turned out not to commit, not to mention the thousands of other unsubstantiated allegations he has leveled at business and political rivals. Or, as Kristen Gillibrand has suggested, "if he wants due process for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let's have Congressional hearings tomorrow."
Sunday, February 11, 2018
It's clear that Kim Yo-Jong has won the diplomatic battle in PyeongChang, making Mike Pence look like a relic of the Cold War, as he refused to even cast a gaze at her during the Opening Ceremony as she sat right behind him. It's quite a coming out party for the sister of Kim Jong-Un, as she appears to have charmed everyone with her appearance at the Olympic Games, if not our dour Vice-President.
Trump really missed an opportunity not sending Ivanka to the Games. She would have more nimbly walked the political tightrope than the stick-in-the-mud representing his government at the Games. Not only was Pence outclassed by Kim's sister, but he also tried to shrug off the snub he got from gay Olympian Adam Rippon by saying he never extended an invitation to meet the figure skater despite evidence to the contrary. Ivanka would have found a way to have smoothed things over, not Mike, who remained surly to the end and is now flying back to Washington, claiming South Korea and the US are more united than ever against North Korea.
It sure doesn't look that way, Mike. The South Korean President Moon Jae-In has bent over backward to accommodate the North Korean delegation, clearly trying to make the most of the opportunity to encourage peace between the two countries as the whole world watches. For North Korea this is a huge diplomatic coup. A summit between the two nations is now being arranged, making the US look like the aggressor nation.
Why the United States didn't seize on this opportunity is beyond me. All the Trump White House had to do was play along. Even Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked to North Korean ceremonial leaders at the Games. The Trump administration could easily claim their tough talk led to this rapprochement, but instead all Pence could babble about was imposing tougher sanctions while shunning the North Korean delegation.
It is downright embarrassing and further erodes any confidence Asian leaders have in the US to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. It doesn't matter that every leader in the region has said that Kim Jong-Un doesn't respond to sanctions, but rather sees them as a red badge of courage. Jimmy Carter recognized this a long time ago, when he tried to encourage peace talks with North Korea. He has offered his services once again to try to bridge the divide, but of course the Trump administration has no interest in Carter's shuttle diplomacy. It would rather continue its policy of "fire and fury," which at this point appears to signify nothing.
Mostly what South Korea's president wants is a successful Olympic Games. He didn't want the threat of a nuclear war hanging over Pyeongchang the way confrontation loomed over the Sochi Games with all the unrest in Ukraine four years ago. Moon Jae-In went out of his way to make the feeling between the two nations as amicable as possible, even if many South Koreans are "side-eyeing" North Korea's "charm offensive," personified by an all-female cheering squad on hand to encourage the country's 22 Olympic athletes. The North Korean women's hockey team was crushed by Switzerland, but the most important thing was that they were part of the Games.
It also helps to brush over the rather odd decision by the IOC to allow so many Russian athletes to compete under the Olympic flag after banning Russia from the Games for the massive doping scandal at the Sochi Games. Supposedly, these are younger athletes who are getting their first Olympic exposure, but in watching the luge finals this isn't true. The top "OAR" luge finalist, Roman Repilov, is a former European champ, so it seems Russia managed to smuggle some of its top athletes into the Games. But, it wasn't Repilov's day. He finished out of the medals, overshadowed by the American Chris Madzer who took home a historic silver in the event.
There is no way to avoid the politics that surround the Olympic Games but it is refreshing to see this spirit of reconciliation at a time the world comes together to enjoy a fortnight of highly competitive games. It's just too bad Mike Pence was oblivious to it. Maybe he should have stayed home.
Monday, February 5, 2018
You'd think a guy who has five Super Bowl rings wouldn't be so hard on himself after a loss, but Tom Brady was downright morose after the Eagles pulled off their first Super Bowl victory. I suppose he wanted to cap off a great season in which he won MVP for the third time, but it was not to be. The "journeyman" Nick Foles beat him at his own game, driving his Eagles the length of the field for the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The shame of it is that for all his accomplishments Tom Brady doesn't get the respect he thinks he deserves. Three years ago he had to suffer through the ignominy of "Deflategate." Not even a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX was able to wipe away the criticism over his under-inflated footballs. He appealed the charges against him, only to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the 2016 season.
Then came the "MAGA" cap incident, where Brady was caught with a Trump campaign hat in his locker. He tried hard to distance himself from this too, but to no avail, Brady became inextricably linked to Trump even when he chose not to attend a reception for the Patriots at the Trump White House after staging one of the most improbable comebacks in Super Bowl history, erasing a 25 point deficit against Atlanta.
Even 2017 was not without incident, as news spread that Brady wasn't happy at New England. For years he had foregone a massive contract extension so that Belichick could afford the supporting players he needed. News spread that Brady wanted to pull a Michael Jordan, demanding a one-year contract worthy of his spectacular accomplishments. Brady himself dismissed such talks, being the team player that he is. Still you had to wonder if it stung a little bit to see guys like Mathew Stafford, Derek Carr and Andrew Luck pulling in 25 mil per year while you had to settle for 20.5 million.
Brady is worth more than all those quarterbacks put together, but this time he couldn't overcome the controversy that was generated around him, losing the Super Bowl in the most ignominious of ways by having the ball stripped from him in what should have been his game-winning drive. He still had time to pull the game out, but his Hail Mary on the last play was batted away. This time the Patriots had to settle for second best.
His wife Giselle explained the loss to their heartbroken kids by saying, "Their whole life they never won a Super Bowl. You have to let someone else win sometimes." I'm sure that didn't go over too well with Eagles' fans.
Meanwhile, poor Tom struggled through his post-game interview as if he was the one who was always coming up short in life. You have to wonder what he is going to do with himself after he is eventually forced to retire, relive these losses?
Come on, Tom, any person would kill to be where you are in life. No quarterback has accomplished what you have in the NFL or probably ever will. Five Super Bowl rings is not something that is going to be matched by anyone in the foreseeable future. Nor, are they blessed with a supermodel wife and three lovely kids. Even if you are getting paid less than you are worth, you will be in demand for decades to come because everyone loves a winner. So, smile for god's sake!
Friday, February 2, 2018
Or my kingdom for a wall
After a year of vacillation with several Republican senators openly criticizing the president, and even pondering his removal, Congressional Republicans now appear to have made their bed with him. They clapped like a bunch of sycophants at each and everything he said in his State of the Union address. Even when he called on Congress to give him more authority over federal departments, they all clapped, oblivious to the fact that his main aim is to "cleanse" the FBI. To hear Paul Ryan, such an idea is not out of the question. Congress already gave the president the authority to "cleanse" the VA, which he highlighted in his speech.
The White House and its conservative mouthpieces are convinced there is a deep state in the federal government aimed at bringing him down. This is why he wants to "100% release" the Nunes memo, an artlessly contrived memo designed to discredit the FBI and in turn the current investigation into the White House links to Russia. Congress has already agreed to release the memo, but is refusing to release Democratic criticism of the memo. Devin Nunes is the same guy who was scurrying over to the White House at odd hours of the night in an effort to support Trump's claim that he was being surveilled. But, House leader Paul Ryan stands behind Nunes, and thinks that the Democrats are just trying to distract the public.
It really makes you wonder what Bob Mueller has found if Republicans appear on the edge of granting the president unprecedented powers to clean house. All these agencies are supposed to be independent, serving the country not elected leaders. This includes the DOJ, which Trump has openly complained about throughout his tenure. He believes these guys should work for him. What turned to have so many Republican now openly contemplating a purge of this contrived "deep state?"
This is like a bad television version of a Shakespeare tragedy where the king, let's say Richard III, is trying to crush the rebellious forces against him. Trump openly believes that Obama has planted moles throughout the federal agencies and that these persons are trying to bring him down. Why not, this is what his friends at Fox have been saying for months. It doesn't matter that many of the persons who have been identified have long served in the FBI, DOJ and other federal agencies, they are seen as sympathetic to Obama and therefore antipathetic to Trump.
Obama is seen as a king in exile by the more ardent conspiracy theorists, plotting his return to power. How such a Machiavellian plot would unfold is anyone's guess. There's also one about Clinton and Soros teaming up together to overthrow Trump. I suppose Obama is working with Richard Branson.
The degree of paranoia among Republicans is growing, especially in the wake of their special election defeats. The only way to retain hold of government at this point is to grant the President more authority, given the very real possibility they may lose Congress this fall. This would be unparalleled in American history, except during times of war.
Of course, Trump continues to threaten war with North Korea despite the fact the country has opened up to South Korea. Rather than claim success for this rapprochement, Trump appears anxious to maintain an antagonistic relationship. His advisers are well aware of the war powers a president would gain and how these powers could be used to entrench their hold on government. Note the Republican Congress refused to grant Obama such authority. With Syria now essentially wrapped up, thanks largely to Russia and Iran, the only place left to turn is North Korea.
Trump's State of the Union address should have given lawmakers pause, not a reason to cheer. It was the speech of an autocratic despot, not the President of the United States, constantly referencing nationalistic themes in an effort to turn his conservative base against anyone who would defy him in Congress. After all, Trump continues to enjoy an 80% approval rating among the Republican electorate.
It is for this reason that Republicans are afraid to stand up to him in an election year. Trump even managed to get a wayward Democrat to join him in the cheering section -- Joe Manchin -- who now finds out it didn't do him any good to cuddle up with the Republicans. I don't feel sorry for Joe in the least.
Democrats need to stick to their guns, and fight the Republicans to the bitter end. The real war is right here in America over the heart and soul of the nation. They must continue to openly defy the Republican sycophants who are aiding and abetting Trump on the road toward an autocratic state. This has been the game plan all along. The reason for all the political gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and other attempts at disenfranchising a large cross section of American voters. But, when these efforts no longer work to retain their hold on state and federal government, then the only recourse is autocracy. This is what Trump offered in his State of the Union address.