Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Starting Five

We finally got a taste of our Democratic candidates on stage taking questions from students selected by CNN.  It was a rather stilted affair, not to mention long.  Five candidates each had one hour to face America's young electorate.  It's all about the Millennials this year, for better and for worse depending on your news source.

Mayor Pete was among the five candidates and by far the most popular among the students, although crusty old Bernie still has some pull.  Liz made a direct appeal by saying she would levy a two percent tax on the uber-rich to provide student loan relief and eventually make all education free, from day care to university.  Dear Amy from the Great Purple State of Minnesota was having none of it, telling the audience she wished she could staple a free college diploma under every one of the students' chairs, but no can do as she threw a wet towel on the event by preaching pragmatics.  That left Kamala to take the final turn, another crowd favorite with a glowing smile and California appeal, who spun back to the progressive side of the party after Amy's dour presentation.

Pete was questioned for not having any policy positions on his web site, to which he responded it is all about getting to know the candidates at this point.  He's right to a certain degree.  We want to know if they are winsome or not, and to address any personal skeletons they might have in the closet, but ultimately it is policy that makes or breaks candidate.  Liz laid it all out there, not just a plan but a means of realizing that plan, which not even Bernie has done to this point.  We still get a bunch of wild-haired notions from him with the tag line if European countries can do it, we can do it too.  He just fails to mention that Scandinavian countries have a 70% tax rate.  Something that won't sit well with very many Americans, or many Scandinavians for that matter.

For some odd reason an overwhelming number of questions came from Harvard students, making you wonder if other universities didn't get the memo to provide questions.  Hopefully, CNN will rectify that next time around because nothing says stuffy liberal elite like Harvard, and Democrats are trying hard to shed that image this election cycle.  They have to win back rural and suburban America.  You need kids from Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Kentucky and even Minnesota, where Miss Amy proudly boasted she won all 40 districts in the last Senate election, even crazy Michelle Bachmann's district, but the audience had to be coaxed into an applause.

One thing is clear, the media can cross Amy Klobuchar off the list.  She came across as the Democratic version of Susan Collins.  Interest in her largely stems from the Kavanaugh hearings, where she had a very direct confrontation with the Supreme Court nominee over drinking.  She has proven herself to be an effective senator but has virtually no appeal to a broader electorate.  That was clear from the start when it was leaked she had been pretty hard on her staff.

Mayor Pete is trying hard to make his flavor last beyond the first month but so far has yet to enumerate any policy positions.  He is quick however to point out the flaws in others.  This is the approach Bill Clinton took back in 92 and it carried him all the way to the White House, so Pete maybe onto something.  However, it isn't going to sit well with his opponents.  I remember Paul Tsongas being particularly peeved at the way Bill liked to pick over his policy positions only to use them later on in the campaign.  All's fair in politics, not just love and war.

Bernie finds himself struggling to hold onto his lead position among progressives.  Support has eroded in the past month and looks like it will erode even more.  Liz not only has taken a strong stand on progressive issues, but has outlined how she would achieve these lofty goals.  Bernie has become pretty much the Ron Paul of the Democratic Party, writing books that are long on ideas but short on substance that make you wonder why he just doesn't go into retirement.  Liz isn't much younger.  She will turn 70 this June, but looks 10 years younger, whereas Bernie looks like he is well past 80.  I think Liz will win this battle among septuagenarian liberals.

Liz faces tough competition in Kamala, who is by far the most telegenic candidate, and supports the same progressive agenda, even if she is leaving it up to Liz and others to offer solutions.  After a big opening splash, Kamala Harris has pretty much laid low, content to ride out this early jockeying for position among the other candidates as she knows it is a long, long race.  All she has to do is smile and she melts a studio audience.  This must really get Liz's goat, as she has to work so hard just to get a reaction.  Don't sell Kamala short however.  She has a good track record and showed herself well during the Kavanaugh hearings and other Senate judicial committee hearings.

CNN will present the other candidates in the coming days.  We will get to see Big Joe on stage, as Biden finally announced his bid after weeks of speculation.  He's currently polling 8 points better than Trump and is the clear front-runner among Democrats.  I don't think Joe has the stomach for a long campaign.  It probably would have been best for him to wait until late Fall to announce his candidacy, as John Kerry did back in 2004, but there was just too much energy swirling around the Democrats and Joe was anxious to get into the mix.  He wants to be the Good Grandpa.

I'm curious to hear Andrew Yang, who actually announced his candidacy last November.  He's a sharp young guy who is going after the manufacturing vote, which Trump stole in 2016.  What sets him apart is that he has real solutions and seems the perfect candidate in this high tech age.  He hasn't generated as much buzz as Mayor Pete but I think will turn heads once he gets more national exposure.

What thrills me is that we are finally getting the campaign we deserve.  2016 was awful.  Hillary appeared to think the nomination was hers by acclamation and Bernie was seen as the only alternative.  The Old Bern had his moments, but it was a doomed campaign that did more to stir unrest in the party than it did to bring progressive issues to the forefront.  We are still living with the shadow of Hillary in this campaign but one hopes that after a few more of these town halls and debates this summer, we will finally be past 2016.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Paranoia, they destroy ya

or Populism isn't dead yet

It doesn't seem other countries have learned the lessons from Brexit and Donald Trump.  Ukraine overwhelmingly elected a television comedian as president this past weekend, largely out of disgust with the current president and "chocolate king," which the creators of "Servant of the People" mercilessly maligned for the past four years.  It seems to be a strategy that works even if it brings no beneficial results, but then Moscow is mostly interested in sowing chaos around the world one nation at a time.

I would have liked to think we had reached a turning point after Theresa May failed to get her EU exit deal through the British parliament, and Trump went to Mar-a-Lago to lick his wounds over Easter weekend.  The deputy prime minister of Italy tried to rally European far-right nationalist leaders, but only three showed up for the infamous conference.  You have to figure the evil Dr. Bannon was lurking in the shadows for the rally to be such a miserable failure.  If it had been Russia, everyone would have showed up.

What has made the last two years so interesting is the incompetence we have seen on such a grand scale and how Russia has been able to reassert itself in international politics.  Despite growing unpopularity in his own country, Vladimir Putin has established himself as the pre-eminent negotiator between countries by stirring up unrest and then making it appear he is the only one able to quell the discord.  He started a war in Ukraine five years ago after the overthrow of his handpicked leader, Viktor Yanukovych, and has used the war not only to undermine Ukrainian President Poroshenko, but also US and EU attempts to bolster his government.  Zelensky claims to be a servant of the people, but he is just another puppet for Putin to manipulate and bring Ukraine back into his sphere of influence.

Like Trump, Putin is reacting largely to the slights of the previous administration.  Former President Obama infamously dismissed Putin as a regional player, not fully understanding just how much pull Russia has in its sphere of influence and in points beyond.  Many Latin Americans countries view Russia in a far more positive light than they do the US, and Putin is not afraid to exercise his influence in this region as we are finding out in Venezuela.  Putin knows how to play the long game thanks to a very favorable constitution he helped write that gives him virtually unlimited powers.  Trump could only wish he had such executive authority.

What the Mueller Report doesn't make clear is that Putin never really wanted Trump in the White House.  His aim was to undermine Hillary Clinton's authority by casting her in such a bad light on the campaign trail that she would spend her entire four years trying to overcome Republican-led investigations.  Ironically, Trump now finds himself similarly tied up by Democratic-led investigations in the House.  Either way, Putin won.  With the US effectively out of the picture, he can move around the world trying to bring his new global order into focus.  He still hasn't achieved it, but he is much further along than anyone gives him credit for.  The only thing keeping him in check is China's imperial ambitions.

Trump has proven himself to be a bumbling buffoon on the international stage, unable to negotiate a single meaningful deal, opening the door for Russia at every turn.  In Moscow, they would call him a useful idiot.  He was never really anymore than that, which the Mueller Report makes abundantly clear.  He isn't even effectively able to get his own staff to carry out his orders, much less other countries.  He has bumbled his way into such a mess that whether or not Nancy Pelosi decides to go through with impeachment, his administration has essentially been rendered moot.

It's probably best to keep it that way.  Impeachment hearings would rile up the conservative base, make things uneasy for so-called independents and distract from the upcoming elections.  I can understand Liz Warren's and Kamala Harris' insistence that Trump must be held accountable, but he already gets the lion's share of media attention.  Impeachment hearings would drown out the election.

Putin would love nothing more than to see the US slide down this slippery slope. Who knows he might even nudge Democrats a little by surreptitiously leaking some of the redacted parts of the Mueller Report, or providing some fodder of  his own.

We somehow have to get ourselves beyond Trump, look to the future by imagining a better America rather than continue to allow ourselves to be distracted by this assclown.  He functions entirely by making himself the center of attention while his merry henchmen pick our pockets in the circus bleachers.

Politics is a strange business.  It's easy to get cynical and vote for some unproven entity just because you are fed up with politics as usual.  To say that the working class has become the working poor is a bit of an exaggeration, but people have assumed such enormous debts that they are literally living from one paycheck to the next with little or no retirement plan.  This has led to widespread dissatisfaction which the Democrats need to tap into on the campaign trail.  The last thing we need is to replace one assclown with another, as was the case this past weekend in Ukraine.

I listen to the rhetoric Bernie Sanders is belching out on the campaign trail and really have to wonder why I paid any attention to him last time around.  The guy pushes progressive talking points without really addressing anyone of them.  You could say the same for the other candidates at this stage, but Bernie had three years to hone his message and it is as hollow now as it was in 2016.  Not surprising Moscow used Bernie as well as Trump to undermine Hillary Clinton, as Mueller laid out in his report.

Social media has proven woefully inept at screening out fake news, as the anti-vaccine campaign has proven.  People are largely driven by emotion not reason, and we are all vulnerable to outside influence.  Obama liked to point to a book Nudge as the means by which he tried to gently direct persons toward the greater good, but you can just as easily nudge persons toward the greater evil by effectively hitting on the right emotional nerves.  

Putin is the ghost in the machine, using internet trolls and bots to wage his asymmetrical war on the West without even having to fire a conventional military shot. Along the way he has infiltrated our institutions and divulged military and foreign policy secrets through wikileaks and other social media sources.  You would be hard pressed to trace any of this hacking back to him personally, given how thoroughly insulated he is.

Obama came close.  He understood the long game Putin was playing but made the fatal mistake of calling check too early.  He hadn't had enough time to bolster his position by wooing countries away from Russia before an ill-fated election undermined everything.  Basically, Putin turned the table over and we still find ourselves scrambling to pick up the pieces.

Somehow we will get past Trump, past Putin and past all the vile nationalist sentiments being stirred up in Europe.  Democracy is remarkably resilient.  While everyone may want to rule the world,  it is better to not let our fears get the best of us, but rather think of what we can do to tame those fears.  As the Kinks once sang, Paranoia, they destroy ya!

Friday, April 19, 2019

So much for total exoneration

but it was nice while it lasted

The aim all along has been to turn the justice department into Trump's own private legal services.  He wasn't able to have his way with Sessions, who despite all his fealty to the president couldn't bring himself to openly defy the Constitution.  However, it now seems Trump has achieved that goal with William Barr, who showed in his press conference yesterday that he is answerable to the president first, not the Constitution, and certainly not the will of the people.

It's not surprising given Barr's track record.  This is a man who has worked tirelessly to insulate Republicans in the White House from the long arm of the law, first acting as George H.W. Bush's fixer and now Trump's fixer.  To hell with Congress and its special investigations.  Short of launching impeachment hearings, there is little chance the House will be able to get to the bottom of the Mueller Report, which only went a short way down the rabbit hole.

For whatever reason, Mueller limited himself in his investigation.  Part of it was because of the parameters set by the Justice Dept. and the other was Mueller's inability to find a "willful" attempt to break the law.  This was certainly true of Donnie Jr. and Jared, both of whom lied about their meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign, but Mueller was unable to establish criminal intent.  This also goes for the numerous attempts by Trump to thwart the investigation, including at least one attempt to fire Mueller.

In his report, Mueller laid out the groundwork for Congress to take the investigation further.  In no way was Trump "totally exonerated."  In fact, there were many instances where the president tried to obstruct justice and many patterns of collusion with Russian operatives to benefit himself during the election.  At the very least, Congress should follow up on the role Donnie Jr. and Jared had in working with Russian operatives and officials to influence the election, assuming the president was oblivious to it as he claims.

The odd part is that I wouldn't be surprised at all if Trump was oblivious to what was going on around him during the campaign.  He never really wanted to be president, he just wanted the national exposure the campaign brought him.  It allowed him to reach an entirely new market, the religious conservative base of America, which I doubt he had previously ever imagined doing.  It also opened him up to a number of new international contacts that he wouldn't have gotten otherwise.  Trump is after all a businessman.

Nevertheless, he became president and should have at least made the effort of rising to the role as the "leader of the free world," as everyone likes to call the president.  Instead, we have seen the same pettiness throughout his administration that we saw throughout his campaign.  When persons wouldn't respond to his wishes, he demeaned them as he mercilessly did Jeff Sessions.  Where he could, he fired them.  The turnover rate in the White House is greater than that of McDonalds.  Only a very small core of Trump confidants have remained, shuffled from one position to another with all the vacancies.  Many positions remain unfilled because Trump's closest advisors have figured out that they don't need Congressional approval for acting department heads.  This is why you see Stephen Miller currently heading up immigration and Mick Mulvaney acting as the de facto Chief of Staff.  Pompeo is apparently doubling as Sec. of Defense, either that or Bolton is filling this role as Trump has yet to even put a name forward after Gen. Mattis left at the end of last year, tired of having to defy Trump's tweets on a daily basis.

The bulwark that had kept Trump relatively in check the past two years is now gone.  Everyone from Gens. Mattis and Kelly,  former Sec. of State Tillerson, Attorney General Sessions, to White House lawyer Don McGahn tried their best to defuse tense situations by not carrying out Trump's tempestuous orders.  In the end, they all resigned because the pressure became too much to bear. Even Kristjen Nielsen, who seemed to have no problem enforcing Trump's draconian immigration laws, ultimately yielded to the federal courts, the result of which she was fired.

You don't have to look at the report of find Trump's woeful pattern of abuse of power.  He has made it plainly visible everyday in office, even calling Robert Mueller a traitor for carrying out an investigation commissioned by his very own Department of Justice.  That in itself is slander.  Yet, for some strange reason you have to establish a willful intent to break the law in order to indict a high ranking official.  Apparently, the DOJ and FBI take these daily rants as that of an incoherent old man not responsible for his words.

Why let Donnie Jr. and Jared off the hook?  Everyone was expecting indictments to be served against them, even the two themselves.  Yet, Mueller couldn't prove they willfully broke campaign finance laws, presumably because they weren't aware of them.  Most of us aren't aware of all the IRS laws but that doesn't let us off the hook when it comes time to pay taxes.

It seems Mueller got cold feet.  He wasn't satisfied with the answers Trump's lawyers provided to his questions, but decided it would drag out the investigation too long to issue a subpoena at this late stage.  No doubt Trump's lawyers would have tied up the subpoena in courts for the remainder of his term.  Mueller had gone as far as he could go without directly challenging the president, and so he kicked the can to Congress.

There are those in the House that want to immediately launch impeachment hearings but Nancy Pelosi is cold to the idea, largely because she thinks it will throw the 2020 elections into chaos.  Trump is not about to resign, as Nixon did two years out of the 1976 elections.  He will do everything he can to remain in power, and with a Republican Senate willing to oblige him Nancy knows the impeachment would never go beyond a House vote.

This will not stop the House from further investigating Trump's actions now that it finally has the Mueller Report with a relatively limited number of redactions.  So, it will be a messy two years for the president with plenty of fodder to use against him on the campaign trail.

More heads are likely to roll, maybe that of Sarah Sanders herself, who was called out on numerous lies in the report, along with her predecessor Sean Spicer.  Remember him?  Turns out the much maligned "fake news" wasn't so fake after all.  This thoroughly erodes whatever credibility she tried to project at press conferences.

What gets me is why CNN and other mainstream news networks were so quick to declare Trump the victor when Barr released his four-page summary of the report last month?  Journalists had to know it was nothing more than a feeble attempt to protect the president.  Barr was quite testy when answering questions at the press conference, refusing to admit he in any way tried to cover for the president.  Yet, he seems to think he is answerable to the president first and foremost.

The mainstream news networks now feel vindicated in the wake of the release of the report, and are sure to go after Trump tooth and nail in the remaining months of his tenure.  No one has any illusions anymore that he will pivot and become more presidential in the build up to 2020.  The only question is how much more damage can he do in the White House?

He has shredded any aura of respectability.  Even Russia now openly challenges American authority in global politics, having no qualms bolstering Maduro's hold on Venezuela much to the chagrin of a White House that was hoping for a quick foreign policy victory here.  Instead, it is back to the same old ways with the US threatening Latin American countries, and Russia offering aid and succor.  Only now the US finds itself at odds with Canada and the EU as well.  Even the great diplomatic plum Trump hoped to get from his talks with Kim Jong-un has ended in bitter resentment with North Korea calling Mike Pompeo immature and refusing to further negotiate with him.

Trump can't even bring himself to offer simple words of sorrow for the great loss of Notre-Dame.  Instead, he tweeted better means of putting out the fire and that he will lend great experts to France for the restoration of the hallowed cathedral.  Yet, despite all these ongoing gaffes and gross misjudgments, he still seems to think he has improved America's standing in the world.

His greatest crime of all is his gross incompetence.  Even when his staff goes out of its way to protect him, as it did by dismissing media claims that Trump wanted to dump migrants on sanctuary cities, he readily admits to it in his tweets and says he might go through with it now.   This on the heels of his absurd claim that wind turbines cause cancer and numerous other beauties he said at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he gloated over Barr's summary exonerating him of all crimes and misdemeanors.

How do you hold a man like this accountable for his words and actions?  Mueller was obviously unable to do so.  It's not like he could have indicted the president even if he had found hard evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice.  This would have been left up to the Department of Justice, which has become Trump's legal aid services.  What it seems we need at this point is a thorough psychological evaluation of the president, whose mental capacities appear to have eroded considerably since assuming office, no longer able to demonstrate any coherent train of thought, as virtually all his rallies and press conferences dissolve into babble.

Who knows, maybe the president is speaking in tongues?  That's what Michelle Bachmann would like us to believe.  She considers him the most "biblical president" in our lifetime.  Whatever the case, Trump is proving to be remarkably elusive in ways Ronald Reagan couldn't even imagine.  Another president who began losing his mind in office.

Sadly, we are stuck with Trump until the end of the term.  Even if the House were to pursue his impeachment it would drag out for months and most likely Trump would survive the challenge to his authority.  We can expect many more petulant actions in the months ahead as Trump caters to his religious conservative base, hoping to at least hold Republicans in line during the primaries.  Not that it would do him much good at this point.  He is now alone in the White House, surrounded by his most loyal sycophants.  Nothing short of a miracle would gain him another term in office.  So pray as hard as you can, Michelle.  He'll need it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Anyone who has been to Paris has visited Notre-Dame.  The cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in the world, an international treasure.   It will be rebuilt but the historic loss is incalculable.  The wood construction of the roof was original, dating back to the 12th century, as was much of the wood interior.  This can never be replaced.

Most everyone was left speechless, except CNN of course. Reporters tried to assess the damage as it was happening, stumbling over themselves in the process.  One needs time to process such a great loss. To sort through the ashes and see what can be saved.  To pay tribute to a great building that is now a hollow shell.  We realize in moments like this just how insignificant we are.  As much as we place value on human life, to lose so much of a building that has stood for over 800 years is to lose something even greater than human life.

I remember watching Sokurov's Francofonia a few years back and the question was put near the end of the movie, which is more valuable a great work of art or a human life?  The narrator paused for a moment and then begrudgingly conceded a human life.  I'm not quite so sure.  It's only been in the modern era that we placed value on human lives, although witnessing the human tragedies around the world, it seems not very much value.  A great work of art is a living testament that spans the ages.  To lose all or part of such a treasure is to lose a very tangible piece of who we are as a people.

We tend to think of the preservation movement as a relatively recent phenomena born out of the damage many European cities suffered during WWII.  One of the most visible reminders is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, which was purposely left in the same state as it was after the war.  However, the preservation movement goes back much further.  It was Viollet-le-Duc who restored Notre-Dame in the mid 19th century, giving it new life after centuries of neglect.

For others like John Ruskin, the cathedral should have been allowed to decay, as the castles had done in his native England.  Stabilize it if you have to, but no modern intrusions.  Viollet-le-Duc wasn't content with such a philosophy, bringing the cathedral back to more or less what it looked like when it was completed by King Louis XI.

The preservation movement has been torn by these rival philosophies ever since.  Here in Vilnius, there is a debate every year whether to reconstruct the old castle on top of the hill.  A few years back the federal government decided to reconstruct the old palace from the 16th century with mixed feelings among the historic architecture community.  Many felt it was enough just to expose the ruins and provide a visitor center where you could see what the old palace and castle looked like in the past.

Notre-Dame de Paris is a different story as it has been in almost continual use since it was first built, although there wasn't much interest expressed in the cathedral after the French Revolution.  That changed with Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.  This spurred calls for its restoration, and Viollet-le-Duc undertook the ambitious project in 1844, adding the iconic spire at this time.  He wasn't content to leave well enough alone.  Another major restoration effort took place in 1960s when much of the soot and grime was cleaned from the church, revealing its wonderful polichromy.

If anything positive can come from this horrible event, it is that the people of Paris can come back together again.  For months, the city has been besieged by yellow vests protests that has led to a lot of property damage.  This is why it was easy to suspect some culprit started the fire, but initial reports point to an accident.  President Macron has used the fire as a rally cry for unity and has promised to rebuild the cathedral.  We can all feel for Parisians this day.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The most disheartening thing about living in the Age of Trump is how pathetically low the level of discourse has become on social media.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now known simply as AOC, recently said that you can impeach Trump but that won't change the political climate in this country.  There are "much deeper problems" that need to be addressed.  Namely, why have conservatives chosen to embrace Trump so fully?

I've written about this in any number of posts but still am not satisfied with the answers I've come up with, especially when I see the memes my friends post on facebook.  These are people I once knew, thought well of, but when I see memes like this one, I can only ask, what the fuck happened to this person to post some shit like this?

These memes appear on my timeline everyday.  If a person starts posting too many of them, I either put him or her on "snooze" or block his or her posts all together.  It really isn't worth responding to because it ends up in a flame war with no one coming off the better for it.  Sometimes, it is hard to resist because you just have to wonder what drives these persons to post this crap.

AOC, Ilhan Omar and a number of other prominent Democrats are now receiving death threats on a constant basis.  This is fueled largely by the disparaging things that are said about them on social media, Fox News and at Trump rallies.  Over a six week period, AOC was mentioned over 3000 times on Fox, an obsession that has raised more than a few eyebrows.  Trump has been relatively kind to her, but not Ilhan Omar, who he has chastised at rallies and on twitter, most recently reposting a video linking her to 911.

Most of these stories emanate from the social media, which has become an incubator for extremist views of all sorts.  What is odd to me is why so many persons I know repost these memes and videos?  Some seem to think they are funny and mean no ill intent.  Others use the memes as a shorthand for how they feel about someone and don't expect a response.  A few like starting flame wars, tagging persons they think will respond to these memes.

You can easily generate your own memes on sites like imgflip, but most of these memes are widely circulated and usually traced back to troll factories that use the memes to mine for data on social media subscribers, or just simply to spread hate.

The latter is the case with white supremacist groups who are looking to reach out to a broader audience.  These groups once lurked in the shadows but not anymore.  Thanks to social media they have become mainstream.   Satire pretty much allows you to get away with anything, even the most bald-faced hate memes in the name of humor.

It shouldn't be surprising that most of these memes are directed at AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Michelle Obama, as women of color are prime targets.  They have become the symbols of affirmative action, much like the welfare mothers popularized in the 1980s.  Whites feel that none of these women would have gotten where they are now had they not had an unfair advantage thanks to affirmative action.  As such, they represent a threat to the white order, especially when they speak out against it.

In 2016, we saw a "Whitelash," as Van Jones described it.  Too many things were going down in the last two years of the Obama administration for the white majority not to react to what they saw as an overthrow of their values.  You had some Congresspersons like Steve King openly promoting white superiority, but most Whites were just worried they would be put out of jobs or that their kids would lose their places in schools and universities in response to all these minority protests, namely Black Lives Matter, which became portrayed as a latter-day Black Panthers.

This has been the problem throughout American history.  Women and minorities have long been urged to "go slow," largely because you have a society that doesn't respond to change very well.  You learn to navigate a system, no matter how bad it is, and don't want to have to go through the process all over again.  So what if a few butts get pinched or someone gets called a darkie.  Life's not fair, suck it up and move on.  That's what my generation likes to think they did.

However, you have a whole new generation today that refuses to accept these "norms" and are speaking out against them.  Hence, Millennials have become the prime targets of conservatives, and AOC the principal face.  One conservative student group even went so far as to label her a "domestic terrorist," and was forced to apologize in the wake of the social and mainstream media reaction.

The odd part is that one generation gave birth to the other.  I have no qualms with Millennials.  I am glad to see them asserting themselves, as I have three children that all fit in this age group.  However, that is not the case with many of my high school friends on facebook, who see this generation as a threat to their security.  They hope to convince their offspring at least that the conservative way is the true way, and all these socialists ideas AOC and other "libtards" are promoting will only bring ruin to our country.  So, my friends become proxies for the hate memes floating around social media.  They spread these offensive memes, oblivious to the consequences, namely the death threats these targeted persons receive.

Social discourse be damned.  This is a cultural war and Whites aren't going to give up their position of authority easily, which is why so many rally around Trump, who is perceived as their great social media warrior.   His attempts to impose his white supremacist vision on the country hasn't been so successful, thanks to the federal courts, which he bemoans everyday on twitter.

One of the key aspects of this "white extinction anxiety" is that of the beautiful loser.  It is not like these persons actually expected to win in November, 2016.  They see the way the demographics are shifting in this country.  They just wanted to lodge their protest, but now that we have this big white whale in the Oval Office what do we do with him?

This is where all this panic breaks down.  How do you fix something that wasn't broken?  The short answer is that you make everything that occurred before look bad, and that anything good that happened after 119 (election day) is directly the result of Trump's actions.  It doesn't matter that the economy had been steadily improving for seven years before Trump took office, he brazenly takes all the credit for the historic low unemployment rate and historic high stock markets.

None of these people actually suffered under our first black president, but thanks to a steady flow of hate memes and fake news were led to believe they did.  They were easy pickings for Trump and his  red truckers cap that became symbolic of this counter-reformation, determined to wipe the name of Obama from the history books all because of the grudge Trump bore from being made the brunt of former president's jokes at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

The beautiful loser turned into the vindictive winner.  The older generation could now dictate the rules to the younger generation.  For two years the old white guard pretty much had its way, but then came the "femlash," for lack of a better word, in which women rose up against a misogynistic president and conservative party to take back the House with a historic number of women representatives, the vast majority of which were Democrats.

We've only been three months into this new era, yet it feels like years, largely because women like AOC and Ilhan Omar reawakened the feminism of Nancy Pelosi's era, and so the two eras have become almost seamlessly interwoven in the pink pussyhat.  There is no longer any room for crusty old white men in Washington, least of all in the White House, which women hope to take over in 2020.

The GOP is banking on another "whitelash," or more specifically "malelash," next year that will restore white male order to Congress and keep Trump in the White House.  Mitch McConnell has referred to it as a "firewall" against socialism, which is already generating a deluge of memes spreading throughout social media.

No one really stops to think what AOC or Ilhan Omar or Nancy Pelosi is actually saying.  The troll farms cut and paste their "quotes" and attach them to images and videos, which the president then spreads on twitter to all his devoted following and very quickly can be seen throughout the social media.  These women become symbols of our worst nightmares, and as AOC and Ilhan Omar are finding out the hard way, it is very difficult to overcome.

Nancy Pelosi knows this game all too well.  She's a veteran of these psychic wars and has come back stronger than ever in reinstating herself as House Speaker.  She stood down Trump on the government shutdown and appears to have the upper hand on the Mueller Report, which the White House is trying hard to keep under wraps.  The last thing it needs is for all the details of the report to be made public during an election year.

In the meantime, social media struggles to find ways to keep its platforms clean of the vitriolic memes and videos that so easily capture our thoughts and imagination.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram hope to make this a free and fair election, not one driven by prejudice and hate as it was the last time around.  I would like to think we could have those uncomfortable but necessary conversations about politics with friends on facebook but that is not likely.  People tend to freeze up when challenged and resort to tropes to defend their positions.  Where's a good meme when  you need one?

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Prince

Stephen Miller came to the White House with Jeff Sessions and was widely regarded as the author of the first Muslim travel ban that was blown out of the water by the federal courts.  After two rewritings, the Supreme Court upheld it largely because North Korea and Venezuela were tossed in, no longer making the designated countries exclusively Muslim.  The "90-day" ban has remained in effect since September 2017 because its constitutionality hasn't been fully determined by the USSC.

These are the kind of games Miller plays.  He is a modern day Machiavelli in King Trump's court, finding ways to circumvent the law to achieve the kind of authority the Donald demands.  When others don't oblige, i.e. Kristjen Nielsen, they are let go.  The court jester is now seen as the go-to guy on immigration and so far the Republican Senate has shown little appetite to challenge the President's authority on the matter.

That may change after this latest purge.  It's not just Kruelja de Nielsen, but a whole host of immigration officials who have been let go for not re-instating Miller's, I mean Trump's policies on immigration.  The horror stories are coming out.  There was a point where Miller suggested dumping all migrants on sanctuary cities in retaliation for Democratic insubordination to his policies, namely his attempt to repeal the Dream Act. 

None of these ideas come from Trump.  He simply parrots them.  Miller and Sessions were the authors of his draconian immigration policy that led to a flood of federal court challenges and has left an estimated 2000 children separated from their parents.  The forced separations, which the Trump administration tried to pawn off on Obama, was the big story last summer and helped propel Democrats to a stunning House victory in the Fall.  Although Trump was forced to rescind the separation policy, his immigration department has drug its heels when it came to reuniting families and is now seeking a two-year extension, having long missed the deadline imposed by the federal courts.  Many of these kids will be permanently lost in the system, and that's just fine by Trump, as he seems to think the policy worked.  When he tried to reinstate it recently, Nielsen said no only to find herself let go.

Stephen Miller is quite the rising star in the alt-right universe, although woe be it to anyone to call him a white supremacist, especially if you happen to be Muslim.  It doesn't matter if he was the author of the first Muslim travel ban, or all the anti-Muslim things he has openly said, Ilhan Omar is once again being called anti-Semitic for attacking Miller, who happens to be Jewish.

The absurdity of Miller's hardline approach to immigration, given his background, is not lost on the media.  His mother's ancestors immigrated to the US in the early 20th century following the Russian pogroms in the Pale of the Empire, as did many other Jews.  He wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for an open immigration policy at the time that saw a great influx of Eastern Europeans to the United States.  But, what's good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.  Now that we see more and more Muslims seeking asylum in the US as the result of US-backed wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, "our country is full," says Lord Donald.  Words no doubt fed to him by Stephen Miller.

It's not just Muslims, but Latin Americans too, namely those from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which Trump has added to his list of "shithole countries" that are no longer worthy of US aid.  Again, this was a decision most likely made for him by Miller, who wants to Make America White Again.

For years, conservatives have bemoaned the demographic shift in this country.  Way back in 1992 when Pat Buchanan first ran for president (Stephen Miller was still in diapers), he warned anyone who would listen that America was losing its Polident whiteness and if we didn't do something quick, Whites would become the minority in America.  Charles Blow sums it up well as "White Extinction Anxiety," which Pat is still spreading on venues like The Laura Ingraham Show.  Not even he could imagine the degree to which this administration would go to curb immigration, both legal and illegal.

The list of countries with little or no visa services continues to grow, as the White House builds an imaginary wall around the country.  It sees all immigrants as potential Democrats and it can't have that. We have a White Republican minority to protect.  Even Russians are finding it hard to get visas to the US, turning to countries on more friendly terms with the US to apply for visas.

Young Stephen Miller, barely older than that young bartender Trump loves to tease, is essentially running the country at this point with no one left to stop him from implementing his heinous immigration policies or anything else for that matter.  Miller is in command of the White House and the alt-right couldn't be anymore pleased, especially Papa Bear Steve Bannon, whose been trying to stir up White Extinction Anxiety in Europe ever since stepping down from Breitbart early last year.

While all this faux anxiety is great in stirring up Trump's base, it is even better in stirring up the opposition.  Miller has moved from the background to the front line of the war on immigration, and as such will come under much more scrutiny by the press and one hopes by members of Congress.  These policy decisions go against the very grain of the Constitution and one would expect Republicans to take note, as Chuck Grassley appears to be doing.   However, we have heard this whining before and it tends to die down pretty quickly when it comes to actually pushing a resolution through Congress. 

Miller knows Republican Congresspersons are powerless in the face of their conservative constituencies, which overwhelming favor Donald Trump.  Only problem is what happens next November when 22 of these Republican senators are up for election in states that are not necessarily favorable to Trump's policies? 

For once, the political calculus of the Senate elections doesn't favor the Republicans and even Mitch the Turtle is starting to worry a little bit.  The GOP got by in 2018 because only 9 Republican Senate seats were up for election, while the Democrats had to defend 25 seats.  Now, the calculus is reversed and it is Republicans who find themselves in the hot seats, including Mitch who is polling miserably low in Kentucky right now.  McConnell should be more worried about placing a "firewall" between Stephen Miller and Donald Trump than he should be placing one against Democratic Socialists.

If the Democrats don't shoot themselves in the foot, which is always a possibility, 2020 is their election to lose.  Virtually anyone of the Democratic challengers is more popular than Donald Trump right now, who likewise finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend himself.  He is no longer the insurgent candidate determined to topple the Clinton dynasty.  His administration has become the establishment everyone wants to topple, and that is largely thanks to the heinous policies set by Stephen Miller and other political neophytes in his White House.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Let the Race Begin!

When I see the media projecting a November 2020 match-up between Biden and Trump, I recall the polls this far out of the 2016 general election.  Hillary had a whopping 40-point lead over Biden and Bernie among Democratic candidates, and led Republican hopefuls Jeb Bush by 13 points and Donald Trump by 25 points.  Yes, Uncle Joe was considering a run in 2016 but felt it was too soon after the death of his son Beau, so he deferred to Hillary, who ended up having a hard time getting past crusty Bernie Sanders in the primaries before bottoming out in November.

Polls mean nothing at this point.  That cannot be stated enough.  The Republican polls saw multiple lead changes heading into the first primaries.  At one point, Ben Carson led all Republican candidates before fizzling out.  After a good showing in Iowa, Marco Rubio was projected as the Republican sure bet, but then Chris Christie mopped the floor with him at a debate before the New Hampshire primary and very soon afterward dropped out of the race.   This left us with Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the mysterious John Kasich, who you never really knew was in the race or not.  In the end, Trump prevailed as none of the Republicans seemed to be able to match his raw appeal among the base of the party.

Yet, we still see any number of polls being put forward.  Biden and Bernie tend to lead these polls, but Beto recently took the top spot in a MoveOn poll.  However, Beto reminds me a lot of Marco.  The guy has appeal but when put on the spot tends to lose his poise.  Not so Mayor Pete, who is never at a lack of words to describe his positions, most recently calling out evangelical conservatives in supporting Donald Trump.  Good luck, Pete!

The most difficult thing for the young Democrats to overcome is the ghost of Hillary.  There are many Democratic voters who continue to feel she should be president, so any harsh words about her are sure to engender the wrath of a great many Democrats.  Mayor Pete found this out the hard way.  

The other problem is getting your voice heard among the 17 Democrats who have declared their candidacies.   It promises to be bigger than the Republican field we saw in 2016 as Joe Biden has yet to officially declare his candidacy, and I'm sure we will have others by the summer.  It is kind of like March Madness in college basketball.  You really have no idea who to choose among so many teams, most of which you never heard of before.

Our mainstream news media is supposed to handicap the candidates for us, but so far they haven't done a very good job.  We hear a lot about their shortfalls, but very little about what positions they take, how they voted in Congress or who really is Marianne Williamson, the Texas spiritual author who has advised Oprah Winfrey in the past.  It seems that if you want to get your voice heard you have to go on late night television and have your interview picked up by YouTube the next day.  Mayor Pete is apparently now surging in the polls.

Another guy who has caught media attention is businessman Andrew Yang, who is making a case for basic universal income so that we will have less disenfranchised Americans in the future.  This is a favorite theme of the so-called Socialists who are threatening to overtake the Democratic party, which guys like Howard Schultz and John Hickenlooper are warning us against us.  They want us to return to a "Centrist" vision of America, although it is anyone's guess what that is in the Age of Trump.

Then we have the women, who haven't been getting very much attention recently. There are a historic number of women running for President, which got plenty of airplay in the beginning.  Kamala Harris came out with a lot of fanfare at her first CNN town hall, but her one-day million dollar fundraising effort was overshadowed by Bernie and Beto, who both topped six million, so she fell out of the spotlight.  Liz Warren continues to struggle against all the negative impressions people have of her.  Tulsi Gabbard is not popular among Democratic women, largely because she supported Bernie last time around.  Samantha Bee can't stop poking fun at her.   Gillibrand and Klobuchar are also strong candidates, but are getting almost no attention.

It is really hard to say how this campaign will shake out.  There is no clear front runner if no one can get more than 20 per cent in the straw polls.  Biden, Bernie and Beto lead mostly because of name recognition, but that will change quickly once we have our first debate this June.  It is scheduled over two nights to accommodate all the candidates.

I'm sure His Trumpness won't sit quietly on the sidelines.  His strategy appears to be to call as much attention to himself as he can, so that we don't have time to think about his potential Democratic opponents, only how senile he is.  He doesn't even seem to know who the candidates are since he spends so much time talking about that "wonderful young bartender," Pencil-neck Adam Schiff, and Rep. Omar of Minnesota, none of whom is running for President.

If you are not a Biden or Bernie or Beto fan, I wouldn't worry too much.  This election is far from over and whatever poll you see you can pretty much toss out the window because none of them has any weight right now.  It's anyone's game at this point, even Governor Jay Inslee of Washington whom I'm sure none of you ever heard of before.  His state was the first to block Trump's Muslim ban back in early 2017, and has confronted Trump on other occasions as well.  

May the best woman or man win!  You've already got my vote in 2020.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Good Ol' Uncle Joe

We have kind of a good uncle v. bad uncle thing going on right now between Biden and Trump, reminiscent of last year when Biden challenged the president to a fistfight.  Joe was careful to phrase his challenge as what he would have done in high school if a bully said nasty things about his girlfriend, as it is illegal to publicly threaten the president.

Uncle Joe has been described as a "touch-feely guy" by former Senate colleagues, and a warm, compassionate man by friends and admirers. They all say he means no harm in these kisses, hugs and slaps on the back.  It's just the way he operates, a product of the "old school" when such shows of affection were considered commonplace.  The only problem is that today a lot of persons like to maintain a safe personal distance, and ol' Joe has a way of invading it.

Biden hasn't always been this wonderful charming guy.  Back in 1991 he was pretty hard on Anita Hill, determined to rush through the Thomas confirmation hearing as a favor to his Senate buddy Republican John Danforth, who sponsored Thomas.  Pat Schroeder said it was more important to Biden to keep his word than it was to take Anita Hill's allegations seriously.  Joe had promised Republicans that they would be out by Columbus Day.  This meant that other women's testimonies were ignored and that Thomas was rushed through on a 52-48 vote, replacing the great Thurgood Marshall.

Joe has tried to put some distance between himself and those hearings 28 years ago, but he was the head of the judiciary committee and in complete control of the hearings.  He could have done something but chose not to, allowing his Senate colleagues to publicly humiliate Hill with a steady flow of sordid questions about her character.  It was a day that still lives in infamy for many women, including Anita Hill who was interviewed by John Oliver last year.

No one is saying the allegations leveled against Joe Biden by seven women are as damaging as those leveled against Trump for his ongoing misogyny, but they should be addressed in a serious manner, not made the brunt of late night comic jokes, as was the case with Anita Hill all those years ago.  The first woman to speak out, Lucy Flores, has been widely portrayed as a plant by Bernie Sanders, since she once worked in his campaign. Now that 6 other women have come forward that argument no longer holds up, if it ever did.

Biden was eventually forced to come clean by Nancy Pelosi, who told him he should keep his hands to himself at public gatherings to avoid such awkward moments, of which there have been many over the years.  Joe still tried to pawn it off as old school, but he came of age politically during the women's rights movement, championed the Violence Against Women Act, which has recently been reauthorized by the House, and has made a big show of his love and respect for his wife, Jill.  It doesn't go both ways, especially in the #MeToo era.

Just the same he has received the support of the women on The View, including a very vociferous defense by Meghan McCain.  Joe was a good friend of her father.  Other prominent women have also come forward to defend him, although some are now hedging given the allegations are multiplying.

His would-be opponents have all offered measured responses, notably Kamala Harris and Beto O'Rourke, the two leading candidates among the rest of the pack.  Biden continues to lead most straw polls, with fellow septuagenarian Bernie a close second.  The younger candidates have yet to be really heard with all the attention given Joe and Bernie, but their day will come.

The problem with Joe is that he is no longer in step with the Democratic Party.  He's a throwback in many ways and would come under fire much the way Hillary Clinton did last time around.  Joe staunchly supported Bill Clinton's notorious Crime Bill, which Hillary had to answer to last time around.  He also supported both Bush wars and voted for the Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act, all of which came under fire from all sides in 2016.

Democrats want to move on, and doing so means leaving Uncle Joe behind.  Biden is a bit like Marlon Brando's character in On the Waterfront.  He's run for president twice before, considering both missed opportunities.  He decided to give Hillary her space in 2016, as many felt it was time for  a woman president including Joe himself.  Apparently, he doesn't feel the same this year despite five women running for office.

He also should be more wary of this faux sympathy coming from the far right.  These guys want nothing more than to drive a wedge among the Democrats and Ol' Joe is the perfect foil.  There are a lot of moderates in the Democratic Party favorable to an old warhorse like Joe.

Not that he ever served in a war.  It was his son Beau who served in Iraq.  This is the Biden who could have made a fine candidate but was struck down by brain cancer in 2015, a painful ordeal that touched many of us at the time.  I think it is this recent memory that allows Joe to draw so much sympathy from the public.

It is hard not to like Joe.  He is warm and affectionate and apparently a genuinely good guy, unlike the dotardly old man in the White House, who is currently chasing windmills.  Joe wouldn't be a national embarrassment if elected, but do we really need Joe?

He would be 78 if elected, the oldest serving president by far.  Not that age should be a barrier.  Nancy Pelosi is holding up well as House Speaker.  However, it is time to bring younger, fresher faces into the spotlight like Mayor Pete of South Bend, Indiana, a very well spoken young man who makes a very good argument for a young president.  He might be a little too young for many people's taste, but there is the slightly older Beto O'Rourke and the young looking Kamala Harris, who offer Congressional experience, not that it seems to matter anymore.

Uncle Joe has passed his expiration date as far as politicians go.  He can't let go of the story because it galls him to be called out, and Trump can't resist making fun of him.   Vice-President was the perfect way for Joe to go out.  He acquired the eminence he lacked before and can now drift into the background of politics where he belongs.  He should be plugging one of the younger candidates, as should Bernie, instead of indulging in a vanity project we all know will come to a bad end.

Let it rest, Joe.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


Watching John Oliver's segment on the WWE made me think just how interconnected Trump is with the world of wrestling entertainment.  The Donald has made several guest appearances on Vince McMahon's big show, including one where he got to shave the wrestling media mogul's head.  I'm surprised John didn't show that clip.

The WWE is huge, generating nearly a billion dollars in profits per year.  As John pointed out, it got that way by Vince creating a monopoly over the market and treating his stable of wrestlers as independent contractors so that he doesn't have to offer any health care or pension benefits. While the events are almost entirely staged, the wrestlers are expected to perform some incredibly outrageous stunts that put their health at serious risk, not to mention these guys and gals look pumped up on horse steroids.

The string of wrestlers' deaths is a long one.  Their mortality rate is 3 times that of the national average for men, which is the highest of any sport, but McMahon refuses to take ownership of the crisis.

A few years ago, The Wrestler pretty much summed up the life of one of these professionals, seamlessly blending fact and fiction.  I was never a fan of the sport but the movie is very compelling, as it shows just how difficult a life these guys live both in and out of the ring.  The scenes may be choreographed but all the knocks and hard falls are real and have a debilitating affect on these stuntmen over the course of their careers.  Many have to go back into the ring well past their prime just to cover expenses, as was the case with Roddy Piper, one of the biggest names in wrestling who died in 2015 at the age of 61, in large part due to the cumulative abuse to his body.

McMahon is a big fan of Trump.  So much so that the President repaid all the support Vince and his wife Linda have given him over the years by naming Linda McMahon head of small business administration within his cabinet in 2017.  She recently stepped down to assume a lead role in a pro-Trump Super PAC.

The McMahons have lorded over so-called professional wrestling for decades now, turning WWE into a highly profitable entertainment company.  John Oliver called attention to many of the entertainment network's shortcomings just a week before Wrestlemania, which forced McMahon to issue a statement.  However, Vince's harshest critics are former wrestlers who have suffered horribly from the injuries and lifestyle of the non-stop WWE circuit.

No matter to the Donald, who is a big fan.  His rallies often take on the same atmosphere as a WWE match, with all its petty intimidation tactics as he vanquishes imaginary foes.  The fact that he often appeared at wrestling events gives him a sort of street cred among his fan base. This is a market he has fully exploited, especially in his infamous takedown of CNN, which didn't play well among the media but was a huge hit among his base.

People enjoy this in-your-face attitude, hurling insults at each other as if there are no repercussions. The funny thing about Trump is that he rarely stands up to his opponents face to face.  He uses his rallies and twitter to insult them but then cowers like a little boy when actually having to deal with his political foes in public.  The closest he came to attacking his rivals in public was his attempt to take down Chuck and Nancy at the White House last December, only to watch it ingloriously blow up in his face.  He's heading toward a similar blow-up over the Mueller report.

What McMahon has that Trump does not is a stable of wrestlers, both men and women, who follow his script.  Everything is choreographed to the last detail.  McMahon leaves very little to chance.  As a result, he is in complete control of his operation.

Trump may have been able to seize control of the GOP, but he has failed to bring the Democratic Party into line, and as a result now finds himself out on a limb offering health care visions and peace deals and border security that everyone knows is a sham.  He hasn't delivered on a single major policy position he took on the Campaign Trail 2016, which is why you see formerly ardent backers now questioning his motivations.

For their part, the McMahons are still in Trump's corner.  I guess it takes a con man to know a con man and this relationship has proven beneficial to Donald, Vince and Linda.  Lavie Margolin has chronicled this triple threat match in a cartoonish book entitled TrumpMania, born out of the early WrestleMania matches Trump hosted at his Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.  Who knew it would become the model for his highly successful campaign, or for that matter his presidency?