First place.

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I haven’t been watching the Olympics, I freely admit. I’ve never been a sports fan at all – just can’t get interested or excited about it. That said, these Winter Games have been more interesting than usual for me, and it’s not because of our hometown pride Erin Hamlin (though I wish her well). For me it’s all about the ongoing conflict/standoff over the Korean peninsula, and in that regard, theĀ  person who should be taking a gold medal home from these games is President Moon. And that medal should be the Nobel Peace Prize.

Give HIM a gold medal.He certainly deserves it, even if the detente between the two Koreas falls apart. At a time of almost unprecedented tension, and despite the overbearing patrimony of their American “ally”, the South Korean president agreed to what was a stunning demonstration of unity in the midst of one of the most broadly watched sporting events in the world. Sure, it was symbolic, but symbolism can be powerful and it can drive policy. North and South Koreans marching in under a unified flag provided such a stunningly memorable image, I am likely to remember this Winter Olympics far longer than any previous ones. (And I have seen far less of it, as it happens.) The Trump administration seemed flummoxed over this; they deployed Pence, spouting some bellicose rhetoric, but it fell kind of flat.

Brilliant move on Moon’s part. It also helpfully exposes the ugly truth of the Korean conflict. The main dispute is not between North and South Korea, but rather between North Korea and the United States. That’s why our government seems so uncomfortable with the idea of the two Koreas talking to one another. What’s not to like? Perhaps the prospect of eventual economic integration of Northeast Asia outside of the rubric of American economic power. Scary stuff.

Still, we’re number one in another way, and we proved it this week. We just saw yet another mass shooting at a school, this one in Florida. We get the gold medal in gun violence, hands down. And until we elect people who are expressly determined to do something about this terror, we will suck as a nation. Let’s not suck. Let’s get rid of the NRA-funded bums who run Congress and send some progressive legislators to Washington who couldn’t care less about the gun lobby. Time to fix this.

luv u,

jp

Take a memo. Please.

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The reverberations of Trump’s rampaging State of the Union speech had barely faded before he started tweeting like an arrested tween. His wild claims about the Nunes memo, reflective of the fevered rhetoric proffered daily by his favorite network, were contradicted by the content of the memo itself, a selective, shabby attempt to draw the public’s attention away from the Mueller investigation with an almost laughable claim of concern for Carter Page’s civil liberties. Why do major modern political scandals always turn on weak spindles like Page and – for Hillary Clinton – Weiner? Maybe that’s the only kind of spindle we’ve got.

Porter sighted with two notorious racists.This, again, feels like a big distraction from what the administration and the congressional majority are actually doing. If we’re obsessing over one or the other revealing memo, we’re not thinking about recent surveys – including one by CNBC – that indicate that the vast majority of large businesses have no intention of spending their tax savings on hiring people. That’s no big surprise, but it’s probably worth mentioning once in a while, right? After all, misguided workers who voted for Trump should be given the opportunity to understand that you can’t trust the rich to help anyone but themselves, and that tax cuts are a poor investment in job creation.

Still, the administration will trot out the handful of examples that seem to fit their narrative, even if they don’t. I’m sure they’ve crowed about AFLAC, even though practically none of their sales workforce is eligible for the bonuses they promised so loudly. This is what they do with immigration and other issues – they essentially hold up the exception and claim it’s the rule. Doesn’t matter … think about the memos! The last few days they have been pushing this story about the FBI agent texts suggesting Obama was “keeping tabs” on the Clinton email investigation – subgenius senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) is their wingman on this conspiracy theory. My guess is that they are using this to distract attention away from the fact that one of Trump’s chief aides is a serial spouse abuser who can’t get security clearance to save his life … and yet he STILL handles top secret, burn-after-read briefings for the President. In other words, they don’t want you to think about what an insufferable ass General Kelly is, not to put too fine a point on it.

Just another week in paradise. Is it November yet?

luv u,

jp

State of the Yum-yun.

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Seems like a good time to respond to some choice bits from Trump’s first state of the union (or state of the umion, pronounced Yum-yun, if you’re reading the official announcement).

First, the big fat entrance. Rep. Claudia Tenney gets a word in Trump’s ear as he’s working his way down the aisle. Always wearing some bright color and right up front when Trump is in town.

First flub goes to Ryan: “I have the distinct privilege of preventing … presenting to you the President of the United States.”

Now, on to Trump’s remarks, delivered in a slithering, slow voice, lots of breath. Kind of nauseating, frankly.

The chief and his enablers.“A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land,” he tells us, referring to a year ago, thenĀ  jumped right in with the anecdotes and the guests of honor. “We always will pull through together, always.” Runs through a litany of lifesavers, mostly from disasters of our own making, through climate change, gun violence, etc. “The state of our union is strong because our people are strong. And together we are building a safe and strong and proud America.” Platitude.

Touting more jobs for Black and Hispanic people. Big cheer for “massive tax cuts,” of course. More take home pay! (Mitt Romney, come back – all is forgiven.) Calls out “cruel” tax of the individual ACA mandate, which very few people actually paid – big cheer from Republican recipients of government subsidized health insurance. Crowing about the titanic benefits of this “new American moment.” “You can dream anything, you can be anything, and together we can achieve absolutely anything.”

Some short takes:

  • “We share … the same great American flag …The motto is ‘In God We Trust,'” he says, then makes a big point about standing for the national anthem. So much for Mr. We’re All In This Together.
  • We’re “…totally defending our second amendment and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.” Shoot ’em up.
  • Calling on congress to empower cabinet secretaries to fire people. Is that novel?
  • “We have ended the war on American energy and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” So much for the section on climate change.
  • “Companies are roaring back, they’re coming back. They want to be where the action is.” Well, it’s a kind of silent roar.

Trump starts talking about reducing the price of prescription drugs, and he gestures to the Democrats to stand and applaud. He does it again as he talks about repairing infrastructure, though the focus of this section sounds like he wants to roll back the environmental impact review process. He proposes $1.5 Trillion plan for infrastructure, but it must provide for streamlined permitting. Smell a rat?

Starting to talk about lifting people out of “welfare”. “Let’s invest in workforce development and let’s invest in job training, which we need so badly.” Calls for vocational schools and paid family leave – probably the Ivanka plan. A bleat on prison reform – very vague.

Immigration:

“For decades open borders have allowed drugs and gangs come pouring in.” Now he’s naming “guests” whose kids were killed by immigrants! MS13. Using them to call out “alien minors”. This section is fucking disgusting, worthy of Der Sturmer. He is “calling on congress to close deadly loopholes” in immigration laws. Dirtbags are clapping.

He wants to protect all Americans. How? He wants to defend Americans. “Americans are dreamers, too.” Oh, I see. Pretty much the only immigrants he’s talking about is gang members. MS13 again. Talking about arrests of gang members. So what is the problem? They’re going to prison. But Trump is talking about sending reinforcements. Now talking about bipartisan immigration reform – his draconian plan. Building a “great wall”. His rhetoric on immigration is all about violence by immigrants, merit and race based rules, and “protecting the nuclear family by ending chain migration.” Then he’s blaming opioid deaths on immigrant drug dealers. Just a lot of thinly coded language aimed at racial division.

Next, he’s praising cop – another guest in audience – who stopped a pregnant woman from shooting heroin. Then he adopted the baby. Point? This is not a speech; it is a series of extended anecdotes. It’s like a fucking variety show. He’s using these people as human shields.

Foreign policy and military section:

  • “Weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense.” Calling for end to defense sequester. Well, the GOP created it, so why not, right?
  • Taking credit for eliminating ISIS.
  • Calling terrorists “enemy combatants”. Sounds like the start of an argument for torture, Gitmo, etc. Just signed an order to re-examine detention policies and keep open Gitmo. Score one for the jihadist propagandists.
  • Touting new rules of engagement. Calling out artificial timelines. Recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Asking to cut off aid to countries that criticize us at UN. “Enemies of America.” “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.” “Terrible Iran nuclear deal.” “Communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”
  • Threatening North Korea again. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite … aggression.” Applauding that kid Warmbier. Extended anecdote about Korean guest who crawled to freedom and a further tirade against North Korea. Jesus H. Christ.

Big fat ending:

Patriotic claptrap roll call. Republicans chanting “USA, USA, USA!”

“The people dreamed this country, the people built this country, and it’s the people who will make America great again.” Yep. When they get rid of you.

Korea’s January thaw.

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Sometime in the coming days, the North and South Korean Winter Olympic Teams will march together under a unified flag, and the Women’s Hockey Teams will play on the same side. And it looks like it’s happening, now that the International Olympic Committee has said it’s okay. Think about that statement for a moment – did they really need to deliberate on this? It’s just a freaking game, people. If it provides a means of reducing tensions, why would your cheesy rulebook ever stand in the way? Score one for President Moon Jae-in, over the objections of his country’s hardliners and, of course, the United States.

The imperialist's nightmare.Think it strange that the U.S. would be against a lessening of tension? Well, it’s not just a Trump thing. There’s a deep imperial institutional bias against ending that conflict, and it manifests itself in a host of different ways. Just Wednesday of this week I saw an NBC story about the North Korean woman who allegedly blew up a South Korean airliner; she is out of jail, living in exile as a defector in South Korea. The bombing was decades ago – so why did the network decide to dredge this story up now and hang it around the father of the current North Korean leader’s neck? I would say that NBC is about as close to the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment as any institution can be. With a lot of positive stories coming out about the glimmer of North/South detente in Korea, it’s no surprise that this old chestnut would bob up to the surface.

Of course, blowing up an airliner is a heinous crime. We’ve done it – recall the shootdown of the Iranian Airbus back in July 1988, to say nothing of our support for CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles’ downing of the Cuban airliner carrying their Olympic fencing team in 1976 (the perpetrator now living unmolested in Miami). Of course, so too is blowing up a whole country. We’ve done that, too … to North Korea, for instance. Putting that aside for a moment, it seems clear to me that we have a strong resistance to defusing this Korean bomb. When obvious peaceful solutions are available and remain untried, it’s reasonable to assume that there are other considerations at work.

Consider this: the Korean conflict gives us a strong foothold in Asia. When it flares up, the many of the regional players turn to us. It provides justification for our massive military presence in the south and substantial presence elsewhere in the region. Most importantly, the conflict prevents greater international cooperation leading to full integration of that region’s economies, independent of the American-dominated global system. That, I suggest, may be the nightmare scenario that keeps our planners awake at night – not the prospect of nuclear war.

Changing our priorities in Korea is going to take real work. It goes way beyond party and personalities.

luv u,

jp

Shit show.

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This just in: President Trump is a racist. Who could have seen THAT coming? The administration’s childish denials of the President’s “shithole countries” comments, the persistent refrain of “tough language” and swearing all around – all of that belies the reported fact that Trump was bragging about his racist tirade to some of his right-wing allies, a few of which let the story slip. Frankly, I think the administration far prefers the focus on Trump’s verbal diarrhea – it keeps the press from focusing on the underlying issues, which make less compelling television. (It also reinforces Trump’s message to his base that he thinks like they do about dark people, foreigners, etc.)

Trump family reunionThere is also the fact that the President doesn’t understand policy, isn’t interested in it, and is incapable of delving any deeper than the surface of any political issue. He is kind of a blank slate, though he does obviously have deep-rooted visceral prejudices. Third-rate thinkers (and ninth-rate speechwriters) like Stephen Miller can scrawl their alt-right graffiti on the guy and he will repeat whatever they tell him. Retrograde bigots like General Kelly and Tom Cotton guide Trump like he’s their senile uncle. So the President’s feint towards compromise last Tuesday was transformed into the spectacle of last Thursday, when Trump denigrated an entire continent as well as the ex-colony that was a primary source of France’s wealth.

The implicit racism of the administration’s argument on immigration is far more stunning than his gutter rhetoric. They want less people from places like Haiti and Africa (!) and more people from places like Norway; they see this as an argument for a more “merit-based” system, because they can’t conceive of the possibility that people from Haiti or African countries are (a) educated, (b) highly skilled, or (c) industrious. Because they are, well, black, the administration thinks of them as a hoard of hut-dwelling wash-outs in search of free services. That is basically a textbook definition of racism, even without the S-bomb. They have a 1940s cartoon-level conception of these foreign lands and the people that inhabit them, and they use that to add fuel to their fear-mongering.

Let’s face it: immigrants, particularly darker ones, are an easy political target; always have been. I hear people much smarter than Trump employing the same tactics, pointing to crimes by foreign nationals and generalizing select incidents to tar entire populations, an art form mastered by the Nazi propagandists. This kind of hate is our enemy, and we need to fight it on the beaches, in the streets, in the alleys, and in the doorways. We must never surrender to it.

luv u,

jp

Overseas.

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Hmmm… crazy racist grandpa has been mouthing off again. Trump is truly breaking all records in the bigot category, at least with respect to the modern presidency. But I digress.

There has been so much news about various story lines in the Trump scandal that a lot of consequential international news gets blown out of the water. These are extremely volatile times and we would do well to pay closer attention to what’s happening overseas, particularly when our country is playing a significant role in it. Of course, some attention is paid to the Korean crisis, perhaps in part because of the high human stakes involved, but more likely because of the insipid pissing match between Kim Jong Un and our madman president, who is singularly uninformed about the history of that region. Our news media loves pissing matches – so easy to report on.

There he goes again.The two Koreas have taken some tentative steps to de-escalation, and I for one am glad to see that. In fact, I wish they would just bury the hatchet and tell us to take a hike, frankly. But it’s the kind of detente that can easily be upended by a volatile president, and Korea is one of those issues over which even the craziest commander-in-chief can find willing allies in Congress. Israel/Palestine is another. Trump’s policy on Jerusalem is appalling, but it also happens to be the same policy Congress long ago approved and a previous president (Clinton) signed into law. This is a symbolic issue domestically and a very substantive issue internationally; I am guessing that most Americans have no idea what the implications of this policy are, no notion of how large the municipality now called Jerusalem has grown over the past three decades. Underwriting Israel’s unilateral annexation of this city essentially eliminates any chance of a two-state solution, period. Some of my countrymen know this; many more do not, or simply do not care.

Even Trump’s domestic policy, enabled by Congress’s inaction, has international implications. Take his ending of Temporary Protective Status for refugees from El Salvador. There is no way in hell that the husk of a country those people left behind decades ago can absorb 200,000 of them, even if they wanted to go back. Haiti is a similar story. But this is the reality we live in now. This executive policy shatters lives and threatens the stability (to the extent that there is any) of Central America and the Caribbean. Again, Congress could stop this … but does nothing.

Color me disgusted.

luv u,

jp

 

In with the old.

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It’s manifestly obvious that Trump is an incompetent boob, grandfathered into the presidency by virtue of that mother of all mulligans served up by our founding fathers: rich white guy can’t win the support of the majority, so kick it to the electoral college. (Apparently Trump’s win came as a real shock to his family and himself.) That said, it would be a mistake to suppose that his ignorance is in any way blissful for the opposition – quite the contrary. The President and his party are making tremendous strides across a broad front, setting policies that will take a generation to turn around. Nothing less than that.

World's most effective boneheadI’ve written about the speed-dating approach to judicial appointments; suffice here to say that Trump has broken a first-year record on this. (These are lifetime appointments, mind you, and his picks are ghastly from a left-progressive standpoint.) He has also made a full frontal assault on regulations, removing the ban on fracking on public lands, fines for abusive nursing home care, safety requirements for blowout protectors on deep-water oil drilling operations, the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own, and so on. Other great accomplishments of the last year include loosening the already weak DOD restrictions on civilian casualties, trashing net neutrality despite massive, broad-based opposition, and canceling national monument status for large swaths of land in western states, thereby opening them up for resource and mineral extraction. There’s a lot, lot more, but I will stop there.

As we start the new year, we are faced with some truly grave prospects regarding this administration and the GOP agenda more broadly. Trump’s terrifyingly childish nuclear threats are bad enough in and of themselves – this tragic-comic display could easily result in terminal thermonuclear war, no joke. If we survive the year, we will be grappling with part two of the wrecking crew’s plan to tear down what’s left of America’s social safety net, from the ACA to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – programs we all rely upon to some extent. In that respect, this is merely an extension of a long-term project; a “generational” obsession, to borrow Speaker Ryan’s favorite modifier. That is going to be a fight, my friends.

So 2018 is looking a lot like more of 2017. No rest for the weary. Just keep your marching shoes handy, and plan on voting as if your life depended on it.

luv u,

jp

Cold day.

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No, this isn’t a post about the weather (though it is cold as hell out there). I just wanted to make a couple of points about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in 2018 – something that’s being kicked around the corporate media as if it were somehow desirable. This is consonant with the oft-stated desire to see “things get done” in Washington, as if the precise nature of the things being done was somehow irrelevant; that legislation passed is a good in and of itself, abstracted away from the substance of the bill. Another piece of conventional wisdom, served up daily. I expect I’ll pass on this, and I would recommend my fellow left-leaning Americans do the same.

Why the GOP loves Trump. As far as I’m concerned, the GOP has demonstrated its bad will in about as many ways as can be imagined. And before anyone gives me a lesson on how politics works, on how you can disagree from morning to evening but at the end of the day you need to work together, etc., let me just say that the Republicans have become an extremist party bent on wrecking the country, and the only thing to be done with them is to beat them at the ballot box and then drag their sorry asses into the future along with us, kicking and screaming if necessary. Nothing short of that will do.

I know there are many in the Democratic party who feel that we need to provide a positive example and be willing to compromise as a stark contrast to the other side’s absolutism. There’s some of this sentiment circulating around discussion of an infrastructure bill next year. This is ludicrous. The Republicans just voted to blow an enormous hole in the federal budget, diverting a trillion and a half dollars from essential programs and handing it to the richest people in the country. If they want to make a deal on infrastructure, tell them to cancel that bill. And while you’re at it, tell them to stop working overtime to pack the federal judiciary with twenty-something Nazis. Change course and we can talk.

If the GOP says no, just say “see you in November”. Let’s let the people decide what kind of country this is going to be.

luv u,

jp

One of them.

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Weeks like this give the lie to any suggestion that Donald Trump does not reflect the true character of the Republican party. If there has ever been a more nauseating display of fawning over an American president, I have yet to see it. The celebration over the passage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” was reminiscent of those bizarre, banana-republic type cabinet meetings where officials take turns falling all over themselves to praise the Dear Leader. This time, it was congressional leaders (many of whom have momentarily taken issue with the president) crowing about what a great legislative partner he is, and Mike Pence, who mostly delivered the national security strategy speech he memorized from earlier in the week. I could see my own Trumpite Representative, Claudia Tenney, in the front row, applauding, gawking at the president in apparent awe, taking snapshots of his ample ass with her phone like some teen fan at a concert.

Where's my Rep? Too close, that's where.The conventional wisdom on talk television, of course, has it that Trump is his own invention; that he sprang fully formed from a crack in the Earth’s crust sometime in 2015; that he was never a conservative but, rather, a “lifelong Democrat”; that his views represent only himself, not the broader party. Total bullshit. Trump is the end-stage product of a Republican party that his been careening to the right for more than 30 years. Sure, he has been in the public eye for that long and longer, as a big-mouth heir to a real estate developer, shameless self-promoter, casino magnate, serial financial failure, and reality show star. America’s right-wing media, its nutcase reactionary movements, and its corporatist Republican party made the very space that he moved into in 2015 as a presidential candidate. He makes perfect sense from that perspective, and almost seems inevitable.

The charge about being a lifelong Democrat, leveled by the likes of Joe Scarborough and others, is perhaps the most laughable. Trump has no ideology other than himself. He was pro-Democrat, mildly, as a real estate developer in New York and New Jersey because the prominent politicians in those states came from the Democratic party. It was a completely transactional relationship; when he began to have national ambitions, he moved away from that and towards his natural place – namely, the core money party, and the one most favored by the KKK (of which his father was once a proud member).

No, the true picture of Trump’s place in the Republican party was illustrated by that moment on Dec. 20, when he was being cheered enthusiastically by the lot of them. Remember in November.

luv u,

jp

Step one.

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There’s a lot to say about the Republican’s craven plan to push through a massive tax plan in a matter of days. I needn’t point out that the final bill is likely to be a cobbled together mess, one that we’ll be struggling with for many years to come if it ever finds its way to Trump’s signing hand. Nor do I need to repeat the obvious fact that this is a tremendous giveaway to the richest Americans, to corporations, and to the GOP’s donor base, one that demonstrates the degree to which the Republicans’ supposed concern over budget deficits is just another ploy.

Rich folks get THIS much.What I find most infuriating about this legislation is that it is being proffered at a time when its chief beneficiaries – the richest of the rich – are doing just fine, thank you very much, and corporate America is sailing from strength to strength. The last thing they need is more money in their pockets. This is also a time when our armed forces are deployed in conflicts all around the world. Trump just signed into law a $700 billion defense bill, subject to repeal of the sequester agreement. When we’re spending this kind of money and putting people in harm’s way, why the hell are we cutting taxes? What effing justification is there for that? It is beyond shameful, frankly.

Even worse, this is just part one of a two-step routine the Republicans have been rehearsing for a generation now. Step one: cut the hell out of rich people’s taxes, and blow a huge hole in the federal budget. Step two: almost immediately afterward, feign panic over a ballooning deficit and use that as a rationale to cut core social programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other extremely popular programs. They have tried this numerous times before, with only limited success. This time might be different, as they are more craven than in previous decades and control every lever of power. They really don’t need any Democratic votes to push these cuts through.

The GOP has always hated Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, largely because they are defined benefit, pay as you go institutions. To the current crop of crazies running Congress, insurance is now tantamount to Soviet-style top-down socialism. Don’t think they won’t try this: Paul Ryan has been working on setting this up for many years. We have to be ready to fight back, or you can kiss these vital public institutions goodbye.

That fight begins with killing this tax bill. Best get started.

luv u,

jp