Between truces.

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It’s been more than 15 years and we’re still at war in Afghanistan; a deployment and occupation considerably longer than that of the now-defunct Soviet Union. It’s been more than 14 years and we’re still at war in Iraq, a conflict longer than the one military historian Dilip Hiro once described as “The Longest War” (the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s). We’re killing people in Roqqa, Syria, in Mosul, Iraq, in Yemen, and quite a few other places. Far from stepping away, we are preparing to double down, sending another contingent of thousands of American troops to Afghanistan on some quixotic effort to tamp down the wildfire we helped ignite thirty-seven years ago.

Well, it was at the time.Endless war in an of itself is now an invariant reality of modern U.S. foreign policy, regardless of which major party holds the reins of power. The broad political consensus has built a nearly unassailable war machine – not in the sense that it is impervious to military defeat, but rather that it is designed to run on and on regardless of what the American people have to say about it. The killing machine is well insulated from the voting, tax paying public – there’s no conscription, no war tax, no apparent sacrifice associated with these extended deployments except with respect to the volunteer soldiers who are sent to fight, be grievously wounded, and even die. The beauty of this political creation is that it appears to defy gravity; only a herculean effort on the part of the American people could stand a chance of ending these wars.

Of course, Donald Trump has now been stitched into the driver seat of the killing machine. I am among those who consider this a very dangerous state of affairs, even though the background level of warfare remains about the same. The danger is in the fact that Trump is (a) phenomenally ignorant, (b) supremely incurious about any topic that doesn’t bear directly on him, his image, his family, his fortune; and (c) recklessly arrogant in a third-world dictator kind of way. His response to foreign policy challenges reminds me of D’artagnan on his first day in Paris, unwittingly challenging all three of his future fellow musketeers to a duel. A dispute with the Syrians, the Russians, the North Koreans, and the Iranians all in one week. It’s not too hard to imagine a quintet of new conflicts breaking out all at the same time, largely because Trump doesn’t really understand or believe in diplomacy.

We live in dangerous times, to be sure. But at the very least, unless we all decide to make a point of it, we are well and truly stuck with these wars for years – even decades – to come.

luv u,

jp

Targets.

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The most recent heinous and indefensible mass shooting in America (or nearly so – there’s already been another one) was targeted on members of the House of Representatives. That is part of what makes it unusual. The other part is that it was perpetrated by someone nominally on the left. Typically we get some kind of Klan kid, like Dylan Roof, or some crazy cracker shooting up south Asians because they’re darker than him (and it’s usually a him). Whatever the motive, the shooting at the baseball diamond was a despicable act, plain an simple. And it happened in the usual way: the perpetrator purchased the guns, apparently legally, from a licensed firearms dealer (a 7.62 -caliber rifle and a 9 mm handgun), no problem. The kind of transaction that most if not all of the players on the GOP baseball team wholeheartedly support.

Lets all be nice to each other.Will this lead to a brief era of civility and bipartisanship? Maybe, but probably not. Civility, we should remember, starts at the top, and with a legion of TV pundits decrying the toxic tone of political rhetoric, I have yet to hear anyone call out President Trump for setting that tone during his campaign last year, even to the point of suggesting that “second amendment people” should act against his opponent. Then there were his entreaties from the podium to “beat the hell out of him!” at his various rallies, reminding the mob of the good old days when protesters were “carried out on a stretcher”. Oh yeah, that did happen.

And bipartisanship? I tend to agree with Chris Hayes that it doesn’t have a very positive history. I’m sure whatever this severely deranged one-time Bernie supporter intended, this act of domestic terrorism will only result in pushing forward the very agenda he professed to despise. Thanks for helping, asshole. Political fights are what democracy is all about, and acts of violence tend to take the air out of them. It’s no contradiction to sincerely wish Steve Scalise and the other victims a full and rapid recovery while at the same time holding the opinion that Scalise is a total dick on the issues. Many in Congress have trouble squaring that circle, and given the speed with which Ryan and McConnell are advancing their legislative priorities, there’s simply no time for any interval of acquiescence and deferral.

As for this moronic shooter, the only thing he accomplished was more needless bloodshed and providing additional cover for House members like Claudia Tenney not to hold public meetings.

luv u,

jp

Gulf War IV.

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Yes, I know … Trump is melting down, and I should say something about it. The truth is, there’s little to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s not like the Republican Congress is going to do anything about him – far from it. They invented the freaking guy. He is their Frankenstein’s monster. If they ever pull an intervention on him, it’s going to start with, “Hello, handsome!”

You are not evil ... you are GOOD!Besides, there are more important things going on, partly as a result of having a dolt as president. The Qatar crisis is one of those things, and after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Yemen (or the Saudi controlled piece of it), and Egypt abruptly broke off diplomatic relations with the country, Trump had this to say on Twitter:

“…so good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Qatar, mind you, hosts a major U.S. military base that serves as a staging area for operations in the Gulf. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a state like Saudi Arabia accusing someone of sponsoring terrorism, Trump’s comments appear to confirm that the U.S. gave a green light to the Gulf Cooperation Council states to pull this number. The White House subsequently backed off of the President’s drunk tweet, claiming the president had called the Qatari Emir and “emphasized the importance of all countries in the region working together to prevent the financing of terrorist organizations and stop the promotion of extremist ideology,” essentially offering to mediate. That sounds like the foreign policy establishment stepping in somewhat hurriedly to keep this from spinning out of control.

My reaction to this has been, what the fuck? I think the most reasonable explanation I’ve heard thus far was from Trita Parsi on Democracy Now!, suggesting that Saudi and its allies may have done this as a strike against Al Jazeera in advance of a renewed offensive against Iran (which just got attacked by ISIS extremists on Wednesday). Do we need a fourth Gulf War, after Iran-Iraq (1980-88), the Gulf War/Desert Storm (1991), and the Iraq War (2003 – whenever)? Apparently Trump thinks so.

This was a dramatic and disturbing departure. Not confident about what will come next.

luv u,

jp

Bombs and debt.

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As I begin to write this, I am hearing a TV commentator quoting David Brooks in writing that Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is someone worthy “of some sympathy.” You read that correctly – the impossibly wealthy protege of our phony-ass billionaire president, a man with zero qualifications or apparent ability to perform even one of the many portfolios handed to him over the past few months … that man is worthy of sympathy. THAT’S the kind of week this has been.

Nevertheless, I am not going to grab the low-hanging fruit of writing about the Trumpster fire, even though the fucker pulled out of the Paris Accords this week. I’ll deal with his ass next time around.

Yeah, they owe us, right?Talk about ungrateful.¬†I heard a story this week on NPR about a loan the government of Cambodia owes to the United States, in the amount of about $500 million. There were a couple of remarkable points about this story. For one, the piece actually acknowledges that some scholars think the massive bombing of Cambodia may have contributed to the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge. That’s a pretty big step forward for mainstream media, which usually follows the line that Cambodia was a peaceful, happy country before the arrival of Pol Pot. They also mention the bombing itself – another practical miracle. What they leave out is that the loan in question was made to a coup regime installed with the full support of the United States. Slight omission there, right?

My favorite part is the quote from U.S. Embassy spokesperson Jay Raman saying that (1) we’ve given Cambodia close to a billion dollars in aid since the 1990s and (2) we “lack the legal authority to write off debts for countries that are able but unwilling to pay.” Really? The loan was supposedly to pay for food to replace crops destroyed by years of carpet bombing – bombing that began well before the 1970 U.S. invasion, by the way. What legal authority did we have to terror bomb them in the first place? What legal authority did we have to push a coup regime on them, or to invade them in 1970?

Don’t tell me this is beyond our ability. We owe the Cambodian people a hell of a lot more than the amount of this odious debt.

luv u,

jp

Middle passage.

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Trump was on the road this week, touching base with traditional allies, shaking his fist at traditional foes, making occasional awkward statements and non-sequiturs but generally doing what is expected of him as official high protector of the empire. Amazing how quickly even a low-intelligence loose cannon like “The Donald” will snap into place when there are longstanding economic and imperial ties in play.

At the helm of the Death Star. Who knew it was in Saudi Arabia?Much as he criticized Saudi Arabia during the primary campaign and even the general election, it was all smiles and bows and the dangling of manly swords when he arrived in Riyadh, not to mention threats against Iran and its embattled Shi’a allies in Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere. Then there’s the humongous arms sale, allowing Saudi to continue the bloody Yemen adventure that Trump will not mention but can’t stop funding with U.S. taxpayer dollars. (My money’s being used inappropriately. Someone call Mick Mulvaney!)

I have to think that the institutional elites that most benefit from the imperial profit machine probably don’t much mind Trump as a foreign policy president. His ignorance very likely is, in their eyes, his most positive attribute. The man knows nothing about any of the regions he is likely to visit as president. That means he can be steered into preferred policies by his aides. He is the proverbial empty vessel, even more so than George W. Bush was – at least Bush had some vague sense of his own objectives and a team of fanatical, experienced bureaucrats to fill the void between his ears. With Trump, there’s none of that. He’s truly at sea.

Empire abhors a vacuum, and so the absence of leadership is filled with the priorities of the forever-state. This is not a conspiracy theory – every empire that has lasted as long as ours has a structure of governance and self-perpetuation. It’s that great self-driving car, running over people of color by the thousand in thirsty pursuit of the next filling station. That’s why the pieces all fall into place, and the policy stays within certain boundaries, sometimes jiggling a little leftward, occasionally lurching to the right, but never crossing the line.

When I say “never”, I mean other than that one time with Dubya Bush when his reckless war-making tested those limits and brought on the correction we saw in 2006 – one of the most amazing periods in recent history. I suspect Trump’s correction will come from some other quarter, but I guess we will see.

luv u,

jp

Peachfuzz bridge.

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It is astonishing to see how astonished people are at the President’s last couple of weeks. Reality check: we elected Donald Trump President of the United States. That’s why this administration is unloading like a clown car at a funeral. There’s no other way for me to put this: the man is a hyper-narcissistic dolt with the emotional maturity of a 7-year-old. He is temperamentally unfit for this or any political office. He has not even a vague understanding of the structure or traditions of our constitutional system, and has no interest in learning. Verily, he has little interest in anything other than large piles of money. When he told the Russian ambassador about the intel on ISIS , that was probably the first time that information had offered any utility from his perspective – he could use it to impress someone, at least. Otherwise, he has no interest in intelligence briefings and confines himself to a single page of bulleted items that he proceeds to ignore.

Captain PeachfuzzSo, what to do about this dolt? It’s hard to imagine the GOP-led House taking up impeachment proceedings, even with this level of ludicrousness. Investigations can swirl around Trump and criminal accusations may mount, but basically the only process by which he can be removed from office is a political one, and that is a non-starter with regard to a caucus that sees him as a signing machine. I’m thinking the republicans in the House and Senate will use something like the Captain Peachfuzz approach with Trump.

How does that work? Simple. On Rocky and Bullwinkle, all Captain “Wrongway” Peachfuzz’s crew needed to do was create a phony bridge, lead the captain into it, and then go about their normal duties. Captain Peachfuzz would be shouting commands, pulling levers, twisting knobs and the like, none of which were attached to anything. THAT’S what we need for Trump. Of course, we would have to avoid the problem that Peachfuzz’s crew encountered when the crackpot captain wandered by mistake onto the real bridge one day and started driving the ship like the proverbial drunken sailor. Of course, that’s what we have now, right?

Phony up a war room for the guy, people. Do it now before it’s too late. Your nation will thank you.

luv u,

jp

Dumpster fire.

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Every time I see that standard shot of the White House on one of the major networks, I expect to see a plume of black smoke rising from an open window. This administration promised to be a major dumpster fire and it hasn’t disappointed, the firing of FBI Director Comey this week (as he was requesting an expansion of the Trump Campaign/Russia probe) being just the latest flare-up. As predicted by some of the more observant commentators, the leaks began almost immediately – the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal¬†all posted pieces that put the lie to the various hastily concocted stories flying out of the White House. If they’re not hiding something very, very compromising, they’re doing a tremendous imitation of it.

Trump, day 110.The thing about dumpster fires – or any trash-fueled conflagration, for that matter – is that they conceal as well as destroy. It’s hard to ascribe intentionality to the Trump administration; they are without a doubt the dumbest box of rocks that ever rolled into the oval office, so the idea that they could cook up some massive deception campaign is kind of ludicrous. If they are not deliberately distracting people with their antics, they are certainly playing the role of the useful idiot. I’m not suggesting they’re running interference for Russia or anything like that. What their ineptitude facilitates more than anything else is the steady progress of the broader GOP agenda – namely, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, dismantling of our rudimentary social safety net, scuttling the ACA, pulling down regulatory constraints on industry, and so on.

We face some major threats. One is that Trump will launch another war as a means of changing the conversation. Another is that a terror attack will flip the script, as it did in 2001, and we will be riding the revenge juggernaut to the end of the Earth, literally. But not least among these is the threat that the Republicans will get most if not all of what they’re calling for. They already have Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. Don’t think the Senate won’t pass some version of their draconian health care reform / tax cut. These are less dramatic outcomes, but no less destructive of our society.

Trump probably has extensive ties to Russian gangsters, just as he has with the domestic variety. It will likely come out eventually, but I warn you – don’t be distracted from the real work that’s going on in Congress right now.

luv u,

jp

Victory dance.

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Okay, can we all agree on something, people? Try this: the President of the United States is a remarkable dolt who knows nothing about anything outside of – perhaps – real estate and licensing his trademarks. His grasp of American history is tenuous at best and indicative of illiteracy at worst. He always seems to return to the subject of slavery and the Civil War, perhaps because he is surrounded by crackpot white supremacists who fill his empty head with their hateful opinions and convenient factual inaccuracies. The comments about Andrew Jackson are just the latest example, though when he talks about people like “Sharpknife” Jackson he seems actually to be talking about himself.

Spot my useless congressmember.It’s not at all surprising that Trump thinks that he himself could have prevented the Civil War. As a master-level narcissist, he thinks himself capable of anything. And even when he can’t accomplish anything, he celebrates and brags about it like he did. This week, when the House of Representatives passed their latest version of the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace debacle, Trump had the GOP House caucus come to the White House for a little victory dance. (My own representative, Claudia Tenney, could be seen in the second row, right behind the doltish Kevin McCarthy, taking selfies with another Republican congresswoman. Watch for that in an opposition campaign ad next year.)

Okay, so maybe that just proves that Republicans – including the massively overrated pseudo-wonk Paul Ryan – never watched Schoolhouse Rock and maybe they really just don‘t know how a bill becomes law. (They haven’t passed a real lot of them since taking control of the House.) Or maybe this is just Trump’s way of rubbing our faces in the fact that he got his way this time. It’s the kind of tactic Trump is famous for, of course. I suspect if he ever stopped bragging about himself, he’d fly around the room like a toy balloon someone let loose. The facts don’t matter – this is an attitudinal presidency, running on gall and braggadocio, tossing steaks out to the base pretty much every week.

It’s not a joke. The policy implications of this president will be enormous, maybe irreparable. We’re obviously going to have to fight for every inch, and this week the prize went to them.

luv u,

jp

Pappy’s back in town.

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The 100-day mark is fast approaching for the Trump administration, and this week they kicked it into high gear in an attempt to create the impression that they accomplished something over the last three months – namely, something that was on the President’s list of promises he made over the course of his craven campaign last year. With this in mind, they tossed out a few desperate efforts towards meaningful legislation, one of which being a one-page tax break proposal announced by Mnuchin on Wednesday.

This is a clear return to the G.O.P. presidential playbook, in a Trump kind of way. Of course, it smells more like a scam, the sparsely written outline providing very little detail or guidance for what would likely be a contentious legislative drafting process. But the outlines are there, and what it means effectively is that old Pappy Tax Cut is back once again. We haven’t seen Pappy since the days of Dubya Bush and his high-earner tax cut that blew a huge hole in the budget – one that we’re still grappling with, even with the minor clawback Obama extracted from the Republicans.

Shocker: more breaks for the rich.What’s in it? Prepare to be amazed. Massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. Reducing the top corporate tax rate to 15% and eliminating the estate tax altogether. If anything resembling this vague framework were to come into effect, it would shower enormous dividends on the most well-heeled people in the United States and cost the U.S. treasury about 2 trillion dollars. Suddenly Republicans aren’t worried about the deficit/debt anymore – astonishing! And why wouldn’t they give a massive break to the only people in the country – the one percent – who did well throughout the financial crisis? No reason at all.

Trump allies in congress were touting a new compromise on the “American Health Care Act” between the right and the extreme right, but that’s probably a non-starter. The act has been changed up to reflect more of the “Freedom Caucus” (i.e. a bunch of white dudes) agenda, including allowing states to make core benefits optional, letting health insurance providers charge a lot more to people with pre-existing conditions, like … I don’t know, pretty much anything that happens to you.

Then there’s impending war with Korea. Don’t even get me started on that. There’s such bad thinking on that issue from both major parties that it’s hard to know where to turn next.

luv u,

jp

Three percent solution.

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Some election news this week. Jon Ossoff, Democratic party candidate in the Georgia 6th congressional district “jungle” primary topped 48% of the vote tally, which is impressive in Tom Price/Newt Gingrich territory but still a couple of points below an outright victory. As always, the Republicans furiously worked the refs on this race, establishing the easy-bake narrative that Ossoff needed to win an outright majority and that anything short of that would be an abject failure. The mainstream media, of course, adopted this line because it’s simple and requires zero analysis (a lot of stories run this way), so the news shows the morning after the election were full of Democrats falling short postmortems. Useful.

Actual Tenney quote.Okay, because I am at heart a fair person, I will admit that the likes of Joe Scarborough said something that I actually agreed with this past Wednesday – something to the effect that Democrats need to rediscover getting out the vote, knocking on doors, calling people, etc. I agree. If Dems are ever going to return from the electoral wilderness, they need to start building their ground game right now. With the Georgia race and the contest in Kansas for that open House seat (lost to the GOP by seven points), that point has now been underlined and circled in red. (Okay, you can go back to despising Scarborough again.)

This doesn’t amount to a repeat of the same “air war” strategy the national Democratic party keeps running over and over again, dropping TV ads at the last minute. Democrats need to be a factor on the ground; they need to be a positive force in people’s lives. In my region, the congressional seat is held by a tea party Republican, way to the right of her district. We have only elected one Democrat in my lifetime – Michael Arcuri back in 2006. The only reason why he won was that the Democratic party invested in the race. They sent paid, seasoned campaign organizers to the district. They invested in a sizeable call center. They ran phone banks and knocked on doors. That – not the ads – was what put Arcuri over the top. I remember one of the party organizers giving a pep talk to the volunteers, telling us that a good ground game can add three percent to the vote total on election day. “We’re going to need that three percent,” he said.

There’s a coda to that story: two years later, there was none of that. Calling was done out of a cramped room in the local labor council office, and Arcuri just barely squeaked by in a presidential election year. In 2010 he got knocked off; same problem. This past fall, I was dialing for the Democratic candidate at the labor council again, working from a pretty crappy list. It’s not just lack of investment – it’s lack of the right kind of investment that kills our chances.

We have to start winning elections. It’s not the only thing we have to do, but it’s goddamned important.

luv u,

jp