Donnie’s excellent adventure.

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It’s been quite a week for our low-rent gropen-fuhrer, and as of this writing it’s only Wednesday. First we saw him re-tweet Euro-fascist videos, then excoriate the FBI in response to Flynn’s indictment, followed by a full-throated endorsement of Alabama Senate Candidate, state Supreme Court Justice (twice removed), and mall stalker (many times removed) Roy Moore on Monday, opening of vast Western lands to oil and gas development on Tuesday, and U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday. Throw in little details like the travel ban being reinstated by the Supreme Court Tuesday, his allies in the Senate passing a draconian “tax” bill (larded with much else besides) the weekend before, and stepped up provocative war games on the Korean peninsula this week, and you’ve got … well … just what you voted for, America.

Trump lighst the fuse. Again.The Jerusalem announcement basically lights a fuse that’s been rolled out and set for decades. As Trump pointed out, Congress has voted for this more than once, passing resolutions in support of the shift by large bipartisan margins. In terms of the fundamentals, it’s a minor step, but as a symbolic gesture, it has the potential for disaster. I’m certain it is already being used as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabab, and what have you. Another tremendous gift to jihadists the world over. Trump may as well take out full-page ads for them, plaster billboards all around the Muslim world, and flood Facebook with pop-ups – Al Baghdadi wants you!

There’s a temptation to frame this clusterfuck as something uniquely Trump, but that doesn’t even begin to hold water. Trump is truly a reflection of America’s worst tendencies, a fun-house mirror for us to peer into with fascination and horror. But having a drunk at the wheel of the wrecking machine that is Imperial America is only marginally different than having a college professor in the driver’s seat. Yes, Trump is worse than even a neoliberal Democratic administration – court appointments and judicial decisions alone confirm that much. But America as it is currently configured is designed to kill and destroy on a massive scale, regardless of who is running the show. Destruction is the default position, and like any large exploitative enterprise, this machine has its ways of perpetuating itself. Every family Trump (or Obama) shatters in Yemen or Syria or Iraq generates more hatred against us. Our bombs and policies like the Jerusalem decision are investments in future conflicts that will fuel the military machine long after we’re gone.

It’s not hopeless, people. We live in a democratic society. We can change how we do things, but we have to get started … like, now.

luv u,

jp

 

Under the radar.

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If you had your fill of thankfulness over the past week, this might be a good time to look in on some stuff that’s happening at the national level that seldom gets reported on. So much media attention is focused on the current administration’s relationship with the Russian government,  various sexual harassment revelations, and Trump’s latest asinine tweets (all important topics, to be sure), some of the more impactful stuff the administration and its Congressional allies have been doing is slipping by unnoticed. Time to fight back … and give thanks for the Internets.

Reactionary policy vessel.Court-Packing. As Trump appoints circuit court judges at an unprecedented pace, his friends and supporters in the Senate have greased the skids obligingly, disabling the filibuster and individual Senators’ right to put a hold on nominations – methods the Republicans used liberally during the Obama administration to prevent his nominees from being seated. Now the reactionary Federalist Society has proposed a court-packing scheme that would triple the number of appellate court judges, enabling Trump to appoint an unassailable majority of ultra-conservative jurists to lifetime appointments on the bench.

Census and Sensibility. Trump looks ready to nominate a right-wing academic with no administrative or data-analytical experience to the number 2 post in the Census Bureau, which is the main executive position in that agency. Now, there is no permanent director of that agency, and the number 2 spot does not require Senate confirmation, so this is a stealth appointment of an ideologue who argues that competitive elections are not good for Democracy(!) and who played a key role in the GOP’s partisan redistricting last time around. That’s the guy who will oversee collecting the demographic data that informs redistricting. Holy shit.

Media Matters. Meanwhile, over at the FCC, Trump appointed chair Ajit Pai has been working overtime. You’ve probably heard about his attack on net neutrality, and there’s no question that that story deserves more attention, but less visible has been Pai’s efforts to break down the already weak system of rules regarding media ownership. In a 3-2 party line vote, the FCC recently voted to allow cross ownership of a television station and a newspaper in a single market. This, along with the decision to again discount UHF channels with respect to the statutory national audience share cap of 39% spells greater media consolidation and expansion of right-wing companies like Sinclair Broadcasting.

These and other issues, though not leading the headlines, have the potential to affect our daily lives for decades to come. They constitute the core of the GOP’s assault on public institutions as a constraint on concentrated private power. We ignore them at our own peril.

luv u,

jp

Kim Jong Saud.

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The Saudis have destroyed a key airport in Yemen, a point of entry for crucial aid shipments, making the grim prospect of a major famine even more likely than before. This happened the same week that the Kingdom apparently chose to hold Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri against his will, by some accounts, and forced his resignation (Hariri now disputes this) in an effort to sow discord in a country that survived a 15-year sectarian civil war. This multi-pronged effort to roll back Shi’a influence in the region is largely the handiwork of Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (or “MBS” as the folks in the know call him), a man who is taking the blood-stained legacy of Saudi’s extremism up to the next level.

Meet Sal the Butcher.Praised by many in the American imperial class as a “modernizer”, Prince Salman has leveled neighboring Yemen over the past two years, turning it into one of the world’s most deadly war zones. This attack was probably born of the Iran nuclear deal; perhaps Yemen was the bone thrown to a disgruntled kingdom after an American war with Persia was averted. The fight in Yemen is an extension of Saudi’s longterm efforts to remake the Arab world in its own image. Its principal enemy used to be Arab nationalism, championed by Nassar and others. Now that that wave of leaders is past, Iran and Shi’a populations are in the crosshairs, and the trigger has been pulled repeatedly – in Bahrain, in Syria, and most devastatingly in Yemen.

I don’t want to place responsibility for this disgusting war solely at the feet of MBS and his autocratic government. They could not do what they’re doing without military and diplomatic support from the United States. If we told them – firmly – to stop, they would stop. The fact that it continues demonstrates a desire on the part of Washington – and elements of both major political parties – for the conflict to continue. It’s similar to the situation in Korea in that there is an obvious solution to the problem and the fact that we fail to grab it up suggests more than stupidity and stubbornness. The other similarity is that MBS’s swagger is like that of Kim Jong Un, only our leaders appear willing to eat it up. Really disturbing.

I strongly suggest you contact your congressional representatives and tell them in no uncertain terms that this conflict has gone on long enough and it is time for the killing to stop. Senator Chris Murphy appears to have gotten the memo – now let’s see if we can get others on board.

luv u,

jp

Making it count.

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My reaction to Tuesday’s off-year political races is the same I always have with regard to elections: you can’t win by staying home. A lot of people on the left get frustrated with the Democratic Party (I certainly do), but in our current political system, only two parties have a reasonable chance to win elections, particularly on a national scale. We have to work within the Democratic Party even as we organize outside of it; and we have to vote Dem (when such a vote is available) even if the candidate is not our preferred choice.

Threatening the neighborsThe alternative (i.e. sitting on your hands) results in what we have today: a national government run entirely by the most reactionary Republican Party in history – a political cabal that is doing enormous damage by undermining the work of vital agencies, appointing right wing judges, and more. This destructive work is moving at such an alarming pace that it is doubtful as to whether we can regain sufficient political power to stem the tide, let alone reverse it, before some of our most vital public institutions are blown to hell. That’s why I am no fan of quixotic third-party detours. The downside risk is far too high, as we are now discovering.

I generally agree with Norman Solomon and his Democratic Party Autopsy report. And I think he might agree that the Democratic Party – like all national parties – is a broad coalition of factions that don’t always (or even often) agree with one another on key issues. It was that way back in the 1960s. It was certainly that way in the age of the Democratic Leadership Conference. The only difference now is that there is a strong left faction that nearly won the presidential nomination process last year. THAT is new, and frankly, exciting. I think that should be a cause for optimism – the inside strategy is mostly a matter of persistence and focus. We have to populate the party with people who think like us, recognizing that we will need a broad coalition to start winning again on a national level. So this can’t be a question of my way or the highway, on the left or the center. The corporate media likes to focus on factionalism. I think this is just the messy process of moving forward.

The left is the future of the Democratic party. It has nowhere else to go. We have to claim that future and continue to use the party as a means of advancing positions important to the well-being of the majority of Americans. Big project, but a necessary one … and we’d best get started.

luv u,

jp

The color of power.

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What a horrendous week for New Yorkers. Condolences to those affected by this ghastly Halloween attack. Don’t wait for words of encouragement and sympathy from the big cheese – he’s too busy attacking your senator on Twitter. Literally insult upon injury, but not surprising. It’s also been a pretty rough week in Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, and of course in Somalia, in the aftermath of that horrific bombing. I could go on, but what’s the point – you know it. Sad thing is, none of these people will get any reasonable amount of moral or material support from the current administration. The reason couldn’t be clearer: too many dark people, and no potential Trump voters.

How low can he go?Not that Somalia has been treated like anything other than a doormat in previous administrations. Trump, though, has singled out Somali refugees in America for criticism, sowing hatred and distrust among his legions. The refugees are black, like the family of La David Johnson, and like the Congresswoman that is a family friend of theirs, and like the football players taking a knee, and … need I go on? Puerto Rico, well … that place is full of dark people too, and so they’re not going to get the kind of help that goes to Florida and east Texas. It just seems like whatever belligerent stand Trump takes, there are dark-skinned people on the other side of it.

I suppose I should consider it fortunate that crypto-racists have a tendency to reveal themselves gradually, however unintentional that process might be. Case in point is Trump’s Chief of Staff, General Kelly, who launched into a gratuitous character assassination attempt on Florida Congresswoman Wilson (hint: she’s African American) using a story that was easily dis-proven, as the event he was describing was captured on video. In remarks to the New York Times, Kelly praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee and opined that the Civil War was the result of a “lack of ability to compromise”. I think Lawrence O”Donnell had it right when he suggested that Kelly – who grew up in the same area of Boston as O’Donnell did – is channeling a racist upbringing in what was a caldron of prejudice against black people, brown people, anyone other than the Scotty B’s of the world.

Let us face it. In this culture, white, heterosexual people are normative; that is the default position. Anyone else needs qualification and justification. So when a crazy cracker shoots up 500 people in Las Vegas, we won’t ask ourselves what the problem is with these rich, white Christians. But when a crazy ass Uzbek mows down a bunch of innocent people for no reason, all Muslims are expected to apologize. That’s a power relationship at work.

luv u,

jp

A little late.

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Well, we’ve heard from Arizona’s senators. Sort of. Does this amount to anything? If so, I don’t know what, but judging by the coverage afforded by the mainstream media, I must be missing something. I’ve heard Jeff Flake compared to every great orator this side of Cicero over the past few days, but honestly – what did he say? What is the substantive issue here? It sounds to me like tone, “integrity”,  adherence to accepted norms of behavior, and mental/emotional stability. Important, yes, when you’re talking about the President of the United States – a man who can, on a whim, destroy the entire planet. It may be dawning on some of these GOP senators – at least the ones no longer eyeing re-election – that having a crackpot in that most powerful chair on Earth may not be such a good idea.

Where were you last year?Thing is, where the hell were they last year when they could have done something about it? I think you know the answer to that. Trump is not an anomaly – he is the product of 30 years of mounting extremism in the Republican Party. They may have tut-tutted him once or twice during the campaign, but it never rose to the level of obstruction. No, they were more than happy to elect a sociopath idiot narcissist to the imperial presidency, so long is it meant they would get their way on legislation, appointments, and executive policy. That’s all they fucking care about, people. Their congressional leadership says so every day. So even if a handful of retiring senators complains that Trump’s ill-treatment of Gold Star families is disgraceful, the party will still stand in full support of that signing hand. This isn’t an ideological battle, because they – Trump and his party – all agree on 90% of their program. To the extent that people like Jeff Flake disagree with the president on policy, it’s largely on the basis of his hostility towards so-called “free trade” agreements.

Take their tax policy (please). The GOP is framing this as another visit by Pappy Tax Cut. The fact is, they will likely raise taxes on working people and the poor, just as they often do. They did so during the Obama years at least twice – once when they refused to renew the “Making Work Pay” tax credit, and again when they scuttled the withholding tax reduction. Now they’re talking about reducing tax exemptions on contributions to 401k plans. Set aside the fact that these retirement instruments are woefully underfunded in the first place and represent a free-market retreat from the notion of a liveable retirement plan, this is just a backdoor attempt at funding the massive cuts they’re promising to their rich donors. Regardless of what Trump claims, he will sign it, then call it something it’s not. That’s what he always does.

If the good of the nation matters now, it certainly mattered last year when the GOP could have stopped Trump cold. They didn’t, and so plainly, it doesn’t.

luv u,

jp

The fallen.

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Four special forces soldiers were killed in the African nation of Niger earlier this month, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it. There’s been no discussion of what our policy is in Niger or more broadly in that region of Africa, no information on the circumstances of the men’s deaths, no nothing. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Yemen raid that went bad just a couple of weeks into Trump’s tenure, except that they HAD a story for that one and it turned out to be as bogus as a Linkletter million dollar bill.

Another thing the Niger incident echoes somewhat more dimly is the Benghazi attack back in 2012. You know, four dead Americans, questions about how much support they received from Washington, and so on. So I imagine Trey Gowdy will start holding hearings on this quite soon, right? (Trey? Are you out there, Trey?)

What they DON'T want to talk about.Okay, so, the thing MSNBC has latched onto is Trump’s call to one of the relatives of the lost soldiers in Niger and his comments surrounding presidential condolence calls in general. This seems like a red herring. The fact is, Trump radiates a sense of not caring about anything that happens to military people. This just points to what I’ve contended for some time now; that Trump is all of our worst tendencies balled up into a big, fat, greasy wad of nothing. He doesn’t care about lost soldiers in much the same way that most Americans don’t care – at least, not enough to step away from their televisions or to put their forks down. Sad, as Trump would tweet, but true.

Do Americans wonder why our military is operating in places like Niger, Chad, etc.? My guess is that they don’t, since both the government and the media are not taking a close look. One freelance journalist working in that region, Amanda Sperber, commented on Democracy Now! that she found it surprising that Americans weren’t aware of our presence in Niger; that we have, among other things, a drone base in that country. Why? Because we the people don’t make it our business to question these deployments. We don’t have to pay (at least, for the time being) and we don’t have to fight, so we essentially don’t give a fuck.

We will become a civilized people the moment we start treating our service personnel as if they were members of our immediate family. When we get to that point, maybe Trump will adjust his behavior … or, even better, be sent home.

luv u,

jp

Wanting more.

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It’s hard to overstate how disturbing the news has become over the last couple of weeks. Gradually some elements of the Republican political establishment are beginning to acknowledge the obvious fact that Donald Trump is fundamentally unfit for the office of the Presidency. Astonishing. Why someone like Senator Corker wouldn’t have realized this more than a year ago, when he had the opportunity to help prevent this disaster, defies belief. Like his colleagues, it obviously wasn’t as important to him as having a Republican president – any Republican president – who would sign legislation and implement the extreme right policies his party has long advocated. They did everything in their power to put an unstable man in the most powerful office on earth and place the nation in jeopardy just to gain marginal political advantage.

Maybe THEY buy it.Now Corker and his colleagues can feign surprise when the bonobo they elected throws feces at them from his perch in the White House. And because the Tennessee Senator has announced his retirement, he can channel his colleagues’ unease when Trump (a) demonstrates he knows nothing about America’s nuclear strategy or the history of that strategy, (b) breezily demands we return to an arsenal of 32,000 warheads, and (c) makes a habit of cryptically threatening to start World War III on the Korean peninsula. The man is a terrorist, plain and simple – hinting that there’s some kind of “storm” coming, teasing some violent response or initiative, then dropping a smirking “you’ll see,” like a petulant four-year-old. Fit for the presidency? The man isn’t even qualified to be dog catcher.

I wish this were the kind of joke that so many people think it is (including many of Trump’s core supporters, who revel in the discomfort of liberals and the like), but it’s not. Trump is alluding to some kind of military action in the near future, probably regarding North Korea. Any action commenced by the United States stands the very real risk of provoking a counterattack on Seoul, South Korea – a city of 20 million people and no small number of Americans – plus the involvement of China and perhaps Russia (China’s leaders have said that they would respond to an unprovoked attack on North Korea by the U.S.) That is the World War III scenario that Corker is alluding to. Even short of that, we could be looking at loss of life in the hundreds of thousands within a very short period of time – far beyond anything we’ve seen in decades. (Congo may be an exception, though that conflict took place over many years and in some respects is still ongoing.)

In my humble opinion, it’s 25th Amendment time. Will anyone in the senior leadership of this administration put the country before his or her career? Remains to be seen.

luv u,

jp

Arms control.

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Let’s have some fun with semantics, shall we? Start with the word “gun”. What is a gun and when does it stop being a gun and become, say, a bazooka or a howitzer? Though I suppose you can say that a howitzer is a kind of gun – big guns, as in “Bring out the big guns!” How about a staple gun or a glue gun? So a “gun” just a device for expelling something, right? That’s why it also serves as one of umpteen English euphemisms for penis, among other applications.

Well, fortunately for you 2nd Amendment purists out there, this very confusing word “gun” does not appear anywhere in the text of your favorite founding document of the Republic. The Constitutional scholars over at the local NRA gathering simply assume the word “arms”, which is used in the amendment, means every manner of gun from the .38 special to the Kalashnikov. Why they stop there I have no idea. Given the vague wording of the 2nd Amendment, our founders seem to leave the door open to an inalienable right to brandish a bazooka, or a howitzer, or a tactical nuclear missile for that matter. “Arms” is a far more general term than “gun”, so obviously we draw the line somewhere.

Constitutional right to ALL of them?Based on the evident facts of the massacre in Las Vegas, it’s way past time to move that line a bit south from where it’s been over the past couple of decades. I know my gun enthusiast friends bristle at the thought of restricting “assault rifles”, largely on the basis of the fact that the term is not sufficiently defined and, like all terms, highly subject to interpretation. Fair enough. But it seems to me we are in need of restrictions on the actual firepower represented by these weapons (particularly when modified, as the Las Vegas shooter’s rifles were, to operate as automatic weapons) rather than the specific design. Nine rounds a second seems kind of excessive, for instance. Is there any earthly reason why someone using a gun for self-defense, hunting, or other varieties of personal amusement would need to shoot more than a round or two per second?

I know, I know … I’m trying to spoil people’s fun. There are something like 200,00 legally registered automatic weapons out there, millions more semi-automatics, and people just love, love, love to shoot them at target ranges, etc. Great. But weight your right to do something fun against the right of others to be protected against the massive trauma and death caused by such weapons on a regular basis. If you can have your normal old .30-30 hunting rifle, your handgun, your shotgun, and your Bowie knife, but NOT the modified assault rifle, has your right to keep and bear arms been violated? You still have guns, right? Just not every kind of gun you want to have.

I guess our little semantics game should end on “rights.” Are “rights” about what we should be able to do or are they about being able to do every little thing our heart desires … like owning that modified AR-15?  I guess it’s up to us to answer that question.

luv u,

jp

War and remembrance.

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I mentioned last week that I have some problems with the Ken Burns series on the Vietnam War. That was on the basis of just the first episode, so to be fair, my comments were a bit preliminary. I have not seen much of it since – just the odd half-hour here and there. (Frankly, it’s hard for me to come up with 18 hours of viewing time over the course of a week or two.) That said, the episodes I’ve seen since the first installment have done nothing to change my estimation of the overall project. It’s important to get many and varied perspectives from American veterans; I’m all for that. But the Vietnamese perspective that I’ve seen thus far has been very limited and two-dimensional. Further, the narrative seldom departs from the neo-imperial framing that has always defined mainstream retrospectives on this brutal war.

Vietnam war seriesWe’re told, for instance, that in 1969 Hanoi would not consider an agreement that would leave the Saigon government in place. Actually, it wasn’t just Hanoi; it was a large percentage of the people under the dictatorial governance of South Vietnam – at least those who had not already been brutalized, burned to a cinder or chopped to pieces by that late date. One important point that’s getting lost in this series is the fact that the vast majority of ordinance dropped by the U.S. in Vietnam was dropped on South Vietnam, not North Vietnam. This is reflective of that imperial framing – South Vietnam was “ours” to rampage over, so look elsewhere. Also, perhaps I’m missing too much, but virtually all of the atrocities I’ve heard described in this series have been on the anti-Saigon side. (I hope this is just a reporting error on my part.) And the picture they paint of Le Duan is practically that of a ruthless super villain, “Dr. No” figure.

No such depictions on the American side – just a lot of well-meaning actors gone awry. And seemingly very little reliance on official documentation from the period. I’m hearing a lot of recorded phone calls and office conversations, but not even contemporaneously available material like excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, let alone subsequent declassified documentation. The authors seem unaware of or uninterested in American planners’ thinking on why the war was being fought in the first place; the danger of a good example of independent development, outside of the U.S.-run system; the desire to provide a recovering Japan with markets, raw materials, and labor and (post-1949) to prevent them from accommodating to communist-led China.

I will watch more, of course, but I am not sanguine about this effort. We are currently in the midst of a 16-year conflict in Afghanistan. It would help to understand the last pointless, seemingly endless conflict a lot more clearly than this series allows.

luv u,

jp