Brown shirt redux.

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The thing about Trump is that he never knows when to shut the hell up. The events of the past ten days put this into stark relief. His post-Charlottesville comments are driven as much by his insistence on being right as by anything else. That said, the man knows how to court his core constituencies – namely, by abandoning any semblance of the traditional presidential role of being the nation’s consoler-in-chief and weighing in on the side of white sheets and brown shirts. Classy. I guess that roughly comports with Bannon’s avowed strategy of calling out Democrats on race issues, though he claims now to want to crush the “clowns” in the white nationalist movement. (I suspect he’s attempting to blow smoke here.)

The Trump armyThere is little doubt in my mind that Trump is a deep-dish racist fuck. His personal history alone is enough to convince any reasonable person, from his early days as a landlord to his vocal advancement of birtherism to his targeting of immigrants, Muslims, you name it. After the attacks in Barcelona, his first impulse was to tweet a reprise of his celebratory comments about General Pershing’s participation in America’s early 20th Century colonial pogrom in the Philippines – the story about killing 49 Muslim resistors with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. What is more bigoted than that? His blood libel against Muslims in New Jersey re the days following 9/11? Perhaps.

Trump’s next stop is Phoenix, AZ, where on Tuesday he will hold one of his regional Klan rallies, full of the kinds of crackpots that marched through the streets of Charlottesville with citronella torches and various tattoos. Too soon, you say? Not a bit of it. This tactic reminds me of what the NRA used to do (and may still do) in the wake of a mass shooting; namely, hold a massive pro-gun rally in or near the affected community. You can bet that Trump will have an incendiary tale to tell of how the Antifa counter-protesters were, in essence, outside agitators, at least as culpable as the neo-Nazis he tepidly disavows. I would still say the apple didn’t fall very far from the Klansman Fred Trump tree.

Is anyone surprised by all this? Well … if so, they haven’t been paying attention. Expect more, folks, and worse … much worse.

luv u,

jp

Unfit.

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The president this week took a break from his 3-week vacation to issue an existential threat against a sovereign nation. If the intention was to intimidate the target country, well, it didn’t work so well – the DPRK responded with a thinly veiled threat to launch missiles at Guam, home to 160,000 people and two major U.S. airbases. That prompted another nuclear threat from Trump. Then he threatened to invade Venezuela. This may turn out to be the longest summer vacation in history.

In some respects, this feels very familiar. The Defense Intelligence Agency leaking an intel assessment about North Korea being able to miniaturize nuclear weapons to a warhead-ready size – that sounds like the Iraq war run-up to me. Clearly someone likes the idea of another catastrophic conflict on the Korean peninsula. The cheap, sloppy trash-talking, though, is different. The only close to comparable incidents I can think of from other presidencies is, perhaps, W. Bush calling Kim Jong Il a “pygmy”. No, this was full-throated nuclear sabre-rattling of a type that only pathetic posers like Seb Gorka could admire.

In charge of nuclear weapons.So now we’re in a nuclear pissing-match, by conscious choice of the president. That is unacceptable, though quite predictable. During the campaign last year he lamented that the nuclear arsenal was a kind of white elephant and wondered about its utility is we never used it. People voted that guy into office, and now – six months in – he’s threatening people with fire and fury. Trump is what many had surmised before: a man unfit for service in any capacity, let alone the Presidency of the United States. But an unfit man cannot be president – it is far too potentially destructive a job to be held by someone with severe mental problems.

Based on his comments this week, it’s clear that Trump must be removed from office. The constitution provides for this outside of the impeachment process – it requires the Vice President and a majority of the heads of federal agencies to certify that the president is unfit. I know some of my progressive friends are growning at the thought of a Pence presidency – so am I – but the problem with Trump supersedes any political considerations. They need to invoke the 25th Amendment and save the country and possibly the world. I’d sooner spend the next three years fighting the Pence Administration than stand with my arms folded as millions more Asians are kicked into a mass grave by this murderous dunce in the White House.

Let’s face it: Trump won the presidency by virtue of our constitution. We need to encourage others to utilize that same constitution to protect the nation and remove President Trump from office.

luv u,

jp

Another one.

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I’m not going to spend a lot of column space on the foibles of the Trump White House, entertaining as they may be. You’ve heard it all, right? Everything about Scaramucci, Priebus, and whoever the fuck. Hey, we elected a clown-car cartoon character president – we should expect this. What’s really much more disturbing is what they’ve been up to behind the screen of all this palace intrigue. Some of it is fairly clear, like the disingenuous attack on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid (i.e. Trump’s repeated promises that the new bill would be better, that everyone would be covered, and that premiums and co-payments would be low). Some is not so obvious, and the devil in this administration is truly in those details.

Mr. WonderfulTake the Sessions Justice Department (please). Reporting this week has indicated that they are redirecting the Civil Rights Division to look into cases of reverse discrimination in college admissions. They are denying it up and down, but it would in no way be out of character for Beauregard and his new Civil Rights Division chief, John Gore, who was part of a law firm defending North Carolina’s recent “bathroom bill” anti-LGBTQ legislation as well as working for increased ballot access restrictions. I think it’s obvious that any agency or division in the Executive branch not currently headed by someone who opposes its core mission is on borrowed time.

Foreign affairs is a mess, of course. Trump has expressed interest in the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, raising the specter of an even further resource-fueled extension of our pointless war in that unfortunate country. Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea are both on notice again, the Trump team trying its best to ratchet up the tension in the powder keg that is the Korean peninsula while setting the United States on a course to war with Tehran. Just what we need: too more pointless, avoidable wars. (Trump felt it necessary to do the typical fake bombing runs over Korea as well as test one of our massive arsenal of ICBMs.) It should come as a surprise to no one that a foreign policy left mostly to the generals will tilt toward warfare.

Okay, I haven’t covered much, but there will be plenty of time to go into all that is left (I hope). As horrendous as all this sounds, it’s really just been another week of the Trump administration …. which actually sounds even more horrendous, particularly with 3-1/2 years to go. Fuck me – this is awful.

luv u,

jp

Short takes (July edition).

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Another one of those weeks spent drinking from the political firehose. I’m going to try to run through a few of the items that have been top-of-mind for me over the last few days. Let me know if my list looks anything like yours.

Saudi-US cooperation at workYemen Horror. The WHO reported that cholera is spreading like wildfire in war-ravaged Yemen, infecting more than 400,000 people with almost 1,900 deaths attributed to the outbreak. This is in addition to the many thousands killed by the Saudi-led and U.S.-supported terror bombing of this unfortunate country. Since Congress is all about sanctions this week, one would hope they would consider slapping a few on the freaks running this horror show from Riyadh. Fat fucking chance. This is a bipartisan atrocity and it will only stop when we insist upon it.

Cracker abuse. Trump is unloading on his pal Jeff Beauregard Sessions, talking as though the AG’s job consists entirely of running interference against any investigative probes that come too near the President. Can’t say as I feel sorry for that racist old cracker – at his age, he should know better how to pick his friends. Better start ironing that bedsheet, Jeff-boy.

Trumpcare Fail. Okay, this started out to be a rant about John McCain and how he was dragging himself back to Washington right after surgery to deny millions of other Americans the ability to, well, have surgery when it’s needed. I was going to say that you can never count on him to do the right thing, but then he shocked me by doing the right thing, so credit where credit is due – he helped to kill the Obamacare repeal. I say Obamacare repeal because that’s what it has always been. The GOP has been waging political war against this thing called Obamacare for seven years, except that Obamacare doesn’t really exist. That’s why they seem to be having so much trouble agreeing on how to get rid of it – they keep stepping onĀ  popular provisions of the ACA that are lying around like rakes, waiting to hit them in the face. Mitch McConnell blames the Democrats, of course, but it’s really just about him and his party. This is a big fail, fucker. Suck on that.

Drop the T. Trump announced by Tweet that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the United States military. This has thrown the service into a state of uncertainty and caused tremendous consternation among those who recognize our transgender comrades as human beings worthy of our love and respect. In other words, mission accomplished, Donald! Your alt-right supporters in the little mustache brigade are probably over the moon right now. They’ve probably already forgotten what you’ve said about Sessions. (Of course, they’re probably ADD.)

Manatee in a Suit. Gingrich was interviewed on NPR Morning Edition this week (7/26) and proceeded to throw the entire Justice Department under the bus in an attempt to make his new BFF Trump look a little better. Aside from hawking a book by Sidney Powell, the most hated man in America called the Justice Department “a extraordinarily left-wing institution” citing campaign contributions and decrying the Mueller probe as a “fishing expedition.” Wow, what a crackpot. The left wing conspiracy keeps expanding – last week it was Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski being tagged “leftists” by Limbaugh and others; this week it’s our entire federal law enforcement establishment.

luv u,

jp

Down to them.

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Trump’s health care repeal and replace failed this week and of course he blamed it on everyone but himself. Then he turned around and told the New York Times that his horrible attorney general’s decision to recuse himself was “unfair to the president”. Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow was pondering how what Sessions did might be termed “unfair”, apparently forgetting that our president has the mind and emotions of a five year old, so everything that doesn’t go entirely his way seems to him to be totally unfair. That’s why we’re spending millions of dollars on a commission to hunt down evidence of non-existent massive voter impersonation by immigrants – at least non-existent in the world we all inhabit, if not in Trump’s tiny mind. So we’re doing it because his loss of the popular vote was “so unfair”. (Next the Pentagon will be tasked with hunting down his dream goblins.)

Not our only problem.It’s not just pure childishness, of course. When Trump picked the racist Sessions (attracted to the Trump campaign by the racist Steve Bannon) as attorney general, he thought he was hiring a lawyer to represent his own personal interests. That reflects not only his narcissism but also his profound ignorance with respect to the role of the AG.

I can only wish that Trump voters would get some vague idea of the dimensions of presidency and of how powerful a country this is. More than most jobs, the presidency can’t just be done by anybody, even if anybody can be elected president. That office is at the head of a massive global imperial enterprise that makes Trump’s company look like a lemonade stand. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re president, and those mistakes can have enormous and lasting consequences. But the president does not just act for him or herself – s/he has a responsibility to all of us in everything s/he does. This president doesn’t get that. When he talks to Putin for 3.5 hours without having someone to capture what is discussed, he is acting like the government is just some cheesy corporation he acquired somewhere.

As I’ve said many times before, Trump is not the only problem we have. He is, in fact, just a symptom of a far broader problem – that of a Republican party that has gone off the deep, right end. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are in some ways more destructive than the dunce Trump, and far more cynical. Trump at least has the lame excuse of ignorance; congressional Republicans know what they want and who it hurts. They wrecked the economy the last time they held the presidency, openly obstructed even the flimsy, middle-of-the-road Obama agenda, stole a Supreme Court seat, and much more than that. If we’re to make any real progress in this country, we need to stop them as well.

Don’t be distracted. This mess is down to all of them. They all need to be held accountable at the ballot box.

luv u,

jp

Last battles.

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I listen to a few podcasts, mostly in my car. By the time I hear them, they’re usually about a week or two old – I download a raft of them and dump them on to my ancient iPod. One of the ones I listen to is Jeremy Scahill’s Intercepted, and it took me this long to hear his June 7 interview with Jill Stein, former Green Party candidate for president. This was billed under the headline “The Woman Democrats Love to Hate”. I have a lot of respect for Scahill, but I think this interview demonstrates another type of delusion; namely, Stein’s over-inflated sense of her own importance.

I have no doubt some Democrats blame her for Clinton’s loss last year, but I doubt it’s all that many – most of the Hillary-bots focus on Bernie Sanders when they look left. At least I hope Democrats don’t spend a lot of energy hating Stein, because she really wasn’t much of a factor at all. If Hillary Clinton was depending on Stein voters to carry her over the finish line – and there’s little likelihood many of them would ever have decided to support Clinton – then her margin was way, way too narrow for any Democrat to win the presidency. Most of the centrist whining I hear is about the Bernie wing of the party, that they were too critical of Clinton and didn’t work hard enough for her election or just withheld their votes. Nothing much about Stein at all, though they clearly don’t like her.

Really not a factor in '16. Really.I agree with Stein on a lot of issues. In fact, I think I’m well to the left of the good Doctor. But the notion that the electoral duopoly can be taken down by supporting quixotic third-party presidential candidates is ludicrous, as is the suggestion that changing the way elections work in the United States is somehow “easy”, as she suggests in this interview. The Green Party is a mess; they have yet to elect a congress member, senator, governor, or even lieutenant governor as far as I can tell. If they want to start contending in national elections, they need to start filling those seats first. They also need to organize around electoral reform, support instant runoff / ranked choice voting, and related proposals. Until that happens, Green Party candidates will split the center-left vote and throw our ridiculous first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections to the Republicans, time and time again. Those changes would be years in the making – they should have focused their energies on that for the last 20 years instead of random, pointless runs for the White House.

And Jeremy, I love you, but no, there’s not constitutional provision instituting a two-party monopoly. There is, however, a constitutional electoral system that is antiquated and greatly favors the wealthy. We need to change that before any we can expect any meaningful opening for third parties.

Of course, there is a faster course to progressive change than spending decades building a new third party while simultaneously countering the tide of restrictive voting: occupy the Democratic party. Take over its local, state, and national committees. Transform it from within and push it from without through massive organizing. There’s no law that says the Democratic party must remain within the grip of corporate money; we can change that dynamic much faster than we can build a new party (and a congenial political environment for the same) from the ground up. Instead of re-fighting old battles, we should do that.

luv u,

jp

One way out.

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Rockets went off on the Fourth of July as usual, though some were not the variety you can now apparently buy in New York State at any of what seems like a million roadside stands. I am of course referring to the launch of the North Korean “ICBM” and the response by the American expeditionary force permanently stationed in South Korea – namely a volley of missiles fired into the sea. The North Korea missile story was teased for a couple of days by the likes of Joe Scarborough, in between his raking over the details of some petty blackmail Trump’s flunkies were pulling on him and his partner. Now it’s full-court press on North Korea, reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric we heard prior to the Iraq war.

The first report I heard started with the term “provocation”. It went downhill from there. The fact is, I have yet to hear from anyone on mainstream media programming who doesn’t subscribe to the general consensus view that (a) North Korea is a madman aggressor nation, (b) only pressure on China can “bring them to heel”, and (c) we tried negotiations and it didn’t work. In fact, I have yet to hear any politicians on the center-left raise doubts about this toxic consensus. It seems with respect to this and similar conflicts, politics stop at the water’s edge. That would be fine if they had it even half-right, but they don’t.

Not worth itFirst of all, the madman aggressor notion ignores the fact that we maintain the most powerful military force on the peninsula. It also frames the issue as one centering on a leader’s irrationality. Whatever the faults of the Pyongyang regime, it’s not hard to see why they want a credible nuclear deterrent. It’s actually a relatively sane response to the threat of attack from a superpower that (1) destroyed them once in the 1950s and (2) is a constant menacing presence, running mock invasions and leadership decapitation exercises several times a year. Second, the China “card” is irrelevant – North Korea’s disagreement is with us, not China. That’s why they’re building an ICBM. They want what they’ve always wanted – a non-aggression guarantee from us, which is what China and Russia have called for – along with restraint from Pyongyang – after their recent summit.

Finally, the “we tried it” claim is false. We reneged on the 1994 nuclear deal, which involved our providing the North Koreans with a light-water nuclear reactor – something Clinton and the GOP Congress never followed through on. The 2000 election debacle stopped the Clinton foreign policy team from working out a non-aggression agreement with Kim Jong Il at the last minute, then two years later North Korea was added to the “Axis of Evil” by the Bush II administration, placing a big red bull’s eye on their flank. That pretty much guaranteed the continuation of their nuclear weapons program.

We are experiencing the bitter outcome of consistently bad policy implemented by both major political parties. Such a longstanding consensus implies that there may be some merit to the suggestion made by Chomsky and others that the continuing Korean conflict serves our grander imperial vision by preventing the ultimate economic integration of northeast Asia. If China, Japan, and Korea lessened tensions and formed a cooperative arrangement of sorts, it would be a formidable economic rival to U.S. hegemony, to be sure.

The downside risks of this kind of brinkmanship are too great. There’s one way out of this disaster: talk to Pyongyang. This is no longer an ideological dispute as it was framed in the 1950s (North Korea is a model for no one). This is about safety and survival for everyone on the Korean peninsula, and that needs to be the guiding star for our Korea policy moving forward.

luv u,

jp

Sickness.

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As I write this, the Senate Republicans have pulled their version of the ACA “repeal and replace” legislation – a bill that’s really more a massive tax cut funded by massive cuts in Medicaid. This temporary hiatus is mostly down to the many thousands of people across the country who made their voices heard in various ways, and so to all of you I say job well done. That said, this job is not, in fact, done. The Republicans will be back very soon with a slightly amended version of the bill that can garner 50 votes, after having bought off key senators with part of that $300 billion-plus deficit reduction bundle built into this piece of legislative ordure. Just watch.

Two old men who will never need Medicaid.This entire situation – I won’t say “debate” because there hasn’t been any – is ridiculous largely because no one in Washington will admit to what the ACA’s core problems are. The Republicans, and to a certain extent many Democrats, continue to insist that competition and a freer market in health insurance will deliver affordable coverage to everyone; just pull those sick people out of the system and into an underfunded high-risk pool, and the market can do its magic.

Bullshit. The “free market” approach to individual coverage doesn’t work because individual health insurance is not a profitable line of business; insurers have known this for decades and have been pulling out of individual policies because they carry too much downside risk. They prefer large employer plans, where the only money being risked is that of the client company, not the insurer. Even if you start an individual health policy in good health, things inevitably go wrong and then the company is on the hook. Sure, they prefer younger, healthier folks as customers, but even they get cancer once in a while. Individual policies are not a money maker unless the market is so drastically tilted in the insurer’s favor that they can basically sell nominal “coverage” to healthy people.

This is why Medicaid is such a popular program. Even the GOP’s complaints about it all center on cost, not care. (They just see it as a cash cow.) Medicaid is not provided on market principles; neither is Medicare nor the veterans health program. No health insurance should be market-driven, because treating it like a commodity severely disadvantages poorer, older, and sicker people. Those categories apply to most everyone at some point in their lives. The only way to ensure that coverage will be there for all of us when we need it is single payer.

Last word: this Senate bill is sick; it is a tax cut scheme built on gutting Medicaid and pulling money from Medicare. And it will be back.

luv u,

jp

Between truces.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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