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.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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

Week that was (again).

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Man, this week has been a clusterfuck. Not sure exactly where to begin, but I guess the best option is just to dive right in.

The Zombie Rises. Repeal and replace is back again this week, this time advanced by GOP senators Graham and Cassidy, and it’s the predictable formula. They basically want to block grant the program, including the Medicaid portion of it, which is the Republican’s favorite target just lately. According to a study cited by the Washington Post, 34 states would lose funding, and the states with Medicaid expansion and relatively generous benefits would be the biggest losers. It will also throw millions off of their coverage – no surprise there. The only thing that can stop this now is, well … us. Call, march, occupy, whatever you can manage. Delay this vote until after 9/30 and it will be dead for a while longer, at least, and that’s the best we can manage under the circumstances (i.e. good enough).

Active crime sceneHurricane Maria. What a horrible storm, and the fact that it took such a cruel path through an already distressed group of islands is heartbreaking. Puerto Rico, already flattened by international finance, has lost power entirely, perhaps for weeks or even months. Their grid is 44 years old, due to such a constricted colonial financial situation. Where is the outrage for the ill-treatment of these working Americans, Trump supporters? Crickets.

Mexico Quake. There’s a sickening regularity to this recent crop of disasters; a hurricane coinciding with an earthquake in Mexico. Again, suffering piled on top of suffering among a populace singled out by our president as the source of all of our woes. And as is so often the case, the lack of public investment in communities makes the disaster more serious than it needs to be. Such an outrage.

Hello, World! Speaking of the source of all of our woes, Donald Trump made his “debut” at the United Nations General Assembly, and duly threatened North Korea with total destruction. Withered talking heads like Joe Scarborough and David Ignatius found some encouraging themes in this poorly-wrought mad man’s tirade, but that’s just residual affection for the American empire. Trump waved the bloody shirt and threatened the world from that podium, and the threat was lost on no one. No doubt about it: Cheney’s back in charge.

Vietnam Revisited. I could write a whole column about Ken Burn’s latest effort to retell history, but suffice it to say that he appears not to have strayed much from the mainstream “bungling efforts to do good” narrative. Another lost opportunity to clarify this loathsome episode.

luv u,

jp

After the flood.

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With an environmental disaster underway in Houston and massive destruction in the Florida Keys, the Virgin Islands, and elsewhere around the Caribbean, it’s fair to say that the 2017 hurricane season is off to an inauspicious start. We are completely unprepared for these climate change-fueled super storms, largely because we find ourselves unable to grapple with the fact that global warming is actually happening. Yes, I know – no storm can be directly attributed to climate change, but it does enhance the strength and volatility of the storms to a significant degree, and the effects are very much as predicted by climate scientists.

It's getting worse, folks.There are people in this country – coastal urban mayors and the like – who have to face facts on this issue, but pretty much everyone else is free to ignore the obvious: that we are now living in a far more dangerous and unstable environment, and it’s only going to get worse. The longer we play this denial game and pretend it doesn’t exist, the more profound the long term costs will be. Unfortunately, this is a difficult issue to get traction on in a country like the United States. You find yourself arguing for a major change in people’s day-to-day lives, tremendous investments, and more, for positive effects that likely won’t become evident for another generation or more. It’s a crisis that breeds fatalism, and that plays right into the hands of the petrochemical-driven profit machine that’s been stoking climate change for decades.

I think the only way we can succeed in convincing enough of our fellow Americans that radical change is needed is by decoupling the notion of a sustainable society from economic austerity. We have demonstrated this as a society – recall the period just prior to the financial crisis of 2008 (well, before the election of 2008, too). There was what seemed like a broad and growing consensus that we needed to do something about energy use, investing in renewables, greater efficiency, etc. The crash just washed that all away in a chorus of “drill, baby, drill!” When you have 750,000 people a month being tossed out of work, people will grasp at anything, and Obama did little to articulate a coherent vision of a more sustainable economy.

So here we are, being battered by ever larger and more menacing storms, and yet building more pipelines as far as the eye can see. We need to move the conversation back to where it was ten years ago (and further, really). That’s the straw.

luv u,

jp

Brinksmanship redux.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

It’s a little hard to sort out what to write about this week. The catastrophic hurricane that hit Texas or the one that’s bearing down on Florida? North Korea? DACA? What the hell … welcome to the Trump era, when everybody drinks from a firehose. What a non-stop freaking joy this administration is. I will leave to more able correspondents (like David Sirota) the telling of how Trump and the congressional Republicans have worked overtime over the last few months to make east Texas more vulnerable to this kind of disaster. As unprecedentedly powerful storms line up to cause havoc around the Caribbean and up the coast, no doubt the climate change deniers will continue to strip away what little protection people have from flooding, the release of pollutants, and bankruptcy (particularly in a place like Puerto Rico).

Highly predictable.Then there’s North Korea. Perhaps the most remarkable piece of this crisis is the total lack of voices in favor of doing the right thing. From the various talking heads (mostly foreign policy establishment people, retired generals, current generals, and conservative think tankers), I keep hearing that there are military options, however limited, and that it’s either strike or learn to live with a nuclear-capable North Korea. Of course, we have had that for a while. We have lived with a nuclear-capable Russia and China for a long time. I also hasten to add that the world has lived with a nuclear-capable United States for even longer. My feeling is simply that if they can live with us, we can live with them … just as we have for about a decade.

Here are a few things  that you won’t hear on the talk shows: 1) This is not the cold war. It is not an ideological battle, for chrissake. No one is interested in emulating North Korea, and they aren’t trying to export their model of governance to anyone else.  2) We don’t have to demonstrate that we are stronger than them. They know this in their bones since we destroyed their society in the 1950s. Our strength is the central reason why they’re doing this. 3) This situation is not China’s fault, nor is it their responsibility. North Korea’s dispute is with us, not China … or even South Korea. They and the Russians have encouraged us to take reasonable steps to disarm this time bomb: hold off on military exercises, build confidence, etc.

An NPR correspondent this week asked if diplomatic approaches would make us look “weak”. This is the mentality that leads to war. North Korea is not Germany in the 1940s. Appeasement doesn’t apply here. That only works when you’re weak and they’re strong.

luv u,

jp

Sanctuary found.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Just heard that Texas’s asinine SB4 anti immigrant bill has been blocked by a federal judge a day before implementation. Now perhaps more undocumented people in Houston will make their way to safety in the midst of this catastrophic storm. It’s conceivable that more than a few people’s lives will have been saved by this decision, though it remains to be seen what will happen on appeal. Texas’s useless governor is determined to push this point with the full support of the Trump Justice Department, furiously waving the bloody shirt of immigrant crime, murder, rape, etc., to make their bigoted followers happy.

Why trust is important.Of course, as police chiefs all over Texas and, really, across the nation know, the effect of this broad policy will be the precise opposite of what Trump, Sessions, and Abbott claim. It doesn’t take a criminologist to understand how this works. The police don’t have omniscience; they rely on people who see something to say something, as the slogan goes. Without the cooperation of people in the community, they can’t effectively do their jobs. Undocumented aliens are not going to step forward if they believe that police will detain them because of their immigration status. The Texas Governor can assure them all he wants that if they haven’t committed a crime they have nothing to fear – that obviously counts for nothing. The police would be severely constrained by this law. If they don’t report undocumented individuals to ICE, they can be fined and even prosecuted. So what the hell is Abbott talking about?

The broader policy is the core problem here. We have a president and an attorney general dead set on targeting undocumented aliens. They have lit a fire under ICE, turning them into Trump’s promised deportation force, which he mentioned during the campaign. What that has meant thus far – and what immigration attorneys are saying – is that in order to get their numbers up, ICE agents are grabbing the easiest people to get. It’s not MS13 that has to worry; it’s the young people they prey on, because they are the low-hanging fruit. This is particularly the case if (and I mean when) Trump cancels DACA. And again, if young, school-age people and their parents are afraid to talk to the police, how are the police going to protect them from gang members? Not going to happen.

So the result of this sickening policy will be Trump’s vision: a higher percentage of the remaining undocumented will be lawbreakers. A self fulfilling prophecy.

luv u,

j

Sixteen and counting.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

His tremendous majesty Trump the First made several speeches this week, generating the usual range of comments, lamentations, amens, and apologies. I will set aside my observations on how he handled all of this presidential business for the moment and focus instead on the most consequential remarks; namely the speech he delivered on the Afghanistan war, now in its sixteenth year.

My short take is that there isn’t a lot new here. We knew that Trump had loosened the rules of engagement a bit, resulting in a greater number of civilian casualties than was typical under Obama. In Monday’s address, Trump said that troop levels would be determined based on conditions, not deadlines – again, nothing new. Both Obama and Bush followed this standard in Afghanistan and Iraq at one point or another; that’s why we were still in both countries when Trump started his presidency. He had some kind of stern words for Pakistan; same as his predecessors. (Obama as much as promised cross-border raids into Pakistan as a candidate in 2008, which he later undertook as president.)

Zero skin in the Afghan game.Probably the most dangerous element in this speech was Trump’s comments on India. Bush made some effort to balance his administration’s outsized relationship with Pakistan by working with India. The current president suggested greater Indian involvement in resolving the Afghan conflict, which would absolutely drive Pakistan’s leaders mad. Their principal adversary active on two fronts? Not a good outcome from their point of view, and that would make another devastating conflict between India and Pakistan even more likely.

Not to bury the lead, but what the speech boils down to is that Trump is going to increase troop levels somewhat, pretty much along the lines of what Obama was doing, and he’s not going to tell us about it. (News reports have the number at around 4,000 to start.) For those of you who were thinking Trump might actually end this stupid war, think again. There is just no political percentage in doing so. The burden of this war falls entirely on the tiny minority of Americans whose family members actually do the fighting and dying. There are no tax levies to support its costs. So our government has found the formula for perpetual war: remove the populace entirely from any experience of it. Trump will not upset that apple cart – not when to do so would make him look “weak”.

This Afghan war will never end until we demand it. After sixteen years, it’s way past time to make that demand.

luv u,

jp

Brown shirt redux.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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