Brinksmanship redux.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 on  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