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

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

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

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.

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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