State of the Yum-yun.

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Seems like a good time to respond to some choice bits from Trump’s first state of the union (or state of the umion, pronounced Yum-yun, if you’re reading the official announcement).

First, the big fat entrance. Rep. Claudia Tenney gets a word in Trump’s ear as he’s working his way down the aisle. Always wearing some bright color and right up front when Trump is in town.

First flub goes to Ryan: “I have the distinct privilege of preventing … presenting to you the President of the United States.”

Now, on to Trump’s remarks, delivered in a slithering, slow voice, lots of breath. Kind of nauseating, frankly.

The chief and his enablers.“A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land,” he tells us, referring to a year ago, then¬† jumped right in with the anecdotes and the guests of honor. “We always will pull through together, always.” Runs through a litany of lifesavers, mostly from disasters of our own making, through climate change, gun violence, etc. “The state of our union is strong because our people are strong. And together we are building a safe and strong and proud America.” Platitude.

Touting more jobs for Black and Hispanic people. Big cheer for “massive tax cuts,” of course. More take home pay! (Mitt Romney, come back – all is forgiven.) Calls out “cruel” tax of the individual ACA mandate, which very few people actually paid – big cheer from Republican recipients of government subsidized health insurance. Crowing about the titanic benefits of this “new American moment.” “You can dream anything, you can be anything, and together we can achieve absolutely anything.”

Some short takes:

  • “We share … the same great American flag …The motto is ‘In God We Trust,'” he says, then makes a big point about standing for the national anthem. So much for Mr. We’re All In This Together.
  • We’re “…totally defending our second amendment and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.” Shoot ’em up.
  • Calling on congress to empower cabinet secretaries to fire people. Is that novel?
  • “We have ended the war on American energy and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” So much for the section on climate change.
  • “Companies are roaring back, they’re coming back. They want to be where the action is.” Well, it’s a kind of silent roar.

Trump starts talking about reducing the price of prescription drugs, and he gestures to the Democrats to stand and applaud. He does it again as he talks about repairing infrastructure, though the focus of this section sounds like he wants to roll back the environmental impact review process. He proposes $1.5 Trillion plan for infrastructure, but it must provide for streamlined permitting. Smell a rat?

Starting to talk about lifting people out of “welfare”. “Let’s invest in workforce development and let’s invest in job training, which we need so badly.” Calls for vocational schools and paid family leave – probably the Ivanka plan. A bleat on prison reform – very vague.

Immigration:

“For decades open borders have allowed drugs and gangs come pouring in.” Now he’s naming “guests” whose kids were killed by immigrants! MS13. Using them to call out “alien minors”. This section is fucking disgusting, worthy of Der Sturmer. He is “calling on congress to close deadly loopholes” in immigration laws. Dirtbags are clapping.

He wants to protect all Americans. How? He wants to defend Americans. “Americans are dreamers, too.” Oh, I see. Pretty much the only immigrants he’s talking about is gang members. MS13 again. Talking about arrests of gang members. So what is the problem? They’re going to prison. But Trump is talking about sending reinforcements. Now talking about bipartisan immigration reform – his draconian plan. Building a “great wall”. His rhetoric on immigration is all about violence by immigrants, merit and race based rules, and “protecting the nuclear family by ending chain migration.” Then he’s blaming opioid deaths on immigrant drug dealers. Just a lot of thinly coded language aimed at racial division.

Next, he’s praising cop – another guest in audience – who stopped a pregnant woman from shooting heroin. Then he adopted the baby. Point? This is not a speech; it is a series of extended anecdotes. It’s like a fucking variety show. He’s using these people as human shields.

Foreign policy and military section:

  • “Weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense.” Calling for end to defense sequester. Well, the GOP created it, so why not, right?
  • Taking credit for eliminating ISIS.
  • Calling terrorists “enemy combatants”. Sounds like the start of an argument for torture, Gitmo, etc. Just signed an order to re-examine detention policies and keep open Gitmo. Score one for the jihadist propagandists.
  • Touting new rules of engagement. Calling out artificial timelines. Recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Asking to cut off aid to countries that criticize us at UN. “Enemies of America.” “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.” “Terrible Iran nuclear deal.” “Communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”
  • Threatening North Korea again. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite … aggression.” Applauding that kid Warmbier. Extended anecdote about Korean guest who crawled to freedom and a further tirade against North Korea. Jesus H. Christ.

Big fat ending:

Patriotic claptrap roll call. Republicans chanting “USA, USA, USA!”

“The people dreamed this country, the people built this country, and it’s the people who will make America great again.” Yep. When they get rid of you.

In with the old.

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It’s manifestly obvious that Trump is an incompetent boob, grandfathered into the presidency by virtue of that mother of all mulligans served up by our founding fathers: rich white guy can’t win the support of the majority, so kick it to the electoral college. (Apparently Trump’s win came as a real shock to his family and himself.) That said, it would be a mistake to suppose that his ignorance is in any way blissful for the opposition – quite the contrary. The President and his party are making tremendous strides across a broad front, setting policies that will take a generation to turn around. Nothing less than that.

World's most effective boneheadI’ve written about the speed-dating approach to judicial appointments; suffice here to say that Trump has broken a first-year record on this. (These are lifetime appointments, mind you, and his picks are ghastly from a left-progressive standpoint.) He has also made a full frontal assault on regulations, removing the ban on fracking on public lands, fines for abusive nursing home care, safety requirements for blowout protectors on deep-water oil drilling operations, the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own, and so on. Other great accomplishments of the last year include loosening the already weak DOD restrictions on civilian casualties, trashing net neutrality despite massive, broad-based opposition, and canceling national monument status for large swaths of land in western states, thereby opening them up for resource and mineral extraction. There’s a lot, lot more, but I will stop there.

As we start the new year, we are faced with some truly grave prospects regarding this administration and the GOP agenda more broadly. Trump’s terrifyingly childish nuclear threats are bad enough in and of themselves – this tragic-comic display could easily result in terminal thermonuclear war, no joke. If we survive the year, we will be grappling with part two of the wrecking crew’s plan to tear down what’s left of America’s social safety net, from the ACA to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – programs we all rely upon to some extent. In that respect, this is merely an extension of a long-term project; a “generational” obsession, to borrow Speaker Ryan’s favorite modifier. That is going to be a fight, my friends.

So 2018 is looking a lot like more of 2017. No rest for the weary. Just keep your marching shoes handy, and plan on voting as if your life depended on it.

luv u,

jp

Cold day.

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No, this isn’t a post about the weather (though it is cold as hell out there). I just wanted to make a couple of points about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in 2018 – something that’s being kicked around the corporate media as if it were somehow desirable. This is consonant with the oft-stated desire to see “things get done” in Washington, as if the precise nature of the things being done was somehow irrelevant; that legislation passed is a good in and of itself, abstracted away from the substance of the bill. Another piece of conventional wisdom, served up daily. I expect I’ll pass on this, and I would recommend my fellow left-leaning Americans do the same.

Why the GOP loves Trump. As far as I’m concerned, the GOP has demonstrated its bad will in about as many ways as can be imagined. And before anyone gives me a lesson on how politics works, on how you can disagree from morning to evening but at the end of the day you need to work together, etc., let me just say that the Republicans have become an extremist party bent on wrecking the country, and the only thing to be done with them is to beat them at the ballot box and then drag their sorry asses into the future along with us, kicking and screaming if necessary. Nothing short of that will do.

I know there are many in the Democratic party who feel that we need to provide a positive example and be willing to compromise as a stark contrast to the other side’s absolutism. There’s some of this sentiment circulating around discussion of an infrastructure bill next year. This is ludicrous. The Republicans just voted to blow an enormous hole in the federal budget, diverting a trillion and a half dollars from essential programs and handing it to the richest people in the country. If they want to make a deal on infrastructure, tell them to cancel that bill. And while you’re at it, tell them to stop working overtime to pack the federal judiciary with twenty-something Nazis. Change course and we can talk.

If the GOP says no, just say “see you in November”. Let’s let the people decide what kind of country this is going to be.

luv u,

jp

One of them.

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Weeks like this give the lie to any suggestion that Donald Trump does not reflect the true character of the Republican party. If there has ever been a more nauseating display of fawning over an American president, I have yet to see it. The celebration over the passage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” was reminiscent of those bizarre, banana-republic type cabinet meetings where officials take turns falling all over themselves to praise the Dear Leader. This time, it was congressional leaders (many of whom have momentarily taken issue with the president) crowing about what a great legislative partner he is, and Mike Pence, who mostly delivered the national security strategy speech he memorized from earlier in the week. I could see my own Trumpite Representative, Claudia Tenney, in the front row, applauding, gawking at the president in apparent awe, taking snapshots of his ample ass with her phone like some teen fan at a concert.

Where's my Rep? Too close, that's where.The conventional wisdom on talk television, of course, has it that Trump is his own invention; that he sprang fully formed from a crack in the Earth’s crust sometime in 2015; that he was never a conservative but, rather, a “lifelong Democrat”; that his views represent only himself, not the broader party. Total bullshit. Trump is the end-stage product of a Republican party that his been careening to the right for more than 30 years. Sure, he has been in the public eye for that long and longer, as a big-mouth heir to a real estate developer, shameless self-promoter, casino magnate, serial financial failure, and reality show star. America’s right-wing media, its nutcase reactionary movements, and its corporatist Republican party made the very space that he moved into in 2015 as a presidential candidate. He makes perfect sense from that perspective, and almost seems inevitable.

The charge about being a lifelong Democrat, leveled by the likes of Joe Scarborough and others, is perhaps the most laughable. Trump has no ideology other than himself. He was pro-Democrat, mildly, as a real estate developer in New York and New Jersey because the prominent politicians in those states came from the Democratic party. It was a completely transactional relationship; when he began to have national ambitions, he moved away from that and towards his natural place – namely, the core money party, and the one most favored by the KKK (of which his father was once a proud member).

No, the true picture of Trump’s place in the Republican party was illustrated by that moment on Dec. 20, when he was being cheered enthusiastically by the lot of them. Remember in November.

luv u,

jp

Step one.

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There’s a lot to say about the Republican’s craven plan to push through a massive tax plan in a matter of days. I needn’t point out that the final bill is likely to be a cobbled together mess, one that we’ll be struggling with for many years to come if it ever finds its way to Trump’s signing hand. Nor do I need to repeat the obvious fact that this is a tremendous giveaway to the richest Americans, to corporations, and to the GOP’s donor base, one that demonstrates the degree to which the Republicans’ supposed concern over budget deficits is just another ploy.

Rich folks get THIS much.What I find most infuriating about this legislation is that it is being proffered at a time when its chief beneficiaries – the richest of the rich – are doing just fine, thank you very much, and corporate America is sailing from strength to strength. The last thing they need is more money in their pockets. This is also a time when our armed forces are deployed in conflicts all around the world. Trump just signed into law a $700 billion defense bill, subject to repeal of the sequester agreement. When we’re spending this kind of money and putting people in harm’s way, why the hell are we cutting taxes? What effing justification is there for that? It is beyond shameful, frankly.

Even worse, this is just part one of a two-step routine the Republicans have been rehearsing for a generation now. Step one: cut the hell out of rich people’s taxes, and blow a huge hole in the federal budget. Step two: almost immediately afterward, feign panic over a ballooning deficit and use that as a rationale to cut core social programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other extremely popular programs. They have tried this numerous times before, with only limited success. This time might be different, as they are more craven than in previous decades and control every lever of power. They really don’t need any Democratic votes to push these cuts through.

The GOP has always hated Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, largely because they are defined benefit, pay as you go institutions. To the current crop of crazies running Congress, insurance is now tantamount to Soviet-style top-down socialism. Don’t think they won’t try this: Paul Ryan has been working on setting this up for many years. We have to be ready to fight back, or you can kiss these vital public institutions goodbye.

That fight begins with killing this tax bill. Best get started.

luv u,

jp

Under the radar.

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

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

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

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

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

luv u,

jp

Making it count.

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

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

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

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

luv u,

jp

Victory dance.

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Okay, can we all agree on something, people? Try this: the President of the United States is a remarkable dolt who knows nothing about anything outside of – perhaps – real estate and licensing his trademarks. His grasp of American history is tenuous at best and indicative of illiteracy at worst. He always seems to return to the subject of slavery and the Civil War, perhaps because he is surrounded by crackpot white supremacists who fill his empty head with their hateful opinions and convenient factual inaccuracies. The comments about Andrew Jackson are just the latest example, though when he talks about people like “Sharpknife” Jackson he seems actually to be talking about himself.

Spot my useless congressmember.It’s not at all surprising that Trump thinks that he himself could have prevented the Civil War. As a master-level narcissist, he thinks himself capable of anything. And even when he can’t accomplish anything, he celebrates and brags about it like he did. This week, when the House of Representatives passed their latest version of the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace debacle, Trump had the GOP House caucus come to the White House for a little victory dance. (My own representative, Claudia Tenney, could be seen in the second row, right behind the doltish Kevin McCarthy, taking selfies with another Republican congresswoman. Watch for that in an opposition campaign ad next year.)

Okay, so maybe that just proves that Republicans – including the massively overrated pseudo-wonk Paul Ryan – never watched Schoolhouse Rock and maybe they really just don‘t know how a bill becomes law. (They haven’t passed a real lot of them since taking control of the House.) Or maybe this is just Trump’s way of rubbing our faces in the fact that he got his way this time. It’s the kind of tactic Trump is famous for, of course. I suspect if he ever stopped bragging about himself, he’d fly around the room like a toy balloon someone let loose. The facts don’t matter – this is an attitudinal presidency, running on gall and braggadocio, tossing steaks out to the base pretty much every week.

It’s not a joke. The policy implications of this president will be enormous, maybe irreparable. We’re obviously going to have to fight for every inch, and this week the prize went to them.

luv u,

jp

For the people.

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I live in New York’s 22nd Congressional district, a sprawling, largely rural riding that stretches from the Pennsylvania border to just a stone’s throw from Lake Ontario. On the map, it looks a bit like the silhouette of someone in a Klansman get-up standing on a soapbox with his/her arms out stretched, crucifixion style. In reality, it’s a lot less dramatic than that, though through the decades I have seen more than a small number of confederate flags stuck to bumpers (and one full-size battle flag waving at me from the back of a pickup truck just a few months back). Cook has us as an R+3 district, meaning strong lean-Republican – NY22 went for Trump 55-39% in 2016, which is pretty lopsided even for us, though it suggests a solid 6% independent vote.

Who's intimidating whom?Our current Congress member, Claudia Tenney, won a three-way race with about 47% last Fall. Since her election, she has been a little hard to pin down. It took some weeks to open a district office in the Utica area – she blamed this on the bureaucracy, of course. Up until this week, Tenney has been knocking down any suggestion of holding a town hall-style meeting in the district, having seen what’s been happening to her colleagues. Her big announcement this past Wednesday was that she would call a town hall, though no announced date. Also, she says she’s been receiving threats. Well, welcome to being famous, Claudia. Anyone who raises their head above obscurity in this culture gets threatening emails, Tweets, posts, etc.

Like her colleagues in the House, she does not want to answer directly to constituents for the policies she has supported or plans to support, particularly the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”). When you hold one of these town halls, it’s hard to maintain the fiction that you actually care about what happens to people. And it is plainly that – a fiction. This whole “repeal and replace” line is their way of finessing a very harsh reality; namely that they are taking votes that will result in the loss of coverage for millions of Americans. I don’t just mean people who will be thrown off of their health insurance – I also mean people who will be subscribed to something that’s called “health insurance” but that, in fact, doesn’t cover anything. I had a policy like that, long before the ACA, and it was pretty awful.

Let’s face it: Tenney and her GOP colleagues only see the ACA as a political tool. Flawed as it is, it has, in fact, saved lives, and should be improved upon, not scrapped. If Tenney wants to do something for the people who sent her to Washington, she can start by concentrating on that.

luv u,

jp

No justice.

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Trump has named his nominee to the Supreme Court, with a reality show-like flourish, and we spent a couple of days hearing about how eminently qualified the honorable judge Gorsuch is, how pleasant a man he is, what a great colleague and … and … fuck all. Frankly, his qualifications are irrelevant. Much as the Republicans would like to pretend that time began Tuesday evening at 8:00pm, we all know what happened over the last year after the unexpected passing of Justice Scalia – basically, Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP invented a new obstructionist rule, saying in essence that President Obama had no right to name a replacement justice in the final year of his second term.

I agree with Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely on this. That seat on the Supreme Court was stolen by the Republicans on the then-long chance that they might win the 2016 election. Now they expect everyone to just forget all that and proceed with the swift confirmation of a man who is significantly to the right of the reactionary justice he would be replacing. I am not alone in saying, fuck that. Eight is a nice, round number – let’s just stay there, shall we?

Favorite photoThe notion that the Democrats need to allow this one to go through unchallenged is truly a case of playing by the last decade’s rules. Here’s the argument: Give Mitch McConnell his vote and he won’t blow up the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. If you don’t, he’ll invoke the “nuclear option” and you won’t have the filibuster should another vacancy – this time perhaps left by a more liberal justice – comes up in Trump’s tenure. That is just magical thinking. If the filibuster can be shot down that easily, what’s to stop them from doing that next time around? The suggestion that they would somehow refrain out of collegiality or gratitude is laughable. At least filibustering Gorsuch would demonstrate to the majority of people that you’re willing to stand for something. Do nothing and not only will their man be seated on the Court, but next time you try to use the filibuster they’ll just toss it out. You gain nothing – and lost much – by being accommodating.

Now for what really irks me. Who knew that the filibuster was so easily disposed of? I had a suspicion when the Republicans threatened the “nuclear option” during the Bush years, but almost all the way through the years of Democratic Senate majority they wouldn’t touch it. You mean to tell me that in 2009-10, all the Dems had to do to get (1) the public option, (2) card check, (3) a bigger stimulus and more was to do a rule change in the Senate? What. the. fuck. That is a titanic political fail, and we are all the losers for it.

luv u,

jp