Friday, February 10, 2017

Don and Vlad Share Some Traits

I'm reading Mr. Putin:  Operative in the Kremlin by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy these days. Some of their descriptions of Putin's personality traits and operating methods are not far off the mark for Donald Trump.
In speeches and writings...Putin has set out to determine  which groups' history will be part of the inclusive Russian myth and which groups risk finding themselves outside the collective history if they do not conform or [if they] withdraw their support for his ideas or policies.  The ultimate implicit threat is the risk of groups (like opposition protesters during the 2012 presidential election campaign) finding themselves designated as "them"--chuzhiye (aliens)--rather than "us", nashi (ours).  Putin's various performance pieces as a biker, an outdoorsman, a firemen, and his meetings with workers on factory floors or in factory monotowns simultaneously embrace diffferent Russian groups and social classes as nashi and appeal directly to them for political support.
Not an exact match but both are performers and willing to exclude entire groups of citizens from the the body politic in order to achieve their goals.  I can see why our alleged president likes Putin so much.  Everything I've read so far makes me think that given Donald Trump's susceptibility to flattery,  Putin will play him like a master. 

Maybe someone at the State Department could help out here?  Oh, wait...they're all gone.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Donald the Diversion

For his first major television interview after taking office, Donald Trump spends his entire time asserting his greatness, questioning the electoral system that brought him to office and repeating claims that have been repeatedly demonstrated to be false.  I didn't think that my opinion of Donald Trump could fall any lower but this interview does that.

Thoughout the campaign Trump described America in apocalyptic terms both domestically and internationally. Now that he is installed as President of the United States (vomit a little) I expect him to  speak as a leader about how he will address those problems.  Some of those problems are actually real and have grave consequences for the nation and the world.  Instead, he wastes our time with his grousing about the vote, crowd size and the media.

But Donald Trump is useful for the Republican ideologues.  While Donald rants and raves, his mostly white male cabinet of billionaire businessmen, Wall Street insiders, and public officials who are fundamentally opposed to the missions of the agencies they will head can go about killing off what remains of the New Deal.

The Wizard of Ooze will give cover to the Republican wrecking crew if we are not vigilant. 

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Friday, January 13, 2017

A Couple of Questions for James Mattis

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis made two statements that would benefit from further examination and elaboration.
In documents submitted to lawmakers prior to the hearing, Mattis identified Iran as “the primary source of turmoil” in the Middle East. “Its policies are contrary to our interests.”
Turmoil is a rather broad term.  For national security reasons, I would like more definition.  What actions constitute "turmoil"?  What form do these actions take.  What American interests are at risk from these actions?  What risks to our allies' interests and how are those interests aligned with ours?  are the specific risks to the United States?  To our allies?  What are our options for mitigating those risks?

Simply casting Iran (a nation which has its own claim to exceptionalism) as the "primary source of turmoil" no more useful to creating effective American diplomatic and military policy than are Iran's own denunciations of the US as "the Great Satan" for developing its own policy.  Futher elaboration is essential for Americans to understand what our leaders are doing with tax (or borrowed) dollars and, most importantly, the casualties that often result from our actions.  So, give us more and let us discuss it as informed citizens.
Repeatedly, the nominee made reference to the need to improve military readiness, blaming years of budget cuts for an erosion to technology and manpower.
Mattis identifies a single cause for erosion:  budget cuts.  Along with those budget cuts the multiple wars the US is fighting are also a big source of that erosion.  Personnel, ordnance and equipment get chewed up in war.  If we weren't fighting all of those wars(*) and garrisoning the world the military would not be eroding.  So again I ask why?  To what purpose? How do these wars, special operations and empire of bases contribute to American and world security?

We've been doing this sort of thing since World War II and while it may have been sustainable in the past these days must be evalulated in terms of America's  21st century economic prospects and national priorities.  Even if Congress was inclined to tap this country's vast and concentrated wealth, Americans may well find that other needs, like infrastructure or a cost-effective health care system may well be a higher priority.  In order for us to make that decision, we need complete information if we are to make good use of the funds we do allocate to the military.

That brings me back to my questions about Iran, General Mattis.  I can ask you the same questions about each war and about American interests in each region and each country.  I'm sure that your new position can offer a lot of answers to these questions.  But remember that you will need real justification and explanations not just platitudes and catchphrases.

(*)  NPR identifies Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lybia.  The US is also active in African wars and in Yemen.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017


“I win an election easily, a great ‘movement’ is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS. A sorry state!”
Donald Trump, responding to reports that Russians may have gathered potentially compromising information about him. 
Um...Donald, you did not win an election easily. 

You prevailed in a rigged election.  You get the keys to the castle but don't ever think you earned them legitimately.   


Monday, January 02, 2017

You Call That A Mandate?

The sacking of the New Deal begins tomorrow. I can't change that fact that Republicans now control the federal government but I will dispute their claims to a mandate.  Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes while winning  the Electoral College.  Repbulicans won the House of Representatives with a total margin of 3 million votes--51 percent.  but ended up with 57 percent of the seats through creative gerrymandering in Republican- controlled states.

These results do not consitute a Republican mandate but rather a deeply divided nation.  Nevertheless, Republicans will not be shy about claiming their complete control of Congress and the presidency as justification for enacting all of their libertarian free-market wet dreams.    

Republicans may have the institutional power but they have nothing that resembles a legitimate mandate.  All the more reason to resist at every turn.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2016

Of the books I read this year, these are the ones that stand out.


The Relic Master, Christopher Buckley (2015)

In Europe at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation indulgences and relics were the coin of an all-too-temporal Catholic culture. The tale is knowledgeable about life, events and personages of the era. The plot is full of twists and turns, weaves fictional and historical characters, and provides enough suspense to keep the reader fully engaged. An easy, informative read.

Friend of Mr. Lincoln, Stephen Harrigan (2015)

Set in 1830’s Illinois, the story is based on Abraham Lincoln’s early career as lawyer and aspiring politician. Many of the characters are, like Lincoln, based on real persons while others, like Cage Weatherby, are fiction. The two sets of characters blend in with each other and key facts of Lincoln’s life in this seamless historical fiction. The Abraham Lincoln of this story is raw, uncertain about many things and clueless about women. What he is not clueless about is politics as an all-encompassing endeavor. He he is constantly in action on behalf of the Whig party and even at this early age sees a need to make a mark with his life. Stephen Harrigan creates the story with lively dialogue, interesting characters and good descriptions of frontier Illinois.

Peace-Keeping, Mischa Berlinski (2016)

Fiction. Set in Haiti in the years leading up to the 2010 earthquake, Peace-Keeping, centers on Terry White, a laid-off sheriff's deputy now serving with a UN mission in Haiti and a local judge with whom he becomes associated. White is instrumental in the judge's decision to challenge a long-term incumbent. The plot is pretty simple but what gives this story its power is the history and context that Mischa Berlinski provides by way of background and setting.


Non-fiction. David Gessner examines the works of two iconic western writers--the staid, establishmentarian Wallace Stegner and the radical Edward Abbey—and examines their influence on how America views its western lands. Although worlds apart in their personas and attitude toward the larger society, both writers understood and appreciated the limits that arid western lands imposed on the humans who attempted to wrest a livelihood from those lands. Gessner also includes interviews with the many writers and thinkers influenced by both men. His literary biography is no hagiography. Gessner paints a complete picture of each of his subjects and does not ignore tStegner’s cultural conservatism or Abbey’s misogyny and racism. But he also recognizes their contributions to how we understand our relationship with our arid western lands.

A review of the music that accompanied the American forces to Vietnam. Bradley and Werner follow the zeitgeist of the war as expressed in the music from its early optimistic days to the final collapse of the American military in the war's later years. Written with great understanding of the social context of the war, We Gotta Get Out of this Place demonstrates how music expressed the hopes, frustrations and divisions among the soldiers and American society at large. Three chapters focus on the experience of music and the war. The fourth chapter examines how music was brought to the war zone. The fifth chapter expands the discussion into how veterans have used music to make their transition back into civilian society. The book is laced with first person accounts that add a stark reality to the broader discussion.

Illustrates the full range of experiences and feelings about the Vietnam War. The 138 interviews take the reader beyond the usual focus on leaders and presents the the war in all its diversity. There are plenty of the usual suspects but equally important are the stories of the families, Vietnamese on both sides as well as Americans, who were affected by the war. A few interviewees still cling to the idea that America could have bested the Vietnamese Communist but most, even the hawks, have come to see the war's futility. Each of the oral histories are compelling but the stories told by the children searingly describe how war changes lives forever, even for the survivors.

Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour, Richard Zacks (2016)

In 1895 at age 60, deeply in debt and honor-bound (at wife Livy's insistence) Mark Twain began an extended trip around the world telling stories from the works that had made him the America's most prominent writer. Although he had amassed a fortune from his books and articles, he lost his fortune, along with his wife's inherited wealth and was dogged by creditors. He was saved by a combination of his own talent and the friendship of H.H. Rogers, a founder of Standard Oil and one of America's richest men. The plan: Twain would travel and lecture, earning fees and gathering material for a new book while Rogers would negotiate debt repayment and publishing deals. All complex and all presented in an easy to understand narrative. Richard Zacks provides plenty of background on 19th century publishing, Twain's disastrous investments and family life in the Clemmons household. Sources include letters and excerpts from Twain's notebook that never made it into the book. The Mark Twain of Chasing the Last Laugh is at times charming, irritable, cynical, clever, excited, sad and at peace. He is a person fully fleshed out.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Missing The Forest

Hilary Clinton blames her loss to Donald Trump on FBI Director James Comey's bombshell letter about new emails and Russian interference in Trump's favor.  She makes a valid point, along with other Democrats.  In a close election, which this one was in several key states, just about any unfavorable intervention is likely to affect the final result.  So Clinton's conclusion is not incorrect.

It is, however, beside the point.  With Donald Trump as a candidate, the election should have never been close.  That is where Democrats and all of the other "if only..." counterfactualists err in blaming Clinton's loss on outside interventions.  Those interventions may have made a difference at the margin but their impact was only possible due to Clinton's flaws as a candidate and a poorly run campaign.  Democrats chose to run an establishment candidate with a serious deficit of trustworthiness in a year where the electorate was clamoring for change.  Even so, Clinton won the popular vote but failed to win the vote according to America's baroque eletoral college system.

The point of all this is that blaming external factors for Clinton's loss is a sure path to continued irrelevance for the Democratic Party.  It will continue to be the only likely avenue for progressive social, economic and foreign policy to be presented to the American electorate.

One opportunity to steer the Democratic Party in a more effective direction is to encourage Democratic National Committee members to select a new Chair who will support organizing in all 50 states rather than relying on its "Blue Wall" and a few swing states for winning national elections.  Aside from abandoning no part of America to the Republicans, the 50 state strategy will ensure that Democrats reach out to the dispossed American workers who made Donald Trump president.  The band of incorrigible spitballers at Mock Paper Scissors have provided a set of resources for making your voice heard at this critical time.

Make your voice heard.  Our backs are against the wall.

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