Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Bad Egg Returns

If history is our guide, a moderator of a presidential general election debate (if any is held) will ask each candidate to say something positive about the other. The Democratic nominee should turn to Donald Trump and remark "you kept Chris Christie from the presidency."  (New Jersey viewers would cheer.)

It's not primarily because the ex- New Jersey governor is opening The Christie Institute of Public Policy, described here as "a non-profit, nonpartisan institute in part with his alma mater, Seton Hall University School of Law."

Christie promises "we're going to focus on national issues and on having nonpartisan conversations and research on national issues and international issues." He stated also "unfortunately, our politics have gotten so ugly and divisive in the country that people are not having civilized conversations." Yes, he went there. As a devoted resident of the greater New York area, Christie know doubts understand "chutzpah" and realizes how hypocritical he is.

But Trump's value was not in keeping this ghastly individual from the GOP nomination, hence the presidency. It was in keeping this governor from national office. Under his leadership, local government budgets were squeezed of funding, leading to property tax increases; slashed aid for women's health; cancelled the Access to the Region's Core tunnel project, connecting commuters to New York City, NY; legalized gambling spread; a bridge was partially closed to pressure a mayor to support the governor's re-election bid; the state's pension shortfall shot upward; growth in the state paled in comparison to that in the region and the nation; and more.

Chris Christie wanted to be President of the United States of America. He first had to gain the nomination of an increasingly right-wing party, and governed accordingly to the extent possible in a relatively liberal, Democratic state.All he got out of it was a job at a law firm, a gig with ABC News, and now a non-profit institute. It's at least three things too many.

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Monday, August 19, 2019

The Plan To Make America Great Again

One man's opinion of a trade war, probably waged with an intended consequence:

Well, that's the point, isn't it?  For a piece about a Trump rally in Cincinnati, Matt Taibbi garnered a lot of quotes from the Trump faithful. He observes that the President typically

creates controversies so quickly that no one can keep track of them all. When the dust settles, everyone is covered with welts and King Donald is bragging about having done it all on purpose, which he may have. In the end, what everyone remembers is Trump antagonists tying themselves in knots over his whims.

Taibbi notes

When everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to his wife to Lindsey Graham expressed revulsion — dude, kids? — Trump finally signed an executive order reversing the policy. He then characteristically blamed the mess on Democrats. By then, the situation had become a fiasco and, like all things in the Trump era, a media goat rope of monstrous proportions.

But the best example of creating disaster to blame others was flagged by St. Louis-based Sara  Kendzior, she of "The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America." (She even posted this twice on her Twitter feed; not enough.) 

Beginning at 2:02, Donald Russia comments

Now, you know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell, and everything is a disaster, then you'll have a, you know, you'll have riots to go back where we used to be, when we were great.

Taibbi quotes one Trump rally goer as remaking "the cool thing about Trump is that it's just about being an American." For the President, the cool thing is attempting to fulfill his ultimate wish, that America "goes to total hell," because he may have unique, intimate knowledge of that special location.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lesson Learned

Well-respected yet underrated former journalist:
Crowds of an indeterminate size defied rain to gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Sunday.

The government of the United States of America should stand with them, as Dan Rather argues. But it won't. And it won't because, though possibly the manifestation of Satan on earth, Donald Trump is not stupid. 

In autumn of 2017, PBS' Frontline televised an investigation of "the epic, inside story of (Vladimir) Putin's revenge." The following is a portion:

NARRATOR: Playing a role in Gaddafi’s downfall, the American secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: Gaddafi must go, and the Libyan people deserve to determine their own future.

NARRATOR: And in Russia, as massive protests broke out just outside the Kremlin walls, Putin believed America had crossed the line, and he blamed Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON: The Russian people deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted.

YEVGENIA ALBATS: Putin said it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who provided funds and means to the Russian opposition and made them to get out of the—on the streets.

PETER BAKER: No question he’s looking at revenge at Hillary Clinton. There’s no question that he sees Hillary Clinton as an adversary. And he wanted to, like— you know, he wanted to get her back.

NARRATOR: Putin would wait for the right moment to strike back at Clinton and the United States.

We've known for a long time, but were reminded by Robert Mueller's report, of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election with the intent of electing Donald Trump President. However, it began with an effort at smearing Hillary Clinton and preventing her election, irrespective of Mr. Trump.

President Trump probably does not know all the details revealed in PBS' investigation of some 22 months ago, including the genesis and development of, and actions arising from, Vladimir Putin's long-held resentment of the USA. But it's very likely that he knows both that Putin has disliked Hillary Clinton for a great while, that he was annoyed that Clinton's State Department approved of the demonstrations against his regime, and that the Russian President worked to defeat her.

He probably knows also that the USA intelligence community has identified three threats from Russia and China, comprising

cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, online influence and misinformation campaigns on social media designed to destabilize American democratic institutions, and direct interference in U.S. elections (including the upcoming 2020 presidential election).

Donald Trump knows he already has Putin's approval, and probably his willingness to assist Trump's re-election.  If I were sufficiently well-placed and conservative to be offered, and unethical enough to accept, a position as a campaign strategist for President Trump, I would tell him two things.

He needs to be aware of the possibility that Beijing could thwart the will of the American people in the 2020 presidential election. I would tell him additionally that he could do the right thing and stand with the protesters in Hong Kong. Or he can apply to mainland China the lesson that Hillary Clinton learned of Russia the hard way- anger an authoritarian superpower at your own political peril.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Barring Death, It's Trump

Asked by Vanity Fair whether there is a chance President Trump will drop out of the 2016 race, Anthony Scaramucci replies

Yes. He’s gonna drop out of the race because it’s gonna become very clear. Okay, it’ll be March of 2020. He’ll likely drop out by March of 2020. It’s gonna become very clear that it’s impossible for him to win. And is this the kind of guy that’s gonna want to be that humiliated and lose as a sitting president? He’s got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It’s a very small pigeon. Okay. And so you think this guy’s gonna look at those poll numbers and say—he’s not gonna be able to handle that humiliation. And by the way, he is smart enough to know that that entire Congress hates his guts.

Scaramucci deserves credit for making a bold, unpopular prediction. It also is inaccurate.

It doesn't matter that the entire Congress hates Donald Trump. He hates the members of Congress, too, just as he dislikes, or has contempt for, immigrants, blacks, veterans, evangelicals, and women (unless they spell their name "I-v-a-n-k-a.")

Donald Russia won't drop out because if he does, he's likely to be prosecuted. He almost certainly will if he is succeeded by a Democrat, a likelihood if he doesn't run. A Republican president might pardon him, but can do so only for federal crimes, and would face the near-certainty that his political future would die with its issuance.

He won't drop out because if he loses, he will blame the defeat on a) the Electoral College (whatever the margin of defeat there or in the popular vote); b) "fake news"; c) voter suppression (irony notwithstanding); d) voter "fraud"; e) foreign interference (irony notwithstanding, again); f) Hillary Clinton.   (I know what you're thinking: what would Hillary Clinton have to do with it? Answer: "Clinton."); g) any combination of the preceding.

He won't drop out because it's never "gonna become very clear that it's impossible for him to win." The low-hanging fruit explanation: nearly everyone counted him out in 2016, from announcement of his candidacy till Election Eve, and he still won.  The politically incorrect explanation: if the economy tanks, pundits everywhere will maintain that he cannot win and will be wrong.

Approval of Donald Trump's performance would be enhanced by a strong economy in the fall of 2016. However, his popularity depends less on the state of the economy than would the approval of any other President. He was elected even though the economy- at least by traditional and conventional standards- was fairly strong in November 2016.  His ceiling always low, his cellar remains unusually high.

There were many reasons Donald Russia captured the nation's zeitgeist three years ago.  It was primarily the veneer of authenticity as he expressed the hostility, bitterness,and rage of whites- especially but not exclusively male- toward any one of a number of groups of Americans.  (Look angry, bluster, yell loudly, swear a little for extra points, and you must be sincere.)

We haven't yet hit the bottom of that well of resentment, and might not until and unless voters believe their financial situation is so endangered that they are even more vulnerable than at present to targeting of scapegoats. And there is no one who can fill that need better than Donald J. Trump.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

"Bend To My Will"

He may be a scoundrel, but when even a former member of the Irgun doesn't like your attack on perceived enemies of Israel, you don't really have a case:

It was not a total loss for the Likud government running Israel, however. It at least made one of the congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib, cry uncle.  NPR reports that Israel has (barely) partially relented after the Michigan Representative sent Israel's Interior Minister a letter whose contents read in full

I would like to request admittance to Israel in order to visit my relatives and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s and lives in Beir Ur el-Fouqa. This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.

Nor was the concession extracted probably an empty gesture, given that the visit by Tlaib and Omar to the West Bank and (presumably East) Jerusalem was "under the auspices of" a nongovermental organization staunchly committed to an independent Palestinian state. Now, however, Tel Aviv has gotten one of the congresswomen (Tlaib) to make a concession she probably did not want to make- that she would "not promote boycotts against Israel during" her visit.

Nonetheless, Israel has suffered a net loss, having bought itself some distrust within both the American Jewish community and the Democratic Party for its refusal to concede that all members of the US Congress can travel freely to Israel.

Not so President Trump, however.  Tel Aviv initially extended permission to the two Democrats, only to reverse itself when

This is what Donald Trump calls "winning." He blocked two political foes from performing an official duty, also bending an entire nation to his will.  Obviously, his action was reprehensible, and not only because an American president (successfully) recommended that a foreign government deny admission of duly elected members of a branch of government (constitutionally) equal to the presidency.

It might not have worked had this saga remained in the news for several days. However, it did not, with the Administration cleverly floating the idea of buying Greenland, thus diverting attention from an act of bigotry and hostility toward Americans, sentiments shared by many Trump disciples.

The President of the USA challenged a foreign government to say "no" to American citizens, yet another instance in which Trump has demonstrated his contempt for Americans.  And he prevailed. He again demonstrated what passes for "strength" in his eyes and those of his supporters by hitting back at the people they hate.

Opposed by Rahm Emanuel, AIPAC, and supported by virtually no one, the tactic viewed in isolation may have been a (very slight) net loser. However,it was a fine addition to Donald J. Trump's overall strategy.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Real Undead

Maryland Public Television, as reported by Media Matters, has announced

on August 12 that it will relaunch The McLaughlin Group in the Maryland and Washington, D.C., area in September. MPT also plans to expand the program nationally in January 2020 “through an agreement with American Public Television.” The program was briefly relaunched last year on WJLA, Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s D.C. station. The weekly program will feature host Tom Rogan and panelists Buchanan, Eleanor Clift, and Clarence Page, as well as guest panelists. Clift, Page, and Buchanan were panelists on the original McLaughlin Group, which was hosted by the late John McLaughlin.

This displeases Media Matters considerably, as it doesCharlie Pierce, who remarks

At a time in which white-supremacy and outright racism is pouring out of the White House, and a time in which these forces are literally getting people killed, a public television station has decided to roll back the stone and bring back Pat Buchanan, who is responsible more than most people for injecting this poison into the body politic generally and into the Republican Party in particular.

As MM notes, Buchanan is a "white supremacist" though more accurately a Christian supremacist, with a Catholic emphasis.  Buchanan was the forerunner to Donald Trump, as Pierce explains

You can trace many of the horrors of our current moment—from new-wave protectionism to un-camouflaged racism—all the way back to Buchanan's campaign against George H.W. Bush. (Bill Clinton once told me and Mark Warren of this magazine that he thought the Buchanan campaign was the moment in which the GOP decided to lose its mind.)  

Unfortunately, Pierce then gleans the wrong lesson when he concludes

Now, with all of these issues at a serious flashpoint, these public-television dopes decide to give Buchanan, who is somewhere between 80 and 400 years old, and who's never been sure that the right side won World War II, another crack at spreading aged-in-the-wood venom on TV. Clift and Page should not be a part of this fiasco, either. The conservative Undead never will leave us.

Who else is somewhere between 80 and 400 years old (aside from Joe Biden)? That would be the President of the United States of America, one Donald J. Trump, who also would not be sure the right side won WWII, if in fact he knew who had won World War II.

Although Buchanan has much in common with Trump, that does not include ignorance of history (or general ignorance), a preference for profanity, nor the attraction to a kind of secular and empty (and non-Catholic) Christianity.  But if not for Buchanan, there probably would not be a President (or nominee) Donald Trump, and for that alone Buchanan should rank as an important historical figure.

Maryland Public Television wants a reprise of The McLaughlin Group, impossible without at least one conservative.  It has hired, Media Matters complains, a "white supremacist who has pushed virulently racist rhetoric."

Presumably, it could have gone a different direction in selecting someone from the right. We could have gotten Charlie Sykes or someone else from the Never Trump vault. With a few exceptions here and there, though more reasonable than other conservatives, they are of a certain type.

They hate the vulgar, divisive Trump. They are tolerant of immigration, even illegal immigration, skeptical of a border wall, and can compete with every liberal and progressive in their sadness at the treatment of migrants at the border.  Same-sex marriage is perfectly acceptable, and the President's contempt for foreign allies is not.

Yet, they will not criticize the forced-birth movement, deregulation or privatization, or tax cuts for the wealthy, and the free trade which has hollowed out the core of the middle class in America's heartland remains one of their gods.

They deserve a voice, as does everyone, and are welcome to ride- but not drive- the anti-Trump bus. However, the Trump revolution (as Pierce has well expressed previously) began not with the likes of Pat Buchanan but with Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan (6),  hostile to civil rights while quite congenial to the forced-birth movement and everyone and everything with economic clout.  President Donald Trump has learned well as he banishes the US Department of Agriculture to Kansas City, Mo., recognizing that most of its employees will quit, and agribusiness will have its way.

Pat Buchanan was not responsible for the devolution and destruction of government. Erosion of the belief that we owe something to us, that the mighty should use its power for the benefit of those left behind tracks back to Reagan, not to Buchanan. Still, Trump owes much to Buchanan.

Most Never Trumpers (common on not-Trump cable television) question little of the core values of modern conservatism, opposition to reproductive freedom and support of economic policies which favor the wealthy over the remainder of society. If Trump is upended in November, 2020, they will return to, or  remain in, their home base- the Republican Party- and promote the myth that the core ideals of the GOP were sound, that the Party merely had a case of pneumonia brought on by a venomous phony from New York City.

We can't bring back the late Ronald Reagan. But public television can bring back Pat Buchanan, more coherent and literate than the current President, yet also resentful and belligerent, and a reminder that Donald J. Trump didn't just come out of the blue.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

No Excuses

Whether for ethnic or professional reasons (or both), Sean Hannity, Corey Lewandowski, Geraldo Rivera, and Anthony Scaramucci stoutly defended the CNN host when Chris

Cuomo, the host of the eponymously named "Cuomo Prime Time," went viral Monday night when a conservative provocateur posted a video of him online. In the video, which is shot from a low angle, Cuomo erupts after being called “Fredo” by a heckler who claims not to know the anchor’s name. Cuomo says that the term, a reference to the mafia movie "The Godfather," is “an Italian aspersion,” comparing it to the racial slur used against African Americans. “It it’s like the n-word for us,” Cuomo said.

The conversation captured in the video deteriorates quickly, with Cuomo threatening the heckler, at one point warning him, “I’ll f---ing throw you down these stairs.”

If it is, it's news to Wikipedia, and also to myself, though not Italian-American but reared in quasi-northern New Jersey.

But of course, that's not the issue.  Cuomo's well-known heavyweight (scoundrels they are, but heavyweight)  defenders are not keen on the possibility that publicly confronting celebrities of the political world become a thing. 

It probably was, as CNN put it, "an orchestrated set-up." However, Cuomo's response was pitch-perfect:

I should be better than what I oppose. Cuomo was condemned by President Trump who, if he had 10% of the class the anchorman displayed, would be- well, would not be Donald J. Trump.

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A Bad Egg Returns

If history is our guide, a moderator of a presidential general election debate (if any is held) will ask each candidate to say somethin...