U.S. Politics and Culture

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A New Birth of Fiefdom

A new batch of psychological profiles of Donald Trump, future ex-president of the United States, has been circulating. They cover familiar territory: amoral, narcissistic, misogynistic, a sociopath and pathological liar. It’s very likely that these are all correct, but it will not get him removed from office, as we have seen. They offer some new ones, such as the lack of an interior narrative.

It doesn’t matter why he is a miserable son of a bitch. The most obvious problems are all that anyone needs to know. He thinks he has absolute power, and he exercises it to intimidate and injure those who challenge or criticize him. He fawns over those who flatter him. He worships money and power, and the fact that one can give him the other. It doesn’t matter where this fits in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or if it appears there at all.

He’s destroying America, and he keeps finding new ways to do it. We are in the middle of the worst scourge in human memory, more than one hundred years from the Spanish Influenza of 1918. He is the chief executive of the nation, and yet he has favored some states and punished others because their governors, not their citizens, have sued him or criticized him.

California, New York, and Washington have been particularly aggressive in trying to fight unfair or illegal policies, as they have a right to do. He slow-walked meeting the needs of these places in the pandemic, much as he neglected Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria leveled it in 2017.

As Michigan is beginning to experience surging cases, Governor Gretchen Witmer has called on the federal government to step up to meet national needs. “What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts — they’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan,” Whitmer said in an interview.

In his defense of withholding aid to Michiganders, he blamed Whitmer for not being “appreciative” of his efforts. “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’ ” Trump said. “You know what I say. If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”

Trump does not consider himself  a public servant. He views himself as a monarch, treating criticism as a personal insult, which he equates with treason. In response to pleas from governors for personal protection equipment and ventilators, he has told the states to get them themselves, at the same time telling vendors not to sell to them. His conduct is inhumane. He passed vengeful a couple of exits back.

New York has reported a little under 40,000 cases. Andrew Cuomo, its governor, called for 30,000 ventilators. To date, it has gotten 4,000. Trump said on Fox this past Friday, “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”

Cuomo, who has won praise for stalwart leadership during this crisis, responded, “I hope no one needs a ventilator. But — I don’t operate on what I hope or what I would like to see or what my expectation is. I operate on the data and on the numbers and on the science. And every projection I have, from multiple sources, and these are worldwide health experts, say that we have to be prepared for an apex of 140,000 hospital beds and 40,000 ICU beds with ventilators.”

If it’s Trump’s belief against Cuomo’s data, the choice would be clear. Actually, Trump is giving Cuomo the back of the hand.  Whether he is exacting personal revenge or flaunting his power, it is an indifference to human suffering. He may believe that New Yorkers will turn on Cuomo and blame the Democratic party for Trump’s high-handed treatment. We don’t, and we won’t.

His truculence extends to critics in red states as well. Red Louisiana is crashing. According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus is widespread in Purple Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, and in Red North Carolina and Utah. Red Texas is undetermined because it refuses to test. Three Republican governors, Baker of Massachusetts, DeWine of Ohio, and Hogan of Maryland, took action in conflict with White House policy against shutdowns. Voters won’t forget.

Until now, Trump’s followers have ignored his unprofessional behavior. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said that he was willing to die to save the economy, a thought explained and apparently seconded by former journalist Britt Hume. Patrick and other true believers may soon have an awakening when the daily dispatch of death notices hits closer to home.

Big Pharma’s Bitch

The White House now says that foreign drug companies have been “suppressing” their prices by taking advantage of American technology, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journalists regard the study as the opening salvo in a new trade war.

It can also be read as the abandonment of Trump’s commitment to lower domestic drug prices, about which he has done fuck-all. Trump has double-crossed working Americans once again.

Michael Bloomberg Wants to be Your Pre$ident. Maybe.

Michael Bloomberg, former three-time mayor of the City of New York, has launched his campaign with a TV blitz costing $150 million. That’s a lot of Simoleans, double the amount spent by Tom Steyer, the only other bona fide billionaire in the race. Steyer’s spending laps the amounts spent by the conventional candidates. Unlike Bloomberg, Steyer has been running in traffic, qualifying for the debates. Now that his singular goal of impeachment had been achieved, he’s moved on to his economic message. He claims to be the real deal – a billionaire with a human touch. Steyer has been surging, owing to his identity-building TV spots. Steyer has not been pigeonholed or tested in the Frontrunner’s Crucible yet.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg is skipping the opening farewells in Iowa and New Hampshire, the graveyard of many candidacies. He will debut on the Super Tuesday ballots. By that time, one of his rivals may catch fire. In that case, his run may be over effectively, and his prodigious spending will have been for naught. Or will it?

Mayor Mike’s party-crashing is having a clarifying impact on the race. He is a centrist economically and left of center socially. He believes in the necessity of regulation but will never be considered an anti-capitalist. If he could add a little religion, a little warmth and an ear for Middle-America, he would be a formidable candidate.

But that is not who he is. In truth, Bloomberg lacks the connection to people of diverse backgrounds necessary to create a groundswell. After all, he is a Jewish billionaire, missing only the Eastern European inflection of George Soros to strike fear in American Gothic hearts.

Service as Mayor of New York City is not a useful resume builder for the national stage: John Lindsay, Rudy Giuliani, Bill DeBlasio. If nominated, Michael Bloomberg will run, and if elected, he will serve. Even so, Bloomberg will be satisfied if the current White House occupant is evicted, driven off to Palm Beach to spend eternity in a Maximum-Security sand trap.

Whatever the outcome of his candidacy, Bloomberg will use his wealth and influence to defeat the party that has supported the megalomaniac and his agenda. Bloomberg will step aside happily if one of the middle-of-the-road hopefuls breaks ahead of the pack. He is more likely to hang around if Bernie Sanders takes a commanding lead. He will want to keep Sanders from getting too far from Bloomberg’s concept of the Mainstream.

Mayor Mike will keep pouring money into the race one way or the other to defeat the institutional catastrophe we’re enduring. The administration is an imminent danger to our democracy, the kind that warrants extreme political action. Would a person with $56 billion invest one of those billions to save this nation? Bloomberg certainly would. He wouldn’t suffer if a billion went missing.

Even if in the future Congress restores limits on campaign financing, national elections will always be a big-money game. Sanders and Warren notwithstanding, paraphrasing the words on a bumper sticker supporting Jesse Ventura, political savant and former governor of the great state of Minnesota, you better hope that your billionaire can outspend their billionaire.

The Waiting Game

Last night’s impeachment vote set the stage for a power struggle  between the political forces that dominate our nation. Nothing has been decided, and so much more will happen between now and the next election. In boxing parlance, the impeachment vote was a prelim.

There may be a trial in the Senate.  On the other hand, the House plans to hold back on delivering the articles of impeachment until Senate Majority Leader McConnell agrees to ground rules for a trial. He has announced that he will coordinate the proceedings with the White House, meaning that he will allow the accused to make the rules. McConnell has thrown down a gauntlet of his own. He has promised a fast trial rather than a fair one, straight out of his Merrick Garland playbook. In fact, today McConnell responded dismissively that he would not negotiate with the Democrstic leadership on rules for the trial.

McConnell flouts Senate conventions by dispensing with them. With the Senate outcome foreordained, he collects political capital by taunting his adversaries instead of feigning respect.  His base loves the touchdown, but it craves the touchdown dance even more.

Speker of the House Nancy Pelosi, draped in mourning for the Constitution, lamented the impeachment as a duty mandated by law, undertaken as if against her will, forced on her by a lawless president. Although she had previously said that she wouldn’t seek impeachment without bipartisan support, in the end she passed the articles without it, much as the 2009 Democratic Congress passed Obamacare without Republican support.  Despite Pelosi’s rending of garments, deep down inside she, like Joe Biden, has to acknowledge that passing the articles is a big fucking deal, a Democratic touchdown dance all its own. 

What do McConnell and Pelosi, master strategists, see as they study the chessboard? There will be no trial if Pelosi doesn’t send the articles over, and there will be no acquittal unless McConnell gets to hold a trial.  A stalemate? No way!

Even a fair trial is going to result in an acquittal. The numbers don’t change. There will never be 2/3 of the Senate to vote to remove the president. By going forward with the vote, Pelosi must’ve reasoned that impeachment without trial was better than no impeachment at all. On the other hand, McConnell figures that the failure by the House to deliver the articles is nearly as good as an acquittal and much less risky. Both pols are betting that time is on their sides. 

McConnell had nothing to lose by announcing that there would be no impartial or fair trial. He may have thought that he would scare off moderate Democrats, which he failed to do. If he had been successful, it would have been a triumph for his cohort. He may have prevented potential renegades from voting for impeachment. In any case, he is showing a hand that will beat a full House.

Yet, McConnell has another sort of problem. Even if he retracts his claim of partisanship, he is tainted with it. Even if he gives in to many of Pelosi‘s demands, it may not be sufficient to satisfy her belief that a fair trial can be held. Alternatively, Pelosi may have decided that nothing offered will be sufficient. She may be happy to play the Waiting Game, even if it carries over into next summer’s conventions. Potentially, the Democrats can hold up a trial until they are assured of having their case heard fairly and the hoaxes kept on the sidelines; until there is a nominee in place. 

And the bands play on. US Attorney John Durham’s report will be released at some politically advantageous moment. If he has a strong case for Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, it will be spread across the front page of every despised main-stream publication in the country. If the case is weak or nonexistent, it will come out below the fold on a Saturday morning, buried under a torrent of more sensational news.

In the meantime, there are piles of bills sitting on McConnell’s desk. They have been languishing without explanation. Now that the House has completed its extraordinary business, it will return to its routine work, which will include oversight and more information-gathering.  The Senate will have nothing to do but sit on its hands, unless those House bills are taken up or the Senate passes a few of its own. 

 There are a number of legal cases working their way through the federal judicial system, which address the administration’s refusal to appear before Congress and furnish documents. Some of those cases already have been scheduled for argument in the Supreme Court; notably, those concerning the Congressional right to obtain presidential financial records.

The outcome of the cases will have an impact on public opinion, while the two chambers idle over the impeachment trial issues. Any finding for or against the White House will cause a collateral effect on the issue of obstruction, even though the impeachment articles do not refer directly to the substance of any of the cases now pending.

The 2020 Democratic nomination is another dynamic process rolling on during the Waiting Game.  Most of the 2020 hopefuls  support impeachment. The caucuses and the primaries begin in January,  and voters may signal their opinions by voting for or against the candidates more hawkish on removal. Admittedly, the voting outcomes are difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, there will be some information to be masticated by the Pundocracy.

Despite the momentary break in the action, both sides know that they are engaged in a betting game as well as a waiting one.  The odds do not necessarily favor the House, and there will be many revolutions of the wheel before the metal ball passes the point of deflection and drops into the winning pocket.

Three into Two Won’t Go

The administration of future ex-President Donald Trump appeared to be in a graveyard spiral.  The House’s impeachment inquiry was going well; the G7 Summit at Trump’s beleaguered, bedbug-ridden Doral Resort was universally condemned; Mick Mulvaney spit the bit on the quid pro quo deal with Ukraine; Joe Biden didn’t shoot himself in either foot during this week’s debate.

Nature abhorring a vacuity, into the breach rushed Tulsi Gabbard and Hillary Clinton.  During a midweek podcast interview with David Plouffe, Obama’s twice-successful campaign manager, former/former/former Clinton said that one of the current, female Democratic candidates was being “groomed” as a third-party candidate by the Russians.  Counting out Harris, Klobuchar, Warren, and Marianne Wilson, the index finger pointed at Tulsi Gabbard, who had done the same math.

Gabbard fired back at Clinton. “Let’s be clear what this is about. Really, that if anyone stands up and speaks out to end the regime-change war policies that this country has had for so long, the likes of which we’ve seen waged in Iraq, Libya and Syria, we will be labeled as foreign agents, as traitors to our country…that we are traitors to the nation that we love. This is despicable on so many levels.”

Gabbard described Clinton as a champion of the regime change policies. She didn’t stop there, describing the 2016 nominee as the “embodiment of corruption.”  These are sobriquets one might pick out of Trump’s Compendium of Campaign Taunts and Disparagement. That would be strange in isolation.   Not for nothing, though, Gabbard has received praise from a surprising cohort of Trump supporters. Lisa Lerer wrote in the New York Times several days before the Clinton statement, in a piece called, “What is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?”

 Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is impressed with her political talent. Richard B. Spencer, the white nationalist leader, says he could vote for her. Former Representative Ron Paul praises her “libertarian instincts,” while Franklin Graham, the influential evangelist, finds her “refreshing.”

 And far-right conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich see a certain MAGA sais quoi.

  “She’s got a good energy, a good vibe. You feel like this is just a serious person,” Mr. Cernovich said. “She seems very Trumpian.”

Plus, the support of former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke.  The Times story mentioned other alt-right constituencies offering praise for Gabbard’s isolationism and her willingness to criticize Israel.  Yet, her isolationist rhetoric reads as an anti-imperialist message, at home in Democratic circles of the sixties and seventies, ignored by Gabbard herself.

The Times article also cited Gabbard’s favorable treatment by the Russian Times and supportive attention from suspected Russian bots.  There is reason for concern that she might be a witting Russian asset, like Donald Trump, or an unwitting one, like Donald Trump.

Gabbard threatened to boycott last week’s debate, contending that the 2020 election was being rigged. This has a Trump resonance But Gabbard worked for Sanders in 2016. She comes by her distrust honestly.

At the same time, Clinton’s statement — provocative, tone-deaf and impolitic — hearkens back to 2016 and Deplorables 2.0.   She threw a Molotov cocktail when all that was needed was a Roman candle.  The only important point is that the Russians need Trump to win to continue to influence U.S. foreign policy. Fearing that the structural limit of Trump’s support and his self-inflicted wounds will render him unelectable, Russia’s interjection of a third-party candidate to Trump’s left would split the Democratic vote, potentially tossing the election to the incumbent.

Russia’s attempt to divide the vote and the Democrats’ internecine struggle over the role of the DNC are the “vectors” which line up Russia’s potential backing of a Democrat to run as a third party.  The Democrats have not put out the fire. In fact, in Democratic circles, the war of 2016 continues to rage with complaints over super-delegates and partisan treatment. Hence, claims of corruption.

I drew flack yesterday with the statement, “As Trump falters, the Democrats’ circular firing squad moves into position.”

https://www.facebook.com/678453688/posts/10158060790548689/   Nevertheless, that assessment stands.  It remains a long, difficult lesson for Democrats to learn how Republicans, essentially a minority, outperform them through superior party discipline:  Merrick Garland. Brett Kavanaugh.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have gone so wrong as to put party over country. Maybe that’s inevitable when power is concerned. The Democrats have won far less than they should have, largely because of a failure in marshaling resources. Obama is a notable exception. So much about being a Democrat these days is aspirational. Still, there has to be a pragmatic side to it, and that pragmatic side must be upgraded to compete with the substantial political and financial forces arrayed against it.

 

Père Donald? Merdre!

One way to look at Future Ex-President Trump’s removal of troops from Syria is that the cabal involving Russia, Syria and Iran convinced him that it was “time” to get out.  This point of view treats him merely like a fool, and it is by all accounts the most charitable view.

The Kurds were stifling ISIS.  Within a day, the Turks moved on the Kurd territory, driving them out and opening a lane for ISIS to move.  His response was that ISIS won’t bother us – they’ll go to Europe.  Evidently, when Al Qaeda knocked down the Twin Towers, it inadvertently forgot to retake the Alhambra.  Not going to make that mistake again!

There are other, more sinister ways of looking at Trump’s decision to set free the turkeys but that would be the stuff of conspiracy and who needs a stuffed Turkey in October?  Let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt for the moment- that he is merely a fool.

Then this is the moment we’ve been waiting for!   The moment when the consequences of Trump’s impulsive ignorance are recognizable immediately.    The signal that US troops were going home triggered an instant shift in the Middle East, with Iran, his bete-noir, the most likely beneficiary of the move.  More than ever, the appropriate question is: what was he thinking?  We don’t know, possibly will not know for many years, with his thoughts squirreled away in that private server we think of as the Stable Genius Stable.

I wonder if there was input from the CIA – if it was involved in the decision. Or the Defense Department; if we still have a Defense Department. Or Mike Pompeo, that one-man band at State.  The question for Pompeo is whether he can walk, chew gum, eaves-drop on a call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and analyze the complexities of Asia Minor and the Middle East at the same time. The presumptive answer is, “Are you kidding?”

Everybody else has left the building. Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, Bolton.  I’ve never had high praise for John Bolton – Dr. Strangelove without the disabilities – but within the Trump bunch, he may have been principled – a radical hawk, but a principled one – if there is such a thing.

When Trump cleared out the State Department, then the National Security Council, and let all the advisers go, that leaves no watchdogs, nobody to tell the president that all the screws are now loose, and the engine is starting to vibrate off  its mounts.

When that engine, the American nation,  drops from the chassis and screeches hot metal against asphalt until the entire vehicle stops dead,  that’s the time when we will miss our national apparatus; our redundancies – at State and Defense, NSA, ambassadors and spies, domestic investigators.  And for good measure, WHISTLEBLOWERS. Trump calls it the Deep State and deplores it, but the federal government, massive by necessity and preferably rich in information and experience, prevents the kind of disasters that an ignorant despot can cause at will. And he will.

Russia, If You’re Listening

Donald Trump has given Congress the road to his own perdition, not that he believes in it. He last year regarding the notes kept by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that good lawyers don’t keep notes. In essence, if you don’t write it down, there’s no evidence.

So, Trump, sly devil, doesn’t take notes; doesn’t put anything in writing; and prefers to conduct “personal diplomacy,” one to one calls or conferences in which no notes are taken or records kept. We recall he directed the translators at his meeting with Putin in Helsinki to destroy his notes.

There’s one thing he had to work around: when the president has a conversation with another head of state, many people are listening, in the Oval Office and in the Situation Room. Some of those people are charged with taking notes, transcribing the conversation. The notes taken are official records and cannot be destroyed. They are kept with similar records in an electronic filing system. They are discoverable to Congressional and FBI investigators. The Intelligence Committee has clearance over all classified materials, the kind of materials for which the lockdown was intended.

Records of his one-to-one conversations, such as the call with the Ukraine President in July, and most probably of the Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats immediately following the Comey firing in 2018, were placed in a special electronic lockdown and removed from the standard database. The records thus disappeared. The whistleblower states in his complaint that White House officials were directed by White House lawyers to “remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to cabinet-level officials.”

One of Trump’s Tells is that he accuses his enemies of doing what he himself has done or would do. Thus, Trump accused Hillary Clinton of maintaining a private email server to keep her nefarious dealings out of official State Department communications. It doesn’t matter if he believed that she did that. By accusing her, he signaled it as something he would do – and actually has.

Trump’s use of the lockdown in essence created for himself a private server into which his most scandalous communications were placed – away from prying government eyes. He might have gotten away with it, were it not for the whistleblower, one person – maybe the only person standing watch over the administration, perhaps a solitary figure acting at maximum personal risk.

 

Intermission

Revolted Colonies is going on hiatus.  Like many other people attempting to write about the political rift in our country, I am at a loss for words and voice to comment on the state of this Union. It seems that no matter how far from the White House a story starts, it eventually finds its way back – or to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminister. It’s tiresome, in addition to being unbecoming most of the time, veering occasionally into horrifying.

So I will sum up for now.  The country is in open warfare over who will control America.   America in the 21st Century began with existential terror and has never recovered.  America also is not reconciled to its demographic composition. The election of Barack Obama blew the lid off the White Nationalist movements boiling just beneath it. The backlash election of Donald Trump and his presidency have re-ignited white supremacists.

At the same time, we are ignoring our burning planet.  Eventually, there won’t be much left to fight over.

 

Blood in the Water

Joe Biden’s backers are fleeing.  When he started his 2020 campaign he was one gaff  away from a wipe out. He did better; he lasted two gaffs.  Biden failed to handle the anticipated attack  on his dealings with Dixiecrats in the 1970s.

He could have handled it many ways other than the way he chose, which was to attack Kamala Harris.  She offered a heart-felt explanation why his insensitivity was a problem. And he responded with — insensitivity. This is the party of kumbaya, after all. What was he thinking? Was he thinking?

It was stunning to see his campaign go down that fast but it’s for the best. Now resources won’t be wasted watching him crash in slo-mo.

The Democrats  can get on to the main event, which is to pass the torch to the new generation,  Elizabeth Warren notwithstanding.

Warren was one of the winners this week, along with Harris and Mayor Pete. Booker was good, Beto was disappointing and Bernie was Bernie.  Nobody has dropped out so far, and some of the other candidates were impressive.

Whoever wins will be left of Clinton and Obama. They stand a chance as long as Pennsylvanians don’t think that the Democrats will turn the Lehigh Vslley into an agricultural collective.

Haiku for Virginia Beach

Twelve dead, four wounded

Another day of mayhem

Something must be done

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