U.S. Politics and Culture

Category: United States

Wedgie at High Noon

What a day for headlines. Orrin Hatch will be displaced by Mitt Romney; Paul Manafort, accused, sues Mueller, his prosecutor; the FEP dissolves his Voter Fraud Commission after laying the groundwork for Voter Suppression in 2018 and 2020; and Iran continues widespread protests without a peep from the governing Theocracy. 

My choice for today’s most interesting twist is the return by North and South Korea to bilateral talks. Technically, the talks are limited to the safe transport of athletes of the Hermit Kingdom to and from this summer’s Olympics. Sigmund Freud supposedly said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. However, Monica Lewinsky proved that sometimes it’s not.

The talks may be Olympian but the meaning is commonplace. The Gemini State is exhausted by existential threats and is ready to thaw out from the long, cold war. After all, the nuclear arms of the North are only effective as a threat.

If it is so, history may well record reunification to be the master stroke  of the American President. His negotiating strategy is taken from the classic playbook. There’s nothing more disarming than bargaining with someone who is crazy— or seems to be. You don’t want to give credence to crazy threats. On the other hand, you can’t ignore them. Trump out-crazied Kim Jong-Un, leader of the most batshit regime on Earth. Give him credit; he gives good nuts.

Trump countered Kim’s rockets with taunts. One time he announced that the Seventh Fleet was steaming to the South China Sea. Actually, it was turning figure-eights in the Indian Ocean. Today, he said his nuclear button was bigger and badder than Kim’s. As we speak, his National Security Advisers are adapting Yo Mama jokes for a Korean audience.

Dubya said, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Well, we know what he meant. You can’t play crazy twice. If your opponent sees you’re bluffing in matters of war—that the knucklehead isn’t crazy enough to incinerate the planet — his lunatic act loses its effectiveness. You realize that he’s just striking poses. It isn’t brinkmanship exactly but it works. Once.


Ready, Aim, Notify!

The Second Amendment has been interpreted to give anyone the right to own weapons, ostensibly to protect one’s person and property.  That was the late Justice Scalia in the Heller case, a decision that is having unintended consequences.  Because the person now has a Constitutional Right to that gun, taking that right away becomes a constitutional issue.

Now, the Congress is having difficulty stopping sales to a person on the no fly list.   Senator Cornyn of Texas is advocating giving the purchaser so the FBI can check into it. Senator Feinstein of California, Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee advocates that the sale should be stopped, and the purchaser has a right to a hearing afterward.  The Feinstein proposal keeps the gun out of the purchaser’s hand, at least legally.

The problem comes when a homeowner sues over the waiting period, claiming that the waiting period defeats the right to bear arms when needed. If you get a gun because your home is under threat, then a 72 waiting period defeats the homeowner’s ability to get immediate protection.

If the Supreme Court reexamines the Second Amendment, finding that there is no individual right to own or buy a gun, this notice issue disappears.  I wonder if the NRA ever expected to find itself at odds with its own position on guns and advocating a waiting period.  Or that one of the leading Democratic Senators would be fighting for a non-judicial ban of the sale with the hearing to follow.

                                The AR-15, available at gun shops, gun shows and toy stores.

In some ways, the Heller case is a worse decision than Citizens United, that opened the floodgates of money into political campaigns. With an opening on the Supreme Court and the probability that Scalia’s replacement will join the Court’s left wing, you expect a fusillade of Second Amendment cases from the left,dissecting the terms of the amendment, drawing distinctions between keeping or owning,  defining what constitutes arms, etc, the kind of scrutiny and narrowing that the pro-choice movement has brought to Roe v. Wade litigation.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the Court would overrule the 2008 decision so soon after it was issued.  It would simplify the law enforcement issues, eliminate the need for a hearing and, most importantly, would correctly interpret the Constitution.

Playing Defense

I was startled that fifty-one State Department officials called for US military intervention in Syria. Most are mid-level career diplomats. The State Department is for Diplomacy! They should be negotiating, waging peace. Here they are complaining that Syrian President Assad is violating the ceasefire and must be stopped. They are acting like the Defense Department. Startled I say!

Well, maybe not so startled.  The apparatchiks are looking at current events through a dusty spyglass. They harken back to a time when the US government gave a damn about the Middle East. We don’t much care now, as long as we don’t get dragged into another war. And we won’t get into another war as long as we don’t need the oil.  Energy independence has everything to do with it. The old hands at State don’t seem to understand that the game has changed. To them, Russian and Syrian aggression still means Freedonia’s Going to War! – but we’re not.  Either they didn’t read the memo or maybe they’ve heard the rumor that the Middle East Bureau is being downsized.

We’re inching toward Defense First. In the old days that was called Isolationism, and it was considered bad for business; military business at any rate. Those were the days when a war could create jobs for the entire workforce. These days, a domestic contract for new fighter jets is hardly a blip on the radar. Besides, we don’t have the money for a robust globe-striding fighting force, and we’re running low on soldiers.

World domination just isn’t what it used to be. Still, we can make America great by providing for and taking care of our own, as long as our own can get a living wage. Energy independence opens up a world of possibilities, with new industries popping up with the technology. Who knows, maybe in my lifetime, Americans will be driving Chevy’s again.

The Playbook

In business, there is a Playbook, an established method of doing business.  The Deal Maker acquires the asset and develops it using Other People’s Money. Whatever skin he has in the game gets returned first, through fees and other management contrivances. If or when the asset underperforms, he starts defaulting on his debts to Other People.  If the asset is worth less than the projected value, the loans are much larger than the liquidated value of the asset.  The lenders would get a fraction of their loan if the asset is sold on the open market at a fraction of the amount of money owed.

At this point, the Deal Maker has an opportunity to renegotiate with Other People.  They don’t want to see the pile of bricks sold. Bad for their book of business. So they renegotiate, lengthen the payout, hold down rate increases, albeit with some restrictions on management, salaries and expenses.  The project survives.  Some deals can be worked out privately. Some require a bankruptcy filing.

Some Deal Makers repeat this pattern but usually they must continue to find new sources of funding.  The same Other People are smart enough not to be screwed again. Eventually, word is out, and nobody in the community will lend to the Deal Maker.   At that point, the Deal Maker may have to find a new community that is not wise to the Playbook. If not, the Deal Maker has to switch plays.

Imagine, if you will, that a Deal Maker was elected President and if the Playbook was employed in financial dealing with lending nations. How long do you think the Playbook would work?

Why are We in Vietnam?

Norman Mailer’s late Sixties book by that name is timely again. Pres. Obama is visiting our former foe, and yesterday he announced a lift on the long ban of lethal weapons sales there.   He’s bartering for dock space at Cam Ranh Bay for our Pacific Fleet, so the armada has faster access to the South China Sea. That’s why we’re there.

China has been increasing its presence on the South China Sea, which is a very busy place. Bounded by The Philippines to the East and Vietnam to the South, it is a showplace for martial exhibitions and a forum for conflicting sovereignty claims. In short, it is a flashpoint. Parking the US fleet in Vietnam is like putting missiles in Cuba., minus the existential threat. It’s a way of warning China not to pick on our old friends, the Philippines, or our new best friend, Vietnam.

Hopefully, it has not been forgotten that Indo-China is not a puppet show.  Vietnam is suspicious of plays for dominance by all large powers. Same as it ever was.

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