Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

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The Art of the Stall

One negotiation theory holds that your opponent will give in if you’re unpredictable, maybe really unhinged. Take North Korea, for example. Kim Jung-Un gets people thinking that he’s a rabid dog who’s broken into his master’s cocaine stash. He may say he’d drop a nuclear bomb on the US even though he knows that we’d turn the Hermit Kingdom into a radioactive sinkhole. That’s why he hasn’t done it and probably never will.  The Crazy Card works only when the other guy believes it, doesn’t know when it will happen and has a lot more to lose. Still, the lunatic might extort some lagniappe, like reduced sanctions because, well, you never know.

A career spent playing the Crazy Card against banks, bankruptcy trustees and trade creditors may convince a person – maybe a real estate developer-that outrageous behavior and the threat of self-destruction will always scare his enemies into submission.  When it comes to government work, though, that particular ploy isn’t transferable. It’s no longer a game of one-on-one. It’s one maniac invested with power threatening to unleash his demons against a roomful of powerful and, perhaps, less crazy people.

The other drawback with the Mad Dog act is that it is usually good for one roll of the dice. Once you show that you’re not really so bonkers, it’s tough to draw the same rubes in for a second round.  Say he’s screwed every major bank in the country, they’re not likely to jump into any more of his deals. It’s about that time that he would call Moscow or Cyprus banks for some of their cash, to put into American real estate, a nice way to clean up a hamper full of dirty money.

Playing crazy doesn’t work so well when your opposite number is  the rest of the developed world.  If he goes to the countries of the Paris climate accord and threatens to pull out, those other countries don’t feel any pressure to cave.  He’ll only hurt himself while the rest of the world watches.  It’s especially transparent when the ink on the resignation won’t be dry for a while.  No genuine threat, no imminent peril.  Those other countries will Ignore him.

The future ex-President promised to withdraw from the Paris climate accord because he thought it was one-sided. He went ahead and did it but no other signers gave him so much as a shudder.  Lately, getting no traction, the White House leaked that maybe it won’t withdraw or that it would reëngage if it could get better terms.  It took two 500-year storms to convince him that he was playing a losing hand. At some point, the Mad Dog will be thrown a bone, face-saving only, then he’ll get back in his kennel.

He’s trying a similar tactic with DACA, with a six-month sunset provision, to give Congress time to fix it before he blows up nearly a million Americans.  Within days he undercut his own declaration, because he realized from the backlash that he couldn’t carry out his plan. And to put a cherry on it, he bypassed his own party and made a deal with the Democrats.

The Wall is another exercise in the Art of the Stall. His first outrageous declaration – that he’d build a border wall and get Mexico to pay for it.  There ‘s still no wall. Mexico refuses to pay for it. He didn’t even get Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, his new BFFs, to kick in. About now, he’s deployed a group of five contractors to the southern border with some sheets of aluminum siding, a roll of chicken wire and some paint chips while  he looks for a bank to finance it.

No, Not Another Outbreak of Clinton Fatigue!

Pundits are speculating, “whither Hillary,” prompted by the release of “What Happened” (sans ?), her campaign memoir. Unfortunately, she is thrust back into the national spotlight. If it were solely a book tour, that’s one thing. However, people are gaggling about Clinton’s future role in the Democratic party. That road leads to ruin.

If I were her adviser and if she were receptive to advice, I’d tell her to step back. She, along with former Presidents Obama and Clinton, and former Veep Biden, doesn’t belong on the front lines anymore. She is now a party elder, a Super-Duper Delegate, a Democratic MasterCard. She is a power broker but no longer for herself. We’re not ready for an octogenarian in the White House unless it was Poppy Bush paying a social call. She is still formidable. She can play a part in realigning her party for the next chapter in our nation’s life.

Hillary should turn her considerable brain power and experience to building a new generation of public servants. She can mold a new class of men, women and fluids, whose values and political skills will draw powerful support.

I’d tell her to speak at colleges and high schools and even elementary schools all over the country, with little or no honorarium. She can be a role model as a former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and Presidential candidate. She can teach and write about political science and politics. In other words, part Work Horse, part Show Horse.

Indeed, we’ve got to get the Russians out of our politics and back into their own, but that’s work for the current office holders. The record on 2016 is closed. Hillary has now said her piece. It is part of the historical record. It’s time to finish that particular book.

We face new challenges, and we need the best talent to rise to these challenges. The best thing Hillary can do is to help return honor and glory to public service, which in her case means receding from it.

Trump Tacks to Test The Wind

I made a list of all the reasons the future ex-President swiftly adopted the Schumer-Pelosi pitch this week.

– I immediately struck Crisis of Conscience and Enlightened Self-Interest but did retain Unenlightened Self-Interest as a possibility.
– He needed funding in place for Harvey and Irma.
– Payback to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan for paying him back.
– Recognition of the consequences of his DACA position after the protesters hit the streets, combined with knowing that this Congress won’t pass a savings bill without Democratic support.
– His reputation. He don’t know much about history, we know, but he knows about public sentiment. He wants better poll numbers, and a petting session with the opposition might drive his disapproval rating down. He doesn’t want a lasting reputation of incompetence or of being the most backward-facing chief executive in our history.
– It’s not about Russia.

Likely he put the squeeze on his Congressional leaders to bring the divided party together by weaponizing the Democrats with a big basket of year-end budget issues, DACA among them.

Who knew that running the free world could be so complicated?

This may be too much credit for him, or maybe this is the first bold move in a game of three-dimensional chess. If so, who’s his tutor?

The GOP rift has been the Bane of Boehner and looms as the Ruin of Ryan. The House can only pass draconian bills if the Speaker has room to bargain with a more moderate Senate. If not, Congress can realign by bringing a handful of moderates together with united Democrats. This is political heresy, but for Trump, politics is a means to an end.

Maybe we will finally reach common ground on DACA, tax reform and health care. Or maybe this is an aberration. He may retreat to his base. Follow your Twitter account for the latest change of course.

It’s no time to break out the hats and hooters naturally. It’s a very good time to press issues that will deliver broader acceptance to a besieged President.

Congress to Salvage DACA? Dream On

After Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 Presidential run, the Republican Party elders decided that they had to reach out to Hispanic voters to recapture the White House. Despite their stated goal to improve the effort, three years passed without significant outreach. Yesterday the GOP finally extended its hand to the Latino community. Unfortunately, the hand was holding a net and a grappling hook.

AG Jefferson Sessions announced that DACA, Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals, would terminate, effective immediately. This action primarily affects Mexicans, who entered the US as kids. These kids, many now adults with at least a high education or a service history, a means of support, a record free of serious criminality and substantial. ties to their communities and families, will be refused the opportunity to remain here. They’ll be forced to return to their country of origin, in which they will be strangers and will have to make a new start.

The formal declaration was farmed out to the Department of Homeland Security, not the Immigration and Naturalization Service, suggesting this to be a security issue. It’s not. The rollback of the brown segment of the population is part and parcel of the administration’s goal of the Bleaching of America. The GOP tent is not big enough to allow brown Americans, even those who serve the country, pull their weight and obey the law. The administration’s intention was clear by its failure to make a serious Congressional effort to address the issue over the past sixteen years.

Every outbreak of nativism and violence brings reminders of the temporary legitimation of White Supremacy and intolerance in the 1920s, when the robed Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. The movement went back underground. It’s never gone away.

The point was driven home with the election of Donald Trump. Trump’s attitude was clear from his support of the cockamamie Birther attack on President Obama. He put on the finishing touch in his candidacy declaration. Striding to the microphone in his gilt palace, he declared Mexicans, specifically, criminals and rapists, unleashing the white supremacist fervor to purify the American Birth Stock. We’ve already seen the emboldening of their xenophobic movement in Charlottesville and in the Justice Department.

Their tactic repulsed Latino citizens, not just the Dreamers which DACA was meant to assist. Outrage was immediate. Protesters took to the streets in many cities and states that are home to a significant Latino populace. Trump, expressing faux compassion for the Dreamers, granted a six-month window for Congress to come up with a plan before canceling deferments and renewals. This is ripe, given the GOP’s inability in this Congress to reach a consensus on any meaningful policy so far. More than a few GOP senators in states like Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have meaningful Latino voting blocs they are not willing to ignore.  On the other hand, their party as a whole reconsidered its effort to capture the Latin vote, then concluded that if they can’t join the Latinos, they’ll beat them.

 

No Messenger To Kill, No Message To Deliver

The midterm election campaigns have started. You might have missed it if, like me, you unsubscribed from the Begging Machines; blocked the robocalls; refused those few pleas that are still sent by mail.

The first quarterly report is in, and it’s dismal. The Democrats have no message for these times. They have announced no plan, no agenda, no defining vision. They slog from year to year with the same beloved bromides but no strategy. They could have been the party of Take Back Our Country, but they missed out on that one. Their platform reflects the views of a majority of voters, but they aren’t clever enough to beat the Republicans at the Game.

What they need first is a vision that sweeps into it the disaffected voters whose departure cost the 2016 elections. It doesn’t have to be novel, only compelling. Spoiler alert: it has to be more centrist. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama got elected on mainstream platforms. Much as one might see the virtue of revolution, revolutionaries don’t win elections here – although Bernie Sanders might have pulled it off against Trump.

The second issue is the messenger. When the most popular figure in the Democratic Party isn’t a regular member – a socialist septuagenarian- the problem is readily apparent. There is a scarcity of electable candidates.  The current aberration aside, the path to political success hasn’t changed. Hard work, a solid, affirmative vision and a little charisma, and they have a chance to catch fire.

America is a global power still, wrestling like other developed nations with the challenges of industrial turnover, technology and scarcity. It’s a time for creativity aimed at broader communal goals. We’ve been through this before. We can get through it again.

 

Closing Time: GOP Begins Its Push for Trump To Resign

 

It’s one thing when former Vice President and ex-officio former President-elect Al Gore called for the future ex-President to resign.  It’s quite another when, the following day, two GOP Senators – prospective jurors in any impeachment proceeding – smacked him on the snout, saying  that he has demonstrated a lack of the moral authority to be President.  It says that he has lost the Senate. Now, the only thing standing between him and impeachment is a House full of vulnerable candidates who will be running in 2018.  Rupert Murdoch has jumped ship. Steve Bannon is working his exit strategy.

 If he doesn’t resign it may be forced on him. With Nixon, a unanimous Supreme Court ruling forcing him to disgorge his tapes was the final blow. Trump is not in obvious legal jeopardy, as was Nixon. Still, he has alienated many of his allies, and has given no coverage to his team.   He has appalled many of those who voted for him. He is a lame duck, six months into his administration.

He risks starting wars along the 38th parallel and the Mason-Dixon line. 

 As Trump will admit, he is not an experienced politician. He knows how to lie, he just doesn’t know when. People say he is impulsive, unable to contain himself.  In Tuesday’s return to Trump Tower, after delivering a short statement on infrastructure, he was goaded into further discussion of the fallout from Charlottesville. No doubt his staff had prepared him but he couldn’t contain himself.  It tripped a circuit breaker in his head, and sparks flew out of his mouth. That would not have happened with a disciplined politician.  A seasoned pro would have stuck to the script. He can’t do it, and doesn’t want to do it. 

There’s blood in the water.  The nobles are fleeing.  The generals are ignoring his commands and publicly rebuking him.  The Senators are meeting in the Capitol’s  recesses. Mike Pence is getting fitted for Air Force One flight jacket.  Plots are being hatched,  and people are positioning themselves for regicide if he does not go quietly.  

 Here’s the deal. He won’t quit unless it’s clear that he will lose his fortune or the children their fortunes or liberty. Impeachment won’t happen. Besides, it would take too long.  As for the GOP, time is against them. The longer it takes to make the change in the White House, the worse their chances in 2018’s House election.  So, do you wonder which lucky  party leader will get to say, “You’re fired.” My guess is that he’ll have a Kentucky drawl on his tongue and a smirk on his face.

 

Past Tense, Future Tenser

The day finally arrived, the day that Revolted Colonies was no longer past tense or future conditional.  It’s all right out there in the open.  The column has been quiet over this long, horrible weekend of the Charlottesville demonstration, riot and murder. So many people weighed in and so many people had meaningful things to say.  Not a time for levity, so no new posts.  Until today.

The future ex-President stalked his golf club away from home all weekend, equivocating on his position about the debacle. Initially, he blamed “many sides,” although he did name check Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, part of the larger White Supremacist cohort.  As the weekend wore on, he backed away from his “equal blame” position, faulting the protesters who started the demonstration.  On Tuesday, during a press conference at Trump Tower on the subject of infrastructure, he was Donald Unleashed.  Livid with rage, he walked back his walk-back.  Asked why he waited so long to speak out about Charlottesville, he delivered a seemingly impromptu restatement of the events through his unique filter. A transcript of the complete conference has been published in many places, including the dreaded New York Times.

If the words were impromptu, the thought behind them was the product of his upbringing.  He may not be the Ku Klux Klan member his father Fred was and he may not be a card-carrying member of any White Supremacist organization, but he courted their support and found a narrow path to the White House against an unpopular opponent.  Now he articulates Alt-Reich views from the Rose Garden. 

Trump is succeeding where Charles Manson failed: he’s inciting a race war.  That’s scary enough, but even worse is the fact that while the media are pouncing on every outrageous statement he makes, his team is at work, lining up new voter suppression tactics and defunding the census.  The Republican party is determined to hold on to power even though its tactics repudiate the concept of one person-one vote and the right of equality under the law.

Gas Has Been Passed

The Tesla Model 3 has received rave reviews so far. In its souped-up version it has a range of over 300 miles, The basic model still gets about 220 miles before requiring a charge. The car has more space than its BMW and Mercedes competitors. It accelerates better. it is today’s car of the future. Pending repair and maintenance feedback, the Tesla is not only a winner but a game changer. Gas-fueled cars are on the way out or on the way down, however you want to look at it.

Land yachts, with names like Denali, Sequoia and Yukon, are a dying breed. They will be replaced by jumbo’s with names like Callisto, Io, Ganymede and Europa – the mammoth Galilean moons of Jupiter: ships of the sky.

It’s going to take time for the world to convert to electric cars, but convert it will. In 1973, OPEC first flexed its collective muscle by shutting down oil exits to the US. Citizens pulled together long enough to curse their tormentors. Then in a show of unity, we moved onto to learning ways of syphoning gas out of a neighbor’s tank.

Few heeded the omen of shortages to come; the politics of energy. US manufacturers were slow to react with economical vehicles. The 1976 model year showed no evidence of recognition For example, Lincoln brought out its Continental In four design packages Hence, the Bill Blass Mark IV, a car that has taken its place along side the Edsel.

In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from political exile; seized the American embassy and shut down oil production – just a little. It was enough to send a second shockwave through the United States automobile culture. Prices rose, gas lines formed. As soon as the crisis ended, automakers returned with new breeds of behemoth: minivans, SUVs, crossovers, land cruisers. Real progress in fuel economy efficiency stopped in the early 1990s. Petroleum-dependent cars of the 2015 model year showed negligible improvement in the 15 year window.

Meanwhile in another part of the world, the first electric/hybrid car was being designed and built. Toyota’s Prius was introduced to the world in the 1990s, making landfall in the United States in 1999. With average air and water temperature levels rising annually, the push was on to make progress for environmental as well as economic reasons. Thus, the Tesla, an electric car that cuts our dependence upon petroleum and eliminates the carbon emissions that are destructive to the earth’s atmosphere.

Naturally, this is the perfect time to discuss whether or not climate change is real. Do you want to ignore that ice

Naturally, this is the perfect time to discuss whether climate change is real. Do you want to ignore that iceberg the size of Delaware floating around in the southern hemisphere? Or that we keep hitting a record temperature annually? Or that there is a hole in the ozone layer that will not close? Go right ahead and be doubters about climate change. Persist in your belief that we have done nothing to cause these shifting paradigms. Have at it! Mr. Musk will be driving his Jetsons car all the way to the bank.

The debate over the reality of climate change would be amusing if it were not frightfully stupid. Less than two months ago, an Ice Shelf broke off of Antarctica.

Whether human beings are altering the environment or not, the environment is changing the planet in extremely fast and terrifying ways. Human beings need to respond by preventing additional change and by adapting to emerging conditions. The Tesla is a phenomenon because it breaks through in both ways.

This is the really stupid part. Blaise Pascal, who is a 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher. Like others of his age he had to reconcile his findings in natural philosophy with the belief in God. Pascal happened to be a man of faith, and he was challenged by his colleagues for the discrepancy between his belief and his professional findings. Pascal devised an argument known as the Wager.

Pascal’s argument was that people should believe in a God and act in accordance with religious principles. Naturally, Pascal was contemplating a Christian God but it really doesn’t matter for our purpose. If it turns out that there is a God and you have been a person of good will, you have lost nothing of significance – material wealth maybe, libido running wild perhaps. But if there is a God and you have not acted as if there were, you will be in a colossal mess. You will have sinned without seeking absolution. That’s trouble with the capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for perdition. In the words of that great 21st century moral philosopher, Donald J. Trump, “What have you got to lose?” Or as Pascal put it:

Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.

 

Many of my philosopher friends, of which there are none, are prepared to point out the flaws of the Wager as proof of the existence of God. However I do not suggest this as proof of the divine. Pascal’s wager is a good practical approach to dealing with uncertainty when the consequences are significant.

The same principle applies to environmental practice. If there is no climate change and we have developed less toxic and invasive means of producing energy, we lose very little. But the water and air will be cleaner, and our environmental practices will not cause any further deterioration. However, if mankind is destroying the environment through its energy industry and we do nothing about it but continue the same destructive ways, we will lose the World.

Think about energy production in terms of Pascal’s Wager, The best course of action is obvious. With the benefit of revolutionary propulsion technology, independent of the petroleum industry, belief is beside the point.

 

Maverick: The Legend of John McCain

  John McCain is the most unusual political character of our time, President company excluded. He has been a conscientious conservative, a rank-and-file Republican, an across-the-aisle kind of bipartisan, and a zombie presidential candidate. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, withstanding five horrendous years in captivity. He is a genuine hero and an American legend.   This week, after receiving the awful news that he has a fatal brain tumor, he boarded a plane and returned to Washington, D.C., to play assassin to the Republicans’ calamitous effort to unravel the Affordable Care Act. McCain again played the hero in preventing his beloved Senate from shooting itself in the head.  

 McCain is one of the few big-name politicians who keeps things interesting by keeping us on our toes. His willingness to buck party leadership earned him the nickname, “Maverick,” a sobriquet he embraced.  His political story will be an interesting one to tell. Unquestionably, he is a hawk and a fiscal conservative. He also believes in  tolerance and respect for the beliefs of others.  Nevertheless, he caucuses with many politicians who do not.  One of his signature moments occurred in the late days of his unsuccessful 2008 Presidential campaign.  When an ignoramus called Obama an Arab during a town hall event, McCain quickly reclaimed the microphone and extolled his opponent’s decency.  Yet this is the same man who put an obviously unqualified Sarah Palin on his ticket – one long, lingering look from the Bering Strait and  a single heartbeat from the Presidency.  McCain is the person responsible for letting loose the hounds of nativist amateurism on Presidential politics.

After losing the 2008 race and despite his civility toward Candidate Obama, McCain became a constant critic of the President.  In 2012, McCain won a tough race for a sixth term in the Senate, He made the repeal and replacement of Obamacare a prominent plank in his platform.

McCain is the son of a soldiering family, one of whose members fought alongside George Washington.   An Annapolis graduate, he served as a navy pilot in Vietnam.  After his plane was shot down, he was a long-term guest at the Hanoi Hilton, As a high value POW, he had a chance to be released, but he wouldn’t trade on the status  of his Admiral father. He refused preferential treatment.  After five years of physical and mental torture, solitary confinement and abuse that eventually broke him, he was released in 1973. This is the man belittled by Candidate Trump, who prefers his heroes not to be captured.  

McCain held his water, though.  He would never have been a Trump supporter in any normal time but the 2016  election was anything but normal. He threw his support beyond the military school brat who kicked dirt on his reputation, while the only thing to capture the Hypocrite-in-Chief was an Access Hollywood microphone.  

Two weeks ago, McCain flew home to Arizona to have eye surgery, during which it was discovered that he has an inoperable brain tumor, the same type of cancer that killed Ted Kennedy.  The Senate faced the threshold vote on its healthcare bill, a bill so bad it was kept out of sight for as long as possible.  With two certain GOP defections (Collins, Murkowski), an absence by McCain would have doomed the opening gambit, called a motion to proceed.  Earlier this week, McCain returned to the Capitol, struggling physically but resolute to attend the roll call.  McCain joined his party’s vote, ensuring that debate on a bill would take place.  However, Majority Leader McConnell struggled to find common ground between his party’s conservative and alt-right factions.  Two proposals failed to garner enough votes.  On Thursday night, he called for a vote on the so-called skinny repeal, a rollback of Obamacare so marginal that it was only a placeholder to get into a conference with the House over its own odious bill.

When called to vote on the skinny repeal – no replacement, McCain voted no.  He remained consistent with his position that the law was insufficient because it failed to repeal and replace.  But the no vote gave the Maverick the added pleasure of driving  a retaliatory ice pick into the neck of the future ex-president. Trump’s plan to repeal healthcare died with McCain’s vote. He trumped the President at his own game of political theater. To say the President was enraged doesn’t begin to tell the story. The White House Chief of Staff was found the following day floating in the Potomac.

 McCain issued a statement explaining his position.

While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens.

McCain hasn’t talked about whether he drew any personal satisfaction from defeating one of the cornerstones of the Trump agenda.  But he exhibited the kind of grit that his hosts at the Hanoi Hilton would recognize.

Let The Pardon Fit The Crime

 

 

The Narcissist-in-Chief is pondering pardons, including his own. I can think of some self-executing acts he might undertake, and I might  suggest one or two if given the chance. But he can’t go pardon himself.  The idea of a selfie-pardon is  beyond imagination. Almost.

First thing to check is the Constitution.  On the matter of the pardon power it says that the president can grant pardons for all offenses against the United States, except in the case of impeachment.  Because our courts have decided that an offense against the United States can’t be leveled against a sitting president, he does not have the power to pardon himself. The only way he can be removed from office is through impeachment. So our founders made it so that the president could not take himself off the hook. His self-pardon trial balloon is more hot air. 

As far as his family, he does have the power to pardon them.  Maybe he thinks if he does that there would be no hearings or prosecutions. He’d be wrong. Once a pardon is given, the pardonee has no fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination. Because the pardonee can’t be prosecuted, there is no immunity. The pardonee would be required to testify or would be held in contempt of Congress. Can a person get pardoned twice? Do you see where this is going?  So if the Ginger Mussolini thinks he can pardon his way out of the Russia investigation, he has been drinking the water from the Chernobyl water table.

Speaking of hearings, did you notice that Donald Junior and Jared Kushner have been pulled off the Senate entertainment calendar?  Chairman Chuck Grassley decided not to have the public meet and greet with the Trump juveniles. Grassley’s Senate Judiciary committee plans to go slow until the president can escape through the gift shop.

 But wait! There’s more!  The Future Ex-President is sowing seeds to discredit Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor appointed by the Department of Justice. He is trying to build a case to fire Mueller.  If he is able to push Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of office, then he can appoint a loyal soldier  in Sessions’ place. Sessions may not be able to fire Mueller but his replacement could.  The thing is , anyone nominated to take Jeff Sessions’ place will have to promise not to dismiss the special prosecutor without good cause.

 All of this should give us a profound sense of respect for the Constitution and the job that the founders did. It’s not easy to subvert the United States government, even when all the branches are being run by the same party.  This isn’t President Putin’s Russia or even Mayor Daley’s Chicago.  For the moment, United States is still a nation of laws, not of dictators.  

 

 

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