Monday, March 27, 2017

Trump & Putin

Trump and Putin

I listened with fascination to a podcast discussion between Sam Harris and Anne Applebaum. Applebaum writes for the Washington Post, but her credentials are even more impressive for this discussion. To quote from the Harris blog, Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. She is also a visiting Professor at the London School of Economics where she runs Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda.

Formerly a member of the Washington Post editorial board, she has also worked at the Spectator, the Evening Standard, Slate, the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, the Economist, and the Independent. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, Foreign Affairs, The New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, the New Republic, The National Review, The New Statesman, The Times Literary Supplement, and many other journals.

She is the author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, which describes the imposition of Soviet totalitarianism in Central Europe after the Second World War. Her previous book, Gulag: A History, won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2004.”

The discussion contained several threads, including a full conversation about the incoherence of Trump.  He speaks some babble-language, probably mostly closely akin to what a 2-3 year old speaks. Mainly though, Applebaum focused on Trump and Putin. As to the connections, she has some interesting insights.

First, Putin can legitimately be labeled as the head of the Russian Mafia. He is using means both legal and illegal to enrich himself. Of late, it has become obvious that, when his ties to organized crime threaten to flush to the surface, critics mysteriously disappear, are ejected from the country, or simply die under questionable circumstances. So, it would seem that Russia is safely in the hands of its mafioso bosses.  And, now, it would appear, Trump plans the same outcome for America.

His campaign apparently adopted a Russian style campaign of disinformation. Paul Manafort helped to plan the campaign of the Putinesque Ukrainian leader, after which he began as the campaign manager of the Trump campaign.  The Russian style of campaigning is to develop false narratives of the opposition (in this case Hillary Clinton) and then employ both social media and fake news (in this case Breitbart and Fox) to disseminate and expand the false narratives.  In large measure, people believe both the fake news sites and the social media sites.  If it appears on TV, folks assume the facts have been verified and can, therefore, be believed. Why they continue to believe social media is beyond ordinary explanation.

Trump’s financial ties to Russia are manifold and well known. Even his children have bragged about the immensity of the Russian financial connections.  Manafort’s connections are as impressive, receiving ten million dollars per year on one contract alone.  The fact that Manafort withdrew from the campaign is largely irrelevant, since Trump continued throughout the campaign to employ the same tactics used in Russia by Putin.

But her central point is that we really do not need a “smoking gun” obtained by the CIA or a deep FBI investigation. What we already know is reason enough to do something about our President. Impeachment is one, but perhaps not the only remedy we might consider.  His continued illegal financial remunerations break the emoluments clause in the constitution, and he has consistently refused to take any action to stop these payments.   Yet, we do not act, and that is perhaps the most troublesome aspect of this entire affair. Yes, he was elected officially, and he is officially our President. But our President is not above the law, thank you.  So, given that his actions, past and present, actions that likely violate the law, are known and open, why do we not act?  Well, one may assume that republicans do not act, because it is not in their best interest to act. Acting against their leader would be viewed as a suicidal gesture, and republicans are not yet ready for such acts. Also, it is now clear that republicans view holding onto their lucrative positions in Congress as way more important than serving the people who elected them.  And, it should be noted, that, since republicans often fail to act in ways that help their constituents, they clearly will never act to meet the needs of people who either do not vote, or vote for other kinds of folks.

And then, finally, what about all those folks who voted for Trump and his merry band of Mafioso’s? Why do they continue to support him? The last numbers I saw suggest that 37% still support Trump, and that number simply astounds me. Really . . . with all we now know, 37% of our people support him?

Ms. Applebaum suggests that his supporters may well begin deserting Trump when it becomes clear that he lied to them and that he is not acting to meet their needs.  Well, I wonder, when might that be?  It is abundantly clear that he lies nearly everytime he opens his mouth, so it apparently is not just lying that matters to his supporters.  What is it they wanted again from Trump? Oh, yeah, their old jobs back. They want to be 1940’s-style coal miners again, or they want to work in big factories producing things we used to produce in the 1940s and 1950s.  Well, that may or may not happen anytime soon, although he is working at eliminating the regulations that keep coal-fired plants from polluting. We can then resume looking like we did before EPA regulations cleaned up our air. That should be fun.

But I think that his promises about jobs are mostly feckless, because I continue to believe that Trump really doesn’t know anything. He seems the most remarkably ignorant (stupid??) man ever to grace the White House. He helped to blow the health care replacement bill, mainly because he and his staff don’t know anything about either health care, insurance, or even politics.  They wander about in the dark, while he issues his daily stream of witless commentaries that seem barely even in English.

So, what is with his supporters again?

Well, one possible explanation is organized religion. Organized religion has existed for centuries, millennia even, as a force that communicates a belief system that borders on the lunatic. They created an entire after-death world of folks floating around on clouds chatting it up with long dead relatives and maybe even Shakespeare. But the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that many/most people are most afraid of death, and the cessation of being.  The Churches of the world, knowing that, created these fictional worlds that convey to the fearful (faithful) that they need not fear death, if only they pay attention to their church leaders—obey and you will be rewarded. Disobey/disavow and you will be punished with . . . The Zen of Nothingness.  Their game is closely akin to a Ponzi scheme, but because you die first, and nobody ever comes back to testify to the lie, the Ponzi can go on indefinitely.

So, folks now routinely listen to patent nonsense on a weekly basis, and yet they continue to support their leaders, even when their leaders do things like routinely rape little boys, or abuse the hapless in many other ways. 

Now, given that mentality, Trump becomes easier to understand and recognize. He has been compared to a carnival barker. But no, I would suggest he is way closer to a religious leader. We know carnie barkers lie, but they give us some fun along the way. Religious leaders lie, but we rarely acknowledge their lies, because we are too scared to so acknowledge the obvious.  And the more autocratic Trump becomes, and the less he responds to questions, the more he appears like a religious leader.  Most folks don’t routinely question their popes, or their ayatollahs. It just isn’t done.

So, he may get away with his Three-card Monte game for quite a while. Unless and until the other folks we elect to Congress and maybe even the judiciary decide that enough is enough.  But that may take a while, and may actually never occur unless and until we replace all the folks currently holding office, and that would require everyone to actually get off their asses and vote. Wow, voting . . . what a concept.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


I may just be becoming more aware of my age. Yeah, as you speed into your 80s, it’s like you’re cruising. But then, at some stage, you understand that you are now really close to the end. . So, maybe it’s that. I just have this feeling each day that I’m waiting for something to end, so that, I can get on with things—life and all that.

But maybe it isn’t just my own ending that I sense daily. Maybe it’s a bigger ending . . . the ending of everything I have known over these now 80+ plus years of life.

I remember back into the 1930’s . . . yeah I really do.  FDR and his fireside chats. Then Fiorella LaGuardia reading the Sunday comics over the radio.  Then that War thingie, you know, with Pearl Harbor, as I was turning seven.  And my uncle Billy, serving in the Seabees in the South Pacific, building air strips and buildings for our fighting troops.

And I remember vividly most of our Presidents: just think FDR, Truman, Ike, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan (ugh), Clinton, Shrub (double ugh), Barrie, and then . . . and then . . . the end. However much I really did not like Nixon and thought he really was a crook, or Reagan, who made it ok again to be a racist, most of them had some character and some moral values. Most seemed to believe in American values, especially the values conveyed in our Constitution. Some seemed to prefer blowing up things, to talking and trying to figure out how to live peacefully. The Dalai Llama keeps wandering the globe, looking for leaders who are willing to try peace, but he apparently hasn't found any yet. 

So, my life has seen periods of peace, and many periods of horror, when you thought it might never end.

But always, I believed that we were intrinsically a good people, and that somehow our leaders would find some way to make the horror end, and goodness to return. And that is what has now vanished.

This creature now inhabiting the Presidency (I would say the White House, but he seems to be spending more time at MaraLago golfing than he does in the White House governing) is pretending to be a real president. He may not drink, but he loves partying. He just knows nothing about being a president.

First and foremost, it is him. He is truly a one-man horror show. We spoke of him earlier as a Carnival Barker, a circus con-man. And he is that, but those terms really insult all carnie barkers. They may be conning you, but their cons are harmless, and even fun. Trump’s cons are deadly. They will kill people. They will destroy people in many ways.

And, unlike most of his predecessors, he actually seems not to care about the results of his words and his actions. He seems literally not to care who winds up hurt, or dead, so long as it isn’t him, or his deadly tribe.

For a while, during the election, he was a joke, and we all laughed at him. But now the joke is on us. It is said that his support is now down to 40% or less. He has many people running scared. And scared they should be, because his supporters, will soon lose their insurance and be back to no health care. And many, who thought he would bring back jobs, will learn that he has no tricks to bring back jobs in dead industries.  And that their lives are in or soon will be in the toilet . . . and that the President for whom they voted, does not care.

But it brings me to the 40% who still support him. How could that be? I can imagine that maybe 10% of the population is either so wealthy or so stupid that they really do not care either what he does. The Koch’s really don’t care whether the coal miners get new jobs. They don’t care whether you lose your health care, because they will always be able to buy theirs.

And Trump’s republican supporters who currently rule Congress? Well, guess what? They don’t care either. The republican party of Eisenhower is officially dead. In its place, you have either brain-dead creatures like Mitch McConnell, or not very smart and completely amoral fascists/anarchists of the Paul Ryan sort. He thinks he’s being oh so clever when he proposes to implement systems that throw 30 million people off health insurance, or (in his dreams) to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Oh and let’s not forget the destruction of the American public school system in favor of vouchers.  Yeah, that’ll get us quality education—all those charter schools that do whatever the hell they like and pretend it’s education.

Where oh where, I keep asking is the republican intelligentsia?  Are they all gone fish’n? Is George Will really dead?  Where is the outrage at such terminally awful behavior, and such absurdist proposals at both state and federal levels of government (and remember, the state governments are home to some of the most awful proposals ever seen in the land).  Any thought of just relaxing and giving Trump some space seems, to me, inconceivable. And for his next trick, ladies and gentlemen, he will nuke San Francisco, just because he can.  See, it is no longer about something called “policies”.  No, now it is about sanity, and about the preservation of the American democratic system of government, and about our constitutional system of rights, none of which he seems to understand, because he cannot and will not read.  Apparently, he has never been able to read, which makes me wonder whether he ever actually attended school . . . or did daddy pay someone to show up in his name and pretend to be Donald Trump.

And I also wonder, well suppose he does something completely and obviously illegal (like he is doing now with his emoluments thing) and they actually impeach him. Well, then we get Mike Pence. Is he any better? Well, they say he is at least predictable. Yeah, and so was Hitler.  How'd that work out?

And the days go on and on, each day surpassing the last in stupid gestures out of the Drumpf, and lately, out of his republican buddies, Ryan & Co. The entire tribe is a threat to the existence of this nation.

I can only hope that groups like Indivisible, #Resist, and other such activist resistance groups will begin to swing the entire nation back to sanity. But I’m pushing on into 83, and I am no longer certain I will see that happen.

Beware America, he is just beginning to operate. He has failed at almost everything he has ever done. We are next. Pay attention. It is your life too.

The only possible path back is for everyone who is eligible to register and to VOTE. VOTE the bastards out of office. Find sane, thinking people to run for office in opposition to the creeps now in power. Remember, the Republican Party is now officially DEAD. The cretins pretending to be republican are fakes. They mean you harm. VOTE them out. There is no other plausible solution.

Friday, March 3, 2017

How Trump???

We just read a David Frum article in the Atlantic[1] about the global growth of autocratic movements, including, obviously, here with the Trump groups. As best I understand them, the analyses concerning Trump suggest that folks out there in America-Land are damned angry, and they’re not going to take it any longer.  They voted for Trump as a gesture to throw out all the rascals—their version, I guess, of “draining the swamp”.  By coincidence, one can observe a similar feeling/belief system operating around the world in other industrialized nations. Certainly the Brexit vote in Britain is but one such example. British workers are fed up with the same things that annoy folks here—mainly the conviction that their careers, their very jobs are either gone or at serious risk because of immigrants, or because of trade pacts that undermine their own national industrial base.  In Britain, unlike here, there is the added annoyance that Europeans are dictating laws that affect the British homeland, and they don’t want their laws dictated by Belgians, French, Germans, et al.

Here, it would seem, the Trump forces divide into a few different population sets:

·         The middle and lower middle class workers whose jobs are threatened, or have disappeared due to technology, shifting plants overseas, or replacement by other industries;

·         A second group of middle class workers who, while perhaps not threatened directly, have grown up within family/business circles that despise government and believe that private business should be unimpeded by government. They seem to love the rhetoric about government being part of the problem, rather than the solution (thank you Ronald Reagan)-- the Reagan “welfare queens driving around in Cadillacs” remains a vital core of their belief system;

·         Racists and other neo-Nazi groups that have emerged as a result of Trump rhetoric that makes it ok again to hate people of other racial, ethnic, or cultural groups;

·         Moderate to Wealthy corporate executives and right wing lobby groups aimed at reducing/eliminating the intrusion of government into their corporate lives. This group is especially active, heavily monied, and seeks to end government regulations across the board.

But, I keep asking myself, why would all these groups vote for Trump? We heard folks out there say that, Trump is a businessman, and that government would definitely benefit by being run like a business.  On the other hand, Trump is also a demonstrably unsuccessful businessman, almost uniquely so. His businesses have failed spectacularly. Six times Trump businesses have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning that many investors lost much of their invested capital.

But he has also demonstrated what can only be called corrupt business practices, when he refuses to pay workers, or contractors who work for him, always claiming that their work was “inadequate”.

So, folks would like to see government run in this same fashion? Really folks??

And then, of course, there is his personal depravities.  Three marriages, multiple trashing of the very concept of marriage, through his casual approach to sex with many partners, and his utter failure to respect women in or outside his family.

It is not the case that all these flaws were hidden from the voting public. They were prominently on display to anyone interested in even casual information gathering about the candidates.

So tell me again why anyone voted for him?

It would seem that the racists/Neo-Nazi’s would continue to be drawn to Trump because he appeals to them much as autocrats of old (see Mussolini) appealed to their native populations. These groups were apparently offended by the election of an African-American President, and, despite his generally statesmanlike behavior throughout his eight years, there was nothing President Obama could have done that would satisfy the primal urges of such folks.  Many have never recovered from the Civil War, and sport Confederate flags at will on every occasion they can.  Trump fully recognized these groups and refused to publically condemn them.

The monied corporate set was also largely “in the bag” as soon as any republican was nominated. The fact that the nominee was a deeply flawed, mentally questionable person with serious personality disorders, apparently troubles them not at all. My assumption is that they believe, since they largely frequent the same country clubs, that he was controllable by them, and that he was largely already in their philosophical frame.  To be fair, some heavily monied corporatists declaimed him, but not enough of them to dissuade the voting public.  Big Bidness was seen as a loyal Trump ally, and the “government should be run like business” set liked that.

So, then we are left with the Middle and Lower class workers who were actually or potentially threatened by the extant global marketplace. Trade pacts such as NAFTA and the TPP were assumed to be bad by definition, because they caused American business to be undermined, as business drifted off to the other countries involved.

This group opted for Trump apparently because Trump voiced their concerns and fears directly, whereas the Democrats, Hillary especially, failed to do so directly.  He disparaged the global trade pacts, described our economy as being practically in the toilet, and blamed Obama and the Dems for its pitiful state.  Someone finally was “telling it like it is”. He was “taking names” and kicking ass, and they rallied to that approach enthusiastically.  His rallies resembled high school football rallies with the faithful screaming loudly in support, even to violently in support.  Trump applauded the violent displays, as they seem to appeal to his basic personality. His nauseous commentary, when he thought he might lose, about how her election might be beyond their control, “aside from those second amendment folks” seemed an outright appeal to assassination, although he would deny that.  Still, he appealed to their basest emotions, and identified with their real pain. Hillary never connected with these groups, and they seemed to see her as being part of their problem.

Could Hillary have appealed to these groups? Perhaps, but it really seems fairly unlikely. They were angry; Hillary represented the cause of their anger, and there was not much she could do to dissuade them from their position.

Curiously, Bernie Sanders seemed to appeal almost directly to these same fears and concerns.  So, might Bernie have formed a more formidable challenge to the Trump phenomenon? Maybe, but we cannot know at this stage. Certainly Bernie represented a fierier approach that had great appeal.  Maybe next time, or maybe in the form of another similar charismatic, such as Elizabeth Warren.

But more fundamentally, what must be done to retrieve the trust of this segment of our voting public, especially after Trump trashes their belief in him. When Trump and his republican buddies get rid of “ObamaCare” without replacing it with something as good or better, they will begin to understand that Trump and the republicans are an empty set, intent on maintaining and enlarging their power without fixing any of the underlying problems in America, other perhaps than the entirely fake problem of an undernourished military.

So, what could we have done, or more to the point, what could be done in the future to remedy these entirely real problems facing the American workforce, and the voting public?

It seems to me that we collectively have simply adopted this global economic model that multilateral trade will always be good for the nation, without dealing with the inevitable negative side effects of these trade systems.  While acknowledging that multilateral trade probably is good for the world, as it spreads money throughout the globe, its effects are not uniform. If Mexico or China can produce something that we used to produce at less cost than we can manage, then they gain and we will lose. The assumption of global economics folks is that, while we will lose on some deals, textiles for example, we will make it up on other commodities, maybe high tech goods or services.  And over time, as we lose those higher tech commodities, we will gain in some other newer set.  Except . . . ahhh, there’s always an exception. When we gain in some new set of commodities, a new group of workers are involved, and the set of workers who lost out??? Well, they are simply unemployed.

Now this trade effect can be seen vividly in the old textile industry, where production moved from the North here in the US to the South, and then farther South into Latin America, thence on to China. Our textile workers became casualties, and many never recovered. Similarly, when coal mines gave out, in favor of other mines, or other energy sources, the miners became permanently unemployed, mainly because they had no other skill set on which they could rely for obtaining employment in a different sector of our economy.

And the list goes on and on.

So, what did we do about these many “side effects” of global trade? Well, largely, nothing—enter Donald Trump.

But what could we have done? Well, here is where a government-business partnership seems appropriate. We all know that, when a coal mine closes, we would not expect the mine owners to devise another enterprise that would accept their now unemployed miners. It would be nice, but that typically is not the way business works. Business owners protect their own capital, and seek new ways to enrich themselves without worrying overly about the workers who used to enrich them.  They are just casualties. Onto bigger and better ways of making money.

See, this is the single thing that folks who want government to run like business don’t get. Business largely cares only about profit and loss. Whatever will enrich the owners is the path that will be followed. Government, on the other hand, is supposed to have a larger set of objectives, more aligned with the citizenry and the safety and wellbeing of that enterprise called The Nation. So, when a President develops and sets into law something like the WPA[2] to put people to work, it is an act that a business would never entertain.

So, have we needed a modern WPA? Maybe, but the central issue is that we have needed for at least the last 50-60 years, some function within our government that is charged with working with industry to devise solutions, both short and long term to correct for the effects of global trade imbalances and damages. Sometimes, the solution might be a short term public works investment, but sometimes we might need to devise longer term approaches involving training, or public-private investment strategies that will keep our work force current.  We might need tax dollars for these investments, and we might need private capital investments in new technology or new facilities.  Who knows, perhaps the nation’s workforce of economists could join together in some enterprise that causes them to do something beyond statistical extrapolation.

But it seems to me that we need something new and that it cannot be solely a government or a private sector initiative, but some combined effort. It might well involve retraining whole workforces, or some permanent systems to retrain threatened sectors. It would certainly involve research into alternative industrial investment patterns, which could include both public and private. And for those who imagine that governments should not be involved in industrial enterprise development, they need to examine the nation a bit more in depth.  Our entire military-industrial complex, which Ike warned us about, is precisely a government-private sector investment strategy. We make no argument here to duplicate that approach, but we argue instead that we need something similar in terms of a cooperative endeavor between the two economic forces.

And the efforts need to be made public, so that our workforce can always see that both our government and our private sector industrialists now always include their welfare in the decision processes.

One final note here. Because many of the abandoned workers have no skill sets beyond their now abandoned industrial jobs, they need to be made part of this system. They cannot simply sit on their asses and whine about how unfair the world is. They need to be active partners in their own economic redemption. Now, how’s that for a challenge???

[1] Frum, David, How to Build an Autocracy, The Atlantic, March 2017
[2] The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.