Another One of Those Flashing Lights We Are Ignoring

From the Atlantic Daily email:

The French Election: Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and her independent centrist counterpart Emmanuel Macron advanced to the second round of the French presidential election yesterday. As neither Macron nor Le Pen is from a major party, the vote looks like a clear rejection of the political establishment; it also marks the decline of the French Socialist Party, whose candidate trailed far behind the winners. As the country prepares for the next round, Macron is expected to win by far—yet in expanding her populist party’s influence, Le Pen has already succeeded.

Let’s see, the establishment was rejected in Britain in the Brexit vote, the establishment (both Republicans and Democrats) was rejected in selecting that nitwit Cheeto-Head in the United States, and now the French have rejected their political establishment in both their runoff candidates.  There is something going on here and it is not what you think. It is economic malaise across the board.  The sad thing is that Brexit and Cheeto-Head were elected to attack the wrong targets, change and immigrants.  That is what Marine Le Pen is also running on, but the French may be way smarter than we are.  We will see in a couple of weeks.

Here is what I think, no, know what is going on.  Our economic system does not work for most of us anymore.  It has nothing to do with immigrants, or rapid change, sending jobs overseas.  Okay, they do cause problems, but easily fixable, and yet not much will change.  As long as the wealthy keep sucking up all the air in the room, nothing is going to get better.  That is what establishment politics has missed.

There is a reason for that. I will borrow here from Upton Sinclair via Paul Krugman, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” They are all part of the system that profits from wealth accumulation.  So they can’t imagine that our economic system throughout the world today is the problem.  They just want to tweak the system, which is why establishment politicians are being roundly rejected.  Nothing changes.

Anybody remember French economist Thomas Piketty?  Back in 2014 he was all the rage when he pointed out that our economics of wealth accumulation is maybe a natural outcome of capitalism and it usually leads to the decline and fall of empires.  He was attacked from all sides.  See Upton Sinclair’s wisdom above.  But Piketty’s data holds and we continue to concentrate wealth.  The chasm between the super rich and the working class is obscene.  There is no coincidence that the two most pressing threats to our survivability, global warming (because it is changing the climate and upsetting economies everywhere) and increasing economic inequality are both disparaged by Republicans.  They got theirs.

Yesterday, or was it Sunday, anyway I blog about what the Democratic Party needed to resolve, what are they really about.  Well the warning lights are on and flashing.  People are turning away from political establishments for new solutions to their problems because nothing ever changed.  The stage was set for the hucksters, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Marine Le Pine, selling their fear, hate, and isolationism.  But they are not looking at the real issue, reinventing our capitalist system to more fairly distribute the bounty.  And that has to be the core of the Democratic platform.

That will be a tough message because the moderates do not want to hear it.  That is the Howard Dean crowd, and actually most of the establishment Democratic Party.  Hillary was the classic example. Even President Obama was an establishment Democrat when it came to economics.  None of them really wanted to take on a runaway economic system.  Bernie did and then he got slammed by Black Lives Matter about not considering their interests.  His first reaction was the same as mine, that economic inequality and making the system fairer includes blacks, women, gays, you name it.  But he was a savvy enough politician to try to bring them in.  But it is interest group pandering that gets us nowhere and generally doesn’t really change anything.

The theme that will create a new Democratic party is to recognize that economic inequality is the mother of all the other inequalities.  To start to share the wealth of our economy with all those that participate creates spending.  To do this means taking on the whole establishment.  But if you are seeing all the flashing lights, the establishment is being resoundly rejected.  We don’t need a more tweaked and refined establishment with better tactics and talking points.  They need to recognize that there is a new message altogether and start reforming capitalism.  If they don’t, it will not be pretty.  Brexit and Cheeto-Head were just the beginning.

What The Democratic Party Should Become

There has been some confusion on who is the Democratic Party and what they Stand For.  In the “Unity Tour” road trip that DNC chairmen Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders were on, the DNC got booed and Bernie clearly identified himself as an Independent.  Joy Reed of MSNBC had an interesting segment on Saturday about what and who the Democratic Party should be.  In the Georgia race that Jon Ossoff, the Democrat may just have a shot, Bernie was asked if Ossoff was a Progressive and he kind of took a pass which he took back later.  But that really encapsulates the issue, who should be the face of the Democratic Party and just because they can win, will they support Progressive policies? Joe Manchin comes to mind on that one. Why we call him a Democrat is beyond me.

So if we are having a Unity Tour, what are we unifying around.  Note that Keith Ellison and Bernie were in Omaha Nebraska supporting a Mayoral candidate who has been wishy-washy on pro-choice.  Say what?  Right now all we can tell is that Bernie has a large following and Perez is using that to get face time.  But we are still left with what and who are Democrats.  Where is the rallying them that defines our vision? In the discussion that followed on Joy’s show she had four panelists, Howard Dean, establishment Democrat and former DNC Chairman, L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP,  Krystal Ball, Senior Fellow at the New Leaders Council (and ex-MSNBC pundit), and  Marcus Farrell, former director of African outreach in the Bernie Sanders Campaign.

Bernie has said something I agree with:  “Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party. …It can’t be just symbolic, it has got to be real. …It has got to be that those ideas are allowed to become the dominant theme of the Democratic Party, and that’s the chice that Democrats are going to have to make.”  I agree with him because right now the Democrats are defined across the board from conservative to progressive and nobody knows that means or what that foretells for a plan for the future. Joy asked what I think was a revealing question when she asked if Bernie is holding the Democratic Party hostage, keeping his supporters independent until the Democratic Party buys into his ideas?

My thought is yeah!  What we have been has failed miserably.  You can talk all day about tactics and strategy, but at the end of the day, what is the message?  I still don’t know, but I do know what Bernie stands for.  Krystal made the point that Bernie focused is on economic issues and how that rang across party lines. Krystal argued that we can be a party that is more diverse on cultural issues, and will have to be if we want a 50-state strategy (doesn’t mean we jettison diversity and rights), but progressive economics is where we draw the line.  Both representatives of black communities argued that we need more outreach to black communities if we expect them to vote.  Hmm.  Exactly what does outreach mean?  Howard wanted to keep people in the Party who are economically moderate.  I think this is the failure of the Democratic Party to think this way.  We are so big tent, we stand for nothing.

So what would I recommend?  It is always about the money.  Bernie has a vision for the future that I think rings across all partisan lines.  We need a healthy safety net much as Europe has to free Americans to be more innovative and productive.  Our vision should be a nation where the free market still offerors the competitive edge to many solutions, but for those left behind by large rapid shifts in technology and markets, they are protected.  I believe Howard Dean represents the economic moderates who  have truly hurt the party.  Krystal represented her point of view well when she pointed out that the Democratic Party had become controlled by Wall Street and Bernie represented that clean break.  After all, where is the stock market today and where are the well paying jobs?  Economic inequality is the issue and Progressivism is the only ideology that takes it on.

Okay, on the black thing, I am still angry that they did not get out and vote. In my mind, if you don’t vote, you simply don’t matter.  That is the one way you can change the world and to fail to do that makes you irrelevant.  Black Lives Matters further angered me by demanding what Bernie was going to do for them during the election (the economic justice he was campaigning on wasn’t enough) and I was thinking the real issue is you getting out the vote.  See Ferguson, Mo.  There was a clear difference.

Trying to understand where they were coming from, I found this article by a black man, Jack Brewer, who voted for Trump.  While he makes excellent points about why he and the black community were less than enthused about Hillary, and was tired of the status quo in black communities, Trump had absolutely no policies, was a lying, ignorant human being and you threw the nations fate into his hands, a proven racist.  Here is his logic as he explains it:

Of course, the internet recorded Donald Trump’s history of racial discrimination and his divisive tone toward women. But, what transcended that was Trump’s anti-establishment stance. That has finally taken the wool from over the eyes of many African-Americans — including myself — in relation to the Clinton family, media and the establishment.

It’s been hard to face the facts on how our underserved black lives have gotten worse, not better under our beloved President Obama. The undeniable truth about the Clintons has been disappointing to many because they’ve prided themselves on improving the lives of African-Americans for decades, even as their incarceration policies crippled our communities at its core.

When I finally got into the ballot booth and checked away at local, state and national Democrats on my ballot, I chose a different route for president. I voted for the hundreds of thousands and black non-violent criminals incarcerated as a result of the mandatory minimums. I voted for a more transparent system of deploying aid to underserved countries. I voted for the dream of seeing black millennial and general unemployment rates reach the levels of other races in America. I voted for the hope that entitlements will put accountability measures in place in order to keep low income black parents involved in their kids education as well as help spur job creation over well fare in some cases. I voted for a hope of making black America great again too. I voted for an end of 30 years of establishment rule in America.

I voted for President Donald Trump, with hopes that God frees his mind of the bias and division long enough to do great things for blacks and all the citizens of our great nation.

I guess I see his point about Democrats and the status quo, but Trump? He voted against the status quo and what he got was the dumber crueler version of the status quo. If blacks want to see change, they need to quit asking what Presidential candidates will do for them, but become a voting force in local elections.  Their real salvation is in their hands.  We can fight against voter suppression and outright racism, but to change the real environment where they live, they have to vote.

So where does that leave us?  I think Krystal has it about right, but I will need to read her book to tell.  The key element is to understand that our belief in wall street as the bellweather of the economy and the source of economic wisdom is over.  Balanced budgets and debt have to be evaluated in terms of the economic circumstances not as absolute good or absolute bads.  That for capitalism to thrive for all of us, we need a much better safety net (guaranteed education, health care, retirement system).  Sorry Howard, we can’t afford not to do these things.  Economic “moderates” are the problem.  Bernie got that.

As far as the cultural issues, I think we can’t give an inch on the rights of blacks, gays or whoever.  Certainly we have to have a plan to move the ball forward for blacks because Jack Brewer made some excellent points.  Abortion to me is not about birth control, but individual freedom to make a choice about your own body.   While I understand that maybe we have to be more flexible in Red states, how do you be flexible about whether we enslave women or not?  How do you be flexible about global warming in coal states?  How do you be more flexible about gays, and transsexuals?  Aren’t they people with the same basic rights as the rest of us?  Religion has no place in government and there is no compromise there.  Religious freedom does not mean the right discriminate.

So flexible maybe, but clear lines of where that flexibility ends. That I think is the only way to define the Party or Bernie is right to stay Independent.  I will join him if they don’t learn the lessons of the last election.  It’s about the economy stupid.  We get economic inequality right, we get science and reinstate rational governing, and all the rest will fall in place.

The State of Man/Sunday Morning

We have been overrun by the crass.  The President is the shinning example, but his whole Administration reeks of mediocrity and driven by corporations and the profit motive.  Ah, the great god, Money.  We even look now at universities to be the training ground  of corporate innovative life.  If it doesn’t have a perceived marketable skill, why take the course is the prevalent attitude.  David Brooks wrote to some extent about the mindless crassness of our present decline of civilization and actually blamed it on the universities.  Many of his readers took him to task on that one*.  David does a great job of sensing society’s ills, but when it comes to cause and effect, he has a real problem with cause as he cannot see that the Great Republican take over was a long road of worshiping acquisition and dumbing us all down.

But I came across this little article about the Cassini spacecraft that has been out there circling Saturn and expanding our knowledge of the cosmos:

Cassini spacecraft is about to begin its great cosmic swan dive.

On Saturday morning, the spacecraft, which has been circling Saturn and its environs for the last 13 years, will skim over the hazes of Titan, the ringed planet’s biggest moon. Like a heavy hand, Titan’s gravity will reach out and pull Cassini onto a new path, downward into the narrow gap between Saturn and its innermost ring, where no human artifact has ever gone.

Cassini will penetrate that formerly inviolate space not once but 22 times, about once a week until Sept. 15, when it will crash into Saturn and be incinerated. This summer then is the last hurrah of sorts for Cassini and the team that has guided it all these years.Now we have extended our reach.

…Nothing Cassini has done or found so far has moved the markets back here on Earth. It moved only our souls, our minds and our imaginations. It made us freer and bigger by showing how little we know and how much more room there is to expand our thoughts and dreams. How little of nature’s repertoire we have even guessed at.

And the last part, that last paragraph really does define the human soul.  We are a society based upon acquisition and measure accomplishment in $.  And it is such a hollow existence when we were given these marvelous minds to think critically and find our place in the cosmos.  Instead we dumb ourselves down fighting for slices of the pie and cutting budgets of the things that are really important to us to fund tax cuts for “the job creators”.  After all, the market loves tax cuts, right?

We, as a human society, could do so much more and yet we elected a man and a party who eschews science and rational thought.  They have solutions to all our problems that are “Great!” and really, really “Big!” Yet they have nothing to do with cause and effect.  Watch sadly as religious freedom gets redefined as the right to impose one’s views on another.  Almost all of our problems are easily solvable, or at least we know the solution, but we are so frightened by change that we imagine the “good old days” and try to create a world where learning stopped.  In order to embrace the solutions of the Trump administration one has to kill about half of his/her brain cells.

Classic example was Jeff Sessions decrying that, “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,”  Hmm.  First that island in the Pacific is a state with a Federal District Court.  Second, you would not think you would have to explain to an Attorney General about the three branches of government and how the courts have a role in adjudicating Constitutionality.  Third, Sessions voted for the judge’s confirmation and he was confirmed 94-0.  Sessions is just an example of a little piss-ant racist tyrant that is part of the whole Trump phenomenon.  Remember that Sessions coud not be confirmed as a federal judge because of his racism.  Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii called Attorney General Sessions comments “dangerous and ignorant.”  I would up her one and call Jeff Sessions himself dangerous and ignorant.  But that goes to the whole Trump Administration.

Voting is going on today in France and we will see if fear, ignorance, and stupidity will rule Europe too.  It is like we lost our brains or our understanding of the human condition or the advance of human civilization.  We won’t know the outcome until after the runoff elections, but the French mercifully do this in an eleven-day period, including the runoffs.  Hopefully they will put a stop to our right-wing slide back into the dark ages.  If they don’t, I fear for our future.  Well actually I already fear for our future as the damage Cheeto-Head has already done may not be repairable.

One last thing in the interest of rational thought. President Cheeto-Head has signed another meaningless executive order on H-1B  visas that allow us to bring in foreign, well-educated workers.  He wants us to hire Americans first, but there are claims that it is those very H-1B visas that fuel our innovative tech world and this could be devastating.  There is truth on both sides but don’t expect the Cheeto-Heads to do the right thing.  The Economic Policy Institute has put together a good paper on what reforms are really needed so that Americans do not lose their jobs to lower waged H-1B applicants, and that were there are really hard to fill jobs, the H-1Bs can fill those jobs at competitive salaries.  It is common sense, but expect the Tech Industry to fight it because they want lower salaries.  It is always about the money, not what is right. And that is what we have become.  Protecting the powerful and wealthy.  Nothing else matters.  Not quite how I would choose to describe Americanism.

*One response to David’s analysis of our slipping Western civilization:  “So let me get this straight. Millions of Americans worship at the altar of Trump because of how they were taught western civilization? The premise is absurd. First – I doubt most trump voters could identify the “cradle of civilization” let alone tell you the two rivers that form it. Critical inquiry and a more broad historical analysis of western civilization are hardly to blame. The blames lies with decades of your fellow republicans gutting education so that most Americans have never taken a western civ class let alone a good old civics class. These same Americans love to shout how they are the true patriots without having a clue about how our democracy works. Just look no further than the current fool of a president. No – you own this Mr Brooks. Trump is in office due to the willful ignorance of the American populace. It’s precisely the outcome the GOP created from their decades long smear campaign against education, secularism, scientific inquiry and rational thinking.”

The Sleaze Factor

It is almost funny that the morons who supported Trump and for that matter still do, wanted him to drain the swamp.  You know, make great decisions based upon good business judgement.  That tells you one thing about these morons, and I do not use the word morons lightly, they have no idea what a sleaze factor there is in many business dealings.  The latest is the moral corruption at Fox News, but the real story is about deals to benefit each other that is exactly what the morons did not want and then they elected the biggest lying deal maker around for President.  There is a reason the visitor logs at the White House will no longer be for public consumption.

Cheeto-Head himself is a mass of conflicts of interest and moral depravity.  If he could debase women as we saw him do on the campaign trail, could not the morons connect the dots to other principles like honesty, integrity, and the best interest of the country (not his best interests).  Foreign Affairs magazine came out with an article (The Plot Against American Foreign Policy:  Can the Liberal Order Survive? by G. John Ikenberry) about Trump and his new approach to foreign affairs which is totally frightening, but they had this to say about the man that I kind of think sums it up and gets to the sleaze factor:

Trump’s challenge to the liberal order is all the more dangerous because it comes with a casual disrespect for the norms and values of liberal democracy itself.  The president has questioned the legitimacy of federal judges, attacked the press, and shown little regard for the Constitution or the rule of law.  Facts. evidence, scientific Knowledge, due diligence, reasoned discourse – the essential elements of democratic political life – are disparaged daily.  One must look long and hard to find any utterances by Trump about the virtues of the nation’s political traditions, the genius of the Founding Fathers, or the great struggles and accomplishments of liberal democracy.

I won’t bore you with the sleaze that is actually happening as some of our journalists are starting to identify behavior that is questionable at best (Campaign/Inauguration donations that are poorly camoflouged attempts to buy favors, loans and realistate purchaws that make no sense, and the profiteering in Russia that probably resulted in the Trump boys and girls laundering of money, etc.).  Rachel Maddow exposed both the sleaze of Trump and his conflicts of interest for those who care to really look:

Finally Roger Cohen gave us a look into the new normal if we just look away from what is going on.  It is a fictional look at the future with business everything and sleaze just part of business.   Here is a taste:

President Ivanka Trump (“Keep America Greater Than Ever!”) had been elected in a landslide in 2024 after her father’s two-term presidency. She cut a glittering figure at the Florida festivities. Throughout 2026 she had earned praise for resisting family pressure to “modernize” the Declaration of Independence. To substitute “the pursuit of the deal” for the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the “unalienable rights” would, she suggested, “perhaps not be that great of an idea.”

Her father was irked — he had also wanted to sub the bit about all men being created equal — and went into a sulk. But then he had become particularly irritable since stepping down. The Trump Library had flopped; he could think of only one book to put in it. His weight had ballooned. He was still kvetching about Obamacare, and bad hombres, and the fact that despite his best efforts he had been unable to start World War III. President Ivanka Trump tried to console him, but of course she was busy.

Yes I think that is where we are.  It is all out there to see and so many simply refuse to see it.

 

Some Friday Musings

Paul Krugman summed up repeal and replace as trying to fit a large balloon in a small box.  He used the analogy to try to explain what I have been hammering away at, there is no Republican fix.  It has nothing to do with leadership or tactics.  There just isn’t a conservative solution to paying for all the stuff you want without making the plan unaffordable for those who need it most.  It is not a lack of ideas either.  It is simply arithmetic. There are progressive ideas for making it better, but no conservative ones because conservatives don’t believe in government involved in health care.  No where in the world do free markets provide universal health care and we have tried and tried here at home to come up with most expensive healthcare on the planet.

If you want to see what is wrong with Obamacare, see Republicans.  As a NYT article noted, where the GOP fought the plan tooth and nail (Oklahoma) they have only one insurer and some of the most expensive rates in the country.  Where the GOP let the market place work (New Mexico) they have just the opposite outcome.

But now both states are worried that political maneuvering at the federal level may deeply destabilize the marketplaces. In an effort to get Democrats to negotiate, Mr. Trump has threatened to stop paying more than $7 billion in subsidies to insurers that don’t charge deductibles and co-payments to millions of poor people. Uncertainty about the subsidies, which are a critical financial underpinning of the law, may drive more insurers out of the market — leaving Oklahoma with no health plans in the marketplace — and raise premiums significantly higher for those that stay.

And that is the point.  If they would have let it work, and worked with Democrats to fix some of its flaws, It would be a healthy system today with lower rates.  The conservatives always say let the market place work and then Trump and his boys and girls keep changing the rules so the market place sees major risk and draws back.  It is called a self-fulling prophecy.  So when you listen to your friendly neighborhood conservative complain about how Obamacare is wrecking the nation, ask why they voted for people to make sure that would happen.

But wait! Up next is tax reform.  Really?  The only thing slightly less complicated than healthcare is tax reform.  Everyone has an ox to be gored or a cart to be overturned.  So the only thing they could do is cut taxes to the wealthy and hope Obamacare fails so they can move those funds over to fund their tax cuts.  Meanwhile I was listening to MSNBC and they were asking if there could not be some compromises (the Holy Grail of punit insight) to of all people, Ed Rendell, ex-Governor of Pennsylvania.  I say that because why do they always pull out the old establishment Democrats who have nothing new to say.  The question to Ed was could not the Democrats compromise on some bills, and Ed says sure, Democrats just can’t block stuff.  Huh?  That is exactly what the Republicans did and now they own everything.

Then he says, everyone wants infrastructure so there could be a compromise there, and if the Republicans want to fix Obamacare, not repeal it, then they could work with that.  Oh the stupidity!  He is setting Democrats up to fail.  The only response would have been we have to see what is in their bill and whether they are actually willing to work with us, not fill it up with poison pills.  Infrastructure, and mark my words here, will be full of give aways to corporations, not real funding for infrastructure that we the people will own.  On Obamacare, they don’t want to fix it, because unless you move left, you can’t.

It amazes me that Democrats seemed to have learned nothing from the last election.  Hillary Clinton should have clobbered Cheeto-Head and she did not.  She did not because she did not get the vote out where it counted.  It was more Democrats as usual with a Republican Congress…snore.

The next election is about getting out the vote, not with how we can maybe compromise with the Republicans, not how we can block them, but what is our vision for the future that will get people out.  If you tell me you are running on working with the other side to “make Washington work again,” I am laughing at your stupidity.  People voted for Cheeto-Head because they believed he would change things.  Well Democrats, put Ed Rendell to bed and bring out new blood that doesn’t look like yesterdays suit just hung in the bathroom overnight to get the wrinkles out of it.

Another WTF Moment

This morning Cheeto-Head was meeting with the leader of Italy and when asked to comment on the Iran Treaty, he reverted to his campaign speech about this was a terrible agreement, it should never have been signed, and they were not living up to the spirit of the treaty.  Say what? Now note that the State Department and Secretary Tillerson had begrudgingly admitted that they were meeting the agreement.  I am an old contracts guy.  Spirit does not mean shit.  You have clearly defined requirements that you can measure against and the answer is yes or no.  Tillerson said yes and other agencies have confirmed that the treaty really is keeping nukes out of their hands.  Oh, and what’s the option, war?  Not realistic here just as it is not realistic with North Korea.

Now the other part of this WTF moment is listening to pundits trying to explain why what he said was smart policy and watch what he does, not what he says.  See, from their point of view is he is shading his answer to maintain the agreement while disguising to his base that he had this totally wrong.  I don’t think it is anything clever.  It is a loose cannon trying to cover his ass.   The media seems intent on trying to find something Presidential and wiley about the way he operates.  It simply is not there.  Most of us can see that, but I guess calling a fool a fool is just not acceptable in pundit land.  That is how we got G.W. Bush and how Cheeto-Head got elected.  Now it may be how he starts a war.  Oh how presidential.

Festering

When we ignore our issues, they always come back to bite up. In fantasy television (Arrow, Flash, Blacklist, Blindspot) they are always keeping secrets which is most of the plot and you just want to scream, “JUST TELL THEM or JUST DEAL WITH IT!”  I can think of many shows that don’t need this nonsense to give us good drama, like Madam Secretary, Elementary, or for that matter Victoria on PBS.  Oh, and Dr. Who (yes it’s back) doesn’t either.  It gets rather tiresome as a plot device and in real life it can be disastrous.  There is also the tendency at least of Flash and Arrow to jump into the fray without a plan, and it never works out well. There is a lesson here too.

Enter North Korea:

State media in North Korea on Thursday warned the U.S. of a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike” following remarks from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which he said the U.S. was looking for ways to increase pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear program. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly threatened the U.S.—and hit back at admonitions from China and the UN Security Council over its missile tests. “In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” said the Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper run by the North Korean Workers’ Party. Tillerson said Wednesday, “We’re reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to re-engage with us, but re-engage with us on a different footing than past talks have been held.”

I have noted before that the Trump administration is truly scary in dealing with this situation*, but in truth, there is no easy answer and the problem is because we have let it fester without resolving it for over 50 years.  Now it may in intractable.  Nicholas Kristof tells us this morning:

Concern about the North Korean response is what prevented Richard Nixon from a military strike in 1969 when the North shot down a U.S. plane, killing all 31 Americans on board. And it’s what has prevented presidents since from striking North Korea as it has crossed one red line after another, from counterfeiting U.S. hundred-dollar bills to expanding its nuclear program.

And every year we wait, the damage gets more and more extensive if we move.  We kept hoping he/they would collapse on their own, and with China’s help they won’t.  Make no mistake.  Korea is a living hell of mind control and propaganda.  Their people are starving and routinely die or get sent to labor camps.  Adam Johnson wrote a defining novel (mostly fantasy), The Orphan Master’s Son, but the backdrop is real) that would wake you up to what they have created.  He has been criticized for being too dark and exaggerating and I don’t think so.  I used to fly reconnaissance on the DMZ and immersed myself in North Korea.  I think he nailed it.

So the point here is really fairly simple.  There are good reasons we did not win the Korean War, the main one is that we did not want to fight a full-blown war with China.  And China has been central to us not taken military action since then.  China is terrified of the rush across the borders if North Korea ever collapsed.  They all want out and if there is an opening, they will take it.  Now we face catastrophic blow back for a military strike on North Korea, and it will only get worse.

We keep hoping he will fail and we fail to recognize that his fear of failing is what keeps North Korea going.  We, the world should have taken action a long time ago on a country as immoral and inhuman as North Korea.  We did not and now we face an uncertain future with even fewer choices and those could be much more costly.  Hard decisions are hard.  Not making them may turn out to be far more damaging than facing the blow back when you could have.  Isn’t that something all our mothers used to tell us.  Own up to your problem now because it will only get worse?  Well here we are at worse.

*Oh, and if you are wondering what our Dear Leader is worrying about this morning, it is the attack on dairy farmers by Canada.  No, I am not kidding.  “Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm workers, it’s a disgrace,” Trump said. “Farmers in Wisconsin and New York state are being put out of business.” How is it the most powerful and wealthy nations on earth is always a victim? Really Candada? Eh?

Compromise, Eqivocating, and All That Jazz

What Me Worry?

Trump took two major national security decisions in the past few weeks. One was to strike Syria for using poison gas. Trump summoned his national security team, asked for options on Syria, chose the cruise-missile strike — which was right — and won praise for acting “presidential.”

The other decision you didn’t see. It was Trump dismantling budgets and regulations undergirding U.S. climate and environmental protection policies — in his nutty effort to revive U.S. coal-fired energy — while quietly announcing plans to withhold a promised $32.5 million U.S. contribution for the U.N. Population Fund, which supports family planning and maternal health.

Unlike the Syria decision, Trump made the second move without seeking a comprehensive briefing from experts — he controls the world’s greatest collection of climate scientists at NASA, NOAA, the E.P.A., the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — and without ever asking for an intelligence briefing on how the combination of climate change, environmental degradation, drought and population explosions helped trigger the civil war in Syria, spawn terrorist groups like Boko Haram around Africa’s central Lake Chad (which has lost 90 percent of its water mass since 1963) and become the main force pushing tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe each year, and from Central America up to the U.S.


I promise you that Trump will spend the rest of his presidency dealing with the disruptions caused by this cocktail of population explosion and climate/environmental degradation — and his generals know it. But in today’s politics, bombing is considered presidential and ignoring science and defunding family planning, when populations are exploding and droughts expanding, are ho-hum back-page news.  Thomas Friedman

So lobbing bombs with no real strategic policy is presidential and being an idiot on science and not making the hard choices about our future is just ignored? Yep that is it.  People, even media types don’t like complexity.  It is why the North Korean problem is being played as the bully in the school yard. You just have to stand up to him.  Right?

It is an amazing world we live in today where rational thought just seems to have drifted away. I watched the Senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst give a town hall meeting where she was challenged head on with questions like how she can support a man who treats women so poorly and watched her equivocate away. While she finds some of his behavior “wrong”, she supports his conservative ideas, except of course the Wall and his stand on NAFTA because Iowa needs to export corn to Mexico.  What is it in her little conservative brain that says it’s okay to legitimize Cheeto-Head with her support even though many of his policies will hurt Iowans?

Meanwhile in the White House the President calls Turkey’s President to congratulate him on…?  He had just passed a referendum to turn the democracy into a dictatorship.  Did the Trump White House even know this?  Speaking of did they know anything, where oh where is the “armada” sailing to North Korea?  Involved in a training exercise in Australia.  We either got a lie or total obliviousness from the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security advisor.  Oh and let’s not forget their puppet, Sean Spicer.  Is it incompetence or is it,,,?

In media land I listened to Kate Snow, who wants to be everybody’s friend, not respond to an outrageous claim by a Republican spinner about how Republican Congressmen where being challenge about Cheeto-Head’s taxes in town hall meetings and it was just stupid because there was nothing they could do.  Really Kate?  You believe that garbage?  There was a bill in the House to make all Presidents show their tax returns and it got nowhere because Republicans were not going to have it.  Do you even know what is going on in the world?  Maybe there will be a place for you at the White House after Spicer self-destructs.

Then there is always those appeals for compromise.  Why can’t the two sides just work together?  Well take global warming.  If one side doesn’t believe it exists, there is no problem, ergo, no need for a fix.  Take health care.  One side doesn’t believe government has any place in providing health care and the other thinks universal health care is a right.  Obamacare was the great compromise.  Now what?  How do you compromise with dismantling it?  Take tax cuts.  There was the perfect mindless op-ed in the NYT about how Republicans just need to keep it simple* and reduce the corporate rate down to 15%.  Anybody know what the Fortune 500 actually pay in taxes?  No where near as high as 15%.  But they go on and on based on the belief that if the rich had more money, we would all benefit.  Corporate profits are greater now than they have ever been and do you see jobs? So where would you compromise on that one?

Does anybody have their brain engaged anymore?  We have an incompetent and ignorant White House.  We have a President who has the vocabulary of a 4th grader (probably because he does not read). We have a Republican controlled Congress that is pushing policies that further enable the rich and fail miserably for the rest of us.  We have a media that ignores facts and pretends this is all just partisan differences.  And the Holy Grail is compromise?  WTF?  We are with Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole and we are pretending up is down and down is up.  I simply can’t watch it anymore.

*You really ought to read the op-ed and the comments.  You know who you are dealing with when they make this statement:

One sure lesson from the health care setback is the old admonition “Keep it simple, stupid.” The Republicans tried to fix the trillion-dollar health insurance market instead of keeping the focus on repealing Obamacare.

Okay, you get it.  The people who wrote this don’t give a damn about all the people who would die once they lost Obamacare.  They also don’t care about jobs because if they did they would know that corporations are not creating them.

 

An Disquieting Quiet

North Korea is ominously quiet after their rocket failure while we rub their nose in it.  I don’t think this is good diplomacy.  I am really quite surprised Kim Jong-un did not attack South Korea while Vice President Pence was there baiting him.  I just don’t think the damaged and crazy Kim Jung-un takes gloating well.  Our press is full of “pre-emptive attack” language and maybe we destroyed their missile by hacking their rocket system.  Not good.  Really not good.

No, I do not think we should pander to the North Korean leader, but nor should we blatantly bait him.  At this point there is no good solution to this problem.  He will not negotiate.  So far he has been impervious to sanctions, although China has been a sieve in this regard.  He has enough “other” weapons and a militarized state (2 million standing army) that he could do massive damage, not to mention some nuclear weapons.  So a first strike or a “lesson” would turn ugly very quickly and put millions of lives at risk.  The only real option at this point is to find a way to keep him in check and hope finally for his removal and a moderation in North Korea.  Considering that it is a country like a prison where everyone is brainwashed, this may be pie in the sky thinking.

Once in a while the pundits actually have someone on who really knows North Korea and then it is time to listen.  One young Korean lady I listened to felt we were in very dangerous times.  Kim Jong-un is very, very paranoid.  He wants mutually assured distruction (MAD) to ensure the security of the country he and his father have turned into a living hell.  So when you put forces in the area and then tell him, as Mike Pence did, “that recent American military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed President Donald Trump’s resolve should not be questioned, but Pyongyang vowed to continue missile and nuclear tests,” you are simply raising the the threat something will happen.  One crazy man to another is not a way to lower the tension.

“I don’t want to telegraph what I’m doing or what I’m thinking … we’ll see what happens,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” Tuesday. “I hope things work out well. I hope there’s going to be peace. But you know, they’ve been talking with this gentleman for a long time … everybody’s been outplayed. They’ve all been outplayed by this gentleman and we’ll see what happens.”

Tough love is the approach the Cheeto-Heads are going to use.  Within rational parameters this might work well.  But with no understanding of the madness of a country like North Korea, and a history of bullying and bluster to get your way, I do not think this is going to turn out well.  It is one thing to send a quiet tough message and it is another to shout it to the world.  I keep looking to the West from my house to see if I see a mushroom cloud.

*I strongly recommend the novel The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel  by Adam Johnson.  It is a portrait of a country that is truer than you want to believe in this work of fiction.

Democracy as an End State

It would seem that many of us thought that once you secured the blessing of freedom* and democracy, they would be self-sustaining.  That has proven to be untrue and democracy is always a work in progress.  It takes hard work to maintain it, There are small examples like the religious right in America wanting to use their religious beliefs about life and contraception to control your lives.  There are big examples like Turkey recently voting to turn their leader into a dictator. Once the perect example of a secular Muslim nation, religion has again risen its ugly head to quash democratic thought.  Some other grand examples, although not so obvious are Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  

Brexit was a vote to limit the movement of people and restrict their choices.  Oh, they thought it was to gain back their freedom.  The freedom they were gaining back was to be a small little nation again without all those “others”.  In other words to deny cultural evolution.  Electing Cheeto-Head was a vote against democracy and freedom.  Cheeto-Head ran on so many undemocratic ideas and the base loved it.  “Lock her up” and his Muslim ban are just the more obvious ones.  He decides not to release his taxes, attacking the free press, and now shields the White House visitor log. These are just more transgretion against democracy and the transparency necessary to make a free and informed choice.

Remember the cry of the Tea Party to “take back their country”?  Who took it?  What democratic processes were destroyed so it could be taken away from them?  None.  They lost in a fair election.  The three branches of government survived and worked.  They just did not like the outcome, so democracy must be under attack, their democracy.  Their solutions to save democracy are those that destroy it.  It is called intolerance, the very opposite of democracy.  Think about voter suppression and gerrymandering.  These are all anti-democratic moves to take the right to vote and choose away from people you disagree with.  It is massive these days.

So it would seem that democracy is just fine as long as it gives us the answers we want, but when we don’t get our way, we have little use for democracy any more.  Sadly in the case of Brexit, democracy was used to stifle democracy, but as with the election of Cheeto-Head, it was by creating false scenarios and enemies.  In Cheeto-Head’s case, he actually lost the election, but won because of our very undemocratic electoral college. The famous quote of Ben Franklin comes to mind as he was interviewed after the Continental Convention and asked whether we had a republic or a monarchy?  “A republic if you can keep it.

But I think what is the largest example of how hard it is to maintain democracy and its institutions is how effective Republicans were when the Democrats won both the Congress and the Presidency in 2008, and through the filibuster, stopped government.  They won big in 2010 because people did not vote, another sign of how hard democracy is to maintain, and that allow them to massively gerrymander voting districts.  Then they blocked all progress for eight years including the right of the President to choose a Supreme Court Justice.  But see, that was all okay because Democrats and the popular things they wanted to do were wrong and we just can’t have that.

Democracy is supposed to be about a battle of ideas.  At its core is the belief that when in an open debate the facts are exposed, we will make the best choice.  And if we don’t, we get a do-over next election cycle.  This requires few things really, critical thinking, an informed electorate (that implies outing fake news), transparency in government, and to accept the implicit contract that democracy makes with us, to accept the will of the majority within our Constitutional system.  Today we see the undermining of all of those critical components.  How could a misogynist ignorant liar be elected President?  Because all those critical elements have been undermined. Intolerance is raising its ugly head and that is the death of democracy.

The Founders gave us this amazing form of government.  The Constitution and its fundamental flaw**, the lack of a Bill of Rights, was corrected with open and fair debate to ratify it.  The judicial is now saving our baccon as Cheeto-Head attempts to undercut even those basic rights.  But we have seen how the Republicans in their thirst for power and the arrogance of their ideology are even undermining our highest court.  Winning has become more important than democracy itself.  

There is a lot of blame for this.  News as entertainment and ratings has been a big part of dumbing down the voters.  It still is.  Somewhere along the way critical thinking got demoted to elitest thinking.  Facts got to be things you could pick and choose from or voting on.  Science, if it was inconvenient to ideology, got demoted to politics.  Religion and religious thinking creeped back into our political life.  And it is not just here, it is everywhere.  My point is simply this:  Democracy is not self-sustaining.  It is a work in progress, and it is time we took a hard look at those things I listed above that are critical to them and examined what happened.  It is time to maybe renew our vows to the institution before we go too far.  At the very base of the foundation of democracy is tolerance of different ideas.  Oh, how we have lost our way. Tolerance has been redefined to be you should tolerate my right to be intolerant.  Maybe it is time of a time out before we crash and burn.

*Democracy is not freedom, it is selecting the freedoms and restrictions that benefit the most people, the common good, in a democratic fashion within our Bill of Rights. The obvious example is that you should not have the right to discriminate, and argument still be made by those clammering for “religious freedom”.

**Okay, maybe the orginal sin was to tell everyone that all people were created equal with inalienable rights, and then disenfranchise blacks.  It has cost this country dearly to try to correct that sin and we are still at it.  But the Constitution, without the Bill of Rights would be a hollow document that allowed majority intolerance to become tryanny.  The framers of the Constitution did not think these were necessary, that they were obvious. As we see today, nothing is obvious.
Other Threats and Other Thoughts:  Is Democracy Sustainable?