Thursday, February 23, 2017

Congress, America's Newest Death Panel

Repeal the Affordable Health Care Act?  Or, it's all about Freedom.  Your freedom to live* with or without health insurance.  Is that what it's all about?

Congress, America's Newest Death Panel.  That's the mantra, boys (and gurlz).  Stick with it,  Repeal Affordable Care.  Congress, America's Newest Death Panel.   A pretty good meme.  Or at least a good bumper sticker.

When worlds collide.  A lot depends on whether Paul Ryan and the Freedom Caucus have drunk their own koolaide.  And which flavor.  For a decade or so, they have inflamed their base with, on the one hand, the importance of balancing the budget, and, on the other, repealing Obamacare.  Well, take away the government health insurance subsidies for the middle class by repealing Obamacare and, guess what, you've made a big dent in the deficit.  At a cost of stripping health insurance from all those older angry white losers no longer under an employer's healthcare umbrella 'because their jobs moved to China' who elected you.  They can go naked or buy a policy that gives them a card but no coverage.  Unless they happen to have an extra $10k or so to cover next year's premiums.

Another step in the slow and painful process of people learning they need their government, and good government governing in their interest is better than bad government dancing to the oligarchy's tune.  The private sector doesn't have all the answers.  Free markets come at the cost of free men (and women).

It may not be the end of Days.  But it could be the end of ways.  A fork in the road.  Stick a fork in it.

* and die

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The New Jews?

“Be brave.”  Is what a mother about to be deported in a Denver immigration sweep ordered by the Trumpistas said to her children in 2017.  The family will apparently be broken, to make a political point.  I’m not sure why the children of this particular illegal alien aren’t being deported, as well, or why they don’t serve as anchor babies for her, but such detail relating to individual situations gets lost in the sweep of history.

“Human beings are sacrificed to abstractions; a holocaust of individuals is offered up to ‘the people.’  Is what a man named Benjamin Constant  wrote in The Spirit of Conquest in 1813.  I found that at page 218 in Hugh Honour’s book, Romanticism (1979), and he in turn was quoting the historian Isaiah Berlin in his Four Essays on Liberty (1969) at page ix.  So it’s fair to say that, despite an intriguing Wikipedia entry, old Benjamin Constant and his ideas haven’t exactly made a big or lasting impression on the global consciousness.

So, under the Trump regime, who will be the new Jews? Right now, the leading candidates, in my opinion, are the illegal immigrants and the Muslims.  If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the illegal immigrants, for a couple of reasons.

One is legal.  Islam is a religion, and religious groups have a wide variety of Constitutional and legal protection, ranging from hate crime legislation to the First Amendment of the Constitution.  And most Muslim immigrants in the United States are here legally.  As legal resident aliens, they have most (not all) of the legal protections of U.S. citizens.  So, Muslims are a harder target.  And bullies avoid hard targets.

By contrast, illegal immigrants are the furthest thing from a protected class under U.S. law.

A second reason is cultural.  You may fear and hate your enemies, but at some level you respect them.  I mean, Islamic terrorists did manage to bring down the World Trade Center, and, man, that's huge, just yuge.  Even if you’re tough enough to blow off the loss of human life, like when he mentioned the 3 trillion dollars the Iraq War cost but forgot to say anything about the cost in blood, the Towers of the World Trade Center were valuable New York real estate.  Gone.  Poof.  All that cash flow from all those leases.  Clearly Islamic terrorism is the most serious threat to the American way of life that the Republic has ever faced.  So let's use them to keep the country on a war footing and scapegoat somebody else.

On the other hand, if you consider the attitudes towards illegal immigrants voiced by Trump, it is the contempt of a hate spewing nationalist for sub humans.  They illegals are criminals.  They are rapists.  They are filthy.  They spread disease.  Their cartels have tentacles across the civilized world.  Their very presence soils the fabric of our community and corrupts the purity of our Nation.  Anyone who can’t hear the echoes of a Central European Jew baiter from between the World Wars is tone deaf.  I mean, does someone have to invent the Protocolos de los Jovenes de Cuszco to connect the dots?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

El Caudillo de la Basura Blanca?

Or the Fuehrer der Lumpenproletariat?  And Who is the White Trash?  What is the Lumpenproletariat?

Figuring Donald Trump as a political figure requires covering some ground that's been left fallow since the triumph of the now fraying international neo-liberal consensus, celebrated in much of the Western World as an occasion to stop thinking hard about things and instead pretending to be public intellectuals, think tank pundits,  cable TV talking heads and right wing radio talk show entertainers.  (I leave out bloggers only because I don't want to be splattered by my own back splash.)

I have been calling Trump, the political actor 'El Caudillo de la Basura Blanca'', not as a term of respect, of course, but as an accommodation to his own conception of himself.  Not being fond of the Hispanic influences on American culture (my main reason for chosing to say it in Spanish), Trump would translate it as Strongman of the White Trash, though he'd probably use a term like 'real Americans' instead of White Trash.  Now, people who use their identity as white native-born American citizens to feel superior to other people, to intimidate all the Others, and to claim special privileges in defining the national culture or at least owning guns, can be called a lot of things, and White Trash is as good as any.

So, for me, as far as the term El Caudillo de la Basura Blanca goes, the question isn't about the 'Basura Blanca' part, it's about the 'Caudillo' part of it.  Now Francisco Franco was the archetypal Caudillo of the twentieth century.  Juan Peron wasn't too shabby, either.  Both of those guys had a political cunning and will to ruthlessness than leaves The Donald in the dust.   If Trump were to build his wall using the slave labor of his surviving political opponents after having bathed the country in blood, he'd be worth comparing to Franco, building the Valle de los Caidos in the 1940 and 1950s.  Given the president's track record so far, that doesn't seem likely.  He lacks the leadership abilities, the strength of personal character, the myriad political empathies, the technical expertise, etc., etc.  If he is replaced from the Right, maybe his successor will have that necessary mix.  If he ends up propped up as the front man for some beta test of a future, dystopian version of the American presidency, the whole idea of 'leadership' goes out the window, and he's just a pawn in somebody else's shadowy game.

Which brings us to the idea of the Fuehrer der Lumpenproletariat.  For those of you who learned to hate communism without bothering to learn any Marxism, the lumpenproletariat is probably a foreign concept.  I'm not a Marxist (and if I were, I'd be an American Marxist, who were never much to write home about, anyway), but here goes, the 'lumpenproletariat' is the alienated, antisocial, parasitical, deviant, corrupted, quasi-criminal elements of the lower social orders.  Most of Trump's core supporters would probably object to be described than way even more than to be called 'white trash' (which in some tobacco chewing, wife beating, Confederate flag flying circles can be a perverse badge of honor).

Now, a rabblerouser or a demagogue can be a leader (which is all a fuehrer is) without having the skills necessary to govern.  In the American War of Independence, Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams were good examples of gifted speakers, rabblerousers if you were a Tory, in the Patriot Cause.  But no one every accused either of them of strong management skills.  More recently, Mussolini reputedly said of himself and Hitler that Hitler was the second rate leader of a first rate nation while he, Mussolini, was the first rate leader of a second rate nation.  So, maybe fuehrer fits better than caudillo.

But, viz., my rather pallid reference to Hitler and Mussolini,  it is precisely the swift descent into the foetid swamp of internet Nazi comparisons that keeps me from using the word 'fuehrer' in connect with Donald Trump.  Who wants to wade through that fascist sewage?  Leave that particular f-word to the likes Newt Gingrich with his PhD, Rush Limbaugh with his pill problems, and all the other right wing talking heads.  And fuck'em.

So, in the interests of civility and good manners, and have due respect for my enemies and their feelings, I think I'll avoid 'fuehrer der lumpenproletariat' and stick with 'el caudillo de la basura blanca.'  After all, as Marx himself said in reference to the two Napoleons who were Emperors of the French, the first time tragedy, the second time farce.  Hopefully, the progression in Caudillos, from Franco to Peron to Trump, will be a similar descent.

But, the White Trash, the lumpenproletariat, the workings of class in American, now there is something to consider, and not exclusively from the perspective of simple economic determinism (though will a little layering economic determinism will prove useful).  Something for another day.  Not until after Realism. Art. Politics.  But someday soon.

Friday, February 17, 2017

So What Happens When?

It's a little early to draw any definitive conclusions about the Trump regime.  It's fair to say that it's gotten off to a rough start.  Beyond that, confirmation bias and a multiplicity of possible narratives really get in the way of any fair assessment of El Caudillo de la Basura Blanca and his crew.

Confirmation bias is a reality--most Trump supporters apparently see what's happening as a proof that the lib-tard main stream media and an entrenched Washington bureaucracy are in a hellish conspiracy to frustrate the will of the people ( well, of the minority--by 3-million voters--of the population who voted for Trump).  Most Democrats and the non-political people of the center see what's happening as the thrashing around of dangerous amateurs and 'somebody needs to do something' about it (where are the adults in the room?, they ask).  The rest of the world--all those people beyond the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the people on the other side of the Wall--seem to be reaching some more guarded preliminary conclusions--write off Trump, not the United States, and for time being assume there is a black hole where the United States of America used to be.

The multiplicity of narratives is as much a problem as confirmation bias.  Trump came into office having never been elected to anything, have never served his country in any capacity, hell, not even having paid taxes in over a decade.  Doleful Republicans too gutless to admit what their party has foisted on the country, console themselves by claiming that Trump used to be a Democrat.  Gotta call bullshit on that one.  He was a New Yorker, sporting the local plumage, that's all.  He was a billionaire parcelling out bipartisan political contributions as part of the group effort to make sure the oligarchy's interests were political served, that's all.  Beyond the lack of a political track record, there is the erratic personal past--three wives, the bankruptcies, starting with great wealth, thrashing around in casinos and golf course projects, the larger than life media persona--that make him an enigma at the human level.  An unpleasant enigma, but an enigma nonetheless.  'Make America Great Again' isn't much to go on.  It certainly has a fascist ring to it (more so that anything offered up by Islamic fundamentalism, despite the efforts of Rumsfeldt et al. to label that baffling and contradictory movement 'Islamofascism').

On a human level you can make some educated guesses about Trump, but unless you care about the man, that's beside the point.  And, besides Trump and his associates, there is the whole question of how institutions and individual actors are going to react.  The Senate, the House of Representatives, the federal government as a whole, the military have never been tested this way.  It's probably childish and naive to put much faith in, say, the courts, as the final  safeguard against tyranny, a role they're given in the innocent mindset of most conservative American political thinkers, but their responses will emphatically effect how this is going to play out.

So, if you are interested in how the situation is going to unfold, there simply isn't enough to go on, and in that vacuum preconceived notions have too much weight.

All that said, a rocky start.  And, interestingly, all the rough patches have, basically, been sought out.  The fiascoes over the Wall and the Travel Ban were self-inflicted, in the sense that the regime itself started things rolling.  Rather than starting with something with widespread bi-partisan support (infrastructure, anyone?) or something of substance requiring heavy lifting (healthcare reform beyond sloganeering?), the Trump regime began by pandering to its base, to the general consternation of everyone not part of that base.   In my opinion, these guys haven't done a particularly good job dealing with the fallout from the, er, mixed reception their first initiatives out of the box, have received.  They almost blew their fingers off, lighting the cherry bomb, then failing to throw it.  The Travel Ban and the legal strategies associated with it, in particular, are astonishing.  Sometime needs to tell Team Trump that 'do overs' really aren't' possible in politics.  Once roiled, the waters take a long time to go still again.

So, that brings us to the question that is the title of this essay.  What is going to happen when, inevitably, the Trump crowd is no longer itself kicking off the controversy, but is called on the react to a situation out of its control?  How will these guys handle a crisis?  So far, the economy is cranking along just fine, there has been no new outbreak of regional violence anywhere in the world.  All that has happened so far has involved highly symbolic missile-related muscle flexing.  The Iranians tested a missile.  The North Koreans did the same.  The Russians deployed new intermediate range missile battalions (a treaty violation).  All of this is alarming, of course, but not on the same level as, say, an overt military intervention by Russia in the Ukraine.  So far, and he hasn't been in power long, global events have not required Trump to respond with American power.

But, every few years or so, something happens and American need their federal government.  Since the turn of the century, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and the economic melt-down of 2008 have been the kind of thing that a country needs a strong central government to handle.  Sooner or later, something like that will happen again.  Then we'll see.  No use trying to predict.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Manafort, Flynn and Trump--Playing the Russian Hand . . .

As a little thought experiment, let's look at the current situation in Washington from the Russian perspective.  For starters, doing so helps to cleanse the mind of irrelevant niceties like burden of proof, or even guilt or innocence.  What happened to Flynn is a useful reminder that all assets have useful lives, although the speed with which he depreciated is mind boggling, and definitely a reminder of the fragility of the biggest asset of all.

Let's assume that the Russian goal here is (realistically) to weaken the United States, reduce its international footprint and (optimistically) contribute in any way possible to that country entering an existential crisis of a magnitude similar to what Russia endured in the breakup of the old Soviet Union.  The optimistic goal (American corporate managers would call it a stretch goal) seems pretty unrealistic, but this time last year getting Trump elected to the presidency seemed about as unrealistic.  Of course, as Russians, it's important to remember that Russian assistance did not elect Trump as the American president, it provided a useful nudge, sure, it contributed, of course, but to claim it actually made Trump happen, that's overstatement.  A little humility is in order.

As Russians, let's also assume that there are elements in American politics that want to bring Trump down.  His situation is a bit like that of Nikita Khrushchev after the Cuban missile crisis.  Now, any Russian link is obviously the kiss of death (look at Paul Manafort, and he was more an eye-opener to the possibilities of the situation than an actual, functioning asset).  But it is very much in the interests of Russia to keep Trump in power as long as possible.  The man is a buffoon, and the national humiliation of the Americans at having a coward and political weakling for their president is, in itself, enormously advantageous.  Beyond that, to the extent that his legitimacy is impaired and the country's political elite is thrown in turmoil, the virtual paralysis of the country is even more advantageous.  So, it's very much in the Russian interest to keep him installed, if possible, and, if that isn't, to prolong for as long as possible the turmoil associated with his continued presence in office or eventual removal.  The ideal outcome might be have him, in place, neutered, but with a remaining limited capacity to impede any any anti-Russian moves by the United States.  In Russian dreams.  But dreams sometimes come true.

The Trump opposition is in no sense coordinated or disciplined.  Popularly elected and politically motivated Democratic legislators and the patriotic intelligence professionals of the American security establishment have some natural antipathies that could be exploited.  If Trump or his inner circle were even marginally competent, those factions could be neutralized or perhaps even turned against one another.  But, when it comes to exercising power, they aren't and unfortunately there is no way to provide Trump's team with the coaching and guidance it desperately needs.  The United States isn't Syria (yet).

Now, the American intelligence services range from opaque to impenetrable.  But the same cannot be said of the political opposition.  So, while not much can be done to prop Trump up, there may be opportunities to attack his opponents, at least in the political and media elites.  In the meantime, to use an American proverb, make hay while the sun shines.  Or, if you're old enough, as you may remember from your childhood courses on dialectics, strike when the correlation of forces is in your favor.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Deep State USA, Is There One? And the answer is . . .

(This is the final part of a series of posts on the possibility of an American Deep State and may not make sense unless you've read the preceding installments.  The previous posts are on January 23, 2017, January 25, 2017 and February 2, 2017.) 

We've got all the ingredients.  It's as if the box from Blue Apron has been opened, and everything you need to make the meal is neatly lined up on the kitchen counter.  But, we haven't made the meal yet (even if the delivery of the box earlier in the week will show up on this month's credit card cycle).

Consider:  For the last 15 years the War on Terror has involved the created of a national security apparatus which although focused on external threats, can easily be redeployed to address domestic issues.  As a matter of fact, given that virtually all incidents of terrorism on U.S. since 9/11 have been committed by U.S. citizen that redeployment (and the elimination of easy public access to any weapon that can hold more rounds than, say, a six-shooter)is what any competent security personnel would recommend if you're worried about domestic 'carnage,' to use the Caudillo's word.

Consider:  The only real impediment to doing so are fussy legalistic objections, blather about the rule of law and norms of decency, the sort of stuff that any committed revolutionary would sweep away in a heartbeat(whether from the right, like Mr. Bannon, or on the left, like, well, she hasn't surfaced yet).  The noise about frustrating the judicial review of the executive order announcing a travel ban by signing a new order before review of the current one has even concluded is a minor first step in that process.  

Consider:  National security, the safety of the Homeland (Fatherland? Das Reich?) has historically made an acceptable justification for suspensions of ordinary rules, procedures, safeguards, right.  Can anyone grok 'State of Emergency'?  How about, 'State of Siege'?  A new set of Black prisons would be another, bigger step.  Rendition of people apprehended within the borders of the U.S. to these new black prisons would be a much bigger step after that.  Or maybe just push them out of the helicopter on the ride to the their final destination for an Argentine swim? And so on.  It's not hard to imagine a progressive implementation of domestic security measures to crush popular dissent and preserve domestic order and tranquility (for a little while).

Consider: the dynamic of the previous considerations leads to the development of an embedded element in the bowels of the national security establishment, answerable to no one, hard to pinpoint, with a self-appointed mission to protect the nation from all threats, internal and external.  It would only be a matter of time before such an element turned on and tamed its political 'masters'.

And that, gentle reader, is the definition of a Deep State.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I'm with Her (Mia Farrow)

Not sure if the Nordstrom brouhaha is even worth noticing.  But since Paul Krugman thinks it is, here are my two cents:

I'm with Mia Farrow, and I quote in full, 'I've never plugged a store before, but Nordstrom's is great.'  I also liked the initial response of the Nordstrom spokesperson who, not realizing he was dealing with a fecal meteorological event stirred up by Jihadi Don, gave a Marketing 101 explanation of how a department store makes merchandising calls (to the effect of, 'we carry around 2000 brands, cull the low producers--about 10% of the total--every year, and replace them with new brands, to see how those will do.  We're a department store.  That's how department stores work'--not a direct quote).

Nordie's is a nice place.  I liked both the Pioneer Square Store in downtown Portland and the Washington Square store down towards Lake Oswego when we lived in Oregon.  The house brand is high quality.  The people seemed pleasant.  But I'm not much into shopping or retail or any of that shit, so that's all I know.

As far as Jihadi Don taking them on, it's ridiculous, of course, and not worth talking about in real time.  Except insofar as, down the road, as an early tell tale sign of petulant, petty undisciplined abuse of power, it may become symbolic.  For the time being, it's up there with Truman taking on the music critic who panned his daughter's singing (though, in Truman's defense, no money was involved, and his letter to the critic was a great deal more, entertaining, expressive, whatever, than the tweet that caused the current stir).  Of course, people talked about how inappropriate what Truman did for over a decade.  Now, the Trump defenders will excuse the tweet, the Trump haters will declare outrage, and, all in all, just a minor dignity chip knocked off the presidency pedestal, a spontaneous and unplanned incident in the ongoing demolition project.