Friday, July 14, 2017

Trump Got Played. And Isn't A Player


Tomorrow's newspaper column:
Opinions may vary. Mine is that Putin played Trump like a balalaika. Example: agreeing to work with Russia to create an “impenetrable cybersecurity unit” is like inviting Mexican drug cartels to build his border wall. (After bipartisan derision, Trump pretended he knew all along it couldn’t happen. Riiight.) 
Worse was denouncing, on foreign soil, our intelligence agencies and free press while claiming “no one knows” who hacked the election. Which never occurred. But is Obama’s fault. Even Trump’s UN ambassador said “everybody knows” it was Russia. (Keep your résumé up to date, Nikki.) Backfilling, she defended Ivanka’s place-taking for daddy, saying she’s part of a “public service family.” I may not understand the term.  
Every involved US intelligence agency and every member of Congressional intelligence committees, Republican and Democrat, agrees that Russia alone was behind the hacking. Virtually all acknowledge its purpose was to help Trump win, and that it was on orders from Putin. Still to be determined is to what extent Trump’s team was in on it, although Don Jr. is stumbling toward implicating everyone, making a tougher sell for Foxolimjonesians insisting it’s fake news. (If there weren’t still people who claim Trump never lies and was an honorable businessman, it’d be an impossible sell.) Besides, who wouldn’t believe denials from a man who ordered hacking and one who benefitted?  
This much is clear: under Trump, there’ll be no consequences for Russian election interference, let alone unequivocal acknowledgement. Time to “move forward,” the men agreed. Because a malign invasion by a foreign adversary is no big deal. Not to Trump, not to his loyalists. Unless the aim had been different. 
It was a lopsided engagement: A novice Secretary of State and a gullible president, neither with diplomatic experience, alone in a room with a seasoned kompromat political operative and a former KGB agent around whom people seem predisposed to become dead, with or without poison or bullets in their systems. Usually there are official note-takers at such meetings. That there were none is a thought-provoking decision, leaving only he-said/he-said versions of the extent to which hacking was discussed and claims of innocence accepted. One assumes, though, that the two known spies among the four will have made records of some sort. To be stashed with the other stuff.  
In fairness (for this columnist is nothing if not fair), a ceasefire in a portion of Syria was implemented, and if it lasts that’s a good thing. Then Rex Tillerson said US and Russian objectives in Syria are “exactly the same” and that maybe the Russians have “the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.” Wow.  
Admittedly, US foreign “policy” has been changing at the speed of Twitter; but it’s long been stated that “we” want Assad gone, while Russia continues to prop him up and abet his crimes. We’re left to wonder why he said it, and what Trumpists would have said, had it been John Kerry. With that and Trump’s “fuggedaboudit” attitude toward election interference, Putin got what he wanted, likely including giveaways about which we may never hear. If cooperation with Russia, with its major military and minor economy, is desirable, having easily manipulated amateurs on our side and professional malefactors on theirs bodes worrisome.  
For those who’d dismiss this as left-wing blather, read what the editor of The Weekly Standard, about as right-wing as there is this side of Breitbart, had to say. True conservatives still exist, even as they’re powerless in their own party.  
In terms of economic impact, meeting Putin was a sideshow. The G-20 summit, at and before which Trump handed leadership of the free world to Germany and economic supremacy to China, was the main event. By its end, centuries of respect for the US had all but evaporated. Trumpites who think our past leadership was only about giving money away are unconcerned. But Europe, China, and Japan had forged their own agreements by the time Trump got there; and with the US alone in rejecting the Paris Accords, such self-inflicted isolation will be disastrous, and not just in trade and energy production. In a connected, dangerous world, reputation is currency and incompetence has far-ranging consequences.  
“Make America Great Again.” Turns out it contains a homophone.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Making Sense Of It



Simply repeating the facts makes it seem like a failed movie script. Junior must be dumber than his dad. And here I'd thought Eric was the stupid one.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Old (As In "Old") Friends



My next newspaper column. A certain amount of esoterica, since only readers of the local paper will know Larry. We did this once before and readers liked it. They miss him; especially the ones that hate my stuff.
Well, here we are again, Sid. A flaming “liberal” and a gun-toting, NRA Life Member, “conservative,” together again in The Herald because editor Jon Bauer saw our recent conversation on Facebook. And, yes, not only do I read you in The Herald, but I also follow your Facebook posts and your blog.

I also enjoy sitting down with you for coffee. You see, as friends, I both want, and like, to hear your views in order to check my own thinking. The fact that we may differ doesn’t matter because I know that we can still civilly listen to each other, take the time to digest what’s said and, then, respond knowing that the thoughts presented will not be treated with disdain or, worse, contempt and vitriol.

As you know, I don’t “do” politics because of the polarization that now dominates this arena. These days, it seems that the instant many people detect positions that are at odds with theirs, they lump you into the “enemy” camp and start lobbing verbal bombs. No longer is there a “neutral ground” upon which to meet and simply explore ideas and beliefs. And we, as a society, are definitely the worse for that.

I’ll add that there are other reasons I count you as a friend. We’re both granddads who are fully involved in the “spoiling” role that that title requires of us. You like cars. You served and were wounded in Viet Nam. Too, you enjoy the summer sausage I make from the deer I “slaughter” annually.

Still, despite differing views, we can sit, talk, and joke with each other. Makes you wonder who it is that wants this country polarized and, more importantly, why. I think we could identify the “who” were we to “Follow the money.” The “why” by “Divide and conquer.”

You’re right, Larry. The fact is that as human-Americans, dads, grandpas, indulgers in a sip once in a while, we, like everyone else, have much more in common than what divides us. We’re old enough to remember when even political discussions could be had among friends, which might be why we still manage. I long for those days, and, despite my inability to resist putting it too strongly in my writing, it’s fundamental to why I keep at it: to point out the craziness that’s replaced reasonableness. I acknowledge it’s sort of self-defeating to yell and scream about how we’ve come to yell and scream at each other (present company excepted), but it’s hard not to.

I’d say it started with Newt Gingrich when he adopted his scorched earth policy as Speaker, and hit its lowest point when Rs got together, literally on the day of Obama’s inauguration, to plan how to block everything he did, no matter how good it might be for America. The days of comity are long gone, but the blame isn’t equal. Plus, I don’t think there’s even been an attack on science and expertise like we’re now seeing. It makes me crazy. And frightened. So I shout it out.

I don’t mean to let any felines out of bagatory confinement here, Larry, but you’re the kind of conservative I grew up around: thoughtful, skeptical, curious, not inclined to suffer fools, or vote for them. I’d like to think those are traits we have in common, as neither political party has exclusive claim to them.

And you’re right, of course: while “the people” fight among themselves and fail to listen to each other, thinking our opinions matter, those who keep us at each other’s throats are piling up the cash.

Sid, I’m not a “registered” anything, thus who started this “scorched earth” hell doesn’t matter to me. Each side has often behaved hypocritically and even despicably in the years since I first started voting. I just want an end to it all. Too, my beliefs don’t shoehorn into any party and can be best summarized as “I’ll only support a candidate whose loyalty, first and foremost, is to the country and not to a certain party.” This past election, Jim Webb received my write-in vote for President as did James Mattis for VP. Thus, I think both parties would view me as an unwanted pain in the butt.

Probably. Not me, though. In fact, I think if they’d let us, we could solve it all. But let’s get to the important stuff: that deer sausage you make. It’s darn fine sausage. You and I have gone to the shooting range together. I think I impressed you with a shot or two. I’d enjoy a hunt, too, up to a point. I’d not be the one to pull the trigger, but I’d help you carry the load back to your truck. Not gonna kill. Happy to eat.

Sid, your shooting did, in fact, impress the hell out of me. But, then again, my rifle was in the hands of a surgeon and, that, as they say, puts an end to that discussion.

Okay, then: as grandfathers of adorable kids who happen to have preexisting conditions, maybe I can suck you further into quasi-politics: think universal single-payer healthcare ought to be back in the mix?

In a word, “Yep.” (Try to pick yourself up from the floor.) In any discussion of tough problems, every possible solution should be on the table. Too, that “Yep” only comes with an iron-clad agreement that whatever mish-mashed, hodge-podged, load of doggerel comes from those we call “our representatives,” they themselves will be subject to whatever fresh new hell they inflict upon us.
Agreed. And it applies to lots of other stuff they produce that affects others but not them. Of course, among other things, they’d have to grow uteri or know what hunger feels like. (Ha. I said that without space for you to respond). Thanks, Larry. Next round of coffee is on me.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Could They Actually?



If Republicans do as some, including Trump, are threatening -- namely repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act before they have a replacement -- it will reveal them to be the uncaring, hypocritical, nasty people we (those paying attention) know they are. It'd mean that in their haste to reward their owners with massive tax breaks, they're perfectly happy to leave millions of Americans without coverage and with no way to know what will happen to them.

One hopes they're not that stupid and awful. We know they're perfectly capable of it. We know they don't care about anyone but the wealthy -- the white, testiculated sort in particular. But were they to do it, I'd think even Trumpists would recoil. Not all of them, of course. Not the ones unaffected, for sure; and probably lots who'd be affected but wouldn't understand or, because Jesus sent Trump, wouldn't care. But enough to make it thinkable that the government might be handed back to Democrats.

That, of course, implies Democrats could get their message-shit together in ways they haven't in a long, long time.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Everything New Is Old Again


Thanks to Charles P. Pierce, who got it elsewhere, we can see that whereas Trump is surely the worst, he's not the first. This appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1866, after Andrew Johnson's ascendancy to the presidency after Lincoln's assassination:
The President of the United States has so singular a combination of defects for the office of a constitutional magistrate, that he could have obtained the opportunity to misrule the nation only by a visitation of Providence.  
Insincere as well as stubborn, cunning as well as unreasonable, vain as well as ill-tempered, greedy of popularity as well as arbitrary in disposition, veering in his mind as well as fixed in his will, he unites in his character the seemingly opposite qualities of demagogue and autocrat, and converts the Presidential chair into a stump or a throne, according as the impulse seizes him to cajole or to command. 
Doubtless much of the evil developed in him is due to his misfortune in having been lifted by events to a position which he lacked the elevation and breadth of intelligence adequately to fill. He was cursed with the possession of a power and authority which no man of narrow mind, bitter prejudices, and inordinate self-estimation can exercise without depraving himself as well as injuring the nation.  
Egotistic to the point of mental disease, he resented the direct and manly opposition of statesmen to his opinions and moods as a personal affront, and descended to the last degree of littleness in a political leader, — that of betraying his party, in order to gratify his spite. He of course became the prey of intriguers and sycophants, — of persons who understand the art of managing minds which are at once arbitrary and weak, by allowing them to retain unity of will amid the most palpable inconsistencies of opinion, so that inconstancy to principle shall not weaken force of purpose, nor the emphasis be at all abated with which they may bless to-day what yesterday they cursed. 
Thus the abhorrer of traitors has now become their tool. Thus the denouncer of Copperheads has now sunk into dependence on their support. Thus the imposer of conditions of reconstruction has now become the fore- most friend of the unconditioned return of the Rebel States. Thus the furious Union Republican, whose harangues against his political opponents almost scared his political friends by their violence, has now become the shameless betrayer of the people who trusted him. And in all these changes of base he has appeared supremely conscious, in his own mind, of playing an independent, a consistent, and especially a conscientious part...
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