Thursday, March 29, 2018

Trump Hits the Bottom of the Barrel

Trump's recent hiring decisions are not the cream of the crop.

The VA
When Harry Truman wanted to solve problems with the Veterans Administration he appointed four-star general Omar Bradley. Bradley had a deserved reputation as a soldier's general, someone who cared about the men under him, and a superb manager of large, complex organizations. His 12th Army Group held four armies and nearly one million men.

Trump is appointing the last guy to give him a prostate exam. Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson is probably a competent physician, although his overly effusive description of Trump's health makes that questionable. He has never commanded more than a handful of doctors as physician supervisor at Camp David and director of the White House medical unit. The VA has over 370,000 employees and 152 medical centers plus over 1400 out-patient facilities.

Trump Hires Matlock
Trump's new personal lawyer for the Russia probe has never been employed at a major law firm and never served as a defense attorney. He is an elderly, cracker-barrel attorney who is a part time assistant to the Georgia Attorney General. His CV is replete with unpublished articles about medieval history. I'm sure he is folksy and will be able to entertain Mueller's crack team of prosecutors with stories about sixth century popes but Andy Griffith would probably have been a better choice.

Federal Aviation Administration
He hasn't picked him yet, but high on Trump's list for director of the FAA is John Dunkin, his personal pilot. The post has been empty for over a year. The previous administrators have had both significant private sector management experience and governmental experience in the field.

Bush the Younger's choice, Marion Blakey, had run a consulting firm that specialized in transportation issues and had previously been chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Dunkin's major accomplishment is avoiding turbulence so as to not upsetting Trump's stomach.

National Economic Council
The new Director, Larry Kudlow isn't an economist, but he plays one on TV.

Gina Haspel's principle experience is running CIA torture camps in Thailand and destroying video evidence of CIA torture. At least she is experienced.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Rick Santorum: Asshole of the Week

There were a lot of candidates. Dom Giordano, a Philly radio magpie, accused the teen activists fighting gun violence of acting "as if they are bulletproof." Actually, it was their knowledge that they are not bulletproof that has powered their activism. But the winning loser is Mr. Frothy.

Santorum thinks students shouldn't be involved in useless political activities (politics is how Santorum has spent his entire career). They should do something useful like learning CPR (so they will know how to revive the victims of the next mass shooting). He wants them to abandon their powerful united efforts to change the country and focus on weak, individual hobbies.

Friday, March 23, 2018

FBI Director's Reading Habits

It is interesting to know that FBI Director Chris Wray appears to think century old pulp fiction is intelligence research. Last month, Wray told a Senate committee, "One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat on their end."

China a threat to the whole of American society? That's classic racist Yellow Peril stuff.
But he is supposed to be a reasonable voice in the administration. Sounds like just more 19th century bigotry.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

John Bolton: National Security Advisor

As each day passes I am less and less worried that I will outlive my retirement funds. Sure, the stock market is collapsing and inflation will rise as the Trump tariffs cause trade wars and product shortages, but we'll all be dead in a couple of years or so either from global nuclear war or a fascist take over. So...

Why Trump's China Tariffs Will Fail

Some countries have seminal events that shape them decades and even centuries in the future. For China, one of those events was the Opium Wars.
Two hundred years ago, Europe, most notably England, was running a trade deficit with China. China made things that European consumers wanted like silk and tea while Europe didn't produce anything the Chinese found useful.

England had one potential cash crop, massive poppy fields in India but China soon made it illegal to import opium and confiscated over 1200 tons of opium in British owned warehouses in Canton. England and the East India Company were outraged.

The British sent an army and their fleet to compel the Chinese to legalize the narcotic trade and won an easy victory. China was forced to allow the free trade of opium, pay over half a trillion dollars (inflation adjusted) in reparations, and give the port city of Hong Kong to the British.

A decade later, the British decided the Chinese were not sufficiently subservient to British interests and, joined by France , Russia, and the United States, attacked Chinese coastal cities. Again, the Western forces had an easy victory and forced the Chinese to surrender more concessions and pay additional reparations.

This short YouTube film gives a good and entertaining overview of the history.

Why History Matters
China calls this the beginning of their Century of Humiliation when China was the victim of multiple foreign exploitations. Surrendering to Westerners in a trade conflict is unthinkable. Each Trump tariff will be met with a firm response. And this time the Americans are the ones with the addiction, to Chinese electronics.

Americans may view this trade war as transactional, just business. To the Chinese, a trade war is an existential attack on their nationhood. They will fight harder.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Republicans Hate Law Enforcement

There was a time when being a Republican meant being tough on crime and being the biggest supporters of law enforcement in the country.
There was a time when Republicans were at the forefront of hunting down Russian spies seeking to subvert American freedoms.

But that was long ago. Today, being a Republican means hating the FBI and doing everything in your power to undermine the FBI's credibility and undermining its efforts to uncover and combat criminal conspiracies.

Today, being a Republican means inviting Russian agents to penthouse meetings, encouraging Russian spies to corrupt American elections, and protecting those people working with Russian spies to attack America.

While a few Republicans are active traitors (Steve Bannon), most are merely "useful idiots," to use an old Russian phrase for the dupes they con into helping them.
Their greed for either money or power, or both, allows them, and along with them us, to be led to slaughter by a Russian strongman they don't even realize is their master. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

So Much News, So Little Time

1. The Future Takes a Stand
The big news today is not the Conor Lamb victory, it is the nationwide student movement against guns and gun violence. Nothing frightens establishment politicians like student movements. Want proof? The Chicago GOP is suing the Chicago public school system for not threatening retaliation against student protesters.

2. Death of a Genius
The greatest mind of our generation has passed this mortal coil to enter immortality. Stephen Hawking shined a light into the universe's blackest holes while inspiring thousands of people to study physics and millions of people to ignore handicaps and chase their dreams. The history of humanity has seen few people like Stephen Hawking and we are all diminished by his loss.

3. On Putin's Orders
First came the news that Vlad Putin vetoed Trump's choice of Mitt Romney for Secretary of State; picking instead the Putin approved recipient of Russia's Order of Friendship Rex Tillerson. Next came Trump's spokesman Sarah Sanders repeatedly refusing to even whisper the word "Russia" in connection to the nerve gas attack on a Russian ex-spy in London. Then Tillerson backed the British position that Russia was behind to nerve gas attack.

The very next day, Trump fired Tillerson. Can there be any question that the order came from Moscow and Trump followed that order obediently. We can assume that Pompeo will only keep the job as long as he is an obsequious toady to Putin.

4. Okay, Yeah, and Lamb
Sure, Conor Lamb ran a brilliant campaign while his opponent, Rick Saccone, was a lazy slug. Sure, Lamb was not a San Francisco liberal but a good fit for a blue-collar district. Still, this was a district where a Republican dead skunk would defeat a Democratic Jesus Christ. Trump won the district by twenty points. Trump campaigned for Saccone. Trump even sent his son to campaign for Saccone.

And Conor won by a whisker in a district where he should have had no chance. Republicans today are bleating sour grapes in the face of another epic failure. I feel like visiting a petting zoo and caressing a lamb.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Jeff Sessions and the New Fugitive Slave Act

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions got the wrong end of the stick when he compared California's resistance to the roving gangs of immigration agents snatching up and deporting peaceful people in the state. Sessions compared it to slavery when the more apt comparison is to the Northern response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The Fugitive Slave Act made it illegal for Northerners to assist an escaped slave seeking freedom. Like Sessions wants to force Californians to assist in the capture of immigrants, the Act compelled Northerners to actively participate in the hunt for blacks on pain of fine or imprisonment. Two Quakers were charged with treason for refusing to help slave hunters.

Several states passed laws forbidding state officers from helping the slave hunters. Massachusetts made it illegal for any state official to return a person fleeing slavery and disbarred any lawyer who represented slave masters.
California is on the right side of history and the right side of morality in this fight. It is Sessions who is treating people like chattel. The ICE raiders may have a perverted federal government on their side but Gov. Brown has the people of California behind him in this fight.

The people, united, will never be defeated. ~ 1960's civil rights slogan

Monday, March 05, 2018

Who Is This Peter Navarro Person?

I have the misfortune of knowing Peter Navarro. It was a quarter century ago, I was a leader of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club and Navarro was an economics professor in Orange County with dreams of political power. He saw in San Diego's vibrant environmental movement a possible tool for his delusions of grandeur.

Peter formed his own organization, PLAN!, ostensibly to fight rampant urbanization but really as an ego tool to promote himself.

I found myself working on a couple initiative campaigns with him. Peter was rude, crude, more interested in throwing bombs than making a reasoned case. He was Trumpian before that was a thing. We lost the first campaign in no small part due to his toxic participation.

We both served on the fundraising committee for the second campaign. The initiative was written by Sierra Club lawyers, it was so solid not even the building industry opposed it. Peter used his position on the committee to pretend to raise money for the campaign but he directed the cash to his personal organization. We won but Navarro's backstabbing has starved the campaign for funds and had we even a tepid opposition the initiative would have failed.

Peter then struck out on his own with a third initiative that was to be his launching pad for a campaign for mayor of San Diego. The initiative was badly written with dodads included for every progressive cause from labor to environmentalism. Unfortunately for Peter, the law requires initiatives to be single issue and Peter's was an over decorated Christmas tree.

Republicans took it to court over the labor provisions. Peter offered to cut them out even though labor had provided the signature gathering manpower. The judge ruled, rightly, that he couldn't rewrite an initiative after the signatures had been gathered and tossed the initiative.

No matter, Navarro ran for mayor of San Diego in 1992 against Republican career politician Susan Golding. Peter started out with a big lead but squandered it through his general ineptitude. Still, the race was neck and neck before the final debate.

Golding calmly goaded him into an unhinged tirade that doomed his chances. Peter lost. Peter lost three more times, for the county Board of Supervisors, Congress, and the San Diego City Council. Then Peter wrote an unpublishable book blaming everybody he ever met for the losses.

Peter didn't want political power for what he could do for people but what he could do to people.

To Peter there are two types of people in the world, people who worship him and people who should be destroyed. I remember his unrestrained glee when my mentor in the Sierra Club, Emily Durbin, died. She didn't worship at the alter of Navarro, instead she worked selflessly to protect the environment. I still have a lingering hatred for Peter for that alone.

Peter Now
Peter is supposed to be a China trade hawk but his steel tariffs will have no effect on China (they send the US almost no steel) but it will start a bitter trade war with our friend and neighbor, Canada.

This is completely within his long time habits - ignore the actual important issues and instead inflict the maximum pain on the maximum number of people. For nearly 30 years Peter has sought power and now, finally, he has it. He has the power to prove his superiority by crushing those he feels are beneath him. He feels everybody is beneath him.

Peter wants his trade wars. He wants war with Canada and Europe and Mexico because he thinks they are weaker than China and he can damage them more than he could hurt China.

It's who Peter is, a bomb throwing anarchist.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Tariffs Are a 19th Century Solution

Trade wars are good, and easy to win. ~ Donald the Mad
I guess we should be happy that Trump is bored with starting a nuclear war with North Korea. Now he wants to start a global trade war.
1880 Republican Platform
When George Bush imposed tariffs on imported steel in 2002, the goal was to save steel jobs and help Republicans in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The result was that more people lost their jobs as a result of the higher steel prices than were employed in the entire steel industry.

There were steel shortages as the US steel industry was unable to meet domestic demand. The US trade deficit actually increased because the cost of finished products, like automobiles, rose in the US making imported cars more attractive. Facing retaliatory tariffs from a united international trading system targeted to punish Republicans in Florida and Michigan, Bush withdrew his tariffs in less than a year.

A Brief Tariff History
Tariffs were a common tool used 150 years ago to protect domestic industries from more powerful manufacturing nations like England and Germany. Whether they worked or not then is problematic; the Gilded Age was great for the mega-wealthy but coincided with the Long Depression with high unemployment and extreme poverty for the working classes.
If you were steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, tariffs made life better than good; if you were employed by him life sucked and you worked until you died.

The most famous tariffs were the Smoot-Hawley Act during the Great Depression. They didn't cause the depression but they made it worst. Our tariffs and the retaliations slowed international trade to a crawl, isolating nations into individual islands of misery.