Friday, July 21, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - July 21, 2017

"I Don't Care Anymore" by Phil Collins (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Détente Can Be Dangerous

There's nothing wrong with Donald Trump having a second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of Twenty summit, which was not disclosed until this week.  
There's noting wrong with Trump and Putin fraternizing over dinner at the summit, which is how the meeting happened.
There's nothing wrong with Trump and Putin trying to establish some sort of rapprochement over raspberry sorbet or whatever the heck was served for dessert.
There's nothing wrong with Trump and Putin communicating only through Putin's interpreter.
There's nothing wrong with any of that.
There is something wrong with the Russians compiling a complete account of what was discussed while no Americans are present no to take any notes. 
Rex Tillerson, where were you?
This is the sort of sloppy diplomacy that could get These States in big trouble.
Hence, the title of this blog entry.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Night of the Living Dead Health Care Bill

The Senate Republican leadership pulled the plug on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, as too many members of the GOP's Senate caucus have refused to back the Senate bill in any way, shape or form.  Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer has offered to work with the Republicans to fix the law, but Mitch McConnell, Schumer's Republican counterpart, has decided to schedule a vote to repeal it without replacing it.
Too bad for him that he doesn't have the votes for even that.
Attempts to "reform" health care will go on, but in broad daylight, with hearings, markups, and all those other old-fashioned things that Congress used to be good at.  And the House repeal-and-replace bill is still floating out there.   It looks like the Republicans will have to actually work with the Democrats in - HORRORS! - a bipartisan fashion.
The GOP isn't done decimating the middle class, though.  Wait until the Republican House releases its budget.  It will have more in common with Trump's budget than you think.       

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Savage Analysis

Noted gay activist Dan Savage made a rather nonsensical comment about what the Democrats ought to do to recover in 2018 and 2020. He said that they should concentrate on the diverse urban populations in the cities where their base is, instead of white working-class and rural voters.  He opined that even the most Democratic states are predominantly Republican outside the urban areas - including his adopted home state of Washington - and the Republican voters can never be won over.
Savage, as usual, doesn't know what he's talking about.   In no way am I suggesting that Democrats should ignore the multiracial, multi-ethnic urban faithful, and I agree with Savage that they should get more people in urban areas to vote.  However, writing off the white vote in rural and blue-collar communities is political suicide.  Republican policies have screwed these people over so often, they should be voting for someone other than the GOP, and the Democrats will only make the same mistake that Hillary Clinton made in trying to win without them while sticking with a careful, inoffensive centrist posture.  Bear in mind that Barack Obama won many of the white voters of rural and working-class backgrounds in 2008 and 2012, the same voters that Donald Trump won in 2016.   They'll vote Democratic again if they think the party shows concern for their interests, as Trump did during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Trump's performance among those voters helped him  capture three key states - Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin - that got him the White House.  (Trump only needed one or two of these states to win; the Democrats had to get them all.)  Hillary Clinton, who became synonymous with every bad stereotype about white bourgeois liberals, didn't think that a population segment ticked off with the decline of manufacturing jobs and the lack of economic opportunity was worth going after.
And not all of these people voted for Trump.  As many pundits noted, a lot of them simply didn't vote at all.  There was no one who spoke to them; Trump offered nothing but vulgar bluster, and Hillary spent her time cavorting with pop stars.  A progressive message could work with these voters, but they're only getting swayed right and center. 
Democrats have to go after white working-class and rural voters - but not at the expense of their urban, multi-ethnic base.  And truth be told, they have to concentrate on working-class and rural voters of all races, creeds and colors, because a black farmer in Mississippi  and a Latino construction worker in Ohio are left out just as much as their white counterparts by the Democratic Party.  Democrats have scored some impressive victories in down-ballot races, recently, taking two Republican seats in the Oklahoma state legislature, but they have to do more of that going forward - and start talking more to voters left out by the party establishment's centrist wet dreams.    If the Democrats blow key elections coming in the immediate future, it will be the party leaders who end up being all wet.           

Monday, July 17, 2017

"All You Need Is Love" - Fifty Years

Fifty years ago today the Beatles released in the United States their single "All You Need Is Love," which perfectly captured the optimistic mood of the summer of 1967 - the Summer of Love.  For those who missed it when I posted the promotional clip for the song as my Music Video Of the Week, here are my comments from that post, slightly reworded here.
"All You Need Is Love" had already been issued in Britain on July 7, 1967, and of course it had been premiered globally the month before on international television, on June 25, 1967, for the satellite TV special "Our World," shown on the BBC in Great Britain and on National Educational Television (a forerunner of the Public Broadcasting Service) in the United States.  The Beatles officially represented Britain for the broadcast.  (The United States aired a story about the U.S.-Soviet summit between President Johnson and Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin in Glassboro, New Jersey that had been held over the previous couple of days, once again demonstrating American cluelessness brought on by Cold War psychosis.)
The Beatles had been asked to present a song that would have a simple, direct message that people everywhere could understand.  They waited until about ten days before the international broadcast before even writing "All You Need Is Love," which was mostly written by John Lennon, and they spent the intervening time recording a basic rhythm track for the song.  It would be performed partially live, with backing tapes, and the result - take 58 - became the master for the single.  (The live elements would be the Paul McCartney's bass, George Harrison's middle-eight lead guitar solo, John's lead vocals, Ringo Starr's drums, and an orchestral backup.)
On the big night, the Beatles performed "All You Need Is Love" for four hundred million viewers around the world.  The group worked in a sample of the French national anthem at the beginning and producer George Martin added in samples of "Greensleeves" and Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" at the end, along with an impromptu chorus of the Beatles' own "She Loves You." from 1963.  That was a joke - the Beatles were a very different group in 1967 from the group they had been a mere four years earlier.  The performance from EMI Studios at Abbey Road took on a party atmosphere, reviving the idea of a celebration from the February 10, 1967 orchestral overdub session for "A Day In the Life" (filmed for a documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that was never completed because the BBC banned the song "A Day In the Life"for an assumed drug reference, which you already know about).  And so Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones were invited, as were Eric Clapton, the Who's Keith Moon, Graham Nash and his then-wife Rose, George's then-wife Pattie, Paul's then-girlfriend Jane Asher and his brother Mike, among others.  Also, some of the guests wearing sandwich signs with the song's title in four languages paraded throughout the room.  It was that sort of broadcast.

The Beatles and their guests wore the colorful clothes of the psychedelic age and decorated the room with all sorts of colorful objects;  balloons, flowers, and the like.  Too bad the BBC transmitted the performance in black and white.  Decades later, Apple Corps would colorize (or "colourise," as the Brits would say) the clip of the performance based on color photos of the event; it was perhaps the only time colorization, originally used in the eighties on classic black and white movies, was used for a good purpose.
"All You Need Is Love" was the high-water mark of the Beatles' career; having just released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were on top of the world, and now they had a new single that expressed the hopes and desires of the planet.  Of course it was a number-one single all over the world, coming out on July 7, 1967 in Britain and being released ten days later, July 17, in the U.S.  "With the Our World promotion," Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn wrote in 1988, "it could hardly have failed."
It wouldn't take long, though, for the hope that love would be all we needed to turn out to be more wishful thinking than reality.  With U.S. troop levels still rising in Vietnam, the promise of peace and love seemed distant.  Then, violence and hatred hit home in America; five days after "All You Need Is Love" was released in Britain, a race riot erupted in Newark, New Jersey, as noted earlier on this blog; a week after the song was released in America, Detroit experienced a race riot that surpassed the Newark riot in its viciousness.  (More about that later.)  The reverberations of such rage over injustice would be felt all over the world the following year - in Prague, in Paris and Chicago.  John Lennon would later say, "I really thought that love would save us all."
It's still a great song.  As Ringo Starr would later say, the answer was love.  That's what the Beatles were all about.     

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Apples and Croissants

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Donald Trump, Jr. was in enough hot water when he turned out to have met a Russian female lawyer, while in the company of campaign manager Paul Manafort, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, to get incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.  Now it turns out he met with four other people at that same June 2016 meeting - including a British publicist and a former Soviet intelligence officer.  All in an effort to tip the scales for his dad even as the Democrats were tipping the scales for Hillary.  I'm suddenly reminded of why I voted Green.
Anyway, there's no evidence that the younger Trump got any information about Hillary, and, if he didn't, he obviously need never have bothered, as his father still won.  But it may turn out that he did get some dirt on Hillary, and even he didn't, his fraternization with the Russians only reveals how far and how low the Trump family was and is willing to go to gain ultimate power. Martin O'Malley famously said that the Presidency is not a crown to pass back and forth between two families; that is, the Bushes and the Clintons.  Look what happens when it's entirely controlled by one family.  This family.
This should prove once and for all that Trump is not to be trusted and that he should be forced to resign.  But Republicans still are backing him.  I don't get it; if Trump goes, they still have Mike Pence.  Pence is a nut like Trump, but at least he's an honorable nut!
And now for the croissant . . . French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Donald Trump at Bastille Day celebrations in Paris and treated him like a good friend.  "Macron" must be French for "Blair."  Nice try, Monsieur President, but Trump still isn't going to get the U.S. back in the Paris Agreement.  You have to talk to his boss Steve Bannon about that! 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trumpcare Mark Three

The Senate has yet a third version of its infernal health care bill, and Mitch McConnell is determined to get it through the upper congressional chamber even if it kills . . . someone else.  Namely the folks who would lose health insurance.
The new Mark Three health bill would keep some taxes that pay for the Affordable Care Act, and it would offer more money for fighting opioid addiction and allow medical savings accounts to be used to pay for insurance premiums.  However, it would still cut Medicaid spending and also allow insurance companies to offer bare-bones plans that cover practically nothing (Ted Cruz's idea, of course).   
And if McConnell doesn't have enough Republican votes to pass it, he'll twist arms . . . literally.  And maybe he'll put Dean Heller of Nevada in a Bulgarian headlock.
Donald Trump thought the original House bill was mean, so what might he think of this?  No matter, he'll sign it, so long as he has something to sign.  
The Republicans have no interest in fixing the problems with the Affordable Care Act.  They just want to tear the heart out of it and replace it with anything for the sake of replacing it with something.  This is the Senate's third crack at the bat?  Three strikes and you're out.   

Friday, July 14, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - July 14, 2017

"Bastille Day" by Rush (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

American Leadership?

Donald Trump's passive stance at the Group of Twenty summit in Hamburg, especially his distancing of himself from the group's commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change (I still can't believe the planet is going to fry because Steve Bannon made sure he was the last person Trump would hear from on this issue!), means to many observers that United States is no longer a world leader, becoming more isolationist and less engaged and involved with the world's problems.  America, they say, will be left behind.
But is it really a bad thing that America is longer willing or able to lead?  And hasn't the U.S. been left behind for years already? 
Let's get a few things straight.  The U.S. became the world leader at the end of World War II because it was one of two Western nations that hadn't been partially or completely destroyed by the war, and Canada wasn't up to the job.  The U.S. was the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth, but it wasn't necessarily the most wise or most learned nation on earth.  The U.S. lacked the wisdom of the ages, having been founded after the age of antiquity, the medieval period, and the Renaissance.  Even then, the country had a disdain for high art and deep thinking; anti-intellectualism had been an American tradition since at least 1828, when commoners, having gained the right to vote for President, had a choice between a man who could write - John Quincy Adams - and a man who could fight - Andrew Jackson.  We all know whom they chose.      
Lacking the imbued cultural and intellectual traditions of Europe, we Americans were already behind in many ways as early as 1945.  Europeans had recognized public broadcasting as a common good and a source of national unity; we emphasized commercial broadcasting from the start, with lip service to the public interest.  Centuries of sectarian conflict had alerted Europeans to the dangers of fundamentalist religion, but we Americans still embraced it (and still embrace it now) with fervor.  While Europeans had begun to accept scientific and intellectual thought challenging religious dogma, we weren't even allowing evolution to be taught in public schools and were mandating prayer in those very same school systems.  And our wealth only made us hungry for more wealth, as we set up a consumptive economy to maximize profit, not a sustainable economy to maximize quality of life.  The differences between profit motives in America and public interests in, for example, Britain became apparent in a joint project between the BBC and American broadcasters in the early thirties, where one BBC executive is reported to have told his American counterparts, "I don't understand how you Americans can worship God and Mammon at the same time."
Since 1945, we Americans have been promoting a way of life that is more of a parody of civilization than the real thing, with our lucrative auto suburbia and our disregard of cities and public spaces, an abdication of the common good in favor of individualism, the idea that every person is on his or her own (as opposed to individuality, the appreciation of uniqueness and non-conformity, which we have historically discouraged), and a sort of self-induced complacency that allowed other countries - including the defeated nations of World War II -  to surpass us in health care, public transportation, infrastructure, education, civic participation, support for the arts . . . everything, really.  
And what has our civilization produced?  A thousand channels of television that panders to the lowest common denominator?  Cartoonish action movies with lots of explosions?   A form of "music" in which mean-looking folks wearing ball caps backwards and gold chains around their necks spew out angry prose to the sound of computerized beats?  We've become a country that accepts religion at face value and questions scientific fact, when it should be the other way around, even questioning the theory of evolution because it contradicts the Bible  - and we're expected to lead the fight against climate change?   We've overthrown democratically elected and popularly supported socialist governments and replaced them with right-wing dictatorships in the name of combating Communism - and we're expected to set an example for freedom?  We've elected  a dim-bulb movie star and then a dimmer-bulb real estate mogul as President - and we're expected to provide wise leadership?  We turned higher education into a parody of itself, and a majority of Republicans - the current ruling party - think higher education of any sort is a waste of time and detriment to the nation . . . and we're expected to be provide intelligent guidance to other countries?  We're what H.L. Mencken called "a commonwealth of third-rate men" and an "Eden of clowns" - and we expect to be taken seriously as a first-rate nation?
We don't deserve to lead. We don't even deserve to follow.  We deserve to be left behind in our own stupidity.  And it's good that a nation like that doesn't lead the world anymore.    

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Newark Riot - Fifty Years Later

It was fifty years ago today that the seething resentment of black Americans toward the glacial pace of reversing racial injustice and urban black poverty exploded at its greatest scale up to that point.  It could have happened in large cities such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, and it could have happened in any city in the South.
Instead, it happened in Newark, New Jersey.

Newark in 1967 was a working-class city that was seeing its white population move to the Essex County and Morris County suburbs to the west for houses on larger lots and the new shopping centers sprouting up along the highways. Blacks had become the majority of the city's population, and even the few who could leave were denied newer housing in suburbia.  (Black suburbanization took root instead in inner suburbs, such as East Orange, which was also being abandoned by whites, as well as in neighborhoods in nearby towns like Montclair.)  Blacks still accounted for only 11 percent of the Newark police force, and they were denied the best jobs in the municipal government, still dominated by Irish and Italian politicians.  Mayor High Addonizio, who would be the last non-Hispanic white mayor of Newark, seemed utterly clueless to the social discord.
In July 1967, as young people in San Francisco were having love-ins, the situation in Newark finally blew up.  Two Italian-American policemen, John DeSimone and Vito Portrelli, stopped and arrested a black taxi driver, John Weerd Smith, after he drove past their patrol car improperly on Fifteenth Avenue in the Central Ward, and they took him to the local precinct station.  Residents of a public housing project (one of those high-rise brick-box projects that are a testament to how providing shelter for the poor is an afterthought in American housing policy) across the street from the precinct station saw them dragging an incapacitated Smith into the precinct.  Though Smith was brought to a nearby hospital, rumors began that he had died in police custody.  Angry residents confronted police at the station, and the trouble began almost immediately.
The riot, which originated in the Central Ward, spread to other parts of town and pit the police and the rioters in a full-scale urban war.  Even Broad Street (above), the city's main downtown thoroughfare, was not spared. New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes was forced to send in the state militia, and the tensions escalated.  The heavy-handed reactions by the police and the militiamen made some people wonder why the rioters were being called the aggressors.  

The presence of the militia, or the National Guard, made Newark look more like Saigon than an American city.
The fires and violence caused by the insurrection leveled whole neighborhoods.  Numerous businesses were wiped out. Twenty-six people were dead and 727 were injured by the time when it was all over.  And, lest anyone thought it was just a conflict between the powerful and the powerless, black retailers took the initiative to scrawl the words "SOUL BROTHER" on their front windows to deter black rioters from looting black businesses.  The racial lines had indeed been drawn.
White Newarkers, then 46 percent of the city's population, staged their own revolt - by packing up their cars and accelerating the white flight to the suburbs.  Among them were one Wilbur Christie and his wife Sondra, the parents of the current New Jersey governor, who moved to suburban Livingston.
The city went through a long period of decline, as the industries that supported it gradually faded away, leaving the Prudential insurance company, founded in Newark in 1875, still anchoring the downtown business district.  Newark has been on the rebound lately.  Broad Street hasn't looked as clean as it does now in years.  There are new light-rail trains and a new streetcar line connecting the old Lackawanna railway station on Broad Street run by NJ Transit and the old Pennsylvania Station now serving NJ Transit trains, Amtrak intercity trains, and Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) trains to New York.  There's a burgeoning arts community, along with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and an arena where the New Jersey Devils hockey team play.  The building once occupied by Hahne's, a department store that has long since gone out of business, has been restored, with housing and retail (including a Whole Foods).  And the population, which bottomed out at 273,546 people in 2000, has risen to 281,764 - above even 1990 levels.  Many of those new residents, no doubt, moved to the new housing that replaced the slum on Fifteenth Avenue (below).
But Newark is still down in the dumps.  Violent crime is an everyday occurrence.  The school system leaves a good deal to be desired.  A minor-league ball team failed, and its stadium is an empty shell.  Vacant lots are visible both in the neighborhoods and in the downtown area. And when you walk in either direction on Market Street away from Broad Street, the scenery is pretty shabby . . . and the sight of the abandoned and once-grand Paramount Theater is heart-breaking.  A seventy-old man who remembers the glitz and glitter of downtown Newark that he experienced as a ten-year-old boy, returning to the city after sixty years, wouldn't recognize Market Street today, least of all its intersection with Washington Street.
Note the absence of live people on the sidewalks.
The building on the right is the site of Bamberger's, once northern New Jersey's premier department store, which later branched out to the new malls in the suburbs.  Macy's bought the Bamberger's chain, eventually changed the name of the stores to Macy's, and closed the original Newark store in 1992; the building is still waiting for a rehabilitation.  I recently showed my friend Clarisel around downtown Newark, and when we got to the interaction of Market and Washington Streets, well . . . I was so embarrassed, it would have been rude for me to voice my true feelings.  I'm not from Newark, but my uncle - my father's brother-in-law - is, and he grew up in the old Irish neighborhood in the North Ward, where the late Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. came from.  My father went to St. Benedict's Preparatory School just a few blocks from downtown. My family remembers going to Bamberger's every Christmas, where they had snow villages and a slide along Santa Claus's chair not unlike the one in the movie A Christmas Story.  I don't remember the Newark of old; I only hear stories about a place I will never know for as long as I live.
I don't blame the rioters for the decline of Newark.  I blame America's asinine urban development policy that champions tract housing and highway shopping complexes over traditional cities, as well as the de-industrialization of America that sent all of the good jobs to China.  I also blame an anti-urban, anti-poor, anti-non-white attitude among our leaders that allowed cities like Newark to deteriorate.  Newark's slow pace of revival is proof people that, as in the case of racial equality, progress has been made but we still have a long way to go.
John Weerd Smith later declared that if he hadn't been arrested and mistreated by the police, something else would have inevitably happened to spark an insurrection.
The 1967 Newark riot was the worst American urban civil disturbance of the 1960s . . . until Detroit blew up less than two weeks later.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In the News . . .

The Iraqi city of Mosul was finally liberated by the Iraqi army from the Islamic State, and the people of Iraq are justly celebrating.  But the fight isn't over yet: some pockets of Islamic State resistance remain just south of Mosul, and over in Syria, the Islamic State holds many square miles of land, as well as the city of Raqqa, the self-described capital of the group's declared "caliphate."  Nevertheless, Donald Trump will probably declare premature victory over the Islamic State, taking credit for a victory President Obama planned for when the Islamic State War began with the group's takeover of Mosul in 2014.   
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, Jr. is in trouble over a failed attempt to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton just before she clinched the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.  It seems he met with a Russian attorney who said she had the goods on Hillary, only for the effort to come up leaving Don, Jr. empty-handed.
Donnie, that was dumb, really dumb! You shouldn't have risked potential violations of intentional law just to get some information to hurt the Democratic presidential nominee.
Besides, why go to some Russian lawyer for damaging information on Hillary when all you had to do to get information against her was watch the Democratic presidential debates?  :-p      

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sticking It To the Democrats

Remember when Volkswagen tried out all sorts of slogans in the U.S. market back in the eighties, and not one of them lasted?  "Volkswagen Does It Again."  "Nothing else is  a Volkswagen."  "It's not a car.  It's a Volkswagen."  "German engineering.  The Volkswagen way."  They rang true with the customer base, but they didn't sell cars.  Which is why the campaign committee that oversees U.S. House races for the Democrats needs a new slogan for the 2018 midterm elections, and it's asking the Democratic base to go online and select one out of four to put on bumper stickers.  And these are the slogans the committee has offered for the base's consideration:

They're so awful, even the base doesn't like them. In other words, they don't even ring true with the loyal customers.
"Resist & Persist" is probably the best of them, which is sort of like saying that Des Moines is the most exciting city in Iowa.  It doesn't explain what we should be resisting or why we should be persisting.  "She Persisted, We Resisted" has three problems.  It doesn't say who "she" is (Hillary Clinton?  Elizabeth Warren?  Nancy Pelosi?  Beyoncé?),  the use of past tense suggests that the fight is over (and that the Democrats, apparently, lost) and we still don't know what the hell they're talking about.  What did they resist?  Last time I checked, nothing.
"Make Congress Blue Again" isn't a goal, it's a pipe dream.  But the big flop slogan of the bunch is "Democrats 2018: I Mean, Have You Seen the Other Guys?"  Yes, I have.  And I saw the other guys, the Republicans, laugh in your faces!  Because when I saw the Republicans, they controlled the Presidency, Congress, and most of the state governments and you, the Democrats, were too busy coming up with lame, cutesy-pie slogans that don't tell us what you stand for or why we should vote for you.  I will not vote Republican in 2018, but if you're going to get anyone else to vote for you, you're going to have to do better than all that.  Because there are whole lot of other people who won't vote Republican but likely won't vote at all  These slogans aren't going to get them tho the polls to vote Democratic.
As I've already mentioned, the base hates these slogans, and they're actually being asked to choose one of them in this stupid contest.  It's lot like a general election, or even a Democratic presidential primary; you're given a choice, and you're too dismayed to bother because you don't like the only choices you get.  (Given the choice between a woman who couldn't win the general election and a non-Democrat who could never be nominated by the party, I opted out of the New Jersey presidential primary.)   The Democratic rank and file pretty much let the Democratic House campaign committee know how displeased they were with the choices by going online and by insulting the committee and chiding House Democrats for not coming up with slogans that say what the party stands for (does it stand for anything?)   And the Republican House campaign committee couldn't resist offering a suggestion of its own:

You know, I just remembered that one Democrat came up with a slogan that pretty much sums up what the party should be all about:  "Rebuilding the American Dream."  But Democrats won't likely use it, because it originally came from this guy! 
Martin O'Malley did come up with another slogan . . .

. . .but "New Leadership" will never ring true as long as the Democratic Party prefers the old leadership.
 And we now what happened to the last party that relied on old leadership.
Here's a slogan:  "Democrats: Continuing the Traditions of the Party of Clay and Webster."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Russian Dressing

Okay, let me get a few things straight about Russia and Vladimir Putin, who net with Donald Trump this past week in Hamburg . . .
I believe that the Russians hacked the U.S. presidential election campaign this past fall.  I believe Putin had a hand in it.  I do not, however, believe that Russian meddling caused Hillary Clinton to lost the election.  Hillary Clinton caused Hillary Clinton to lose the election.  The suggestion that the Russians manipulated the voters into supporting Trump with false news stories is based on the idea that Hillary ran an effective campaign with a positive message, and that she had a solid lead among the voters.  In fact, her campaign was fundamentally flawed, she did not try to shore up her base or key states that gave Trump his victory, and her only message was that she wasn't as bad as Trump.  And Trump voters - who were only 46 percent of the American electorate - were going to support him no matter what.  The Russians meddled, all right, but Hillary could have gone on the offensive by making her case better, or at all, instead of coasting on "inevitability."  And if Trump did collude with Putin, well, an investigation should find proof of that.  Until then, we have to remember that Trump is innocent until proven guilty.  That's why we have investigations!
Having said that, I also think that Trump didn't do this country any favors by accepting Putin's denial of interfering with the American elections at face value; this only makes these ongoing investigations more difficult to pursue . . . if not impossible.  Trump now wants to work with Putin in ending the conflict in Syria. Good news, until you realize that he is willing to do it entirely on Putin's terms.  The Russian president now has carte blanche to operate as he sees fit, even at the risk of diminishing American interests . . . because Trump doesn't know the difference between détente and capitulation.
It doesn't really matter whether Putin interfered or not.  In Trump, he got what he wanted.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

What To Do About North Korea

Okay, this is bad . . .
Kim Jong Un, the leader of the inappropriately and redundantly named Democratic People's Republic of Korea - that would be North Korea - just had his military conduct a successful missile test.  The intercontinental ballistic missile that was tested can reach Alaska . . . and  with a nuclear warhead, it can turn our 49th state into a baked Alaska.
And then it really will be the Last Frontier.
Okay, here's the situation.  Kim Jong Un wants nuclear weapons to prevent the reunification of Korea under the Republic of Korea in the south.  He wants to prevent his own people from rebelling against him - you can do that with nukes.  He also wants to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea by pointing offensive nuclear weapons at the U.S.  He bases this policy on the fear that the U.S. would be instrumental in reunifying Korea under the government in Seoul.  Meanwhile, China, North Korea's closest (only?) ally, doesn't want a reunified capitalist Korea threatening its interests.  What can be done beyond tighter sanctions against North Korea?
Okay, here's the solution.
Leave Kim Jong Un alone.
I mean it.  Send a signal to the North Korean leader that we have no intention of bothering him, and maybe he won't bother us.  If he does, even after we and the South Koreans act in good faith and show a purely defensive posture along the so-called demilitarized zone, maybe the Chinese can go into North Korea and replace him with another Communist leader - someone who won't cause so much trouble but maintain the status quo.
Defense Secretary James Mattis believes that we can still use diplomacy.  As long as we make it clear that we're not going to do anything that would instigate an armed conflict with North Korea, Kim may very well realize that, should he succeed in developing nuclear weapons, like the Chinese did in the 1960s, he would be better off keeping them as deterrents to aggression, and not actually, well, using them.
And if all else fails . . . we can always call Dennis Rodman.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - July 7, 2017

"All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

There's a Fat Man In the Beach Chair

Republican Chris Christie, overseeing his last state budget as governor of New Jersey, triggered a shutdown on July 1 when he failed to get the New Jersey State Assembly, the lower house of the legislature, to agree to an overhaul of the state's largest health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, that would have required the insurance company to let the state use its surplus for treatment of opioid addiction as a condition for approving a new $34.7 billion state budget.  The state Senate approved the budget but would not approve the Horizon overhaul until and unless the Assembly passed the overhaul as well.  The Assembly would not do so, and therefore would not approve the budget.  Both houses are controlled by the Democrats; their budget has $300 million of Democratic spending priorities that Christie promised not to excise from the budget in exchange for the Horizon reform.
Senate President Steve Sweeney was willing to go along with Christie's overhaul bill but Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto would not, resulting in a grudge match between Christie and Prieto that produced a government shutdown.  The shutdown closed New Jersey motor vehicle offices and other state services, and it also closed state parks - just in time for the Independence Day holiday period.  As this was the first time Independence Day fell on a Tuesday since 2006 (which is precisely when the state government was last shut down), many New Jerseyans made plans in anticipation of a four-day weekend climaxing with the Fourth that involved going to state beaches.  State beaches, bear in mind, are cheaper than going to municipal beaches and more relaxing.  I can attest to this; I've been to Ocean City, New Jersey in Cape May County, which is situated on a barrier island, and Corson's Inlet State Park in Ocean City, at the southern tip of the island, is far more serene and less hectic than the municipal beaches along the boardwalk and the amusement piers in the northern end of town.
And the state beaches are less costly than the municipal-beach permits.
Be that as it may, New Jerseyans planing to go to the state beaches had their plans upended for much of the holiday weekend.  Christie held firm, but on Monday, July 3, Christie and the legislature reached a compromise that has Horizon return budget surpluses above a capped amount to policyholders in the form of discounts, not spend it on opioid addiction treatment.  Both the budget and the Horizon overhaul bill were quickly passed, re-opening the government.  
So what caused Christie to give in?
Mayve it was this picture of him from Sunday, July 2 at Island Beach State Park with his family and some friends during the shutdown.  
Island Beach State Park, which is on a peninsula despite its name, is the location of the official retreat for the governor - sort of like New Jersey's Camp David.  Christie took advantage of his perks as governor and used the beach at a time when the public was not allowed to.  He flouted his power and his privilege in the faces of the powerless masses who'd been denied their right to use public space.
The optics must have spurred him to cut a deal.  But while the budget crisis is over, the ridicule Christie has had to endure, thankfully, is not.  It;'s become manna for heaven for Christie's detractors - and there are many, honey! - who know how to use Photoshop.
And here are some of the images these mischievous Photoshoppers have produced.
It was only supposed to be a three-hour shutdown. A three-hour shutdown.
You finally blew it up, eh, Christie?
We seem to be made to suffer.  It's our lot in life.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water . . . the legend continues.
You certainly chose a lovely spot for our meeting.
 Whale on the beach!  He's in the beach chair!
Just hanging out with the crew!
And of course . . .
Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.
Christie's arrogance should send his poll numbers down, though it's hard for him to go any lower than his current 15 percent approval rating.  His final term as governor ends in six months.  He's done the impossible; he's actually made me look forward to January!
Christie is set to become the first New Jersey governor to serve two full terms since Tom Kean left office in 1990.  But a lot of New Jerseyans would prefer he leave sooner.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Off the Tracks

If you're an American, you can expect passenger rail service to be a disappointment.  But in the New York area, disappointment has mutated into disgust.  
New York Pennsylvania Station, North America's busiest railway station, is undergoing significant delays thanks to equally significant repairs needed for the tracks.  It seems that the neglect of the station's rail infrastructure is responsible for more than a few derailments of Amtrak, NJ Transit and Long Island Railroad trains in recent months, and the station itself is so mismanaged by Amtrak that, in rare bipartisan fashion, Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie are ticked off with the whole damn thing.  Not that they've done anything in recent years to make things any better.  Trains at the station have been increasingly late for years, thanks to failing systems and aging tunnels that need to be supplemented by new ones.   
On top of all that, the station itself is crowded, cramped, fetid and dilapidated, its grand old waiting room long since torn down and replaced with a sports arena that looks like a giant carburetor filter.  Plans to build a new, modern station named for the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York and a friend of mass transit, have been just that - plans, never enacted upon.  Amtrak also has to deal with replacing decrepit bridges, including a swing bridge in New Jersey over the Hacksenack River that was built when Roosevelt was President - Theodore Roosevelt - which constantly fails.         
And there's the Metropolitan Transit Authority rapid transit system of subways and elevated trains.  I've ridden the MTA constantly whenever I've been in New York, and I've seen the system rebuilt and refurbished over the years.  The trains are cleaner, the stations are decent, the porcelain walls of the station have had art work added to them, such as a Roy Lichtenstein mural in the Times Square station, and the trains run frequently and at a good clip.  And it's all a mirage.  The system has been using equipment that was installed when Johnson was President (Lyndon, not Andrew - the system isn't that old!), its tracks are aging, and expansion of the system has been slow at best - good grief, it took forever just to open a portion of the new Second Avenue line!  The MTA, however, is in a state of crisis and needs a billion-dollar baby of a bailout.  Trains on the F and G lines have derailed in recent years, and an A train derailed in Harlem just last week.  If Billy Strayhorn were alive today, he'd write a song urging folks bound for Harlem to walk.  Simply put, a new 7 train terminal near the Javits Convention Center and some festive murals in the Times Square station have not made New York subways the equivalent of the Paris Metro. 
It's going to get worse before it gets even worse.  Even if Donald Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure program somehow passes - and Mitch McConnell shows no interest in pursuing it - Trump hasn't mentioned anything about regional mass transit, not even in regard to his hometown of New York City.  His proposal to discontinue long-distance Amtrak routes to shore up the Northeast Corridor will likely, as I've already opined,  reduce what little support there is for Amtrak outside the Northeast.  High-speed trains?  Nah, the federal government is too busy planing another Interstate highway through Nevada and Arizona to care about anything like that!  
The United States remains an autocentric country at heart, and I don't see our attitudes toward public transit changing any time soon.  Trump won't talk about public transit, Hillary Clinton didn't talk about it, and the only 2016 presidential candidate that did talk about it got only 0.6 percent of the vote in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.  The regional public transit system in the greater New York area may be ready for badly needed improvements, but, ready or not, it ain't getting any.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monday, July 3, 2017

Power Trumps Dignity

How low can Donald Trump sink?  Down to bedrock?
Trump tweeted a nasty comment about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," dismissing Scarborough as a psychopath and ridiculing Brzezinski for what Trump says was a bleeding wound from a facelift in describing what Trump says was an effort by the cable news hosts to get an interview with him on his show at his Florida estate on New Year's Eve, 2016.  Trump said he denied their request for an interview, intimating that this is the reason that Scarborough and Brzezinski have been attacking him regularly since he took office in January 2017.  Pictures of the cable-news couple - now engaged to each other - show no sign of a wound on Brzezinski's face, and both hosts have insisted that Trump did agree to an interview on their program.
This proved to be a bridge to far for Republicans and Democrats in Congress, saying the Trump went over the line with his most blatant display of misogyny yet and expressing doubts about his sanity.  And Trump himself has a lot of damn gall to make fun of Brzezinski having plastic surgery (I have no reason to believe that she actually did). As Martin O'Malley tweeted, we have in Trump a "man who aggressively uses self tanner and hair dye [and] makes fun of woman over augmenting [her] looks."  Not to mention his scalp lifts.
Oh yeah,  I didn't want to being it up, but First Lady Melania Trump has reportedly had plastic surgery worth about $15,600, enough to buy a compact car.   And the car would have . . . uh, no, I'll pull my punch here.  I don't want to descend to the Trump family's level.
Descending to the Trumps' level would mean using a tabloid paper to threaten political opponents.  Trump apparently threatened to have a damning piece about Scarborough and Brzezinski published in the National Enquirer if they didn't tone down their negative coverage.  The Enquirer, which is pro-Trump, is edited by Trump crony David Pecker.
"The President's tacit admission of control over the Enquirer's punishing coverage of his adversaries suggests an abuse of power - a shocking one," ethics lawyer Norm Eisen old CNN.
This is all happening as Trump, dealing with a Republican Senate that can't craft a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that is unacceptable to anyone, has suggested that Congress simply repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it later - "later" meaning "never."  But this dust-up with two MSNBC hosts hasn't distracted anyone from this proposal.  And Republicans - like their former colleague Joe Scarborough, a former Florida Republican congressman - are finally beginning to see what a dangerous demagogue Trump is.
So is Trump toast?  Not so fast.  Trump still has the support of a large voter base, and Republicans are too afraid to cross him and incur their wrath.  Besides, they still need him to pass their reactionary agenda in Congress.  Trump is essentially being protected by the GOP, especially Mitch McConnell, because they want to consolidate their power and build a hundred-year majority in Washington; they won't abandon Trump unless his base abandons him.  And the Democrats are too lame to put up a fight.  Trump's tweet about Mika Brzezinski is the political equivalent of Madonna covering "American Pie" back in 2000; it's an unforgivable sin that should be a fatal career blow, but the fans will reward it, and those of us who are offended by it have to grit our teeth and deal with it.       
How low can Trump sink? When he gets to bedrock, he'll start blasting his way lower.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Little Traveling Music, Please

The partial travel ban that the Supreme Court allowed to go into effect this past week allows people from the Muslim-majority countries of Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Iran to come into the country as long as they have immediate family members, have a job, or are enrolled as students in an U.S. college or a university, as well as people from these countries who have already been approved for a short-term visa (or have already begun applying for visa), and people already approved as refugees. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and first-time tourists from these countries can't come, though fiancés have since been allowed in.  The Supreme Court will look at the entirety of the  travel ban and rule on it accordingly in the fall.  Three justices are on record as saying that would uphold the whole ban.  One of them was Neil Gorsuch.  (The others were Justices Thomas and Alito.)  Yeah, the whole damn thing is going to be upheld.    
As if the ban hasn't made a mockery out of out foreign-office apparatus, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is getting pretty steamed, as are many congressional Republicans,  over the 31 percent spending cut the Trump White House is planning for the State Department.  Several key positions remain unfulfilled, and Tillerson - who's lost arguments on key foreign policy positions to Steve Bannon, the dark overlord of the Trump White House - wants to know how he can do his job.  So would I.  But he seems like he's inclined to tough it out and make the best out of a bad situation.
In the meantime, I got my new passport, much sooner than expected.  Thanks, Uncle Rex.  I have a feeling I'm going to need it very, very soon.  But in the meantime, I have a nice little folder to smooth out my receipts in.           

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - July 1, 2017

"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" by Gordon Lightfoot  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Happy Canada Day.

Friday, June 30, 2017

President Martin O'Malley: The Biography

In the 2020s, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley may well be President of the United States, and if he is, he will be the subject of numerous biographies while he's in still in office.  Some time in the next few years, say, 2023 or so, I expect to read a biography on Mr. O'Malley that explains his rise to the White House and goes something like this:
As the returns came in from the 2016 presidential election and Hillary Clinton's political career was coming to an unexpected end, O'Malley, whose own presidential campaign that year had been the subject of great ridicule, sat watching the unfolding story of Donald Trump's election to the Presidency on television in his Baltimore townhouse.  As he recalled later, he turned and looked at [his wife] Katie without a word, and she nodded in reply.  He knew right away; he would be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.  He got up, walked over to the table, retrieved his smartphone, and began making calls.  He was already recruiting for the next election, as his mentor Gary Hart had begun doing for the 1988 presidential campaign the night President Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term.  "Now we fight," he told Katie.   
When O'Malley resurfaced in public later that month, he gave no indication of his intentions.  Instead, he expressed an interest in running for Democratic National Committee chairman, a contest he ultimately ruled out.  When the question as to whether he would seek the Presidency again arose, he would only say, "I just might."  O'Malley had been a good actor; only his close supporters, such as Representative Eric Swalwell of California, knew what his answer really meant.  O'Malley would spend a great deal of time poring over domestic and foreign issues with top policy experts to formulate an agenda for 2020.  In the meantime, he would travel in 2017 and 2018 to numerous states where President Trump enjoyed broad support, aiding in efforts to campaign for local Democratic candidates and making invaluable contacts.  But he was also doing something that Democratic leaders in Washington neglected - defining the Democratic party's core principles and, as O'Malley himself said, "what and who our party stands for."
And here's something else I hope to read in that future O'Malley biography:
At a difficult moment in his Presidency, O'Malley reclined in his chair as he went over intelligence reports on the situation in Syria.  He was not prepared to provoke Iran by sending troops, having just withdrawn active units from the Middle East a year earlier after the collapse of ISIS, and he knew there was no turning back; the United States would not be a belligerent power on his watch.  
Later that same day, the President was amazingly relaxed as he sat for his first interview with Molly Ball of the Atlantic in nearly a decade.  He was proud of his latest legislative accomplishments, such as the all-payer care system appended to the 2010 health care law, immigration reform, the beginning of the high-speed rail and long-distance rail modernization projects for Amtrak, and the dedicated tax that freed public broadcasting from insecure funding.  "No more pledge drives!" President O'Malley laughed.   
The interview turned more serious, though, as the President reflected on the battles with Congress.  "The opposition would not relent," he told Ball.  "They made every effort to obstruct my program, tried to filibuster the Amtrak bill in the Senate, even, and I still have to fight hard for my green-energy initiative and Wall Street reform, all because they care more about their donors and the special interests.  I tell you, I've had an easier time working with Republicans than with these people.  Thank God Speaker Ryan has been on my side."
Ball later recalled that the President was still resentful toward his former party, but he had no regrets.  "The Democratic Party had become more autocratic than democratic," he told her.  "We knew that if we were going to advance progressive causes, we needed a new progressive movement.  But the national committee didn't want to hear it.  The last straw was the 2018 midterms.  We Democrats had the issues, we had the momentum, and Trump still played our own divisions and infighting against us.  That's when Senator Sanders and I knew it was time to take a chance and try something new."
President O'Malley, even in early 2022, was so much in disbelief of having won his office that he still had the look of a child who had seen his first magic show.  Having won the 2020 presidential election as the first nominee of the Social Progressive Party against President Pence and Democratic nominee Mark Cuban, he had gained a majority of fellow SPP members in the House and secured a plurality in the Senate, a remarkable achievement.  But the three-party dynamic caused by the Democrats and the Republicans still frustrated him.  "Look, this isn't France," he said in his interview with Ball.  "We weren't going to get farther than we actually did with the current political system." He expressed hope that the Senate would confirm the six new justices he was adding to the Supreme Court, but he knew he'd face stiff Democratic opposition for his nomination of Tulsi Gabbard for one of the seats.  "She rubbed them the wrong way back then,"  he said of the Hawaii ex-Democrat's resignation from the Democratic National Committee over Bernie Sanders.   
No one could know then that, that November, the Democrats would officially disband after the 2022 midterms when the SPP's Zephyr Teachout unseated Senator Charles Schumer in New York, causing the dwindling Democratic Senate caucus to defect en masse to O'Malley's new party.  SPP House Speaker Tim Ryan of Ohio said the dissolution of the Democratic Party had been "long overdue."   
In December President O'Malley was at a ceremony certifying the adoption of the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling when he received word to return to the White House immediately.  It was a call from the Hague.  The most significant international trial of the century was about to begin.  The President was going to be called as a witness for the prosecution against the defendant.
"That old racist carnival barker is still causing problems for me," he would later say of his deposition, mere weeks after addressing the nation from the Oval Office on the condition of the previous elected President, the details of how he was discovered in a Tashkent hotel, and the number of Interpol agents involved. 
Don't laugh.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Will Try Not To Sing Out Of Key

I'm not done with celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band just yet.
Many of the songs on Sgt. Pepper were soon subjected to cover versions, and the LP is known for having yielded many lackluster covers even before the Sgt. Pepper movie's release in 1978.  But the album's second song led to one of the best Beatles covers ever.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote "With a Little Help From My Friends" to give Ringo Starr a song for the Sgt. Pepper album, and it was a song in the form of a conversation between a man who needs someone to love and the friends who help him get by . . . and get high, the apparent marijuana reference leading U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1970 to propose a ban on the song nationwide.  As originally recorded,by the Beatles, "With a Little Help From My Friends" is rather polite, playful tune, and Sergio Mendes' Brasil '66's cover was similarly mannered.  Then a little-known English blue-eyed soul singer took the song and turned it into a genuine rock number.
Joe Cocker was an up-and-coming singer in the late 1960s.  Influenced by Ray Charles, he indulged his raw talent for singeing black American blues and delivered songs in everything from a tender plea to a lecherous barroom growl.  He appended both of these styles to his gutsy cover of With a Little Help From My Friends, the title track of his 1969 debut album, with some strong, throaty declarations of persistence, improvised sentiments not found in the original lyrics ("I tell ya, I don't get sad no more") and some incredible hollers of transcendence - all backed with a slow-blues arrangement in 6/8 meter and with different chords in middle eight, performed with Procol Harum drummer B.J. Wilson's heavy playing, Tommy Eyre's soulful organ, and - the icing on the cake - guitar lines from Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.  It is the rare example of a Beatles cover being superior to the original Beatles recording.
Play the Cocker version below and hear for yourself. :-)
Through his performance of "With a Little Help From My Friends" at Woodstock and its exposure on FM rock radio, Joe Cocker took his place as one of rock's greats.  Thanks to his friends, the Beatles. ;-)   

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How To Renew a Passport

I had to do just that.
My passport was to expire this November, and so I looked into what to do about it.  It was quite simple, really.  All I had to do was fill out a renewal form, get a new passport photo taken of myself, and send the photo and the form in with my old passport plus a check for $110 to the passport processing center.  That was the easy part.
The hard part is, I have to wait to get it.  Fortunately, I have plenty of time to do that.
Yes, that was irony.  I was encouraged in part to get a passport back in 2007 when I heard Mr. Shawn Carter, noted rapper, clothing line entrepreneur, and lesser half of Beyoncé, brag about having a passport in a TV commercial, and . . . well, why don't you read my original post here?  True, I had no reason to have a passport, as I had never been able to afford to travel to a foreign country - except Canada, which had never required passports from American tourists (that changed in 2008), but I figured a lot could happen in ten years, so why not get one?
Because not much has changed - an exception, of course, being the financial crisis that killed all the good-paying jobs in These States.  Without getting too personal, here's what happened - I ended up having to work at low-paying part-time and/or temporary jobs and freelance gigs for the next ten years, and, because foreign travel has remained out of my reach financially, my passport saw zero use in the past decade.  Not a visa or official stamp in it.  The instructions for returning your old passport to get a new one require that it be in good condition.  I'm happy to report that it was in the exact same condition upon my return of it as it was the day I got it in 2007.  I'm also sad to report this.  As I wrote on this blog in 2014, I didn't need it for a job application, or even for voting (I thankfully don't live in Wisconsin), but it was good for smoothing out supermarket receipts!
I hope I'll be able to travel to Europe in the coming decade, because I've made several European friends online thanks to social media whom I'd like to meet in person, including an Italian who lives in Germany, a Swede who lives in Greece, and a Brit who lives in France, not to mention a Spaniard who lives in . . . Spain.  Also, I'd like to do all the things in Europe you can't do in America - which includes visiting medieval cathedrals, seeing the Mona Lisa and David, eating unadulterated food,  and riding a passenger train that doesn't look like it belongs in a railway history museum.  Among other activities.  For all I know, I might be able to do that as early as next year (no, I won't).  But I have to wait until Uncle Rex (that would be the U.S. Secretary of State) sends me my brand new passport.  I understand that could take a while. 
Maybe a few weeks to a few months.
I can wait.  Believe me, I can wait!
As for Beyoncé and her husband, who need passports more than I will ever need one, well, I shouldn't envy them.  In fact, I should feel sorry for them.  Poor Mr. and Mrs, Carter, they just can't find a house that fits their budget; they've been living in luxury hotels and rental mansions, because the kind of place they want is so out of reach for them.  The sort of house that meets their needs would cost them about $150 million; their budget only allows them to spend half that.
Remember that when you have to spend the money you saved for a trip to Switzerland on your mortgage. >:-(  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Washington Hijinks

A few pundits gave been saying that the Senate health care bill isn't the final bill, just a negotiating tool.  Right - a negotiating tool to determine just how large the tax cuts for the rich will be.  But the disagreements over what to leave in and what to leave out - or who to leave out - will make it very tricky to get it through.  Meanwhile, the Democrats are fervently defending the existing Affordable Care Act tooth and nail . . . without much power to stop or retard the progress of the GOP's health bill.  It figures that they would suddenly defend and "own" the Affordable Care Act after it's too late.  They have to rely on Republican ineptitude.   Fortunately, that actually looks like a possibility.  And it may even be a reality; Mitch McConnell has just delayed a vote on the Senate bill, which likely won't come up until after Congress's Independence Day recess.
At the same time, lot of people are blaming Nancy Pelosi for the party's last special-election losses in Georgia and South Carolina.  Well, she's not going to be deposed - the old guard in the Democratic Party isn't going to let go of power so easily - but she's not to blame for these losses either.  Except for maybe her appointment of Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico as the chairman of the committee that runs Democratic House campaigns, as he dropped the ball on these two races plus the the two in Kansas and Montana.  Geez, the Democrats could have won the South Carolina race if they gave more money to candidate Archie Parnell, but Luján concentrated on the the impossible dream of winning Georgia's Sixth House district seat.
It must have amused observers to see that the Democrats, having failed to make Hillary Clinton the first female President, spent so much money on this one district and saw Karen Handel and Handel's supporters use Nancy Pelosi, the first female House Speaker, in ads for Handel's candidacy in this district in order to win and become the first female U.S. Representative elected to the House from Georgia . . . and Handel, of course, was the Republican candidate.        

Monday, June 26, 2017

I Shrug At the Atlas

Volkswagen's new intermediate sport utility vehicle - the Atlas - is finally out.
It's quite stylish, and it's solidly Germanic, even though it's built in Tennessee.  It gets decent gas mileage and seats seven in comfort.  And it has some rather funny commercials for it, including this risqué ad below about how procreating in little Volkswagens leads to trading up to bigger Volkswagens, like this one.

And I could care less.
The truth is, I'm still not impressed by SUVs, not even Volkswagen SUVs.  My lack of interest is not just due to the fact that I don't need one; it's also due to the fact that I continue to regard wagons built on light-truck chassis as being completely unnecessary and irrational except for those who live out in the country and need the toughness and the durability of a light passenger truck (farmers, ranchers, et. al.).  When I was a kid, growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, only outdoorsmen owned SUVs (they weren't called SUVs back then, though) and those SUVs that were in production were mostly from entry-level, not premium, brands.  Now it seems that every brand offers an SUV - even Porsche - and they're more for stockbrokers than for deer hunters.
I understand that Volkswagen is bringing out a midsize SUV to bring more customers into VW dealerships, as passenger-car segments like hatchbacks, wagons, minivans and now even family sedans are falling behind and SUV sales keep rising with no ceiling in sight.  Not only does VW feel that it needs the Atlas to compete in today's U.S./Canadian market, it wants to put the diesel scandal as far behind it as possible.  But Volkswagen is betraying the market strategy that was so effective for the brand in North America in the first place - that is, offer a car that has no obvious market, as was with the Beetle in 1949, and let the market come to Volkswagen rather than have Volkswagen pander to the market.  Not a way to sell cars in big numbers - Volkswagen sales have never been more than about six percent of the market in These States - but a respectable way to make a name for oneself.  Remember, VW invented a market segment other car companies later exploited to more greater effect - the minivan -  and didn't do too badly with its Transporters here.  If I needed a seven-passenger vehicle, I'd prefer a Transporter minivan over an SUV.  Too bad Volkswagen hasn't sold a passenger van in the U.S. and Canada since 2002 (unless you count the Chrysler-made Routan, which I absolutely don't!).       
Oh yeah, the sixth-generation Polo is coming out, and I have very good news for Americans and Canadians - if you're going to Europe, you can rent one.  Too bad you still can't buy one at home.
I guess we're going to have to get used to Volkswagen's North American strategy - give the people what they want in the form of SUVs and let those vehicles make money so the company can continue to offer traditional Volkswagen models to North American VW enthusiasts, like the Golf and the coming Arteon four-door coupe (I'll get to that, as well as get to the forbidden-fruit Polo, later), as loss leaders.  And while tastes may change, the American predilection for SUVs, pickups, and so-called crossovers shows no sign of abating.  That's why Toyota has a new compact crossover with a rakish, sporting profile, the C-HR, an ad for which is below.  The commercial retells the story of Cinderella in a modern context,  depicting Cinderella as a fashion-house worker who can't go to the fashion show with her two mean coworkers and her snooty boss, i.e., the stepsisters and the stepmother, respectively.  My friend Catherine Roberts, a veteran model, plays the boss.      

Hey, Catherine is one of my dearest friends.  I love the woman.  In fact, I love this ad she's in.  But not even she can persuade me to buy a Toyota crossover.  Why?  Because it's a Toyota.  And it's a crossover.
Volkswagen has made it clear that it thinks it has to offer more SUVs in the U.S. and Canada if the brand is going to thrive in both countries. But once upon a time, on this very continent, Volkswagen didn't need to sell cars that pandered to mainstream tastes to succeed.  And that's no fairy tale.   

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Putin It There

Now it can be told.
Russian President Vladimir Putin put his rubles on Donald Trump to win the American presidential election of 2016, then he had his toadies ensure Trump's victory. Russian hackers, under orders from Putin, deliberately spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election to, if not defeat her (because who knew that was going to happen?) damage her upon her entry in to the White House. This apparently included the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's e-mails.  President Obama knew all about it, and it was so sensitive to national security that he even communicated with only four people in the government about the issue to keep it top secret, but he was reluctant to do much about it out of fear that he would be seen as politicizing a security issue to persuade voters to support Hillary.  In other words, he didn't want to be seen as "tipping the scales."
Gee, where would we ever get an idea that a Democrat would do something dirty like that?
Oh, right . . .
Be that as it may, there's a huge difference between a primary election and a general election, so if Obama had come flat out and said that the Russians were deliberately trying to elevate Trump at Hillary's expense, I think we would have understood.  Some of us would still have voted for Jill Stein, but we would have understood.  Instead, the Obama administration failed to take tougher action against Russia, and now here we are.  If Obama had taken tougher action and if Hillary had still been defeated, at least Obama could have said he tried.  At least one Republican was outraged by this news.  "The Obama Administration," this Republican said in a tweet, "knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia.  [They] did nothing about it. WHY?"
The Republican's name?  Donald J. Trump.
And yes, I'm still mad at the Democrats for promoting Hillary, especially after Hillary promoted Trump in the primary season because she thought she could beat him.  And I'm still mad that the Democrats discouraged prospective Democratic presidential candidates from running for the party's nomination in 2016 and punished those who did, leaving Hillary with a left-leaning independent with no chance of winning the nomination of a political party he does not in fact belong to as her only viable opponent in the primaries.                      
(Pointless aside I couldn't resist including here: The other day, I was cycling through traffic when I came alongside at a stoplight an SUV with a Hillary Clinton sticker and a Bernie Sanders sticker on the back bumper.  I spat in front of the SUV.  Not on the SUV, just on the street in front of the SUV.  Why?  Because the back bumper didn't have a Martin O'Malley sticker on it.)   

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Trumpcare - The Sequel

The Senate's Republican caucus finally came out with its secret health care bill, and it's almost as appalling as the House bill, if not more so.  It cuts back on Medicaid severely and then caps the growth of it in the interest of "saving" money and "saving" Medicaid for future generations, when in fact the cuts mean that one in five Medicaid recipients will be thrown off the rolls, including thirty million children. People with private insurance will be affected because the companies they buy coverage from will have the right to cut coverage for maternity care, mental health care, and even opioid addiction treatment.  Planned Parenthood will have its funding eliminated for only one year, with the apparent idea that it won't even last six months without federal aid.  Women's health care?  Finis!  And what will the savings from this bill be passed on to?  More infrastructure finding?  More funding for public education?  Job training?  Nope - tax breaks for the rich!
A lot of people are angry at the Republicans, but a good deal of anger should be directed at the Democrats for blowing it in the 2016 elections.  The Republican Party, now completely in charge of everything in Washington, is taking health insurance away from twenty-odd million Americans for the same reason they put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court - because they can.  And they're very gleeful in how they're going about it.  The Senate's heath care bill - which still has to be reconciled with the House bill - was released in time of a vote before the Independence Day recess but not so coincidentally put out after the last two of five special congressional elections held after Donald Trump was elected President were over, the GOP having won all five of them.  The message to Democrats and left-leaning independents is clear: We are in charge, we have the majority, you don't matter, and you will do what we tell you - so shut the f**k up!      
If there's any positive side to the current health care overhaul debate in Congress (and I'm grasping at straws here),  it's that at least two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have reservations about the defunding of Planned Parenthood, while GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada has already said he cannot support the bill in its current form because of the proposed Medicaid cuts.  Four more GOP senators - Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Ronald Johnson of Wisconsin - also have reservations about the bill, but only because it doesn't go far enough!   Donald Trump himself called the House bill "mean," but if the House bill is mean, than the Senate bill is meaner.
Democrats ought to just surrender - not on this one issue, not on this one battle, but on the whole damn war.  The party is too ineffective to even survive.  Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, should hold a press conference and announce that the Democrats are breaking up (and not because one of them is dating Yoko) and let a new party succeed it.  Democrats are not up to the task of opposing Trump in 2020.  While left-leaning political movements in European countries are enjoying a comeback, the Democrats remain hopelessly moribund - going full Whig.  A new liberal populist party is, as always, our only hope.  If we're ever going to get universal health insurance and all the other nice things in European countries that give American liberals a severe case of Euro envy, we have to form a new party, and we have to form it now.
(I know Martin O'Malley has called for his fellow Democrats to get their act together -"If we want to win again, we need to look voters in the eyes, and tell them, unapologetically, what and who our party stands for and why," he recently tweeted - but of course no one in the Democratic establishment listens to him. :-( )