Sunday, May 26, 2019

An International Plot

Late word is that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is looking into a partnership with the French automaker Renault in an attempt by both companies to find their way through a rapidly changing global auto industry.
Both Fiat Chrysler and Renault are looking for a way to pool their resources to produce greater car sales for both.  Fiat Chrysler is making a killing off trucks and SUVs in North America but its product is less than reliable and it has no respect in Europe.  Renault is a powerhouse in France and the rest of Europe, and it's benefited from its associations with Mitsubishi and Nissan (Renault has a partnership with Nissan; if I ever said on this blog that Renault owned Nissan, I was wrong about that), but it's had no presence in the U.S. since it quit the American market in 1987 (and never had much of a presence here before that!).  The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi partnership has taken a turn for the worse lately, with former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn having been arrested then fired in November 2018 for underreporting his earnings to Japanese authorities while Nissan had been flagging.  Also, Fiat Chrysler is way behind in producing electric cars, and Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley probably understands that the light-truck can't last forever (even if it feels like it can, and has).
While this possible deal likely won't have Renault return to the U.S. market with cars like the snazzy new Clio (above), it means that the two companies are eager and willing to address each other's deficiencies while consolidating their strengths.  Fiat Chrysler and Renault sell enough cars between them to, as a partnership, sell more cars globally than Volkswagen or Toyota, and their sharing of resources will enable them to dominate new and evolving market segments.  This is the new era of the car business; with Volkswagen, which makes great cars but comes up short in producing top-notch trucks, and Ford, which dominates in both light and heavy trucks but is still struggling to stay profitable, apparently agreeing to make vehicles for each other now, it's obvious that automakers will need each other more than compete with each other.  This is due in part to the costs of developing electric and autonomous cars, which are coming whether we like them or not.  As Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst at Edmunds, told the Washington Post in January 2019, "Automakers aren’t just competing with each other anymore.  They’re under intense pressure from well-funded tech companies who are eager to get in on the future of mobility."

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Into the Summer

After some dicey weather this past month (some rain, some sever weather threats), we're settling into a  nice Memorial Day weekend, although it'll be a little hot tomorrow.  I've been riding my bicycle,  going for walks, and all that bit.  I'm hoping to go to my local Memorial Day parade this year; I missed the one last year.  And now that I have some time to enjoy the decent weather we have in New Jersey right now, I won't be blogging as much for awhile.  Stay tuned, though; I'll still be around, even as summer begins to get into gear.  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - May 24, 2019

"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills and Nash  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.) 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

When War With Iran Is the Answer

Iran has never forgiven the United States for supporting the Shah.  The United States has never forgiven Iran for holding 52 of its citizens hostage for fourteen months.  With both sides flexing their muscles, things are coming to a boil in the Persian Gulf, and the U.S. Fifth Fleet is on alert. 
Everyone says this would be nothing more than another war for oil.  Well, of course it is, because that's what Iran is best known for producing and that's what the U.S. so desperately wants, particularly under an administration that doesn't believe in solar power or electric vehicles.  But if you show up at an anti-war demonstration with a "War Is Not the Answer" bumper sticker on your car, you'd better be driving something like this . . .  
, , , not this!

Because if you drive a sport utility vehicle that could house a family of four, then war is the answer.
James Howard Kunstler happened to point this out the last time we got into a war in a country with a name spelled with four letters with three of them being "I," "R," and "A."    

Monday, May 20, 2019

Running Off the Road

Good news - Trump is backing away from imposing tariffs on foreign cars, giving trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union and Japan six months to produce an agreement.  
But get this: Trump is also ready to impose the tariffs at a moment's notice, and he and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have decided that certain imported cars and car parts "threaten to impair the national security of the United States," because Detroit contributes technological advances to military contractors, and thus imports are a threat to U.S. expenditures on research and development involving national security.
So my Volkswagen is a threat to the security of the Republic.  Who'da thought?
Wonderful.  If Trump's tariffs should go through, Americans will be paying 25 percent more for imported automobiles and may be forced to consider buying American - which means buying SUVs or crossovers because Detroit can't be bothered to make much of anything else these days.  The idea of cars from other countries being threats to national security is ludicrous, given America's military superiority on this planet (and it's nice to see we're still superior at something) and given the lack thereof in American automotive engineering.  Left unmentioned is that the tariff on foreign cars and foreign auto parts would have adverse effects on the European and Asian automakers who make cars in the United States - and most of their American factories are located in the Republican South.
As a VW enthusiast, I'm worried, you'd better believe I am.  Tariffs might be the deciding factor in Volkswagen of America's decision on whether or not to kill the standard Golf in America - heck, it may even kill the more expensive GTI and Golf R as well! - and it might limit VW's plans to make and sell electric cars here.  Other brands would undoubtedly be affected, as would at least one Detroit automaker - the Chrysler Group, which is now a collection of American brands owned by a multinational company based in Italy (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles).  Trump's tariffs,m if enacted, would wreck untold havoc on the U.S. auto market.
The bright side?  A lot of voters own foreign cars and would never even consider buying a domestic model - and some of them are Republicans.  Congressional Republicans may actually break with Trump on this one.
Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, by the way, said it best: "I would be very surprised and extremely disappointed if we decided that Volkswagens are a threat to America's national security and we imposed a tax on American consumers in that category."

Sunday, May 19, 2019

High-Speed Surrender

I give up.
The Trump Administration has canceled $929 million in federal funds for California to complete a high-speed rail line that would have connected San Francisco to Los Angeles but had been scaled back in February by California's new governor, Gavin Newsom.  Newsom cited cost overruns and interminable delays for his decision, and he decided to build a truncated line connecting two bush-league towns in the Central Valley instead.  Ironically, cost overruns and interminable delays are the reasons the White House cited as the rationale for canceling the funds.  House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, whose House district is in the Central Valley and who never supported this or any other high-speed rail proposal, couldn't be more pleased to see the plug get pulled.  
Governor Newsom has called the cancellation of funds as illegal and promises to fight the rescinding of funds in court, but he also has to deal with the possibility of having to pay the government back the $2.5 billion the state has already received, which this Republican administration, the most anti-passenger-train Republican administration since the previous Republican administration, is seriously considering.
It's time to admit that this country will never, ever have modern bullet trains.  The American people can't even be bothered to discuss the issue when health care keeps taking up all of the oxygen.  Besides, this country isn't suited for high-speed rail.  Writing in Motor Trend - yes, that's an automobile magazine, but bear with me here - Mark Rechtin, a self-described high-speed rail lover who has traveled on the great bullet trains in Europe and Asia, understands that high-speed rail has a smaller carbon foot print than cars or planes, and it's competitive in terms of cost-and-time with airlines for up to six hundred miles, even winning out over planes most of the time in that distance metric.
"However," Rechtin wrote, "America is a country with a different transportation layout, logistics, cost structures, legal impediments, and population psychographics than Europe, Japan, or increasingly train-loving China. Even if we can corral the costs, high-speed rail will still be competing against the North American airport network, which accounts for half of worldwide air traffic - serviced by low-cost carriers who undoubtedly would apply pricing pressure to any rail competition."
Leaving aside that last point - most airlines want high-speed rail, so it can free up the congestion in the skies - it's hard to argue with Rechtin's conclusions.  Even if the logistics and legal issues weren't a problem, you have to deal with the fact that public transport works only when enough people live close enough to each other to utilize it and allow it to pay for itself.  Americans, however, mostly live in low-density sprawl and in places as far apart from each other as this continent-sized nation allows.  Trains can't reach every place where Americans live.  This is why so many optimistic visions of California's high-speed rail ambitions have turned out to be dead wrong.  In his 1991 book "Supertrains," which advocated for development of high-speed rail in America, ended with a fantasy prediction of California's first high-speed passenger rail line opening in 2005 - fourteen years into the future - to great acclaim and success.  Fourteen years after 2005, California and the U.S. in general are no closer to having bullet trains than they were in 1991.  We may be even farther behind.  We can't even get conventional passenger rail to run right.
There's no way our autocentric suburban living pattern - even many American cities, like Phoenix and Atlanta (and, yes, Los Angeles), are sprawled out like suburban developments - can support modern intercity rail like the living patterns of countries like Germany - 82 million people in an area the size of Montana - can.  And if that doesn't finish off the debate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's apparent insinuation that we can give up planes and have an undersea rail line to Hawaii (hey, whatever happened to ninety minutes from New York to Paris?) certainly will.
So that's it .  I surrender.  The only way I can ever live in country with high-speed rail is if I become an expatriate - and don't think I haven't considered that!  So, take a good look at this artist's rendering of a bullet train in California . . .
. . . because you're never going to see it for real! >:-(    

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Hot Buttons

Okay, I'm going to be brief on the issues of abortion and immigration.  The Alabama abortion law (that's right, the governor of Alabama, a woman, signed it) that criminalizes all abortions except to save the mother's life is either the dumbest political move or the brightest one.   Republicans in other states are running away from this law, saying it's too extreme and doesn't offer exceptions for rape or incest (yeah, just like the 1984 Republican platform), but they must know full well that this could bring out the evangelical vote in 2020 and possibly consign the Democrats to Whig-like extinction with a GOP victory all over the political spectrum.  But it could also galvanize abortion-rights supporters into pushing back by coming out in droves to vote Democratic.  I have a feeling that the latter scenario won't happen.  (Remember the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision?)
And immigration?  Trump's new bill, conceived in large part by Jared Kushner, wants to bring more immigrants with skills at the expense of family reunification but does noting about the DACA immigrant children.  Republicans have dismissed this bill for letting in more legal immigrants while Democrats find the bill to be condescending toward unskilled laborers and families.  Since this plan satisfies no one, it's not going to help Trump soften his xenophobic image. Especially when he's telling migrants who are already here not to get to comfortable here.
Because of these two toxic issues, neither he nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can get too comfortable in their respective positions either.  For 2020, all bets are off.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - May 17, 2019

"Train Kept A-Rollin'" by Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Anyone Can Be a Senator

But not everyone can be President.
The Democrats have fewer U.S. Senate seats to defend in 2020 than Republicans - 12 versus 22 - and the only need four seats to win back control of the chamber, but as TV producer and political activist Brian Taylor Cohen recently pointed out, the most attractive Democratic prospects for the Senate are all running for President.  Most of them have no chance of winning the White House but are so fixated on Trump that they all think that they can take out Trump in a mano-a-mano match-up.  Ironically, the reason there are more then twenty Democratic presidential candidates in the first place is because they all saw Trump get elected and decided that, well, if a politically inexperienced businessman can get elected to the highest office in the land, any one of them certainly can.

No, they can't.  And right now, there's a bunch of Democratic presidential candidates who are better suited to win a Senate seat in 2020. . . and they're all polling in the low single digits in their presidential campaigns.  As Taylor Cohen tweeted, you have Beto O'Rourke of Texas only getting two percent in the polls, John Hickenlooper of Colorado getting one percent in the polls, Steve Bullock of Montana not getting anything in the polls and having officially declared for the Presidency just yesterday, and Stacey Abrams of Georgia not even running for President yet and already having ruled out a Senate run.  All of them, Taylor Cohen noted, could defeat the Republican incumbent senators up for re-election in 2020 - John Cornyn of Texas, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana, and David Perdue of Georgia.  And I would add that Cory Booker of New Jersey, who's already a Democrat in the Senate and is up for re-election in 2020, is concentrating on a presidential run. 
With the possible - possible - exception of O'Rourke, these candidates are unlikely to get out of the single digits in the polls.  Defeating Trump is only part of the challenge; the Democrats also have to hold the House, but it's especially important that they take back the Senate.  Because even a post-Trump Republican Party, with a Republican Senate led by Mitch McConnell, will be as obstructionist and as illiberal as the Trump-era Republican Party has been and as the pre-Trump Republican Party was.  A Republican Senate under a Democratic President will only block judicial appointments, delay Cabinet confirmations, and stymie international treaties that the rest of the world realizes are common-sense approaches to solving global problems but American industry hates because they're bad for business.  People like Bullock, Hickenlooper, and others are so focused on the big picture of the fight against Trump that they've lost the sight of the more local political competitions necessary for the Democrats to control Washington in order to govern.  It's not that they can't see the forest for the trees; they can't see the trees for the forest.
Focusing more on the Presidency than on state and local races is the reasons Democrats declined and fell from their lofty perch in 2009 when they controlled everything, and this mass rush to run for the White House is just another example of that.  The silver lining is that there's still time for these no-shot long shots to abandon their presidential ambitions when they see that they can't win - most likely you too, Beto! - and switch to a Senate run instead.  At least Cory Booker, who, to the best of my knowledge, is the only incumbent senator up for re-election in 2020 who's also running for President, is able to hedge his bets on his own political future.  The New Jersey state legislature passed - and Governor Phil Murphy signed - a law allowing Booker to run for both offices at once.
As Caitlyn Jenner once said of athletes back when her sex was still male and his first name was still Bruce, they're all good but only one can be the best. Likewise, the twenty-odd Democratic presidential candidates may all be good, but only one of them can be the presidential nominee . . . but that hasn't stopped long shots who have a better chance at running for something else from trying to win the Presidency.  It reminds me of what H.L. Mencken said to a friend of his while at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, looking at all ofthe politicians in attendance . . . "Every one of them thinks that he can be President of the United States."

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Gloves Come Off

Donald Trump is going after Joe Biden big time.  Fearful that Biden would be a formidable opponent to his re-election bid in 2020 should he be the Democratic presidential nominee, Trump sent Rudolph Giuliani to Ukraine to try to get the government there to open an investigation into his interference reading an investigation into some potential funny business including his son Hunter's service on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.  Giuliani reversed course after a public outcry over his efforts, as he is not a government official acting on Trump's behalf but merely Trump's lawyer, but the damage may have been done.  Even though a recent Bloomberg story debunked the story about any wrongdoing on the Bidens' part, this story helps sow the seeds of doubt among Democrats who might end up nominating someone Trump can take out more easily.  Like Bernie Sanders.
This comes just after Trump's son Donald Jr. was subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee for its investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, which sounds like payback against Biden.  In fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairman, who issued the subpeona, is Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and he is less interested in backing up Trump than he is in getting to the bottom of what exactly the Russians did in the 2016 election.  This has nothing to do with Biden's son except for the fact that it's Trump's son who's being subpoenaed.  It's a weird case of tit-for-tat with Trump getting revenge against Biden for trying to have Biden's son investigated because of a subpoena against Donald Trump, Jr. that Biden didn't initiate!  And now Trump may ask Attorney General William Barr to look in to the Biden "case" himself.
Even if Biden is the best choice to go against Trump, he has his work cut out for him.  Trump will stop at nothing to win another term, and he's willing to destroy anyone to make it happen.  But he's so hell-bent on destruction that the person he may end up destroying most is himself.    
       

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Chinese Walls

Trump is trying to get China to agree to a better trade deal with the United States, and by a better deal, he means one that will more greatly benefit the U.S.   In the absence of one, despite continuing talks with the Chinese, he's just hiked tariffs against China, already at 10 percent, to 25 percent.
Trump says that he'd hoped to avoid raising tariffs but adds that they will benefit the average American by spurring more U.S.-based manufacturing, though none of his economic policies have shown any payoffs.  China makes practically everything sold here.  The tariffs, if they stick in the event of a failed trade deal, would only increase prices on consumer goods in U.S. stores, while U.S. importers can simply avoid the brunt of the adverse affects of higher import taxes by lower profit margins and cutting costs.  "Most importers, Reuters recently reported, "use a mix of such tactics to spread the higher costs among suppliers, consumers or buyers."
Stocks went down recently but have rallied - damn! - after trade talks with the Chinese ended prematurely but with the promise that progress had been made and that they would resume, Trump is hoping that the incredibly strong American economy - damn again! - will provide leverage against the Chinese, but they hold a great deal of low-interest U.S. Treasury bonds that allow them to exact a little leverage of their own  As James Howard Kunstler put it:
A great deal for us while it lasted. Or so it seemed. Eventually, China caught onto the swindle and began liquidating its US bond holdings to buy gold and other real goods like African mining rights and farmland, Iranian oil, and port facilities in strategic corners of the world . . .. Now China has obviously designed a policy to dissociate itself as much as possible from the losing trade racket with us and replace the American market by increments with whatever customer base it can cobble together from the rest of the world.
The Chinese could bring down that incredibly strong economy of ours if they wanted to, but we're going to be bringing it down ourselves when we allow ourselves paying more for goods that shouldn't be so darn expensive,.
Alas, Trump will probably still be re-elected, because he can always rail against Central American migrants and wear down Democratic efforts to investigate him.  He wants to investigate the Democrats for trying to rig the 2016 election to prevent his victory.  Trump supporters are that hell-bent on keeping their guy in power - they may be underemployed and overstressed, but as long as Trump, and not Hillary or Bernie or Mayor Pete or even Uncle Joe, is President, they can sleep more easily.  And he's already blaming the Chinese for whatever harm might come to the U.S. economy, because, hell, you can't trust them furriners.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Correction and Clarification: May 11, 2019

In my post about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2019, I said of Janet Jackson, "I'm not saying Janet Jackson isn't a good singer or anything, and I'm not saying she's a first-rate entertainer. . .."  Oops! When you deal with double negatives to convey the positive, you can trip over them when writing something timely and on a deadline.  I meant to say, "I'm not saying Janet Jackson isn't a good singer or anything, and I agree that she's a first-rate entertainer . . ."  My confusing original choice of words, which I regret, has been corrected.  Sorry.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - May 10, 2019

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by the Band  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)   

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Iran Amok Again

The Iranian leadership is scaling back on its commitment to the nuclear deal and may even pull out completely if the European Union does not do anything about sanctions imposed by the United States, which pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal one year ago yesterday.  Europeans are being forced to choose between Iran and the U.S.
What a difficult choice.  One country is led by a fanatic who delivers hardline rhetoric to promote his religious-fundamentalist base and presides over a sham democracy, and the other is led by a Muslim cleric. :-P 
The European countries have apparently decided, that in spite Trump, they can't let Iran get away with threats.  They have made it clear that they will not accept Iranian ultimatums but they will remain committed to the nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is crowing about how the sanctions have hurt Iran, as its economy is tanking, and they expect the Supreme Leader and the Iranian president (not one and the same, of course) to come around and negotiate for a new deal.  They obviously don't understand the Iranians. The Iranians are too proud and refuse to give in, which may be why the U.S. sent a fleet into the Persian Gulf to intimidate them.
Trump must think a war will strengthen his position going into 2020.  Umm, a war in an oil-rich region with a country burdened by sanctions on its oil will destabilize the region and send petroleum prices skyrocketing . . . and crash the economy when gas prices rise.
But at least we will finally be rid of sport utility vehicles.               

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

I Like Mike

But I'm not sure I love him.
Michael Bennet, the Democratic senior senator from Colorado, is the latest person to announce his candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  He has an impressive record in Washington, working hard to deliver government services to his state, and he passionately believes in the dignity of public service and government by consensus, as he explained to Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC program. Bennet made a name for himself earlier this year when he tore into Texas senator Ted Cruz for pretending to be sincere about re-opening the government during a shutdown to fund first responders to natural disasters after having engineered another government shutdown in 2013 to block funding for the Affordable Care Act. 
"These crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take," Bennet declared on the Senate floor. "They're too hard for me to take, because when the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded. It was underwater . . ..  People were killed. People's houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined, forever."
Bennet has a interesting background as the son of a diplomat and a Holocaust survivor, having been born in India and raised in Washington, D.C.  His brother James is the New York Times' editorial director.  A former superintendent of the Denver public school system, he has hands-on experience in education.  He's also on the right side of the issues when it comes to solar energy, immigration, and gay rights, concurring with the Democratic Party's liberal wing.  But he voted for the Keystone XL pipeline and he refuses to back "Medicare for all," preferring instead to simply tweak the Affordable Care Act, and neither position is going to put him in good standing with the party's base. 
Bennet would be the first Democratic presidential nominee from a Western state were he to win the nomination, a distinction that ultimately eluded his fellow Coloradan Gary Hart.  Indeed, there are many similarities between Bennet and Hart. Both have represented Colorado in the Senate - Bennet holds Hart's old seat - both have waxed rhapsodic about the virtues of public service, and they even share the same birthday (November 28).  But whereas Hart was charismatic and glamorous, Bennet is about as engaging as your next-door neighbor, and if you live in an exurban subdivision, he may even look like your next-door neighbor.  Hart famously declared his candidacy for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination standing on a boulder in Red Rocks Park outside Denver and emulating the very image of the rugged Westerner he was trying to convey.  Bennet doesn't exude Western Americana; he comes across as the prep-school student that he was.  So, yes, I have doubts that Bennet can go all the way in this marathon presidential contest, given his undeniable Middle American blandness. 
Still, such blandness may be just what the Democrats need to get the White House back, and so Bennet has a shot if the party ultimately decides that that's what it wants.  And his uncharacteristically passionate attack on Ted Cruz during the last shutdown fight hints at the possibility of a street brawler beneath that preparatory schoolboy exterior.  But I still have my doubts, and while I wouldn't count him out, I still don't see in Bennet a Democratic presidential candidate that can get me excited enough to join his campaign and vote in the New Jersey primary.  But you can expect me to, should he be the nominee, vote for him in a general election without reservation.
And I can assume he'll get favorable press from the New York Times. ;-) ;-)
Okay, I've covered fourteen Democratic presidential candidates so far? Still a long way to go . . . 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Not You. Him.

Bernie Sanders in 2020?
Of all the twenty-odd people running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2020, Bernie Sanders - who, last time I checked is an independent, not a Democrat - is the only one who stood for the Presidency in the 2016 campaign.  Of course, I had always assumed that Martin O'Malley would be the lone "repeat offender" from last time around to try again for the Presidency this time, but he decided that Democrats want something fresher than he could offer.  Hillary Clinton ultimately decided not to run again because Democrats can't be bothered with renominating failed nominees.  And, of course, Lincoln Chafee decided not to run again because Americans can't be bothered with learning the metric system.  (I won't do more than mention Jim Webb and Lawrence Lessig, because no one did more than mention them in 2016.)  So why does Sanders think he has a good shot the second time around, especially when there are so many more "progressive" candidates like Elizabeth Warren, who have more detailed policies?
The answer?  His ego.
Bernie Sanders says his campaign is about us, not him.  Trust me, it's about him.  He did so well in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses and built up such a large following that the adulation he got encouraged him to run again.  He enjoys the attention.  So what if newer, fresher presidential candidates have similar platforms?  So what if there are other Democratic candidates who are more electable?  Bernie has . . . a following!  He has a fan base! Also, his supporters are still plenty mad at the Democratic National Committee for rigging the 2016 primaries and caucuses against him that they're standing by him . . . and they will tolerate no opposition to him.  Sanders supporters are the Islamic State of Democratic politics.  It's either him . . . or no one.
And that's exactly who will defeat Trump if Bernie bros (and Bernie sisses) exact revenge on the party establishment on behalf of their guy.  No one.
This isn't the time for a new American "revolution," as Sanders himself puts it.  This is the time for a coup.  First we gotta depose Trump, even if it means having a moderate Democrat oppose him in 2020; we can worry about fundamental change later.  But Sanders supporters can't be bothered with reality, so they can't be bothered with accepting a centrist as the Democratic presidential nominee, even if the nation at large is centrist.  They can't even accept a Democratic presidential nominee who's a pragmatic progressive, as O'Malley was and as some of the other 2020 candidates are.  They're so detached from reality that they think their guy can turn America into a social democratic paradise like Denmark.
President Lincoln Chafee would have had better luck making the metric system official.
Look, in the unlikely event that Sanders gets elected to the White House, there is no way that he can do in four or eight years what it took decades for European countries to do - create a fair, equitable, just democratic-socialist society.  All of the programs and amenities in European countries that give left-leaning Americans a serious case of Euro envy - universal health care, quality education, sensible gun laws, intercity passenger trains that don't look like they belong in a railway museum - were developed over time and in the tradition of a paternal approach to governing that is commonplace in Europe (because of all of those kings and queens European countries used to have and in some cases, like Denmark, still do) but is anathema to Americans.  Yeah, we were once better off than European countries.  But part of the reason the United States had better living standards and higher wages than European countries in the fifties and sixties, a time that Sanders ironically alludes to as much as Trump does, is because those same countries we envy now were still rebuilding themselves after the Second World War.  That's when they began building their current economic systems.  And even if we can develop a system that allows us to have nice things but doesn't necessarily lead to an Old World-style nanny state, how could President Sanders develop all of that when he'd still have to deal with the Republicans, who are favored to hold the Senate for years to come?   
Also, quite frankly, it is not the time to try to build the sort of social democratic system Sanders envisions.  We are running up massive deficits and debts.  To graduate to an economic system like the ones in France or Germany, we have to be where we were in 2016 when Barack Obama was ready to step down from the Presidency.  But Donald Trump has taken us backwards since then with his tax cuts and his deregulation, and he's shredded the national social fabric in the process . . . and so we need a moderate or a pragmatic liberal to at least get us back to where we were before Trump before we can start aspiring to something better.  And even if a Joe Biden or a Cory Booker gets us back to where we were in 2016, it may be too late to build the sort of society that European nations enjoy.  Because Europe itself is going through convulsions.  Britain is trying to leave the European Union.  Both Britain and Germany are seeing strains on their health care systems.   In France, working-class people are protesting every Saturday against the government's economic policies that they say benefit the more well-off and make the average person bear the brunt of fuel taxes and other fees.  Italy is a goddamned mess.  Spain is broke.  Sanders has a lot of gall to propose for America a system that's buckling in other countries.  Unless European countries can reform their own social democratic systems - maybe they can, maybe they can't - there's no way Sanders can sell such a system for America. 
I was never a big Sanders fan.  When Martin O'Malley dropped out of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination contest and Sanders was the only one opposing Hillary Clinton for the nomination, I unenthusiastically backed him at first, but I ultimately decided not to participate in the 2016 New Jersey primary and surrender my independent status to vote as a Democrat for . . . an independent.  Sanders' temperament and his lack of pragmatism had always been a problem for me anyway, despite the fact that he didn't differ all that much from O'Malley on policy, and his continued abrasiveness has soured me on him even more.  He's only going to split the Democrats and help Trump if he continues to dominate the debate as he does now.  And for all of you who are still enamored with the idea of a "revolution" . . . it took the French more than eighty years after the Bastille was stormed to establish a working democracy, and they've always been willing to go to the mat more than we'll ever be.  How does that Ten Years After song go?  I'd love to change the world, but I'll leave it up to you.  That's how Americans are in general, and I imagine that's how a lot of Sanders supporters - many of whom lead quite comfortable lives, even if they still live with their folks - are as well.              

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Golfless In America

As with every successive generation of the Volkswagen Golf, I have been following news about the upcoming eighth-generation model since development on it first began in Wolfsburg. I haven't been planning to buy one, but I know I might need a new car in the next few years.  When it became apparent that Volkswagen wouldn't have a two-door model for this generation, I accepted the reality that cars without rear passengers doors are fading into history.  When Volkswagen announced that so much computer technology was going into the new Golf - with all sorts of digital readouts on the instrument panel and numerous driver-assistance features - that even a standard Golf would cost a pretty penny like the GTI and the Golf R, I begrudgingly accepted that reality, too, because a standard Golf would still be more affordable than a GTI or Golf R.
Now comes word that the United States may not get a standard Golf at all when the eighth generation debuts.
WHAT???????????
The standard Mark 8 Volkswagen Golf, shown above in a spy photo, may not be available in American VW dealerships, even as the next GTI and Golf R variations are a definite part of VW's U.S. lineup.  The reason is quite simple; Americans hate basic hatchbacks, preferring SUVs and crossovers instead.  They still buy sport hatchbacks, but they can't be bothered with basic family hatchback sedans.  Or, for that matter, with traditional station wagons; the next iteration of the Golf wagon, the Golf wagon being the spiritual successor to the old VW Squareback of the sixties and seventies, may not make it here either.  And Volkswagen has obviously concluded that the Tiguan and the Atlas SUVs don't sell enough units to allow VW to continue offering the basic Golf as a loss leader.  (The Tiguan, by the way, is now Volkswagen's U.S. bestseller.)  Volkswagen of America has only sold about six thousand units of the 2019 standard seventh-generation model, and VW's American operation has acknowledged its unpopularity in These States in subtle ways.  At the 2019 New York Auto Show, only a Golf R was on the floor at the VW display, not a standard Golf.  The standard Golf isn't mentioned in today's American VW advertising.  And I'm willing to bet that when I take my own Mark 6 Golf to my dealer for service soon, I won't see a standard Mark 7 Golf in the showroom.      
This possible move to delete the standard Golf from VW's U.S. lineup is an abomination to every American VW loyalist who helped keep Volkswagen alive in this market the last time William Barr was Attorney General.  In the early nineties, when it looked like Volkswagen would have to quit the U.S. market, there were enough die-hard VW fans to sustain the brand, and a lot of us may have bought Jettas at the time, but many of us still bought Golfs - standard Golfs as well as GTIs - in appreciation of its hatchback versatility and in recognition of its importance to the brand.  To us, the standard Golf isn't just another Volkswagen - it is Volkswagen in the liquid-cooled-engine age and will remain so even after the I.D. electric vehicles debut in a few years.  Volkswagen without a standard Golf is like a hollow shell.  Don't get me wrong, I love the GTI and the R models, but I can't afford either one of them. And while I could easily adapt to a Jetta should I need a new car in the near future, it's a larger car than the Golf, and its not as versatile.  But I'll be damned if I buy a Tiguan.  I actually drove one as a loaner while my Golf was being repaired this past fall, and I just couldn't get into driving it.  I just don't like SUVs.  Sadly, I live in a country where practically everyone else does.
This isn't the first time there have been rumors of about the standard Golf being dropped from the U.S. lineup.  I remember similar rumors about the Mark 5 Golf - called the Rabbit in the United States, as the original Golf had been - being dropped in favor of the GTI, but that obviously didn't happen.  But back then, in 2006, SUVs, though popular, weren't as popular as they are now.  They now account for a solid majority of all new cars sold in America, and with even notchback sedans becoming less popular, Volkswagen sees no incentive to keep the standard Golf available to die-hard Golf fans who don't want to pay extra for a sport model and just want a decent city car to drive around in.
Right now, Volkswagen is trying to get the Mark 8 Golf ready for a debut at the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show, which I'll have to miss again on account of the fact that I still can't afford to travel to Germany to see it (aw, heck, it's only the nineteenth Frankfurt show in my adult life, and besides, there's always 2021). But Volkswagen may miss Frankfurt this year too.  See, VW is putting so much technology in the car - a 48-volt electrical system, a sophisticated touchscreen, and complicated computer systems - that it's having trouble getting everything to work right or work at all.  This means it might be ready too late to debut at Frankfurt.  To be honest, I started having doubts about this new Golf because of all this, but I was willing to give Volkswagen the benefit of said doubts and see how a standard Golf would turn out and whether it would still be reasonably priced, despite the fact that VW is looking to compete more with BMW than with Ford or Toyota with this car.  But if the standard Golf doesn't come to the States, whether or not the car meets my expectations will be a moot question.
As an American, I've long since grown tired of being denied some of the most exciting and interesting products of the European auto industry, especially products from Volkswagen, Europe's number one automaker.  We've never had the Polo in the U.S., the up! is too small for American streets, we never got the third-generation Scirocco (now discontinued), and there hasn't been a Transporter model available in These States since 2003.  And now we're going to miss out on a basic Golf?  Geez, even Canada, which also hasn't gotten any of the cars I just mentioned in this paragraph, is expected to get the standard Mark 8 Golf.  It's enough to make me want to move north of the border.  But then I'll at least be able to get a VW with a metric readout on the speedometer.
I now plan to keep my sixth-generation two-door Golf for as long as I possibly can.  And if it gets to the point where I need a new car and can't get a standard Golf, or even a Jetta, and I can't afford any  of VW's other regular-car models, well, I'd rather take the bus. 
The final decision on whether or not to include a standard Mark 8 Golf in Volkswagen's American lineup hasn't been made yet.  Contact Volkswagen of America at 1-800-822-8987,  8 A.M. to 9 P.M. Eastern Time, from Monday, to Friday, and let them know that we VW fans won't stand for this horrible proposal not to offer it for sale here.  

Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Dark Future

The economy is doing extremely well in the United States right now, which is why I think the future of this country looks ominous and foreboding.
Why?  Because, with economic growth exceeding expectations and unemployment down to levels we haven't seen since the Beatles released Abbey Road,  Trump looks like a favorite for re-election to the Presidency.  Even though he and his Attorney General, William Barr, are stonewalling and blocking efforts into looking at possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the likelihood that Trump may have committed some dastardly deeds not even related to Russia (notice how he's trying to block access to his financial records), none of that matters because, well, it's the economy, stupid.  And Americans are, in fact, a stupid bunch when they vote strictly on their own economic well-being and disregard neglect of problems like climate change, white nationalism, and the undermining of the rule of law.  
It doesn't look good for the Democrats.  They don't want to be seen as going on an Ahab-style pursuit of Trump when they should be demonstrating what they're trying to do for the people.  And they are.  However, an agreement with the White House on an infrastructure program or support for the Untied States (not a typo, I meant "Untied") rejoining the Paris Agreement won't get the ink or the airtime that their investigations of the White House and their demands for the full Mueller report are getting, leading them to defend a presidential investigation that people don't relate to while Republicans get to brag about higher incomes and more jobs.  But if they don't investigate Trump, they let him get away with all sorts of misdeeds.  The Democrats really are in a no-win situation.              
And the Democrats aren't doing themselves any favors.  So hell-bent are liberals on nominating a woman, a person of color or Bernie Sanders that they won't even accept the idea that any white dude not named Bernard by his mother is the best choice to go against Trump.  And I don't necessarily mean Joe Biden.  I saw Michael Bennet, the Democratic senior senator from Colorado who just announced his presidential candidacy, on Rachel Maddow's show, and I found him to be quite impressive.  (More on why later.)  He would be a first for the Democratic Party if he became its 2020 presidential nominee - a candidate from a Western state - but he's running for President in a party where racial and ethnic diversity matters more than geography; hence, California's Kamala Harris is the only Westerner with a real shot at the nomination.  I have a problem, guys, with this obsession with diversity because diversity is all about celebrating differences without setting any common standards for people who differ from each other.  And while I'm not on board with Biden, the petty attacks on his policies and his character coming from Sanders supporters (and, to some extent, Sanders himself) are almost enough to make me volunteer for the Biden campaign.
All of my previous declarations that the Democratic Party was on its way to Whig-like extinction have proven to be premature (a fancy word meaning "dead wrong").  but if the Democrats can't unseat Trump in 2020, they might as well disband before Trump assumes dictatorial powers and has opposition parties outlawed.   

Friday, May 3, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - May 3, 2019

"Back Stabbers" by the O'Jays  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Caught In the Devil's Bargain

The Woodstock 50 concert, scheduled for the third weekend in August 2019 at the Watkins Glen International Speedway in upstate New York, has been canceled. Thank God. This had to be one of the dumbest ideas in popular music history since Woodstock '99.
As I recall, the original Woodstock was a spontaneous, harmonious event that worked largely because of good music, good vibrations and plain luck. The concertgoers at the original 1969 festival arrived in greater numbers than the organizers could handle, but they defused the situation by making it a free concert and allowing people to camp out and chill out. And the concertgoers were in such a laid-back mood that they proved, much to the delight of Max Yasgur, whose dairy farm was employed for the festival, that they could come for three days of peace and music and have nothing but three days of peace and music. And thanks to great acts with innovative music like the Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, and Richie Havens, along with plenty of marijuana, the good vibrations and good feelings were inevitable.
And how could Woodstock 50 compare to all that? I mean, the acts scheduled included Miley Cyrus, the horrible band Imagine Dragons, Chance the Rapper, and Beyoncé's husband – hardly the voices of positivity and good vibes. It would have been a perfect festival for those who like nasty hip-hop, mindless auto-tuned pop, and overblown alt-rock, but it wouldn't have been Woodstock. The Black Keys, one of the few twenty-first-century rock bands that achieve anything resembling greatness, pulled out of Woodstock 50 when it became apparent that it wasn't worth their while. Many other bands and solo artists scheduled to appear didn't even bother to publicize their planned sets there.
I sort of knew that Woodstock 50 was doomed when I saw that David Crosby would be there with his own backing band rather than with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. I've been led to understand that Crosby urged his old groupmates to join him at Woodstock 50, but they weren't interested. Perhaps they knew that they weren't going to re-create the magic of the original Woodstock – certainly not on a racetrack (remember Altamont?).  Also, John Fogerty was scheduled to perform, but without Creedence Clearwater Revival who appeared at the original Woodstock, it would never have been the same. Santana, one of the other old-time acts booked for Woodstock 50, would likely have been the only connection to the original festival, and I have a feeling that there would have been little if any of the 1969 Santana lineup there in 2019.
The 1969 Woodstock festival worked not just because of the music but because of the hope in the future for a more peaceful and more socially and artistically involved civilization and the communal spirit that the music represented. Today, so many people are so divided over politics and popular culture that no one can find common ground anymore. You have rap fans dismissing rock fans as racist for protesting the idea that rap is music, and you have rock fans resentful over how their music is disappearing . . . and then there are country and pop fans who don't give a twit about any of that. No one can even seem to agree on what sort of future we should be striving for and what sort of country we ought to be living in. And truth be told, Woodstock wasn't such a big deal.  It was a weekend outdoor concert -like Tanglewood, but hipper.  I sometimes laugh at how people were there remember what a wonderful experience it was, even though they camped out in the mud, they couldn't hear much of the music, and they got to see legendary rock bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Sweetwater and Sha Na Na. Maybe if we stop memorializing historic concerts like they were as essential to our past as the adoption of the Declaration of Independence – does anyone care anymore, for example, about Jenny Lind’s U.S. concert tour in the 1850s? – we can get serious about what sort of a world and a culture we can have going forward.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Deconstructing Cory

Cory Booker has the looks, he has the charm, and he has the executive experience as mayor of Newark, New Jersey to possibly propel him to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  So why do I, an almost lifelong resident of Essex County, New Jersey, have a complete and utter disinterest in him?
Cory Booker should be my kind of candidate.  After all, he rose to prominence by becoming the mayor of an unlivable and ungovernable city and spending seven years in office making it . . . well, a little more livable and governable.  He has the same urban executive bona fides as Martin O'Malley; the only difference between the two, apart from their physical appearance (O'Malley has an almost full head of hair), is that Cory Booker was never governor of his home state,choosing instead after his mayoralty to go to Washington as one of New Jersey's U.S. Senators.  And during his tenure as mayor of Newark, he did get stuff done, reducing crime somewhat and getting real estate developers to re-invest in downtown.  And he even shoveled a guy's driveway out after a big snowstorm.
Of course, Newark hasn't exactly returned to its glory days, and I don't blame Booker for that.  Because, as with O'Malley in Baltimore, Booker was never going to make Newark the the nice, vibrant livable city that old-timers like my Irish uncle, who grew up in Newark, reminisce about, due to the anti-urban, pro-suburbia, pro-highway policies that persist to this day and caused American cities to rot in the first place.
So what is it about Booker that turns me off?  The fact that he shows a lack of an in-yo-face attitude that clearly identifies him as not being from Newark or even Essex County (he's from tony Harrington Park in nearby Bergen County)?  No, it's not that.
It might be because of his fantastically impossible utopian vision of bringing back a culture of love and understanding (he's definitely not a Newark native) that puts him into Marianne Williamson territory.  It may even be because of his theatrics at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings over unsubstantiated claims of Kavanaugh's support for racial profiling reported to be in previously released documents ("I am Spartacus!"). Actually, no . . . I think it's because of his ties to Wall Street.
And his ties to Big Pharma.
And his support for charter schools.  Yeah, that stuff.  All that.
President Booker?  I'll pass, thanks.  But if I ever need someone to shovel my driveway when the kid I usually get is unavailable, I know who to call.      

Monday, April 29, 2019

Wayne WHO?

This guy is running for President.
Of the United States.
His name is Wayne Messam, a construction company founder and a college football star. And yes, he's running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
What's is qualification for the Presidency?  His four years as mayor of Miramar, Florida, a town that, in the Big Bang scheme of things, was founded last week.
Really.
Right.  I'm wasting my time . . . I'm done here.  Next!
(Okay, so that's eleven . . . )     

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Phony Betomania Has Bitten the Dust

Remember Beto O'Rourke?  Of course you don't.  
The Texas wunderkind who almost defeated Ted Cruz for a Senate seat started with a bang in his run for the Presidency and has already ended with a whimper.  He's not out of the race yet, but he might as well be. O'Rourke has been working hard trying to listen to what people want and need but he still hasn't formulated any concrete answers or responses to the feedback he's been getting. With the novelty of a winner of a Bobby Kennedy lookalike contest having worn off, he's now in sixth place in the polls, behind Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren as well as Pete Buttigieg.  And I don't think any of those candidates can win.  So how does that make O'Rourke look?
It gets worse.  O'Rourke has already had a staff shakeup in his campaign, indicating that he has no sense of direction (as if his wandering around the Southwest hadn't already made that clear), and his tax returns showed that he underpaid two years in a row because he apparently isn't good at math.  And if that weren't bad enough, O'Rourke, who recently got the endorsement of Dave Brock - not the conservative who shifted to Democratic centrism and endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2016, the leader of the British progressive rock band Hawkwind - undistinguished himself at the She the People convention of female minority voters when asked why such voters should consider a pale male like himself.  There are probably several reasons for women of color to vote for O'Rourke, just as I'm sure there are reasons why a sista who grew up listening to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On or Let's Get It On would like Yes' Fragile or Close To the Edge (or anything from Hawkwind, for that matter), but O'Rourke couldn't think of one.
It's a good thing no one asked him about Yes.
I know that it probably would have been a bad idea for Martin O'Malley to run for President in 2020, when he likely would have had fewer supporters than Democratic primary opponents, but endorsing O'Rourke has proven to be a bigger mistake by O'Malley than a second presidential run would have been.  I reluctantly joined an O'Rourke Facebook group, but I have since quit for obvious reasons, and I also quit a Pete Buttigieg group when I decided that he isn't going anywhere either.  (And I unsubscribed from e-mails from Cory Booker's campaign, which I don't even recall signing up for.)  The truth is, as I iterated before, that since I an an independent living in a closed-primary state that votes too late in the primary process to matter and since I do not see among any of the 2,020 Democratic presidential candidates (no typo, I think that's the actual number of candidates!) that would make me want to register as a Democrat again, I am not supporting anyone for the Democratic presidential nomination.  However, I will vote for the Democratic presidential nominee in the 2020 general election - even if (ha ha ha) it's O'Rourke.  (But not if it's Marianne Williamson.)  In the meantime, I still plan to dissect and skewer the declared candidates on this blog.  I've picked apart ten Democratic candidates so far (plus Howard Schultz), and I'm not about to stop now. 
"But, Steve,"  you say, "you have to vote for one of these people next November.  You shouldn't pick them apart!"  No, Democratic primary voters shouldn't pick them apart, though they still do, and seeing as I am both a cynic and a political independent, that's my job.  But, having said that, I do concede that any of these candidates, pathetic though they may be, are preferable to Trump.
Anyone know where those Hawkwind records went?              

Friday, April 26, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - April 26, 2018

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Auto Show Blues

Although I'm going to the 2019 New York International Auto Show this weekend, I'm not looking forward to being as wowed and excited as I've been by auto shows in the past.
Auto shows have been in decline lately, largely because the next wave in automotive development is based in ride sharing and in self-driving cars.  Because none of these trends are developing in Detroit, the city that long ago spawned the auto age in the first place, the North American International Auto Show there has gotten quite lame - so lame, in fact, that the 2020 show is scheduled not during the height of the car-model year in January, when previous Detroit shows were held, but in June, when the car-model year is winding down.  Kind of like Detroit itself.  This year's Detroit show was so lame that BMW, Volvo, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Mitsubishi didn't show up. The former two brands aren't displaying their cars in New York, for that matter, and Tesla is never there.  And several manufacturers have skipped auto shows abroad, as well.  Meanwhile, more car companies are aiming to push their new products through the Internet with 3-D videos.  Although nothing short of driving a new car compares to sitting in one and getting the feel of it, cyber-marketing looks to be the wave of the future.
And then there's the product itself.  More and more manufacturers - especially the domestic ones - are pushing SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks.  GM is thinning the ranks of its lineup of sedans and hatchbacks, and except for the Mustang and maybe the Lincoln Continental, Ford is getting rid of them altogether in North America.  So I'll be spending a lot less time in the domestic-brand exhibits - after the Fiesta and Fusion are gone, the Focus having already bitten the dust, I likely won't be setting foot into the Ford display at all. I simply don't like Mustangs enough to bother.    
Ahh, who cares?  I'll just spend more time in the German-brand displays, especially Volkswagen.  But even that is problematic, what with BMW a no-show this year and with even Volkswagen promoting trucks these days (it's displaying a compact pickup concept at this year's auto show).  Suffice to say, I'm happy with my Golf, and I hope VW keeps the Golf in its North American lineup.  One of these days I hope to see the permanent VW display at its Autostadt museum in Wolfsburg, the experience of which promises to blow away the experience of any auto show or car museum I've ever been to. :-)
Please note that I never commented on auto show spokesmodels, now known as "product specialists."  

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Mayor Pete?

As a former protégé of Gary Hart, Martin O'Malley has cultivated a few protégés of his own, and they're all running for President in 2020.  Beto O'Rourke, whom O'Malley is backing, jumped in first, and his sole supporter in the 2016 presidential campaign from the House Democratic caucus, Eric Swalwell, is also running. And then there's Pete Buttgieg.
Currently the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg - his spell-checker-unfriendly name is Maltese, as his father was an immigrant from Malta - is a veteran ofthe war in Afghanistan and a dynamic leader who has worked to revitalize his hometown and is known to be a thoughtful, philosophical politician.  He should be, as he was a Rhodes scholar.  That, his age (he's 37), his fluency in seven languages, and his sexual orientation - not only is he gay, he's shown affection to his husband in public have made him the hot Democratic presidential candidate as I type this.
Buttigieg has been upfront about his sexual orientation, explaining how he has found inner peace in both his marriage and his Episcopalian faith.  He is sincerely interested in how work defines a person's life and he sympathizes with the plight of the Midwestern worker who senses a lack of self-identity and self-worth after having lost a job.  Buttigieg hopes to define the dignity of work and the identity of the working class by urging such people to place their faith in a future where we work to restore the American dream and work together to move the country forward.  He cleverly announced his candidacy in the former Studebaker plant in South Bend, which I thought was a masterstroke.  I once opined on social media that you shouldn't automatically assume that white men who pine for the 1950s are racist, misogynistic jerks who want to go back to a time when women and people of color were not so dominant . . . because maybe they just miss Studebakers.  By announcing his candidacy in a former factory that hasn't produced a car since Studebaker went out of business in 1966, Buttgieg reminded us that we can't go back to these days and we can't re-create the elements of the past that we want to bring back.  Yes . . . we don't want to bring back institutionalized racism, but we can't bring back Studebaker cars or the economic aberration that allowed so many Americans working in factories like the Sutdebaker plant to prosper - that aberration being the industrial competition that was temporarily eliminated in other countries by the Second World War.  We need to start something new.
Buttigieg is counting on his own new-ness - new leadership, new generation, etc. - to get him the Democratic presidential nomination, and I'm so impressed by him that I wonder if O'Malley supported the wrong protégé by backing O'Rourke, who seems to have been forgotten.  There's just one thing - like O'Rourke, Buttigieg hasn't advanced any detailed policy proposals.  And as with O'Rourke, many party activists who want to see policy papers from every candidate are skeptical of Buttigieg.
Buttigieg has masterfully gone on the offensive with his sexual orientation, reconciling it with his faith in God and making his fellow Hoosier Mike Pence look like the homophobic twit he is, but as the trolling hecklers staging evangelical morality plays at Buttigieg rallies demonstrate, Mayor Pete still has his work cut out for him.  Meanwhile, some gays are actually saying he isn't gay enough . . . apparently because he presents himself as too clean-cut and too all-American (he's from Indiana, for crying out loud - what do you expect?)  Or maybe it's because he doesn't like Streisand.
None of this, however, makes me doubt his chances of winning the White House.  This does.  South Bend is a town of 101,166 people . . . more than Burlington, Vermont, where Bernie Sanders was mayor in the 1980s, but fewer than Newark, New Jersey, where Cory Booker was mayor from 2006 to 2013.  The idea of a guy who's practically a kid going from the mayoralty of South Bend to the Presidency is like the idea of a mail room foreman at a Fortune 500 company becoming chairman of the board.
Once again, Unn D. Sided is my pre-election Democratic favorite for the Presidency in 2020.  And if you think I'm going to settle on a candidate soon, I have a brand new Studebaker to sell you.   

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mueller Time Again

When Attorney General William Barr - whom everybody keeps calling "Bob Barr," confusing him with Bob Mueller and ironically naming a former Republican congressman from Georgia who supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton - released the Mueller report (with redactions) on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, we found out some interesting facts.  First Trump campaign officials made overtures to Russian nationals, some of whom were believed to be Americans because they contacted them through the Internet. (The Russians pretending to be Americans were sending out anti-Hillary propaganda and operating out of building in  St. Petersburg - St. Petersburg, Russia, not St., Petersburg, Florida.)  Robert Mueller's report offers a caveat that, while there were many contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians while the Kremlin was hacking computers, including that infamous June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Russians operatives over possible "dirt" on the opposition, there was no agreement of collusion between the two parties.  There was no collusion . . . but only because there's no evidence that Paul Manafort and a Putin operative met at a hotel in Prague or Bratislava or wherever and hashed out a plan to sabotage Hillary Clinton.
"While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign," Mueller wrote, "the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks' release of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation."
Trump also tried to have Mueller fired or at least reined in, and he even asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to withdraw his recusal.  Sessions may be a bigot, but he' not dishonorable; he refused to listen to Trump.  ("Death before dishonor," as they say down in Sessions' native South.)  Many more White House officials stopped Trump from committing any act that could be perceived as a crime; in instances when they failed to do so, Trump himself didn't commit a criminal act only because he didn't know what the hell he was doing.  Because justice was not obstructed - mainly because Trump himself never actually tried to stop Mueller, preferring that someone stop Mueller for him - Mueller decided there wasn't enough evidence to accuse Trump of obstructing justice, but because of all the obvious examples of how Trump wished to impeded the investigation, that was why he could not exonerate Trump either.
Barr has since declared that Trump has been cleared, twisting the facts to suit Trump's argument while leaving out all of the evidence and teh charges pointing in a different direction.  Trump, in fact, figured that the jig was up when Trump, upon hearing the Mueller would investigate Russian interference in the election, said, "Oh, my God.  This is terrible.  This is the end of my Presidency.  I'm f--ked."
This is all bad news . . . for the Democrats.
What???  The intent of the Mueller report is to avoid the issue of accusing Trump of any wrongdoing; rather, it is meant to provide Congress a guide for how to proceed.  He wrote that there should be a process where the evidence is weighed, the charges are made through Congress rather than through an indictment (you apparently can't indict a sitting President), and the accused defends himself.  But with enough cherry-picked conclusions to allow Trump, his supporters, and the whole goddamned Republican Party (one honorable exception: Mitt Romney) to claim exoneration at a time when most Americans don't have the stomach for a Watergate-type investigation, the Democrats have two choices, and either way they could give Trump an advantage in the 2020 elections.  If they investigate Trump in the House and possibly vote on impeachment, it will anger the Republican base and turn off swing voters more interested in health care and living-wage jobs than shenanigans in the White House.  If they don't investigate, they let Trump get away with everything he's done up to now . . . and will do later.
I've been told that the Democrats can focus on the issues for 2020 and still investigate Trump - "walk and chew gum at the same time" - but this is a party that famously blows it when faced with dealing with Republican scandals.  The Iran-contra affair should have been a boon for Democrats in the 1988 presidential election, but it was their third straight loss despite Vice President Bush, who won the Presidency over Michael Dukakis, having had more to do with that scandal than he was willing to admit.  How far back do you want to go?  The Teapot Dome oil scandal that occurred under President Harding and was uncovered after Harding's death in office in 1923 put Republicans in an embarrassing position going into 1924, but they kept the Presidency after the Democrats took 103 ballots at their convention to nominate one John W. Davis, an esteemed diplomat, to oppose President Coolidge, who won a full term.  (To be fair, Coolidge had nothing to do with the Teapot Dome.)  And those scandals were nothing compared to the Trump White House, a scandal in and of itself; the Teapot Dome scandal involved illegal profiteering on government oilfields and Iran-contra was an earnest attempt by President Reagan at détente with the Ayatollah Khomeini gone awry when renegades in his own National Security Council hijacked it to beenfit right-wing mercenaries in Central America.
What we have going on now is even more serious than Watergate.  If the Democrats can't figure out how to capitalize on this level of corruption while still promoting a positive agenda for 2020, then they're finished as a party.
Less mentioned but just as important is the finding that the Russians tried (successfully, alas) to sow division, influence voters, and promote chaos and discord in the 2016 presidential election, interfering in what Mueller called a "sweeping and systematic fashion."  Even if Trump had lost, as was expected, Russia would have still divided people enough toi make a Hillary Clinton Presidency a nightmare for Hillary herself.  Maybe the Russians weren't involved with WikiLeaks as much or as closely as suspected, and maybe the Democratic National Committee should have gotten a better firewall for their servers,  but even the most die-hard Julian Assange fan or the most ardent Jill Stein voter (again, I voted for Dr. Stein out of a personal dislike for Hillary that goes back long before Russian interference in our elections was an issue) has to admit that Vladimir Putin was up to something.  After all the evidence of Russian malfeasance not involving collusion or obstruction of justice, there's no other conclusion anyone can come to.  
As I believe I said once before on this blog, the twenty-teens have been a disastrous decade for the nation.  It began with Citizens United and is ending with citizens divided, with all sorts of social, political and cultural failures in between.  And no one has been able to get away with so much and profit over the polarization of Americans than Donald J. Trump.  How his Presidency unfolds and what ultimately happens with it could tear this country up eve n more.  Or it could be a catharsis preceding a rebirth and renewal of America.  On this Holy Saturday, I'm not optimistic of the latter possible outcome coming to pass. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Music Video Of the Week - April 19, 2019

"Renegade" by Styx  (Go to the link in he upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

April (Thunder)Showers

I'll get to the Mueller report release later.  But now, the weather.
This past weekend, my area of New Jersey was under a "slight" risk for severe thunderstorms, which is actually pretty serious for New Jersey.  When I went to bed late Sunday night, there were no severe-weather watches.  That night, I woke up with a pain in my arm; it was two in the morning. I got up, took some aspirin, and checked the latest weather watch.
That's when I saw the tornado watch for all of New Jersey.
We didn't get a tornado that night, but we did get a thunderstorm that was as severe as Catherine Deneuve is beautiful.  Yes . . . that severe.  It woke me up at 4:25 A.M.  The lightning, wind and rain were so intense that I was certain the night light across the hall and the digital clock in my bedroom would go out any moment .  Miraculously, the power stayed on, and the storm lasted only twenty minutes.  I was glad that it was over so soon.
Except that it wasn't.
A new storm system the like one last weekend is affecting the same areas of the country that were affected by the last storm.  That means more tornadoes in the South, more bow-line supercells in the Southeast, and more thunderstorms along the East Coast.  The Storm  Prediction Center, as of this writing, has most of new jersey in a marginal-risk zone for severe weather, with far northern new jersey in a regular-thunderstorm zone.
This time yesterday, the marginal-risk zone was farther south.  Tomorrow, the Storm Prediction Center might very well include all of New Jersey in a risk zone, with part of the state in a slight-risk zone.
But at least we won't get really bad storms like the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, right?  Well, even a marginal-risk zone can leave room for storms like the one that hit us last weekend.  The forecast for my area calls for the chance of "locally damaging wind gusts" (read downed tree limbs and power lines) and, of course. heavy rain (a flash flood watch is already out for northern New Jersey). 
Climate change is making me fall out of love with spring.  April and May used to mean benign, mild weather in which to enjoy the tulips and the flowering trees, brought to you by soft showers.  Now spring is just as treacherous as the heart of summer (which promises to be hellishly hot on the East Coast this year). The derecho we had last May (which I still haven't recovered from psychologically) is still very fresh in my mind; I'm more than convinced that we could deal with another weather "event" like that very soon.  But I didn't think I'd ever have to deal with severe, power-threatening weather during the Easter season.
We'd better get used to this, as I have absolutely no confidence in anyone - last of all Americans - to do something about climate change. 
I may be back. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Notre Dame and Civilization

The devastating fire that almost completely destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris only reminds people all over the world how tragic life can be . . . except maybe most Americans.
Yes, that was a loaded statement, so bear with me.  Notre Dame was and is a monument that encapsulates everything that signifies Western civilization.  It was built to project, truth, faith, beauty, art and culture.  It's only fitting that it stands in Paris, regarded as the most beautiful city in the West, if not the world.  But it was likely built with the understanding that something constructed and furnished with such great care and attention to quality and detail, could be easily lost.  To understand civilization is to understand that, as James Howard Kunstler (expect me to quote and paraphrase him liberally here) wrote, life is tragic, everything we love is bound to be lost, and life will go on without our own selves.
Architecture defines a civilization, and the architecture of Notre Dame defines France perfectly.  So, alas, does architecture in the United States.  While our older buildings - those that have been preserved as opposed to those that were cavalierly destroyed to make way for, say, sports arena that look like giant carburetor filters - define our past, our more recent buildings define our present.  And the buildings we've been erecting for the past seven decades mostly define our tawdriness, our disrespect for tradition, and our lack of standards (qualities commonly reflected on the record charts these days).  Kunstler wrote in his 1996 book "Home From Nowhere" that Americans defy the reality of life's tragic nature - the essential building block of any civilization - by erecting buildings not worth caring about. Virtually every tract house, highway retail strip, condominium complex, and office building amplifies that apathy.  Kunstler explains it this way:
"When a hurricane blows away sixty condo clusters along the Florida Coast, nobody outside Dade County sheds a tear for what is lost, not because other Americans are heartless but because people of even modest intelligence can tell whether places are worth caring about, though perhaps they can't say why.  In the heartland, mobile home parks are commonly referred to as 'tornado bait.'  Nobody could say that about an Italian hill town and get a laugh, not even an American."
And what are we to make of the recent tornadoes that hit the American Southeast and the Midwest?  Many of the houses destroyed were poorly, shoddily built, and it could be easy to shrug off a rural shack in Mississippi or a tract house in Ohio as no big loss.  But the news reports remind us that people died in these structures, and it only serves to remind us that no matter how hard we try to deny life's tragic nature, life reminds us of how tragic it can be.
The weather system that affected the Southeast and the Midwest, by the way, produced severe thunderstorms in the Northeast, and one struck the new World Trade Center with lightning, as if to mock the idea of such a building reaching to the sky.  It only reminded me of the karma of 9/11 in that, before the Twin Towers were destroyed and before the Pentagon was hit, these buildings were derided for their inhuman gigantism and their banal architecture, yet the U.S. Capitol - one of the most beautiful buildings in the United States - survived 9/11 when passengers on another jet airliner foiled the attempt terrorist mission to destroy that building.  Imagine the even greater tragedy that would have unfolded had al-Qaeda succeeded in destroying that temple of democracy.
And Americans do get it, even if they don't know it.  Case in point: In 1989, Mead Hall, the 1836 mansion on the campus of Drew University, my alma mater, in Madison, New Jersey, was in the middle of renovations when a fire gutted the building.  Students were sad for the mansion . . . while making wisecracks about how it was too bad the fire didn't happen to the University Center, a loathed brick and cinder-block box built in 1958.  Mead Hall is still standing, the renovation having been completed in 1992.  The University Center was replaced by a new building that, likely, will sooner or later inspire the same derision that its predecessor did.  To say that it's nicer than the old building may not be saying much.  But That is the difference between buildings worth caring about and buildings not worth caring about.  We mourn what is lost when we recognize its value we laugh at the loss of what we know has no value.
And then there is what our unwillingness to deal with tragedy has done to whole places.  Our efforts to build a civilization that contradicted reality by replacing real places with perfect, sanitized simulacra of authentic human settlements - namely, cities - only led to the devaluation and destruction of most of our great urban centers.  I once mentioned the fall of Detroit, once thought of as the Paris of the Midwest, as well as the current state of Newark, outside which I live.  Our clownish efforts to deny life's tragic nature is evident in the fact that, while no one could ever make jokes about a great loss in Paris, Newark, like Detroit, is a punch line.  Notre Dame may be gone - temporarily - but Paris is still there.  In Newark, the Catholic archdiocese's Sacred Heart Cathedral is still there.  It's the city that's gone.  When Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders said the same thing about her hometown of Akron, Ohio in one of her songs, she could have been referring to virtually any city in America.     
The fire in Paris came at a sadly ironic time - the beginning of Holy Week, which celebrates Christ's martyrdom and resurrection for the redemption of humankind so that the Gates of Heaven could be reopened.  The fact that the French plan to rebuild Notre Dame is a testament to their faith not just in the promise of redemption but also their faith in culture and history, two ideas Americans are increasingly divorced from these days.  We are increasingly one of the least happy peoples in the West, looking for real connections and real life in our everyday existence but not finding it, except maybe only a simulation of it online or on TV, but our failure or unwillingness to understand the realities of life undermine that.  "All our efforts to nullify life's tragic nature have paradoxically led us into deeper unhappiness," Kunstler wrote in 1996.  "What we have done to the physical fabric of our country finally is not an illusion but a genuine tragedy.  We have come close to making civilized life impossible in the United States."
And we completed the job at the ballot box twenty years after Kunstler wrote this.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Julian Assange

Julian Assange was arrested by the British after the Ecuadorian Embassy in London canceled his asylum.  He'd apparently become a bad house guest, as he couldn't replace the litter his cat's box.  Among other things.
I can't make any sense out of Assange.  People think he's a hero, other people think he's a villain . . . there are certainly good arguments on both sides.  The release of  92,000 from his WikiLeaks site pertaining numerous "friendly fire" incidents and civilian casualties in Afghanistan - courtesy of U.S. Army soldier Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning - illuminated some of the gravest mistakes in the prosecution of the war against the Taliban, but it may have compromised the progress of the mission there.  Assange's release of  documents showing what a fraud Hillary Clinton is something I give him credit for, but he did not release Donald Trump's tax returns as he promised - which cancels out that credit.   And his efforts to help Manning hack into computers to get information he thought was necessary to make public has been dismissed as more like espionage than journalism by the very papers that published the Pentagon Papers in 1971 - the New York Times and the Washington Post.  This could scare reporters into refusing to accept ill-gotten but relevant information on important matters.  Like, say, Donald Trump's tax returns.
Meanwhile, there are two charges of sexual assault against him in Sweden.  Assange has denied both allegations, and he says he is happy to answer questions the British may have for him about the case.  One thing's for sure - the final verdict on whether Julian Assange is a hero or a villain hasn't been handed down yet.
But whatever happens, I sure do hope that someone takes care of his cat.