Friday, August 16, 2019

Desperadoes

Aside from the blatant bigotry that it exposes on the part of both Trump and Netanyahu, the move to bar two U.S. members of Congress from visiting Israel strikes me as a truly desperate move.

Trump is being his usual infantile self, striking out at Rep. Ilan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the only two Muslim women in Congress.  Getting Netanyahu to go along with him shows that the Israeli prime minister, already in a precarious position in his upcoming election — called because he couldn’t form a government after the last one — is not only a sniveling bigot — not a shock — but is Trump’s puppet, dancing to his tune.  How does that convey strength?  All it tells the Israeli electorate is that Bibi is under the thumb of a foreign power, and a manifestly dangerous one at that.  That’s how he conveys strength?  Oy.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Idiots Abroad

Can’t take these people anywhere.

Via TPM:

Trump brought Fox News host Tucker Carlson to North Korea on Sunday instead of his own national security adviser, John Bolton.

Several journalists reported seeing Carlson on the sidelines of Trump’s historic visit to the the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, and the hosts of “Fox & Friends” confirmed Carlson was there during a phone interview with him.

Meanwhile, Bolton was shipped off to Mongolia over the weekend.

While speaking to his Fox colleagues, Carlson defended Trump’s friendliness with the brutal North Korean dictator.

“[North Korea]’s a disgusting place, obviously. So there’s no defending it,” Carlson said. “On the other hand, you’ve got to be honest about what it means to lead a country. It means killing people.”

“Not on the scale that the North Koreans do, but a lot of countries commit atrocities, including a number that we’re closely allied with,” he continued.

Carlson’s declamation is the diplomatic equivalent of “I’m not a racist, but…” or “Some of my best friends are gay.”  And we’ve heard this bothsiderism excuse from Trump himself when asked about Russia’s treatment — and murder — of dissidents and journalists.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

Foreign Cars

Sixty years ago imported (or “foreign”) cars were an interesting if not important part of the U.S. auto market.  If you wanted to go exotic you could get a Mercedes-Benz through the local Studebaker dealer, and of course everybody thought the VW Beetle was cute but not what you’d call a family car if you were used to driving a Ford Country Squire with room for nine passengers and a dog.  Japanese cars?  Are you kidding?

Well, that was then, and so was Ike and the Edsel.  Today the American car market is dominated by vehicles whose headquarters may be in Tokyo or Seoul but who build them here to the point that they’re exporting cars built in Ohio back to Japan.  Not only that, they have taught the American manufacturers how they did it, and now if you buy a Ford or Buick chances are it has parts brought in from their factories overseas (my 2007 Mustang’s engine is from Germany) and even certain models are badge-engineered to look and sound like American cars.

But apparently this represents a national security threat to some dipshit in the White House.

A US Commerce Department report has concluded that American auto imports threaten national security, setting the stage for possible tariffs by the White House, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The investigation, ordered by President Donald Trump in May, is “positive” with respect to the central question of whether the imports “impair” US national security, said a European auto industry source.

“It’s going to say that auto imports are a threat to national security,” said an official with another auto company.

The report, which is expected to be delivered to the White House by a Sunday deadline, has been seen as a major risk for foreign automakers.

Trump has threatened to slap 25 percent duties on European autos, especially targeting Germany, which he says has harmed the American car industry.

Toyota is neither amused or impressed.

“Today’s proclamation sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed, and the contributions from each of our employees across America are not valued,” the company said.

The statement says Toyota has 10 manufacturing plants in the United States, some 1,500 dealerships, an extensive supply chain and directly and indirectly employs 475,000 US workers.

“Most every American has a Toyota story and we are very proud of the fact that over 36 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles are still on U.S. roads today. Our operations and employees contribute significantly to the American way of life, the U.S. economy and are not a national security threat.”

But Trump promised those workers at the Studebaker plant he’d save their jobs, and by golly he’s gonna do it.

PS: The last Studebaker plant to build cars for the U.S. market was in Canada.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Trade Marks

Via the New York Times:

Trump’s tariffs were initially seen as a cudgel to force other countries to drop their trade barriers. But they increasingly look like a more permanent tool to shelter American industry, block imports and banish an undesirable trade deficit.

More than two years into the Trump administration, the United States has emerged as a nation with the highest tariff rate among developed countries, outranking Canada, Germany and France, as well as China, Russia and Turkey. And with further trade confrontations brewing, the rate may only increase from here.

On Tuesday, the president continued to praise his trade war with China, saying that the 25 percent tariffs he imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods would benefit the United States, and that he was looking “very strongly” at imposing additional levies on nearly every Chinese import.

“I think it’s going to turn out extremely well. We’re in a very strong position,” Mr. Trump said in remarks from the White House lawn. “Our economy is fantastic; theirs is not so good. We’ve gone up trillions and trillions of dollars since the election; they’ve gone way down since my election.”

He called the trade dispute “a little squabble” and suggested he was in no rush to end his fight, though he held out the possibility an agreement could be reached, saying: “They want to make a deal. It could absolutely happen.” Stock markets rebounded on Tuesday, after plunging on Monday as China and the United States resumed their tariff war.

Additional tariffs could be on the way. Mr. Trump faces a Friday deadline to determine whether the United States will proceed with his threat to impose global auto tariffs, a move that has been criticized by car companies and foreign policymakers. And despite complaints by Republican lawmakers and American companies, Mr. Trump’s global metal tariffs remain in place on Canada, Mexico, Europe and other allies.

The trade barriers are putting the United States, previously a steadfast advocate of global free trade, in an unfamiliar position. The country now has the highest overall trade-weighted tariff rate at 4.2 percent, higher than any of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, according to Torsten Slok, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. That is now more than twice as high as the rate for Canada, Britain, Italy, Germany and France, and higher than most emerging markets, including Russia, Turkey and even China, Mr. Slok said.

The shift is having consequences for an American economy that is dependent on global trade, including multinational companies like Boeing, General Motors, Apple, Caterpillar and other businesses that source components from abroad and want access to growing markets overseas.

While trade accounts for a smaller percentage of the American economy than in most other countries — just 27 percent in 2017, compared with 38 percent for China and 87 percent for Germany, according to World Bank data — it is still a critical driver of jobs and economic growth.

For now, the American economy remains strong, with rising wages and the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. But with less trade, American jobs up and down the value chain that are seemingly unrelated to importing and exporting goods could suffer, including research and development, retail and marketing products.

Trump has promised, as he has in the past, to make it up to the farmers who lose money by having China hit back with retaliatory tariffs against their products.  In other words, he’s saying he’ll get them $15 billion in subsidies to keep them afloat because of something he did (as opposed to helping, oh, say, Puerto Rico recover from a hurricane or Flint get drinkable water).  He apparently thinks the farmers of America can be bought off like his one-night stands with women-not-his-wife.  And I think we all know how well he keeps his promises.

The sad fact is that the majority of the farmers who are hit by these tariffs in all likelihood supported Trump in the last election and are with him now even as he takes away their markets and promises to put them on the welfare rolls.  He’s seen it work before — frighten them with abstract fears about Others like undocumented immigrants (many of whom keep farms in business by doing the labor) or lesbians getting married in New York, unlike that nice couple who run the candle store in town — so why not try it again?  He knows his marks; he’s run his businesses that way for fifty years and gets his jollies — if not his profits — by getting away with the con.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Don’t Take Our Word For It

Via Axios, National Security Advisor John Bolton confirms we scammed North Korea.

WALLACE: Did North Korea demand money for the release of Otto Warmbier?

BOLTON: It appears that they did. This occurred before I came into the administration, but that’s my understanding.

WALLACE: Did the U.S. official who was there to get him out of the country, Joseph Yun, did he sign a document pledging the money in order to get him out.

BOLTON: That is what I am told, yes.

WALLACE: I guess the bottom line question is, did the U.S. pay any money to North Korea, however it was disguised, after Warmbier was released?

BOLTON: Absolutely not. And that’s the key point.

At first Trump said it was all fake news, never happened, and claimed it was all Obama’s fault anyway.  Now we know it was all a con.

Look, I don’t have any soft spots for North Korea, unlike Trump and his “love” for Kim Jung-un, but you have to wonder what other countries are thinking if they try to negotiate with a country that has no problem cheating you just to get what they want out of you.  And Bolton apparently thinks this is good.  He’s just as much of a scammer as Trump.

Well, actually, it’s not like no one could have expected this.  Trump has a long history of not paying for anything; just ask the hundreds of contractors and vendors who have sued him over the years for non-payment.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Real Threat

Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post:

Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.

The debate about how to respond to Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack — and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law — has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.

Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.

I am also someone who, by a strange twist of fate, was a young staff attorney on the House Judiciary Committee’s Watergate impeachment inquiry in 1974, as well as first lady during the impeachment process that began in 1998. And I was a senator for New York after 9/11, when Congress had to respond to an attack on our country. Each of these experiences offers important lessons for how we should proceed today.

First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller’s report leaves many unanswered questions — in part because of Attorney General William P. Barr’s redactions and obfuscations. But it is a road map. It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not. Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.

The Republicans, of course, will not listen to this.  All they will say is that she’s a sore loser and E-MAILS!  But what is so striking is that they and a lot of other people were willing — and still are — to take Trump’s word that the Russians did nothing to interfere with the election of 2016 and are just as likely to do the same next year.  Oh, but our real national security is threatened by refugees from Central America who are begging, with their last dime, for asylum.  But the systematic corruption of our electoral system?  Nah.

We have to get this right. The Mueller report isn’t just a reckoning about our recent history; it’s also a warning about the future. Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020, and possibly other adversaries, such as China or North Korea, will as well. This is an urgent threat. Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America’s future. And, unless he’s held accountable, the president may show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of his office. He will likely redouble his efforts to advance Putin’s agenda, including rolling back sanctions, weakening NATO and undermining the European Union.

Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.

The very fact that Trump and his toadies are saying “Move along, folks, nothing to see here,” is reason enough to hold hearings and get to the truth.  It may lead to impeachment; it may not.  But to sit back and do nothing is exactly what the Russians are expecting us to do.  They know we’re too easily distracted by trivial bullshit and shiny objects; while the country is obsessed with the latest Kardashian sighing, they’re robbing us and getting away with it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bibi Or Benny?

I have not been following the election in Israel other than the fact that I knew it was going to happen yesterday.  The outcome is very close between Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu and his major rival, Benny Gantz.  As of this morning (early Wednesday), Bibi’s party had a very slight lead but with strong supporters in the other parties, enough to form a coalition.

As a friend noted last night, in a country of 8 million people with 39 political parties, it’s meshugge.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Agree To Disagree

There’s Trump and his assessment of threats from overseas, which seem to consist of brown people under the age of six from Central America, and then there’s the people he appointed to run the intelligence services and actually read and evaluate the information they’ve been getting from their assets overseas.

CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and other top officials joined [Director of National Intelligence Daniel] Coats in a discussion that covered a wide array of national security challenges, including cyber attacks that will aim to disrupt the 2020 presidential election and the continued threat posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Coats, speaking on behalf of the assembled officials, gave a global tour of national security challenges, focused mainly on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

He said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” which the country’s leaders consider “critical to the regime’s survival.”

That assessment threw cold water on the White House’s more optimistic view that the United States and North Korea will achieve a lasting peace and that the regime will ultimately give up its nuclear weapons.

It was not the first time that U.S. intelligence has determined North Korea is not on the path to surrendering its weapons. And throughout the hearing, officials found themselves repeating earlier assessments on subjects that also were at odds with the president’s public statements.

The statement on North Korea drew extra attention coming ahead of a planned summit meeting next month between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Their first summit last year ended with a vague agreement that contained few concrete goals and deadlines.

The distance between the intelligence community and the White House extended to areas that have ignited fierce political debates in Washington.

None of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall.

Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

Officials also warned that the Islamic State was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable organization. Trump has declared the group defeated and has said he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria as a result.

So when the people who really know what’s going on are at odds with a president who refuses to read anything that doesn’t have pictures or coloring instructions, what happens when the non-nuclear North Korea launches an ICBM at Guam or the defeated ISIS loads up another 757 and heads towards the new World Trade Center?  Are we going to suddenly realize that building a mythical wall across the Sonora desert was a huge waste of resources and criminally negligent?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

No Confidence

It sounds like the British government is facing a rather sticky wicket.

Theresa May’s government faces a vote of no confidence later after MPs rejected the PM’s Brexit deal.

Labour launched the bid to trigger a general election after the deal setting out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU was rejected by 230 votes.

However, one senior party figure has suggested it is unlikely to succeed, with Northern Ireland’s DUP and Tory rebels saying they will back the PM.

The confidence vote is expected to be held at about 19:00 GMT.

Mrs May has told MPs she will return to the Commons with an alternative plan next week, provided she survives the confidence vote.

“The House has spoken and this government will listen,” she said on Tuesday night, offering cross-party talks to determine a way forward.

My knowledge of the inside workings and ramifications of British politics wouldn’t fill a teacup, but even to the casual observer the fall of a government over such a divisive issue as Brexit, along with the turmoil in the U.S. and the abrupt changes of course in the Middle East leads me to believe that the only possible beneficiary of this whole cock-up is Vladimir Putin.

Or, to put it another way, Russian collusion and interference didn’t start with the 2016 election in the United States and is still going on.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Wrong Border

The Trump minions have been telling us that thousands of terror suspects have been pouring over the southern border which is why we need a state of emergency to end the horror.

Yeah, no.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Monday the exact number, which NBC News is first to report, was classified but that she was working on making it public. The data was the latest set on this topic provided to Congress. It is possible that the data was updated since that time, but not provided to Congress.

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

So it’s the Canadians who are the real terrorists, with their hockey pucks and Tim Horton donuts sneaking in to overtake our nation.  And the way they do it is especially crafty: y’see, most of ’em are white with names like Gordie and Justin.  Very clever.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Slow Motion Train Wreck

The White House and its guardians of whiteness are freaked out about the caravan of migrants coming up through Mexico to the point that they’re sending troops to guard the border.

Fixated on the migrant caravan moving north through Mexico, President Trump is weighing a plan to shut the U.S. border to Central Americans and deny them the opportunity to seek asylum, asserting similar emergency powers used during the early 2017 “travel ban,” according to administration officials and people familiar with the proposal.

The White House is also preparing to deploy as many as 1,000 additional U.S. troops to assist in security operations at the southern border in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival, officials said.

[…]

The migrant caravan remains more than 900 miles from U.S. territory and has dwindled to about 3,000 people, according to the latest estimates from Mexican authorities. But the scenes of young men breaking through gates along the Guatemala-Mexico border earlier this week have alarmed the White House, and Trump continues to depict the Central American migrant group as a criminal menace and a security threat.

Impoverished families, many of whom are traveling with children and surviving on handouts, comprise the bulk of those advancing slowly through southern Mexico.

The Trump administration has provided no evidence that Middle Easterners and dangerous criminals are mixed in.

Since hey’re traveling at a rate of about 20 miles a day, they will be at the U.S. border sometime around the middle of January, assuming they maintain their course and speed.  That makes the Okies in “The Grapes of Wrath” sound like they were flying to California on business class.

The message that’s apparently not getting through to anyone in authority is that these are desperately poor and tired people willing to sacrifice everything they have to get to the border to ask for asylum.  By the time they get here they’ll be so worn out and depleted that even if any of them had criminal intent, it will have been replaced by the basic instinct to survive, and it’s highly unlikely they’re going to mastermind some horrific plot to invade Brownsville.

But Trump and his racist and xenophobic allies are so twitterepated about a harmless group of poor people that they’re trying to send the Army to defend the border against… what?  There have been bigger crowds at Tiger Stadium waiting to take a piss during the seven-inning stretch.  Not only that, because of the Posse Comitatus law, the only thing the military can do is provide support to local law enforcement; they cannot themselves enforce the law.  So it would be a lot cheaper — and a lot more efficient — to get the Red Cross to come in and set up shelters and Porta-Potties to greet the caravan.  But nothing says Trump America more than welcoming asylum seekers with a machine gun nest.

By the time they get here, the election will be long past, the new – hopefully Democratic and therefore sane — House will have been sworn in, this crisis will have faded from the headlines, and Trump will have found another shiny object to obsess over.  Meanwhile, the situation that created the caravan in the first place — the horrific conditions in places like Honduras and the neglect by our quivering bully of an administration — will still be in place.  Everything is being done to send the migrants back, but nothing has been done to help them when they get here.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Murder On Fifth Avenue

The New York Times has a very chilling account of how the hit squad from Saudi Arabia tortured, killed, and them disposed of the body of Jamal Khashoggi.  Warning: the following content is graphic.

His killers were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. They severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.

Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, and within two hours the killers were gone, the recordings suggested…

…A team of 15 Saudi agents, some with ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was waiting for Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate the moment he arrived, at about 1:15 p.m. on Oct. 2.

After he was shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the agents seized Mr. Khashoggi almost immediately and began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, the senior Turkish official said.

“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi, the consul, told them, according to the Turkish official and a report in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.

As they cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body, a doctor of forensics who had been brought along for the dissection and disposal had some advice for the others, according to the senior Turkish official.

Listen to music, he told them, as he put on headphones himself. That was what he did to ease the tension when doing such work, the official said, describing the contents of the audio recording.

And yet, the White House and Trump are giving the Saudis all the cover they need, and it’s a murder.

So far the reaction from both the base and the Republican leadership has been a shrug: yeah, we know they did it, but they’re Arabs and that’s what they do, and besides, it’s not like he was an American, and even if he was a permanent resident of the U.S., he was a journalist and aren’t they the enemy of the people, anyway?

Trump was pretty much right when he said he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it; swap in a hit squad in Istanbul and it barely registers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Laughed Out Loud

Via the Washington Post:

Trump has long argued that the United States has been taken advantage of by other nations — a “laughing stock to the entire World,” he said on Twitter in 2014 — and his political rise was based on the premise that he had the strength and resolve to change that.

But at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump got a comeuppance on the world’s biggest stage. Delivering a speech that aimed to establish U.S. “sovereignty” over the whims and needs of other nations, the president’s triumphant moment was marred in the first minute when he was met by laughter — at his expense.

The embarrassing exchange came when Trump boasted that his administration had accomplished more over two years than “almost any administration” in American history, eliciting audible guffaws in the cavernous chamber hall.

The president appeared startled. “Didn’t expect that reaction,” he said, “but that’s okay.”

Members of the audience chuckled again — perhaps this time in sympathy.

[…]

“The world just laughed @realDonaldTrump,” comedian Wanda Sykes tweeted. Referring to the famed theater in Harlem in which the audience boos and heckles bad performers offstage, she added, “Stay tuned, they might go full ‘Showtime at the Apollo’ on him.”

By the afternoon, Trump was projecting an air of nonchalance, telling reporters that his boast in the speech “was meant to get some laughter.” But most observers weren’t buying it from a president who seldom laughs at himself and whose default expression is an unsparing glare.

I’ve said it many, many times: the only way to bring this clown down is to drown him out with mockery and laughter.  It’s been a proven method all the way from the Greeks through Shakespeare to Mel Brooks.

Bonus: the real “Hail to the Chief.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Snookered

To no one’s surprise at all.

U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.

Newly obtained evidence, including satellite photos taken in recent weeks, indicates that work is underway on at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled ICBMs at a large research facility in Sanumdong, on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe classified intelligence.

The findings are the latest to show ongoing activity inside North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities at a time when the country’s leaders are engaged in arms talks with the United States. The new intelligence does not suggest an expansion of North Korea’s capabilities but shows that work on advanced weapons is continuing weeks after President Trump declared in a Twitter posting that Pyongyang was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.”

Kim Jon-un’s next offer to Trump: there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that’s just come on the market…

Did anyone really think that a smile and a handshake would end nearly seventy years of hostility and the total shut-down of the one thing that North Korea has that has any clout outside of their sealed-off world?

Now Trump is talking about meeting up with Iran’s president without any pre-conditions at all.  (Remember when Obama said he’d consider talking to our adversaries and the right-wingers hit the roof?)  So far Iran is not interested — they don’t think it’s worth their time talking to a lunatic, I guess — but they could be passing up a great opportunity to get a free pass to start up their nuclear program again.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Forgotten Border — Porter Fox in the New York Times took a trip along the Canadian border with the U.S.

At 5,525 miles, the United States-Canada border is the world’s longest land boundary, more than double the length of the United States-Mexico line. It passes through remote terrain arrayed with 8,000-foot peaks, millions of acres of wilderness and four of the five Great Lakes — a lot of it essentially unguarded.

With President Trump’s unrelenting focus on the Mexican border and all the dangers he says it poses for America, the nation’s northern boundary has remained mostly an afterthought — even though it is potentially more porous than the southern border. More unsettling, haphazard enforcement and surveillance efforts there have upended commerce with our No. 2 trading partner and have struggled to stop extremists, drug traffickers and illegal immigrants from entering the United States.

“The problem is that we don’t know what the threats and risk are because so much attention is given to the Southwest border,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, told The New York Times in 2016. She was the author of a bill that required the Department of Homeland Security to develop a threat assessment for the northern border.

Last month, the department announced its latest strategy to secure the border. Its report says that the principal challenge is ending the illegal flow of drugs between Canada and the United States. But there are other issues, like making it easier for people who live in cross-border communities to pass over the line, and speeding up the flow of trade and services — all while keeping up the country’s guard.

I spent the last three years traversing the northern border for a book about that so-called Hi-Line. The northland is a singular place, occupied by the sort of small towns that modern America has skipped over, obscure industries and old-world professions that rely on hands, not machines. It is also a wild place, with forests of old-growth hemlock, fir and birch; wild rivers; unnamed mountain ranges; and some of the largest roadless areas in America.

For much of my journey, it was difficult to discern where the border even was. I unintentionally crossed it dozens of times without seeing an agent or border monument. A French teenager jogging along a beach in British Columbia recently wasn’t so lucky. When she inadvertently crossed the unmarked border into the United States, she was detained for two weeks.

What I did see and hear were unhappy citizens on both sides of the line who said that the northern border’s “Mexicanization” — essentially, the American government’s mimicking of procedures it uses in the south — has resulted in congestion at ports of entry, invasive questioning at checkpoints, racial profiling and long delays, all of which that have changed life for the worse on both sides of the border.

Since the 18th century, when the northern border was first hastily sketched, the boundary has had the appearance of a scrawl. It divides more than a dozen American Indian tribes, and in Niagara Falls, N.Y., it cleaves North America’s most famous waterfall. Homes, businesses, golf courses and factories sit on the border. During Prohibition, taverns were built on the line so that Americans could be welcomed on one side and sold booze on the other.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, half of the crossings between the United States and Canada were left unguarded at night. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has increased the number of agents in the north by 500 percent and installed some of the same sensors, security cameras, military-grade radar and drones used on the United States-Mexico line.

The number of apprehensions along the northern border is relatively low compared with those along the southern line — about 3,000 in the 2017 fiscal year versus about 300,000 in the south.

Even so, every year, millions of dollars worth of smuggled drugs, including large quantities of opioids, like fentanyl, and an untold number of immigrants cross the border illegally into the United States. Motion sensors and cameras detect illicit crossers, some armed, in remote areas, but the agents can’t always get there in time to catch them.

Illicit drugs and illegal immigration are not the only concerns. A 2015 report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs said, “Some experts also believe that terrorists could exploit vulnerabilities along the northern border to carry out an attack on the U.S.” and noted that in 2011, Alan Bersin, a former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that in terms of terrorism, “it’s commonly accepted that the more significant threat comes from the U.S.-Canada” border rather than the border with Mexico.

Today, according to the Department of Homeland Security report, the potential terror threats come “primarily from homegrown violent extremists in Canada” who are not on terrorist watch lists and thus can cross into the United States legally.

Beyond the terrorism threat, the government has the challenge of overseeing a border crossed every day by more than 400,000 people and $1.6 billion in goods through some 120 points of entry. According to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, increased secondary searches and unpredictable waiting times at the border were costing Americans and Canadians as much as $30 billion annually. Homeland Security has been working to minimize those waiting times.

Intensified security at border crossings also has disrupted centuries-old international communities that straddle the line. Two centuries of intermarrying among French, Acadian, Indian, German, Scottish and Dutch people created families and communities that span the border. After decades of being able to cross the line at will, families, Native Americans, members of church congregations, and employees at hospitals and small businesses now find themselves confronted with a sometimes impassable and, occasionally hostile, barrier.

In the coming months, Homeland Security will begin to put in place its border management plan, which calls for enhanced border security while also doing a better job of facilitating cross-border trade and travel. Some of the actions proposed to achieved those ends have been suggested before, with little follow-through.

This time, perhaps, our border to the north will get the attention and resources it needs.

[Photo of border at Point Roberts, Washington, by Florian Fuchs.]

Doonesbury — More tweets from the twit.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Camping Out

From McClatchy:

The Trump administration is looking to build tent cities at military posts around Texas to shelter the increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children being held in detention.

The Department of Health and Human Services will visit Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army base near El Paso in the coming weeks to look at a parcel of land where the administration is considering building a tent city to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the plans.

HHS officials confirmed that they’re looking at the Fort Bliss site along with Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo for potential use as temporary shelters.

“HHS will make the determination if any of the three sites assessed are suitable,” said an HHS official.

It gets hot in Texas in the summer.  Very hot.  The average high in San Angelo in July is 95 F.  People left out in the sun die from heat exhaustion.  Air conditioning a tent is like trying to cool your house by leaving the freezer open.

But that’s just the practical side of the matter.  What kind of country separates children from their parents, regardless of the legal status, and forces them in to a refugee camp?

That photo is not from Texas… yet.  It’s a Syrian refugee in Jordan in 2017.

Every day when Ali Jibraail wakes up he worries about his falafel shop. Will this be the day the electricity generator fails? Can he continue to ward off an increasing number of competitors? Might his suppliers begin to resent crossing the desert to make deliveries and raise their prices?

This is Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to 80,000 Syrians who have fled the devastating war, and – established four years ago – Jibraail’s is its longest serving restaurant.

Each day the Damascus-born chef and his nine staff serve up 7,500 falafel balls, at five Jordanian dinars (€6.66) for three. “The whole camp eat here,” Jibraail says, proudly.

The restaurant is located on Zaatari’s main shopping street – where residents can procure everything from bicycles to wedding dresses to canaries. UN workers cheerfully title it the “Champs Élysées”. “But only the foreigners call it that,” says Ala (25) from Daraa in southwest Syria. “We call it Hamidiyah market – [after] the largest market in [the Syrian capital] Damascus.”

This month the Syrian war enters its seventh year. With no end in sight, life for the displaced trundles on through births, deaths and marriages – milestones muted by the feeling of transience. A sizeable portion of Zaatari’s residents have more significant memories inside the camp than out.

Cradling her newborn son in a ward of the on-site field hospital, 16-year-old Amal Hamoud hasn’t been to school since she left Syria and was forced to abandon 5th grade. “My son looks like his father,” she says.

At least in this camp, in the heart of one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, they’re not separating children from parents.

Of course there’s a difference between the civil war in Syria and immigration across the U.S. southern border.  But how we’re handling it tells us a lot about our country and who’s running it.

Annals of Diplomacy

Joint Communique from Singapore via CNN:

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

Historic summit?  Yeah, just like this one.

Or this one.

Or this one.

But it’s probably closer to this one.

Charlie Pierce:

The two anomalous creatures signed an anomalous document that really doesn’t commit anyone to anything. There is really nothing to comment upon, except for the fact that an American president* met a leader of North Korea for the first time. There’s no reason for them to trust each other, and no reason for the rest of us to trust either of them.

And, besides, no country in the history of the world willingly has given up all its nuclear weapons once it had them. I am skeptical that North Korea under its present leadership is going to be the first one to do so. But, hey, maybe they really want a yacht club and a couple of casinos.