HELLO

Whether you're a fan of my OSCARBLOGGER site, or if you're just casting your way 'round the web, I hope you enjoy my new blog: WHISPERING IN A WIND TUNNEL. Here I will discuss issues of politics, religion, race, gay rights, gender, you know, the big stuff.

Monday, June 18, 2018

WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING


 "This is as bad as I’ve ever seen in 25 years of doing this work,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The little kids are literally being terrorized.”'

We should have seen this coming.  When Donald Trump kicked off his presidential campaign with racist comments about Mexican immigrants ("they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists"), when he encouraged chants of "build the wall", or when last month he gave a speech describing undocumented immigrant children by saying “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”

And so now here we are; in the past six weeks almost two thousand children have been taken from their parents and put into custody.  Horror stories abound: one father killed himself after his three old son was taken from him.  One mother had her baby snatched away while she was breast feeding.  While the difficulty of dealing with parents with children asking for political asylum or trying to cross the border has existed for years, no administration has ever resorted to such outright cruelty.  It's all due to a change in policy that treats all undocumented immigrants as criminals, and therefore subject to separation  from their children.  Sadly, the administration seems to see this as having a double benefit; not only does it discourage further immigrants with children from trying to enter the country, it allows give them a bargaining chip to use when negotiating with congress to get the funding for that wall Trump's followers want so much.  The fact that innocent children are in the crossfire of this negotiation hardly seems to concern anyone working for Trump.  As John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, told NPR so brusquely, “The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.”
Not surprisingly, this horrific policy has proven unpopular, with  even the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, passing a resolution on Tuesday calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.”  So Trump has done his usual thing by brazenly lying about it, stating more than once his administration is just following a law passed by Democrats.  He never specifically stated what law he was talking about, because there is no such law.  This policy has been carried out by Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General, who has promoted and defended it, even going so far as to quote the bible in doing so!  And now the president's usually silent wife Melania has joined the fray, condemning the policy and then somehow claiming it is the responsibility of "both sides", putting a softer tone on her husband's lies.
All of this reveals just what a coward Trump truly is, despite all of his tough talk and bluster.   He ran a presidential campaign steeped in xenophobia and bigotry, promising to bring the full force of the government down on immigrants both legal and undocumented.  And now that his minions are doing just that, resulting in terrifying images of children being taken away from their parents, he lies and points at Democrats, somehow forgetting that congress is now controlled by his own party.  I don't think that Trump truly cares about the children (Tony Schwartz, the co author of Trump's ART OF THE DEAL book, who spent more time with Trump than any human ever should, once stated that  "There is no one Trump cares about in any deep enduring way—no one, not even his children.”) he's just afraid to own up to his own policy, a policy that Senator Lindsay Graham has so rightly pointed out, could be ended with a single phone call.  Hopefully, the outcry coming from even his supporters will eventually push him into making that phone call.  But don't think for a minute he'll be  doing it out of compassion for anyone but himself.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

GRABBING SMOKE



During the  2016 presidential campaign, one of the problems that the media had in covering candidate Donald Trump was that there were so many potential issues in his past that could reveal him as being a poor candidate for president: from the fact that he and his father were found guilty by the federal government of discriminating against black applicants at one of their properties back in the 1970's, to his multiple bankruptcies, to the blatant chicanery of Trump University, there was too much to cover properly, and emphasizing just one of them was difficult.  This stood in stark contrast to candidate Hillary Clinton, who had to field numerous questions about her emails time and time again; the effect of this was that to the casual news media consumer, the email scandal was far worse than anything in Trump's past because of the media's emphasis on it.  Add to that Trump's  image as a super successful billionaire that he had carefully cultivated over his years as a reality TV show figure, and its sadly easy to see why Trump was able to skate over his many past transgressions, without even the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape stopping him.
Now that he's president, the media is having the same problem of overload; here are some recent examples of Trump's potential scandals:

- He recently tweeted that he wanted to help out Chinese telecom company ZTE, saying that were “Too many jobs in China lost."  This came after a Trump backed company was pledged with a five hundred million dollar loan from the Chinese government, which Paul Krugman in the New York Times said may be an outright bribe.

- He also reportedly pushed the postmaster general, Megan Brennan, to double the rates that the Postal Service charges the online company Amazon for shipping.  It appears that the main reason he's doing this is because Amazon owner Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper that has the temerity to print the truth about him.  In other words, since he can't directly attack freedom of the press, he will work around it to punish anyone who prints anything negative about him.

-At the gathering in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the opening prayer was given by Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor,  who once said that "Islam, Judaism,  and Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.” The closing benediction was given by John Hagee, who once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland.

Given that none of these scandals have risen to the level of coverage that the Russia investigation and the Stormy Daniels affair have, it is highly likely that once again Trump has  gotten away with corrupt and possibly criminal behavior that no other president has come close to getting away with. (It's depressing to consider just how much of a media storm it would have caused if Barack Obama had tweeted about protecting jobs in China while president!) Sadly, Trump has never had to pay for all the corruption and lies he was involved in before he became president, and he may never as president.  I still often feel that this country may not survive this presidency intact.

Friday, May 11, 2018

THE PATH TO WAR



Well, that was quick.  John Bolton has been Donald Trump's national security advisor for less than a month, and already his odious influence has been seen.  After threatening it for months, last Tuesday president Trump officially pulled America out of the nuclear arms deal  with Iran.  This is despite the fact that Iran has complied with the tenants of the treaty, and that the American allies that were also part of the treaty like the UK and France practically begged him not to do it.   Trump's stated problems with the deal was that Iran was still promoting terrorist groups in other parts of the world, and that the deal would end in ten years.  A call for renegotiating the plan to deal with these issues might have been a reasonable thing, but, because Trump doesn't want to admit that parts of the plan were working, he childishly killed it entirely.
The Iran deal now winds up in the waste basket along with the other deals that Trump has destroyed since taking office: the Paris climate change accord, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All three of them were treaties signed after years of careful negotiations with foreign leaders that he tore to shreds with little thought beyond the fact they were all forged by Barack Obama, and therefore must be bad.  (Somewhat absurdly, he has openly considered jumping back into the TPP agreement almost a year after leaving it, despite the fact that it has been completely renegotiated).  In typical fashion, his abandonment of each was not followed by any real alternate proposal beyond vague assurances that he wanted a "better deal".
While I disagree with his destroying all three deals, this latest move may very well prove to be the worst.  The collapse of the deal means that onerous sanctions against Iran have been put back in place, and as the New York Times pointed out yesterday "For the working class and for low-income people, new sanctions and renewed isolation will mean fewer jobs, less security and more poverty", which may also result in less time for the people of Iran to protest against their oppressive government, a government, the Times also noted, that will not really be effected by these sanctions.  And what reason does Iran have for returning to negotiations now, given that Trump has shown that any agreement reached by one president can just be thrown out by the next one?
The sad fact of the matter is that Bolton really wants Iran to start rebuilding its weapons  program, because it would  be the best pretext for attacking the country by Israel and America.  Bolton has publicly stated that he supports "regime change" in Iran, and we all know what that means.  As a candidate, Trump  ran as an isolationist, who blasted the 2004 Iraq invasion, but now he's listening to advice from Bolton, one of the few political figures in this country who thinks that that invasion was a smashing success.  One he wants to repeat  in Iran.  And when you add to that the fact that Trump often seems to base his views on any given subject on whomever he just last spoke to, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

GOODBYE PAUL, TAKE AYN WITH YOU


On April 11th., Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan announced that he will be resigning from political office, saying "I like to think I've done my part, my little part in history to set us on a better course."  The translation for this is that he foresees, like many others, a huge wave election for the Democrats coming in November  that would strip him of his status as majority speaker, and he'd rather avoid that humiliation.  Ryan has been a frustrating figure in the past two years:  during the 2016 presidential campaign, Ryan said Trump's statement that  Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel shouldn't be able to rule on a case involving Trump because of his Mexican heritage, was "the textbook definition of a racist comment", and he was reluctant to endorse Trump.  But once Trump was in office, Ryan's criticisms have grown more and more tepid, even as Trump has defended Klan and Nazi protestors and referred to African countries as "shit holes."  Ryan even called out Trump's "exquisite presidential leadership"(!) before the president signed the recent tax cut bill.
That tax bill says so much about Ryan; it's really his crowning achievement, a one and half trillion dollar change in the tax code that he feverishly worked on to get to the president's desk.  But it also shows his greatest flaws: it's heavily skewed towards the rich and increases the same national deficit that he used to be so worried about when Barack Obama was president.  It also continues his unshakeable belief in his Ayn Rand influenced world view that the federal government is always too big and intrusive in our country. Ever since he first entered politics, Ryan has expressed his admiration for twentieth century author Rand's books like THE FOUNTAINHEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED. (Although the fact that Rand was a pro choice atheist has caused him to tone down his admiration recently.) 
The Russian  born, virulently anti Communist Rand has become the patron saint of the libertarianism movement, that outspoken fringe of people who  worship the free market, see taxes as theft and perceive every stop sign and streetlight as an affront to their freedom.  Although libertarians have some progressive views (they support gay marriage and drug legalization), their message of no big government and lower taxes has mostly found favor with people on the right like Ryan.
To me the individualistic beliefs of Libertarianism are the flip side of the collectivist beliefs of Karl Marx and his followers.  Look at what they have  in common: they both are based on strongly written, popular books written by charismatic authors.  They both have ideas that sound good on paper, or  when being discussed in dorm rooms or coffee shops, (everyone is equal!  everyone is completely free!) but that fail when tried on any large scale.  From the repressive Communist regimes of Russia and China, to the absurd, aborted attempts of billionaire libertarians like Peter Theil  to create some libertarian island utopia, they just aren't a realistic way to run a country.
When you think about it, the extreme individualistic beliefs of Ann Rand and the extreme collective beliefs of Karl Marx both fall short when you look at human evolution: human beings have clearly evolved to be tribal, not solitary animals.  And in a tribal situation, there are inevitably times when you do things out of your own self interest, and other times that you must make sacrifices for the good of the tribe overall.  Or to put it another way, the money I earn I should be able to keep most of  to spend on what I want, but any working society needs things like roads, bridges, schools, and so on, which can only be paid for by taxes.  A middle ground is essential, which is why extreme ideas like Marx's and Rand's are doomed to failure.
It would appear that the rise of Trump  and the resignation of Ryan, even though they agree on some issues, is closing down the libertarian wing of the Republican party for now, to be replaced by one that pushes for non libertarian ideas like   protectionist tariffs and hardline anti-immigration policies.   And while I certainly don't agree with Trump's positions, I am glad that Ayn Rand's beliefs are getting closer to being thrown into the dust bin of history.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A POSSIBLE BREAK


During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump (in)famously said that his supporters were so faithful, he could shoot someone in the middle of Times Square, and they'd still support him.  Sadly, that appears to be true, given the fact that no amount of scandals (Porn star affairs! Russian collusion! Whatever the hell Jared Kushner is doing!) can lower his approval ratings among a certain segment of the population.  Putting it bluntly, as long as he rants about immigration and can blame Democrats for not paying for  his wall (that, it should be mentioned, he repeatedly said that Mexico would pay for), around 35% of the American public will support him, even if he burns a cross on the White House lawn while worshipping an idol of Vladimir Putin.
Or so it would seem.  A possible breaking point may have finally arrived: acting on a promise he made on the campaign trail, and against the advice of some of his own economic advisors, on March 8th. Trump announced a tariff on steel and aluminum imports targeted at China.  On March 18th.  45 U.S. trade associations representing some of the largest companies in the country, urged him not to  do this, saying it would be “particularly harmful” to the U.S. economy and consumers.   On April 1st., China responded in kind, announcing tariffs of their own; two days later Trump plowed forward, announcing 50 billion dollars more in tariffs.  A day later, China responded with tariffs on over 100 American products. Last Thursday, Trump  threatened further tariffs worth 100 billion dollars.  Somehow, in the middle of all this, the president tweeted out that trade wars are easy to win (!), meanwhile the stock market (which he has always taken credit for when it rises) tumbled sharply as investors were spooked at where this game of economic chicken would end.
The part that gets really interesting is that China, not being stupid, specifically targeted for tariffs products that are manufactured in the American heartland, that is, Trump country.   Almost immediately, soy bean, corn and wheat farmers in middle America have been hurt by the tariffs.  With midterm elections around the corner, a Republican party president carrying out policies that are hitting the very people who supported him the most could prove disastrous for the party.  Already, some leading Republicans are pleading with him to stop, but to no avail.  While it is true that China has often pushed for economic advantages  globally that have hurt American manufacturing, most analysts feel that it would be better for the president to build a coalition of other countries working against China's unfair practices rather than going it alone.  But Trump's lack of desire to negotiate with our allies (just listen to his rants about the UN and NATO) has been a hallmark of his administration.
Another question is, why is he doing this now?  The most recent data shows that the country's unemployment is at 4.1%; with our economy doing well, why start a trade war with a the world's second biggest economy?  It's because Trump is obsessed with the fact that America has a trade deficit with China; on the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly hammered China for "raping" the US economically, bringing up the trade deficit as an example.  While this over the top (and frankly racist) characterization played well with his xenophobic crowds, turning that angry rant into actual economic policy has proven to be a lot harder, no matter how easy he thinks trade wars are to win.  And in typical Trumpian fashion, he has repeatedly said that America runs a trade deficit with China of over 500 billion dollars; according to the New York Times, it's actually 375 billion, but given that this is a man who repeatedly says that millions of people voted illegally in the last election without a shred of proof, being off by over a hundred billion is closer to the truth than he usually is.
It appears that Trump, quite simply, has no real idea what the trade deficit is, since he often says that the money has been "stolen" by China and other countries.  Despite his boasts about his business genius and degree from business college Wharton, he somehow believes that there is a warehouse in China with an enormous pile of American trade deficit money!    But, as economist Paul Krugman has pointed out: "Except at times of mass unemployment, trade deficits aren’t a subtraction from the economies that run them, nor are trade surpluses an addition to the economies on the other side of the imbalance."  Or to put it more bluntly, is it really a surprise that we buy more things from China than they do from us?  They have a billion more people than we do, and a huge cheap labor pool to draw from (I would be more sympathetic to Trump's tariffs if they were somehow tied to China's human rights violations, but of course they aren't).
In the past year, as Trump has bounced from one chaotic mess to another, his loyal followers have stood behind him.  But now, when it appears that his impulsive, anger based temperament could result in real economic pain for them, they may finally have reached their breaking point.  I only wish that they had seen this coming sooner.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

WAR ON THE HORIZON?


A few weeks I ago, I posted on this blog that while I think Donald Trump is a worse person than George W Bush, I think Bush was the inferior president, given that Bush led the country into the disastrous war in Iraq and Trump has not done anything equal to that terrible mistake.  But it now  appears that he has taken a big step towards his own military disaster.

Last Thursday, Trump announced that his national security advisor Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster was being forced out, and that his replacement was former American ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.  Trump recently mentioned in a press conference that he is -"really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”  If Bolton is who he wants advising him on national security, the country is in serious trouble.
Bolton's last worked with the Bush administration, and since then he has spent most of time his appearing on Fox news, where he often clings to the notion that the Iraq invasion was a success.  He has also repeatedly attacked Barack Obama's deal with Iran to limit their nuclear weapon capabilities and ridiculed the notion that negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un about limiting their nuclear weapons could be productive.  In fact, he recently wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal making the case for bombing North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal preemptively.  This is an exceedingly dangerous notion; even if the US military were able to take out Un's nuclear weapons  before he could use them (no sure thing), he still could use his chemical weapons on both American troops and people in South Korea, potentially leading to a war with a casualty rate in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions.

As if that weren't bad enough, he has also made the case for abandoning  the weapons deal with Iran and then bombing them if they attempt to build nuclear weapons of their own.  Yes, if Mr. Bolton has his way, America could soon be embroiled in two more wars to go along with the still ongoing US conflict in Afghanistan.
So, will Trump listen to Bolton's war mongering?  Well, Trump has an odd attitude towards the military; although he has never served in it, (and found a way to avoid the draft in Viet Nam due to a mysterious bone spur in his foot), he has an almost child like excitement about our military.  On the campaign trail he boasted that "no one is more pro military than me", and swaggered as he said that he would "blow the shit out of Isis." In office, he has increased our already massive military budget by tens of billions of dollars.  And he has decided that the country should have a military parade on Veteran's day, something we haven't done before, which will inevitably turn into another excuse for him to pump up his ego as he is saluted by passing soldiers.

Given all of this, along with Trump's often impulsive behavior and love of looking tough,  it is entirely possible that Trump will listen to Bolton's war mongering ideas and lead the country into a potentially disastrous and unnecessary war sometime soon. And history will have to wonder how such a narcissistic psychopath could possibly been elected president.   

Friday, March 16, 2018

CHAOS ON THE HORIZON

"If you really like Donald Trump, that's great, but if you don't, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges." -Donald Trump on the campaign trail in 2016.

Chaos has been the operative word to describe the Trump administration since the very beginning: from his flip flops on immigration and gun control to his constant firing of cabinet members and advisors, it's easy to see why.  But the future for both this administration and the entire country may be even more chaotic soon.
Recently the New York Times ran an article about how 81 year old Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is considering retiring from the court.  Although he was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan back in 1988, he has drifted  towards progressive decisions, casting an important swing vote on some of the biggest issues in America.  If he does retire, the battle to replace him will be an ugly one. 
Trump has already been lucky enough to get one Supreme Court pick just by taking office: after Justice Antonin Scalia died ten months before the Presidential election, the Republican Senate refused to even meet with then President Barack Obama's choice to replace him, instead letting the court rule with only eight members for almost a year.  After Trump's victory, and with a slight Republican majority in the Senate, he was almost immediately able to appoint conservative Neil Gorsuch to the court. 
This was a bitter pill for Democrats to swallow, but at least that was a case of one conservative judge replacing another.  But if Kennedy resigns, and Trump appoints another conservative, then this country is in for some battles on issues that once seemed decided.  For example:  

  1. Gay Marriage: Gay and lesbian marriage has been legal in this country since 2015, with millions of couples tying the knot.  The ruling was 5-4 in favor of marriage, with Kennedy in the majority.  His moving quote in the majority opinion has often been repeated at ceremonies: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."  If this ruling is overturned, it will invalidate millions of marriages and upset the lives of innocent people as states will scramble to allow or disallow their marriages.  The country will become a pathetic patchwork quilt of pro and anti marriage states.  And all this could happen even as, in poll after poll, the country supports gay and lesbian marriages more and more.  So much for making America great again.
  2. Abortion:  Roe Vs. Wade, the court ruling that protected a woman's right to choose nation wide was was passed in 1973.  It was challenged in 1992, and Kennedy was one of the five justices that voted to uphold the ruling on this, perhaps the most divisive issue in the country today.  His  replacement on the court could very well cast the vote that strikes down a woman's legal right to choose.  It is stunning that Trump, a man who ran against the first female major party candidate and lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, and who has a history of sexual assault charges (and who was caught bragging about such behavior on tape), could be the man who appoints the judge who overturns Roe Vs. Wade.  Just like with gay marriage, the country would be swiftly divided into pro choice and anti abortion states, but beyond that, it would further divide our country on an issue that sparks more passion and anger than any other.
After Trump's unlikely victory led to women's marches across the nation and the world, which led to the "outing" of male sexual predators in the "Me Too" movement, it looked like things were changing for women in this country.  Now imagine if that same man those women were protesting against ushers in the end of Roe Vs. Wade; the anger against him will be palpable.  Hopefully, there will be such an uprising against both Trump and the party he ran with that his one term presidency will be see as the crazy aberration it is, and the country can go back to have a normal leader instead of a so called "stable genius."  But before that happens, there are going to be some major political battles in this country.  Buckle up, the chaos Trump unleashed just may get worse this year.