Smoke and Mirrors – The war in Ukraine

Smoke and Mirrors

The war in Ukraine

March 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

I’ve been fairly quiet the past few weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. One reason for that is “the fog of war”–I have no idea of what the actual situation is beyond the blatantly obvious that you can see for yourself just by tuning into any non-fascist news network. For me, that would be the BBC, the CBC, and the Guardian. The US commercial networks (and again, I am limiting myself to the non-fascist ones, which means I’m not wasting time watching Fox or Newsmax or OAN) are, in the confusion and uncertainty, substituting speculation and wishful thinking for actual factual reporting.

Non-factual reporting, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere, is only one step removed from propaganda, and when there is evident bias, then it IS propaganda.

Since none of us know what is going on in Putin’s head, or in the Kremlin at large, take reports that he is desperate, on the ropes, facing a possible coup, etc., with a large grain of salt. Some of it may prove to be true, but at this time consider it on the same level of defamation of the foe that we see in all wars.

Back when the Germans captured Paris, a video circulated showing Hitler doing an absurd little “dance of joy.” The video was fake, just an snippet of Hitler looped to make it appear he was dancing. The intent was to make him look absurd and petty, and while he in many ways was, it actually backfired in some ways in that it humanized him and made him look like he had a sense of humor, neither of which were particularly accurate.

The pictures of Putin at his absurdly long table also needs to be deprecated, even though the image is accurate. Pundits say it shows a dictator who is paranoid, estranged from everyone except a few sycophants, isolated, and out of touch. It may be true, but it’s also exactly what you might expect to hear of a adversarial leader in time of war. Nor does it prove weakness on Putin’s part: Russia has a long history of leaders, strong-arm dictators who were widely hated but who nonetheless held power for decades. Much as I would like to see Putin fall, I interpret the media analyses of his isolation and weakness as being wishful thinking. Kremlin watching has been a major US government pastime since 1920, but nearly every major development over that century has taken American strategists by surprise. Little has changed.

As to the military situation in Ukraine, some generalities can be made. It isn’t going well for the Russians, they have taken significant losses in personnel and materiel. All these are also standard wartime claims, made by both sides, but there is a wealth of evidence to support the three items mentioned. As for anything more specific, the military leaders on either side generally understand the tactical and strategic maps little more than the armchair generals watching CNN. There’s an old saying “All plans die at the start of battle,” and leaders on both sides are tearing their hair out trying to figure out the true situation on the ground. It’s almost always going to be chaotic.

Claims of losses are also good reason for skepticism. Both sides will inflate enemy losses and minimize own casualties. Remember Vietnam, when you might hears that half a dozen Marines were injured, one by a misfiring beer can opener, while killing 12,500 Viet Cong? And that was from a country that had a free press at the time.

Claims about morale should be weighed carefully. That the Ukrainians are courageous, determined, and largely united in defense of their homeland is almost a given. Anyone raised in post-war London knows nothing stiffens the backbone of the resident population than lobbing bombs at them. Claims of Russian morale are backed by the mass arrests for protest (including one case where a silent “protester” was arrested for waving A BLANK PROTEST sign. It’s also a fact that Putin has mandated 15 years in prison for calling his “special operation” a war. Claims about the state of morale in the Russian military are harder to evaluate. Few Russian soldiers are willing to grant ‘man in the street’ interviews, it seems. I think it’s safe to say they aren’t exuberant about the way this situation is developing, though.

Russians do seem to be targeting cities and the civilian population, a curious approach for a country that is simply trying to bring lost children back into the fold of Mother Russia, but it’s hard to get a sense of the true scale when the cable news is showing the same dozen over and over, either because they can’t or won’t show more. There’s little doubt that the maternity hospital in Mariupol was hit by a large rocket shell, and while the Russians deny it, Occam’s Razor says it was them, although intent is less clear. In the instance of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, where hundreds of civilians, half of them children, had sheltered, intent seems more obvious. The theater had the word “children” written in large letters in the grounds surrounding the theater, and even after reporting began of the atrocity, Russian air strikes continued. That’s why, over 24 hours later, we still have no idea of the death toll.

It is safe to say the Russian economy has taken massive damage. Their stock market has remained closed for over three weeks now, and the ruble is quite literally worth less than a square of American toilet paper. This won’t translate to a popular uprising—Russian history makes that fairly self-evident. Nor is a revolt by the oligarchs likely. Like Putin’s pet American oligarch, Trump, most are bound to Putin because he maintains control over their reputations, their families, and their ability to enjoy their wealth. If they couldn’t overthrow Putin when they had money, what are they going to do now?

Yes, Putin has bitten off more than he can chew, and yes, what he is doing is a crime against humanity. And it is costing Russia and the Russian people almost as dearly as it’s costing the Ukrainians.

But beyond that, it’s all smoke and mirror, wishful thinking, and propaganda. If you think you know how it ends, you are delusional.

But to quote a line I’m known for using, “Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.”

Biden’s Speech — Not the SOTU—better

Biden’s Speech

Not the SOTU—better

April 28th, 2021

After listening to Joe Biden’s address to some of Congress (COVID, don’t you know, but it was amusing watch the expressions on Boehler’s and Cruz’ faces as Biden spoke) I caught Tim Scott’s genial but largely delusional paean to America and how those nasty Democrats were preventing Republicans from rushing to embrace the policies that Biden would present to Congress if he had policies, which he didn’t, and proved it by presenting the policies to Congress.

I followed that by scrolling through the comments section on our local Sinclair Broadcast station, and encountered gems like, “I can’t believe this is America. No one is safe under the democratic regime of evil! We are all in terrible danger, you should be afraid, be very very afraid. Save yourself! Save democracy!” *

Well, OK, then. Tim Scott may have not sounded overly coherent, but at least I didn’t feel any need to shoot him with the tranquilizer dart. Typically of comments sections, nobody there seemed to have actually watched or even read about the speech. I think I could have posted something about Biden congratulating Mitch McConnell on their groundbreaking agreement to sell white babies to China, and nobody would have contradicted me. Those comments groups are bad for your mental health.

One of the most remarkable things about Biden’s speech was the sheer oratorical capacity the man showed. Any idiot can rile up an audience with stentorian exhortations to do Noble Things, and most do, but I watched Biden hold the House Chamber, and much of the nation, spellbound with just a friendly whisper. He spoke with an earnestness and compassion, qualities lost in the hoarse brays of self-pity and truculence we had to deal with for the previous four years.

The tone could be summed up in one anecdote, told late in the speech. “I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, Daddy changed the world.’” Politicians, with rare exceptions, like to be shown relating to children. But the line that caught my eye (and heart) was “…I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye-to-eye” That speaks to a humanity that transcends the usual political rhetoric. Joe is a good guy who genuinely cares about people. That’s not something I believe because I am a liberal; it something I feel because I am a human being.

As for content, the basic message was actually summed up in Biden’s opening remarks. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. 

Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.  Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength. Life can knock us down. But in America, we never stay down. In America, we always get up.

He then spoke of the progress America has made against the pandemic, and the early signs of an economic recovery that is likely to turn into a roaring boom. He talks about the vast, ambitious plans he has to ensure that we do come out of this stronger and better: child support, in the form of cash-back tax breaks, universal child care, universal health care. He spoke of the amazing results of the American Rescue Plan—well over 200 million vaccinations, and hunger greatly reduced just in the first few months. He spoke of the difference the child credits would make for working families by the millions. It has already created 1.3 million new jobs in the past 60 days, an amazing record.

He then spoke of his infrastructure plan, The American Jobs Plan, which he described as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself, the largest jobs plan since World War II.”

Sounding like FDR, he spoke of the millions of good paying jobs regular workers would see from this plan, and said, “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class. “

Defending the plan further, he said, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act — and send it to my desk to support the right to unionize. 

By the way – let’s also pass the $15 minimum wage. No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line. And we need to ensure greater equity and opportunity for women. Let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act to my desk for equal pay. It’s long past time. 

Finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in non-defense research and development on record.  We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years. “

He’s right, of course, and the Republicans are going to be twisting themselves in deep knots figuring out how to oppose Biden without opposing the plan.

My own takeaway, following the speech, is that Biden was his own best friend tonight in his goals of getting these policies enacted.

 

*Perhaps the comments “Save Democracy” reads better in Russian. “Я не могу поверить, что это Америка. Никто не находится в безопасности при демократическом режиме зла! Мы все в ужасной опасности, вы должны бояться, очень, очень бояться. Спаси себя! Спасите демократию!”

OK, maybe not.

Joe’s first White House Speech — Reasonable Assurances and Sensible Warnings

Joe’s first White House Speech

Reasonable Assurances and Sensible Warnings

March 11th, 2021

Day fifty of the Biden presidency, and so far so good. Both politically and psychologically, today was a good point for Biden to stop and have a talk with the people. It came a few hours after he signed into law the biggest rebuilding act America had seen since FDR’s first 100 days. The American Rescue Act will, in the estimate of Goldman-Sachs, result in 8% annual growth over the next 12 months. That, too, is a rate of growth not seen since the 1930s. Best of all, it’s going to people and small businesses, what you could call “trickle up economics.” It will save thousands of small businesses, protect millions from hunger and homelessness. It is, as Biden once put it about the AMA, “a big fucking deal.”

In the glow from this massive legislative victory, Biden addressed the state of the country on the anniversary of the Covid pandemic.

After the past year where lies, braggadocio and delusions were all Americans got from the White House, Biden’s cautionary optimism was a gust of fresh air. Biden extolled the immense gains the vaccine program had made in the past 50 days, but didn’t try to pretend it was all his doing. (In a truly pathetic footnote, Trump put out a brief communiqué under a sort-of presidential seal, from The Office of Donald J. Trump, trying to take credit for the vaccine program.) The program has been pretty much miraculous, despite Trump. When Biden first took office, he spoke of 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days (the last day of April). That was considered a high goal, even before we learned that the outgoing administration had absolutely no plan in place for distribution or even procurement of the needed vaccines.

Now, not only are we well ahead of pace for that, but we may have vaccines available for the entire adult population by the end of May, some 500 million shots all told. The CDC is of the opinion that we’ll have herd immunity by the beginning of May, but Doctor Fauci, on the Rachel Maddow show tonight, cautioned that we are in a race against variants, and we may, even with full vaccinations, end up playing whack-a-mole (his term) with those variants, much the way we do with strains of flu and the common cold. It’s evolution, people.

Biden himself made the same cautionary note, and urged people to keep on social distancing and wearing masks for the time being, despite what the “Neanderthals” in the GOP think we should be doing. It’s not a popular request, but Biden has some courage. Things are a lot more hopeful, but we are not out of the woods. He’s right, Fauci’s right, and nearly every expert in the field is right. Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones and Donald Trump are all wrong, and for vicious, self-serving reasons.

Biden spoke movingly of the loss and deprivation hundreds of millions of people suffered over this past year—well over half a million dead (“more than World War I, World War II, and 9/11”), millions of families separated, millions of jobs lost. Even the most cynical of viewers had to admit that he SOUNDED sincere.

He knows, at long last, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and he just wants us not to derail ourselves by being reckless as we approach the light. It won’t stop the freedumb morons, but it might just keep enough sane people cautious enough that we might get by.

Fauci and Maddow were talking about monoclonal antibody treatments. Two studies showed respectively 87 and 89% efficacy if administered early in the course of the disease, numbers so convincing that they dropped the double blind nature of the studies on the ground that it was not moral to give half the subjects a placebo based on what is known.

This doesn’t mean that you can run out licking random seats in the New York subway knowing you just need to pop two in the mouth and you’ll be all better. The treatments are by infusion only, and still very expensive. And if you get to the point where the symptoms are life-threatening, then you’re far enough along that the treatment will be of little or any help. Fauci is hoping for a treatment that involves simple injections, or even just pills, but that’s an unknown amount of time in the future. It’s not here, and may not be here for years, but there is a cure.

Not mentioned was the spectre of “long COVID”. Roughly a third of people who become infected develop symptoms weeks or months later, even if they were completely asymptomatic to begin with. And yes, you can still be infected, even with the shots. You just are very unlikely to develop symptoms, and in the beginning, they will be mild. Nobody knows how that will affect development of “long COVID.”

Futher, variants are appearing, and while the evolutionary trend is for such variants to become both more contagious and milder (the weeding-out process of evolution means viruses that successfully inhabit live hosts will outnumber the ones that kill their hosts) that is just a trend. The mutations are individually random, and a variety of Covid could show up that is as lethal as Ebola and as communicable as measles. Worst case scenario, to be sure, but within the realm of possibility. And if we are reckless and go on acting as a culture medium for this virus, the higher the chances that something even nastier will crop up. And the more variations, the more types of vaccines are needed unless and until we can come up with an umbrella shot that can block all Covids. Note: we haven’t been able to develop a shot like that for influenza, and with the common cold, it’s pointless to even try.

Because of this, Biden’s speech was perfect for the occasion. He didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. He told us what we needed to hear, and for most of us, that’s going to help us a lot through the coming year.

 

M4A — Making a medical system for the United States

January 31st, 2021

Joe Biden is off to a promising start. Nobody outside of Qtrumpville disputes that. He’s signed dozens of executive orders undoing many of the most hateful and cruel executive orders Trump signed. He plans to use the Reconciliation process to get a solid COVID relief bill through the Senate, and it looks like he has the 50 votes needed. Due to a quirk in the annual budgeting process (caused, ironically, by Republican intransigence) he’ll get a second opportunity this spring to use the reconciliation process, and various high-priority and dire items need to be addressed. Climate crisis, infrastructure, education, voting reform, campaign financing reform, minimum wage, racial justice…it seems an endless list, indicative of a nation left reeling and on the ropes by the nihilistic fascists of the GOP.

Major health care reform is very high on that long, long list of things that need to be done. The American system is the worst in the developed world, cruel, inefficient, and devoted not to treating the ill and injured, but to lining the pockets of insurance companies, the Catholic Church (which owns a majority of hospitals in America), lawyers, medical suppliers, and the pharmaceutical companies. It’s a disgrace, one in which people are dying because they can’t afford insulin and other common drugs necessary to treat the sorts of illnesses that are commonplace.

It’s cruel and viciously inefficient, but the medical profiteers don’t care: it’s a feature, not a flaw, because it enhances profits. And they use a small portion of those profits to buy up whores in Congress eager to sell out the United States because they love America. (America without the United States is just a wasted patch of land separating Canada from Mexico, but with the pretense of a nation in place, it is a cash cow for billionaires and international corporations.)

Medicare For All, the simple expansion to provide Medicare for all residents of America, is the easiest answer. The profiteers will fight it tooth and nail, of course, since they stand to lose trillions in profits, and will send their soulless minions out to spend billions of dollars assuring the American people that expansion of a largely successful and comparatively efficient system will turn the US into a Soviet wasteland in which people die because they can’t afford aspirin. Something like what we have now, only the party apparatchiks are corporate and church, rather than the state. A lot of businesses that don’t have a thing to do with health care will fight it because controlling their employees’ access to health care gives them more power over those employees, and a controlled workforce is a good thing.

In reality, Medicare for All will be a huge step forward. Various projections, even those provided by private insurance companies, indicate savings to the nation of anywhere from a half a trillion a year all the way up to 3.5 trillion.

Why such a huge range in estimated savings? Part of it is bias on the part of who is doing the estimating, of course. Aetna and Bernie Sanders could come up with the same proposals and data and be quite far apart on their hypothetical bottom lines. And private medical providers like to continue to keep their own presence in because profits. They know that a unified health coverage would save billions just in paperwork and redundancy alone.

But the biggest item of all is the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, hooted through by Republicans in Congress and gleefully signed by Bush the Lessor.

Bad enough that it provides a raft of subsidies and entitlements to Big Pharma. A lot of those go to underwrite research of new drugs, which quickly became a joke since it’s mostly public universities and overseas firms that do the actual research, whereas “research” by American pharmaceuticals often amounts to legal studies on how to extend a trademark on a profitable drug by making it mint flavored or something.

Another provision was Medicare Part D, which mandated private insurance or personal wealth for drugs for amounts over $2,400 a year, creating an often insurmountable burden on retirees and low-wage workers. Obamacare lessened the burden, but didn’t get rid of it. It must go.

Finally, the Act forbade the government from negotiating drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies. Can you imagine running a business where you cannot bargain shop? Maybe in the Soviet Union, or its private sector alternate, the United States. But the provision left the companies free to charge whatever the hell they wanted, with the grotesque results we see today.

Billy Tauzin, R-LA, pushed through that particular poison pill, and was lavishly rewarded after he retired from Congress the following year.

Getting rid of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act alone will save trillions. Combining it with Medicare for All, and you would see the United States going from the worst medical system in the developed world to the best, where it was before Nixon inflicted HMOs on us and the US began a precipitous slide into a capitalistic nightmare of gouging, greed, and inefficiency.

It’s problematic what Biden can do against the trillions that will be spent to defend those profits, and the fascist lapdogs in the Republican caucus, but he can at the very least be a bully pulpit, informing and educating people as to what a parasitic rip off the medical system is, and who makes all the money denying us basic medical care. Anyone who says medical care isn’t a right is a thief, or a lickspittle for thieves.

We may never have a better opportunity to get these thieves off our backs.

Thirty after Solstice — Major change must occur

November 28th, 2020

Back on November 21st, a user on Doctor Daniel Swain’s WeatherWest posted that in just 30 days, the darkness would begin to recede. Another user posted that for him, the darkness wouldn’t begin to recede for another 60 days. The references were clear enough—30 days to the Solstice, when the days would begin to lengthen, and 60 days until the Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President. Swain is normally death on politically oriented posts, since he has put in thousands of valuable man-hours into creating one of the most important weather and climate resources on the web, and he knows that the political wars could ruin that. That post, however, was allowed to stand, and it’s a pleasant surprise that nobody tried to make something of it. The group simply continued its time-honored pastime of ‘riding the models,’ divining the weather 5 days or 10 days or a month down the road.

Come the Solstice, I’ll be writing my annual Solstice piece, and as always, the theme will be one of hope. Barring catastrophe over the next three weeks or so, the tone of optimism will be easier to attain than in recent years. Trump has been defeated and 30 days after the Solstice will be out of the White House. Vaccines will be in mass production by then, and a possible end to the pandemic will be in sight. (My last Solstice piece didn’t mention COVID-19 for the simple reason that only a handful of scientists were beginning to suspect a new coronavirus was appearing in widely scattered areas). Economic recovery is going to be more problematic. Biden will face bigger economic problems than any incoming president since FDR, plus organized sedition from Republicans who will cheerfully force millions of Americans to starve rather than let the Democrats in particular or government in general take credit for saving the economy and people. Republicans in the 1930s had the same sick delusions that capitalism could address social issues, but this bunch are better organized—and far more vicious. Dead Americans are a good thing, because it will make Democrats and socialism look bad.

The flag-wavers of the right absolutely hate the United States because it is a government, and they hate government. They hate government much the same way that fundamentalists hate science; they see it as a competing ideology, and worse, one that works better.

Control of the Senate won’t be resolved until sometime after January 5th, when Georgia has special elections for both Senate seats. If the Republicans win either of them, it’s game over. McConnell will be delighted to ruin the lives of millions in hopes it will translate to hatred of Biden and give him the control he so desperately wants in January 2023. Then things will get much much worse because fascists are interested in keeping people as units of production and units of consumption, and nothing beyond that. Americans will be reduced to wage and credit slaves, the Republican dream writ large.

How desperate are the Republicans to steal Georgia and therefore the Senate: Brad Raffensperger issued an “emergency decree” yesterday that all new registrants for voting must possess a driver’s license and/or a vehicle registration. Despite being lionized for standing up to Trump’s lies about the November election, he is, at heart, just another GOP fascist asshole.

If the Democrats take control of the Senate, then the future is both more hopeful and more uncertain.

Biden and Democratic congressionals are going to have to be bold, aggressive, and assertive.

The tepid centrist positions of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will have to be consigned to the dustbin of history. “Reaching across the aisle” may have stood for pragmatic inclusiveness in its time, but now that reaching will invite nothing but slaps from the furious ideological cripples who make up the GOP. Any interaction they make with Democrats will be with the premise that they must damage and stymie them in any way that they can. There is no point in reaching out to them.

Reaching out to their voters, however, is an entirely different story.

Democrats have ALWAYS meant stronger economies, more just societies, and more freedom. For nearly a century, the economy has always improved under Democrats. More jobs, better jobs, with better pay and better working conditions. Republicans can’t make that offer because they serve the bosses, not the workers.

Biden and the party have to make this point, over and over, and rather than rest on its laurels as the party has done since the Reagan era, it will have to make bold, assertive moves to strengthen labor unions, create millions of jobs, and promote millions of new jobs that will address the long deferred needs of society, and the new challenges that are rising.

Corporate centrism will fail. It was a flawed idea during good times, since it merely continued the process of stealing the national wealth from those who created the wealth to an increasingly parasitic and destructive monied class. It’s a horrible idea now, with the country in a depression. If Biden follows that path, his best hope is that he’ll be remembered as the second President Hoover. At worst, he will be a caretaker president, there to watch America’s demise. Progressives understand that the government must be the economic heartbeat of the country as it was in the 30s and 40s if the economy, and America are to avoid a Marxian implosion.

Biden needs to reach out the Republican voters who are suffering as much in this depression as the rest of the American working class. Empty promises won’t do. He has to offer actual jobs, an actual safety net, and other life improvements the Democrats have been ignoring, including true universal health care.

But there is another reason to avoid “reaching across the aisle.” Trump, and most of his administration, are criminals. Ever since Ford pardoned Nixon, Republicans have seen themselves as being above the law, and are ever more criminal as their contempt for the law and for the citizenry of America grows. If Biden and his administration can’t punish the enemies of America, how can they stand for America?

Republican contempt preceded Trump, as in 2016 when they kept repeating the nutball conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t legally president because he was supposedly born outside of America whilst simultaneous promoting the presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, who actually was born outside of America. Republicans are contemptuous of America and Democrats, and they have given Republicans ample reasons to be contemptuous. This has to end now. The Nixon pardon gutted American self-respect, and the subsequent depredation on the national character by Republicans demanding privilege has only gotten worse.

Trump and his accomplices must stand trial. Republicans need to learn that their bad faith and cynicism ends here.

Barrett’s nomination to the court must be annulled. The Republicans deliberately and knowingly broke the law by voting her out of committee without a quorum. Kavanaugh must be impeached for deliberate and known perjury during his nomination.

If Democrats don’t have the guts to do that, they don’t have the guts to govern. They have to learn to fight.

Happy Days — Following a bathetic twilight

Happy Days

Following a bathetic twilight

November 8th 2020

David Brin, the futurist and SF author, gave me an earworm yesterday. Normally that’s an annoying thing, but not this time: the song was “Happy Days Are Here Again.” I’m sure you know it. “…the skies above are clear again, let us sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again.”

The song, popularized in the 1932 FDR campaign, became the unofficial anthem of the Democratic party up until about 1980, when centrists took over the party and decided they could win more by appealing to corporations than they could appealing to people. The thinking was that if they behaved like Republicans – back then a sane if wrong-headed party – they would attract Republican voters, or at least get right wing Democratic voters back. It didn’t work, of course, and we didn’t see a Democratic president again for 12 years. Bill Clinton wasn’t interested in evoking FDR, but came up with a cheery anthem of his own: “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.”

In this election, Trump relied more on music than did the Biden campaign, but it was severely undercut that Trump used the music without permission and usually over the vociferous objections of the artists involved.

“Happy Days Are Here Again” is apt, not because Biden is a populist leftist, but because his inauguration will bring about one of the great gusts of hope that occasionally punctuates American life. That happened (obviously) in 1932 when the nation was in the verge of collapse. We saw it again in 1960, when the New Frontier pointed to a rosy future. In 1980 Reagan was there to restore America’s reputation as the Shining City on the Hill. Clinton offered tomorrow. Obama offered Yes We Can.

This one is a bit different. Biden didn’t offer a grand vision or a great sense of optimism. He was a return to normalcy ofter four years of the most loathed and incompetent president in American history. Oh, that’s happened before: two of the gusts stemmed from a public view of presidents who were seen as weak and/or unable to do the job, Hoover and Carter. (Both went on to become public heroes after their political lives ended, but that’s not going to happen here). Biden didn’t have the charisma of a Reagan or an Obama, and time will tell if he has the boldness and courage of the seemingly affable “go-along-to-get-along” Franklin Roosevelt, but he steps over an aching void left by his predecessor. He’ll have to seriously screw up to not have the support and well-wishes of a majority of the American people, including sane Republicans.

There is a way to screw it up, of course. There was jubilation similar to what we’re seeing today when Nixon left office, and it lasted for several days before Ford preemptively pardoned Nixon. Ford may have hoped it was a step toward reconciliation and forgiveness, but it had the opposite result. Most of the goodwill that Ford had gained from simply not being Nixon vanished, and it set Republicans on a poisonous path where they believed that the law and basic morality no longer applied to them, and they could do what they wanted and get away with it. It lead to the excesses of the Reagan era, and the undermining of justice by Bush’s midnight pardons on his last day in office. We saw increasing contempt for those values under Bush the Lesser, before Republican ethics and morality collapsed entirely in the age of Trump. Both Clinton and Obama undermined their own administrations by trying to reconcile with thieves and liars.

Biden must not be another Ford, or Clinton, or Obama. I don’t think he would do anything as fantastically stupid as pardoning Trump preemptively, and I suspect he won’t “negotiate” half his sought-after policies away before negotiations even began, as Obama did with the public health initiative, but it isn’t enough not to coddle the crooks of the Trump administration or to be weak in negotiations; he must show the Republicans that he isn’t fucking around and undo much of the damage that has been done.

Biden needs to annul every XO Trump signed on day one. If there are any that had any merit, he (or Congress) can revisit them. Biden’s tax reforms are laudable, but he has to work with Congress to revoke the Trump giveaway.

He and the Senate must work together to annul the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett. It was passed out of committee despite a lack of a quorum, and the woman is dangerously unfit for the job. Nor is just ignoring quorum rules trivial; it is a bedrock of democratic procedure.

Biden has got to be hard-nosed about this, and show Republicans that he means business. Republicans need to learn that the tactic of holding the country hostage for their mad fringe wants will no longer be tolerated. The age of Newt Gingrich ends now. No more blackmail. He may even attract Republican support on the Barrett issue, since most were coerced into voting for her by the McConnell/Trump sledgehammer and may feel emboldened now.

I hope Biden will have the vision and courage to do, not just the easy things, but the difficult things. He might, but he will need the support of people like us—strong, vocal, steadfast support. He might be a great man, but as a president, he can’t do it alone.

On a more humorous note, there were three events that sort of summed up the mindlessness, the incompetence, and the utter lack of class of the Trump era.

First, there was the very strange press conference Giuliani and a team of lawyers staged at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. Not the fabled hotel; a landscaping business in one of the seedier parts of town, located (as many of us are) between a porn shop and a crematorium. That may have been the absolute end of Giuliani’s carrer. We may hope.

Kimberly Guilfoyle offered a lap dance to the big-ticket fundraiser who gave Trump the most money. No, really. In some states, that would be formal grounds for a charge of prostitution. Gavin, count your blessings.

And finally, they had a strange “Trump vigil” in Redding, California yesterday. As the reporter (who kept calling it a “visual”) spent 8 minutes telling us little or nothing, Trumpkins stood somberly, Trump flags draped over shoulders, bemoaning the fact that godless communists were coming to take their guns, their god, and no doubt their expensive private medical insurance. The cult of Trump is a doomed one, but like all cults, will survive until the last member dies or forgets who Trump was.

And finally, to quote a popular Facebook meme, “I’m so glad Rush Limbaugh lived to see this day.”

 

 

It’s Here – Election time

It’s Here

Election time

10/30/20

There’s going to be an election next Tuesday.

People who read me are more woke and aware than the common rabble, so chances are many of you already knew that. Anyone who didn’t know that, drop everything and start doing a lot of reading over the weekend. Prepare for some nasty shocks. Yes, Donald Trump is the incumbent. Believe it or not, it goes downhill from there.

So, what should we expect from this election?

The signals from the polls are significantly stronger this time then they were in 2016. The polls are narrowing in the final days, but a) over half the population have already voted and b) it’s still over 8 points.

There’s been a lot of propaganda about how the polls are meaningless, and of course, polls taken more than a couple of weeks before an election generally are meaningless. And there are a lot of crap polls out there. Rasmussen is little more than a GOP cheering squad, and Zogby doesn’t even qualify as a bad joke. We all remember one poll that nobody had ever heard of before (or since) that showed McCain leading Obama a few weeks before the election by 20 points.

But the legitimate polls are accurate. Those showed Clinton winning the popular vote by 2-4 points, and she won by 2.5 points. Well within the range of error. The polls are narrowing in the final days, but a) over half the population have already voted and b) the Biden lead over Trump still over 8 points.
I’m expecting that come Wednesday morning, Trump may actually be leading in the electoral college count. The reason for that is that early voting has been mostly Democratic, and come election day, as many as 100 million people may have voted. That would be nearly as many who voted in total in 2016.

Now, if we wake up Wednesday morning and Trump is leading in all fifty states, then it’s safe to assume that Putin and/or the people conducting the cyberattack on hospitals this week have taken over counting the votes, in which case the question you have to ask yourself is not “Who won?” but rather, “Will I still be alive three months from now?” If Putin does scramble the election results, it won’t be because he has our best interests at heart. No, Donald, not even your best interests. He isn’t your buddy. He would find an America in chaos and severe civil strife most amusing as he started swallowing eastern European republics like they were popcorn.

But if you wake up that morning, and the electoral maps on the TV are similar to those of 2016 and show a Trump win, don’t panic.

There is a tidal wave of blue votes yet to be counted. Remember all those banana-republic type eight-hour lines to vote we’ve been seeing for the past month? That’s the early voters—85 million of them as of yesterday. Most of them are Democrats, and there’s a fair number of Republicans who are furious at the party for fucking up the mail service, messing with their ability to vote, and jamming their nasty little fascist theocrat down our throats that they decided to make a protest vote.

But all the early votes get counted—by hand—starting when the polls close. Those will take days, and even weeks to tabulate.

And that’s OK. It used to be that it was normal to have to wait a month or two to find out who won the presidential election, and it was the reason why the actual transfer of power took place four months after voting day. As recently as 1960, it wasn’t clear from the voting who the president was by New Years’. It may have taken a few weeks to determine who won the election in 2000, were it not for a decision by the Supreme Court that was so illegal they make the unique stipulation that Bush vs. Gore never be used as a precedent. (Kavanaugh the Klueless proceeded to try to do that just last week, of course.)

It may take a few weeks to know definitively who won. The Republicans will do everything to stop the counting, including trying to get their toy justices to rule that Trump is God because GOP. Those six clowns will have to decide whether they want to please Donald and lose their credibility and authority forever, or take a stand and prepare for a miserable couple of months compared to risking their lives betraying their country.

Oh–and even if you live in a state where the Presidential race is all but settled, such as California or Kansas, vote anyway.  The downticket races are a lot more fluid, and this year especially, more important.  Its a Census year, and your vote now determines the influence your vote will have over the next ten years.

There’s a lot of speculation about post election violence, but I don’t really see that happening while it’s still being decided who won. After that, well, we’ll just have to see. Hopefully the results will be clear enough, and have enough legitimacy, that the losing side will feel a patriotic duty to accept those results.

When the dust settles, probably around the 15th, Biden should have 350 of the 270 EVs needed to win. And the US will have taken its first big step back toward being a free and democratic republic.

Then we have the next nightmare to endure: a panicked, furious, frightened Trump. Let’s just hope he doesn’t decide the world must pay for failing to adore him.

 

The Burning Man – Trump’s 42 days in the desert

October 10th 2020

The real polls are shifting, and the shift is enough that I’m starting to feel reasonably secure that the Republican fascists may not be able to steal this election. I figure that what with the gerrymandering (both built-in with the Electoral College or created by corrupt state legislatures), the powerful propaganda arm, the sabotage of mail-in voting and further sabotage of in person voting, the Dems would need about an 8 point lead in the polls to actually win over the fascists.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, the most accurate of the aggregate pollsters, had Biden’s lead over Trump rock steady between 5.5 points and 7.5 points for three months following the end of primary season. Normally, that would be an unassailable lead, but the extent of Republican malfeasance made it, at best, too close to call.

At the beginning of the GOP convention, it was at a seven point lead. The Democrats had run a extremely well-crafted four-day infomercial, and the GOP was going for a semi-live show with small audiences rather than the virtual effort by the Dems. Manly men don’t fear the reaper, even if at the time it had already killed some 170,000 Americans. The polls, I reasoned, would have to be above five points for Biden to for him have any chance at all to make up the three more points needed to overcome Republican cheating and lying. And given how entrenched both sides appeared to be, that would take a miracle.

But a week after the convention, the polls hadn’t budged. Seven points. The American public, which largely avoided the four day Donald Trump Show, was unimpressed by all the screaming and lying the GOP put on.

I watched, and during the show I tried pretending to think like an average Republican voter. China and Iran wanted war with us. Russia was our friend, and we could deal with North Korea as equals. The deficit didn’t matter, and Trump was good for the economy. Trump was a godly man who just happened to be a genius at business negotiations. Dems wanted to take everyone’s guns and tax us all to death. Liberals really did sell children as sex slaves in the basement of pizza joints…well, ok. Not even Republican voters believed that one. But they did believe that Hunter Biden was up to no good, abusing his father’s connections, but Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka weren’t.

Even trying to wear that mind set, I found the show unconvincing. From a more sane perspective, the show was an orgy of loud lunacy.

I was pleased, but I misinterpreted that unwavering result. I assumed it meant the body politic had become utterly intransigent, and nothing was going to change anyone’s mind. Anyone who still supported Trump at that point either dismissed or accepted the utter chaos, incompetence and dishonestly of his administration. Hell, the First Lady could tear up the Rose Garden, or get taped saying “Fuck Christmas” and it wouldn’t change anything, right? Well, funny story…

The turning point came an eternity ago—September 20th. That’s when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Yeah, just three weeks ago. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Her death horrified liberal Americans. What followed horrified most other people. Trump and McConnell, in a massive fireworks burst of hypocrisy and willingness to commit a massive power grab, immediately nominated a replacement for Ginsburg. Not just another tiresome and in all likelihood corrupt neoliberal hack like his first two; this time he picked a god-struck woman whose closest literary cognate is the mad Ignatius J. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces. The cult she is a member of apparently formed the basis of the cult that destroyed America and enslaved women in Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. Her position is so extreme it overcame America’s reluctance to attack Christians on the basis of religion.

The willingness of the Republicans to set aside legislation desperately needed to keep thousands of people alive, fed and in shelters in order to ram though the nomination of this viciously unsuitable woman dismayed a large majority of voters—including Republicans, who uneasily remember the Republican stance of no nominations during a presidential campaign that the Republicans used to ignore the nomination of Merrick Garland in Obama’s final year. It was such rank hypocrisy that even the shills at Fox News had trouble selling it, pretending instead that the Garland nomination never happened.

Then the presidential debate showed the world that Trump was a braying, vacuous bully with no answers but lots of empty demagoguery.

Then he got sick. Under just about any other circumstances, a sick leader would have gotten a sympathy bounce in the polls. But his attitude had been so reckless and foolhardy, and so damaging to the country, that most people thought he brought it on himself. People were appalled at the sight of him recklessly endangering the lives of others around him in his mad drive to show that this disease that has killed 215,000 people in his own country is no big deal and can be safely ignored.

There were a dozen other self-immolations. Dissing the troops. Attacking Gold Star families. And finally, becoming totally unhinged and largely incoherent.

So yeah, suddenly, Trump has managed to fall to 10.1 points behind Biden. It seemed impossible three weeks ago, but Biden now seems to be beyond the point where Republicans can steal it.

But remember. This all happened in three weeks. That’s an eternity in politics. We still have three more weeks to go before the election.

Don’t relax.

Poor, Brave Trump! – The fearless folly of the Donald

October 3rd, 2020

Trump got squeezed into one of his poor-fitting suits and sat in front of a US and Presidential flag that utterly failed to conceal that he was in a hospital room and made a four minute video for the nation. This normally would be a very good thing, since a sick president leaves the entire country unnerved and in need of a calming voice. Such reassurances are usually…staged. Some never existed: the country may have felt reassured at the story that as he was being wheeled into the OR after being shot, Reagan gave the doctors a cheery thumbs-up, but much later we learned that was strictly PR bullshit.

Trump looked better than some of the more dire stories had it but the makeup and his seated position couldn’t quite hide the fact that he wasn’t 100%.

Characteristically, he took the opportunity to praise his heroism and courage:

But I had no choice because I just didn’t want to stay in the White House. I was given that alternative. Stay in the White House, lock yourself in, don’t ever leave, don’t even go to the Oval Office, just stay upstairs and enjoy it, don’t see people, don’t talk to people and just be done with it and I can’t do that. I had to be out front and – this is America, this is the United States, this is the greatest country in the world, this is the most powerful country in the world. I can’t be locked up in a room upstairs and totally safe and just say: ‘Hey, whatever happens happens.’ I can’t do that. We have to confront problems. As a leader you have to confront problems. There’s never been a great leader that would have done that.”

Mind you, Mister “Whatever happens happens, I can’t do that” said of the same disease just two weeks ago, “It is what it is.” Stoicism is an easy way to cover up moral and mental bankruptcy. Trump is trying to pretend he was out, ignoring the danger, doing the people’s business and fulfilling his duties as president.

In reality, he’s still the same indolent buffoon he’s always been, going out only to play his indeterminable games of golf and hold his super-spreader rallies, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk to fill his mindless need for adulation. Even then, at a recent rally in a display of what passes for humor with Trump, he told his audience that he wasn’t taking any risk—he was ‘way up on his dais, well away from the people he privately calls ‘disgusting.’ All those braying morons, going home to infect friends, family, associates, because Trump felt personally safe. He must have been really tickled pink over that.

He expressed gratitude for all non-American leaders who wished him well. Some, like Boris Johnson, were undoubtedly sincere. Kim Yong Un was probably fairly pro forma. His country isn’t allowed to admit that COVID-19 exists. Trump didn’t want to admit Joe Biden and the Democrats exist, either, and so ignored their well wishes.

Then there’s Putin, and Russia. They have a radio show called 60 Minutes that resembles the American television show of that name much the way OAN resembles Walter Cronkite. The Russian version had its own unique take on it, per the Daily Beast:

Discussing Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Evgeny Popov, the host of Russian state media news talk show 60 Minutes, said, ‘Our candidate got sick.’ His co-host Olga Skabeeva reminded the viewers that Trump is in a high-risk group, due to being elderly and overweight. Referring to former Vice President Joe Biden, Popov added, ‘The other one may get sick too.’”

Davis said commentary also included condolences to the president who was taken to Walter Reed Hospital late Friday, and that Popov and Skabeeva also commented that the Democrats were “celebrating” Trump’s health woes, only to have reporter Denis Davydov in the U.S. point out that “Trump’s Twitter mentions are filled with messages of support,” to which Popov shot back, “Those are just the Russian bots.”

Ha ha ha. Very droll, comrade. ‘Russian bots.’ Must mock foolish Americaner intelligence. After show, we get drunk, go in alley way and urinate on pussy cats, no? After all, there is full Moon!

Trump’s opaque and dishonest reign has made Kremlin watchers out of all of us, where we all feverishly scan minutiae in hopes of determining what few morsels of truth may exist in the White House sewage. Now that he’s ill and even possibly critically ill, the versions regarding what’s going on are a deep and wide river. It’s safe to assume 90% of it is utter nonsense, and 9/10ths of the rest exaggerations of reality.

Three Republican Senators have tested positive over the past few days, raising the interesting prospect that for the next month or so, the Senate may actually have Democrats in control. At least two of the Senators sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be having what the GOP jokingly refers to as “hearings” on Amy Barrett next week. Maybe. At least one reputable source opines that some or all of the Republican Senators may fake claims of having the disease in order to avoid voting on her, since it’s obvious to one and all that she is a poison pill that will destroy the GOP. At least five Republican Senators who had reasonable leads just two months ago in November’s races have seen their leads dwindle to ties and even losses. They have to be feeling desperate right now. Their leader’s bad habit of making them all swim in a Petri dish in order to pretend the pandemic isn’t a problem may actually take them off the hot seat and even possibly save their careers.

Republicans have suddenly rediscovered compassion and empathy in the past day, but I have my great big “fuck you” potato gun ready for any that try pulling that crap on me. It’s manipulative bullshit, and I’m not going to play that game.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on the news. We live in interesting times.

Shitshow One — Trump vs Trump, and both sides lost

September 29th 2020

Well, that was…something.

I won’t call it a debate. For the most part it consisted of Trump braying lies at the top of his lungs, trying to prevent Joe Biden from making a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. (Definition courtesy of all the Bruces and Sheilas at the University of Wallamazoo). He was trying, with limited luck, to shout down Biden, and doing somewhat better at bullying the moderator, Chris Wallace, who spent a fair bit of time fluttering and repeating, “Mister President, Mister President.” Give Wallace credit though: in his position, I wouldn’t have reached the hour mark in the debate without shouting, “Hey, asshole! Shut your bloody gob!”

Well, Wallace is considered the voice of restraint and reason at Fox News. Granted, that’s a pretty low bar, and they’ll probably fire him before the end of the year as a part of their self-lobotomizing drive, but he did manage to stand up to Trump a few times.

Biden only blew his cool once, referring to Trump as “that clown” and an expression instantly flickered across his face, knowing he had said something that by his standards, was intemperate. Never mind that he was right. It wasn’t something a former Senator would say about an opponent. He did call Trump a liar several times, but even amongst Trump’s dwindling band of supporters there would be considerable reluctance to die on the hill of Donald’s veracity. Trumpkins may be willing to die stupid, but most of them don’t want to hear a bunch of snorts and giggles from those around them as the light fades away.

I had one of those “debate bingo” cards, laden with the various lies, strawmen, and fear-mongering that makes up an average Trump speech. I ticked off 15 of the 24 spots, an amazing display of…well, no. I’m not going to say Trump was showing restraint. My guess is the Adderall caused him to forget half his talking points. So we weren’t treated to slogans like “Our response was perfect” “Lowest fatality rate in the world” or “Nobody tougher on Russia.” He didn’t quite dare call Biden “Sleepy Joe” with Joe standing a careful six feet away, and obviously not in the least bit sleepy.

The loud idiocy partially concealed the horror that is Trump. Asked to condemn white nationalism, he couldn’t do it. Indeed, he said that on election day, Proud Boys should stand down “but stand by.” Street Nazis, Assemble!

At one point, responding to Biden’s mention of Trump thinking of soldiers as loser and suckers, Trump claimed Biden called the soldiers “stupid bastards.” Against all odds, there was actually a grain of truth there; according to the Guardian, “This is true – but it was a joke. During a 2016 speech in Abu Dhabi, Biden addressed troops and told them: “Notwithstanding what you may hear about me, I have incredibly good judgment. One, I married Jill. And two, I appointed Johnson to the Academy, I just want you to know that.”

He was referring to Lt Karen Johnson, of Wilmington, Delaware. After a pause, Biden said: “Clap for that, you stupid bastards.”

The former vice-president also praised the troops, saying that Americans “appreciate, but they don’t fully understand the incredible sacrifices you make for our country”, Biden added. He thanked the soldiers and their families.”

I won’t bother with Trump’s lies, which were legion and mostly obvious. You know he’s a liar, I know he’s a liar, we all know he’s a liar. ‘Nuff said. At one point though, he said that whenever you saw Biden, he was wearing a mask, while pointing to Biden, who of course was not wearing a mask. Adderall or dementia? You be the judge.

I only caught Biden on one misstatement, when he said Trump stood to be the first president to have a net loss of jobs at the end of a term. He’s actually the third, behind Hoover but slightly ahead of George W. Bush.

People were watching the debate. In the final 60 minutes, the Biden campaign got an extraordinary $3.8 million in donations, by a considerable margin the biggest hour fund-raising in presidential campaign history.

The debate was a complete shitshow, and while Wallace wasn’t a great moderator, most of the blame rests with Trump, who showed beyond any reasonable doubt what a vile, filthy, prevaricating piece of shit he really is. Anyone still supporting him at this point needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves what sort of person they have become.

Two more debates to go. Sigh. Don’t expect statesmanship from Trump. On the other hand, he’s sinking himself quite well, so it isn’t a complete waste.

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