Friday, March 1, 2019

Response to The Man Who Broke the World

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Man who Broke the World)

There are times when everything I see in the news reminds me of one of those “what-if” alternative history books that get published every few years:

"Can you imagine what might have happened to the country, and probably the world, had Donald Trump actually won the 2016 elections?”

(Oh, wait! He did win! Okay, never mind.)

Or how about an Andy Borowitz column from the New Yorker:

HITLER MEETS WITH TRUMP
DENIES INVADING POLAND

“Seriously, I asked Mr. Hitler about it, right to his face, and he swore to me he knew nothing about any invasion at the time, and in fact, he didn’t even hear about it at all until several weeks later!”, the president said in an interview with a Fox reporter. “He told me he didn’t do it, and I believe him.”

When the reporter told Trump that would be impossible, since Hitler has been dead since 1945, Trump answered, “Whatever! This guy swore to me that he was Hitler,” adding, “and I believe him.”


Monday, February 25, 2019

Response to Just Saying Things

(See: Just Above Sunset: Just Saying Things)

"'If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!’, Trump tweeted last summer. He seems to see his legacy in part as the great peacemaker of the Korean Peninsula and recently boasted that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oh, for Christ’s sake! Please! Does this man seriously think all of his self-centered jibber-jabber did anybody any good?

I hate to rain on his award ceremony, but this is just another example of the rooster trying to take credit for the sunrise. Here’s the real history of Trump and North Korea, in a nutshell:

Back in 1994, according to the non-partisan Arms Control Association, President Bill Clinton made a deal with North Korea called the Agreed Framework, "calling upon Pyongyang to freeze operation and construction of nuclear reactors suspected of being part of a covert nuclear weapons program in exchange for two proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors. The agreement also called upon the United States to supply North Korea with fuel oil pending construction of the reactors”, seemingly with the goal that North Korea might eventually integrate into the world community as a non-nuclear citizen nation. The only alternative to the Framework, for North Korea, would be to build enough nuclear weaponry that could eventually hit all of the United States.

The “Framework" worked fine until the George W Bush administration came into power, determined to undo anything Bill Clinton had done, and let the North Koreans know that things would be different around here from now on. This prompted North Korea, possibly immediately, to start secretly enriching uranium, something the Bush people found out about in late 2002.
Rather than confront the North Koreans and demand they halt their efforts to create a uranium enrichment capability, the intelligence findings gave those in the Bush administration who opposed the Agreed Framework a reason to abandon it. John Bolton, then-undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, later wrote that “this was the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.”
Bolton may have had other plans, but all that really mattered at that point was North Korea’s Plan B — that is, to get back to building enough nuclear weapons capable of hitting all of the United States, from sea to shining sea. That’s what they did, and that's where we are now.

Anything that anybody, including the president of the United States, did during the time it took North Korea to accomplish their goal was superfluous. All of those bombastic threats, followed by all the nice-nice "love" talk from both sides? Just part of the show.

And the truth is — something only Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats seems to have the guts to allude to out loud — all the United States can do now is learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.

Forget Nobel Peace Prizes for either of those two, which indeed they both might actually get, but not because either comes close to deserving it — Trump, because he’s been nothing but a feckless bit player in a pas de deux completely choreographed by the Kims for all of these years; and Kim, because he’s now made the world a more dangerous place.

Although yes, there’s still the possibility that Trump could screw this up, pretty much by doing just about anything at all — withdrawing troops from South Korea, for example. We might just come off okay out of all this if Trump could learn to just sit on his hands, keep whatever he’s thinking inside his head, and otherwise do nothing at all.

Just leave things the way they are. They’re not going to get better, but with luck, and maybe a bit of presidential will power, they won’t get worse.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Response to The Joy of Egomaniacal Ignorance

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Joy of Egomaniacal Ignorance)

I always forget this guy’s name and just think of him as “that Starbucks guy”, which points to his problem: Other than having been successful in business, what of relevance has Howard Schultz got going for himself?

And that assumes having been successful at business really counts for much, which I think it doesn’t. And that’s exactly what was wrong with Trump: (1) Not only does having the so-called skills to be a successful businessman not transfer well to politics, (2) Donald Trump, who we’d probably never have heard of had his family not been filthy rich, wasn’t really even all that good at business anyway.

(But yes, to give Schultz his due, although not that it matters — unlike Trump, at least Howard Schultz really was a successful businessman.)

But Starbucks guy also checks the box that, for some reason, too many liberals think they need to, which is...

“I’m socially liberal, but fiscally conservative!”:
Fiscal conservatism is a political-economic philosophy regarding fiscal policy and fiscal responsibility advocating low taxes, reduced government spending and minimal government debt. Free tradederegulation of the economy, lower taxes, and privatization are the defining qualities of fiscal conservatism.
So if being “fiscally conservative”, in principle, means being in favor of exercising "fiscal responsibility, advocating low taxes, reduced government spending and minimal government debt", doesn’t that actually, in practice, mean reducing the amount of money for any safety net for poor people? And if so, then how can one really be “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal” at the same time?

Personally, I think we need to first philosophically (and I suppose also “morally” or “ethically”) decide what we want our government to do, and let the tax and spending levels follow from that. For example, if we decide we want to give free college to all students with B averages or above, we need to be willing to pay for it, and then to raise the revenue to pay for it, and that’s how we figure out how much taxes we want to raise.

Like Daddy Starbucks, I used to call myself a political centrist, but also like him, I think I based that on seeing polls that showed most Americans agree with my political views. Of course, that conveniently ignored the fact that my views aren't actually “centrist”, they’re “liberal”, which is why I now consider myself a “liberal Democrat” — which, by definition, would be in the mainstream. But being “mainstream” is not the same as being in the “center” of the stream, it just means being where most of the water is.

But to get back to Starbucks man, instead of presenting himself as the guy behind Starbucks who has, for some reason, decided he’s running for president, maybe he should go talk to the Democrats in his state and ask them to help him learn the trade of politics from the bottom up, and maybe he’ll run for some public office some day — like mayor of some big city, or maybe governor.

In fact, maybe he shouldn’t even mention Starbucks, which is really not that relevant — although I suppose what might help him get his foot in the door is if he mentions that he has lots and lots of money, since that might be considered relevant indeed.

Rick

Friday, January 11, 2019

Response to Lit by Gas

(See: Just Above Sunset: Lit by Gas)

I presume that what Trump means is, Mexico will be paying for the wall through his fancy new NAFTO 2.0 that will go into effect in 2020, and that Congress has yet to approve, to be disbursed out of U.S. tax revenues that will come from an anticipated reduction of our trade deficit with Mexico?

But that would only be true if tax revenues rise because of that happening, assuming it will, which apparently economists are not so sure will. But if it does, it could be argued that he got Mexico and Canada to pay for it! Oh, well, we may never know if that ever happens, which probably suits Trump just fine.

But a more important issue that we all should be talking about right now, during this shutdown while Americans are paying attention, is that all Americans need to agree that these government shutdowns need to just stop.

They not only needlessly hurt our government employees, they also deprive access to crucial government services that citizens depend on, they hurt the economy, they end up costing us rather than saving us money (which too many Americans erroneously believe), and probably the most significant of all, the fact that some politicians think it’s okay to blackmail the country into passing bills that the country can’t seem to pass the normal way — because Americans are not in favor of them — is a symptom of the failure of America and its constitution.

And while, in fact, any one of these arguments ought to be enough reason to stop the practice, it’s especially true of the first one, which wreaks serious and sometimes irreparable havoc on the lives of people we hire to do our work. We treat this issue casually, but in truth, it’s a serious case of wrongdoing on our part, and it needs to stop.

Although there’s probably no way to outright outlaw government shutdowns — google the "Antideficiency Act" of 1884, which says it’s against the law to spend government money that hasn’t yet been allocated, and which is what supplies the legal groundwork for all these shutdowns — we might at least try to make it unacceptable in the collective brain of Americans to do so.

How?

We Americans need to insist that both parties make sure whatever our government buys or rents is fully paid for in advance. This means that well before these deadlines arrive, neither side puts any “poison pills” (that is, nothing that the other party would refuse to vote for) into the spending bills. In other words, keep the controversy out of these last-minute appropriation bills, safely put off to the side to be discussed at a later date.

Nobody should “proudly” own a shutdown, and everybody should shame anybody else who forces into any bill a poison-pill rider that they know will be rejected by the other side.

Another way of looking at it:

Do not lard appropriation bills with those riders that wouldn’t pass Congress without the extortionate cloud of a government shutdown hanging over it.

Why?

Because shutdowns were not part of the design of the founders. The people who invented this country back in to 18th century came up with a way to govern it that relied on the good will of all to vote for or against bills in ways that reflected the collective will of the governed, without having to resort to such gimmicks as threatening to shut everything down if the minority doesn’t get its way, as a way of overruling the will of the people.

Yeah, you say, but that’s never going to happen.

Okay, I’m not predicting that it will happen, only arguing that it should. I’m pretty sure the founders were not so stupid as to think the system of governance they designed would be automatically protected by an all-powerful God, but instead knew it was a design that, by necessity, would only survive if future generations (that’s us!) understood how fragile it is, and would have the common sense to make sure it did not fall apart.

In short, all these government closings that we have blithely been accepting as business-as-usual politics, are really just a sign that we have forgotten how to govern ourselves according to the original plan. Starting right now, we all need to just stop allowing these shutdowns to happen.

Pass it on.


Monday, December 17, 2018

Response to Passing Losses On

(See: Just Above Sunset: Passing Losses On)

I confess, Obamacare has always been confusing to me but I suspect it’s even more confusing to Republicans, who don’t seem to understand that when ACA was being devised, the planners came up with pieces that all fit together in such a way that, if you take away any one of the parts, the plan falls apart.

For example, those planners knew they could always insist that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions, but they also knew they couldn’t do that unless they allowed those companies to make enough money to pay for it. And that’s why they came up with a mandate that said everybody had to have insurance or else pay a penalty (originally a “fine”, but eventually, a “tax”) to cover it.

So the Republicans, who are apparently not as good with money as everyone seems to think they are, ZERO OUT the penalty for the mandate, yet still insist on keeping the pre-existing conditions that the mandates pay for!

And then some conservative judge comes along with his long-awaited ruling on a lawsuit filed by a number of state attorneys general. Here’s the background from the Wall Street Journal’s own reaction to his ruling:
Recall that Chief Justice John Roberts joined four Justices to say ObamaCare’s mandate was illegal as a command to individuals to buy insurance under the Commerce Clause. “The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it,” he wrote.

Yet the Chief famously salvaged ObamaCare by unilaterally rewriting the mandate to be a “tax” that was within Congress’s power. Never mind that Democrats had expressly said the penalty was not a tax. Majority Leader Roberts declared it to be so.

Enter Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argues in Texas v. U.S. that since Congress has repealed the mandate, the tax is no longer a tax, and ObamaCare is thus illegal. Judge O’Connor agreed with that logic, and he went further in ruling that since Congress said the mandate is crucial to the structure of ObamaCare, then all of ObamaCare must fall along with the mandate.
Okay, but think about this and tell me where I’m wrong:

Since Roberts’ “tax” solution was in response only to whether we can “fine” somebody for not buying insurance, and since the Republicans zeroed out that fine/tax to nothing, then where’s the problem to which the word “tax” is the solution? Because of the fact that there’s no longer teeth in the mandate, there’s no longer any compulsion here, which is what brought up the question of constitutionality.

Or am I missing something?

On the other hand, the actual problem we’re left with seems to be that, without the “stick" with which to hit people who refuse to buy insurance, making sure most every American is in the pool, where will insurance companies find the money to pay for all this stuff?

So no, you blockheads, ending the mandate didn’t make the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, it just made the Affordable Care Act un-fucking-affordable!

Or did it? Maybe not.

According to Andrew Sprung at HealthInsurance.Org, who wrote "The GOP is still coming after your ACA coverage (whether you have a pre-existing condition or not)" back in September before the ruling of this past weekend:
The [State Attorneys General’s] suit ignores the fact that the current Republican Congress deliberately zeroed out the penalty while not repealing the ACA, reflecting learned experience that ACA subsidies are enough to keep the ACA private plan marketplace functioning, albeit in impaired fashion, no matter what measures (other than repeal) Republicans take to sabotage it.
In other words, maybe those subsidies called for by Obamacare will be enough to continue paying for coverage of pre-existing conditions?

I do hope so, but I must admit I’m not greatly encouraged by any argument that rests of the “learned experience” of a gaggle of random Republican Congressmen.

* * * * *

But while I got you, let me change the subject to the upcoming “Trump Shutdown” of the government to pay for his stupid wall.

Will there be a shutdown? I don’t know, but I do predict that he will fail to get his wall, and yet will still claim he succeeded.

So you have Stephen Miller saying that the administration would do “whatever is necessary to build the border wall,” and I’m thinking, "Anything at all that’s necessary?"

How about maybe rallying all those few Americans in favor of your wall, to roll up their sleeves, "put on overalls, bring hammers and saws and spare bricks and lumber and barbed-wire and whatnot, and meet us at the border, ready to put your sweat equity where your mouth is!"

"(Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to bring money!)”


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Response to Idiot’s Delight

(See: Just Above Sunset: Idiot's Delight)

Here’s Colby Itkowitz, in the Washington Post:

Over 10 minutes of a surreal public sparring match in the Oval Office, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tried mightily to rise above the bluster and ego that erupted between the men in the room.
But Pelosi (D-Calif.) instead had to listen as President Trump mansplained to her the legislative process and her role in the debate, while Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer talked over her to trade barbs mano a mano with Trump.
I think playing up this “mansplaining” view — that the men talked over the woman — may have missed the point:

Both Chuck and Nancy conspired to play Trump, tricking him into owning any government shutdown. After all, she knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to move the debate into private session to discuss any upcoming “Trump Shutdown”, goading Trump into talking about it, during which Chuck then forced the overly-cocky Donald to “proudly” take ownership.

And while her “manhood” comment afterward is certainly memorable for whatever belittling effect it might have on Trump when he reads it, I also hope that her mentioning that she felt like she had been in “a tinkle contest with a skunk” gets some future mention, maybe in some debate, just to let a little air out of his balloon.

I’m convinced one reason for Trump’s undeserved reputation for success in battle is that, because he always pretty much controls the setting, and because he usually only engages with news reporters who he knows, for professional reasons, can’t fight back, he's never really seen getting into any face-to-face confrontations with anyone who disagrees with him, and who are more than willing to talk back to him in front of cameras. It was, as CNN's bemused resident Brit Richard Quest noted afterward, the closest thing he'd seen to Wednesday Question Time in Britain's Parliament, during which the Prime Minister is compelled to debate her opposition.

In any event, I’m sure Trump will think twice before he decides to trap these two with a bait-and-switch photo-op. And Pelosi is no dummy! She’s got my vote.

In fact — and this occurred to me just now — Nancy Pelosi is, as of this moment, my top choice of Democrats to face Donald Trump in 2020!


Thursday, November 22, 2018

(See: Just Above Sunset: Imagining The Worst)

Trump is, almost literally, a real world representation of those three monkeys that see no evil, etc. What he is doing is exactly the behavior that the metaphor was invented to mock.

Donald Trump:
"The world is a very dangerous place!”
And thanks to his efforts, it seems to be getting more so every day!

Conservatives tend to be afraid of the world, claiming it’s more dangerous than it really is, and tend to lack the courage to deal with it the way it is. Previous presidents, not nearly as conservative, and therefore less fearful than Trump, would have a better idea of how to deal with this situation. If the world is dangerous, it’s because too many world leaders lack the guts and brains to deal with it.

What is it about Trump that made the Saudis think they could slip this one by America?

For one thing, they probably sense, like MBS has told people, that they got us "in their pocket”. It’s no wonder, since our Artist of the Deal tends to tip his hand in dealing with them. They can easily smell fear when Trump tells everyone, 'Hey, who knows if they did it? The important thing is they’ve promised to buy a gazillion dollars worth of weapons from us!’

True! They’ve already given us fourteen billion, and they promise the check for the rest is in the mail!

I’m old enough to remember when WE held arms sales over THEIR heads, instead of the other way around. But maybe that was back when we had leaders who were better at making deals, and who were also infused with good old American moral values that kept them from baldly looking the other way when an ally murdered someone. That’s why an American leader with the necessary skills could extend the soft power that made America a respected leader in the world.

Donald Trump lacks both the smarts and the courage to be very good at any of this, and he’s apparently not smart enough to see it, and even if he could see it, he’d lie and say it’s not happening. I’m getting to the point of thinking we need, under the threat of impeachment, to make a deal with him to get him out of there, like we did with Nixon and Agnew.

I’d been holding off on that because I was afraid of what might happen to us under “President Pence”, and thinking maybe after 2020 the problem would go away on its own, but things are getting too bad and the harm he’s done to our stature in the world may already be irreparable.

Maybe the time has come to seriously consider that a president taking it upon himself to do harm to his country is grounds for removal. Odd that our founders overlooked that eventuality.