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.