Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Iran Deal is not so Clear-Cut




Numerous editorials have either condemned or saluted the deal. The President is clearly taking a chance that the Iranians will succumb to pressure by the invocation of additional sanctions against them.

Iran has been aspiring to hegemony in the Middle East since the 1979 revolution, its "death to America and to Israel" playing upon the minds of American intelligence officers as well as the Saudis, Israelis, Syrians, and all other antagonists who fear that the Middle East tinderbox will explode into another war.
Just last month Russian and American warplanes almost clashed over Syria.  The Russians are supporting Hezbollah against Israel; rockets and missiles abound in Syria, pointed against Israel.  But mainly the nefarious mischief of the Iranians is producing these untenable conditions.

Barack Obama and John Kerry negotiated a deal that omitted the considerations of Iranian duplicity in its promulgation of weapons to the Syrians, the Houthis in Yemen, and all those who are warring against the Sunni majorities in Saudi Arabia, the Jews in Israel and all those who do not believe in the religious fundamentalism of the Iranian clerics.  They expect that they will control Syria through their puppet--the murderous Bashar Al Assad.  Deal proponents argue that the Iran arrangement  is working because the IAEA, the Europeans, and the UN believe that Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal and that America pulling out is a grave mistake.  How are they complying?  That is a matter of great question.  Religious theocratic fundamentalists do not comply with anyone but their preconceived notions of Allah, heretics and infidels threatening their power.

Susan Rice, former National Security Adviser argues that Iran relinquished 97 % of its enriched uranium stockpile and dismantled 2/3 of centrifuges as well as its plutonium and that inspections have verified the same.  She also argues that the US unilateral withdrawal from the agreement demeans trust in the word of the United States, also ascribing Trump's decision to a matter of ego, by jettisoning the Obama agenda at every opportunity, as well as sending a signal to Kim Jong Un that the US "cannot be trusted."    What she neglects to say is that Kim will never trust us anyway and we will not trust him, because nations always follow their own interests.  Rice's naïveté is evident in her piece in yesterday's New York Times.  Also questionable is her premise that in entering the deal, the US never intended to address Iran's other malign expeditions.  Perhaps it should have.

Iran's economy is in a ditch, and President Trump believes that they will be pushed over the edge by additional sanctions.   The jury is out on that one.  We simply do not know how the European actors will handle the American sanctions or even secondary sanctions.  What is clear, however is that European business given a choice between the United States market and the Iranian market, are hardly challenged by such a choice.

I am a progressive democrat and an anti-Trumper.    I have believed that he has demeaned and been destructive of the office of the Presidency.   His animus for Obama is eroding, by a thousand cuts, health care for many Americans.  His immoral acolyte Scott Pruitt is decimating years of environmental protections.  Trump is a proven liar and narcissist.   He has pushed for a ruinous tax cut with possibly dire economic consequences exploding the deficit and fooling his base.

Whatever his motives may be: forestalling Mueller, dancing with porn stars, employing thuggish lawyers, threatening and bullying those below him, inability to think and read, this withdrawal from the Iran deal may be the right move, if perhaps for the wrong reasons.  But maybe not.

The funding of Iranian terrorism through the return of billions to enable them to assert further hegemony, promulgate proxy wars, and cooperate with malign forces, stuck in the President's primitive craw.  Moreover, as Bret Stephens of the New York Times argues, that under the deal Iran would have been able eventually to enrich as much uranium as they would wish, an insane dénouement.

Young Iranians are fed up with theocracy and intolerant clerics running their country.  This bold gambit by the United States may push them over the edge.  Already there have been violent episodes in the streets.  More may be coming and regime change might happen or at least threaten the existing status quo.  But maybe not.

At the same time, the risk of war has grown; Israel is already at war in Syria and the U.S. must brace itself for a time of turmoil including war; and upon turmoil Trump revels.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Titanic is going down.




A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
William Shakespeare.

The Titanic was  "unsinkable."  Sporting 52,310 tons, which by today's standards was not the largest of ships. but by 1912 standards, was a leviathan, a iron riveted monster, with 16 water tight bulkheads and carrying lifeboats sufficient for 1,178 of its 2,234 passengers. A North Atlantic Iceberg ripped a gash through five of the sixteen watertight bulkheads,  the  unsinkable sinking inside of three hours, resulting in 1500 dead.

World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Serbia, triggering a chain reaction of alliances causing the great war, killing over nine million combatants and seven million civilians.  Nations of sleepwalking leadership plunged the world into not only that war, but also the Treaty of Versailles, setting the stage for the rise of fascists and the Second World War, involving over 100 million people from over thirty countries and ultimately involving 50 to 85 million fatalities.

The Korean War, fought from 1950 to 1953, begun as a UN "Police Action" ended in a stalemate, insuring the establishment of what ultimately became a thriving democracy in the south and a totalitarian dictatorship in the north.  The war was never ended with a peace treaty, but a semi-stable armistice for the last 60 years or so.  Korea had been occupied by imperial Japan since 1910 until the end of World War II.  The Korean war cost 178,000 lives including 37,000 American soldiers dead and 103,000 wounded.   America feared the spread of Communism and the result was favorable for the South.  But the remnants of that war haunt us to this day, with a ruthless dictator threatening to post missiles to San Francisco, among other American cities.

The Viet Nam war started on a waterfall of misinformation, including the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, based upon an erroneous report that American ships were attacked first by North Vietnamese forces.  58,000 Americans died in the misguided conflict, tearing our nation apart.  In fact we thought we were stopping the fall of Communist dominoes, but the Vietnamese thought they were fighting a war of national liberation in a country previously dominated by the Japanese, the French and the Americans, all of which supported corrupt regimes.

In World War II to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan, we allied our country with a totalitarian Stalin against a totalitarian Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, hoping to create a better world, a world free of dictators and despots.   Between Hitler and Stalin, 50 million people were killed (by their hands alone.)    At the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1993 Francis Fukuyama wrote that History had ended, arguing that the advent of liberal Western Democracy may signal "the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and heralding the final form of human government--liberal democracy."

The arc of history is long. The consequences of what is happening in the Middle East are now in the hands of US President who understands neither foreign policy nor history.

Despite the efforts of educated, sophisticated policymakers such as George Kennan, Dean Acheson, FDR, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower, subsequent presidents and leaders were perfectly capable of destroying the building blocks of a world order of pax Americana and the alliances that have essentially made the world a safer place since the end of World War II.   The United Nations, has nobly attempted to create a better world, but has failed in many respects, including the inability to foster world peace through its own devices.  It must rely on the largesse of the member states, many of which only  look after their own interests.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama thought, was the end of history.  It was to be the rise of liberal democracies throughout the world.    How wrong was Fukuyama?  How difficult is it to predict the future?  Essentially the best of leaders, with the noblest of intentions are winging it, but now we should all be especially frightened.   A President caught in scandal, possible criminality, and obsessed with his own narcissism faces uncertainties, befuddling the best of statesman.

This president knows all the answers.  But is not a statesman.

When our founding fathers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote the Constitution, they designed an elaborate system of federalism dividing the powers, checks and balances among the states and the three branches of government, decided that they did not want a king and determined the term of office for the President as four years.   They wrote a second amendment guaranteeing a "well regulated militia" insuring the right to bear arms (flintlock muskets, not AR 15s.)  They decided they did not want a parliamentary system nor a prime minister.  They provided a provision for impeachment of the President for "high crimes and misdemeanors."   But they did not provide for a vote of no confidence nor a special election to put in place a new president for an administration gone haywire.  Two presidents have been impeached, but none ever convicted and removed.  They provided an electoral college that misapportioned power among the states, and allowed for the election of a minority vote getter.

This is the 21st century, not the 19th. It is time for a new constitutional convention.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Second Amendment meets Musical Attorneys



The chairs keep revolving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, like some horrible, warped Alice in Wonderland fantasy.  John Dowd quits, John Bolton the new national security adiviser and a new face appears, willing to attempt to tow the line for the boy king, now a caricature of himself.  Even Joseph de Genova, mob attorney, doesn't want to work for the sun king.

John Bolton aka Dr. Strangelove, wants to bomb North Korea preemptively and withdraw from the Iran deal is to be the new National Security Advisor.  No senate confirmation necessary.

Even the most conservative of Republicans are free traders.  The stock market gyrates, shakes and tumbles, resurging and gyrating, affected by the President's economic ignorance and fecklessness, him now busy with trying to bury the Muller investigation by demeaning the FBI, the CIA and the other national intelligence services, the heads of which, normally taciturn, are now speaking out against the scalawag President, the evil Chauncey Gardner inhabiting the office where the leader of the free world usually resides.  Stormy tells all on 60 Minutes.  Spanked the Donald, and told him not to blab about himself, and he shuts up and tells Stormy, "You are special."  Do you think that Evangelicals might care?  Probably not. Has our country been in worse trouble?  Yes.  We had a Civil War, a Cuban Missile crisis, 9/11, the Great Depression, World War II, Viet Nam and even Watergate.  John Dean, special counsel to the White House told Nixon that Watergate was a cancer growing on the Presidency.   And now, as an analyst for CNN says "that the Russia probe and Trump is Nixon on steroids and stilts."


At least during the Watergate crisis, involving all three branches of government, the Republicans in congress were represented by people like Howard Baker, and Lowell P. Weicker, who had a modicum of integrity and called for their President to resign or that they would have recommended impeachment.
Nixon knew the jig was up. but Trump, cannot see beyond his own mirror.  "Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am the smartest one of all. Only I can fix, fix for all.  Let's have a war with Iran or Rocket man."

Now, the pusillanimous Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who fear Trump's wrath and the base that supports him, are cognitively dissonant remnants of  how America has changed since the 1970s.  Cultural diversity has incited a backlash of racism fueled by ignorance and fear, mobilized by Trump and his ilk, spouting hatred and a simplistic notion of how the world will be a better place if only immigrants and brown people were deported, making America white again.   Well it will not happen. "Get over it," to quote the late Antonin Scalia from an interview on 60 minutes when Lesley Stahl asked him whether he was bothered by the court throwing the election to George W. Bush, who ultimately invaded the wrong country, destabilized the middle east and ranks just above Trump on the Presidential scale of incompetence.   But at least he had some dignity, and is peacefully imitating his idol Winston Churchill by painting as a pastime, as encouraged by the great one's essay.  The comparison ends there, of course.
This circus has not been relived in my lifetime.  Young people, afraid to go to school march in Washington to the deafened ears of congressional acolytes of the NRA, their pockets bulging with cash from donations of gun toting miscreants who really believe that the second amendment allows them to carry assault rifles to go hunting, in this case, with human children and students as their quarry.

The second amendment should be repealed as argued by Bret Stevens, hardly a liberal, who writes that
"From a national-security standpoint, the Amendment’s suggestion that a “well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” is quaint. The Minutemen that will deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are based in missile silos in Minot, N.D., not farmhouses in Lexington, Mass."
His essay also argues that regulating guns from a "prospective right" Constitutional guarantee than from a privilege point of view, such as a driver's license, is an easier task.  No one wants to stop legitimate hunters, and farmers from shooting rodents and hunting Bambi or protecting themselves in their homes.
Turning schools into shooting galleries does not seem a wise solution either.

The young people who march will soon be voters, hoping to chase from office those who insouciantly treat their lives as fodder for gun-toting lunatics.






 

Friday, February 16, 2018

A HOUSE DIVIDED


         

    " Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every house divided against itself will not stand and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand."
(Matthew 12:25) and quoted by Abraham Lincoln June 16, 1858  in Springfield, Illinois referring to the divisions among the states of the Union.



            American cultural polarity, fueled by social media and a lack of civic education, results in ideological tribalization of both Political parties, threatening our democracy.  We will not be the first to fail becoming indifferent to the people's needs, the corrupting influence of wealth and power falling to a smaller percentage of the elites.  Of these things, revolutions are born, autocracies arise and freedom vanishes, often overnight.

            Throughout history, democracies have failed: Greece, Rome, and now throughout Eastern Europe, Hungary, Turkey and Russia. But not yet here at home, because our institutions are still strong.  But that is not a guarantee.

            Totalitarian governments rise upon economic and cultural fears, and a leader arises appealing to reptilian human instincts of humans.  History abounds with such personages--Hitler, Stalin, Peron, Chavez, Castro, and in America, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace and Donald Trump, demagogues all.

            Trump preyed upon tribal fears of displacement, unemployment, and racism (loss of turf).  In the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy used paranoiac fear of Communism as his entrée to power, his hubris finally imploding, people realizing how loathsome his scapegoating and character assassination, "Have you no decency, sir? At long last?" cried legal icon Joseph Welch, pounding the final nail in McCarthy's coffin at nationally televised hearings, captivating the nation.  His colleagues, and President Eisenhower, previously cowed by McCarthy’s blatant demagoguery during the “Communist under every rock” witch-hunt, finally censured McCarthy.

            Trump says, "other" people are enemies who will steal our jobs.  We trial lawyers learn in seminars called "The Reptile," to evoke primeval self-preservation instincts in juries in order to achieve stellar verdicts based upon the theory that those serving do not actually care about the victim, but instead about how negligence by defendants endanger "the community" (themselves).   Trump masterfully evoked these fears.  He understood his audience better than any of the other Republican candidates.  He appealed to the emotion of self-preservation, galvanizing his base through apocalyptic imaging.

            Republicans and Democrats have ignored their constituents.   Neither party had the foresight to plan for exponentially expanding global, political and technological revolution.  Both parties shared in the creation of Trumpenstein. The left calls Trump "Hitler," and the right accuse Democrats as abetting immigrants "overrunning the country," stealing jobs from "real Americans."  This fantastical notion, exacerbated by Fox news propaganda provokes an intellectually dishonest, Orwellian newspeak, threatening institutions our country has enjoyed for 242 years.  Social media played an enormous role in this civic catastrophe.  People believe unsourced, false stories on Facebook more than from respected journals whose editors check facts before publishing.  The Russians used legal social media platforms to nefariously meddle with our elections.

            Trump's anti-immigrant policies stem from his concern that the base of voters supporting him (now about 35%) are repulsed by his abandonment of their tribal interests, (their jobs), no longer viable despite his promises.

            Now, our house divided, threatens our institutions more than at any time since the Civil War. This has happened many times.   Roosevelt tried a power grab to pack the Supreme Court, and the Senate, for a  almost year rejected a qualified Supreme Court justice (Merrick Garland)  to manipulate the weight of the institution.  Now, President Trump denigrates the Justice Department and the FBI to sever pending investigations of himself and his sycophantic brood.  These are vital institutions whose dedicated civil servants labor to protect our democracy.

            Democrats and Republicans are more tribal than ever.  Discourse and accommodation are as distant as the dark side of the moon, presenting an enormous threat to our democracy.  Even if Trump is removed from office, the reasons which got him there still remain.  Identity politics instead of ideas prevail, fatally dangerous to any democracy.

            During early human history, tribal cohesiveness arose to ensure the success of one tribe over the other, their primary success derived from war.  Negotiation to avoid war really arose after the dawn of civilized societies and did not really become prevalent until the 19th century. Until then, war was the primary solution to differences among tribes (represented by nation states).

            Humans, anthropologist Lawrence Keeley argues, that our ancestors were universally war-like, studying the bloodthirsty tribes of South America where 60 percent of the males died in combat to ensure dominance.  Some psychologists argue that many hunter-gatherer tribes were not consumed with war, and that the war-like turf protectoral tendencies of humans arose with the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Trump seems a troglodytic avatar of those times, his concept of "winning," not including any bones for the other side.   He has conducted his wars on many fields of battle including profligate litigation, carrying it into the White House to the detriment of all Americans and even other countries.  He combines most of the bad tendencies of any leader, dominating the news cycle and the body politic with his singularly repugnant intolerance and not very thinly veiled racism.
            But resistance to Trump has energized a previously apathetic public and in 2018, there may be a new congress. The issues relating to the disparity of wealth in our new gilded age has not disappeared and will not until government institutes policies that ensure a level playing field.  This cannot be accomplished without tolerant dialog between adversaries.





Monday, January 8, 2018

Trump is not a new Phenomenon


"He who promises more than he is able to perform, is false to himself; and he who does not perform what he has promised is a traitor to his friend."

George Shelley


Each day, a new revelation emerges from this wretched, insufferable White House, a mélange of snake infested rooms, a weak Indiana Jones vignette of frightful serpents emerging from every crevice.  Reporters, staffers, secretaries, aides, assistants, interns, junior and senior officials, all attempting to navigate the labyrinthine halls of influence, deception and vainglorious sycophancy.

Motivated by a wish not to be indicted, prosecuted, or called as a witness, they muddle about, the specter of the Mueller investigation hanging in the fetid air, wondering what the special counsel will do next.  Bobby three sticks, a sphinx, keeps counsel only with the tight lipped, professional white collar prosecutors, whom he has engaged to follow his lead and perhaps chase Caligula from his cave.    The man who would be king writhes, stews, and fulminates in a hopeless situation of his own creation, transfixed by large screen TVs.    Never wanting really to be President, and ill equipped for the purpose did not realize that his brand building expedition would get him where he is: Under microscopic public scrutiny, a ravenous, blood-thirsty retinue of reporters, each seeking to break the next story and which, to now, have not had much travail in discerning. 

The stories, falling into their laps like so much manna from the feckless President, who says he is "really a genius, very smart, who went to the best schools," helps them along their path to potential Pulitzer prizes, much like a reincarnation of Richard Nixon, only with half the brain of the latter.  His Joseph Goebbels, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, re-channels all the delusional tweets, into semi-retractions.  Her countenance resonates with the evasive, half truth, and "I'll get back to you," (which she never does) when she does not have the answer to a question that clearly does not fall into the easy spin category.  After Trump leaves, I do not imagine she will be replacing Lesley Stahl on 60 minutes.

This gruesome episode of an unfit President reminds us of the unfit Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the Presidency upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.   In those days, Vice Presidents, not necessarily of the same party as the President, allowed Johnson, a southern Democrat, the antithesis of Lincoln, to assume office.  Congressional Radical Republicans wished to guarantee the rights of freed slaves and blacks by passage of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution to guarantee black suffrage, and Johnson, although loyal to the Union, was an unabashed racist, sympathized with those who wished to keep blacks in involuntary or indentured servitude. Post war, Federal military districts created by Congress, deployed federal troops under the command of Phil Sheridan to ensure that local white supremacists could not endanger the black vote.  Congress passed a law called the Tenure of Office act providing that the President could not fire cabinet members without the consent of congress.  This law was intended partially to protect Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's gruff, but highly capable Secretary of War, who was fervidly enforcing the reconstruction acts passed by Congress.  The acts, lumped together, meant to bring order to a disjointed South, still infested with violent racial hatred.   A threat of a new rebellion loomed.  Although loyal to the Union, Johnson exemplified a callous indifference for blacks and for those who would protect them.  He supported the infamous "Black Codes," enacted by southern states to deprive African-Americans of their suffrage and wished prematurely to reinstate local state governments antithetical to blacks.  Johnson lied and misstated his positions repeatedly to different audiences, including on a country wide speaking tour.

At the time all this was happening Ulysses S. Grant, the great hero of the Union, reacting to Johnson's vituperation and vitriol, stated, "I would impeach Johnson because he is such an infernal liar."   Johnson had had a falling out with Grant, over reconstruction policies.  Grant, a fourteenth amendment advocate, wished that the former Confederacy be under military supervision for some time to ensure that blacks be protected from hateful former confederates, and that there be no renewal of the insurrection.  Johnson was his own worst enemy, but at least had consistent beliefs on how to reconstruct the South.  Johnson attempted to manipulate those around him, both in the cabinet and especially those who disagreed with his ideas of returning the Southern states to the Union and disagreed with the fourteenth amendment, guaranteeing black suffrage and full citizenship.  He employed deceit and vitriol toward this end.  He created havoc in his cabinet and uncertainty in the nation over the result of a horrifying war, which had cost 755,000 American dead and delayed reconciliation between the South and the North. This, the radical Republicans in congress, could not bear.  (For those readers not familiar with the Republican party of the time should understand that it was the polar opposite of today's Republicans.)
With the benefit of 150 years of historical analysis, the bet is that had Lincoln lived to promote "malice toward none and charity for all,” civil rights may have been an easier battle and emerged into broad sunlight sooner.

Congress impeached Johnson but he was not convicted in the Senate, saved by one vote, after he had disingenuously promised to adhere to the rules set down by the Senate that he would pursue with vigor the reconstruction acts, and the military districts set up in the South.  With only nine months left in his term, and his torpidity toward equal rights, opposition to the 14th Amendment, was not nominated by his own party, leaving office in 1869, and died in 1875.   Johnson, regarded by historians as one of the worst presidents in American History exhibited many of the characteristics and temperament of Donald Trump, and although he was known to have been perverse in his racism but, at least, had been literate.

Johnson was the first President to be impeached, and if being an "infernal liar" is the criterion for impeachment, the present occupant of Oval Office, certainly qualifies.