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Trump’s Asia trip was a fiasco



After making an ass of himself in Asia, Trump returns to Washington, with his tax bill in shambles, his poll numbers deteriorating, and Special Counsel Mueller probing ever closer to the Oval Office.

The Asia tour was panned around the world and everywhere in this country, except in bastions of Trump World, like Breitbart and Fox “News.” The reaction from countries Trump actually visited was unambiguously harsh. In Japan, the authoritative Asahi Shimbun newspaper, in a lead editorial, called Trump’s visit “unfathomable” and said his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership “called into question” America’s role in “all of Asia.”

In South Korea, Trump might have expected better treatment from the country’s leading newspaper, the Korea Herald. It said he had “failed” because of his “vicious, hostile threats” against North Korea. “Put simply, Trump’s visit to Japan, South Korea and China — all major players in the crisis — has changed little” in the way of the looming confrontation with Pyongyang. He might also have been expected to be flattered by the Filipino press, but the country’s oldest newspaper, The Manila Times, slammed him on multiple fronts, despite the embarrassing love affair between Trump and the murderer, Duterte. “Many people were clearly disappointed” by Trump’s failure to talk about human rights with the Filipino president, the paper editorialized, while Trump’s “offer to mediate in the South China Sea dispute” is meaningless because “Trump himself has no track record as a mediator.” (This is despite Trump’s self-serving claim, “I’m a very good mediator.”)

Even America’s European allies were shocked by the scope of Trump’s disastrous journey. Der Speigel, one of Germany’s top newspapers, slammed Trump’s “arrogant belligerence and said that, because of his “alarming” behavior, “Dismay is widespread.” In India, which is profoundly interested in East Asian issues even though Trump didn’t visit that country, the leading Hindustan Times said Trump’s “zigzag diplomacy” in Asia made his trip “full of contradictions” and left leaders “confused” and “disappointed.”

Rightwing media in the U.S. are aware of the extraordinarily negative reaction overseas to the Asia visit, but they try to paper it over with excuses and distractions. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a conservative op-ed piece on the trip acknowledged that “Some of the world’s most powerful countries hope that [Trump] fails.” But, instead of asking themselves why England, France, Germany, India and so many other countries and diplomats were freaked out by Trump’s bombast and boasting, the Journal made the assertion that “Americans…should wish [Trump] success overseas.” This is what defenders of failing regimes always do: turn the discussion to patriotism and away from facts.  In fact, patriotic Americans should wish Trump failure, not only overseas but in this country, because the faster we can erode all confidence in him, the quicker we can rid ourselves of him and the danger he poses to us and the world. As for America’s success, it does not depend on Trump, although his apologists would have us believe it does. The real work of diplomacy goes on, quietly and thankfully, despite the vapidity of the American president. At least, so far, he hasn’t been able to do much damage. Foreign leaders know he’s a joke, and most of them expect him to be gone before his term of office is up. In the meanwhile, they play nice with him, roll out the red carpet as they would for any visiting head of state, and flatter him, all the while waiting, with Asiatic patience, for him to go away and leave us alone.


Handicapping the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination



I’m looking forward to voting for President in 2020, and my ballot will certainly be for whoever is the Democratic candidate. I hope and believe that Trump will not be the candidate on the Republican side; he should be an ex-President by then, courtesy of impeachment, the 25th Amendment, or quitting. Of course, we would then have Pence, an unreconstructed religious fanatic. But without even the charm of Trump, he would be easy to beat.

But you can’t beat something with nothing. Who is likely to get the Democratic nomination? Here’s my eclectically personal take on the race, with my own Vegas-style odds.

Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell They’re both California congressmen in the House, both young and moderately-progressive. They’d be lost in a welter of up-and-coming politicians except that, as members of the House Intelligence Committee, they’ve gotten a ton of TV exposure due to the Trump-Russia scandal. If anti-Trump resentment is a leading factor going into the 2020 cycle, either one could be vaulted to the top. But the odds are heavily against. 40-1.

John Delaney As of now, he’s the only declared candidate. The congressman from Maryland is a complete unknown outside his state. He seems to be playing an “early intro” game: setting himself up for the future. But it won’t get him anywhere in 2020. 40-1.

Mark Zuckerberg I’m listing him only because he’s on so many other lists, but there’s a greater possibility of my dog, Gus, running for President than Zuckerberg. His politics are entirely unknown—moderate? liberal? conservative? And the Russian troll scandal at Facebook and his initial denials suddenly makes him look not so smart. 40-1. 

Elizabeth Warren The darling of the Left, with fellow combatant Bernie Sanders. But she’s better as a fertile source of leftie ideals than as a candidate: not warm and fuzzy enough. 20-1.

Hillary Clinton Yes, I’m listing her, because she won the popular vote in 2016 and tens of millions of Americans continue to believe that the best woman lost a rigged election. On the other hand, a wide swath of the Democratic Party loathes her. 20-1.

Martin O’Malley He failed miserably in his 2016 run—completely obscured between Hillary and Bernie. It’s not that anyone had anything against him; he seemed fine. He didn’t expect to win, but likely was just getting his face out there. It’s out there now. A dark horse, but so was Obama. 16-1.

Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillebrand, Kamala Harris I’m lumping them together because they’re all attractive Democratic Senators, they’re all progressive enough to appeal in the primaries, and they all want it. Booker has the race thing going for him; the other three have the gender thing. They all have great futures in the party, but 2020 isn’t their year. 15-1.

Michelle Obama Democrats would be ecstatic to see Michelle run. She’s widely beloved in the party, and no one doubts her intelligence, charisma or progressive cred. But we really know almost nothing about her political skills, and something tells me she’s not ready for prime time. 15-1.

Bernie Sanders A people’s favorite in the Democratic Party. He’s energetic, a hothouse of populist ideas, and almost upset Hillary in 2016. But he’d be 79 years old by the 2020 election, and while his health appears to be good now, even his fans could decide he’s past his sell date. 8-1.

Jerry Brown the guy has been winning elections for nearly 50 years and, as California’s governor, remains at the top of his game. His two big issues, anti-Trump and climate change, resonate strongly throughout the Democratic Party. Still, he’ll be 82 in November, 2020, which probably rules him out. 8-1.

Tom Steyer Another tech billionaire. Californians know him; Americans, not so much. But his multi-million dollar “impeach Trump” TV commercials seem to be resonating across the country. He’s attractive, seems to be moderately liberal, but maybe a little too cerebral. 8-1.

Mark Cuban We know he wants it. He’s ambitious as hell, and has been sending out signals. He was already well-known before Shark Tank made him a reality T.V. superstar. With his billions and firebrand quality, he could self-fund through the early primaries, but he’ll have to define his liberal credentials a lot more thoroughly. 8-1.

Al Franken I haven’t seen Franken on any of the other “contender” lists, but I’m putting him on mine. He’ll be a youngish 68 in 2020. He’s well-known across the party for his Saturday Night Live stint, his books, his impressive if a bit backbench Senate career, and his email fundraising prowess. Plus, he’s increasingly a talking head on TV, where his sly humor makes him likeable. And he’s super-liberal. 5-1.

Julian Castro He was HUD secretary for Obama; his handsome, open face and articulate, if cagey, skills were a regular on T.V. He seems liberal enough for Dems, and as Mayor of blue San Antonio in red-red Texas, he was on the short list for Hillary’s vice president. He has the best smile in politics since Obama. And he’ll be only 46 by election time. Oh, and he’s Latino. 4-1.

Joe Biden The former veep is dropping strong hints he’s running. He has everything going for him: name recognition, respect among Democratic ranks both liberal and centrist, the Beau sympathy factor, a scandal-free career over multiple decades, and the huge bonus of his association with Obama. He’ll be 77 at election time—old, but he looks and vibes younger (the hair plugs worked wonders). His resumé is impeccable, and he’s probably the most trustworthy of all candidates, Democratic or Republican. My sense is that he would crush Trump (if Trump’s on the ticket), as well as Pence. At this time, he’s odd-on for the nomination—if his health holds out, and he really wants it. 2-1.






Trumpspeak: Orwell might have written this stuff



I’ll be damned.

That was my reaction when I saw Trump’s comment about Russia interfering in our election.

Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said of his bro, Putin.

Now, note how he phrased that. He didn’t say, “I really believe that he didn’t do it.” He said, “I really believe that he means it.” Trump is too clever by half. With that way of putting it, when some reporter at a future presser asks Sarah Huckabee Sanders how the president can possibly claim Putin didn’t meddle with the election when every U.S. intelligence agency insists he did, she can reply, with a straight face, “The president didn’t say he disagrees with the intelligence community. He said he believes President Putin believes his [Putin’s] own words.”

“But Sarah,” someone will follow up, “Does the president believe that Putin didn’t interfere with our election?”

“I haven’t asked him that directly,” Sanders will reply. “I’ll get back to you on that if I do.”

Now, if that isn’t a red herring, there’s never been one. This is how this regime talks: gobbledygook. In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, an authoritarian regime made its citizens think in Newspeak—which was designed to make all other modes of thought impossible.” By the manipulation of language, Newspeak “was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods.”

In the same way, Trumpspeak is designed to make modes of thought unflattering to Trump impossible, at least by the mentally dull who form his base. Almost every utterance of Trump is constructed so as to reinforce the pre-existing notions of his base—his Party members—while excluding truths that logical analysis would provide. The nonsense about Putin is the latest example, but another—and far easier to deconstruct—was his lie about the size of his inauguration crowd.

If you recall, he had Sanders’ unfortunate predecessor, Sean Spicer, face the press corps and insist, “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.” When photos proved that Trump’s crowd was dwarfed by Obama’s, the lie was immediately exposed. A defensive Trump himself insisted, variously, that the photos were doctored, or that the media had photographed an empty field—this is what led the equally unfortunate Kellyanne Conway to talk about “alternative facts.” She was roundly criticized for that stupid comment, but in fact, Kellyanne was correct in a sense—an Orwellian sense. While George Orwell didn’t use the phrase “alternative facts,” he would have loved it (Newspeak might have called it “altfacts”), because it’s an elegant way of expressing the essence of Newspeak. Just because 100% of the evidence of our senses tells us that something must be true, it actually might not be, if the Party can persuade its members to exclude physical evidence.

This leads us right back to Trump’s comment about Putin believing his own words, but it also leads to almost every other fabulous concoction of this current regime. The Roy Moore scandal is another manifestation: the Party wishes for Alabama voters not to believe them, despite mounting evidence that Moore did as alleged, and so, despite this evidence, Party adherents can “exclude all other meaning” from that evidence and consider only Moore’s denial. Indeed, we might hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week say, “The president believes that, when Judge Moore denies the accusations, the Judge really means it.” And that, in turn, will be enough for Breitbart to claim that President Trump doesn’t believe the charges, and that Moore has been vindicated, and that the whole thing is a smear job by “Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post.”

And then, with an Orwellian snap of the fingers, one-third of this nation, under the spell of Trumpspeak, “knows” that Moore has been vindicated, just as they “know” that he had the Biggest.Inaugural.Crowd.Ever, and that those 16 women who accused him of groping their pussies are liars.

There’s no way to rationally, intellectually or morally fight against Trumpspeak, at least, not before it is thoroughly discredited before the bar of History and the American public. We’re a ways off from that day, sadly. Trumpspeak will not be discredited until Donald J. Trump is discredited, but about 30% of Republicans will never discredit him, because the propaganda of the Right and of evangelical Christianity has robbed them of the ability to think. But the awful truth is that, if Donald J. Trump is not discredited, then the U.S.A. will be discredited, and worse: it might even unravel. That is exactly what Vladimir Putin wants—the utter discredit of America—and there’s no sane explanation for Trump’s pro-Putin words and behavior except that he, too, desires the discredit of America. Why, we may never know. But we can conclude, with certainty, that he does.

In defense of “the elite”



Iestyn Davies, one of the world’s foremost countertenors, described opera (in the Wall Street Journal) as “elitist in a good sense.” He didn’t explain what he meant, but one presumes he was using the word in its old-fashioned sense, as “the group or part of the group selected or regarded as the finest, best, most distinguished, most powerful, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary)

Historically, the elite have always been the ruling class. In early Rome, the control of government was restricted to “patricians,” the “fathers” of “great families”; later, in a burst of democracy, the “plebians” insisted on their own citizenship rights, which eventually were granted. However, This new concept of citizenship…did not mean full equality.” Patricians remained at the top of the social and legal hierarchy, and over the next two millennia, the elite class, in whatever nation, and whatever they were called, remained “the most distinguished and powerful.”

Suspicion and resentment of the elites, of course, always troubled societies, especially western ones, and, by the nineteenth century– following the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution—Europe saw a burst of anti-elitist sentiment that resulted, most famously, in the irruption of Communism, which identified “the elites” as capitalist warmongering plutocrats. This anti-elitist streak found fertile ground in the new American empire; our Declaration of Independence, with its “All men are created equal” credo, underscored the anti-patrician sentiment upon which this nation was founded (although the irony is that the white, land-owning men who founded it were themselves arch-patricians).

By the post-World War II period, with the triumph of Rooseveltian liberalism, a new cadre of sociologists and political scientists had identified a class of patricians formed and nourished by the new industrial state. The sociologist C. Wright Mills termed this new class “The Power Elite,” in a 1957 book of the same name that was very influential when I was a lad. This elite, Mills wrote, consisted of “political, economic and military circles” who decided national events. The new “plebes”—factory workers, farmers, clerical workers, teachers, nurses, mechanics—had no input into these decisions. Mills’ book not only identified the new elite, but cast a rather sour glance upon them.

Since the 1950s, the “elite” have become the target for populist resentment, both Democratic and Republican; but mainly the latter. Richard Nixon stirred modern anti-elite sentiment when he spoke of “the Silent Majority.” The rise of evangelical Christianity, under Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the like, capitalized on this resentment to lure poorer, under-educated Americans into their tents; and these Americans voted.

Today, of course, we have the tea party and its affiliated media, such as Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, continuing to stoke anti-elite resentment. This resentment forms the very basis of Trumpism; it is what got him elected; it is what makes his followers stand by him despite the torrent of lies and failures issuing from the president. The “elite” whom the Republican Party despises are said to live on the two Coasts, in the great cities, where they control the media; muckrakers such as Alex Jones routinely attack them, as he did last month when he ranted about the “Hollywood elite” as “a pack of ravenous psychopaths.”

This is funny stuff; I think of people like Jones and Limbaugh as comedians and entertainers, not authentic political commentators; but that they are believed, literally, by millions of their fans does make them a problem. Which brings me back to Iestyn Davies’s comment that opera is “elitist in a good sense.” I believe in the concept of a good elite. Who do I mean? Oddly, the Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib, a conservative, defined elites yesterday in the paper: “upper-scale white voters, millennials, minorities, suburban women and single women.” That’s a pretty good group to run America, it seems to me. “Elitist in a good sense.”

Elite Americans are better-educated, with sounder judgment and greater insight, than under-educated Americans. They also have a compassion and empathy that are non-existent in the white supremacist, xenophobic Republican Party. The elite class in America is, in the Republican strategist, Steve Schmidt’s, recent words, “a coalition of the decent”: liberally-minded, inclusive, tolerant of others, kind—just as they would want others to be of them. The father of classical Western liberalism, John Locke, put it this way: Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.” That broad vision lies at the center of American freedom: no matter who you are, you are as valuable as any billionaire, President or four-star general. This vision, indeed, translates directly to, for example, Tuesday’s election victory in Virginia by a transgendered woman. Despite the animosity of the Republican-Christian party towards the LGBTQ community, Americans increasingly are liberal and tolerant of others. This is what makes America great, not a narcissistic pathological liar wearing a MAGA cap.

So, yes, I defend the elite. I would much rather have elite people making important decisions than religious fanatics, neo-nazis, school dropouts, klepto thugs like the Trump family and ignoramuses who don’t believe in science. Elite people are smart, with common sense and sophistication; that is why the non-elite are jealous of them. So, the next time you hear a Bannon or a Trump or any tea party denizen attack “the elite,” know that there’s an agenda there: what passes for “anti-elitism” today is a rightwing, reactionary-fascist movement that is trying to take America backwards, not forward.

A new book on Scalia tries to whitewash his bigotry



Antonin Scalia died in February, 2016. He was one of the most reactionary Justices ever to serve on the Supreme Court, and now, there is a new book about him, “Scalia Speaks.” Co-edited by his son, Christopher J. Scalia, it was reviewed last Thursday in the Wall Street Journal.

To judge from that review, by John F. Duffy, the book is more hagiography than history. But then, so is the review. It leaves the reader no doubt where Duffy’s hero-worship lies. Scalia’s decisions possessed “clarity and precision.” Scalia the man was notable for his “honesty, candor and, quite often, entertaining wit.” And that’s just in the first sentence! By the end of the opening paragraph, the review is drowning in hyperbole. “Scalia [was] one of the greatest and most influential justices of our era.”

Well, right wing bigots think so, but some of us beg to differ. Scalia was the most homophobic Justice the Court has seen in decades, although Clarence Thomas is a close second. Scalia, like Thomas, was an avowed Roman Catholic, and he made no apologies for carrying the Vatican’s water at every opportunity, including its condemnation of homosexuality. As Slate Magazine’s Nathaniel Frank has written, When it came to LGBTQ equality, Scalia’s rhetoric could be venomous.”

The Supreme Court has written four landmark rulings protecting gay rights, “all spurring bitter dissents from Scalia.” Consider the first of those pro-gay rulings: the Court’s 1996 decision on Colorado’s Amendment 2, which attempted to repeal protections for gays that had been passed locally in liberal cities such as Aspen, Boulder and Denver. The City and County of Denver appealed Amendment 2 to Colorado’s Supreme Court, which overturned it, prompting Republicans to appeal that decision to the United States Supreme Court, in Romer v. Evans. There, a majority overturned it, finding that “Amendment 2 classifies homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else. This Colorado cannot do. A State cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws. Amendment 2 violates the Equal Protection Clause, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Colorado is affirmed.”

Scalia’s Catholic bigotry was inflamed by that loss. In his dissent, he starts by calling the battle between pro-gay and anti-gay forces a Kulturkampf,” a German word referring to the power struggles between modern democratic nations and the Roman Catholic Church over the role of religion. This was Scalia’s attempt to cloak Amendment 2 with a veneer of historical respectability. He then calls the Court’s pro-gay ruling “a fit of spite”; rather than representing “a desire to harm” gay people, he argues, Amendment 2 was merely “a modest attempt by…Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores…”. Anticipating a white supremacist/Trumpian/Bannonite complaint that would gather force in the 21st century, Scalia declares that the Supreme Court—his court—“has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class…pronouncing that animosity toward homosexuality is evil.”

But, of course, animosity toward gay people is evil. A few years after Romer v. Evans, Scalia once again felt impelled to dissent in the Court’s Lawrence v. Texas case, when it struck down Texas’s notorious anti-sodomy laws (despite the state’s cowboy past, when “sodomy” was common). Once again, the prudish Scala was livid. “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home,” he wrote.

Scalia conveniently forgot that “many Americans” also at one time did not want persons of color, or women, or non-landowning men, to vote; “many Americans,” too, once wanted Black people to be slaves, and, later, wished Black children to go only to segregated schools. The Constitution, fortunately, does not follow “many Americans,” but rather the Constitution; but Scalia’s slavish devotion to a religion that historically has murdered hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of homosexuals (usually by torture)—and some of whose adherents would do so again, if they could—blinded him to the concepts of freedom and equality.

Any way you look at him, Scalia was an awful man: bigoted, hateful, closed-minded, uncharitable, bitter, sexually hung up, self-righteous, a religious fanatic, an insult artist in the Trump mold. Christopher J. Scalia, the son, cannot be expected to say inglorious things about his father, but we might expect a book review in a major American newspaper to put the case more objectively. Sadly, Duffy—who was a law clerk for Scalia and, like Scalia, is Catholic—is anything but objective. That his review is in the Wall Street Journal, which is almost as Vaticanized as L’Osservatore Romano, is not a coincidence: Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper takes up the Catholic cause regularly, even when it is used to bludgeon the rights and question the humanity of tens of millions of Americans who happened to be born loving people of the same gender.


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