Sunday, July 23, 2017

Incompetent fools

I have long contended that American military commanders are incompetents and have been since at least 1950. The United States hasn't won a war since 1945 despite always having more money and bigger guns.

That is reasoning backward: If you have the best of everything else, it must mean you have the worst of leadership. (I don't spare the civilian leadership, either.)

There is also overwhelming evidence of the reasoning-forward type.

Here is a fine example, just out:
The Pentagon raised no objections with The Times before the article was published, and no senior American official had complained publicly about it until now. Some officials expressed hope at the time that some of the details in the article would sow fear in the ranks of the Islamic State by demonstrating that the United States could penetrate the group’s secrecy.
And another, also just out. This one is a broadcast (on National Public Radio), so I cannot copy the ridiculous assertion, but if you listen at around the 8:40 mark you'll hear Andrew Exum, a junior Army officer with combat experience and now an academic (and formerly assistant deputy secretary of defense for policy), casually claim that "we" "defeated" "al Queda" in Iraq in 2007-8.

We lost that war. So badly that the world's  most expensive, most powerful army was afraid to drive from the Baghdad airport to its fortress a few miles away.

It's like the American officer corps is personified by the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Who will be Trump's Bork?

It wasn’t until later that the weirdness of the scene imposed itself on me.

Three of us, two Americans and a Briton, were sitting at a table overlooking the sea, sharing a basket of pappadums and drinking beer and lassi and asking: Will Trump fire Mueller?

We were all old enough to remember the Saturday Night Massacre, 44 years ago, when Nixon fired Attorney General Elliott Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, for refusing to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor.

Cox was fired. Do you remember who, I asked the others, fired him? They didn’t. 

It was Robert Bork, the darling of the rightwingers.

Richardson and Ruckelshaus had promised Congress they would not allow interference with the special prosecutor, but Bork had not. So, when it comes down to it, we have no evidence that — absent an explicit promise — any Republican would have had the self-respect or integrity to stand up to a lawless president. When Nixon went shopping for a pliant courtier, he had to take only one step: Bork.

Bork later said he hesitated, not wanting people to think he would do the bidding of an out-of-control president just to keep his job. (He could not have hesitated long.)

No, it wasn’t job security that concerned Americans who believe in representative democracy. It was the supremacy of the law.

Neither Bork nor any other Republicans ever got that, and Bork’s career was made by his lack of a spine.

So, the answer to my question is: Whoever is first in line to be instructed.

Will Trump ask someone to fire Mueller? That’s hard to say. Has he built a wall and forced Mexico to pay for it?

But he needs quite a bit of cooperation on the wall. He needs only one person to cooperate in firing Mueller, and as we just demonstrated, finding that one person in the Republican Party will be the easiest thing in the world.

Will Whiny Baby Donald do it?

I think he will. He never controls his impulses for long, and the motivation is as powerful as Nixon’s.

Nixon was ordered to turn over the White Hose tapes, and he knew what they revealed. Trump is worried that Mueller will look at the finances of the Trump Organization (that is, Trump) and he knows that will reveal, at a minimum, money-laundering. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Under the influence

Thanks to Samantha Bee for mining C-SPAN for an enlightening few minutes with the 3 of the 4 most despicable members of Congress -- Rohrabacher, Gohmert and King. Des Jarlais wasn't there

Rude, crude and unglued

If you perhaps thought that Whiny Baby Donald's stupid behavior toward Madame Macron was his worst display of sexism this month, you're wrong.

President Trump says he went over to chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a dinner in Germany this month because his seat mate, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, didn't speak any English.

Akie Abe “doesn’t speak English … like, not ‘Hello,’” Trump told the New York Times in an interview Wednesday.

Not so.

Mrs. Abe, the daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, attended a private Roman Catholic international school in Tokyo before she attended college.

The elementary-through-high-school academy, the Sacred Heart School, includes rigorous English-language instruction as part of its curriculum.

Social media swiftly found clips of the 55-year-old Abe making speeches in somewhat accented but perfectly serviceable English.

WBD is like a mooncalf in his adoration of  Vlad.

AFTERTHOUGHT: If he and Mrs. Abe had stayed together, the one with greater command of English would have been Mrs. Abe

Monday, July 17, 2017

Under pressure

Hmmm. So repealing Obamacare depends upon the level of sophisticated health care available to an 80-year-old man.

Golly, if I were a rightwing kook,  I'd hope he has good insurance.

UPDATE: Christians awake!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The conservative liberals

This post expands on the previous one about how the major parties switched their orientation. From the beginning, it has not been simple to determine whether Americans, or any particular American, was liberal or conservative.

In this discussion it is useful to stick to left/right, even though those terms did not come into use until the seting arrangements at the French National Assembly in the 1790s provided a handy discriminator. Rather than trying to tease out whether a party (or a person) is authoritarian/permissive; creditor/debtor etc., the general tendencies left/right serve well.

The draft constitution presented  to the 13 states in 1787 was novel and frightening to foreign eyes, and radical to almost all of them. But that was not how the drafters saw it.

In world terms, the U.S. Constitution was (and is) radical and liberal — notably, it is the attempt by a society to govern itself via an elected magistrate rather than an anointed king, and without a state religion — or any kind of religion at all.

There were some partial models, of which the most relevant contemporary ones were the Dutch and Venetian republics. (There were other king-less governments in Europe, as in Switzerland; and there is a myth that the American constitution was based on Indian practice, but neither in structure, philosophy nor in goals does the U.S Constitution have anything to do with the convocations of the Five [or Six] Nations.)

However, the foreign model of most importance to the Framers was the Roman Republic, something that most of them had studied in detail (and in Latin).

The models of most importance were the several state constitutions.  Every state had rewritten its constitution in the years before the Philadelphia convention, some more than once; and the convention presents a unique example of a constitution being written by men who had had long experience of writing and then trying to govern with other constitutions.

This can most easily be seen in Article VI, where religion is written out of the government. The Framers had had bad experiences with religion.

However radical the American organic law appeared elsewhere, to the men who wrote it, it was conservative.

By 1787, Europeans had been occupying the Atlantic seaboard for seven generations, and the men who wrote the Constitution were conscious that their great, great, great grandfathers had had, as Lincoln later put it, brought forth a new nation.

Though beholden to the British Crown and Parliament, distance and distaste had allowed the colonists to establish and operate local government much as they wished. King’s agents there were, but few and easy to evade.

Thus, to American sensibilities, elected magistrates, elected assemblies, a more even suffrage, relative freedom from excisemen etc. were customary, not revolutionary. The Patriots revolted to preserve what they had, not to create a new polity.

We are now 16 generations into that liberal experiment. Nearly half the electorate deems it a failure.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Jumping the rails

A reader says, “Republicans used to be liberal, Democrats conservative.

“Conservatives are the new RINOs.

“I understand that it was a Southern Democrat who killed President Lincoln.
Democrats, conservative and Republicans, liberal.  I was having an identity crisis
and confused.   I am independent or would like to think so.
I believe in both conservative and liberal thinking.”

And he asks me to explain how that happened. That’s a good idea, because lying, racist rightwingers have made a habit of jeering at Democrats for being the party that started the Ku Klux Klan. The claim is so stupid it is hard to believe anyone could make it honestly, but then rightwingers are really stupid. But also really dishonest, so I cannot decide.

It is not correct to say that Republicans were liberal and Democrats conservative. It would be ore correct to say that both were mostly conservative for most of their existence. And not in the good sense that the word conservative can be used.

To back up, the first parties, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, were reactionary and revolutionary, respectively, at least philosophically. (In the context of the time, both were radical — no king.) Or, if you prefer, the Federalists were the party that defended property, the Democratic-Republicans the party that aspired to bring those with no property into the propertied class — always excepting that neither pary had any intention of seeing colored people enjoy any of it.

You might say that the Federalists were the party of creditors (Hamilton and his crooked friends) and the Democrat-Republicans were the party of debtors (Jackson and his antibank friends).
Have vs. have-nots is a universal split, but in America slavery jumbled up the normal alliances. The Whigs (successors to the Democratic-Republicans) splintered over slavery, and the antislavery faction formed a new party in 1854 dedicated to free labor, free soil and free men.

These were the first Republicans, but they were not in other respects particularly liberal. They tended to be against free trade, while the proslavery Southern Democrats liked low tariffs but were in most other respects reactionary.

The proslavery Northern Democrats tended to straddle. Thus in 1860, there were 4 major candidates for president, each faction representing an uncomfortable mix of antagonistic desires.

Early Republicans were not racial liberals but hardly anybody was then.

After 1865, the Republicans divided sharply between the punish-the-South Radicals and the business-oriented (and pro-tariff) regulars. There we no liberal presidents elected before
Roosevelt in 1936. (It is forgotten that FDR ran as a conservative Democrat in ’32.)

The only Democratic president in the postwar, Cleveland, was solidly conservative.

Liberals (though not usually racial liberals) after the Civil War had to form a new party (several, actually), who called themselves Progressives (or Greenbackers or Free Silver etc.). They had sympathizers within the conservative parties (Teddy Roosevelt among the Republicans) and  took over the Democratic Party (at the presidential level only) leading to the three failures of William J. Bryan.

Thus, although the main parties were still primarily conservative, the United States elected three consecutive Progressive presidents in 1904,1908 and 1912 — although Wilson was a queer mix of Progressive and racist policies.

The Progressive moment, such as it was, was submerged in the rightwing, antiliberal war hysteria of 1917.

For historical reasons, the reactionary South voted Democratic, even though following the collapse of both progressive policies and the economy in 1921 (when the Depression started for the 40% of Americans who were still linked to the agrarian economy), the rump of Progressive voters stuck with the Democrats in most of the West, Midwest and parts of the north. (There were odd outliers still within the Republican Party like Hiram Johnson in California.)

It was FDR’s political acumen that welded an electoral coalition of racist Southern Democrats, northern blacks, and liberals. It wouldn’t have happened, however, if Coolidge Prosperity hadn’t wrecked the economy.

The Southern Democrats were split between poor whites, who could be induced to vote for liberal programs like TVA if race were not at issue, and better-off whites. The national Democrats, led by Truman, headed off in a liberal direction. The Southern racists were distressed and began moving toward the Republican Party, their natural philosophical home,  in the ‘50s. (They did not go directly but through the John Birch Society.)

In 1964, only 5 states voted for Goldwater, 4 of them because they hated the liberal, civil rights direction of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party had been, mostly ineffectively, for civil rights from its start, but the Goldwaterites were more concerned about communism than rights.

Nixon recognized this and with his Southern Strategy he made a naked appeal to racism. (Nixon was a profound if circumspect racist.) It worked and all subsequent Republican leaders have made their peace with the white racists. (Romney was a partial exception, and he lost.)

That is, by feats of electoral coalition-building in both parties, the insurgents in each managed to detach a disaffected portion of its opponent’s coalition: the Democrats shed their racists, allowing the liberal elements elbow room; and the Republicans absorbed the racists, simultaneously driving out their racial liberals (who had successfully catered to minority voters — Jews and blacks — outside the South).

(Similar flips occurred in other democracies; in France the onetime Radicals became a conservative party without changing their label.)

So in 2017, the Democratic Party ends up uniformly racially liberal and somewhat less uniformly liberal in other respects — and therefore the minority party in a self-satisfied conservative society; while the Republicans find themselves in the predicament faced by the Democrats up through the ‘30s — a hardcore of virulent racists (represented by the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus) and a mass of members who are willing to stay with the racists for the sake of an electoral coalition.