I’ll Show You a Tyrant

If you are a pessimist, 2017 has so far been a pretty good year.  The chaotic beginning of the Trump presidency has provided the nation’s media with truckload after truckload of low-hanging political fruit, and pundits are in breathless competition to enumerate the ways in which Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy.  Readers of The Times or The Post could be forgiven for believing that we are on the verge of following pre-WWII Germany down the terrible road to tyranny, and the picture painted on social media looks even worse.  Angry Twitterers and Facebookers would have us believe that political conditions here are fast approaching the level of disarray currently on exhibition in Venezuela.

As it happens I recently stumbled upon an interview with the last American journalist to be granted a visa to report from Caracas.  Hannah Dreier, who writes for the Associated Press, spoke to Politico Magazine about what life was like in a country where democracy is actually circling the drain.

Venezuela was once one of the richest country in South America, a beautiful tropical land above and the world’s third largest petroleum reserves below.  But political instability, economic inequality and poverty have long persisted there and, a la Cuba,  populist discontent eventually brought populist Hugo Chavez to power in 1999.   After the bombastic Bolivarian revolutionary ascended to the presidency, he courted the masses by spreading the wealth generated by $100-a-barrel oil.  But collapsing oil prices deprived the country of most of its cash flow just as the death of Chavez, from cancer in 2013, deprived it of charismatic leadership.  Enter Nicholas Maduro, Chavez’ Interior Minister and political heir, whose futile – and increasingly brutal – efforts to keep the Chavista Revolution alive have left his country economically paralyzed and its people descending into anarchy.  Since winning the presidency by a bare 1% margin Maduro has shown no proclivity for running Venezuela other than to make absolutely sure that he gets to continue ruling it.  Bolivarian democracy means never having to say Vaya con Dios!

What has Maduro’s brutal incompetence meant for Venezuelans?  Dreier’s reports that even the most affluent are becoming malnourished while the poor are approaching starvation.  Inflation has rendered the national currency nearly worthless.  The Black Market is the only source for staples like toilet paper.  Kidnappings and robberies happen hourly, and no neighborhood is safe.  Dreier tells of being robbed only to be told by her local friends that it was a “good” robbery, since she survived it.  Later she was also kidnapped and was momentarily relieved to discover that her abductors were none other than Maduro’s secret police, who nevertheless threatened her with rape and worse.

Despite international sanctions, Venezuela continues to sell millions of barrels of oil per day, but no one seems to know where the money is going.  It is certainly not in evidence anywhere outside Maduro’s circle.  Rioting, however, is everywhere, as are Maduro’s police and the (presently) loyal military, their control measures growing more violent as the death toll rises into the hundreds.  The situation is so horrific, reports Dreier, that many Venezuelans are willing to embrace Maduro’s nascent dictatorship just to see some stability in their lives. Continue reading

Another Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Update

A previous posting mentioned that anti-Rocky Flats activists had filed suit to stop construction of a visitor center at the refuge on the grounds that the requirements for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) had not been met. The good news is that the suit has been dismissed. The bad news is that the court dismissed the suit because the activity is not imminent. The exact wording from the July Rocky Flats Cold War Museum Newsletter is that the “. .  .plaintiff’s (the activist organizations) made a motion in the case for a temporary injunction to stop the construction of the Visitor Center.  The judge denied the motion citing the fact that construction is not imminent anyway.”

Why Are You Still Here?!

The groundswell of disgust and disbelief that has been sloshing around the White House since Inauguration Day is building into a tsunami that many media savants opine will drown the Donald Trump presidency.  Some House Democrats have already brought forth a bill of impeachment, but party leaders have lent only tepid rhetorical support to the idea, knowing full well that it will get little traction with Republicans in control of both Congressional houses.  And that, I suspect, is just fine with the Dems for the moment.  They want Trump right where he is, for at least another year.  Let me explain.

First let me state that I’m not a Trump supporter and never have been.  He is proving to be a worse Chief Executive than anyone imagined.  I would love to see him out of office, the sooner the better. However, I strongly believe that the process of removing him from office must be legitimate and unassailable, maybe more so than the election that put him there.  Right now, hard evidence to support that scenario does not exist and Schumer and Pelosi know it.  Rank and file Democrats are getting their Trump therapy by conflating Russian attempted interference with actual interference. They then further muddy the water by claiming that Trump or his cabal solicited Russian intervention and are now trying to cover their tracks.  They claim that Trump wants to torpedo the investigations because he has something to hide. This conspiratorial construct is not based on any verifiable facts, but on their analysis of his behavior, which I believe is incorrect.  Here’s my analysis:

Donald Trump is such a monumentally narcissistic egomaniac that he views any slight as a declaration of war and any question of his motives or actions as treasonous.  He is fighting the investigations because he sees them as unwarranted attacks to be repulsed.  I expect he is innocent of any collusion because he believes that he didn’t need the Russians or anyone else to help him win the election, and he takes it as a personal insult that his opponents believe it.  Members of his campaign may have met with Putin cronies and may have lusted after whatever dirt on Hillary the Russkies promised to provide.  Trump himself may have been in that loop somewhere. Hard to prove.  But Trump’s most likely response to any offer of foreign assistance would have been, “Sure, whatever.  We don’t need them.  I’m gonna win bigly anyway”.  And should Jr. and Kushner be found to have committed any act beyond criminal stupidity, Trump will shed it like he has everything else.  He not only doesn’t remember what he said or who he said it to last month, he doesn’t care.  He lives in the moment and will say whatever suits his purpose today.  He is immune to embarrassment or shame, and attempts to impugn him will make his behavior worse, not better.  He is also immune to impeachment for any crimes committed by underlings of which he had no knowledge or part.  His removal by this route is possible only if a lot more solid evidence comes to light, and then only if this craven Congress has the integrity to undertake it. I’m sure Ryan and McConnell will not lean in. Trump may be a colossal ass, but for better or worse he’s their colossal ass.

If Democrats were focused only on actual governing, they might start stroking his ego and playing to his insatiable need for adulation rather than continuing to goad him. They might even get him to switch parties if they could swallow their post-election angst for a few months.  Trump was a Democrat not that long ago, remember?  But I’m not expecting that.  I expect that they will keep doing what they’re doing, swamping him and Congress with leaks, attacks and innuendo to keep the Republican agenda stalled, but letting him Tweet on so that every Dem candidate for office, from Senator to dog catcher, can run against Donald Trump in 2018.  Good luck with that, as he is likely to be more vulnerable and will almost assuredly be more unhinged by then. Why would Progressives want him impeached right away?  That would leave them with three years of President Pence, who is even more hostile to their ideology than Trump, and as an incumbent (and a decent human being) might be a serious threat in 2020.  No, The Donald is of more use to the Democrat Party as an abhorrent adversary than as an ex-President. Unless he is on the verge of starting WWIII or letting the Russians annex Alaska, Democrats will be content to let him blunder on.  What’s a few international crises and a couple more years of gridlock when control of Congress is in play?

When it comes to President Donald Trump, both Republicans and Democrats have a lot to be ashamed about.  From my vantage point, neither party in this soap opera really cares about anything other than gaining a political advantage from it, and both will use Trump as best they can to do so. Meanwhile, the country and the world will just have to stand nervously by and watch.

The Past Isn’t Dead – It Isn’t Even Past

Two Harvard University researchers announced Friday that they have found a second parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in a tiny records office in southern England. bostonglobe.com

This news gives me a bit of a thrill. History is fascinating and important. Sometimes it puts America in a good light and sometimes not.

I recently listened to a panel discussion on Book TV by three authors who have written about terrible crimes wrought on Native Americans by the American government and people in the 1800s – the word genocide applies. Meticulously documented using contemporary written sources, this horror was no secret at the time. The atrocities have slipped from our national consciousness.

Every nation and people have horrors in their past. Whether we “should” teach the bad as well as the good depends.

  • Why do we study history?
  • Why teach it in school? At what age and in what detail?
  • How should good and evil be balanced?
  • How should we portray people from a different era, with different beliefs?

These aren’t simple questions. I might add a question about beloved tales. George Washington chopping down the cherry tree is not true, but it’s a lovely story many of us learned and want to share with today’s children. Should we? Some citizen committees who review textbooks have said yes.

There are more important historical issue: Continue reading

Americans Battle Over Coverage and Ignore Real Healthcare Problems – this is pitiful

I ran across two interesting articles on FiveThirtyEight related to health care. It’s good to understand the history of our weird hybrid system and important to know the facts – but depressing.

[A Department of Health and Human Services

Congress argues over a band aid on America's health care

As one of my favorite science fiction franchises says, the answer doesn’t make any sense unless you know precisely what the question is.

report says] health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016. Contrary to the “death-spiral” narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

That doesn’t mean the marketplaces are working for everyone. There are millions of people who don’t qualify for subsidies, face high prices in the private market and likely haven’t enrolled in insurance as a result. That’s a problem that needs solving, but it’s a different problem than the marketplaces being in a death spiral.

The agony of repeal and replace is unnecessary – the current political agony and future individuals’ agony if the CBO’s estimate of who loses health care is roughly correct. A bipartisan effort to repair the dysfunctional parts of the Affordable Care Act (drop Obama’s name and maybe the Red Team will feel better) could succeed. Especially if followed by an honest effort to tackle the nation’s real problem – rocketing health care costs. Continue reading

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Climate Change

Photo by John Englart (flickr.com)

Photo by John Englart (flickr.com)

My Facebook feed has been abuzz lately with postings from a Progressive friend about climate change. As one might expect, the view from that side of the political street is not looking good.  One particular article put forward the ultra-gloomy contention that human-caused global warming is likely irreversible and most of the world will soon become unfit for human habitation even if we exceed the most ambitious goals proposed in the Paris Accords to curb our carbon emissions.  The crux of the authors’ hypothesis is that present CO2 levels are already so high that vast areas of permafrost in the sub-Arctic are starting to melt.  Permafrost contains huge amounts of methane, a gas with almost ten times the heat retentive capacity of CO2.  Release of even a small portion of this entrained methane will cause a warming feedback loop which will raise global temperatures at an exponential rate, melting more permafrost and releasing more methane.  The result?  Catastrophic warming that may very soon and very quickly progress beyond our ability to slow it down, let alone reverse it.

As is usually the case with climate change literature, the dire outline of the scientific problem is followed by a proposed political solution.  Our slim chance of survival, say the authors, hangs on humanity  suddenly acquiring the wisdom to reject the nationalist, capitalist economic/political model that has landed us in this frying pan and put Big Government in control of, well, everything.  The Ship of State needs to make a sharp turn, and we mean right now!

Hmm!  Putting aside the obvious inconvenience that ships, especially the State variety, are seldom capable of sharp turns no matter how urgent the need, what exactly would this course correction look like?  A possible answer comes from another Facebook post, from the same source.  It linked to a group calling itself The Climate Mobilization.  Their stated goal: To transition the US to 100% renewable energy within the next 10 years, by whatever means necessary.  I paid a visit to their website for a look at these  “means” and found they are right out of the Radical’s Handbook; boycotting and blockading businesses and whole industries, general strikes, massive protests and other “non-violent interventions”.  Their timetable warns of their intention to “escalate until we win!”  Does this sound like anarchy itching to be unleashed?  I thought the idea was to turn the Ship, not sink it. Continue reading

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Update

320px-Rocky_Flats_refuge_003The Rocky Flats Homesteaders (Rocky Flats retirees) July 2017 news letter provided an informative discussion of what is going on with the Refuge. Sadly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has put a hold on developing the visitor center for the Refuge. Anti-Rocky Flats activists have filed a lawsuit alleging the center “…violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

The activists continue to protest the place despite the fact the Plant has been closed for over a decade. And they have a financial interest in their protests. That’s proven by the fact they are seeking to recover costs and attorney’s fees in their lawsuits.