Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category.

Thoughts On Recent Events

Here are a few thoughts about some recent political events.

First off, James Mattis resigned as Secretary of Defense.

He has been lauded as the “adult in the room.” I think this is bad. There are a few issues with Mattis. Just as there were with John McCain, and George HW Bush. We need to stop letting people off the hook (even for minor infractions) just because they are not as bad as Donald Trump or anyone else in his orbit.

For one thing, I do not think he should have been defense secretary. He has not been out of the military long enough . If civilian control of the military is that important, there should not be any waivers. Granted, nobody else wanted the job. And he is not as crazy as John Bolton. But being more sane that Bolton is like being younger than dirt: That is a broad range.

At least Mattis is not a total tool like John Kelly. He lied about a speech given by representative Frederica Wilson, even after a video surfaced proving she was right and he was wrong. Nothing says you are part of a cult like doubling down on a lie even when the evidence is there for all to see. I don’t think Mattis looks down upon people who were never in the military, like Kelly seems to, or spout nonsense like, “In fact, in a way we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and -women do.” Does John Kelly have any idea who he was working for? Has anyone in the Trump family ever cared about anyone but themselves? And if Kelly took not just one, but two jobs from Trump, then what does that say about him and his feelings about service? Enjoy your retirement in Virginia, jackass. But again, not getting sucked into Neo-Confederate BS is a low bar to clear.

Mattis was involved in Theranos, both during his time in the military, and was on the board afterwards. So he is a bit swampy.  And he seems too eager to go after Iran, even though a lot of Saudis have done some shady things in the US and gotten help from the Saudi government getting out on several occasions and they are spreading Wahhabism through out the Middle East. And let’s not forget our good friend Mohammad Bone Saw.

Working for Trump has been a black mark for everyone else who has done it. Why should Mattis get a pass? He is not some 18-year old out of boot camp who probably only knows the chain of command a few levels up from his sergeant. When you are offered a Cabinet-level position, you know who is offering it to you.

His resignation letter contrasted the US to Russia and China. Did he just realize that he is working for the new POTUS? (These days, “POTUS” does not mean “President of the United States”, but “Putin’s Operative in the United States.) Trump bad mouths Democrats, half of his constituents, many foreign leaders, but gives dictators a pass. Trump has a presumption of guilt for most Americans, and a presumption of innocence for foreign authoritarians. I don’t know what those geniuses at the Hoover Institute talk about all day, but roughly 65,853,514 people could have told him how this was going to work out.

The Trump administration is a disaster. He lost the popular vote, but acts like he is god-emperor. Let’s not use Mattis or anyone else as a contrast. Let’s not let people off the hook for their own misdeeds simply because they are not the worse person in the world (that would be Donald Trump). The President should not need an adult in the room. The room should be full of adults. Seriously, Mr Smarty Pants General, what did you think was going to happen?

In other news, Elizabeth Warren has started an exploratory committee to run for President in 2020 (the old kind of POTUS, not the Russian kind we have now). And, predictable, Trump called her “Pocahontas”. Again. For a guy who is supposed to be soooo smart, he doesn’t display much capacity for thought.

Elizabeth Warren thought she was part Native American because her grandmother told her she was. When you grow up in Oklahoma, and your grandmother tells you that you are part Native American, that is a good reason for thinking you are Native American. DNA was first discovered in 1953. Elizabeth Warren was born in 1949. So all these conservative wack-jobs insisting she take a DNA test are a bit unfair. DNA was not a household term when Elizabeth Warren was growing up. Heck, her grandmother was probably born in the 1800s. Using DNA in court is a recent thing. To expect Elizabeth Warren’s grandmother to have known things about DNA then that we know now is just sloppy thinking. Pro tip: When you challenge someone for evidence, and the evidence gives you an answer you do not like, admit you were wrong. Don’t reject the test as fake like the MAGA crowd did. Just admit you don’t like her and leave it at that. And seriously, is that all you got?

Interesting fact: The current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation is only about 3% Cherokee.

And finally, there is the shutdown. The Trump Shutdown. Let’s stop blaming both sides. This is the Trump Shutdown. Make America grind to a halt.

He had a GOP House and a GOP Senate for two years to get this wall started. If it such an important campaign promise to his base, why did he wait until he knew he was going to get a Democratic House that would not give him everything that he wants? He made these threats while the GOP still had the House. Why wait? They had no problem getting a bunch of corporate judges in, or tax cuts for the wealthy that do not do anything for anybody else. I guess the wall is just like repealing the ACA: They can’t really do it because then they can’t use it to score points with voters.

I have read a few articles that some conservatives are hoping to use this to permanently shrink the government. If so, then why was this not mentioned during the campaign? I do not think Trump started this shutdown with any long-term plan. People may not like the idea, but I think the government is a bigger part of our lives than people think, and before too long, this shutdown will start to hurt a lot of people. The feds are involved in things like air traffic control and food inspection. I didn’t sign up to spend every day putting my life in the hands of fate and acting like the past 5,000 years never happened. A lot of economic data comes from the Department of Commerce, which is currently shut down. I think big business is going to want to see all that data keep coming in. IPOs are on hold. I wonder if dividends will still come through since the SEC is shut down.

Another thing that the federal government funds is scientific research. So while China is growing plants on the far side of the moon, our government is run by a carnival barker who kills everything he touches. I think one of the Founding Fathers said the USA was more likely to be destroyed from within that from without. That is what we are seeing.

“The Immaculate Conception”, one of many by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) at the El Paso Museum of Art; assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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The Bush And The Dead

The recent death of George HW Bush has sparked a lot of discussions about many topics: His presidency, his personality and the contrast with Trump, and whether it is wrong to “speak ill of the dead”. Much of the discussion has bordered on hagiography (in the non-ecclesiastical sense of the word). I don’t think he was that great of a president, and I do not think that saying so is “speaking ill of the dead”.

Whenever Trump fires someone from his administration, he says that they are “some sort of Democrat”. As if being a Democrat is a bad thing. And if Trump doesn’t like Democrats, why is he putting them in his cabinet? Trump’s behavior is boorish and crass. We had nice presidents up until January, 2017. Part of the glowing coverage of Bush 41 is that he looks good in contrast to Trump. I think this is a mistake. Bush 41 had some bad policies, and his son had worse policies. Going through life saying, “At least he’s not as bad as the last guy” is a recipe for disaster. We should not normalize or accept bad policy. We should not excuse bad policy from a president just because he can act like an adult in public.

What about Bush 41 did I not like? First of all, this guy was a Republican. With all the nastiness that entails. He helped bring John Birch theocrats into the party. He said Reagan’s policies were “voodoo economics”, then embraced them. He was right the first time, and should have stuck to his guns. He brought negative campainging to a new low with the Willie Horton ads.

If you don’t think Republicans are nasty people, then consider that even in his so-called repentance, Lee Atwater never really accepted responsibility for his actions. He talked about a “spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society”, how our society was warped by “its ruthless ambitions and moral decay”. No, Mr Atwater, the problem was not society, it was you. You did that. You chose to do that. To be mean, spiteful and deceitful. And Mr Bush, you paid him to do it.

Bush 41 was part of the trend by Republicans to make “liberal” a dirty word. He said Michael Dukakis was a “card-carrying member of the ACLU”, as if that is a bad thing. Conservatives have trouble with the concept that you cannot love your country if you have half of the people in it.

The religious fanaticism, the hatred of the poor, the deification of finance over all else: Bush 41 was a part of that. He was a part of taking the Republican Party on the path of decay. He was a part of the trend that put party over country. This man that we were told was a class act either never saw what was in front of him, or never spoke up against it.

Granted, he did raise taxes on the rich. Lower taxes are nice, but people need to get in their heads that cutting taxes and raising spending is not a good idea, even when presidents you like do it. So GHWB did the right thing and defied his party. Once. But more often than not he consented to the dark side.

His invasions of Panama and Kuwait were based on lies. They had nothing to do with freedom or democracy. He got rid of Noriega because Noriega was making the US look bad, and Kuwait was all about oil. The USA thought they could control those guys, and want us all to be shocked when it did not work out. And he left the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq to the whims of Saddam. The US government sold Saddam weapons of mass destruction under If Saddam was worse than Hitler, why leave him in power? Granted, now it’s obvious why they left Saddam in place, but why use the “worse than Hitler” line? Why not just say it’s about oil? Why not just say it’s about the commodity that makes the world run? The world might be a better place if we were honest about the fact that we act more in line with our interests than our ideals. Yet this supposedly great man would have none of it.

Many pointed to his time in the CIA. He was only director for a year. There have been many unproven rumors that he was involved with them much longer. Even if he wasn’t, Operation Condor was still nasty. In all seriousness, why does the USA try to elimiate radical left-wingers, yet reward radical right-wingers?

Frankly, he was a bad person in a bad family. His father and grandfather helped finance the Nazis. His son was the worst president until the next Republican (which doesn’t exonerate him). His wife was a nasty, mean bitter woman.

My mother thought that perhaps the death of their first daughter was why Barbara Bush was a mean, nasty, bitter woman. I say: so effing what? If your child dies, that is your problem. You have no business taking it out on everybody else. I am not giving them or anyone else any leeway on this. They were and are a terrible family, terrible people.

They display typical Republican logic: They have no problem judging other people. But when something bad happens to them, then it’s all “poor me, poor me, poor me”. If one of your children dies, and you still cannot grasp that things in life can just happen to someone else, then you really are a terrible, terrible person.

As an aside: My mother also wondered how it made the surviving daughter feel to hear everyone always say how wonderful her dead sister was, and to be compared to her. Granted, I am not them. Maybe the universe said to them, “Your dead daughter is still under warranty. Here is a replacement. Do not treat her as a separate individual. She’s just a consolation prize, nothing more.” I don’t know what goes on in the brain of Dorothy Bush, but I would guess that being asked “Have you stopped beating your wife?” every day of your life would get old quickly. I assume that being measured against someone who is not even here would be tiring. Maybe being compared with a dead toddler who never could never disapoint her parents was okay with her. It’s a terrible way of parenting. Sort of like blaming your kids for how poor you were. The only thing worse than living in the past is trying to make someone else live in a past that they were not a part of.

GWB was a terrible person and a terrible president. Jeb was a terrible person and a terrible governor. His daughter’s drug problems were “a private matter” while a lot of people rotted in Florida jails for doing the same thing. Neil Bush has been involved in a lot of shady deals. Marvin and Dorothy are the only ones who do not seem to have any controversy.

A lot of people are upset that Bill Clinton pardoned Mark Rich who had given a lot of money to the DNC. Yet a lot of people seem to forget that GHWB pardoned a lot of people who could have gotten him into trouble over the Iran-Contra scandal.  It is amazing that Iran-Contra did not get any mention in the aftermath of GHWB’s death, considering how upset a lot of Republicans are about the nuclear deal with Iran. GHWB pardoned someone who could probably have landed him in jail, yet we are supposed to believe that he is different than Trump.

Is it wrong to criticize GHWB? Am I “speaking ill of the dead”?

One of the possible origins of the taboo of “speaking ill of the dead” is people were afraid what others will say about them after their own death. I know that if most people think of me at all, they do not think of me highly. People will think whatever they want, and there is not much I can do about it. When you are a man that women hate, you learn things.

Another possible origin of the taboo is that the dead person cannot defend themselves. If you do not to be criticized in death, be a good person in life. GHWB had 94 to not be a terrible person. If someone wrote a critical article about GHWB a few months ago, nobody would have complained or thought it was out of line. If it was okay then, it should be okay now. Besides, it’s not like a former president would care what a random blogger writes. People who say we should not speak ill of the dead are like people who get tattoos saying “Only god can judge me”: They usually deserve it.

Saying that a bad person did bad things is not speaking ill of them. It is just speaking the truth. This guy was president. He made decisions that affected the whole world, most of whom had no say in his rise to power. He was a terrible parent who raised terrible children who themselves made bad decisions that also went on to have bad affects on the world. It is better for us to understand the world as it is than hide behind fake courtesy and outdated taboos.

I did not ask him to appease the religious right. I did not ask him to raise a man-child and help his son’s political careers. The basic story of the past thirty years of the USA is that the conservative movement has brought together the theocrats and the moneymen who care more about party than country, who care more about power than humanity. GHWB chose to be a part of this. He could have walked away. The first buildings on the famous Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, Maine was built by his great-grandfather in the late 19th century. This family had wealth. He did not need to be president. He chose it. He chose to ally himself with power-hungry zealots and money changers of the temple who just want to watch the world burn.

And let’s stop the nonsense that GHWB and Trump are different in kind as well as degree. Trump is the natural conclusion of the Republicans pushing fear and hate, the same trend that GHWB was a part of. Tax cuts for the rich, putting corporations over people, wacko judges, hatred for the poor, for those who are different. It’s the same merging of church and bank today as it was then.

Big Jim does not think the sins of today should excuse the sins of the past.

“The Fall of Icarus” by Jacob Peter Gowy  (c. 1610 – after 1644 and before 1664), at Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Another Glibertarian Encounter

At a Meetup recently, I met a recent transplant from Louisiana. He was here to escape from religion. He also said he was a libertarian. I blogged a few years ago that I met a libertarian that did not seem crazy, but I am back to my default position that most people who go around calling themselves “libertarian” are generally either lying to themselves, or to the rest of us.

This guy claimed he was sick of “both parties”, but he spent a lot of time criticizing Democrats and defending Republicans. He also said he generally votes for Republicans. But don’t call him a Republican, because he is so not a Republican! (I think he is on one of the panels of the “24 Types of Libertarian“, but NOT the Libertarian Bingo Card.)

He went on and on about how he was sooooo much smarter than his co-workers who loved Beto O’Rourke, but could not explain why they are voting for him. (Hint: He is not a theocrat, as Cruz is and his father most certainly is; if you are an atheist, that should be good enough.) He had some nice things to say about Ted Cruz.

Personally, I do not think Ted Cruz is as smart as everybody thinks he is. One of the reporters on the Texas Tribcast said she thought that Cruz was smart because he will always give the same answer to the same question. That is not intelligence, that is rigidity. He seems to have the same opinions at 47 as he did at 17. There is the type of intelligence that can think of 100 ways to try to get a square peg into a round hole, and there is the type of intelligence that realizes pretty quickly that maybe trying to put a square peg into a round hole is not a good use of your time. Ted Cruz seems to have a lot of the former.

Granted, like most conservatives, Ted Cruz can show some plasticity at times. Ted Cruz loves to drone on and on about how we should follow the intent of the Founding Fathers. Yet after rulings on gay marriage and the ACA that he did not like, Ted Cruz thought there should be retention elections for the Supreme Court. I guess following the Founders is fine up until you get a ruling you do not like. (A note to originalists: If you can change your mind when you do not like how things are going, then don’t get upset when the rest of us change our minds when we don’t like things.)

Actually, I do think conservatives are consistent. They want power, and to make people they do not like suffer. If they seem to be contradicting themselves, use “Cruz’s Razor” and see how it compares to that.

Anyway, like most conservatives, Cruz might seem smart, but ultimately he believes in his revealed principles, and will ignore any evidence against them.

This glibertarian said he was basing his opinion of Ted Cruz’s intelligence based on what he heard from Cruz’s professors at law school. I said I was basing my opinion of his stupidity based on Cruz’s words and actions. The glibertarian had no response to that.

He also said he liked Ted Cruz because Cruz fights for his beliefs. I guess he does, if he believes he is a liar, his wife is ugly, and his dad assassinated JFK. Not only did Cruz not stand up for himself against Donald Trump, he asked Trump to campaign for him in the recent election. If Ted Cruz won’t stand up for himself or his family, what makes you think that he will stand up for you?

I have tried to keep an open mind about libertarians, but a lot of times if you keep them talking, they are just Republicans who do not want to call themselves Republicans.

Big Jim will stand up for his beliefs, but won’t push them on others.

Stela of Amenemhat and Hemett, Middle Kingdom, early Dynasty 12 (about 1956–1877 BC), at the Art Institute Of Chicago, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Thoughts On Political Machines

In his testimony last week, Brett Kavanaugh went on about shadowy left-wing forces trying to take him down.

The irony is that Hillary Clinton spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy“. A conspiracy implies secrecy, and frankly the right wing was never too quiet about their hatred of the Clintons. It was more of a vast right-wing machine or network.

There are the Koch Brothers, who fund many think tanks and advocacy groups, including the Cato Institute, the Mercatus Institute and ALEC. There is Richard Mellon Scaife, who, like the Kochs, got his start as a hardscrabble newborn in a rich family. One of the largest banks in the country is The Bank of New York Mellon; he is part of the Mellon family. (Seriously, what is it with conservatives who are born into wealthy families, and then turn around and lecture the rest of the world about self-reliance?) And there is Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer. (She has a very large forehead; I guess her head needs to be bigger to contain all the resentment she feels for having a wealthy father.)

Brett Kavanaugh himself spent a large part of his career as a right-wing operative. He worked with Ken Starr. He was part of the Florida mis-count. He drafted many of George W Bush’s signing statements (also see here). Like debt, signing statements are one of those things conservatives are only bothered about when a Democrat does them.

I think that Kavanaugh is committing a fallacy that a lot of conservatives commit: Because there is a right-wing machine, there MUST be a left-wing machine; because conservatives are willing to lie to get power, liberals MUST be doing the same thing. Kind of like how many drunks like Kavanaugh think that because they can’t function without a lot of booze that everybody else must need it as much as they do.

A lot of conservatives honestly think that nobody ever really disagrees with them. Anybody expressing a contrary view must be paid off. George Soros seems to be a favorite. It was funny after all the marches last year that a lot of people were joking that they never got their check.

Kavanaugh said the allegations against him are all lies and are motivated by anger about the 2016 election. It’s funny how there were no allegations about Neil Gorsuch. I guess George Soros was on vacation that month. If there was any nomination that people would go to any lengths to stop, it would be Gorsuch’s. His seat was stolen from Merrick Garland. You could say it was stolen from all the people who voted for Obama. Some people vote for President because of the judicial branch.

So there is no left-wing machine to match the one on the right. But what if there were? They spend billions to spread their lies, they gerrymander, they accept help from the Russians; all that effort, yet they still don’t get the percentage of votes commensurate with the disparity in funding. Trump won by 85,000 votes in about three states.

Maybe we the people should build a left-wing machine. I think we would crush them.


Postscript:
Kavanaugh complained that the Ford charges were sprung on him at the last minute. Kavanaugh was nominated by a president who did not receive a majority vote, but acts like he is god-emperor. Most people did not vote for Trump. Most people do not like him. Most people do not want him to be president. Kavanaugh was sprung on us.

Big Jim doesn’t like whiners who think they are big tough guys.

 “Two angels and two devils” by Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475),  assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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“Both Sides” On Steroids

I know Driftglass has the market cornered on pointing out the “both sides” nonsense. But Tyler Cowen has a column on Bloomberg that takes it to the next level.

The title is “Fear Climate Change — and Our Response to It“. The subtitle is “Global warming will be expensive, and humanity’s irrational reaction may make it even more so”.

Humanity has not had an irrational reaction to climate change. Conservatives have manipulated people, distorted the debate, and have been standing in the way of action for decades. James Hansen testified in front of Congress about climate change in 1988. That means that all the free-marketeers who don’t want the government telling them what to do have had three decades to come up with solutions. To this day, conservatives like to make jokes about Al Gore, a guy who has not been in office since January, 2001, more than 17 years ago.

He talks about Brexit, which was brought to us by conservatives. They lied about how easy it would be, and they have been mucking up the negotiations since the vote. He writes, “It would have been better if the British had responded to their country’s problems in a less extreme way, or simply learned to live with the problems they had.” No, it would have been better if conservatives did not lie as easy as they breathe. “The British” do not all want Brexit. Even many who voted to leave now realize they were lied to and that it will be a disaster.

He mentions Trump, and then goes on to write about how our discourse “has become less rational and technocratic”, and “the harsh, non-sympathetic tone of the debate will further corrode American politics”.

Then he wraps up complaining about how much it will cost to do something about climate change. It would cost less if there was not a network of groups devoted to denying climate change and lying to people about the strength of the scientific consensus. Those groups are funded by conservatives, the Koch Brothers in particular.

One of the organizations funded by the Koch Brothers in the Mercatus Center, a think tank at George Mason University run by Tyler Cowen. They claim that they do not let their funding dictate their findings, but they did agree the Koch organization have a say in academic appointments at George Mason University. Mercatus likes to go back and forth about whether or not they are part of George Mason University depending on what they want. When they want some prestige, they are part of GMU, which is a public university. But if you file a state freedom of information request, then they are not.

Their annual reports simply list who is in charge, and give no information on who funds them.

This is “both sides” in steroids. It’s not the GOP that is causing problems; it’s “we”, “the world”. I guess Upton Sinclair was right: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary and donations from his inherited-wealth benefactors depend upon his not understanding it.

That version of the quote is The Tyler Cowen Special Edition.

Big Jim knows that while both sides spin, one side is far worse than the other.

“Chaos” by Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Thoughts On The North Korea Summit

So Trump is in Singapore to talk to Kim Jong Un. He acted like a jerk at the G7 meeting, and left the leaders of countries that have been our allies for decades so he can get his photo-op with a fellow dictator.

(Hasn’t it occurred to Trump’s supporters that there would have been less bad blood at G7 if he had showed up on time and not left early? All the people who claim to hate “snowflakes” and “political correctness” would probably get upset if someone overturned THEIR apple cart.)

Trump seems to display a “fixed” mindset. He says he is good with people, yet he made a bad impression at the G7 and acts like a toddler. He thinks he only hires the best people and is good at sizing people up, yet there has been a LOT of turnover on his staff. Why does a guy who loves to brag about how he knows so much about business and hiring the right people need a SECOND chief of staff to put his house in order? He thinks he is great at business, yet his casinos went bankrupt. How can you lose in an industry that inspired the phrase, “Never bet against the house”?

I don’t think the Kim Il Sung dynasty is stupid. And I think they might be more stable than people think. We have been hearing for years that the people are starving and the KIS dynasty was going to collapse any day now. We are starting the second decade of “any day now”. Perhaps the welfare of the average North Korean and the viability of the KIS regime are not as strongly correlated as people think. This is a government with few friends and little money, yet for decades they have been making progress on developing rockets and nuclear warheads, some of the most advanced technology known to man. These are not people to be underestimated. Or sized up by “feelings” in less than a minute.

I don’t think NK will give up their nukes. They have put a lot of time and effort into them. Their nukes are all they really have going for them. Saddam had no nukes, Gaddafi agreed to stop making them. Both of them are no longer with us. If I were Kim Jong Un, I would go for a third option: Keep the nukes. Nuclear weapons give a country prestige and respect. And they make you less vulnerable to invasion.

Agreeing to stop testing is not much of a concession, since the mountain that they use to test their weapons has collapsed (see here and here).

KJU has already stated he will not give up his nukes. I think he just wants a photo-op; to be seen as an equal and a peer to a US President. This is just speculation on my part, but I think he might not want or need anything else. Or honestly expect anything else. Trump just took a dump on the G7, he has complained about NAFTA, he did not pledge support for NATO, he backed out of the Paris climate accord, he is trying to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal and he has flip-flopped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I think KJU knows any promise out of Trump’s mouth will be null and void the minute the wind blowing through Trump’s empty head changes direction.

Even if something substantive between Trump and KJU comes out of this, so what? South Korea, Japan and China will have to deal with any literal or metaphorical fallout from NK more than the USA. What if they do not like any agreement Trump and KJU come to (assuming they do)? Plus, this is a guy who has ruined relations with Japan and the countries of NATO, countries the USA has gotten along with for decades. If Trump were such a great dealmaker, a skilled genius and as good with people as he thinks, he should be able to make new friends while keeping the old ones. I will be impressed at Trump’s finesse with dictators when he can talk to the Prime Minister of Australia for longer than 30 minutes without hanging up.

There was an article in Politico recenly about how the reality of Trump’s dealmaking skills is worse than his professed image. I am leery of guys who go on and on about how great they are at negotiating or sales or making deals. They are usually obtuse jerks. I knew a guy in Chicago like that who asked me to do something for him. About 30 times. For at least two dozen, he repeated the question verbatim less than a second after I said no. I really hate it when people disregard what I say. Being persistent is not the same as being obtuse. There is a certain type of moron who thinks that being a jerk makes them look tough. Do they think they are impressing people? That they inspire fear?

If someone thinks you are a jerk, then you are just a jerk. Not a jerk who is tough, not a jerk who is clever, not a jerk who is a wise master teaching life lessons. Just a jerk.

Trump has been doing some of this with NK. It’s on. It’s off. It’s on and let’s pretend I never said it’s off. I know some MBA jerks love that stuff, but to most people it makes you look insane and out of control. Would you take a job from someone who was on-again off-again like that? Would you date or marry someone like that? They think people will be intimidated or impressed by these antics, but they are too obtuse to see that they just turn people off.

I think a lot of countries will avoid dealing with Trump and the USA. Not because they are afraid of him, but just because they are tired of his stupid games.

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post with a quote from The Art of the Deal about not wanting to seem too desperate to make a deal. I think Trump is pretty desperate for a deal. He does not have his border wall, he could not get Obamacare repealed, and as Richard N. Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out, Trump cannot mess up the second summit in a row, lest he make it obvious that he is the problem.

Trump brags that he does not need to prepare (even though he does). I bet that the NK delegation has been studying Trump intently. I always got the impression that a godo strategy in negotiation is to keep your cards close to your vest. KJU is a lot better at that than Trump. NK is a black box, and maybe the sanctions are hurting a lot, but KJU seems like a methodical guy. Trump is like a toddler in a china shop (no pun intended).

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

A guy who brags that he never prepares and is oblivious to the effects he has on other people is going to sit across a table from a guy who has accomplished a task that the world has tried to prevent him from doing. Who do you think will come out ahead in this?

Big Jim does not like people who have no curiosity about themselves or the world.

Passage from The Art of War by Sun Tzu translated by Lionel Giles.

“Carnival of Mexican Life. Dictatorship” by Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez (08 December 1886 -24 November 1957); image from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Thoughts On Assange

Recently, some on the internet were upset that the Ecuadorian embassy in London cut off Assange’s internet access. A lot of “freedom crusaders” went nuts. We would all live in tyranny if Assange was cut off from the internet.

First off, why do some people think that being a jerk makes them a freedom fighter? Or that “freedom” means that the rest of the world should roll over and give them what they want?

Ecuador made him a citizen in December, 2017. Even still, that does not give him carte blanche. He has a history of trying to get into parts of the embassy that are off-limits to him, yet he thinks that he can just go where he wants. Do any American citizens think they can just walk into an American embassy and start making demands?

He is a guest of Ecuador. He is there as long as they tolerate him. When you are accused of crimes by multiple countries and still wanted by the country that you are in (the UK wants to talk to him about skipping bail) and you have a reputation for sticking your nose in other countries’ elections and claiming objectivity while only telling one side of the story, maybe you should avoid angering your hosts. Shut up and do not make waves. Why should they put up with any shenanigans?

I do not think he is too bright. He said he did not want to go to trial in Sweden because he was afraid the US would extradite him. Why couldn’t the US just extradite him from the UK? He was in prison for about a week and had to wear an electronic bracelet. I do not understand why he was not afraid of the US trying to start extradition procedures while he was in the UK. I think the US is a closer ally to the UK than Sweden. And if he was so afraid of the US getting him by illegal means, again I do not understand why they could not just grab him any time they wanted.

And if he is such a brave fighter for freedom, then why not face the music in the US? Either you are willing to fight for your beliefs or you are not.

He did a Reddit AMA, but posted answers on Twitter. And dodged a lot of questions.

I think one reason that Assange got asylum is because former President Rafael Correa wanted to stick it to the West. At least a bit. It doesn’t matter whether the people in charge are right or left; a lot of small countries do not like the big countries pushing them around. So while Assange thinks he is sticking it to the man, another government is using him as their pawn. 0wned.

A few weeks ago I looked at some of Wikileaks’ tweets over the past year. There were not too many about Russia. I suppose that it is possible that nobody in Russia sends them documents, but I find it hard to believe that nobody in a country with a president-for-life is unhappy with the status quo. Like the XX Committee, I think he is working for Russia (also see here).

They did have a few tweets about Saudi Arabia. A few about Europe. A lot about the US. A lot about elections being fixed, yet nothing about Putin, who seems to run with no opposition. They cannot seem to decide if Trump is dismantling the “deep state” or continuing it. They do not seem to be eager to see Trump’s tax returns.

A lot of glibertarian dudebros have had internet drives to pay for Assange’s defense. Are any of them willing to pay some of the extra costs that Ecuador has incurred because of Assange? One estimate is that he is costing Ecuador $60,000/month. The per capita GDP of the US is about $60,000/year. In the UK it is $30,000/year. In Ecuador it is $11,000/year. People in rich countries like the USA ask questions like, “Why are we letting people starve when we have money to build all these weapons?” I wonder what questions people ask about Assange in a country that has one-sixth the money. Assange isn’t really willing to pay the price for his beliefs, but he has no problem letting a third-world country foot his bills. Let’s find someone else to stick up for freedom.

Big Jim does not like self-centered glibertarian dudebros. Or dudbros.

La Virgen alada del Apocalípsis (“Winged Virgin of the Apocalypse“) by Miguel de Santiago (17th century), assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Thoughts On Saudi Arabia

Recently, Saudi “reformer” Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman began remaking the country in his image. Recently he detained some members of the royal family, government workers and businessmen in an “anti-corruption” purge.

First off, if the guy fighting corruption is the same guy who is running the country because his dad gave it to him, then you have to explain how you define “corruption”.

Many of the detained were close to the previous king, Abdullah. So one effect of this “anti-corruption” purge is to make MBS stronger. It looks like MBS got help from Jared Kushner in identifying political enemies (see links here, here and here). Perhaps “corrupt” means “not doing what Pretty Boy wants.” Two powerful families cracking down on enemies sounds like corruption to me.

I think it’s kind of ironic that a lot of the detainees got out by paying fines. Granted, people pay fines instead of going to trial in a lot of countries, but paying money to get out of a corruption charges sounds kind of like corruption.

One of the detained was Al-Waleed bin Talal, who just coincidentally has been critical of Donald Trump. To be honest, I always thought AWbT was a bit odd. He always claimed he made his fortune without his family giving him any favors. That may be true, but I think “on my own” for a member of royalty doesn’t mean the same thing it does for me.

Another thing that was weird was his obsession with being listed on Forbes’ list of billionaires. If you want people to invest in you, show them financial statements for Kingdom Holding Company.

That said, detaining AWbT seemed like an odd thing to do. MbS says he wants Saudi Arabia to be more open and equal, and give women more rights. AWbT has pushed for gender equality for a long time and hired the first female pilot. MbS says he wants Saudi Arabia to be less dependent on oil. Kingdom Holding Company’s “Investments” page lists the following categories:

  • Finance Services & Investments
  • Real Estate
  • Hotels
  • Aviation
  • Petrochemicals
  • Entertainment
  • Private Equity & International Investments
  • Health Care
  • Education
  • Consumer and Retail
  • Social Media and Technology.

Granted, “Petrochemicals” is in there, but it looks like AWbT knows about diversification. Isn’t that what MbS says he wants?

A lot of Westerners who worked with AWbT were afraid to come to his defense because they did not want to anger the Saudi government. Well played, MbS.

I want stability in the world, but is MbS the man for the job? Is anyone in the Saudi royal family up to the task? An article in The Intercept goes over the differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Depsite having fewer resources and allies, Iran is more successful at accomplishing its goals than Saudi Arabia, which is odd given that SA has more money, more oil, and the cachet of having Mecca and Medina. The article points out that maybe the Iranians are just smarter than the Saudis.

Let’s not forget that it is not Iran that is funding the radicalization of Sunnis the world over; it is Saudi Arabia. It is not Shiites bombing Sufi tombs in Pakistan; it is extremists being fed Wahabbi doctrine. The Iranians might not be wack jobs if the West had left their elected prime minister in place.

Big Jim doesn’t like religious extremists.

Section from a Qur’an, Iraq or Turkey, second half of 13th century, available at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Delayed Thoughts On the Election

So far the pivot from jerk to adult has still not happened. Cheeto Jesus, the Siberian Candidate, is president. It’s late, but here are some thoughts on the election and its aftermath.

Although a lot of the GOP tried to distance themselves from Trump (until he won the election), I have a feeling that some big shots in the GOP are taking some notes about this election. The last time they won outright was 2004, with another guy who was proud to be stupid. So why not stick with what works for them?

To be frank, I was surprised that he won. I kept refreshing several news sites throughout the night.

To be fair, HRC did not run as good of a campaign as she could have. They spent way too much time on Nebraska trying to get that one electoral vote, and spent little time or energy on or in Wisconsin and Michigan. I am not saying that they should not have spent any time on Nebraska; it is a bad idea to write off entire states. But don’t ignore your strengths.

But there were many external factors that worked against HRC.

One is all the laws restricting voting rights (see this page and this page). Pretty much all of them were instituted by Republicans, and were structured to restrict the voting rights of demographic groups that are more likely to vote for Democrats.

One is the obsession with emails. To be honest, I have no idea what she could have done differently about this. A lot of people in the GOP had the “creationist mindset”: They have their conclusion, and they just needed some facts to back it up. Representative Jason Chaffetz plans to keep investigating HRC’s emails, because “we have to get to the truth”.  She has been investigated for years by people who wanted to find something to use to nail her to the wall, and they still found nothing. Here’s an idea: Maybe she didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe it’s time to admit your assumptions were incorrect. Maybe you have gotten to the truth, but you just refuse to accept it.

I do think the media bears some blame. For all the talk of a “liberal media”, they give Republicans a lot of leeway. They let Trump define himself and HRC. They went with what Trump said, and ignored what HRC said, ignored reality. Trump said she has no plans to increase jobs, but she did. Part of it was increased spending on infrastructure, which is something he talked about in his inaugural address. Trump said that HRC is a lapdog for Wall Street because she gave a speech to Goldman Sachs, but his campaign and now his administration have more Wall Street people on it than she did. He said she is shady and corrupt because she won’t release information about the Clinton Foundation. The fact is, she said she and Bill would shut down the foundation if she won the election. And we are still waiting to see his tax returns (link at White House site still good as of 2014-01-30 ).

I think the FBI director deserves some of the blame. He has been out to get the Clintons for years, and he got his chance. Note to future Democratic presidents: Do not put Republicans in important posts; it could bite you in the back later, and the rest of the GOP will still hate you. As I stated, it should surprise nobody that nothing came of the re-opening of the investigation. And if anybody tells you the FBI was not trying to influence the election, they are either lying or stupid. But apparently, the FBI only talks about investigations of Hillary Clinton, and nobody else. Plus, it’s odd that when they found out the DNC was hacked, they only made one call to a help desk, instead of calling then-DNC chief and incumbent Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The investigation into HRC’s emails, however, went on full-speed ahead.

I think the real reason that the GOP is all worked up about HRC’s email server: It’s the only one the Russians could not get into.

And then there is Russia. I do think Russia “hacked the election” (which does not mean they actually hacked the voting machines themselves). Many of the people working on Trump’s campaign (and now administration) have been to Russia and/or have business ties to Russia (like Paul Mantafort, Carter Page and Michael Flynn; see this graphic of Trump/Mantafort ties to Russia). One of Trump’s sons said that Russians have invested in many Trump properties. Trump has given contradictory statements as to whether or not he has met with Putin.

I don’t know if Trump himself has any direct ties to Putin. But even during the campaign, he seemed to have this odd need/desire for some sort of approval from Putin. Until we see his taxes, we might not get the full story. I don’t know if there is a “pee-pee tape”, but I do suspect the Russians have some sort of financial leverage over Trump. Perhaps he owes them a lot of money. Perhaps he is helping oligarchs launder money (see this page and this page).

The question is not really whether Trump has any financial stake in Russia. The question is how much of a financial stake does Russia have in Trump.

One reason I think it is financial leverage is that I don’t think Trump cares if people think he is a pervert, or an amazingly small-minded and thin-skinned individual. But I do think he wants to be seen as a business and financial genius.

The “pee-pee tape” is a reference to a dossier by a former MI6 agent about Trump’s relationship with Russia which  mentioned golden showers. After it came out, Trump tweeted about it a few times:

  • Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans – FAKE NEWS! Russia says nothing exists. Probably… (tweet here)
  • Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING! (tweet here)
  • Russia just said the unverified report paid for by political opponents is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” Very unfair! (tweet here)

Notice that in two of them, he said that the Russian government says there is no tape. First off, Putin is a former KGB agent, and has a lot of former KGB agents (and possibly current GRU and FSB agents as well). I am not going to take their word on anything. I wouldn’t ask those guys if water is wet. Secondly, if you are accused of being too close to the Russian government or of being in a position to be blackmailed by them, using their denial as your argument makes it look like the accusations are true.

After Trump announced he was nominating Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, he said Tillerson’s relationship with Russia is a selling point.  Believe it or not, I am not against having a good relationship with Russia. But it seems like Trump wants to please the Russian government, and kind of hates everybody else. Even most of his own constituents.

Someone on twitter pointed out that Trump has been consistent about only two things: How great he is, and how great Russia and Putin are. He seems to hate every other country on the planet. Even the one he will be running.

Trump says Russia will respect the USA more with him in charge. I doubt that. People generally do not respect lapdogs.

According to not-failing Bloomberg, Trump tweeted: “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one.” Nobody is saying a good relationship with Russia is a bad thing. It’s just that their leadership is full of liars and thieves who cannot be trusted. Another point: What does Trump mean by a “good relationship with Russia”? If by that he means Russians controlling our government, then, no, I do not want a good relationship with them. Also, if a good relationship with Russia comes at the cost of alienating the USA from every other country, then it is not worth it.

To me, a good relationship with Russia is necessary because you should keep your friends close, and authoritarian, interventionists closer. The US intelligence community has thought for a while that Russia has been meddling in the EU for some time, supporting parties that want to break up the EU. There is a movement to make California an independent country. It opened “California Culture Center” in Moscow (see this page and this page).
“It was opened by the President of Yes California Independence Campaign, Louis Marinelli, and the President of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, Alexander Ionov.” That is according to the website of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia. News flash, dipstick: If you are encouraging part of a nation to declare independence, you are not “anti-globalist”. Don’t complain about corporations pushing you around if you want to break up other countries.

If the EU is broken up, and the US starts breaking up, who wins? That’s right, Russia. They become more powerful relative to everybody else. If you don’t like Brussels or Washington telling you what to do, but you have no problem with Moscow telling you what to do, you are an idiot.

Russia was behind the DNC hack, the Podesta hack, and a lot of the fake news (or more accurately: lies and propaganda). I also think that they are in cahoots with Wikileaks (see this page and this page).

It took a Google search, but there is a page that lists leaks by country. (I get a feeling of plausible deniability here.) There are a LOT of leaks about the US (over 9,500 at the time of this writing), and about 57 on Russia, 5 more for the “Russian Federation“. I am not one of those foam-finger, #1, USA-is-never-wrong guys, but don’t tell me that Russia has a better human rights record than we do.

Julian Assange had a show on RT. I don’t take Assange at his word that he has no ties to Russia. He has said that if he had dirt on the GOP he would release it, yet amazingly he seems to have a lot of documents tied to Democrats. He has insisted that nobody has sent him anything about the GOP. But that’s the paradox with Wikileaks, isn’t it? You just have to take his word for it.

Wikileaks has made a few weird moves, like getting personal info about ALL verified twitter users and putting it online. They also threatened legal action against MSNBC for talking about possible links between Russia and Wikileaks (see this page and this page). They could solve this by being more transparent.

Granted, sometimes people put themselves at risk by sending documents to Wikileaks. So maybe Wikileaks really has no idea who sends them stuff. Which means they really cannot say with any certainty whether or not the Russian government is the group that got/stole the info they are releasing. Yet somehow Assange is 1000% certain. Okay.

Assange saw the Panama Papers as an attack on Putin (many of Putin’s associates were implicated), yet ignored the grief it caused David Cameron and Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson (the then-Prime Minisiter of Iceland who resigned because of revelations in the Panama Papers).

When Wikileaks started, Assange wrote: “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia.” So what changed?

Wikileaks does seem to like some people more than others. They have also released info about private citizens (see this page and this page). Not a group to be trusted.

I think Assange’s paranoia has turned Wikileaks from a force for good to a Russian mouthpiece. I am not clear why he was so afraid that Sweden would extradite him to the US. The US has an extradition treaty with the UK. I think if the US wanted the UK to send Assange over, they would have. And even if Sweden decides to drop the charges, he is still a fugitve from British justice. That is one problem he caused himself.

Let’s not forget, Trump advisor Roger Stone has stated he has a “back channel” to Julian Assange through a mutual friend (see this page, this page and this page). This is a guy who worked for Nixon during the dirty campaign of 1972, and has a tatoo of Nixon’s face on his back. Need I say more?

Also, some have said that this election was decided by the “white working class”. I don’t know if that is true, since a lot of people who should know better voted for Trump.

There has been some hand-wringing amongst Democrats about how to connect with the white working class. I think this is kind of funny. The Democratic Party has always been the party that stands with unions. Has the Democratic Party abandoned the white working class, or did the WWC abandon the DP? Yes, there is a lot more corporate influence in the DP than there was 30 or 40 years ago, but there is WAY more in the Republican Party. And the exodus of the WWC to the GOP started with Reagan. If the WWC votes for the party that is out to destroy unions, then there is not much you can do for them.

Some, like Bill Black and Thomas Frank, thinks liberals have driven the WWC out of the DP because a lot of liberals are “too smug”. Generally I like what those two have to say, but they are off their rocker on this point. The migration started with Reagan, who was elected when I was 9. Before many of today’s hipsters were born. Nobody is forcing these people to vote for the GOP. Nobody is forcing them to watch Fox News, or listen to the liars on talk radio. If someone keeps voting against their own economic self-interest for 30 years, it’s their own fault.

I have also seen articles telling us city folk that we need to understand rural communities and the WWC. Screw you. No I don’t. A lot of them are bigoted. I can tell you based on the questions and comments I get from these people and that I read and hear about, they (Trump voters) have no desire to understand me at all. They are intent on misunderstanding everyone but them. Why are they still asking, “If evolution is happening, why don’t cats give birth to dogs?” Tell me if you have heard this one: “You’re not really an atheist. You really believe in god, you’re just mad at him.” They might hear, but they refuse to understand.

Also: The popular vote. Which Trump lost. I have read that this point does not matter. I think it does. If it did not, why did he make his claim that there were millions of illegal votes? (I have heard of three people being arrested for voter fraud, all for Trump.) Trump seems to think that life is all about ratings and approval. He uses that as justification for his policies. The fact is that most people did not want him in office. Most people do not support his policies. He does not have any sort of mandate.

We on the left need to be more vocal, more forceful. When a GOP president or governor squeeks by, they act like God made them king. What a Democrat barely makes it in, the GOP uses that slim margin as a reason to obstruct. Perhaps we should obstruct. Be jerks if need be. Just don’t believe in nonsense, and don’t refuse to change your mind when the facts change.

First image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Painting “La femme et le pantin” (The Woman and the Puppet) by Angel Zárraga (1886–1946).  Second image  from Wikiart, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Painting “Hourglass” by Romul Nutiu.

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New Page: Things Trump Says He Knows

I have a new page on my site: Things Trump Says He Knows.

I think Trump knows about manipulating people, lying and being a jerk.

He claims to be an expert in more topics than I think any human could possibly be an expert in. So instead of documenting all his lies, I will start a list of things that Trump claims to know, especially things he claims to know “a lot” about.

He made this claim a few times during the campaign, and he made it in his first speech to the CIA.

I say right now: I reserve the right to stop updating this page. Because Trump thinks he knows a lot about a lot of subjects. He thinks he knows so much, I just might say, “Trump, please stop knowing so much, I can’t spend all my time updating that page.” I’m sure we will get tired of him knowing things.

Just like he said his campaign would get tired of winning. And the CIA would get tired of “so much backing”. But someone else can make a page listing all the things he says we will get tired of.

Image  from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use. Painting “Witches’ Sabbath” by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, or just Goya (1746-1828). Goya should have his own website. He’s really a wonderful artist, very artistic in his art. Nothing to do with Trump.

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