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Archive for the ‘National or out of state politics’ Category

By the time this article is published,  either the most awaited or unawaited presidency, depending on your point of view, will have begun.

Trump’s loyal supporters believe he will initiate sweeping, long-overdue changes; his most ardent detractors fear he will take us down the road to fascism.

For certain, we are in for a wild ride, but I do not believe President Trump (can’t believe I am typing those two words together) will be able to wave a magic wand and have his way across the board. This is a guy who did not have a majority of his own party behind him.  His victory was more about the other candidate’s problems.

A Washington Post/ABC poll showed his favorability rating on the eve of taking office as 40%.  That does not signal a honeymoon; an impending divorce is more like it, a nasty one at that.

Without a broad consensus behind him, Congress will not rubber-stamp much of Trump’s agenda, assuming he really has one other than poorly defined tweeting points.

So one should not expect broad support for any of his plans beyond the selection of a new Supreme Court judge. That’s a big one, but the High Court has always ebbed and flowed between conservative and liberal influence.  It’s been that way for a few decades. There’s always a wild card, too, like Justice Kennedy. Let’s not forget that Chief Justice Roberts saved Obamacare. You just never know.

I anticipate we will have a balanced court, unless one of the liberal judges retires during Trump’s term. It is unlikely any of them will retire during a first term.  It would take a Scalia-type departure for another vacancy on the left side of the bench.

What about a wall across our southern border?

I think you might see some segments constructed in strategic locations, but funding will be a problem for any lengthy stretch.  It will be more show than substance. The repercussions will give Republican lawmakers pause.

But there will be some extensive changes to immigration policy, some of which will be embraced. Take for example tightened restrictions on H-1B visas.  Even there, Trump will learn that this abused program can only be throttled back so far, because our schools are not turning out enough STEM talent to meet the demands of science and industry.

A beefed-up Border Patrol is one practical objective many will support.  The members of the USBP save lives and interdict dangerous criminals. Unlike a wall, they offer a flexible response for dealing with illegal immigration. Walls cannot make arrests or render assistance to those challenging the hostile terrain which exists over a vast swath of the border.

Government environmental regulations will be reduced, but to what degree depends on popular support. A majority of our citizens do care deeply about the environment.  People depend on it for recreation, comfort, health and a safe food and water supply. If they feel the environment is significantly threatened, they will push back in noticeable numbers, enough to turn up the political heat in Congress.

A reduction in corporate taxes is almost a certainty.  However, it will be a balancing act between what it will take to bring offshore earnings back home and avoiding the appearance of catering to Wall Street. And no politician wants the Wall Street label to stick. This could be the biggest battle Congress faces, one in which Trump will have the least influence for fear of alienating blue collar workers, the very constituency that helped push him over the top in the election.

The greatest uncertainty involves international relations.  A president has wide leeway in deploying or redeploying troops. Some would argue he has the power to terminate a treaty without the consent of Congress. The Constitution is not specific on this subject.

Most certainly, Trump could effectively undermine NATO by pulling resources from it, turning the alliance into a mere shell.

How about a trade agreement such as NAFTA?

NAFTA is a congressional-executive agreement, not a real treaty. There are no rules as to who can terminate one, so it would appear Trump could pull out over the objections of Congress.

In the end, for Trump’s policies to prevail, he needs broad support from both Congress and the public.

You do not earn broad support with provocative remarks in social media.  Think of the number of people who are unfriended on Facebook because of their relentless partisan posts and memes.

The Tweeter-in-Chief will have more to lose than gain in his use of the internet. People just might unvote him.

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The outcome of the presidential election was a surprise to me as much as it was to anyone.

What is not a surprise is the reaction to it.

There have been some extreme events and outbursts, including rioting by some Clinton supporters and some nasty displays of neo-Nazism by the loosely organized Alt-right group. Fortunately, these reactions are not acceptable to the population as a whole. Most of us are moving forward and dealing with change in a rational manner. The checks and balances embedded in the Constitution will prevent significant, or even sudden, permanent changes to our government.

However, one proposed remedy to Trump’s victory resurrects an issue this nation has faced before…..secession from the United States.

As a practical matter, according to an opinion piece in the Washington Post, it is virtually impossible, short of an apocalyptic disaster which throws our nation into dysfunctional chaos. Although there are many who believe we have been dysfunctional for a long time, I have news for you – the national government has not only survived, it has expanded its influence.

The Post article states: Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution specifies how a state can gain admission to the United States. There is no stipulation, though, for the reverse. Even if Obama wanted to let Texas go — a thought that probably appealed to him for at least a second — there’s no mechanism for him to do so. There’s no mechanism for Congress to simply say, Sure, off you go. Once you’re in, you’re in. The United States was born an expansionist enterprise, and the idea of contraction, it seems, never really came up.

To those proposing a Cal-exit , don’t waste your time, or those of the state’s voters, with a referendum to seek secession.

Having said that, the topic is worthy of an interesting hypothetical discussion.

Did the Civil War really resolve whether secession is constitutional? I touched on this subject in an article I wrote for Citywatch in connection with the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

As I pointed out, the seven states that seceded prior to Lincoln’s inauguration could have gotten away with it had Fort Sumter had not been fired upon by Confederate batteries. Absent the catalyst the attack provided, the nation had no stomach for war, much less a civil war. Had Lincoln raised troops to forcibly end secession, it is likely the entire Upper South would have joined the Lower South, including the critical border states of Kentucky and Maryland. Washington would have been isolated; Lincoln’s administration would have been dead on arrival.

A southern-leaning Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, a slaveholder himself, may have ruled in favor of the break.

What the Civil War did make certain was the illegality of forceful secession.

Does that mean peaceful or passive secession is permissible?

As mentioned earlier, there is no process for separation via legislation. There is nothing in the Constitution to guide Congress; nothing even stipulating a voting margin for such an action. Any request by a state to secede would simply die.

But let’s just say it did occur.

Just like divorce, there would be a property settlement…..and would that be costly to California! Do you think the rest of the states would transfer control of Yosemite and other national parks for a song? How about military installations and other federal government real estate?

The financial obligations California would incur for buying out its share of the unfunded liability of Social Security and Medicare of its citizens would be worse.

California claims to receive less monies from the federal government than it sends. That is so much BS. The benefits to the state from physical protection and security provided by the federal government is incalculable. In terms of economic trade, California’s primary trading partners are part of the Pacific Rim. Without the leverage of the federal government behind us, we would be at a disadvantage in negotiations with China and Japan, whose economies dwarf those of the Golden State.

Then there are details of establishing a monetary unit and a central bank.

How about supporting embassies throughout the world?

The nation of California would be bankrupt from the get-go.

One other thing. There are regions within California which will not go along with the plan. Much of California’s agriculture and water is attributable to the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, respectively. Those regions would balk at the plan. They would form their own state, or possibly request to join Nevada. Sacramento would find itself isolated from the rest of its subjects. California would be totally dependent on a foreign government for food, water and energy.

The secession movement is laughable until you realize its proponents really believe it is plausible. For their sake, I sure hope they do not receive Nigerian e-mail solicitations.

But just the talk of secession further alienates California from the rest of the nation.

One of our top attractions is Wine Country. We do not want to be labeled Whine Country.

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Ivanka Trump will take the oath of office as President of the United States in 2032. By then, she will have served in Congress for ten years, filling Rep. Peter King’s seat in New York. This would come after four years as White House Press Secretary.

I can hear the readers of this article madly typing comments, many of them expressing outrage.

Before you hit the “send now” button, you should understand that those who are well-acquainted with me know my affection for satire. I have even written a few satirical pieces for Citywatch.

In my early youth, I developed an appreciation for the genre. Steve Allen’s and Ernie Kovacs’ off-the-wall skits, while not about politics, not to mention tame by today’s standards, were the prototypes for contemporary comedic interpretations of current events and social norms.

John Oliver’s work is at the top of my list these days (Jon Stewart is OK, but Colbert is a frightful bore). Oliver pulls no punches and uses gut-busting delivery and politically incorrect content, although I wish he would refrain from over-reliance on the F-bomb.

I’m waiting for someone to perform a skit about Ivanka Trump rising to power; Chelsea Clinton too – it has been reported that she is being groomed to run for Congress. There’s great potential material here. It could top all of the Donald Trump/Hilary Clinton sketches that appeared on SNL.

I thought Donald Trump’s campaign was satire – until November 8th – but Clinton ended up as the punchline. So, while I am not serious about either Ivanka’s or Chelsea’s prospects for leading the nation, the recent election proves that anything can happen. Maybe Billy Bush can resurrect his family’s political fortunes.

Yes, anything can happen, but, judging from partisan Facebook posts, few of Clinton’s supporters failed to recognize that right up through late in the afternoon of November 8th. By the way, Dave Chappelle’s sketch with Chris Rock on SNL hilariously made that point.

Both candidates took their lumps in the parodies; perhaps Trump more so, but his rants were softballs which the writers were able to knock out of the park. Many Clinton supporters may have developed a false sense of security by assuming the satire reflected the prevailing sentiment across all regions. However, what may seem funny and improbable one day, can become reality the next.

Too many people have a myopic view of the world. They do not understand how anyone can hold an opposing position. As a result, they can get blindsided and unduly horrified when results do not go their way.

We owe it to ourselves to understand the underlying reasons for the views of a wider audience, not just what is reported in the mainstream and social media, or fed to us by partisan organizations. Michael Moore had it right.

Unless we make an effort to understand each other, we will allow satire to obscure reality. Then it will no longer be funny.

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I have been wrong every step of the way in this campaign.

I thought Trump would be defeated in the primaries or taken down at the Republican convention. And certainly there was no way he could win a national election after alienating large segments of the population.

Wrong, wrong, wrong……but so were the pollsters.

How did it happen? After all, Clinton had the organization, hardened foot soldiers reaching out to key demographic groups and the backing of a popular president.

Basically, the same playbook she followed in 2008; it failed her then, too. In hindsight, it was doomed to fail again when you consider decreasing support and disgust for the two major political parties. I guess you can say Clinton is a slow learner.

She also alienated important groups, just as Trump did. It started back in 2016 in West Virginia, when she threw the coal miners under the bus, in so many words dismissing them as a non-factor. I wrote about it in Citywatch then:

Pulling the rug out from under those whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry is not how you win their hearts and minds.

The bad feelings will not be limited to West Virginia either. The swing state of Ohio is in play, where 33,000 are employed in the industry and coal provides 69% of the state’s electricity. Those employees have friends and relatives, so the potential for a meaningful block turning out in a tight race is there.”

Apparently, the effect went beyond coal miners and their families: blue-collar families of all stripes, all throughout the nation, who share the same values as their brethren toiling in the hills of Appalachia, felt insulted.

The e-mail fiasco just added fuel to the fire. Even that crisis would have diminished if she had taken the criticism seriously from the start, instead of her initial humorous take on it.

The Clinton Foundation donations from foreign countries also undercut her.

Basically, all of this contributed to the public’s poor perception of her trustworthiness. When you lose trust, it is difficult to get it back, more so when your personality does not convey warmth and sensitivity. The personality issue was more pronounced when compared to President Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s charisma.

Trump had more than his share of problems – offensive remarks, refusal to share his tax returns, trash-talk about world affairs – but amazingly that was not enough to offset Clinton’s negative image. It is as if voters perceived him as being genuine, in a perverse way.

Bottom line, this race was never about ideology. Otherwise, President Obama’s popularity, which was partly due to his policies, would have carried her.

Our nation hasn’t changed. People still care by health coverage. Most people do not want to see a wall along the border. We do not want to abandon our allies.

It appears all most people want is a president they can read like a book. And one who can read them.

And what a book.

Don’t know what the next chapter has in store.

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Growing up, novels and films about political intrigue and international conflicts were my favorites.

To an extent, they still are. There just haven’t been enough of them; the last notable one was Bridge of Spies, about the real-life negotiations to free downed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers during the height of the Cold War. Coincidentally, the hero, James Donovan, graduated from the same school I attended in the Bronx – way more than a few years before I entered its doors.

Ian Fleming, who created James Bond, sparked my interest in the espionage genre. I binge read all twelve Bond novels before freshman year in high school.

My all time favorite thriller, though, was The Manchurian Candidate, a novel by Richard Condon, and released as a film in 1962. Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey were the leads, but Angela Lansbury stole the show with her portrayal of a conniving, cold-blooded conspirator – a far cry from Jessica in Murder, She Wrote. The 2004 version was disappointing, but that is usually the case with a remake of a classic.

In the novel and the film, a seemingly ultra-conservative demagogue and his wife are part of a communist plot to win the presidency.

My memories of the story have been reawakened by the potential subterfuge involving Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Julian Assange. I can’t help but to project those three against the fictional plot: Trump as the blabbering demagogue serving as a front for the communists, Putin as the Soviet handler responsible for enabling the conspiracy and Assange as the one who pulls the strings (Lansbury’s role). The plan entails playing on the emotions of the nation in order to achieve the sinister objective.

Am I allowing my imagination run wild?

You bet, but I just can’t pass this stuff up. It has all the components of the film: deceit, conspiracy and reprehensible characters.

Can life imitate art?

Yes, but with limits.

Although it is true that Putin and Assange would dearly love to embarrass the United States by exploiting the DNC and Clinton e-mail fiascoes, it is far less likely that Trump possesses the planning skills to make it work in his favor. His campaign, after all, is a series of spontaneous outbursts. Encouraging Putin to continue hacking the Clinton campaign e-mails, while disgusting, is not a crime. It is more like irrational bombast. If he did go as far as to conspire with them, his next reality show would be broadcast from inside his cell at a federal prison.

That’s not to say Trump will not benefit from Putin’s caginess and Assange’s willingness to release potentially embarrassing e-mails about Clinton, but any gains will be offset by his ongoing diatribes against any person or group who possess any sense of moderation. More than 20 Republican senators, not to mention a fair handful of Members of Congress and governors, as well as key party figures, did not attend the RNC. They have followers who will sit this election out, if not cross over and vote for Clinton.

But this nation has never before experienced such an asymmetrical campaign strategy. No one can reasonably estimate the degree of emotion, especially among voters who have stayed on the sidelines in other presidential elections, doing so out of disgust with the establishment.

Last December, I wrote an article describing Trump as America’s Putin, emphasizing the destructive synergy that could result if both men were in power. However, I concluded that Trump would not win the Republican nomination.

Boy, was I wrong. The Manchurian Candidate still has a chance.

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Politicians have a knack for making some of the dumbest statements. Hillary Clinton not only made one, but chose the worst place to utter it.

Saying “..we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business..” in a state that mines 10% of the nation’s output of the fossil fuel seems comparable to some of Donald Trump’s many foot-in-mouthisms.

The statement was taken out of context – Clinton did indicate her administration would help prepare coal miners for different careers – but specific solutions were neither offered nor alluded to beyond unspecified retraining .

Retraining: a promise we’ve heard before from many candidates at all levels. But if you are going to suggest it as a solution to a group facing the growing prospects of unemployment, then specifics are in order, not to mention facing up to reality.

Coal miners do have generic traits any employer would welcome: fierce work ethic, commitment to productivity, unselfishness….but the transition from a lifetime in the mine shafts to other industries where technological skills are becoming increasingly common will represent an insurmountable challenge for many.

Determining what industries or skills would provide the best prospects for miners is almost a crap shoot –  even retail.  How many Wal Marts can West Virginia support? In any event, competition for any job will be fierce. Some employment opportunities could also involve relocation, a prospect which may not be practical for many.

A more sensible approach is to let the coal industry die a natural death over a long period of time.  It is already in a steady state of decline in Appalachia: five major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy within the last twelve months.  Mining jobs have also vanished, especially in West Virginia. It hasn’t helped the state that easier-to-mine coal can be found in Montana and Wyoming, and cheaper natural gas is abundant.

There is no need to rush it along for the sake of climate change, especially when coal is and will continue to be heavily burned in China and India.  We will also always need some coal production, as it is important to have diverse and secure energy sources.

In the long-run, though, coal usage will diminish as cleaner sources become more economical. That’s a good thing.

Let as many as possible of the current generations of miners work to retirement. Encourage the rising generations in the coal mining regions of Appalachia to aspire to other careers by emphasizing the benefits of science, business, engineering, agriculture and technology careers in schools.  More importantly, apply the resources necessary to make that happen.

According to CNA (it is not an acronym), a company specializing in economic, social and defense research, referring to Appalachia,”the national focus on college and career readiness for all students presents a particular challenge in a region where, in the past, college was neither needed nor desired and careers outside the coal industry are limited.”

CNA’s study also suggested a strong desire for students to remain close to home and choose occupations where a college education is not required.

That particular aspect of the region’s culture has to change. The support of the adult population is critical in order for that to occur.

Pulling the rug out from under those whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry is not how you win their hearts and minds.

The bad feelings will not be limited to West Virginia either. The swing state of Ohio is in play, where 33,000 are employed in the industry and coal provides 69% of the state’s electricity.  Those employees have friends and relatives, so the potential for a meaningful block turning out in a tight race is there.

I have no horse in this presidential race, but I understand the volatile mix present in this nation which could make the outcome go either way.

 

 

 

 

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The crisis in Ukraine is more fluid than our recent wave of sopping weather in Los Angeles.hitler_putin

The other night, I listened to an interview on AlJazeera America (here is the link to the broadcast, but it only covers a small segment). The commentator discussed the roots of the Kiev uprising with two guests. While their credentials were impressive, the insight they offered was based only on recent developments and ignored the deliberate actions of the former USSR and the Russian Federation that have played out over the decades.

The guests blamed the United States, not Putin, for the unrest in Ukraine.

They based their opinion on a statement Putin made a few weeks ago that suggested he would support a course satisfactory to both the EU and Russia, one which the United States dismissed in favor of allowing self-determination by Ukrainians. In their view, American reluctance to Putin’s undefined overture opened the door to the demonstrations and violence in Kiev.

The guests clearly overlooked the fact that Putin and Russia set the stage for the confrontation.

It is easy to act like a statesman, as Putin did, when he and his predecessors have done everything possible to stack the deck in Ukraine. The combination of Stalin’s starvation of millions of Ukrainians, combined with a persistent policy of Russification by the Soviet Union designed to suppress Ukrainian culture, effectively embedded a pro-Moscow element. In August 2012, deposed president Viktor Yanukovych put the icing on the cake by allowing Russian to serve as an official language in a region if it was the native tongue of 10% of the population. Putin even supports a measure allowing dual citizenship, which would make it easier for Moscow to manipulate politics in Ukraine

It was a more effective strategy than sending in the Red Army as an occupation force, although Stalin did that as well. It set up the present ethnic division that is likely to split the nation into two….an insidious undermining of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

As a result of this demographic warfare, most of Ukraine’s GDP is in the anti-EU eastern region.

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Knowing how Russia orchestrated this virtual attack on sovereignty does not make it easier to deal with.

Already, Russian military units are patrolling the Crimea peninsula with no credible force to oppose them. Other cities in the eastern Ukraine will probably be in a similar state before long. The Ukrainian Army cannot match their firepower. For that matter, there is no telling how many of its troops might be sympathetic to Moscow.

There are two prospects for a unified Ukraine: slim and none.

In order to stem Putin’s tide, the new government of Ukraine must position loyal troops in key western areas. Odessa, a major seaport on the Black Sea, is essential to secure. Even there, one might expect pushback from a pro-Moscow faction. Having access to the Black Sea will be critical for the economy of any region governed from Kiev.

Ukrainian troops have been ordered to protect nuclear power plants and other key installations. There have been confrontations where they have refused Russian military requests to disarm.

It is a matter of time before the Ukrainian parliament asks NATO for assistance. Russia is in clear violation of a 1994 treaty which guarantees the sovereignty of Ukraine – a treaty the United States, United Kingdom and Russia signed, so a case can be made for intervention by the NATO allies.

But what would that intervention amount to?

Sanctions are being considered, but they will have to be harsh in order to get Putin’s attention. It is interesting that he did not apply sanctions against Ukraine and immediately escalated to putting boots on the ground – or perhaps jackboots. The Ukrainian government and military were not threatening Russian-speaking citizens. It was a compulsive move consistent with the Russian objective of annexation.

No one wants to set the stage for a potential armed conflict between the superpowers. Besides, geography would make it extremely difficult to support a large operation.

A possible solution would involve embedding small contingents of NATO observers with Ukrainian forces. Although Putin is an imperialist hell-bent on controlling Ukraine, he would not want to risk a potentially costly war by allowing his forces to fire upon any formation containing elements from the western allies. The objective of the observers would be to avoid fighting and, instead, serve as a deterrent, similar to the role of the small force the Allies maintained in West Berlin during the Cold War.

Such intervention would require using Poland as a base. The Warsaw government is a strong supporter of the present government in Kiev and would be receptive to this role if NATO, particularly the United States, wholeheartedly backed it.

I would imagine Canada, which has a large ethnic Ukrainian population, would consider participation if the US were on board. The UK and France would probably join in, too.

If we allow Russia to consolidate its control over most of Ukraine, then we may as well get the hell out of Europe and allow Putin to bully all of the former Soviet satellites into submission. Lack of action by the United States, Canada and their European allies would effectively endorse Putin’s playbook for a controlling stake in world affairs.

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