Archive for the ‘Donald Trump’ category

Whoa, Afghanistan, Really

December 12, 2019

The Washington Post has broken a tragic story, which is bound to elicit from those who were involved, “of course, everyone knew that”.  The story traces the US involvement in Afghanistan from the days shortly after 9/11 when the mission morphed from eliminating al Qaeda into nation building.  The story of how American policy tried to build a modern democracy, is not pretty and hardly heroic.  Rather, it is the tale of how national purpose drifted away from core values.

According to the Post, American Afghan policy has created a hugely corrupt culture, did not achieve stated goals including pacification.  The debacle began with George W Bush, continued with Barack Obama, and operates well with Donald Trump.  And even worse, there are officials who know about the corrupt practices and have been unable to do anything about the outcome,  As this unfolds, the Afghan scandal has the potential to ruin a great number of careers.

There is, however, another way to look at this government failure.  There is irony in that Bush and Obama were personally squeaky clean.  But both presided over organizations highly motivate to achieve goals.  Pacification of Afghanistan and the adoption of certain western values were key deliverables in the mind of American negotiators. What could go wrong?

How about trying to take a short cut, “money for results”, for example, money in exchange for human rights (as seen by the west), simple.  In theory the money was to buy arms, train militias, and build civil works projects, but in a wink, the local Afghans were also suppose to agree to certain human rights requests.

The Post reports that in addition Afghans learned that without the “grease” of money, nothing was needed to be done regardless whether the payer was the American Government or one Afghan doing business with another.

Does this learned behavior sound like the “art of the deal”?  “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you.”  Imagine, this dysfunctional behavior being witnessed in Afghanistan resulted from well intend US foreign policies under two different US Presidents, ostensibly for good intentions.  What might happen with a one-off, narcissistic President? 

Do You Hear The Whistle Blowing?

December 7, 2019

The train is leaving the station.  Do you hear the whistle blowing?

President Donald Trump, who I am confident, will be rated by historians as the worst President in modern times, if not for the entire life of the United States, is about to be impeached.  In all likelihood the impeachment as well as the Senate trial will follow party lines.  Impeachment under these circumstances, implies  two outcomes, (1) that President Trump will not be convicted in the Senate, and (2) that should the tables be turned (Democrat President and Republican controlled House), the majority party will return the favor and impeach the President of the other party.  Of course, unless there is a majority of 2/3rds in the Senate, any impeachment will simply be a political act with little or no consequence.

Many are worried about what type of precedent impeaching President Trump will established? What will follow?   But  then again, hasn’t that precedent already been set?  

The impeachment of Bill Clinton is a case in point.  The impeachment was strictly political payback by ideologically Republicans.  Clinton had mislead Americans as well as the Special Prosecutor on the nature of his relations with Monica Lewinsky. But weren’t these transgressions personal and not connected to malfeasance in office?

“He lied under oath”, however, claimed the Republicans.  “He darkened the good name of the Presidency” other Republicans carried on.  Despite public opinion decidedly being against impeachment, Republicans went forward.  (Hmmm, all the while the leading voice, House leader Newt Gingrich, was conducting a secretive affair with another woman after asking his wife for an “open marriage”.  So much for living a saintly life)

One might do well also recalling the stonewalling of Merritt Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court by Republicans for over one year.  No advise and consent for a Democrat nomination.  

So arguably the country is already engaged in divisive political behavior and “getting even” is regrettably a political way of life.  

Republicans may whine about the process (and they will).  Attempted bribery and seeking foreign involvement in the 2020 election represent an abuse of Presidential power and behavior that is inconsistent with the Constitution and commonsense.   Impeachment, even without conviction will send a message to all Americans describing Presidential behavior which should not be repeated. 

Unfortunately, like the train whistle, once the train has passed out of view, the whistle can no longer be heard.  I wonder how this tit for tat can be broken? 

My Tribe?

December 1, 2019

President Trump has inadvertently got himself in a teaching moment.  The President’s plight, of course, has nothing to do with a bad break or a totally unexpected consequence but instead is the product of “business as usual”.  President Trump has at every turn in the road demonstrated the notion that rules apply to others but not him.  Any student of the founding fathers intentions knows that rules must apply to everyone.  Hmmm.

Trump is an entertainer at heart and a “bullshitter” by nature.  The President wants to please others and in return receive adulation from his listeners.  Trump does not just “want”, he actively seeks positive feedback as a thirsty person does a glass of water.  As a “bullshitter”, the President is blind to the veracity of what he says.  Unlike a “lier”, President Trump never see the need for what he says to be correct.

What is astonishing, however, is that most of the President’s base act as if, on balance, the President represents more good than his flaws may mean.  “The President is the leader of my tribe”, is the message supporters exude.  Implied is the notion that future President ought to be like Donald Trump.  Does this make sense?

In the impeachment hearings held the past few weeks, clear testimonies confirmed for all to hear what the “whistleblower” wrote and more amazingly the readout of the telephone call with President Zelensky reported, President Trump sought to extort a foreign government in exchange for their efforts to smear a opposition candidate. 

The President put an administrative hold on Congress approved military aid funds, pressured the Ukrainian Government, using several middlemen plus his own phone call, to open investigations into internal US politics, and specifically asked that the Ukraine investigate President Trump’s Democrat challenger – former Vice President Joe Biden.  There is no ambiguity on these facts. 

So why are the President’s supporters (his tribe) tossing out all sorts of mitigating thoughts, like “the military aid was delivered”, there was no “quid pro quo”, or the phone call was inappropriate but there was nothing impeachable about the President’s call?

Using the acid test, what if this had happened during President Obama’s Administration, would Republicans have held the same opinion?  Probably, and maybe certainly, not.

The tribe takes care of their own.  If one is a Republican or a supporter of Trump, many see themselves as accused.  This enables each individual to see the impeachment charges as a referendum on their tribe.  

This behavior is the mark of a crowd, of the common folk, of the mass electorate.  There are many other types of tribes, such as fans of a sports team, or a pop singing star, or a social media influencer.  IMO the phenomena we are seeing with Trump supporters’ adamant denial of President Trump did nothing wrong is mostly sincere and gut driven.

Members of this tribe, however, are not asking the simplest questions, like why did the founding fathers put an impeachment clause in the Constitution in the first place?  Or, why should the President put his gains ahead of national security policies?  Or, is this Ukrainian incident a “one off” and not representative of Trumps behavior through out his life? 

The accent Greeks coined the term “Tyrant” to designate someone the Greek citizens had given essentially unlimited powers to rule (presumably to lead the country through periods of crisis).  Regrettably, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Our 250 year old Democracy has been stressed many times before.  Somehow Americans have rallied and put national interests above local parochial ones.  Look around, strong authoritarian leaders do not lead their citizens to better places.  President Trump is no exception and the 2020 ballot box is the place for Americans to put the ship of state back on the right tracks.

Impeachment, however, is about something else.  President Trump has acted in a way inconsistent with our historic democratic traditions and in a way which corrupts the basic governance promises Americans expect of their leader.  Impeachment says clearly “no one can act this way and remain President”.

It is generally believed that President Trump will be impeached by the House and not convicted by the Senate (baring any new information).  The impeachment, if based upon the already established Ukrainian facts, will stand as a guide post for future Presidential behavior.  The ballot box, on the other hand, will signify whether Americans can learn from the “Greeks tyrant example” or whether they would like to try another four years of it.

Hmmm.

Bloomberg Is In

November 25, 2019

Michael Bloomberg unleashed his 2020 Presidential campaign Sunday with a reported $30 million advertising buy.  As also reported earlier, Bloomberg’s strategy will be to aim at Super Tuesday (March 15) and not get forced into campaigning in the first four primaries/caucuses.  Now that Bloomberg’s candidacy is real, what does it mean?

  • Money.  Some of the first comments by Democrat challengers had to do with money.  Like, “does he think he can buy the nomination?”  Interestingly, if one thinks for a minute most all the Democrat candidates will need to raise a lot of money, especially if they are nominated.  With the price tag probably north of $1 billion the “candidate” will need to get large chunks of that billion from others and almost assuredly the “other” will want something in return.  Hmmm.  A Bloomberg candidacy may focus light on how much other candidates will be owing to special interests.
  • Reality.  With 17 other Democrat hopefuls trying to achieve a “breakout” moment, there has been a panacea of “give aways” and  ‘take aways”, like Medicare for all, forgiving college loan debt, and tax the wealthy.  Regardless of whether these proposals ultimately make sense, in 2020 they seem unattainable simply due to the mood of the public and the makeup of Congress.  Bloomberg in his pragmatic, matter of fact manner will speak sense to the electorate.
  • Catalyst.  There is a high probability that no candidate will achieve a majority prior to the convention.  Given that, what basis is there for a Sanders or Warren supporter switch to someone such as Biden, Buttigieg, or Bloomberg?   For progressive candidate supporters they must believe the convention selection, at a minimum, can beat Trump.  Second these supporters will want a nominee who can unite the party.  Thirdly, these supporters will seek someone who is at least sympathetic to healthcare for all and relief for college debt even if not adopting the Warren’s or Sander’s specific proposal. Likewise, the candidates currently drawing less than 3% in the polls will be unable to continue to fund their candidacy and will need to drop their bids.  At this time, it is still unclear whether Bloomberg can win the nomination but each of the remaining candidates will likely be measured with Bloomberg as the standard (experience, commonsense platform, and ability to raise money).

Buttigieg and Biden are currently the two most likely candidates to make the final cut.  If they attempt to emulate Bloomberg’s campaign strategies, their chance of winning the nomination and then beating Trump will improve.  Stay tuned.

The Iliad’s Lessons

November 21, 2019

There is a one person, 80 minute play titled “an ILIAD”** being performed in Philadelphia which makes one think.  The Iliad, written by Homer, is one of the oldest recorded plays dating back to 750 BCE.  “An ILIAD” closely follows the original version but has been adapted to modern language and expression.  The Philadelphia performance features a powerful presentation and goes further.

The Iliad covers the Trojan War where Greek armies lead by Agamemnon attempted to recapture Helen (the most beautiful woman in the world) who was kidnapped by Paris, son of the King of Troy.  the Greek gods play several roles but is not clear what there purposes were. The war boils down to “you took something without permission, I am coming to take it back regardless of the cost”.

The Greek Army contains thousands of warriors as well as Achilles, the greatest warrior of them all.  After a series of “why did this or that happen” and discovering no fresh answers to the questtion, “how can the Greeks continue to fighting for “Helen of Troy” after 9 years and untold numbers of dead Greeks, a final fight to the finish takes place between Achilles and Hector.  

Achilles vanquishes Hector and proceeds to drag the remains around the battle field rather than returning them to Hector’s father.  The point of all this is that the war was fought for dubious reasons, dragged out for no clear purpose, and even in victory, one side chose to keep heaping immense cruelty on the losers.

So what was Homer’s point?

The Philadelphia version sheds some light from a 21st century perspective.  Near the end, there is a recitation of all the major wars since the Trojan War up tp and including the current Afghanistan conflict.  With possibly the exception of World War II, none of the wars made sense for starting or prolonging.  The long list of conflicts seems to make sense only in the light of reaffirming man’s cruelty to man.  Noblemen make war, common people fight the war and pay the price with their lives.

Homer’s lesson seems to have fallen on deaf ears over the centuries since.  Post WWII, wars such as the Korean and Vietnam wars were fought in the larger context of “Communism versus Democracy” where Korea and Vietnam were surrogates for the perceived real enemies of China and Russia.  Afghanistan war was begun as “hot pursuit” of the Taliban and al Qaeda following 9/11.  But when Afghanistan turned into nation building, once again a conflict became a surrogate for something else, like stopping Islamic expansion.

Few other examples speak louder than the Iraq war in underlining that military conflict is normally a choice, not a necessity.  The Bush Administration cooked up a public rationale that Hussein’s regime was intent on building nuclear weapons and chose “regime change” as a cure.  Much has been speculated that invading and occupying Iraq was really about controlling oil, projecting American strength in the Middle East, and in the process reaping profits for political supporters from war supply contractors.  

The rationals for the combined Afghanistan and Iraq wars seem just as ridiculous as the Greeks 9 year war with Troy over a woman.  Once a war is begun, it is extremely difficult to shut it down.  The reconstruction of Europe post WWII offers a good example of how to deter future conflicts.  Investment in the vanquished followed by open trade where other European countries are mutually dependent upon the other European countries.

Brexit and “Make America Great Again” are counterproductive. Hmmm.

 

** an ILIAD by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare playing at the Arden Theater, Philadelphia, PA  

 

Unfit

November 17, 2019

This week, Americans have witnessed several riveting testimonies from seasoned, high level State Department employees in President Trump’s impeachment hearings.  None was more compelling than Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s.  Her compelling testimony coupled with the readout of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President plus the President’s contemporaneous tweet, lead no other place than recognition that  Donald J Trump is a despicable person and unfit to hold the office of President.

Many still argue that the President delaying military aid to the Ukraine and then asking a “favor” in which the Ukraine would announce an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter was not impeachable.  No one, including Ambassador Yovanovitch, disputes that the President can dismiss any Ambassador (they serve at the pleasure of the President).   On what basis and for what purpose, however, does a President have the right or the need to trash the reputation of an Ambassador in the process?

What Americans are witnessing is a man without any moral compass and completely untethered to decency.  Recalling Ambassador Yovanovitch is the President’s prerogative, calling the Ambassador “bad news” says volumes about the President and totally mislabels the Ambassador.

The Bloomberg Factor

November 10, 2019

Michael Bloomberg’s organization made application to take part in the Alabama Democrat primary.  This filing and any others that Bloomberg will subsequently authorize could position Bloomberg to become a full fledged candidate for the Democrat Presidential nomination. Will this new entry make a difference?

The current Democrat field of 17 Presidential candidates is quite large with a cluster around centrist values and two candidates pushing the bounds of progressive values.  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren currently occupy about 30-40% of poll results. More importantly, Sanders and Warren also represent the most liberal or progressive wing of the party,  Are these very progressive views salable to a majority of voters?

Of the remaining 60-70%, Joe Biden has about 25% of the polling data and is squarely a centrist.  The remaining 14 candidates register in single digits.  

So, what would the entry of Michael Bloomberg mean?

If one reads the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, or any other large city newspaper, Michael Bloomberg should be no stranger. Bloomberg is a self made billionaire and successful three term mayor of New York City.  Pragmatic on most issues, progressive in a practical manner on others.  Bloomberg would be fully capable of performing the Presidential duties on day one. But most Americans do not read newspapers and Michael Bloomberg may be a stranger. What obstacles lie ahead of potential Bloomberg candidacy?

For many Americans, Bloomberg will need to introduce himself and outline why he should become the Democrat standard bearer and receive their vote. (Need for national name recognition)

Candidate Bloomberg is 77 years old and would enter a field with Sanders, 78, Biden 76, and Warren 70.  President Trump weighs in at 73.  Hmmm. Age is usually associated with experience and maturity but also comes with concerns about mental quickness, stamina, and health.  At 77 and President Trump at 73, Bloomberg needs to make the case that his experience is more relevant and far better for voters than the current President’s.  (Is Bloomberg still alert and healthy?)

The President’s job, if properly performed, is a tough executive assignment with an extremely broad span of responsibilities both domestically and foreign.  Arguably Vice President Biden should be prepared having been in the White House for 8 years already.  Sanders and Warren are both Senators and lack executive experience.  Bloomberg is a self made $50 billionaire who lead New York City for 3 terms.  Bloomberg will need to convince Democrat primary voters that his executive experience is relevant and important.  (Can Bloomberg convince voters that his personal business and mayoral experience are relevant for the Democrat nomination?)

Bloomberg’s signal of possibly running for President comes with less than three months before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. And Super Tuesday (March 15, 2020) is about 5 months away.  News reports suggest that Bloomberg will intentionally skip the first four primaries and instead put his efforts on Super Tuesday. (Will Bloomberg try to win the nomination by primary votes or play for a deadlocked convention and being selected at the Convention?)

Money and “position papers” drive each candidate’s campaign.  With Bloomberg’s late entry what will he offer.  Money should be no issue but what policies will Bloomberg emphasize?  Bloomberg has been critical of Sanders and Warren, who he feels are promising goals they will be unable to deliver.  Never the less, Bloomberg will need some set of issue to run on other than I can do better than Trump.  (What Bloomberg select issues the average American can relate to?)

Finally news reports have suggested Bloomberg believe Joe Biden does not have enough popular support and financial backing from wealthy donors.  In such a situation the extreme progressive positions of Sanders and Warren might carry the day.  This worries Bloomberg because he believes Trump can beat such a left wing candidacy. Another factor to consider, as the other 17 candidates sooner or later drop their campaigns, would they support Biden, Sanders, or Warren, or would they back Bloomberg?   (Will Bloomberg ultimately back Biden if he does not run or can not win?)