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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tip-Off

 The State of Sport, Pt. 1

NBA:  Will the trends be Bucked?

The top question in this year's NBA season is not the soap operas at big-money collectives in Brooklyn and L.A., but will the Milwaukee Bucks' championship be the signal for rising dominance? 

Over its history, there have been those kinds of dominant teams, ones that monopolized their conference titles and won more than their shares of the Finals.  Boston Celtics in the early '60's are the archetype, but several have emerged since then.  In the 21st Century, things have moved faster, and these periods of stable dominance have been shorter.  Still, in recent years there have been the rule of the Golden State Warriors, who won the Western Conference five straight years, with three titles, the Cleveland Cavaliers, their opponents in four of those (winning one of the others), and before that the previous LeBron James collective in Miami and the Kobe/Shaq Los Angeles Lakers, with similar successes. 

So, are the Bucks at the peak of their success, or is there more to come?  There certainly would seem to be in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo, their star center who has raised the Bucks up from league mediocrity, one level at a time.  He is still very young. 

Normally, franchises can only move up one step at a time.  The best thinking of league team General Managers seems to be that a threesome of star players (at least, shining at that moment) is needed in order to shorten the path to stable success in the playoffs. That third star becomes decisive at some point when margins in key games are so narrow. The current coinage of The Big Three as it applies to the Bucks is Giannis, Jrue Holiday at point guard, and now Khris Middleton, as wing man.  Middleton's place in the triad was secured by clutch baskets down the stretch of close games in last year's playoffs, sometimes when Giannis, a poor free-throw shooter until now, wasn't even on the court.  We will have to see whether that develops as it would need to do for longer-term Association dominance, Jordan- or Bill Russell-level, or if Giannis' path develops with other vertices, other teams.  He is a transcendent talent, like the one who led the Bucks' previous championship, some five decades ago (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at that time still Lew Alcindor). 

If the Bucks renew success this year, winning their Conference finals, that would then suggest that their progression so far is not even complete.   But at this time, I am reminded that the critical moment in the Bucks' path to the championship was defeating the Brooklyn Nets by a point in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinals--that early.  Their success so far is contingent, and dependent on defeating a host of other valid contenders.  More than ever before, I daresay. 

Questions 2, 3...n

We start by examining the team chemistry of the Big 3 triangles at Brooklyn (Kevin Durant/James Harden/Kyrie Irving?) and the Lakers (LeBron/Anthony Davis/Russell Westbrook).  Both have the challenge, playoff-time, that there will be only one ball and three guys who want to get it and shoot it.  More immediate questions are finding the best way to include newcomer Westbrook and getting Kyrie his vaccination at some point before the end of the regular season.  Those two teams have the most talent, but that doesn't always decide it. 

Some one-line oversimplification for the other championship contenders I see: 

Atlanta Hawks -  Huge surprise that they reached the Conference finals.  Duplicating that would indicate the kind of progression possible with Trae Young, who I'd compare to Stephen Curry. 

Phoenix Suns - Just as huge a surprise that they could win the Western Conference last year.  The duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker lacks a third and also seems fragile.  One more chance, I think. 

Miami Heat - A third recent major surprise, when they reached the NBA Finals through the bubble playoffs of 2020.  Jimmy Butler is still there and makes the incredible possible. 

Los Angeles Clippers - The question is whether their own magic man, Kawhi Leonard, will be available for the playoffs.  Paul George without Kawhi was not enough, but the Clippers still reached their own highest level ever by reaching the Western Conference finals. 

Utah Jazz - Likely once again to have the best record in the regular season in the West.   They oppose the Big 3 approach with a more pure team concept.  But can they get past the second round? 

Denver Nuggets - They are a dark horse in the Western playoffs.  They have the league MVP, talented big man Nikola Jokic, but will lack top scorer Jamal Murray for most of the regular season.  If they can catch fire at the end, they could surprise all with a playoff run.  It is rare in the NBA for such a team (expect them to be in the middle of the pack of playoff qualifiers) to go so far as the Finals, but it can happen. 

The Standard Scenario is the Lakers against either the Bucks or Nets.  Personally, I'm looking for a different trend to continue:  the last three years have featured six different teams in the NBA finals.  I think there's room for two more new ones.   The Brooklyn Nets vs. either the Clippers or Jazz.  The Nets' superior money should win out.  But it's OK!

The College Game - I have no idea--I know the University of Kentucky Wildcats are full of one-year-and-done secondary-school superstars, as they always are--and it really doesn't matter that much until after the New Year.  Then we'll see which teams have put it together for the Tournament, which is what it is all about. 

Mr. Fix-It: 

I can never watch sports without wondering if it might be better if..... Most of these thoughts will be both logical and also outrageous and beyond consideration.  But those who manage the product (commissioners and owners) need to consider the quality of their product, always open to real improvement. 

In the case of the NBA, though, there's not so much to suggest.  They cleverly caught on to the "more in the playoffs is better" axiom with their Covid improvisation in late 2020 of the Play-in Tournament (to make sure contending teams had a real chance to get in the playoffs in that unevenly truncated season), and then kept a form of it.  Now ten teams in each conference get a shot. 

One aspect I would correct a bit:  the three-point shot--a great innovation for this still-young, still-changing sport--has taken over, more than it should. The answer would be to make the 3 slightly less rewarding, but not by simply moving the arc back:  the true gunners can make it at any distance, if left alone. However, if one looks at the arc behind which you get three as it's painted on the court, you can see that it flattens out to a straight line giving access for threes all the way to the baseline.  The logic of this is that the corner shot, having no backboard to bounce off, is more difficult to triangulate perfectly, but this is old news now, and there are too many players just hanging out in that corner, "spacing".  If the arc continues to the sideline, that corner shot is just worth two.  It would change offense, to the benefit of battles in the paint.  The would-be spacer is squeezed more into the midrange of the court, where the action is.  

As for the college game, my personal view is that college basketball--men's--has subordinated itself excessively to football in the construction of conferences.  The NCAA should take over and make the finals tournament a 256-team free-for-all, organized around regional conferences that supersede the crass  financial calculations of the Athletic Directors around football revenue.  The conferences' cash cow is these conference tournaments that are fun for the little guys, but a nuisance for the top teams in the big conferences.   I'd like to see the conference tourneys go, in exchange for more emphasis on conference play itself for seeding the big deal. 

That won't happen, so let's focus on the short-term question:  how do we keep them down on the farm (the NCAA) when they have seen the big city (NBA)?   You can't, really, but the best thing would be to allow a return to college play for some of those who 'go pro' and then find it a level too high.  That is, they might  only lose half their eligibility if they turn pro, or be offered an inducement to return to complete their degree, for example?  

Pyramids of Success 

(inversely to number of franchises)                                Examples

                      Multi-season dominance              old-time Celtics, Lakers, Michael, LeBron and Steph                                                

                                        Just reaching the top        Bucks, Hawks, Heat, Toronto (with Kawhi)


Reaching conference finals     Clippers, current Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz


Early playoff-round 'Opponents'   Knicks, Trail Blazers, Pelicans


Play-in Posse    Pistons, Hornets, Kings, Spurs


Tankers:      TimberWolves, Magic, Rockets

There is one more thought I have for the NBA.  It is looking at going from 30 teams (6 divisions by 5 teams each) to 32 (8X4, or better, 4X8 with each of the four divisions having a "subdivision").  This is sensible and copies NFL's pattern, which is rarely wrong from a marketing sense.   Even better marketing, and I'm certain it's an idea that was proposed and then classified as a "non-starter", would be to put the two new teams on the other side of the Atlantic:  one in Europe, and one in London.   

The NBA teams would fly to Europe once a year, play both teams, and head back over a week.   The European teams would play each other a bit more, maybe, but would make up for that with 2-3 very long road trips each season. 

To make it even more interesting, the "European" team should be the one that has earned it, either through NBA performance (Play-In level) or, if not, by taking the place of the previous year's team by winning the European professional league championship.   This would resonate with Europeans, and their level of pro basketball has risen dramatically in recent years, judging by the quality of players coming over. 

The London team would be of the conventional sort, the idea being to get hold of a bunch of City investment money. 

I admit some of this is copying the NFL's tracks, but this approach is more real to the sport than a couple tourist teams blowing into town to provide gladiatorial entertainment. 


Additional Notes:  I was born in Kentucky and spent some of my formative years growing up there, which is to say basketball is very close to my heart.  So, I begin this series with that sport; I plan to follow it with comments on baseball, both types of football, tennis, and the Olympics.  Always sticking in my two cents' worth of improbable suggestions, of course. 


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

As I Rescue the Biden Administration Once Again


This is a problem with a solution, this duel of infrastructure bills.  After you, Alphonse.  No you, Gaston.  

The hard parts are the votes 49 and 50 in the Senate, as it seems no Republican dares to cross Mitch on this one.  This gives Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema inordinate power over the content and timing, and they are making the most of it. 

This whole big thing about the price tag is a bad PR joke come to life.  The simple answer is to shorten the time frames, strategically, so as to remain more or less equalized in expected revenues and expenditures (so that the true price tag, in terms of additional deficit, is minimal) and expire certain of the "entitlements" proposed.  The bill should allow those to be re-authorized by majority vote under the reconciliation process. 

Finally, the cloture vote on a continuing resolution and debt limit increase was a rude thumb-nosing, and should be countered by a similar fart in their general direction.  McConnell has said he would allow a "clean continuing resolution" (dirtied only by emergency relief, a demand we will be hearing a lot more from our Southern GOP Senators) to pass.  So, do that, then immediately after change the Senate rules to allow "future" debt limit increase motions to go to immediate vote with a simple majority, then make the motion.  In other words, make another crack in the filibuster for a "clean" debt limit increase measure.   

It's either that, or put it in the BBB Big-Ass Biden bill.  Which is just normal sausage-making, really. 

Again, the hard part is discerning how to accommodate what Sens. Manchin and Sinema require to support the final bill.  Beyond the simple price tag sticker shock of it all,* of course.   Manchin seems to want some pullback from the Green New Deal-ish aspects of it--there are credits for energy savings that push aside fossil fuels.  So, I'd say give him money to start a major "clean coal research" facility in Morgantown.  There may be no practicable way to make coal clean, though from what I remember, certain varieties should be easier to take off their impurities.  The big plus would be meaningful improvements in carbon and methane sequestration, which would be required on a high scale to make coal burning not release CO2 and other greenhouse gases.   And the learning could pay off in the future. Just a few billion, or a few dozen billion, it wouldn't be that bad. 

As for Sinema, the scuttlebutt is that she doesn't like the tax increases on the rich folk.  (The scuttlebutt on Manchin was similarly that the corporations that have bought him didn't want the increase.  I will come to this momentarily.)  I would say that her key constituency is the striving class, middle and upper-middle, professions of various kinds, in Maricopa County and thereabouts (and a similar group in the Tucson area).  What those people won't like, and where the rub is going to lie, is in the reversal of the SALT limit imposed by the Trump TaxScam that is a hardcore demand of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.   

Why is that?  The limit hits those with higher incomes in taxes with relatively high state income taxes.  Arizona is a no income-tax state.  Though sales tax is a different issue, this is one of the big areas of appeal to put up with its infernal summers (it's gorgeous winters are also another, obviously).  So, the invidious comparisons would suffer there. 

The remedy will have to be some other kind of monetary concession, and I think Sinema has communicated what that will be.  I'm guessing military tech spending of some kind. 

As for Manchin, he is dealing directly with President Biden.  My belief is that he has privately assured Joe that, when the time comes and he has satisfied himself, he will vote for the deal.  He also gave him the size of sticker he could really support, after all the back and forth.  And, importantly, that he would not oppose the corporate tax increase to 27%, which is what Biden promised.   

Manchin has been giving clues all along, though:  his voiced reluctance to add new entitlements really is pointing toward the sunset approach I suggested above.  Again, in five years we should be able to take a new look at these, to see then where our priorities for investment should lie. 

My over-under number for the tag is $2.31T, that last .01 T (ten billion dollars) being the Manchin Concession.  

* (yes, $3.5 T is a big number, no doubt, though for a 10-year markup it's a slower rate than $2.0 T for an average of six years).   


Assuring Election Integrity 

In some of the comment areas of websites I have visited, I have seen that phrase used by those seeking remedies for the purported electoral abuses of 2020.  I ask, what is election integrity, but this:  

"ready access to the vote for all adult citizens, which is then counted, and reported, efficiently and accurately"

Question mark.  So far, no one has disputed this formulation--I cannot see how one could. *

Frankly, it doesn't seem that much to do:  nations in all parts of the world have managed it.  Not all of them, mind you--the main requirements seem to be up-to-date use of technology, the will to use it, and precautions against its misuse.  They have one tool, though, that we do not have:  a standard national ID. 

I guess it's too late to bundle that into the reconciliation, too, though there's every reason it should have been included:  "election infrastructure".   But maybe there's a way to make it "bipartisan", as I have suggested. 




* I use no shock quotes around the phrase because it's not  masquerading as another thing; it is the thing itself. 


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Afghanistan and Its Discontents

Rather than the Graveyard of Empires, Afghanistan is better described as "A Bridge Too Far"*.  As in, wherever you, Great Power, think you're going, the conquest of Afghanistan is a land-bridge too far: Try something else.  For your own sake.  But, the British Empire didn't die when defeated in Afghanistan, neither did Alexander the Great.  For Genghis Khan, it took some devious doing, but he defeated the empire ruling Iran and most of Afghanistan, a key victory--then moved on.  The Soviet Union didn't collapse immediately because of Afghanistan, though it was a signal of an empire that had totally lost its bearings, one which suddenly collapsed, with a bit of a clandestine nudge from us there.  Possibly the same could be said of the adventure US and NATO  just completed there, though it's still too soon to be sure (check back in about 30 months).

As geopolitical destination targets for empire building go, Afghanistan isn't much to look at. ** In the set of completely landlocked countries (the least valued type), it's suprisingly far down the list, well below the likes of Mali and Kazakhstan, and actually a notch below Zambia.  It does have a lot of interesting, nuclear-weapon armed (or possibly nuclear-arming) countries that it borders upon, so it could be viewed as a good place to attack on the way to something more exciting.  Except that it's not--it's got to be one of the most challenging to conquer and govern as an outside invading force. 

Funny thing is, we did knock it over in 2001, rather easily in terms of our forces required, with help from a resistance force opposed to the Taliban called the Northern Alliance.  That one is now trying to reconstitute itself in resistance to Taliban rule in the Panjshir Valley.  That group, if it survives for long, will pose one of the many tricky strategic decisions the US must make in the "post-war" environment ahead.   Should we aid it?  No doubt, the US popular opinion would be in favor, in a misplaced desire for revenge.

Yes, we won the war in 2001 there.  It was a use of military force I agreed with, back then; so did 90% of Americans, and all but one members of Congress. The Taliban government had openly allowed the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to operate from there;  they either had to turn them over, or they would be ousted and Al Qaeda booted from there.  

The mistake was staying there; we lost the peace.  If I had been the decision maker then, I would have tried to get a few thousand Turkish troops in there, paid for by NATO.  As a predominantly Muslim nation, they would have had a better understanding of the complexities of keeping the peace there, and better able to deal with the messy, ugly realities there. 

For a short amount of time,  the effort was supported. By us, and by many of our NATO allies.  There were setbacks in the initial set of leaders to be inserted into the country, both with an assassination and another warlord dropped into a trap (in Herat), but the move to insert Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai and set him up as President was sound and worked fairly well.  Until we got distracted. 

Rumsfeld

The question is not whether we dropped the ball in Afghanistan so we could focus on Iraq, but why?  Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld always wanted to focus on Iraq, a more "target-rich environment" than Afghanistan,** but punishing the Taliban and driving out Al Qaeda came first. After that was "completed" (with the other objective of the mission, neutralizing Bin Laden put on hold), Rumsfeld seems to have been promised the opportunity to mobilize and mass forces to attack Iraq.  Once there, activating them took a life of its own, with the consequences badly or barely considered. 

As Karl Rove is attributed by Dubya to have been the "architect" of his 2000 Presidential victory, the late Donald Rumsfeld was the architect of whatever we ended up doing after 9/11/2001. I know, he wasn't the person responsible for either post-conquest fiasco, then or now.  But I think the "why?" answer points squarely at him, assisted by Dick Cheney. More power was granted to them, and the well-timed 2002 elections certainly helped give the Iraq thing a boost. (Republicans have had some facility with that timing thing, though their luck ran out last year.)


I do cut him a certain amount of slack as a fellow townsman, someone who bought up a lot of land because he loved it, and seems to have been treating it well.  It falls to his family, but I would imagine they have been well-groomed to handle it.  

That describes him very well, both groomer and groomed.  He was highly influential in his days (which were during two different periods as Defense Secretary, 25 years apart), not just because of the importance of the post.  He was exemplary in the effort he put into public service, applying himself and getting others to do so. Militarily, both Afghanistan and Iraq ended up being easy wins, for which he deserves credit to a limited extent.  Once you accept the multi-pronged premise.  But, amazingly, the event planners failed to consider the "exit strategy" dimension, really, for either, replacing it with fantasy and blur. 

Donald Rumsfeld should be an object lesson to history of the danger of excessive self-confidence and unwillingness to hear alternative ideas.  I'm not sure the Biden Administration learned that one before the current crisis.  Seems to me there was an absolute absence of consideration of the worst-case scenario and what would be required to avoid it.  Or maybe I'm wrong; I just don't see evidence of it. 

What's next, Joe? 

The arc of the Washington-Taliban 2.0 relationship under the Biden Administration is not yet determined. We will have to accept a lot of internal brutality, as vendettas are settled, town by town.  We have a chance to do better than we did in relation to Iran, and so does theTaliban.  At least, so far they can say, "See, no hostages!" The UN may have a role to play that can be accepted.  War weariness is surely a factor, throughout the country. 

The question that the finale of the evacuation, with the drone strike and collateral deaths of civilians as the best alternative to allowing the suicide bomber access to the scene at the airport, will bring to bear, in some form, is:  Who will the Taliban call now when they know where the ISIS people are?  As for Al Qaeda, nobody there better call themselves that, and that is final. 

Deltafghanida(del-taf-gan-i-da)

As it's written, bad news comes in 3. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

R U drumpf enuf?


T
hinking about the Unspeakably Unthinking

That's the stultifying theme for the Republican internal warfare so far.  So far, so good.  2022 could prove a definitive defeat for the QOP* if this keeps up, and then the question for 2024 Republicans might be the reverse:  'RU 2 drumpf'?  

Our most important strategic objective is to rule out the possibility (a likelihood, it seems to most at present) of a hardcore Trumpist reality denier as the Presidential nominee in 2024.  Or even a softcore one, but someone with proven Drumpfist credential, undenied.   Strategy for 2022 should be oriented around that goal, because failure to achieve it is likely to unleash latent violent tendencies,  not turning out well, no matter how the election finishes.

We should not hesitate to visualize that outcome--that the 2024 nominee will have to be post-Drumpfist.  One who is clearly, and permanently, on the DJT-shitlist.  Putting the aberration of 2017-2021, despite "a lot of good policies" from that time, behind.  A dead end.

That person has not yet raised his- or her- head.  Speaking of the modern-day Bob Forehead, Mitt has presented himself, in his suit, for that role, as an example, but not one with a real future for 2024, I'd say.  Too much burnt bridge.  

Ron DeSantis is a betting co-favorite at this point, with good reason:  he's a slippery one, Trumpist but not stupid enough to stay with him once Trumpism proves itself a loser in 2022's general election, when compared to the results fared by those few Republicans facing the voters without a Dikhead behind.  He, on the other hand, has good chances to win re-election.  The question for him is whether he will find a good way to shed uncompromising loyalty to Former Guy after the general election.   (Obviously Gov. Ron'll just be meat if he can't beat Charlie Crist.)  

My PredictIt bets (a question of value) for now are on Tim Scott and Nikki Haley for the nomination. If Kamala is the presumptive nominee, they will have their shot(s).

Meanwhile, the tell-all books from horrified public servants during the Turd Reich+ are raising a sensitive question:  Is it fair to call the Former President a Neo-Nazi?  

Have I argued as much with the "Drumpfenreich" label I’ve used for the previous regime? No, not really--don't forget that before the 20th Century there were two previous reichs (one was Bismarck, I think the other was Frederick the Great?)  Remove the "populist" con game cosplay, and naked Trumpian policy appeared sympathetic to autocrats, nativist, egoist, but had a lot of standard Republican bait-and-switch.  The advocacy for mass violence, social Darwinism and insurrection was well hidden by White House subordinates.  

*I go with QOP = Qanon Oldfarts' Party, rather than the popular GQP.  Nothing grand about them.

+Not my coinage, but I like it. 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Heterodoxy, Pt. 1

The Triumph of JFK's Legacy Is Joe Biden  -  

I really don't see how others have not pointed this out, as far as I know.  

Another way of putting this would be that Joe Biden is Camelot 2.1,  the Kennedy-dynasty Presidential successor who never happened.  Which America longed for over decades, before finally first, forgetting the idea, then fulfilling it--without even knowing it had done so!

The comparisons I've seen between Biden and  FDR, or Teddy Roosevelt, or LBJ all seem off the mark to me. 

OK, I do know why people aren't seeing this JFK aspect:  John Kennedy died so young (47), while Joe Biden didn't even make the White House until he was aged 78.  So they don't seem similar in the sense of the arc of their careers, or the visual images they provide us, but I think a few moments' reflection will show countless similarities in character, political ideology (or lack thereof), dedication to public service, pragmatism mixed with purpose, and of course the more superficial similarity in both being Irish Catholics. 

On that last point, JFK's preceding JRB made Biden's Catholicism much less a campaign issue (none at all?).  Biden managed to avoid the traps which befell RFK, Teddy (to whom Joe was close), and JFK, Jr. Joe's own transgressions (plagiarism probably the most egregious) and errors were not permanently disqualifying, unlike the way assassination, and driving or flying unsafely, turned out to be.  

I think it's all to the good with Our Joe (JFK's dad's name, lest we forget).  Joe Biden's persistence is heroic, as Kennedy's actions are seen to have been.  A profile in courage, to borrow a phrase. 

On Democracy 

 I think it is time to call the bluff of those opposed to expanded Federal guarantees of the right to vote.

The phrase I'm seeing a lot of the right-wingers cite is "election integrity".  Well, what is election integrity in the US but "all citizens having ready access to their vote, which is then accurately and efficiently counted and reported"?   I can hardly imagine anyone publicly objecting to any part of that; it's not just "bipartisan" in its expression, but non-partisan.  

The one thing that phrase is not compatible with is a fear of democracy.  It's time to flush those people out, because they are an immoral minority.  

Accepting the phrase means a lot of things, though:  along with a national Voter ID with 21st-century technological support (yes, that again!), optional methods of voting  based on local consumers' expressed preferences (easy to survey), full support for addressing all voter handicaps or language barriers, major revisions to operating standards of voting machinery (though not to make it all over-centralized; that would be too vulnerable), and a national holiday on Election Day.  Not to mention a greater commitment to support for local instruction on civic virtues, our government and its Constitution. 

The tricky part is the constitutional assignment of the executive power of elections to the states, who as a group are not up to the job.  There are some exceptions, states that conduct their electoral business adequately well, but those states' voters are furious at those other states' failures, which just adds to the divisiveness of what should be a consensus.  The way to get past that sticky issue of states' rights is with money, enough money per state that none can resist.   For an example of how that works, see (late 70's) how the Federal government got every state to agree to make age-21 alcohol use part of their law by threatening to hold up Dept. of Transportation money. 

So, yeah--let's do it.  It's all germane to the "infrastructure" question.   Then we can tackle those knotty problems with our system of representation, but we need an empowered and informed electorate to demand and oversee improvements.  

On Packing the Supreme Court

I saw Mitch McConnell gloating about how he denied confirmation to Merrick Garland in 2016, that being his "most consequential achievement as Majority Leader".  I have a suggestion for payback to Mitch: 

What the Democrats should do, in this Congress and with Biden's collaboration, is to put forward nominees for the next two Supreme Court seats, hold hearings for them, and "pre-confirm" them, with VP Harris providing the tie-breaking vote as needed.   Then, whenever Justice Breyer and Justice Thomas get around to resigning or dying, their replacements will be at hand immediately.  

The way I see it, and this can be part of the bill, Justice Amy "the Barbarian" Barrett was actually Justice Thomas' replacement, pre-confirmed and even seated in advance of that fine day when he leaves.  This means that Justice Ginsburg's replacement and the prospective Breyer one still should be filled, so as to preserve continuity and smooth operation of the Court. 

This would gall McConnell heavily. I look forward to seeing him express genuine emotion when this "victory" is taken from him; however, this is not just seeking partisan advantage, as he did.  This could be a permanent feature of the landscape, and could extend even beyond the Supremes, with a roster of approved candidates available for several levels of Federal judgeships when vacancies occur.  In the end, I think it's constitutional, the Senate merely fulfilling its duty to fill vacancies, but doing it proactively, something anyone in a well-run sizable business should understand.  I have no idea about the legality of it, but I firmly believe it's the right thing to do, and an improvement over the effective veto the Senate Majority Leader has, which is not consistent with the Constitution. 

And a Borrowed Idea--Thanks to Lula!

Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva has emerged after his prison sentence (undeserved, some say) and appears to be ready to run against incumbent Jair Bolsonaro next year.  He has been outspoken in his condemnation of Bolsonaro, particularly his spectacular failure with regard to the Trump Variant (of the COVID-19 virus).  Jair relied on the Dickhead45 version of epidemiological non-science for his public and personal policy and thus contributed mightily to his nation's excess death toll. 

This kind of abject failure in such a large country (speaking of Brazil, but also of the US) has ramifications going far beyond national borders.  Lula, quite rightly, says that the global community has a right--a necessity--to limit national sovereignty for this type of international security threat, even within nations, and mentions the words never heard these days:  "World Government". 

In this era of reflexive rejection of globalism, this would seem to be swimming against a strong riptide.  Some might say that more remote bureaucratic authority would be the last thing we all need in our efforts to combat our many problems; the truth is almost the exact inverse of that.  Humanity needs coordinated effort to combat climate change, to handle the flood of refugees from states failed due to environmental or political catastrophe, to deal with the current pandemic and future biological challenges, and to seek long-term progress against massive economic and political inequality. 

I'm in favor of a League of Democratic States, which would be able to tackle some problems the UN could not (though, after Groucho Marx somewhat, I'm not sure the US is worthy of membership in it at this point).  There is the Security Council, but we now see all its limitations, due to its original conception in the WWII post-war era that has never been changed, and which seems impossible to find agreement to change now.  This is different, though; we cannot allow geopolitical deadlock.  It requires the participation and support of all nations (read: the UN General Assembly).  They should empower a new permanent Committee for Domestic Tranquility (or an updated branding phrase of that nature) that has limited ability to overrule national sovereignty in certain specified situations and has subcommittees of subject matter experts working with respected international public servants.  Then we can go from there. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Politics, Then and Now

I am prompted to action by the news of the passing of Walter Mondale, 93.   A fine example of  an American statesman, who should be defined by his successes more than for his famous defeated run for the Presidency.  

"Former Vice President" is the title of respect that will be used (in the Carter Administration, 1977-81), and he was by all accounts a breakthrough VP in the level of delegated responsibility, but his service was much broader than that.   During the Clinton Administration, he served as Ambassador to Japan; he was a two-term Senator from Minnesota before Carter promoted him as his running mate.  He remained dependable, loyal, and quite willing to serve, even stepping into a desperation two-week campaign upon the sudden death of Minnesota Democratic senatorial candidate Paul Wellstone (losing narrowly to future narrow-loser Norm Coleman). 

It is necessary, and no longer painful, to think back to that red-letter year, 1984, the year that Mondale was trounced by Ronald Reagan for his re-election.  The country was divided, with a solid Democratic majority in the House but Republican control of the Senate (sound familiar?)   The mood was very different, though:  the economy had regained its footing from the stagflation, skyrocketing interest rates, and recession of the Carter/Reagan transitional period.  George Orwell and his dystopic novel's awareness was everywhere, but the RR=BB (Big Brother)  connection never quite clicked with the electorate. 

The task for any Democratic nominee in '84 was nearly impossible: against Reagan (at that time, the survivor of the assassin's bullet, not yet revealed to be senile, not yet ensnared, also near-fatally, in Iran/Contra) there was no easily identifiable pathway to victory.  The early favorite to challenge him was Ted Kennedy, but he decided--early--to take a pass. My pick was Sen. John Glenn of Ohio--swing-state gold, and a true hero, as opposed to a phony one--but his bid flamed out quickly.  Jesse Jackson impressed, but we all knew he was not getting it. I think there might have been a Gephardt or some such moderate in there, but Mondale was the most substantial.  It was during the primary campaign that he capitalized on the lack of substance in Gary Hart's platform, borrowing the attack line from Wendy's Hamburgers (then much better, I insist) and asking, "Where's the Beef?"

It was enough to get him the nod, but being honest, capable, and above all, liberal, was not the formula to compete with Ronnie.  Neither was the inspired-but-premature bid for a breakthrough by selecting Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as the first-ever major-party national woman candidate. Ferraro could not inject the pzazz the Democrats needed to counter Reagan's star power and Teflon. No 21st-century Electoral College fluke, Mondale-Ferraro won in his home state and D.C. and that's it.  The popular margin was just as one-sided. 

"Fritz", as his friends called him, never achieved a distinctive public personality.  My own perception of him included a sense of humor,  a sensitive streak, and a lot of attention to family.  I see him as the 50-year continuation of the legacy of his mentor, Hubert Humphrey, who also achieved the rank of Former VP. 


Nonpartisan Initiatives, Pt. 3:  Quick Hits

I emphasize all my solutions are nonpartisan, not merely "bipartisan", which seems to be the highest possible aspiration of the unlikely unity seekers.  Rather than seeking all-encompassing solutions to these perennial social issues, I suggest simple fixes for the immediate problems in these areas to defuse them as issues for the '22 elections. 

Gun control - at this point, I will accept anything the Republicans will take onto themselves as well.  Unilateral action is out of the question, but I caution that it is much too late to just reduce how far open the barn doors remain.  

There are so many possible improvements.  For example, a friend argued to me the other day that the solution is a simple one: Federal law to require liability insurance for gun owners.  Insurance companies would do the rest, and surely what would happen is that those most-dangerous weapons would cost an arm and a leg to insure.  

Many would seek to evade, just as health plans that fail to meet minimal coverage levels have arisen to fill ACA requirements. We all know insurance companies find it better to invest in bureaucracy, lobbying Republican Congressmen, and legalities than to pay out "awards", but the net result would surely be less guns. And hatred of insurance companies (leading to Medicare for All, probably).  A net benefit, as the Chicago School of Economics might predict, but it won't keep loser incel shooters out of gun stores.  We have to follow Nancy Reagan and "Just Say No" when they try to buy, and be prepared to follow up with the authorities if necessary. 

Immigration - Free the DACA's, and on a limited basis, their families, with fast-track citizenship.  Set refugee numbers to increase gradually, but a one-time cleanup of the backlog is necessary. Stop exuding confusing wall signals. 

Minimum wage - What is this obsession with $15.00?  Why not $14.50?  It should be set based on local cost of living in rented quarters and adjust according to inflation.  In some places, $15 is not even enough, but here, it would be a job-killer if enforced. Which it wouldn't be.  

Abortion - OK, we just want to postpone this one and meanwhile reduce incidence of abortion through voluntary measures.  I suggest morning-after pills available in vending machines in women's and unisex bathrooms. 

Police reform - People forget, but somewhere in the back of their mind they remember, that calls of "police brutality" and references to "pigs" were once quite frequent.  The police seemed to win that round, helped by all the TV shows that demonstrated police were always the good guys, something that has only metastasized.   The revisionist theme of the corrupt or depraved cop has had its monstrous moments also, but I prefer just a lot less of all of it--I recommend severe cancel culture attacks on those shows as being destructive to our actual security.  Our minds will follow, and justice maybe a whole lot later.


Saturday, March 06, 2021

Side-View Mirror

What Was Tolerable 

(... Specifically in 2020)

There's a fairly high bar for something to have been tolerable last year.  Whatever's present, will have been present day after day for indefinite duration, so it had better not have been very annoying.  

Cooking - (but not cleaning up afterward) - the best of the many options in these latter days of the Golden Age of Global Food (supply chains permitting).  

Stretch corduroys - I find them superior to stretch blue jeans, though that's also a notable innovation, for those long stretches sitting.  And who cares about the "whoosh-whoosh" walking around the house anymore?  Apparently no one. 

Robert Fripp/Toyay Willcox Sunday Lunch- performances on youtube and elsewhere, King Crimson guitarist Fripp covers rock classics in brief form while Willcox performs in her own chosen way.  Here they "do" Metallica.  That and memories of the Crimson tour in the last years of the decade just finished provide a Hurrah! that will resound from this era. 

Sirius XM.  My cars (Hyundai) had the bug on top for it, so they tracked it down and gave it to me, practically.  It works in the Gorge when KTAO cannot be found.   If you listen to one station exclusively, it is repetitive an a couple hours' hearing will bring duplication.  So, keep changing!  My most frequent listens 1st Wave, U2, Real Jazz, Alt Nation, Sirius XMU, and that English football one.  Now, Hyundai--that's a different story, for another day.  

Talenti Gelati e Sorbetti.  It's just Unilever, but they are packing some good gelato and sorbet flavors.  My current favorites are the Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Gelato and the Cold Brew Coffee Sorbetto.  My answer to the "unpacking" going on in talks all over. 

...And What is, Now 



The picture's practically self-explanatory, if it's all readable.  Our local cinema reopened yesterday after about 12 months, and we had to go see a movie in the theater.  Locally, we were being rewarded for low number of Trump Virus infections ('green' status), something likely not to persist:  we are being deluged with out-of-towners from various Neanderthal-leaning states (and California).   We were so charged to be there, with the popcorn and the candy, and 25% maximum-capacity seating, and good ventilation.  

As for the movie, it was a good choice for us.  See my review for more about it; we knew next to nothing going in, but were not up for a police procedural or some kind of tear-jerker.  We wanted action, and sensory stimulation.   

One other comment:  The trailer for upcoming movie "Dune" flattened me.  Streaming services have their place, for TV-type viewing, but this is one I commit to seeing on a big screen (not in my home). 


Remembering the Heroics of "Ballers" Who Mattered to Me -   (Factual Statements below are Unchecked)

Westley Unseld - Wes, the player who I wanted to be.  The master of the defensive rebound/outlet pass, and of scoring in the low post. A humble, hard-working, effective Hall of Famer. I saw him in the semifinals of the Louisville Invitational Tournament as a child (his Seneca team suffered a tough loss to Carr Creek in the final, or was it the other way around? )  He was the franchise player for the (US) Capital area NBA team for a decade or more and got at least a title there. 

John Thompson - never saw him play (a backup on some Celtics teams) but his effect on basketball, through his coaching and recruitment, made a permanent difference to the game.  His teams earned a great deal of respect and generate major NBA stars. 

Gale Sayers - He was a hero whose abilities were beyond imagining for me.  His specialty was the broken-field run, avoiding tacklers and cutting back and forth, but always forward.  His style reminds me of some of the modern 'footballers" like Messi, DeBruyne, or Pulisic.  Like them, defenders have to go for the knees; Sayers' career was all too short.  

Joe Morgan - The man who added the magic, simply by doing everything right, to make the Big Red Machine into the world champions of '75-76.  The best trade the Reds ever made in my lifetime was to get him.  (The worst, obviously, was trading Frank Robinson, which happened before i was even aware of it.)

Diego Maradona - Pele was a bit before my time, or at least before my attention was drawn to international football, but we got to see and experience from afar Maradona's roller coaster career and life, rising from the slums, dodging enemies external and internal, to achieve exceptional glory.  My last memory of him was a cameo in Paolo Sorrentino's "Giovinezza" (Youth), in which he plays a retired, rehabbing footballer who still boasts some incandescent skills, playing with a soccer ball. Not much of a stretch, as a role. 

Alex Trebek - We admired his skills as game-show host and erudite enunciator, but we did not realize what a beautiful role model his kind, generous behavior presented.  One of my regrets was that I never got on Jeopardy! when I was young and my factual recall was ferociously intact. 

And John Lewis/Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Why not include them?  These two played their game(s) as it was meant to be played. They put the lie to cynics who deride their profession(s).  

Friday, January 08, 2021

Events, and Consequences

 Google informs me this will be the 1000th posting.  Appropriate to wrap up the decade's news on this blog. *

Whaddaya Know?  We Won, After All!

I feel kind of like the fictional soldier of Gondor on the field outside the Black Gate of Mordor for the doomed, hugely out-numbered battle with the orc horde, when our Frodo (Jon Ossoff, I guess) crushed the evil menace with one unlikely success. 

I am among a minority,  those who believe that the Georgia runoff outcome is more significant than the Capitol riot, which was basically announced publicly ahead of time and had no material effect on the outcome.  So, why were there not more precautions and reinforcements provided?  'Somebody' decided 'for some reason' that the Trump mob was not a threat.  Those 'somebodies' are responsible for the desecration of our shrine to representative democracy, as is Death Star. 

But more to the point, the combination of the defilement of the Senate chamber and, worse, causing the Republicans to lose their majority, has really pissed off Mitch McConnell.  There are many ways for him to slip the knife to Death Star, and he, working with the Biden Administration, will find some of them. 

Not to the point of removing D.S. (also short for Dumb Shit)  from office early, though.  

Here's my ranking from a May, 2018 post: 

End of Trumpism--the Headline

(as I would rank order on likelihood) 

1. Trump Defeated!  ( in the 2020 Election)
2. Trump Quits! (Before 2020)
3. Trump Dies!  (anytime OK)
4. Trump Announces He Will Not Run Again (most likely in early 2020, when the recession hits)
5. Trump Wins Re-Election, Civilization Crashes, Drumpfsterfire Blazes until Snuffed in Resulting Chaos... (I'd guess late 2022)
6. Trump Is Impeached and Convicted! (could even be in second term)
7. That 25th Amendment Coup-because-Trump-is-Crazy Thing! (Since it didn't already happen...)


So, #4 is out, #5 is out (for the time being, anyway), and the timing is slightly wrong for #1 and #2, but otherwise the order of likelihood remains.   I think the notion of impeachment/conviction/legislation to prevent his return will neither happen, nor work if it did happen.  If some more of the rank-and--file Senate Republicans would back it, that could put him in a corner where he would negotiate a "deal" to leave--that may have happened already.  His price, clearly, would be the Pence pardon; he won't get it (Pence is just about as angry with D.S. as Mitch is), so in the words of Howie Mandel's great game show: "No Deal"!

Plaudits, Taunts, and a Humble-Brag

First, to Stacey Abrams and her Fair Fight organization.  I was among those who criticized her for staying with her voter registration/empowerment efforts instead of going after one of these juicy seats.  I was wrong, and she is vindicated, totally.  Governor of GA next?  Or, going bigger (national)?

Next, to Raphael Warnock.  If Ossoff is Frodo, Warnock is Sam Gamgee--I'm reminded of the scene in Lord of the Rings when Sam literally carries Frodo to the pit at Mount Doom.  I'll also give credit here to the Georgia Democratic party, as they made the unity ticket a reality to voters--there were very few split tickets or undervotes.+ 

Obviously, to the voters in Georgia, I give a vigorous salute and my gratitude.  They had to suffer through two additional months of wasteful TV ads, as well as defying the pandemic and voting again. 

Death Star gets his just desserts, the Peach State told him to stuff it.  Generating confusion and excessive cognitive dissonance has been proven dramatically to be a lousy electoral strategy.  

Mitch, I think, was overconfident in his suppression of more substantial assistance to the people in the days leading up to the runoff.  His inaction and Death Star's whining and flailing probably only had marginal real vote effect, but both these races turned on marginal gains and losses.  So, he loses, as much as Death Star does, and they both get to blame each other.  Ideal. 

Finally, my Senate predictions ended up being reasonably accurate (I said 51 Democrats; it will end up being 50, plus VP Harris, or +3 gain for Democrats), and with regard to the overall outcomes, the sweep of White House, Senate, and House did happen.  But that does not mean I hit the mark, or missed on a technicality.  My position on predictit going into the election centered on +3 and +4, but I long since abandoned those bets. I tended toward the position the Republicans would hold both GA seats until polls in the last week showed Loeffler falling back noticeably. At least it wasn't +2, which would have been agony. 

Back to Shedding Virus #2

If you look above to the excerpt from 2018, you may notice that I was heralding the "End of Trumpism". Actually, that hasn't happened, at all:  the events relate to the end of the Trump Administration, proper.  Somehow, Trumpism may still be surviving as a malware phenomenon, even if its influence will be drastically reduced.  This Capitol riot is emphatically not a post-Drumpfenreich event, though it may be the last one (apart from the last pardon tsunami), and as such, is not a good indicator of the future course of the disease of Trumpism. 

One thing about the Trumpism Virus that differs from Trump Virus:  it does not mutate--it cannot; that is both a strength and a virtue.  Another characteristic of the malady is the difficulty in curing an individual of it.  It takes a shock of enormous voltage to jolt it out of one's brain and electrocution cannot be ruled out. 

I am not a fan of Impeachment 2.0, for any purpose.  The combo of Impeachment/conviction/legislation to preclude his running again, apart from whether the votes could ever be there (even after Death Star's power has been broken), would not be permanent.  I don't think even a felony conviction would prevent his running in 2024.  The way to end his menacing presence on our landscape is through dispossessing him (and family, Trump Org.)  of all US assets, through civil suits public and private, along with massive fines.  He would take his business elsewhere:  I see there is a deserted Trump hotel dumped on Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (which just was allowed to wreak vengeance on Armenia by Turkey).  He can camp out there, with all his family. 



Baku 8 (17562810018)

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The Georgia result makes possible some real legislation coming from the Biden Administration.  I'm cogitating furiously on what could be, asking "why not?" about each idea. 

The past is polog. I need to get back to work on getting my retrospectives and prospectives written up, now. 


 *Official end of the decade, for me, was Dec. 31, 2020, but the real "new decade" begins Jan. 21, 2021.  Just as the "new millennium" really began Sept. 12, 2001. 

+Really, for either side, but the Dems get the credit because of 50%+1 rule. 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Nonpartisan Initiatives--Pt. 2

(The first part of this series was my proposal for a National Institute of Home Health Work, which I would re-purpose as a nonpartisan initiative. Disclosure: It was originally partisan in my motivation, supporting Biden's chances in Florida--which is to say, basically nonpartisan.)


The January 6 Rejectionist movement will not succeed. This is not 1876, much as that bunch of reactionaries would wish it were. 

Once this Drumpfenputsch is rebuffed, Biden should immediately turn around and announce a commission to "recommend electoral standards reforms", making every effort to make the composition of commission members diverse, with true nonpartisan representation--and third-party advocates.  It won't be hard to find takers. 

Here are my suggestions for recommended Electoral Reforms.

$$ -Catalyst for Reform No one of any political stripe, or of none, should doubt the need for change.  What happened with this election should make that crystal clear:  we are as transparent as artificial mud.

But the Constitution mandates states' responsibility and power to conduct elections, which even applies to the Federal elections (President and Congress).  Ultimately, the choice to adopt the recommendations will belong to individual states, but funding to implement the needed reforms is the kind of incentive which will win acceptance of the standards package.   As we do with safety or with environmental protections.  Or, memorably, as the Department of Transportation (Buttigieg's new gig) did with the drinking age for states. It's just hygiene.   

How much are we talking about?  A few billion, at most.  Less than the PAC's will waste in the next midterm.  

I.  The Simple Compromise - Voter ID,  Ready Access, Election Day holiday.  

The tricky part is the voter ID part; there was legislation passed a generation ago (the NVRA, or "Motor Voter Act'), but it lacked enforcement.  The passport license update mandated for this year has been postponed; it's time to get security into the 21st century, and noot based on driving a car.  With any limitations on its use as ID specified, but clearly establishing citizenship, or, if not that, the legal status.  That's what you need to present when voting, like a $20 bill (or just bring your phone close) if you wanted merchandise.  (All persons can get replacement ID's, restoring the information from our national systems; replacement requires something like a retinal scan to preclude future abuse.)  It might seem shocking, but it's the minimum requirement, really. 

The basic standards to facilitate the process involve an adequate but not excessive time period for Early Voting, a similar, different one for necessary absentee voting, and the standards must account for accessibility in terms of hours, ADA requirements, protection from hazardous conditions, etc.  So, this is not a simple task, but not one that is political in intent, except to honor the principle of allowing all possible legal voting. Something very hard to oppose in these terms. 

2.  A More Elaborate Reform - 

The Electoral College, and all its procedures, resembles a petrified sketch on the back of an envelope, written in pencil and laminated. No Constitutional amendment of any kind is needed to fix it, though.   I wouldn't dare advocate changing that: Something like that, or regulating dark money contributions to elections, is an Impossible Dream at this time.  The media would not allow the latter, for one thing, and the amendment process is difficult even with bipartisan support.

Instead, take development of the standards regime described above.  Throw onto it another, optional enticement (with additional money) for two, linked reforms:  

a)  Go the Maine/Nebraska route! 

b) Accept non-partisan Congressional districting in the next four years!

a) The fundamental problem with the Electoral College, apart from  all its clunky processes, is the winner-take-all nature of states voting "to maximize their influence".   This is simply bad Game Theory; it names a few winners, with the rest having next to zero effect.  

Even those who vote for the ticket(s) winning in most of the big states feel useless, as their electoral votes are taken for granted (unless you are Florida, or one of the Rejected Six).  California Republican voters (all of them, useless) feel little differently from Texas Democratic ones, but also little differently from New York Democrats (whose votes are taken for granted), let alone New York Republicans (useless, even if in favor of those they only despise).  

The answer for all these big states is to represent their vote more accurately, allocated by Congressional district winners (along with the two statewide winner-take-all votes, as is done in the two states currently using this approach, Maine and Nebraska).   Contrary to conventional wisdom, that will increase the significance of voters in those states, though it will only work if done in concert. 

As for the smaller states, they still may see a mirage of having their relative importance magnified in the current system, due to their disproportionate representation (compared to population).  It is a mirage, as their importance is illusory:  Nevada's case illustrates that in this Presidential election; nobody really cared too much about undoubted irregularities there, because it was not in a position to influence the outcome--six Electoral Votes is too small to matter, let alone for the many states with 3-5 EV. 

It shows just how important this reform can be for otherwise unimportant voters' new significance, though,  that the EV chase brought Trump-Pence to Maine's Second, and Biden-Harris to Nebraska's Second.  Both campaigns won the district, countering the statewide result.   Neither state would draw the slightest attention from either campaign without that provision. 

Obviously, all these improvements require serious attention to the technology required to implement, which is money well-spent, as it will protect our republic from some of its self-destructive impulses.  I have been advised that Floridians and Texans have already upgraded their systems, so all they need to fix are their voter suppressions. That's how this thing works. 

b) The necessary reform to accompany this change to district-based Presidential voting must be having a nonpartisan approach to determining congressional seat boundaries.  There are methods already in some states; those would be the model for those being gerrymandered most recently. These objectives would be the basis for the money offered to adopt this additional package, which should be generous.  

Many states would take this offer right off the bat, final terms unseen:  the small ones have to change little to nothing, but get their systems upgraded.  Many of the large ones would see the benefit; the terms could be couched similarly, but better, to the approach taken with the National Popular Vote Act* (only taking effect in their states when 270-X have adopted, X being the number adopting conditionally).  The states getting all the attention currently would "get less attention", which most people in those states would consider a benefit, and the side perceiving itself on the short end in those states would still have some voice. 

OK, I admit some states would choose to make stupidity a virtue, as for example some have done with the Medicaid assistance coming out of the ACA.  But consistently defeating bad policy could become a habit once more in America (some steps in forming that habit have been seen in 2018 and 2020). 

I am generally opposed to magnifying the effects of our broad powers still reserved to the states ("States Wrought") , but here I have to give credit to states for innovating meaningfully.  The thing is, I want those good state innovations to be brought broadly to the nation, but without permanently disempowering the states' own true responsibility. ++


 

*Can you imagine if we had the National Popular Vote Act in effect?  Well, we couldn't have had that and the current Rejectionist party, which may be good, but what if Trump had won more electoral votes than Biden with that thing in place?  It would only have been worse.  

++Note: Ranked-choice voting would be a small addition to this package that would assist the significance of independents and third-parties, to satisfy nonpartisanship requirements, and would eliminate additional cost.  So would 'jungle primaries' or 'jungle general elections', but those are bit more demanding bargaining chips, once commissioners sit down and work things through.  Kudos to Alaska for moving on ranked-choice. 


Saturday, December 05, 2020

Last Rants for Drumpfenreich

Q: What's massive, round, very white, and leaves behind planet-scale destruction, devastation, death and despair?  

A:  Death Star. 

The villainous symbol of the tyrannical Empire in the Star Wars series shares two critical weaknesses with our celebrity specializing in collateral cruelty, who personifies for us the Death Star.  One is lack of self-awareness, the other is delusions of omnipotence. 

Still no change in the status quo: Biden still won, Trump still a sore LOSER.  

Scurrilous Rumor Creation

I am willing to throw out an unfounded suspicion that the reason that the DIA and NSA were not permitted to meet with the Biden transition team today was not merely petty recalcitrance but something  more serious.  Let's entertain the notion for a moment that the US spy agencies were more involved in the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist than I thought. *  Without the proper cover from the President, that would be illegal.  In that case, they might need a few days to get their stories lined up, to get backdated orders, to destroy all trace, or to figure out who would need a pardon from Trump when he goes into his orgy of forgiveness for all crimes, real or imagined, past, present, or future (limited only to Federal ones, though...)

I will say that Trump has taken the trouble to fire the Secretary of Defense and a number of people in the national security area and replace them with typical Trumpian stooges, when there seemed to be little practical use for such changes in these last days.  Unless there is some kind of mischief Trump intended, once again going beyond mere vengeance.  Like poisoning the chances for any new agreement with Iran to get them to end any nuclear weapon development.  You know, the thing Trump blew up. 

As you may have seen before, I don't fully subscribe to Michelle Obama's credo of "going high".  Of course, I do, when it suits me; however, I reserve the right to attack my enemies in the way that may be most effective.

Virus Duo

I never liked the odd, not-catchy-nor-meaningful name for the vector of our pandemic.   What's a "covid", and "19" is not really the relevant year, is it?  (I know, that's when it was discovered.)  Coronavirus is a better term, it has a good ring to it, and it has already given way to the cool nickname 'rona (and references to the one hit from The Knack), but in reality it is a class of viruses, not one, and not all of which are even infectious to humanity.

I propose that we put this shoe where it fits.  It is The Trump Virus

Donald has been putting his brand on acquired objects for most of his career; it's a point of pride.  He has acquired the virus, literally, but he owns it in a much more substantial sense.  Without his "downplaying" of its serious threat, his mocking of the necessary public health measures to control it, and even his actions which have helped it to spread domestically--not to mention the miserable example he provided for other autocratic types around the world to imitate--the pandemic might have been contained, which it most assuredly is not the case today.  

The request to rename it is coming directly to me from the virus itself, as it gives Donald full credit for its successes this year.  See "The Overstory" for a tree-based version of this concept.

I feel that the Biden Administration will conquer the Trump Virus pandemic.  As the vaccine comes on line, he will have the tools he needs, the people who are eager to combat it in the most effective ways, and he will get the money he needs for that.  Or else. Actually, I do not think Mitch will allow himself to be the roadblock for vaccine distribution money. Other things, yeah.+

The question for Biden is whether he will be able to defeat the other one, the Trumpism Virus.  He will have plenty of help in shedding that load of snake oil, including a growing cadre of Republicans, and even moreso from Independents, who by definition have no leadership cadre, but who are very frustrated now and will want to move on.  I expect the business community's attitude will be very similar to that of Xi Jinping:  "the baubles were nice, but we prefer dealing with someone who has a stable mind". ++

It's about breaking the Cult of Personality.  Some are convinced that he can do whatever we want; either he's chosen, or he's invincible.  To those people, I usually invoke their deity, the Old Testament God who brought plague down upon the Pharaoh (or now, the would-be Pharaoh).  Isn't that maybe the case here? 

Not all are like that, though. Those of us familiar with American history can't be too supercilious about a large portion of his devoted followers whose attitude is something like "He may be a snake, but he's our snake, and he does what we want, so that's good."  That's where you have to turn them away from the charm.  A shiny object won't do it, as many have been tossed their way without distracting them.  The gas lamp is lit, always, in Trump Tower, and it is somehow fascinating enough.  We got to put out the lights. 

No, I didn't mean that.  What I meant is an effort to show the people what a real government is like, what it can do.  It may or may not happen, beyond just the defeat of the Trump Virus, in the short time before the 2022 midterm elections--that is the best case scenario.  But surely a proven recovery of the economy within four years, in a new and improved form, would lead to a re-election of a Democratic administration, which would be the end for that germ.   

It's not quite exile in disgrace, but it would allow us to resume normal life.  Which brings me to the last rant. 

Will It Really Just Disappear? 

There's been a lot of attention--too much--to the question of whether Trump will appear at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which it appears will be held in the classic location on the steps of the Capitol, damn it all.  I'm about 95% positive he won't; what will stop him is the fear of a bad reception by any members of the public.  As far as that's concerned, I would encourage all of them to boo--loudly and repeatedly, but only for several seconds--at his first appearance.  Hold onto your shoes, though. 

Biden could get him to come if he wanted--just throw a big party in the new Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., in the converted old Post Office building, and make a big deal about his presence.  Biden doesn't want to, though, even if he says the right thing and points out that the whole world will be watching, very important to showcase the peaceful transition, that sort of thing.  

No! Trump should slink away in disgrace, put on his sideshow somewhere to compete with it, and have no respectable agency cover it at all. The world should understand that there are penalties for his kind of behavior, that he will be shunned. 

When Dubya left office, I promised to leave him alone if he kept himself under wraps and didn't make trouble, and he and I have been deliriously happy with that arrangement.  With Drumpf, though, it's different:  I promise to ignore anything he says or does to get attention after he leaves office.  I reserve the right to refer to him, not as an active anything, but as an example to avoid.   If I do, he will be referred to as Death Star.  

And any further reference to this thing currently causing so many to die before their time will be as the Trump Virus.  

But I really hope not to need to do either.   



* I considered writing in the piece about the assassination that the notion of US involvement should be excluded, but decided not to mention that aspect at all.  We the people don't have proof either way; I'm just exploiting certain coincidences to coin a conspiracy, if anything to show I can create one that's more plausible than the stuff going around. 

+I will discuss the prospective Biden-McConnell relationship in another post, a critical consideration and limitation on Biden's possibilities, and I add now that its criticality does not depend on the Georgia runoff.  

Here on the eve of the arrival in Georgia of Death Star, much is uncertain about that, as it may remain even for weeks after the January 5 runoff.  These conditional considerations may not even be resolved by the January 20 Inauguration!

++I will try to address briefly the jolt that Trumpism's America First policy has put into our foreign policy, permanently.  It will be reversed, but the memory of it will linger.  Strangely, that is not all entirely bad, from the despicable but inevitable mindset of realpolitik; better that all understand our potential for mindless hostility and selfishness, with no regard for the consequences.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Faulty Strategies

Assassinating the Iranian Nuclear Scientist

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was a known objective of Bibi Netanyahu, and the action was almost certainly done (arranged or directly implemented) by Israel's Mossad. This operation had been carefully planned and was executed brazenly.  There had been rumors that Israel would strike at Iran's nuclear facilities before Trump left office; this seems to be the chosen method to get at them.  

If I can read Bibi's mind correctly, this was an item on his bucket list and there's no better time to cross it off.  (Tick, tick...he is surely going one of these days/months/years, though still not at this time.) Apart from that, he wants to provoke Iran, with the objective of creating enough tension that the US, under the Biden Administration, would never be able to get Iran back to the table to resume the agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program that Trump trashed. 

Although Trump probably has some delusional thought that if war starts between Israel and Iran in the meantime he can declare an emergency and stay in power, what he thinks is almost irrelevant now. Except for the damage he can still do; this is a good example of his opportunity for mischief:  he can easily aggravate this if he wants. 

I think there is faulty logic in the whole thing here:  killing the scientist no doubt sets back Iran's chances of rapid breakout to a weapon--something that Iran had been making a significant feint toward doing since the agreement was breached (by us).  That might buy Biden a few months if things go really badly, but I don't see this contretemps as likely to cause any serious impediment for his policy, which is to get Iran back to voluntary limits on its nuclear program.  Biden can simply state US policy against assassination of civilians (or even suspected terrorists without a "finding") and demur from any comment on the action itself. 

If we try--for just a moment, please--to look at it from the Iranian point of view, though, this would suggest more reason for Iran to return to the table than to refuse it.  They don't have to indicate whether the murder affects their program, they just need to show willingness to return to limited nuclear development, which would be the easiest course for them going forward.  Especially if this setback is a real one, not merely in perception of their regime's prestige. 

Iran will feel a need, though, to respond to this assassination in some form, for the sake of that perception, as they did when Trump bumped off Qassem Soleimani.  Only better than they did last time, I can hear the Ayatollah telling his Revolutionary Guard.  I expect to see a rocket or two lobbed at Israel from one of Iran's allied units closer to the front (in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, etc.)  Beyond that, Bibi better go back to quarantine--I'm sure someone on his staff will test positive, or a positive test otherwise arranged.  That is probably easy as pie for a spy. 

Republicans Destroying Their Chances

Most of the Republican Congressional corps (House + Senate) has remained on the sideline in the Trump "Reckless and Feckless" campaign.  They stay out of the retreat/regroup action, implicitly supporting his bootless claim to retain the Presidency.  Trump's claims are an impossible mess of imagined conspiracy and failed accusations of misconduct in the count, and they know it.  I can sympathize with these Congressional Cowards' reluctance to drop fealty to the cratering predatory beast in the White House, at least until he is declawed when he loses control of the Seal of the Presidency.  Even then, his fangs will be (figuratively) real enough.  

The error they are making in this strategy of inertia and silence, though, is that it gives them a difficult set of challenges in creating a strong argument for Republican-leaning Georgians to turn out in the critical runoff test for control of the Senate.  

First, many of their voters may conclude from the Presidential race fiasco that elections (including those, specifically, in Georgia) are untrustworthy; why bother?  I'd say that might resonate particularly with Republican-leaners in the suburbs or cities.  The Trump campaign has shown a great willingness to dispense with the legal votes of hundreds of thousands if they are from the wrong precincts. 

Second, the current policy invalidates one of the most cogent arguments, one that Mitch McConnell would surely love to employ forcefully with the PAC money he can command to preserve their majority:  That the Georgia runoff is the last, only chance to prevent total control of Washington by the (fill in slanderous labels) Democrats.  Mitch has to wait for that one until it is clear to all that the future President is not Trump.  We may think it is "as clear as an unmuddied lake" that Biden won and that all realize it, but that is not so. For whatever reason they are told or tell themselves, most Republicans Out There believe Trump's allegation about the attempted theft of the election, and more incredibly, many believe he will somehow still squeeze out a win.  

These circumstances, and the general spectacle of Trump's thrashing about and destroying some of the most sacred faiths of the American Creed, are giving the Democratic Senate challengers in Georgia a real chance, where there was little of it just a month ago.  Reverend Warnock is at parity, or better, with the broadly-despised Kelly Loeffler:  despite a lot of sucking up, her Trump-loving credentials are viewed suspiciously by the Trumpist clan, enthusiasm for her is lacking, and her image has taken a beating because of her grifting (insider trading allegations).  David Perdue is in slightly better shape vs. youngster Jon Ossoff, in general, and the Democrats need to win both races.  

But, the more the race is nationalized--and it is very highly so already, before Trump enters the fray--the less the characteristics of the candidates will matter, and the more it will be about whether the potentially demoralized Republican throngs will turn out to the degree they did in November.  Also, the more universal will be the tendency for voters, of both parties, to vote the straight party ticket. There is little doubt the Democrats will turn out well, even though past history of Democratic turnout for Georgia runoffs is poor.  This one is different, and there has not been enough time, or sufficient success, for Democratic leaners to feel complacent about the defeat of Trumpism. 

There is still time for Trump to acknowledge defeat and then show up, bigly, to support the faltering notion of a Perdue-Loeffler Republican Unity ticket.  (By the way, where is Doug Collins, the Trumpist who got snubbed and edged out by Loeffler for second spot in the jungle primary in November?)  That would require Drumpf to think more broadly than the short-term question of 'What do I feel is Best for Me and TrumpCo Right Now?' that is generally the only relevant consideration for him.  He could be a hero there, and with the Republican Senate Majority Leader, if he can help pull this one out.  Can he ever truly be anyone's hero, when he doesn't understand the notion of self-sacrifice?

He will be resented if he "screws the pooch" for Mitch, though, and that will matter if Trump truly still holds political ambitions.   I see him somewhat grudgingly trying to straddle the questions of his own failing bid to retain the Presidency with the notion of Georgia as being the Last Stand of his party's hold on any Federal power for the next two years.  He will try to make his late entry seem dramatic, and the margins are assuredly very tight.  

For me to look at this from 30,000 feet, I look first to Aristotle's politics and the example of ancient Athens.  This situation we are in now contrasts with his criticism of democracy as often leading to tyranny of the majority through populist demagogues, as opposed to the more sober methods and objectives of those benign oligarchs, or the simple but ultimately faltering illogic of monarchy.  Instead, our demagogue works with the oligarchs to try to use mob rule to impose tyranny of the minority.  

Perhaps the more relevant comparison is to ancient Rome, and the stresses  popular oligarchs created for its Senate, which led to their resolve that, to save their Republic they had to assassinate Julius Caesar.  We know how that turned out for their Republic. Republican Senators are not that far backed into a corner yet, but they still may have to strike the lethal blow against Trump by shifting towards accepting that their Boss Don Corona was The Biggest Loser. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Photo Finish Analysis

The starting point for this is the interview between New York Magazine's Eric Levitz and David Shor.  It's a good contrarian argument to start the post-mortem, though I don't agree with him that TV is the most cost-effective channel to buy votes.  It's not even something to consider increasing, from these obscene levels. The objective of reform should have as one necessary effect a reduction in both the length and cost of political campaigns, so that idea works against all concept of efficiency. 

I recommend the interview in particular because his research convincingly answered all my major questions coming out of the election that I wanted to research.  In particular, he asserted the following:

  • Ticket-splitting is at an all-time low; this applied even at the House level, which I had thought might be counter to the nauseating nationalization of the election. 
  • The Democrats' huge get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts resulted in a boost that was largely countered by Trump's improvised, superspreaders-and-disinformation effort, most effectively in areas with high numbers of white non-college marginal voters in battleground states (Florida, Wisconsin)  .  
  • That red-state surge saved most of the numerous borderline and challenged Republican incumbents.  Democrats had to fight uphill in states like Montana, Kansas, South Carolina, and Iowa.   
  • In terms of the all-critical Senate races, the only exception to the party line outcomes was Susan Collins' surprisingly easy win in Maine, a state Biden won handily. 
  • We're in trouble for 2022, or even more if we dare to increase taxes--something that might seem necessary after the orgy of deficits in the Trump Administration.   The only way to move forward is to moderate our aims. 

My Turn

My take is that Joe Biden is the very best President we could hope to have found in this messy situation we now have.  Putting aside for now the happy ending of a sweep of the two Georgia runoffs by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, giving the Democrats a last-minute majority in the Senate, we have to deal with Mitch McConnell.   Biden is the best possible negotiator for what will come, the triangle with Mitch and Nancy Pelosi, both with shaky majorities. He will reduce the level of fear that has prevailed, especially since Drumpf's impeachment. It will take courage from all to face all this. 

We should have the courage to take on the big, necessary reforms.  It would be good to know, for example, what the effect of Trump's absurd suspension of the employer/employee contributions to Social Security ended up being--does anyone know?  What Committee will take that up?  

You see the point:  if we bring Mitch into the clean-up, to find out where all the money went that was wasted and misspent (often intentionally), he will begin to cooperate. He's not riding unconditionally on the Trump Train:  He may detrain after the January 5 runoff election, win or lose. We need to re-do Medicare's funding, no? I see potential for a Grand Compromise that could affect both redistricting and the now-perennial Electoral College randomization, concerns for both major parties, while opening the door even to third party efforts.  (Note:  I'm thinking of the Republicans as a future Third Party; I still think they should, too.) 

Once again, the Republicans have dumped on us all the responsibility, in the midst of the crisis they have facilitated. But once again, all is set up to have the Democrats end up looking good by saving the economy, simply (!) by ending the pandemic's devastation. The logistical challenge these new miracle vaccines are presenting look like something that is going to drive everyone crazy, in more ways than one. Developing the chain of command that is going to replace Trump's slap-dash Survivor game is going to take a lot of time: Biden will have just enough.   

We just have to avoid the pitfall into which the Obama Administration fell, in spite of everything, in 2010.  One difference:  Rather than coming into power with the usual surge of new House seats, we just had some of our most vulnerable ones stripped away, so that won't happen again in 2022. The Senate battle looks promising to me.  I will take 2021 off from all campaigns, but 2022 will, once again, be both trench warfare and open-field engagement. The political war continues.  

"I see the road leads back to you....."

Georgia, Georgia.  Once for each Senate seat runoff.  The most expensive Senate race in history--hopefully ever--will at least have the benefit of being a 2-for-1.  BOGW - Buy Ossoff, Get Warnock.  And Vice versa.  BWOG. Or whatever.   Runoff recapitulates ontogeny. 

Yes, I'm a bit punchy about this denouement to the endless 2020 election.  The call of Georgia to Biden, reaching the promised land of 306-232, followed the hammer blows to the failing Drumpfenreich of the call of Arizona, and before that, of Pennsylvania.  I was highly critical of the coverage Election Night, which featured far more confusion about the Red Mirage than should have been allowed, but I guess they had to say something. 

The achievement in Georgia and that of Arizona are real reasons for hope for this nation. The road is long, and we should be glad of that.  Also, they represent the potential success through grassroots development, contrary to the mass spectacle thesis of Shor.  They must be sustained. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

There's Got to Be

 Wednesday, November 4 -- 11 am.

At this moment, there appears to be a good chance Biden could exactly reverse Trump's elected E.C. votes from 2016*, which would be a nice irony.    

That would require that Biden adds to his current 227 EV  Arizona (11) Nevada (6), Georgia (16), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), and Pennsylvania (20)--that leaves Maine CD-2 (1), Alaska (3) and North Carolina (15).  All of which are not only possible, but the most likely outcomes.  With the exception of PA, for which we just don't know at this point. 

The great thing about that 306-232 margin continuing to be likely is that the Biden lead, or hold on 270,  is not imperiled by the potential reversal of one state.   One major condition is Georgia, which should be determined by the size and shape of the next release of votes, mostly from Atlanta's county and its suburban De Kalb County, expected by the end of the day.  My rough calculations suggest that may bring the margin within 10k votes, one way or the other, and make Georgia the closest of all the close races. 

As for the Senate, the less said the better.  I hedged most of the close states on Predictit.org, successfully (more about that later, maybe), but clearly I suffered in markets for the net change in seats and control of the Senate.  I played it as being a 60-40 Democratic chance; this outcome was on the low end, from the Democratic side, of that 40% of probability. It could've been worse:  Peters could have lost Michigan.  

*(so, prior to the final totals changed by 'faithless electors'), 

Saturday, November 7 - 8:45 p.m. 

 You lost! You're a LOSER!!  Now, Get Lost, Loser!

Now that I've said that, I'm going to turn over a new leaf.  I will never again call for Trump to be burned as a witch. The demonization must end, as our President-Elect has said. 

Someone who can never admit their weakness is destined always to be a loser.  Trump is the proof of that. 

I don't believe that The Donald will be back as a serious national electoral candidate, but there will be someone who will try to claim the Trumpist mantle, jettisoning as much of the stinking baggage that hangs from it.  Probably someone who is able to learn from the mistakes.  

But can that person win the nomination in 2024?  I do not venture to guess what the mindset of the Republican base will be then, but I got a very strong reminder that base is always larger than I may think. 

2024 will be a challenge as great as this one.  But first 2022--and 2021.  The fact there are two races in the runoff in January for Georgia is the best news possible--it means that white Democrats and black ones can compete for turnout to break the Southern runoff schneid.  Assume any polls will understate Republican turnout by 5-7% (the David Duke Effect). 

Saturday, November 7 - 11:25 p.m. 

Kate McKinnon's portrayal of Rudy Giuliani, post-election, in the  classic Gilda Ratner Rosannadanna guest commenter on Weekend Update role, is one for the history of video comedy.  Dave Chappelle's monologue will probably get more attention, as it was outlandish, as promised, but her properly over-the-top impersonation topped Carrey's Biden (he got to do the Big L!), Rudolph's pitch-perfect Kamala, Chappelle's own impressive Dennis Haybert, and Baldwin's impressionistic Whiny Loser.