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Wednesday, May 04, 2022

My Joe Biden Story

(January, 2022) - This might be the time for me to give my personal recommendation for our President, as he is surely beset by misfortune and insufficient support in these days.

My one and only in-person encounter with our 46th President came in the late winter of 1974 (so long ago!), when young Joe Biden was in his first term as Senator from Delaware, having won his seat in an upset and then lost his wife and young daughter in a tragic auto accident in the previous 18 months.  

I had the great honor of being one of two persons representing the Commonwealth of Virginia in a program jointly sponsored by the W. Randolph Hearst Foundation and the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Senate Youth Program.  It consisted of travel to D.C., fine hotel (the Mayflower) and dining, privileged tours of all the great edifices of our Republic (my favorite is the Library of Congress, though the Supreme Court is indeed most impressive), but, most of all, it featured private audiences with the high and mighty of the day--usually a speech, including a lot of content about that official's role, and some Q and A with the attendees--did I mention we were all high school seniors? My one real obligation, besides behaving myself, was appearing for a photo op with Virginia's Senators, who were undoubtedly the worst duo in the nation at the time (Harry Byrd and William Scott). 

Great care was taken in the selection of speakers, who all showed impressive consideration in taking their  scheduled event, and mostly showed some enthusiasm about the civic educational function the whole thing represented.   One more thing they showed was courage:  we were a keen, well-informed bunch and far from passive in this highly-charged moment of history. 

For the Watergate scandal was at a peak then:  Nixon's resignation was only months away, and he was basically hunkered down in his bunker.  Still, we were granted access to Vice President Gerald Ford and other officials of Cabinet or near-Cabinet rank (not Kissinger, though), along with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.  In particular, though, a host of Senators came before us, one at a time. 

Not too many of them that I can remember were Republicans.  Chuck Percy (IL) I know was one. They didn't want to speculate about the looming question of impeaching Nixon.  Two of the old-timers of the moment I remember in particular were Jennings Randolph (WV), an expert on the history of the Senate, and former VP and then-Senator Hubert Humphrey, an impressive wind-up speechifier if ever there was one.  We also saw the other Senator from Minnesota, young Walter Mondale, who I remember being somewhat flustered by our frank questions. 

If I'm not mistaken, Senator Edward Kennedy had to cancel on us, but we had a substitute, Senator Biden.

May, 2022:  We were taken aback, somewhat. Here was this young upstart--recently widowed, with his own children deceased in an auto accident, winner by the narrowest of margins in a huge upset.  We knew nothing and expected little.

 (By 'we', I mean the vibe of our group, the selected prospective student leaders. At least we cared enough to fill out the application.) 

But he was the one whose appearance before us gained the most approval.  His frankness, his urgency--who knew how long he would serve?  He certainly had no reason to think it would be decades--and his empathy, they came across to us, who had expectations, desires, curiosity. 

The circumstance, of Biden replacing the no-longer-electable Teddy, caused me to see an indirect connection to Biden as a Latter-Day Kennedy, which I have clung to, against all others, ever since. Anyway, among my many outrageous pronouncements during that fall, my freshman year of college (now post-Nixon), one was the advocacy of the notion of Biden as future President.  (He, then, like AOC now, was not old enough.)

My friends, it must be said, looked at me askance:  they were skeptical of the bona fides of any Democrat, no matter how seemingly progressive (I think Fred Harris was popular in our circle in early 1976 there, before Carter caught on), and Biden would not put his toe in the Presidential water at all for another decade or more.

They were certainly right in their skepticism in the years that followed, and I could not explain it away.  He disappointed me, so many times.  His sponsorship on the dastardly Crime Bill was a concession to the crime panic of the time (and we seem to have that one building again now, too!).  I found his sponsorship of the much-despised Bankruptcy Bill in the early aughts more defensible:  after all, he was the senator from Delaware.  If the rest of the country wanted to use bankruptcy as its curtain covering the cost of massive numbers of health-related family financial failures, it was his duty to make sure it was a fair bill, one preventing excessive exploitation of its lenient provisions. (Note:  student loans the exception--why?)  

I was not a supporter in his previous runs; as I recall it, I was for Al Gore in '88 (until Ed Koch's endorsement killed him), and Biden's speech plagiarism fiasco in that campaign is now legendary, and now seems so quaintly distant. The years passed, and he became less relevant until Obama picked him out for VP in 2008 (somewhat parallel to Biden's choosing failed competitor Kamala Harris).  

Still, there is fulfillment, for me, after all these years.  And for Joe Biden.  His destiny was present, essential, but indiscernible.  Now we know what it was, all along. 



Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Vindman is Half-Right

Former Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, of 1st impeachment fame, was on Amanpour tonight advocating an aggressive approach to the Ukraine invasion. His interlocutor was visibly surprised by the earnest advocacy of a less risk-averse strategy for the US and its allies to pursue. 

His professed belief is that a little counter-attack strength will be the best deterrence to Putin at this point. If there is no change, Putin will be able to slowly grind Ukraine down, one of the worst possible outcomes. One thing he said that I totally agree upon, is that we are overthinking the complications involved in the proposed transfer of Polish Soviet-era MIG's over to Ukraine. 

More broadly, we are thinking much too narrowly of the possible range of operations of Ukrainians against Russia. Particpation against the Putinist War and Russian assets--again within Cold War proxy warfare rules, which I would say is the basic approach Putin has regressed upon--can be worldwide, anywhere Russian-style autocracy does not hold sway. So, his suggestion is simply to bring Ukrainian pilots over to Poland, file all the appropriate papers for the loan of Polish assets guaranteed by US dollars or whatever, and have them fly the planes over the border, immediately merging with whatever Ukrainian air assets remain and starting to make a more active air competition over Ukraine. All legit. 

Just this will make a big difference in the Russian strategy, if I'm right, as those vulnerable Russian columns of armored troops would become one 40-mile-long immobile target for attack. The whole top-down Russian battle plan assumes air superiority--it relies upon it.  The results would be catastrophic for the plan. Think of the US destruction of the Iraqi armor in the latter stages of Gulf War I. Putin can't risk that, or shouldn't.

Rationally, his move would then be to move to freeze the battle, or at least buy a little time before continuing to attack. (Remember there were two Chechen wars; the second one was the more brutal one.) 

Vindman is more aggressive than I. He says attack Russian air assets in Belarus. To me, that means expanding the war beyond Ukraine's borders. I was thinking attack those artillery assets firing on Kharkiv from inside Russia--that is fair game, but that might not be quite as much a shock to the Russians as pulverizing their invading troops. 

So,again, it is creating that threat of loss of massive invasion assets which I'd advocate. 

Some other time, maybe I will go into more detail with another harebrained idea, involving the Russians'  enclave at Kaliningrad. For now, I'd just say that, as part of the Aegean Sea blockade of Russian Navy and cargo exiting the Black Sea, there should be some training program for Free Ukrainian Navy SEALs. 

My next post will be for the one actor in this tragic episode that I have had the pleasure of meeting, our President Biden. He has so much on his plate, and he is doing his best with this unforgiving, soul-destroying job, that of protecting the best hopes of mankind, while keeping us out of war. Something wearily familiar in the latter history of this land (Wilson FDR LBJ). At least, unlike the Ukrainians, he asked for the job. I'm sure he'd agree, this is all Trump's fault. So would Vindman.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Nationalise Chelsea F.C.!

We must face the fact that the Cold War is back on. 

We have Putin recklessly pursuing revanchist expansion dreams for Mother Russia, the invasion on his Ukraine neighbor a violent homage to USSR days that imprinted his mind set and behavior.  The US finds itself anchoring a coalition of free nations resisting authoritarian aggression.  Anything is thinkable except direct conflict between the US and Russia.  

So, Russians abroad need to make some choices.  If you are not with Putin and funding his outrages, then you must break with him--"defect", it used to be called.  And, not just renounce the Putinist Russian regime, but actively contribute to its ultimate defeat.  Assets belonging to Putinist Russian entities or sanctioned individuals should be seized, not just frozen.  Proceeds will go toward eventual claims against Russia on behalf of its victims.  Assets to seize include oil and gas shipments; the owners of those assets can apply to get redress, if they prove their cause.  That would be after they were utilized during the present crisis, though.  

I would broaden the scope of sanctions, not just to Putin and his family, but to every member of the Duma that voted for invasion, violating international law.  The purpose is, indeed, punitive: Any deterrent days of those sanctions are ended,  not coming back. 

The Strange Case of Mr. Abramovitch

As a young man, Roman Abramovitch was one of the future-oligarch cronies of Putin during the future despot's years of rise to untrammeled domestic power.  He made a pile of dough, then emigrated--or has tried to, over a long period of time.  A little research turns up that Abramovitch, who has Jewish roots, was able to obtain an Israeli passport in 2018, and then, late last year, a Portuguese one, legally issued under a law in that country permitting it.  

A passport of any EU country permits residence in any other one.  This is where it gets complicated:  Roman would like to reside in the U.K., in London to be specific, with his pride and joy, the Chelsea Football Club, currently Champions Cup holders and third in the English Premier League of soccer.  Brexit being what it is, neither passport gives him full-time residence in the U.K., though they each give him some relative privilege in getting visas to be there.  Privilege that can be cancelled.  Beyond just that, I think if the authorities in Portugal and Israel took a very close look, they would find some error or possible area needing further review in each one (I don't know if Roman still has the Israeli one), with the passport's active status revoked in the meantime. Like the undertaker in the Godfather saga, in an organization any member may find it is their time to make a special contribution to the whole. It is the time for Portugal to do its bit for NATO. Israel is playing it cool, a low profile in the confrontation, so far--it, more than most nations, "understands"+ the need occasionally to step over recognized borderlines in the interest of perceived national security. ^  

I saw an essay from someone suggesting blowing up one of Abramovitch's possessions, a multi-centi-million dollar yacht.  I too question the need for that yacht continuing to exist in any form, but I would let him stay on it as a stateless person.  Unless he makes a considerable sacrifice:  it could be to take on the Free Ukrainian citizenship that will soon be available for refugees from the conflict and give generously to their cause (I'm thinking a billion pounds or so), or it could be to yield to Boris Johnson's apparent desire to get at that luscious sportive asset, merely takes a vote of Parliament, who I expect will be most willing.  Once the British get possession of the team (again, Roman could apply for redress, which would get the most modern, expedited post-Covid non-attention), they can operate it for the benefit of Ukrainian relief funds.  Ultimate ownership can be determined later, though it should recognize the permanent stakeholder status of the West London borough residents.  I assume Roman won't agree to just go back to Mother Russia and leave all the fruits of his ill-gotten gains behind. 

Why am I turning on Roman, who has certainly brought unprecedented success to my club through his period of some two decades of owning it?  Well, thank you, Roman, but I owe you no more loyalty than you did, say, for Romeo Lukaku, or Mohammed Salah?   (The first Abramovitch loaned out, lost, then bought back for too much; the second is the superstar that got away and eventually found his way back to one of Chelsea's archrivals).   Or for the 1001 coaches you've had hired and fired.* To be fair, Abramovitch's money has brought great talent, and those players, and their myriad talented coaches, have added to the club's brand.  To be Cold War-style ruthless, we can do without Roman now.

Just an example.  There are eight million stories in the Naked Refugee World. 

Closing Notes

--I should say something to the Russian public**:  we can stop this from becoming Cold War II.  

The first one ended so badly for you.  It's not unlike what the US will have to do to eliminate the influence of the (still!) Putin-brown-nosing traitor Dickhead45 from our society.  It must start, in Russia, at the local level--remove the cadres who hold up your Fearless Leader. Renounce toxic nationalism based on ethnicity!*** 

--I know why Putin wanted control of Chernobyl; it's to hide the past from the world's further scrutiny and the humiliation of the USSR's epic fail there.

--"paranoid, myth-making, grievance-oriented" - if you are looking for words to describe Putin that can be shared at the cocktail table, this was CNN International Anchor Christiane Amanpour's carefully-articulated description of today's Vladimir.   Thank you Ms. Amanpour.

_________________________

+The term the Chinese Foreign Minister gave as his reaction to the Russian argument for invasion. 

^The US, of course, should not be viewed as above these other nations in their history of observing them, either 

* I exaggerate slightly. 

**Who are near the top in Google's listing of the source of hits on this blog (even if only for spam purposes, in many cases). 

***Look up the animated series, "Rocky and Bullwinkle". 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Showing Him the Door

The door is not a jar. 

 I was rather shocked that these diplomatic experts on Sunday's talks had no real idea what it would take to de-fuse the ticking bomb of Russia's massing of forces outside the Ukraine.  So, as far as i can tell, none of these simple but effective notions were presented: 

0)  Counter-proposal to Russia's request to retreat to pre-1989 NATO:  Ukraine wants its nukes back!  Perfectly reasonable request, it yielded them voluntarily (under pressure from the West) as part of a comprehensive security guarantee for the Ukraine (to which Russia also agreed).  Since that guarantee is obviously no longer operable, the West will consider Russia's request for a return to never when they  comply with this request from the Volensky government (note: not a replacement puppet one)

1)  Withdrawal of forces; creation of demilitarized buffer zone.  I suggest 150 km, but that also applies to Russian and Belarussian forces at the Ukrainian border.  Russia would insist on some right to mess with "autonomous" Donbas if Ukraine violates the demilitarized zone there, but otherwise commit to respect Ukraine's territorial sovereignty .   Except for....

2) Conference on the Permanent Status of Crimea - The ultimate objective would be to ratify the fait accompli, nothing more.  Russia took it in 2014, in a flash, Then they announced a referendum on annexing it, and then announced its overwhelming success and subsequent incorporation in Mother Russia.  Russia has a fairly legitimate claim to ownership, which passed to the Ukraine during the Soviet period for obscure reasons.   The Conference would include Ukraine, the US, Europe, and Turkey, and would address claims against Russia related to the invasion and occupation, but Russia would have legal status.  It would solve one of the most difficult problems of all in de-escalation. 

3)  Germany will commit to 'accelerating its review of NordStream2'  when Russia completes 1) and commits to joining 2).   Wink, wink.  A carrot, as opposed to a stick. 

There would not be any concession on those crazy Russian proposals, yet we are talking about something real, and particularly for eliminating any reason to claim a military threat to Russia proper (or its satellite, Belarus).  

President Biden has insisted he was not advised how the Afghan military and government control were in no way prepared for the period after the US withdrawal.  If he reads here, then he will know the way to find the Holy Off-Ramp! (Batman...)


Saturday, January 15, 2022

The State of Sports, Pt. 2

 On the Absence of Any Alternative to The Fall Classic

The Romans knew it:  Bread and circuses were the key to domestic tranquility.  Bread--nowadays, the economy--is a subject for another day, but the meaning of circuses here and now is our own sporting industry, competitive and gladatorial. It is almost a national necessity to ensure that the events continue despite any circumstances. At least in peacetime. 

The Fall Classic, of course, is the World Series of our Major League Baseball. In 2021, we had a relatively normal one, after a surprisingly normal regular season and an exciting set of playoff series.  The victory by the Atlanta Braves was a relatively just finish, despite their fans' somewhat odious chant ('The infamous 'Tomahawk'.  Really, it just needs to be re-imagined.)  The franchise did some great things in 2021 to rise from a bad midseason position (trailing, and losing their best player, Ronald Acuna, Jr. to injury); they picked up no less than four quality replacements who showed up in the postseason. 

So, a bad time to take on the needless anxiety for the 2022 season arising from the lockout of the majors' players by the owners now (a lack of a new union contract).   I think I will await some progress on the negotiations, which have just been agreed to begin shortly after 45 days, with about as many to get a deal. Meanwhile, back to the main topic. 

The Aussie Should Move to November

That is my outrageous suggestion, one which I make with all seriousness for consideration by the sport of pro tennis. 

I would suggest putting it 3-5 weeks before the current year-end, match-play style tournaments in early December.  In other words, early November. I think it would add some needed luster to the season's mediocre ending and would end up making the first two months of the calendar year a true vacation, one that I think would enhance the consistency and health of the players in the other ten. 

It's no real challenge going from Melbourne, Australia to anywhere in the world for the top eight men and top eight women, with a couple of weeks and today's private jet services.  The challenge would be the time zone adjustment and preparation time needed in Australia--just as it is now, but with this change, having a good month or more after the current last Grand Slam of the season, the US Open in September, for those who wished to take on the challenge of the new climax of the season. 

The big benefit, though, will be to the Australian Open itself.  Instead of the fourth of the grand slams, it would be on more equal footing in terms of significance.  Then, there is the climate factor:  each year, the heat during this time of year (think: hotter than the Fourth of July) has been getting worse, and more consistently worse for that matter.  Moving it to a lovely spring period might present some precipitation challenges, but that's what being a modern big-time sporting venue sometimes requires. 

I think there is no better sport for the Australians to show their sporting hospitality prowess.  It is certainly nothing like the grudge match with England in cricket.  OK, maybe like rugby.  So, what is this stupidity about Djokovic and his lack of immunity?  We all know when Novak (the new moniker is 'no-mask') had it:  it was in the first summer of Covid, 2020.  If we could only think back to then....but he's been isolated in his hotel long enough that if he had omicron, it would show.  Unfortunately for him, the national PM has a point to make as he looks toward a tough re-election battle based on the success of his heavy lockdown approach. 

All right, forget tennis as the replacement, but I will comment below on its competitive situation.  Next? 

Breaking News in Football: A Tie Can Be Better than Kissing Your Sister 

Football pretends to be a fall sport, but its focus is really in the winter.  At least, the NFL's is. The transition from the useless preseason games into the real season is hardly noticeable, and I can barely pay attention to the oversensitive retired jock blather through much of the regular season.  As playoffs and the season itself continue to expand, there is less pressure on coaches and their teams in the early-going.  Lots of time to work things out, if your team is competitive; the season still doesn't have that many games but there's room to lose a couple here or there in the fall.  The crunch comes in the last three weeks of the season, when the arcane tiebreaking scenarios and their resolution give games artificial significance.   

In this "Biggest Season of All", the regular-season crunch now has moved ever later, into the holidays and the new year. In recent years the NFL has expanded the season with the bye week, expanded the number of days nationally televised games are available, added yet a 17th regular-season game (taking away a preseason one, I hope) and now, the number of teams making the playoffs (from six to seven, for each conference). All of the other moves worked spectacularly well for the industry; the public has not reached saturation, somehow, and the NFL's product marketing remains excellent. 

The audience attraction for the last weekend ended up being the battles for those two seventh-and-last spots, set up by some of the recent surprise results.  On the NFC side, the 49ers produced the largest comeback of the season (17 points at halftime) to win their berth.  The AFC spot came down to the very last game to be played in the schedule. The Raiders, who have finally found a home for their renegade marauding, in Las Vegas, hosted the Chargers, who broke San Diego's heart recently by moving to a megastadium near L.A.  

The winner of the game would get the spot, the loser eliminated. There was one wrinkle, though;  in the NFL regular season they now play an overtime period, 10 minutes or less.  Most of the overtime games end with one team scoring more or sooner, but it is possible for there to be a tie--it happens typically once or twice a season.   The Pittsbugh Steelers, who won a game in overtime earlier on Sunday, were one of those teams with a tie in their record this season.  Their win Sunday afternoon would put them into the playoff brackets.  Unless....unless the Raiders and Chargers should tie.   In that one odd case, both those teams would make it in, and the Steelers would be out. 

To make the story as short as I can, I jump to the crux of it.  Through a combination of relatively unlikely occurrences, without really aiming to do so the Raiders-Chargers result collided at the improbable football score of 29 each at the end of regulation time.  In the overtime, each team's first possession ended in a 3-point field goal.  The Raiders found themselves with the ball, near midfield, with a couple minutes left, and the score tied at 32. The next score would win, but, if neither team scored anymore, they would both get through. 

At this point, Raiders coach  Rich Bisaccia (his success to this point itself a major story, as he was named head coach in a disastrous situation in the middle of the season) had to decide whether to take the pragmatic strategy, three running plays to run out the clock and take the tie, or allow the natural competitive juices to flow and go for the win, taking the risk of an adverse outcome.  They ran a couple of running plays, seemingly willing to take the tie.  At this point, Chargers' coach Brandon Staley, who had shown himself earlier in the game to be an outlier risk-taker, took a timeout to stop the clock, with about a minute left.  Why?  Possibly he was thinking to get the ball back and make his bid to win, for some reason.  After that, though, the Raiders ran one more successful play, which put them in the outer range of their field-goal kicker. 

Again, a decision for Bisaccia:  Go for the field goal and the win, with its concomitant risks (the attempt could be blocked, or run back by the defensive team), or, having countered the Chargers' bluff, take a knee and the tie.  They went for the kick, it barely went through, and the Chargers were out and the Steelers saved.  Score one for competitive integrity, minus one for game theory. 

The change to add the seventh team to the playoffs is a winner from the start.  It adds two more nationally-televised games to the frenzied Wild Card weekend, and it places additional emphasis on the challenge to be the best team in the conference and get the bye in that weekend, a week of rest and recovery.   The seeding may not turn out to give those #1 seeds so much advantage:  they will have a week of down time, then face the lowest-seeding team in the next round, but that will be a team that has scrapped to get in and then won their first game.  We have seen in baseball that is a formula for a likely upset. 

As for college football, they miss few chances to get it wrong. I'm hearing a debate about whether to expand their playoffs (currently four teams, nearly always with controversy about the last one or two) to eight or 12, or leave it as it is (the preference of the big schools and their conferences).  The correct answer is 6, or imitate the NFL and go for the touchdown with 7. 

My loony idea for football:  Blind-side shocks damaging the brain and spine are the biggest long-term issue for the issue (credit to the brilliant Michael Lewis for his essay on the subject in his book named "The Blind Side").  Protective helmet technology has come a long way, but I see a radical fix for the problem:  a rear-view camera in the back of the helmet, and a small video capability up by the brow.  Quarterbacks and other skill positions (running back, wide receiver) will be able to use it and brace themselves for those mind-killers. 

Footie:  Coming to America, Part Deux

The game we Americans know as soccer, most of the world calling it some form of 'football', has remained an import most of us have regarded with distrust throughout its history.  There have been efforts to install it as a major draw before (remember Pele on the Cosmos?), then there was the World Cup here in 1994 which briefly raised its profile. 

The current version of the men's professional league (MLS, or Major League Soccer) has lasted a couple of decades and does have significant support, locally, for its franchises.  Those running it have been smart enough to keep their ambitions within their revenues, so far.  

I see a good chance that the game may be lifted up to about the level of fourth place in the US professional sports hierarchy, passing ice hockey (also an import not congenial to most of the country).  The reasons are as follows:  1) The Women's national team's successes have raised our awareness; 2) Youth leagues and high school teams continue to grow (partially assisted by parents' fears of American football injuries to their children); 3) The US will be hosting the men's World Cup again in 2026 (with Canada--something that has not penetrated general awareness yet); and 4) Christian Pulisic. 

Pulisic may be the best men's player the US has ever produced; he is, for my money, clearly the most exciting one.  He doesn't just "play like an American"--he has been coached in the international style and has proved himself, first in the German Bundesliga and now for my team, Chelsea, in the English Premier League.  This spring, he became the first American to feature on a team winning the European club championship.  He is the undoubted star of the US Men's National Team, and I'm gunning for them to equal or surpass their modern best performance, the quarter-finals of the tournament, in the ridiculous, but neutral, arenas of Qatar, the host for the 2022 World Cup.

As for me, I now have an MLS team, NYCFC (an expansion team, which uses the English "Football Club" in its handle).  For now, they play in Yankee Stadium (the Yankees are part-owners) when the baseball team isn't there.   They surprised everyone and won the MLS Cup through penalty kicks recently. 

The Future Is Encouraging

All these sports are showing impressive talent rising from our youngest adults, who are moving to push the aging veterans out of their positions at the top.  Soccer always has them, but now they are arising from more parts of the world than ever.  American football has the likes of rising, highly skilled quarterbacks Justin Herbert, Taylor Lawrence, Lamar Jackson, and Joe Burrow, recent graduates from the college game who have already proven they can stand up against the Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers/Ben Roethlisberger axis in the pro passing game.   Similarly, basketball has Ja Morant, Trae Young, and Giannis Antetokounmpo to challenge Lebron, Chris Paul, and the other Old Guard hoopsters.  And tennis, with the Big 3 finally near to moving on (except Djokovic, who will have to be shoved off the court), shows rising stars like Carlos Alcazar (the "new Rafael Nadal", only bigger physically), Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka, and a host of Eastern European and Americans rising through the ranks.  In last year's dramatic Olympics and US Open, Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev showed that Djoko is no longer invincible in Grand Slam finals. 

And, the professional leagues are generally showing more balance, if not quite parity, with several teams capable of performing at the highest level.  Generally, they are the ones with the highest payrolls, but not always so. 

Postscript:  

I am encouraged by the report from yesterday's first formal negotiations between the baseball players' union and the team owners.  The players are seeking earlier free agency and a larger cut of the pie, the owners are suggesting measures for a bigger pie.  In particular, I note the owners' offer of an expansion of the postseason to 14 teams (from the current 10).  Not exactly the magic 7 (per league) the NFL found, though; I expect it would be a play-in tournament of teams 4-7 (one game, or at most 2-out-of-3), while the three division winners get a week off to recover and line up their starting rotation.  The solution always seems to be to lengthen the season, give the fans more.  

What I really see from this is that The Fall Classic for 2022 should be safe, and maybe the season will even start on time. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

OMC!

 The Climactic Spasm of Covid? 


As pictured here, and note the ratings (click through for a closer look):  

The Omicron Sniper: It is hard to dodge its attack, as it has a long range and quick spatial movement, but its attack is not in itself sufficient in most cases.  Its defenses against our countermeasures are significant but not impregnable.  Most importantly, it has a short projected lifespan. *

As it sweeps over our country at roughly the speed of air travel, our efforts to slow it down seem ever less effective.  The air travel ban of South African countries was particularly useless, just as Trump's ban of Chinese arrivals during the initial wave was blind to the actual transmission here, mostly via Europe.  

I was given to saying to like-minded people (pre-omicron) that, if we had a good Christmas, we could be O.K. in the 2022 elections, and if people felt the holidays too compromised, we would truly be in trouble.  It looks as though the timing and speed of the omicron onslaught was such that Xmas was still somewhat alright, but we had to give up our New Years plans: it would seem pure insanity to engage in any mass activity on the eve of 2022.   

If one nets the one against the other, I'd think we come out ahead, but the loss column may end up including some effect on the hallowed college bowl games, and it remains to be seen in the weeks ahead whether it will extend to the even more sacred (and crucial, politically) NFL playoff circuses. 

There is another sportive aspect about which we must be concerned.  The Winter Olympics are due to start in a matter of weeks in a nation (China) that, after having the most cases, and who knows how many deaths initially, has been willing to go to extremes in prevention and mitigation, and has maintained itself nearly Covid-free.  The Winter Olympics can be contained in a bubble, I believe, but the after-effects in country are likely to be serious--and I don't think their vaccines are top-quality.  If I were Xi, I would be preparing for the worst now. 

So, we now must wait to see if deaths will follow the nearly exponential omicron growth, or more likely, will grow more linearly.  And for how long before the peak?  The UK experience suggests the wave could be a matter of some weeks or a couple of months.  One big unknowable, one that will be critical for the future of the naive unvaccinated who are about to be tested by omicron, is whether exposure to this multi-faceted virus will provide greatly-enhanced protection against future variants, or will the virus outsmart us again?  

Finally, for many of us, even among the exposed asymptomatics, who will be numerous beyond count,  vaccinated or not, there is the danger of long-lasting effects.  Sadly, we are likely experiencing a significant hit to life expectancy that may extend to multiple generations, offsetting decades of progress from medical improvement and reduced tobacco smoking. 



*Photo credit for my son's Heroscape set.  We will ignore that 'n' in its label--probably just a typo.  I've been told too many times not to be so obsessive about spelling.


Tuesday, December 14, 2021

How Trumpism Changed America

I borrow most of the title from an excellent essay by Clare Malone for fivethirtyeight.com the day that Pennsylvania was called for Biden.   There is now an embodiment for the sentiment that has lingered for long, surged, then congealed, lifting Donald Trump to an improbable Presidency riding a wave of festering froth.  As for so much else he rode, on his route to his current beached state, he gets to brand it. 

I leave it to the semioticians and neuropsychiatrists to explain how one translates his boffo B.S. into something resonating favorably in adult voters' brains.  It does appear now, though, that there is a permanent policy focus to the narcissistic bombast that Dikhead45 foisted upon us.  The January 6 Trump Riot crystallized it. 

I would synthesize Trumpism's real-world manifestation as opposition to the continued functioning of almost all the US Federal Government. Defense, Homeland Security--they get the maximum, but that's pretty much it.  Maybe FEMA, because God.   As for the rest of them, the approach was to sap their energy with bad appointees and dire directives contrary to their mission, whatever it is.  The sad result is that the dysfunction of the Federal departments starved for proper leadership only increases, while even those favored face the curse of being requested to behave improperly to suit their commander's impure impulses. And so the murmurs of disunion, internally and abroad, are not dispelled, as they should be when an evil smell is suppressed.  For it lingers on. 

The Trump Administration's Active Self-Sabotage 

Commerce (Wilbur!) and how he tried to corrupt our Census!  

H.U.D.  - He appointed Ben Carson, who barely knew what the department did, even after four years of doing it. 

D.O.E. - He appointed Rick Perry, who once promised on national TV that he would have eliminated the department's existence if he had been elected.  And if he could remember. 

State - He ruined the department in so many ways, particularly by providing obstacles to its ordinary functions, but also by the ludicrous foreign policies he ordered up.  Finding suitable stooges to execute his bizarre, immoral impulses was a challenge, and he couldn't completely do without international relations--though he preferred it to be done through his zealot loyalist trade guy.  So, he let the rest of it atrophy, putting pompous Pompeo to be the mouthpiece of whatever, with only those of infinite patience able to endure just those four years.                                   

He even tried to obstruct the functioning of the Post Office!    DeJoy, for Ben Franklin's sake!  

His damage was not limited to his executive mismanagement, though his use of his directly authorized powers to corrupt were extensive.  He did what he could, and it was a lot, to further the corrupting politicization of Federal court appointments, which will endure. He attacked, and continues to attack, the functioning of our election systems--criticism surely justified, though not for the reasons, if any, he ever cited--even though his Federal executive has little to no control over them. 

As far as Congressional relations with the White House were concerned, he seemed happy with stasis and stalemate, once he had extracted the tax cuts (less fuel for the Federal government) that he sought.  He was OK with the McConnell debt limit default threat strategy, basically a tactic to deny the government the ability to pay its bills.


--Written Sept. 8, 2021.  


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   . 


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 (Ed. up from 8)

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 option 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 end of the court (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 were to continue to the sideline, that corner shot is just worth two.  It would change offense, to the benefit of battles in the paint, and generally in front of the basket.  The would-be spacer is squeezed more into the midrange of the court, where the action used to be.  

As for the college game, my personal view is that college basketball--men's--has subordinated itself excessively to its football colleagues 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, ultimately weakening them in the contest that really matters ("March Madness", the current national 68-team elimination tournament).   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.