Credit Due (Or Not)

August 9, 2017

I am a strong believer in giving credit when credit is due … a little praise when it is earned. The Trump Administration’s vote in the United Nations sanctioning North Korea was a real diplomatic accomplishment. It was a rare occasion when the entire General Council voted unanimously – something that has happened less than a dozen times in the last 25 years.

Ambassador Nikki Haley appears to have pulled off a minor miracle, and she has already raised expectations with her stellar performance at the UN so far. That said … Trump has been very vocal about how meaningless past UN votes are, and he is right (or was right, since he has done the usual Trump thing and completely reversed himself on the UN as being totally worthless). China is notorious for signing off on previous sanctions against North Korea and ignoring them afterwards. Russia’s calculus is probably along the lines of win-win: they win by looking diplomatically reasonable, and they win by escalating tensions between us and N. Korea even more. Still, what else could be done with North Korea, except maybe ignore them until a missile is launched our way? It would be nice if we had a functioning State Department to pursue more diplomatic efforts. No doubt the multiple levels of anti-missile defenses between here and N. Korea should be able to handle a few nukes, but who wants to wait for that event?

Balanced against the overall performance of our foreign policy, the UN vote is extraordinary not only for the actual accomplishment, but more for its singularity in the face of a continual stream of foreign policy failures. We are losing the war in Afghanistan, China is taking over the South China Sea, we are isolated on the issue of climate change, and no one anywhere has a sense of what our foreign policy goals are … The State Dept. has less than half its vacancies filled, including some important ambassadorships, and our president is the laughingstock of the world’s media. Putin declaring Trump “weak” is certainly a bad sign for the future. We are like a champion boxer staggering around drunk: everyone is amused but still not wanting to take him on in a fight. That could change soon.

Now onto other matters before you think I have gone mad … How pathetic is it for Trump to “trumpet” economic news? The jobs growth has been consistent with Obama’s, the growth of the economy over the last six months is virtually identical to Obama’s economy, there is no wage growth (who would celebrate the creation of minimum wage jobs with no benefits?). The record Wall Street levels means billionaires are making more billions – how many of you are making a killing on the market vs. being killed at the market (grocery)? BTW, the percentage increase of the GNP under Trump is anemic so far compared to Obama’s economy, even with records being set.

I guess if you want a good job you could go to West Virginia and work in a coal mine. They are hiring like crazy according to State-Run TV (not the Russian’s, but Trump’s new network – funded by… who?).

 


Detroit’s Mayoral Primary

August 7, 2017

Tomorrow, the residents of Detroit vote in the primary to winnow-down the list of mayoral candidates to two. The timing for the release of the movie “Detroit” is impeccable, not only to the purpose of marketing, but also for its historic relevance on the cusp of a pivotal mayoral election. The uprising chronicled in “Detroit” is generally blamed for the massive flight of businesses and white residents afterwards, leading to a downward spiral that nearly 50 years later has only now begun to be reversed. Entire generations the City has suffered from crime, gangs, whole neighborhoods being abandoned, failing utilities, failing essential services and failing schools and other human scourges. For example, at one time there was only 1 grocery chain store in Detroit. Perhaps the most damaging legacy is the one of racial politics. The continuing insistence of many politicians to put politics in racial terms only has held the City back economically as well as culturally. Racism has been a major cause of Detroit’s problems for over a century, beginning perhaps with the race riots that followed the Emancipation Proclamation, to the present treatment of Detroit by the Governor and Michigan State Legislature.

Unfortunately, once again, it is up to the residents of Detroit to consider putting aside racial politics, because it is clear that the white people in the remaining 90% of Michigan are not going to change. One need only drive 15 minutes from Detroit to see lawns with Confederate flags and Trump banners. They will always fear a place where African-Americans are in charge. That’s why the next election will be a real harbinger of things to come.  When Mike Duggan was elected mayor – the first white mayor since the 1970s – it was tempting to hope that racial politics was over in the City. Duggan won in part because his competition wasn’t much better than it is now, with nearly half the candidates running convicted felons. Usually our mayors aren’t convicted until after they are elected. But Duggan also ran on an issue that cuts across racial politics. He ran on an economic platform, and no one could argue that he hasn’t been spectacularly successful with regard to the revitalization of the Downtown Districts.

The only serious competition for Duggan is a man with a golden pedigree – the Coleman Young name. Junior has some good ideas, and his focus on neighborhoods and services is what is needed. His challenge will be to avoid the politics of racial resentments and articulate policies to continue the economic expansion. The challenge for Duggan will be to expand the economic success of Downtown areas and translate it into revitalization of neighborhoods. That should be the essential issue in the upcoming mayoral election. However, old habits die hard and already we are beginning to hear the whisperings of resentment. You hear it in complaints that higher real estate prices are forcing out Black businesses in downtown, or that long time residents are being displaced, neighborhoods and schools have been neglected – all of which are true.

For decades, back entrepreneurs rarely saw a white customer and focused on narrowing interests. The rapid influx of young, (mostly) white people means adapting to a rapidly changing downtown economy. Some older businesses are adapting and succeeding. Many older businesses have been too slow to embrace the changes and are failing. We owe it to those businesses to help them to change, but not at the expense of the still-fragile Detroit economy. Rising real estate demand also means that long deserted buildings are being renovated and almost immediately occupied, as well as expanding tax revenues. There is no question that the focus on economic revitalization in the downtown districts has been a success. What has been lacking has been a plan to expand the success to the neighborhoods and to the people of Detroit, not just the investors.

Hopefully, the candidate for mayor will focus on the economic revitalization of Detroit and expand it to neighborhoods and services and resist the destructive gravity of racial politics. The best man for mayor will have a plan to expand the present economic growth of Detroit into neighborhoods at the same rate.


Send in the Marines

August 4, 2017

As retired General John Kelley wades ashore to his White House bunker – I mean office – there is more hope than assurance that he will be able to bring order to the chaos. He is a man who spent 40 years of his life as a Marine, initially as a non-commissioned officer and later as an officer commanding a rifle platoon. Ultimately, he rose to be commander of the United States Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.

The fact that he was a grunt, a rifleman who rose to the rank of sergeant before being commissioned as an officer is significant. Marines know how to fight, not lie. The corps has a strong ethos of honesty and the harshest punishments doled out in basic training are for lying. Of all the branches of the military, the Marine Corps is considered the most disciplined, structured branch. They insist that every Marine is trained as a rifleman, no matter what job they ultimately work. Riflemen understand the necessity of following orders, trust, accountability and the chain of command. This is why I doubt he will last long as Trump’s Chief of Staff.

Kelley will no doubt establish discipline and order with subordinates. The problem is that no matter what the organizational chart says, it is not likely he will know who those subordinates are. For example, Melania Trump issued a statement that she looked forward to working “alongside” Kelley. There is no person “alongside” Kelley, he is the Chief of Staff.

A second problem is that he is subordinate to Trump, who has a character and modus operandi that is antithetical to Kelley’s training and nature. Kelley values and follows procedure; Trump has always been known as a man who “wings it.” Kelley is meticulous, prepared, intellectually curious, and, well, we all know how Trump is that regard. Kelley understands and appreciates the value of traditions. To Kelley, traditions are there for a purpose greater than the individual. Trump is a man who violates norms and traditions to serve his own interests. Kelley understands the value of the chain of command, while Trump is known for what is politely called a “horizontal management model” with him at the top and everyone else on the same level of authority.

Worse still, is Kelley’s ethos that you do not challenge the orders of your superior. The origin of the White House dysfunction is Trump himself. He creates chaos by playing one subordinate against another, and by making impulsive, unilateral decisions that have often run totally contrary to his team. The qualities of character that have defined Kelley are antithetical to his boss. At Homeland Defense, Kelley was somewhat insulated from the moment-to-moment chaos Trump causes. However, he will now be confronted on a continuing basis with behaviors that would drive any Marine commander crazy. Kelley can handle his subordinates, with the probable exceptions of family members. (Imagine a Marine with a commanding officer who allows his daughter and son-in-law to develop strategy and give orders!). How will he handle a man with a narcissistic personality disorder who is a pathological liar? Kelley, unless he is capable of totally compromising life-long principles, would never assent knowingly to a lie, a cover-up, or collusion with Russia.

The only other weathervane in this regard is retired Gen. McMaster, another Marine who apparently has become persona non grata at the White House (Trump had a dinner party last weekend with most of his Cabinet – at a Trump resort of course – except McMaster who was not invited). Trump waited until McMaster, his Secretary of Defense, was out of country to make his transgender announcement via Twitter. After McMaster returned the Joint Chiefs issued a statement essentially voiding the Commander in Chief’s Twitter order with a back handed suggestion that Trump follow procedures and the chain of command next time. The only certain thing about Kelley taking this job is that if he does leave early then it will be a huge warning flare for the country.


Failure Friday

August 3, 2017

This past week has to be one of the most disastrous weeks of any presidency. In a week that already had been labelled as “failure Friday” by Morning Joe’s Mika B., the icing on the cake was the firing of Priebus late Friday night. As bad the week was, it was only an extension of the same failures that has become the early pattern with the Trump Administration. The staccato pace of failures is beginning to be felt by the people of denial, the cult of alt. facts. The Trumpanzies paused for a moment from their wild chattering to feel the first palpable tremor of reality – Trump is failing. After months of changing his promise to the faithful that repealing and replacing Obamacare and replacing it with better healthcare at a fraction of the current costs (“it will be easy and happen so fast it will make your head spin”), not only did Trumpcare fail, he failed to even repeal Obamacare! The self-declared “world’s best negotiator” had failed on his signature campaign promise.

Then, he begins to humiliate his attorney general in 3 am tweets. The man who declared that he was the “toughest boss alive” – You’re fired! – didn’t have the courage to fire Sessions, but resorted to humiliating him. It was as though Trump was trying to so embarrass and humiliate Sessions that he would have to resign to preserve any dignity. Other than disgracing the office of the president, the only thing Trump accomplished was to reaffirm that anyone choosing to work for him had already lost all dignity.

Then there was the “Mooch”, who immediately lost any dignity of his own when prostrating himself before Trump in the very first press conference. Another Wall St. hire (“clean the Swamp”), Scaramucci has no communication skills training or knowledge of how government works, but he quickly made it clear that he does have one communication skill – he could curse and threaten people as though he was channeling Tony Soprano. It’s fair to say that he has embarrassed the entire country already… and probably secured his job.

Then there was the appalling performance at the Boy Scout Jamboree. Trump turned a rally of adolescent boys into a political rally that evoked images of Hitler Youth Rallies – the only thing lacking were the torches. How bad is it when the leader of the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the president?

Then there was the tweet changing military policy on transgender servicemen. What kind of person announces a change in military policy in a tweet? Although Trump claimed he had consulted with his generals, it quickly became apparent that that was a lie when the Pentagon was caught completely by surprise. More than a few in the military and in government are concerned about a commander in chief who makes impulsive, unilateral decisions on military policy and announces it in a tweet before informing his military. In a subtle, but powerful act of defiance of their commander, the joint chiefs announced that they were not changing any policy until the proper procedure and considerations were completed. The man who declared that he ”knew more than the generals…” was smacked down in an unprecedented way by those generals.

Then there was the passage of a Russian sanction bill by a veto-proof vote in both bodies of Congress. The most significant political aspect of those votes is that Congress included a limitation on the power of the president to change the sanctions. All but 5 members of the House and Senate announced they do not trust Trump on the issue of Russia.

Then there was the resignation of Priebus. The man who declared himself the best judge of talent and greatest manager in history, promised to staff his administration with only the “top, top talent… the most brilliant people”, has now lost more upper level appointees than any president in the first 6 months of his administration. Two of his appointees to the top national security positions turned out to be employed as agents of another country. That’s some judge of character and talent! His communications director, his chief of staff… all told, some 9 people in senior management have been fired or resigned and that doesn’t include the acting attorney general and FBI director – but those were not his appointees, they were fired for investigating his collusion with Russia. And this is all before any criminal indictments have been issued! Numerous sources report that the White House is in total chaos, and the product coming out from there seems to confirm those reports. If a CEO of any major company lost 9 senior managers in six months, they would be fired.

The failures are accumulating, and the sense that this president is incompetent is even starting to penetrate the collective Medulla Oblongata of Trumpcult. #whatabouthillary?


The Sweetest Moment in the Senate

August 2, 2017

It was a moment of drama that surpassed any fiction from George R.R. Martin. Everyone anticipated that John McCain would be the vote to provide salvation for Republicans on the Health Care Bill. What must have been swirling in that mind as he approached the microphone to provide the last vote in the early morning hour? He seemed so calm… so dispassionate, but his heart must have been beating out of his chest and it had to take heroic effort to not laugh out loud. Mitch McConnell and Trump begged him to fly back to D.C. to provide his vote to allow debate and votes on the mystery box health care bill. He was welcomed back as a returning hero when he entered the Senate chamber and voted to allow debate. It looked like he had totally sold out his principles when he voted to support one version of the bill that he said he could never support, but John has a gift for drama.

He lectured the Senate, pleading for normal order and bipartisan cooperation. He berated his fellow Republicans on the shameful process they used to exclude Democrats, and the lunacy of voting on a sham Bill that could only be passed if the House agreed to never pass it into law. He confused his supporters when he voted on the first iteration of the Bill, but he cast his vote only after it was clear it would not pass. He set it all up perfectly.

When McCain cast his vote to kill Trumpcare, he did far more than kill a bill. He detonated a thermonuclear political bomb. His vote was the Red Wedding of Republican leadership. It was a statement that he could not trust Paul Ryan. Republican Senators, desperate for some political cover for voting for a Bill that would be a disaster for their constituents, or not vote for the Bill and admit that the last seven years of promises were nothing more than a lie to get votes. They wanted to have Paul Ryan promise that if they passed the abomination, he would refer it to Committee so the Bill would never see the light of day. House Leader Ryan said he would consider tabling the Bill if passed by the Republican Senators. McCain said that was not enough of a commitment. The vote was an acknowledgement that Ryan could not be trusted.

Mitch McConnell, considered a tactical genius of obstruction, had his first opportunity to show he could do something other than say “no”. Mitch hand-selected a bunch of old white guys to meet in secret to come up with a Bill, but it was the wrong old white guys. McCain was excluded, even with his senior leadership positions in the Senate, because Trump hated him (not in small part because McCain has been the chief Republican voice on the Russian collusion issue). Mitch now looks foolish and weak, and already the humiliation of the failure of their centerpiece promise to voters has caused other Senators to question his leadership role. Now, who expects Mitch to be successful with tax reform? As much as McCain’s vote was a statement of Ryan’s dishonesty, the vote politically emasculated McConnell.

However, as sweet as it was to exact retribution on Ryan and McConnell, nothing – absolutely nothing – must have been sweeter than what the vote did to Trump. The draft dodger who questioned McCain’s heroism as a POW, was cast down from the heavens by the man he mocked, humiliated and dismissed so publicly. McCain and I may be on opposite sides of ideology, but I have always respected his heroism during the war and his willingness to serve the country afterwards. Now he has assumed mythological status in the Pantheon of political paybacks. He did what was right for his constituents, but never has doing the right thing been as sweet as that moment. Good for us and good for him.


Priorities for Michigan

August 1, 2017

It’s close enough to the campaign for Governor of Michigan that potential candidates are courting donors, sponsors and publicity. This is the season of first screens of candidates by the political donor class – a time when bets are placed on candidates to show for the nomination. It has always struck me that this pre-campaign, campaign is dominated by a few donors and king-makers, rather than a discussion of policy proposals. The race to run is determined by who can raise how much money and political establishment support, not by who has the best ideas to solve our problems. The closest we will come to a policy statement will be meaningless clichés such as “I am a problem solver” or “I will put Michigan back to work”.

When I ran for Governor I made numerous, specific proposals to solve the problems of Michigan, but by the time I wrestled the nomination away from the donors and the Dems, they had decided to take their money and go home. The policies I proposed were eclipsed by the politico-media establishment which focuses on personality rather than policies. Even to this day, when I talk with people about the proposals I made over a decade ago the response is predictable: “those are great ideas even for today – I never heard about them during the campaign.” I suggested a health insurance pool or exchange which has proven to reduce premiums in other states since. I suggested alternative sentencing for non-violent drug offenders in secure facilities where treatment was the focus. I suggested raising taxes to initiate a massive infrastructure program that would not only have produced more jobs, it would have attracted the next generation of employers such as high tech companies. I proposed a system of expanding free education to community colleges to retrain unemployed workers and to prepare the next generation of the workforce.

Maybe some of those proposals would still be great ideas, but one thing seems sure – none of those potential solutions, or any others, will determine who will be the nominees for either political party. The media should be insisting on specific policy proposals from any potential candidate, but most likely the coverage will be about the horserace itself. The nomination process is so bereft of substance that matters that winning the nomination itself is a certification of irrelevance to the welfare of the citizens of Michigan.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a candidate who garnered support for their ideas as a means of winning the nomination?

 

 

 


Prosecutors Live’s Matter

July 31, 2017

The numerous reports that the Trump legal team is investigating Robert Mueller in an effort to undermine his credibility before he makes recommendations on potential criminal prosecutions was interesting for a number of reasons. Many Trump supporters hate (and that is not too strong a word) the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and one of the less overtly racist reasons they offer is that they find it objectionable to question or impugn the motives of the police as a way of diverting attention from the criminal behavior of the man (usually) that they shot. Now we have a situation where the Trump team is deliberately trying to impugn the motives of a law officer even before that officer takes action. How will the rank and file cult react? I suspect that the real objections to the message of the Black Lives Matter movement are racially motivated, so I don’t expect that any Trump supporters will be bothered by his attempt to impugn Mueller with any and all types of false accusations. Trump supporters are all about law and order until it comes to Trump. We’ve been talking lately about how the Trump phenomenon has exposed the thin fabric of morality that Conservatives wrap themselves in to feel better than those dirty Liberals. National security, Christian values, law and order, smaller government… these are the words we have heard for decades from Conservatives – words that have been exposed to be as reliable as a product label from a Chinese pharmaceutical.

The silence of Conservatives as Trump continues to undermine our national security (by siding with Putin against our own intelligence services), or suggest amoral solutions to his legislative failures (e.g. allowing Obamacare to fail with the resulting human tragedies), has exposed the hollow core of the principles of the Conservative Movement. The brazen hypocrisy of Republicans at their convention shouting “blue lives matter,” after refusing for years to approve funding for medical treatment of first responders to 9/11, might have been written off the same way as the Swift Boat conventioneers who never spent a moment in military service shouted to take back Kerry’s citations, except that it is now their guy who is attacking the FBI, the Justice Department and even personally attacking law enforcement officers. However, this is a personality cult, and if Trump tells his followers that the Law Enforcement Establishment and the National Security Establishment are both out to get him, then they will abandon those institutions as quickly as Trump turns on his own promises. It will be no longer even a pretense that Conservatives are for a strong national security or law and order – and will abandon those principles without an inkling of conscience.