Monday, December 19, 2016

Mockingjay Madness

“It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us. We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.”
—Historian/critic Neal Gabler, in a piece titled “Farewell, America” on, November 10
Let us take a moment to savor the complete lack of self-awareness in the above quote. Even as he is tarring millions of his fellow citizens with epithets like racism, misogyny, xenophobia and nativism, Neal Gabler styles himself as the last vestige of civility and politesse. He cannot logically have it both ways. Either he can elect to be the spokesman of all the throbbing anger in blue state America directing itself venomously at its red state cousins or he can choose to be polite and civil. Neither he nor anyone else (myself included) can be both things at the same time.

People generally fall into this paradox because they see themselves as being above partisan disputes—even while they are in the throes of them. This is because they know The Truth and are thus entitled to condemn others righteously. It is not particularly attractive or useful when religious fundamentalists do it and even less so when modern liberals do it.

We are seeing a lot of this sort of hyperbole in the wake of the November election. People who, only weeks ago, were arguing for respect of other countries, no matter what their political values, are now ready to declare war on Russia. It is like some sort of mass hysteria.

One of the most jaw-dropping examples I have seen of absent self-awareness was in the December 19 issue of The New Yorker. In the “Shouts & Murmurs” humor section, there was a piece by Cora Frazier entitled “Katniss Everdeen, White House Intern Application.” First, let me go on record as having long been a fan of The New Yorker’s cartoons and arts coverage. Its humor in prose, though, usually goes right past me. I found this particular item, however, very funny but not for any reason the writer must have intended. Her clear intent in invoking the protagonist of The Hunger Games was to portray President-elect Trump as the books’ evil President Snow. What people at The New Yorker do not seem to understand is that, for many people outside New York and other urban areas, New Yorker writers are the very epitome of the over-privileged, fatuous Capitol dwellers living it up while folks in the rural hinterland scrape by to survive, as portrayed in Suzanne Collins’s books.

Would Katniss Everdeen be a Trump supporter? Well, as portrayed in the movies (full disclosure: I know only the movies and not the novels) she certainly is a disrupter. I doubt, however, that it was author Collins’s intention to write a coded book series about the Tea Party or the Alt Right. Yet that is nearly how it plays. The urban/rural divide laid bare by the U.S. election results looks like nothing so much as the economic/cultural tensions in the fictional country of Panem. Yet Cora Frazier, whose stock and trade as a New Yorker humor writer should be nothing if not irony, apparently saw none in aligning Ms. Everdeen with the Wall Street fatcats and capital dwellers who uniformly supported Hillary Clinton. Or maybe we were meant to see her version of Katniss as a die-hard Sanders supporter?

Therein lies the challenge for Democrats. They have to stop believing their own propaganda that they are the party of the working class and actually again become the party of the working class. That is, if they want to. If they do not—after all, I hear the American working class is full of racists and xenophobes—then they should decide what they really do want to stand for. Once they have done that, then they must say so clearly and act accordingly.

Perhaps they could become the party of the new Cold War. After all, these days they really seem to be itching for a fight with the Russians.

Here is some more unsolicited advice for Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter). Do not demonize people because they do not see things the same way you do—especially if you are hoping to get some of them to vote for you. Not every policy dispute is an apocalyptic struggle of good and evil. Most importantly, though, try to keep a sense of humor. Otherwise it is going to be a long four or eight years for New Yorker readers.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Silver Linings Playbook

“I got an email from a guy who works for some sort of defense contractor, some lower-level job, served in the military. And he said, look, I served in the military with black and Latino soldiers. My supervisor is a young black woman who’s smart as a whip, and I admire her, and we get along great. I belong to a bowling team with black and Latino coworkers. And when we get together and we talk about politics—I’m almost quoting him—he said, we don’t talk about Black Lives Matters. We talk about what matters to our families. We talk about jobs, and we talk about the fate of the country.”
—Columbia professor Mark Lilla, in a November 25 National Public Radio interview about how “identity liberalism” has been a disaster for Democrats
“As far as we were concerned, the problem was more with our communication than it was with our policy.”
—House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, on Democratic losses in the 2016 general election
In my previous post, shortly after the U.S. election, I attempted to find a silver lining for people who were disappointed in the result. After years of hearing that the problem with U.S. politics was the amounts of money raised and spent, we had a presidential election where the winning candidate actually raised and spent far less—and is consequently far less beholden to donors—than the losing candidate. As it happens, I have yet to hear anyone complain about the amount of money in politics since November 8 or, actually, since Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination.

Here are a couple more possible silver linings for those troubled by the dark clouds of the electoral result.

A Healthier Government/Media Relationship? We are now back to the normal state of things as far as the media are concerned. The natural and healthy role for the press has always been as an adversary to those who wield the reins of power. If journalists are not skeptical about those who govern us, then they risk being mere government stenographers and political enablers. While the press rightly covered the presidency of Barack Obama as a historical milestone, its coverage of his administration was too often lacking in curiosity and critical analysis. I am speaking here mainly of the news organs that reach most ordinary people, i.e. the major television network news organizations and agenda-setting national newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Of course, news consumers looking for more detailed coverage had lots of choices for getting their information, with editorial stances covering the entire political spectrum. (Conservatives looking for negative coverage of the administration, for example, certainly had their own organs.) The major corporate media, however, have a responsibility to report aggressively and not be government cheerleaders. If they were too eager to give the current administration a pass, that at least is definitely not going to be a problem for the incoming administration. That is a good thing.

Some think, though, that the corporate media are going too far in covering the president-elect negatively and that their reporting is not so much objective than just pro-Democrat. That may well be but, even if that is true, the result is that news consumers are much better served than they were during the previous eight years when coporate reporters showed little interest in the unintended consequences of government policies.

One thing that so far shows no signs of changing, unfortunately, is the major media’s lack of interest in life outside its urban strongholds and the unexpected hordes of Americans who confounded journalists by turning out for Trump. There is little evidence that they are breaking out of their Washington bubble. The Sunday morning TV panel discussions I have seen so far display mostly the same sort of insight from mostly the same journalists who spent months telling us that Donald Trump could never become president. Now they are just “explaining” why everything Trump does is wrong.

The danger in the press not becoming more diverse in its coverage and understanding of the country as a whole is that more people will continue to seek out alternative media, thereby exacerbating the political and cultural schism in the country. Certainly, having lots of media voices is healthy and desirable but not if it gets to the point where different parts of the country have their own completely separate realities.

An End to Political Dynasties? Even if you are disappointed in the election result, is there not at least a small part of you that is happy that during the recent election season Americans firmly and resoundingly rejected political dynasties? Republican voters were certainly emphatic that they had had enough of Bushes. In the general election an Electoral College majority was pretty clear that they had also had it with Clintons. Let us look back at the past three presidential elections. In each case someone with relatively little (in the case of Obama) or no (in the case of Trump) experience as an office-holder was preferred. More specifically, the elections of 2008 and 2016 were explicit rejections of the Clintons. Obama got nominated because so many Democrats did not want to go back to the Clinton days, and Trump got elected because so many voters—including former Democratics—still felt the same way. This is surprising since the economy during Bill Clinton’s presidency was about the best in recent memory. Hillary Clinton probably did herself no favors, at least in the general election, by following the lead of her party’s left wing in rejecting her husband’s sensible centrist policies. But maybe that did not even matter and her surname and long record in government were going to do her in anyway.

The irony is that the Democratic establishment put in the fix for Clinton precisely because it did not think a disruptive outsider like Bernie Sanders could win in the general election. People laughed, in turn, at the notion of Donald Trump getting the GOP nomination and then of him winning the presidency. The very idea that people in Pennsylvania who had voted for Sanders in the primary election would then turn around and vote for Trump in the general election was considered ludicrous.

Given what we know now, who knows what might have happened if Sanders had gotten a fair shot at the Democratic nomination? Could Sanders have actually won if he had been the Democratic nominee?

My guess is probably not. It is difficult to see Sanders running against the Democratic establishment the way Trump ran against the Republican establishment, and that was probably crucial to his victory. Trump made himself the best option for those who wanted to say, “A pox on both your houses!”

Maybe the ultimate silver lining for Democrats is that Republicans are now so unexpectedly and completely dominant in so much of the country that they have nowhere to go but down. Worryingly, though, that sounds a bit like the fellow who fell off a skyscraper and was heard on the way down by people on each of the various floors to be telling himself, “So far, so good.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November Surprise

“I know liberals made a big mistake because we attacked your boy, Bush, like he was the end of the world, and he wasn’t. And Mitt Romney, we attacked that way. I gave Obama a million dollars, I was so afraid of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have changed my life that much or yours. Or John McCain. They were honorable men who we disagreed with, and we should have kept it that way. So we cried wolf, and that was wrong.”
—Comedian Bill Maher, explaining why Democrats should have held their epithets in reserve for a real “fascist” like Trump, on the HBO show Real Time shortly before the election
“You are part of the problem. You and your friends will die of old age and I’m going to die from climate change.”
—A Democratic National Committee staffer, venting to DNC chair Donna Brazile after the election, as reported by The Huffington Post
Well, that was a surprise.

A few weeks ago, in an email exchange with a Seattle friend, I did something that I should have learned long ago not to do. I made a prediction. I said that Hillary Clinton would win the election but that the country would be shocked by the narrowness of the margin. In Electoral College terms—and that was what I was talking about—boy, did I get that wrong. Not only did Clinton lose, but it was not even close.

Yes, Democrats can take some moral satisfaction in the fact, as National Public Radio keeps reminding me, they have won the popular vote in six of the seven most recent presidential elections—a span of 24 years. What will be more useful and productive for them, however, is to focus on the fact that, under the United States’ district/state voting system in the past 36 years, Republicans have held the White House for 20 of those years—and that does not include the impending four years of President Trump. More worryingly for the party, Republicans have won a majority in the House of Representatives in 10 of the past 12 congressional elections and won or tied in 8 of the past 12 Senate elections. Things are even worse for Dems at the state level. A Twitter tweeter pointed out the other day that Dems now need only one net loss of a state legislature to lose the ability, as a party, to block constitutional amendments.

How did things get to this place? For most of the past year the talk was all about the disintegration and destruction of the Republican party. There will be no lack of post-mortems and analysis and soul searching, but for now I will offer these observations:

• The practitioners and chroniclers of politics remind me sometimes of stuffy old English teachers. Just as the latter get so caught up in all their hoary grammar rules that they forget they are not the ones actually setting the rules, so the journalists and media analysts who have covered so many elections that they have no doubt about how the system works tend to forget who is actually collectively in charge of the country. Throughout the primary season the “experts” and pollsters told us continually that Trump had no chance of being nominated—only to be contradicted every week or so by new election results. Throughout the summer and autumn they continued on, telling us he could not win the presidency. During that span of time there were no inconvenient elections to contradict them—until the one on Tuesday. The leadership of both the major parties put way too much faith in the “experts” instead of listening and heeding citizens en masse.

• Republicans loosened up their nomination procedures, and their primaries became an unseemly food fight. By contrast Democrats, as confirmed by John Podesta’s and others’ hacked emails, tilted the scales from the beginning to ensure that Hillary Clinton was nominated. As bad as the GOP primary season looked, they had more candidates and those candidates—one female, one African-American, two with Spanish surnames, two in their 40s, three in their 50s—looked more like America than the old/white-skewing Democratic trio. And, for better or for worse, the ugly GOP process produced the next president.

• Substantively, a big problem for the Democratic party is that it approaches electoral politics the same way it approaches the economy—as a zero sum game. That approach keeps getting tripped up by reality. Both parties need to shift presidential debates back to ideas and policies rather than just carving the population into groups and pitting them against one other.

For those disappointed by the election, here is my attempt at a silver lining for you. If you believe that there is way too much money in politics and that deep pockets are determinative, then you should take comfort that the candidate who set an all-time record for the most money collected and spent lost and that the candidate who set a new benchmark for low campaign spending won. If that does not comfort you, then you need to assess whether support for campaign finance reform is genuinely one of your principles or merely a tactic. If you think Wall Street has too much influence in politics, the fact is that Wall Street’s preferred candidate lost.

For those who swore they would emigrate if Trump won, here is my suggestion. Try Canada. It is nearby and that dreamy Justin Trudeau will be just your cup of tea. The mythical socialized societies across the Atlantic may look alluring to you from a distance, but I have been over here now for nearly a decade and a half, and here is what I see. Yes, modern liberal culture holds sway in Europe more than in the U.S., but there is still more than enough populism, friction over immigration and refugees, suspicion of government, political dysfunction and mutual enmity to make you feel right at home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Historical Precedents

“He praises dictators like Vladimir Putin and picks fights with our friends—including the British prime minister, the mayor of London, the German chancellor, the president of Mexico and the Pope.”
—Hillary Clinton, criticizing Donald Trump in a speech on June 2

“Do I have a problem when a sitting secretary of State and a foundation run by her husband collects many, many dollars from foreign governments—governments which are dictatorships? Yeah, I do have a problem with that. Yeah, I do.”
—Bernie Sanders, criticizing Hillary Clinton on CNN’s State of the Union on June 5
You cannot really call the current U.S. election campaign fun, but I do my best to find interesting or amusing bits where I can. Some things I enjoy are the various historical analogies people try to impose on the candidates.

Donald Trump in particular has been fertile ground for people reaching for historical comparisons. From the beginning a lot of people have likened him to the fascist leaders who rose in Europe in the 1930s, like Mussolini or, most provocatively, Hitler. I dealt with the Trump-as-fascist thing in this space seven months ago and do not have much reason to revise what I said then. He and his followers do not really fit the pattern of previous major fascist movements, which were characterized by heavy emphasis on detailed theory and ideology. Trump fits more in the populist mode which, to my mind anyway, usually involves an opportunist spotting a mob and running to get in front of it. Some people like to conflate fascism and populism, but populism is hard to pin to any particular ideology since it always focuses on whatever a large group of people are feeling disenfranchised about at a particular time. It often tends to be anti-globalist and anti-immigration but more out of an isolationist sentiment. That is different than the racism of Hitler, who used protection of ethnic Germans as a pretext for dominating the countries around him. Scottish historian/pundit Niall Ferguson made a very good case a few weeks ago for how populism and fascism are different in a UK Times piece (sorry, behind a paywall). While fascism led to World War II, Ferguson notes that the isolationist mindset of populists means that they are extremely adverse to getting into wars. Given Clinton’s record, which has always tilted toward the hawkish, that puts pacifist voters in the interesting position of considering a Republican who may well be less likely than the Democrat to use the military.

Having dismissed the fascist comparison, what other Trump comparisons can we find out there? An interesting one lately comes from conservative columnist (and recently resigned Republican) George Will, who compares to Trump to Charles Lindbergh of all people. In his analogy Vladimir Putin is Hitler, and Trump is the American celebrity who admires him and invokes the same slogan as Lindbergh, “America First.” Again, this comparison makes Trump the choice of those who are anti-war.

The comparison that really piques my interest has shown up here and there in publications like The Atlantic and Politico, where some writers have called him an American Peronist. This is a reference to Juan Domingo Perón, who was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and again from 1973 to 1974. An admirer of Mussolini, Perón best fits as a variant of the fascists. Presumably he gets brought up as a possible precursor to Trump because of his ability to whip up a crowd and tendencies that many see as dictatorial. Personally, though, I do not know if I would bring up Perón if I were a Clinton supporter.

For one thing he was known for using no-holds-barred tactics against his political opponents. Anyone paying attention to John Podesta’s recently released emails (courtesy of Wikileaks) or the recently released Veritas video in which a Clinton ally is heard to discuss hiring people to incite violence at Trump rallies? Perón and his second wife, Eva Duarte, also promoted their political fortunes through a charitable foundation that was not above strong-arming the well-heeled for generous donations.

The most interesting Perón/Clinton comparison is that, as with his latter-day successors Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Perón’s wife succeeded him in the presidency. It was not Eva, though she was extremely popular and would likely have succeeded him if she had not died of cancer at the age of 33. Instead her consolation was to become the subject of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita, of which one of the musical numbers is “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out).” It was Perón’s third wife, Isabel Martínez, who ended up succeeding him on his death in 1974. Her brief term was a disaster. Plagued by poor health, she eroded Argentines’ constitutional rights in a fight to eradicate leftist terrorism, presided over record trade and budget deficits, and watched inflation climb from 12 to 80 percent in a year. She was deposed in coup in 1976 and was suceeded by an army general, Jorge Rafael Videla, who proceeded to initiate Argentina’s notorious Dirty War against its own citizens.

These sorts of historical comparisons can be fun, but at the end of the day they are of no real help for figuring out how to vote. Worse, too much studying of history can be so discouraging that it may actually provoke the dangerous decision not to bother voting at all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


“We can and must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn towards those who disagree with us.”
—Vladimir Lenin
Twenty-five years ago the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation was in its fifth season. The second episode of that season was called “Darmok.” It was about the Enterprise crew making first contact with the Tamarian race. (Trivia note: that episode happened to feature the screen debut of Ashley Judd. She played Ensign Robin Lefler.)

Normally, language is not a problem in Star Trek because the Federation has a universal translator that can instantaneously translate any language, but in this case the universal translator was not much help. It translated the Tamarians’ words just fine, but the words were incomprehensible because the Tamarians spoke in allegories. The Tamarian captain Dathon (played by Paul Winfield) expected Captain Picard to understand what he meant when he said simply, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” To Picard, however, those were just unfamiliar names. After 14 years in rural Ireland, I can now fully emphathize with Picard’s frustration.

That Star Trek episode is actually a pretty good allegory for what is currently going on in American society and politics. The opposing political camps keep speaking in their own allegories. And nothing said by one side registers at all with the other side. Instead of seriously debating policies, we keep telling ourselves—and each other—stories about email servers and border walls and, more recently, basement-dwelling baristas and capital loss carry-forwards. You cannot really blame people either. It is not as though the presidential candidates have been carrying on a substantive debate.

Donald Trump has no record of office-holding and is not particularly consistent in his positions. If he is elected, we can probably expect to see him on TV—a lot. I suspect—and that’s all one can do with Trump—he will be the least day-to-day involved chief executive ever and that whomever he picks as his chief of staff will be running the country. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has a lengthy political career, although she has served as an elected official only eight years, two of which were spent campaigning for the presidency. Her stated positions have been known to change drastically, particularly in the case of global trade. She has a web server full of policies, but as cartoonist/blogger Scott Adams says, “[D]on’t fall for the claim that Clinton has plenty of policy details on her website. She does, but it is organized to mislead, not to inform. That’s far worse than having no details.” If her term as secretary of state is any indication, we can expect President Clinton to do a lot of traveling and hiding from the press. It is fair to guess that she would sign a lot more international agreements than Trump—including probably some form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The country is as polarized as ever, but this time something is different. It is not the usual Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative poles attracting and repelling. One pole is now the political/corporate community (establishment politicians of both parties, Democratic interest groups, corporate journalists and Wall Street fat cats) lining up in opposition to Trump. The other pole is what used to be called “the Republican base” augmented by disaffected people who had stopped paying attention to politics. These are not people with ready access to the media, so we do not hear much from them. They are largely working class, but not the working class that liberals like to talk about. These are the kind of working class that continually disappoint Marxists.

This shift has caused some interesting side effects. For example, the Republican candidate is actually running to the left of the Democrat (who keeps focusing on an old Howard Stern interview to deflect from her vote for the Iraq War) on foreign policy. Also, while Democrats are the ones who rail about too much money in politics, Clinton is far outpacing Trump in sucking in super PAC money from large donors, while Trump is leading in small donations.

There is really no point in trying to argue policy in this election. Most people are genuinely unhappy with the choice in front of them, which seems paradoxical since the candidates were each selected by millions of voters. People are instinctively going to their corners. Their hearts or their guts are telling them whom to vote for. They are just following the news to hear the sound bite that gives them permission to vote the way they really want. For some it’s Trump’s talk about the wall and Obama’s birth certificate. For others it is four dead Americans in Benghazi followed by blame heaped on a YouTube video. Will any new information about either of the candidates—no matter how outrageous or shocking—change anyone’s mind at this point?

All the strategists are doing at this point is trying to discourage a few people on the other side so much that they do not mail in their ballots and/or stay home on Election Day.

No word that I can think of does justice to the frustrating state of American politics these days. At least no word in English. So what would be the Tamarian term for this state of affairs? Probably this: Trump and Clinton on the ballot.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


“Hilary Clinton has shown that any woman can be President, as long as your husband did it first.”
—Comedian Michelle Wolf’s eleventh-ranked joke in UK TV channel Dave’s recent “Funniest Joke of the Fringe” awards in Edinburgh
In a special Doctor Who episode broadcast on BBC on Christmas Day 2005, the earth is invaded and held for ransom by the Sycorax. The newly regenerated Doctor (played by the marvelous David Tennant) eventually rouses from a post-regeneration slumber to send them packing. As they are leaving, however, they are blasted out of the sky on the orders of UK Prime Minister Harriet Jones (played by the wonderful Penelope Wilton). She is concerned that, if allowed simply to leave, they will spread the word about earth and invite more invasions. The Doctor is furious since the erstwhile invaders were leaving peacefully. This prime minister, a former parliament back-bencher from Flydale North whom he helped usher into office in a previous episode, is clearly too hawkish for his taste. He may not like her decision but, she tells him imperiously, there is nothing he can do about it. On the contrary, he assures her, he can bring her down with a mere six words. He then makes good on his threat by walking over to her aide and whispering softly in his ear, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” Sure enough, in no time her political fortunes have fallen and she is out of office.

In politics there has long been a perceived correlation between physical health and political health. It is as though one’s physical state is a metaphor for whether one’s star is falling or rising. Particularly with presidents, it is a well-worn media trope to observe towards the end of a chief executive’s final term how much grayer the hair and more wrinkled the face—as if the office itself has sapped the officeholder of his youth and vitality. Before any of them get to that point, however, politicians of the television age know that they need to be seen as healthy and at least somewhat athletic. John Kennedy exuded youth and vigor, even though we later learned that he was plagued with chronic back pain. Ronald Reagan was frequently seen chopping wood and riding a horse. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were seen jogging, and Bush also liked to cycle. President Obama sometimes plays a round of basketball when he is not golfing. It is somehow—though not necessarily logically—reassuring to see our top leader looking fit and well.

In a rare instance, being fit and active can backfire against a politician. During the 2004 presidential campaign the Bush campaign managed to use footage of John Kerry windsurfing—or so the established lore goes—to imprint an indelible image of him as a flip-flopper in a campaign ad. That is the exception, rather than rule.

Neither of the current main presidential nominees is likely to be filmed windsurfing or jogging but, on the other hand, health is usually not an issue for candidates unless they are at least well into their 70s. Yet health is now an issue in the election campaign. Just as a fringe element seemed bent on the notion that President Obama was born abroad (a somewhat less fringe contingent thought merely that there was something embarrassing on his birth certificate, which for a long time the president seemed reluctant to make public), there has been a persistent faction of people convinced that Hillary Clinton was covering up some health problem. While evidence was scant, the notion was not completely whacko. It is in the public record that, like many people, she suffers from allergies and that she takes medication for hypothyroidism. She has had at least two cases of deep vein thrombosis, presumably from her longtime extensive schedule of air travel. Most notably, at the end of 2012 while at home with a reported stomach virus, she fell and suffered a concussion and was hospitalized. Some were initially skeptical at the time because the incident conveniently prevented her from appearing before Congress to talk about the Benghazi terror attack. Skepticism abated when her absence from work became prolonged. In 2014 her husband said the injury “required six months of very serious work to get over.”

Because Clinton has a pattern—from the Benghazi incident to her private email server—of saying things that later turn out not to have been true, a lot of people do not give her the benefit of the doubt on anything she says, including about the state of her health. As long ago as 1996, in a famous column penned by conservative New York Times columnist William Safire, she was called “a congenital liar.” He cited her explanations for, among other things, conveniently missing records from the Rose Law Firm and making a 10,000 percent profit in commodities trading as Arkansas’s first lady.

Of course, the most notable raising of questions about Clinton’s health and stamina has come from her opponent, Donald Trump. He has talked about the issue for some time now and, according to cartoonist and blogger Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame), this is an example of masterful persuasion technique. According to Adams, the public and the press have been so primed by all the talk over so much time that, once a health-related event did occur, it seemed much bigger than it would have otherwise. Adams, who ostensibly supports Clinton while continually praising Trump’s persuasion skills, went so far on Sunday as to declare the presidential race effectively over.

It is difficult to imagine someone as experienced and talented as Clinton with so many resources and so much money at her disposal—not to mention the single most skilled politician of a generation as her partner—to crash and burn at this point in her career. Yet has any candidate in a position like Trump’s ever been so lucky to have his odds-on-favorite opponent run smack into such a triple whammy like Clinton’s trust/honest issue, her health issue and the major gaffe of calling millions of Americans “deplorable” (plus a lot of other epithets) all in one weekend? I did not realize how bad it was until I heard Cokie Roberts actually say on National Public Radio yesterday that some Democrats are beginning to talk about replacing her.

Lots more could certainly happen between now and November, and it is way too soon to declare either candidate a certain winner. Perhaps, though, the most worrying thing for Clinton has to be the strange change in Trump’s behavior. The man, who has seemingly never had a random thought that he did not enunciate unfiltered, for once did not squander his opponent’s bad news cycle by stepping all over it with his own gaffe or inappropriate remark. He did not utter some offensive insult. Instead, his reaction was the most devastating possible one the Democrats could have feared.

He simply wished her a speedy recovery.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Slammer Samba

“How much did they charge you bro??”
—Tweet from an angry Michael Conlan to President Vladimir Putin, after the Irish boxer lost his bout with Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin on Tuesday in a controversial judges’ decision
In the weeks leading up to the sporting world’s most highly anticipated quadrennial event, the Rio Olympics gave every indication of being a looming disaster. With such low expectations, it was probably all but impossible that Brazil’s Cidade Maravilhosa would not exceed expectations and all the hoopla about the Zika virus would mostly be forgotten. What we really did not see coming, though, was the way Brazilian law enforcement would turn out to be such a well-oiled crime-solving machine.

The cops very quickly got to the bottom of the scam by American swimmers to try to get out of a minor drunken vandalism spree. What was really impressive, though, was how the Brazilians nailed one of the most powerful figures in European sport and tossed him in jail. On Wednesday Brazilian police arrested Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI). He is also a member of the International Olympic Committee and head of European Olympic Committees. According to the OCI, he has “temporarily” stepped down from all Olympic functions “until this matter is fully resolved.”

What was he arrested for? Scalping, say the police. A couple of weeks earlier another Irishman, Kevin Mallon, was arrested at a Rio hotel while selling OCI-registered Olympics tickets to a group of around 20 people. Police seized 781 tickets and said they were being sold at prices of up to 7,200 euro (more than $8,000). Mallon’s company, THG, is not an authorized seller for Irish tickets, but the authorized company, PRO10, said that Mallon was “distributing” the tickets as a favor. After Mallon’s arrest, the Irish government’s sports minister, Shane Ross, met with Pat Hickey to suggest that the OCI’s investigation into the matter include an independent outsider. That suggestion was haughtily batted away by Hickey, who insisted that the OCI was more than content to investigate itself with no interference. Things changed when the police arrived at Hickey’s hotel in the middle of the night and eventually found him in his son’s room after his wife had said she did not know where he was.

If he is charged and convicted, Hickey could face a punishment as severe as seven years in jail. Brazilians, in apparent contrast to the Irish, take the crime of ticket touting very seriously.

I have never been much of a sports fan, but there has always been something inspiring about the Olympics. Most of the athletes are quite young and are amateurs in the true sense of the word, i.e. they compete for the love of the sport. Who cannot be moved by the triumphs of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt or the U.S.’s Simone Biles? Ireland has taken justifiable price in the winning of two water-borne silver medals: Annalise Murphy for Laser Radial Sailing and the thoroughly captivating Cork brothers Gary and Paul O’Donovan for men’s lightweight double sculls rowing.

The is, however, always a dark side. This year it was the near-total-banning of Russia because of systematic “state-dictated” doping. In the end 278 Russian athletes (out of 398) were cleared to compete.

The dark side for Ireland—apart from the ticket scandal—was in boxing. One middleweight boxer was disqualified for failing a drugs test. Previous gold medal winner Katie Taylor lost her bout in a controversial decision. And Ulsterman Michael Conlan lost his bantamweight quarterfinal bout in a decision so clearly wrong that the International Boxing Association subsequently pulled some of the referees and judges. Despite “winning” against Conlan, the Russian Vladimir Nikitin was so badly battered that he could not take part in the semifinal round. He still took home a bronze medal anyway.

When looking at all of this, it is easy to become cynical—especially when it comes to the greed of some of the Olympic officials. It just goes to show that there is always temptation when people secure in their positions get to handle lots of other people’s money.

Still, fair play to the Brazilians. They really have a thing for corruption these days. Not only did they nail the ticket touts, but the last I checked 352 out of the 594 members of Brazil’s Congress are currently being investigated or facing corruption charges. Moreover, two ministers in Acting President Michel Temer’s cabinet were recently forced to resign for obstructing Operation Car Wash, an investigation into money laundering, kickbacks and bribery involving the state-controlled oil company Petrobras. The investigation has also ensnared former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Meanwhile his successor, Dilma Rousseff, is facing an impeachment trial over manipulating government accounts.

It almost—I said almost—makes the current U.S. political scene look halfway normal by comparison.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Nixon's Ghost

“We professional journalists are freaking out over the fact that no matter how hard we try to explain to the public that Trump is unqualified, a lot of the public keeps right on liking him and his bold vision for America consisting of whatever happens to cross his mind at a given moment. We journalists are like, ‘What is WRONG with you people? Why aren’t you LISTENING to us?!? We’re PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS WITH VERIFIED TWITTER ACCOUNTS!!!'"
 —Serious journalist Dave Barry, reporting from the GOP convention in Cleveland, July 17
The name of Richard Nixon gets invoked regularly in American politics, but it has been a while since the late president’s name has been brought up as frequently as it is these days. The only question is, which of the two major presidential candidates is the more Nixonian?

Donald Trump certainly emulates the 37th president in his rhetoric. Whether he is talking tough about foreign policy or domestic law-and-order issues or secret peace plans or the American silent majority, it is downright eerie how he seems to be following the Nixon playbook. That is, to the extent that he seems to be following any playback at all. The two men also share a distinct antipathy for the press, which is and was amply reciprocated in both cases. How long until we finally hear The Donald bellow that the press won’t have Trump to kick around anymore?

Yet, when we think of Nixon’s penchant for secrecy and for hiding his communications and just acting plain paranoid, it is hard not to also see parallels with Hillary Clinton. Like the so-called Tricky Dick, she operates as though she assumes everyone is out to get her and takes excessive measures to cover her tracks—even when there seems to be no discernible reason for it. And, like Nixon, she is determined to keep going after the presidency until the voters finally just give up and let her have it. In the end Nixon was undone by a secret recording system he set up in the Oval Office. Clinton could yet be tripped up by a horde of email communications that were supposedly deleted but, because they were on an unsecured server in her own private home, may actually be in the hands of Wikileaks and/or the Russians.

While for many the Nixon name conjures up the worst of American politics, let us keep some perspective. Generally, when the considerable topic of the Watergate scandal is put to one side, the one-time vice-president of Dwight D. Eisenhower gets pretty high marks for how he performed as chief executive. On the world stage he reestablished relations with China, initiated the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and secured an anti-ballistic missile treaty. He wound down Lyndon Johnson’s huge escalation of the war in Vietnam and brought home the POWs. Domestically, he enforced school desegregation in the South and established the Environmental Protection Agency. He also presided the first human moon landing.

It just goes to show, even if you are a flawed human being and maybe even a corrupt one, it does not mean that you cannot also be an effective national leader. And maybe that observation is the closest thing we can find to a silver lining in this dark cloud of a presidential campaign season.

Despite all the comparisons we might make between Trump, Clinton and Nixon, the reality is that 2016 is a very different year than 1968. In the midst of domestic and world tumult 48 years ago, Nixon presented himself as a figure of stability. In this sense, as the candidate presenting herself as more stable and level-headed, Clinton would be the more “Nixonian” of the two nominees. This year, however, there is a large portion of the electorate that feels things are not working in the economy and in other areas. They want things to be drastically shaken up. And many of these people have settled on Trump as their change agent.

The smart money is betting that Clinton’s “stay the course” message will prevail, and so far the polls bear that out. On the other hand, the polls consistently underestimated Trump’s voter turnout in the primaries. Likewise, pollsters totally got it wrong leading up to the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum. There is a dramatic disconnect between, on one hand, the so-called elites in government and in the media (including the conservative media) and, on the other hand, the masses of people who are suffering in an economy that has left them behind—no matter what official government statistics may say.

Our best hope is that, regardless of who becomes president in January, she or he will perform much better than her or his campaign to date would suggest. And let us hope that the winner’s presidency ends more happily than that of Richard Nixon. He remains to this day the only U.S. president to have resigned from office. By doing that he avoided impeachment. That means the only president to have been impeached in the last 147 years is one who bore the name Clinton.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Drôle de Coup

“More than 50,000 state employees have been rounded up, sacked or suspended in the days since the coup attempt. On Wednesday, 99 top military officers were charged in connection with the events of the weekend. Officials continued to take action against university and school employees, shutting down educational establishments, banning foreign travel for academics and forcing university heads of faculty to resign.”
—BBC News report, today
It is hard to get away from seeing the world and politics through the prism of Game of Thrones, as I alluded to a couple of weeks ago. More and more—and like a lot of people, I suspect—I find myself looking around and not even finding a choice between bad and worse. It is more of a choice between different kinds of worsts. As so often happens while watching the celebrated HBO series, I find myself disinterested in taking sides. As some U.S. government official was reported to have quipped during the protracted Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, are we allowed to root against both sides? You may think I am speaking primarily of the current American presidential campaign—and that is definitely on my mind—but at the moment I am thinking about Turkey.

It has been a while since we have had such a classic military coup d’état (or attempt at one) in such a strategic country. As we watched it unfold in real time on satellite news channels, I could not help but travel back in time to the coup with which I am most familiar.

In 1973 there was not the 24/7 live coverage of the golpe de estado that unseated and resulted in the death of Salvador Allende in Chile. In those days I learned about it by word of mouth on the campus in France where I was studying and eventually by reading news articles days after the fact. It all seemed very far away and remote from my own personal life. Little did I dream that, three and a half years later, I would be living in Chile and well on my way to having a personally comprehensive understanding of the details of the event and its aftermath. (I have written several blog posts about my time in Chile, beginning with this one.) I heard many first-hand accounts of the coup—mainly from coup supporters at first but increasingly from others as I managed to gain their trust. And I have read quite a bit about it in the years since.

The recent Turkish coup makes interesting comparison to the 1973 Chilean one. It is easy—probably too easy—to imagine that Chile’s history is what Turkey would have experienced if the July 15 coup attempt had succeeded. Conversely, I cannot help but wonder if what Turkey is experiencing today is an indicator of what Chile would have gone through if Allende had prevailed against the military.

The political left’s narrative about Allende and Chile has always highlighted the fact that he was democratically elected. The narrative further posits that he was working arduously to alleviate poverty and to improve people’s lives generally. This version conveniently skips over the fact that he was increasingly ignoring the country’s constitution, was arming a private force controlled by his Socialist Party and was working closely with the repressive Castro regime in Cuba. It is a fair question whether he would have relinquished power at the end of his term. Still, when it comes to taking sides, the principled position is to condemn the overthrow of a democratically elected government.

The same is true in Turkey. Western governments have been unanimous in condemning the Turkish coup attempt and supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He was the clear popular choice of Turkish voters during his eleven years as prime minister and in the 2014 presidential election. How could a principled observer not support him? And yet. The coup was carried out with so much incompetence that it defies credulity. Every armchair coup observer knows the first thing you do to take over a government is to capture the head of the government. In this case the vacationing president was left free to go on the net and airwaves to rally his followers. The military uprising was so incompetent that many people are asking seriously if Erdogan himself was behind it to give himself an excuse to assume dictatorial powers. He even called it “a gift from God.”

Sorting out the Turkish situation is complicated by the country’s history. It was actually a military commander, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the Turkish republic, after the Ottoman Empire fell during World War I, and made the country a more or less functioning democracy. Erdogan in recent years has increasingly cracked down on his political opponents and been criticized internationally for human rights violations. Even before the coup attempt, he had been limiting the independence of the judiciary. Now he is actually having large numbers of judges arrested.

All of this would be easier to ignore if Turkey were not a member of NATO and a prospective—though probably not anymore—member of the European Union. It also has one of the most formidable militaries in the always volatile Middle East region.

Like so many things we see on TV these days, it is just so difficult to find someone to root for.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


As a treat for (or is it actually exploition of?) the readers of my various blogs, I am trying something I haven’t done before. I have posted a sample excerpt of my new novel, The Three Towers of Afranor, so that people can peruse a bit of it and decide if they are interested in reading the whole thing.

Some of the various sites that sell the book do allow you to view or even download a sample, but I thought I would make my own sample available. This excerpt is essentially the first five or so pages of the first chapter, so you can read the very beginning of the book and get acquainted with some of the characters. I might try putting up another excerpt at some point—if I can settle on one that does not unduly risk spoiling the story.

You can read the excerpt by clicking on this link.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Winter Is Coming, Politically

“Having women make up half of her cabinet would be historic (in recent years, a quarter to a third of cabinet positions have been held by women), and Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton say she may decide to retain Ms. Lynch, the nation’s first black woman to be attorney general, who took office in April 2015.”
 —News story by Patrick Healy in Sunday’s New York Times
The other day I was listening to the BBC World Service’s World Business Report program and I heard the host, Susannah Streeter, preface a question to a guest commentator thusly: “I don’t know whether you are a fan of Game of Thrones, but there are some commentators here in the UK who say that that TV series is like a children’s program compared to what’s going on at the moment in the political scene at Westminster.”

Really? A fictional story that regularly features such incidents as murder, torture, mass slaughter, rape, infanticide, incest and people being burned to death by dragons cannot hold a candle in terms of outrage to the latest political machinations in London? Really?

Okay, I will take off my Mr. Literal hat and take Streeter’s point the way it was no doubt intended. The fact is that many of us have thought more than a bit of HBO’s groundbreaking fantasy series while observing politics in both Europe and the United States. Not because of the levels of carnage on the TV show but because of its world view of moral bleakness and utter hopelessness. Almost all of the characters are (or were; the number of cast members has dropped lately) terribly flawed. Viewers looking for someone to root for have to measure the quality of various rivals with a heavy emphasis on moral relativity. Just when you find a character you can really get behind, she or he is summarily butchered. The most evil of the lot tend to prosper—at least until someone more evil comes along. Lately the noble bastard Jon Snow has looked to be an actual savior for this morally desolate world, but seasoned watchers will not be surprised to have that rug pulled out from under them, like so many others. Queen Daenerys Targaryen generally seems to be a benevolent despot and a great leader, but like many other monarchs in author George R. R. Martin’s world, she has plenty of blood on her hands. (For an interesting take on the Game of Thrones/modern politics comparison, check out Emily Nussbaum’s piece in the latest New Yorker.)

The natural reaction of the usually empathetic viewer is to resist getting emotionally involved, to not get behind anybody in this crazy violent world, to deliberately not pick a side in order to avoid disappointment. And that brings me to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

It is a cliché by now to complain about the terrible choices presented to us by the major American political parties every four years, to badmouth both the Democrat and the Republican. But never has that “pox on both your houses” sentiment felt more real or merited than this year. As usual, it will come down to which candidate turns you off more or, more likely, which party you usually vote for. It is hard not to see a larger number of voters than usual simply staying home. Others will resort to third-party candidates or write-ins. People who actually understand math, however, will realize that every vote or non-vote is a de facto vote for either Clinton or Trump, so you are only fooling yourself if you do not make an explicit choice and act on it.

Both candidates have said and done enough things to disqualify them in a normal election year. So how will voters make the choice? They will choose the same way they usually do—by going for the candidate that comes closest to being “one of us.” That will be decided mainly by how the candidate talks. People who feel that the world is falling apart around them and that the collective elites in government and business do not care will respond to things that Trump says—never mind that his positions seem to change from day to day. People who see Trump as a racist/xenophobe/misogynist will respond to Clinton’s buzz words about being inclusive of minorities, immigrants and women. If those same voters worry about the unfairness of the economic system, well, they will just have to put that aside because, clearly, Clinton (and not Trump) is the choice of Wall Street and the so-called one percent.

They will also have to put aside the fact she may be the most corrupt politician of our generation. Buried in a news story in Sunday’s New York Times was a clear quid pro quo extended in public to Attorney General Loretta Lynch (see above). This came one day after Clinton was questioned for three and a half hours by the FBI and six days after Clinton’s husband had a half-hour private conversation with Lynch aboard her plane. It does not matter what the conversation was about. The signal was sent to the “career prosecutors,” as the attorney general continually refers to them but who, in the end, report to her. In case there is still any doubt, today Clinton is traveling on Air Force One with Lynch’s boss on a campaign swing to North Carolina. People who usually vote Democratic will no doubt process all this in a way to make themselves feel okay about voting for her anyway. And who can blame them? You can hardly expect them to vote for Trump. The main thing Clinton has to worry about is whether her voters are bad at math. Meanwhile Trump’s voters have their own processing to do.

What is most disturbing about all of this is how the United States’ political divisions are hardening segments of the country into groups who see themselves having less and less in common with the other segments. Increasingly each group sees its well-being put at risk by the others. These divisions (white vs. minority, urban vs. rural, religious vs. secular) begin to take on the aspects of clans or tribes. Sadly, this is encouraged by both political parties because, in such a large country, this is the easiest way to engineer a majority vote.

In that respect, yes, America does bear something of resemblance to Westeros. And, as in that fictional realm, the political infighting risks distracting us from more fundamental dangers.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Perfidious Albion

“Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. … We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing.”
—Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) explains to minister James Hacker (Paul Eddington) Britain’s real strategy for Europe, in the March 24, 1980 Yes Minister episode, “The Writing on the Wall”
Gobsmacked is a great word that they use here on this side of the Atlantic. It perfectly describes the reaction politicians and journalists in both Great Britain and Ireland to Thursday’s referendum. It is not often that so many people are taken by so much surprise in such a widespread public way. Never mind the politicians and journalists. Imagine the emotional state of investors and bookmakers who had placed their bets, confident of a victory for the Remain side. Usually, people with real money at stake in an issue take the trouble to get things right and are hence generally reliable predictors. Not this time.

Even supporters of the Leave side were in shock. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, had more or less conceded defeat after the polls had closed. Two last-minute polls (not exit polls), held for release until just after the vote, assured everyone of a win for Remain. It was all settled, done and dusted. Then the actual votes were counted, and everyone’s world changed.

The results have been analyzed to death. Voters in London, Scotland and Ulster voted Remain. The Welsh and the English (outside London) voted Leave. Sixty-four percent of voters under 25 vote to stay. Fifty-eight percent of voters over 65 voted to leave. The anguish among the urban young was heartbreaking to behold. They have never identified as anything other than European and feel particularly bereft. Why, they ask, do old voters get to have the deciding voice in their longterm future? It was not hard to imagine a youth revolt with repercussions reminiscent of Logan’s Run or Wild in the Streets.

It is more difficult to have sympathy, however, for the dazed and confused journalists. It is their job to investigate and report, not simply to convey ahead of time what is supposed to happen. If they never saw the Brexit victory coming, it may be because everyone they knew was against it. In their world, the people who were for it existed only in theory. Think about it. A majority of all members of Parliament were in favor of Remain, and Remain was the official position of both major political parties. Most of the television coverage seemed to focus on the Remain arguments. So how did it all go so wrong?

The first clue should have been last year’s general election. The Conservatives won by an unanticipated majority (polls again failing to forecast correctly) after David Cameron promised to hold the Brexit referendum. It was a strange calculation and, in hindsight, a fatal one. Cameron himself was against Brexit but was swept back into office on the promise of giving voters a say on the issue. UK and EU politicians did themselves no favors by making spiraling threats about all the bad things (many by definition self-inflicted) that would happen if the referendum passed. To top it off, President Obama came to visit and explicitly threatened to send Britain to “the back of the queue” if Brexit passed. All of these so-called leaders essentially dared voters to go against them as a point of national pride.

That has always been the problem with the EU. When the rules and arrangements are worked out among the various countries’ political classes, everything is fine—on the surface. When specific treaties or questions are put before masses of actual voters, they often do not fare well. Needless to say, the reaction among much of the political class is not that they need to be more in touch with voters but that there should be less voting. It is especially rich to watch those politicians and pundits, who rhetorically favor the working class, excoriate that same working class for voting against their own self-interest, i.e. their self-interest as perceived by the more enlightened political class.

Many have blamed xenophobic and racist currents for the result. Certainly, there were ugly motives among a good many, but it is too broad a brush to paint the entire voting majority. The immigration/refugee issue, to the extent it was used by both sides, was to my mind something of a red herring. Being outside the Schengen Treaty area, Britain has always been in control of its own borders when it comes to non-EU citizens. Having said that, there has obviously been discomfort with the continual addition of new EU countries reaching farther and farther east.

As dramatic as Thursday’s vote was, that will not be the end of the issue. There is actually a provision for exiting the EU, and the Brits have two years to negotiate it. In the short term, everyone is too busy sulking to work on it seriously but, when heads start to clear, do not be surprised if the EU tries to make some concessions that would justify another referendum. Enough individual UK citizens have already signed a petition to require Parliament to consider calling a new referendum, and Scotland seems to think it may have the legal right to trigger one as well.

This thing is not over. Not by a long shot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Breakup Brewing?

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
—Thomas Jefferson, writing to James Madison from Paris on January 30, 1787
My coffee is cold. I blame the European Union.

Does that make me some kind of weird, fringe anti-government whacko? Nah, I’m just someone who loves my coffee (all those years in Seattle, you know) and who gets tired of having to remember to keep turning on the coffee machine to keep the coffee hot or, alternatively, having to keep microwaving my cold cup of coffee.

What does the EU have to do with my coffee maker? It’s kind of a symbolic thing. You see, I bought a new coffee machine a couple of months ago, and this one behaves differently from the ones I had before. My previous drip coffee maker, once it had made the coffee, would keep it warm on a hot plate that shut off automatically after a couple of hours. The new one shuts off after 30 minutes. Maybe I should drink my coffee faster, but it always seems as though the coffee is barely ready before it has already gone tepid. Every time I go looking for a refill, I find the pot has gone lukewarm if not downright cold. So I am using the microwave more these days.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this is a #firstworldproblem of non-major proportions. Compared with all the planet’s much bigger issues, it is definitely not worth complaining about. It is just an annoyance. So why am I bringing it up at all? Because it is a concrete (albeit minor) example of why a lot of people living in the European Union have a certain level of negative feeling about it. You see, the time limit on my coffee maker is because of an EU rule. Someone or a group of someones in Brussels decided for some reason that coffee makers should not keep coffee warm longer than a half-hour. And that this was important enough to put into a legal directive affecting the citizens of 28 countries. Perhaps there is a very good reason for this. Maybe there was a spate of tragic accidents, which I somehow have managed not to read or hear about, in which glass coffee pots shattered because they ran dry sitting on top of hot plates that refused to turn off soon enough. Maybe whole buildings have gone up in smoke because of those stubborn coffee warmers. I do not doubt that there is a reason and that the reason seemed perfectly good to the bureaucrats in Belgium.

Here’s the rub. If this rule had been passed by bureaucrats in Dublin, then at least I could contact my local representative in Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament). One of the advantages of living in a small country is that it is incredibly easy to get in touch with your national representative. And maybe it would make a difference and maybe it would not, but at least I would have had my say. As it happens, though, if I were to ring up, say, Éamon Ó Cuív (one of the TDs who represents me) to give out about my coffee maker, I would probably get a recitation of how terrible it is but what can you do? The decision was made in Brussels, not Dublin. Sorry.

Here is another example. You know that little checkbox you have to click every time you visit a new website? The one with the link to a page full of legal information that you never click on (let alone read) but it says something about cookies and privacy? Everyone who publishes a web site—from the biggest corporation down to the humblest blogger who builds his or her own website, e.g. me—has to make their site ask that question and receive a response because the EU decided it was in consumers’ interests and, if there is even a chance that someone in the EU will look at your website, you better make sure your website asks the question or risk having the wrath of the EU bureaucracy come looking for you.

The dirty little secret is that the political class loves the EU precisely because its rule-making is so remote and anonymous. It gets the local parliamentarians off the hook. This is why so many politicians in so many different political parties in so many different countries have come out against Brexit—shorthand for the referendum to be held on Thursday, which is meant to decide the question of whether the United Kingdom should remain or leave the EU. When citizens complain about controversial or annoying rules, the response is often a shrug of the shoulders and a “What can you do? It’s those bureaucrats in Brussels.”

In addition to the political class, you know who really wants Britain to stay in the EU? The investor class. Last week when the polls suggested the Leave side would win, London stocks and pound sterling tanked. When the polls shifted after the horrific murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a crazy man, those measures surged on the positive side.

Is the EU anti-democratic? Well, every time a country votes the “wrong” way on an EU treaty (Denmark on the Maastricht Treaty, Ireland on the Nice Treaty), the electorate is always required to vote on it again—until it finally gets it right. So there is a bit of a sense that the role of voters is mainly to act as a rubber stamp. If Britons vote in two days to leave the EU, I suspect the referendum will end up getting a do-over.

To be sure, there are extremely valid reasons for people to want to be part of the EU. Businesses like the convenience and relative simplicity of working within a tightly knit trading bloc and using a common currency. (The UK has never joined the euro and still uses pound sterling.) Travelers like going through shorter immigration queues since an EU passport guarantees automatic entry to all EU countries. And some people, remembering back to two devastating world wars in the past century, feel that political and economic integration is the best hedge against armed conflict.

Personally, I am at odds with myself on the question. As someone who believes that free trade and travel are necessary for personal liberty, I think the EU is great. As someone who believes that, in the interest of individual rights, the best government is the one closest and most answerable to you, I sometimes find the EU scary.

People who prefer to leave the EU see it as a trading bloc that did not know where to stop and has gradually turned into a super-state, inexorably overwhelming individual countries’ perogatives. In no area is this feeling stronger than in immigration. Many Britons feel their country has lost control of its borders. This is technically true when it comes to citizens and residents of other EU countries, as they have the right to live and work in Britain. It does not really apply to the hordes of refugees currently flooding into Europe, as the UK is not part of Europe’s Schengen Treaty zone in which entry into one country is tantamount to entry to all. This is why sprawling refugee camps have amassed around Calais. It is the last stop on the way to Britain, and non-EU citizens must have a visa.

That last point raises an interesting question. Why are those migrants so desperate to get into the UK anyway? After all, they are already in the Schengen zone and can travel unimpeded within 26 European countries. Why huddle in miserable camps, waiting for a chance to cross one more border? Here are some possible reasons. Perhaps they have friends or family in the UK and know they will have a community of support there. Maybe they speak English but not French or German. Or maybe, just maybe, Britain’s relatively strong economy and standard of living is a factor.

In the end, if there is a viable reason for the UK to leave the EU, it will have more to do with the economy than with immigration. In hindsight, Britain’s decision not to join the euro looks like it was probably the right one. Despite all the (at times hysterical) predictions of disaster for Britain if it goes it alone, it looks more and more, economically, as though the EU really needs the UK more than the other way around.

Whatever way the Brits end up voting, let’s hope that they approach this important decision wide awake and sober. They will want to ponder it seriously over a good hot cup of tea—or maybe over a good stiff cold cup of coffee.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Flight of Fancy

“Was that mere coincidence or some foreordained destiny? Who can say? But I do know this. It is at our own mortal peril that we cast aside the tales, the lore, the lessons and the admonitions of those who went before us.”
 —Prince Chrysteffor of Alinvayl
There is much going on in the world these days to make the heart heavy. Political divisions in many countries—particularly as seen in the campaigning for the U.S. presidential election and Britain’s European Union referendum—make every human tragedy grist for the mill of partisan exploitation and demonization. Sometimes you just need a break from it all.

So let us leave America and Europe to look after themselves for a few minutes and turn our attention to the country of Afranor. What? You have not heard of the kingdom of Afranor? Do not bother thumbing through your atlas for it. (Does anybody actually have or use atlases anymore?) It is imaginary.

In the past week my second book has come out.

It is quite a bit different from my bildungsroman about the early 1970s, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. The new book is escapist fantasy, an adventure story about swords and sorcery and princes and a quest. There is a an evil sorcerer, a warrior princess, a pirate queen and horde after horde of ungodly creatures. If it sounds like something a socially awkward teenager might dream up, that’s because it is. The story first saw the light of day when my Spanish teacher assigned us to write a story. Consumed at the time by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and issue after issue of Marvel’s The Mighty Thor, I let myself go. The title, Las tres torres, was a rip-off, I mean, homage to the middle book of Tolkien’s trilogy. The action owed quite a bit to the Thunder God’s comic book adventures in Asgard, as envisioned by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. As I continued my Spanish studies in high school and at university, I kept working on the story. I revised it and expanded it and wrote sequels and spin-offs—all in Spanish. Eventually, the story was put away to make time for more serious things, like earning a living and having a social life. Then years later I found myself needing material to put a small child to sleep at night, and the story came alive again—this time in a more simplified form. She eventually grew old enough to fall asleep reading books on her own, but I found I had a need to write the story down once and for all and in English. The Three Towers of Afranor is the result.

Lately, as I peruse social media memes viewing current politics through the lens of pop culture entertainment—you know the sort of thing, Game of Thrones images with Hillary Clinton as Queen Cersei or Donald Trump as Ramsay Bolton—I wonder, will anyone try to do that with my story? Will they try to make it an allegory about the War on Terror the way some people saw The Lord of the Rings as a roman à clef about the Second World War? (Tolkien actually conceived his story many years before WWII.) Will some people think I deliberately intended some political message in this violent fable?

All I can tell you is that the main points of the story originated, as I have said, more than four decades ago and it was not my intention to include any political message. On the other hand, I suppose it is not impossible that such messages could grow out of the story organically or that I could have woven such themes into the tale unconsciously.

All you can do is read the book and judge for yourself. You can find more information about it and where to acquire it, as always, on my book blog.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Social Disease

“Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world.”
—Future leader of the UK’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbin, tweeting his eulogy for the recently deceased Venezuelan president in 2013

“If we were to have two parties in Cuba, Fidel would head one and I the other.”
—Raúl Castro, joking with American officials in April, as quoted by The Economist
It is hard to miss the irony. At the moment when socialism is attracting a whole new generation of willing adherents in the United States and western Europe, that very same economic system is melting down in a devastating way in Venezuela.

The IMF recently reported that Venezuela’s inflation rate, the highest in the world, was headed toward 720 percent. Shop shelves are empty, with shortages in everything, including electricity. Crime, already high, has skyrocketed. The country’s currency, the Bolivar, is so worthless that even armed robbers refuse to take it. They break into houses looking for dollars and other foreign currency. With President Nicolás Maduro stonewalling every way he can the huge majority of opposition representatives elected to the National Assembly in December, it is hard to see how a military coup is avoided. Not that a coup would solve much, since the military was thoroughly staffed with loyalists by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. A replacement president could hardly be less competent than Maduro, but the fact is his cluelessness only hastened what was inevitable anyway.

One of the excuses regularly trotted out for economic failures in the developing world is that the global system is inherently unfair. Certain countries were lucky enough to be sitting on valuable natural resources and others were not, thereby explaining the wealth gaps between countries. But Venezuela is sitting on top of huge oil reserves. The Chávez and Maduro governments rode high on their revenues but obviously did not make the best us of them. The recent drop in oil prices was all it took to send the whole country into a tailspin. Other excuses we can expect to hear for Venezuela’s demise is sabotage by the United States and other crimes of imperialism dating all the way back to the Spanish conquistadors.

We may also hear that what was being implemented in Venezuela was not true socialism. That is always the problem with testing economic theories with real world examples. Human societies are never going to practice pure forms of economic systems. The most hard-core socialist country will always have elements of capitalism, and the most free-market liberal economy will have elements of socialism. All you can do is look at specific economic policies in specific countries and judge how well they worked.

Meanwhile in Brazil, former Marxist guerrilla (and successor to the Workers’ Party’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) Dilma Rousseff was suspended from her presidential duties last week, pending an impeachment. Corruption is so prevalent in Brazil, you might well ask, what does one have to do there to actually get impeached for corruption? The answer is to be presiding over a disaster of an economy. Apparently, President Rousseff was cooking the books to hide how much money from the state oil company has gone astray. That’s the problem when the government is so involved in the economy. When large sums of money are passed around, there is always the temptation to pocket some of it or to pay someone off. When corruption happens in the private sector, there is at least some hope that the government will keep people honest. When it is the government itself moving the large sums around, there is virtually no hope.

What about Cuba, the one full-blown surviving Communist country in the Americas? Does its recent rapprochement with the U.S. represent a victory for the island nation or a capitulation? For nearly six decades Cubans have been frozen in a time warp that many left-leaning North Americans find quaint and even admirable but which has not tempted any that I know of to actually emigrate there. The U.S. embargo has always been blamed for the island’s lack of economic progress—even after it had long become ineffective. President Obama was not the first U.S. leader to make back-channel overtures to the Castro brothers about ending an estrangement that had gone on way too long. He was merely the first to agree to the Castros’ demands, i.e. lifting its designation as a supporter of terrorism (specifically, Colombia’s FARC and the North Korea regime) and releasing Cuban prisoners in the U.S. (Many of the dissidents released in Cuba in exchange have since be re-arrested.) I guess Fidel and Raúl just had to live long enough until there was a U.S. president young enough to have grown up with a Che Guevara poster on his wall.

Will the expected influx of western companies and tourists eventually bring Cuba into the modern economic world? Probably not as long as the Castro brothers are alive. But after that, who knows? Assuming those two don’t outlive us all.

Personally, I am more interested in seeing what happens as these young enthusiastic supporters of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin mature and become more prevalent in U.S and British politics. Maybe Fidel and Raúl will decide to retire in Florida.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Taken for a Ride

“Show business is like a bumpy bus ride. Sometimes you find yourself temporarily juggled out of your seat and holding onto a strap. But the main idea is to hang in there and not be shoved out the door.”
—Actor Cliff Robertson
I like my bus analogy from two weeks ago so much that I have decided to keep going with it.

The analogy likened the U.S. political situation and the country’s two-party system to a major city where there are only two buses to carry people where they want to go. If a bunch of people want to go to a place where neither bus is going, then the only alternative is for that group of people to take over one of the buses and change its route.

Let’s try to imagine these buses more vividly. Currently Hillary Clinton is at the wheel of the Democratic bus. Bernie Sanders is sitting next to her, and he has a steering wheel too, but his doesn’t actually do anything. Rachel Maddow is sitting behind Clinton and, when Maddow asks her a hypothetical question about where she would be driving if her wheel were the one that is actually steering the bus, the exasperated Clinton yells back, “But my wheel is the one that’s working!” On the front of the bus in the panel that displays the destination, it says, “A Progressive America.” Wait, no, that’s the panel that Sanders put up there. Clinton has papered over that destination with several paragraphs of intricate policy details, which no one can actually read because there are two many words and the bus is moving too fast. Oh yeah, and on the rear fender there is an “Arms Are for Hugging” bumper sticker.

What about the Republican bus? That’s the one that has been careening from one side of the road to the other as if a drunken madman were at the wheel. Actually, it was a dozen and a half madmen and one woman, but some of them have glumly gone to the back of the bus, a couple have taken seats right behind the driver, and the rest have gotten off the bus altogether and decided to walk. Some of those are actually thinking about trying to acquire a third bus, but they probably won’t. This is all because Donald Trump is now firmly ensconced behind the wheel. If he hears a peep out of any of the passengers, he screams, “I’m warning you! Don’t make me stop this bus!” He also keeps yelling obscenities out the window at drivers who are in his way or who he imagines are in his way. On the front panel there is a clear and simple destination: “America First.” On the rear bumper “Jesus Is My Co-Pilot” has been covered up by “Neither Marx nor Jesus.”

For people standing on the side of the road watching, there is absolutely no way to tell where the two buses are really headed.

Who are the passengers on these buses? On the Democratic bus, you have a fair number of people who liked Sanders’s destination of Progressive America. Some of them keep hoping against hope that he will somehow get control of the bus. Others are keeping an eye on Clinton to make sure she doesn’t make any wrong turns. The rest of the passengers are just along for the ride. They chose this bus because the only other choice was the Republican bus and they didn’t want to ride on that bus because, after all, everyone knows that bus is only for racists, misogynists and homophobes. (Even though the field of potential Republican drivers included two Hispanics and an African-American. And the same number of potential female drivers as the Democratic bus.)

Who is on the Republican bus? That’s a very interesting question. It used to be mainly business people, folks who took their religion seriously, people who wanted a strong military and citizens who preferred that the government did as little as possible. Some of those people may still be on the bus or are thinking about getting back on. Mostly, though, through the bus’s windows we see a lot of people who didn’t use to ride buses or even some who used to ride the Democratic bus. They are working people who used to think their place was on the Democratic but now feel crowded out by environmentalists, academics bent on social engineering, affluent people who “just want to help,” and a collection of what usually get referred to as special interest constituencies. The working people used to not see the Republican bus as going anywhere much different than the Democratic bus, but now they think that this Trump guy might be someone who is finally going their way.

Okay, enough with the bus analogy. Except to say that I keep hearing journalists talk about the buses, I mean, parties as if passengers never get off the bus they are on. Television analysts keep going on about how many electoral votes Trump would have to “flip” because, as we all know, people just keep voting the same way election after election. Besides, surely most voters know that Trump would be a disaster for economic policy and foreign policy, right?

Two things I’ve heard lately should probably make us rethink that. Yesterday on National Public Radio I heard Mara Liasson cheerfully report that polls show voters trust Clinton more than Trump in all areas except one. Then she added that the exception was the economy and, guess what, the economy is the area voters care about most. Maybe that is why some polls already show the general election tightening.

The other thing I heard had to do with foreign policy. That was a week and a half ago on NBC’s Meet the Press. Host Chuck Todd and his panel of journalist experts were having a good laugh at how incoherent Trump’s foreign policy ideas are. Then The New York Times’s Tom Friedman, of all people, said this about Trump’s recently delivered foreign policy address: “Well, it was everything the critics said. It was kind of a Mad Libs version of all his ideas put into different sentences and, as you exposed, utterly contradictory. But at the same time, you have to say, Chuck, contradictory in foreign policy, is that like supporting Saudi Arabia even though we know they were behind 9/11? Is that like supporting Pakistan, even though they support the Taliban? … Is that like telling me Libya was wonderful and then saying it was the president’s decision? So I think to try to find consistency in foreign is very difficult right now.”

This was a rare instance of an entrenched establishment commentator having a flash of insight into how a lot of regular people see things. To them what Trump is saying doesn’t sound any crazier than what is already happening.

Where are Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock when you need them?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Irish Spring

“Millions and millions and millions and millions of people look at that pretty picture of America he painted and they cannot find themselves in it to save their lives. People are upset, frankly; they’re anxiety-ridden, they’re disoriented, because they don’t see themselves in that picture.”
—Bill Clinton, speaking in March about President Obama’s assessment of the U.S. economy
If you are for some reason relying solely on this blog for news on Irish politics, then the last thing you read about it was that there was election back in February. You might even be assuming there has been a government up and running and conducting business during these past nine or ten weeks.

If, on the other hand, you follow Irish politics through real news sources, then you know the recently elected parliamentarians (Teachtaí Dála, or house deputies) only managed to get past the step of electing a new head of government (Taoiseach, or chieftain or leader) yesterday. Why did it take so long? Because no party received a majority of votes and, moreover, there was no combination of parties or individual TDs who were easily amenable to coalition and whose numbers amounted to a working plurality. The two largest parties—remnants of the two sides in the 1922-23 civil war—did some tentative exploration of a so-called grand coalition, but the ideological and/or legacy hurdles were just too much to surmount.

In the end the Fine Gael party worked out a way to form a minority government. This entailed making commitments to the Fianna Fáil party on what actions it would and would not undertake in order for Fianna Fáil not to bring down the government. It also involved bringing non-party-affiliated TDs on board with promises of funding special projects in their constituencies and, in some cases, giving them ministerial posts. The good news for Fine Gael is that its leader, Enda Kenny, becomes the first Taoiseach of his party ever to be returned for a second consecutive term. The bad news is that he goes from having a commanding number of votes at his beck and call in the last government to being dependent on all kinds of politicians with different priorities and agendas in this one. No one expects this government to last a full five-year term.

Here’s something to think about. By design of the European-style parliamentary system, Ireland was without a fully functioning government for ten weeks. This is the kind of pause that an obstructionist like Ted Cruz could only dream of. And, yes, things kept functioning just fine without a government. This is because government functionaries—the people who actually carry out government services—were still on the job. The annual budget was still in place and they were still getting paid. The Irish government doesn’t have to keep passing emergency spending bills all the time, as the U.S. government has gotten in the habit of doing.

You might think a country going more than two months without a government would be an extraordinary occurrence, but it isn’t—at least not in a parliamentary system. Spain has had not functioning government since its elections in December. On Tuesday King Felipe VI called for new elections to be held on June 26, i.e. a half-year after the last ones. In the voting four months ago, the Spanish electorate split its votes over so many different ideologically opposed parties that no amount of negotiation was able to result in a viable government. The question now is whether the result in June will be much different.

Even the current Spanish deadlock, though, is not the worst case scenario in terms of endless caretaker government. A half-decade ago Belgium went 589 days (yes, more than a year a half) without an elected government. This was because the Belgians elected eleven different parties to the Chamber of Representatives with none of them winning more than 20 percent of the seats. Things were made no easier by the fact that the Belgian political landscape runs the gamut from Flemish separatists to French-speaking Socialists.

Given its two-party system—not in the Constitution but rigidly upheld by tradition and myriad laws—hung congressional elections are not something the United States needs to worry about. But political fragmentation manifests itself in other ways in the U.S., as we are currently seeing. Washington-based commentators keep insisting on describing the factors that have led to Donald Trump becoming the presumptive GOP nominee as something going on internally within the Republican Party. This way of looking at it is misleading and not particularly insightful. Party “membership” is self-selecting and fluid, and these days fewer people than ever see themselves as belonging to a political party.

In America, the traditional party structures, as seen at the top level, tend to mask what is roiling down below among actual voters. A sea change does not become apparent to the so-called expert political watchers until something happens they never saw coming, like Trump’s nomination. Only then do the unimaginative pundits get an inkling of what is a lot clearer for all to see in European countries with parliamentary systems.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Driving the Bus

“Party leaders and thinkers should take note: It’s easier for a base to hire or develop a flashy new establishment than it is for an establishment to find itself a new base.”
—Peggy Noonan, in her Wall Street Journal column on March 4
Have you ever read about what is going on in some other country and then shaken your head and wondered to yourself, what kind of crazy people live in that place?

That has been happening to me for a while now, but the thing is that the country in question is mine.

I really don’t mean to be that annoying guy who moves abroad and then starts looking down on all the people who didn’t move abroad with him. It’s just that there’s something disorienting about feeling like the place you came from has been going through major changes without you. And it’s not that I have been cut off. When I went to school for a year in France at the age of 20, then I was cut off. Back then my only contact with home was through letters (my mom was a loyal correspondent but hardly anyone else ever wrote), a student subscription to Time magazine and the rare splurge on a copy of the International Herald Tribune (now the International New York Times) plus whatever I could glean from the French media. Phone calls rarely happened because they were extremely expensive and, at that point, things like email, the world web and social media were but vague science fiction concepts.

Needless to say, none of that is true anymore. Now I live in the illusion that I am immersed in North American culture and information. Because I now live in the future, I can potentially watch nearly any TV show or hear any news broadcast or read any newspaper or magazine in the whole world. Because of time zone differences, I sometimes even know about news in my home town before the people living there do. But being exposed to media from a place is not at all the same as being and living in that place. This is because, while the media throw light on reality, they also distort reality. I sometimes find myself assuming that people in, say, Seattle are completely consumed with some issue because I have read about it—only to get a sudden reality check when I actually communicate with people in Seattle and find out that thing is not on their radar at all.

Never before, however, have the media turned out to be so completely useless and misleading as in the case of the Donald Trump presidential candidacy.

Because I make a point to read opinions from various points of the political spectrum, I had myself deluded that I have a pretty full understanding of what is going on in U.S. politics. Not even close. And Trump was the tip-off. When it comes to most controversial movements or people, there are always commentators for and against it. To get a fuller understanding, you just read opinions from both sides, right? But when it came to Trump’s candidacy, I realized that no one I was reading supported him. Moreover, the so-called political experts kept saying—and are still staying—that he has peaked, that he can’t go much further, that his moment is nearly over. And yet he keeps winning primary elections hand over fist and seems all but certain to get the GOP nomination. But don’t worry, because the same geniuses who repeatedly told us he could never get the nomination are now telling us he can never win the presidency.

This all amounts to a pretty good indication that there are an awful lot of people out there whose thinking is not be represented by any of the numerous and diverse (or so I thought) writers I was following. Despite all my rigorous efforts at scanning the political horizon, the Trumpistas had managed to sneak up on me. How did that happen?

Many of us, led by the media, tend to think of our country as divided mainly into two camps. Either you are “liberal” or “conservative” or, alternatively, you are part of a mushy middle group that doesn’t pay much attention and/or is prone to move a bit to one side of the center or the other. Basic common sense, if we think about it, will tell us that the breakdown in sociopolitical views is a whole lot more complicated than that. We only (lazily) think of two major ways of seeing politics because we have a rigid two-party system, so media coverage in the U.S. gets funneled into an either-or template. There are strong institutional reasons why 163 years have passed since the last time a politician who was neither Democrat nor Republican occupied the White House. When a different way of thinking begins to spread, it can only get noticed by the media if it makes a serious attempt at co-opting one of the two major parties. And something is now very close to taking over the Republican party. Think of the major American political parties as the only two buses in an entire city, and the only way for you and your friends to get where you want to go is to take over a bus from someone who isn’t currently driving it anywhere most people want to go. GOP establishment, your bus is about to be hijacked.

Journalists who insist on referring to Trump supporters as a “wing” of the Republican Party or “the GOP base” are missing the point because they cannot see outside of the two-party prism. An awful lot of those Trump people have not supported either major party in years. More current or former Democrats than people seem to think are being drawn in. This is something new that is happening. You cannot explain Trump by matching his stated positions to public opinion. His stated positions are all over the place and self-contradictory. People are not voting for him because of where he stands on this or that. They are voting for him because he is the only candidate in this election who seems likely to actually make a major change. What change? Any change. (Sorry, Bernie, this is more about visceral emotion and personality than actual ideas.) Anything, say the Trumpistas, has to be better than the way things are headed now.

So if the media are useless at understanding the Trump thing, where to turn? Camille Paglia, writing on seems to have some kind of handle on it, and The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto at least can look at the phenomenon analytically. Everyone else, on both left and right, seems to be driven insane by Trump and cannot see him objectively. There is a major notable exception, though. The one commentator who seems to have sussed him out and even predicted his future moves and success is an unlikely one. It is Scott Adams, creator of the brilliant workplace comic strip Dilbert, who writes frequently about Trump on his blog.

It is not always easy to tell when Adams is being serious or when his tongue is in his cheek. His posts often read like support for Trump, yet he insists that he actually disagrees with The Donald on most issues and is only praising his phenomenal persuasion techniques. Basically, Adams’s point is that Trump is a genius at manipulative marketing and that explains his past, present and future success. He seems convinced that Trump is likely to become president.

That’s really hard for me to get my head around. Lately I prefer to occupy my brain by pondering what will happen in ten or twenty years when all these young Bernie Sanders supporters, who think socialism is a great idea, become dominant in American politics.