Saturday, December 31, 2016

Team Optimist

Image via
On behalf of Steve's holiday relief squad, and seeing as how Steve is a world-class pessimist, one of the things I try to bring here is a touch of sunny idiocy, as contrast, especially appropriate for the season of fresh starts and resolutions. And pretty challenging this time around, if we're talking politics, as we lurch into what seems certain to be the worst US presidential administration at least since Buchanan's, probably ever, led by a walking personality disorder in an impasto of pumpkin-colored pancake makeup.

And that's just for starters.

Is it possible that anything good can happen in 2017, or anything bad be forestalled? Not, surely, by the conscious intention of our president-elect or his Cabinet of Deplorables or the dreadful Republican leadership of the Congress. Maybe in states like California, where Governor Jerry Brown has already announced his determination to fight any Trumpian assault on environmental research and regulation:
"If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite," roared Brown to the crowd.
And referring to Rick Perry, the former Texas governor Trump has selected to lead the Dept. of Energy, Brown reminded everyone of California's advantages over Texas when it comes to renewable energy.
"We've got more sun than you've got oil," he quipped.
State governments can certainly play a role in combating efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which threaten them whether they're Democratic or Republican:
governors and state legislatures are voicing concerns that repealing the ACA may leave millions of people uninsured, as well as take away some of the mechanisms that helped their states drastically slash their uninsured rates.
At the top of their list of concerns is the fact that the most likely blueprint in Congress for repeal, a 2015 bill that President Barack Obama vetoed, would also repeal federal funding for Medicaid expansion, which was estimated to have helped cover 11 million adults across the country in 2015. Ten Republican governors have taken advantage of the expansion, which was so successful in some places like Kentucky that, even though Gov. Matt Bevin (R) campaigned on scrapping the ACA, he simply made some tweaks to the program once he took office.
The Congressional repeal plan from 2015 would also repeal tax increases that were part of the ACA, likely shifting the burden for paying for health care from the federal government to individual states.
I'm more and more convinced, now that it's not just me saying it, that the ACA is likely to survive: the repeal is going to be postdated, to 2019 or 2020, and the drawing up of a plan to replace it is going to be postponed for later. Actually never, because the Republicans will never succeed in devising a replacement that works to achieve what the public wants (an Affordable Care Act that isn't Obamacare)  other than by repassing the original ACA under a different name.

And on environmental issues I can't help feeling somewhat optimistic, not only because of Governor Brown (and other governors including my own, that weasel Cuomo, who is going to be OK on this, I think), but particularly because of the work Obama is doing in these last weeks to broaden and protect his accomplishments of the last eight years so that it would take years for Trump and accomplices to undo it, hopefully more years than they'll have; and because of the economics of energy, in which cleaner forms are becoming cheaper as dirtier forms (coal, oil, and fracked gas) are becoming less profitable. Even if Trump manages to repudiate the Paris agreement, American industry is going to find it better, at least in the near term, to follow it.

Beyond that it looks pretty dark, though, doesn't it. The one really good thing would be for the Democrats to take over Congress in 2018, and we're as likely to get that, I guess, as I am to get my pet unicorn.

I can imagine Congressional Republicans encountering some Tea Party–type rage at town meetings when they propose to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits, that's not a liberal-conservative issue for voters, whatever people like Ryan may think, and the political media may, for a change, be prepared to notice it before it's too late (then again, as the Crank was warning us just a couple of days ago, the Times is offering them plans on Social Security insidious enough to get by—on the other hand Trump has advisers who might tell him not to sign such a thing). I can imagine the first round of Trump-Ryan tax cuts turning pretty sour pretty quickly, since the House will never in fact make spending cuts adequate to covering them (they'd have to be in the military budget and Medicare, nothing else is expensive enough) and deficits will balloon. It will be hard to restore taxes without enough Democrats in the legislature, but the need for taxes will be clearer by 2020, which is obviously going to be a better year for Democrats in any event. Not that we shouldn't be working on 2018, as hard as we can, if only for the practice.

The odds of Trump himself not surviving for the full four years are clearly pretty good, given his lack of social self-control, his activities already under investigation (the self-dealing Foundation) and soon to be so (receipt of foreign emoluments, egregious nepotism, suspicion of bribery, his morbid obesity, and personal finances, which are a kind of one-man Ponzi scheme that has to grow continually if it's to avoid collapse. Mike Pence, in the event, is going to be as lousy a president as he has been Indiana governor (with approval ratings to match)—he'll never convince the public that Ryan's vile program is any sort of Morning in America—and that looks good for 2020 as well. If Trump's breakdown or explosion were to occur soon enough, it could even be good for 2018.

Then there's the possibility of a coup. I'm almost serious. It's the extraordinary disrespect Trump's shown to the armed services and the intelligence community, so far, in claiming to "know more about ISIS than the generals", in rejecting so dismissively the intelligence views on the Russian hacking of our political organizations, and in staffing his cabinet with all those renegade generals. And the extraordinary collection of Russia connections! He must be making the Joint Chiefs and the heads of the 16 agencies pretty nervous, and perhaps angry too.

In this picture, the military and intelligence establishment essentially take over, not necessarily in an overt coup d'état, but in blackmail mode, and they tell Trump what to do, in security and foreign policy. The members of the security cabinet so far seem weak and ignorant enough that they couldn't do much about it. It's not something you want, really, to have a military government, but it's a hope for some kind of interim stability, and something we might be able as a nation to react against in a positive way.

Let 2017 be different, and let it be in a way we can sort of stand! Happy New Year, everybody!

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


Procopius said...

As a retired soldier, I think you're mistaken to consider that Trump has "insulted" generals by saying he knows more than them. Generals aren't the ones who start coups d'etat. It's the Lieutenant Colonels, the commanders of battalions, who get together and do it. Look at Qaddafi. In general, nowadays, soldiers don't feel loyalty to generals, who don't provide their pay and rations out of their own pockets like they did during the Roman Republic. They usually feel loyalty to their company commander, who feels loyalty to the battalion commander because he directs their work on a daily basis. I've been retired too long, I don't know how soldiers now feel about the rampant corruption among the top generals, but I think there's widespread contempt. Also because the generals clearly don't have any idea what to do in Afghanistan. Or Iraq.

Never Ben Better said...

Happy (in whatever way it proves to be) New Year to you, too! And I will cling with bloody fingertips to your knife-edge of optimism.

The New York Crank said...

But Yas, they're not going to cut Social Security, dontcha know. They're going to "save" it, the same way that during the Viet Nam War some military genius burned down a village to save it.

There won't be a single, shocking cut. It will be the death of a thousand cuts.

First "means testing" (the definition of "means" as yet undefined, but I think it can be defined as, "You still got two dollars? When your pockets are empty come back to us and we'll start reprocessing you for Social Security."

Then there will be what the New York Times defined as a "reasonable" cut of old people who were high earners when they were young, because they have longer life expectancies. Never mind that the life expectancy of anybody trying to survive on Cheerios and cat foot gets short mighty quick.

Next comes a gradual raising of the eligibility age. First it was sixty five. Last I heard it was something like sixty seven. Eventually, it'll be ninety nine. "Soon as you blow out them 99 candles, c'mon down to the Social Security office and we'll fix you up, old timer."

The lieutenant colonels and generals won't try a coup d'état because they'll have their military pensions. Instead they'll defend the Trumpsters and Tea Party know-nothings. Same principle as when Scott Walker busted up every civil service union in Wisconsin except the police union. And God help the United States anyway if we're ruled by a military junta.

So what's the solution? Well, everything I read says it can be fixed just by lifting the cap on payroll deductions. But that stands a snowball's chance in a steaming barrel of pork. For me it's easy. I'm in my late seventies. I'm going to try to hang on until I die. And also to not live too long. But I feel sorry for the rest of you poor bastards.

Yours very, very, very crankily,
The New York Crank

Anonymous said...

Fascism sneaks in the back door. That is the German experience, slowly, over time, it just sort of happened. Milton Mayer wrote in his book They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 not overnight, but incrementally, like the legendary slow boiling of.

Fascism creeps:

“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

… “But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.”

It is by small steps of incremental meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. The Nazis, in the end, embodied the ascension of utter demonic inhumanity, but they didn’t get that way overnight. They got that way through, day after day, attacking and demonizing and urging the elimination of those they deemed their enemies.

This is what has been happening to America for a very long time and yes, both "sides" do it.

O'owlish Amenheh
(Ten Bears)