Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gain, or Just Pain?

The Dow has dropped almost 1000 points (-3.6%) in the past week due to worries about Donald Trump’s trade war with China. To be fair, that’s not as bad as the 11% drop the market suffered on the eve of Trump’s government shutdown last December. But, the trading week is still young.

Anyway, it’s been fascinating to follow what some Trump supporters have been saying on Twitter and other media about this escalating war. Of course, Trump himself has said trade wars are good and easy to win, that his tariffs are forcing China to pay back billions of dollars that it has unfairly taken from America. The picture he paints is gain, with no pain.

At the same time, Trump critics -- and others who are not ignorant of economics -- have been happily pointing out that, in fact, it’s American companies or consumers who pay the costs of tariffs. Even Larry Kudlow, Trump’s TV economic adviser, had to admit something like this on Fox News over the weekend. And now I’ve been seeing some comments from Trump supporters pop up on Twitter conceding the point that Trump’s trade policies do hurt Americans, but that this pain is an acceptable cost of a trade war. As they see it, Trump voters -- for example Midwest dairy farmers -- are happy to sacrifice their livelihood, if that helps to punish China for its infringement of US intellectual property rights. It goes without saying that compulsory pain and sacrifice for the greater good is not what Trump promised them. Maybe Trump should have been more honest with them. But who are we kidding? They probably still love him anyway.

Make no mistake, the stealing of IP by China is a serious issue. And perhaps we should be grateful that Wisconsin dairy farmers are willing to risk losing family farms to put a stop to it. On the other hand, they are also being rewarded for their sacrifice with billions of taxpayer money, so that surely helps.

And as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has reminded us, it’s not as if anyone is sacrificing their lives (yet) in this trade war, the way US soldiers do every day for the cause of...something...not sure what, exactly...but something anyway.

So, if anyone suffers a loss in the stock market (and I don’t mean just Wall Street types, but also the forgotten men and women of forgotten West Virginia), they shouldn’t take it too hard and just be happy that they’re doing their part in Trump's unstinting campaign to stick it to the Chinese and make them share America’s pain.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Pining for a Paling?

I’ve been reading “War and Peace” lately. In fact, for the last couple of years. Or has it been more like three years? A long time, in any case, and during that long, long journey, I’ve sometimes encountered words totally unknown to me, words in my own language. Many of these have to do with different kinds of horse-drawn carriages or military gear used in the early 19th century. I should look up the meaning of these newly discovered bits of my native tongue, I know, but often I don’t. One that I did look up recently, or rather, Googled (who uses a physical dictionary these days?) was the word “paling”.

This word appeared around page 1080 of “War and Peace”, as the book is beginning to wind down. Only a couple hundred or so pages left to go! At this point in the story, Napoleon’s Grande Armée is evacuating Moscow, carting away troves of loot and herding along in its exodus hundreds of wretched Russian prisoners, including Pierre (Count Pyotr Bezúkhov), one of the main characters. 

As this unhappy mass of militarized or subjugated humanity slowly pass through the Khamovniky quarter, one of the few districts of Moscow that had not been incinerated, Pierre’s fellow prisoners surge to one side of the road to look with shock at something at the base of a church.

Pierre also strains to see the object and learns it is “… the body of a man, set upright against the paling [around the church], with its face smeared with soot.”

Paling. I had to look it up. Turns out it’s a wooden fence made up of pointy tipped slabs. Or slats, if you will. Basically, a picket fence.

Now that the US is in the midst of a government shutdown over Trump’s border wall -- with the semantics being bandied around of what is and isn’t a wall, a steel-slat fence, a barrier, or a what have you -- “paling” seems a good word to know.

Maybe in his fitful dreams deep in the night Trump sees before him a concrete wall morphing into a fence morphing into steel slats morphing into a paling morphing into anything, anything he can point to and claim protects America. Anything at all. And I doubt it would bother him one bit if there's a dead body propped up against it. Maybe in his mind that's the only way you can know it's working.

Friday, October 26, 2018

It's Always the Media's Fault

Trump may have a point when he recently blamed the media for the angry rhetoric that perhaps prompted some domestic terrorist to try to kill 10 Democrats. Makes some sense. It works like this.

Trump repeatedly says violent, incendiary things. 

The media report about the violent, incendiary things Trump says. 

The American public listening to the media hear about the violent, incendiary things Trump says. 

Some unstable person hearing the violent, incendiary things Trump has said, as reported by the media, decides to take matters into his own hands. 

If the media didn't report the violent, incendiary things Trump says, then maybe this unstable person would never realize that he should be so angry at Democrats. 

Without the media to carry Trump's message, this unstable person would never, ever hear Trump's violent, incendiary language. That is, unless this person was one of the thousands who go to Trump's rallies to hear the president's violent, incendiary language in person. Or unless he follows Trump on Twitter.

But, no, that can't be it. Surely it's the fault of the messenger, not the source of the violent, incendiary message itself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Gangland Diplomacy

As North Korea has rapidly advanced its nuclear weapons capability over the last year or more, I have often been reminded of a movie starring Kevin Kline and Danny Glover. Well, one scene anyway. 

That scene also sprung to mind last week after Donald Trump suddenly announced that he will have a face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un, following months of incendiary threats from both sides.  

In the meantime, there has been a lot of public chatter about the wisdom of Trump’s meeting and its possible outcome. Previously, Trump has called for North Korea to end its nuclear program, or even to give up its nuclear weapons completely. To me, it seems that nuclear genie is already out of the bottle. It ain't going to happen.

Many pundits have also pointed out how exceptional it is for a sitting president to agree to such a meeting as a first step in a high-stakes negotiation. Someone observed that, by agreeing to meet, Trump already conceded to Kim something he has long craved, a sign of respect, an acknowledgement of legitimacy. 

And this again made me think of Kevin Kline and Danny Glover in what is to me the most memorable scene in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1991 movie “Grand Canyon”. This is what happens:  

A man, Mack (played by Kline), leading a sheltered, affluent life in L.A. finds himself alone and stranded when his car breaks down after midnight in a dangerous, deserted part of town. He manages to call for a tow truck just before his phone dies. It doesn’t take long for a passing street gang to notice his predicament and take interest in Mack's luxury car. Just when he’s about to become a victim of robbery or worse, the tow truck arrives, driven by the street-smart Simon (Danny Glover), who quickly and coolly hooks up the car, despite the tense situation. 

The leader of the gang, Rocstar, now threatens Simon, pulls a gun on him. Simon tries to talk Rocstar down, asking him for the favor of leaving in peace with the car. After some back and forth, with the gun pointed the whole time at Simon, Rocstar says:  

“I’m gonna grant you that favor, and I’m gonna expect you to remember it if we ever meet again. But tell me this, are you asking me as a sign of respect, or are you asking because I’ve got the gun?” 

Simon replies. “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.” 

Rocstar demands, “So, what’s your answer?”  

With a world-weary matter-of-factness, Simon responds, “You ain’t got the gun, we ain’t having this conversation.” 

“That’s what I thought,” Rocstar says. “No gun, no respect. That’s why I always got the gun.”  

This is why I fear it’s unrealistic to expect North Korea to ever give up its nukes, no doubt having learned the lessons of what happened to Muammar Gaddafi and the nation of Ukraine, that is: "no nukes, no respect". 

It's also surely a message driven home by being granted an unprecedented meeting with a US president. I think it’s an ugly message, but maybe that’s the way gangland diplomacy works.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Week in Trumpworld

Wow, in Trumpworld political news comes so thick and fast that it’s hard to keep up. But this past week or so has been even crazier.
  • Hope Hicks admits to telling “white lies” for Trump.
  • Hope Hicks resigns as Trump’s Communications Director, the fifth person to hold or be named to that post in the past 13 months.
  • Jared Kushner -- in charge of negotiating Middle East peace, improving relations with Mexico and China, reforming the criminal justice system, and streamlining the entire federal government -- has had his security clearance downgraded. 
  • Intelligence intercepts show that at least four foreign governments have discussed ways that Jared Kushner could be manipulated. 
  • Rick Gates pleads guilty to, among other things, lying to the FBI about a meeting with Paul Manafort and pro-Russian GOP congressman Dana Rohrabacher. 
  • Evidence has emerged that Roger Stone, a big Trump adviser and self-professed “ratfucker” back in his Nixon days, had direct contact with Wikileaks during the election campaign. 
  • Joseph Mifsud, the shady Maltese professor who promised the Trump campaign “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, has been missing since last October. 
  • Corporate American has started turning against the NRA. 
  • The state of Georgia threatens Delta Airlines for distancing itself from the NRA.
  • Trump tells lawmakers that it’s okay to sometimes go up against the NRA. 
  • Trump claims he would have happily faced certain death by intervening in a school shooting unarmed. 
  • Trump causally, and unexpectedly, announces tariffs on steel and aluminium, causes the Dow Jones to dive 500 points.   
Let's see what happens next week.