The Women are Coming to Washington

New Orleans    The number of bus permits issued for the Women’s March in Washington on the Saturday after the Inauguration has passed 1800 and reportedly all the seats on Amtrak between DC and New York City are booked. Police and other city officials, rather than the march organizers, are saying that from their experience, the numbers will exceed the 200,000 estimated in the march permit.

One-thousand fewer bus permits have been issued for Inauguration Day itself, yet the Metro, the DC subway, is running a rush hour schedule from 4 AM until on that date. On the Saturday of the march despite the huge expected crowd, they have thus far announced that they are only running a normal Saturday schedule beginning at 7 AM. I talked to two young women planning to attend who are planning to drive in on a Thursday in the middle of the night just to beat the crowds and are debating exit plans for Saturday afternoon. One of the co-owners of the bar next to Fair Grinds Coffeehouse on St. Claude surprised me by saying she was absolutely going to attend.

In the age of Trump, if these are the kinds of crowd estimates coming into the nation’s capital then it won’t be long before the Chamber of Commerce starts to apply a multiplier for how much the tourism and visitor revenue delivers to the city. Mass protest may become big business.

It’s not just DC. There are local marches popping up everywhere.

There are four marches in super-red state Wyoming in Cody, Cheyenne, Sheridan, and Casper. In Montana, over two-thousand women have signed up on a Facebook page that they are marching in-state so that they can be heard. In New Orleans there is a women’s march on Saturday at 3PM, and events throughout the state. They even have a name for this spreading phenomena: sister marches.

And, that’s not all. More than twenty countries are listed as having marches to show solidarity and stand with American women from Australia to the Netherlands to our neighbors in Mexico and Canada. I was surprised not to see Google ads, jumping on the website for comfortable shoes!

God knows what the new President and Tweeter-in-Chief will have to say, but who cares, really.

Solidarity, sisterhood, resistance or whatever you want to call it. The issue is not whether or not Trump is President, but is more about the world being assured that human rights, all rights are important to Americans.

In this case, women are going to lead. There’s an opportunity for all of us to follow.


Please enjoy Sheryl Crow with Burt Bacharach Dancing with Your Shadow

Thanks to KABF.


Are There Grounds for Hope in Cabinet Nominees Policy Differences with Trump?

Little Rock   Reading the headlines or listening to the news, reporters seem to be grasping at every opportunity to point out a policy difference between Trump nominees and Trump himself. Some go so far as to speculate that there will be contention and chaos in the Cabinet on important policy issues like immigration or spying or Russia or climate change. I would be careful not to get hopes too high, since I suspect we are dealing with the classic situation of a distinction without a difference.

This is not to say that the nominees didn’t tell Trump what they really thought when he interviewed them for the job, but anyone who has ever conducted an job interview knows full well that people work very hard to try and tell you what they think you want to hear. And, for all anyone might want to say or believe about Trump, he certainly has a lot of experience conducting job interviews.

Once these folks have been cleared for the job with the big boss, then they have to get a passing grade from the straw bosses at the Congressional committee on their review. There can’t be anyone who doesn’t understand that these nominees are working with the Trump transition team and role-playing the questions and answers so that they are hitting the right notes to get the votes. In some ways, what we might be hearing from some of the nominees is the last time we’ll hear their real, personal views before they have to toe and tout a party line as part of the new administration.

So when a CIA or State nominee says that they will support and monitor the treaty with Iran, I’m sure that’s what they believe. Or, when the former Exxon CEO says he’s ok with keeping the agreements intact on climate change, I’m sure that’s what he believes, just as I’m sure it is what he has been told to say to get the votes to get across the line into the job. Same for all of their post-Cold War, Russia bashing all of the gang are running with. I’m sure that’s their view. I don’t even know that that view is different from Trump’s own position. He wants Putin to like him personally. He wants to believe he can personally make a deal with Putin. Russia has hardly crossed his mind. Muslim registry, civil rights, torture, hey, say the right things guys, but….

Are the real questions what they believe or what they will do when they are told by the White House, this is the program, make it happen. So, if they don’t believe in a registry or a wall, will they refuse to implement the programs? Will they resign or go public? Or will they be the good corporate and military soldiers who have spent their whole lives riding for those brands? I don’t think there any real question here. I’m not saying they won’t voice their opinions behind closed doors. I’m not saying when they aren’t under orders or the White House’s thumb they won’t follow their best judgements. I’m not saying they won’t have their say when asked.

I’m saying that when it matters, these are good soldiers, and they will toe the bosses’ line. They didn’t get these jobs as rebels with a cause. They got these jobs because they have already agreed to go along to get along.

These so-called policy differences are window dressing. They’ve already signed long term leases at Trump Tower and many may have effectively already written their resignations so that they can be placed on Trump’s new desk.


Trump Press Conference was an Out of Body Experience

Little Rock   I have honestly never listened to an Obama press conference in full, nor either of the Bushes, Clinton, and so on, but there I was driving from New Orleans to Greenville, Mississippi, and Mississippi Public Radio was the only clear channel on the radio, so that’s what I had on. I’ve caught their health call-in show before with a doctor from the Jackson VA hospital which is pretty good, as well as some others, and suddenly they interrupted the show to broadcast the full-on Trump show from his New York tower. It was like an out of body experience. It was simply unbelievable compared to any reasonable expectation listeners might have had. Wow!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind it not being “presidential,” whatever that means, and I’m totally comfortable with disruption and having all of the tables turned upside down. What I’m not comfortable with is crazy.

Here is my best example. Trump said that he “will be the best job producer that God ever created.” I’m not going to try and speak for her, but God must have been shocked. I don’t even think God has been keeping accurate statistics on the worlds’ top ten job producers of all time. And, thank goodness for that, so that Trump won’t have to call God a liar and loser. The pure pomposity and outrageousness of that claim is just breathtaking. It’s one thing to take credit for something. All presidents do that at some level, but this is just a total boast. This is pure ego unleashed. Add to this the fact that Trump is not even president yet. Houston, we have a problem!

The level of mumble-jumble was amazing, and even when he wanted to make a point, he swallowed his ask with asides, personal grievances, preemptive attacks, victim blaming, insults, and hyperbole piled on top of exaggerations. He doesn’t have a cabinet confirmed yet, but it is one of the best ever. They aren’t yet on the job, but he claims they’ve all been working hard and it’s a heckuva team. More unsubstantiated boasts out of nowhere and for no reason. We are about to have a president who has never heard the expression, “actions speak louder than words,” and who clearly totally believes that enough words will drown out all facts and obliterate all fantasies.

It was real work to pull out the brass from the bull. I had to listen hard to hear what he had to say about Russia and the hacking, about conflicts of interest and self-dealing, about how he is going to get Mexico to reimburse us for the wall, about when they would have a healthcare bill, and so on. Part of the struggle is the constant repetition of superlatives crushes the information like a wall collapsing on itself. Even when I thought I was hearing something solid from him, he would dilute and contradict a couple of lines later.

And, then there’s the tone. There’s always been a bit of a scrum in even the bits and pieces of presidential press conferences that I’ve heard in the past, but now we are going all British with name calling and accusations back and forth.

People get ready. Whatever you might have thought a president press conference might have been in the future, get over that. Whatever you might have thought was decorum and the weight and gravity of the office, forget about it. We’re going to see fisticuffs in one of these so-called press conferences in the future. We’re not going to the White House. We’re going Wide World of Wrestling.


Bad News – Bullying Is Working

Source: Politico

New Orleans   No matter what any of us would want to believe or have taught our children about bullying, we’re going to have to think again or say it louder for those who aren’t getting the message. We’ve always said it was just a mask for cowardice and insecurity, and a slap back or a shout out would send a bully cowering. Maybe that’s still right, but we need to work harder to teach that lesson outside of the schoolyard, because President-elect Trump seems to be proving over and over again that being a bully still scares people, including mighty corporations, trade associations, and a lot of other big dogs as well.

Big automakers are at least pretending to lay back and re-position some of their plans for fear of a Twitter barrage. Certainly, they are claiming, “Hey, we were going to do this anyway,” and absolutely Trump is claiming credit for more than he’s doing, but there seems to be no way to deny that they are looking for cover from the chief Twitter-finger.

They aren’t the only ones. Reportedly H&R Block’s ads this tax season are in reaction to Trump having taken them on during the campaign by claiming he was going to make the tax code so simple he’d put them out of business. Boeing, Vanity Fair, Lockheed Martin have all been under a tweet-attack, and other brands are worried about what might come their way.

Hey, maybe they deserved it, we might say, but how does that explain the chicken clucking from the health care industry even as 30 million Americans are on the verge of losing health care coverage with the coming assault on the Affordable Care Act. Where are the industry voices from hospitals, doctors, and even big pharma that would loud and strong during the passage of the act?

Robert Pear of the New York Times quotes California-based, but nationally operating, Kaiser, a leader for Obamacare:

Kaiser Permanente, the managed care company that serves more than 10 million people, declined to comment specifically on Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Instead, it offered a statement of general principles saying that people should have access to health care and that “we must continue to accommodate those who have pre-existing conditions.”

More tellingly, Pear writes:

Some companies, anxious about changes in health policy, said they were afraid to speak out because they feared that Mr. Trump would attack them on Twitter, as he has badgered Boeing, Ford, General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Toyota.

See what I mean, bullying is working. Rather than seeing the healthcare industry stand up for their patients, most of them are trying to roll under the radar hoping to save themselves and somehow make it through the killing field that may disgorge millions without protection. Even the bully can’t seem to control what he has set in motion. He’s now tweeting that a replacement for Obamacare needs to be ready when it is repealed, while most Republicans in Congress are saying, “What, what did you tweet? I can’t hear you?” and propelling people into a disaster.


Steamrolling the Cabinet Choices is a Mistake; Tillerson is an Example

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, at the World Gas Conference, Paris, June 2015

New Orleans    Well, we may not have a new President in the US quite yet, but Congress is back in session and the elephants are trying to stampede nominations through the Senate committees in lightning speed. Granted, most of these folks are going to end up exactly where Trump has appointed them to serve and where Congress is trying to apply the grease, but it’s fair to ask, whose house is on fire?

Former ethics lawyers with experience in this vetting and confirmation process for both the last Bush Administration and the current Obama Administration, seem horrified that the Republicans are trying to steamroll these nominees to approval before they have even completed their forms and provided full financial disclosures. Furthermore, according to the ethics review folks, they are swamped partially by the extent of the wealth and diverse investments that tangle some of these billionaires and multi-millionaires on the Trump team. Nobody seems to be dilly-dallying here, but it takes a lot of shovels to dig through this mess.

What’s the logic behind the speedup? It’s hard to imagine that these folks are going to not end up being approved given the votes that line up in the Senate, so why not have the problems come up early where they can be sorted at the committee level, rather than later when opponents, reporters, and public interest groups stumble on the problems, as they inevitably will, and it becomes a scandal for the new administration?

Some of the questions seem softball anyway. A number of Democratic Senators say they want to ask all of the nominees about their views on whether the Russians were behind all of the hacking. They will all read a prepared statement and go with a party line there. Nothing new is going to come out of that line of questioning, it’s just playing for the cheap seats, but I can’t even figure out where the theater is at this point.

Take Rex Tillerson though as the nominee from ExxonMobil for Secretary of State. My last piece of vacation reading was Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The book is a couple of years old, published in 2012, but well-researched and objectively reported, as usual by Coll. Reading the book, you can’t help but have a list of questions for Tillerson. They start with his relationship with Putin and their dealings in Russia, which were what won the CEO job for Tillerson more than a decade ago. What about the side deal with the Kurds was also made by Tillerson while in the top job was outside of the lines drawn by American policy in Iraq and in some ways skirting the letter of the law on sanctions. There has been some attention there already, but how about Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Nigeria, and Indonesia where ExxonMobil, including under Tillerson’s watch maintained virtual private armies and flaunted exceptions to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, especially in Equatorial Guinea, with a straightforward argument that they should be allowed to “pay to play” with the ruling family. How about the general policy under Tillerson and his predecessors to coddle dictators and prop up their regimes where oil and gas comes first and are the only flag ExxonMobil flies? How about tense relationships of the company in Venezuela and what that will mean in a Tillerson-run State Department to our relationships in Latin America? When Tillerson’s qualifications are his contacts with state oil companies and the heads of state and bureaucrats where ExxonMobil has had commercial transactions, how do those relationships get realigned to the public good rather than the private enterprise, when his job is America and not ExxonMobil? And, I’m putting the little matter of his likely request for a special certificate to escape capital gains on cashing out $180 million in ExxonMobil shares for a huge tax break at the bottom of the list.

And, Tillerson may be one of Trump’s better nominees for all I know, but there’s no way it’s in the public’s interest to steamroll the process. It’s even bad politics.


Here Come the 50s Again, Complete with a Cold War

Ad from 1950s

Puerto Aventuras   Reading the news online doesn’t count as a pleasure these days, if it ever did. The upshot in the domestic and international news seems to be that we are going into 2017 and ending a presidency of the 21st century by dialing the clock back to inaugurate a presidency of the mid-20th century.

The incoming administration and many of its cabinet positions and a frightening number of state houses are hopeful that women have forgotten what it was like to be standing up, leaning in, and having some modicum of control over their bodies and selves. A major conservative war party is coming after Planned Parenthood to not only deny them federal funding, but kneecap the Health and Human Services Department which has been the bulwark blocking states from also cutting them loose. We get to read credible reports that when Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raises women’s issues to President-elect Trump, he literally hands the phone over to his daughter, Ivanka, to handle the call. Doesn’t that just take your breath away! Even after this campaign in which almost everything Trump did or said about women was called into question, he can’t even pretend to be interested enough in women’s issues to manage it through a phone call. We’re going to have a First Lady, who doesn’t even live in the White House it also seems. We’re going back to the 50s, so get ready for reruns of “Father Knows Best.”

On health care, it looks like they may want to take us back to the pre-Roosevelt 30’s rather than the 50’s. Dump the Affordable Car Act covering 30 million Americans, maybe with block grants to the states so that no one living in red states will live past 65, while blue state folks hang on to their 80s. Oh, but they are also going to try and privatize the Veterans Administration in order to take a slap at the sacrifices made by soldiers and cut back on Medicare for seniors as well, those freeloaders, so maybe no one will make it that far. It goes on and on.

Equality of the races and religions: forget about it! The efforts to move voting rights back to the 50s has been going on for years now, but expect it to go wild now. Respect for other religions? So far the attitude seems to be, why bother? Those Palestinians are Muslims, right?

Heck, it looks like we’re even going to dust off the Cold War again. We already knew it was coming when so many retired and often cashiered former generals were taken out of mothballs and the Fox News circuit to head up one agency and position after another. Now that President Obama has finally given a hand slap to the Russians for the hacking and interference in the recent elections and they have replied in kind by throwing 35 of our folks out to match the 35 eviction notices Obama served, it all seems so déjà vu. Castro may have died, but they want to bring back the Cold War with Cuba, too, it seems. And, let’s not forget about China.

For those of us who don’t remember the 50s being so swell, the next couple of years could be a bit of hell.