Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Thinker

Debbie’s sin and Hillary’s penance: appoint Bernie Sanders the next DNC chair

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is suddenly out as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Thanks to a WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails and likely due to the largess of the spies for the Russian Republic we have access to all sorts of interesting/trivial/nauseating emails from the staff of the DNC. It paints the not pretty picture of the staff eagerly engaging in activities long suspected: to undercut the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and to promote the candidacy of favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton instead.

Favoritism had been documented before the WikiLeaks event. Last December the Sanders campaign had its access taken away from the DNC’s voter database when the DNC didn’t like queries it was making. Access was restored a day or two later perhaps due to a court challenge from the Sanders campaign that cited “irreparable harm” as it needed to target voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. This WikiLeaks dump though paints a pretty grim portrait of DNC staffers and Chair Debbie tipping the scales toward Clinton’s campaign.

So these revelations are not a surprise, but Chair Debbie has hardly been neutral on her feelings about who she thought was the better candidate (hint: she’s a she). She of course is entitled to her opinions, but in her role as DNC chair though she is required to be strictly unbiased, which should have disqualified her from the start. Moreover, she is supposed to set the ground rules and tone for the staff to follow. It was at best a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” game of portraying neutrality. Now with the record of these various emails out there, there is no ambiguity about it and Chair Debbie has walked the plank. She is out, at least as DNC chair.

Also out is any speaking role for her at the convention that the chair would nominally open and close. With Sanders supporters rallying in Philadelphia for the convention, the timing could not have been worse. (It’s unlikely that the WikiLeaks timing was accidental.) Chair Debbie was booed today at a meeting of the Florida Democratic delegation and shortly thereafter she decided not to open and close the convention. She could do Democrats a favor by quietly returning to Florida for the duration of the convention.

You may be wondering why any of this matters. Like me you probably see the leadership of both parties rife with insider corruption. As much as I dislike Donald Trump’s nomination, at least he succeeded where Bernie didn’t, perhaps in part because Republicans don’t have superdelegates. In reality of course the Republican establishment pulled out all the stops to stop Trump, realizing the likely disaster in November. The rank and file though wouldn’t have it and Trump had the money to keep going anyhow. It’s quite clear that Trump was the people’s candidate.

The Sanders campaign was given a more complex chessboard. It’s quite clear now though that he likely could have waged a better campaign, and possibly won the nomination if the DNC had acted impartially as it should have done. By tipping the scales, the DNC hardly lived up to the “democratic” in its name. This of course is the real problem: a party based on democracy (one person, one vote) is not true to itself if it won’t act this way. This is absolutely wrong.

Believe me there are plenty of people at the DNC and institutional Democrats in general that have no problem with these events. “That’s how the game is played,” is what they will tell you: those that run the institution effectively set the rules. They have been doing it for many years, feel they have paid their dues so have few qualms about tipping the scale. Those newbies storming the gate: what do they know? Damn little whippersnappers, acting all so uppity!

No, it is not okay. Here’s why. A party needs to represent those that actually belong to it. When voices in the party that don’t align with the establishment are effectively depreciated, you get a party that is not representative of its members. And that’s important particularly in this election because people are looking for candidates with new ideas.

Of course it’s entirely possible that Clinton would have won the nomination even if the scales had not been tipped to favor her. But we’ll never know for sure. It’s hard for even a Clinton supporter to deny that there was far more energy in the Sanders campaign. Die-hard Sanders supporters were out in the streets of Philadelphia today, many saying they would never vote for Clinton. I doubt they would have been this vocal had the nomination process actually had been fair. These energized Sanders supporters, like them or not, are the future of the Democratic Party. Without them the party will lose touch with its grassroots and become moribund. More importantly the Sanders voters are entitled to the same seat at the table as any Clinton delegate. Disenfranchising Sanders voters actually sets up the Democratic Party to lose future elections. This is the worst sin of all.

It should be not just a firing offense but actually against the law for a political party to favor one candidate over another within its party. Unfortunately each party sets its own rules. Also unfortunately, candidates have to run using with the system they got. When Bernie Sanders calls for a “political revolution” he is saying in part that the way we nominate candidates is broken because it disenfranchises new voices. He tried really hard to break through that. Through bullying and using his wealth Trump made the system work for him. Sanders raised more money than Clinton but with its superdelegates and insider help the Democratic deck was stacked against him. No question. And for that Democrats should be ashamed.

I’m certainly hoping Trump loses, and loses badly in November. If Clinton wins though her victory will always feel a bit tainted. A truly democratic Democratic Party needs to clean house. If the party truly wants to make amends, it’s quite clear who the next party chair should be: Bernie Sanders.

Hillary, I’m waiting to see if you have the leadership to do what’s right here. I’m not holding my breath, but I will hope that your sense of fairness and better nature will prevail.

 
The Thinker

Republicans jump off the cliff

National party political conventions happen only every four years. This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland though makes me seriously wonder if Republicans will have one in 2020 at all. I’m not alone. No less than former President George W. Bush is wondering if he is the last Republican president.

If you managed to tune into the convention, it’s hard not to escape the feeling of doom unfolding there. The Republican Party shows every sign that they have careened right off the cliff. It’s being bungled in just about every way a convention can be bungled. In case you haven’t had your nose to the news, here’s a small slice of the craziness going on in Cleveland at their convention:

  • At the start, there was a brief but doomed floor fight when delegates from Iowa tried to call for a vote that would have allowed delegates to vote their consciences. It appeared to have the support of enough states to actually get a vote, but the chair ignored it, thereby cementing Republicans’ reputation for not actually following a parliamentary process.
  • Melania Trump’s speech lifted whole sentences from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, the sort of plagiarism that if done in school would get you a failing grade. It turns out that Melania admires Michele, a major problem for any true Republican. She said she wrote the speech herself, but later we were told that a speechwriter did, who eventually took the fall.
  • Last night former candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke, told delegates to vote their consciences and never endorsed Donald Trump, which got him plenty of boos. They let him talk anyhow even though he told them he would not be endorsing Trump. Trump eventually came out to take the spotlight off Cruz and back to where it belongs: on his glorious self. This will likely be mostly what people will talk about for days, rather than Trump’s convention speech but at least it puts the focus on Cruz and 2020. However, if Trump is true to form, his acceptance speech will likely be an incoherent ramble, so maybe not.
  • Less noticed was that House Speaker Paul Ryan also refused to explicitly endorse Trump at his convention speech. Like Cruz, he seems to know the ship is sinking and he wants to be one of the first rats to jump when it is politically safe to do so on November 9.
  • Tuesday was supposed to be a day to talk about how Republicans would fix the economy. Instead it became a day of vitriol where speaker after speaker went on the attack against Hillary Clinton, many calling for her to go to prison. One woman who lost a son in the Benghazi incident held Clinton personally responsible for his death, even though she did not explicitly authorize the ambassador’s trip to Benghazi. A state legislator in West Virginia called for Hillary Clinton to be hung causing United Airlines to suspend him as a pilot.
  • Apparently Ohio governor John Kasich was sounded out to be Trump’s running mate. The offer, apparently from from Trump’s son: you will do the actual management part and my dad will do the “Making America Great Again” part. Strangely, Kasich declined. It appears Trump is bored with the whole manage the country part of the presidency, and wants to outsource it.

Oh, and so much more! Tonight is likely to be equally as memorable as the first three days. Perhaps more memorable than the convention itself is the stunning lack of coherence out of the convention and the epic mismanagement behind the stage. Trump does not know how to delegate. He has a hard time getting people to work for him because he requires non-disclosure agreements and routinely sues employees who he feels have stepped out of line. His roster of speakers is mediocre and often surreal (Scott Baio, really?) and it’s not even clear if he really chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. It appears he had second thoughts and futilely tried to change it at the last moment.

Watching the convention on TV itself is just appalling. There is no way for an impartial viewer not to get the impression that Republicans are passionate and crazy lunatics. Democrats were pretty pissed at George W. Bush at their 2004 convention, but no one suggested that he was a lawbreaker, should be put in jail and hung. It never occurred to Democrats to be this kind of lunatic crazy. But we heard it from speaker after speaker, day after day at this convention. So how can you not escape the conclusion that Republicans are dangerously unhinged?

A convention is normally scripted and carefully stage-managed, but also the organizers think carefully about how they want to present the party to the voters. No one seemed to be doing either parts of this job, bungling the most important part of their sales job prior to the election. Also not going well: fundraising. The typical RNC donors cannot seem to pull out their wallets. Few staff are being hired to go into the field and organize voters. Trump himself seems wholly unconcerned about the party and his campaign’s anemic fundraising, assuming that force of personality will be enough.

The 2012 Republican convention looked like one where Republicans were teetering on the borders of respectability. This is clearly off track, off message and has little of what can be called organization. No wonder George W. Bush is concerned he may be the last Republican president. Republicans seem to be doing everything possible not just to lose, but also to lose epically.

To Democrats, this Republican train wreck has been coming for years. With a few exceptions though today’s Republicans just don’t see what’s coming. But if you want to destroy a party, well, have a party doing so! It feels like this convention will touch all the markers for what not to do. You had best stand aside of the wreckage.

 
The Thinker

St. Louis

It’s been thirty plus years since I was in St. Louis, and that was for an unmemorable business trip. If you are to visit though, it’s hard to pick a better location than the downtown Hyatt, as it is virtually in spitting distance of the Gateway Arch. I am here because NetRoots Nation 16 is being held here in one of America’s most chocolate cities. Their choice of St. Louis is perhaps in response to last year’s conference in Phoenix. There then new Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders encountered some virulent Black Lives Matters protesters, and epically failed to respond appropriately, as did its mostly white attendees.

That’s no problem this year. These liberal but predominantly white attendees at Netroots Nation have since gotten fully educated in this Black Lives Matters thing. While attendees are predominantly white, there is plenty of evidence of more people of color, perhaps about a third altogether. Still, it’s an often awkward dance between whites and people of color here. This is not an issues with the LGBTQ community, where seeing a black transgender in high heels asking to be pointed to the men’s bathroom is wholly unremarkable. (This happened to me yesterday while volunteering at the registration desk. Up the escalators and make a U turn, I told her while noting that her high heels and gams would be the envy of many women here.)

Getting vertigo looking up  at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO

Getting vertigo looking up at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO

There might be more people of color here if this convention were more affordable. The official convention hotel rooms are $200/night and a discounted registration runs more than $300. The non-subsidized rate is $800. So with airfare it’s easy to spend $1500 or so for the privilege of communing with fellow progressives for three days and perhaps seeing an important politician or too. The cost is apparently not an obstacle for the 3000 or so attendees, and wasn’t for me although I chose the Hyatt because it is considerably less expensive with my AAA discount.

A driving tour of St. Louis last night facilitated by my longtime friend Tim left me impressed. The St. Louis area reminds me a lot of Baltimore with many traditionally ethnic neighborhoods. St. Louis is a bright blue dot and the economic engine of the state, but it is still in a red state. Unsurprisingly there are quite a few issues of local concern being discussed, including a so far failed attempt to make Missouri a “Right to Work” state. But it is a surprisingly pretty place and cooler than I expected in mid July, although this may be an aberration. While known for its beer, now owned by European masters, there are lesser known foods of interest. I tried one at dinner last night with Tim: toasted ravioli. Two thumbs up. If the rest of America knew how good it was, its popularity would quickly spread.

St. Louis from the Gateway Arch

St. Louis from the Gateway Arch

St. Louis has a metro, an apparently relatively recent creation undergoing a slow expansion. The trolley lines of a hundred years ago are being put back in in places. Their metro doesn’t go that far, at least north and south, but it does go to Lambert, i.e. St Louis International Airport. I took it into the city on Wednesday and found it both convenient and affordable. You pass stadiums, hospitals and eventually are deposited downtown where walking the mostly empty streets near twilight felt a bit scary. Along Big Muddy (the Mississippi) it is appropriately touristy with amenities like a steamboat cruise and carriage rides. It is often humid at this city at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

As for NetRoots Nation 16, it seems lower key than in past years based on anecdotes I hear. As I noted last year Bernie Sanders attended. I don’t expect to see him this year, not surprisingly as his campaign is over. So far the only politician of note spotted was Rep. Alan Grayson, annoying for a liberal, who is running for Marco Rubio’s Florida senate seat. Perhaps more notable politicians will show up in time.

Speaking of confluences, NetRoots Nation is a confluence of passionate people embracing so many causes it’s hard for them to concentrate on any of them. There are plenty of well attended seminars where issues and strategies are hashed out. (For two seminars, I volunteered to monitor the stream in case there were video or audio issues.) There are training sessions in how to do non-violent protests or wage a campaign for political office. So stuff does happen here, it’s just seems amorphous at times.

I am pondering what to make of this first attempt to attend a political convention. It turns out that making change is really hard. I’ve attended a number of seminars on the Black Lives Matters movement. It’s hard for a white guy like me to feel up to speed on all their issues. As speakers detailed the staggering challenges they face, it’s hard not to feel how Herculean an endeavor this is or how I can contribute in a meaningful way. Yesterday a speaker pointed out that sixty years ago the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had approval rates of just 10%. A majority of Americans polled thought that blacks were being too aggressive in their push for civil rights and needed to be nicer and stop trying so hard. Sixty years later while there has been progress there are still staggering amounts of institutional roadblocks that contribute toward the oppression of black people. These include gentrification, those “right to work” laws Missouri is trying to enact, crime, continuous harassment by police (the riots in Ferguson occurred here), under-funded schools, poor air and water quality in their neighborhoods and general poverty. It’s a game of multi-dimensional chess that has to be played simultaneously on many levels. It’s a hard game for blacks to play because they are bearing the weight of oppression so it needs white people like me to fight with them. That is hard to do too when you have not spent your lives unfairly defined by the hue of your skin. And this is just one of the issues that are of great concern to progressives. It’s hard not to feel despair.

Unsurprisingly a lot of the attention here is on the November election and here at least there is a lot of hope. With political power comes the chance to wield it, although there are so many obstacles in trying to wield power (as President Obama can attest) that it’s not hard to feel maudlin even if Democrats win both the White House and Congress. The chances for meaningful change are chancy at best. Realistically, meaningful success is much like those of a tightrope walker without a pole, in the wind with the rope vibrating. It takes a brave progressive to take on these causes anyhow, and a lot of them are here.

The hoopla largely dies down tomorrow night. I fly home on Sunday.

 
The Thinker

Yes America, we have a race and class problem

In case you missed it, Alvin Toffler died on June 27. The author, principally known for Future Shock (1970), warned us that our future was not going to be easy. The book was a warning that too much change happening too quickly would have predictable consequences. In 1970 change was everywhere. Bellbottoms have since disappeared but we’ve been racing toward the future since then, with economic (industrial to service economies), gender, sexual, class and racial changes occurring far more quickly than most of us can handle them. Future shock is still a thing but with his death at least Toffler doesn’t have to deal with it anymore.

Currently it’s manifested in our racial strife. The fatalities keep rolling in. It’s getting so that when I wake up and read the news I expect to feel a wave of nausea. Not even two days apart there were egregious murders of black men by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St. Paul, Minnesota, at least partially recorded on smartphone cameras. It used to be that white people like me could sort of excuse these events as the act of a rogue cop or two, but that’s not the case anymore. Last night of course in Dallas, Texas following a protest on police shootings of blacks more than one sniper killed five police officers and wounded seven other officers, plus two civilians. At least one of the shooters was killed by “bomb robot”, something that sounds like it is from a Terminator movie but is apparently quite real.

Toffler would not be surprised by this reaction. It was neither a right nor a just thing to do, but it was entirely predictable as tone-deaf police departments and officers continue to disproportionately kill blacks in altercations that are at best minor. I mean, killing someone for having a taillight out? There’s little doubt in my mind that if I had been driving that car I would likely have gotten a friendly warning and I would have been on my way. But then my skin is white and that gives me privileges obviously not afforded to many blacks by police.

I once wrote optimistically about our post-racial society. As I look back on it, clearly I was widely off the mark. It’s truer to some extent for the latest generations that are at least growing up in a multicultural world. Post racial for them is the new normal. But it’s not quite as normal as we think. Americans are in general strictly self-segregating along racial and class lines. Having spent more than thirty years in the Washington D.C. area, its multiculturalism became the norm, which was surprising given that I grew up in an area almost exclusively white. Moving to a more white area in retirement seemed quite odd.

You have to wonder how this happened. I don’t think most police officers are overtly biased against blacks. Police officers though work in the real world. Crime tends to occur more often in poorer neighborhoods, which are usually minority and typically black. If I had to struggle to survive like a lot of these people I’d be more likely to commit crimes as well. It must not be hard for a police officer that constantly finds trouble in these parts of town to develop an unconscious bias against the poor and blacks. Their job is to keep society safe so naturally they are going to focus on those areas they perceive as less safe. When you have your wealth and status, there is little reason to cause trouble.

Policing though is a tough job. You deal with life’s nastiness everyday. It’s not for everyone. I suspect if I had been a police officer I too would eventually behave a lot like these rogue officers, simply because of the constant pressure of it all. Despite their training my bet is a lot of these officers are victims of PTSD simply from being officers. It comes with the territory. Clearly we should recruit officers that can keep an even keel, but in reality police officers come from a pool of people with aggressive and authoritarian tendencies. In addition, we don’t pay them nearly enough to deal with the stress they endure everyday.

And speaking of stress, when you are poor, black or really any minority in this country, your life is unlikely to be a bed of roses. You spend much of your life being ethnically profiled. Add to this the likelihood that you will be poorer and live a more challenging life. Unlike me you are unlikely to inherit tens of thousands of dollars when your father passes away. You will struggle for respect, for equal pay and simply to keep the floor under you.

The results are not too surprising. Police officers, many carrying around an unconscious or overt bias against people of color, hired for being aggressive and authoritarian, but also understanding that their place within society in on the lower part of the bell curve will tend to act out their anxieties. And since they literally have the power of life and death, it’s pretty hard to keep your feelings in check when you figure that black guy probably doesn’t like you and has a gun, and you want to make it home to dinner. Meanwhile the black guy, being an otherwise normal human, is sick to death of being pulled over and acting subservient to police officers and white people in general. It all feeds on itself.

But feeding it all are those on top: the politicians and basically those with money, projecting their class and racial biases on those who enforce the law, and tacitly looking the other way so often when incidents like these occur. It’s a rare cop whose behavior will be judged criminal when they happen.

How do we stop this? In reality it is a very complex and multidimensional issue. Getting cops some cultural sensitivity training and making them wear body cameras isn’t enough. A real solution requires a lot of lowering of shields, community discussion and transgressing not just our racial prejudices but our class prejudices as well.

Certainly those we are hiring as cops aren’t getting the right training for a 21st century America. We are in general picking the wrong people for these jobs and not paying them commensurate with their difficult jobs, much like teachers. The overarching issue is really our staggering level of income inequality, if not the downright cruelty of society in general. Recently the Arizona legislature decided it hadn’t made the poor miserable enough yet. Now it’s limiting TANF benefits to the poor from two years total to one year, as if people are only allowed to be poor once. Otherwise, let ‘em eat cake, which in their case may be Twinkies. There is no compassion here, simply on overwhelming disgust from those in power toward those that have none.

In short, it’s going to take a lot of time but mostly it’s going to take a lot of white people like me to stand up and say “Enough!” This is because apparently we’re the only ones the power brokers listen to. Besides posting essays like this, I’m pondering the best way that a white male like me can move the needle on this issue. Suggestions are welcome.

 
The Thinker

Trump is toast

The air has been letting out of the Trump balloon for about a month now, i.e. since he won his party’s nomination. Polls have been showing about a five-point gap (sometimes more) favoring Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup. It’s not because Hillary Clinton has become more popular, it’s because Donald Trump has gotten less popular. This in turn is because Trump has a habit of opening his mouth and it continues to sound meaner and make less sense. Trump apparently has decided to let Donald be Donald. This does not mean “acting presidential” because apparently he figures he already is presidential.

In any event, it appears to me that The Donald has finally jumped the shark, which means that rather than seem interesting and different he now looks buffoonish, which was clear to many of us from the start. One problem with being a bully is that when you need to, you are unable to pivot. All Trump knows is how to be a bully. It’s served him well in business and in marketing himself. But as I noted years ago in an essay on bullying it only works until it does not. At some point the bully is stood up to and they can’t effectively counterpunch. Then the once feared bully suddenly looks impotent. In extreme cases they become objects of scorn or (worse) pity. Trump is already at the scorned phase.

It’s hard to say when Trump’s jump the shark moment occurred, but it will probably be reckoned when he attacked the federal judge overseeing the Trump University case. Finally we had an outrage so outrageous it could not be excused anymore by his own party. Republicans, at least those in the establishment, widely condemned his remarks. I can’t recall any Republican that stood by him on this. Judge Curiel after all did not take up the case; he was assigned the case, and had no axe to grind. But since this case could open Trump to racketeering charges, Trump saw the judge as a threat, so of course he went after him. Howls of protests from just about everywhere simply made him double down, then double-double down. That’s the bully’s modus operandi. There is a bull in a bully, and a bull is single-minded, making it hard to perceive threats.

It was followed by a self-congratulating tweet after the Orlando massacre that too was widely panned for its total lack of empathy toward the victims and families. But why should anyone be surprised? Trump does not know how to be empathetic. It likely wasn’t modeled in his father, who coached him on how great he was going to be (and gave him millions of dollars to try). There is no record of him volunteering in soup kitchens or homeless shelters. If he is a Presbyterian no one can recall the last time he was in church. Of course his brand is meanness, hardly the sort of attributes ascribed to Jesus.

There are lots of people that claim to be religious and are not, so Trump is hardly unique there. From the perspective of this non-Christian, most Christians in this country are not Christians, at least not ones that Jesus would recognize. Capitalism is our real state religion so at least Trump is its poster child there. After all, a good capitalist does not need to have a conscience. It certainly appears that Trump has none, considering how many investors of his affiliated companies and contractors that have done work for him that he has screwed over the years. But if you are a capitalist, it’s all okay if you can get away with it. And with the possible exception of the Trump University case, he’s proof that money can buy the justice you want.

If Trump can attract a majority of like-minded voters then he will be our next president. It seems unlikely that he can. A majority of voters polled (54%) said they would not vote for Trump versus 43% for Clinton. It’s hard to win an election with these kinds of numbers, unless you can suppress the numbers who plan to vote for Clinton. Only about a third of the country actually likes Trump. Even Republicans are souring on Trump. Paul Ryan is signaling it’s okay for Republican delegates to vote their consciences. It’s unclear if a Never Trump movement will gain traction but likely more than a few Republican candidates are quietly waiting in the wings for him to implode. (Maybe it’s just me, but as bad as Trump is Ted Cruz would actually be worse.) The Bush family won’t vote for him, which makes me wonder what their alternative is: to not vote at all or hold their noses and vote for Clinton? Some of the more liberal Republican governors (Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland) have publicly said they won’t vote for him. To me the optics is pretty clear: you can’t win an election if you are so widely disliked and/or despised.

Lurking in the back of my mind are the obvious concerns. It’s more than four months to the election and lots of events (like yesterday’s Brexit vote in Great Britain) can swing the minds of voters. And perhaps Trump can pull a Houdini and completely reinvent himself, at least through the election, although I don’t see how he can convince enough people. When I divorce my fears and concentrate on the facts, I simply can’t see how Trump can be elected. There is no viable path and even if one suggested itself the Electoral College is pretty baked in. It would take a phenomenal Republican candidate and a dismal Democratic one to change them. Trump’s best hope is simply precedent: the last Democrat to succeed a Democratic president who left office after two full terms was Harry S Truman, and this was after the more than three terms that Franklin Roosevelt served.

So stepping out on a limb, I think Trump is toast already. What will prove more interesting is the how his degree of his unfavorability affects House and Senate races. Trump may be so toxic that the Trump effect may sweep not just the Senate but also the House into Democratic control. He might even end the Republican Party.

 
The Thinker

The never-ending story

What more is there to say about this latest mass shooting in Orlando that I haven’t said many times in many other posts? 49 people dead, 50 including the gunman, and more than that injured. This incident has the dubious distinction of being our worst mass shooting in modern history.

There have been worse shootings, if you include Wounded Knee (146 Native Americans dead, and by our own government), possibly the Tulsa Race Riot or pretty much any Civil War battle. At the time those who knew about Wounded Knee were all for it. Indians were not seen as our friends in the 19th century; they got in the way of Manifest Destiny. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Civil War battle that didn’t have at least fifty deaths, which is why this incident is being so carefully qualified.

Most of us normal Americans might like to see a little action for a change rather than our usual inchoate rage that once again will mean nothing will get done to prevent future incidents. That’s currently underway in the United States Senate where Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy started a filibuster to get the Senate to take some action. Democrats seem willing to sustain the filibuster, at least for a while. Even if they get their way, any “gun control” will be so modest as to be laughable. What’s being floated is putting a 72-hour wait on assault weapons purchases by anyone on the terrorist watch list. Any bill that comes out is likely to include a provision that failed last December: to take away federal funding from any city that declare themselves “sanctuary cities”, i.e. don’t allow their police to enforce federal immigration law.

There are a few new things about this latest incident to note. One, this demonstrates that having a good guy with a gun won’t necessarily fix the problem of a bad guy with a gun, so the NRA has been proven wrong on this. There was an Orlando cop on the premises of the Pulse nightclub where these mass deaths and injuries occurred. The Pulse caters to the LGBT and Hispanic community in Orlando. The incident spanned about three hours. The tightly packed nightclub made whatever the officer could do very limited. A semiautomatic rifle trumps anything a police officer is going to keep in their holster. Most of these semiautomatic rifles are capable of magazines with thirty bullets, and it’s not hard to unleash a bullet a second. They are in effect automatic weapons, thus extremely good at inflicting mass casualties very quickly.

There is at least one story of heroism so far: a Marine veteran that opened a back door so others could escape. More such stories are likely in the days ahead. There are also some peculiarities. The assailant, Omar Mateen, had been seen at the club many times and had apparently at least tried to pick up men at the club. So he may well have been gay. It’s possible that cognitive dissonance between his gay identity and his Muslim teachings was central in the carnage that he unleashed.

Mateen may have had been a practicing Muslim, but he was no more a foreign jihadist than my mother (born in Bay City, Michigan) was a Polish immigrant: he was born in New York City, just down the road from where Donald Trump entered the world. It was obviously made tremendously easier because of the easy access in this country to weapons of mass destruction. Mateen used a Sig Sauer MCX, proudly manufactured here in the USA in New Hampshire. It is also likely that Mateen had zero contact with ISIS, who he pledged allegiance to shortly before the attack. This was a Made in America attack.

Some things look sadly familiar. Mateen was relatively young and male and as we see over and over again this is the demographic typical of these mass shooters. However, he wasn’t white and he was a Muslim American (parents from Afghanistan), which is why many assumed he was a terrorist trained by ISIS or Al Qaeda, which Donald Trump seemed to imply. And unsurprisingly there were caution flags all over the man, but not enough checks to keep him from working for a security firm or to easily acquire the semiautomatic weapons he used which he did shortly before the attack. The only thing really new here is the scale of the shooting. That Mateen was unbalanced and prone to violence is pretty obvious from reported episodes of wife beating.

In one of my first posts on gun control, I noted that simply possessing a weapon is dangerous. Possessing a semiautomatic weapon is much more dangerous than possessing a typical firearm because it can wreak much more damage much more quickly. I don’t own a gun not just because I am opposed to it in principle. I know myself well enough that it’s possible I could become mentally sick enough that I could use it, most likely to kill myself. No, I don’t have suicidal thoughts, but depression happens to most people. I’ve had a few mild bouts of it over the years. Prevention is so simple and the easiest one is simply not to own a gun.

Sane people like me though can do a lot to avoid being a victim. I’m unlikely to be attending a gay bar in the wee hours because I hate bars and I’m not gay. One reason I am living in Western Massachusetts is for its relative safety, in spite of Northampton where I live and its large and renown LGBT population. There is a lot of gun control here in Massachusetts. Semiautomatic weapons cannot be bought anywhere in the state, at least legally. Yes, we’ve had terrorist incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing. Curiously no semiautomatic weapons were used, perhaps because they are harder to acquire here.

A community with common sense gun laws is less likely to have these sorts of incidents. A community that shares these values is less likely to foster people attracted to these sorts of crimes. That sort of common sense is missing in Florida where just today reporters for the Huffington Post were able to acquire an AK-15 (similar to the gun used by Mateen) in just 38 minutes. It doesn’t surprise me that most of these incidents happen in states with loose gun laws.

Someday, probably when we have a Democratic House and Senate again, common sense gun laws may go national again. We’d best not hold our breath. History suggests that Mateen’s grisly record is likely to be broken long before we enact real gun control laws again.

 
The Thinker

How Bernie Sanders blew it … but also won it

The primary season comes to an end next Tuesday in Washington D.C. where Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win, mostly due to the demographics of the city. Of course it’s been over for Bernie for some time. Tuesday made it semi-official but it was hardly a secret as his path for winning continually narrowed and became more improbable with every passing week.

It’s time for a postmortem, and perhaps now is the best time, as the body hasn’t cooled yet. Where did he go wrong? There are lots of mistakes to point to, some not obvious at the time. For me, I don’t feel like chastising Bernie Sanders. I think his campaign was remarkable. Most Americans had no idea even who he was when he announced his campaign, and yet he ended up with more than forty percent of the pledged delegates. Certainly a lot of it was due to frustrations by Democrats unhappy with Hillary Clinton as a candidate and wanting a different choice. There were other choices (Chafee, Webb and O’Malley) but it soon became clear that only Sanders was a real alternative. Put a wig and a tight dress on the others and they might have passed for Hillary; their policies were basically the same.

However, Bernie was something different and fresh. Mostly, he was authentic in a way few candidates can be today. This was part luck and part wisdom. The lucky part was he was a senator from Vermont, a state with a tiny population. Languishing in the far northeast the state was unseen by the rest of the country. Its small size and insular location made it ideal for a progressive candidate who didn’t want to deal with the usual bullshit of campaigning: the rubber chicken dinner circuit, dialing for donors and needing to compromise principle. The wisdom was knowing that by being an independent he could speak authentically. He joined the Democratic Party very late, and primarily just to have the ability to have a realistic shot at running for president.

Authenticity made him singular among politicians and gave him a real Mr. Smith Goes to Washington feel. It opened up doors to being heard that others did not have. For all her speeches, we basically know what Hillary is going to say, and thus for many of us she feels fake, inauthentic and calculating. With authenticity Sanders could be heard, and we heard a new message that reflected the obvious truth around us: that wealth had purchased the transfer of more wealth from the lower and middle classes to the rich. From any other politician it would have sounded calculating. From Sanders, it was obviously sincere and heartfelt.

While Sanders may have lost the nomination, his ideas are now mainstream and won’t go back in the closet. There are now few Americans that haven’t heard of democratic socialism, know exactly what it means and its potential. It doesn’t surprise me that his message resonated so well with whites. Middle and lower class whites have been getting the shaft, just like everyone else. Both Sanders and Trump appealed to these whites, but Sanders did it in a way that was free of racism. As a result he pulled Hillary Clinton substantially to the left because she had to compete to win these voters. He energized people, but mostly he energized younger voters. He has changed the path for our future. As millennials gain power and displace us older voters, his vision will guide these new leaders. I just hope Sanders lives long enough to see it happen. I think it will.

In a way, he wins by losing. Had he been elected president, his ability to get his agenda done would have been no better than Hillary’s, unless Trump’s candidacy so implodes the Republican Party that Democrats retake both houses of Congress. He doesn’t have to take the fall when Congress discards much of the agenda. But he has lit a fuse that will go off sometime in the future. He has given us a picture of what our country can look like and we can taste it.

Sanders mistakes were many but largely due to naivety. His biggest one was simply not reaching out to minorities. It’s not that women and minorities are that enthused by Hillary; remember that she lost to Barack Obama eight years ago. Sanders hadn’t paid his dues. Yes, he was often marching with civil rights protesters but he didn’t make the connections, mainly because he abstracted their problems into a larger agenda, rather than make an emotional case although he is white he was one of them. As a result he was seen as new and thus dubious to women and minorities. He probably hadn’t planned to run for president. Had he, he might have spent years cultivating this network.

He was to some extent a victim of forces outside of his control. Women in particular are anxious to see a woman president. There was no obvious candidate other than Hillary. While not burdened with the hassle of moneyed connections, not having them left him not agile enough to create them quickly when he started his campaign. Everything had to be built from the ground up. It helped give him authenticity, but the process took too long to reach the necessary critical mass.

In short, the lab dish was just partially cultured for Sanders to grow to a critical mass. But because he was part of this campaign it will be in the future for someone with the skills and was drawn to his message. Then it will be obvious to most that he birthed real change. However, his baby is still en utero.

 
The Thinker

Should we applaud that a woman is likely to be nominated for president?

Is it remarkable that a woman will finally be leading a presidential ticket in this election? Yes it is, primarily because it took so long for it to happen. This makes Hillary Clinton’s status of the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party something of an embarrassment too. It might have happened eight years ago but of course Barack Obama narrowly won that nomination, which was also historic for transgressing the color barrier. So while this one took some time, it does say something that it was the Democratic Party that managed to pull two such historic nominations in eight years. Alan Keyes, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina never really had much of a chance within their parties. As for Hillary, I noted eight years ago that a woman’s time was likely to come soon.

Still, it is somewhat disappointing that of all the women out there that Hillary Clinton would be the first to get the nod. I am not one of those Hillary haters and I will happily vote for her in November. She was one of our better secretaries of state but was only a so-so senator from New York. Of course as first lady she had the opportunity to understand how the White House works and that’s one of my disappointments. Hillary was the opposite of an outsider. Her success came from being an insider and having the support of powerful people, particularly her husband Bill. Yes, some of her success due to being effective (but sometime catastrophically wrong) in office, but mostly it’s due to opportunity. Not many women can be married to a president of the United States. Her path to senator was smoothed over due to Bill’s connections. Her most distinguished role is really as secretary of state. In this she was a surprise pick and turned out to be a good choice. Obama had every reason to throw her to the wolves, but did not.

Maybe that’s how it has to go for our first female presidential nominee. Maybe it would be too daunting to have happened any other way right now. I say this not because I think that women don’t have these skills, but connections and establishment trust are imperatives, at least within the Democratic Party, and those are harder for women politicians as they are fewer in number and tend to have been in office for shorter periods of time compared with male politicians. Certainly she broke a glass ceiling, but not alone. Bill and friends of Bill did a lot of the pushing for her.

Hillary has high negatives that I frankly don’t get. I certainly have concerns about her judgment. Setting up a private email server was quite stupid and a more astute politician would have not ignored these red flags. While stupid, it was forgivable. It’s understandable that Republicans want to make hay over the killing of our Libyan ambassador and two others, but it’s quite clear from all the evidence that what happened was not her fault. She was hardly a perfect secretary of state, but she was a competent one and navigated that fine line quite handily between being empowered and following direction from the president.

Of course our foreign policy could have been handled better during her tenure, but the same is true of every secretary of state. We cannot control foreign events. All any president and secretary of state can do it position military and diplomatic forces effectively to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Diplomacy is tough and it rarely makes headlines. It involves creating and maintaining effective international collations. Radical change in foreign policy such as Trump would implement tends to not really be a good option. You must deal with the realities across the globe in all their enduring messiness. You should strategically move resources to reduce the messiness if possible. This can be done through long-term proactive strategies and the limited short-term application of military and diplomatic muscle when they can be effectively leveraged, such as with Iran.

Regardless, our next president will be either her or Donald Trump. While the choice is pretty obvious to me it’s apparently not obvious to plenty of voters. Voters need someone else to look at to help in their decisions, which is why who Hillary picks as her running mate may actually matter for a change. I don’t expect her to pick Sanders; they temperamentally too different as Hillary is a pragmatist and Bernie is an idealist. To me her choice is obvious: my senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren is frankly a far better speaker and communicator than Hillary is. Like Sanders she has a gift of connecting viscerally with voters. It’s unclear if Warren would accept this offer, although she had not ruled it out. Party insiders expect someone more milquetoast to get the nod. Tim Kaine and Sherrod Brown are names being bandied about. A prominent Latina would make a lot of sense but at the moment there is no one aside from Warren that would really be ideal.

I pity the fool Trump picks as his running mate and it’s unclear how many would accept. Newt Gingrich is not so secretly running for the position, but perhaps is less in the running since he has overtly criticized Trump over his racist remarks about the Judge Curiel, who overseeing the Trump University case. My bet is that he chooses New Jersey governor Chris Christie, because they are both temperamentally the same (bullies) and are both from the northeast. It would not surprise me at all if both the vice presidential nominees come from the northeast, which would be quite surprising as my area of the country is hardly representative of the rest of the country. Of course, time will tell.

I don’t worry too much about Sanders voters ultimately voting for Trump for the same reason that pissed off Clinton voters ultimately came around and voted for Obama in 2008. Wounds tend to heal given some time and there are five months until the election. In addition, pretty much all Democrats like and trust Obama. As long as the economy doesn’t implode, his opinions will carry a lot of weight. Obama endorsed Hillary today and will go on the stump with her next week. There is no downside for Obama: his legacy depends on having a Democrat succeed him. As this is a very rare occurrence (it hasn’t happen after two or more full terms since Harry S Truman) pulling it off would be another feather in his cap.

I also don’t worry about Trump finding a “presidential” footing. Like a leopard, there’s no way to change his spots. He may be a bit more cautious about putting his foot in his mouth but it’s not hard to predict he’ll do more of that than not in the months ahead. It really felt like with the latest reactions to his comments on Judge Curiel, he has finally jumped the shark. His hardcore supports won’t waver, but he has made it infinitely harder to bring in those with any doubts.

Barring some major external event and even given Hillary’s negatives, I don’t worry too much about the election either. She hardly has it in the bag, but she is intelligent and focused. Trump shows no inclination to be strategic, to raise serious money, to support fellow candidates or to act presidential. He’s effectively thrown his dice already and given the velocity and the angle it’s not too hard to predict he’ll land snake eyes.

The game is now truly afoot.

 
The Thinker

State of the presidential race: May 2016 edition

At least Ted Cruz has dropped out since my last look at the presidential race a month ago. He was the sort of candidate only Texans could love. Those of us in the other forty-nine states couldn’t quite understand why he had any appeal at all. Judging someone based on his or her looks is unfair, but it was impossible not to in Ted’s case. He’s been compared to Satan and an evil Mr. Rogers. His own daughter spurns his affections, at least on TV. His asymmetrical face actually made what came out of his mouth somewhat understandable: a take on conservatism so conservative that he looked like he had more in common with ISIS than he did with most Christians. Yet, for all his principle in the end he knew he had a losing hand. After losing in the Indiana primary he abruptly withdrew, as did John Kasich shortly afterward.

That left Donald Trump the last man sitting in this game of musical chairs. It’s clear to me now how he won the nomination. Bullying is also a form of distraction and by keeping other candidates distracted, he adroitly pulled chairs away. A couple of days ago the Associated Press declared him the winner. There will be no contested convention for Republicans this year. Even Marco Rubio plans to “help” Trump now, figuring Hillary Clinton is the worse evil.

No obstacles seem to be in the way of Hillary Clinton getting the Democratic Party’s nomination either, although she had not hit the magic number quite yet. She looks likely to win the California primary by twenty points or more, which is when it will officially be over. The indefatigable Bernie Sanders though keeps campaigning, although it’s unclear why. It was effectively over a month ago and it is still over.

Perhaps he is waiting for Clinton to implode. A damning State Department inspector general’s report on her private email server released this week perhaps gave some evidence that this scandal has legs. As an ex-government employee I considered her private email server to be audacious, as everything a public servant does as a public servant is part of the public record by law. The IG pointed out that while Colin Powell did use a private email account from time to time, he did not use it exclusively, nor did he create his own email server and use it for all his official email. Clinton’s claim that others had done the same proved shallow at best and erroneous at worst. The real issue is whether she sent classified material via her email server. Some was apparently sent to her from time to time, but it appears that none was ever sent by her. As someone who used to handle classified information, I can tell you the protection for classified material is crazily broad, making it virtually impossible to protect and sometimes to even identify. However, it is up to the sender to make sure such material is identified and sent via authorized and secure means only.

One thing Clinton has going for her is that Trump is proving to be his own worst enemy. He simply doesn’t understand (or care) whom he rattles or what he says. In the last week alone he has criticized the Republican governor of New Mexico, who is also the only Hispanic governor in the country and chair of the Republican Governors Association. He also launched a personal attack on a Hispanic judge who made demands for information on Trump University, which bilked students out of large sums of money. He promised to look more presidential but seems incapable of acting presidential. Instead, he acts and behaves the way he always has: as a loud mouthed bully. This suggests it’s the way he will run his general election campaign. It doesn’t seem that he cares much for the Republican Party’s establishment, although he is letting them raise money for him. This is a smart business decision as it lessens his financial losses, which were mostly illusionary anyhow. He has accepted donations all along but is otherwise financing his campaign with loans to himself. Then there was all the other crazy stuff he was saying: telling Californians that there is no drought in the state or that global warming is a hoax. For a party detached from reality, he made it not just unhinged but an island rapidly floating away from the continent.

Perhaps the reason he can’t act presidential is that he knows that doing so would be the death of his campaign. His campaign is an unlikely bet on a roulette wheel so you put all your chips on one number and hope for the best. Certainly his supporters don’t want him to act presidential. What draws them to him is his audacious “say anything” behavior. He needs to keep them energized through the general election. Pivot toward “the center” whatever that is and the energy simply flows out of his campaign. In fact, it’s clear to me that he doesn’t want to be president, at least president in the way it’s understood by the constitution, as he simply doesn’t like to manage anything. This became clear to me when he discussed what he is looking for in a vice president. Basically he’s looking for someone to actually run the government for him. As president apparently he sees his job to speak for the country. If he’s running for president, it’s more of a parliamentary system like Israeli president, who is the figurative head of state. Perhaps he knows himself well enough to know he can’t actually govern so that has to be outsourced.

Whatever it sure is a crazy election: definitely one for the record books. While no one expected Trump to secure the nomination no one who reads the tealeaves expects him to win the general election either. Barring a Clinton implosion or a huge national security crisis, I just don’t see a path forward for him, unless others create one for him through a popular but ill-advised third party bid. It doesn’t sound like Bernie Sanders is stupid enough to run as a third party candidate, but if he did he could be the one to inadvertently elect our first fascist president. It remains worrisome because Bernie is not really a Democrat. Rather he became a Democrat to have a chance of actually becoming president.

A real Democrat by now would sheepishly have conceded. It would not surprise me at all if he goes back to being an independent senator from Vermont after the election, who caucuses with the Democratic Party. Party loyalty means nothing to Sanders, as it means nothing to Trump. Sometimes though party loyalty has its advantages, such as nipping a third party run in the bud. It’s likely that Sanders won’t bite into this apple, but for the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, it’s what he needs to do.

Let’s hope that for all of Bernie’s passion on this one occasion unlike his supporters he uses his head instead of his heart.

 
The Thinker

Bernie supporters: vote with your head, not your heart

It’s not much fun when you go from feeling the Bern to feeling the burn. Burns hurt!

I have supported Bernie Sanders’ campaign with actual money and some non-monetary contributions. I voted for him on Super Tuesday. I like his ideas and I liked that he truly energized people and Democrats who were not very engaged in the political process.

Radical change is not easy but as eight years of an Obama administration it’s also true that incremental change is not easy either. These days real change can happen but only when you have a supermajority in Congress and your party controls the White House. In Obama’s case it lasted just two years, but even Obamacare (on which Obama stayed largely detached) was a patchwork compromise, with centrist Democrats pulling a public option out and barely holding together long enough to pass the darn thing. With Hillary Clinton tacitly acknowledging she will have to compromise with Republicans to get things done, her incremental approach is a hard sell. There is no sign that a Republican congress will be anymore cooperative with her than they were with Obama.

Not surprisingly I bet on Sanders but Sanders too is a politician and has an ego. And it’s clear he won’t quite let go of the fact that he won’t win the party’s nomination. And his supporters are fighting – literally – for their candidate. Perhaps you saw online the ruckus at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention where his supporters shouted down opponents and threatened to send chairs hurling at those controlling the meeting. Bear in mind that Hillary Clinton won Nevada, not just its congressional districts but in actual vote tallies. She was entitled to a majority of the delegates. Were Nevada Democratic Party officials a bit tone deaf to the Sanders people? Perhaps. Still, the passion of Sanders supporters crossed a line at the convention. It was disturbing. Naturally I expected the principled Bernie Sanders to call his supporters to task, which he did weakly while complaining their cause was just and that his leadership team had nothing to do with the matter.

This was a souring moment for me. Bernie has been about principles and waging a good fight, but apparently when push literally came to shove, actual fighting is more important than principles. The sorts of actions he and his team are taking are worrisome to say the least. They are trying to convince super-delegates supporting Clinton to support Sanders instead. They have the right to do so, but gently. Supporters though are feeling the Bern by expressing anger and using a combination of harassment and bullying to twist arms, something only Donald Trump could admire. Doing so violates the principles Sanders was campaigning on: democratic socialism; it has to be done democratically. If you come to a convention with fewer pledged delegate than your opponent (Clinton) you can’t credibly make the case that you represent a majority of the Democratic Party. It makes no sense. And Sanders will almost certainly end up in the minority, since he needs more than two thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to win that majority, in spite of a narrow loss in Kentucky and a clear win in Oregon Tuesday night.

What Bernie has accomplished is amazing, but not quite enough. It’s an unpleasant fact, but that’s how it is. More disturbing is how his supporters can’t seem to accept reality and move on. I have a friend who refuses to vote for Hillary if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination. What a stupid and counterproductive thing to do!

I speak from experience because I too once felt not quite the Bern, but the Anderson: John B. Anderson, an independent that ran against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Like Sanders, Anderson was right on the issues. Voting for him though was like shooting myself in the foot: I took votes away from Jimmy Carter that put Reagan in for two terms and all the wreckage that followed.

So when the 2000 election came around I was wiser and voted for Al Gore instead. Gore won a majority of votes cast, but lost to George W. Bush in Florida, at least according to some based on trying to read the intent of voters who used punch card ballots. Of course that case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately decided it. But it was the good super-liberals voting for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader that really tipped the scales in Florida. As a result Bush won and we got embroiled in a pointless war in Iraq, which has morphed into all sorts of conflicts, including the creation of the Islamic State. All because some people that normally vote Democratic would not. They went with their hearts, not their heads.

Clearly our system of electing presidents is poor. If I had my way we’d have a parliamentary form of government, not the mess we have now with party primaries and caucuses and an electoral college. But we have to work with the system we got, which means that in most elections we voters must put pragmatism over principle. The 2008 election was something of an aberration because we didn’t have to do that. In 2016, we need to go back to the old model.

To every Sanders supporter out there I say simply this: if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, refrain from voting or worst of all vote for Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, you are making a catastrophically bad mistake, similar to but actually much worse than the one I made in 1980. Trust me, Trump is much worse than Reagan ever was. Don’t be stupid. It may not be natural, but take your enthusiasm and use it to get Hillary Clinton elected instead. She’s hardly the evil person you think she is. It’s also absolutely critical. Trump cannot and must not be president of the United States and if it happens by narrow margins you will have only yourselves to blame.

 

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