Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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 look 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.

 
The Thinker

See no evil

To some extent, all political parties suffer tone deafness. Democrats are not immune. Bernie Sanders supporters are a little tone deaf to the reality that he will not be the party’s nominee. Uber-liberals were tone deaf in 2008 when John Edwards was running for president, excusing as unfounded pretty damning testimony that he was a womanizer. Liberals in general are pretty tone deaf to how difficult it will be to implement their progressive vision (for example, ending poverty) if they can win the political war.

Still, political tone deafness has hit staggering new levels with the elevation of Donald Trump, the presumed nominee of the Republican Party for the president of the United States. In January, Trump himself said that he could shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and he would not lose voters. Clearly he was right. Over and over again Trump has proved that there is nothing he can do or say that will dissuade his supporters.

After all, they are not voting for a man based on policies; they are voting for him because they like his packaging. The Donald himself changes his mind almost daily. With Bill Clinton, this periodic triangulation looked smart as it pushed him into positive approval ratings territory while infuriating many in the Democratic Party. But at least Clinton was selectively wishy-washy. He could smell a lost cause and tack away toward one that was doable. His pragmatism was almost refreshing and was in the spirit of horse-trading that used to be how Washington ran.

With Donald Trump, opinions change daily. He said going to bar all Muslims from entering the country. He made the point over and over again in rally after rally. Now he said it was just a suggestion. As for the new Muslim mayor of London, well, he’ll invite him over. He lies over and over again, even when repeatedly caught with his pants down for the same lie. Maybe you missed the latest: that recording of one of his media spokesmen “John Miller” back in the early 1990s, who was actually Trump, and which he admitted in court. Just a couple of days ago, he wholly disclaimed it was he. Then he said, what does it matter? It was so long ago.

None of this of course is a problem for his supporters, as he predicted. They see him as someone who will get the job done (whatever that is). Maybe they figure that to get it done it requires someone who just doesn’t give a damn about being consistent, or telling the truth, or having any character. It’s pure faith but faith based on information that shows he is probably the least qualified person for anyone to place faith in. After all what he wants to do one day for the country could easily be what he does not want to do the next day. The pinging back and forth will drive Congress and bureaucrats crazy. By never really sticking to some position, he ensures none of it will actually get done.

This is after all a man who cheats on his wives, allegedly raped his first wife, harasses women routinely and cheats his investors. His record of misogyny would appall even wife beaters. This is a man who brags about his financial prowess despite many failed businesses, who cheated students out of a real education (Trump University) and who let others purchase his brand but won’t mentor them in his business acumen so they can succeed.

None of this seems to matter to Republicans, except to a few die-hard conservatives, most of who are finding it expedient to look the other way. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus says, “people just don’t care” about Trump’s mouth or his controversies. By “people” he doesn’t mean most Democrats and many independents. However, it’s clear that Republicans mostly don’t care. Some things are more important than principle, and that’s power. And The Donald is their only ticket to power, so they either sink or swim with him. The pragmatic ones are hoping a kind-hearted Democrat throws them a life preserver. (It’s probably not covered by Obamacare.)

Bear in mind many of these same Republicans were hypocritically up in arms about all sorts of transgressions by Democrats, but mostly the Clintons. In the late 1990s I inhabited a carpool filled with Republicans gleefully chortling in Bill’s misdeeds with Monica. They just loved this proof that he was poor white trash in a suit with no morals or convictions and that he lied. Apparently Clinton’s real problem was that he was born “poor white”. This was never The Donald’s problem, as he came from wealth, but it’s clear that his lack of morals or convictions don’t bother him, or his womanizing. At least Bill Clinton was discreet about his occasional womanizing. Reince Preibus says it’s unimportant. IOKIYAR: It’s okay if you’re a Republican.

I’m not surprised. Republicans are highly selective in applying principle. They are for protecting the unborn but support policies that won’t even provide formula to poor kids once they are born. Just last week House Republicans voted to cut $23 billion in food stamps. They are for religious freedom, but apparently only for Christians and Jews, and only those Christians who are not religiously liberal, anyhow definitely not Muslims, and not if your religion tells you it’s okay to have an abortion. After all they support Trump’s call to keep Muslims out of the United States. They are for an opportunity society but won’t give anyone the opportunity to succeed who doesn’t come born with moneyed parents; in fact they keep cutting off the lower rungs of the ladder to make sure the poor cannot succeed.

Donald Trump though has at least provided clarity: all that principle stuff Republicans say forms the core of their party was just a bunch of hoo-ha. It used to be that inconsistency between principles and action would set up a case of cognitive dissonance, i.e. you’d lie about the inconsistency but you didn’t even know you were lying because you couldn’t face the hurt the truth would cause. Donald Trump though has at least allowed Republicans to progress. They no longer suffer from cognitive dissonance. Now they know they are being wholly inconsistent to their principles and acknowledge that at best their principles were wholly aspirational, not something they actually intend to live or govern by.

So there should be some sort of award given to every Donald Trump supporter. It would be for bravely and completely denying the obvious truth that Trump is the worst possible candidate probably ever with a chance of winning the presidency and being so knowingly indifferent to it.

As far as I’m concerned, all Trump supporters won the Washington Post’s Worst Week in Washington award. As Chris Cillizza (its author) puts it: “Congrats, or something.”

 
The Thinker

Time zone madness and sanity

The Washington Post recently published an article on a proposal by an economist and professor of physics and astronomy to create a single time zone for the entire planet. Those of us who travel regularly know that time zones are a hassle because adjusting sleep cycles is rarely easy. Their plan is to use UTC (basically, Greenwich Mean Time) as the planet’s time zone.

Putting the planet on a single time zone wouldn’t solve this particular problem unless we decided to ignore our circadian rhythm, i.e. rising around sunrise and going to sleep in the dark. I would imagine the Japanese and Chinese would be pissed as they would arise around sunset and go to sleep around sunrise. However, China already sees an advantage in having a single time zone. The whole country is on one time zone, basically +12 UTC. Perhaps this helps bind them together as a nation but for those in the far eastern or western parts of the country it must seem weird. It’s particularly weird when you move from eastern China into far eastern Russia. You jump two time zones to the east! China is about the size of the United States, so it would be like everyone in the United States being on Central Time.

I don’t think a law can easily break our circadian rhythms, which is why so many of us groan when entering daylight savings time. It feels unnatural because it is unnatural, at least in early March. But it’s less unnatural if you are lower in latitude and you happen to live close to a longitudinal meridian evenly divisible by 15. For those of us on the edge of a time zone, life seems to either start too early or end too late.

I certainly noticed it last year when we moved to Massachusetts, so much so that I blogged about it. Spain is considering changing its time zone to something more natural; it has been on central European time since World War Two. Spaniards get nearly an hour less sleep because of their unnatural time zone and unsurprisingly tend to be late to bed, at least by their clocks. Siestas are a way of compensating for their unnatural time zone.

Airlines already use UTC for flight schedules. This makes a lot of sense since pilots are frequently changing time zones. Of course they do take into account the sleeping habits of the people they are moving, which is why more flights happen during the daytime than at night. Laws vary so widely across the world (North Korea recently decided to change their time zone by half an hour) that some sort of time uniformity sounds desirable. As a practical matter geography often gets in the way, with Indiana being a case in point, as it is split between eastern and central time. No system is perfect.

Living in Massachusetts the time really feels “off”. I’m not alone, which is why there is a proposal to put New England on Atlantic Time, or -4 UTC instead of Eastern Time (-5 UTC). States can set their own time zones. However, here in New England it doesn’t make much sense for each state to go it alone, as our states tend to be small. It only makes sense if everyone adopts it. Rhode Island state Rep. Blake Filippi has proposed a bill to do just this, but only if Massachusetts also adopts it. He’s hoping it would coax the other New England states to go along.

My suspicion is that if Massachusetts embraced it, the other states here in New England would too. The possible exception would be Connecticut and that’s because it has so many commuters going into New York City everyday. As “off” as the time feels here in Massachusetts where the sun rises as early as 5:12 AM where I live and sets as early as 4:17 PM, it’s even worse the further east and north you go. To take an extreme example, the sunrise in Lubec, Maine starts as early as 4:41 AM and sets as early as 3:47 PM.

This is not a big deal in more extreme northern latitudes, but New England is simply not as far north as most of Europe. We are roughly at the latitude of Northern Spain. Being on Eastern Time is purely a political decision. Going to Atlantic Time for us pushed way north and east on the U.S. eastern seaboard would make a lot of sense and would feel more natural. We’d get later sunsets in the summer and more daylight in the winter when it is greatly needed.

So here’s hoping. Maybe I’ll write my state legislators. Winter is dark and dreary enough around here. There’s no point in making it more so. So I say let’s skip the idea of a worldwide time zone and make tweaks to the time zone maps we already use to make them fairer to actual human beings. As for us in New England, we have already suffered enough. Put us on Atlantic Time!

 
The Thinker

State of the presidential race: April 2016 edition

So it’s looking like Hillary vs. The Donald in November. Hillary is not too much of a surprise. The only real surprise was how close Vermont senator Bernie Sanders came to unseating her for the Democratic Party nomination. It is still technically possible for Sanders to pull an upset, but not realistic. He seems to be getting the drift by laying off staffers and concentrating resources on delegate rich California, the last major primary. Given that Sanders appeal is mostly with whites, it’s unlikely he’ll pull an upset in a state heavy with Latinos and Asians.

Just a week ago, it was even money that Republicans would have a brokered convention. It’s still possible but the odds are now probably only twenty percent, if that. Trump swept all five states in this week’s primaries, and in most states by convincing margins. Clinton lost only Rhode Island but squeaked by in Connecticut. Clinton trounced Sanders badly in Maryland and Delaware by 2:1 margins. Sanders will probably win Oregon, Montana and the Dakotas, but Oregon is the only state with significant number of delegates and California simply trounces it. Sadly, it’s over for Bernie. Rest assured he knows it too.

There is no viable path for Ted Cruz either in these remaining states and his “agreement” with John Kasich is mostly vapor, and proactively picking Carly Fiorina as his running mate will only make things worse. Indiana may be a pickup but none of the remaining states that are delegate rich are likely to break his way. Barring some unforeseen dynamic it’s over for the Republicans too. This brings some clarity for the general election. Both Clinton and Trump are underwater (are more disliked than liked), but Trump is much more so. Barring some bad foreign policy or economic news (the economy grew just .5% in the last quarter), Clinton looks like our likely next (and first female) president. Except for Clinton supporters though few will be enthusiastic about her as our next commander in chief.

This primary season has certainly been unusual, showing in general that the electorate (or those at least passionate enough to vote in primaries and caucuses) really would prefer someone completely different. Trump fills that bill, but scarily so. Clinton is true and tried but hardly exciting. The 73-year-old Sanders strangely fit the bill, but not enough to overwhelm the current Democratic establishment, which has a better lock on its base than the Republicans do. Oddly enough both Clinton and Trump are considerably older than presidential nominees tend to be. Clinton is 68 and Trump is 69. Trump is the same age as Ronald Reagan when he ran for president. Reagan was our oldest president but if elected Trump will be older.

One lesson that should be obvious is that our parties increasingly don’t represent the people very well, particularly those who claim allegiance to their party. Trump’s ascent proves that the issues that animate the party’s rank and file don’t animate Republican voters. As I noted, what Republicans really care about is maintaining white privilege and anything else is negotiable. Democrats too are undergoing a change in state. Establishment Democrats may titter at the idea of “democratic socialism”, but Sanders proves it’s the party’s future. The days of Democrats gaining power through triangulation and close ties to Wall Street (Bill Clinton’s strategy) are over. Hillary would be wise to acknowledge this reality.

The Republican Party is in much worse shape, but Trump may do the party a favor by reconnecting it with its base. What it will stand for in the future may be loathsome to the majority of Americans, but it seems to be what the modern Republican base wants. It’s not a way to grow an expanding party unless the party can shed its xenophobia, which is the catalyst for Trump’s unexpected rise. However, it could keep the party around and relevant for at least a while longer.

Despite the bluster, the odds certainly don’t favor The Donald. With two thirds of Americans basically saying they won’t vote for him, it’s hard to imagine how Trump can convince them otherwise. This is particularly true when he makes things worse by opening his mouth and saying stupid stuff, such as his latest comments on women and voting. Trump knows how to deliver sizzle, but there’s simply no steak there, much like his branded Trump Steaks. So the odds definitely favor Democrats, both in the presidential contest but also in recapturing the Senate. Even Republicans are concerned this may be a wave election that could remove their hold on power not just in the Senate but also in the House. It appears that lots of Republicans will sit this one out as they have no motive to vote for Trump, and thus no motive to vote at all.

Clinton’s instinct will be to tack toward the center but I think that would be a mistake. There is little point in holding power if you can’t wield it. Obama at least had two years of it, thanks to the Great Recession and Democrats holding both houses of Congress. It allowed the Affordable Care Act to get passed. Clinton may be setting her expectations too low. By tacking left instead of right, she can fire up the Democratic base. When they show up in force, as they did in 2008, they demonstrate who is really in charge. Gerrymandering and vote suppression are facts of life but since they affect principally red states, they won’t buy Republicans much in a general election year.

So for those of us reading the tealeaves, the voters sort of have spoken now. Much of what will follow is pretty well scripted. Trump has to hope for a Hail Mary pass to change the dynamics. Our economy is not great but unemployment is below five percent and our economy is still the envy of the rest of the world. Obama is unlikely to let a foreign policy problem fester to the point of explosion, but there are always wildcards. The dice are pretty much cast. Let’s see how they tumble.

 
The Thinker

The LGBT recoil

It looks like North Carolina is the latest state to discover the pitfalls of trying to govern from the extreme. HB2, passed in a special one-day session, specifically overwrote a Charlotte, North Carolina ordinance that allowed people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity. The hastily signed law by now-chagrinned Governor Pat McCrory requires North Carolina citizens to use the restroom aligned with the sex assigned to them by birth on their birth certificate or face the penalty of law.

The ink was hardly dry before the ACLU was filing a suit. And then the real recoil began. PayPal canceled plans to build offices in the state, at a cost of some four hundred jobs. The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) canceled plans for a concert in the state. North Carolinians can perhaps take some comfort in knowing that they are not the only state dumb enough to pass laws like these. Georgia’s governor vetoed a bill with similar intentions. Mississippi looks primed to follow North Carolina’s example with a “religious liberty” bill that gives permission to businesses to discriminate against people they don’t like because of God or something. It’s not even law and it’s promoting a backlash, causing Sharon Stone to move the location of her new film out of the state and the governor of Oregon to move the christening of the USS Oregon’s sister ship to his state. Of course Indiana got bitch slapped on similar issues last year, and even Arizona saw that light when convention bookings slowed down.

Why do these states do this? It’s like they have a death wish. In most cases there is no groundswell of constituents demanding these laws, but there are often fundamentalist groups who have the ears of legislators instead. The answer in part is because legislators in these states have their ears keenly tuned to hear messages from these groups who sustain their hold on power. But the only reason they have so much power is because states like North Carolina are gerrymandered to provide extremely disproportionate representation for conservatives. The nature of gerrymandering is that it is an artificial construct that cannot survive for long because it is unfair. A backlash was inevitable. Worse, these laws were entirely preventable and there were plenty examples of states who had already suffered the consequences. That would have at least suggested some caution, perhaps the governor shelving the bill for a few weeks to let tempers cool.

So much stupidity but perhaps the stupidest thing is that these laws try to solve problems that don’t even exist. Let me ask you what would be more disruptive: a trans man using a ladies restroom because his birth certificate says he is a woman, or a trans woman using a men’s restroom for a similar reason. The latter sounds the more dangerous to me; if I were a trans woman I’d literally prefer to pee in my pants before going into a men’s room. Of course that’s part of the problem. It’s hugely challenging when your gender misaligns with your sex and particularly during and after the transition process. It’s only now after a couple of decades that the trans community is starting to get some sympathy from the general public, mainly because most of us haven’t tuned into it. It’s a complex issue as I discovered some years back.

But the religious freedom arguments really sound shallow. Religious freedom in this case is basically government-approved bigotry. Doubtless there are passages in the Bible that suggest black people are evil (curious as most Jews are Semites and if not quite black have dark-hued skins.) Under the guise of religious freedom then anyone can assert they have a right to run a business that caters only to non-blacks. If it’s not in the Bible, it’s still no big deal. Create your own religion where only white people are holy and there you go. You can assert it’s your sincere religious belief and who can doubt you? These laws protect not the richest 1% but allow the most bigoted 1% to selectively shame people they don’t like with impunity.

The good news for bigots is that they have every right to be a bigot in their private lives. However, a business cannot be called public if it does not accept all comers. If I own a bakery and don’t want to bake wedding cakes for gay couples, I can get out of the bakery business. Or I can decide that I understand that being public means everyone can ask for my services and baking one doesn’t mean I support gay marriage but it does mean I have sanction to profit from anyone who walks in my shop door.

There is some concern that these laws will require ministers to marry gay couples or face the penalty of law. I’m not sure where this comes from but it’s a specious concern. You might as well worry that a Catholic priest will be required to perform a Jewish wedding. Religious marriage ceremonies require parties to agree to the marriage rules of the religion. I suppose it is possible that a state law might require any legal “celebrant” to perform a civil marriage, and that celebrant could also be a minister. In this case though the ceremony would be purely civil, does not have to be performed in their church and would have no religious connotation.

One thing that is clear is that these laws are toxic. Generations X and Y have made it clear that everyone must be treated equally under the law, so at best these laws will prove to be short-lived. Perhaps it’s possible these legislators don’t understand how hurtful and shaming these laws are, but more likely they do understand and that’s part of their animus in voting them in. They will get their comeuppance in time. In North Carolina, a recent poll puts Governor McCrory four points behind his LGBT-friendlier challenger.

When you make it your business to shame others, you will inevitably find that it will shame you instead. Give it a few months as more businesses leave the state and I think North Carolina legislators will find a reason to quietly repeal HB 2. Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and other states in this boat will too in time but sadly are likely to look for less overt ways to discriminate instead. There are always those Voter ID laws.

 

Switch to our mobile site