Saturday, August 29, 2015

Response to Adaptive Christianity

(See: Just Above Sunset: Adaptive Christianity)

And now for something completely different: A Defense of Donald Trump's Religion.

Not only is he being faulted for not spouting Bible verses -- don't we usually mock all those holier-than-thou people who do quote the Bible from memory? -- but also for claiming he attends Marble Collegiate Church, while self-identifying as a "Presbyterian" -- which I guess is supposed to suggest that he's a hypocrite.

I hate to be too nit-picky about people being too nit-picky, but there's really that big a difference between those two? Here's what my computer's dictionary says about Presbyterianism:
Presbyterianism was first introduced in Geneva in 1541 under John Calvin, in the belief that it best represented the pattern of the early church. There are now many Presbyterian Churches (often called Reformed Churches) worldwide, notably in the Netherlands and Scotland and in countries with which they have historic links (including the U.S. and Northern Ireland).
And here's what Wikipedia says about Manhattan's Marble Collegiate Church:
The church congregation was founded in 1628 as the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church and was affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church, a Calvinist church in the Netherlands.
Notice that Calvin connection? These two coulda been twins, separated at birth.

It should also be noted that Jackie Kennedy, without any such controversy, enrolled her son, John Jr., in the Collegiate School, the Marble Collegiate Church's affiliated prep school on New York's West 77th street, even though they both were, to the best of my knowledge, not technically Dutch Reform Protestants.

I was baptized in the mid-1940s in the Congregational church on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset, Long Island (Manhasset, by the way, I think is still Bill O'Reilly's hometown), which I guess made me a tiny little devout Congregationalist, although I remember over the years my family attending plenty of churches of other protestant denominations, including Methodist and Lutheran and Presbyterian. In fact, living in the New York City area gave us a chance to attend that same Marble Collegiate Church on 5th Avenue, mostly just to see and hear its minister, my dad's hero, Norman Vincent Peale, of "Power of Positive Thinking" fame -- a jolly nice man, I thought, but who said things that made no sense to me. And for one semester of my 5th grade, I was sent to a "high" Episcopal school, which probably had the effect of helping to finally turn me into an agnostic, which I remain to this day.

But even as an agnostic, I still believe in the freedom of religious belief, which I figure covers not only Lutherans who didn't want to be forced into being Catholics, or the other way around, but also atheists and agnostics who didn't want to be Christians -- and yes, also the other way around. And a part of this belief is respecting boundaries: Unless someone's calling your faith into question, don't go questioning his. Sort of like the Golden Rule.

I guess what annoys me about the religiosity of politicians is not only their habit of pushing it in our faces, but also their insistence that everyone share their belief system. At this point, I don't see Trump doing this, especially not to the extent that other Republicans do, and so I can't -- at least not yet -- fault him for how he's using religion in his campaign.

This, of course, should not be interpreted as an endorsement of Donald Trump, who's personal closely-held religious beliefs I think need to be respected by all of us, even as, in most other matters, he is still a stinking pile of shit.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Response to America's Women

(See: Just Above Sunset: America's Women)

The fact that so many women are impressed by this blatant lounge lizard makes me wish somebody would do a serious survey on the kind of people who support Donald Trump.

In some ways, they are what we would, in days of old, have called a "cheap date". You don't need to do much to impress them; all you have to do is talk a lot, yet say nothing of substance. Be yourself, even if yourself happens to be all sizzle and no steak.

I confess that I myself often wish that my favorite politicians would stop talking like politicians and just talk like regular humans do, but it would never occur to me to be attracted to some vacuous candidate because he's a "straight talker". Yes, it was nice that candidate Barack Obama sometimes gave a great speech, but it wasn't so much how he said it that made it great, it was what he said. And yet, on the other side of that argument, we have Donald Trump.

Please forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but at least in some respects -- although not in his pleasant demeanor -- Donald Trump is Chauncey Gardiner, from the Jerzy Kosinski movie, "Being There".

If you're not familiar with the film, Gardiner (Peter Sellers) is a simple-minded middle-aged man who has lived his whole life hidden away inside the Washington, DC, townhouse of a rich man (who is probably his illegitimate father), and who is set to wandering the city after the old man dies, wearing some of his late benefactor's discarded but impeccable pin-striped suits.

Like Trump, Chauncey's knowledge of the world is almost entirely based on what he has seen on television, but his way of conveying this knowledge is so beguiling that people tend to read disguised wisdom into everything he says. Chauncey finds himself in the company of some very rich and powerful people who, as the movie ends, are so impressed with his refreshing way of expressing himself that they are considering running him for president of the United States.

It's a black comedy about how tenuous the threads of power are that hold our republic together, and it seems to be coming true.

People don't really listen to exactly what he says, but they just like the way he says it. Forget that he doesn't really say much, at least he's a straight-talker who tells us everything that's on his mind -- which, as I said, isn't all that much.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Response to Committing Journalism

(See: Just Above Sunset:Committing Journalism)

When I first saw that video of the Donald Trump-Jorge Rojas bout, I assumed maybe I hadn't seen all of it, thinking somebody cut out the first part -- the part where Trump continuously ignored Rojas' patient attempts to ask his question (on the grounds that he represented Univision, a group he has a feud with) and that they only picked up the video after Rojas finally lost his patience.

But after hearing Rojas being interviewed several times, I gather that part about him trying unsuccessfully to be called on never happened -- otherwise, Rojas would have mentioned it -- which all leads me to believe that Rojas had been actually trying to out-hotdog Trump, by doing something utterly outrageous, in hopes of making a point.

I think Glenn Greenwald makes a partly good point here:
The notion that journalists must be beacons of opinion-free, passion-devoid, staid, impotent neutrality is an extremely new one, the byproduct of the increasing corporatization of American journalism.
Where I think Greenwald is right is in his belief that, despite conventional wisdom, the idea of journalists being required to be neutral about everything, is actually relatively recent. Where he's wrong is in thinking we still live in an age of objective and neutral journalism -- we haven't, for years now -- but also in thinking it has anything to do with the "corporatization of American journalism". 

First of all, journalistic objectivity became considered a universal principle of journalism only in the 1950s or so. Before then, newspapers were allowed, and even expected to be, partisan -- you would read the one you agreed with -- but in the late 1940s and 1950s, with the advent of television news programs being broadcast on "the people's airwaves", their neutrality became enforced by the government. Yet this "golden age" didn't even last half of a century, suffering an early death in the 1990s with the birth of Fox News Network -- a cable TV channel not regulated by the FCC, and therefore free to take whatever side it wanted.

So is it okay again to be an advocate-journalist, as Jorge Ramos claims to be?

Sure, if you don't mind being ignored now and then when you try to ask a question. Donald knows exactly what Jorge wants to nag him about, and so he shuns him and goes on to someone else. There was a day when treating a journalist this way was totally unacceptable, but that was back when reporters were presumed to be objective and neutral. Nowadays, interviewees have as much right to take no notice of reporters as reporters have the right to shout questions out of turn at news conferences. It all makes great television, even if only for a day or two.

As I've said before, it's no longer a question of ethics or adhering to professional principles, it's a marketing decision. Do you want to portray your reporters as devoid of opinions and passions, which might make it easier to get that exclusive Donald Trump interview but also harder to pin him down when he doesn't answer the hard questions? Or do you want to harass the bastard into answering those hard questions, which you'll probably never even get a chance to ask, since he'll never let you get close to him, since everybody knows you've got an axe to grind?

Each position has its advantages and disadvantages, and neither really works as well as you'd hope it would.

Yet one interesting twist in this story is that, while this new era of partisan journalism was launched by Fox News, it could be said that, as Megyn Kelly might attest, it all came back to bite Fox News, in particular, during that recent GOP debate.

It's not really justice, it's just the way the world works these days.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Response to A Long Way

(See: Just Above Sunset: A Long Time)

Reading Janell Ross's Washington Post piece on Donald Trump's defense of his use of the term "anchor babies" reminded me of something most people seem to have missed.

Here's what she said:
Trump defended the term’s use and comments made during his announcement speech reiterating the unfounded claim that the Mexican government is engaged in a coordinated effort to send the dregs of its society to the United States.
What it reminded me of is that, while probably most normal people, or at least those with a brain, would agree with her contention that his claim is "unfounded", I'm betting that Donald thinks he actually explained, to twenty-five million people, how he knows that Mexico is purposely sending rapists across our border.

He said it during that first GOP debate, in an exchange with Fox's Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, I’ll give you 30 seconds — I’ll give you 30 seconds to answer my question, which was, what evidence do you have, specific evidence that the Mexican government is sending criminals across the border? Thirty seconds. 
TRUMP: Border Patrol, I was at the border last week. Border Patrol, people that I deal with, that I talk to, they say this is what’s happening. Because our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid. 
And the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them. They don’t want to take care of them. 
Why should they when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them? And that’s what is happening whether you like it or not.
And while we're on the subject of "stupid"...

He heard it from Border Patrol agents! His answer was so unbelievably stupid that nobody seemed to understand it to even be his answer!

You see, in his travels around the world, looking for suitable places to build wonderful and excellent quality golf courses, he has a lot of dealings with Border Patrol, the people who patrol our borders on the lookout for rapists and whatnot, and they invite him to their homes where, over dinner, they regale him with stories of their conversations with Mexico's top leadership, some of which have confessed to them that...

Okay, enough of that. All you need to know is, his evidence that Mexico is intentionally sending its dregs comes from conversations he's had with Border Patrol agents! You would think reporters would be asking him more questions about this, although I'm pretty sure hardly anybody even noticed that he said it. It's just too stupid to sound like a real answer.

All I can say is, if this guy ever becomes president, the founding fathers are going to have a lot of explaining to do.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Response to Political Socialization

(See: Just Above Sunset: Political Socialization)

Back in the 1980s, when I was publishing a national newsletter for the TV news industry, there was a stretch of time when station general managers across the country actually debated replacing news programming with "reality TV". And yes, the irony of swapping out actual reality with "reality", in quotes, seemed lost on most of them.

So now, according to the "libidinous" Maureen Dowd, we have this:
It is a fable conjured up in several classic movies: A magnetic, libidinous visitor shows up and insinuates himself into the lives of a bourgeois family. The free spirit leaves, but only after transforming the hidebound family, so that none of them can see themselves the same way again. 
That is the profound metamorphosis Trump has wrought on the race. The Don Rickles of reality shows is weirdly bringing some reality to the presidential patty-cake.
Nothing like a boring old bourgeois presidential race being insinuated into by a "reality" TV star candidate, and one who, like Ronald Reagan, comes with enough pre-installed media experience to allow him to fool people into thinking he knows what he's doing. Someone here needs to be reminded that Don Rickles' outrageous act wasn't really real, either -- although in Rickles' case, unlike Trump's, the schtick only worked for people who understood he was putting everyone on.

In fact, one could almost guess that Donald Trump is popular with people who's favorite professional sport is one of the let's-pretend competitions -- like professional wrestling, or maybe even "The Bachelorette".

But speaking of reality, the one without the quotes, we also need to remind ourselves of the true depth of Trump's popularity. To illustrate that, you can try this trick in the privacy of your own home:

Hold up both hands in front of you, with your thumbs folded into your palms, leaving eight fingers showing. Let's call your left hand "Democrats" and your right hand "Republicans". For argument sake, and to be generous, we'll say that Trump is popular with 25% of the Republicans -- which is one finger out of the eight. Fold that one finger down, and you see that seven-eighths of us do not like Trump.

In other words, despite all the hoopla, it's worth remembering that there's more of us than there is of them.

And yes, I realize there's a joke hidden in there somewhere concerning that one finger that represents Trump supporters, but I gave up looking for it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Response to Something Wicked

(See: Just Above Sunset: Something Wicked)

As to the question of countries honoring "birthright citizenship", Trump must have heard this somewhere and decided to just run with it:
“In the case of other countries, including Mexico, they don’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. … We’re the only place just about that’s stupid enough to do it,” he said.
What first strikes me here is that we seem to no longer be living in a world where any candidate for U.S. president would automatically find himself disqualified if he's heard calling our country stupid. 

The second thing that strikes me is that what he says here, as is his habit, is absolutely wrong. According to its constitution, Mexico treats "birthright citizenship" pretty much the same way we do:
Mexicans by birth are: I. Those born in the territory of the Republic, regardless of the nationality of their parents...
In fact, most of the countries in the Western Hemisphere are "stupid enough" to do this, while most countries elsewhere in the world are not.

But on that subject of who's really stupid, I doubt this Trump error will be picked by many, if any, since with all the stupidity swirling through the air surrounding his campaign, nobody is even bothering to hold him to a standard of truth anymore. Truth is just no longer relevant -- something that we should all probably take as a sign that we're in deep trouble.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Response to Incitement

(See: Just Above Sunset: Incitement)

Ted Cruz is really against birthright citizenship?
"I welcome Donald Trump articulating this view," said Texas senator Ted Cruz. "It is a view I have long held." Cruz, in an interview on the Michael Medved radio show, made his position clear: "We should end granting automatic birthright citizenship to the children of those who are here illegally." 
The presidential candidate acknowledged that a change in the law would be a heavy lift, saying "I think it is possible, but any constitutional amendment by its nature is difficult to achieve."
Yes, it is, and maybe even as difficult as what Donald Trump seems to be proposing -- that a president could just proceed on the presumption that the 14th Amendment doesn't mean to grant citizenship to children born to parents here illegally, and then let the Supreme Court decide the case when it gets around to it.

I would think that, in practical terms, this wouldn't happen -- that, in fact, the court would stay such a president from making any quick moves until it had decided whether or not those moves violated the Constitution. Plus, it should be noted, Trump might not be the first to be caught flatfooted by a court he assumes would be on his side. So much for rounding up Latinos “very quickly” to deport them. 

But you'd think Cruz would know he's playing with fire when he takes the view that we should reexamine who gets to be a citizen here. Doesn't he understand that the citizenship of someone born abroad to an American mother -- someone like himself -- might be on shakier ground than anyone born on American soil? Wouldn't it be ironical justice coming back to bite him if a whole review of citizenship ended up sweeping him back to where he came from, across the northern border? This is especially possible, one would think, from a President Trump, who for some reason gambled so much of his own reputation on trying to prove Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Cruz's posture in this is especially puzzling when you consider that he himself very easily could have been considered a "passport baby" while in Canada, their version of our "anchor baby". And it might be doubly difficult for him, since he has since renounced his Canadian citizenship, making him a man without a country.

Also, now there's such a fuss over the term "anchor baby". Even Jeb Bush, who insists he's against Trump's "anti-birthright" idea, snapped back at a questioner at a New Hampshire gathering who had asked him if he regretted using the term:
"No, I don't. I don't regret it," Bush said sharply, growing testy with a questioner while talking to reporters. Pressed further, a more agitated Bush fired off: "No, do you have a better term? OK, you give me, you give me a better term and I'll use it. I'm serious."
Trump himself had given a similar answer the night before to a reporter who asked if he knew the term was offensive:
"You mean it's not politically correct, and yet everybody uses it?" Trump said. "You know what? Give me a different term."
"Unicorn"! How about "unicorn"?

I pick that word not only because it's even shorter than "anchor baby" but because it's one that also seems to be describing something that exists, but that is actually only mythical. For all we know, there may be no such animal as an "anchor baby", or at least, like instances of so-called "voter fraud", in any number to be statistically significant:
There is a popular misconception that the child's U.S. citizenship status (acquired by jus soli) legally helps the child's parents and siblings to quickly reclassify their visa status (or lack thereof) and to place them on a fast pathway to acquire lawful permanent residence and eventually United States citizenship. This is a myth. Current U.S. federal law prevents anyone under the age of 21 from being able to petition for their non-citizen parent to be lawfully admitted into the United States for permanent residence. ... 
Statistics show that a significant, and rising, number of illegal aliens are having children in the United States, but there is mixed evidence that acquiring citizenship for the parents is their goal. According to PolitFact of the St. Petersburg Times, the immigration benefits of having a child born in the United States are limited. Citizen children cannot sponsor parents for entry into the country until they are 21 years of age, and if the parent had ever been in the country illegally, they would have to show they had left and not returned for at least ten years ... 
Parents of citizen children who have been in the country for ten years or more can also apply for relief from deportation, though only 4,000 persons a year can receive relief status; as such, according to PolitFact, having a child in order to gain citizenship for the parents is "an extremely long-term, and uncertain, process."
We also need to remind ourselves that this whole arcane question of "anchor babies" is just a tiny piece of the bigger answer that is hopefully forthcoming from Donald Trump and his acolytes, and that being to the question of how much harm vs good illegal immigrants are even doing this country in the first place, since it has already been shown that (a) whatever crimes they commit are, on average, fewer than the rest of us, and (b) whatever cost, if any, they are to us is, at most, minimal, and (c) they are here spending money and paying many of our taxes anyway. (And yes, they're not paying Social Security, but nor are they receiving Social Security benefits.)

But rather than going through the whole arduous process of changing the Constitution, or even an equally lengthy and probably futile attempt to test the 14th Amendment in the courts, maybe we might spend that time and effort more profitably by reeducating any immigrants who are headed our way, and who might be mistakenly thinking that coming here to give birth to a mythical "anchor baby" will somehow help them.

And hey, while we're at it, maybe we could also educate Republicans on the difference between reality and mythology.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Response to The Useless Specifics

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Useless Specifics)

First off, I have my own beef with Chuck Todd.

In that famous interview segment with Donald Trump on his plane, Trump turns the tables on the costs of deporting all the immigrants, and starts asking Todd questions:
Trump: "Do you think there's tremendous cost for the illegals that are in here right now?"  
Todd: "Of course there's cost to it." 
Trump: "Tremendous! Do you think there's tremendous crime being committed by illegals?" 
Todd: "Well, there's definitely evidence that it's happening..." 
Trump: "Tremendous! Far greater than what..." 
Todd: "Heinous crime. Bits of heinous ones." 
Trump: "And you see it all over..."
Even overlooking whatever Todd may have meant by that incomprehensible "Bits of heinous ones", since I may have transcribed that wrong, I'm thinking maybe Chuck should stick to his job of asking the questions, rather than answering them, or at least get his facts in line first. This is from in 2009:
So, how much do illegal immigrants cost federal, state and local governments in the U.S.? Estimates vary widely, and no consensus exists. ... a 2007 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office examined 29 reports on state and local costs published over 15 years in an attempt to answer this question. CBO concluded that most of the estimates determined that illegal immigrants impose a net cost to state and local governments but "that impact is most likely modest."
And "net", I would guess, refers to the fact that immigrants, even "illegal" ones, spend money in our economy -- food, shelter, clothing -- in addition to the money they send home.

As for crime committed by the undocumented? Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about Trump's habit of trumping up of crimes committed by illegals, a subject which his fellow Republican candidates, seeking the Latino vote, might want to correct him on:
They might start by pointing out that numerous studies going back more than a century have shown that immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated. A new report from the Immigration Policy Center notes that while the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled between 1990 and 2013 to more than 11.2 million, “FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48%—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41%, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.” 
A separate IPC paper from 2007 explains that this is not a function of well-behaved high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers. The data show that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants,” according to the report. “This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”
I'm a big fan of Chuck Todd, but he should realize that it's one thing for an interviewer to not correct his interviewee on facts he gets wrong, but it's another to actually agree with him when he gets something wrong.

But secondly, going back to the question of deporting all those kids, I think Dara Lind, of Vox, is confused, because she may not be listening hard enough:
Donald Trump wants all unauthorized immigrants out of the country. He’s said it before, and he said it again on Sunday to Chuck Todd of Meet the Press: “They have to go.” But Trump also says he doesn’t want to split up unauthorized immigrants from their families. That is a real contradiction: many of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country have children who are US citizens.
I heard that soundbite again this morning, and I don't see the same contradiction that Lind and others see here. He wants to deport all "unauthorized" immigrants, and because he wants to keep families together, he wants to also deport their children, whether or not they were born here, which would make them American citizens.

Where's the contradiction? Maybe it's in that you can't deport American citizens, especially natural-born ones? But that's not a contradiction, it's a matter of law that, if he were to try it, he might find is even bigger than he is. Maybe he thinks he can change the Constitution on the question of birthright citizenship? But to do what he wants with deporting these kids, he'd have to make it retroactive -- and might just try to do that so he could prove that Barack Obama, who was born in Kenya, could not have been legally president, even though his mother was American born.

Are you following all this? If not, don't bother trying, since Trump's not getting the nomination anyway, much less the presidency.

At least not according to Nate Silver, of "538", the guy I followed on a daily basis in 2012 which ended up making me smarter than Karl Rove and everybody on Fox News Channel (except Megyn Kelly), since at least I knew going into election night who was going to win. Silver is one of those genius sports odds-makers, and he's not too swayed by these early polls:
In the case of presidential primaries, indicators such as endorsements and support from party elites tend to be more reliable indicators of eventual success. To the extent that you’re looking at polls, you should probably adjust for name recognition and the amount of media attention a candidate is receiving. And you should account for favorability numbers and second-choice preferences, since all but a few candidates will eventually drop out of the running.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but then you have someone like Trump! He may seem like a noisy clown, but seems to defy all the pundits with his poll numbers staying high and going higher!
It’s possible — pretty easy, in fact — for a candidate to improve his standing in the polls while he simultaneously lowers his chance to become the nominee. ... 
What about being a jerk? If you can make yourself the center of attention — and no candidate in modern memory has been more skilled at that than Trump — you can potentially turn the polls into a referendum on your candidacy. It’s possible that many GOP voters are thinking about the race in just that way now. First, they ask themselves whether they would vote for Trump; if not, they then choose among the 16 other candidates. The neat thing about this is that you can overwhelmingly lose the majority in the referendum — 75 percent of Republicans are not voting for Trump — and yet still hold the plurality so long as the “no” vote is divided among a sufficient number of alternatives. 
Another trade-off comes from entrenching your appeal with a narrow segment of the electorate at the expense of broadening your coalition. I’ve seen a lot written about how Trump’s candidacy heralds a new type of populism. If it does, this type of populism isn’t actually very popular. 
Trump’s overall favorability ratings are miserable, about 30 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable, and they haven’t improved (whatever gains he’s made among Republicans have been offset by his declines among independents and Democrats). To some extent, the 30 percent may like Trump precisely because they know the 60 percent don’t like him. ... But running a campaign that caters to (for lack of a better term) contrarians is exactly how you ensure that you’ll never reach a majority.
Speaking for "538", Silver gives their bottom line:
Our emphatic prediction is simply that Trump will not win the nomination. It’s not even clear that he’s trying to do so.
I'm feeling more at ease already -- as also might be, I would imagine, Megyn Kelly.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Response to The Family Trust

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Family Trust)

Does anyone use the phrase, "Still waters run deep" anymore? In case you're young and aren't familiar, it's the sort of thing people would say about someone who doesn't talk much, so we imagine lots of thinking going on deep inside his brain. But it isn't until he starts speaking that we realize that, just because someone doesn't talk much doesn't mean he's got a lot of any worth to say.

Which brings us to Jeb Bush at the Reagan Library:
No leader or policymaker involved will claim to have gotten everything right in the region, Iraq especially. Yet in a long experience that includes failures of intelligence and military setbacks, one moment stands out in memory as the turning point we had all been waiting for. And that was the surge of military and diplomatic operations that turned events toward victory. It was a success, brilliant, heroic, and costly. And this nation will never forget the courage and sacrifice that made it all possible.
I remember not long ago thinking Jeb Bush, the quiet brother, was probably also the smart one, and that maybe he should have gone to the White House instead of George. But now that he's giving his opinions, I'm starting to think he might have been even worse. Thinking back, I also remember believing that George Jr's handling of Iraq was not nearly as good as his father's, but found myself surprised to find his dad actually supporting his son's policies, and now I'm starting to get that same feeling about Jeb when I hear him try to make it sound like his brother's Iraq war was just a fine idea. 

Yeah, of course, if he's running for president -- and he is -- he can hardly do it without finding some way to frame his brother's disastrous war in a way that doesn't lay the blame on his own brother, so one has to assume he'd do it by laying blame for its legacy on his opponent if he can, which he'll have to do by rewriting history. So in a way, one can hardly blame him for trying, but the truth is, yes, you can. And you should.

Some things have to be made clear to all Americans:

(1) Jeb's brother's war was NOT a good idea, it was a stupid one, and that at no point was it "headed toward victory", and was a war that, had his brother not launched it, there would be no such thing as ISIS, which was an outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq, a group that never would have been there at all, were it not for George Bush's war;

(2) Did "the surge" work in tamping down the violence? Maybe some, but not as much as conservatives claim it did, mainly because by the time it happened, things had somewhat calmed down on their own. The Sunnis, who were tiring of al Qaeda cutting off so many of their heads, had started taking payment from the Americans to join the fight against the insurgents in what was labelled "The Sunni Awakening", and the Shiite militias under Muqtada al-Sadr had been ordered to stand down, possibly seeing no reason to fight until the American troops left the country, which was expected to happen soon. And then came our surge, a day late and a dollar short, so to speak, but it gave us some cover, allowing us to sneak out of the country, almost unnoticed;

(3) As has been noted elsewhere, it was not Barack Obama (nor Hillary Clinton) who signed the SOFA agreement that kept our troops from staying in Iraq, it was Bush -- and nobody, including Jeb Bush, seems to have any good suggestion on what Obama could have done to keep them there over the objections of Iraq's leaders, much less what a tiny contingent of American troops could have accomplished that our hundreds of thousands had failed to do. People keep pointing this out, but the conservatives just ignore them;

(4) But here's the biggest conservative lie, and one that seems to be taken for granted by both sides, but shouldn't be:

The war, despite what conservatives keep claiming, was NOT -- repeat, NOT -- brought about by a "failure of intelligence", it was facilitated by the misuse of intelligence by the Bush administration -- as brilliantly reported by Seymour Hersh, in a long-forgotten New Yorker article entitled "The Stovepipe", back in October of 2003. In it, Hersh explained how the CIA, at least before the Iraq War, would normally handle incoming intelligence:
In theory, no request for action should be taken directly to higher authorities — a process known as “stovepiping” — without the information on which it is based having been subjected to rigorous scrutiny. 
The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic — and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them. 
“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued.
For details, you should read that article. It's fascinating. For more on this, also read the recent obit of Tyler S. Drumheller, the CIA European Station Chief who tried to warn the Bush administration much of their intelligence was way off-base:
“The agency is not blameless and no president on my watch has had a spotless record when it comes to the C.I.A.,” he said [in a 60-Minutes interview]. “But never before have I seen the manipulation of intelligence that has played out since Bush took office. As chief of Europe, I had a front-row seat from which to observe the unprecedented drive for intelligence justifying the Iraq war.”
In fact, amongst the blowback of Bush's Iraq War is something rarely mentioned, that being, by exposing its weaknesses, the damage the Bush administration did to the world's perception of American intelligence capabilities, largely by incorrectly blaming so-called "intelligence failures" on American intelligence agencies such as the CIA, instead of Bush and Cheney's own mismanagement. The mystique of American intelligence -- which reputedly knew everything, but apparently was so sure Saddam Hussein was running a WMD program that he wasn't running -- is gone. The damage to this country some claimed to be done by Edward Snowden pales next to that done by Bush and Cheney.

Still, stand by, because all that real history is still being rewritten by Republican presidential candidates, since selling a false narrative about America is the only chance they have of getting elected. And to a certain extent, it will work, because the people they're talking to are looking for a more comfortable story that helps them forget the truth about the incredibly stupid things our country does now and then.

But will it help them win the election? At this moment, that may depend solely on whether whoever they come up with as a candidate can defeat Bernie Sanders.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Response to The Actual Job

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Actual Job)

My god, that was so cleansing!

Yes, the reminder of that night in 2011 at the Correspondents' Dinner, when Obama ruthlessly ridiculed Donald Trump on national TV over his hard decision on whether to fire Gary Busey or Meatloaf, and then went back into the White House Situation Room himself and fired Osama bin Laden. That was delicious, even if it was just another Trump story. I can't seem to get enough of those.

In fact, I just had to follow that link to Trump telling someone, presumably in reference to dealing with women, “You have to treat 'em like shit” -- the someone being his friend Phillip Johnson, according to New York Magazine, who reportedly replied:
"You'd make a good mafioso," Johnson replied. 
"One of the greatest," The Donald assured him.
Which happens to echo Jon Stewart's standard Donald Trump impersonation, making him sound like a don from one of New York's famous "five families". That same link (to The Daily Beast) says this:
Trump “boasts about having poured a whole bottle of wine down Marie Brenner’s back after she wrote a story on him that he hated,” New York magazine reported in 1992. ... 
In 1990, Brenner profiled Trump and then-wife Ivana for Vanity Fair, brutally detailing the dissolution of their marriage. 
“How can you say you love us? You don’t love us! You don’t even love yourself. You just love your money,” 12-year-old Donald Jr. told his father, according to Brenner’s profile. 
“What kind of son have I created?” Trump’s mother, Mary, reportedly asked Ivana.
His own mother! But back to the cleansing.

It's mostly in hearing all these discussions of policy matters, such as the pros and cons of the Iran deal, that no one could ever imagine any of the Republican contenders intelligently engaging in. Listening to all this, after weeks of immersion into the dark world of Republican partisan politics, is like a return to civilization after spending too much time in some ruthless third-world country, where truth and rationality and human decency have absolutely no currency.

And so it's not just Donald Trump. In fact, as Paul Krugman suggested in his Monday column, maybe one reason we're all spending so much time talking about Trump is that none of the rest of the pack, as demonstrated by their performances at last week's debate, has anything to say:
Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times. ... 
And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. And that’s a big problem for the G.O.P. — even bigger than Donald Trump.
Krugman may be overstating that problem. It's only a real problem for the GOP if most people understand it to be true, or even care about it, but it still has to be a blaring embarrassment to the eighty-something-percent of Republicans that don't support him that their presidential front-runner is a lounge-lizard.

That party truly is the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Response to In the Alternative Universe

(See: Just Above Sunset: In the Alternative Universe)

As we all continue to struggle to find the slam-dunk analogy to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon, let me offer a new one.

It's just that I noticed, while watching the debate, in certain camera shots of Trump, especially when he's looking over at Kasich as he was talking, something oddly reminiscent of a bygone age. Finally I realized it was that his pose, with his head tilted slightly back and his defiantly downturned mouth, reminded me of photos I'd seen of Benito Mussolini, striking that very same pose.

If you get a chance to see those shots, look closer. Imagine the Donald without a stitch of hair. It's amazing!

But I also began noticing similarities in their personalities. Both shouters; both bullies; both having done their share of whoring around, possibly believing it made other men envious of them; both disdainful of society's rules; neither caring much about the weak and feckless losers they found themselves surrounded by. Both men started out with more liberal views, but later switched to Social Darwinist views of hierarchies.

Most worrisome is that both seemed to find their appeal in times when so much of the public is tired of all those other people, and willing to take a chance on maybe trading an orderly democracy that doesn't seem to work for them for some powerful person who seems perfectly willing to kick somebody's ass, just for the fun of it.

So I had already settled on this characterization of Donald Trump as "Il Duce with a combover", when I noticed some other commenter on a blog describe him with those exact same words. There's obviously something happening here that's catching people's notice, which is that there are disturbing similarities between the days we're living through now, and the times leading up to a truly horrible time in world history.

Then again, I could be wrong about this. If we're lucky, we're not destined for the second coming of Mussolini at all, but merely on the cusp of a new historical first: America's first lounge-lizard president.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Response to No Lessons Learned

(See: Just Above Sunset: No Lessons Learned)

I saw it here the other day that Grover Norquist, the conservative who outrageously once said, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub", is worried about Donald Trump winning the nomination? And Trump is attacking Frank Luntz, the pollster of the radical right who helped Newt Gingrich overturn those insuffiently-conservative Republicans back in 1994? And Fox News is at war with Trump? It's almost harder to keep track of who's-fighting-whom on the American far right as it is on the ground in Syria!

As tempting as it is to be amused at hearing all of this, I suspect it should be seen collectively as a bad portent. The geometrically-regressive downward movement within the Republican world is squeezing the "moderates" out, and so if Trump runs as an independent, it will be hard to tell which party will be the third-party, his own or the Republican Loyalists left behind.

But before we Democrats celebrate that happy event -- which would likely put a Democrat in the White House -- we need to look beyond it and ask if our candidate got fewer votes, both popular and electoral, than everyone else in the race -- not to mention in the election after that? This likely won't end well.

Another way to look at this: The left -- now known as "normalism" -- has been winning control of American culture, and all the "anti-normals", being frustrated at every turn, are turning on each other.

Remembering that "autopsy":
Back in 2013, the Republican National Committee “autopsy” of the 2012 election concluded that to win future presidential elections, Republicans would need to be more inclusive of women, be more tolerant on gay rights to gain favor with young voters, support comprehensive immigration reform to appeal to Latinos...
But the Republican base doesn't want anyone, not even its own party, telling it what to think or do. The Republican base wants to be the one doing the telling.

Rather than try to "out-charm-offensive" the Democrats, all those on the right that make up the party's natural constituency are going in the other direction -- which makes a lot of sense, especially if being "more inclusive of women" means believing that we shouldn't be allowed to talk crude trash to them when we feel like it, or that being "tolerant on gay rights" means believing there's nothing wrong with fags marrying each other, or "supporting comprehensive immigration reform" means we can't call for building a huge wall to keep all those Latin Americans from crossing our borders!

On top of that, they are not comfortable with the party pandering to all those constituencies, by trying to disguise true Republican beliefs, just to get votes. In fact, they don't like it when so-called "mainstream Republicans" try to moderate the "national tone" by pretending there's nothing even wrong with abortion and gays and illegal aliens -- which every right-thinking American knows there is! -- which means they're tired of all those politically-correct leftists and RINOs establishing the rules of the conversation.

And thus, we have Trump. As Jonathan Chait was quoted saying here the other day:
"Trump is not the spokesman for an idea at all, but the representation of undifferentiated resentment."
One disturbing thing is that Trump's followers have no understanding, much less appreciation, of what a good president Obama has been. They can look right at the economic charts and not see that the ailing economy and unemployment figures starting improving almost immediately after he took office in 2009; they never cared to see the surveys of economists, both left and right, who agreed that his economic stimulus worked; they never heard anyone ever claim that Obamacare has been a rousing success, and was not a crushing job-killer (they don't travel in those circles), or that Obama's foreign policy has been anything but "naive" and a clueless and cowardly embarrassment.

And it's probably too late to convince them otherwise. They, like the man they've apparently selected as winner of that silly debate, don't really care about facts that contradict their beliefs, they just know they're "mad as hell, and not going to take this anymore!" I've never trusted people who thought that way -- that when the world is in the shape it's always in, we "have no time for tone!" -- which is why I never liked that movie.

But a scary realization is that all those faceless Americans behind Donald Trump are also all those trolls you see in blog comments sections (although not this one, of course).

And an even scarier thought, which we may just now be beginning to discover, is that there actually may be more of those Trump trolls throughout the country than there are of us "normalists"!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Response to Fight Night

(See: Just Above Sunset: "Fight Night")

I must confess I feel guilty commenting on Donald Trump. After all, he is the "gimmick" candidate of the moment, but it's a moment that just seems to keep dragging on and on.

Trump is only in the news because his quirky popularity is so outrageously interesting, and somehow I get the feeling any time spent discussing his candidacy is time wasted that should be spent on whoever should, by now, be passing for "the real thing". But of course, there is no "real" Republican candidate, at least not yet, and for all we know we may never end up getting one.

In the meantime, we end up laughing at Trump so hard, it hurts, but then discover that Trump may be no joke. At some point, his insidious antics are to Obama what the Joker's are to Batman. Donald Trump may be the best real-life example of why so many people are afraid of clowns.

Trump didn't actually dominate the debate, but still brought so much to it that some of the best of it got lost -- for example, when he was explaining his position as the only one on stage not to agree to take a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, and to promise not to launch a third-party bid, which finally came down to this:
“If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent.”
In other words, yes, he'll support the Republican candidate, but only as long as it's himself.

In olden times, wouldn't that have been enough to get a candidate booted right out of the race? As obviously deadly as Rick Perry's famous "Oops!" moment was that the troll was fixin' to throw him off that Bridge of Death, it wasn't half as bad as Trump saying what he said last night, and yet all of Trump's absurdity just seems to get lost, unnoticed in all the rest of his absurdity, and so he gets away with it.

Or has the Republican side of the race been stricken with so much "nonsense overload" that it no longer matters what anybody says? That may be what Paul Krugman was trying to get at in his column this morning, in which he suggests that Trump's foolishness may just be running interference for the rest of the pack:
For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.
Take Carly Fiorina, widely considered the star of what my wife calls the "kid's table debate" last night. According to The Hill:
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina stood out Thursday in the first GOP primary debate, taking shots at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton while showing off her foreign policy acumen. Fiorina, the only woman among the 17 Republican candidates taking part in Thursday’s two debates, shined as the seven candidates who didn’t make the Republican top 10 squared off in a 5 p.m. undercard. ... “I didn’t get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton? I didn’t,” Fiorina said, referencing reports that Trump spoke with Bill Clinton ahead of his presidential launch. “Maybe it’s because I haven’t given money to the foundation or donated to his wife’s Senate campaign,” she added.
That's why she "shined" last night? No, more likely it was that business of "showing off her foreign policy acumen":
Fiorina outlined an ambitious agenda for her first days in office if she were to become president. She would call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Iranian supreme leader to express displeasure with the agreement, she said, and then on the second day, she’d convene a summit at Camp David with Arab allies.
If that's what qualifies an an "ambitious agenda", we're all in trouble. I think maybe what people meant by calling her a standout was that she was articulate.

Not that having a "big fat resume" (in the words of Sarah Palin) is needed to make you eligible to run for president -- after all, Barack Obama didn't have one of those -- but I still don't quite get what qualification this woman has that makes her candidacy attractive to anyone at all. It can't be based on her being named as Hewlett-Packard CEO:
Fiorina instituted three major changes to HP's culture shortly after her arrival: a shift from nurturing employees to demanding financial performance, replacing profit sharing with bonuses awarded if the company met financial expectations, and a reduction in operating units from 83 to 4. ... 
Fiorina said to Congress in 2004: "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore. We have to compete for jobs as a nation." While Fiorina argued that the only way to "protect U.S. high-tech jobs over the long haul was to become more competitive [in the United States]," her comments prompted "strong reactions" from some technology workers who argued that lower wages outside the United States encouraged the offshoring of American jobs. In the US, 30,000 HP employees were laid off during Fiorina's tenure. In 2004, HP fell dramatically short of its predicted third-quarter earnings, and Fiorina fired three executives during a 5 AM telephone call. 
Fiorina frequently clashed with HP's board of directors, and she faced backlash among HP employees and the tech community for her leading role in the demise of HP's egalitarian "The HP Way" work culture and guiding philosophy, which she felt hindered innovation. Because of changes to HP's culture, and requests for voluntary pay cuts to prevent layoffs (subsequently followed by the largest layoffs in HP's history), employee satisfaction surveys at HP — previously among the highest in America — revealed "widespread unhappiness" and distrust, and Fiorina was sometimes booed at company meetings and attacked on HP's electronic bulletin board.
Still, the company's revenues doubled, what with mergers such as that with Compaq Computer. (Remember Compaq? You must be old!)
However, the company reportedly underperformed by a number of metrics: there were no gains in HP's net income despite a 70% gain in net income of the S&P 500 over this period; the company's debt rose from ~4.25 billion USD to ~6.75 billion USD; and stock price fell by 50%, exceeding declines in the S&P 500 Information Technology Sector index and the NASDAQ. In contrast, stock prices for IBM and Dell fell 27.5% and 3% respectively, during this time period.
Finally, the HP board had had enough in early 2005. They forced her to resign:
The company's stock jumped on news of her departure, adding almost three billion dollars to the value of HP in a single day. Many employees celebrated her resignation.
And from there, it only got worse for her:
Since her forced resignation, CBS News, USA Today and have ranked Fiorina as one of the worst American (or tech) CEOs of all time. In 2008, InfoWorld grouped her with a list of products and ideas as flops, declaring her tenure as CEO of HP to be the sixth worst tech flop of all-time and characterizing her as the "anti-Steve Jobs" for reversing the goodwill of American engineers and alienating existing customers. According to an opinion piece by Robin Abcarian in the LA Times, Fiorina "upended HP’s famously collegial culture, killed off its beloved profit-sharing program and hung her own portrait between those of the company’s two sainted founders" before "flam[ing] out in spectacular fashion". Katie Benner of Bloomberg View described Fiorina's leadership at HP as a "train wreck" and a "disaster".
It might not have been enough that she was a schmuck to her employees, but the company's performance is what did her in. There may be a lesson in those two factors being linked together, and maybe even a modicum of justice for us liberals, but the mystery remains as to how she's still a serious contender for a major party's nomination.

I suspect it has something to do with whatever positive fame she enjoys being derived from her being named by Fortune Magazine as the most powerful woman in business, or her place in history as "the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company".

But think about this: If, instead, some man had taken her place at HP, and ended up with the same performance record, would he be running for president today? In fact, would we even know his name?

I know, I know, now I'm talking about some other Republican candidate who doesn't deserve our time of day, simply because she made enough noise to capture a little press. And like Trump, she, too, is a minor character who, fortunately for us all, has no real chance of becoming our president either.

But maybe that's the point. Every candidate in those debates yesterday was a minor character, so for all of that, we might just as well continue blithering on about Trump, until the last one is tossed over the bridge.