Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Response to No Sufficient Second

(See: Just Above Sunset: No Sufficient Second)

Whatever arcane rules and procedures of the Senate that Ted Cruz is wielding to get his way sure are mysterious, but no less so than what exactly the hell it is that he's trying to achieve in the first place.

I love the fact that, for some reason, he needs to get ten others to join him in some meaningless roll-call vote, and that he's no longer able do it. In fact, it reminds me of the stories my Jewish mother-in-law would tell of someone always coming to the house to try to persuade her husband, who was not all that religious, to join a "minyan" of ten adult Jewish men, the minimum required for prayer back at the temple. How big a deal could that prayer be, she would ask, if they had to work so hard to scrape together a quorum every time to do it?

And I'm sure that many former members of Cruz's cohort are starting to feel the same way. Enough with all this tilting at windmills.

What I also find mysterious are Ted Cruz's intentions. They say he's trying to position himself as an "outsider", but as intelligent as he is supposed to be (I can't get over the fact that he was a Rhodes Scholar), he doesn't seem to understand that the appeal of the outsider, to those looking for that sort of thing, is that maybe someone from anywhere outside Washington, someone so far un-seduced by all that confusing arcana of government, might just be who we need to send there to get done what we want done.

That doesn't describe Ted Cruz, since in the almost three years he's been there so far, he's become extremely proficient at taking advantage of the confusing rules, but all he's been able to get accomplished is to piss off all his colleagues. Why would those people want to elect as president someone who's become an expert at getting nothing done? And does Cruz ever even ask himself that?

In conclusion, a few observations on the theory of (a) blaming Obama for shutting down the government, and (b) the so-called "fungibility" of the money we give to Planned Parenthood:

(a) Every time the Republicans shut down the government, they deny that it was them, insisting instead it was the president's doing.

Back in my college world history class, I remember studying the Allied Bombardment of Hamburg during World War II, and the lesson that it taught the Allies -- that if the plan had been to persuade the local population to blame their government for bringing all this misery down on them, then maybe the bombers should have just stayed home instead.

The bombing, which took place over eight days in late July of 1943, "killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg and practically destroying the entire city", creating an unexpected 150 mph tornadic firestorm that soared to 1,000 feet in the air, "was at the time the heaviest assault in the history of aerial warfare and was later called the Hiroshima of Germany by British officials."

The hope, I read in one of my textbooks, was that Hamburg citizens, many of whom were known to be already disenchanted with the Nazi leadership, would turn on them if given a big-enough nudge. But instead, the citizens rallied around their leaders in the weeks following the raids, volunteering their own time to rebuild the damaged and destroyed the factories and war-making resources, and reunited against their real enemy -- that is, not being Hitler, but the Americans and British; the ones who had bombed them.

Since then, our military leaders have become suspicious of "collective punishment" techniques, designed to divert the blame. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but that stuff apparently usually backfires.

The moral of this story being, Americans are not stupid, at least most of them aren't. They sit there and listen to Republicans debating among themselves about whether they should close down the government and blame it on Obama, and so when it happens, they know who to pin it on.

(b) Another case of Republicans pulling wool over our eyes, thinking we won't notice, is this business about the funding of Planned Parenthood.

Yes, there are all sorts of polls that show that most Americans, even the Republicans amongst us, don't favor trying to deny money, mostly Medicaid reimbursements, to an organization that specializes in providing healthcare to women -- especially out in the boonies, where this healthcare is hard to find -- just because it also provides abortions, none of which are funded by government money.

Conservative Republicans, including Michigan Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, are very aware of this. Still, they brush that fact aside, as he did during a House hearing on Planned Parenthood a few weeks ago:
"Money is fungible," Sensenbrenner said at the hearing. "You and I know that."
Is it? Not really, according to Amanda Marcotte in Slate:
The most important thing to remember is that Planned Parenthood clinics operate like any other medical clinic. A patient comes in, gets some services, and is billed according to what services she got. Some patients are eligible for federal money to offset the costs of some services. ... 
For patients who are on Medicaid, the process is the same as with any insurance program. The patient's bill is sent to her insurer, in this case Medicaid. They pay for any services that are covered and she is on the hook for the rest. Since Medicaid does not cover abortion, any Medicaid patients who get an abortion have to pay the price in full, in cash.
It's also important to note here that these Republicans are not trying to defund Medicaid or Title X at these PP clinics, just the funding for all the non-abortion services, such as x-rays and contraception.
Title X funding is a little trickier, because it is given as grants and not reimbursements, but works in roughly the same way. If a patient falls within the Title X income parameters, the clinic is able to pay for part of that bill with Title X funding. In this way, low-income patients can get, for instance, a pack of birth control pills that would normally cost $50 for $10. They can't obtain abortions in the same way, as Title X funding cannot go to abortion. 
Republicans who tout the "money is fungible" line want you to imagine that Planned Parenthood draws on one big pot of government money for all its services. But since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works. For instance, if subsidies that discount contraception disappear, the price of contraception goes up, but the price of abortion will stay the same.
Okay, let me try this another way:

Suppose I give my college-attending son enough money to buy a car, and also enough to buy auto insurance each year, but tell him he has to pay for gas out of his own pocket. But then it occurs to me! How can I be sure he's not filling his gas tank using the money I gave him to buy the car and pay for insurance? After all, isn't money "fungible"?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn't really matter, does it? I mean, I only agreed to pay for the car and the insurance, so I only gave him just enough money for those two things, which is all that matters. If he, for some reason, somehow used the insurance money to pay for gas, then he has to scrounge somewhere else for the cash to buy insurance, and might even get in trouble for driving without insurance. But what's that to me?

The conservative arguments about how this all works are not only wrong, they make no sense, assuming that even matters these days. Making sense is not longer meaningful; everything is symbolic with these people. Sensenbrenner and his posse are, like Ted Cruz, just finding ways of stirring the pot, even though polls show most Americans don't want them to do this. But the thing about polls is, most of the good ones are "scientific", and we all know what many Republicans think of science.

Landing on Planned Parenthood as this year's rallying point was probably an arbitrary choice anyway, since there seems to be a shortage of actually important issues they can agree on. And besides, as long as gerrymandering is there to make it possible for just enough from the crockpot wing of the Republican Party to win their seats, who even cares if the Republican brand is damaged? Voters don't vote for the party, which they dislike anyway; they vote for their local politician.

Given the constant infighting in that party, it could probably hold both houses, the Supreme Court, and the presidency, and they'd still fail to get anything done.

Which, in their case, is just the way I like it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Response to Jugglers and Comics

(See: Just Above Sunset: Jugglers and Comics)

With money seeming to be at the center of everything we do in this country, you'd think we'd all have a better idea of how it works.

(And yes, I'm including me in that. Although I probably could do my taxes by myself, I've always had somebody else do them for me, since the process only makes me angry, and I'd only screw it up.) 

Strangely, though, polls have shown that Americans think Republicans are more trusted than Democrats at handling the economy, but statistics seem to contradict that opinion. In their 2012 book, "Bulls Bears and the Ballot Box: How the Performance of OUR Presidents Has Impacted YOUR Wallet", authors Bob Deitrick and Lew Goldfarb looked at the numbers behind presidents Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush, and ranked them the following way, from most healthy economy to least:
1st  ***** JFK/LBJ (D) 
2nd  ***** Clinton (D) 
3rd  ***** FDR (D) 
4th  ***** Ike (R) 
5th  ***** Reagan (R) 
6th  ***** Truman (D) 
7th  ***** Carter (D) 
8th  ***** HW Bush (R) 
9th  ***** Nixon/Ford (R) 
10th ***** W Bush (R) 
11th ***** Hoover (R)
As Adam Hartung, reviewing the book for Forbes, learned from reading this book back then:
• Personal disposable income has grown nearly 6 times more under Democratic presidents 
• Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has grown 7 times more under Democratic presidents 
• Corporate profits have grown over 16% more per year under Democratic presidents (they actually declined under Republicans by an average of 4.53%/year) 
• Average annual compound return on the stock market has been 18 times greater under Democratic presidents (If you invested $100k for 40 years of Republican administrations you had $126k at the end, if you invested $100k for 40 years of Democrat administrations you had $3.9M at the end) 
• Republican presidents added 2.5 times more to the national debt than Democratic presidents 
• The two times the economy steered into the ditch (Great Depression and Great Recession) were during Republican, laissez faire administrations
Okay, now, if you go back even further, back to 2004, before a serious run for the White House was much more than a twinkle in his eye, guess who apparently knew all this already?
"In many cases, I probably identify more as Democrat," Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a 2004 interview. "It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans. Now, it shouldn't be that way. But if you go back, I mean it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats. ...But certainly we had some very good economies under Democrats, as well as Republicans. But we've had some pretty bad disaster under the Republicans."
(Trump also said this, in a separate interview with Wolf: "Hillary's always surrounded herself with very good people. I think Hillary would do a good job". Yes, someone is bound to bring that up again this year, although given the track record, nobody will notice.)

Fast forward to Monday of this week, with Trump releasing some specifics of his tax plan, which ends up sounding just like an example of your average Republic thinking! It's nice he's finally giving us facts, because facts were what exactly we needed to nail this guy's shoes to the floor.

He's been promising to his middle-class followers, at least those who would listen, that they're going to love his tax plan because it will lower taxes for the middle class, and it will more or less stick it to the really rich guys.

When we get to see his plan, we find that the net result of his plan is to cut taxes for the rich, although a larger chunk of people at the bottom even get to pay no taxes at all.

(I'm against that last part. I think everybody who makes over $1,000 a year should pay taxes, even if it's just $10 or so, just so everybody, even the poor, can call themselves "American Taxpayers", and that those higher on the ladder can't give them grief for not paying taxes.)

So back when he was not running for president, and was free to look at things objectively, he observed that Republican ways of handling the economy were, maybe counter-intuitively, worse for the country than the Democratic ways, but now? Now, he's running for president, as a Republican, fishing for Republican votes in Republican primaries. So screw objectivity and what works! Now, you walk like a Republican!

When Trump hears his plan cuts tax revenues too much, so we probably won't be able to have our government do what it needs to do, his answer sounds like the same old Republican line, but with a Trumpian twist -- the revenues will be fantastic because the economy will be incredible, due to some phenomenal things he will do to bring our jobs back home from overseas!

I suspect that Trump, like all those Republicans before him, is not all that concerned about lost tax revenues -- since the government is probably too big and spends too much anyway -- which is why they all think the country can afford to let all the little, poor people pay fewer or even no taxes, too, along with the rich. He says his plan is "revenue neutral", and to those who claim it isn't, there's always that mushy part that takes a leap of faith to believe in, the part where things magically come together, just because people the world over respect The Donald.

You know what this is? This is Californians going for Arnold Schwarzenegger all over again! Okay, yeah, the guy has no experience, but the point is that he's famous and has an outrageous persona, but the important thing is, he doesn't talk like a politician! Whatever happened to The Arnold, anyway? Let's bring him back!

Oh, wait! Never mind. I forgot!

Didn't someone figure out that Arnold Schwarzenegger was really born in Kenya?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Response to The Republican Revolution

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Republican Revolution)

These are odd times we live in -- never being sure who to root for or against in a contest between ISIS and Assad, much less Trump and Fiorina, and it's even come to the point of me defending John Boehner from attacks from those in the Whackadoodle Wing of the Republican Party who might presume to take credit for the downfall of their own speaker.

In fact, we liberals have wondered for years why he didn't just up and quit that job, since it was obvious he was never going to be able to convert the swarms in his minority base into somewhat productive citizens, and it was obvious that, largely because of his own party's gerrymandering policies, his tormentors were not going to go away. In fact, we applauded him for hanging around so long. Not that it mattered, of course; while we admired his efforts, we also knew it makes little difference if he is replaced by someone just like himself or someone more in favor with the radicals, whatever craziness it is that those people are clamoring for has the same chance of passage that it had if Boehner had stayed in place.

Don't they realize that? Probably not. As we all know by now, reality is not part of the Tea Party lexicon. These people are not programed to learn from the experience of losing time after time, and they are programed to ridicule people who do:
“This is why outsiders are all leading in the polls,” said Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a former congressman who served alongside Boehner. “This is probably a key part of why Boehner’s resigning. They don’t want to hear any excuses anymore – they’re done with that. If you say you tried, they ask, ‘Why didn’t you get it done?'”
I sometimes wish I were a reporter and could ask Ted Cruz this question:
Brown: Senator Cruz, if you had been Speaker of the House instead of John Boehner all those years, what would you have done differently?
To which I can only imagine his answer. He might say something like this:
Cruz: Well, for one thing, I wouldn't have caved in and worked with the Republican Surrender Caucus. I would not have given the president everything he asked for.  
Brown: Fair enough. So what would you have done differently? 
Cruz: I would have honored the promises made by the leadership, of reducing the funding, or at least restricting the funding for bad law, such as that job-killing Obamacare. 
Brown: Well, didn't Speaker Boehner try to do that? 
Cruz: No, he didn't! He needed to stop working closely with this president, who is the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism, a man who is a profoundly dangerous unmitigated socialist who happens also to be the world's most powerful communist! But also, I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can, to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare. The test that matters is, are we doing anything for all the people that are getting hurt from Obamacare? And 
Brown: Okay, I hear you. So what would you have done differently from Boehner? Anything he didn't do that would achieve your aims? 
Cruz: Well, I can tell you one thing. If I were stepping down, I wouldn't make a secret and insidious deal with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to avert another government shutdown when the current annual budget expires. 
Brown: Okay, once again, you're telling us what you WOULDN'T do. Now, can you tell us what you WOULD do? 
Cruz: Well, LOTS of things! For example, I would have defunded Planned Parenthood. Also, I never would, under any circumstance, have allowed the debt limit to be raised, and I never would... 
Okay, enough. Yeah, I just made that stuff up, but I honestly have never heard him say specifically what he and his gang would do that Boehner didn't do, but that would get the agenda passed.

And Planned Parenthood? I mean, can't these people focus on bigger fish?

I mean, with actual problems facing this country, like how to finesse peace in Syria, a war in which there seem to be no natural friends of ours, only enemies, and one that has killed an estimated 200,000 people and sent thousands of refugees out of the country. Wouldn't you think any Republicans worried about their public image could shit-can the idea of defunding federal funds going to some organization performing abortions, given the fact that this organization doesn't use any federal funds for abortions anyway, especially since there really are universally recognized serious problems facing us?

No, they can't, because they're not serious people. Yes, Trump is not obsessed with Planned Parenthood, but his focus has also been on the little things that don't mean anything -- anchor babies, for example. To fix this problem (which is not a problem, since undocumented immigrants really don't get much advantage from having babies here), he's deep into finding ways to do away with "birthright citizenship", which will take some work, maybe involving changing the Constitution, work that's wasted on something that doesn't do what he thinks it does anyway.

(Trump's latest Syrian solution? Easy! Just let Assad and ISIS fight it out, and then we fight the winner -- which is not that much unlike what we're doing already.)

In the New York Times, there's this from David Herszenhorn and Jonathan Martin:
The hardline group has not put forward a viable candidate for speaker and, with only 50 or so members, does not have enough to elevate one of its own.
That's because these hardliners -- who collectively have essentially no real world experience in getting anything done themselves, but only have the experience of pretending they've achieved something of value by pecking at Boehner's ankles like a herd of angry ducks until he resigns -- couldn't organize a two-car funeral. Which, in this case, seems to be their own.

But of course, it would seem any attempts by anybody -- whether the Tea people or the so-called establishment Republicans, whoever that may be -- to break away and start a new party would just insure a Democratic Victory, and even a President Bernie Sanders! So maybe this could be a good thing, especially if the Tea Party becomes a new party.

After all, those revolutionaries over there should by now be used to shooting themselves in their collective foot.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Response to The Third Story

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Third Story)

Josh Marshall, remarking on the fact that you wouldn't see a reaction comparable to that of the Republicans if something like this had happened on our side of the aisle, settles on the juxtaposition of two words that beautifully illustrates that there really is more than what has been called "a dime's worth of difference" between the two parties:
Yes, there’s been base clamoring against Nancy Pelosi and even more at certain times with Harry Reid. But it simply doesn’t compare to the angry joy we’re seeing now toward a quarter-century member of the House.
It's that phrase, "angry joy"!

Exactly! I remain convinced that, someday, scientists will discover what it is that makes conservatives derive so much joy from their own anger.

But what now? For example, in the short term, how is it that John Boehner's resignation has, as has been claimed, "lessened the chance of a government shutdown"?

In fact, that deal was largely agreed to on Thursday, the day before Boehner dropped his bomb, when he announced plans to offer up a clean budget bill, including nothing about Planned Parenthood, that would keep the government open through December 11th, but also a Budget Reconciliation Bill that would defund both Planned Parenthood and Obamacare.

According to the Washington Post:
Reconciliation bills — which are a joint effort between the House and Senate — are considered under special rules that require only a simple majority for approval, and cannot be filibustered in the Senate. The reconciliation bill is expected to easily pass Congress, allowing Republicans to force President Obama to veto the legislation. 
Even if that happens, the move would ensure the debate over abortion policy remains a priority in Congress and in the media.
But there's also talk that Boehner could try to get some stuff done before he leaves that he probably wouldn't otherwise have even attempted:
Some Republicans are speculating that Boehner’s lame-duck status could free his hand to act on other measures that have bipartisan support but are despised by hard-line conservatives. 
Those measures could include an reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, an extension of the federal debt ceiling, or a long-term highway bill. All of them have been opposed by the same conservatives who have pushed for Boehner’s ouster. 
“He gets a chance to really go out on a high note and now I think you’ll see a few things in October,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio). “I expect to see a very busy month in October.” 
Mulvaney said Boehner’s resignation “probably” makes it more likely Ex-Im or a debt ceiling extension moves forward. But he warned that it might not be so simple. 
“They have to pass rules in order to accomplish that,” he said. “There’s a good rule of thumb: If you’re counting on Democrats to pass a piece of legislation, you better count on them to pass a rule.”
Which means we may get a chance to see what has really been on his mind all these years -- in other words, to finally discover if he's really the tragic closet good guy that so many Democrats suspected he was, or the actual jerk suspected by others.

When my wife came and informed me that Boehner had resigned, I started to laugh out loud, to which she admonished, "I'm not so sure this is a good thing!" Yeah, I know what you mean, I told her, but I always figure that, either way, whether Boehner goes or whether he stays, it will always be a mixed-blessing:
* If he goes and they replace him with someone even more in tune with the nutcase minority, it means the Republicans will have marginalized themselves even more than they are now, and will be even less inclined to cooperate with us -- which could be good because it also means we don't have to meet them halfway on their crackpot ideas -- but also means maybe mainstream America will finally give up on them and turn to the Democrats. 
But the bad news is, until then, gridlock will still ensure nothing gets done, and worst case, the country might actually fall apart, as Spanish political scientist Juan Linz once suggested. After all, although our system has survived over two hundred years, we are living in deceptively dangerous times. 
* And if the opposite happens, that someone somewhat sane replaces him, and the so-called moderates regain control of the Republican Party? Then we're back to normal, which is good for America, because we become a functioning nation again, which might help convince people that America can work after all. 
But the bad news is, we'd then have to seriously negotiate compromise with a party that has, at least in recent history, seemingly defined the word "moderate" as "a conservative who, although he did drink the Kool-Aid, did so only reluctantly".
For example, ultra-conservative John Boehner has been seen as almost a moderate, and yet, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie says in Slate:
After Barack Obama took office, Boehner immediately moved to opposition, accusing him of “snuffing out” the America he knew and comparing politics in 2010 to America’s fight against Great Britain. “There’s a political rebellion brewing,” he said, “and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.”
Tragic character? Closet good guy? Not sure I'm buying that yet, at least until after I see what he does in October.

And okay, I always find myself quibbling with conservatives who seem to think that it was them what won the American Revolution, but here it is again.

Truth is, as everyone knows, the fight back then was between Whigs and Tories, but what they don't all realize is that, if anything, the Whigs were the liberals and the Tories were the conservatives. The Whigs won that war, and many of the Tories then took off for England and Canada.

To put that another way, the liberals, in the name of political change, won the American Revolution, while the "angrily-joyous" conservatives, fighting to keep everything as miserable as it always had been, lost that war.

But the battles have been continuing ever since.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Response to What it Takes

(See: Just Above Sunset: What it Takes)

Not to take away from that extremely helpful critique of Carly Fiorina -- the success so far of whom being, I think, as equally unwarranted and unsustainable as that of Donald Trump -- but I really did think all this "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" talk was going somewhere else.

The thing is, I'm just not into bling, and I don't understand its attraction. I especially don't think much of diamonds, since whatever sparkle they give off can be achieved at much less cost, with costume jewelry. But that, of course, would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it? The point of a diamond is not so much that it's beautiful but that it's somewhat expensive, isn't it? I mean, diamonds are attractive, I guess, if you like that sort of thing, but they're certainly not as pretty as they are expensive.

And they're only expensive because they're rare, and only rare because of artificial scarcity, with mostly one company making sure not too much of the stuff comes to market at one time.

In other words, the market for diamonds is a bubble, and if, suddenly, two or three times as many "high quality" diamonds showed up for sale, people would stop finding them so attractive, and then even more people would stop finding them attractive, and everyone would realize that, ultimately, a diamond is mostly useless. Oh, sure, we can make drill bits out of them, but who wants some drill bit decorating your finger?

So for a moment, I suspected the point was going to be about what Donald Trump has in common with a diamond.

The truth is, diamonds are only popular because they're popular; once people stop wanting them, people would stop wanting them, and they'd eventually come to see a diamond as nothing more than a fancy lump of coal.

Likewise, Trump's poll numbers are only up because his poll numbers are up, but once the other candidates show they have something more to say about the country's problems than his "We'll be looking into that", Trump's numbers will start to slip, and then they will continue to drop, mostly because they'd be dropping -- at which point, his supporters will wake up and notice that he's just another fancy, although also mostly useless, lump of coal.

Fiorina's story is a bit more complicated. Once her real history becomes more widely known, there may still be those who will say, "So what! I like her spunk!", but I think those people will eventually be in the minority, and she will find herself, like Trump, out of the running. Right now, the markets for both Trump and Fiorina are bubbles, and at some point before the season really gets going, I think both the Donald and Carly bubbles will pop.

But enough of the good news. The bad news is, try to imagine who from this bench will replace them!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Response to Riding Humiliation to Victory

(See: Just Above Sunset: Riding Humiliation to Victory)

Yes, this is one good theory of that exchange in New Hampshire:
Those two guys at the Thursday night rally may have gotten the details wrong, but they certainly got the idea right. Trump didn’t correct them because he didn’t notice the details. Everyone was in the zone.
I agree that Trump probably "didn't notice the details", and possibly (although unlikely) that he didn't hear the first part of the man's question, the part about Obama. But if he didn't hear him, most people in his position would ask the man to repeat. In Trump's case, however, there was no reason to either notice the details or to ask him to repeat. It really didn't matter, because either way, he would be giving the same boilerplate answer that he's been, in one form or another, giving everywhere he goes through this campaign:
Trump responded, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying bad things are happening, [and] we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
But aside from Trump leaving the impression that (a) he agrees Muslims are a problem in this country, and that (b) Obama is one, and (c) is not really an American, and maybe even that (d) he thinks "Muslim" training camps, training them to kill us, may even exist in this country, his not really addressing all of this shows a serious lack of good judgement that should not be tolerated by American voters in their search for who to elect president. If he can't immediately think of how to nip that problem in the bud, he absolutely shouldn't be elected, period.

But even if he isn't quick on his feet, he should still be able to put out the fire afterward. Instead, we get this:
Trump released a statement to The Washington Post defending his comments. 
"The media wants to make this issue about Obama," he told the Post. "The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake." 
His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, talked to the Post late Thursday night to further defend Trump's answer. 
"Mr. Trump was asked about training camps," Lewandowski said. "Mr. Trump answered the question and said, 'If there are any, we will fix it.' He said, 'I will look into it.' The question was specifically about training camps." 
When asked if Trump believes that Obama is a Muslim, Lewandowski told the Post that he doesn't speak for Trump and that it's "up to the media" if they want to "make this about Obama."
So given that, as is the conservatives' wont, Trump is predictably incapable of apologizing for his screw-ups, much less even noticing when he does something wrong, even much less admitting it when it's pointed out to him, he has failed yet another test of competent leadership, that of how he will handle whatever inevitable crisis arises while in office. Apparently he might not even see the problem, and if he does, he'll just turn to a stock answer about "looking into it, along with a lot of other things", and let it slide.

Occasionally we hear the suggestion that, if Hillary is elected president, it just might be the third term of Barack Obama, but I think our real worry should be that, if Donald wins, that might just be the first term of Sarah Palin.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Response to The Night of the Shark

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Night of the Shark)

I feel the same way about the shark. We had a neighbor over to eat dinner and watch the debate last night, and she left about halfway through, complaining of a headache.

My wife went to bed early, too, so she didn't see the interview Donald Trump had with CNN's Chris Cuomo immediately after the debate . Cuomo asked Trump how he thought the debate went, and a fairly subdued Donald surprised me by saying, in just a few words, he thought everyone did quite well.

Cuomo seemed to be trying to get him to "go all Trump" on us, with the boasting and the unbelievable and truly incredible superlatives, but Trump wasn't having it. He answered with a gentle smile and was uncharacteristically kind about his rivals, and it was then that I remembered that, during the debate, often when he would be expected to take a shot, he instead said something nice, or at least something he thought was nice -- that he thought Carly Fiorina was beautiful, or that he had heard that Columba Bush was very pleasant or something -- as if he had decided to cut back on the usual nastiness, as if he realized his act was starting to work against him.

Oh, yes, he took the occasional shot, such as those aimed at Rand Paul, but I write them off as his wandering off script, his not being able to help himself, but mostly I noticed him making nice-nice with Jeb -- that low-five thing -- and something similar with Dr. Carson, and Hugh Hewitt, a man he had just last week or so called a "third-rate radio announcer", was now his new best friend, after Hewitt reportedly apologized to him.

So at breakfast, I said to my wife, "I guess the story today is that Donald Trump tried to play nice last night?", and her answer was, no, the story was that Donald Trump brought nothing to the debate, and fell flat -- to which I replied, "Oh. Well, maybe the story is, he tried to play nice, which caused him to fall flat?"

Maybe he is now at that inevitable fork in the road, where he realizes that, if he continues acting like the playground bully, picking on the smart kids, that he can't win. Then again, maybe if he takes that other road to normal, he will leave behind all those people who were attracted to him because he wasn't.

I think the reason I can't join in the popular celebration of Carly Fiorina's so-called "win" last night is because I just don't like her very much, and so I'm letting that bias color my judgement.

Yes, she's now impressing people with her articulate put-downs of Donald Trump, and even a little sound-bite where it sounded as if she actually knew something about foreign policy, but she still has essentially nothing going for her except a false history of what a great leader she was at HP, whereas very few of anyone else views her career as anything more than the destruction of what had been one of the best companies in the world to work for, the stock of which skyrocketed upward when they announced her resignation.

Hers is a self-delusion only matched by the dreamworld of his own creation surrounding the Donald himself. In fact, one of the highlights of the debate, for me, was hearing the two of them going at it about who was most right when criticizing the other -- he on her infamous flameouts in the business world, and she on his four bankruptcies -- with both of them being equally right! The truth is, both these business honchos (one being a honchette?) seemingly really go the distance in trying to cover their tracks.

Trump kept denying that he's ever gone bankrupt even once, much less four times, of course, but this is that typical Trumpy slight-of-hand that, had his supporters ever cared the slightest about the veracity of anything he says, would have killed his candidacy at birth. It's just that he has apparently never declared personal bankruptcy:
Four of Trump's businesses have declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. According to a 2011 report by Forbes, these were due to over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City: Trump’s Taj Mahal (1991), Trump Plaza Hotel (1992), Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts (2004), and Trump Entertainment Resorts (2009). Trump said "I've used the laws of this country to pare debt. ... We'll have the company. We'll throw it into a chapter. We'll negotiate with the banks. We'll make a fantastic deal. You know, it's like on 'The Apprentice'. It's not personal. It's just business." He indicated that other "great entrepreneurs" do the same.
And apparently those "great entrepreneurs" also got involved in some fascinating lawsuits:
Over the course of his career, Trump has initiated and been the target of "hundreds" of civil lawsuits, which Trump lawyer Alan Garten said in 2015 was "a natural part of doing business in this country". ... 
In March 1990, after an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott said that Trump's Taj Mahal project would initially "break records" but would fail before the end of that year, Trump threatened to sue the firm unless the analyst recanted or was fired. The analyst refused to retract the statements, and was fired by his firm. 
Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy for the first time in November 1990. A defamation lawsuit by the analyst against Trump for $2 million was settled out of court. The analyst's statements regarding the Taj Mahal's prospects were later called "stunningly accurate".
At least one of the suits had nothing to do with a failing business, but is of interest nonetheless:
In 1973, the Justice Department unsuccessfully sued Trump Management Corporation for alleged racial discrimination, at which time Trump was the company's president. The federal government filed the lawsuit against his New York City real estate company for allegedly discriminating against potential black renters, which Trump never admitted. The case was settled out of court in 1975.
Which means we can't be sure what the settlement was, although it might have been just a misunderstanding that was cleared up once the feds realized Trump gets along very well with "the blacks".

But as for any contest between Fiorina and Trump over who is the more self-delusional, Trump has just been at it longer.

For one thing, exactly how tall is he, anyway?

If you watched the debate last night, you could see Jeb Bush, one podium over, towering above Trump, even though Fox News Insider says they're both 6' 3". And yeah, while that's what Trump once told the New York Times, various people, some who have seen him in person, estimate him to be, variously, 6' 2", 6' 1", 6 feet even, and even down to 5' 11". But Jeb is definitely several inches taller, so I wonder if this is another case of Trump exaggerating his size.

Speaking of which, there's always been some question of his personal wealth, of which he has said, "my net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings — even my own feelings". True, that! I think maybe everything that Donald Trump says about Donald Trump fluctuates with his feelings.

To put his real wealth in perspective, at this writing, Forbes says Warren Buffet, at $65.2-billion, is the 4th richest human on earth, and it also says Donald Trump, at $4.1-billion, ties for the 405th richest, a position he shares with 12 other people.

Then again, according to Wikipedia:
In 2015, Forbes pegged it as $4 billion, while the Bloomberg Billionaires Index (which scrutinized Trump's FEC filings) estimated a net worth of $2.9 billion. On June 16, 2015, just prior to announcing his candidacy for president of the United States, Trump released to the media a one-page prepared financial disclosure statement "from a big accounting firm—one of the most respected", stating a net worth of $8,737,540,000. "I'm really rich", Trump said. 
Forbes called the nearly $9 billion figure a "100%" exaggeration. In July 2015, the Federal election regulators released new details of Trump's wealth and financial holdings when he became a Republican presidential candidate, reporting that his assets are worth above $1.4 billion...
So, if it's really only $1.4-billion, that would mean he's the 1,324th richest person in the world, a ranking he shares with 59 other billionaires. But please stay tuned, since his wealth apparently "fluctuates" with his mood.

In other words, if we all wait long enough, we just might find that, actually, he's only about as wealthy as you and me put together!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Response to Base Moves

(See: Just Above Sunset: Base Moves)

Yeah, we always joke about the idea of the Republicans mucking up some government project, then turning to point back at their handiwork and say, "See? What'd we tell you? Government doesn't work!" But as with so many other jokes we tell about Republicans, there's a lot of truth in that one. 

For example, I suppose some might find some humor in that Karl Rove strategy, back in 2004, of turning out the base with all those state initiatives on gay marriage -- only to discover eleven years later that dragging that issue out into the public square like that might have just compelled people to think about it and choose a side, eventually with the chickens coming home in the form of a Supreme Court decision.

What we learn from this is that the hapless Republicans don't just actually win when everyone thinks they lost -- such as all those seemingly-quixotic government shutdowns then leading to their off-year electoral victories -- but sometimes they end up losing after everyone thought they won. In fact, the way things have been going for them overall, this seems to happen more often than not.

But someday, they might find they need to look for a less feckless strategy than trying to trick everyone into thinking windmills are giants.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Response to The Party of Celebrity

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Party of Celebrity)

I've heard Fiorina explain away her business failures; she puts such a positive spin on everything as she talks on and on, with such a confident smile on her face, that by the end, you figure she must be right because, otherwise, how could she have kept talking for so long?

But still, you come away with absolutely no memory of what she said.

And I'm pretty sure you'd get the same thing from Trump, explaining away all his bankruptcies, if anybody could ever insert a question about them into that flurry of nonsense he always spews, except in his case, whenever he's caught saying something that's not true, he just writes it off as him "talking as an entertainer". In fact, Trump writes off so much of everything he says that you'd think all his supporters would have figured out by now that you can't trust anything he says.

It's amazing! Republicans can take one tiny thing that Obama says -- like, "You didn't build that! -- then twist its meaning out of shape, outright lie about what he was saying, then run with it for months, despite their being told how they got it wrong -- and get away with it! -- and yet Donald Trump blurts out another of his bald-face insults, then denies once again that he meant it that way when he obviously did, and everyone gives him a pass!

This reminds me of that Saturday Night Live skit back in 1988, with Bush Sr. (Dana Carvey) debating Dukakis (Jon Lovitz), and Diane Sawyer (Jan Hooks), as the moderator, trying desperately to convince Bush to use more of his time, even though he apparently has nothing much to say:
Diane Sawyer: You still have a minute-twenty, Mr. Vice-President.  
George Bush: Well, more has to be done, sure. But the programs we have in place are doing the job, so let's keep on track and stay the course. 
Diane Sawyer: You have fifty seconds left, Mr. Vice-President. 
George Bush: Let me sum up. On track, stay the course. Thousand points of light. 
Diane Sawyer: Governor Dukakis. Rebuttal? 
Michael Dukakis: I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!
And the scary thing is, he did.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Response to Making Useless Trouble

(See: Just Above Sunset: Making Useless Trouble)

Sometimes, when struggling to understand something puzzling going on around us, it helps to turn to metaphor.

I'm pretty sure future historians will see the ongoing saga between Barack Obama and his Republican foes in terms of some comical TV cartoon series -- e.g., Rocky and Bullwinkle vs Boris and Natasha -- in which each episode presents a confrontation between our hero and his arch-enemies, in which goodness always triumphs in the end and evil is foiled, with the bad guys left to slink back to their lair to concoct some new nefarious scheme.

From the beginning, our hero's pledges to cooperate with his nemeses are thwarted by the bad guys intriguing to annihilate him. But despite their efforts, he is able to pass a huge health reform bill, a fiscal stimulus, put an end to the Bush tax cuts, and also snatch the country from the jaws of depression, turning the economy around and sending it on the road to recovery. Meanwhile, the frustrated villains, usually as some attempt to do away with healthcare for poor people, hatch plot after plot that can't fail -- even though it always does -- from voting about 60 times to close it down, to shutting down the government and attempting (although unsuccessfully) to blame it on our hero, to threatening to stop the country from paying its bills, which would probably cripple the nation's credit rating in the process.

Boris and Natasha's latest complicated scheme was supposed to involve (see if you can follow this) a congressional vote to not approve a deal negotiated with Iran to make sure that country didn't build any nuclear bombs, and then to override the hero's veto -- or even if they failed to override, they would at least embarrass him by making him veto something the "people's branch" voted in favor of. This, too, fell through after they discovered their nemesis had lined up not only enough votes to defeat the original measure but also shut down the vote, leaving the bad guys to scramble for some other foolproof strategy, which turned out to be to pretend they never got all the information they needed to vote, which would supposedly explain why they never did vote, but then to propose their own vote in favor of the Iran deal, which they assumed would fail, but then to also...

And so the plan goes, marching off to the horizon, where it presumably drowns in the ocean or falls off the edge of the earth.

I suppose we can't completely blame the schemers for all their convoluted machinations, since, let's face it, Obama set them up.

Remember back earlier this year, when the ploy of the "anti-dealers" was to argue that Obama, in setting this accord up as an Executive Agreement rather than a Treaty, wasn't allowing Congress to approve the deal either way, and then, suddenly, Obama gave in -- which I guess was seen by many as a surrender. Maybe those people should have delved a little deeper into why such a sudden change of heart on the White House's part.

In retrospect, it's easy to see that Obama and his people, after some noodling, concluded that they had nothing to fear from a disapproval vote, and maybe something to gain, once they realized that they had the votes to win, and might even be able to muster enough to defeat cloture. Which is exactly what happened, leaving the opposition with nothing to do but brainstorm for more symbolic gestures that will either succeed or fail to do nothing more than possibly -- but only possibly -- make Obama look bad, at least to those who already don't like him.

Which, by the way, is about all the Republicans have accomplished in the last seven years. And when you think about it, it's not hard to understand why:

Obama's side has had a leader all that time (that leader being, Obama), whereas the Republicans have not, and still don't.

In fact, whoever it is that passes for Republican leadership (Boehner and McConnell) get nothing but boos at the mention of their names at Republican gatherings these days, mostly from that same gaggle of goofballs who are most responsible for their leadership's fecklessness.

And to top it off, this whole crowd still calls the president "naive".

Friday, September 11, 2015

Response to The Eye of Some Tiger or Other

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Eye of Some Tiger or Other)

I never really listened to all the words, but I always assumed "Eye of the Tiger" meant "Have the courage to look the tiger in the eye", just a metaphor for "Be bold!" Still, I find it odd the people who created that song keep stopping Conservatives from using it, since I'da thunk whoever wrote that song was a Conservative anyway, since those are the people who seem to like it so much.

This situation Kim Davis (a Democrat, surprisingly!) forced her way into really ought to be so simple that I'm a little surprised she was able to pull it off, except of course that there are just too many people who like that it happened this way, especially with that coming-out-of-jail dog-and-pony show, striking a triumphant pose with her arms up to the sky and giving glory to God, seemingly for making all this foolishness come about.

The truth is, of course, that this has absolutely nothing to do with someone making her marry gay people, since all that she's being asked to do in issuing a marriage license with her name on it is to certify the couple has met the state's qualifications to get married. If she wants to refuse to marry these people, she should quit the county job and go work for a church, where she can refuse to marry gay people to her heart's content, and get away with it! That, of course, assumes any gays would apply, which is not all that likely.

But that's the point, isn't it? I mean, where would be the fun in doing it legally? The plan, after all, is to piss off someone who's trying to do something that God doesn't like. And skipping over the fact that God is not on her county's table of organization, there's this other problem:

How does she know what God really likes?

Her answer, I'm pretty sure, would be, she knows this from her religious convictions -- which, by the way, totally infringe on the religious convictions of citizens of the county who believe that God actually wants people of the same gender to marry each other, and others who are personally convinced that God doesn't care either way, and others still who believe God doesn't exist, and maybe others who say they don't know if God exists, and maybe don't even care, since there's no law in the state of Kentucky, or any other state, that says you have to be a believer in God to get married.

The main point here being that the nice thing about living in a secular country is that your government doesn't tell its citizens what to think about God, because if it did, it might try to make you believe something that you don't actually believe. So instead of doing that, our governments in this country just shut their mouths when it comes to God, leaving it up to you to do all your God-worshiping in some church, or even at home.

So whether she knows it or not, her deeply-held religious belief is just one of a cornucopia of beliefs out there that all sort of compete with one another, but which, technically, all have nothing to do with getting a marriage license in the state of Kentucky anyway.

Some disagree, including Ryan T. Anderson, in his September 7th New York Times Op-Ed, in which he argues we should look for ways of accommodating these religious objectors:
Do we really want to say that an otherwise competent employee must quit or go to jail if there is another alternative?
Anderson -- who is described as a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation; make of that what you will -- goes on to praise the state of North Carolina for finding those alternatives:
Sensing that the Supreme Court might redefine marriage, the North Carolina Legislature passed a law earlier in June creating a system to accommodate — as far as possible — the conscientious beliefs of magistrates who objected to performing same-sex marriages and clerks who objected to issuing licenses. 
The North Carolina law made clear that no eligible couple could be denied a marriage license, but officials could recuse themselves should they have sincere objections. By notifying a superior of their objection ahead of time, the clerks could protect their rights of conscience while ensuring that no couple would be inconvenienced.
That wouldn't work at all in Kim Davis' Rowan County, by the way, since, she being the head clerk, there was nobody above her to appeal to, meaning that anyone who wanted to get married in her county had to drive, in some cases for hours, to some other county. In any event, there's also that question of whether citizens should be denied services they pay their government to deliver, just because the person assigned to do that job decides, for some reason, that she doesn't want to.

But it's different if her reason is faith-based?

How about the case of the city bus driver who happens to be Amish, and therefore refuses to drive a bus, since church rules prohibit it. Should the citizens of that city be compelled to continue paying her salary, just because her religious beliefs prevent her from doing her job?

In fact, religious liberty protections for Kim Davis already exist. Nobody's forcing her do anything that actually violates her religious conscience in the first place -- it's not like she's a priest and she's being forced to marry gays, which is not what the law demands anyway. And if she imagines that her religion tells her that issuing a marriage license means something more than the state says it does, she has a choice; either do her job, or quit it, and maybe go work for that church.

There's also this explanation she gave couples who applied for licenses and asked her under who's authority she was refusing:
Davis turned them away, saying she was acting “under God’s authority”.
Her claiming that she is a direct report to some deity (and particularly one who seems a tad homophobic), rather than to the state of Kentucky, it seems to me, is a flat-out violation of the 1st Amendment prohibition of the state establishing a church, in which case, it was not her constitutionally-protected religious freedom that has been infringed, it's that of all those people she turned away.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Response to The Big Wide World

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Big Wide World)

While reading this, I was ready to jump in and remind those people who insist that all these recent Hispanic immigrants -- unlike those previous immigrants from Europe, the ones who inspired us to place the Statue of Liberty out in New York harbor -- are not learning to speak English, that in fact, experts say it's no more true about today's immigrants than it was about all those "tired" and "poor" immigrants from olden times -- that while the parents can't learn our language, the kids can, and they do, just as they did back then.

But John McWhorter beat me to it, with his excellent analysis, especially with this slam-dunk summation:
...humans aren’t as good at learning languages after their early teens. One will expect an accent, problems with idioms, little mistakes, and so on. However, their children will speak just like the rest of us.
But while his piece was excellent in most respects, I did find something to disagree with, that being his agreement with you, Alan, on what you said about Sarah Palin arguing that people should learn to speak "American", and just after that, her saying they need to learn "English":
She did correct her mistake. American isn’t a language. English is. She actually may see no difference, but she is easily confused...
Okay, but to be fair, it wasn't really a mistake in the first place.

Sarah Palin being a natural-born idiot, we'd love to fault her for this sort of thing, but I think that's really being too picky, since when we discuss immigrants needing to learn "English", we do mean "American English", we don't mean "British English". We could just as accurately say, "If you move to Mexico, you need to learn Mexican", since people in that country speak a different version of Spanish than is spoken in Chile, Cuba, or even in Spain.

And here's another something that Trump and his supporters should look up before they continue with that English language stuff, this from Andres Oppenheimer:
While older Hispanic immigrants may still not be fluent in English, almost eight in 10 of young Hispanics under 18 are fluent in both languages, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.
But the operative phrase here is "should look up", since the Trump contingent is united in its commonly-held aversion to taking seriously any truth that can be verified by "looking it up" somewhere. It's just a conservative trait.

But why get so hot and bothered about Spanish, rather than, say, Hebrew, the common tongue of present-day Jesus Land? McWhorter hints at the answer, yet doesn't quite nail it:
The issue is not merely that some people get itchy worrying that someone speaking a foreign language might be talking about them. Notice, almost no one says that about Indian immigrants speaking Bengali or Koreans talking among themselves. No, this worry seems to come up mainly when it is people speaking Spanish, and one can’t help detecting a reason. ... 
The conditions we are actually under include a degree of xenophobia against Latinos. “Speak American” is code for “Don’t be talking like those people.” Just as Barack Obama has to keep it quiet that he once spoke Indonesian to avoid seeming “Muslim,” Jeb Bush is supposed to hold off on the Spanish thing in public, regardless of his wife being a native Spanish speaker, to respect the hegemony of “American” in our great land – in what once was billed admiringly as an immigrant nation.
The hint is in that word "hegemony".

Nobody fears that Hebrew or Bengali, or even Quebecois, will replace English as the "American" language, but there are many on the far right who harbor a strange fear, exemplified in what some Anglo troll put into words, down in the comment section on this page:
KNOW THIS, Mexicans have full intentions of taking over North America via demographics and changing the language to Spanish. Gringos are just useful idiots who pay the way to their own demise. When USA has a Mexican majority make no mistake it will become like Mexico complete with a corrupt government, corrupt police, cartels, hacked up and headless bodies found everywhere, poverty, gangs, violence, overpopulation, low IQ uneducated masses. It will spell the end of USA as a 1st world nation. Gringos will pack up and leave which will speed up the transformation of USA to the 3rd world.
Another Anglo's comment just below that one, at that same site:
Many illegals were of the notion they would come here, become the majority, and our laws and culture in the USA would eventually become Mexican laws and culture.
(I think that guy is a bit confused, but you probably can still catch his drift.)

I heard someone ask recently, "Why do people like bullies so much?", and then added, "Answer that and American politics and foreign policy become clear." (Hint: that someone was you, Alan.)

Okay, I'll bite. The answer is that they don't just like bullies, the people who like Trump for saying this are bullies. They demonstrate it by backing him.

Second of all, "bullyism" (which I suppose could be an actual ideology on its own) seems to be a necessary and inherent element of conservatism.

It's not just seen in picking on Mexicans, but also in picking on people on government assistance and blacks and women and the unemployed and under-employed, and you see it in that Kentucky County Clerk, who goes out of her way to show that her belief in her own bully of a God trumps the rights of gay couples to get married. You also see it every time you hear some Republican candidate threatening to use America's military might to beat up on some country or other. Just like not believing in "looking things up", both being a bully and being impressed with bullies, is yet another conservative trait.

Okay, but that still doesn't answer the question of why some folks (which is to say, conservatives) are so impressed with the exercise of brute force, and the answer is, mostly because they were born that way! After all, we're pretty much born with our politics, or at least the propensity to be this rather than that.

I'm not embarrassed to admit that I looked that up, and the best explanation I found all starts with Thomas Jefferson. (Please forgive me if you've seen me cite this link in the past):
"The same political parties which now agitate the United States, have existed through all time," wrote Jefferson [to John Adams, in 1813.] "The terms of Whig and Tory belong to natural, as well as to civil history," he later added. "They denote the temper and constitution of mind of different individuals." 
Tories were the British conservatives of Jefferson's day, and Whigs were the British liberals. What Jefferson was saying, then, was that whether you call yourself a Whig or a Tory has as much to do with your psychology or disposition as it has to do with your ideas. At the same time, Jefferson was also suggesting that there's something pretty fundamental and basic about Whigs (liberals) and Tories (conservatives), such that the two basic political factions seem to appear again and again in the world, and have for "all time."
But it wasn't until centuries later that scientists, working in biology, psychology and politics, and using scientific tools such as eye-tracking devices and "skin conductance sensors", were able to quantify and identify the differences. One such scientist is John Hibbing, a political scientist who runs the "Political Physiology Laboratory" at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
"We know that liberals and conservatives are really deeply different on a variety of things," Hibbing explains ... "It runs from their tastes, to their cognitive patterns — how they think about things, what they pay attention to — to their physical reactions. We can measure their sympathetic nervous systems, which is the fight-or-flight system. And liberals and conservatives tend to respond very differently."
So the major difference between the two?


Specifically, how one responds to fear, and other stimuli perceived as threatening, or even just negative!
For example, startle reflexes after hearing a loud noise were stronger in conservatives. And after being shown a variety of threatening images ("a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," according to the study), conservatives also exhibited greater skin conductance — a moistening of the sweat glands that indicates arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which manages the body's fight-or-flight response. 
It all adds up, according to Hibbing, to what he calls a "negativity bias" on the right. Conservatives, Hibbing's research suggests, go through the world more attentive to negative, threatening, and disgusting stimuli — and then they adopt tough, defensive, and aversive ideologies to match that perceived reality.
Yes, they also saw it in a sensitivity to "disgust".
In one study, Hibbing and his colleagues showed that a higher level of disgust sensitivity is predictive not only of political conservatism but also disapproval of gay marriage. It is important to underscore that your disgust sensitivity is involuntary; it is not something under your control. It is a primal, gut emotion. 
That word, "primal," helps us begin to understand what Hibbing and his colleagues now think ideology actually is. They think that humans have core preferences for how societies ought to be structured: Some of us are more hierarchical, as opposed to egalitarian; some of us prefer harsher punishments for rule breakers, whereas some of us would be more inclined to forgive; some of us find outsiders or out-groups intriguing and enticing, whereas others find them threatening. Hibbing and his team have even found that preferences on such matters appear to have a genetic basis. 
Thus, the idea seems to be that our physiology, who we are in our bodies, may lead us to experience the world in such a way that basic preferences about how to run society emerge naturally from more basic dispositions and habits of perception. So, if you have a negativity bias, and you focus more on the aversive and disgusting, then the world seems more threatening to you. And thus, policies like supporting a stronger military, or being tougher on immigration, might feel very natural.
So does this not explain the different approaches to, for example, what to do about Iranian nukes? Should we try to negotiate with our adversaries, or should we just wait for an opportunity to kick the shit out of them? And are those who prefer talking with Iran just being "naive" about the real threats that all right-thinking people see out there in the world?

But after all of that, the next question remains:

Despite the fact that there seem to be inborn differences between those on the right and on the left on how the world ought to be perceived, could it still be that one of them is right, while the other is wrong?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Response to Toward a Unified Theory of Trump

(See: Just Above Sunset: Toward a Unified Theory of Trump)

I happen to disagree with Albert Camus' statement, that “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Right now, the only truly serious philosophical problem is what the hell we are to make of Donald Trump.

Trump's latest was that morning-after whiney explanation of how he flubbed a question from conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt about whether he knew of Quds General Qasem Suleimani:
“And by the way, when you say Quds vs. Kurds, I thought he said Kurds, this third-rate radio announcer that I did the show [for],” Trump said Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” ... "I thought he said Kurds. By the way, I do think the Kurds, while we’re on it, I do think the Kurds are not being utilized properly and not being treated properly by us.”
Brushing past the fact that his thinking Hewitt said "Kurds" instead of "Quds" is obviously beside the point, one has to start noticing a pattern here -- that if someone in the media, even someone nominally on "your side", asks you a question you don't like, the thing to do is to call them names when talking about it afterwards, and then go ahead and answer the question you wished he had asked, even though he didn't, some question you've prepared a glib answer for that makes it sound like you at least have some opinion about something, diverting attention away from the fact that you just snookered yourself.

True, this episode comes nowhere close to ending Trump's bid for the Republican nomination, but it does add one more straw to the camel's back, and I think those straws will continue to pile up until, as Kevin Drum says, people "get tired of his act."

But while Ben Schreckinger, at Politico, may have a point:
Tolerance for ignorance has its limits, as Rick Perry learned when his first presidential bid collapsed after he failed to name the three federal agencies he planned to axe in a 2011 debate.
We still need to remember that Rick Perry's sin was not ignorance, per se, it was his "Oops!" -- his public expression of embarrassment at not being able to answer a question that he had just asked himself. Not being able to remember one of the three governmental departments you just now said you would close is like being asked by the troll just one question, the correct answer of which will keep you from being thrown off the bridge to your death, and his question is, "What's your favorite color?", and your answer is, "Green! No, no, wait! Blue!"

Trump never would have been caught in that trap, of admitting embarrassment. He'd have just shrugged his way through it, then emerged safely out the other side.

Drum again, on Trump:
His ignorance – and his shameless lack of interest in fixing it – has always been obvious. He doesn’t even try to hide it. He’ll hire good people. He’ll delegate.
We have to wonder how long he can get away with this idea that "He'll hire good people" -- to do what? Make the right decisions for him? Have we learned nothing from electing George W. Bush, who thought he was being smart by leaving all major decisions to his generals, or to Dick Cheney and his merry band of neocons? Yes, we expect whoever we elect to hire good people who know how to do whatever needs to be done, but not to hire people who can make the right decision on what to do. That's pretty much what we hire presidents to do.

And what does it mean that Trump has now signed something promising not to launch a third-party bid? Here's Josh Green, who seems optimistic:
...rather than quiet the attacks against him, this gives the GOP license to amplify them tremendously without fear of repercussion down the road. A Trump third-party bid, if perhaps unlikely, was a possibility that Priebus had to take seriously. He doesn’t anymore. Everyone can, and probably will, start wailing away on Trump, secure in the knowledge that when he slips from first place he won’t have an obvious recourse for revenge.
Not so fast there! We're talking here about the guy who literally wrote the book on the fine art of making deals!

First of all, I think it's pretty obvious that Trump's best reason to drop the threat of going it alone was that, at some point soon, he might be facing the danger that states won't allow him on Republican primary ballots.

Second of all, on signing it, he sort of gave his own version of a "signing statement", saying that he had only held off on the pledge on the condition that he be treated fairly by the Republicans -- which, he claims, they are now doing. But he could very easily change his mind about that, especially if everybody starts "wailing away on Trump", and maybe even if he interprets not being "treated fairly" as not getting the nomination.

So what if he goes back on the pledge later? What are they going to do, sue him? But if they foolishly feel free to wail on him, and he, being Trump, breaks away to run on his own, they're really dead in the water, and the Democrats will win.

But would Trump do this? That depends on whether that humongous head of his is filled mostly with brain or with ego. If it's the latter, then he'll go it alone, really convinced that he can beat both the Democratic and Republican candidate, whoever they be. If it's the former, and it turns out he's actually smarter than he is arrogant -- well, then, that will be a first.

But that other question, of what we are to make of Donald Trump, remains.

Put simply, is he one of us, or is he one of them? And when I say "us" or "them", I mean that this is a question that could be asked on both sides of the aisle. After all, Jeb Bush has a point when he says Trump has a history of being more of a liberal Democrat than a conservative Republican.

But if that's true, why don't I like him?

For one thing, he's a natural-born bully -- which says right there that he's more conservative than liberal. It matters not whether or not he actually believes, or is just pretending to, that illegal immigrants commit more crimes than the rest of us (they don't) or that they come here to plant "anchor babies" (they don't, since having their children become citizens does them virtually no good; they have babies for the same reason everyone else does. It's a birds-and-bees thing). But real liberals aren't bullies.

For another thing, he's too lazy to think things through, and so he settles too quickly on simple answers -- which, once again, is something conservatives tend to do. What to do with ISIS? Just defeat them! Take away their oil! Immigrants? Build a big wall! Deport 'em all, and do it fast, and then just let the good ones back in! These aren't thoughtful solutions, they're emotional knee-jerk reflexes, designed to appeal to conservatives, not liberals.

In other words, the things that I find repellent are the same things his so-called "populist" base finds attractive. Those people don't care whether or not he wants to raise taxes on the rich or protect Social Security, what they like is that he's a politically-incorrect bully who plays to their fantasy that we should just do something, not talk a lot about it, and for god's sake, don't waste too much time thinking about it.

As to the other question, of whether Trump's followers are mostly Tea-Partiers or even libertarians?

I don't think anyone's figured that out yet, but I tend to think not. I'm wondering if both of those crowds may have had their 15 minutes of fame and it all kind of pooped them out, and while some of them may be following Trump, most of them probably just went back home to watch it all on TV.