Monday, November 30, 2015

Response to The Outcome of Outrage

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Outcome of Outrage)

So the big question on everybody's mind this morning, because it's really hard to tell at this point, is, is this guy "mentally unwell" or is he instead acting on his overripe outrage over some actual political principle or other? On the other hand, does it really even matter why somebody does something really bad?

What? Who? No, no, I'm not referring to Donald Trump this time, I'm talking about that bearded guy in the weird mugshot. Although it is true that we question the level of derangement of each, do we measure it by the severity of the act (murdering three people) or the magnitude of its reach (electing a president who refuses to admit that thousands of Arab-Americans in New Jersey did not jump with joy as they watched the Twin Towers come down)?

While we don't know yet whether the national buzz over Planned Parenthood really motived the shooter to shoot up the place, I'm not really fixing to join that fight even if it ever resolves itself, since it so often happens that some crazy person does some crazy thing in the name of some crazy cause or other, and we're never really able to figure out how much is the craziness and how much is the cause, that I'm all tuckered out trying to keep them all straight.

But I will venture this thought:

It does seem that, of most the causes that all those crazy people do crazy things in the name of, rarely do they ever seem to be causes I agree with. Maybe John Brown, trying to do something to end slavery, but I'm not really even sure that's really what he was fighting for. Most of them seem more like what John Wilkes Booth did in the name of Confederate glory.

But this, from Josiah Hesse of the Guardian, seems to sketch the outlines of our problem with guns in this country as well as just about anything else:
Three weeks before Friday’s Planned Parenthood shooting, a man was seen brandishing a rifle while walking down the streets of Colorado Springs on Halloween morning. A concerned citizen called the 911 Emergency Line to notify the police, but was told by the operator: “Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it,” referencing state laws that allow the brandishing of a firearm in public. 
Shortly after the call the man shot and killed three people before being shot dead by police.
So let's presume, just for fun, that this bearded Planned Parenthood shooter is mentally ill: Now what? Is it against the law to be mentally ill? Can you be arrested for that? Maybe a better question is, what would a conservative -- someone who thinks guns don't shoot people, mentally ill people shoot people -- what would a conservative who thinks mental illness is the real problem propose we do about him, and do early enough to save the lives of those three people?

And if nothing, what if he had walked into the parking lot, or even into the building, "brandishing" a gun or two? Until he actually shoots somebody, he's not doing anything anybody is supposed to even notice.

And also, if nothing can be done, do we just consider these deaths the price of liberty? The price of living in a free society, where we are not only free to own deadly weapons, we are free to "bear" them? To "brandish" them? Even, in the case of George Zimmerman, to gun some unsuspecting stranger down with them?

There was a time not too long ago that, if you saw a gunman walking around with a gun, you would call the cops, but times have changed. Now when you call, in the time it takes the 911 operator to explain to you that there's nothing wrong with a gunman doing that, the gunman guns three people down. Or, for all we know, he robs a Waffle House. Or some six-year-old girl, finding the gun in the couch cushions, guns herself down.

Fortunately, she lived in America, Sweet Land of Liberty, where people have the Constitutionally-protected right to do that sort of thing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Response to The Counterattack

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Counterattack)

I have been wondering lately what odds-maker Nate Silver has to say these days, and here he is, in his latest, which he titled "Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls":
Lately, pundits and punters seem bullish on Donald Trump, whose chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination recently inched above 20 percent for the first time at the betting market Betfair. Perhaps the conventional wisdom assumes that the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris will play into Trump’s hands, or that Republicans really might be in disarray. If so, I can see where the case for Trump is coming from, although I’d still say a 20 percent chance is substantially too high. 
Quite often, however, the Trump’s-really-got-a-chance! case is rooted almost entirely in polls. If nothing Trump has said so far has harmed his standing with Republicans, the argument goes, why should we expect him to fade later on? 
One problem with this is that it’s not enough for Trump to merely avoid fading.
Based on his assumption that too many of us are basing our excitement with Trump on the so-far meaningless polls for Iowa and New Hampshire, he's sticking by his earlier reckoning, that Donald Trump will not become our president.

So why does he insist those caucus and primary polls are essentially meaningless at this point? Because despite how much election stuff we see on TV right now, most voters in those two states aren't paying attention yet, with large percentages not deciding until the final week -- roughly 39% in Iowa, 50% in New Hampshire. In fact, calculating from past elections the percentage of voters in Iowa who have probably decided by now, Silver figures only about 20% have so far, so the real polls right now should look like this:

Undecided -- 80% (leading in the polls)
Trump -- 5%
Carson -- 4%
Cruz -- 3%
Rubio -- 2%
Bush -- 1%
Fiorina -- 1%
Huckabee -- 1%
Christie -- 1%

Silver's like the mommy at the slumber party, where all the girls are screaming-scared as they watch the horror flick, and Mommy has to come in the room and remind them that, calm down, kids, Freddy Krueger doesn't really exist! So, yeah, Nate, like a typical mom, really knows how to take the fun out of something.

But if we're really lucky, the Republicans will go ahead and "treat" Donald "unfairly", even knowing that this "breaks the deal" -- which would just be like them to, once again, do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and it would also be just like Trump to then ponder running as an independent, just to get even with them. Although if that happens, I'm betting it would be to just toy with them for awhile, just long enough to put the real scare into them that he thinks they deserve, and after what seems like an eternity, he'll announce that he's decided not to run.

Let's face it, he knows he wouldn't win as an independent anyway, so why waste all that time and money, especially if the end result would only be his forever being remembered as that egotistical schmuck who unilaterally put Hillary Clinton in the White House?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Response to Dark Days Returning

(See: Just Above Sunset: Dark Days Returning)

In spite of what a lot of people think, the 1960s were indeed dark times, with all the assassinations and political turmoil, mostly over that stupid war, and yet I don't think they were anywhere near as dark as the 1930s, especially in Europe.

On the day JFK was shot, I was taking a one-year "sabbatical" from college, so old enough to realize this was a big thing, comparable in scope to Lincoln's assassination. But by the time MLK's death came around -- and then especially RFK (who I had already decided I would vote for over Gene McCarthy) -- I had gotten blase about it all. Killing famous people started looking like the new normal, but still, I felt no sensation that the country was headed into the dark ages, simply because you never heard anybody, except maybe a few flakes, say these assassinations were a good thing. Ironically, despite a few stray violent radicals, most Americans were basically singing from the same page of the hymnal throughout the 1960s.

But the 1930s and 1940s were another story. We could look back on those decades and wonder what the hell was going through the minds of the Nazis and the Fascists, plus all the citizens of Germany and Italy who allowed them to do what they did. It would never have occurred to us in the 1960s to set up concentration camps and death camps, and most of us were shocked that we had once created internment camps for the Japanese in our own country. How could all the good people of those countries allow this stuff to happen?

And yet, maybe many of us in the '60s started realizing that future generations might ask the same of us in our own times: How could those people back in the '50s and '60s have allowed so much racial discrimination in the land of the free? In fact, it may have been that realization that pushed so many whites back then to join up with blacks in the Civil Rights movement.

We may be getting close to asking that question again: How can so many Americans be backing Donald Trump, a despicable and ignorant tough guy who is constantly, and almost proudly, lying through his teeth, with impunity? It almost seems like 1930s Europe, all over again:
Sunday afternoon, Trump did his weird version of a manual retweet of an image depicting a man (in this context, assumed to be black), with a bandana over his face pointing a gun sideways towards a list of wholly fabricated statistics. ... 
The image alleges that 97 percent of African-Americans were killed by African Americans, while only 1 percent of murdered African-Americans were killed by police. ... It also claims 81 percent of whites who are killed are killed by blacks, which is pure race-baiting at its most ignorant. The numbers in this erroneous image are attributed to the “Crime Statistics Bureau - San Francisco,” and reflect 2015 data. 
For one thing, a “Crime Statistics Bureau” does not exist. The FBI is responsible for this data and they have yet to release a report on 2015, because, well 2015 is not over yet. 
Secondly, whoever made that image did so with the intent of lying about the percentage of white Americans killed by black Americans. In 2014, that number was 14 percent, not 81 percent. Additionally, in the graphic, only 16 percent of whites are killed by other whites. In the same FBI report, it clearly states that 82.3 percent of whites are in fact killed by other whites ...
And then there was this happening in Birmingham, something right out of early 1930s Germany that reportedly happens a lot at Trump rallies:
Mercutio Southall Jr. — a well-known local activist who has been repeatedly arrested while fighting what he says is unfair treatment of blacks — interrupted Trump’s rally and could be heard shouting, “Black lives matter!” A fight broke out, prompting Trump to briefly halt his remarks and demand the removal of Southall. 
“Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Trump said on Saturday morning. “Get him out of here. Throw him out!” 
At one point, Southall fell to the ground and was surrounded by several white men who appeared to be kicking and punching him, according to video captured by CNN. ... As security officers got Southall on his feet and led him out of the building, he was repeatedly pushed and shoved by people in the crowd. The crowd alternated between booing and cheering. ... 
“Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Trump said on the Fox News Channel on Sunday morning. “I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a trouble-maker who was looking to make trouble.”
Don't you, as I do, long for those simpler times when a candidate could single-handedly implode his own campaign by promising in a debate to close three government departments, but then be able to name only two of them?

And yet, just as I had become hardened to assassinations in the '60s, Americans today have become so totally accustomed to the nastiness of Trump and his campaign, and even that he still hasn't as yet been drummed out of the race, most of them probably didn't even notice these two incidents.

Back in earlier times, being caught sending out a tweet filled with false statistics to make some racist point, or defending the beating of a protestor at one of your rallies, would, for sure, get you immediately bounced out of the race. No, it's not your party or even the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that would have done it, it would have been the voters themselves who would have known that you crossed a line.

But these days, it seems there are no lines. What changed?

Probably the voters. Back in the old days, voters might tolerate a little funny business here and there from their candidate, as long as the infraction wasn't very serious and there was "plausible deniability" to hide behind. Nowadays, telling an obvious untruth just doesn't have the currency it once did, especially among conservatives, probably because the people backing Trump -- and, to some extent, all of the other Republican candidates -- don't really care about what's true or not as much as they care about their candidate. After all, it's all those folks they don't like who seem to be constantly obsessed with the so-called "truth"!

So we're not only losing common grounds for discussion these days, we're losing that sense of decency that everyone once, back when the professionals were in charge, took for granted. Our only hope for 2020, when elections once more roll around, everyone will demand that their choice for president not be an outsider, but someone who can prove that they know how to do this politics stuff, and is someone with some record of having worked inside the system.

If, that is, this country is able to survive the elections of 2016.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Response to The Final Descent

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Final Descent)

It's a long one today, but I did want to make two points.

FIRST, I WANT TO REITERATE and elaborate on what I said yesterday, since I think it's worth repeating:

I see Donald Trump presenting more of a threat to America than ISIS does. Seriously, I mean it! Just this once, I'm not trying to be cute or ironical.

The threat of ISIS is that it is an evil entity that seems to be trying to gobble up much or all of the world, starting with the Middle East. In the short range, it's destroying human lives over there, and it's demanding that we reconsider sending not only bombs and missiles but also troops and money, into what, based on our previous experience, has often seemed to be a mistake. We may have to change our minds, and soon, about not getting heavily involved in fighting them.

But in the long haul, ISIS presents itself as not much more than a huge nuisance to us, since they will never, ever successfully take over this country, as least as we are formulated now. They may attack us and kill a few of us, but in the long run, we will win.

The threat of Trump is more of an actual clear and present danger, and is afflicting us already, whether or not he wins the nomination.

For one thing, his crazy-legged and half-baked ideas have attracted a large following of people who like crazy, half-baked thinking, probably because they somehow find so much to not like in a world run by the normal people who pay attention to what they think and say. These followers, which we could call the "Trumpers" and "Trumpettes", see "careful thinking" as mere "political correctness", which they despise, and the people who practice it as "liberal elites", which they also despise.

But for another thing, Trump has campaigned so successfully that he's got all his opponents trying to catch up with him, either emulating him or trying to out-Trump him with their own terrible ideas that have no relationship to reality and show a shocking failure to fully understand the lessons of history. It's easy to imagine that whichever candidate wins the nomination, we will have a Republican candidate who will have to be, if not a full-blown sufferer of Trumpitis, at least a carrier of the disease who might easily pass it on to future generations of political leadership.

Maybe the real problem is not in our political stars but in our non-political selves. Specifically, I mean those Americans who decide to pay no attention to the world until suddenly something strikes their fancy, so they then call up their congresswoman and demand she vote for some senseless Republican-sponsored bill or other, insuring that our refugee vetting process, the only problem with which may be that it takes too long, will now take even longer with all that passing around of documents so they can get signed.

AND SECONDLY, there's something else we need to be aware of:

Trump and other Republican candidates make heaps of noise about how there's way too much "Political Correctness" in this country -- which they seem to assume is a liberal disease -- and yet, without conservative Political Correctness, all the Republican campaigns would simultaneously implode, leaving them all dumbstruck, with nothing to talk about.

Just a glance at a sizable alphabetical sampling of what makes up "Conservative Political Correctness" should show us that they pretty much all seem to be non-existent issues:

* Anchor Babies -- Does this involve non-citizens crossing the border to give birth to a baby that somehow will protect them from deportation? If so, forget it. Those babies don't really exist, since even parents with American citizen babies get deported all the time. When it happens, they are given the choice of taking their little American with them, or leaving them with some American citizen who is here legally. This is not to say illegal immigrants don't have babies here. Lots of people, not just illegal immigrants, even in America, give birth to babies. Get used to it.

* Birthright Citizenship -- First, see "Anchor Babies", above. Yes, you can try to change the interpretation of what the Constitution says about what it takes to be a natural-born American, but to what end? It won't dissuade people coming to America to give birth because nobody's really doing that now. Can't you find something more useful to do with your time?

* Calling the Enemy "Radical Islamists" -- Republicans keep criticizing Democrats for not having the "courage" to do this, but (a) never seem to explain why it's so important to "call a spade a spade" (their words, not mine), and (b) never seem to understand the reasoning behind not doing this, nor come up with a rejoinder, decent or otherwise, to those who tell them why it's a bad idea -- which is this:

Even George W. Bush learned early on that any description of who we're fighting that includes the word "Islam" tends to make it easier for the bad guys to convince the Arab "Street" -- that is, those undecided Muslims in the middle who we want to be on our side, but who all the bad guys want backing their side -- that there is a "clash of civilizations" going on, and that the West, indeed, is waging a War on Islam itself. Which, by the way, we're not.

* Defunding Planned Parenthood -- The point being, what? You're trying to reduce the amount of money were paying those people to perform abortions? Except that we're not paying any money to those people to provide abortions! And as for those dummies who say that PP is probably moving money around, because "We all know that money is fungible", those people don't know how the system works.

The only reason Republicans are after PP, as if I need to tell you, is that, in addition to providing ordinary health services to people, especially in out-of-the-way places, the non-profit offers abortions to those willing to pay for them. So anti-abortion social conservatives are attempting to misuse the government in order to vandalize some organization they don't like, because it does things they don't like, even though none of that has anything whatsoever to do with government. Hey, you looking for some way to be useful? Find something else. Volunteer in a soup kitchen or something.

(By the way, if you're one of those people against birth control, maybe you could start a campaign to defund CVS Pharmacy! I visited my local CVS today and saw an aisle labeled "Family Planning"! Yes, as far as I know, CVS receives no federal funding, but does that really matter? That shouldn't stop you from passing a bill and sending it to White House, and if your lucky, we might even talk enough spineless Democrats into joining you, just to make it veto-proof.)

* Gun Control (or the lack thereof) -- Despite the fact that Americans shoot themselves and each other, often resulting in someone's death, at a much higher rate than folks living elsewhere, American conservatives of both parties (but mostly the Republican one) inexplicably insist on protecting the right of Americans to keep doing this.

In fact, the anti-control "Gunmen" make such a compelling case that, even though they are a minority, most Americans settle on merely seeking ways of controlling guns instead of banning them, apparently thinking the latter is essentially impossible. Still, a day may come when America's huge pro-control majority will tire of the NRA arrogance and just cut to the chase, outlawing personal weaponry altogether. And as they say, when that day comes that they outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns -- and if you know what's good for you, try not to be one of them. I have a hunch living your life as an outlaw is not as much fun as it seems.

* Immigration Problem, The -- Essentially, there isn't any. There are no statistics showing that Mexicans crossing the border illegally are "rapists and murderers", although, in fact, there are statistics showing crime rates for illegal immigrants are probably lower than for whatever miserable group of citizens you belong to. And I think there are probably statistics somewhere showing that the jobs illegal immigrants take are jobs that the rest of us refuse to do, even at higher wages.

(In fact, I have anecdotal evidence from a friend of mine whose parents decided to only hire American citizens to clean the rooms of the hotels they own. First, they found that nobody would do it unless they raised the rates, and so they did that. But after three weeks or so on the job, they kept finding the Americans leaving, often without notice, having found a better job somewhere. After a while, they could no longer pass the higher wages on to their guests, so they gave up, and went back to hiring only illegal immigrants.)

* Keystone Pipeline -- As everybody knows by now, this issue is totally symbolic, for both sides. Conservatives want to make some point, that the Democrats are refusing to exploit all our forms of energy to make America strong and "energy independent", even though the crude under discussion here doesn't come from our country, it comes from Canada -- which should instead qualify as "imported" oil -- but also, much of it won't even go to us anyway, much of it will go to some refinery on the Gulf Coast, then get shipped overseas.

Meanwhile, liberals want to make the point that, instead of continuing to search for cheaper ways to smog up the atmosphere by extracting more dirty oil from shale (which, it has now been confirmed, has been causing earthquakes in Oklahoma), we ought to instead be concentrating on developing safer and cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and sun and electricity that you can store in batteries -- which, in addition to being sources that won't run out some day, have the added advantage of actually making us independent from all those countries whose constant wars always seem to be luring us into the fight.

So yes, it's all just symbolic on both sides, and I, for one, think the Democratic symbolism here is far more meaningful than the Republican symbolism. And so should you.

* Syrian Refugees -- This is the newest non-issue to tickle the conservative fancy, maybe because all those other non-issues were getting stale. Does it matter to Republicans that there is already in place a program for vetting refugees, even Syrian ones, that seems to have been working perfectly well?

Of course not. The way to deal with that, they seem to reason, is to merely add something to that program -- making sure the DHS and FBI and DOJ are each made to sign off on every refugee man, woman and child -- just to make it look like Obama wasn't doing enough to keep Americans safe. Getting this stupid bill passed will give them one more phony thing to make hay about during some debate, as we approach election day.

* Voter Fraud -- The cases of actual voter fraud are so incredibly rare, they are statistically non-existent.

The real reason Republicans have pushed "Voter ID" laws on states they control, allegedly as a way to combat voter fraud, is to make it harder for poor people to vote, since poor people usually vote Democratic. When this issue came up before the Supreme Court, the Justices ruled that the Republicans could go ahead and do whatever they want, whether or not there is an actual voter fraud problem in America. Which, as everybody knows, there isn't.

* War on Christianity -- This seems to be less and less of an issue every year. Whether or not this "war" actually exists all seems to depend on whether Bill O'Reilly and Fox News choose to wage it each year. They seem, for some reason, to be perturbed at the way we Americans celebrate our holidays, and that most of us choose not to rudely get in the face of, and push our holidays on, those who don't celebrate them. I haven't heard yet whether or not the Fox people have decided to wage the war this year, but if you really need to know, give them a call (212-301-3000), then let me know what you find out.

Why, you may ask, do Republicans attach themselves to all these quixotic crusades?

The answer, I think, is two-fold: (1) Because all the real issues are already taken by the Democrats, although that doesn't matter because Republicans don't really want those things to happen anyway -- real things, like more jobs, higher pay, equal pay, better public education, cleaner environment, consumer protections, better opportunities for minorities and women, more control of who gets their hands on guns, fewer dumb wars, and a less belligerent approach to other countries, just to name a few; and (2) I'm sure Republicans think their issues have more pizzazz than ours. And they're probably right.

But If you have any doubts that the above non-problems all help define conservative PC, try telling your conservative friends that any or all of their so-called issues are simply conservative Republican versions of PC, and see how they react.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Response to Never Choosing Sides

(See: Just Above Sunset: Never Choosing Sides)

It's occurred to me recently that Republicans -- and specifically, presidential candidates -- may need a brush-up course on how to make analogies. They keep coming up with analogies that don't work.

Let me set the stage for the first example:

On Monday of this week, Obama was in Turkey for the G20 Summit, and during a press conference, he said this:
“When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who is fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful, that’s not American, that’s not who we are”, Obama said during a G20 press conference, making a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the reckless rhetoric of GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, whose parents fled to the United States from Cuba.
Later that same day, CNN's Dana Bash got a chance to ask Cruz about this:
“What would have happened if your father, who was trying to get from Cuba to the United States, and the political leaders said, ‘Nope, we don’t think so, because who knows? Maybe you could be somebody who could, you know, commit crimes against Americans,’” CNN’s Dana Bash asked the Texas senator during an interview on Monday, pointing out Cruz’s apparent hypocrisy. 
“See, that’s why it’s important to define what it is we’re fighting,” Cruz said. “If my father were part of a theocratic and political movement like radical Islamism that promotes murdering anyone who doesn’t share your extreme faith or forcibly converting them, then it would have made perfect sense,” Cruz said.

Okay, there's a problem with that, and it's that nobody, repeat nobody, is claiming that even one of, much less all of, the 10,000 refugees we're pledging to resettle here are radical Islamists, or belong to any group whatsoever that promotes murdering people who are not like them, yatta yatta. Refugees to this country have traditionally been, and will continue to be, subjected to an intense screening that takes up to two years -- more than long enough to test the patience of any self-respecting terrorist who, I'm sure, could easily find a better way to sneak into the country, and probably one in which he wouldn't be caught -- which he would be, under our rigorous admissions process.

A better analogy to the Syrians would be U.S. authorities putting Ted's dad, Rafael, on a list of people going through a two-year process of applying for entry, and he wouldn't be given the okay until it had been absolutely determined, beyond a doubt, that he would not present a danger to the country -- such as being a member of some communist organization, or whatnot.

As far as I know, Rafael Cruz never went through anything like that back in 1957, despite his (at least claim of having) fought for Fidel Castro, someone who was soon thereafter to become our enemy. How the guy got in so easily, since he was allegedly a rebel, fighting against our ally, is a mystery in itself. Maybe they should have screened him more carefully, as we now know he did bring a threat to the United States, if only indirectly.

My second example is what Ben Carson said recently:
“For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”
Carson caught lots of criticism for comparing Syrians to dogs, which an insider-type politician with more experience would have seen coming.

I think a better analogy would be this:

"Let's say you see five or six puppies running around your neighborhood. You're probably not going to assume something bad about those puppies, such as that they have rabies or anything, and probably not gonna put your children out of the way. Instead of assuming the worst, you'll probably try to figure out what you can do to protect them from getting hurt, have a vet give them vaccinations, and maybe then even try to find them homes." 

Or, if you prefer, make that five or six kittens, which works just as well. I realize that's not the point that President Brain Surgeon was trying to make, but I don't care. At least my analogy actually works.

And for my third example, there's Donald Trump:
Speaking to Sean Hannity, of Fox News, on Tuesday, Trump said that, in order to forestall possible attacks on American soil, the federal government might have to close down synagogues. “Nobody wants to say this, and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions,” Trump said. But, he continued, “There’s absolutely no choice. Some really bad things are happening, and they are happening fast.”
Okay, to be fair, his statement wasn't really an analogy, but only turned into one once I "improved" it.

And yes, he actually said "mosques", but can't you almost hear him say "synagogues"? I guess Trump could argue that it's all our Jews that are the problem, since all Muslims hate Jews and maybe that's why they're all trying to come here in the first place, just to kill our Jews! What, that doesn't make sense? Okay, but does it make any less sense than anything else he says, such as saying we may have to keep a database of all Muslims and shut down their mosques?

Although truthfully, it could just as easily have been Presbyterian churches, which have already proven themselves a danger to American society, since Presbyterianism is what seemingly brought us Donald Trump.

And the truth is -- and I know I would probably get into lots of trouble for saying this if anybody actually read the stuff I write -- the truth is, when it comes to assessing real threats to our country, I actually fear a Trump presidency more than I fear an ISIS takeover, largely because a Trump takeover of this country seems a lot closer to ever happening.

Go ahead, admit it! Don't you, too?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Response to American Mockingbirds

(See: Just Above Sunset: American Mockingbirds)

I must confess that I like mockery, actually. In fact, I was quite proud of the last line in my very long comment on Tuesday. After a long recounting of the history of the MS St. Louis, the German ship that sailed back and forth across the Atlantic, unsuccessfully seeking a safe place to drop off 900-some Jewish refugees in Cuba and the U.S., finally got permission to deliver them to Belgium:
Researchers later determined that, of the 620 returned passengers, 254 died in the Holocaust. 
But it’s probably just as well that none of them ended up in my own state of Georgia, since for all we know, one of them might have been a Nazi.
Yes, it was snarky. I suppose I was thinking somebody who was against our taking a chance on accepting Syrian refugees would either read it and realize the errors of their ways, or else maybe would feel terribly insulted, a feeling I decided they richly deserved.

Still, Kevin Drum does have a point when he says liberals who mock conservatives are practicing bad politics:
Maybe it’s true that we’re only mocking some of the most egregious politicians. And maybe it’s true that they deserve it. But who cares? Ordinary voters won’t make the distinction -- they’ll just hear the mockery -- and it doesn’t matter what anyone deserves. What matters is what works. On issues of interest only to wingnuts, go ahead and mock. We’re not going to persuade them of anything no matter what. But on issues like this, where a quite understandable fear is shared by a broad slice of the electorate, mockery is death. We can persuade these folks, and the way to do it is to acknowledge the problem and then fight the fear with facts. 
Will it work? Maybe, maybe not – but it’s got a way better chance than mockery does.
Does my mockery work? Depending on what my goal was, probably not. But I know I was not trying to persuade my Republican governor, Nathan Deal, nor any of his fellow travelers, since my experience tells me hardcore conservatives are not open to persuasion about anything, especially once they've taken a public stand. If, after hearing all the arguments from hospitals and others in the state, he still refuses to expand Medicaid, I'm sure I won't be able to talk him into changing his mind on accepting these refugees, even with my soberly reminding him of a shameful time in our history when Americans turned away Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis, sending many of them to their deaths.

But Drum's real argument isn't about persuading politicians, it's about swing voters -- well-intentioned people who might not be keeping up on the news and haven't given this issue all that much thought, who just might not be all that invested in the anti-refugee position being adopted, one by one, by Republican governors. These people, it's believed, might just see the lampoonery as rude and insulting, and would put them off.

And therein lies a major problem behind the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people: How can a country be run by The People when The People aren't paying attention to what's going on?

No, I don't want to push voters away by insulting them, but what chance do any of us have of convincing them to have enough courage to trust their country, and all those American values that we learned back in grade school, to think and act like the good guys we are?

There seems to be an almost irresistible allure to the (especially right-of-center) idea that, to fight the bad guys, we have to become bad guys ourselves -- which, if you think about it, is exactly backwards. Despite our occasionally falling off the wagon, what Americans need to be proud of is a history of often being the good guys -- of appealing to, as Abe Lincoln put it, the “better angels of our nature.”

It's what we like to think of as what sets us apart, that we are somewhat handicapped in fighting our enemies because, unlike them, we refuse to chop off heads. But when given an honest and free choice, what people would freely choose to be ruled by folks who chop off people's heads?

Even in that MS St. Louis story, contrary to the popular urban legend of FDR refusing to allow the refugees to land, the real story was how hard he and his administration worked to get around our deeply-embedded xenophobic immigration laws that were leftovers from the twenties, working with other governments and with American Jewish groups to try to save the lives of those refugees, and ultimately mostly succeeding.

Where this leaves me is, while Kevin Drum is right on the politics, one can hope to sway only those independent souls who are already seeking the truth, and the few of them that there are out there should be smart enough to figure out the right path without any help from me.

Besides, as those kind of people are precious as hen's teeth these days anyway, I think that, instead of trying to proselytize amongst the unconverted, I'll just stick to trying to give comfort to those who already agree with me by assuring them that, yes, those conservatives on the other side are indeed as whacky as they seem.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Response to Falling Asleep Again

(See: Just Above Sunset: Falling Asleep Again)

Here's two things that have been pissing me off today:

As a (former?) journalist, some of those years working for so-called "Mainstream Media", I get annoyed when I hear someone talking about media going wild with glee over some story or another, when most of the time, it's not really a reporter in the media showing glee, but the media reporting on someone else going wild with glee, or whatever. Often, although not always, when somebody calls into question some objective reporter's objectivity, that somebody is whistling through his hat, so to speak.

For example, here's Jack Mirkinson, Senior Media Editor for The Huffington Post, in a piece for Salon entitled “Why can’t we take out these bastards?”: Why the media’s apocalyptic Paris response should be making you very nervous: Following the horrific events in Paris, establishment press figures have been united in one thing: A call for war":
“Why can’t we take out these bastards?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked President Obama at a press conference on Monday. Acosta’s language may have been rougher than some might have used, but he was speaking for a press corps whose thirst for an apocalyptic confrontation with ISIS has been let loose by last Friday’s attacks in Paris. ... 
Listen to the language being used here. “Kill as many of them as you possibly can.” “Take out these bastards.” This is the hyper-macho language of some two-bit action movie, not a foreign policy strategy. It’s also evidence of the way that a supposedly “objective” press can reinforce one very narrow view of the world through its own ideological insularity.
Wouldn't one expect that a "Media Editor", and especially a "Senior Media Editor", even if only for such a non-professional outlet as The Huffington Post, would not jump to the conclusion that a reporter who asks a question of the president of the United States in a presidential news conference "was speaking for [the] press corps", much less a press corps "whose thirst for an apocalyptic confrontation with ISIS has been let loose by last Friday’s attacks in Paris"?

Back in the old days, presumably before Mirkinson was born, it would have been assumed that such a reporter, in this case, Jim Acosta, was playing Devil's Advocate. Maybe Mirkinson read somewhere about Acosta's question, instead of watching the video of it on TV, in which case I suppose maybe he can be excused thinking this -- but no, he can't. He should know better.

As far as I can tell, Mirkinson isn't used to watching TV news. In fact, after he wakes up, he first reads in on AP and Reuters, and then a few other things. But then...
For the rest of the day, Twitter is the ruler of everything. I think that’s not an uncommon thing for people in our line of work to say. It’s really trumped everything else. When I started this job almost four years ago, I wasn’t even on Twitter and I barely used it as a source. But then, gradually, it took over my entire brain. There are a lot of really annoying things about Twitter. It can have a propensity for real shallowness and attention deficit disorder, but in terms of having to cover any kind of news there’s really no substitute for the amount of information that it brings you.
As for TV?
I love Scandal like nobody’s business. ... I’m also watching Parks and Rec, I like Brooklyn Nine-Nine a lot, and I just started watching Cosmos. I went through this whole phase recently where I was watching a lot of BBC nature documentaries. And another crucial staple of my media diet is musicals, whether of the filmic or theatrical variety. I’m trying to watch less TV and watch more movies. Basically I'm trying to regain my attention span. I think sitting around all day and watching a billion tweets go by can do a real number on your ability to concentrate.
I guess his job as "Media Editor" doesn't include "News Media"? Being addicted to Twitter helps explain his lack of knowing what a TV White House correspondent is doing when he asks a question of the president, but doesn't quite explain why he blathers on about it as if he does know -- and in public.

And yeah, I understand Mirkinson isn't the only media critic to land on this trope, but I only pick on him because I assume "he speaks" for all those others who don't know what they're talking about.

By the way, here's the text of Acosta's question, at the same link as the video above:
“And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is – and if you’ll forgive the language – is why can’t we take out these bastards?”
As you can probably see from his evoking "a lot of Americans", he's emulating the language of some random "frustrated American", probably but not necessarily a conservative, who would ask that question and would likely use that exact word. I don't know if there's something Mirkinson knows about Acosta that the rest of us don't, but from the face of it, it cannot be assumed that CNN's Senior White House Correspondent is "speaking for the press corps", or even that he is speaking for himself

Yes, the president seemed annoyed with the question, which is understandable, since, firstly, he seemed very tired, and secondly, as he said, he just answered it several times, but I think Acosta was just trying to get Obama to answer it in the terms that the average Joe on the street would understand. 

Yeah, it didn't work, but at least he tried.

And to slightly change the subject, this is from Washington Post's Greg Sargent:
Ted Cruz has warned that “ISIS plans to bring these acts of terror to America,” and he has called for Muslim Syrian refugees to be barred from entering the United States. Jeb Bush has similarly said that our focus should be on Christian refugees. This drew a very sharp response today from President Obama, who decried the notion of a “religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted,” adding that “we don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
As well he should.

And before all these governors (mostly Republicans, apparently, including Nathan Deal, of my own state of Georgia) who are thinking of barring refugees from their states give their final answer, maybe they should revisit some of the darker corners of American history:
The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner most notable for a single voyage in 1939, in which her captain, Gustav Schröder, tried to find homes for 908 Jewish refugees from Germany, after they were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, until finally accepted in various European countries, which were later engulfed in World War II. 
Historians have estimated that, after their return to Europe, approximately a quarter of the ship's passengers died in death camps. The event was the subject of a 1974 book, Voyage of the Damned, by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts. It was adapted for a 1976 US film of the same title.
The ship took off from Hamburg in May 13, 1939, headed for Cuba:
The vessel under command of Captain Gustav Schröder was carrying 937 refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution. ... 
The journey to Cuba was a joyous affair. The passengers aboard the St. Louis were "treated with contempt before they boarded, but once on the ship they were treated like privileged tourists."... 
Upon the ship's arrival in Cuba, the Cuban government, headed by President Federico Laredo Brú, refused to accept the foreign refugees. Although passengers had previously purchased legal visas, they could not enter Cuba either as tourists ... or as refugees seeking political asylum. On May 5, 1939, four months before World War II began, Havana abandoned its former pragmatic immigration policy ... Permits and visas issued before May 5 were invalidated retroactively." None of the passengers were aware that the Cuban government had retroactively invalidated their landing permits.
After a few passengers who had proper papers were allowed to disembark, and after Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State, and Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury, via telephone, failed to persuade Cuban officials to change their minds about the rest, the ship headed for Florida.
Some histories recount that on June 4, 1939, Schröder believed he was being prevented from trying to land St. Louis on the Florida shore. Reports from that time were conflicting. According to the authors Rabbi Ted Falcon and David Blatner in Judaism for Dummies, when the "St Louis was turned away from Cuba ... America not only refused their entry but even fired a warning shot to keep them away from Florida's shores". Legally the refugees could not enter the US on tourist visas, as they had no return addresses. The US had passed the Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted numbers of new immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. 
Schröder said he circled off the coast of Florida after leaving Cuba, hoping for permission to enter the United States. At one point, he considered running aground along the coast to allow the refugees to escape. He was shadowed by US Coast Guard vessels that prevented such a move. US Coast Guard historians maintain the two cutters involved were not ordered to turn away St. Louis, but dispatched "out of concern for those on board". Ultimately the United States did not provide for entry of the refugees.
There were some academics and clergy in Canada who tried to persuade Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to intervene and grant sanctuary, but in the end, he refused, and Captain Schröder, seemingly out of options, returned the ship to Europe.
As the situation of the vessel deteriorated, he personally negotiated and schemed to find them a safe haven. (At one point he formulated plans to wreck the ship on the British coast to force the passengers to be taken as refugees.) He refused to return the ship to Germany until all the passengers had been given entry to some other country. US officials worked with Britain and European nations to find refuge for the travelers in Europe. The ship returned to Europe, docking at Antwerp, Belgium, on June 17, 1939 with 907 passengers. 
The United Kingdom agreed to take 288 of the passengers (31.76%), who disembarked and traveled to the UK via other steamers. After much negotiation by Schröder, the remaining 619 passengers were allowed to disembark at Antwerp; 224 were accepted by France (24.70%), 214 by Belgium (23.59%), and 181 by the Netherlands (19.96%). 
Without any passengers, the ship returned to Hamburg. The following year, after the Nazi German invasions of Belgium and France in May 1940, all the Jews in those countries were at renewed risk, including the recent refugees.
Researchers later determined that, of the 620 returned passengers, 254 died in the Holocaust.

But it's probably just as well that none of them ended up in my own state of Georgia, since for all we know, one of them might have been a Nazi.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Response to The Poison at Work

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Poison at Work)

So it seems we're now passing through Phase 2 of this story ("Bomb the shit out of them") and headed directly into Phase 3 ("Wait! We're never going to win this! Maybe we should reconsider.") 

Here's what foreign policy and military history expert, of Boston University and previously West Point, Andrew Bacevich sees:
Hollande views the tragedy that has befallen Paris as a summons to yet more war. The rest of us would do well to see it as a moment to reexamine the assumptions that have enmeshed the West in a war that it cannot win and should not perpetuate.
I'm not saying France can't bomb anybody they want to in Syria, but since they all knew this was coming for weeks ahead of time, I imagine everybody who had been there probably cleared out before the planes got there. In any event, the action of France was probably more symbolic than real, just to shut up all those who would have complained if it hadn't been done.

And it's not that I think Bacevich is wrong, it's just that I'm still confused as to what he would have us do.

So what do I think France should do instead of doubling down in a war they can't win? I think maybe they should attack and take over Belgium. Since it's right next door, it'd probably be a cake walk, and would likely do more toward stopping these attacks on Paris than dropping bombs on every single damned country in the Levant.

At least it'd buy France a little time to think about what to do that doesn't do exactly what ISIS is trying to get them to do -- which is exactly what France did -- while the rest of the world, including ISIS, tries to figure out why the hell they just invaded Belgium.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Response to Paris Burning

(See: Just Above Sunset: Paris Burning)

To bring this home to our country, I am presuming Paris will work better for the Republicans in the 2016 race than the Democrats.

I heard this morning Tom Ridge, interviewed live on CNN, essentially saying something similar (although he seems to see it as a good thing), as he also calls for "American leadership" to do over there what needs to be done, and if the White House doesn't do it, he says, someone else will.

And although I haven't heard it yet, I also expect to hear the gun crowd chime in with the "if only them Frogs had been armed" arguments. I hate to admit it, they may have a point, even though I stand by my anti-gun bona fides. Although I'm sure there are many other reasons this stuff seems to happen in France instead of here, it actually could be that potential attackers realize that a country where nobody has guns is a better target than one where you just can't be sure who's going to shoot back. At the very least, that would take some of the wind out of ISIS's sails.

But while I personally wouldn't want to make too much of that, I imagine there are plenty of conservatives here who will, and there won't be much the rest of us can do about that.

And it is amazing to me that, while yesterday morning, many of us were still laughing about the Keystone-Kop antics of the Republican candidates, in that same afternoon, a small group of zealots with guns, driving around Paris and killing a few hundred people, could change the course of political history here in the United States by somehow improving, even slightly, the chances of one obvious idiot or another from becoming our president. How this all plays out will be a real test of what we are made of.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Response to Stop Making Sense

(See: Just Above Sunset: Stop Making Sense)

Trump on Morning Joe:
“You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely and you’re going to bring the country – and, frankly, the people, because you have some excellent, wonderful people, some fantastic people that have been here for a long period of time,” Trump said.
First of all, he's channeling Sarah Palin. It's not that there are no verbs in the sentence, it only seems that way. Still, the sentence ends in the middle, as if he forgot what he started out to say, and then just stopped. (For contrast, listen to our current president, who at least speaks in complete sentences.) 

Second of all, his "you're going to do it humanely" sounds like he's a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, describing how they slaughter pigs. I'd say Trump should be more careful with how he says things, and that he should stop saying stuff like that, but I'm getting tired of repeating myself.

And regarding that Washington Post story on how panicked the Republican party has become over the possibility of a Trump or Carson nomination -- I especially like this quote:
The apprehension among some party elites goes beyond electability, according to one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the worries. 
“We’re potentially careening down this road of nominating somebody who frankly isn’t fit to be president in terms of the basic ability and temperament to do the job,” this strategist said. “It’s not just that it could be somebody Hillary could destroy electorally, but what if Hillary hits a banana peel and this person becomes president?”
So think about this headline:
GOP Drops Out of 2016 Race!
No, that's not really an actual headline from Andy Borowitz, it only sounds like something he would come up with.

By the way, I'm sure Borowitz is not looking for this campaign season to end, since he's been going gangbusters with it. Some of his recent columns:
NOVEMBER 8, 2015: Carson: Loss of Keystone Leaves U.S. with No Place to Store Grain 
NOVEMBER 10, 2015: Carson Hopes Debate Will Focus on Lost City of Atlantis 
NOVEMBER 11, 2015: Study: Average American Can Stand Four Seconds of Ted Cruz
But it's occurred to me that, assuming Mitt Romney refuses to be drafted -- and also assuming that "Banana Peel Scenario" -- the party dropping out of the 2016 elections, leaving the candidates trying to figure out how to make it on their own, might be the only way they can stop either of these two blockheads from becoming president.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Response to The Fourth One

(See: Just Above sunset: The Fourth One)

I guess the fact that all the candidates were happy with Fox Business Channel's treatment of them explains why I had almost no reaction to what happened at the debate last night. Nobody won, nobody lost; it's almost like it didn't happen at all.

As if something was missing. Which, of course, it was: Serious discussion of the economy, which is what the debate was supposed to be about. Okay, at least true facts about the economy went missing.

AP did a factcheck of the debate, and this is a sampling what they found:
CARSON: "Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases." 
THE FACTS: Actually, that usually doesn't happen. When the minimum wage was increased in 1996 and 1997, the unemployment rate fell afterward. In June 2007, when the first of three annual minimum wage increases was implemented, the unemployment rate was unchanged until the Great Recession began six months later. 
Economic research has found that when states raise their minimum wages higher than neighboring states, they don't typically fare any worse than their neighbors. It's not known, though, what would happen to jobs if the minimum wage were doubled to $15— as many fast-food workers who demonstrated before the debate were demanding. 
RUBIO: "Welders make more money than philosophers." 
THE FACTS: Not so, on average. 
Rubio is arguing that the U.S. has failed to invest in vocational training — a point also stressed by President Barack Obama's now-defunct jobs council. But Rubio is wrong to suggest that studying philosophy is a waste of money and time. 
PayScale, a firm that analyzes compensation, put the median mid-career income for philosophy majors at $81,200 in 2008, with welders making $26,002 to $63,698. And Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce said in a 2014 analysis that median incomes were $68,000 for people with an advanced degree in philosophy or religious studies. So knowing Plato and getting a college degree still pays off. 
TRUMP: The Pacific trade agreement signed by President Obama with 11 other nations "was designed for China to come in through the back door and take advantage of everyone. ... China takes advantage (of the U.S.) through currency manipulation." 
THE FACTS: The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, signed last month, does not include China and is intended to give the United States more influence in Asia as a counterweight to China's rising economic power. Obama argues that China could join later, but without having any influence on the agreement's terms. 
Regarding currency manipulation, Trump is recycling an outdated claim. He has argued that China keeps its currency undervalued by 15 percent to 40 percent, which would make its exports cheaper and more attractive overseas. Yet the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which had criticized China for keeping its currency artificially low, concluded in 2012 that China's currency by then was fully valued. The International Monetary Fund has reached the same conclusion. 
FIORINA: "Obamacare isn't really helping anybody." 
THE FACTS: President Barack Obama's health care law may or may not be good for the country on balance. But it's clearly helping many people. 
In the two years it's been in effect, the share of Americans without health insurance has declined to 9 percent, a historic low. People with pre-existing health conditions can no longer be turned away by insurers, and everyone is required to have coverage or face fines. While the coverage mandate in Obama's law remains highly unpopular, state-run high-risk health insurance pools like the one Fiorina proposes to replace the law have been tried before and failed to solve the problem. 
CRUZ: Since 2008, the economy has grown on average only 1.2 percent a year, showing "the Obama economy is a disaster." 
THE FACTS: That average is correct as far as it goes, but it masks the fact that Obama inherited a raging recession in his first year, when the economy shrank by 2.5 percent. In the five years since, the economy expanded an average of 2 percent, more than Cruz's figure but still a relatively weak recovery in historical terms. 
BUSH: "We need to raise the (banks') capital requirements. ... Dodd-Frank has actually done the opposite, totally the opposite. ... Bigger banks have more and more control over the financial assets of this country." 
THE FACTS: Actually, the Dodd-Frank legislation, passed in 2010 in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, has pushed banks to raise more capital — in other words, to obtain more of their funding from investment, rather than debt. In fact, Dodd-Frank was criticized earlier this year by the right-leaning American Action Forum for effectively forcing banks to raise more capital. 
Bush and other Republican candidates suggested that Dodd-Frank sparked bank consolidations, but the mergers actually started in 2008 under George W. Bush. During that year alone, as the market melted down, Wells Fargo took over Wachovia, JP Morgan Chase bought Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, and Bank of America acquired both Countrywide Mortgage and Merrill Lynch.
Of course, some of the counter-factual statements had nothing to do with the economy:
TRUMP: "I will tell you, I don't have to give you a website because I'm self-funding my campaign. I'm putting up my own money." 
THE FACTS: This assertion might have been true months ago but no longer is. 
Trump's latest campaign finance report, filed Oct. 15 with the Federal Election Commission, shows that of $3.9 million his campaign raised in the latest fundraising quarter just $100,000 came from Trump, and the rest from donors. It was a big change from last spring, when he loaned his campaign nearly all of the $1.9 million it received. 
CRUZ, holding out his hand and unfolding one finger at a time to punctuate his point: "Five major agencies that I would eliminate: the IRS (his thumb), the Department of Commerce (index finger), the Department of Energy (middle finger), uh, the Department of Commerce (ring finger), and HUD (pinkie)." 
THE FACTS: He flubbed his own list, naming the Commerce Department twice and leaving out one of the agencies he proposes to close, according to his website: the Education Department. 
Perry, then Texas governor, had almost precisely the same problem at a GOP primary debate in November 2011, coming up with the names of only two of the three departments he wanted to close, Commerce and Education. "Oops," he said after failing to name the third agency, Energy, a slip that haunted him for the rest of his campaign. But Cruz moved on without anyone calling him on the gaffe. 
CARSON: Discussing the presence of Russian troops in Syria, added that "the Chinese are there" as well. 
THE FACTS: China has no publicly known deployment of military forces in Syria. In recent days, some news reports have suggested that China would send a warship to Syria, but China's foreign ministry has denied that. China has used its status as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to block the U.N. from taking action on Syria, citing a commonly heard argument against violating Syrian sovereignty.
FactCheck.Org found others from the candidates:
• Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the Tax Foundation calculated that his tax plan “costs less than virtually every other plan people have put up here, and yet it produces more growth.” But the foundation said Bobby Jindal’s and Rubio’s plans both would lead to higher gross domestic product growth over a decade. 
• Cruz also repeated the years-long falsehood that there’s a “congressional exemption” from Obamacare. Members of Congress and their staffs face additional requirements than other Americans, not fewer. 
[And, according to FactCheck, "Unlike other Americans who get their insurance through their employers, members of Congress are now barred from directly doing so. ... Because of a Republican amendment added to the law, members are required to get their insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces."] 
But what makes me fear most for our country's future is not just what was said but also what was left unsaid during the debate, which were details from any of the candidates on how to grow the economy.

I was looking for this because I wanted to call them on it, since I'm sure I would have disagreed with any and all of them. Conservatives and liberals diametrically disagree on what helps and hurts an economy, with conservatives operating on the assumption that we need to cut taxes, especially but not exclusively on who they call "job creators"; reduce or eliminate regulations on businesses; balance the federal budget; but especially, cut government spending. There is never a discussion about why these things are believed; they just go without saying, which makes me wonder if the candidates are even aware of this.

What makes them buy it? Liberal economist Paul Krugman theorizes that conservatives believe in the "Confidence Fairy", which shows up to sprinkle magic pixie dust all over the economy whenever she sees taxes and spending are cut until it hurts poor people, at which point, the economy thinks happy thoughts, then takes off and soars through the skies. Krugman sees no other explanation.

He also talks about a conservative fear of "Bond Vigilantes" -- gremlin-like speculators in the woodwork, eyeing our budget deficits, waiting for a good time to come out and drive up rates and inflation. It's a worry that's gone around conservative circles for years, but has yet to materialize. Another Republican boogeyman: Our $20-trillion debt, over 100% of GDP that, for some reason, shouldn't be good for us, yet they can't seem to articulate why, even as Japan's debt has been over 200% for years, and yet the Japanese seem to be doing fine.

Not only do Democrats believe the opposite of all of those things, especially during hard economic times, but you will occasionally hear them say so. In fact, if you follow the blogs of economists, you hear these concepts debated back and forth all the time. Especially nowadays, the arguments have been over the comparative results from "austerity" policies (drastic reductions in government spending) in some countries, versus other countries that don't believe in stuff like that.

Still, none of this expert knowledge seems to make it into political debates, especially debates between Republicans, since those people tend not to believe in expertise.

In fact, here's a transcript of last night's two-hour main debate. Go ahead, do a "Find" to see how many instances you can find of the word "austerity". Go ahead! I promise, it won't take you long.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Response to The Reviews Are In

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Reviews Are In)

I didn't see the show and hadn't read any reviews, but just this morning, my wife and I heard CBS's morning show do a story on Donald Trump hosting SNL, and I mentioned that he didn't seem funny at all in the clips the news shows have been using, except maybe for that Oval Office skit about the Mexican president delivering the check for the wall, and my wife said it's probably because Trump totally lacks a sense of humor.

I suspect that's part of it, but I also think whoever it was (Hank Stuever in the Washington Post, apparently) who said this "was a reminder of what SNL is really for – to make fun of people running for president, not to buddy up to them", hit the nail on the head. And it's not that Trump is incapable of making people laugh, but that only seems to happen when it's not what he's trying to do, only when people are laughing at him, not with him. No SNL skit will ever measure up to the quality of that laughter, maybe because it's hard to parody someone we are already laughing at, especially someone we don't like -- and despite polls showing that about one-fourth of Republicans think otherwise, most of us do not like Donald Trump.

There's this "old saw" from way back that famous people are actually flattered when impersonators mimic them, supposedly proving that they have a capacity to "laugh at themselves", which I always suspected was mostly pig poop. Still, it was one thing for Barbara Wawa to play along when someone ridiculed her alleged speech impediment, and quite another for Sarah Palin to laugh when someone lampoons her claims of having foreign policy experience because she "can see Russia from [her] house". Tina Fey's sendup of Sarah Palin in 2008 was excellent, and yes, it was even wonderful seeing the two of them, at one point, side-by-side on stage, but that magic moment was bought at the expense of the show's independent brand, and even let some of the air out of the balloon.

The problem is, Sarah Palin's foreign policy claims were dangerous, and were worthy of ruthless mockery, which is something best done without her being there, lest someone think the issue of her being an ignoramus was not important enough to deserve all the attention it was getting in the news. The fact that Palin was in on the skit almost killed the joke, and especially so later, once it became apparent that she didn't seem to be laughing along.

It's much the same with Trump, a man whose bizarre policies, once he's been accepted to host this show, seem to lose their menace, and in fact are made to seem not at all out of the ordinary. Especially now that Jon Stewart is off the air, America needs a vehicle where mockery can be used to expose political outrageousness to public inspection, all of which is more effective when done behind the target's back.

But the worst thing about this is, Trump seems to be using his embarrassing appearance to his political advantage, bragging about the show's ratings, even though the good ratings were only the result of all that advance hype of the show, not his actual performance, which, according to all the evidence, was a humongous flop.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Response to Trusting the Doctor

(See: Just Above Sunset: Trusting the Doctor)

Ben Carson didn't really make up that whole thing about being offered a full-scholarship to West Point, he just elaborated on something, and did it in a way that's fine for just chatting with your friends, but not in a way that you would want to include on your resume. I'd give him a pass if it were the former, except that, at this point, he's no longer just chit-chatting, he's applying for the most important job in America, and he's lying on his resume.

But if you're sitting in a job interview and someone mentions that they've looked and looked but can't find any record of any of this West Point stuff you listed, you'd best not get nit-picky with them, such as Carson did in this snippy little back-and-forth as reported in the conservative Washington Examiner:
“Politico, as you know, told a bald-faced lie,” Carson said. “I never said I received a full scholarship. Nowhere did I say that.” 
A member of the media interjected: “You just told me you got scholarship offer.” 
“I never said I got a scholarship,” Carson replied, making a distinction between “scholarship” and “scholarship offer.”
Although Politico corrected its original story to clarify that Carson only said he got a "scholarship offer" to West Point, the fact is, he never got one of those either.

And about those pyramids, here's an article from Science Alert entitled "Here's how scientists know the pyramids were built to store pharaohs, not grain":
Pyramids aren't hollow: They're incredibly solid and usually only contain a few claustrophobic chambers, connected by long, sloping pathways and concealed entrances, in order to confuse potential tomb raiders. Not a very efficient place to store grain.
And also that:
Ancient Egyptians actually had granaries: And they've been studied by archaeologists. "These were normally dome-shaped buildings open at the top, which stood near houses and government buildings," said [archaeologist Deborah] Sweeney.
Should all of this stuff disqualify Carson from the presidency? Not necessarily.

I remember back when I was publishing my newsletter, "TV News Journal", one big issue was whether the media had a responsibility to report on all those suspicions that Senator Gary Hart, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, engaged in extramarital affairs. I polled subscribers on the issue, and found the majority of the respondents, all journalists, said the private sex lives of the candidates are none of the public's business. I'm guessing they were living in the world where reporters protected presidents -- never publishing anything about FDR's polio or even JFK's dalliances. I went in the other direction, arguing that our job, as journalists, is to provide information to voters on matters they think important, not what we news-types think is worthy of their attention. 

So once again, should all of Carson's weird stuff about pyramids and West Point and over-reliance on the Bible and trying to make himself look like a badass when he was young and all the rest, keep him from getting that White House job?

Unfortunately, I'm sure there are plenty of people on the "search committee" who will take a chance on him, in spite of all his obvious fruitcakiness, but I will not. Even if it were an absolute necessity that our president be a fruitcake, I'm sure there are probably better candidates than this one to pick from.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Response to Improbable Ben

(See: Just Above Sunset: Improbable Ben)

I am convinced that at least one of the reasons Ben Carson is doing so well in the polls is that he is locking onto that particular segment of the "outsider" electorate that don't like their politicians going negative. It cannot be said of Donald Trump -- until recently, way ahead in the polls -- that he doesn't go negative, and maybe because of that, I suspect there's a good possibility that Carson's supporters see Trump as just another typical politician, as much as he pretends not to be.

For a little bit of historical context on how well that campaign strategy works, here's a little clip of a discussion between then-ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper and then front-running Republican candidate Newt Gingrich, posted back on the first of December of 2011, a full eleven months before election day:
TAPPER: “How do you respond to Republicans who say if you don’t draw distinctions with Mitt Romney and others who are attacking you, if you don’t point out their perceived vulnerabilities, Barack Obama and the Democrats sure aren’t going to share that same reluctance and you are doing Obama a favor by staying positive?” 
GINGRICH: “They are not going to be the nominee. I don’t have to go around and point out the inconsistencies of people who are not going to be the nominee. They are not going to be the nominee.” 
TAPPER: “You are going to be the nominee?” 
GINGRICH: “I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee. 
And by the way I don’t object if people want to attack me, that’s their right. All I’m suggesting that it’s not going to be very effective and that people are going to get sick of it very fast. And the guys who attacked each other in the debates up to now, every single one of them have lost ground by attacking. So they should do what they and their consultants want to do. I will focus on being substantive and I will focus on Barack Obama.”
Why was he so confident he was going to win?

Maybe because, in the week that interview took place, Gingrich's Gallup numbers had climbed, in one short month, from his 13% to Romney's 22%, up to a whopping lead of 37% over Romney's 22%.

Sure, at one point or another, seemingly every Republican candidate back then got their 15-minute turn in the front-runner spot:
Eleven different people were at the top of a poll at one time or the other; these were (in chronological order of earliest poll lead): Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum.
But the difference, of course, between Gingrich and all those others was that they weren't going to be the nominee.

Okay, wait. Let me recheck that.

Okay, it turns out that, by the end of December, the very same month of that Tapper interview, Gallup released another poll with the sub-head reading, "Gingrich down 14 points since early December; Romney up 5 points", making Romney the new leader at 27%, putting Gingrich at 23%. 

Oh, well.

I suppose we'd all be better off if we just halted all this useless handicapping of these races, and just waited until afterwards to see how it all comes out in the end.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Response to No Forced Collisions

(See: Just Above Sunset: No Forced Collisions)

On the question of who triumphed in last week's CNBC debate, everyone seemed to agree at first that the candidates won and the media lost, but after a week, there seems to be a new consensus. It was as if the inmates had briefly taken over the asylum, but eventually came to their senses once they realized they couldn't run the place by themselves.

The whole idea of all these candidates, getting together in an OPEC-type cabal and thinking they could dictate what the news coverage of them will be, reminds me of my time in college back in the 1960s, when a bunch of us were able to persuade the school to let us create our own seminar (on the works of Mark Twain, as I remember), also selecting our own teacher, but also declaring that each student would be granted an automatic A for the course! (Hey, this was the 60s and schools felt free to experiment!) As it turned out, our professor was not that impressed with the quality of work he got out of us, so the school never tried that again.

Who should control presidential debates has been a constant battle between obviously-subjective candidates and objective outsiders goes back to early in the history of debates, which traditionally played out not so much in the primaries as in the general elections.

In 1980, the two major parties decided to take control of the debate process for the purpose of excluding any third-party candidates -- specifically, after Democrat Jimmy Carter, in his reelection bid against Republican Ronald Reagan, refusing to share a stage with independent candidate John Anderson. CNN, in its first year of broadcasting, came to Anderson's aid by inserting him into the live debate from a stage in Washington, DC. Most Americans never knew this even happened, due to the fact that CNN was arguably being seen by only hundreds of viewers back then; I only remember this unmemorable occasion because I worked on that event.

For a while, it was assumed by all concerned that the involvement of a respected outside organization was required, just to give the operation a little much-needed credibility:
The role was filled by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters (LWV) civic organization in 1976, 1980 and 1984. In 1987, the LWV withdrew from debate sponsorship, in protest of the major party candidates attempting to dictate nearly every aspect of how the debates were conducted.
The League formally voted to drop out in October of 1988, and put out a pretty harsh press release on this, blasting both parties:
"The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter," League President Nancy M. Neuman said today. 
"It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions," Neuman said. "The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public." 
Neuman said that the campaigns presented the League with their debate agreement on September 28, two weeks before the scheduled debate. The campaigns' agreement was negotiated "behind closed doors" and vas presented to the League as "a done deal," she said, its 16 pages of conditions not subject to negotiation. 
Most objectionable to the League, Neuman said, were conditions in the agreement that gave the campaigns unprecedented control over the proceedings. Neuman called "outrageous" the campaigns' demands that they control the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues. ... 
Neuman issued a final challenge to both Vice President Bush and Governor Dukakis to "rise above your handlers and agree to join us in presenting the fair and full discussion the American public expects of a League of Women Voters debate."
Needless to say, neither candidate rose to that challenge, and the rest is history.

The format battles continued over who could decide who would ask questions and what questions could be asked, with the major TV and cable news networks taking over from the League of Women Voters, and there were times that the parties privately threatened to broadcast the things themselves (and also thought of taking the nominating conventions away from the networks) -- until they realized that, while they were busy offering up their programing to anyone who wanted it, chances are viewers would instead be watching network sitcoms and such.

They not only needed someone else to put the events into living rooms, they needed someone else to pay for the expensive production.

Speaking of which, while Donald Trump is suggesting that the networks make so much money off these debates, he's pushing the idea that the networks donate all this money to veteran's groups. But in fact, if these debates ever turn into party- or candidate-controlled pseudo-news events, with all the power of choosing moderators and questions and whatnot put into the hands of the "newsmakers" instead of the "news organizations", then the networks could consider charging the parties for the airtime, maybe just to cover production costs! After all, why should the networks, up to now but no longer in the business of covering actual "news", give away free advertising time to political parties? 

And a nice bi-product of that idea is that the programs could then forego commercial breaks!

You would think the most damning thing the Republicans did to themselves in this last debate was expose to voters the possibility that none of them were capable of answering tough questions -- even from right-of-center outlets like Fox News and CNBC! -- the possibility of which was ruthlessly ridiculed by the President himself (remember him?), having great fun at a Monday fundraiser:
"Have you noticed that every one of these candidates say, 'Obama's weak. Putin's kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin, he's going to straighten out,'" Obama said ... 
"Then it turns out they can't handle a bunch of CNBC moderators at the debate. Let me tell you, if you can't handle those guys, then I don't think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you," Obama said.
It was pretty funny, especially those little touches left out of the above transcript. If you haven't seen it, you need to check out the video. It's hard to imagine any of the present Republican candidates -- or even the Democratic ones, for that matter -- ever being able to deliver that level of sendup.

And even if he doesn't necessarily have a new career in standup awaiting him, you've got to admit, Obama has skills and that he will be missed.