Sunday, January 31, 2016

Response to Missing Quite a Lot

(See: Just Above Sunset: Missing Quite a Lot)

If you, as I do, are tempted to ask how it is that all these newbie candidates keep bringing up that bit about our military forces having shrunk since 1916 -- the same thing that Romney kept bringing up back in 2012, and which Obama finally got a chance to answer, face-to-face ...
“You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” Obama said during the final presidential debate. “We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
... it's probably because all these current Republicans have, so far, been discussing all this stuff among themselves, where there's been nobody in the discussion with the incentive to set the record straight. That should change, of course, once some Democrat gets on the stage.

It's worth remembering, by the way, that falsely claiming the current administration is not keeping us safe is an old trick in presidential elections, and not always used just by Republicans:
The missile gap was the Cold War term used in the US for the perceived superiority of the number and power of the USSR's missiles in comparison with its own. This gap in the ballistic missile arsenals only existed in exaggerated estimates made by the Gaither Committee in 1957 and in United States Air Force (USAF) figures. ... Like the bomber gap of only a few years earlier, it was soon demonstrated that the gap was entirely fictional. 
John F. Kennedy is credited with inventing the term in 1958 as part of the ongoing election campaign, in which a primary plank of his rhetoric was that the Eisenhower administration was weak on defense. It was later learned that Kennedy was apprised of the actual situation during the campaign, which has led scholars to question what the (future) president knew and when he knew it. There has been some speculation that he was aware of the illusory nature of the missile gap from the start, and was using it solely as a political tool, an example of policy by press release.
But, of course, all this ill-informed Republican tough-talk on who we would be "bombing the shit out of", and how, if they were president -- a question that is being totally ignored on the Democratic side -- helps highlight the main difference in what the candidates on each side are looking to convey to voters. In general terms, the Republicans are trying to impress "toughness", while the Democrats are focussing on "smartness". It's "I-may-not-be-smart-but-I'm-tough" versus "I-may-not-be-tough-but-I'm-smart".

But it's actually more than that. While one's intelligence (assuming one has it) can be directly demonstrated in a campaign setting, toughness can only be hinted at.

Therefore, Republicans must constantly demonstrate their dominance over somebody -- especially their opponents, but not necessarily just opponents -- with symbolic gestures, such as humiliating their fellow candidates on Twitter, while Democrats ask voters to support them because, if elected, they will govern with the same intelligence they've been demonstrating throughout the campaign. It's all form versus function, in the sense that you can only promise you'll do something mean to our "enemies" if you win, or else you can come up with some good ideas on solving problems peacefully, and you can do that now.

But if they can't literally do more than promise someday to kick some foreign ass, they can still pretend to be beating up on Hillary back home, in the here and now.

As for her famous emails, I erupt every time I hear some candidate offhandedly mention that Hillary will probably be "indicted" any day now for something or other, without saying what or how or why.

First of all, to repeat what Fred Kaplan told us in Slate, since it's worth repeating:
Mishandling of classified information is a misdemeanor, which could turn out to be a problem for her; but even the sources of leaks about these incidents have acknowledged that she’s not the target of a criminal probe and that the lapse had no national-security impact.
A misdemeanor? All this scary FBI talk is about a possible misdemeanor?

It's also become known -- no small feat in itself, since nobody in the know is supposed to talk about this stuff, I guess even in private -- that what's being called "classified" was classified after the fact, and apparently might concern something so trivial as a casual mention of some newspaper article that mentions the drone program -- which nobody is supposed to know about, in spite of the fact that everybody, including you, does know about it.

And it should also be clear by now, including to all those disingenuous Republican candidates who pretend they don't know this, that all this talk about a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton is simply hogwash.

Just for fun, someone needs to ask Chris Christie, or any of the other surviving Republican candidates who have been pushing this email fantasy, if they are aware of the United States having a drone program.

And if they say yes, they should be immediately arrested for disclosing classified information, just like Hillary Clinton did.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Response to Dying in Iowa

Q: "Is this Hell?" 
A: "No, it's Iowa."
Although the tragedy occurring in that state right now may actually be no laughing matter, it's hard not to relate when you notice that every reporter and pundit of every stripe in Des Moines that showed up on TV last night seemed to be smiling, sort of as I've always imagined many passengers on the sinking Titanic did once they concluded there was nothing more that could be done to stop it from happening.

I decided to watch the debate anyway last night, despite how boring it was bound to be, but found myself pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was boring, and predictably stupid, but not nearly as annoying as it would have been had Donald Trump been there -- not just because of the things he always says but more because of that constant mugging and gesturing when the other contestants are talking, which the camera just can't seem to ignore.

I was left with the feeling that, because Trump always seems to dumb down any room he's in, the tone was a smidge higher last night. Still, yes, the candidates' pre-rehearsed bits did seem to grate that much more without Trump there to break up their rhythm. I'm pretty sure that somewhere in the country, someone was playing a drinking game over that crescendoed phrase, "And when I become president..." (Hey, guys, you can't all become president -- and in fact, it is my sincere hope that none of you do.)

Did his not being there help him or hurt him?

I have to confess, it's impossible for me to say, since knowing that also requires knowing the nature of whatever nonsense it is that's rattling around in the skulls of those who are seriously considering voting for him. But I'm pretty sure those who had been supporting him before last night were probably impressed with his doing that, especially since if they had any inclination to suspect that his shenanigans are cheapening the whole idea of our maintaining America as a self-governing democracy, they probably wouldn't have been backing him all along.

Speaking of shenanigans, now and then, we did switch over to CNN, which was not carrying what could only be called "The Trump Event" gavel-to-gavel, so to speak, but covered it much as they cover political conventions -- that is, jumping in and out at will, sometimes staying on Donald at the podium, but often splitting the screen, with the "event" in one box and a guest being interviewed in another. But oddly enough, even with the network's attempt at breaking up the monotony of the show, it was even more boring than the real thing across town.

But we did stay long enough to notice the predictable nature of it all. For awhile, I thought it would be like a Jerry Lewis Telethon, but without all the jugglers and the crocodile tears at the end.

In fact, the idea of the Trump campaign promoting this as a charity event, not a political event, reminded me of the campus animal house taking time off to remind people that, in addition to hosting drunken toga parties, they also support two starving children overseas somewhere.

And the prediction that they would collect maybe $5-million, "maybe even more" (they ended up announcing they took in $6-million) was diminished by the suspicion that the whole thing was a hoax, with all those big donors -- including $1-million from Donald himself -- having ponied up before anyone took to the stage. But if you think $6-million is a whopping amount, remember that Trump himself has talked of getting his first start in business with what he referred to, without irony, as a "small loan" of $1-million from his father.

To top it off, there seemed to be an ongoing controversy as to who would be the recipient of the donations. Last I heard, none of the regular veteran groups would have anything to do with this. But I guess that's totally beside the point.

And the scariest thing about all of this shady business was that the thug behind it still seems to maintain enough support to be the frontrunner in Iowa, maybe headed for a win there and in New Hampshire, and maybe beyond.

But yes, in spite of the fact that it becomes increasingly obvious that our ship of state is in peril, it's hard not to look at all these Damon Runyonesque goings-on and laugh, having concluded that there is nothing more that can be done to stop this from happening.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Response to Trumping the Press

(See: Just Above Sunset: Trumping the Press)

I don't get it! As far as I can tell, nobody anywhere, in any media, has used what, to me, should be the obvious headline:
"Donald Ducks Debate"
(Believe it or not, they used to pay me to write captions like that back when I worked for AP Photos in New York. No, come to think of it, that one they would have thrown back at me.)

Is this about Megyn Kelly, or about Trump finding a way to capture headlines just before Iowa? The answer is yes, but I think there's even something more than that.

I remember years ago, when Chris Christy first started being talked of as a possible GOP candidate for president, I thought he would be a major contender when the time came, simply because he's a tough guy and a bully. Forget low taxes and small government and abortion, if you boiled the typical conservative down to his essence, you'd be left with someone who values shows of strength over anything else.

Christy's real downfall came in hugging Obama. Bridgegate? Okay, but only because he came off looking like he lost that fight, and the hard-core conservatives who are powering the campaign these days will write you off if you (a) hug Obama and (b) if you come off looking like a loser in a fight.

[Insert Donald Trump here.]

Is Trump a conservative or not? Here's Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic last summer:
In public statements, he has advocated government healthcare, a woman’s right to an abortion, an assault weapons ban, and paying off the national debt by forcing rich people to forfeit 14.25 percent of their total wealth. When the man married his third wife, he invited Bill and Hillary Clinton to the wedding, and he has given many thousands to their political campaigns and their foundation. He’s donated many thousands more that helped elect Democrats to the Senate and the House. And George W. Bush was “maybe the worst president in the history of this country,” the man said in 2008. “He was so incompetent, so bad, so evil.” 
On paper, this is not someone you’d expect to excel in the 2016 Republican Party primary. But Donald Trump is excelling.
Why? Because he represents the logical extension of all that is conservative in America. He's a bully. He likes to push people around. He's noticed that being tough is the sort of thing that impresses his largely low-education followers. The nastier he gets, the higher his numbers go.

In 1651, when Charles II was in exile in France, Thomas Hobbes published The Leviathan – life is mean, nasty, brutish and short, and that means we need a strong central government run by a king with near-absolute power...
Except for "and short", that's a good description of Trump -- mean, nasty, and brutish.

Trump wants to show off his strength and bargaining abilities, which, in the case of the upcoming debate, means, first of all, negotiating a better deal with Fox News, either by having them fire Megyn Kelly, or at least have her removed as a moderator. He knows he's got them over a barrel, since their ratings will soar if he shows up, and will drop if he doesn't.

So Fox News' boss, Roger Ailes, doesn't back down? Okay, he'll punish Ailes by, instead, staging some other event Thursday night, to raise money for "veterans and wounded warriors" -- which, I guess, is even cleverer than raising money for, say, widows and orphans, or maybe the Kitten and Puppy Rescue Fund. The rubes at his rallies will buy this, the pundits will call it brilliant, but count me among those who scoff at its baldfaced cynicism, just another sign that American politics has come to resemble Buffalo Bill's Cowboys and Indians Traveling Circus.

I found myself yesterday, while watching the news, saying to my wife something I hardly ever hear myself saying: "Boy, I hope Fox News doesn't back down or give in!" But then she reminded me that "there's no chance that Roger Ailes will back down!"

And of course, because we both worked for him back in the 1970s -- at TVN, a news syndicator owned by conservative brewer Joe Coors, who founded the company about when Nixon resigned because, I've always contended, he wanted to get the idea of a Ronald Reagan candidacy into the public consciousness -- we knew she was right.

One of my personal memories of Roger was showing up for work one afternoon, just after some broadcast union had declared a strike on TVN, to see a crowd of employees standing in a circle around him as he was pacing back and forth, shouting obscenities into a phone outside his office.

Someone told me he was on with President Ford's press secretary, Ron Nessen, who had been trying to persuade Roger to withdraw his scab camera crew from a Ford event, since none of the other networks would film it with us there. Paraphrasing here, I heard Roger loudly tell Nessen to grow some fucking balls and tell the other fucking networks that if they don't want to cover the fucking event, that's their fucking choice, but our crew is there to cover the fucking news, and we're not leaving.

Incidentally, Roger won.

The fact is, Roger Ailes is not only a conservative, he's of the tough-guy school of conservatism, as is Donald Trump. They both enjoy confrontation, and neither likes to be pushed around. I suppose it's not that much of a risk Trump is taking in this showdown, although I remain convinced that one of these days, his star will yet fall out of the sky, and just maybe enough Iowans will notice that The Donald Ducked Out of the Debate, and will think less of him for it.

And as much as I, as a liberal Democrat, have my problems with Roger Ailes and Fox News, I really want him, and them, to win this one.

I know this is too much to hope for, but wouldn't it be nice if there were such a thing as a reverse boycott of the debate -- that is, people who would otherwise not watch it, instead tune in, just to boost the ratings?

And for gods' sake, do not tune in to whatever the Donald has decided will be more worthwhile for voters to be watching tomorrow night.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Response to Should Have Seen This Coming

(See: Just Above Sunset: Should Have Seen This Coming)

It occurs to me, now that we're seeing a return to the old days -- the return of Sarah Palin, which in turn prompted the reappearance of not only Tina Fey, but Palin's exasperated 2008 handler, Nicolle Wallace -- maybe what this campaign really needs right now is the return of CBS's Katie Couric!

Not that Palin had not already been exposed as comically useless to her campaign by September of 2008, which is when she sat down to talk with Couric, but those TV interviews really zeroed in on whatever would have to pass for her aptitude for running the most powerful nation on earth:

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign-policy experience. What did you mean by that? 
PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land—boundary that we have with—Canada. It, it's funny that a comment like that was—kind of made to cari—I don't know. You know. Reporters— 
COURIC: Mocked? 
PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah. 
COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials. 
PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our — our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia — 
COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians? 
PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We — we do — it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.

Really brings you back, doesn't it? Reminds us of those halcyon days when having a handle on foreign policy, and an ability to communicate it, was not just a plus for a candidate but a prerequisite for being elected.

That's all gone now. As Obama pal David Axelrod tells us, the pendulum seems to swing with every new president:

For those who found President Bush wanting, Senator Obama was the most obvious remedy. ... So who among the Republicans is more the antithesis of Mr. Obama than the trash-talking, authoritarian, give-no-quarter Mr. Trump?

But what Axelrod misses here is "smart" versus "not-so-much."

To me, Barack Obama's main appeal was always his being the smartest person in the room, and that included candidate Hillary Clinton, who not only had voted for Iraq but vowed not to talk with, much less negotiate with, Iran. Obama, like Hillary's Bill, could -- and often did -- eloquently expound on just about any issue facing the country, on the drop of a hat.

Yes, Hillary wouldn't be too shabby at that, and to a certain extent, John McCain was at least in the ballpark, but doing that sort of thing was never in Sarah Palin's wheelhouse.

Now picture Donald Trump, sitting down to an interview with either Katie Couric, or maybe even Charlie Gibson of ABC, who got to interview Palin earlier in that same month, before Katie did:

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine? 
PALIN: In what respect, Charlie? 
GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be? 
PALIN: His world view. 
GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war. ... The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that? 
PALIN: I agree that a president's job, when they swear in their oath to uphold our Constitution, their top priority is to defend the United States of America. 
I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people. 
GIBSON: Do we have a right to anticipatory self-defense? Do we have a right to make a preemptive strike again another country if we feel that country might strike us? 
PALIN: Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend. 
GIBSON: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government? 
PALIN: Now, as for our right to invade, we're going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new, also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be, a military strike, a last option. 
GIBSON: But, Governor, I'm asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government? 
PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target. 
GIBSON: And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes?

I imagine Trump would have handled Gibson better than Palin did, but not by showing a better familiarity with foreign policy issues, such as the Bush Doctrine, but by being better at bullshitting his way out of not knowing it.

I'm sure Trump knows about as much as Palin about foreign policy, but he'd just be more more adept at convincing voters that what he knows or doesn't know about anything isn't very important: "Charlie, take my word for it, when the time comes, I can hire people -- and I mean incredibly smart people! -- smart people who know about all that stuff."

(Yes, but doesn't he have to be smart enough to hire smart advisers? Does he even know enough to know when to go against their advice? And by the way, does he have any foreign policy experts on his campaign?)

After all, there's this

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” Trump said, according to video from NBC News.

Except for the guy you shot, maybe, and maybe his loved ones? I mean, nowadays, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting some stupid Trump voter.

But I agree with him! I myself wrote roughly the same thing sometime last year, that Donald Trump being seen live on one of the morning TV shows, having sex with a toddler, would send his Iowa polls numbers even higher.

But just because having high poll numbers seems to be the most important thing to some random candidate doesn't mean he's the best man for the job.

“It’s, like, incredible. ... I have the most loyal people,” he said after citing his wide lead in the polls.

Of course you do! That's because you've picked stupid people as your target market, Donald, and stupid people are the most loyal people you can find because they don't listen to reason. After all, they're not backing you because you're smarter than Obama (or Jeb or Hillary or Bernie); in fact, they're backing you because you're not!

But this 2016 election really illustrates that we, as a nation, need to revisit the way we choose our leaders. In fact, I think that, assuming we come out of this year in one piece, we should consider a literacy test for presidential (and also vice-presidential) primary candidates.

It could be a test devised by a panel of experts from various fields -- including World and American History, Economics, Government, Science, and maybe even some Math of some kind. It should, I think, be broadcast live some night, just like a debate, with all the candidates taking the test simultaneously.

And no, the one with the highest grade does not automatically get the nomination -- those who pass the test still have to be voted on -- but there should be a rule that anyone who fails the test (that is, makes less than a "C") be disqualified from the race.

Bad idea?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Response to Unbearable Whiteness

“Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. 
It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race. Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.” 
Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, P.S.: Simply put, white people, come get your boy.”
Not a chance, Kamau.

First of all, I am not one of those people who thinks black people should "take care of their own." If you feel like telling Ben Carson he's wrong for thinking a Muslim shouldn't be president or whatever, be my guest. But please don't do it because he's "embarrassing Black people." I feel qualified to tell Carson the same thing, and I don't care if he's disgracing his race or not. His race is just fine. It's not his race that's saying something stupid, it's him.

Yes, yes, I know! White people have always told black people they should speak up when other black people misbehave. First of all, white people shouldn't tell you that, and second of all, you shouldn't listen to them.

Furthermore, even if none of that were true, Donald Trump's major transgressions are so wide-ranging, they are hardly confined to racism, particularly not just anti-black racism. And while so many of us white people may always be saying not everything is about race, and so many black people reply that "everything is about race", you have to understand that this may be true if you are part of minority, particularly one that has suffered historical persecution, it's not to those of us in the majority. You're probably much more aware of Donald Trump being white than I am. In truth, the fact hardly ever occurs to me.

While it can easily be argued that Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes are "famous black people", Donald Trump is not a famous white person. Yes, technically, he's famous and white and even a person, but unless you're a person of "non-whiteness", it's hard to see "whiteness" as being one of Donald Trump's distinguishing features. So no, my own whiteness notwithstanding, I can't be held responsible for Donald Trump -- even if I could control him, which I can't.

So here's the deal:

I will not be holding you responsible for everyone of your whole race, so please don't hold me responsible for mine.