Saturday, June 25, 2016

Response to Building Jerusalem

A tad off today's topic of discussion, but there is this misconception still worth straightening out.

First, read this, from a New York Times article by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, then meet me on the other side:
And while Britain decided to leave the European Union through a popular vote, the White House race will be determined by the Electoral College, which is tilted toward the Democrats. 
Some large states with significant nonwhite populations have been out of reach for Republican candidates for much of the last three decades; California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have voted for every Democratic nominee since 1992. Mr. Obama also won Florida twice and Mrs. Clinton has a lead there now in part because Mr. Trump is unpopular with Hispanics. 
Together those six states offer 166 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
What?!? Did they just say that the Electoral College is "tilted toward the Democrats"?

Okay, no, I don't think that's what they meant to say. I think they were just reiterating, as most people seem to believe about the 2016 elections, the Electoral College seems to be tilted toward the Democrats this time around. (And not that it guarantees anything, but that's probably true.)

Still, you'd be forgiven for assuming our electoral system might give some advantage to one party or the other, given its deliberate imbalance due to being based on combining (a) the total number of House members, which varies by population from state to state, with (b) the total number of Senators, of which each state gets no more than two -- with the result being that low-population states end up having slightly greater representation, proportionally speaking, in the Electoral College.

But if you look closely at elections back through our history, as 538's Harry Enten did in 2014, we find that "The Electoral College advantage has swung back and forth":
I found this out by gathering presidential election data since 1900. For each year, I looked at the margin between the major parties in each state, compared it with the national margin, and calculated how many electoral votes were more Democratic or Republican than the nation as a whole. 
During the first half of the 20th century, Republicans benefited greatly from the Electoral College. They could have lost the national popular vote and won the electoral college in 12 of the 13 elections from 1900 to 1948. On average, they could have lost by 2.2 percentage points nationally and emerged victorious. ... 
Since 1952, the Electoral College picture has changed. Beginning in that year, Republicans began making inroads into the South. Democratic votes became more dispersed, and the Republican advantage in the Electoral College waned. 
Today, the South is solidly red, but Democrats still win over 35 percent of the vote there. That’s a far cry from pre-1952, when Republican candidates sometimes didn’t break 10 percent of the vote.
So if electors aren't putting the thumb on the scale for one party over another, then who is getting the benefit of the imbalance?

The answer, I think, is that since those voters who reside in the states with the least population seem, by design, to carry more weight than those in more populous states, then the system tends to slightly favor the kind of people who prefer living in smaller groups, in the somewhat isolated back of beyond, away from the energy that comes mostly from existing in the middle of the noisy mix of cultures and foods that are the crossroads of the world.

To me, at least, that sounds like the imbalance would tend, all else being equal, to favor conservatives and Republicans, but since all else is seldom equal, the matter is mostly moot.

By the way, the most common benefit of having an Electoral College system I ever hear mentioned is that it supposedly "protects the smaller states", which I take to mean those states with smaller populations -- which is total nonsense. The Electoral College neither helps nor hurts states, large or small; it merely gives states, rather than citizens, the power to pick chief executives.

It's worth noting, as I read somewhere, that the two guys who called together our original "Constitution project" -- James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution", and George Washington, the "Father of the Country" -- were both a tiny bit disappointed with the result, at least when it came to questions of the balance of power between the states and the people. Washington especially, who knew what it was like to wage a war while reporting to thirteen sovereign bosses, was hoping for a strong central government that took most its marching orders from the people themselves, not their states.

But both knew from the beginning that in order to sell the new constitutional republic as a "more perfect union" than the old confederation of states, they had to hedge on the question of how much sovereignty would be vested in the people and how much in the states, and were reportedly irked that the balance of power ended up tipping too much in favor of the former rather than the latter.

In fact, even beyond the stupid convoluted mechanism that had to be invented to make this Electoral system happen, selecting our president should have nothing to do with the states, which already exercise their "federal" power through the Senate and House of Representatives, but should instead be in the jurisdiction of the nation's citizens, through the principle of "one voter, one vote", and without the system's fat thumb on the scale to allow the occasional nonsensical circumstance of a candidate getting the fewest votes, yet still getting the job.

If we ever find a way of making this happen, then we will no longer just arguably be a democracy, in theory, but we will finally be one in fact.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Response to The Rationale Evaporates

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Rationale Evaporates)

On an afternoon centuries ago, sitting in my 10th floor apartment on Manhattan's West 76th Street, I hear a knock on my door from my downstairs neighbor, offering me a steal of a deal. Literally.

I can't remember his name, but I do remember he was a very nice guy, someone always with a recommendation of books I should read (he put me onto "Rosemary's Baby" and "Time and Again", both of which I really liked.) On this day, he said he met someone selling very expensive color TVs for under $100 apiece, and he was knocking on doors, persuading his fellow neighbors in the building to join him on the deal.

I asked him why they were so cheap, and he said, with a wink, "Let's just say they 'fell off some truck.'" (If you've not heard this phrase, it's New Yorkese for "stolen property".)

I said I would not be in on the deal; he asked why; I said you're just encouraging thieves to steal TVs, and what if it had been your TV they stole; he said, "But it wasn't!" I said nothing good would come of dealing with thieves. He smiled and said I'd be sorry as he moved on to the next door. Many others in the building, being more "pragmatic" than I, were less shy about taking advantage of a good deal, and handed over their cash.

Of course, on the designated day, nobody showed up to deliver the TVs. My friend had to pay off the other residents, dimes on the dollar, from his own pocket, with all the money he had. The next month, penniless, he moved out.

I think back on this every time I hear Donald Trump say, yeah, he had his suits and ties made overseas, and bought lots of politicians, and paid no taxes some years, and admitted he didn't pay small vendors for the work they did, because he was a businessman, doing what businessmen have to do to make lots of money, but promised if we elected him president, he'd put all his wheeling-dealing skills to work for us, the American people!

Here's another tip-off:

Have you ever seen those late-night commercials with slick-looking guys with way too much enthusiasm, trying to get you to give them money to tell you their "secret" to making millions in real estate? You think it's a coincidence that they're always posing with a beautiful girl on each arm, standing next to a private jet?

These people are all grifters ("A practitioner of confidence tricks; one who befriends another to take advantage of them, or gain something from them.") Maybe not the kind of grifters we came to love in "The Sting", but you can tell from their constant senseless chatter that boils down to nothing but "Trust me! I'm a winner, and so can you be! Just trust me!", that these people have been doing this for awhile, are professionals, and they're up to no good.

And if you want a hint at what Trump might be up to, scope out these details from the Washington Post:
There is also growing scrutiny of his heavy use of Trump-owned companies as vendors. Of the $63 million his campaign spent through May, more than $6 million – close to 10 percent – went to pay Trump properties or reimburse Trump and his family for expenses, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. That includes $4.6 million paid to his private jet company, TAG Air, and $423,000 that went just last month to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.
Okay, first, let's just say I am the sarge in charge of how some presidential campaign spends the campaign funds that comes from outside donors. Is it okay for me to have it rent its jet aircraft from a company I happen to own, or is that considered an illegal kickback?

Don't get me wrong! I'm not a lawyer, and I don't really know if that's breaking the law, but if it's not, you might think there would at least be people asking lots of ethical questions.

But wait! There's more!

Secondly, just for fun, what if I am not only spending those outside donations to lease planes from a company I happen to own, but am also spending the money that I myself loaned to the campaign! What's the big deal, you ask? The big deal is that, legally, the campaign has to repay any loans it receives.

So it seems that Trump is not only redirecting some of those outside donations back into his own pocket, but also maybe to be immediately turning around some of that money he himself loaned the campaign, back into his own pocket, and then can just sit and wait for the campaign to repay him the money that he loaned it.

Am I imagining all this?

The thing about grifters is they prey on victims who think they're so smart that they're gaming the system. Maybe I got this three-card monty-looking scheme of Trump's wrong, and just maybe he has a simple explanation for it, which is something I would like to hear.

But if this play really is the scam it looks to be, somebody might actually be going to jail, and I doubt their name will be Hillary.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Response to Those Missing Strawberries

(See: Just Above Sunset: Those Missing Strawberries)

Please don't stop me if you've heard me say this before, but the reason the Republicans have a "Trump problem" is that he's so rich, he doesn't think he has to listen to them.

When you're really rich, you don't have to pay attention to losers, with the word "loser" being used here in the sense of "anybody but me, especially some bunch of mucky-mucks I've publicly humiliated on numerous occasions."

Josh Marshall sees the problem manifest itself here:
There’s a Politico story out today about how the RNC gave him the names of twenty big GOP donors to call. He got bored or frustrated and stopped after calling three. And this comes after deciding that he actually doesn’t need to raise a billion dollars.
I'm guessing that Trump has never held down a regular job, working for anyone other than his father or himself, someone who could order him to do something he doesn't want to do. I'm also guessing he never had to do the dirty work of actually raising money. He always found some way of getting money other than asking anyone for it, which is somewhat demeaning, especially for someone who has too much pride to put himself at anyone else's mercy.

Remember that fund-raising thing for the veterans? That was relatively easy, with him pledging a million of his own money -- saving him from begging it off of someone else -- and getting another pledge of another million from some other friend of his. That's two million, with no pressure to cough it up any time soon, since the point was to provide a high-minded diversion to some debate he decided to skip.

And it's not like he pulled a Jerry Lewis, staying up twenty-four hours, concluding with a tearful collapse on stage. Donald Trump would never lower himself to doing the sorts of things one has to do to raise pledges for more than that paltry six-million dollars.

In a word, Donald Trump seems to be a bit of a lazy bum.

Another problem with having a rich guy for your candidate is that he has so much money, he feels he can get along without the people who know how to do things he doesn't know how to do. Here's Josh Marshall again:
Trump now needs to operate with and collaborate with people who will face real electorates in November. They know a modern presidential campaign requires $1 billion dollars of funding. They still know it does after Trump insists it only requires $50 million. No one outside the Trump fact bubble believes that. 
(Does that $50 million cover the down-ticket? God, I hope not! I'd love to see us win back the Senate, and maybe even the House.)

Another related problem is that, because of his life experiences, he doesn't feel the need to make anything a group effort, that he can just do everything himself.

Our country is at least arguably a democracy, which means ultimate power is vested in the people. You can't approach our governance with some "leader" saying, "Listen, everyone: Get behind me. But if you don't, leave me alone. I can do this by myself!" To be effective, you will have to use the "It takes a village approach" (remember that?) that assumes that, no matter what happens, we're in this together.

And by "people", I don't mean the total number of eyeballs, divided by two, that see more than fifteen minutes of a so-called "Reality" TV show. Certain people need to be reminded that there is a big difference between so-called "Reality TV" and actual "Reality", and that being that only one of them is real.

Remember reporter Ron Suskind, quoting a Bush White House source who later turned out to be Karl Rove, who accused reporters like Suskind of living, blissfully, "in what we call the reality-based community"?
"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
(By the way, where the hell is Karl Rove today? Has anybody heard from him?)

While later events proved Rove wrong, Trump never got the memo. He may not realize it but he's still operating on outdated assumptions.

That's why I think that when all those state delegates are in there, changing the rules, they should consider adding one that says that, from now on, no candidate can run for president on the Republican ticket if he self-funds his own campaign.

In other words, they should hang a sign: "No billionaires need apply!"

Not that I really want to be giving advice to the GOP, but no worries, they never listen to me anyway.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Response to Letting It Rip

(See: Just Above Sunset: Letting It Rip)

Various thoughts:

Firstly, there needs to be some followup on something Obama brought up in his speech yesterday, the part about using that phrase to describe who we're fighting:
That's the key, they tell us. We can't beat ISIL unless we call them radical Islamists. 
What exactly would using this label would accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? 
The answer, is none of the above.
And while that's completely true, he may be addressing the wrong part of the equation.

In addition to asking what good using that phrase does us, somebody needs to ask Trump and his fellow Republicans what specific harm they think is done when Obama and his people don't use it. Although on the face of it, it seems they think that leaving out "Islam" ignores an important piece of the puzzle, and that putting that piece in there where it belongs helps us all focus on who the bad guys really are -- or something.

But sometimes, he (and they) allude to refusing to call a "Radical Islamic Terrorist" a "Radical Islamic Terrorist" is due to "Political Correctness" -- to which anyone actually thinking about this stuff has to ask the rhetorical question, "Huh!?!" -- or, to be more specific, "What does any of this have to do with 'Political Correctness', unless you think that we are afraid to insult the terrorist by calling him a Muslim?"

News flash: Nobody is afraid of offending the terrorists by saying they're Islamic. In fact, if anything, it's the opposite. We're afraid of not insulting them! They want us to refer to them as Islamic, and that's why we don't!

Every time someone in the west tags them with the word "Islam" anywhere in the description, they can point to it as confirmation that the west -- and, in our case, the United States -- is indeed declaring war on their religion! And who are they trying to sell that story to? Most of the Islamic world!

And if you actually want our fight to be against Islam? Then you are fighting on their side, whether you know it or not.

And that means you, Donald Trump! (I wonder if he's reading this.)

Secondly, there's what Josh Marshall brings up:
By September and October, if Trump is looking at the prospect of a shattering defeat, one that brings down much of the Republican party around him, I think it’s quite possible he manufacturers some excuse to drop out of the race to avoid that level of public humiliation. My best guess would be some argument that system is ‘rigged’ against him or the GOP hasn’t supported him enough. I’m not saying that electoral scenario is likely but I think it’s definitely possible. But if it happens, I think a Trump bailout could definitely be in the cards. Not likely. Definitely possible.
I was thinking roughly the same thing, that he's just enough of a loose screw who creates his only portable reality zone as he strides the world, and also that he might do anything to escape being called a "loser", that he'd drop out before election day.

Maybe the only thing that makes it less likely is if enough people predict ahead of time that he would do this. In addition to being a loser, he hates being predictable.

Thirdly, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, according to the LA Times, uses the president's speech to unearth an old chestnut:
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus blamed Obama’s “hasty and politically driven withdrawal from Iraq” for creating a vacuum that allowed the rise of Islamic State in the first place.
No, no, (as been pointed out often whenever Republicans try to claim this), that's just a rewrite of history to make it conform to Republican party daydreams, so to speak. The so-called "Islamic State" traces its history back to 1999
The group has had various names since it was founded in 1999 by Jordanian radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi under the name Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād (lit. "The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad"). When in October 2004 al-Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden, he renamed the group Tanẓīm Qāʻidat al-Jihād fī Bilād al-Rāfidayn (lit. "The Organisation of Jihad's Base in Mesopotamia"), commonly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq or AQI. Although the group never called itself al-Qaeda in Iraq, this remained its informal name for many years. [Emphasis mine]
Note the year 2004, which was one short year after George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of the country. If you're looking for some president to blame the rise of ISIS on, you'd think you'd land on Bush before you got to Obama, but I guess that isn't exactly what these Republicans are trying to do.

And finally, something else that Priebus touched on yesterday:
He also suggested that Obama and Clinton had talked about gun regulation in the aftermath of the shooting in order to avoid discussing terrorism.
So in regards to all the usual fuss about whether to call the Orlando shooting "terrorism" or not, have we decided yet? And if so, did it help?

If the answer is "yes" and "yes", I beg to differ.

True, this guy went to the Islamic Center to pray several times a day and spent some time on Islamist sites online, but how far can we take this "inspired by jihadists" stuff when we hear he claimed to be a follower of Sunni Al-Nusra Front and Shi'a Hesbollah and Sunni ISIS, all at the same time?

I never like to question anyone's faith, but this sure sounds a lot like a shooter in search of a reason to do it, and certainly shouldn't be used as an example of "radical Islamic yattta-yatta" on which to base national immigration policy.

Still, whether or not this New-York-born wannabe-jihadist was "inspired" by Islamism, we do know he used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle -- originally designed for military use -- to mow down almost 100 people, killing about half of them. The guy could have chosen some other weapon, but the fact is that the one he chose was designed for use by soldier, which made it much more fitted to the task of killing human beings, especially if bunched together.

So while there's not very strong evidence that this shooting was directly connected to so-called "Islamic terrorism", at least in a way we can do anything about, there's no doubt that the shooter chose a weapon that, had it been banned, would have been more difficult to get away with doing what he wanted to do.

In other words, it seems that Reince Priebus has been talking about terrorism in the aftermath of the shooting in order to avoid discussing gun regulation.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Response to Odd Man Out

(See: Just Above Sunset: Odd Man Out)

I'm pretty sure we're only now starting to see the reason that Donald Trump calls Hillary Clinton "Crooked Hillary", which from the start always seemed like a bit of a stretch. Psychologists call it "psychological projecting":
Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude.
For another example, a person who is crooked may constantly accuse someone else of being crooked!

The trick, of course, is to "get there first" -- that is, you need to call Hillary a crook (when she clearly isn't) before she gets a chance to call you one (which you clearly are), because once she does, you can just accuse her of being "unoriginal".

And the psychologists take this into even deeper and potentially more dangerous territory:
Bullying: A bully may project his/her own feelings of vulnerability onto the target(s) of the bullying activity. Despite the fact that a bully's typically denigrating activities are aimed at the bully's targets, the true source of such negativity is ultimately almost always found in the bully's own sense of personal insecurity and/or vulnerability. 
Such aggressive projections of displaced negative emotions can occur anywhere from the micro-level of interpersonal relationships, all the way up through to the macro-level of international politics, or even international armed conflict.
In other words, God forbid some hypothetical psychological-projecting bully becomes the supreme leader of some big world power!

Much of the thinking behind "projection" was originally conceptualised by Sigmund Freud, but there were later dissents in the psychology community which, frankly, I tend to agree with more:
Some studies were critical of Freud's theory. Research supports the existence of a false-consensus effect whereby humans have a broad tendency to believe that others are similar to themselves, and thus "project" their personal traits onto others. This applies to good traits as well as bad traits and is not a defense mechanism for denying the existence of the trait within the self.
But all the psychobabble aside, we've all seen people who use projection as a rhetorical trick. You've seen it every time you heard some conservative Republican claim that it's really the liberals who are the true racists!

So whatever, if anything, comes out of the FBI investigation of Hillary's email business, it probably won't show her to be crooked, especially if by crooked you mean:
crook*ed |ˈkrʊkəd| adjective ( crookeder |ˈkrʊkədər|, crookedest |ˈkrʊkədəst| ) ... 
• informal dishonest; illegal
Hillary admits to doing what everyone knows she did, which was put her email on a server in her home, so she can't be found to be dishonest, and I doubt the probe will find that she did anything illegal.

But can the same be said for Trump? It's becoming more and more obvious that he got to where he is not only by being dishonest, but also by stealing other people's money.

And in the Thesaurus, in the list of synonyms to "crook", you'll find the word "racketeer":
rack*e*teer |ˌrækəˈtɪ(ə)r| noun 
a person who engages in dishonest and fraudulent business dealings.

Think not only Trump University, but you'll also need to read Steve Reilly's investigation into the history of Trump's business dealings in USA Today:
On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing. 
The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. 
In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.
One of those that was run out of business was Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr.:
During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah's at Trump Plaza. 
The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder.
The final bill they submitted 30 years ago, as recalled by son Paul Friel, the company accountant, was for $83,600.

So then what?
Paul Friel said he got a call asking that his father, Edward, come to the Trump family’s offices at the casino for a meeting. There Edward, and some other contractors, were called in one by one to meet with Donald Trump and his brother, Robert Trump. 
“He sat in a room with nine guys,” Paul Friel said. “We found out some of them were carpet guys. Some of them were glass guys. Plumbers. You name it.” 
In the meeting, Donald Trump told his father that the company’s work was inferior, Friel said, even though the general contractor on the casino had approved it. The bottom line, Trump told Edward Friel, was the company wouldn't get the final payment. Then, Friel said Trump added something that struck the family as bizarre. Trump told his dad that he could work on other Trump projects in the future. 
“Wait a minute,” Paul Friel said, recalling his family's reaction to his dad’s account of the meeting. “Why would the Trump family want a company who they say their work is inferior to work for them in the future?”
I'm thinking that if I were the Friels, I would do what "repo men" do when their company fails to get paid for the car somebody bought. I'd sneak into the casino and rip out all the cabinets and take them home, and leave a letter to Trump, reminding him that he made a deal to pay for my work product, and that he doesn't own my work product until I'm paid all of my money.
But, the Friels’ story is similar to experiences of hundreds of other contractors over the casino-boom decade in Atlantic City. Legal records, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records and contemporaneous local newspaper stories recounted time and again tales about the Trumps paying late or renegotiating deals for dimes on the dollar.
Donald's daughter, Ivanka Trump, who will be running the company if Trump is elected, denies it all:
“We have hundreds of millions of dollars of construction projects underway. And we have, for the most part, exceptional contractors on them who get paid, and get paid quickly,” she said, adding that she doubted any contractor complaining in court or in the press would admit they delivered substandard work. “But it would be irresponsible if my father paid contractors who did lousy work. And he doesn’t do that.”
(Really? Well, I guess the nut doesn't fall far from the tree! Obviously learned all she knows about business at Trump University! I wonder if they'll let father and daughter share a cell at Riker's.)

But Jesse Singal notes this in New York Magazine:
While Trump would often claim shoddy work as his reason for not ponying up, Reilly presents pretty overwhelming evidence that in many, if not most, of the cases, this was not a credible claim.
That 253 subcontractors, all on just one project, are swindled by Trump doesn't make it sound like he was refusing to pay someone for substandard work performance, it instead suggests a business model based on fraud, which one would think would be illegal behavior.

To put this another way, if you agree to pay a certain amount of money for a certain amount of work, and when the bill comes, you refuse to pay it (or you pay only part of it, or you don't pay on time), you're guilty of theft! You're stealing money from someone you've made a deal with.

Is Donald Trump a crook, or not? Try as I could, I could not find out why he's not being criminally charged for any of this. It seems to me he's probably not guilty of mere civil fraud, his company's whole MO seems to be that of a criminal enterprise -- which is what he wants to turn the United States into!

It's absolutely true what they say, that Trump's campaign is in a totally different category of candidacy than past Republican candidates. He's certainly not anything like Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt, nor Ronald Reagan, nor John McCain or Mitt Romney. If I had to name anyone he's like, I'd have to say Al Capone.

It's as if the GOP got conned into putting some smarmy "Little Caesar" on the top of their presidential ticket this year.

And as a final thought, Donald Trump keeps saying how he's surprised that nobody gives him credit for "self-funding" his campaign. But in fact, had Trump been forced to raise funds like everyone else, he probably wouldn't have had any more luck than Mitt Romney did when he considered a run, then dropped out when donors rejected him.

Maybe the GOP should write a new rule at its convention this year, one that could save them a lot of hassle next time around:

No candidate who self-funds his own campaign will be allowed to become the nominee on the Republican Party presidential ticket.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Response to The Alpha Male Neutered

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Alpha Male Neutered)

It's true! Donald Trump doesn't seem to know how to use a prompter when he speaks. It actually makes him more boring, and for what it's worth, doesn't help him at all look very presidential.

Which is good news, I think! If speaking on a prompter actually were to suit him, he might be tempted to use it more often, which means he'd have to start tailoring his content to his presentation, and more people might actually start taking him seriously and, God forbid, liking him! I prefer his old way, where he just can't help but pull stuff out of his ass, which makes people either love him or hate him -- and hopefully more of the latter than the former, especially lately with this judge thing.

The latest thing is that he's apparently decided to just shut up about the judge, claiming that what he has been saying about all that has been "misconstrued" -- which it has! By him! To me, this is just a tiny confession on his part that he had no idea what he was talking about, although it seems almost everyone else did.

What Trump said in his own defense:
It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent.
Okay, but the question is, if one of your Mexican friends or employees were a judge in a legal case of which you were a party, should they be disqualified, since they can't help but know that you are, as you say, "building a wall" at the border? If your answer is yes, then you have not been misconstrued by the public, you've merely been construed.

But racism aside, what I think people should all be getting on Donald Trump for doing in this case is dragging one of his many private squabbles into the public arena, essentially trying to leverage his run for public office for private gain. I don't know if he realizes it, but were Trump president already, he could probably get impeached for that.

But the odd thing is, according to Jeffrey Toobin, the judge's rulings have been mostly pro-Trump!:
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin weighed in on the Trump University case this afternoon, and he said Donald Trump is strongly exaggerating how much the judge is supposedly biased against him. 
In addition to that whole “I’m building a wall, he’s Mexican!” thing, Trump has gone after Judge Gonzalo Curiel because of his “terrible rulings” (i.e. rulings that did not go Trump’s way). 
But as Toobin explained, the judge has ruled that plaintiffs in the case “are not entitled to complete refunds if they win” and so they have to argue individually “what percentage of the fee that they pair… was a ripoff.” And that, he added, “basically kills the whole idea of a class-action.” 
“This is a judge,” Toobin said, “who has by and large favored Donald Trump. The only thing he’s refused to do is throw the case out altogether.” 
He concluded that this is clearly not a judge on a “rampage” against Trump.
If so, then, why is Trump doing this? I heard somewhere that Trump treats each transaction he gets himself into like a game, that playing with the details is more important to him than the outcome, so it's possible that he's just sort of toying with his food.

You might think the "new" Trump campaign might be able to rein in his playful tendencies, but according to the Washington Post, maybe not:
In a conference call Monday, the real estate mogul told surrogates to step up their attacks on Curiel as biased and on reporters as racists, overriding a directive from his own staff distributed over the weekend, according to reports.
Which brings up a question:

How many of these fun lawsuits does he have going on right now? At any given moment, he seems to be either in a lawsuit or he's being audited by the IRS or bankrupting one of his companies. He seems to consider being in constant legal trouble a mark of success.

Can we really afford this guy running the country the way he runs his life?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Response to The Wall Just Got Higher

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Wall Just Got Higher)

Today, some observations on (a) unpredictability and (b) racism.

So almost the entire roster of Republican officialdom has now climbed aboard the campaign bus, even after suspecting the driver is drunk, and now they're complaining about his erratic driving? Maybe they shoulda just stood at home.

One of his prominent characteristics the Republicans take issue with is something Trump brags about -- his unpredictability:
"I like to be unpredictable," he said in an October debate, explaining why he carries a concealed weapon. In September, Trump said he likes to stay unpredictable when dealing with foreign foes. "You want to have a certain amount of, you want to have a little bit of guesswork for the enemy," Trump said.
Can't pin him down! He flies all over the place! Maybe the reason Donald Trump seems to defy gravity is that he has so little of it.

And if you think Trump means he can be counted on to be unpredictable, don't bet the farm on that, since he's also been heard several times to say something like this:
“If somebody hits me, I have to hit them back. I have to. I’m not going to sit there and say, ‘I’m wonderful, I’m a president.’ I want to win."
A trait that, I'm sure, will not escape the notice of our nation's friends and foes alike, and who will all, I'm quite sure, take the occasional opportunity to play him like a fiddle.

Washington Monthly’s David Atkins confirms that:
His reaction to being criticized is to immediately engage in childish and petty personal attacks against his critics. ... 
So it is that when a judge with a Hispanic surname ruled against Trump in the ongoing scandal of his fraudulent Ponzi scheme “university,” Trump’s reaction wasn’t to suggest that all the facts had yet to come out, or that the judge had misinterpreted the data, or even that the judge had a politically motivated agenda as a secret liberal. These are the sorts of defenses that people who aren’t egomaniacal narcissists might make. 
But not Trump.
In fact, what Trump does respond with borders on the mysterious, and is such a non-sequitur, it would certainly have immediately snuffed out the campaign of even the most milquetoasty non-egomanical, non-narcissist candidate. To Jake Tapper's dogged questioning (over twenty times!) of whether his citing a federal judge's ethnicity as justification for recusal from a case was "racism", Trump repeatedly presented this answer:
"He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico." ... 
At the end of a lengthy exchange, Tapper asked: "If you are saying he cannot do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?" 
"No, I don't think so at all," Trump said. ... "If he was giving me a fair ruling, I wouldn't say that," Trump told Tapper, pointing again to Curiel's background. ... 
"I'm building a wall."
So the question is now this:

Is it racist to argue that some American judge should recuse himself from a case on the grounds that his ancestors were Mexican? To which our next president's unequivocal answer is, "I'm building a wall."

Does that make sense? No? Good. Let's move on.

But the question still is, yes, but is that really racism?

Well, maybe not technically -- but yes, it certainly is. Here's my online dictionary's definition of racism:
rac*ism |ˈreɪˌsɪzəm| noun 
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. 
• prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief
So by that reading, what Trump is doing -- albeit possibly unknowingly -- is indeed racism.

Trump is figuring that, because he plans to someday build a wall at the Mexican border, then any judge who has any Mexican blood whatsoever flowing in his veins is a member of a whole race of people who can be assumed to be biased against Donald Trump (despite that fact that he does very well with the Mexicans), unless, of course, the judge gives Trump a "fair ruling", in which case, never mind.

But in summary, overlooking all the nonsense parts: Yes, Trump is being racist.

Except, of course, that biologists don't technically recognize "races" of humans anyway, do they? Same Dictionary:
Although ideas of race are centuries old, it was not until the 19th century that attempts to systematize racial divisions were made. Ideas of supposed racial superiority and social Darwinism reached their culmination in Nazi ideology of the 1930s and gave pseudoscientific justification to policies and attitudes of discrimination, exploitation, slavery, and extermination.
Theories of race asserting a link between racial type and intelligence are now discredited. Scientifically it is accepted as obvious that there are subdivisions of the human species, but it is also clear that genetic variation between individuals of the same race can be as great as that between members of different races.
Instead of human races, scientists nowadays tend to differentiate between people of different "continental origins". Here's Stanford University biologist Dr. Marcus Feldman, who's done lots of research in the area of what we might call "race":
Many biologists have replaced the term “race” with “continental ancestry.” This is because such a large fraction of the world has ancestry in more than one continent. The result is hyphenated nomenclature, which attempts to specify which continents are represented in one’s ancestry. 
For example, our president is as European in his ancestry as he is African. It is arbitrary which of these an observer chooses to emphasize. Obama’s opponents overtly and by implication denigrate him because of his African ancestry. But he is equally European.
Which is to say that Barrack Obama is not technically an "African-American", he's really an "African-European-American" (or maybe, just as accurately, a "European-African-American".)

Still, "Mexican" is not, in itself, a race, it's a nationality, right? So doesn't this mean Trump's not a racist after all?

Not so fast. Take another look at my dictionary:
race 2 |reɪs| noun 
each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics: people of all races, colors, and creeds.
• a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.; an ethnic group :we Scots were a bloodthirsty race then. 
• the fact or condition of belonging to such a division or group; the qualities or 
• a group or set of people or things with a common feature or features : some male firefighters still regarded women as a race apart. 
• Biology a population within a species that is distinct in some way, esp. a subspecies :people have killed so many tigers that two races are probably extinct. 
• (in nontechnical use) each of the major divisions of living creatures: a member of the human race | the race of birds.
So while scientists may not believe in this stuff, lexicographers still do, and therefore, they get the last word.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Response to The Wreck

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Wreck)

I need to retract what I wrote the other day, when I advised Hillary not to engage in insults with Donald Trump, since she'd only lose at that.

In fact, her speech on Friday was quite good, and demonstrates that she should be able to handle him just fine. It was just the right blend of foreign policy substance and President Trump's (shudder!) inadequacies. Trump was apparently unprepared for her calling him out for being totally unfit for the presidency, especially when it comes to international relations. He had little response except to say, “Reading poorly from the teleprompter! She doesn’t even look presidential.”

First off, of course she uses a teleprompter, just as all actual presidents do! She uses a prompter because she, unlike him, has something to say, rather than just blurting out little turdlets of nonsense that he thinks up as he goes along! (Also, she actually reads the prompter pretty well! I was watching closely and could hardly tell she was even using it!)

And second of all, while all actual presidential-looking presidents feel the need, from time to time, to use a prompter when they give a speech, I know of no president in history who ever went out in public with such a tacky comb-over, looking like he just came from the tanning salon, complete with that goggle-eye effect. (Well, okay, maybe James Buchanan did, nobody knows for sure, but he wasn't much of a president anyway.)

So I've changed my mind. I think Hillary should maybe continue going on the offensive, although she should be careful to not to overdo it, and to always link his shortcomings to why they disqualify him for the job.

And speaking of Trump's disqualifications, Josh Marshall mentions something interesting that Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal about the federal judge presiding over his Trump University cases:
The fact that [Judge Gonzalo] Curiel was born to immigrant parents in Indiana in 1953 is relevant, according to Trump, because Trump's been so vocal against illegal immigration. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest."
So I guess that seals it!

The fact that Trump's family immigrated to America from Germany means he has "an inherent conflict of interest" in running for our presidency, since our country fought his country in two world wars within the last 100 years (and whupped 'em good, I might add!), so he can't help but have it out for all of us real Americans, and obviously wants to see our country fail!

Want proof? Just look what he's been able to achieve so far in destroying our electoral campaign system!

But something that makes me question even that theory is seeing the number of things that Kevin Drum tells us Trump should know, but doesn't, about foreign affairs:
He doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is. He favors Britain leaving the EU but has never heard of “Brexit.” He doesn’t know where Iraq’s oil is. He doesn’t know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas. He’s blissfully unaware that Germany cares a great deal about Ukraine. He was taken by surprise when he learned that US companies aren’t allowed to sell planes to Iran. He thinks Iran is the main trading partner of North Korea.
So who are North Korea's main trading partners?

According to in 2013, "The CIA World Factbook said China accounted for an estimated 67.2% of North Korea's exports and 61.6% of imports in 2011. South Korea accounted for 19.4% of exports and 20% of imports, while India received an estimated 3.6% of exports and the European Union provided about 4% of imports in 2011." Iran's not even on the list.

Per United Nations sanctions, only certain items can be traded, none of them being weapons. North Korea's #1 main export? According to Wikipedia, it's "Coal; Briquettes". (Yikes!)

And who are Iran's main trading partners?

Per, in April; "The EU used to be the first trading partner of Iran, but due to the sanctions regime, China, the UAE and Turkey are now Iran's main trade partners, followed by the EU." North Korea's nowhere in sight. And per UN sanctions, only certain items -- but not weapons or planes! -- can be traded.

But the blatancy of Trump's lack of knowledge (and seeming lack of interest) in international affairs leads me to another theory, that being that Donald Trump's whole run for the White House may just be the world's greatest performance art project, all designed to show the Republicans the natural consequence of their outrageous belief systems!

Yes, they were right when they said he was, in fact, a liberal in conservative's clothing, just posing as a Republican candidate, but as a means to point out to them the error of their ways! In other words, the GOP has just been punked! Look for Trump to come clean and drop out of the race immediately after his acceptance speech at the convention in Cleveland!

Although I am willing to concede that I might be wrong about this theory, too. It's just that I can't figure out the real reason that he's involved himself in all this silliness.