Friday, October 21, 2016

Take Back the Senate -- Pennsylvania

Democrat Katie McGinty
Democrats have won the state consistently in recent presidential races and Clinton is leading Trump, but the race between Democrat Katie McGinty, a former environmental adviser to Vice President Al Gore, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey remains one of the tightest. McGinty is endorsed by the New York Times.

As chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the 1990s, she helped organize the Clinton administration’s successful counterattack against efforts by the Republican Congress to undermine the nation’s basic environmental laws. Later, as Pennsylvania‘s environmental chief, she helped push the state toward greater use of cleaner energy sources like wind and solar, not only as a way to combat climate change but as a source of new jobs in an aging rust-belt economy.

If you'd like to donate to her campaign and help her GOTV, click here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Insurgencies in the 2016 Presidential Election

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders launched insurgent political campaigns against their respective political parties; Trump against the RNC and Sanders against the DNC. Trump won, and Bernie lost. Trump won because, quite simply, the rules of the Republican Party were "democratic." Bernie lost because the rules of the Democratic Party were not.

Now in both cases, one could argue that the reason things are where they are is more nuanced than that. Okay, but understand this; the GOP and the Democratic Party are non-governmental organizations. They write the rules for how nominees for offices up and down the ticket are chosen. If you don't like those rules, tough. Get involved in party politics and change them. Otherwise, you'll have to live by them.

Bernie Sanders' Failed Insurgency

Bernie Sanders, an independent, launched a bid to grab the Democratic Party by the throat and choke the moderate out of it. Sanders called for economic policies specifically targeted at reducing the gap between the top 1% and the other  99% of Americans -- expand social security, make public college tuition free, provide paid family and medical leave and universal health care, increase the minimum wage, implement a youth jobs program, and, with all the money that's left over, institute a trillion dollar program to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure. Sanders had ways to pay for all of this. They all amounted to essentially the same thing -- tax the rich. So, in political terms, Bernie was trying to hijack the Democratic Party and make it a Social Democratic Party.

Conservatives and even moderate democrats, immediately saw Bernie Sanders' objective for what it was -- a redistribution of wealth. Duh! How does one reduce the gap between really, really rich people, and all the rest of us? You take the land from the rich landowners and you parcel it out to poor farmers. Then you watch as your country goes broke and your people go hungry. Hey, it's politics -- hyperbole is de rigueur. In any case, this is the conservative worldview.

There were a lot of young people who resonated with Bernie Sanders' messianic message and his passion, and his powdery snow hair. The problem was, they hadn't really participated in party politics before "feeling the Bern." Because they hadn't 'infiltrated' the party, their revolution was doomed from the beginning. Had they been in leadership positions in the DNC, they could've eliminated or at least reduced the number of superdelegates. Because, as the Pew Research Center has said, " superdelegates are the embodiment of the institutional Democratic Party – everyone from former presidents, congressional leaders and big-money fundraisers to mayors, labor leaders and longtime local party functionaries." These party faithful didn't want an outsider taking over 'their' party and because they'd prepared for just such a contingency, they were able to prevent it.
The Democratic Party's Superdelegates

Donald J Trump's Successful Insurgency

The GOP has many fewer superdelegates than the Democrats -- 250 or 7% vs the Democratic Party's 713 or 15%. In the Republican Party, the only people who get superdelegate status are the three members of each state's national party. The more important distinction, however, as Seth Millstein has pointed out, is that Republican superdelegates do not have the freedom to vote for whichever candidate they please. The RNC ruled in 2015 that their superdelegates must vote for the candidate that their state voted for. In effect, the GOP is more democratic than the Democratic Party. Is this a good thing?

If the GOP had convened in Cleveland with as many superdelegates as the Democratic Party had, and if the rules permitted them to vote their conscience, and assuming they had such, would Donald Trump have emerged as the Republican Nominee? Hopefully, not.

As Jeff Greenfield wrote,

There are some circumstances where the “will of the voters”—often the will of a plurality of voters—may well put the party on the road to a massive political defeat. Further, it may result in the nomination of a candidate who violates the most fundamental beliefs of that party. Or whose temperament and character might put a dangerous, unfit person into the Oval Office. Under those circumstances, the existence of a bloc of superdelegates means the presence of an “emergency brake,” a last chance to avoid disaster. And while it may be “undemocratic” in the narrowest sense of that term, our political system is replete with “undemocratic” elements that have served us very well.

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight now forecasts the chances of Donald Trump winning the 2016 presidential election as 12.5%. The same poll forecasts that the GOP has a 72% chance of losing the Senate. What happens to the Republican Party after the election depends on what the Republican Party leadership does now. Republicans cannot have their party and let Trump eat it, too.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate must stop fighting this pusillanimous, rearguard action, and launch a frontal attack against the Trump insurgency. If they don't decisively distance themselves now from 'The Donald,' the Grand Old Party will go the way of the 'Know-Nothings,' a fate they will justly deserve. What the American people won't deserve is what may replace the GOP -- a neo-fascist amalgamation of all the worst elements of Donald Trump's constituency.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Nature Hates a Vacuum

Donald Trump's candidacy gave people on the right wing permission to say things they were sometimes hesitant to express because they were clearly expressions of racism and bigotry. Republicans enabled Trump and his supporters by labeling common decency, and even truth, "political correctness."

As the campaign continued into the election year, nationalists, white supremacists, and other previously fringe elements of the Republican Party -- many of whom had in the past not voted -- emerged as a vocal block of support for Trump. These were the people Trump was speaking of when he said he could "shoot someone on 5th Ave" and not lose any voters. They are the people about whom Hillary Clinton said, " just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables."

These are the same people who are now lashing out in the most virulent, hateful posts on social media after the release of the tapes of Trump's bragging about groping women. The fallout and cascade of Republican defections from Trump have these people, who felt their world view had been validated by Trump's nomination and campaign, furious. Cued by Trump and his campaign staff, they are rehashing all the unfounded allegations, muck, and conspiracy theories that have followed the Clintons during their entire political career. A presidential campaign that was already nasty, has become truly disgusting.

Trump apologized for what he said, claimed it was "just locker room talk," called it a "distraction," said Bill Clinton had done far worse, and vowed to stay in the race. He ended by saying, "See you at the debate on Sunday." We did see him at the debate. He was everything we could've expected, and worse -- what a way to end a Sunday. I'll have more to say about this in a separate post.
What concerns me now is what happens to the "deplorables" when Trump is roundly defeated in the General Election. Will they sink quietly into the swamp from which they arose, will they organize and become a significant faction of the Republican Party, or form a neofascist Nationalist Party, or will they germinate to a dangerous domestic terrorist cell determined to create the kind of chaos from which a new "strong man" might emerge to lead them to power?

As Donald Trump vows retaliation against lawmakers who withdraw their support from his campaign, senior Republican party leaders privately acknowledged that they now fear losing control of both houses of Congress. Many left-leaning Americans might welcome the demise of the Republican Party, but be careful what you wish for. Nature hates a vacuum -- witness the Middle East.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hurricanes and Global Warming

Global warming has already doubled the risk of Hurricane Katrina-magnitude storm surges in the U.S., according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It estimates that for every 1.8°F increase in global average surface temperatures, there could be a two-fold to seven-fold increase in the risk of Katrina-magnitude surge events. Hurricane Matthew will test that prediction.
Waves driven by Hurricane Matthew pounding a fishing pier on Thursday in Pompano Beach, Fla. 
Credit Gaston De Cardenas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hurricane Matthew is churning close to Florida’s east coast after it weakened slightly overnight to a Category 3 storm.  While it is still uncertain whether it will make landfall, the hurricane has already dumped torrential rain and left more than 300,000 Florida residents without power. The National Hurricane Center is forecasting up to 15 inches of rain in some areas and storm surges up to 11 feet from Florida to South Carolina.
More than 339 people have died in Haiti as a result of the hurricane, which has been the longest-lived Category 4-5 hurricane in the eastern Caribbean on record. The number of major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin has doubled since the 1970s -- fueled by warmer waters.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain is credited with popularizing the saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I wonder under what category of lies Twain would lump Donald Trump's lies. I imagine he'd have to come up with a whole new "genre" to accommodate Trump's epic litany of fabrications, frauds, fakery, and phantasmagoria.

Republicans have been surprisingly successful painting Hillary Clinton as “a liar,” while turning a blind eye to their candidate’s bizarre travels through fantasy land. I've asked myself, "Why?" and I've decided it's because no one really expects Donald Trump to tell the truth. Apparently Trump equates being truthful with being "political correct," and we know well what he thinks about political correctness.

Let’s be honest, for a change, Hillary Clinton has lied. But to paraphrase Yogi Berra, half the lies they tell about Clinton lying aren’t true. Where she has bent the truth, she’s admitted it; awkwardly perhaps, e.g., “I short-circuited,” but she’s come clean. Not Donald Trump. He lies and then doubles down, belittling whoever has the temerity to challenge him.

What’s worse, Donald Trump lies to bamboozle, to swindle, to cheat. Often, the people he’s victimized are society’s most vulnerable — people down on their luck striving to get ahead, small businessmen working 80-hour weeks to build an enterprise.

Donald Trump is one of those people the writer Jose’ N Harris was talking about when he wrote, “Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak.”

A week or so ago, Hillary Clinton said one "could be grossly generalistic" and put half of Donald Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables,” people driven by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic" sentiments. She later walked that back a little -- maybe it wasn't half.

At the risk of being politically incorrect myself, I say it could be at least half if we add the lazy, ignorant, and weak-kneed people who make up another large segment of what is certainly a deplorable "basket" of the American voting public.

Donald Trump is a horrible person, and is grossly unqualified to be president. He is, as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates recently said, “willfully ignorant about the rest of the world, about our military and its capabilities, and about government itself.” But what's truly distressing to me is that so many Americans support him. I thought we were collectively better than that. Where the hell have I been all these years?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Donald Trump's "Rubble" Remark Just the Latest Insult to America's Military

Joint Chiefs of Staff
According to coverage by the the Washington Post and other news outlets, Donald Trump shrugged at a past comment that he knew more about the Islamic State than America’s generals, disparaged those generals by saying they'd been “reduced to rubble,” suggested that his plan to defeat the Islamic State — long something he said was a secret — would instead be formulated with help from top generals and, ultimately, casually indicated that he might just fire most of the generals anyway.

The men Donald Trump disparages are among the military's finest, with more medals between them than could fit on Donald Trump's entire pudgy body. This after Trump said that John McCain was no hero because he'd been captured. "I like people who weren't captured," the man said who took four deferments for college, and then another "medical deferment" (for bad feet) upon graduation.

After the DNC Convention, Trump attacked the father and mother of an American-Muslim army captain who died in a car bombing in 2004 in Iraq as he tried to save his troops. The father had the termerity to criticize Trump during a speech at the convention.

Trump's bragged about how much he loves veterans; so much that he skipped the RNC convention to run a fund raiser for vets. He said he raised almost $6 million, but it then turned out he didn't give it to the veterans' charitable organizations -- not until the media found out he'd stiffed the vets and called him out on it.

Finally, Donald Trump's coments about using torture on terrorist suspects, and murdering the families of terrorists -- both war crimes -- absolutely and without equivocation, disqualify him to serve as president.

I'm a retired U.S. Air Force officer. If I were still in the military and Donald Trump were elected president, I would resign my commission and leave the service. I would never, ever accept Donald Trump as my Commander-in-Chief.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Clinton Foundation in Context

The feigned outrage over the Clinton Foundation by republican operatives, now given rude voice by Donald Trump, is the height of hypocrisy, but most people won’t realize this.

“Never heard of it.” This was a response I got all too often as I went door-to-door as a volunteer collecting signatures for I-735, a grassroots movement to make Washington the 18th state to ask Congress to overturn Citizens United. It was disheartening to learn that so many people knew so little about something so important.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the 2010 Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission (FEC), gave corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited sums to call for the election or defeat of individual candidates. It’s the “corporations are people, too” decision, as Mitt Romney referred to it in his 2012 bid for the Presidency.

Citizens United overturned decades of campaign finance law, most particularly the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) aka, the McCain-Feingold Act. The hotly-debated decision threw open the floodgates on campaign spending and opened a Pandora’s Box of other challenges to campaign financing based on Citizens United arguments.

Ostensibly, it is still illegal for corporations or labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office. The court said that because these funds were not being spent “in coordination” with a campaign, they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The absurd naivety of this statement has been hilariously parodied by Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. Former FEC Chairman, Trevor Potter, appearing with Colbert helped demonstrate how current campaign laws spawned PACs, and Super PACs and “social welfare organizations,” designed to circumvent this remaining restriction, and to hide their donors from public scrutiny.

If I asked you which of our two major political parties was behind the campaign finance law challenges that led to this wild west of election financing, my guess is that you’d answer, “the Republican Party,” and you’d be right. Google the names ‘James Bopp,’ and ‘Shuan McCutcheon’ for background.
What’s ironic is that the Clinton Foundation, much maligned by republicans, is a 501(c)(3), i.e., a non-profit charitable organization. As such, it is not permitted to engage in political activity, endorse or oppose political candidates, or donate money or time to political campaigns. There’s no evidence that the Clinton Foundation does this, despite all the fulminating.

On the other hand, 501(c)(4) organizations, the so-called “social welfare organizations,” like the Koch Brothers ‘Americas for Prosperity,’ can do all of the above. And they do. And they do not disclose their donors. The Clinton Foundation does.

If you want to clean up the current mess we call campaign financing, a good place to start would be a “Yes” vote on I-735. Google it.