Saturday, January 30, 2016

Notes Before the Madness Is Official

Some different thoughts on similar topics or maybe otherwise. I dunno. Read on, and judge my prose against the poetry of the age:

1) It's surprising how deadlines creep up on you when you're busy editing your political rants into a book format, but here we are with February knocking at the door and the Iowa Caucus the starting pistol for the actual marathon race for the White House to begin.

Just as a note, this is how the Iowa Caucus actually works, which is to say nowhere near as formal and accurate as a primary vote. One reason why I don't buy into the importance of the Iowa Caucus that much.

2) The other reason I don't buy into the Iowa Caucus is that it's just ONE state putting in a vote for candidates to each of the major parties. Just one state alone does not represent the mood or mindset of the nation as a whole. And yet our primaries and caucuses are skewed to one or a handful of states deciding one right after the other, voting on regional or extreme issues that matter in one state but not the others.

The order in which the states go is itself degrading: our most populous state is California, and yet it goes last in most election cycles. That's dangerous in a horse race style campaign where candidates who could prosper in those later states can't keep up and drop out before they have a chance. It's been rare for a race to go the distance: the Obama-Clinton challenge was a legitimate back-and-forth over delegates up to early June 2008, but that's been about it in recent times. Even in races where a runner-up kept at it  - such as Santorum in 2012 running behind Mitt Romney - the race itself was over by March because enough early delegates were garnered to cross the 50 percent+1 threshold.

The President of the United States is essentially the representative of the entire nation, not of Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or Florida or Ohio or Texas or California. I still argue that all the voters in all the states (and territories) should have a say in who their candidates for the Presidency should be: I still argue we shouldn't start with Iowa alone, or New Hampshire alone, or even California alone. I still argue all fifty states should have a One Day Primary, in late May when all the candidates have had the chance to campaign all over and all the issues have been debated and everything vetted.

3) Considering points 1) and 2), this is why I'm underwhelmed about the importance of Iowa itself as a back-breaker among the early Primary/Caucus states. I mean, how many candidates who won Iowa went on to win the actual nomination in the last 40 years? (Note: the cutoff for this measure is usually 1972-76 due to changes in electoral reforms post-Watergate) As of 2012, the numbers seem bleak.

Personally, I've always found that it's been South Carolina that's been the firewall for Republican candidates. Winning Iowa and New Hampshire may be great for momentum, but if you're Republican and you can't win South Carolina, you're in trouble. Granted, the results in 2012 put lie to that theory of mine considering Newt won SC but still lost the nomination, but that's because Newt's a hypocritical jerkass who couldn't really win anywhere else (his other victory was his home state of Georgia)...

So, yeah, whoever wins Iowa, be it Trump or Cruz it doesn't matter much until the other states start chiming in, and the other candidates fight harder to win them...

4) And yet, despite being an underwhelming state, Iowa itself is remarkable THIS cycle because this will be the first state to actually put the Republican field to the test.

There's been few things that kept the Republican party leadership sleeping well at night since all those 2015 candidacy announcements. One thing has been the assumption that Likely Voters - the ones who answer the polling questions and show up for rallies - do not directly equal Actual Voters at the booth - because, you know, that takes time from work or family.

Serious poll trackers like Nate Silver have been saying for months that early Primary polling is skewed and untrustworthy:

Trump will also have to get that 25 or 30 percent to go to the polls. For now, most surveys cover Republican-leaning adults or registered voters, rather than likely voters. Combine that with the poor response rates to polls and the fact that an increasing number of polls use nontraditional sampling methods, and it’s not clear how much overlap there is between the people included in these surveys and the relatively small share of Republicans who will turn up to vote in primaries and caucuses.
But there’s another, more fundamental problem. That 25 or 30 percent of the vote isn’t really Donald Trump’s for the keeping. In fact, it doesn’t belong to any candidate. If past nomination races are any guide, the vast majority of eventual Republican voters haven’t made up their minds yet.

As Silver says, polling is one thing and actual results at the booth are another. It IS possible that 35 to 45 percent of Likely Voters in a state will say "Oh yeah Trump is MY GUY" and yet when push comes to shove only 20 percent actually do show up to vote. Or that the ones getting polled do not reflect the actual mood or viewpoint of everyone else in the state. Or that the poll respondents give the answers they THINK the poll-takers want to hear. A lot of that falls under what's called the Bradley Effect. It is possible people are just answering for Trump because A) he's the only name they remember, B) they're messing with the pollsters, C) he's a default answer because they honestly haven't decided on the field yet.

So what happens when the results might match? What happens if the answer is D) Trump DOES speak to their political outrage and they show up to vote that way?

Granted, turnout can be low and the projected numbers on that based on polling won't likely occur. But what if the percentages remain aligned between Likely and Actual? What happens if the 35 percent of poll respondents for Trump turn into 35 percent of the real-world vote count?

If that does happen, even in Iowa this Monday with its wonky caucus and its minor importance, expect to see rioting outside the RNC headquarters by Tuesday. Because it means the polls aren't lying, aren't skewed. That they are an accurate reflection of a voter base fearful of immigrants and foreigners, of a voter base willfully ignorant of the nuances of governance, of a movement within the foundation of the party itself driven by an anger that can no longer be contained.

It will mean that Trump is in charge of the entire circus that is a Year of Election, he's in the driver's seat of the GOP clown car.

5) And how will Trump end up in the driver's seat? It will be the Republicans' own damn fault.

The GOP started off looking at 2016 as a big year for them to win. They were looking at the trend of how control of the White House can shift from one party to the other every eight years - which isn't entirely true - and so figured with Democratic President Obama term-limited that a Republican would take his place.

This is why so many candidates - a record 17 names! - put their hats in the ring. Just ride that realignment cycle of voter dissatisfaction of Democratic rule into an easy win and reap the benefits.

And yet... right now they and the national punditry are looking at that field getting dominated by the likes of Trump and thinking "What the hell went wrong?" Even Tucker Carlson, self-appointed defender of uber-Conservative thought, is speaking this in public. Although Carlson is only fully correct on one point: the Conservative Establishment - hiding itself in its own echo chamber of think-tanks and talk-shows - doesn't understand its own voters anymore (his other points about immigration as an issue overlook the real issues of income inequality, personal debt among millions of families, and the fact that illegal immigration is actually dropping the last 3-4 years).

What's really happening here is something I alluded to earlier about the Republicans' self-defeating paradox in what they want from their political standard bearer: "...The Republicans have an Active-Negative agenda, yet they need a Passive-Positive - another Reagan with the charm and skill to avoid the issues and project a congenial persona - to sell it..." I noted in slightly greater detail:

Here's the problem I'm finding about the Republican Party: the party base - the Tea Partiers, the Second Amendment Fetishers, the small-government-drown-it-in-Grover's-bathtub crowds - seems so eager to want an Active-Negative type serving as their President.  They want someone who will restrict and slash government services, cut taxes on the rich (while raising taxes on the lazy poor), deregulate businesses to run amok in a Free Market free-range, shut down the borders against illegals, and wage war against The Dreaded Other despite the costs.  A lot of behavior that history shows falls to Active-Negatives under what Barber called the "I Must" mindset that drives A-Ns to Compulsive, unshakable agendas.
But at the same time, the party leadership recognizes that such A-N types are difficult to elect to office anymore...  So the party leadership is trying to manufacture, promote, or encourage the illusion that their "establishment" candidates - the likes of Jeb, or even what they tried with Romney last time - will run "positive" campaigns pursuing "reforms" on topics like education and immigration and job creation...

And that's not happening with Jeb, is it? Or any other Establishment candidate, even the likes of Rubio is having trouble polling in double-digits.

The ones that have polled well - even temporary faves like Carson and Fiorina - have been the anti-Establishment candidates of Trump and Cruz. The ones openly campaigning on the issues as Active-Negative types, shilling to the attitudes of No Compromise, with bullying as their method and destruction of the status quo (even what works) their intent.

They're polling well - and likely to win the GOP Primaries - because Trump and Cruz are going up against terrible Establishment candidates. I mean, on paper some of them are respectable - various Governors, a few Senators with long careers, varied experiences in the public and private sectors that normally would impress Republican voters - but on the debate stage and on the campaign trail turn into flat, boring, degrading personas that few people would want to meet at a high school reunion much less listen to at a rally. That's because in many respects, these Establishment candidates are by habit Active-Negatives and can't provide an honest contrast between fellow A-Ns.

With a Republican Party united behind essentially one message and platform - lacking diversity or disagreement among themselves over the issues that would provide honest contrast and choices between candidates - the choices are now over Personality, which candidate can project as a Reagan-esque Leader of Charm and Skill. None of them do (not even Trump or Cruz despite their numbers), none of them can present himself (herself) as another Reagan. They're all little Nixons in varying degrees of personalities and talking points, and nobody wants another Nixon.

Trump may have a stage presence similar to Reagan's, but Trump has none of the congeniality or warmth or wit that Reagan used. Trump is all bluster, all noise and braggadocio, quick with the insult but not the bon mot, which may rally the Far Right who enjoys such displays but will wear out its welcome among the average voters who seek better leadership qualities than that. On a stage littered with A-Ns, Trump's unique trait has been an unshakable confidence that few A-Ns actually possess.

This has been the result of the RINO Party Purge: driving out all progressive or moderate or centrist thought from the Republicans until only those who openly wholeheartedly accepted a Far Right agenda were in the ranks to rise up to this level of power. When your Party accepts and promotes only candidates who love an Active-Negative (restrictive and anti-government) agenda, Active-Negative candidates (like Nixon) are all you get.

They honestly do not have a contrasting personality that can go up against the Nativist Populist mood of the GOP Far Right base. They do not have someone respectable enough - with his own power base among more moderate voters within the party ranks that cannot be shredded by the Far Right Noise Machine that really controls the party now - to stand against Trump's wave of support and argue effectively for saner solutions.

6) Trump's refusal to show up for a Primary debate - hosted by the Far Right Noise Machine's foundation AKA Fox Not-News no less - can have serious repercussions if Trump does well (Second or better) in Iowa and especially if he wins in New Hampshire.

It will means A) Trump does not have to play by the Party's rules, and B) Trump does not have to suck up to the Far Right Noise Machine to win the Far Right voters, which will be a major break in the power that Noise Machine - Fox, Newsmax, National Review, all the other wingnut media in orbit around them - has wielded since the 1990s. It will mean NOTHING within the usual chains of command among the Conservative Republicans - the deep pocket backers, the party's internal bureaucracy, decades of protocol and etiquette - can contain or even stop Trump. Outside of straight-up cheating, that is. In this scenario, only Trump can destroy Trump before the nomination is locked up. And he may be too media-savvy for self-immolation.

And what happens if Trump wins and becomes the standard bearer for the GOP heading into November? Well, that's been considered and will need reconsideration when that dread day comes. We'll see.

So, to summarize: I'm not worried about Iowa all that much and not really concerned about Iowa. But like a fantastic car-wreck on the interstate, I cannot look away...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

In Defiance of Gravity, the Shore of the Cosmic Ocean Calls To Us: A Remembrance of The Challenger

Just been reminded this morning that today is the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

I was at Tarpon Springs High at the time. This was 1986, decades before smartphones or even flip cell phones. Beepers were a luxury. Any connection to the outside world was through radio or television, and we didn't have cable in the schools so it was all wobbly antenna with bad reception.

I think they had a television going in the school library when it happened. Most of us were in class though, and we heard about it when the principal got on the speakers to announce the bad news.

Even with Tarpon Springs on the Gulf Coast, on some mornings when NASA was doing their launches from the Cape over on the Atlantic Coast, we could see on clear mornings the distant fire of the engines and the smoky contrails of a space shuttle launch. There was at least one launch like that I watched as we drove up Alt. US 19 towards Klosterman one morning, it was a beautiful sight.

The launch that morning for the Challenger didn't happen that early, so that was one I missed.

It was horrifying, what had happened. I saw the replays afterward on that television in the library.

And yet, we strove on. There had been another shuttle disaster years later - February 2003, the Columbia exploded on re-entry - yet we keep going into space, we keep finding other ways and make other plans.

All the dangers and risks of space travel, all the expense, is worth something. As much as the challenge itself as the means of expanding our knowledge of science, and improving our ability to survive in the harshest of environments to ensure the survival of our world.

As Kennedy once spoke in 1962 to argue for increasing funding to NASA:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win...
And as Carl Sagan often reminded us:

The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we've learned most of what we know. Recently, we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When Last We Left Our Heroic Wingnuts, They Were Going Batsh-t Crazy

On a couple of fronts, just to note these two ongoing situations:

Those Y'allQaeda militia martyr wannabes seizing federal buildings up in Oregon - you know, the ones who DIDN'T PLAN AHEAD - finally found themselves confronted by the federales and state police, and had themselves a brief shootout during the arrest attempt that left one of the militia guys dead and the rest in jail for the charges of "Conspiracy to Impede Officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats" under US Code 18 s372.

It's telling to note these yaybos haven't been charged under a more serious Seditious Conspiracy law (the Impede Officers carries a max of 6 years, Sedition a max of 20), although such charges can be brought later depending if the federal system wants to open up a grand jury investigation after things wind down.

There's still about ten of the Oregon militia terrorists housed at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which the law enforcement finally have surrounded to prevent more would-be wingnuts to add themselves to the standoff. The leader of the group, Ammon Bundy (one of those arrested last night), is calling on the remaining gunmen to "stand down" and leave the park, mostly because he's already got what he and his Far Right buddies wanted: he forced a confrontation with the federal government, and he's got his martyrdom. But the standoff is still happening, and it's not over yet.

This isn't a good situation for the people of that Oregon county or the surrounding communities, and it isn't a good situation for the state and federal authorities. These anti-government militia types - with their skewed interpretation of the Constitution and "sovereignty" that doesn't fit how the U.S. really works - are at the point where they want these confrontations to win their arguments, bully their way out of them, or make themselves "heroes" to their cause to ensure a violent reaction from their allies still at large.

When Bundy and Buddies started their takeover of the park earlier in the month, the local and federal authorities were stuck in a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, those militia jokers were breaking a sh-tload of laws and there needed to be a hard response to that. But on the other hand, that was exactly what Bundy and his ilk wanted, hoping for a gory battle akin to the Waco and Ruby Ridge tragedies.

It didn't help that the immediate response for a lot of Americans - granted, most on Twitter - was disdain over how those gunmen who were most (if not all) White men were getting the kid glove treatment for days while unarmed minorities pulling even non-violent protests would have been tear-gassed, arrested, and beat up within hours. While the feds' actual response was reasonable - don't give them the fight they want - it was bad optics. That they've finally made arrests is a good move... but there's still the damned-if-you-do reality that this is not going to calm things down.

Those Sovereignty / Militia types are going to react to this with more threats, more posturing, more likelihood of violence if not directed at law enforcement then definitely at the cultural scapegoats - immigrants, Blacks, women - they despise.

That said, the second thing of note among the wingnuts is how their Primaries standard-bearer Donald Trump finally blew a fuse and is refusing to show up for next Thursday (already?) FOX-led debate all because Megyn Kelly was going to show up as a moderator and be mean to him.

The first reaction I had hearing the news was "what a p-ssy." Pardon my Swedish.

Seriously. This guy wants to be Leader of the Free World and he's publicly upset about someone hurting his feels. You never see Obama wimping out like this. Even Dubya showed up for press conferences once in awhile.

But on the other hand, Trump's entire campaign style is all about "dissing" others: it's been the ultimate Politically Incorrect campaign since George Wallace in 1968. He's expressed this disdain for the media - even as he phones them for interviews and preens for photo ops - to where he needs to keep up his anti-Establishment persona to keep his fanbase cheering.

Kicking Fox Not-News over something as soul-sucking as a political debate - which have been spectacles of bad behavior and boring cliches - actually won't cost Trump anything among the people who count: his Primary supporters that make up 35 percent of the Republican party's likely voters. Boycotting what will be yet another clown show debate is actually a shrewd move at his point of campaigning: it's a massive middle-finger to the RNC and to the Conservative Establishment media like National Review that's been growing in outrage towards him, and it can draw away interest from the entire show to the detriment of the Republican Party.

This would be interesting, not in terms of watching the debate, but in terms of watching the ratings: Would people tune in to watch a Trump-Free GOP debate between the likes of Cruz, Christie, Rubio, Jeb, Kasich and some of the other carny acts?

Worse: Just how crazy will the other candidates get to pose and bluster for the Far Right voter base so they can steal some of Trump's Primary mojo?

Peak wingnut has yet to happen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Never-Ending War Over the Almighty Uterus

Well, in the good-news bad-news kind of day it's been over the War on Abortion we've been fighting in this nation since Roe v. Wade, there's these two tidbits.

Good news: a Houston grand jury convened to investigate their local Planned Parenthood office for possible illegal acts involving fetus parts declined to indict the women's health care service on any charges. Instead, that grand jury indicted the anti-abortionists who accused Planned Parenthood and lied about it via heavily edited video recordings.

Back in August, the Harris County District Attorney’s office announced it would conduct a criminal investigation into a Planned Parenthood clinic located in Houston. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) ordered the investigation after a series of undercover videos released by anti-abortion activists accused the organization of illegally profiting from aborted fetuses. At least one of those videos featured footage of employees at that Houston clinic discussing fetal tissue donation...
The investigation did find that laws were broken — just not by the clinic itself.
Instead, the grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists behind the videos, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, for tampering with government evidence, which is a felony offense. Daleiden was also indicted for the illegal purchase and sale of human organs, which is a misdemeanor.

Turns out, lying about who you are and what you're doing have consequences. Even if you really aren't harvesting and selling human organs, even lying that you are is a criminal offense. Who knew? It's kind of weird that the illegal sale and purchase of human body parts is only a misdemeanor: in a sane world that would be a felony (you don't want people harvesting your kidneys without permission, would you). Still, minor point.

The activists behind the multi-part video series, who posed as employees at a fake fetal tissue procurement company and secretly filmed their conversations with Planned Parenthood staff, have been widely criticized for the deceptive tactics underpinning the smear campaign.
Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood sued Daleiden’s organization, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), for allegedly engaging in fraud and illegally filming staff who were unaware they were on camera. The National Abortion Federation has also filed a federal lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order to prohibit CMP from making further videos public.
Nonetheless, CMP’s allegations against Planned Parenthood spurred Republican lawmakers across the country to launch investigations into the national women’s health organization on both the state and federal level. Those investigations have so far turned up evidence only that Planned Parenthood’s activities are legal.

When Daleiden and company pulled this stunt, they didn't really care if what they were doing was legal or not. All that mattered to them and to the other anti-abortion jihadists - can't even call them pro-fetus like I used to - was to embarrass Planned Parenthood, and make it easier for the federal and state governments to defund/shut down their offices despite the facts that PP doesn't perform that many abortions and that PP provides a lot of other health support to poor women. Daleiden and his ilk for some reason think it's okay to lie, to deceive, to break the law in their holy war against women's health care.

Turns out it's not okay, is it David?

So while those two anti-abortionists are stewing in criminal court for the next few years, we have a Bad News situation right here in the Sunshine State. The Florida Legislature is considering passing a state law banning all abortions (via Tampa Bay Times):

By an 8-3 vote Monday afternoon, a House criminal justice panel voted to advance the more sweeping legislation (HB 865), which would make performing an abortion or operating an abortion clinic a first-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Just hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated its longstanding ruling affirming women's right to the procedure...
"The Legislature finds that all human life comes from the Creator, has an inherent value that cannot be quantified by man, and begins at the earliest biological development of a fertilized human egg," the bill says.
It goes on to say that "personal liberty is not a license to kill or otherwise destroy any form of human life," and that the state has an interest in stopping abortions, unless the safety of the mother is in question.
It's likely that Van Zant's proposal, if passed by the Legislature, would lead to lawsuits citing the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade. That became even more likely Monday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an abortion ban in North Dakota.

It's interesting to note this Republican-led legislature is so concerned with stopping "to kill or otherwise destroy any form of human life" and would turn right around and pass statutes allowing the goddamn death penalty.

It's horrifying to note that this bill clearly reflects religious intent - use of the word "Creator" - and violates Section 3 of the state's constitution... not to mention violates the federal First Amendment, both of which state "There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion."

It's unsettling because this bill is coming up at a contentious moment: an election year. Normally we don't see controversial or confrontational legislation like this in election time - because none of the incumbents want to rock any boats - but this is different. This bill is going to be a litmus test, I guarantee it: the Far Right people in the state Legislature are going to see who among their ranks will stand up for this bill or try to block it before it goes too far.

And this becomes a problem because we're at the point in the Republican Party at all levels - federal and state - where the wingnuts are finally going to force the issue about their elected officials being on THEIR side or not. 'Cause what will happen is any Republican who votes against this No-Abortion bill will find him/herself facing a primary challenger. The deadline to file is May 23rd, four months away.

At the state level, facing a general election challenge tends to be a foregone conclusion because the gerrymandered district favors the incumbent, and indeed over 30 percent of them weren't even challenged in 2014. However, primaries can't be treated that way: the odds of losing to a wingnut challenger in an especially deep-Red district are pretty good especially if you're caught doing something the Far Right would hate you for doing.

There's a good chance a lot of the Republican Florida legislators will back this bill, to the shame and horror of our entire state, just so they can avoid a primary challenge from someone wing-nuttier than they. The legislators will likely convince themselves that the courts will overturn them anyway, so they'll view it as win-win ("See, I voted against abortion but them damn librul courts stopped us again!").

And the odds of the courts shutting this bill down are near-certain. The Supreme Court just rejected two harsh anti-abortion bills. Florida's bill goes so far against not only Roe but also Casey that it won't even find any friends at the Appellate level.

But this won't be win-win. The wingnuts will not be appeased on this - some might go ahead and primary on candidates anyway. Worse, passing such a blatant anti-abortion bill like this will anger up the majority of Americans who don't have a problem with abortion at all.

Here's why abortion is not a simple cut-and-dried matter. While a majority of Americans don't like abortion and will say they would never consider it, there's still a majority of Americans who realize there is a need for abortion in certain cases. You will always hear people accepting the exceptions for rape, incest, and where the life of the mother is threatened (because pregnancy is NOT 100 percent safe and easy).

And yet the Far Right ignores that, risking the wrath of voters who would otherwise not be bothered to pay attention on other concerns. They can't consider it: being absolutists who believe in All or Nothing to Win, they can't conceive or accept the nuance of compromising between the extremes on abortion.

It used to be the politicians would talk the talk but not walk the walk on this, knowing if they go too far they risk the ire of the pro-choice voters who would usually tune out of the mudslinging mess of modern politics. That is no longer the case: in red state after red state, the Far Right has been making access to abortion services tougher if not impossible for poor women to find. Pressing to see where the line is that can't be crossed... and crossing it anyways because they think themselves safe behind gerrymanders and voter disinterest.

But if they do this, if they succeed in pushing such bills that harm women's health like this, even when the courts knock this bill down the retribution against the Far Right is going to be swift. Women voters and pro-choice voters will show up and will vote and will drive out the anti-abortion politicians wherever they can. They did that against a couple of would-be Senator candidates in 2012, remember?

There's more than enough time, after all, for pro-choice candidates to sign up for the Democratic nominations in those state districts. Even the gerrymandered ones, which will still have a lot of angry women and upset pro-choice moderates looking for THEIR moment to vote to THEIR needs. It's about damn time they did anyway.

Get more candidates running for state offices, people. And get the damn vote out.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Who ARE These National Review People Anyway?

(Yes, I am playing up a joke from Hitchhikers' Guide To the Galaxy) (if you note the two earlier articles I just wrote)

So why should we - and by "we" I mean "sane moderates who dropped out of the Republican party when they went Too Far Wingnut" - even pay attention to the National Review, a political commentary magazine that spent most of its time from the 1950s promoting a hard Conservative line on taxes, on corporate business priorities, against "radical" social experimentation, for an aggressive pro-military foreign policy, and against fluffy bunnies?

Well, for starters, they print on very nice glossy paper.

Seriously, NR prides itself on presenting its Conservative agenda with an intellectual bent, that is with research, analytical reasoning, and using words with more than four syllables once every third paragraph. It is supposed to be a step above, say, Weekly Standard or the online Drudge Report.

So when National Review comes out in force against candidate Donald Trump - with an entire issue titled ironically enough "Against Trump" - Republican Conservatives are supposed to perk up their ears and pay attention.

Even though far too many Far Right base voters are already in Trump's corner and would likely view the NR attack as just another Establishment move against THEIR guy.

So why even bother?

The NR issue isn't really for Trump's supporters. In a lot of ways, they're already a lost cause. As a group, I doubt a majority of Trump backers ever read that magazine (they may have read the occasional link from or Drudge to a NR article, but that's it). The editors should realize they won't reach those voters until well after all the tears and outrage have been shed.

No, this issue is a reminder to the ones the NR tries to influence more directly: the Republican Party leadership / deep-pocket backers who are starting to show signs of approving Trump's chances. There is buzz that the back-room types are warming up to Trump because the other likely candidate - Cruz - is just personally unlikable to the elites, and those elites think Trump will be a more malleable Presidential hopeful they can control (due to Trump's lack of experience, he would likely rely a lot on the party leadership IF he does win the White House).

In the face of that illogic, it makes sense that the National Review is trying to scare straight their plutocratic overlords, reminding them that Trump is too risky a candidate to back... even though the candidate NR seems to prefer is Cruz, which doesn't help their arguments.

On the bright side, at least NR isn't saying all that much about Jeb.

Some More of The National Review's Greatest Mistakes

(Didn't I just write a critique...?)

Just remember, the National Review thought Mitt Romney would win in 2012.

Where The National Review Went Wrong

(hat tip to Oolon Colluphid)

There's been a bit of chatter the last day or so about the National Review's attempt to nuke Donald Trump from orbit.

Mostly about how the special issue fails to do the job.

To quote Tom Scocca over on Gawker:

...The further one reads through the National Review’s anti-Trump pleadings, the more sense Beck’s participation makes. If (William F.) Buckley declared that his magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop,” the Trump package stands alongside history muttering “History? History, history... Hmm, nope, doesn’t ring a bell.” 
There are, at this point, two fairly straightforward thoughtful arguments that a conservative publication could make against the rise of Donald Trump. One would be a pragmatic or tactical one: Despite his theatrical contempt for liberal elites, Trump is unpredictable and insufficiently committed to the conservative movement’s plans and goals. Where a President Ted Cruz would fill the federal bench with names from a Federalist Society spreadsheet (or a spreadsheet Cruz himself had prepared for the Federalist Society), for all anyone knows, a President Trump might appoint Nancy Grace to the Supreme Court. That would surely make liberals mad, but it wouldn’t get the big job done.
This would have been a reasonable - as Scocca calls it "pragmatic" - attack on Trump's candidacy, because it highlights Trump's obvious lack of political experience. There IS honestly no guarantee or previous history in Trump's background to ensure he would adhere to the conservative values NR is supposed to champion.
The other argument that a conservative publication could make against the rise of Donald Trump would be an unsparing self-examination and self-criticism, reckoning with the currents of brutish populism that have run from Nixon through Reagan through George W. Bush to the present-day circus, and humbly apologizing for its role in creating them. Any real attempt to write Donald Trump out of the Republican Party needs to engage, head on, with the fact that Donald Trump is currently polling far ahead of the field with people who identify as Republican voters. What is the conservative movement if it is not the way that voters who identify as conservative are moving?...
This isn't likely to happen. The last twenty years have proven the Conservative elites are incapable of self-reflection and admission of failure. The last time I recall anyone from the Right side of the political spectrum apologizing like this is whenever a Republican Party official was forced to apologize to Rush Limbaugh for lack of fealty.

Reviewing even the first three or four articles of NR's "Against Trump" issue focuses too much on just Trump as a candidate as though he exists in a political vacuum. My readings of the articles rarely reveal any admission or examination about how Trump appeals to a large swath of "Conservative" Republican primary voters. The articles are too busy trying to define "what" the REAL Conservative voter should be (and which (Cruz) candidate (Cruz) such voters (Cruz) should support (I think the commentators are pushing Cruz)).

So, in short: National Review has the right idea - FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T VOTE TRUMP - but lousy arguments.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Letting The Con Man Play

Read an interesting article from Infidel753 today about the tasty burger that is the Republican Party meltdown over the Trump.

He asks right there in the headline "Should We Root for Trump?"  We being the non-crazy Americans - Liberal, Independent, Moderate, Progressive, even the small-c conservative who honestly aren't evil, however we label ourselves - who absolutely refuse to vote for a racist, ignorant demagogue con artist... who nonetheless are intrigued by the idea that a candidate Trump can sink the Republican Party under the weight of its decades-long sins:

How should we react to this?  Some liberals are rooting for Trump on the grounds that he would be the easiest candidate for our own nominee to defeat.  It's the Akin scenario on a national scale -- we should want the Republican to be outrageously offensive because it guarantees that the Democrat will win.
As Infidel notes, it's not Trump alone who should worry the sane voters: the entire Republican field of choices is full of scary ideologues (Cruz, Huckabee), bullies (Christie), frauds (Jeb, Rubio), fools (Jeb, Carson), and con artists (Carly, Kasich). As he puts it "Yes, Trump would be worse than the others, but any Republican as President would be an intolerable disaster.  We must stay focused on preventing it.  Ebola is worse than smallpox, but the point is, you don't want to get either one."

It's just that Trump brings to this election cycle an extreme amount of schadenfreude - especially this this ex-Republican apostate - that makes it impossible to argue in favor for a saner choice (Which would be a candidate with enough brain cells - Kasich, maybe Christie - to recognize some value in a functioning federal government). In this case, I want - a good number of non-wingnuts want - to see what happens when the Republican Far Right base gets exactly the candidate they want in Trump... and watch him derail/implode in the biggest electoral disaster since Walter Mondale.

Trump may be in the lead for now - and can well win all the Primaries he wants - but there is a big difference between the campaign within the Republican ranks vs. whomever he faces in the general election (Hillary). Pandering to the extremist base in the Primary season is a must: When it gets to be time to win over the Moderate/Independent Middle, you can't be an extremist candidate because those 40-50 percent of Primary voters you got drop down to 30-35 percent of overall voters when you increase the population for the general election.

And Trump has campaigned so far to the Right Wing on key issues - anti-immigration, bullying our allies and enemies alike, a laughable budget plan, an overall rejection of civic virtues - that it's insane to think he can switch to more Moderate stances in September/October (not without alienating the Far Right that brought him to the dance). There's a reason why experienced elected officials never went straight to the Hater Agenda the way Trump did: the extremist base may never have liked watching their candidates "wimp out" by easing back on the throttle after the Primaries end, but it worked every so often for the candidates (Bill Clinton in 1992, Dubya in 2000, Obama in 2008) who could pull that trick off. The candidates who stayed extremist (Goldwater in 1964, McGovern in 1972, Mondale in 1984) tended to crash and burn (although to be fair to McGovern, Nixon cheated in 1972).

What's happening to the Republicans this election cycle is an angry voting base that's tired of backing candidates the Establishment leaders kept propping up only to get knocked down. There's that belief that McCain in 2008 just wasn't "pure" enough (despite the fact the GOP brand was poison after the Bush the Lesser debacles: even Reagan couldn't have won in 2008 with that angry electorate). There's near certainty among the base that Mitt Romney in 2012 wasn't "pure" enough a Conservative to win. All the while the base was told how their opponent Obama was "weak" and "a failure" and doomed to lose, and yet there he was winning both elections. The extremist base doesn't want a compromising "safe" candidate to go three-for-three (we call that a strikeout around these parts): This time, they'll choose the candidate who's clearly standing for their hard-core principles to confirm once and for all their "perfect" Conservative ideology wins with the right standard-bearer.

So that's the best reason to let Trump become the Republican nominee. Give that Far Right base the candidate and platform they desire... and then watch that crash and burn worse than any result McCain or Mitt got. Does the Far Right base believe True Conservatism can never fail? Give them the "truest" candidate they think they got in Trump pushing his Hater agenda... and here's hoping 45 states go for Hillary with 60 percent of the popular vote. It would be one hell of a slap across the collective face of the Far Right to fall that low.

Infidel does bring up one troubling problem with this: It's nice to think in that situation Hillary - or any Democratic nominee, including O'Malley - mops up the floor with Trump and the Republican wingnuts. Thing is, there are no guarantees.

If Trump does win the Republican nomination he's got at best a 50-50 shot of becoming President (at which point the whole world is screwed, and that scenario needs discussing another day). Anything can happen: After all, George W. Bush "won" in 2000 thanks to a close election and bad ballots and a rigged Supreme Court. Truman won against an overconfident Republican flank in 1948. For all we know, Bernie Sanders could flip out in October by going mad and swimming off to the South Pole to be a penguin and leave the Democrats in the lurch. Crazier things have happened (I think).

Trump may be one of the most unliked candidates of all time, but he's still got enough supporters to get past the finish line for Cleveland... and if push comes to shove the Republican faithful - even the ones who didn't vote for him in the Primaries - will still vote the party line (See Rude Pundit's take on the 2014 Midterm results). As a final horrifying thought, never underestimate a con artist like Trump to still find a way to sweet-talk himself into a deal.

As Infidel notes, this is a high-risk yet high-reward scenario: Trump runs the slight chance of becoming President Trump (GAAAAHHhh), but Trump also runs the likelier chance of dragging the entire Republican Party into a black hole.

Just think about how that will happen. Trump wins most of the Primaries on a harsh anti-immigration platform that alienates Hispanic voters across the nation. Where there was 80 percent (roughly) Hispanics leaning Democrat the last two election cycles, this time they'll vote Democrat at Black voter levels of 95-98 percent. They'll have to: facing near certainty of a Trump Presidency ruining their lives, most Hispanics are going to vote against him and any Republican ally. Don't forget this: Asian voters are a smaller overall population, but they'll likely go the same way because Trump's anti-China, anti-Muslim rants will add onto worries over immigration reform as well. And despite the high number of older Whites - especially males - who would likely vote Republican this 2016, Whites in general are not a homogeneous bloc: There's a lot of White voters who are pro-immigration who also refuse to bash Muslims as a faith.

A Trump Presidency campaign will affect the entire GOP ballot, because the Presidential agenda set by the nominee becomes the party's national platform. Candidates for the lesser seats can't well campaign on their own platform with Trump blaring his harsher one across the same TV channels. In an election cycle where a lot of Republican Senator seats - 24 GOP seats compared to 10 Dem - are up for vote, the Republicans risk the chance most Toss-up Purple and Leans Blue states will switch to the Democratic party - even a Red state or three could go Dem - thanks to Trump angering/horrifying enough voters to reject the entire ticket. And while the US House is "safe" in terms of pro-Republican gerrymandering, if Trump really angers the general electorate even those "safe" seats in the House can end up for grabs if the Democrats consider challenging them.

Granted from my perspective, the Republican platform - of massive tax cuts for the rich, massive deregulation of public health and safety needs, massive expansion of overseas combat and hostile actions against "rogue" nations, and repealing a moderately successful healthcare program - is already a toxic platform regardless which candidate will sell it in November, but Trump selling it will really hurt the GOP's entire national campaign. He's not that good a snake-oil salesman when he tries selling to people who won't buy it.

An electoral result in November that gives the White House to Hillary Clinton and a 54-seat control of the Senate to the Democrats - Dems need to keep their ten seats and win five at least for 51-seat control, so guessing that the Dems will get more seats than the minimum is a healthy guess to make - and weakening the House to a barely-held GOP majority is a likely result if Trump becomes the candidate. Hillary plus the Senate gives the Democrats a four-year window to choose possible Supreme Court vacancies (there are three sitting Justices over the age of 80 right now) that can flip SCOTUS more Left by 2020 and keep it there for another 20 years.

Just to note: That scenario is not the Best-Likely one for Democrats, it's the Likeliest one if Trump becomes the Republican candidate.

Which is why the Far Right media elites in the National Review epistemic bubble went all-in this weekend with a special edition magazine that flat-out states on the cover "Against Trump" in a near-hilarious, confusing, self-defeating effort to try and rescue their Conservative dogma, as though they can attack and isolate Trump before he co-opts their identity and flushes it down the toilet.

But it's too late, isn't it? Like Jeet Heer and Driftglass and John Cole and a lot of others have been saying over the years, this is what the Far Right has become and has consumed the entire Republican Party to be this way. It's not so much that Trump is a con artist who seized control of the Republican Party, it's that he's a con artist who's able to sell his sh-t to the Republican Party and have a large segment of the ill-informed, angered-up base eat it up like chocolate.

We're talking about a voting base that's been stoked, lied to, angered up by a Conservative media campaign since the Clinton years to buy into this purist Far Right fantasy of a permanent Republican majority ruling over a Utopian landscape of God, Guns and Tax Cuts. The Republican voters could have easily rejected Trump's sales pitch towards that Utopian fantasy at any time if they truly reflected the public sentiment - or political sense - of the Republican elites. But that's the thing: they ARE reflecting the sentiment - the arrogance, the disdain for others especially the minorities and the poor - that the party has been pushing since 1994 1964. The Republican voters with Trump as their golden calf just aren't hiding it anymore.

And that is why in the end - even with the high risk of a President Trump this November - it may be necessary for Trump to be the Republican nominee this election cycle. It is the only way to get this rubbish out in the open for it to get nuked from orbit once and for all (well, for at least the rest of this century).

At least, that's MY Utopian fantasy. I know in my heart the reality of the election results are going to be messy, and that the run-up to the November election will be a nail-biter (look back to how I was panicking in 2012). I know voter turnout is going to be key, and that the Democrats (and left-leaning Independents) need to turn out in higher numbers than ever before this year.

But it's got to be done. No more hiding, no more illusions. No more of the Far Right wingnuts trying to lie to themselves that it was a candidate they didn't want - like McCain, like Mitt, like Dubya when his polling numbers tanked after 2005 - that lost for them. The Republicans have got to have the ass-kicking they deserve, and it needs to be their guy getting his ass kicked in public.

So let Trump win this June. And then stomp his lying, shilling, racist ass this November, along with the rest of a Republican Party that no longer cares about this nation's citizenry.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Costs of Flint

It began as a cost-cutting move.

In April 2013, the city of Flint Michigan under the control of a state-created Emergency Manager approves a plan to cut off the water they're getting from Detroit and switch over to a new water authority that would supply from Lake Huron. This is supposed to save the small poor city millions on its budget.

Problems immediately rise up. The Lake Huron authority won't be able to pump water in for three years, while Detroit is now set to cut off water within a year due to their contract's ending.

So a new Emergency Manager comes in, and somewhere during the transition the decision is made to pump water in from the nearby Flint River.

There's a problem with that. Flint River is toxic. There's no filtration system set up for it.

The city government still follows through on the switch in April 2014. The mayor and council all say "oh, the water is safe to use."

By May 2014 the citizenry are pointing to the discolored, foamy, toxic water coming out of their faucets as something wrong.

The state-level agency Departement of Environmental Quality tests the water and claims it meets "state standards."

By August 2014 there's a boiling alert because E.coli bacteria shows up.

In October 2014, the nearby General Motors factory refuses to use the city water at its facility because it is rusting out car parts. A major industrial company is sending up red flags that there is something wrong with the water and all the local government does is allow the GM plant to tap another water source while forcing their own citizens to keep using the bad water.

By January 2015, the city admits there is a toxic disinfectant byproduct in the drinking water but keeps claiming "it's safe"... as long as you have a healthy immune system.

Quoting the NBC News timeline directly:

Jan. 13 2015: Protesters rally outside City Hall to demand a return to Detroit's supply and lower bills. Hundreds turn out at a forum, some complaining of rashes on children. Detroit offered to let Flint switch back, but the city's Emergency Manager says it would cost too much.

The news keeps getting worse.

By February 2015, a consultant hired by the city claims the water is safe but a federal EPA manager warns the city that there's a possibility the water's contaminants are corroding the pipes and leaching lead - a very toxic element - into the drinking water.

It's April, and the city has to admit - again - that it's flunked the Safe Drinking Water Act - but that hey the water's still safe to use.

By June, the lower-level workers at the EPA are firing off warning messages to their bosses about Flint, but nobody seems to act on it. Activists for the population file a lawsuit to force city government to stop using the Flint River as a water source, but officials move the suit to the federal level as a delaying tactic.

There's now open bureaucratic resistance to what everybody in the real world is seeing coming out of the faucets in Flint.

By July, an employee with the state health department finds a three-month spike in the levels of lead contamination in Flint's waters and sends a memo to her bosses to look into it. The higher-ups decide it's just a seasonal anomaly.

The then-Chief of Staff for Governor Snyder's office emails that health department that the whole state government seems to be "blowing off" the concerns of Flint's citizenry:

"I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint," Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to Gov. Rick Snyder, wrote in the email to a top health department staffer obtained by NBC News.
"I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving," Muchmore said.
"These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we're just not sympathizing with their plight)."

Back to the timeline. By August and September, outside testers are confirming high levels of lead in the water, and worse that the lead is showing up in high concentrations in children (lead poisoning in children is a horrifying situation).

In October, the governor agrees to set up water filtration systems for the city and to start testing kids in schools for lead poisoning. He agrees to fund $6 million get the city tapped back into Detroit's water supply.

But by now it's too late. The water in Flint is still toxic because the piping system has been corroded and nothing will get the lead out of that system.

By January 2016, a state of emergency has to be declared, and bottled water shipped in. Costs go up, even as thousands of people across the country contribute to relief efforts. The federal Department of Justice opens an investigation as does the state's Attorney General. There's evidence that the toxic water contributed to an outbreak of and deaths caused by Legionnaires Disease.

As of right now, the costs of replacing and repairing Flint's water supply system could reach as much as $1.5 BILLION.

Remember what I said at the beginning? This all happened because a state-appointed Emergency Manager wanted to save millions off the city's budget. Now the financial bill is going to be in the BILLIONS. Add to that the legal costs from lawsuits and appeals.

The medical costs are going to be even more so.

The costs in wasted lives, incalculable.

All because there was a political party in charge of the state obsessed with deregulating things, obsessed with cutting expenses, obsessed with kow-towing to their Club for Greed masters who want government shrunk to the size where they can drown it in Grover's bathtub.

All because Michigan's governor Snyder pushed an Emergency Manager program on the state that took power and accountability away from city and local governments and gave control to his lackeys who would be more obsessed fulfilling HIS political agenda over serving the needs of those communities.

And now you see the results of massive deregulation and blind obsession with cost-cutting. Now you see the results. Entire communities dying from poison and despair.

And Michigan's not the only place finding this out. Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin, all of them starting to fall apart after years if not decades of Republican mismanagement.

Here are the costs of Flint, America. Are you sure you want the Republicans to send you this bill?

Update: The interoffice emails of the Governor's office is revealing how the powers-that-be were more worried about the "political fallout" than the fact people were getting sick and dying because of the toxic water. If there were any genuine sense of shame or human decency in any of those state officials from Snyder on down through the departments that stonewalled and covered up, they'd all be resigning. But they won't. We're better off arresting them now.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Unintended Consequence of All That SuperPAC Money

Update: Hello again Crooks & Liars readers linking in through Mike's Blog Round Up today! P.S. I'm trying to think up a good title for a pro-Obama book, if anybody's got suggestions please let me know in the Comments or Tweet me at @PaulWartenberg danke and bitte

With thanks to Infidel753 who linked to this article from The Hill regarding the current status of unlimited fund-raising in political campaigns thanks to the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling.

We're into the second Presidential cycle where the effects of that Citizens United ruling is in play, which means we're getting to see the patterns of consistency how something is going to work. If the stories we're starting to hear about the frustration and messiness are accurate, then the Law of You Get What You Paid For is in full effect. As Jonathan Swan writes for The Hill:

Major GOP donors and fundraisers are wondering whether they’re wasting their money on superPACs.
They say they’re not ready to abandon the superPACs, but they’re starting to look for ways to make them more effective during a presidential cycle that has challenged conventions about how to spend political donations. 
GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s relatively cheap campaign — contrasted with the millions of dollars spent on behalf of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Scott Walker and Rick Perry — has left  donors, fundraisers and conservative leaders questioning the value of superPACs, which got a boost from the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed independent groups to raise unlimited cash.
“People are upset about the Citizens United decision; people are upset about all this money flowing into politics, but at the end of the day it has no impact,” said New York financier Anthony Scaramucci, who was a national finance co-chair for Scott Walker’s presidential campaign before moving to raise funds for Bush when Walker quit the race...

The plan, apparently, was that the richest people in America would set up external Political Action Committees in such a way as to back specific candidates (it still has to be done without "direct" coordination with the actual candidate, but yeah right THAT'S ever gonna stick) and to a size that would dominate the fund-raising landscape (hence the Super- prefix). Those candidates could then, in theory, survive the rigors of a prolonged national campaign by having those deep-pocket SuperPACs pay for the more expensive things like television ads and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts.

Just saying: Theory and Practice are two separate things. Back to Swan's article:

The cautionary tale cited by nearly every donor or fundraiser interviewed on or off the record has been Bush. He has fallen in polls despite the more than $50 million already spent on his behalf by the group Right to Rise, which far out-raised every other superPAC with its mid-year haul of $103 million.
“I think the whole idea of superPACs has been overrated,” said Fred Malek, finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“SuperPACs can only do so much,” Malek added, pointing out that they pay vastly higher rates for TV ads than campaigns do, meaning that eye-popping super-PAC bank accounts might not have as much buying power as they appear to.
In conversations over the past six weeks, a number of major Right to Rise donors have privately told The Hill that they are holding on to hope that the political action committee can turn things around.
And, while doubts are mounting, none of the superPAC’s largest donors interviewed was willing to publicly abandon the group’s leader, Mike Murphy. Murphy has been trying to reassure them that his is a winning strategy and that their six- and seven-figure checks are being judiciously spent.

One great Irony of the Citizens United aftermath is how the lack of regulation is harming the business model of SuperPACs. If you look at the points I put in bold, this is where that deregulation comes into question. Without proper legislation monitoring and controlling costs of a campaign, vendors or providers like the television networks can charge whatever "the market" allows (which means they can charge through the roof knowing how much money is at play). And without proper oversight of the SuperPACs themselves, there are no real guarantees all that money is being spent (if at all).

If we're looking at trends, look back to 2012. Karl Rove had set up a massive SuperPAC for a wide range of Republican candidates and reportedly spent about $103 million on attack ads alone. As the report I'm linking to notes, the backers for Rove's committee got a ONE PERCENT Return On Investment (ROI) with that effort. Do you know a lot of rich people who enjoy a one-percent ROI? If you perform that poorly, those rich people will be suing you for fraud trying to get their money back.

Think about that 2012 Election Night. Rove was on Fox Not-News, insisting that the incoming results were "wrong" and that the candidate his SuperPAC backed - Romney - was going to win Ohio. During live broadcast, he got his ass handed to him by the back-room reporters who actually did their jobs and who confirmed that the early prediction models for Ohio wasn't going for Romney. The final results proved them right and Rove a fool.

You might have heard some panic in Rove's voice. I do, when I replay that scene. There was definitely denial, but I can picture in my mind Rove was freaking out over how he was going to be getting a lot of angry calls from billionaires who were likely promised that Romney was going to win, and that Ohio was one of those key states to prove it.

Part of that was a result of the echo chamber the Republicans exist as a group. They kept re-enforcing their beliefs to where they thought it was fact. But the other part of it was Rove's apparent laziness to keep up with the actual mechanics of campaigning, and what seems to be an ill-informed idea that money alone can buy win elections. Rove acted as though all he needed to do was raise money, pay himself handsomely with the consulting fees, spend just enough on ads and signs, and let the overall size of the PAC do its job.

Didn't exactly work out, eh deep-pocket donors?

If I were one of those deep-pocket rich people, I'd be taking a closer look at how all these SuperPACs are really run. There are far too many reports like this one out of the LA Times that point out how the money going in is not going to where the donors think:

...When Juanita McMillon saw his (Ben Carson's) name, she was eager to get out her checkbook.
“I think he is sincere, and I think he is honest, and I think he is exactly what we need,” said McMillon, 80, from the small town of De Kalb in northeast Texas. She gave $350.
Her money went to the American Legacy PAC, an organization with ties to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. With Carson as the face of its Save Our Healthcare campaign, American Legacy raised close to $6 million in 2014 — and spent nearly all of it paying the consultants and firms that raised the money. Just 2% was donated to Republican candidates and committees, financial reports show.
“I’m really careful who I give money to, but I guess I did not read it close enough,” McMillon said, adding that she had never heard of American Legacy. “I prefer to give money to individuals, and I assumed, I guess, that Dr. Carson was getting my money...”
...The fundraising operation also has proved rewarding for the consultants running it. The founder and treasurer of American Legacy, a Virginia-based direct-marketing consultant, is now a senior finance advisor for Carson’s campaign, which has paid his firms $2.8 million.
The story behind the creation of Carson’s fundraising network is another example of the way that super PACs, which are supposed to be independent from campaigns, have become more entangled with candidates than ever before. It also illustrates how effective the checks of tens of thousands of small donors, many of them of modest means, can be at enriching campaign consultants...

It's a hell of a racket, from the looks of things. Get people - the wealthier the better - invested behind a candidate or cause, get them to cough up some money - 50 bucks, a thousand, tens of thousands spread out through other third-party groups to avoid the regulations still requiring massive payments be reported - for that candidate/issue, and get paid by whatever salary or fee you set for yourself and your consulting agency.

I mean, look at that. TWO PERCENT of the finances raised actually went to campaigns. Where the hell did the other 98 percent go? Some of it to ads, some of it to the operational costs, but how much of it went to the top-tier "founders" of those SuperPACs?

If I'm putting money into something, I'd expect results. I'd expect that money going to where I'd wanted it to go, not a meager percent that's less than bread crumbs. I wouldn't want my money to go to someone else's bank account who does a half-assed job and then retires to a life of speaking engagements and cable news appearances.

This is the overriding reason for regulations to exist in the first place: to protect people from fraudulent or hazardous practices. Even for rich people who should know better, and especially for regular/low-income folks like McMillon. Without proper regulatory guidelines for how PACs and SuperPACs should spend their money, it can turn into a free-for-all with no accountability from that PAC.

You'd think that after the 2012 debacle that no one would be donating to Rove's SuperPAC again, but there he is fund-raising as though he's never been inept or disastrous running that thing. Granted, his Crossroads group isn't raking it in like before, but after last election's disaster he should have been banned from the country club dinners and charity functions.

Here's what we need to see after this coming November: a final tally of that Returns On Investments. If those SuperPACs rack up millions of dollars and end up with the same losing results for those deep-pockets that were promised wins, that will be two Presidential cycles in a row. That's the start of a trend, and part of me thinks that's far enough along for those billionaires to step back and say "we're better off with straight-up bribes to the candidates AFTER they win instead of this waste."

We'll see.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Who Knew Diplomacy Could Work With Iran? Oh, Right. Obama Did.

This had been an eventual week on the political stage, with Obama performing his last State of the Union, the Republican Presidential candidates going feral at each other at yet another horrific primary debate, and a series of international incidents involving the "rogue nation" of Iran.

The earlier incident involved two Navy patrol boats in the Persian Gulf performing maneuvers: somehow one of the boats suffered a failure and both boats ended up drifting into Iranian waters off Farsi Island. As the Washington Post reports:

...A senior defense official, speaking in Washington, said the sailors were not harmed but would undergo medical evaluation and a debriefing in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. Meanwhile, their vessels were taken by another American crew to Bahrain, their original destination and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The release appeared to end a potential flash point as Iran and world powers move toward the possible next steps in a landmark nuclear deal that limits Tehran’s atomic program in exchange for the easing of international economic sanctions.
The detention also added to tensions in the Persian Gulf region amid the worst diplomatic unraveling in decades between Shiite power Iran and Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies. The feud — opened by Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric earlier this month — has put Washington in the middle as it seeks to implement the nuclear deal while also backing its key regional partner, Saudi Arabia...
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in a statement, expressed his “gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in quickly resolving this matter…. That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.”
The incident, meanwhile, offered a test of new high-level channels opened during the nuclear talks between the two nations. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran soured after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and they were formally severed in April 1980, five months after militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage.
For hours — even as President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address — messages passed directly between Iran and Washington instead of the intermediary nations used for decades. The exchanges included Kerry reaching out to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was Iran’s point man during the nuclear talks...

What's important to note that this is all happening in the background of a more pressing concern: the phased slowdown on Iran's attempts at a nuclear weapons program, along with promised lifting of international sanctions that forced Iran to negotiate. From the BBC news:

As part of the deal, Iran had to drastically reduce its number of centrifuges and dismantle a heavy-water reactor near the town of Arak, both of which could be used in creating nuclear weapons...
Iran has always maintained its nuclear programme is peaceful, but opponents of the deal - such as some US Republicans - say it does not do enough to ensure the country cannot develop a nuclear bomb.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry has ordered that US nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran be lifted.
Speaking in Vienna where he had been holding talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mr Kerry said Iran had "undertaken significant steps" which many people "doubted would ever come to pass"...

And along with this, the United States secured the release - via prisoner exchange - of five of our citizens some of whom have been held in Iran since November.

This works a little bit better than labeling Iran part of an "Axis of Evil". Remember that? How three nations with absolutely nothing to do with each other - Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ayatollah's Iran, and the Il Jong North Korea Crime Family - all got bunched together as a collective bogeyman Legion of Doom? All part of the Bush the Lesser administration's attempt to invoke an updated version of the World War II Axis of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Bush's people did that at a time we were starting to work with Iran especially with efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan, with a reasonably moderate elected government. By 2003, the Iranians were miffed enough at the roughshod treatment that they voted the moderates out and by 2006 went their version of wingnut, which hurt our efforts to resolve the painful occupations of Afghanistan AND Iraq. It made it rougher in their own nation when the moderate-leaning populace tried going back to a responsible government only to have the hardline Ayatollah forces crackdown on them. Neither the U.S. nor Iran enjoyed the consequences of that diplomatic snafu.

But now with a President in Obama who takes foreign policy serious, as a collective effort between nations to resolve matters before they escalate and to fight back against the darker forces like ISIL, we have better results. We're getting Iran to deal with us, not against us. We're recognizing their ability to play as a Rational Actor on the global stage.

So of course the Republican Party and their 2016 headline candidates are throwing conniptions about it. Per the Washington Monthly:

...But yesterday, in the mere 24 hours surrounding the SOTU, we were able to see a situation unfold in a way that demonstrates how quick Republicans have been to jump on the anti-Obama bandwagon - no matter what that means - and just how wrong that leads them to be.
Of course I’m talking about the two naval vessels and 10 U.S. sailors that were taken into custody by Iran yesterday. As soon as the news broke, Republicans were ON IT. Here’s just a sample from twitter:

On several occasions recently President Obama has suggested that perhaps Republicans should aim before they shoot. This situation was a perfect example of why that might be a good idea. Because less than 24 hours after these boats and sailors were taken into custody by Iran, they were released...

The Republican debates were not much better. Even with the news that the sailors were already freed and the incident over, the candidates on-stage tried to use it to justify their calls to bomb Iran (via Vox):

...Rather, they fumed over the Iran incident as if it had been a particularly notable segment of reality TV, in which their favorite character had suffered a moment of awkward embarrassment at the hands of their least favorite. It was like watching a recap of MTV's Real World, in which everyone is fuming about how that Obama guy just won't pull his weight around the house, and did you see how he totally let that awful Ayatollah Khamenei jerk get away with dissing him?
If it sounds silly, that's because it is. But it's a kind of silliness with real and potentially dire consequences, as the candidates, one by one, promised militarism and an official policy of belligerence, speaking to a world that remembers the last time America tried that and earnestly fears the consequences should it happen again.
"I want to get to the substance of the question on jobs," Sen. Ted Cruz said in response to his very first question of the night. "But I want to start with something, today many of us picked up our newspapers to see the sight of 10 American sailors on their knees with their hands on their head. ... I will tell you, it was heartbreaking."

Just note that the question Cruz got was on jobs, and he STILL needed to go out of his way to bluster on this incident so he could get out there first before the other candidates. The others weren't any better.

Christie: We are not the world's policeman but we need to stand up and be ready. The problem, Maria, is the military is not ready either. We need to rebuild the military. This president let it diminish to a point where tin pot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships. It is disgraceful, and in a Christie administration, they would know much, much better than to do that.
Rubio: Barack Obama believes America is an arrogant global power that needs to be cut down to size... That is how you get a foreign policy where we cut deals with our enemies like Iran and we betray our allies like Israel and we gut our military and we go around the world like he has done on 10 separate occasions and apologized for America.

It's as though the candidates all wanted to pose as Badasses, as manly men able to enforce their American Exceptionalism upon a cowering planet. Little recognizing that for centuries and through 40-odd Presidencies, we have had to deal with other nations and not shell/invade/bomb all of them to get our way. As Max Fisher noted in his Vox article:

...As I have written previously about this worldview, which is also shared by a number of media figures, it is a world in which high-stakes geopolitical events do not matter for the actual content of those events or for their concrete consequences, but rather primarily for their quality as theater. Foreign policy is not the conduct of relations between states but rather a locker room competition of displays of toughness. The only appropriate posture is thus one of constant and maximal belligerence.
All the stuff about lives at stake, risks of war, and complex diplomatic issues are just window dressing for what really matters: the zero-sum competition for maintaining national pride or imposing national humiliation...
This isn't just campaign silliness. It has consequences. As the Washington Post's Dan Drezner shows, "toughness" as a foreign policy strategy isn't just ridiculous. It's dangerous:
All of these guys think that they’ll sound at least as tough as George W. Bush. The thing is, we already know how that movie played out. While Bush ostensibly demonstrated American resolve by invading and then surging in Iraq, North Korea developed a nuclear weapons capability, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, Russia invaded Georgia, China built up its soft power across the Pacific Rim, and Hugo Chavez expanded the Bolivarian bloc in Latin America. As a theory, the notion that any of these guys would deter Iran from doing what it did this week seems pretty laughable.
This is a movie we've seen before, and that the world has seen before. Even if Americans have short memories and are tempted back into a vision of reality TV–style foreign policy where it's all about imposing machismo and cost-benefit is for wimps, I have found, anecdotally but consistently, that no one outside of America has forgotten how it went last time. I don't know that they're going to have an easy time dismissing all this as empty campaign rhetoric, and I don't know that we should, either.

This is why fearmongering that the Republicans are selling us this year needs to get ignored by the voters. We are running the risk of voting into office someone who will treat international relations like a Game of Chicken. Using tanks instead of cars, using bombs instead of dueling pistols. It is the mindset of a Bully.

It is not the mindset of a professional adult, Something we need from the Someone who will sit in that Oval Office. It is not the mindset we've gotten out of President Obama the last seven years.

I worried before when Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize so early in his administration, that the world was merely honoring him because he wasn't Bush the Lesser. Now we see why. Where Dubya and his administration bullied, Obama led with outreach and dialogue and respect among our allies as well as opponents. This is how a President should act upon the global stage.

And of course the Republicans will blind themselves to that reality before they ever admit to it.

They're trying to blind the rest of us from that. Don't let them.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Need to Think Up a Book Title for Writing a Pro-Obama Reminiscing

I was thinking of calling it "Snark in the Age of Obama" but some anti-Obama jerk already used it for a Smashwords epub. Please don't go looking for it.

If I use my Shoelace Hypothesis/Theory in the title, people will think I'm the one criticizing Obama's method of tying his own shoes. Also, if I did that I'd need to get a photo shoot of Obama tying his shoes in a manly fashion.

Book titles need to be reasonably unique. You wanna know how many books use the title No Way Out? We're talking thousands involving different authors. It's a bit of a gag that Fifty Shades of Grey clashes with another book discussing interior design colors. There's a reason why I made my self-published short story collection titled Last of the Grapefruit Wars (although I pay for that sin by making people think it's a book about fresh fruit, and I should have put the word "Battle" behind "Last" so people could figure that bit out as well). I lucked out with my superhero novella getting the title Body Armor Blues because few books - haven't found any yet, really - went with that.

I can make the SUBTITLE something like "Witness To The Good Times, the Crazy Times, and Proving the Obama Shoelace Theory" but the banner title, the eye-catcher, has to be something else: short and sweet and to the point.

So I gotta think of something else.

Hmm, trying to find words best associated to Obama's character (remember, he's Active-Positive), so anything along the lines of "confident," "competent," "driven," "game-player," and related thesauri results.

The Upbeat Era
The Long Game of Obama
Press On (comes from a quote)
? Any suggestions...