Monday, February 29, 2016

My Favorite Trump



Chris Cuomo was interviewing the Donald, asking him about his income tax returns after Mitt Romney darkly predicted there would be a poison pill, a fatal bomb, in those income tax documents.  The Donald said the returns were tied up because he was currently being audited.

"Audited?" Cuomo asked.
"Yeah, I get audited all the time, " the Donald remarked.  "Probably because I'm Christian."
"You get audited because you're Christian?"
"Yeah."


That is my current favorite Trump line. 

When you think about it, it makes sense. First, the war on Christmas. Now, the war on Christianity, or at least Christians. 

And that Pope--what does he know?  As our very own New Hampshire state Representative, Susan Delemus,  noted, the Pope, well not just this pope but all popes are the anti-Christ. 

Now that we've broken free of the media elites, we have access to all sorts of new information. This is a time of revelation. As in the Book of.

What a great, succinct statement. They are after me because I'm a Christian.
It is well known, of course, the IRS is dominated by Muslims. The banks have Jews, the IRS Muslims. Now, the Donald loves the Jews, because they are good with money, but no so much the Muslims. The Hispanics love him, of course; never forget that. 

You know he has other great gems in there, deep in the loamy center of his cerebral cortex, which he has not yet passed out of his mouth like so much methane gas. 

I am so looking forward to the next several months.
 Please, let it be the Donald. 
This will be so much fun. 
Jon Stewart may have to come out of retirement.

Now the entire country can know how residents of the state of Maine feel about having a chief executive who is manifestly a moron.  Every time Paul Lepage opens his mouth it's got to be a question of who will wince with more pain, the Democrats or the Republicans. 



Sunday, February 28, 2016

On Missing Oscar



There's a good chance I may miss the Academy Awards show tonight; it all depends on if I can finish my income tax return.

But, in a way, I already know what is going to happen, the most important and amusing part of the show will be Chris Rock.

Here is what he will, what he has to say. It writes itself:




Good evening. My name is Chris Rock.
In case you didn't notice, I am Black.
Yes, that's right.
There, I said it. You knew I would.
Take a good look, because very possibly, I will be the only Black man you will see tonight up here.
Now, what I particularly like about the Academy is how discerning it can be in its judgments. Discerning, you know, as in discriminating. 

So you have this one movie, which I really like, about a Black kid in Philadelphia, and this movie is written by a Black man, directed by a Black man and stars a Black man. And who do they nominate?

Yeah, you guessed it:  the white guy!

Now, okay, I like Sly Stallone.  But, you have to notice, over the course of his long career, he has been seen on screen beating up a lot of people of color.  

I mean, first there's Apollo Creed, then all those Vietnamese, and well, there's a lot of them. Oh, sure, he wails on a White Russian or two, but you know, it's okay for an American White guy to pulverize a Russian.  If he were Irish or Italian or Swedish, not so much.  

So Sly Stallone beats up Black guys.  

And this is a guy who actually likes  the brothers!  I mean, in real life, he's got Black friends and what I hear is he doesn't have prejudiced bone in his body, at least none that haven't been broken.

But there's nothing Sly can do about it. He only gets one vote!




But, you got to give it to the Academy: They made up for it. They paid me a bundle to host the show tonight!  I mean, I didn't want to do it, but if they paid you what they are paying me, you'd do it too, I don't care how Black you are, or how militant, when it comes to White people being willing to pay me an obscene amount of money to make their White asses feel better, I'll do it!  

'Cause I always said, there is nothing better for Black people than White people with guilty consciences.  

Sure, there are plenty of White people do don't have a conscience...Well, all you had to do was watch that Republican debate the other night.  

Talk about a bad hair night

Well, he always has a bad hair.  Actually, he really doesn't have a lot of hair.

And the rest of them. They are not even entertaining. Creepy, yes.  Nauseating, sure. But not entertaining. You got to give the phony with the comb over credit for that. He's a showman. 

In fact, he is so good, I am surprised he is not up for an honorary lifetime achievement award tonight.

Can we do something about that?


Friday, February 26, 2016

Paul Krugman Arrives at an Essential Truth



Here is Paul Krugman identifying an essential irony in the current political maelstrom,

"Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles."

As he notes, since Reagan inveighed against "Welfare Queens" who lived high on the hog, driving Cadillacs and wearing mink, while drawing welfare checks, the Republican party has mined the rich source of resentment among white, high school educated, blue collar workers who dimly perceive and full embrace the notion that while they slave away earning dollars, the government takes those dollars and gives them to the undeserving.

The Undeserving are undeserving because:
1/ They do not want to work. They are lazy.
2/ They are cheating, gaming the system and laughing all the way to the bank, living a wonderful life of ease and oppulence.
3/ They are not White.

There you have Donald Trump's appeal in a nutshell: He says openly what Reagan had said in veiled, politically correct, i.e. oblique terms.

Paul, you have seen the truth and spake it.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thomas Edsall: Putting the Science in Political Science





Today's New York Times carries an analysis by Thomas Edsall of the meaning of the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  Finally, we have something which looks like science.

Some have suggested a Trump-Sanders ticket, recognizing there are voters who say they are trying to decide between voting for one or the other. But, as Edsall demonstrates, while there are some shared attractions between the two, there are more important differences.

Edsall cites a very cleverly constructed Cato Institute study (Emily Ekins and Jonathan Haidt)  in which the investigators asked voters questions designed to address certain values: "Care"  and "Proportionality" and "Authority" and "Liberty."  These are the values which the citizen already has internalized and they are almost like pre set, conditioned neurons which fire off when they listen to Trump or Sanders speak.

Below is a chart from that study, which doesn't quite fit my template, but it's so good, it's worth the unsightliness:




Care (empathy)
Proportionality (accountability, or just deserts)
Supporters’ belief that “morality requires caring for and protecting the vulnerable.”
Measured in part by favorable responses to this statement: “People who produce more should be rewarded more than those who just tried hard.” A desire for people to “reap what they sow.”
AGREE
LESS
SURVEY
AVERAGE
AGREE
MORE
AVG.
Sanders
Cruz
Clinton
Rubio
Huckabee
Christie
Paul
Carson
Bush
Trump
Fiorina
Fiorina
Carson
Christie
Huckabee
Trump
Bush
Rubio
Clinton
Cruz
Sanders
Paul
–0.6
–0.4
–0.2
0
+0.2
+0.4
STD. DEV.
–0.6
–0.4
–0.2
0
+0.2
+0.4
+0.6
+0.8
Liberty
Authority (plus loyalty and sanctity)
Resistance to being controlled or dominated, measured in part by approval of this statement: “Everyone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don’t infringe on the freedom of others.”
Includes high levels of patriotism; loyalty to one’s group; support for the police and dislike of chaotic or disordered situations; hostility toward sexual acts outside traditional heterosexual relations; reverence for the American flag.
AVG.
AVG.
Huckabee
Paul
Christie
Sanders
Cruz
Cruz
Carson
Bush
Trump
Trump
Rubio
Rubio
Bush
Fiorina
Fiorina
Clinton
Clinton
Christie
Paul
Carson
Sanders
Huckabee
–0.6
–0.4
–0.2
0
+0.2
+0.4
+0.6
+0.8
–0.6
–0.4
–0.2
0
+0.2
+0.4
+0.6

What Edsall concludes is while Trumpees and Sanders supporters share a desire for being left alone by the government, they differ in many more important ways.

What really struck me was the question on "proportionality" by which attitudes toward who deserves rewards in our society are measured. "People who produce more should be rewarded more than those who just try hard."  

So, when Bernie Sanders  says, "Nobody who works two jobs should live in poverty in America today," that resonates with Bernie supporters but it rings alarm bells with the guys who will vote for Trump. 

The Trump voter says, "Well, if you are working flipping burgers at McDonald's and then working a second job cleaning offices, you maybe be trying hard, but you don't deserve more than I do. I got my license to drive my long haul truck. My brother passed his exams to be an electrician. We had to work hard to get to a position where we could do work to be productive and make money. The hamburger flipper got his girlfriend pregnant in high school, did drugs, never finished high school. Why should I pay to support him?" 

This also accounts for the different directions you see in the "empathy" question:  The Trump supporter resents working hard and having to hand over his money to the government which turns around and gives it to people he considers undeserving.

There is another wonderful and separate study, in which people are asked to play the board game, "Monopoly" and one subject is given twice as much money as his opponent and he gets to roll two dice, while his opponent can roll only one, so the advantaged subject moves around the board much faster and has money to buy more property. After the advantage player vanquishes the disadvantaged player, he is interviewed and the advantage subjects almost always attribute their success to their own superiority, their own crafty judgments and bets and they simply cannot not see the rigged game favored them. They embodied that "born on third base and thought they hit a triple"  mentality.

Other characteristics of the Trumpee are revealed in the Cato Institute study: the Trumpee is more likely to embrace authority than the Sanders voter but not nearly as much as the evangelical Huckabee or Ted Cruz voters.

Millennials are famous for hating the idea of being controlled by authority figures and the question about personal freedom from authority rings the bell with Sanders voters second only to those who love Rand Paul, the ultimate candidate of those who want to be left alone.

How you get people to sit still long enough to answer these questions is another matter, but studies like these are actually worth something, as opposed to 95% of what I see and hear on the morning talk shows and  listening to Joe Scarborough and the partisans who tell you what they believe and try to convince you this is what motivates  people who like Trump. Fact is, Scarborough doesn't know anything. 

But the folks who are out there with well designed questions and methodology which ensures representative sampling, they are learning things.  These folks actually know something. 











Care (empathy)
Proportionality (accountability, or just deserts)
Supporters’ belief that “morality requires caring for and protecting the vulnerable.”
Measured in part by favorable responses to this statement: “People who produce more should be rewarded more than those who just tried hard.” A desire for people to “reap what they sow.”
AGREE
LESS
SURVEY
AVERAGE
AGREE
MORE
AVG.
Sanders
Cruz
Clinton
Rubio
Huckabee
Christie
Paul
Carson
Bu

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Gitmo: The Dark Center of the American Soul



Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire's Tea Party Republican senator from New Hampshire was on NPR this morning trying to win re election by proclaiming her determination to keep the prison at Guantanamo open.

This reminded me of the fact that I often forget--we are still imprisoning people in Gitmo, without trial, holding them for decades without prospect of release.

Throwing people into jail without due process of law, without filing charges to state clearly to the prisoner or the public what the person is accused of, ignoring haebeus corpus, is, of course, something expressly forbidden by the Constitution, and more importantly by any sort of civilized sensibility. 

You capture someone, throw him into jail and simply throw away the key, no more questions asked.  It's beyond medieval, it's savagery.

What we, as Americans are saying is, well that Constitution which protects our citizens does not apply to human beings who are not citizens, because we do not consider these rights of man, but simply privileges of citizenship. 

Of course, the argument has been made these are "prisoners of war," captured by our soldiers, not our police, on another continent, a world away and we can do things in war without due process. We had prison camps for captured soldiers during World War II and we did not feel we had to charge them with any crime. 

The problem is, this "war on terror" is not like WWII or Korea or Vietnam. There you had uniformed soldiers and battle lines. There you had wars with foreseeable ends. The fact is the ISIS inspired terrorist whether he is caught on a battlefield, scooped up in an Afghan village or captured shooting civilians in San Bernadino or Paris is much more like a common murderer, motivated differently perhaps, but behaving alone or in a gang and firing against people not wielding weapons against him, so he is engaging in murder or attempted murder. 

The "war on terror" is unending and in that sense is not a war at all, but an ongoing police action. It's something new in our history. 

What do we do with men we've captured in the Middle East and with those who we will capture in the future?

As Lincoln once said, the solutions for gentler times will not suffice for the turbulent present; as we face new problems, so we must think anew.

But we have not been thinking. 

We accept that we can send in the drones to kill "terrorists" in Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere because we are assured by our leaders they have human sources who have identified these "targets."  Even without a trial or a charge or any sort of arguments for innocence, we accept killing Al Qaeda agents because of the secretive way in which they act and because we cannot think of any other effective way of dealing with stealthy assassins living overseas.

But in the case of men we have captured on the Arabian peninsula, we have options.  Some of the options we have exercised include "water boarding" which at least  one former CIA director has claimed is not torture but simply "enhanced interrogation." Somehow, we have accepted the idea when we have people completely under our control we can strip search them, abuse them physically and that's okay. We can do this because they are suspected of being soulless animals who kill innocent human beings. The enormity of the accusation justifies the cruelty of the captivity, even before we have any real certainty they are guilty of what we say they are guilty of.

And now we have Senators like Kelly Ayotte arguing the men we have in Gitmo, whoever they are, are so terrifying we cannot take the chance of bringing them to our shores, because, like King Kong, they may escape!

We have psychotic, frothing at the mouth, serial killers in American prisons, but, oh, the prospect of bringing some Al Qaeda operative who has been held for 9 years at Gitmo to the USA makes us go all weak kneed. 

Of course, no matter what these guys were like before that 9 years, you know they must hate us now. But there's nothing we can do about that.

And, bye-the-bye, what are we doing holding a piece of Cuba as our own private preserve? What would Americans say if Cuba or Mexico held a piece of Florida and housed military on it, not to mention a den of iniquity, a black hole of foul deeds?

The fact is, this black hole we've created is a festering abscess on the soul of America, the worst sort of despotism, as bad as anything we've done since Abu Gharib in Iraq. George W. Bush, reacting to the revelations of Abu Gharib famously said, "This is not who we are."  

Well, I've got news for you, George: 

This is who we is.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Vermont



Cross the Potomac River from Maryland into Virginia or cross the Hudson from New York to New Jersey or cross into Connecticut from Massachusetts and you need a road side sign telling you you have crossed a state line.

But put a blindfold on me and drive me from New Hampshire to Vermont, or, for that matter, push me out of an airplane and let me parachute to ground and as soon as I can whip off that blindfold  and look around, I know I am not in New Hampshire; Vermont looks very different. 

It's all valleys and steep hills which are, well, green. It's a little like parts of West Virginia, with its hollows, but there are red barns and covered bridges all around, so you know you're in northern New England, not the inbred environs of WV, and there are no coal mines. 


Drive along the country roads, many of which are unpaved as you seek out the cross country ski areas, or the cheese farms, and you notice another thing which distinguishes Vermont from New Hampshire: A lot of Vermont is really rural in a way New Hampshire is not, and really poor, in a way New Hampshire is not.

Income disparity is also much more striking in Vermont. New Hampshire has it's monster McMansions, along its seacoast and up at Lake Winnipesaukee, so there is real money in New Hampshire, but it's more like the money you see in the Washington, DC suburbs: it's BMW/ Mercedes money, not Rolls Royce/ Bentley money.  Vermont has the latter.

We stayed in Quechee this weekend, looking for snow, of which there was not much, but we were able to find enough, just north of town in Strafford to get in a full day of cross country, just enough so you feel you could not have gone another hundred yards, and were lucky to find the parking lot when you did.  

Then drove down to Woodstock, where the streets are lined with stores which, at first glance, look like what you'd find in Georgetown, or Annapolis or Camden, Maine, until you go in.  At Foot Prints, the walls were arrayed with Spring fashions in a way that all the designs and colors harmonized, so each wall became a canvas.  There were pretty little sweaters in primary colors and contrasting collars and cuffs, for a cool $400 each.

 The Woodstock Gallery is gorgeous, again the paintings by different artists harmonized so you might have thought the entire space was color and design coordinated. Couldn't afford any of the original art there. 

Everything in Woodstock was just beyond my reach, financially. There is clearly real money skulking about Woodstock, and it's all just a mile or two from unpaved roads and dilapidated houses.  The money is, presumably, mostly from out of state.

Vermont's got New York on one side and Massachusetts below and people with money from both those places have found they can buy a lot of land and build in Vermont.  This does not seem to bother the natives one bit, who seem pleased to see the money flow in, and winters like this one, where out of staters stay home are pretty bleak. 

You do get an intimation where Bernie Sanders got his feeling for income disparity, though, driving around Vermont.  You see the struggling, the poor and you see the rich. 

You don't see a lot in the middle.




Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Presentation of Self in Political Life: Hillary Needs Chris Rock



Watching the Town Hall in Nevada tonight, it finally crystallized in my foggy brain what Hillary's problem is: She simply does not get how to present herself.

Where Bernie seems to care nothing about his own ego, where he seems totally wrapped up in the righteousness of his cause, in the enormity of the evil he faces, in the pathos of the problems of people he seeks to help, Hillary utters scarcely a sentence without the word "I."

For Bernie, it's all about them and us. For Hillary, it's all about me.

She may think it sounds forceful and confident, that she is confronting the problem of being a woman who might be thought insufficiently combative or strong, but instead she looks self serving and self absorbed, rather than genuinely invested in the plight of others.

She often does not answer the question asked, which is a deep problem in the Town Hall setting because it looks as if she does not actually hear ordinary people.

So, when a young Sanders supporter who had asked her why she would not release her transcripts, added, "And I'm sorely disappointed that in 2007 you said marriage was between a man and a woman," Hillary blew both questions.

She actually had a good answer to the first question: "I'll release my transcripts when everyone else, including Bernie Sanders releases theirs, because they all have talked to the same people I have." 

But that was lost in applause and she didn't dwell long enough on that question.  She should have said, "Yes, I spoke with Goldman Saks, and they may have thought they bought me, and they may have put my picture up on their brag walls, shaking the hands of the CEO's.  But who is naive enough to believe that a grip and grin session means you are in bed with the guy paying to have his picture taken with you?  
Yeah, I took the money! I was broke when I left the White House and that's the way you make yourself solvent. You go out and talk to people.  And you would too, if they offered to pay  you what they paid me. You say: What? Sure, I'll come give a speech if you pay me that much! I'm not going to sleep with you, but I'll give the speech! Maybe I'll give three, if you are that foolish.

But you never stopped fighting for the hard working guys who can't pay those fees. You never forget who sends you to the Senate or the White House. 

And you know why? Because all the rich guys have is money. It's the poor guys who have the votes!" 

Maybe Hillary should ask Chris Rock to coach her.

And, in answer to that question about her statement in 2007. "Yes, you are right. I said that in 2007, eight years ago.  But who here among us today was fully evolved in 2007? Maybe you were, and I congratulate you for that. But you were ahead of me. That was eight years ago. The whole country turned on a dime with respect to gay marriage. Even the gay community was stunned by the alacrity with which opinions changed, mine among them. 
For many of us, part of the reason we opposed gay marriage was  we thought it would never be widely accepted,  and after all the whole question was whether people would accept this new normal. 
So I don't apologize for not having been a prophet or a leader on this one. I'm just happy to say today, like so many others, I'm all for gay marriage."

One of her best lines in the last debate was almost lost because she rushed past it in her summation, but she accused Scott Walker of trying to cut the heart out of the middle class by trying to crush unions in Wisconsin. She should have elaborated, pounded that point home, built her outrage into a fulminating volcano of righteousness, embraced the union movement, talked about the history of unions and how the rich and powerful tried to crush unions with private police forces, bludgeons and guns.  

In her answer to why she would not raise the Social Security retirement she missed the vivid for the statistical. What she should have said was: "The guy who works 30 years on the assembly line, or on the power line or in the steel mill or coal mine reaches age 65 as a much older man than the guy who sat behind a desk or went to Congress.  He has, in actuarial terms, maybe 5, maybe 7 more years to draw his Social Security benefits. The CEO, the accountant likely has 15 years. So, for the office worker, raising the age to 67 doesn't make all that much difference, but for the beat down guy who worked physically hard all his life, raising the age of retirement to 67 might mean he dies two years earlier and never really benefits much from all those years paying in." 

And Hillary, stop talking about programs, and start talking about right and wrong. Nobody cares about your white papers or your plans. It's all government speak and pie in the sky. What they care about is what makes your blood boil, who you think is ripping us off and who the bad guys are.

Roosevelt famously demonized the fat cat capitalists, (un-named) and said, accurately enough, they hated him and beaming with a great grin he said, "And I welcome their hatred." This from an American aristocrat, a traitor to his class. But it worked, and it was believable because you could see he knew these guys and he knew them well enough to hold them in contempt.

Bernie is an encyclopedia of historical outrages, which he uses to great effect.  He points to American concentration camps for Japanese citizens, to American government overthrow of the duly elected Iranian president, to Henry Kissinger and Cambodia. He doesn't care if half his audience has no idea about these things--they'll go Google it and they'll be outraged. But for now, they just know what he tells them and they swell with rage along with him. 

The wonder is, Hillary  doesn't have someone in her inner circle who can talk her down from her current approach, someone who can play back her performances, provide her with alternative answers. Even in "West Wing" they did that sort of rehearsal and theater, so the candidate could get to a better place.

Right now, I'd say the smart money is on Bernie Sanders. Hillary would probably make a better President, and would be more likely to survive the next four years--Bernie does not look to be a vigorous 74--but she is simply tone deaf to what has stirred the hearts and minds of the masses. 

Recommended viewing for Ms. Clinton: Look at Martin Luther King, look at Bernie Sanders, look at Franklin Roosevelt,  as they exhort the masses. You don't see the author of their words in what they say--you see only the images of the world they depict.

 It does not matter Bernie is stooped and bald and gray: He has you seeing a world where nobody sits home and dies because he's too poor to get to the doctor; he has you seeing a world where the masses rise up and claim their rightful place in the green pastures of public parks and bathe in the clear waters of public beaches and drink clean water from public water systems.  It's not because "I" did it; it's going to happen because righteousness will reign when the people can find their voice.

And right now, at least, that voice sounds like it comes from the hoarse, winter voice of an elderly grandfather from Brooklyn, who sounds as if he couldn't utter an insincere word if he tried. 


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

JOHN OLIVER DECONSTRUCTS VOTER SUPPRESSION




As Bernie Sanders has noted, when the voters turn out, Democrats win. 
When turn out is low, Republicans, who represent the 1%, do well.
The way to stay in office when your ideas favor a small minority is to try to keep only a small minority voting.

Fortunately, given the great American tradition of holding a vote for 300 million people on a single day and on a working day when middle class people cannot easily get to the polls, things have worked out well for Republicans.

In a recent rant, John Oliver examines the one study which suggested voter fraud, i.e. a person voting more than once on election day, may actually occur, and, it turns out, when you look at that study, what it really shows is this almost never happens.
As Mr. Oliver notes, voter fraud has occurred in American history, but almost never the kind of fraud voter ID laws address. 

Stuffing ballot boxes, yes, but a voter voting more than once for a candidate is terribly inefficient, waiting in line to vote multiple times--how much could that actually affect an outcome when millions are voting? 

What he does show is a Tennessee legislator who inveighs righteously about how important the voting process is to a democracy explaining her bill to limit voting registration, and then it shows her voting electronically on bills before the legislature by pressing not just the button at her desk but the buttons on desks for any legislator who is not present at his desk, i.e. she is cheating and voting for absent members. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NK-oP1lRCI


Ah, there is the essence of concern for the integrity of democracy.