Saturday, May 5, 2012

A minor rift . . . or a crack in the dam?

The full story about Rick Grenell's resignation as Romney's recently hired national security spokesman has been aired in the New York Times, and it's not a pretty story for the Republicans and for the Romney campaign in particular.

Grenell has an impressive resume and is uniquely qualified to be Romney's adviser and spokesman in the area of foreign policy and national defense.   He has worked in the Bush White House and at the U.N., including when John Bolton was Bush's recess-appointed ambassador to the U.N.   And Bolton highly recommended him for this job and called to try to dissuade him from resigning.

The problem is that Grenell is openly gay and an outspoken proponent of gay marriage.  His being gay did not bother Romney and his campaign, nor Bolton either for that matter.  And he had agreed not to speak publicly about gay issues while working on the campaign.

It's becoming clearer that the mainstream Republicans are not anti-gay in feelings and in dealing with individuals on their team.   But here's where the problem comes in.   They're too scared of the power of the right wing, anti-gay ranting preachers -- who did oppose the hiring of Grenell.  So they're fine with your being gay -- just shut up about it.   Don't ask, don't tell all over again.

In Grenell's case, they tried to talk him out of resigning, but they wouldn't defend him and tell the anti-gay preachers to just get over it.  The Romney campaign thought it would blow over soon, if only Grinell would keep a low profile for a while and not remind the preachers that he was the spokesman.

The last straw for Grinell was the instructions not to speak during a conference call he had arranged for the media to respond to Joe Biden's foreign policy speech -- an occasion in which he would ordinarily be a firebrand leading the attack rebuttal.    His friends among the reporters wondered why he wasn't present during the call.   In fact, he was on the call -- sitting silently and fuming.

He had already chafed at prior instructions to keep a low profile for a while.  In fact, the Times article says he had already told the campaign he planned to resign because his position had become untenable.

Here's the line that makes me say this is more of a crack in the dam than a minor rift that will blow over.   Six top aides called and tried to talk Grinell out of resigning.  Several of them said they were "shocked" and couldn't understand why they couldn't persuade him to stay.

So they have no concept of someone acting out of integrity and refusing to pretend that he is a pariah that has to be hidden away when the crazy uncle comes to visit.

What does this say about the character at the core of the campaign?   The same thing expressed by the Etch-a-Sketch metaphor.   Maybe there's no there, there.


Friday, May 4, 2012

The case against John Edwards

I can't say it enough.   I was wrong about John Edwards, and I am embarrassed that I did not see through his character flaws that brought him down.

John Edwards is a cad of the first order -- but apparently only in the circumscribed area of narcissistic susceptibility to flattery and attention from certain women, to his own feelings of transcendent 'being in love,' and to his blindness in thinking he could get away with it.

The crusading lawyer seeking justice for the underdog, the philanthropist who worked to combat the effects of poverty, and the political campaigner who almost caught on with his "Two Americas" economic populist message -- all of that is also John Edwards, and I still believe that was real.

Like Bill Clinton, John Edwards is one of those men who can do great good, and who can also be very reckless in his behavior in some area of narcissistic vulnerability.

I am still not ready to forgive Edwards for the risk in which he placed the Democratic Party and the whole liberal movement.    What if he had gotten the Democratic nomination for president, without the affair coming out?   And then, two weeks before the election, it did come out?

Sarah Palin would be in her fourth year as Vice President of the United States.   This shows poor judgment of the first order -- at least in this circumscribed area when he personal feelings and narcissistic blindness are involved.   But that is a real risk for a public figure at the level of the presidency.

All this is background to how I'm viewing the ongoing trial of John Edwards on campaign finance violations for not reporting the near $1 million given by two wealthy donors to take care of the mistress problem.

The prosecutors are slogging through day after day of testimony from Edwards' aides about the details of the affair, the effect on Elizabeth Edwards when she found out, etc.

But what does all this have to do with the crime he is charged with:   campaign finance violations?   Those questions come down to this:   (1)  Did these monies actually amount to campaign donations?   (2)  Did Edwards knowingly misuse, or cause others to misuse, campaign donations?

The first question is highly debatable.   Nobody questions that the money was intended to take care of the mistress' expenses and to keep her from talking to the media.   But was this to avoid destroying the campaign or to keep Edwards' wife from finding out?   He says the latter.   The money never went into campaign accounts.   The donors understood they were helping with Edwards personal expenses.

The second question is also highly debatable.   Both Andrew Young and his wife have testified that Edwards told each of them that he had been told by those he believed knew the law that the funds were not campaign contributions.

The government will have to prove (1) that they were in fact campaign contributions and (2) that Edwards knew this and willfully misused what he knew to be campaign funds.

Proving both is unlikely.  So the prosecution is trying to convict Edwards bv swaying the jury emotionally against him.   Portray him as the cad that he was, even dragging his now-dead wife's public humiliation into the record.

I have to admit that I want John Edwards to pay for what he did and for the risk he put the country in.   But isn't this a bit of overkill, dragging all the sordid details of the affair and the wife's humiliation into it?

It really has no bearing on the alleged crime.    Does it mean that the government knows it can't prove the allegations, so it is falling back on the cheap shot of prejudicing the jury so emotionally against Edwards that they will have a hard time acquitting?



Krugman responds to Ryan

Paul Krugman has criticized Paul Ryan's budget plan, saying among other things that it will increase the deficit, not decrease it as Ryan claims.

Ryan laughed it off, putting "an attack from Paul Krugman" alongside death and taxes as things he has learned to expect.

Krugman shot back with this:
“That’s not a substantive remark. I’ve never attacked him just for nothing in particular. I’ve gone after his arithmetic and said it doesn’t add up at all. And he has never offered a response to that. All he does is make scary noises about the deficit . . .  about how ominous it is, and then propose[s] a plan that would in fact increase the deficit. . . .  just claiming that he can find trillions of dollars from no specified source and in fact has ruled out the only place you could find it [increased taxes]."
Krugman added that it's amazing how "robust" the Ryan myth continues to be. . . .  "despite the fact that every time he produces an allegedly wonkish budget document it turns out to be totally full of holes. . .  He’s become this beloved symbol of the alleged responsible wing of the Republican Party [and] no one wants to go after him.”

Well, one person did go after him.  Remember when Newt Gingrich called Ryan's plan "right-wing social engineering"?    Of course, he had to sort of take it back after the uproar among GOP big wigs.

Ryan may very well wind up as Romney's VP running mate.   Well, it seems that there will be some tough questions both he and Romney will have to answer -- whether he's on the ticket or not -- because Romney has definitely drunk the Ryan Kool Aid, totally embracing the Ryan budget plan.

Or will this too just disappear in the Etch-a-Sketch moment?


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Do Nothing Congress

Dana Millbank, writing for the Washington Post, says that to call the current 112th Congress the "do-nothing Congress" would be an insult to the 1947-48 Congress immortalized by Harry Truman as "the Do-Nothing Congress."

That 1947-48 crowd, which so enraged Truman, passed 908 laws.    By comparison, the 112th to date has passed 106 laws.   Of course, they still have 34 weeks to go -- but they plan to be on vacation (euphemistically referred to as 'doing constituent work' back home and really meaning campaigning for re-election) for 17 of those weeks.

Given the recalcitrant partisanship of the current Congress -- and in the midst of an election campaign to boot -- the chance of much getting done in those other 17 weeks seems dim, at best.

Does anyone doubt why it has been so unproductive -- and who is responsible?

All you need do is remember that a group of Republican leaders met the day of Obama's inauguration to plot their strategy for defeating him -- not just defeating him for re-election but defeating his every effort to get anything done.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said publicly that their main goal was to make Obama a one-term president.   That doesn't even address the extremism and the obduracy of the Tea Party dominated House.

The "Do Nothing Congress" was a winning campaign slogan for Truman.   It should work for Obama.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Just one more . . . too good to pass up

Newt Gingrich gave his long-awaited speech announcing the end of his presidential campaign today.  Well, it wasn't the speech that was long awaited, it was finally getting Newt off stage.

But first, Newt had to give his speech -- his last self-indulgence while the world waited for him to leave.    It won't be his last, you can be sure. 

The speech fell during a certain tv news commentator's hour, and the producers decided to air it.  At the end, the show's anchor said, "Wow, well I'm exhausted."  Then speaking directly to the TV audience he said, ". . . I'm guessing both of you are exhausted as well -- the two of you who stayed with us."

Then turning to his fellow pundit, he said, "I feel like I've just been transported to another world here."  Recalling a conversation he had with Newt before the campaign began:  "I thought then he was delusional, and now I'm sure. . . . I don’t know anyone on his side of the aisle who can stand him anymore.

This amazingly frank, on-air assessment was not some liberal firebrand.   It was FoxNews' Shep Smith speaking about the former Fox News commentator, Newt Gingrich.

It sort of restores my faith that "truth will out" and gives a tad of justification for the long, drawn-out primary process.   I remember now someone predicting that Newt might fool the people for a short time, but he couldn't sustain it without self-destructing, given enough time for it to play out.

Now if he and Callista will just have the decency to go take another Mediterranean cruise and disappear from the news.   I don't want to look at her hair or see his doughy body and angry-little-attack-muffin face -- ever again.


Obama and bin Laden's killing

President Obama went to Afghanistan to sign an agreement with Karzai and to observe the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

His campaign released an ad that brags a little bit about Obama's courageous decision and his credentials as a bold commander in chief.   Maybe the ad was a little bit tacky -- but the Republicans, who are crying "how awful" to politicize such an historical and solemn moment, are just jealous that they didn't get to do the bragging themselves.

Jon Stewart lit into them -- reminding them of George Bush's putting on a jet pilot's costume and landing on an aircraft carrier to declare "Mission Accomplished" -- BEFORE the fact.  In fact, it was waaay premature to claim victory -- about six years, in fact.

More than that, though, Stewart said those going "Waah" (and that includes Mitt Romney and Rudy Giulani) are "just pissed that they didn't get to do it [the bragging]."

Here's my take on it.     How much criticism have these same people heaped upon Barack Obama as a "weak" commander in chief, taunting his "leading from behind" strategy in Libya, saying he is endangering our national security by his "weak" foreign policy stances?  Nothing he could do was right.

The truth is that Obama has been a bold warrior president -- and he has acted against his own inclinations and done it magnificently, in some instances.   He had to play the hand he was dealt, not the hand he would have held if he had been in charge in 2003 and beyond.   We would not have invaded Iraq;  Afghanistan would not have been half-abandoned in order to invade Iraq on trumped up charges and lies.

So give Obama credit for stepping up and doing what had to be done to get us out of his predecessor's mess (and that means not just Bush, but Chaney, Rumsfeld, and the whole pack.)

Taking out bin Laden was a very risky special operations mission.  If it had failed, Obama would have been pilloried by the right and the left -- one for failing, the other for trying.  So let him have some bragging rights about making the bold decision and taking the responsibility -- when his advisers were divided.  This was an act of presidential courage.


Let's take a deep breath . . . and wait.

There's some really awful stuff begin said out there about the various social issues that the far-right and the bigots are trying to make big election issues.

Examples:   The Texas Attorney General compared Planned Parenthood to a terrorist organization.   Some anti-gay preacher said that gays were responsible for the Nazi's coming to power.  Their warnings about the end of Western Civilization if we allow gay marriage doesn't carry a lot of weight if you look at Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticutt, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.  But then who looks at evidence and facts?  All of those states have lower divorce rates than most of the Bible Belt Southern states.

One of those ignorant, rabble-rousing preachers made totally false claims about the medical results of gay sex.  Another one advised parents to beat the gay out of their 5 year old sons if they start acting feminine.

The Catholic bishops are opposing Obama's entire health care plan because the compromise he made to accommodate their anti-contraception stance didn't go far enough.   The bishops say one thing, but the majority of Catholic voters just ignore the Church about birth control -- and these same bishops just lost a big chunk of women voters when they reprimanded the organization of American nuns for putting more emphasis on helping the poor and caring for the sick than on opposing abortion and birth control.

What I'm trying to remember is that this a losing strategy for the Republican candidates in the races that are close.   The ones where these "social values issues" are important to voters will be won by Republicans anyway, given the redistricting patterns.

For the majority of moderate voters and independents, these issues are not controversial any more.   Pushing the conservative position will lose votes for Republicans in the key swing states.

So, yes, the lies must be countered.   But we should try to just take some deep breaths and wait them out.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Well done. Thank you.

What's the opposite of my curmudgeonly "Bah, humbug"?    Maybe:  "Well done, thank you."  Whatever . . . that's what I want to say to whomever changed that sign.

Some years ago, road signs began showing up all over that said "Limited Sight Distance."  It seemed there had been some system-wide decision to adopt this language as the official road sign for areas where a hill or a curve obscured driveways or crossings and made it hard to know what's ahead -- or for, say, people backing out of blind driveways to know you were coming.  So there was a reasonable need for caution.

I knew what the signs meant:  Be careful because you can't see ahead, and they can't see you coming.  But the wording was so cumbersome that I would get distracted trying to parse that phrase:  what does "limited sight distance" actually mean?   I would forget the need for caution in my preoccupation with the awkward phrase.

Today, driving to the Whole Foods store, I passed one of those signs where there are concealed driveways just over the crest of a steep hill.   The "Limited Sight Distance" sign had been replaced.  It now says, simply:
"Hill Blocks View"
Now that's the way to communicate.  Well done, Somebody. 
Thank you.


Bill Maher

Bill Maher was hitting on all cylinders -- some of it a little too raunchy for this blog, but incredibly funny in his wry, derisive humor.

His main theme was the media's (and hence the public's) obsession with sex, particularly the sexual indiscretions of politicians.   Here's a sample:

"Newt Gingrich, over his long career, has committed every sin in Dante's Inferno except grave robbing;  and that's just because shoveling is work.  But why is he ineligible for high office?  Adultery.

"Or take Herman Cain. . . .  Every time he opened his mouth something frighteningly stupid, factually inaccurate, or mathematically impossible would fall out.   And the media just stood around saying, "Hey !!  Wow !!  He's the front-runner"; but, as soon as a woman came forward with some dirt,  say "hello" to Woodward and Bernstein.

"Or take the John Edwards' trial -- please. . . .  Stories like that bring out the 'people have a right to know' fervor in our intrepid reporters. . [Then followed a very funny sexual joke that I will not repeat here] . . .  John Edwards' favorability rating is 3%.   The worst ever recorded.   Is he really the worst person in the world, ever?  The crime he is accused of is a campaign finance violation.   
"But back to the Supreme Court.   Last week Mitt Romney's SuperPac was able to get an anonymous $10 million donation.  For all we know, it came from Vladimir Putin or Mel Gibson . . . .   The Supreme Court did a lot more to corrupt campaign finance than John Edwards.

"Why do we punish sex so much more than everything else?  Clinton lied about a blow job and got impeached.   Bush lied about a war and didn't.   I can't help but think that, if an alien landed in American tomorrow . . . he would say:  'Is there no end to your childish fixation with pee-pees and wee-wees?'   Even Rick Santorum was fascinating to us because of sex -- albeit in reverse:  That someone could be that sexually repressed.    I never worried that Rick would have an affair.  I worried that he would dress up as his mother and kill women in a motel."
OK, so Maher ignores some things.   There are plenty of other reasons Newt is unelectable -- like a cosmic ego that can't be bothered with the real world.   And there are plenty of other reasons why John Edwards is in such low regard -- like the massive betrayal of trust to his family and to the American people.  Just suppose he had gotten the nomination and his affair had remained under wraps until two weeks before the election.  We would be in the third year of a McCain-Palin administration in the White House -- if we survived that long.  I might be living in Canada or New Zealand.

But let's put that aside for now and enjoy Bill Maher's humor.  I certainly do.