Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hillary Clinton's problem is not just her emails

These pictures of Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren capture a major difference that I think is important, and I wish Hillary had one-tenth of that quality that Elizabeth has in spades.

Hillary Clinton

Elizabeth Warren - Lloyd Austin II Briefs on Military Effort Against ISILWhat to call it?   Engagement, spontaneity, non-defensiveness, phrase-making that sounds fresh, no matter how many times she says them.   I can still quote lines from her 2012 senate campaign speeches.

Watching Hillary answering reporters' questions about her emails just brought back all that I found wanting in her 2008 campaign.   Somehow the warm, caring Hillary that people know from personal contact gets lost when she faces a crowd from behind a microphone.   She retreats to that chin-up pose, looking out above the crowd, not at them, talking down from a lofty perch, like a policy wonk.

Hillary's phrases sound canned, her emotions stilted, rather than felt.  Probing questions provoke a defensiveness;  and, no matter how cool she remains, she retreats behind the shield of talking at
people rather engaging with them.  

Elizabeth Warren Barack Obama Delivers State of the Union AddressHere is another picture of Elizabeth Warren, showing her being in the moment with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).   

Nothing about Elizabeth Warren sounds stilted or canned.   She always speaks as though she's in the moment and fully engaged with you, personally.    Notice in both pictures how she leans forward, animated even while listening, while Hillary pulls back behind a mask and a defensive wall.

Clearly it comes from a level of comfort and style that Elizabeth feels and, apparently, Hillary does not.   I am not for a moment suggesting that Hillary doesn't care or doesn't feel comfortable with people.   But she needs to find some way to let that side of her be present on the podium as well as in person.    Unfortunately, it's probably not something you can learn.

Hillary is still my choice for our next president -- not perfect but more right than anyone else that is likely to win and be able to govern.   I just wish she had a better style of communicating on the campaign trail.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Some Palestinian opinions on the election

From the New York Times Opinion Pages, by Palestinian writer Yousef Munayyer:

" . . . Mr. Netanyahu’s victory is actually the best plausible outcome for those seeking to end Israel’s occupation. . . .  [A]nother term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel. It can’t and it won’t. . . .

"Replacing Mr. Netanyahu . . . [would have] halted pressure on Israel by creating the perception of change. . . . . The re-election of Mr. Netanyahu provides clarity. . . .

"The old land-for-peace model must now be replaced with a rights-for-peace model. Palestinians must demand the right to live on their land, but also free movement, equal treatment under the law, due process, voting rights and freedom from discrimination. . . .

"Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election . . . . plac[es] Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary. . . .  The election results will further galvanize the movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally. . . .

"And now, that pressure will increase. For this, we have Mr. Netanyahu to thank."
*  *  *
From  Nathan Thrall, senior analyst with the Middle East and North Africa Program of the International Crisis Group. 
“There is a feeling that if there really is no hope for the peace process, the best thing they can have is an Israeli government that will advance its own isolation.”

*  *  *
The road ahead will be rough, but they may be right.   Doing more of the same and hoping for a different outcome is a formula for failure . . . . as well as the definition of insanity.


Obamacare works. Just get over it, Republicans

[Quotation and facts based on a report by Jeffrey Young, Huffington Post]

"More than 16 million Americans gained health coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, mainly via the law's health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion, according to an analysis published by the Department of Health and Human Services."

This estimate from the latest Health and Human Services report is consistent with numerous surveys by independent polling groups.   For example, Gallup found a drop in people who lacked insurance from 20.3% in October 2013 to 12.3% in 2015.

At the same time, this could quickly be reversed if SCOTUS overturns the part of the law that provides subsidies to those who signed up through the federal exchanges in 34 states that declined to set up their own state exchanges.    An estimate from the Rand Corporation suggests up to 9.6 million people could lose the insurance they have acquired because of the resulting increased premium cost to them.

Even if SCOTUS does that, it could be easy to remedy either by (1) Congress inserting four words into the ACA law to include federal exchanges in the subsidy program;  or (2) those 34 states could set up their own exchanges.     Easy to do, but almost impossible to do in today's anti-Obama, anti Obamacase climate.    It's in the hands of the Republicans.   Unfortunately, they still seem to be dreaming of killing Obamacare and replacing it with their own . . . . what?   Nothing, so far, that makes any sense, either fiscally or as the real help people need.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Natanyah: "I didn't mean what I said 3 days ago"

1.  During his years as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has given lip service to working toward a two-state solution

2.  On the eve of election day, when he seemed on the verge of losing, Netanyahu proclaimed that there will never be a state of Palestine while he is Prime Minister and that settlement building will continue.

3.  This had exactly the result he was aiming for.    Members of several small nationalistic or far right religious groups abandoned their own small parties to vote for Netanyahu's Likud party, giving it a margin of 5 seats over the Zionist Union party.

4.  Three days after the election, he announces that he didn't mean itHere's what he told Andrea Mitchell in an NBC interview:   "I haven't changed my policy. . . . "I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution."

What now?   How can anyone trust someone who so blatantly changes his story for the advantage of the moment -- and then doesn't have either the shame or the decency to bother trying to explain?

The Palestinians certainly won't trust him in any further attempts at peace-making.  They will go now to the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and the world opinion, leading to possible boycotts, divestments, and sanctions.

It certainly justifies the United States reassessing our relationship and the extent to which we will continue using our Security Council veto to block any U.N. action that is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.

Personally, I'm done with Netanyahu.    


Palestinian reactions to the election

Reuter's News Service is reporting on Palestinian leaders' reaction to Netanyahu's sharp tilt to the right to win his election, especially his vow to expand settlements and to block a two-state solution.

 "It is clear Israel has voted for burying the peace process, against the two-state choice and for the continuation of occupation and settlement," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in the talks with Israel that failed last spring.

A PLO leader Wasel Abu Youssef said, "This makes it more necessary than ever to go to the international community, and to go to the ICC [International Criminal Court] and escalate peaceful resistance and boycott against the occupation."

Parliaments in Britain and France and several other European countries have called for recognition of an independent state of Palestine, while Sweden has already officially recognized them.   Obama administrative sources have said Netanyahu's reversal on the idea of an independent Palestinian state has "policy ramifications," hinting that it might reconsider U. S. opposition to the U. N. creating such a state.


The consequences of Netanyahu's "ugly" victory

According to the last pre-election polls, Herzog's Zionist Union party was leading Netanyahu's Likud party by 4 seats (26 to 22).   Netanyahu made a fear-mongering plea to the far right not to squander their votes on the small, religious parties but to vote for Likud so that he could continue anti-Palestinian, pro-settlement policies.   He even promised that, as long as he was Prime Minister, there would be no two-state solution.

He got the results he wanted.   The final count gave him 29 seats to 24 for Zionist Union, and Herzog has conceded.   This is very disappointing because, as Jonathan Alter points out in a Daily Beast article, 

"Netanyahu won a big election . . .  but he won ugly by staking our a new position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is likely to harm his nation in the months ahead. .

"Netanyahu wielded security issues as a polarizing political weapon, overcoming personal unpopularity and a mediocre economic record with a campaign based largely on fear.  It worked.
"But at what cost? . . .  Should he go back on this pledge, his right-wing supporters would desert him and he would be forced to call another election . . . that he would likely lose.
Netanyahu knows that intransigence on the Palestinians is harmful to his purported security priority—confronting a nuclear Iran. He knows that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries can’t ally with Israel against Iran until he makes peace with the Palestinians. But he was willing to do what it takes to win."
Alter predicts that "the world will do what it takes to punish his government," including boycotts and divestments on the international markets, as well as possible sanctions.

And now that Netanyahu can no longer claim that he is trying to achieve peace with the Palestinians, his policies "will look increasingly illegitimate."   In short, this may be a hollow victory, both because it does nothing to improve Israel's economic conditions and it further isolates Israel from the international community.

As to the effect on relations with the U.S., Netanyahu has clearly thrown in his lot with the Republicans in Congress rather than with President Obama.  Further, the U.S. Congress has no say in how the U. S. votes in the United Nations, where the Palestinians' petition for recognition becomes even more urgent and persuasive.    The administration appoints the U. N. ambassador to the U. N., who is part of the administration, not the congress.

Alter even suggests that Israel can no longer assume protection of its interests at the U. N. by an automatic U. S. veto, particularly when it comes to the goal of establishing a Palestinian state.

Bibi may have won an election;   he will probably form a coalition government with him as Prime Minister.   But has he lost the war?    Maybe.    He has definitely lost some of the support of Americans, Europeans, and even other Islamic Middle Easterners who find it increasingly difficulty to defend his apartheid-like treatment of the Palestinians.   


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"The plot thins on the Clinton email 'scandal'"

I love this headline from The Daily Beast political blog: 
"The  Plot  Thins  on  the  Clinton Email  'Scandal'"
We're so used to plots thickening that this change grabs your attention and tickles the imagination.   Then the opening paragraph: 
"The rapidly deflating Clinton email ‘scandal’ looks like it has more to do with a sclerotic government bureaucracy than any personal wrongdoing on the part of Hillary."
Apparently the whole thing is devolving into the revelation that the government did not start automatically archiving emails until last month.   So even those that Hillary assumed would be archived on the receivers' end, because they were sent to government officials, are likely lost now.    And even if she had used a account herself, they would not have been automatically saved.   So, if fact, her work-related emails are now available because she used her own personal account.

I'm sure the Republicans will say this is all part of Hillary's scheme to keep information from the American people and that there must be something sinister that she's trying to hide.  You know?   Another reason for them to shout, "Benghazi."  

Actually, it's pretty well known that our government is at least a decade behind in adapting to the digital world.   So let's just call it bureaucratic ineptitude and move on.


Retired general castigates Iraq veteran Tom Cotton

As a former Army officer, Sen. Tom Cotton seems to have absorbed military discipline, with one glaring exception:   respect for the chain of command.

Now Retired Major Gen. Paul D. Eaton has castigated him for just that.   Here's a quote from his response to a question about whether this constitutes treason.

“I would use the word mutinous.  I do not believe these senators were trying to sell out America. I do believe they defied the chain of command in what could be construed as an illegal act.

“What Senator Cotton did is a gross breach of discipline, and especially as a veteran of the Army, he should know better.  I have no issue with Senator Cotton, or others, voicing their opinion in opposition to any deal to halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Speaking out on these issues is clearly part of his job. But to directly engage a foreign entity, in this way, undermining the strategy and work of our diplomats and our Commander in Chief, strains the very discipline and structure that our foreign relations depend on, to succeed."  

"I expect better from the men and women who wore the uniform.”

 *  *  *
There was a reason for the long tradition of partisanship stopping at the water's edge.   

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Likud pulls ahead 29 to 24.

The earlier post reported the Israeli race too close to call was based on exit polls.   Now with 99% of the civilian votes counted (soliders' votes are not in yet), Netanyahu's Likud party has pulled ahead with 29 seats to Herzog's Zionist Union with 24 seats.

In addition, a Palestinian spokeswoman (sorry I didn't get her name) on MSNBC tonight said that the Arab citizens' Joint List party will not join either coalition.   It was said that they would not want to be part of a government that works against many of the issues and needs of the Palestinian people.   They will however become a stronger voice of opposition in Parliament.

So it looks inevitable now that Netanyahu will likely be the one to form a government and continue as Prime Minister.    This seems very unfortunate, given his recent lurch further to the right and his declaration that he will never agree to a two-state solution.


Exit polls in Israel: too close to call

Exit polls in the Israeli election show a dead heat between Netanyahu's Likud Party and the Zionist Union led by Herzog.    Of the three polls, two showed Likud with a one-seat advantage, the other showed a tie with 27 each.   Coming in third with 13 seats was the Joint List, made up Palestinian citizens.

Netanyahu closed the Zionists' lead there in the final days when the undecideds made up their minds.   His last-minute vow never to allow a two-state solution,  probably helped him with the hard-liners, although some thought it would backfire -- as it certainly did in this country.   And it might still work against him in the outcome, if it induces the Palestinians to throw their 13 seats in with Herzog.

Assuming these polls are correct, it now becomes a contest as to which one can put together a coalition of 61 seats for a majority.   This could take days to weeks to settle.


Netanyahu could lose in Tuesday's election, and Palestinian citizens of Israel could tip the balance

Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party is behind by two seats in some polls to the chief rival, the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog.   A measure of Bibi's desperation is that he has swung ever further to the right, by stating that there will never be a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while he is prime minister.

One way that could become true is for him not to be the next Prime Minister, although that definitely is not what he meant.   But it now seems a real possibility.  Who wins is not so simple in their multi-party, parliamentary system, which usually relies on the leading party forming coalitions with smaller parties to establish a government and elect the PM.

Whether Likud or the Zionist Union comes out ahead, either will be far from having a majority.   One could win by a seat or two but not be the real winner -- because it really comes down to which can form a coalition that adds up to a majority.

And here come the Palestinians.    There are 1.6 million who are citizens of Israel with the right to vote, unlike those who live in the West Bank and Gaza.   Until this election, they have been divided among four different political parties.   Because none has been large enough to wield much influence, Palestinians have had little political power even though they hold some seats in Parliament;  and voters have become rather apathetic about their votes making a difference.

But for this election, the four have united to form the Joint List party, making it the third largest party, behind Likud and Zionist Union.   If they choose to join a coalition of either, it certainly will not be Netanyahu and Likud -- and this could be the deciding factor that prevents him from cobbling together the 61 necessary seats for a majority.

It's complex, and the outcome will not likely be known for days after Tuesday's election.  Stay tuned.


Senators' "excuses" for signing the letter are as absurd and outrageous as the letter itself

John McCain offered the lame "I sign a lot of letters" explanation for why he signed the now infamous Letter to Iran, apparently meaning he doesn't give much thought to what's put in front of him to sign.   Besides, he says, everyone was in a hurry that afternoon to get out of town before the snowstorm hit.     If they had any doubts, some perhaps saw that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had signed, so what could be wrong . . . ?

How is it possible that in the United States Senate something that could scuttle the delicate negotiations with a potential nuclear enemy could be given so little thought by so many U. S. Senators?   Those who did give it some thought, we now know, meant it as a deliberate act to achieve exactly that.

Now Rand Paul has said something completely non-sensical, telling Matt Lauer on the Today show that he did it "to strengthen the president's hand" in the negotiations.   That's what he said.  I saw the video clip.   It was with a completely straight face, not even a whiff of irony.  

Michael Gerson, columnist at Washington Post and former speech writer for President George W. Bush, wrote:
"This was a foreign policy maneuver, in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, . . .  [and they gave it] all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting.   In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to govern."
It seems that this huge, largely thoughtless, blunder is not going to fade away -- and it should not.   Their feet should be held to the fire of their own making -- all the way to the voting booths in November 2016.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

An odd juxtaposition

This odd juxtaposition of a picture and a headline caught my eye as I was scrolling over the Huffington Post home page:

New Yorkers Mourn Late Cardinal Edward Egan

Of course, the selection of the picture was not made by these cardinals but by the Huffington Post staff.    A little editorial decorum is wanting here.


Who is Tom Cotton, and why did 46 senators follow him over the cliff?

There's no doubt, Tom Cotton looks good on paper.   Young (37), articulate, Harvard Law School graduate, decorated Iraq war veteran.   Elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, Cotton lost no time but took an activist role in the government shutdown to protest the Affordable Care Act.  While still in his first term in the House, he ousted Sen. Mark Pryor from his Senate seat in the Nov. 2014 election.   Barely two months as a new senator, Cotton pulled off what seemed to conservatives as a major coup with his letter.   Before the ink was dry on that letter, the right wing began talking of him as a presidential candidate in 2020.

Liberals have a different viewRep. Alan Grayson says he is "already on his way to marking himself as the premiere warmonger of the 114th Congress."  Digby, writing on Salon, called him:  "Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent."  Code Pink said:  "Whatever your characterization, this much is clear: this freshman senator is an arrogant bully and needs a time out."

What does he stand for, besides killing any negotiated agreement with Iran?  The following information is derived from an article by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, Women for Peace:

1. Senator Cotton says the only problem he has with Guantanamo Bay prison is that "there are too many empty beds."   He insists that we should be proud of how we treat the "savages" detained there.   That pride apparently includes our use of waterboarding and the fact that a fair number of those "savages" turned out to be innocent.

2.  He likens the negotiations with Iran to the "appeasement of Nazi Germany" in the run-up to World War II.

3.  He claims that our military intervention in the Middle East makes us safer, while in fact it has been shown that all our military intervention there brings more recruits for the terrorist groups that threaten us.  He may actually believe this ideologically, but it's no coincidence that the National Defense Industrial Association made him their guest of honor just 24 hours after his notorious letter became public.   Just a meeting of common purpose?   Or a little inducement?   It's hard to say.

4.  Fear-mongering is his method.   In his recent campaign for the senate, he made the wild accusation that Hezbollah and the Mexicans are collaborating to bring terrorists across our border and attack us right here at home -- even in Cotton's home state of Arkansas, which of course is a bit removed from the Mexican border.   "It's not just an immigration issues, it's a national security issue," he says.

5.  During the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza that killed hundreds of civilians, many in their homes, including children, Cotton called the Israeli forces "the most moral, humanitarian fighting force in the world.”  He wants us to supply Israel with bunker-buster bombs for air strikes against Iran.   "The Emergency Committee for Israel donated $700,000 to his senate campaign last fall -- a nice sum for a first time senate candidate.    Again, just common purpose?   Or a little inducement, repaid in full by the letter?

6.  He calls food-stamp recipients "addicts," and says the system is "riddled with fraud and abuse" that results in long-term dependency.   This from the now-senator from Arkansas, which ranks #1 in the nation for number of residents who need assistance to put food on their tables.   But he would put much harsher restrictions on food stamps and severely cut the budget for welfare.    Given his constituents' level of needing government assistance, why did the people of Arkansas elect this man? 

7.  He opposes expanding women's rights, having voted against equal pay and the Violence Against Women Act during his first term in the House.
*  *  *

"Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent."     Yeah.   But the problem is that then you've still got Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and Chris Christie.