Saturday, July 18, 2015

Two sides of the Donald Trump phenomenon

Huffington Post online news service made this announcement:
"After watching and listening to Donald Trump . . . , we have decided we won't report on Trump's campaign as part of The Huffington Post's political coverage.  Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump's campaign is a sideshow. We won't take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you'll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette."
On the other hand, some Republicans are taking him seriously -- as a big threat.   Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is one who is up for re-election in 2016 and has serious opposition from the right-wing base in Arizona.   McCain acknowledges that there is a very extreme element n the Republican party, and says that Donald Trump "fired up the crazies."

In a more supportive vein, some donors who have made financial contributions to Trump's campaign have other thoughts about him.  Acknowledging that he doesn't need the money, since his personal wealth could easily finance a major campaign, here's what two of them, who gave $250 each, have said:
Kinsey Craichy:  "I didn’t donate to him because he needed money.  I donated to him because he’s not afraid to speak the truth. . . .   I don't agree with everything he says, but what I do like is that he's not beholden to anybody."

Dennis Carreras:  "This guy has a history of getting things done. . . .  [He] doesn't need my money but I want to feel like I'm donating to a cause."
So there you have the two sides of the question about Donald Trump.  My thinking about him has evolved from "he's just a rich, loud-mouthed, blowhard clown" to taking the Donald Trump phenomenon seriously as a political force to be reckoned with.

I do not think he is qualified to be president, but he is portraying something that a lot of people are looking for.   Perhaps they see him as someone who could cut through the partisan gridlock and just "make things happen."   And not being beholden to anyone has to be attractive when it seems that the corporate lobbyists and wealthy donors have more influence than the needs of the people.

But would The Donald care about the needs of the people?    Would he be a bull in an china shop in international relations?   Do you want him to appoint Judge Judy to the Supreme Court?   To have his volatile temperament controlling the finger on the nuclear bomb button?


Friday, July 17, 2015

"Deutchland Deathgrip" -- Did Germany go too far in punishing Greece?

The outcome of the chaotic few weeks with Greece on the verge of bankruptcy and possibly leaving the European Union is that the leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras capitulated to the Eurozone's demands for even further Greek austerity in exchange for more financial bailout.

In an article for The Guardian, Phillip Oltermann quotes one of Europe's most influential contemporary European intellectuals, J├╝rgen Habermas, as accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel of "gambling away" the efforts of previous generations to rebuild [Germany's] postwar reputation with its hardline stance on Greece.

Habermas:  “I fear that the German government, including its social democratic faction, have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century."    He explained that, by threatening Greece with forced exit from the eurozone, Germany had“unashamedly revealed itself as Europe’s chief disciplinarian and for the first time openly made a claim for German hegemony in Europe.” 
He warned that the final terms made no economic sense and the austerity impositions "will completely discourage an exhausted Greek population and kill any impetus to growth. . . .  Forcing the Greek government to agree to an economically questionable, predominantly symbolic privatisation fund cannot be understood as anything other an act of punishment against a leftwing government."

Habermas is not just an ivory tower cultural theorist, though he is that too as one of the most prominent members of the Frankfurt School.   He has been an influential activist, working to establish a pan-European political and cultural identity and shaped much of the policy leading to the European Union.

Haberman describes what is happening with German leadership as a "technocratic hollowing out of democracy" resulting from market-deregulation at the cost of the welfare state.  "I do not see how a return to nation states that have to be run like big corporations in a global market can counter the tendency towards de-democratisation and growing social inequality."

Unfortunately, Tzipras had little choice because of the severity of Greece's economic crisis.  Banks have already been closed for a week;   creditors are moving in.   Despite a strong vote of "no" on accepting the EU demands, there was no way he could refuse those demands without putting Greece through an even worse period of deprivation.  

Tzipras may have made mistakes, but he inherited the mess when he became became prime minister just five months ago, when the deck was already stacked against his preferred solution.  But it must be particularly galling for a social democrat to be forced to accept the very opposite of what he believes in and campaigned for.

At this point, it's uncertain whether his government can survive.   Nearly a third of his coalition abandoned him in voting against what he had to do.   It's discouraging, in a broader sense as well, that the wrong policy (austerity) and its chief proponent (Germany) have won for the time being.   The austerity that the EU imposed on Greece five years ago only made things worse -- and now they are doubling down with more austerity.

This is a tragedy of international proportions -- as well as for Greece and its people.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Quote of the Day

In one national poll of the GOP primary race, Donald Trump is now the front runner with 18%.   In a one to one matchup with Hillary Clinton, she beats him 51% to 34%.  Charles Pierce, political writer for Esquire, speaking on "All In With Chris Hayes," explained the Trump political phenomenon:
"In the Republican Party, there is force in not making sense.   And Donald Trump makes less sense than anybody."
Someone has put forth the theory that Donald Trump is a Democratic plant in the GOP primary race.   I don't think that's true.   He is capable of doing this all by himself.  He doesn't even need to raise money.   He filed his financial disclosure forms Tuesday, listing his net worth at "in excess of $10 billion."


Trust is a two-way street

Conservative hawks who are outraged at our "give-away" deal to Iran are saying that we can't trust Iran, that "we know" that they will cheat.

First, the deal is considered by experts on nuclear energy technology and by former inspectors for the International Atomic Inspection Agency to be unprecedented in comprehensiveness.   Yes, we had to give up surprise "anywhere/anytime" inspections.  But any enrichable supplies (uranium, plutonium) will be meticulously inventoried and tracked.   If they try to cheat, we will find out that they are doing it, even if it's being done in secret. 

And, second, we're also asking them to trust us -- and our record is not blameless

Remember Mohammed Mosaddegh, chosen in 1951 by Iran's parliament to be their prime minister.  He oversaw many progressive social reforms before he was ousted in a 1953 coup d'etat orchestrated by the CIA and England's M16 to restore Iranian oil to British companies.   This is the source of much of the anti-American feeling in Iran today.  It is not just, as conservatives would have it, that they hate our modernism.   We over-threw their government.

In addition, they well know of our exploitation of the inspection process in Iraq while Sadaam was still in power.   We used our authority to search for WMD to spy on their government and gain information that had nothing to do with hidden weapons but which had some useful information for us for other purposes.

So why would Iran trust us not to do the same with them now to learn their military and economic secrets?   Trust goes both ways.   The agreement asks them to rely completely on trusting us, while we have inspections and verification to substitute for trusting them.   How is it that we lost the diplomatic battle?

Being self-righteous and denouncing Iran as untrustworthy ignores our own history of untrustworthiness.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How good is the inspection/verification provision ?

Thomas Shea, a former inspector with the U.N. agency IAEA who helped design the nuclear regulatory plans, had this to say about the provision in the Iran nuclear agreement for inspection/verification:

"This is a stunning accomplishment.  I’ve been a part of this business for 40 years at this point and I’ve never seen anything that begins to approach the comprehensiveness of this agreement."

I'm satisfied.  That's as good reassurance as we're going to get, short of the impossible demands of Netanyahu and Republican hawks.


Iran agreement depends on verification, not trust -- President Obama

The historic agreement between the G5+1 nations and Iran explained in broad terms (with thanks to the BBC):

1.  Every pathway to a nuclear weapon in Iran is cut off.
2.  Iran agrees, as spelled out twice in the agreement that:  "Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons."

3.  We don't have to take their word for it.  The deal relies on verification, not trust.
4.  Two-thirds of centrifuges will be removed and stored under international supervision.
5.  Current stock of enriched uranium will be reduced by 98%.
6.  Sanctions will be lifted gradually as the program is implemented.
7.  Sanctions will be immediately restored if Iran violates the agreement.
8.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have inspection access whenever necessary and wherever necessary.   An arms embargo will remain for five years and a missile embargo for eight years.

Iranians seem happy with the deal -- celebrating in the streets of Teheran.  Conservatives in the U. S. Congress and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are very unhappy.  Some use this discrepancy as evidence that Iran beat us at the negotiating game.

I would not read it that way.   Netanyahu would hate any deal that doesn't include bombing Iran;   many hawks in this country also would prefer a military (non)solution.   But chief negotiator for the U.S., Sec. of State John Kerry, says this deal actually makes Israel safer.

While Netanyahu's rhetoric is about fear of nuclear and terrorist attacks from Iran, it's more likely that the Israeli PM fears a shift in the Mideast balance of power.    Iran has always insisted that it's nuclear interests are for peaceful use of nuclear energy, not weapons.

At the same time, it has long been an open secret that Israel has nuclear weapons but has never admitted it nor participated in any kind of inspection program nor signed any controlling treaties.     So why should not Iran aspire for the same thing for defensive purposes?

Israel's argument of course is that their program is only defensive.   In other words, they're asking the world to "trust us" without any verification.   And, in general, we have -- because Israel has been seen mostly as a humanitarian, moral country.   That reputation has been tarnished in recent years, however, by its treatment of the Palestinians.

In contrast, Iran has agreed not only forego nuclear weapons but also submit to the most intrusive inspections ever of any country.   And still it's not enough for the hawks among us. 

This agreement is the culmination of intense diplomatic negotiations over 20 months.  Six nations (U.S., England, France, China, Russia, and Germany) have come together and worked out this agreement with Iran.   It is the strongest that could be gotten peacefully.  The only alternatives are (1) a nuclear Iran in the near future or (2) war.   Opponents have not offered any other proposals that could work.   Tougher sanctions or military strikes would only kill any chance for inspection and verification secured by this agreement, and Iran would race to make a bomb as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu calls the agreement a "stunning historic mistake" and says it will provide Iran with "hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East and across the globe".

U. S. Congressmen's arguments make even less sense.   House Speaker John Boehner warns that, "Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world."    How does preventing Iran from making a bomb fuel an arms race?   Apparently Boehner, like Netanyahu, refuses to believe that it may be in Iran's interest to pursue peace and cooperation with the world -- nor do they believe that the G5+1 negotiators know what they're doing.

Congress will now have 60 days in which to "consider" this agreement.   As I understand it, the agreement does not require congressional ratification;  but they could adopt a resolution opposing it or defunding it.   President Obama will veto such legislation, and it's unlikely that opponents could get a 2/3 override vote in both houses.

No one quite knows at this point how this will change the dynamics of the Middle East.   Iran will become more of an economic force, which could be good for trade;   but its neighbors, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, fear that Iran will attempt to dominate them.   There is also the worry that this will inflame further the sectarian discord between Sunni and Shiia factions.

There is also the prospect of benefits from the fact that Iran and the U.S. have learned that they can work together.   Iran is already helping in the fight against the Sunni-led ISIS;  this will likely lead to closer cooperation in defeating ISIS.

Another possible benefit could be a strengthening of the more moderate influence in Iran politically, as well as the people's demand for less restrictive government control over their lives. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the deal "not perfect for anybody'', but he also agreed that it is the "best achievement possible that could be reached".

So, I say again:    Let's give peace a chance.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Another historic achievement for Obama

The agreement is reached with the G5+1 nations and Iran on significant reduction/inspection/control of its nuclear program in exchange for lifting of sanctions.

As hard as this has been, this may be the easier part.   Getting Congress and the hardliners of Iran to go along and preventing Netanyahu from sabotaging it -- that will be even harder.    Especially in an election year with the temptations of pandering to the hawks.

If it does work out, then it is a major triumph for President Obama in proving that diplomacy and negotiation are preferable to war.

More later.


Smooth transition to marriage equality in Georgia

While Alabama's Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore encouraged county clerks to defy the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, and Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal made a fool of himself (again) by saying we should just get rid of SCOTUS, we had a completely different reaction from our government officials here in Georgia.

Even Gov. Nathan Deal agreed that marriage equality was now the law of the land.     But it was really the state probate judges that made the difference.   As far back as February they held a meeting to begin preparations for the anticipated ruling.   Every judge in the meeting was in agreement -- that Georgia would be prepared and would carry out the new law smoothly.

According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Craig Schneider and Greg Bluestein on July 11, it was this leadership from the judges that made possible the smooth transition:  "The judges started preparing months before the ruling, making it clear it would be obeyed. They created a unity of purpose among their ranks, and they had everything ready to go once the decision came down."

Georgia State University sociology professor Eric Wright said that this could pay off in the business community, casting Georgia as tolerant of diversity that is important in attracting national businesses to move to the state.

In that February meeting, the president of the State Council of Probate Judges started the meeting by reminding everyone that judges take an oath to uphold the law and that Georgia will treat this law no differently.    He emphasized that everything should be planned and in place, every question answered in advance.   New license applications were printed in advance, changing "bride" and "groom" to "Applicant 1" and "Applicant 2."

At a statewide meeting in March, attended by virtually all of the 150 Georgia probate judges, an education plan was begun, followed up by emails every few weeks to the judges.   

In April, Georgia's governor and attorney general both announced that Georgia would respect the court's decision, whatever that turned out to be.   In contrast, in Texas and Louisiana and Alabama, there were defiant boasts from governors and attorneys general about not obeying the law.  The resulting confusion was not resolved for a week or more after the ruling on June 26th.

In contrast, Georgia's Attorney General Sam Olens released his ruling in less than 2 hours after SCOTUS' announcement -- marriage licenses were issued and marriages were performed by noon on the 26th.

The AJC  reported that "Atlanta’s major businesses largely cheered the rulings. Delta Air Lines quickly bought billboards celebrating the court’s decision and issued a statement announcing it welcomed the ruling with 'great enthusiasm.'”

On this occasion, Georgia stood tall and proud.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Best quote of the week is 50 years old

An article by Spoko on Hullabaloo web site brought to mind the 1960s pretend presidential candidacy of comedian Pat Paulson.     Somewhat like Stephen Colbert today, Paulson made people think about serious issues by pretending to take positions that were loaded with double meaning.

The Pat Paulson's campaign slogan was

"We Can't Stand Pat!"

And one of his best quotes was:

"All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian."

Now that was fun -- as well as thought-provoking.   Instead, today, instead, we have clowns who are actually running, taking places in polls and debate stages, by appealing to ignorance, prejudice, and greed.


Fact checking Donald Trump

Donald Trump continues to double-down on the outrageous claims he made in his campaign announcement speech about Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists, and spreading diseases.  He even accused the Mexican government of a plan to send it's worst people here.

Here are a few facts, compiled in a New York Times column by Timothy Egan:

1.  Since 2006 more Mexicans have left the United States than have arrived, according to the Pew Research Center.    At the same time, the Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants that any previous president.

2.  Poor immigrants are less likely to take advantage of free government help than are citizens, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

3.  First-generation immigrants have a lower crime rate than the general population.   For example:   whites, who make up 63% of the population, committed 71% of all sexual assaults in 2013.    Latinos, who make up 17% of the population, committed 9% of all sexual crimes.

But then Donald Trump is a businessman, and he has found a formula that sells big in getting media attention and driving up his poll numbers.   His first goal is to be in the Top 10 and make it into the first debate.    He seems to be closing that deal just fine, thank you very much.    

Facts, truth, and integrity have nothing whatsoever to do with Trump's goal.   It's just a matter of what the public is buying.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Uninsured rate continues to fall . . . now at 11.4%

There's more evidence of success for President Obama's signature legislative initiative, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).    A new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index poll found that the rate of uninsured Americans is now down to 11.4%.

It's even more dramatic as seen on this graph, which compares the uninsureds at the end of the first quarter each year since 2008 when the tracking polls began.  The sharp decline coincides with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

uninsured rate
The decrease held true across demographic subgroups, broken down by age, ethnicity, and income.   Only the over-65 age group remained relatively unchanged -- obviously because they have been eligible for Medicare since well before 2008.   This fact in itself is further evidence that the decline is likely due to availability and the affordability made possible by the ACA.

Each new data point that shows the effectiveness of the ACA solidifies proof that Republicans' opposition to Obamacare is ideological, not practical.    And they have no detailed plan, much less results, to offer as an effective substitute.

The Congressman who represents my district, Tom Price, himself a physician and married to another physician, touts his own plan.    Yet, as a letter writer in Saturday's AJC pointed out, Price's own party has not endorsed his plan, it has had no hearings, nor even any committee discussion.    Apparently, even the Republicans do not like it.

What terrifies Republicans is that, sooner or later, the lies they have sold to the American people about "Obamacare" are beginning to fade -- and before long the ACA will become another "untouchable," along with Social Security and Medicare.

In fact, one has to wonder:   What would the uninsured rate be right now if those 34 states that refused to expand Medicaid did so?    It's my guess that this group would account for a good part of the remaining 11.4% of uninsureds.   States that have not accepted Medicaid expansion are almost all under the control of Republicans.   Their motivation has to be purely ideological, despite their lame excuses of "not able to afford" a deal that is paid for almost entirely by federal funds.

How can people keep voting to re-elects representatives who have so little regard for their health and well-being, to say nothing of the economic boon Medicaid expansion proves to be to states in new jobs, hospital investments, etc.?    "Can't afford it" -- indeed !?!?    They can't afford not to do it.