Saturday, August 8, 2015

Trump trumped

Erick Erickson's RedState Gathering of 700 conservative leaders and many of the Republican candidates is taking place in Atlanta this weekend.

Erickson has withdrawn Trump's invitation, however, because of comments he made after the debate about Megyn Kelly, who had asked him about his derogatory comments about women.

In a post-debate interview with CNN, Trump said this about Kelly:
"There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."
Erickson immediately withdrew Trump's invitation to speak and explained that, although Trump's bluntness appeals to a lot of people, "there are just real lines of decency a person running for President should not cross. . . .  I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong."

Trump called Erckson's decision "another example of weakness through being politically correct."   During the debate, he had defended his derogatory language by saying he just "doesn't have time for political correctness."

Erickson responded back to Trump, saying that "common decency is not political correctness or weakness."

The bottom line though is still this:   Trump is dominating the news, one way or another.  He may last a while longer, but mark this as the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.


PS:   This is kind of weird.  Erickson himself has been called out by other conservatives for his derogatory comments about women -- especially Michelle Obama, who he has called a feminazi and a "marxist, harpy wife."   He has also proclaimed that gays will go to hell.  Not a totally nice guy himself, despite his defense of Megyn Kelly.

Primary debate impressions

Even though I was out of town and did not have access to my computer Thursday night, I did watch both the 5:00 pm and the 9:00 pm debates.   So I got a pretty good look at all 17 of the Republican candidates for president.

Here are some quick impressions:

1.  Format:  Fox News and its moderators far exceeded my expectations.   In fact, I was very favorably impressed.   I had expected a group that size to simply be unmanageable and that there could be nothing resembling a real debate.

Instead, the format -- a series of good questions asked of individual candidates, with answers limited to 1 minute and no cross-talk with other candidates jumping in.   Questions tended to be focused and tough rather than general and softball.   For such a large field, the format worked far better than predicted.  Candidates, with a few exceptions, kept to the format.   (Rand Paul was the unruly one, actually, not Donald Trump.   Paul "piped up" more than once when it was not his turn, making him seem immature and petty rather than bold.)   

2.  Candidates:   Overall they had short, well-rehearsed, crisp answers.   As expected, at times they avoided answering the question and pivoted to their talking points.   But actually I think there was less than usual of that in such debates.    No one turned out to be an embarrassment or grossly unprepared -- like Sarah Palin was four years ago.

Nobody really hit a home runnobody really bombed.   Having said that, I will mention some who I think helped their standing and some who hurt their standing.

3.  Helped standing:   In the 5:00 pm debate, Carly Fiorino exceeded expectations and probably helped her standing more than any other one.   She seemed to know the issues, was very articulate and tough.  I knew nothing about Jim Gilmore, and he created a generally positive impression.   But he's so unknown and so far down the list, that I don't see him getting any traction.

In the top 10 debate at 9:00 pm, John Kasich stood out as doing the most to improve his standing.  Again, perhaps, because he's fairly new to the national stage and not well known outside Ohio, I was repeatedly impressed by his answers.   He was the most moderate of the whole crowd, having as governor of Ohio expanded Medicaid and giving a terrific defense of that action to this hate-Obamacare crowd.   He is personally opposed to same-sex marriage but accepts the SCOTUS decision as established law now.   He also has foreign policy experience as a former congressman on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and helped write a balanced budget as a member of the finance committee.   In short, I think he could eventually be the most formidable candidate for democrats to have to face.

Marco Rubio also looked good:   youthful, smart, informed, talking about the future instead of the past.   A Kasich-Rubio ticket could be very strong;  besides two attractive candidates, it combines two important swing states, Ohio and Florida.

4.   Hurt standing:  Except for the sizable base who love Donald Trump because he boasts that he will "get things done" in a Washington where nothing has been done -- and that does tap into a lot of people's resentments -- except for that core of support, he hurt himself pretty badly, I think.     Right off the bat, he was the only one of the 10 who would not pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee for president.   He would not rule out running as a third party candidate if he loses the GOP nomination.    He also was hurt by a question about his four companies that he took through a bankruptcy, costing their creditors billions of dollars.   And it was his cavalier attitude about it that hurt the most.   In addition, his arrogance and rudeness also put him in a bad light, especially his response to Megyn Kelly's bringing up his past derogatory remarks about women.  He does not look presidential.

Jeb Bush didn't so much do anything to hurt himself;   it was that expectations are high for him;  and, in my opinion, he performs beneath those expectations.    He seemed like a pretty good middle-of-the pack candidate -- not a star.  Expect his poll numbers to drop, as Kasich and Rubio go up in the polls.

Scott Walker also didn't measure up to his #3 status.   No mistakes, no home runs.   Ted Cruz seem slightly creepy, as usual;  and I kept thinking of him as someone once described him:  as looking like a wax figure of himself at Madame Tussauds' Wax Museum, when the wax has begun to melt.

Ben Carson, I thought, seemed earnest but ill-informed and uneasy;  although others saw him as impressive.   Rand Paul was Rand Paul -- a bit quirky, a bit rash, a tad obnoxious;  not "presidential."   His oppposing war and wanting to reduce the military budget make him a poor fit for the Republican nomination anyway, even if he were more personally appealing.

Chris Christie did his usual snow job by deflecting attention from the challenging questions asked him and adroitly pivoting to paint himself as a great governor of New Jersey.  However, for anyone who knew the facts that he either obfuscated or outright distorted, he seemed the dishonest bully that he is.   

Lindsey Graham out-hawked everyone by a country mile -- calling for ground troops in Iraq and Syria;   otherwise, he was forgettable.   Despite his tough talk, his demeanor often makes him seem like a little boy playing grown-up general, wearing his daddy's old Army hat and shouting orders that no one pays attention to.   Seeing Rick Santorum in this crowd, it's still surprises me that he won more states than anyone except Mitt Romney in 2012 primary;  yet in 2015 he's at 2% in the polls.   It reminds me that generally this is a much better field overall than 2012 (Remember Michele Bachmann?  Hermann Cain?   Newt Gingrich? -- all front-runners at one time).  

I save my disgust for the one I have come to have the most contempt for, Mike Huckabee.   See my post "Race to the bottom . . ." on Aug. 2nd.  That says it all, except to add that Huckabee just did more of the same last night.    Someone aptly labeled what he does as "incendiary hoologanism."   I agree.

 5.   What was missing:   Some rebuttal and challenges.  Someone -- either moderators or a democratic candidate -- to call them on their distortions, their failed policies, their knee-jerk demonizing of President Obama.    And some important issues were not mentioned, either by moderators or candidates:   minimum wage, racial problems, gun violence, police excessive use of force, voting rights, student loans.

We need very badly to have the first Democratic Primary Debate . . . soon.   Six seemed a reasonable number -- but it's a long time until the first one in October.   Too long.


Friday, August 7, 2015

No comment on the debate until late Friday

I will be out of town Thursday and Friday.   I'll be watching the primary debate but far from my computer.   So my comments about it will have to wait until I get back.   Friday's posts were pre-written and set for automatic posting on Friday.

Part IV of my discussion of Harper Lee and her controversial new book will have to wait until next week.   I'm re-reading Go Set a Watchman.


Former Israeli security chiefs urge Netanyahu to accept the Iran nuclear deal.

[Background and quotes are from the Associated Press].

"President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made dueling appeals to the American Jewish community Tuesday as they sought to rally support for their opposing positions on the Iranian nuclear deal.

"Obama met privately for more two hours with Jewish leaders at the White House, making a detailed case for the nuclear accord and urging opponents — including some in the room — to stick to the facts in making their own arguments. . . . "
Only hours earlier, Netanyahu had addressed a live webcast audience of 10,000 American Jews.   He "railed against the agreement," insisting that "It actually paves Iran's path to the bomb."

That may be Netanyahu's opinion, but it is not based on facts.

Congress will vote on the deal in September, expressing its approval or disapproval.   The administration is anticipating a vote of disapproval, which the president will veto.    It takes a 2/3rds vote in both houses to over-ride the veto.  So that is where the crucial fight for votes will take place.

*   *   *
Meanwhile, back in Israel, some important former Israeli security officials have signed a letter calling the accord with Iran a fait accompli and urging the Israeli government to pursue a policy that would "restore trust and reinforce security and diplomatic cooperation with the American administration."

Yahoo news online (Aug 3) listed the signatories as:  "two former heads of the Shin Bet internal security agency, Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon; a former deputy director of the Mossad intelligence agency, Amiram Levin; the ex-chief of the Atomic Energy Commission Uzi Eilmann; and dozens of former generals and senior officers." 

My views on the long and painstakingly negotiated agreement are that it is the strongest and the best deal that could possibly be gotten at this time.   The alternative is war, because our allies will not go along with imposing even stronger sanctions, which is the only plan short of war that any opponents have suggested.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Jeb Bush looks less and less impressive

Jeb Bush made another verbal blunder a couple of days ago when he joined the criticism of Planned Parenthood, saying:
"You could take dollar for dollar -- although I'm not sure we need a half-billion dollars for women's health issues -- but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinary fine community health organizations that exist to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues. . . . But abortion should not be funded by the government."
First, abortion is already, explicitly by law "not funded" by the federal government -- except where Medicaid funds are used in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Second, he caught a lot of flak for implying that we shouldn't spend so much money on "women's health issues."   So the next day he had to walk that one back, saying he "misspoke."   But he didn't help himself much when he did.

He tried to get himself out of the hole by saying that, instead of funding Planned Parenthood at all, money should be re-directed to other women's health organizations "in line with my Florida record."

The problem -- for some of us, anyway -- is that when he was governor of Florida, Jeb Bush did just that.   He took money the state was giving to Planned Parenthood and redirected it to abstinence-only sex education programs.

Jeb was supposed to be "the smart one," the one destined to be president.   If we "mis-underestimated" Dubya, then maybe everybody has mis-overestimated Jeb.


Does it really matter whether #11 and #12 make it to the main stage FoxNews debate?

There has been much hand-wringing about the upcoming first-of-season, presidential primary debate.  FoxNews, as host, has set the rules that limit the debate to those top 10 candidates in an average of the last five national polls.

It left a few candidates who were polling in the 2% and 3% range not knowing until two days before the debate whether they would be in.   There was much lobbying, frantic marketing and tv ads, and outrageous, headline grabbing statements -- all aimed at getting their names in the news before those last five polls.

In the end, Chris Christie and John Kasich got those coveted #9 and #10 spots, leaving Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorino, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, and Jim Gilmore to a sort of "losers' compensation" debate in at 5:00 pm on Thursday, before the 9:00 pm debate that night.

Pundits and campaigns have expressed concern that FoxNews and its powerful news chief Roger Ailes thus had the power to "pick the nominee" -- and that the method was unfair, given that the slim margin separating #9 and #10 from #11 and #12 were within the margin of error in polls.

Of course, it matters terribly for those few candidates in that critical range.   But consider this:  How much does it really matter in the long run, as to who eventually gets the nomination?

Does anyone really think that Rick Perry, now at 2% -- or Bobby Jindal at 1.2% -- could make such an impression on the debate stage that he would leap-frog over the ten or twelve men ahead of him into the top spot?   

It really is a game with only one winner.  And, in a field this big -- with front-runners being financed by their own billionaires -- the winner is not going to emerge, cinderella-like, from the underfunded also-rans in 11th or 12th place.   Sorry, Perry;   you've improved since 2012, just not enough.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Who's going to be on the debate stage

Early Tuesday evening, FoxNews finally released the list of candidates who will have a place on the stage for Thursday night's debate.    The list of polls they used was not immediately released, but the candidates were listed in this order, presumably indicating their standing in that five-poll average:

  1.  Donald Trump
  2.  Jeb Bush
  3.  Scott Walker
  4.  Mike Huckabee
  5.  Ben Carson
  6.  Ted Cruz
  7.  Marco Rubio
  8.  Rand Paul
  9.  Chris Christie
10. John Kasich  

Let the games begin !


Why we NEED immigration

Bloomberg Businessweek featured a cover story (Aug. 9) by Charles Kenny titled "Immigrants to the Rescue."   It is a surprising reality check in the midst of all the hyper-demonizing of the immigrant population by Donald Trump and other candidates.

Kenny lays out the problem:  
"If other demographic forces don't come into play, women need to give birth to 2.1 children on average to keep population constant. . . .  Across the wealthiest members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the fertility rate has dropped from 2.98 children per woman in 1960 to 1.76 in 1990 and 1.66 today, well below replacement level.  If nothing changes, there will be a considerable shift toward smaller, much older populations throughout the industrialized world.  Retirees don't work, but they do consume -- drawing pensions and requiring health care.  That creates a real challenge for how to support them.

" . . . . There are lots of people around the world who want to come to the countries that have the lowest birthrates. . . .   Letting more of them in is one of the few effective tools we have to raise the birthrate. . . . 

"According to Pew Research Center data, the foreign-born in the U.S. account for 13% of the total population but 23% of the births. . . .  Immigration can also help reduce the ratio of retirees to workers.  Migrants tend to arrive as young workers rather than babies or pensioners. . . .   That means a recipient country gets the instant benefit of a larger working-age population without the expense and delay of rearing workers as children. . . . 

"More immigration is both the cheapest and most effective response to the challenge of a shrinking, aging population.  It's the only plausible solution that appears powerful enough to counteract declining birthrates among native populations in industrialized nations."

*   *   *
What about the issue of criminal behavior in immigrants so vividly brought up by one of the Republican presidential candidates?   Not true, says Kenny -- as well as other studies previously quoted here in ShrinkRap.   In fact, the crime rate is lower, not higher.

Kenny further discusses attempts made in some European countries to increase the birthrate by making child-rearing easier with all kinds of government support and free facilities for child care.   It may be wonderful for those who do have children;   but the programs have not been effective in increasing birthrate.

Interesting idea here.   Could be another challenging question to bring up at the debate.   We tend to talk about our aging population as a problem with no solution other than somehow reducing Social Security and Medicare payments.    Well, here's a different solution -- but it won't be popular with the conservative politicos.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Planned Parenthood more favorably viewed than SCOTUS, the NRA, or either political party.

I tuned in late to Chris Matthews news show on MSNBC last night and didn't hear the source of this poll or the methodology, but the results are interesting enough to post it anyway.

Participants were asked about their attitude toward a number of institutions.   Here are the percentages who said they had a positive attitude about:

   Republican Party             28 %
   Democratic Party             38 %
   Supreme Court                  39 %
   National Rifle Assoc.      43 %
   Planned Parenthood       45 %

This comes on the heals of the conservative sting operation and a doctored video to make it appear that a Planned Parenthood staff member was discussing "selling" fetal organs for research purposes.   In fact, with the permission of the woman having an abortion, fetal tissues may be donated for research, never sold;   the only money involved is legally allowed expenses for preserving and transporting the organs.  The research use of these stem cells has been invaluable in finding new treatments for Parkinsonism and other illnesses.

Nevertheless, this has created outrage and an attempt Monday in the Senate to eliminate all federal funds going to Planned Parenthood -- despite these two important facts:

1.  Abortions account for only 3% of the 10.9 million individual services provided each year by PP.   Most of what they do provides women with cancer screening, contraceptives, pregnancy tests, and counseling.

2.  It is already illegal for any taxpayer money (including state funds from Medicaid) to be used to pay for abortions, except in pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, or when a woman's life is in danger.

That didn't stop anti-abortion senators from a procedural vote of 53-46 on a bill to defund Planned Parenthood completely.   It would have taken 60 votes to advance the bill to floor debate, but most observers think it eventually may achieve the necessary votes.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Mockingbird Part III: Is "Watchman" really the first draft?

[For Parts I and II, see ShrinkRap 7/29 and 7/31 ]

Adam Gopnik, has a very thoughtful review of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman in the New Yorker, July 27, 2015.   In it, he raises a question that had sort of vaguely risen in my mind too, but I had not articulated it as he has done.   It's worth considering.

Here's the gist of his point.   We're all reacting to Watchman in the context of having read To Kill a Mockingbird.   We know the characters;   we are shocked and dismayed at what seems a radical change in Atticus's attitude about race and desegregation.

But what effect could Harper Lee have expected it to have on readers who had not read To Kill a Mockingbird?   After all, she didn't write Watchman in that context.   Or did she?

Gopnik points out that uninitiated readers of Watchman would know Atticus only as he is portrayed in that book.   Oh, we get Jean Louise's shock and anger, but we don't experience Atticus as the noble hero she tells us he was -- unless we have read Mockingbird.   We introduced to him as a somewhat grumpy 72 year old man with bad arthritis -- not the younger principled lawyer and moral giant.  References to other characters are even more sketchily drawn, and yet for the full effect one needs to know much more than is revealed in Watchman.

Why have we simply assumed that what was "found" and published is actually the first draft and not some later version, maybe even revised after Mockingbird?

We do know that Lee worked with her editor at Lippincott for months before the decision was made to start over and change the story to 1930 through the eyes of the 8 year old Jean Louise.   So it could have been one of the later reworkings of the first draft.

Or, in light of Gopnik's pointing out that the effect of Watchman depends entirely on knowing the characters from Mockingbird, perhaps Lee continued to rewrite it even after Mockingbird was published.    Perhaps she did so with the idea of publishing it but was never satisfied with it -- or was persuaded by her editor not to do so.

Gopnik elaborates:
"Indeed, the book as a book barely makes sense if you don’t know “Mockingbird.” If “Watchman” is a first novel, even in draft, it is unlike any first novel this reader is aware of: very short on the kind of autobiographical single-mindedness that first novels usually present, and which “Mockingbird” is filled with, and very long on the kind of discursive matter that novelists will take up when their opinions begin to count.

"It is, I suppose, possible that Lee wrote it as we have it, and that her ingenious editor, setting an all-time record for editorial ingenuity, saw in a few paragraphs referring to the trial of a young black man the material for a masterpiece. But it would not be surprising if this novel turns out to be a revised version of an early draft, returned to later, with an eye to writing therace novel" that elsewhere Harper Lee has mentioned as an ambition. . . .  

"It is sad, though, to think that the preoccupations of this book, however much they may intersect our own preoccupations of the moment, might eclipse her greater poetic talents, evident here, and so beautifully fulfilled inTo Kill a Mockingbird."
We may never know the answers, unless some as yet undisclosed letters or editor's notes -- or perhaps even some intermediate drafts in Harper Lee's own papers -- come to light.   But for the moment it seems that those in charge (Tonja Carter and the current publishers) have chosen commercialization over literary value.

In Part IV, I will offer my overall conclusions about this controversy surrounding Nelle Harper Lee and her two books.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

A good question for upcoming Republican debate

Sister Joan Chittister, PhD, Benedictine nun, lecturer, and author of 50 books, is a research associate in a division of Cambridge University.   She is an advocate for women and has appeared numerous times on the BBC, on 60 Minutes, NPR, and the Bill Moyers Journal.  Here's what she says about what it means to be "pro-life."
"I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is."
This would be a great quote to read to the Republican candidates in the upcoming debate -- and ask them to respond


Race to the bottom to reach the debate stage

Mike Huckabee, in my view, is by far the most reprehensible in the outrageousness of his pandering to keep his name in the news, here in the final lap of the race to make it into the top 10 who will be on the FoxNews debate stage next Thursday night.

First he likened President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran to "marching the Israelis right up to the doors of the ovens" -- evoking the Holocaust.   He's saying Obama has doomed the Israeli's to destruction, like unto Hitler sending the Jews to the gas chambers.  

AJC opinion writer Ann McFeatters called Huckabee's statement "Not even hyperbole.  It is incendiary hooliganism."

Then, as if that weren't enough, he said that he wouldn't rule out using federal troops or the FBI to prevent women from having abortions.

This is pandering of the worst sort.  Yes, he's careful to couch it as "I wouldn't rule it out."   But what he is really pretending to advocate is totalitarianism of his own religious views.

Mike Hickabee knows better than that.   A president cannot impose his personal views to interfere with people undergoing a lawful procedure.  I doubt that Huckabee is even sincere in all his bible-banging crap.  Maybe he once was.  But he has become a shameless huckster, who now shills for a quack diabetes cure.

Perhaps seven years at FoxNews has tarnished his good nature.   Now he seems like just one more insincere politician playing to the worst in people's ignorance and prejudices -- all in the guise of religious faith.