Saturday, August 22, 2015

Trump in perspective -- will he stall out at his current 25%

We're all so intrigued by Donald Trump's running away with the primary (for now, anyway) that we may be losing sight of what it actually means.   

Yes, he's way ahead in the polls at 25% -- but that also means that 75% are not choosing him.   The question is:    Can Donald Trump expand his appeal, or is this as much of the electorate as he can attract?    It's hard to assess this when there is such a large field.


Immmigration myths

From Robin Abearian in the Los Angeles Times, writing about Donald Trump's absurd demonizing of immigrants:

". . . .  As I crossed into Mexico the other day, all I could think was: How can this blowhard not know that we already have fences in California and Texas? And that they are unfeasible anywhere else?

". . . .  And that's the thing, really. Screaming about illegal border crossings may be at an all-time high, but actual illegal border crossings are at historic lows.

"To all but the most determined smugglers, our border is effectively sealed. (And the great wave of Central American children who streamed to the border last summer? The whole point was to get caught so they could apply for political asylum.)"

*   *   *
There are a couple of points I would add.   First, that wave of children last year -- they weren't Mexicans, as Robin correctly states.   They were from other Central American countries, and they were seeking asylum from gang violence and real dangers, especially to young people -- which is different from just sneaking in and hoping to be undetected.

Second, about Trump's absurd boasting that he would build a great, "beautiful" wall -- and make the Mexican government pay for it.    Ask him how he's going to make them.   And then explain that most of the undocumented people coming in from the south are not Mexicans.  They are people coming through Mexico to get to the U.S.   But they are not Mexicans.   So why should the Mexican government have anything to do with it?


Friday, August 21, 2015

Interpreting the polls

Polls taken almost 15 months prior to a presidential election have little predictive value.   But, with the level of interest and excitement here in August of 2015, there are a few observations about what the voters are responding to.

1.  The most excitement in each party is being generated by a candidate who is perhaps the furthest removed from his party establishment:   Donald Trump for the Republicans and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats.

2.  People want someone who tells the unvarnished truth.  No spin, no political correctness, no obfuscation.  So we have:  Trump because he has no filter to hold him back;   and Sanders because he's been speaking the same truth for 25 years.

3.  The governors aren't doing so well.  The Republicans' "deep bench" of experienced chief executives (Bush, Walker, Christie, Jindal, Huckabee, Perry, Kasich, Gilmore) isn't playing out too well.   In the post-debate FoxNews poll, the collective support for these 8 governors is 30% for an average of less then 4%;  the three, never-held-office outsiders (Trump, Carson, Fiorino) have a combined 39% for a 13% average.

 4.  Cautious, scripted, and evasive is not what people want at this point. Take note Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.   That may change as we get closer and people start paying attention to issues.  Let's hope so.  We probably aren't going to elect either Trump or Sanders president, but other candidates better listen and learn from what their current popularity means. 


Meet me at the fair, Hillary

Hillary Pork Chop

Hillary Clinton at the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 16, 2015

Hillary should attend more state fairs.  These two pictures have something that's been missing in most of her campaign photos.  Yes, she looks a tad uneasy about how to gracefully manage this "pork chop on a stick" that is a must-do for politicians at the Iowa State Fair.

[There was a later photo of her still carrying said pork chop, with two big bites gone out of it.   But we didn't actually see her doing the biting.   But that's beside the point.]

The first photo also shows Hillary looking directly at someone.  She usually looks above or to the side or, worse, with head tilted back and eyebrows lifted, so she appears to be looking down her nose at people.   She rarely looks directly into the camera.   She should do this more often;   it captures her openness, her vulnerability, and her sincerity.

And the second picture just shows genuine delight.  She must really like state fairs.   There's nothing guarded or stilted in this grin.   It's in the eyes.   In the top one, she's looking directly ahead, open and engaging.   In the lower one, her eyes are scrunched up in a big grin -- but the facial features all fit one emotion.   Often people, who have to force a smile all the time in public, get a disconnect between the eyes and the mouth and the lines around the nose.   If they don't add up, the smile looks faked -- as it often is. 

Not here.   It's hard to keep from giggling with her when you look at this.


Athena Image 
Hillary Clinton at Iowa State Fair, photo by Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thursday, August 20, 2015

442 days left, and already Republican candidates are talking about repealing the 14th amendment

What will be left this time next year when the radical right fringe of the Republican Party demands more red meat to defeat the others pandering to the same crowd?

Donald Trump says we've got to get rid of "birthright citizenship" for babies born in the U.S. of illegal parents.    Scott Walker jumped on the bandwagon.   Others tried to be a little more circumspect, maybe knowing that this would take an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to get rid of that clause in the 14th amendment.

Not gonna happen.    But once you've started attacking the Bill of Rights, what's the next attention-grabbing headline going to be?


Most respected medical journal exposes the false claims made against Planned Parenthood

It's not the first time that anti-abortion activists and politicians have tried to destroy Planned Parenthood.  And now they're using the same tactics that they did to destroy the social service organization ACORN a few years ago.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) was an effective community activism organization that worked on voter registration, neighborhood safety, health care, and affordable housing for lower income families.  In 2009 two conservative activists made videotapes of staged interactions, which were selectively edited to make it appear that ACORN employees were encouraging criminal behavior related to voter registrations.

Without investigating their authenticity, media outlets splashed the controversy all over the news.   Conservatives used this to bolster its charges that ACORN regularly committed voter registration fraud.  Funding from government agencies for ACORN's social service work evaporated, and it could not survive, filing for Chapter 7 liquidation in November 2010.

Investigations by several state and city Attorneys General, as well as the U. S. General Services Organization, exonerated ACORN and found the videos to have been deceptively edited.   But it was too late to save what had been an invaluable social service group.

Now, similar anti-abortion activists are trying the same tactics to destroy Planned Parenthood.   But, unlike ACORN, PP has the resources to survive long enough to prove them wrong.   Now the most highly respected medical journal in this country, The New England Journal of Medicine, has taken up the cause and reported the following in its August 12, 2015 issue:

1.  An antiabortion activist, posing as a representative of a biomedical research company, secretly taped a conversation with a doctor from Planned Parenthood about details of obtaining fetal tissues for medical research purposes.  These are perfectly legal as long as they are voluntarily donated, not sold.   The tapes were then edited to make it appear that illegal payments were being discussed.

At least ten states have investigated the procedures at local PP clinics.  All have concluded that no laws were broken by PP.  The article goes on to say that "Every person in this country has benefited from research using fetal tissue. . . .  This attack represents a betrayal of the people whose lives could be saved by the research."

2.  Another article in this same issue of the NEJM states:  "The contraception services that Planned Parenthood delivers may be the single greatest effort to prevent the unwanted pregnancies that result in abortion. . . .  We are outraged by those who debase these women, this work, and Planned Parenthood by distorting the facts for political ends."

To these supporting facts from the NEJM, I would like to add that only 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood involve abortions.   For many low-income women, it is their main source of health care, including cancer screenings and contraceptive care.

But we have a group of conservative politicians pandering to the anti-abortion furor in this country.  In my August 10, 2015 post on ShrinkRap, I discussed how we think differently about when a fetus becomes a person.   I respect their right to have their own opinions, but we cannot allow fraudulent tactics and political lies to destroy necessary medical services for partisan political advantage.

If you agree with this, the best way to counter this nefarious scheme is to donate to Planned Parenthood and to vote against anyone who votes for or advocates defunding the non-abortion medical services of this worthy organization.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jimmy Carter -- changed the world

1993Photo by Rick Diamond, The Carter Center
With the announcement last week that he has metastatic cancer, the 90 year old former president Jimmy Carter begins the final chapter in a long life of integrity and honor and service.  His many accomplishments through the Carter Center have literally changed the world we live in.  Already recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize, he is the best post-president in our history.

Equally, he will be remembered as a good man who stood for equality, justice, and inclusion without discrimination, and for helping those in need.   Identifying himself as a Christian, he lived that faith by "walking in the footsteps of Jesus" -- and not as the Bible-thumping practitioners of hatred and exclusion that we associate with the "religious right."

Jimmy Carter epitomizes the best of the "religious left."


Jesus would be a socialist

Some Democrats are getting worried about the surging popularity of Bernie Sanders.   His rallies have drawn crowds as large as 28,000 in Portland and Los Angeles.

But is it going to hurt him, and the Democratic Party, that he's a self-proclaimed socialist?   Bernie's answer is "What's wrong with that?"   And I agree with him.

Rather, his Democratic Socialism is not the totalitarian socialism that Stalin forced on the people.  He ruled by murder and fear -- but that was his totalitarianism, not the socialism.   Totalitarianism is a means of enforcing a political system -- and it can be used to enforce various ideologies, socialism being one of them.     An oligarchy could be another, which Russia seems to be becoming.

There have been two democratically elected socialist governments:   Chile and Iran.  The CIA was behind the overthrow of both of them.   We backed a military coup in Chile and got the Pinochet reign.  We restored the Shah to power in Iran, which then led to another overthrow that ushered in the theocracy they have today.  And we wonder why the Iranians fear and hate us.  

Of course, many European countries now have modified forms of democratic socialism -- some of the ones we envy for their social network and benefits to families, health care, education, and working people.

The truth is that Jesus of Nazareth would be a socialist.  Using collective means to take care of the sick and needy, accepting the outcast, forgiving and not judging others;  opposing the greed of the wealthy, sharing what you have, aka the parable of the loaves and fishes.

He didn't put it in Karl Marx's words -- "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" -- but that seems to describe what Jesus teaches in the New Testament of the Bible, what we have come to call the social gospel.

Obviously, I'm not talking about the "godless" part that some attribute to socialism because of the Soviet communist regime.   But atheism is not a necessary part of socialism, any more than it is part of capitalism, even though the queen of self-interest and greed, Ayn Rand, preached atheism herself.

If you distill it to what Democratic Socialism really is as embraced by Bernie Sanders -- meaning it is chosen by the people and for the people -- it seems not much different from the social gospel of Jesus of Nazareth.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mockingbird Part IV coming soon

No, I have not forgotten that I was going to write one more bit about the controversial publication of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.    There's been so much in the news lately that has grabbed my interest and pushed book-talk into the background.    Back to it soon.


Israel's treatment of Arab-American citizens . . . and our government's acquiescence

Dr. James Zogby, author of Arab Voices and leading founder of both the Arab American Institute and the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, lectures and writes on Middle East Affairs.   He recently wrote an open letter to Sec. of State John Kerry about Israel's  long-standing practice of barring entry to American citizens of Arab descent.

Zogby describes the typical experience by focusing on what happened recently to two different American citizens on long-planned trips to visit relatives in Palestine.   George, 70, had not visited relatives there for over two decades;  Habib, 62, and his sons were going to a family wedding in the West Bank.
"On arrival in Israel . . . they were detained for long hours, subjected to abusive interrogations, insulted by Israeli security personnel, and finally denied entry and forced to purchase, at their own expense, return tickets back to the United States.   

[In the two cases] ". . . there were significant common elements with the most disturbing being the reason they were denied entry. Because both men were of Palestinian descent, the Israelis would not honor their US passports as travel documents or recognize that they were American citizens . . Both were told that they needed to acquire Palestinian IDs and that, as Palestinians, they could only enter through Jordan . . .   

"What happened . . . were not the actions of a few rogue agents. For more than three decades, we have recorded and submitted to the State Department hundreds of instances where Arab Americans, upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport have been subjected to such treatment. . . . "
Zobgy then points out that, although the State Department does not condone Israel's behavior with regard to entry of American citizens of Arab descent, they wrote in response to a complaint from the daughter of one of these men that:  "Unfortunately, the US government cannot assist US citizens in gaining entry into Israel" but they should instead contact the Israeli embassy for assistance.   

Our State Department's "Travel Advisory" states that, regardless of whether they hold US citizenship, Israeli authorities will treat anyone whose parents or grandparents were born or lived in the West Bank or Gaza as Palestinians and not as Americans.   Zogby's letter continues: 
"Israel, it appears, has a peculiar view of American citizenship. If you are Jewish, you are in a special class in that you can become an Israeli citizen. If you are an American of any non-Arab ethnicity, you are welcome to visit. But if you are an American of Arab descent and, in particular, of Palestinian descent, then you are not seen as an American and are not welcome. 

"It is upsetting that both the Department of State "Travel Advisory" and the Consul's letter acknowledge Israel's disregard for our citizenship rights and claim to be powerless to hold them accountable for their actions. This acquiescence allows Israel to act with impunity. It also makes our government appear to be complicit in Israel's behavior. . . .  

"I am, therefore, writing to you, Secretary Kerry, urging you to insist that the Israeli government fully live up to its treaty obligations to treat all Americans equally without regard to their religion or national origin."
*   *   *
The Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians is one reprehensible matter.   But our own government's acquiescence and helplessness is another, and I find it very disturbing.

Israel's legitimate right to protect itself from attack, and the moral debt the world owes to the Jewish people, are increasingly being over-shadowed in world opinion by Israel's own inhumane treatment of the Palestinians.    This criticism is not anti-Semitic prejudice;  it is the result of the Israeli government's own behavior toward the Palestinians.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Trump pulls back the curtain and exposes the truth

Say what you will (as I have) about Donald Trump, there is something refreshingly honest about what he says.   Because he doesn't have a filter for political correctness or political expedience -- we sometimes get the unvarnished truth.

In the debate, he casually mentioned how he always gives money to politicians of both parties -- and then he gets favors from them in the future.    Then he shrugs and says what everybody knows but few admit:  "That's how it works."

At the Iowa State Fair on Saturday, he dropped this line:  “I’ve been getting politicians to pass whatever I wanted all of my life. Big New York City zoning deals are probably tougher than most of the things I’d be dealing with, [as president] with foreign countries.”

See what I mean?   He just lays the raw truth right out there -- about politicians and their donors and the system of "pay to play."    And people love it because it feels honest.   It's the opposite of cover-up and spin.


Former top U.S. general in Iraq war says Jeb Bush is wrong to blame Obama

Jeb Bush tries to blame the situaion in Iraq on President Obama, saying that the 2007 troop surge ordered by his brother worked and that Obama's decision to pull troops out in 2011 was a mistake that resulted in the current instability in Iraq and the rise of ISIS. 

U. S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, who was the highest-ranking officer in Iraq during part of that time, sought "to set the record straight."

"I remind everybody that us leaving at the end of 2011 was negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration. That was always the plan, we had promised them that we would respect their sovereignty."   When the Iraqis refused an agreement that would exempt remaining American troops from Iraqi law beyond the 2011 deadline, we had no choice but to follow the withdrawal timetable.

Typical of the Bush family mindset -- talk tough and blame anything bad on the other guy -- Jeb says Obama should have renegotiated the agreement in 2011 and just forced the Iraqi's to agree.   What about our promise to respect their sovereignty?  And then Jeb accuses the Obama administration of "rewriting history."

He says removing Saddam Hussein "turned out to be a pretty good deal."  He thinks the "mission was accomplished" by the time his brother left office, and he said he won't rule out waterboarding as an interrogation technique.

Jeb Bush is the one who is rewriting the history of the Iraq War -- just as his brother did and continues to do, trying to overlook the fact that the "faulty intelligence" was entirely the fault of Cheney and his neo-con minions got exactly the "faulty intelligence" they demanded from a reluctant CIA.  

Jeb's war-mongering tone is not as belligerent as some of his fellow Republican candidates;   but his Middle East policy would not differ very much.   Don't be misled.   Another Bush in the White House means neo-cons controlling the foreign policy.   He already has on his advisory team Paul Wolfowitz, one of the neo-con architects of the Iraq debacle.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Deomcrat takes Republican seat in state House

Democrat Taylor Bennett made the national news on Tuesday when he won the runoff race for the traditionally Republican Georgia House District 80 in the more affluent northern Atlanta suburbs.
Taylor BennettPolitically, I shouldn't live where I live -- Sandy Springs, just outside the perimeter highway that defines the suburbs of Atlanta.  My congressman, my representatives in both the state house and senate, and my mayor are all republicans -- as are our two U. S. senators.  When partisan issues are voted on, I am in a very small minority of progressives. 

So, with great pride I welcome my new state representative, the 29 year old lawyer, and progressive Democrat, Taylor Bennett.  With a very small turnout for the runoff (total vote of 677),** Taylor won by a 56% to 43% margin over Republican Max Davis to replace the former Republican office holder who resigned to accept a judgeship.

Davis outspent Bennett by 2 to 1 -- but Bennett ran a terrific campaign.  One of his main issues was opposition to the "religious freedom restoration act" that will come again in the next legislative session.   And he quite openly acknowledged both his mother and sister who are gay, and his opposition to any form of discrimination.

More significant than his progressive policy positions, Bennett's election gives the minority Democrats the vote needed to prevent Republicans from having the two-thirds super-majority that is required to advance amendments to the state constitution.

Welcome, Taylor.  You have my support for a future political career in the progressive movement in Georgia.

**  Correction:  I got this figure from a neighborhood newspaper, which must have been referring to a subdistrict total;  the total runoff vote was about 6,000.