Saturday, August 29, 2015

What if Donald Trump held a press conference . . and nobody came?

Read Nate Silver and Frank Luntz (second post below) on the centrality of media attention to Donald Trump's popularity, and then think about this letter in yesterday's AJC by MIchael Fedack:
"When Donald Trump had a [Latino] newsman ejected from his press conference . . . why didn't every reporter and cameraman follow their colleague out the door?  It's simple.  No words, no pictures, no Trump.  Imagine that."
That's the answer to political guru Frank Luntz's saying he wouldn't know how to take Trump down.   Just ignore him.   Punish him with what hurt's him the most:  no attention.


Only 33 countries have birthright citizenship

According to a PolitiFact check, published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 8/26/15, there are only 33 countries in the world that have birthright citizenship that automatically makes anyone born in that country a citizen.

Most of the 33 countries are in the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina.   Germany and the United Kingdom both confer citizenship to anyone if at least one parent is a citizen or a permanent resident.

This puts a little different spin on the current brouhaha over birthright citizenship, realizing that no country in Europe or East Asia has such a right.    That doesn't change the way I feel about the mean-spirited, anti-immigrant furor out of which this arose -- nor the facts that the number of undocumented immigrants has actually declined.


Nate Silver comments on Donald Trump's "Perpetual Attention Machine"

Nate Silver, guru of polling analysis, writes in his Five Thirty-Eight blog that "Trump isn’t affected much by negative media coverage — it may even help himBut a lack of media coverage might be a different story.”

Throughout the summer, Trump has been the subject of as many Google searches and as much news coverage as all the other candidates combined.   Silver continues:

"What’s interesting is how Trump seemed to go out of his way after the debate to ensure that he’d remain the center of attention, with his tirade against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly . . . .  [t]hat tended to drown out most of the coverage of whether, say, Fiorina or Kasich had gained momentum after the debate. . . .

"Trump is . . . amazingly skilled at disrupting the conversation by any means necessary, including by drawing negative . . . attention to himself. . . . 

"Is it sustainable? In the long run, probably not. . . .  Sooner or later, the media will find another candidate’s story interesting. . . .  But there’s not a lot of hard campaign news to dissect in August. . . . [T]hrowing a stink bomb whenever another story risks upstaging you, and you can remain at the center of the conversation, and atop the polls, for weeks at a time.”

From the partisan Republican side, Frank Luntz, conservative maven of polling and message, says that:  among his supporters, "nothing disqualifies Trump. . . .  If you wanted to take him down, I would not know how to do it." 

Trump is a unique phenomenon personally, he has tapped into a deep vein of lost confidence in our government and in politicians, and he is brilliant in knowing how to manipulate and use the media to his advantage.

Frank Luntz thinks Trump could actually become the Republican nominee.    I'm still holding to the idea that, with the non-Trump vote divided so many ways, we don't have a good picture of how broad his support really is.   Is he anybody's second choice, when their candidate drops out?    One thing we know is that, by far, he has the highest "unfavorable" ratings -- far higher than his "favorable."   But so does Hillary Clinton.

But we need to remember this:   In state primaries where the winner takes all the delegates, rather than apportioning them, Trump could win with his 28% of the vote.   But Clinton beats him in a 1to 1;   so does Bernie Sanders !!!!


Friday, August 28, 2015

Obama on the latest gun massacre

What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism.”

This a simple fact of numbers.  It shouldn't shock us, but it did . . . when President Obama said it on Thursday.


A voice speaks out for Palestinians

As I have written here often, I find it impossible to say who is right or wrong in the Israel-Palestine territorial controversy.   Both sides have claim to the land at different times in history, and each side has justifiable grievances against the other.   In such situations, I tend to favor the underdog, the one with inadequate resources or power to make a fair fight for justice.

Here is a voice speaking out for the Palestinians.   Alon Ben-Meir, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Affairs, NYU, wrote this article several weeks ago: "Susiya:  Injustice on Display." 

He writes about the Palestinian village of Susiya in the occupied West Bank that is under order for demolition and forced removal of hundreds of Palestinians whose families have been living in that land from the time of the Ottoman Empire.    They have ownership deeds to back up their claims.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's excuse for expelling the Palestinians is that it is the site of archeological remains of both a 5th century synagogue and a 10th century mosque.   But, Ben-Neir writes:

"The real reason is that Netanyahu is leading a coalition government which is committed to preventing the Palestinians from building anywhere in Area C, which represents 61 percent of the West Bank, and is openly seeking its outright annexation. 

"This policy is repeatedly reinforced by the government's refusal to grant building permits to Susiya residents, when at the same time it is providing all the funding for facilities and security to a religious communal Israeli settlement established in 1986 with the same name only a short distance south of Palestinian Susiya.

". . . It is hard to express how outrageous the behavior of Netanyahu's government is when only hours after Israel's High Court of Justice ordered the demolition of two illegally-built structures in the West Bank [Israeli] settlement of Beit El, Netanyahu authorized the immediate construction of 300 units in the same settlement. . . . 

"The implications of this inhuman action, should it be carried out, transcends the demolition of one Palestinian village. It points out not only the hypocrisy of Netanyahu and his cohorts, but the moral decadence of a government that seems bent on defying the international community and the basic tenets of civilized behavior.

"Susiya is but another example of the Netanyahu government's flagrant and callous disregard of the Palestinians' fundamental right to live with dignity . . . .  At a time when Israel's image is tarnished, demolishing Palestinian Susiya will only intensify the already massive international condemnation of the Israeli occupation and the Netanyahu government's insatiable thirst for more Palestinian land.

"Netanyahu's demagoguery has been time and again put on full display when he talks about a two-state solution, but then continues to expand the settlements by providing them with amenities while at the same time depriving scores of Palestinian villages of their basic need for water and electricity . . . .  

"After 47 years of occupation, the time has come for all decent Israelis to think about the future of their country. Where is Israel heading, and for how much longer can the occupation and the injustices continue without jeopardizing Israel's very existence . . . [and] destroying the moral foundations on which Israel was established?"

*     *     *
Yes, in order to form a new government after the recent elections, Netanyahu had to build a coalition with some of the ultra-orthodox political parties on the far right.   But actions like Ben-Meir describes predated this further tilt to the right.   It has been Natanyahu's pattern all along.

World opinion is turning against Israel's current actions -- and mine along with it.   Israel, as it was originally conceived, was a noble idea of democracy and sanctuary;  it's leadership was of the highest moral caliber.     It grows increasingly hard to remember it in those terms.   That is very sad . . . and tragic for everyone.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

The pros and cons of a Joe Biden candidacy

 Until a week ago, there had been vague hints that Joe Biden might get into the Democratic primary race;   but then his son died and he was in mourning.   Now there is a serious testing-the-waters campaign.   The question:  is it still just being a ready alternative should Hillary Clinton's campaign falter and she become unelectable?   Or is Biden wanting to compete against her?

He has told several people that his concern is more that Clinton would not be a "credible messenger" for what he considers the defining issue of this campaign:   income inequality.  So what are the pros and cons of Biden getting into the race at this point?

Chris Hayes had a good discussion of this with his guests on All In With Chris Hayes on MSNBC Monday night.   The gist of that was:

1.  Joe Biden has become the beloved uncle of the political world.   If he retires from politics at the end of eight years as Obama's vice president, he will bask not only in the legacy of his own positive, avuncular status but in what is turning out to be an amazing administration record of achievement.   He will be remembered fondly and positively.

2.  But, if he jumps in the race and loses -- as he likely would, they concluded -- then he will go down in history as someone who ran three presidential races . . . and lost all three.

3.  In addition, as soon as he becomes a candidate, all the negatives every opposition researcher can come up with will be thrown at him.   His approval ratings will go down -- and he will likely lose.

4.  It's late in the game, and most of the wealthy donors and top notch strategists have already signed up with others.   It's also late to start building a campaign team and organizing state by state.

On the other side, there are some positive things about a Biden run:

1.  Aside from the intra-family dynamics, including his dying son's urging him to run, Joe Biden is just a natural campaigner;  and he loves every minute of it.    Whether it's debates or petting pigs at state fairs, he is in his element.

2.  He is the original "authentic politician."  In a season where the public clearly wants straight talk and no political correctness filters, and where people find Hillary Clinton guarded and untrustworthy, Joe comes across as engaged and real.   It just comes naturally to him.

3.  His reputation for blurting out awkward comments like a loose cannon has been tempered by eight years in the shadow of Barack Obama's too-careful public statements.   Joe has learned to hold his tongue.   His forcefullness and candor, tempered by eight years in the world's most important crisis room, has undoubtedly seasoned his maturity and judgment.

4.  Arguable, he is at least as prepared as Hillary Clinton, having served in the Senate for 35 years and been Chair of both the Foreign Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee -- and Vice President for 8 years.

5.  Obama didn't go as far as endorsing Biden, but he did praise his aptitude for the presidency and said that his decision to choose Biden as his running made was the smartest political decision he ever made.   People are reading this an Obama's "blessing," without going as far as an endorsement.

One crucial deciding factor will be his wife Jill.   Reportedly she is not on board yet.   She is likely concerned about him as a person, his age (he would be 74 when he took office) and his legacy.

And what are we to make of the rumors that are flying around that his meeting with Elizabeth Warren was more than just asking her advice about whether he should run.  What if he asked her to run as a team as his vice president?   That would be a formidable ticket.

Both can speak to working class families in an articulate and engaged way.   Warren would balance Biden's more hawkish and centrist positions with her economic populism.   And she might hold the women's vote and would enhance the progressive vote.   Not bad.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Biden-Warren speculation

I had the thought myself, but also heard it last night voiced by Chris Wallace Hayes * and his guest pundits:  Was Joe Biden not just consulting with Elizabeth Warren about whether he should run?    Was he asking her to run with him as his vice presidential candidate?    Meaning:   actually run as a team?

Now that could really shake up this already earthquake of a political year that Donald Trump has created.

The conclusion of Chris and friends was that Biden will not run -- unless some new, real scandal emerges that makes Hillary unelectable.  I agree with their analysis.   It makes no sense to oppose Hillary head-on.  Run to the right of her?   No.   To the left?   We've got Bernie Sanders for that.   So there's really no good case, except to say that Hillary isn't the best person for the job -- and lose the women's vote?   No thanks.

So it only makes sense if Hillary clearly becomes unelectable . . . .   UNLESS it was Biden AND Warren.   Then policy-wise you cover the center-right and the far-left, and you have two completely authentic candidates known for their outspoken candor, both very good at communicating with ordinary working class people.

Stay tuned.


* My apology to Chris Hayes for this slip.

Speak loudly and carry a small stick

Donald Trump was on George Stephanopolis' Sunday morning talk show.   George tried to pin him down on how he would fix the immigration problem.   They danced around for a while, with Trump playing his usual bluster and blame game, talking about "it's all a matter of management," but without specifics.  George persisted:

STEPHANOPOULOS:  I understand that you think it's a huge problem, but I still don't hear specifics on how you're going to do this.
TRUMP: Well, you'll see...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- for example...
TRUMP: -- my specifics, George. But my specifics are very -- I'm going to get great people that know what they're doing, not a bunch of political hacks that have no idea what they're doing, appointed by President Obama, that doesn't have a clue. I mean that man doesn't have a clue.
*   *   *
If it weren't so tragic for the country, wouldn't it be amusing to see President Trump on his first day in office, accustomed to being the irresistible force in his business empire, running into the unmovable object that is Congress.


Bernie Sanders vs Rand Paul . . . way back in 2011

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Way back in June 2011 in a Senate subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sanders and Sen. Rand Paul showed their different views of the role of government and their different understanding of  "spending money to save money." 

Sen. Paul's libertarian political philosophy of small government and minimal services clashed with the progressive view of Sen. Sanders.   They clashed on things like whether the government should do things like feeding hungry senior citizens.   Sanders and liberal panelists argued that, purely from a budget standpoint, it actually saves money in health care costs.

Whether Sen. Paul simply does not understand or is blinded by his political philosophy, he reacted with that mock-shock attitude he displays, saying:  “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money.”   Instead he touted what he calls the "nobility of private charity" and suggest privatizing the Meals on Wheels program for seniors.

Leaving aside the humanitarian argument, Sen. Sanders responded: 
“. . .  that’s the kind of philosophy that results in us spending about twice as much per person on health care as any other country on earth. . . .  We have millions of millions of Americans who can’t get to a doctor on time. Some of them die, some of them become very, very ill and end up in the emergency room or end up in the hospital at great cost. 
"Maybe it’s the same reason why . . .  we have the highest poverty rate among children among many other major countries on earth. . . .  I happen to believe that intelligently investing in the needs of our people does in fact save substantial sums of money.” 
Joan McCarter Follow, writing about this for DailyKos in 2011, concluded that this exchange "highlights the great divide between the Republican party of 2011 and the rest of us, a distinction elected Democrats need to be calling out loudly and repeatedly. But in the new austerity-driven policy world, good luck with that."
*   *   *
And here we find ourselves, four years later in an already heated up presidential campaign, with Rand Paul on one side and Bernie Sanders on the other.   No doubt, Sanders is doing better than Paul, and I'd like to think that, in part at least, that is due to the American public being more in tune with the humanitarian Democratic Socialist than with the Libertarian view of smaller-is-better government.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Does anybody care that July was the hottest month on record?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a dire warning about the state of the earth's climate, including the fact that July 2015 was the hottest month since recordings began in 1880, and that 2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record.

How upsetting is this?    Well, in the three days since the report was made public, cable news has hardly noticed.    MSNBC and CNN have each discussed it five times, but Fox News?   Not at all.

During that same period (as reported by Sam Stein of Huffington Post), Donald Trump was mentioned a total of 750 times by those three stations.   CNN aired an hour long interview with himself and rebroadcast it several times.

So much for our news priorities -- "As the World Turns Burns."


Netanyahu would have attacked Iran, but his military overruled him

Reuters News Service reports that, at least three times -- in 2010, 2011, and 2012 -- Netanyahu and political leaders were ready to attack Iran but had to back down when their own military leaders advised against it.

This comes from interviews with the former Israel defense minister Ehud Barak, released by Barak's biographers on Israel television.

The report included some details given by Barak.  In 2010, the military said it did not have "operational capability."  In 2011, it went as far as having top security ministers discussing plans for an attack, but they changed their minds about the advisability.   

In 2012, the timing would have conflicted with a joint military exercise with the United States and would have pulled the U.S. into the conflict because our troops were there.  Barak explained that Israel couldn't very well demand that America respect its sovereignty -- and at the same time drag it into an action it opposed but couldn't avoid if it was in the area.

 That was Ehud Barak speaking.   It's too bad that the Israeli military couldn't over-rule Netanyahu's inappropriate trip to Washington to try to derail President Obama's negotiated agreement between Iran and the U.S. and its five partners.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Republican candidates form a circular firing squad -- and Donald Trump just yelled: "Fire!"

Washington Post journalist Paul Waldman thinks that it's possible that the 2016 presidential election got decided this week when Donald Trump said he would get rid of birthright citizenship, and some of the others jumped on board.

Waldman correctly points out the fundamental challenge Republicans face on immigration:  "they need to talk tough to appeal to their base in the primaries, but doing so risks alienating the Hispanic voters they’ll need in the general election."   He continues:
"You can’t end birthright citizenship without repealing [the 14th amendment]. . .  The bar is so high for amending the Constitution that it’s impossible to imagine any amendment this controversial getting ratified, which is as it should be.

"But the political impact is going to be very real, whether or not the idea goes anywhere in practical terms. The simple fact is that if Republicans don’t improve their performance among Hispanic voters, they cannot win the White House. Period. 

"This discussion about birthright citizenship sends an incredibly clear message to Hispanic voters, a message of naked hostility to them. . . .  [Y]ou can’t say you’re pro-immigrant and advocate ending birthright citizenship. You just can’t. . . .

 "[N]ext fall, there are going to be ads like this running all over the country, and especially on Spanish-language media: 

My name is Lisa Hernandez. I was born in California, grew up there. I was valedictorian of my high school class, graduated from Yale, and now I’m in medical school; I’m going to be a pediatrician. But now Scott Walker and the Republicans say that because my mom is undocumented, that I’m not a real American and I shouldn’t be a citizen. I’m living the American Dream, but they want to take it away from me and people like me. Well I’ve got a message for you, Governor Walker. I’m every bit as American as your children. This country isn’t about who your parents were, it’s about everybody having a chance to work hard, achieve, and contribute to our future. It seems like some people forgot that. 

"When a hundred ads like that one are blanketing the airwaves, the Republicans can say, "Wait, I support legal immigration!" all they want, but it won’t matter.  Hispanic voters will have heard once again — and louder than ever before — that the GOP doesn’t like them and doesn’t want them. . . . 

"Republicans need to improve their performance among Hispanics to prevail. . . .  [U]nder even the most absurdly optimistic scenaro . . . the Republican candidate would need 42 percent of the Hispanic vote to win. . . . Romney got 27 percent of Hispanic votes in 2012 . . .  

"So to sum up: even in the best possible situation when it comes to turnout and the vote choices of the rest of the electorate, the Republican presidential candidate in 2016 is going to have to pull off an absolutely heroic performance among Hispanic voters if he’s going to win." 
Need I add my voice to point out that, going from 27% to 42%, even in the best possible scenario for Republicans, seems like an impossible dream -- even if they were actively, madly courting Latino voters.

And the fact is that they are doing the exact opposite.   The circular firing squad is forming and The Donald just cleared his throat, reared back, and gave the order to fire. 

Please, people, don't get in their way.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Carter's role in eliminating a disease in Africa

Medical progress is often wonderful to behold.   One wonder is that the one-time dreaded and highly infectious disease, smallpox, has been eradicated from the entire world -- as in zero cases, for years now.  There was even a controversy a few years ago about whether the lab stock of the bacteria should also be destroyed.   But a small supply is needed to make the vaccine, in case the disease should crop up again.

The other side of that wonder is that smallpox is the only disease that has been completely eliminated.   It's not an easy thing to do.  But Jimmy Carter has been the leader in the Carter Center's 29 year project that has very nearly eliminated another dreaded disease:   the Guinea worm infestation that devastated villages in Africa.

The Carter Center spearheaded, under President and Mrs. Carter's personal leadership, a very simple method of cheap filters that screened out the worms from drinking water.  Much credit also goes to the dedicated public health teams that educated the people and spread the method.

Here is President Carter's own description:
"It's a despicable disease. And it was in such remote villages that no one wanted to take on the task. So we decided to take it on. We started in 1986 and we've been going at it ever since. Twenty-six thousand five hundred villages were affectedand [the Carter Center] has been to every one of them."
Such a simple, inexpensive method, based on one basic health principle -- clean drinking water -- plus a lot of educating and determination.  But that's all it took.   Not expensive lab equipment and years of research.   A simple man who saw some good that could be accomplished for so many people in a needy continent.

The result?   In the beginning, there were 3.6 million people infected with these worms that grow inside the body up to three feet long, and then they slowly emerge through painful lesions on any part of the body.     With these simple water filters in place, and educating people not to drink unfiltered water -- the latest report found only 11 known cases in the whole world.   3,600,000 cases down to 11.

When asked to name something he hoped to see before he dies, Carter flashed his familiar grin and said, "I want the last Guinea worm to die before I do."

Thank you, from the world, Mr. Carter.