Saturday, November 7, 2015

Democratic Forum in South Carolina

The MSNBC sponsored Democratic Forum in South Carolina was terrific on two counts.   First, the format:   each of the three candidates (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley) had about 30 minutes of one-to-one interview with Rachel Maddow.    It gave time for them to expound on their ideas in response to good questions from Rachel -- instead of the 30 second sound bites and bickering in a debate.

Second, the quality of the candidates -- in comparison to the Republicans -- was outstanding.  Of course, I would think so, but it's also true.  And Rachel was a great moderator.


Obama says NO on Keystone XL pipeline

After seven years of environmental impact studies, and other considerations, President Obama has finally given his formal reply to TransCandad's Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian border down to the Gulf Coast.   And that answer was a resounding NO.

"The State Department has decided the Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States -- I agree with that decision. . . .  Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America's energy security."

Oil produced from the oil sands in Alberta produces higher greenhouse emissions than conventional crude oil, according to environmental groups who are overjoyed by this decision.   But there have been intense pressures from other interests to build the pipeline -- including a bill passed by the Republican congress, which the president vetoed.

Bill McKibben, president of the climate group said that "President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on climate . . . [and] That gives him new stature as an environmental leader."

Just last week, TransCanada asked our government to suspend consideration of its application, obviously hoping to wait for a different president and a different decision.   But Obama said no to that delay -- and then followed it this week with his NO about the project itself.

Good.   There is no evidence that the U.S. would benefit substantially from having hundreds of thousands of gallons of dirty crude oil shipped through our country just to go on the international markets.   We do not need the oil ourselves, and we would get all the dangers of spills, which are proven real.    An estimate of 2,000 temporary jobs for the construction but no permanent in crease in jobs.    So I heartily applaud President Obama's decision.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Cracks in the Bush-Bush-Bush alliance

Poor Jeb.    First, his brother George jumped in and took his intended place in the White House.    Now when it looks like Jeb's chance finally came, he's having to deal with George's mixed legacy.  Is he an asset or a liability?   Should he use him on the campaign trail . . . or just at fund raisers?    Or tell him to get lost?

Poor Jeb is having to combat questions like:   "Is your campaign dead? and "Do you really want to be president?" and "Why didn't your brother prevent the 9/11 attack?" and "What about your daughter's drug addiction?"   And now Poppy Bush is piling on.  A new biography of Bush 41 by Jon Meacham, due out next week, has some delicious criticism from Poppy Bush of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld . . . and, yes, . . of Dubya himself.

Of Cheney, Bush 41 is quoted as having told the biographer: 
"He had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer. . . .  He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with [Cheney was his Sec. of Defense]  Just iron-ass. . . . knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East. . . ."

"The big mistake that was made was letting Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department. . . .  I think they overdid that. But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s the president’s faultThe buck stops there."
Bush 41 was even harder in his criticism of Donald Rumsfeld, Bush 43's Defense Secretary, who "served the president badly." 
"I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything. I’ve never been that close to him anyway. There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that. . . .  Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger." 
Bush 43 said he had never heard these opinions from Bush 41 himself. 

"He certainly never expressed that opinion to me, either during the presidency or after. . . .  I valued Dick’s [Cheney] advice, but he was one of a number of my advisers I consulted, depending on the issue. . . .  And in any event, I disagree with his characterization of what was going on. I made the decisions. This was my philosophy."
*     *     *
This is not a political hack job by a hostile biographer.   The book ads say that Meacham had interviews with Bush 41, plus access to his and his wife's diaries and cooperation of the Bush family.

I'm not puzzled that Poppy Bush had these opinions.  What I'm trying to figure out is what they think is the advantage of publishing this now.   The only way it could possibly be a calculated strategy to help Jeb is if they've decided to distance him from Dubya after all.  So I'm inclined to think that they cooperated in giving the biographer access, but they did not have content control -- and that they didn't know these criticisms were going to be in there.

The timing couldn't have been worse for Jeb.   It's only going to add to the widespread feeling that "we've had enough of the Bushes."


ADDED LATER:   And then there's the just-released movie "Truth," starring Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, about the CBS-Dan Rather debacle about the fake documentation of a claim that George W. Bush failed to fulfill his National Guard duties for most of a year.   Although the documents may have been forged (not by CBS and Rather but by someone who leaked them to them), many people were convinced that what they allegded was true.   Whatever the truth, it's going to be more publicity of the negative side of Jeb's brother.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Bad, good, and bad/good election results

It was a mixed day for the good guys (meaning Democrats and progressives) in Tuesday's various local and state elections this week.   Some were bad, some were good, and some were both bad and good at the same time.

1.  Bad;  Tea Party conservative Republican, wealthy businessman Mark Bevin beat Kentucky's Attorney General, Democrat Jack Conway, for the governor's race.   This puts in doubt one of the most successful health insurance programs in the country, which has proven to be a model under their Democratic Governor and which Conway would have supported.   Bevin has softened his earlier vow to get rid of it, which would have meant 400,000+ Kentuckians would have lost their health coverage.   But this can't be good for many reasons, including that Jack Conway would be a rising Democratic star in a less red state.

2.  Good:  In a Colorado recall election, voters ousted three Colorado School Board conservatives who were trying to rewrite history in the public schools' curriculum to conform to conservative beliefs.   This was a hard-earned grassroots effort that defeated a $1 million campaign chest for the conservative incumbents, much of it from the Koch brothers.

3.  BadHouston voters rejected an LGBT rights bill.   Opponents had mounted a campaign playing on fear that trans rights would mean that men would dress up as women in order to go into women's rest rooms and attack women.

4.  Good:  Both the state of Maine and the city of Seattle passed ballot initiatives that chip away at the Citizens United anathema of unlimited campaign finance by corporations and wealthy individuals.   Both make it easier for candidates using public financing to compete.

5.  Bad/Good:   Voters in Ohio rejected a constitutional amendment that would have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana.   Even by legalization supporters, it was considered a deeply flawed bill, because it gave exclusive commercial rights to a selected group of facilities.    Proponents are encouraged that this will pave the way for a more common sense bill in 2016, at a more propitious time when presidential candidates will also be on the ballot.

6.  Good:   Pennsylvania voters elected Democrats to all three State Supreme Court positions, giving the Democrats a majority on that court, which plays a major role in redistricting Pennsylvania's Congressional Districts, as well as the state legislative districts.  In a state that leans Democratic in presidential elections, Republicans control 13 of the 18 seats in congress due largely to the way district lines are drawn.

7.  Bad:  Coss County, Oregon voters passed a ballot initiative that requires the sheriff to block the enforcement of gun laws that he considers unconstitutional.

8Good:   Kentucky Secretary of State, Democratic Allison Lundergen Grimes, was re-elected;  and Democrat Andy Beshear, son of Kentucky's current governor, won the race for Attorney General -- both by very narrow margins.

 9BadRepublicans kept control of the Virginia state senate, despite Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliff's active campaigning for hotly contested seats, hoping to have at least one legislative house to help him pass bipartisan legislation.

All in all, it was an election day of mixed results -- and it once again tells us that Democrats don't seem to get energized unless there is also a presidential election.    As one commentator said on MSNBC Tuesday night:   "Republicans go to the polls every two years;   Democrats go to the polls every four years."

We shouldn't let that lull us into complacency for 2016.   It's going to be a close election.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Keystone pipeline -- revised reasoning

Two days ago I was naive in attributing TransCanada's motives for wanting to pause the decision about the pipeline.   I took at face value the facts of declining oil prices and pressure from environmentalists, as well as the "official" explanation of wanting to wait until they had completed the route planning through Nebraska.

Others have declared it to be simply a political ploy.   TransCanada's request included the estimation that the Nebraska plans might take up to 18 months.   They're assuming that President Obama is going to kill the pipeline, and the delay might put a Keystone-friendly Republican in office by then.


If Jeb says his brother kept us safe after 9/11 . . . then it's fair to ask if he did enough BEFORE 9/11?

Noted journalist Elizabeth Drew lays out the case that, although President George W. Bush might not have been able to prevent the 9/11 attack, he ignored the warnings and didn't even try.  There is nothing new here, but that's just the point.   There are powerful political forces that have steered us away from holding Bush accountable for what happened before 9/11.  And we've known it all along . . . and let him get away with it.

Enter Donald Trump in the second debateHe deftly punctured Jeb Bush's proud assertion that "My brother kept us safe."   All Trump said was"When you talk about George Bush--I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time."  So Elizabeth Drew's article has put it all out there for us to look at . . . again.  Here are some excerpts from her article (New York Review Daily, Oct 15, 2015).
*     *     * 
"The heretofore hushed-up public policy question that Trump stumbled into is: Did George W. Bush do what he could have to try to disrupt the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001? It's not simply a question of whether he could have stopped the devastation--that's unknowable. But did he do all he could given the various warnings that al-Qaeda was planning a major attack somewhere on US territory . . . ?  [The] almost unbearable conclusion . . . is that in the face of numerous warnings of an impending attack, Bush did nothing. . . .

"Osama bin Laden was . . . . the prime suspect in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa. . . . [R]epeated and more specific warnings by Richard Clarke, . . . the chief terrorism adviser, were ignored.   In a White House meeting on July 5, 2001, Clarke said, "Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." . . . 

"On July 10, CIA Director George Tenet and aides laid out for Condolessa] Rice what they described as irrefutable evidence that . . . ''There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months' and that the attack would be 'spectacular. Tenet believed that the US was going to get hit, and soon. But the intelligence authorities, including covert action, that the CIA officials told Rice they needed, and had been asking for since March, weren't granted until September 17.
"Then came the now-famous August 6 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) intelligence memorandum to the president, headlined, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US." Bush was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas . . .  none of his senior aides was present for the briefing . . . . [The brief included the warning that] 'FBI information . . . indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York. Having received this alarming warning the president did nothing. 

"As August went on, Tenet was so agitated by the chatter he was picking up and Bush's lack of attention to the matter that he arranged for another CIA briefing of the president later in August, with Bush still at his ranch, to try to get his attention to what Tenet believed was an impending danger. According to Ron Suskind, in the introduction to his book The One Percent Doctrine, when the CIA agents finished their briefing of the president in Crawford, the president said, 'All right. You've covered your ass now. And that was the end of it. 

"What might a president do upon receiving notice that the world's number one terrorist was 'determined to strike in US'?  The most obvious thing was to direct Rice or Vice President Cheney to convene a special meeting of the heads of any agencies that might have information about possible terror threats . . . .  As it happened they had quite a bit: the administration had already been notified about some Arabs seeking flying lessons at a flight school in Arizona; [they paid with] large amounts of cash for the lessons, which they limited to just wanting to know how to fly the plane in cruise mode, not learn how to take off and land.   In July, an FBI agent stationed in Phoenix wrote to headquarters warning of the 'possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama bin Laden' to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools. .

"Zacarias Moussaoui . . . aroused suspicion by paying cash for lessons at a flight school in Minnesota, also just wanting to know how to fly a 747 at cruising altitude, not how to take off or land. . . . [and he asked suspicious questions about flight patterns around New York].   In August 2001, a manager from the flight school called the FBI. Moussaoui was arrested . . . but . . . an FBI agent in Minneapolis couldn't persuade headquarters in Washington to take the matter seriously and allow a search of Moussaoui's laptop. . . . 

"Had the president ordered a root and branch search of information government agencies had on potential strikes by al-Qaeda in the US, what was known about Moussaoui and the Arizona flight school would have been of great interest.  Perhaps they'd have also unearthed an intelligence memo written in 1998 that said, 'we also learned that the agencies had uncovered a message between al Qaeda operatives in the United States . . .  that read, 'Plans to hijack U.S. aircraft proceeding well. Two individuals have successfully evaded checkpoints in dry run at NY airport.''. . .

"When the [9/11] commission finally succeeded in its demand that Bush testify . . . the arrangement was that only two commission members could be present at a White House meeting where the president was to be questioned for only one hour, without being put under oath and with no notes taken, and with Vice President Cheney present. In fact, the administration fought the commission at nearly every turn[Co-chairs] Hamilton and Kean later wrote that they felt that the commission had been 'set up to fail' . . . .

"On the surface, the commission report's dramatic narrative appeared to hold no high-level officials accountable for not doing more to ward off the attacks. Read closely, it was a damning indictment of Bush and Cheney . . .  The commission avoided assigning individual blame in order to get a unanimous report . . .  But the report, amassing all the evidence and warnings the administration had received, made it clear that there was a strong possibility that the attacks might have been prevented. The commissioners who believed this thought the facts would speak for themselves. It presented a picture of an administration not much engaged with the subject of terrorism and unresponsive to clear warnings.

"Reading the report closely and talking to commission members made it clear to me that the report was intended to stop just short of blaming Bush for his inaction . . . The commissioners didn't want to provide the nation a divided opinion. They also didn't want to upset the public too much. Thus for what might have been considered admirable motives, the devastating conclusions that should have been drawn from the available facts have remained buried and the country had essentially moved on--until Trump reopened the question.

"What is arguable about the events of 9/11 is whether they could have been stopped; what isn't arguable is that George W. Bush didn't try. . . "
*     *     *
 If Jeb stays in the race, and especially if he brings his brother in to campaign for him, there is going to be more and more focus on this.   To my thinking, that would be a good thing for the country.   But it could be devastating for a failed candidate who can't have anything else go wrong.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Keystone pipeline deal dead -- at least for now.

The Associated Press is reporting that the TransCanada oil company behind the Keystone XL pipeline construction has asked the U. S. State Department to put its review of the project on hold.   This move comes in the wake of declining oil prices, as well as the vigorous protests from environmentalists and the anticipation that President Obama was going to reject approval.

Whatever the reason, this is good.


Oops. It's all falling apart for the Republicans.

The Republican debaters revolted against the CNBC moderators, complaining about "unfair" questions and format.  And then they revolted against RNC Chair Reince Priebus, saying they were going to negotiate directly with the networks on debate rules.

Sunday night, campaign representatives met and hammered out some demands.   All except Chris Christie, who said, 'Come on, guys.   Just give us podiums and mics, and let's go."

Today four of the candidates (Kasich, Christie, Fiorino, and Trump) said they're not going to sign the letter.   Trump says he will negotiate directly with the networks himself -- for himself, of course.   So, in less than a week, they revolted against the revolt.  Now what?

Here's how digby at Hulabaloo put it:
John Boehner had to resign in order that the congress avoid total chaos and possibly default on the government's debt during a presidential campaign.  The RNC has just been shut out of participation in the presidential campaign. Candidates are in the employ of billionaires (or are billionaires)  who are openly bankrolling the campaigns and their Super PACs  --- and requiring fealty to their needs in return.

This is no longer a political party. It is just a sales force selling snake oil to the rubes on behalf of the 1%.
Yes, but there are millions of voters out there ready to buy that snake oil.   They live in an echo chamber of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and far right Republican snake oil peddlers.  They don't even know that it's all hokum -- or, worse, don't care.


Monday, November 2, 2015

What do pollsters mean by "likely voters"?

In a recent Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll, Hillary Clinton led Bernie Sanders by big margins.  When all Democrats were considered, Clinton led by 58% to 31% -- 27 points.   But when "likely voters" alone were considered, she led 72% to 23% -- a huge 49 points.

The significance turns on how these pollsters define "likely voters."   Usually a big factor is whether they have voted in past elections.    If that's the case here, that could mean either of two things:
   1.  Sanders is attracting a lot of people who have been disillusioned with prior choices and didn't vote -- but will come out in strong force to vote for Sanders. 
   2.  Sanders' supporters are people who get fired up by rhetoric but won't follow through by actually voting.

Of course, with a lead so strong and persistent as Clinton has, it may not make much difference.    She's winning, even if every one who attends a Sanders rally or sends him money does actually vote for him.

Again, to state my own preference:   I wish we lived in a time and place where Sanders' views and policies would be mainstream enough for him to get elected.  I've even contributed to his campaign, because I want him in the race pushing Hillary to the left.   But I'm not convinced that he can win a general election.

My bottom line is that we have to elect a Democrat -- for the Supreme Court, if for nothing else.  I respect my progressive friends who scorn such an unprincipled stance;  I encourage them to go all out for Sanders.   If the consequences of a Republican victory were not so dire and so long-lasting for SCOTUS, I might be with them.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Good News #8: employee owned grocery chain

 Who knew?   I've been a regular customer at my neighborhood Publix supermarket for many years.    But I just learned a new reason to support them with my business.

Publix Super Markets, Inc., which ranks #102 on the Fortune 500 list of corporations, is owned by its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.  From CEO to bag boys, everyone who works there becomes an owner of shares in the company.

The CEO and the board are directly responsible to the people who work for the company, not to anonymous stockholders who are only concerned about share prices and profit.

I call this good news -- a small step toward returning our economy to the people and their interests, instead of the investors in abstractions like credit default swaps and hedge funds.  It's not socialism, but it is much closer in spirit to Bernie Sanders' democratic socialism than anything the Republicans might dream up as a way to enrich their billionaire benefactors.


Yes, sometimes it IS the gun that kills people

There were two separate incidents last week, one in a doctor's waiting room in Texas and one in an Alabama supermarket, where a gun actually shot people.  In each of these unrelated cases, the gun owner had a concealed carry permit and the gun went off accidentally when it was dropped by the owner.

In Texas, a woman had a handgun in her purse, which she dropped onto the reception desk counter.   The gun went off, a bullet went through a wall and hit a patient in the next door examining room.  In Alabama, two men were shopping.   The one carrying the gun dropped it, and it went off somehow hitting both men.

Nobody was seriously injured in either case.   But it does refute the simplistic NRA retort that "Guns don't kill people, people do."   They're trying to say that guns themselves are not dangerous to have around.   That just is not true.   The only guns safe to have around are unloaded guns -- with no ammunition anywhere nearby.    Add to these stories the countless ones where an innocent child finds a loaded gun, plays with it, and accidentally shoots another child.