Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ted Cruz is NOT the solution to the GOP problem

Mitt Romney announced on Friday that he will vote for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Utah primary, although he stopped short of actually endorsing him for the nomination.   Rather, he said that giving your votes to Cruz and having all the former candidates hold their delegates through the first vote at the convention (to deny Trump a majority) is the best way to keep Trump from being nominated.

But . . . wouldn't a vote for Kasich be just as good for that purpose?   I'm also concerned that Lindsey Graham has endorsed Cruz.  Don't give Cruz enough support to give him the nomination either.   He created more worry about his suitability when he announced his list of foreign policy advisers.   Among them is Frank Gaffney, the ultra-conservative, Islamophobic, conspiracy theorist, who is more anti-Muslim even than Donald Trump, by far.


'President Trump' as big threat as jihadi terrorism to global economy -- Economic Intelligence Unit

The Economist's Graeme Wearden reported on an assessment of threats to the global economy by the respected Economist Intelligence Unit.   Sixth on their list is Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election.   Here's an excerpt:
*   *   *
"The prospect of Donald Trujp winning the race to the White House has joined China’s slowing economy, the Greek debt crisis and Britain’s EU referendum as a major threat to the global economy, according to a respected risk analysis firm.

"The Economist Intelligence Unit said the Republican frontrunner could prove a dangerous world leader, damaging global trade, stirring up trouble with Beijing and adding to instability in the Middle East.

"The EIU placed the possibility of Trump being sworn in as US president next January as sixth on their latest list of global threats, as serious as a resurgence of jihadi terrorism, and only marginally less risky than the collapse of the eurozone.

"The US property tycoon had been 'exceptionally hostile towards free trade' during his campaign, and had advocated putting troops on the ground in Syria to fight Islamic State, the unit said.

“'In the event of a Trump victory, his hostile attitude to free trade, and alienation of Mexico and China in particular, could escalate rapidly into a trade war – and at the least scupper the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and 11 other American and Asian states signed in February 2016.'

"It added: 'His militaristic tendencies towards the Middle East (and ban on all Muslim travel to the US) would be a potent recruitment tool for jihadi groups, increasing their threat both within the region and beyond.'"
*   *   *
Not that we needed any other reason to abhor the thought of a Trump presidency, but this is a further reason for concern.    Wearden's article went on to say that he did not expect Trump to win the election . . . but, like all of us, he realizes that the risk of "a terrorist attack on US soil or a sudden economic downturn" could change that.

I also worry about Republicans finding something in Clinton's emails that they will try to claim represents criminal behavior or that she will not inspire the enthusiastic turnout to vote.   We see, again and again, in the primaries that Republicans are bringing in new voters and outpacing the Democrats in turnout.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Georgia lawmakers have passed "religious rights" bill; now up to the governor to veto . . or not

Both houses of Georgia's legislature have now passed a modified House Bill 757, the "Free Exercise Protection Act."   Governor Nathan Deal said two weeks ago that he would veto it if it legalized discrimination in any form, which many believed the version at that time did.   It was strongly opposed both by gay groups and by national business corporations and sports enterprises.

I have just read the full language of the amended bill that passed Wednesday night.  The sponsors of this later version say it does not allow discrimination;  critics say it does.   In fact, some say that it is even worse than the original senate bill and that it legalizes discrimination.   Let me try to clarify.

1.  The bill essentially protects "faith based organizations" (which includes churches, religious schools, or an integrated auxiliary of a church that qualifies as an IRS-exempt religious organization) and their ordained clergy from:

   (a) having to perform or attend a wedding or to rent out space for an event that is objectionable to their faith;  
   (b) having to provide social, education, or charitable services (other than fulfilling existing government contracts);  
   (c) any civil claim or penalty for refusal to hire or to retain in employment any individual based on a claim of discrimination.

2.  But there is one section of the bill that seems to apply, not just to faith based organizations but to anyone.    It amends Title 50 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated that limits what the government may do.   It includes this language:

   (a"Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or resolution of general applicability, except as provided . . . "   And then it specifies that, to justify the burden, the government must demonstrate a compelling government interest and that the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.

3.  In the proponents' view, this bill applies only to faith based organizations and their affiliated, tax exempt organization, such as schools and hospitals -- and to the services they perform.   But this section says "a person's" exercise of religion, not an organization.   And "burden" seems aimed directly to exempt the photographers, florists, and caterers -- private businesses -- who do not want to provide their services to same-sex weddings.  It has nothing to do with faith based organizations.

4.  At one end of a spectrum, no one argues for requiring clergy to perform same-sex marriages if it violates their faith;   they are already exempted specifically in the 2015 SCOTUS decision that legalized gay marriage.   But HB 757 allows a church or church school to fire a gay teacher or janitor.  It would allow a church adoption agency to refuse adoption to same-sex parents.   Or a homeless shelter to refuse gay people -- or unwed mothers.  And it exempts them from any legal challenge.

5.  There is a section which says:  "Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit invidious discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law" (emphasis added).    The fact is that the federal government and that state of Georgia do not have any laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

A gay person can be fired without penalty now in Georgia, whether by a church or not.  So, while sounding like a non-discrimination clause, in the state of Georgia, that italicized phrase above makes this completely meaningless.      It's worse, in one respect:  by not including "local ordinances"along with federal or state law, it implies that it does permit discrimination not prohibited by federal or state law, leaving non-discrimination ordinances in Atlanta and other cities vulnerable to overrule.

So, now the ball is in Gov. Deal's court.   He has said he will review it in April along with other bills and make his decision then.   If he reads the non-discrimination clause as I do, and if he sticks to what he said two weeks ago, he will veto HB 757 -- and save the state a lot of trouble, shame, and the loss of billions of dollars as corporations, conventions, tourists, and events like the SuperBowl and NCAA tournaments shun Georgia, as they did Indiana. 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sanders' rallying call for continuing support

From the Bernie Sanders campaign to its supporters:

"What you will not hear from the political and media establishment is that, based on the primary and caucus schedule for the rest of the race, this is the high water mark for the Clinton campaign. Starting today, the map now shifts dramatically in our favor.

"That means we have an extremely good chance to win nearly every state that votes in the next month [Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Wisconsin]."


"Understand before disagreeing; then disagree without being disagreeable."

In his formal introduction of Judge Merrick Garland, his nominee for the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, President Obama was both eloquent and detailed in telling the American people why he has chosen Judge Garland.  What stuck in my mind, as I listened on my car radio, was his description of Judge Garland's temperament and his habit of dealing with disagreement over issues.  Quoting President Obama:

On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law.  He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.

And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament -- his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing.  His habit, to borrow a phrase from former Justice John Paul Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing,” and then disagreeing without being disagreeable," . . .  speaks to his ability to persuade, to respond to the concerns of others with sound arguments and airtight logic. . . . .

At the same time, Chief Judge Garland is more than just a brilliant legal mind.  He’s someone who has a keen understanding that justice is about more than abstract legal theory; more than some footnote in a dusty casebook.  His life experience . . . informs his view that the law is more than an intellectual exercise.  He understands the way law affects the daily reality of people’s lives . . .  And throughout his jurisprudence runs a common thread -– a dedication to protecting the basic rights of every American; a conviction that in a democracy, powerful voices must not be allowed to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.
This over-arching approach to justice and fairness comes in a man with impeccable qualifications as well:

Growing up in a family with a strong work ethic, he earned a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude, and then went on to finish Harvard Law School with magna cum laude honors.   He served two clerkships, one for Supreme Court Justice William Brennen.    He left a partnership in a private law firm to become a federal prosecutor and handled the Oklahoma City bombing, taking the case all the way fhrough the conviction of 
Timothy McVeigh.

Garland was appointed to the District of Columbia Appeals Court, considered first among equals on the appeals court circuit and second in importance only the the U.S. Supreme Court.    He had strong bipartisan support in the senate when he was elevated to the position of Chief Justice of that court three years ago.    Insiders have said that Garland was the runner-up in Obama's nomination of both Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan.

Further, he has a strong commitment to the law and to doing things according to the law.   He is probably best described as a moderate liberal, but not as an ideologue.   If Obama wanted to nominate a firebrand that would shake up the court, or carry a strong message, there are others he would have chosen.   In choosing Judge Garland, he is opting for a superb addition to the court, as well as one who represents a gesture of respect for the other side's point of view.

Wouldn't you think such a sterling nominee would sail through the confirmation process?   Mitch McConnell hardly let the echos of President Obama's announcement die away before taking to the senate floor to reiterate his adamant refusal to even begin the process.   It doesn't matter how well qualified;  it's not about the person but about the process.   They are determined to hold to their stand that the next president should fill this vacancy on the court, thus allowing "the American people to express their preference through the electoral process."

So there is the stalemate.   The Democrats' ace in the hole is that this could cost the Republicans the control of the senate, given the number of them who are in tight races in blue or purple states.   It's a serious question:   would they rather lose control of the senate than of SCOTUS?    Maybe.

McConnell and others go way over the line in this controversy, in my opinion, arguing that "it is unprecedented" to confirm a nominee during a president's last year in office, which is simply not true.    Even more absurd, though, is the charge that it is Obama, not they, who is injecting politics into this.   What they mean is that, in doing his job to nominate, Obama is calling their bluff and making it obvious that THEY are injecting politics, and they are refusing to do their job. 

The Constitution says the president "shall nominate" supreme court justices;  it does not say "except in the last year of his term."    Obama was re-elected to serve through inauguration day in January 2017.

So, let's get on with it.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Who won the delegates on SuperDuper Tuesday?

The five states (Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri) in this week's voting gave the big wins, in terms of votes -- and the all important momentum -- to Trump (FL, IL, NC, MO), Kasich (OH), and Clinton (FL, OH, IL, NC, and by 0.2% MO).

But look at the delegates gained last night from the votersdoes not include super-delegates:
Democrats:   Clinton 364, Sanders 264.

Republicans:  Trump 201, Kasich, 79, Cruz 36, Rubio 6. 

It obviously was not a good night for Rubio, and he suspended his campaign.   But it also was not such a good night for Cruz, who continues to boast that he's the only one who can stop Donald Trump.   He surely didn't last night, being beat by him in all five states.

Clinton wins five states in disappointing evening for Sanders. Trump slowed by Kasich win in Ohio

[updated at 8:30 am]
Hillary Clinton had a blowout night with wins in Florida, North Caroliona, Ohio, and Illinois -- and an essentially tied race in Missouri, but she squeaked out a slight advantage in the end.   I had thought Sanders was going to repeat his Michigan upset in Ohio and perhaps win Illinois and Missouri;  but it didn't materialize.

Trump won big in Florida, and Rubio bowed out of the race.   But Trump's momentum was slowed by the loss of Ohio to Kasich's solid win there.   It is still a mathematical possibility for Trump to reach the magic 50%+ in delegates before the convention, but it will be a much, much steeper climb than had he won Ohio.

On the Democratic side, Sanders' losses to Clinton make it very difficult for him to overtake her for the nomination, even though the next races coming up are not especially good for her.   Sanders did not get the momentum or delegates he needed tonight.

Rubio made a graceful, passionate exit speech, acknowledging that it just was not the year for a positive, optimistic campaign.   He cast no blame in accepting his defeat.

Cruz made a speech trying to crown himself as the only one who can stop Trump;  but he has even less chance of winning the required delegates than Trump.   So how is it that he thinks he gets there, if he doesn't beat Trump in any of the five states -- or win over the establishment, who now are more likely to coalesce around Kasich? 

So, the only real clarity that came from tonight seems to be Clinton's better-than-expected enhancement of her already formidable delegate count -- and the fact that she, not Sanders, is going to get the momentum from this Super Tuesday II.


Two cheers for Lindsey Graham

Aside from Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) knee-jerk hawkish positions whenever military or war questions come up, he is one of the saner voices among Republican senatorsYes, that is a very low bar these days.   But let's give him a little credit. Especially on the appointment of a replacement for Justice Scalia. 

Sen. Graham told Senate Judiciary colleagues that their refusal to even consider an Obama nominee is unprecedented;  and that, if they do go through with this obstruction, it will set a precedent for the future that both parties will take advantage of.   So he is warning fellow Republicans:  "there will be consequences." 

He then went further and made a rational argument for the Republicans to consider an Obama nominee now.  As he pointed out if the new president is a Democrat, we'll then wind up with an even more liberal justice than the one Obama would probably try to get confirmed now.

Graham went even one step beyond that.   He said that, if it turns out to be a liberal nominee from the next Democratic president -- and if that person is qualified -- he, Graham, will vote for the confirmation.  
"I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan, not because I would have picked them, but because I thought the president of the United States deserves the right to pick the judges of their philosophy. . . .  That goes with winning the White House."
That gets him two cheers.    Not three.

Because he does not have the courage of his convictions.  After this warning, after this rational argument, after this radical promise to vote for a qualified, liberal justice, he then buckles and says that, nevertheless, he will go along with the obstruction, even though it will make the divisiveness between the two parties even worse -- and even though he is distressed by that divisiveness. 

Ah, Lindsey.   That's great -- and so disappointingAfter saying all the right things, you're going along with doing the wrong thing.   Where is the courage of your convictions?   If you would take that one more step, I would give you three cheers.   Gladly.