Saturday, March 26, 2016

Random thoughts about Brussels and our response

1.  Hillary Clinton appeared the most presidential of the candidates in response to the tragedy in Brussels.   Bernie Sanders and John Kasich were both also on the side of rationality and calm, reminding us that this is a problem with radicalized terrorists, not with a religion.

2.  Ted Cruz and Donald Trump tried to outdo each other, with their pandering to fear and xenophobia.   Trump called for torture to get information to prevent such attacks, denounced President Obama's failure to prevent this (it happened in Belgium, not here!!), advocated reducing our contribution to NATO and temporarily barring Muslims from entering our country.   And for building his wall, of course.    Ted Cruz would have police "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized" -- which has been widely denounced as un-American religious profiling.

3.  These are all counter-productive and dangerousThe Muslim communities are our first line of defense, and we should be working to ease tensions rather than creating barriers.   Of the terrorist plots that have been thwarted in this country, one-third were the result of cooperation from the Muslim community itself supplying information.

4.  That kind of talk also alienates our Muslim allies in other countries that we have to rely on in fighting ISIL and al-Qaeda.   Neither Trump nor Cruz seems able to think beyond their immediate political interests.   Their rhetoric fans the flames at home and throughout the world.

5New York City Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, went so far as to say this about Ted Cruz's call to keep Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance". . .  [W]e do not need a president who doesn't respect the values that form the foundation of this country. I have over nine hundred very dedicated [Muslim] officers in this department, many of whom do double duty. They serve as active-duty members of the U.S. military in combat, something the Senator has never seen. So before he starts denigrating any population group, take a close look at who he is denigrating."    Add to this, what others have pointed out:   the number of grave markers in Arlington National Cemetery with a Muslim symbol.

6.   Alain Grignard, a senior member of Belgium's federal counterterrorism task force, has offered an explanation for "why Belgium?"   Unlike the heyday of al-Qaeda, where some who were deeply engaged in Islamic theology became attracted to jihadist ideology, "these young radical jihadists in the ghettos of Brussels and other European cities "were radical before they became religious."   Their revolt against society often begins with petty crime and delinquency, often as members of street gangs.  These kids were not Islamists who became radicalized, but radicals who became Islamicized.    The rise of the Islamic State legitimized their radical approach, and these youngsters "are getting quickly and completely sucked in.  The next thing they know, they're in Syria."   That's far from the whole story, of course.

7.  Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and other Islamaphobes and alarmists should calm down and stop pouring gasoline on the fires.    Europe has problems stopping terrorist attacks that we do not have in the U.S.    First, the easy free travel throughout Europe means people can move from one police jurisdiction to another within hours and without checkpoints.   Second, there is often a breakdown in communication between these counterterrorism agencies.   In fact, one of the Brussels bombers was a suspect in the Paris bombing.   Turkey had identified him and asked the Belgium government to arrest him.   Somehow that request did not get through to the right people.    None of this is likely to have happened in the U.S.

8.  There is good news in the last few weeks about the Islamic State's losing territory (30% less than they had at one time), losing troop commitment (stories of soldiers becoming disillusioned and refusing to fight), and two of the top IS commanders being killed in the past few days.    It seems that the attacks in Europe represent a shift to that type of terrorism as they lose in the territory-grabbing attempt to establish a caliphate.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Clinton's 'presidential' response to Brussels attack

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends a "Get Out the Vote" event at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union on March 14 in Chicago.
Text from Anontos, Daily Kos;   photo from US News and World Report
*   *   *
"Hillary Clinton went presidential. At Stanford University just an hour ago [on Wed, 3/23], a seated audience was waiting for Clinton to appear, behind her were large American flags. When she did speak it was in measured firm tones.  She sounded quietly and reassuringly in control, and she sounded and acted presidential. She made Trump and Cruz look like mere boys, not with small hands, but with small minds. She bested her performance in front of the Benghazi committee.

"She presented a three-step plan to prevent another Brussels. The speech was amazing for its detailed explication of the complexities involved, and yet at the same time the speech was easy to understand and convincing. She pulled the carpet out from underneath both Trump and Cruz’s thoughtless and incendiary anti-Muslim rhetoric. She reminded Trump that a mere wall could not stop the internet and excoriated Cruz for his plan to police Muslim communities in the U.S.

"Clinton would do well to repeat and repeat this kind of presentation. It suits her very well."
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AIPAC president repudiates Trump's attack on President Obama in a speech at their convention

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) just held its conference in Washington.  All presidential candidates were invited to address the meeting.  Donald Trump used a teleprompter and apparently mostly followed his prepared text.   That didn't stop him from calling President Obama "the worst thing to ever happen to Israel."   The remark was met with prolonged applause, cheers and whistles.

The next morning Lillian Pinkus, president of the organization, repudiated the remarks -- and the audience for its applause of them.
"Last evening, something occurred which has the potential to drive us apart. To divide us. We say, unequivocally, that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied against the president of the United States of America from our stage. . . .  There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night, and for that we are deeply sorry. We are disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone. . . .While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States, and our president, Barack Obama.”
Two questions:
   1.   What did they expect when inviting the Vulgarian in Chief, who hasn't a diplomatic bone in his body?   Is this the kind of behavior we could expect from a President Trump at the G-8 Summit Meeting, at the State of the Union address, at the funeral of victims of mass shootings?

   2.  Where was this concern about offending our President when Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu insulted President Obama by accepting a Republican invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress in opposition to his signature nuclear agreement with Iran, without clearing his visit with the White House?

AIPAC ascribes to the policy of "Israel, right or wrong."   I prefer our friends at JPAC, a more liberal Jewish group that dares to differ with the party line on some things like Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chief Justice Roberts scolded senators about confirmation process -- 10 days before Scalia died.

It was the first week in February.  Chief Justice John Roberts was speaking at a private law school in Boston -- and Justice Antonin Scalia was alive and well, perhaps thinking about his upcoming trip to a private resort ranch in Texas -- where, about 10 days later, he died in his sleep.

Roberts was already concerned about the increasingly polarized nature of the senate confirmation process for federal judges.    In his speech, he said the senate's role is to ensure that nominees are qualified and to leave politics out of it.   He also raised another concern:   that ugly confirmation fights damage the Court's legitimacy and authority.

Some law professors are calling for Justice Roberts to speak again and more directly to the current crisis resulting from Justice Scalia's death.  NYU law professor Barry Friedman said that "It's the chief justice's job to guard the institutional integrity of the court."   Others have suggested that refusing even a hearing elevates political considerations over the rule of law.

It's your move, Chief Justice.   We know, from some of your actions, how much you care about the reputation of the Court.

SCOTUS 4 to 4 decisions are now a reality

Now that the Supreme Court has issued it's first 4 to 4 tied decision since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, let's revisit what that means.   The case was a relatively simple one, having to do with banking and to what extent spouses are responsible for each other's debts.   The unsigned decision needed only one sentence“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

A tied decision by the highest court means that the lower court decision stands, but it applies only to the case decided.  No precedent is set, leaving room for a similar case from a different appellate court to lead to a different outcome.

Other cases before SCOTUS this year will be of more interest.  A tied decision on the public union fees case would be a big win for labor, which was the appeals court decision -- even though it probably would have been overturned with Scalia's SCOTUS vote.

Similarly, but in the opposite direction, the lower court decision in the Texas abortion clinic case favored the anti-abortion position.  Of course, if that is the result without Scalia's vote, it would have been even stronger with his vote.

Unfortunately, none of this will sway Senate Republicans, who remain adamant about refusing to consider any Obama nominee.   Justice Anthony Kennedy once commented that 4-4 tiesmean that everybody’s time is wasted." But, put up against the crucial chance to change the direction of the Supreme Court for decades to come . . . what does that matter?  [irony fully intended] 


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tuesday primary winners: Trump and Sanders

Trump won Arizona, Cruz won Utah -- but Arizona was bigger and gave Trump all of its 58 delegates in a winner-take-all primary.  Cruz took the 40 delegates in winner-take-all Utah.

All of the Democratic races awarded delegates proportionally.  Hillary Clinton won Arizona, Sanders won Utah and Idaho -- and Americans Abroad.   So this added up to 54 for Clinton and 71 for Sanders.   Add in the Americans Abroad tally, which came in early in the day, and you have a gain of 58 for Clinton 80 for Sanders.

The big news of the night, however, is the size of Sanders' wins in Utah (80%) and Idaho (78%). The turnout for him was yu-uu-uge.   That gives him momentum heading into Washington State and Wisconsin, although he still has an uphill battle.    But efforts by Clinton and the mainstream media to get him to drop out are premature.   He's going to the convention.   And well he should.


Candidates rated on truth-telling

*     *     *     *     *
In case the type font is too small to read, here are salient points.

According to fact checker, Clinton, Kasich, and Sanders all tell the truth more often than not, while Cruz and Trump are both champion liars.

I've condensed scores to combine True and Mostly True into one category;  and Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire into another category -- giving one overall True and False rating -- and ranking them in overall net truthfulness:

                                                       True                  False             Net
1. Clinton                                      51%                   28%            +23% 
2. Kasich                                       50%                  33%            +17%
3. Sanders                                    51%                   50%            +  1%
4. Cruz                                           22%                   65%            - 33%
5. Trump                                        9%                   78%             - 69%


PS:   But perhaps the real question is:  Is there any correlation between being truthful and winning the nomination?   From these numbers, the answer is:  obviously not.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How a third party candidate could give us a Republican president -- a plan hiding in plain sight.

It hasn't happened since the election of 1825, but the doomsday solution for Republicans has been hiding out in plain sight.  It's in both Article II and in the 12rh Amendment of the United States Constitution.   As Adam Phillips points out in an almost unnoticed sidebar article on Huffington Post, titled "How Paul Ryan Will Pick the Next President," there is method in conservatives' hint that they will run a third-party conservative candidate if Trump wins the Republican nomination.   Pundits have dismissed that idea, saying that it would split the Republican vote and guarantee a win for Hillary Clinton.

But Phillips spells out how that might work otherwise -- and result in a Republican president. The frightening truth is that it is very plausible and scary as hell.  In fact, this was in Michael Bloomsberg's op-ed explaining why he was dropping his third party bid, but no one paid much attention to Bloomberg's words: 
In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress. The fact is, even if I were to receive the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, victory would be highly unlikely, because most members of Congress would vote for their party’s nominee. Party loyalists in Congressnot the American people or the Electoral Collegewould determine the next president. 
As Phillips' so correctly points out, here's how it could happen:  
1.  Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee.

2.  This group of conservatives form a third party (plans are in the works) and run a moderate establishment candidate, probably Mitt Romney, as president, and John Kasich, as VP.

3.  In the November election, none of the three parties wins a 5o%+ majority of the electoral votes.   Remember, it's not the popular vote, but the electoral vote -- and it's a majority, not a plurality.

4.   The actual election of the President and Vice President takes place, not in November, but later in a meeting of Congress when the Electoral College presents the votes of electors that have been chosen as a result of the November election.

5.  According to Article II of the U.S. Constitution, and further clarified in the 12th Amendment, if no one has a majority of electoral votes, then the House of Representatives elects the president (not the whole Congress, as Bloomberg said).   Republicans control the House, and they would pick the next president. 

6.  Each state gets one vote only, and the representatives of each state have to decide for whom to cast their state's vote.  Wyoming would have one vote, California would have one vote, New York one vote, Rhode Island one vote.

Phillips concludes:
"Worst case scenario, they prevent Donald Trump from winning the White House. Best case scenario they pull enough votes away from Hillary Clinton to prevent her from securing the necessary majority of 270 electoral votes."

And then we wind up with a Republican president chosen by the Republican controlled House of Representatives.  Perhaps this is what Romney has in mind, since he has stepped into the fray -- denouncing Donald Trump, saying he will vote for Ted Cruz in the Utah primary but not saying he endorses him.   He would accept a draft, no doubt, to save the nation from the disaster he thinks would be Donald Trump.

As Phillips elaborates:
"A moderate conservative third-party would definitely pull enough votes away from Trump to tank his candidacy, but the right candidate could also spoil it for Clinton. . . .  In this cycle, however, a third party spoiler candidate could in fact carry a handful of states. . . .  If you are an establishment Republican right now, this is actually an even better outcome than a brokered convention: Because you have even greater control over, not only the conservative nominee, but the ability to handpick the next president. . . ."

This hypothetical third party, with the right nominees, say Romney and Kasich, might actually win a few states.   Kasich might bring in Ohio, and possibly Michigan, both of which he won big in the primary.   Romney might bring in Utah (Mormons) and a few other western states.    In a close race between the Democratic and Republican nominees, it wouldn't take many electoral votes to deny them both a majority.   And then the House Republicans get to choose. 

I don't know why Democrats aren't more worried about this scenario of a third party throwing it to the House Republicans to pick #45.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Republicans, again, take the prize for hypocrisy: Blame EPA for not doing enough for water safety AND, on the same day, for doing too much.

[Note to readers:   I wrote this last week, but there's so much more pressing news so I kept putting this one off.   Sorry if it feels a little stale.  - RR]

An article by Arthur Delaney and Kate Sheppard for the Huffington Post shows the blatant hypocrisy exhibited by the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz.   From his committee hearings on the Flint, Michigan water crisis, Chafetz said that the EPA had not been aggressive enough in enforcing the Lead and Copper Rule, of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The committee had grilled EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on the slowness of progress on revising the rule to make it stronger.   Michigan Governor Rick Snyder also got his share of criticism for the Flint water crisis, but he too tried to blame the EPA.  In fact, some Democratic committee members demanded his resignation.   But Republicans tried to divert the blame toward the EPA.

How ironic, then, that on the same day that Republicans called on the EPA for stronger rules, their Republican colleagues released their budget prosposal that slashes EPA funding -- stating as the reason:  so that the agency won'tcontinue to implement an unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses, and energy consumers.”

Republicans, of course, have made the EPA a punching bag for years.   Its budget had already been cut by 20% over the past five years.  Last year they wanted to cut funding for water protection in particular by another 24%.

But now, faced with trying to save the hide of Republican Gov. Snyder, they decided to focus blame on the EPA.   Only this time, instead of blaming the EPA for doing too much, now it suits their purpose to blame it for doing too little -- ironically, the "too little" required by the slashed budget allocations.

Democratic committee member Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) called attention to this dissonance.  Republicans have been absolutely slamming the EPA for overreaching at every possible turn,” Clay said. “Now they criticize the EPA for not doing more when Governor Snyder fell down on the job.”

Reporters asked Chaffetz about the apparent contradiction after the hearing.   “You gotta look at it on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

But opposite positions on the same day?

Come on, guys.   At least get your act together.