Saturday, April 9, 2016

News anchor stumps Trump on abortion question

Last week, in a televised town hall with Donald Trump, MSNBC's news anchor Chris Matthews stumped Donald Trump with a line of questioning about punishment for abortion.   It was the first time I have ever seen Trump at a loss, having been drawn into territory that required him to think on the spot, instead of spouting boasts and sound bites.

It was not a pretty picture.   But, unlike most of the backlash to Trump finally admitting that there would have to be some punishment for the woman, which most people treated as a major Trump gaffe, Matthews' thoughtful, probing question exposed the whole hypocrisy of the conservative position on abortion.

A few very conservative politicians say abortion should be banned, without exceptions.   The next level up is to allow for exceptions to save the life of the mother.   Get a little more lax, or compassionate, depending on how you view it, and you can add exceptions to allow abortion in cases of incest or rape.

But let's stop for a moment and think about why you would allow those exceptions and why that is a slippery slope.

1.  Yes, it is rational to allow abortion to save the life of the mother, if in fact the fetus is too young to survive outside a womb.   The fetus is going to die either way, so why not allow the mother to be saved?   But you'd have to be firm in not extending beyond that very narrow window, as some do, to include "life or health" of the mother.   The only purist category has to be, if the fetus cannot survive if the mother doesn't.   With today's advanced technology, fetal survival is pretty good beyond 20 weeks gestation.

2.  Then we come to rape and incest.   I understand the compassionate wish not to force a mother to carry a child conceived in such circumstances.   But strictly speaking, the conservative position on abortion is about the life of the innocent fetus, isn't it?   That life is totally unrelated to how it was conceived.   So to allow those exceptions is to admit that there are instances when they favor putting the mother's well being ahead of the fetus's.   Right?

Once you've crossed that line, where are the limits to drawing any line at all?

In this live television drama between Chris Matthews and Donald Trump, we had an outspoken newsman, who is also a practicing Catholic, asking the questions.   Trump tried to turn it into a quiz of Matthews' differences with Catholic teachings.   Matthews was very clear.   He accepts the church's moral teachings for his own life.   But when it comes to the law and public policy, he opposes forcing those teachings on others.   He thinks the law should allow the choice to be made by the woman.   He is both pro-life (personally) and pro-choice (for our society).

Matthews also posed this other very important question:    How do you ban abortion?   How can you make a ban work unless you have some sanction, some punishment, for violating it?  If you make it a criminal act -- a murder, as some would have it -- then how do you not punish it.

And, if you punish, whom do you punish?    The woman who has the abortion?   The doctor and others who provide the abortion?   Clearly, the conservative position (save a few extremists) say it should be the provider, not the woman.

This exchange exposed the hypocrisy in the conservative, ban-abortion stance.   Both sides -- pro-choice and anit-abortion -- were indignant at Trump's fumbled admission that there should be some punishment for the woman, a position he quickly retracted.

But isn't that the only logical, reasoned answer -- if you think abortion is the murder of an innocent life?

It was obvious that Donald Trump had not thought through this.   He didn't have a sound bite ready.   He tried to wing it -- and wound up spilling the beans of what the pro-life folks would rather not deal with:  the logical end of their position.

Now, let me be very clear.   I am pro-choice.   I base that position on a belief that the "life of a human being" does not coincide with conception.   A life develops over time.   Of course, there is the biological moment when a spermatozoon enters an ovum and creates a zygote, which over time may develop into a fetus, then into a baby, and eventually -- with much nurturing, both physical and psychological -- becomes a person.

I honestly don't know at what point I would say that a human being, a person, has been created.  Not because I haven't thought about it, a lot. . . but because it is more of a philosophical, conceptual question.  Different people may come up with different answers that I can respect as valid, within some limits.

That's very different from "abortion on demand," or as a casual form of birth control.   I agree with the position famously espoused by Bill Clinton:   "Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare."   And I stand with Chris Matthews in separating one's own personal moral choice from public policy and the law.


Friday, April 8, 2016

GOP establishment at war with Republican voters

Josh Marshall at TPM makes the point that the idea of a contested convention -- Trump losing on first ballot; then, ignoring Ted Cruz and nominating a "fresh face" (like Paul Ryan) -- is unlikely to happen.   BECAUSE what happens in the convention hall is not the end of the story, and it doesn't solve the problem at the ballot boxes in November.

The establishment preferred Rubio or Bush or Walker -- but none of them survived the primaries.   So what's going to make another establishment choice a winner in November?   Marshall writes:
*   *   *
". . . . [T]he GOP primary electorate voted overwhelmingly for anti-establishment candidates. . . . How does it go over [at the convention] if Trump gets denied, Cruz gets denied . . . .  It is hard to imagine any scenario in which the substantive, expressed will of the GOP primary electorate was more thoroughly rejected at the convention [that was] meant to ratify it. 

"Under normal circumstances, I think any political professional, any close observer of politics would say that a candidate chosen in such a way is simply doomed. I see no reason to believe it's any different this year. . . . 

"The [idea of] freedom of the convention to do anything it wants inside the convention hall seems to blind people to the fact that it has no such freedom or inherent ability to make that work outside the convention hall. The same core divisions remain. They're just easier to paper over. . . .

"The Republican establishment, to the extent such a thing exists, is at war with half or two thirds of its primary electorate. . . .  [I]t has all the logic and pathos of an officer corps firing its army. None of this really changes at the convention. It just becomes easier to pretend. Until you actually try."
*   *   *

I think Marshall is quite right -- if you're only talking about winning the presidency in November.    But apparently many of the Republican leaders are thinking bigger than that.   Pithily put by Lindsey Graham, they'd "rather lose with Cruz" than roll the dice with Trump.  They know Trump would lose and that, with him at the head of the ticket, it will harm the party and the chance of others on the ticket winning their races.   So they would very likely lose the Senate and could possibly even lose the House.  Losing the Senate would lose the Supreme Court balance for them as well.

Actually, there is nothing they can do at this point to make it right.   I'm not sure they'll do much better with Cruz heading the ticket.  The party is in a big mess, and it's probably not going to be fixed at this convention or with this election -- no matter what they do.   I wouldn't go as far as saying they're conceding the presidency;  but "lose with Cruz" expresses serious doubt -- and opting for long term survival.  And that's realistic.


Addendum:   After I wrote the above, Josh Marshall put out a clarification of his position, explaining that his main point is the legitimacy of the nominating process with the voters.   If they feel that the nomination has been stolen from them (and it could involve both Trump and Cruz supporters), then that's going to show in the turnout in November.   And, beyond that, the legitimacy of the process will affect the ongoing ability of the party to reunite itself.

Again, I'm not sure the establishment really disagrees with Marshall, at least in private.   But they may be simply opting for long term survival over short term winning.   Of course, they can't say that in public;  they have to pretend to be trying to win the White House.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another big Obama win: Regulation to end "global tax avoidance" by corporate "inversion"

Corporations have smart lawyers to figure out loopholes in the law that allow them to legally save money by avoiding taxes.   This is one of the behind the scenes scandals that has turned our country into an oligarchy, a government "of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations."

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was just about to take advantage of one of these loopholes called an "inversion" deal, whereby a U. S. corporation merges with another corporation in a foreign country that has a more favorable corporate tax structure.   Then the headquarters of the merged companies establish that country as its headquarters, thereby avoiding U.S. taxes.

Pfizer was all set to carry out the biggest-ever merger inversion deal, worth $160 billion, in merging with the Ireland-based Allergan PLC.  The merged company would then officially be registered -- and pay taxes -- in Ireland at their lower rate.

Such a transfer is legal.   And it's killing our country.   All the tax revenue not paid by corporations has to come from somewhere, so individual taxpayers wind up footing the bill.

President Obama's Treasury Department just announced its new regulation on Monday that would eliminate much of the tax advantage -- and within 24 hours, Pfizer announced that the merger deal was off the table.  This is the clearest evidence yet that the inversion is merely a ruse to get away with not paying U.S. taxes.

Just to give an idea of what a trail of manipulation this whole scheme involves, here's how Forbes outlined the history of this line of corporate inversions:

  1.  Pfizer would merge with the much smaller Allergan, maker of Botox, which is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland.  Technically, Allergan is buying Pfizer, although Pfizer is much larger, in fact the largest pharmaceutical company in the U.S.   But now it would be an Irish company headquartered, for tax purposes, in Ireland.

   2.  However, until last year, the company called Allergan had been based in California and paid taxes there.   Then it was bought by Actavis, an Ireland-based company for $66 billion.

   3.  But wait!   Actavis itself came into being through a quick succession of deals in 2012, when a New Jersey drugmaker, Watson Pharmaceuticals, bought Actavis, then a Swiss company, for $6.5 billion -- and moved its headquarters and tax home to Ireland.

Forbes concludes"Essentially, all these deals were funded partly by U.S. taxpayers, as each company that was bought reduced its U.S. tax rate, creating a series of larger, and larger companies."

There ought to be a law against this sort of thing.   President Obama wishes there were such a law, but congress will not act to pass such a law.   Still, there are things he can do through his regulatory power in the Treasury Department to stop them from getting a tax break when they move to an offshore location simply to reduce their U.S. tax burden, which in the case of Pfizer would have been $35 billion.

President Obama just saved the America taxpayers $35 billion.   That's an accomplishment.   But somehow, the Republicans will find a way to denounce him for it.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sanders and Cruz win big in Wisconsin primaries. GOP decides it "would rather lose with Cruz."

Bernie Sanders had a decisive win over Hillary Clinton in the Wisconsin Democratic primary, by 57% to 43% (final result).   It helps him in the delegate count a little;  but, even more so, it gives him momentum going into the big New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticutt primaries in the upcoming weeks.   Or, rather, it continues the momentum that has built over the last eight caucuses and primarieshe has won seven of them;   and he will probably win the Wyoming caucus this Saturday.  It's true that most of them have been caucuses, but a win is still a win.

Since the Democratic rules in most states are that delegates are awarded proportionally, these wins have not given him large numbers of delegates, but every little bit helps.  And if the momentum continues to build and he does well in New York . . . it's all good for the party and for the progressive causes that he advocates.   Whether he ultimately becomes the nominee or not, Bernie Sanders has made a huge contribution to progressivism by running this campaign.

In the Republican primary in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz won decisively with 48% to 35% for Donald Trump (final).   This is a major defeat for Trump, following a disasterous week for him.   John Kasich came in a disappointing third with 14%.

However, some observers say it was not so much a win for Cruz as it was a loss for Trump, meaning that many of Cruz's voters were simply trying to stop Trump.   And, in fact, Trump will have to win nearly 70% of the vote in the remaining contest to avoid a second ballot at the convention.

Kasich's latest poll gave him about 20%, so it looks like there was a last minute switch of his voters to Cruz.  Some are calling it a "collapse" of the Kasich vote.   Was this a tactical vote, trying to help Cruz stop Trump?   That's certainly what Cruz has been calling for.   That then suggests that a portion of his delegates might not really be his supporters and might not stick with him beyond the first ballot.  By some estimates, the odds in favor of a contested convention have now gone up to 74%.

In fact, the most quoted sound bite coming out of the last week is Lindsey Graham's "I'd rather lose with Cruz than roll the dice with Trump."   The serious reasoning behind that is that a Trump nomination would harm the party more than a Cruz nomination, because Cruz at least has a set of conservative principles and makes statements consistent with one wing of the party, albeit the fringe end of conservatism.  On the other hand Trump is a charismatic loose canon that can bring shame to the party and seriously hurt candidates on the ticket with him.

In his victory speech last night, Cruz spoke of uniting the party and the country, and he says he is the one who can do that.   I find that laughable.   This is the man who defied his own party, preferred to shut down the government rather than accept the president's proposals, and refuses to even meet with the nominee for the Supreme Court.   He is widely called "the most hated man" in the U. S. Senate.   Now he's going to unite those people?  Obviously, he is trying to present himself as pivoting to a broader appeal -- but we all know that Ted Cruz has a lifelong history of being the Ted Cruz that people hate.   For me, anyway, even this pivot just underlines what a fake he is.   He's in it to win, whatever shape he needs to take to get the votes.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

SCOTUS unanimously upholds one person, one vote

The U. S. Supreme Court released a decision in a voting rights case that originated in Texas.   There was some worry, because the plaintiffs were the same as in the Texas case that ended up gutting a portion of the Voting Rights Act.   In that case, the requirement for prior review by the Department of Justice of any change in certain states' laws regulating voting was eliminmated by SCOTUS.

But this was a different outcome -- by an unanimous 8-0 decision, SCOTUS preserves the concept that every resident counts in drawing up congressional districts.   The plaintiffs wanted to change it so that only eligible voters count. By eliminating children, college students who havn't registeredpoor people without drivers licenses or other photo ID, and others who tend not to be part of the voter pool -- you reduce the Democratic-leaning numbers of people who have to be counted in drawing congressional districts.

Therefore, states with larger immigrant (especially Hispanic) populations would lose some of their congressional seats;  more rural states would gain congressional seats.   That is what the fight was about.  The obvious political implication is that it favors conservatives over liberals, rural areas over urban areas, demographics with fewer children over those with more children.   And it especially was aimed at reducing the impact of Hispanics, who tend to have larger numbers of children.

It was all part of Republican relentless efforts to win by suppressing the number of voters where those voters are more likely to vote Democraat.   They already gained a large degree of control by winning state legislature majorities, which gave them control over redistrictring lines in most states that let the legislature draw the congressional district lines that favor them.

Other parts of that plan include the voter ID laws, the reductions in early voting times and places, and other ways they make it more difficult to register and to vote.

What Republicans have not done -- going sharply against their own party's analysis of what they needed to do following Mitt Romney's loss -- is to become more inclusive and broaden their appeal to minorities.   Instead, they have gone the other direction, trying to close borders, diminish immigration, alienate minorities and, with this case, reduce their weight in determining congressional representation.

This may win them control of state governments.  It does not win them presidential elections.    And this time it didn't even get any help for them from the Supreme Court.  Even Clarence Thomas voted against them.

But it is a strategy for them.   If they can't win the presidency, they will do the next best thing:   win at the state level, redraw congressional districts and get control of congress;   then be an obstructionist opposition party. 


Addendum:   Frankly, the Democratic Party has failed in the opposition directionBy failing to have a 50 state strategy for down ballot offices, and instead concentrating on the presidential race every four years, they have conceded  state governments and at least the House to the Republicans.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Predictive factors in presidential election

One political scientist's formula for predicting which party's candidate will be elected president is based on three factors as the campaign moves into the summer prior to the November election:

   1.  the overall economic health of the nation
   2.  the incumbent president's approval ratings
   3.  how far ahead of the convention the party seems to have settled on a nominee.

It's two months until summer;  but, in April 2016, all three factors favor the Democrats.

(1) March job growth was, again, a little better than expected:    215,00 new jobs vs the expected 205,000.   For the first time in the history of the index, we've had 73 consecutive months of job growth (that's over six years).   The unemployment rate is down to 5%.   Real wages are finally beginning to go up.

(2) At the same time, President Obama's approval ratings have risen to 53% in the latest Gallup poll.  Ronald Reagan's rating was 48% at a similar time.

(3) Although the Democratic race is not as settled as the Clinton campaign wants us to believe, and Bernie Sanders is still very much in the contest (having won six of the last seven contests and may very well win the important Wisconsin primary next Tuesday) -- Clinton still has a formidable lead in delegate count.  Market based prediction polls give Clinton an  89% chance of being the nominee.  Compare that to the chaos that is the Republican primary.   It's not even certain that the nominee will be any of the three currently in the race.  On balance, the Democrats score big on this factor as well.

Three out of three factors -- not bad at all.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Milwaukee newspaper: "Say No to Donald Trump"

[Message to readers.   I truly apologize for writing so much about Donald Trump, especially after blaming the media for doing exactly that and falling into his plan for grabbing all the attention.  In truth, you simply cannot talk about the presidential race without talking about Trump.   It was a clever ploy by the Huffington Post, at the start, to say they would only cover him in the Entertainment section of their web site.   But that couldn't last.   He does make the news -- which is both his strength and his fatal flaw.   He makes the news, not by his policy ideas, not by his achievements, but by the outrageous things he says.  That is not what we need in a president.] 

Wisconsin is the big primary coming up on Tuesday.   The latest poll shows Cruz ahead of Trump by 10%, with Kasich in third.   Gov. Scott Walker has endorsed Cruz.   And the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal printed this "No to Donald Trump" editorial, which I quote here in part:
*   *   *  
"No to Donald Trump.  No to his bigotry.  No to his contempt for women and minorities. No to his vague, clueless bluster about the problems facing the nation.

"No to Trumpism, which runs counter to the ideals of this nation of immigrants, to the notion that by working together under the rule of law, we can protect freedom, promote inclusion and fair play.

"Wisconsin Republicans: Reject this un-American candidate . . .
"And consider these facts:
    ■Trump has stoked the smoldering fears of immigrants long latent in American political culture. . . .

   ■Trump's blustering anti-Muslim rhetoric is helping to recruit new terrorists. . . .

   ■Trump has belittled women for decades. . . .  he had an astounding 70% unfavorable rating among women overall, which makes him unelectable in a general election. . . .

   ■Trump has incited violence at his rallies with heated rhetoric aimed at firing up supporters while portraying himself as a tough guy. . . .

   ■Trump has displayed contempt for the press and freedom of speech, calling reporters 'the world's most dishonest people' . . . . 

"Trump's crudity and spinning moral compass are merely the most obvious problems with his candidacy.   His policy ideas, such as they can be divined, show a man with no political center who has given the hardest problems facing the nation no more than a passing glance. . . . 

"If any good arises from the Trump candidacy, it will be that more attention is paid to people marooned by both parties, which have catered relentlessly to the interests of high-roller campaign donors. Like, say, in the past, Donald J. Trump. . . . 

"But though Trump, like Bernie Sanders of the Democrats, has tapped into a wide vein of voter anger that demands to be heard, he is the wrong standard-bearer for voter concerns.  Trump is temperamentally impulsive, . . .  Trump's standard operating procedure: Say something outrageous, wait for cable news channels to amplify it, then for critics to express horror, then demand someone else apologize or threaten to sue. It has turned out to be a brilliant strategy for dominating the attention of the broadcast and cable programs . . . . It would be a disastrous strategy for running the federal government and representing the American people. . . . 

"Trump claims he can harness his big mouth, that his over-the-top rhetoric is part of the 'art of the deal' as he pursues his biggest deal yet, a contract with the American people to be their president. But Trump isn't capable of changing. A Trump presidency would float down a river polluted by hyperbole and misstatement, tacking left to right, right to left, claiming up is down, white is black, night is day. A reality TV Wonderland.

"Only we live in the real world, where the words and choices of presidents can have momentous consequenceswar and peace, feast or famine, freedom or tyranny, life or death. . . .

"We can't tell what is at the core of Trump's beliefs. Perhaps beneath the persona of @realDonald Trump there is a real person and not a cartoon character. Perhaps.  What we do know is what he has said and done, and, based on that evidence, it's clear that this presidential campaign is about Donald Trump, the wealthy real estate tycoon, the casino operator, the celebrity, the brand.  It's not about the citizens.

"Wisconsin can be the beginning of the end of all this reality television nonsense. Voters can do the nation a huge service on April 5.  They can say 'no' to Donald Trump."
*   *   * 
Events on Friday reinforced the global importance of what American presidents -- and presidential candidates -- say.   President Obama hosted a meeting of the Nuclear Security Summit, with representatives of 50 nations.   He told reporters afterward that these nuclear arms experts from around the world say there is great concern about remarks from Donald Trump, such as wanting to withdraw our troops from Japan and South Korea and have them develop their own nuclear weapons and not depend on ours protecting them;   and such as his remark in the Chris Matthews interview that he would not take the nuclear option off the table in negotiating in the Middle East or even in Europe.

This is highly irresponsible of a candidate -- and especially one who advocates sweeping change and, at the same time, reveals that he obviously doesn't understand global politics and diplomacy, or even the simple basics of how our alliances work and how important they are.  In fact, he doesn't seem to understand how our government works, with three branches that each have their responsibilities and authority based on the Constitution.   He speaks as though he expects to have the powers of an emperor who tells everyone what to do -- with the power to fire them (or worse) if they don't obey.

Now that journalists are pushing him more on policy questions, he is revealing how little thought he has given to major issues facing our nation.   The world looks to the U.S. to be a rock, to show restraint, and looks to the U.S. President to lead the world from a position of understanding complex issues, including the historic, geopolitical, economic, ethnic, and religious factors of major world conflicts.   Donald Trump is not conceivably ready to be president -- nor does he have the temperament or the background that could allow a novice with good advisers to quickly master it all.    And, even beyond that, he doesn't seem to be turning to top people to advise him -- or maybe he's trying and can't find any who want to be associated with him.