Saturday, April 16, 2016

Hillary and Bernie finally had to fight in last debate

So Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had what I hope will be their last debate on Thursday night.   Yes, I'm the same person who was outraged that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz tried to tilt the election to Hillary by allowing only a few debates and scheduling them at times when the TV audience was likely to be otherwise occupied (weekend nights;  big, once a year sports events;  the final episode of "Downton Abbey").

I wanted more when Bernie and Hillary were really having a debate about issues, and when it was civil and so far above the mud pit the Republicans were sloshing around in that I wanted more people to see our team for comparison.

It seemed to me that Thursday night, our team stooped to dip their toes in the mud -- and I think the media practically demanded that they have a fight.   It's good for ratings, you know.   Nothing makes news like a fight;    civil discourse does not draw a crowd.

But, honestly, my reason for wanting no more debates now is that, in the last one,  everything I dislike about Hillary Clinton got exaggerated.   Yes, they both made some good points and they both got in some digs at the other.   Nobody made any game-changing scores -- although, if either came close, it would be Sanders standing up for better treatment of the Palestinians and Hillary going full Israel-pander in response to his criticism of her AIPAC speech.

It is widely agreed, among those who know Hillary personally, that she can be a warm, caring human being.  And I have seen that in some informal tv coverage of her.   But, put a microphone in front of her and a large audience, and she tightens up, goes hard and cold, tilts back her head and talks down to everyone.    That's how it feels to me -- and I don't want to see any more of it.   I don't want to dislike her.   I want to respect her.   And this makes it harder.

Let me illustrate with a bit of textual analysis.   I took these transcript samples of the debate from Charlie Pierce's Esquire political web site critique of the debate.  It's from the exchange where Sanders criticized Clinton's AIPAC speech for almost ignoring the plight of the Palestinians in discussing the Middle East before a group of U.S. Jewish leaders.

Their two comments are roughly equal in length.    Hillary uses the word "I" eleven times;   Bernie says "I" four times.   Further, nine of eleven of Hillary's I's were in some form of "I did":   I negotiated, I did, I did, I can tell you, I have been there, I was in Cambodia, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated.

In contrast, Bernies four I's were:   I was a kid, I do believe, I believe, I believe.

OK.   So what is the point?    First, it's a personal, subjective thing with me -- something I noticed while watching it live:   every time the word "I" came out of her mouth, it came to feel like an attack -- on me, the listener.    She puts a special emphasis on it:   "I negotiated," I flew all night," "I can tell you right now."   The I always feels like the high point of the sentence.  A boast.   It feels like she is saying, "how dare you question ME?"

The other, less subjective thing is this:   This exchange (and I'll post it below for anyone who wants to read it) is a microcosm of their respective strengths and weaknesses.    Hillary's strong suit is her experience and wide knowledge about governance;    Bernie's strong point is in his passion about the issues of economic inequality and workers' rights;  about belief in ideals and his ability to inspire the same in others.   So it makes perfect sense that this excerpt I'm using -- which was chosen by someone else to convey a policy difference -- also illustrates textually a major difference in their two personalities, their policy positions, and their strengths:   experience and pragmatism vs ideals and optimism.

My agita about Clinton's overuse of "I," has nothing to do with whether I think she would be a good president and better than anyone the Republicans could choose.   But it does have something to do with how much I can like her and feel committed to her cause.


Here are the two excerpts:

Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate. But—but what you just read [his prior statement that Israel's response to Palestinian attacks was disproportionate], yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area—not a very large area—some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed. Now, if you're asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else. And, let me say something else. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run—and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity. So what is not to say—to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%.  You got a log of that area continues, it hasn't been built, decimated, houses decimated, health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel.

I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with...President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages. They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn't find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that. So, I don't know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself. That does not mean—that does not mean that you don't take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there's always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…the autonomy that they deserve. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Another shocking report: Corporations have $1.4tn (that's TRILLION) stashed in overseas tax havens

This is from The Guardian newspaper, reported by Rob Davies.  Please note that the "tr" following the numerical dollar amounts = trillion.
"US corporate giants such as Apple, Walmart and General Electric have stashed $1.4tn (£980bn) in tax havens, despite receiving trillions of dollars in taxpayer support, according to a report by anti-poverty charity Oxfam. 

"The sum, larger than the economic output of Russia, South Korea and Spain, is held in an 'opaque and secretive network' of 1,608 subsidiaries based offshore, said Oxfam.  The charity’s analysis of the financial affairs of the 50 biggest US corporations comes amid intense scrutiny of tax havens following the leak of the Panama Papers."
Apple topped the list, followed by General Electric and then Microsoft.   The top 10 included Pfizer, Google's parent company Alphabet, and Exxon Mobile.  Oxfam contrasted the $1.4tn held offshore with the $1tn paid in taxes by the top 50 US firms between 2008 and 2014.

The Oxfam report also pointed out that, at the same time they were benefiting from the tax aboidance, the companies had also received a combined $11.2tn in loans, bailouts, and loan guarantees from the federal government.
" . . . The charity said this tax savings had helped firms spend billions on an 'army' of lobbyists calling for greater state support in the form of loans, bailouts and guarantees, funded by taxpayers.  The top 50 US firms spent $2.6bn between 2008 and 2014 on lobbying the US government. . . .

“'For every $1 spent on lobbying, these 50 companies collectively received $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts,'. . .

"Robbie Silverman, senior tax adviser at Oxfam said: 'Yet again we have evidence of a massive systematic abuse of the global tax system. . . .  We can’t go on with a situation where the rich and powerful are not paying their fair share of tax, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill. . . .  'Tax dodging practiced by corporations and enabled by federal policymakers contributes to dangerous inequality that is undermining our social fabric and hindering economic growth,' the report said."
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I believe this report speaks for itself.   Oxfam is a highly respected global charity (up there with the Red Cross).  This is more evidence that an economic imbalance is rampant and justifies radical measures to restore a balance . . . for the good of all people everywhere. 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Shocking government report: Many profitable U.S. corporations pay zero federal income taxes

Senator Bernie Sanders requested a report from the U. S. General Accountability Office on taxes paid by U. S. corporations.   The report was just released yesterday, and Sen. Sanders' office sent out this press release.
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WASHINGTON, April 13 – Large, profitable American corporations paid just 14 percent of their profits in federal income taxes on average from 2008 through 2012 and about one-fifth of them paid nothing at all each year, according to a new study prepared for Sen. Bernie Sanders by the Government Accountability Office.

“There is something profoundly wrong in America when one out of five profitable corporations pay nothing in federal income taxes,” Sanders said. “Large corporations cannot continue to get more tax breaks when children in America go hungry. We need real tax reform to ensure that the most profitable corporations in America pay their fair share in taxes. That means closing corporate tax loopholes to raise the revenue necessary to rebuild America and create millions of jobs.”

Last year, Sanders, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act to prevent profitable corporations from receiving tax breaks by sheltering income in Panama, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other offshore tax havens.  According to a 2015 report by Citizens for Tax Justice, most Fortune 500 corporations have established offshore subsidiaries.

The percentage of large, profitable American corporations that paid nothing at all in each of the years studied by the Government Accountability Office ranged from 17.9 percent in 2008 to 24.1 percent in 2011. “Of those large corporations whose financial statements reported a profit, 19.5 percent paid no federal income tax [in 2012],” according to the report.

Large corporations use a variety of deductions and loopholes to pay far less than the federal corporate income tax rate of 35 percent, including maneuvers that shift profits overseas.
“At a time when Republicans tell us that we don't have enough money to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure or provide universal childcare, maybe, just maybe we should stop allowing huge corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes,” Sanders said. “Corporate greed is destroying the fabric of AmericaIt must come to an end.”
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Bravo to Sanders for bringing this so evocatively to light.   It certainly won't hurt his campaign that has has based on solving the economic inequality rampant in our country.   But it's not quite as simple as stopping the bad guys from getting away with something. Oh, there's plenty of that.   But those, who say our corporate tax rates are the highest in the developed world (at 35%) and make it difficult to compete globally, also have a point.

What we have to have -- and I suspect Sen. Sanders would agree, though perhaps differ on the details -- is a comprehensive reform which both closes the loopholes and tax havens and, at the same time, lowers the actual tax rate.  But on balance they must pay more when we have people in this country going to bed hungry and having to choose between health care and a place to live.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What is Paul Ryan up to? -- No, I don't think he's running for president.

Paul Ryan -- VP candidate in 2012, Speaker of the House, and the man who will preside over the raucous Republican presidential convention this summer.    People are speculating that he might also become the Republican presidential nominee.

He says he's not running, says he doesn't want to. will not accept a nomination if chosen.    That's what he said before he gave in to his colleagues' pressure to replace John Boehner as Speaker.   So, when he gave a speech last week that sounded like a ready-made campaign ad, conventional wisdom concluded that he would eventually say "yes" again to a draft to save the party.

I have a different idea though.   Let's start with the fact that Paul Ryan knows his way around  the political backrooms.  He's also ambitious and probably would like to be president . . . some day.  Ryan also knows that Republicans are going to lose the presidency in November.    He's already lost one race for the White House;  losing it again could end his future ambitions.   So he's got to be asking:   what are his chances of winning in 2016?

So far, Trump and Cruz together are winning somewhere in the range of three out of every four votes in primaries and caucuses.   If neither gets the magic 50%+ of the delegates before the first convention vote, then what?    With feelings of "disenfranchisement of the primary voters" running so high right now, any attempt to manipulate the convention vote is going to have backlash.  If both are bypassed for some candidate who has not even run (Ryan) or who came in a distant third (Kasich), Trump might walk out with his delegates and run as a third party candidate.   That would mean a huge loss for the party.   Ryan clearly doesn't want that.

As political writer Chris Weigant puts it:  
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"If the national convention ignores the will of roughly three-fourths of Republican primary voters by choosing someone like Ryan, there are going to be millions of very dissatisfied primary voters . . . .  Both Trump and Cruz campaign against their own party’s leadership (in slightly different ways), so their voters are already wary of the party bigwigs. If the convention 'steals the nomination' from Trump and Cruz, it’s going to be very hard to get those millions of voters back into the Republican fold in time for the general election. Ironically, instead of Ryan being a consensus candidate, he might wind up being the most divisive to the party’s base, because both Trump and Cruz voters would be so outraged by the choice."
*   *   *
So, here's my prediction.   Ryan sees this too and has probably already decided (though he won't say it publicly) to concede the White House in 2016 and to put his efforts into saving Republican control over the House, where he will remain Speaker and thus the most powerful Republican in Washington for the upcoming years.  Setting him up nicely for a presidential run in 2020 or 2024.

So I don't think that was a presidential "campaign ad" he put out last week but, rather, the beginning of his campaign to save the House -- and his long-range chances to be president. Saving down-ticket candidates will require a major effort to counter the negative effects of either Trump or Cruz at the top of a losing ticket.    With Ryan actively campaigning for them, as opposed to the presidential candidate, he might be able to save a few vulnerable House members, as well as state politicians.   It should be a separate, but parallel campaign, with Ryan prominently featured as the party leader -- rather than either Trump or Cruz.

That's how I see it.


PS:   I had already written this before news broke of Paul Ryan's forceful statement in an interview yesterday, repeating that he definitely will not be a candidate.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Donald Trump just lost two votes in the NY primary and Cruz won all 34 delegates in Colorado

Donald Trump found out too late that there is more to running for president than just saying something outrageous and dominating the news.   There are rules and strategies for getting delegates.   The Donald thought he could run a DIY (do it yourself) campaign -- because, you know, he's the smartest guy on the planet.

It fits that daughter Ivanka and son Eric can't vote in the New York primary next week.  They missed the deadline to register.  In explaining, Trump said "They didn't know the rules."   Uh huh.   Somebody else didn't know the rules too -- and got out-foxed by the savvy Cruz campaign.   Trump didn't appear at the Colorado convention where delegates were selected, and his delegate wrangler had been on the job just 3 days.   Cruz worked for months lining them up and wound up with all 34;  Trump got none. 


How very small we have become

Todd Albaugh had a career working for Republicans in Wisconsin, most recently on the staff of a Republican state senator.   But he recently resigned his job and decided to leave politics altogether.   He did not go quietly.   His Facebook post about his reasons has gotten national attention, including an interview by MSNBC's tv host Chris Hayes.  Here is what Albaugh wrote:
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"You wanna know why I left the Republican Party as it exists today? Here it is; this was the last straw: I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters.

"Think about that for a minute. Elected officials planning and happy to help deny a fellow American's constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power. A vigorous debate on the ideas wasn't good enough. Inspiring the electorate and relying on their agenda being better to get people to vote for them wasn't good enough. No, they had to take the coward's way out and come up with a plan to suppress the vote under the guise of 'voter fraud.'

"The truth? There was almost none. Oh wait, GOP Speaker Voss' estranged wife voted twice in both Idaho and WI, and a GOP staffer was caught voting twice. But it was good rhetoric. Yesterday, one of my employees, born in California went to get his WI ID. He was told he couldn't use his CA ID to get a WI ID without his birth certificate which is back in CA. The result? He's not able to vote today. Here's a young man in his early 20's, who is taking part and interested in voting for the first time in his life. He was excited to go to the polls. What kind of a state, a legislature, a political party is it that denies this young man his right?

"The GOP was born out of greater opportunity and equality. Wisconsin, yes the Wisconsin Republican Party, under the leadership of Republican Governor Robert M. 'Fighting Bob' La Follette lead the country in creating greater voting access to its citizens. The WI GOP was seen as a shining example of equality. THAT was the party I joined in the 80's and fought for. That party no longer exists. I don't belong to any party now. I don't think the Dems have all the answers either. But my God, to watch a party I once fought for deny a young man his voting boils my blood, leaves a pit in my stomach. It's time for a GOP implosion."
*   *   *
And here's the really sad thing.   This is not in the least surprising.  We've long known that's what they're doing.   The Republican strategy has nothing to do with policy or ideas.   It's all about trying to control the voters -- (1) by suppressing our voters and (2) by brain-washing their own voters.

Here's an example of the latter, which is not in the least surprising either.   It came in a letter to the New York Times yesterday from Democratic New Hampshipre state legislator Len Disesa.   He wrote about meeting an elderly, disabled woman on the campaign trail, who "gushed" to him in praise for the medical benefits she was receiving since Obamacare went into effect.   The senator, sensing she would be a sure vote for him and the Democrats, told her he hoped he could count on her vote in November.    But she replied, "Oh no, dearie.   I will be voting Republican.   I always vote Republican."   Disesa told her that, "if the Republicans had their way, they would repeal Obamacare in an instant."   She eyed him in disbelief and said, 'Oh, they wouldn't do that . . . would they?'"

Of course, this only amplifies the bon mot that's made the rounds for years -- about the crotchety older man, who rails against the socialism and "government control" that those devil Democrats force upon people, but then hastens to add:   "But don't you dare touch my Social Security!"

With Fox News and right wing talk radio backing them up, Republicans have been brilliant at convincing people to vote against their own interests, that black is white, and Republicans are going to take care of them and get government off their backs.  And all that wealth from the tax cuts for the rich will trickle down to them . . . some day . . . maybe . . . (not).

It works . . . way too often.   We let them beat us in the message game.   Our politics, both sides . . . how small we have become.


Monday, April 11, 2016

North Carolina pays a price for anti-gay prejudice

North Carolina's HB-2, recently signed into law by Governor McCrory, is one of those "religious freedom" laws that religious conservatives are seeking in the backlash to the Supreme Court's legalizing marriage equality.   Now the backlash to the backlash is bringing consequences to the state.

Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of a similar Georgia bill took our state out of the spotlight that was about to bring similar economic consequences to Georgia that North Carolina is experiencing.   Here's some of what's happening there, which we are -- so far -- avoiding by the veto.    But lawmakers are grumbling about bringing it back next year.

In North Carolina, Starbucks, Facebook, Apple, Citibank and dozens of other national corporations have signed a letter to the governor asking for a repeal of HB-2.   PayPal has cancelled a planned expansion of an international operations center in Charlotte.   Bruce Springsteen has cancelled a concert he was scheduled to give yesterday in Greensboro, NC.  

Numerous cities, including Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and others, have put a ban on any official travel to NC by their government employees.   Research conferences may be cancelled.

Charles Barkley, a basketball legend, has called for the NBA to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game planned for Charlotte.   The writer of the Broadway musical hit "Wicked" has said that he will refuse production rights to any of his plays in the state until the law is repealed.

Unfortunately, a lot of this is going to hurt the city of Charlotte, which had been leading in a positive direction with its local anti-discrimination ordinances, which HB-2 has now overturned.    The city that should be praised is going to suffer the most (being the largest in the state and the most likely to have conventions and major sports events);  but perhaps they will put extra pressure on the state to repeal the law.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Stump Trump" or "Lose With Cruz"?

I've just realized, in writing about a number of headline issues in recent days, that there are two great bumper stickers in there representing the dilemma of the Republicans right now.

Whether 'tis better to "Stump Trump" or to "Lose With Cruz."   That is the question.


Wyoming caucus gives one more win to Sanders, -- but he and Clinton tie in delegates

Saturday, the Democratic Party held its primary caucuses in Wyoming.  Bernie Sanders chalked up another win 55.7% to 44.3%.   This gives him his seventh straight win and keeps the momentum going.

But . . . let's not get too excited over this actual win.   The total number who came out to participate was only 280.     And they didn't even actually announce vote totals;  but rather it led to choosing delegates, and Sanders and Clinton  each got 7.    But she already had 4 superdelegates who say they're supporting her, giving her 11 in all.

Momentum does count, and in 10 days is the big primary in New York.   Clinton is currently well ahead in the polls and should win big, given that she was New York's senator and resides there.    So the perception of who wins will come down to how big her win is -- or, possibly, if Sanders pulls off an upset, that would be hu-u-u-ge.