Saturday, May 21, 2016

Democrats will unite -- not to worry

Matthew Yglesias, writing on Vox's "Policy and Politics" blog, told us not to worry about the tension between Clinton and Sanders supporters, and between the candidates themselves.  In view of some Democratic campaigns in the past, this is trivial compared, say, to the Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown 1992 debate.

Brown accused Clinton of "corruption" and "conflict of interest that is incompatible with the kind of public servant we expect for president of the United States."  Despite such harsh rehetorical exchanges, there was no problem uniting the party, and Brown gave his support to Clinton, who easily carried Brown's state.  Ygelsias writes: 
"The current race feels very vibrant right now to those who are emotionally and intellectually invested in the outcome, but by the standards of past campaigns, this Democratic primary season has been a remarkably bloodless affair with very little in the way of personal attacks or viciousness.

"On the Democratic side, this has been a year of substantive fights about important policy issues with both candidates fundamentally approaching the answers from the left relative to the status quo. The differences between Clinton and Sanders are real and important, but they amount to an argument about whether to try to shift the country a little bit to the left or a lot to the left. Under the circumstances, it would be very odd for it to produce a lasting, unbridgeable divide if earlier elections have not."
It is partly a function of the fact that the differences between them are relatively small, so that by this time in the campaign there really is nothing new to say.  Both of them are running to the left of the status quo, so that what Yglesias calls "heavy consumers of internet news" are focusing on the small issues that divide them rather than the wide gulf between them and the Republicans.

Yglesias concludes:  "Sanders's run against [Clinton] has been overwhelmingly focused on the issues. And whatever you think of Clinton's stances on taxes, Wall Street regulation, subsidizing college tuition, or expanding public sector health programs, there's absolutely no doubt that she and Sanders are pulling in the same direction while all Republicans are pulling the other way. There . . . [are no ] corruption charges or allegations of secret adherence to Islam that transcend or disrupt the basic left-right partisan framework — just a simple, sincerely felt disagreement about how expansive an agenda it makes sense to run on."

Since Yglesias published this article, word is now out from the Democratic National Committee that the number of Sanders delegates on the Platform Committee will be increased, which is one of the things he seemingly has been asking for.   There are other reforms of the primary process, how delegates are selected, plus policy issues, that Sanders is hoping to have influence upon.

But, as of now, it's beginning to look like it will all work out well in the end.


Friday, May 20, 2016

But who vets the presidential candidate?

Blumberg News has reported that A.B. Culvahouse, Jr., the attorney in charge of vetting vice presidential candidates for John McCain, will perform the same service for Donald Trump's vice presidential nominees.

That will certainly prompt the late night comedy shows to bring out their Sarah Palin jokes.  But, in Mr. Culvahouse's defense, he explained at the time that he though Gov. Palin had the potential to grow into the position.   He rated her as "high risk/high gain."   Well, some of those, you win;  some you lose.

It might even be good that the same person is doing it, because he certainly wouldn't want to repeat that debacle twice in a row -- like picking Newt Gingrich, who spent last week promoting his availability and, shall we say, his desperation for the job.

Trump's campaign told MSNBC that the campaign would require, among other documents, the potential nominees' tax returns.   When asked about that, in view of Trump's own refusal to release his, the reply was:  "Trump's not running for vice president."

Hmmm.   Does anybody ever vet the PRESIDENTIAL  nominees?   I'm just asking.


It's not as big as The Donald says it is

From Politico magazine by Shane Goldmacher

"Donald Trump likes to say he has created a political movement that has drawn 'millions and millions' of new voters into the Republican Party'It’s the biggest thing happening in politics. . .  All over the world, they’re talking about it,' he's bragged.

"But a Politico analysis of the early 2016 voting data show that, so far, it’s just not true.

"While Trump’s insurgent candidacy has spurred record-setting Republican primary turnout in state after state, the early statistics show that the vast majority of those voters aren’t actually new to voting or to the Republican Party, but rather they are reliable past voters in general elections. They are only casting ballots in a Republican primary for the first time. . .

All he seems to have done is bring new people into the primary process, not bring new people into the general-election process . . .
"For this analysis, Politico obtained voting statistics from GOP officials and independent analysts . . . . To varying extents, the findings rebut both of Trump’s central claims: that he has brought in waves of new voters and that he has attracted flocks of Democrats. . . . "

[As one analyst put it]  “I think the glass is half fullBut it’s a small glass — maybe a shot glass.”


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Moving on up . . . while being gay

By unanimous voice vote, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army, the highest rank ever attained by a gay person in the Department of Defense.  There was apparently no significant opposition in the Senate to having a highly qualified gay man as civilian head of the U. S. Army.

We can add amazing progress on LGBTQ rights and recognition to President Obama's formidable legacy.   After a slow start, he is racking up a lot of firsts on gay equality -- having successfully gotten rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, opposing DOMA and fully supporting marriage equality, and now suing North Carolina over its LGBT discrimination/trans bathroom law.   As Commander-in-Chief, Obama had already approved the promotion of the first lesbian to the rank of general in the army.   A same-sex military wedding has been held in the chapel at West Point Military Academy.  On the domestic side, LGBT appointments -- including ambassadors to important countries -- have become so accepted as to no longer even elicit much comment. 


Teaching moments in the the chaos of change

The American people have come a long way in the last few years in accepting people whose sexual feelings do not follow a binary division into male-attracted-to-female and female-attracted-to-male.

It took decades to go through the chaotic process of changing attitudes and feelings and laws.  We're not 100% yet, but we have very definitely shifted in what most people accept, including a majority who now approve of same-sex marriage.

This is the result of turning the chaos into teaching moments.   I don't mean the preaching kind of teaching.  I mean the kind that occurs naturally when ideas are challenged, prejudices are exposed, and -- most important -- feelings are changed when someone you know reveals that they are one of those "others."    How can you continue to say derogatory things when they now apply to a beloved son or daughter, or grandchild, or dear friend, or respected co-worker?   Or a character you like on television?

The chaos is now focused on irrational fear concerning transgender rights --  playing out in loud and often ugly terms, made worse because it's a handy hot issue that politicians are exploiting shamelessly to troll for votes.

But the silver lining in this, I believe, is that we're going to come out of this period with more people understanding what it means to be trans, with more empathy for those who are, and with more protections and saner laws.   We've still got some ugly times to get through, especially during this election year, but it's going to be all right.   Just keep thinking how far we've come in making it *NoBigDeal* to be gay.   Some day, we'll be able to say ". . . to be gay or trans."


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A life in music -- and a perfect end to a long career

This is not a story your could sell as fiction;   it's just too implausible a set of coincidence and irony.  Except that it just made the national news and went viral on the internet.   And I know it's true, because I knew the people.  I once lived on the same street and, for 15 years, I was in the chorus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where Warren Little played first flute until he retired in 1992 and where Jane Little never retired as Assistant Principle of the bass section.

So what was the story that made it national news?    Jane began at age 16 playing string bass in the Atlanta Youth Orchestra, which then evolved into the nationally acclaimed Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO).  What made it a story is the fact that she continued as an ASO bass player until, at age 87, she collapsed during a concert last weekend and died after being rushed to the hospital.  Essentially Jane died on stage, literally ending her long career in music while playing up to the last minute of the last piece on a pop concert of music from "The Golden Age of Broadway."   This final piece that provided background for her demise was the uniquely appropriate "There's No Business Like Show Business."

Honestly, you can't make this up.   But there's more.  Jane Little held the record for the longest tenure -- 71 years -- with a major symphony orchestra.    She met her husband, Warren Little, as a fellow orchestra member.   And there were ironies:  At 4 feet 11 inches tall, her married name "Little" was fitting.   But the contrast between this petite woman, who played the largest instrument in the orchestra, and the rather large hulking figure of her husband who played the smallest instrument, led to running jokes -- which she seemed to enjoy, even saying that one reason she married Warren was, since his instrument was small, he could also carry hers for her.   And I remember seeing them leaving rehearsals, with him carrying his flute and her bass.

Thanks, Jane, for contributing to my many years of musical listening pleasure at the ASO.  It's great that you were doing what you loved, among friends, at the end.  RIP.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An ironic chuckle

Driving home from the gym yesterday, I was only half-listening to NPR on the car radio;   so some of the details of this story may be a bit inaccurate.   But here's the gist of it that made me chuckle:

The San Francisco Museum of Moderm Art (SFMoM) has just opened it's impressive new building.  And, given San Francisco's proximity to Silicone Valley, they wanted to go as digital as possible.    So, instead of the old-style audio recorded "tours" that you rent, they had an app created for people to download onto their phones.

Wherever you walk in the museum, the app will then discuss the painting in front of you.   The only problem, they're finding, is this:

Instead of looking at the art, as they listen to the art historian on the app, people are looking at those bright, shiny objects in their hands.


"Ignorance is not a virtue." Obama at Rutgers

President Obama gave the commencement address at Rutgers University yesterdaySome of his remarks could be taken as a not so thinly veiled political attack on Republicans, and Donald Trump in particular.   But it could just as easily be seen as an advocacy of rationality, science, and inclusiveness.   It's an attack on Trump Republicans only in that they embrace irrationality, ignorance, building walls to keep people out.

Here are some quotes.

“In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. . . .  It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real, or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”

“When our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they’re not held accountable for repeating falsehoods, and just making stuff up while actual experts are dismissed as elitist, then we’ve got a problem. The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and science, that is the path to decline.”

“Climate change is not something subject to political spin. There is evidence."
The world is more interconnected than ever beforeBuilding a wall won’t change that.”
*   *   *
Is that an anti-Trump attack?    All of those statements are true and important, regardless of whom the Republicans nominate for president.   If those statements apply to Donald Trump, it is because he has positioned himself as anti-rational, anti-science, and anti-inclusive of those different from him.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Is Christie's "Bridgegate" role about to be exposed?

This was reported by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC Friday night.  It concerns Chris Christie and the Bridgate scandal that hovered over him as he was getting his presidential campaign started.   Then one of his top aides and his man at the Port Authority got indicted, and things went quiet while the investigation of their cases went forth.

Friday was a critical day, because it was the deadline for revealing the identities of those other persons named as "unindicted co-cospirators" in those indictments.    On Thursday night, an emergency petition for a delay was filed with the court, and the judge granted a three day delay.   The petition was from "John Doe," who says he is on the list and claimed that if his name was revealed he "would suffer irreparable harm," and that the stigma "could never be removed."

That would certainly fit a sitting governor who has hopes (maybe even a promise) of being in the administration of a President Trump, in exchange for his early endorsement.  This may be only coincidence, but the lawyer who filed the petition was an associate to Christie when he was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.  If it is Christie, it probably would do irreparable harm to his future political career, especially if he is guilty.

I'm just saying.   The new deadline is Tuesday.   Stay tuned.


A bad week for The Donald; but a dangerous year for America

Let me count the ways, just this week.  1. He got hammered for not releasing his income taxes, with speculation rampant about what he's trying to hide.  2. His long time butler at his Palm Beach resort/home turns out to be a right-wing, conspiracy-type, Obama hater who has used social media posts to call for President Obama to be killed.   3. The much anticipated meeting with Paul Ryan still did not result in an endorsement.   4. The Washington Post broke a story about Trump's antics 20 years ago when he repeatedly called up journalists and gossip columnists, pretending to be "Mr. Trump's publicist" and bragging about how successful Mr. Trump is both in business and with women;  and now he's been caught by Fox News lying about it.  5. He had a twitter war with Elizabeth Warren, and she may have gotten the better of him.  6. The New York Times did a big investigative expose of his treatment of women.   7. And the mayor of Paris called him "a very stupid man," and London's newly-elected mayor said Trump's views of Islam are "ignorant."

All that in one week.   It's all pretty appalling to have such stuff being said (and mostly true) about the presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties.   But, unseemly as it all is, can't reporters come up with more important matters to focus on about Mr. Trump?

What about his policies, or his lack of policies that make any sense? What about how unprepared he is by temperament and by knowledge to be the chief executive of the most powerful nation in the world?    What about the fact that he doesn't even know that he doesn't know anything about the job, or the constitution, or how government works?    What about the poor quality, never mind their positions, just simply the lack of qualifications in the people he says he will appoint?

There are far graver concerns about Donald Trump than the political theater and the tawdriness of his life.  What about the lack of character and moral compass?  What about the dangerous superficiality that goes into his decision-making?    What about his inconstancy for any position he has taken -- except for his "beautiful wall" to keep out the undesirables?  What about the really dangerous ideas he has floated -- like negotiating down the national debt (which would destroy the most respected credit standing in the world);  and like allowing Japan and South Korea to develop their own nuclear bombs?   What about his advocating resuming torture, and worse?

Let's get serious about the dangers of giving this man the keys to the Oval Office and the codes for the nuclear bombs.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Oklahoma legislature runs amok

Oklahona is the reddest state in the country, measured by the percent of state elected officials who are Republican.   But, even for them, this week has been extreme.

On Thursday, their legislature passed a law -- without discussion or debate and by a vote of 33 to 12 -- making it a felony to perform an abortion, with a penalty of three years in prison and loss of the right to practice medicine in the state for any doctor who does.   The only exception was to save the life of the mother.  On its face, this bill is unconstitutional;  courts so ruled on a similar bill in Utah some years ago.   But the authors hope is to start the process of overturning Roe v. Wade.   And, in fact, on Friday Gov. Mary Fallon vetoed the bill.  Although a staunch anti-abortionist herself, the governor said the bill was too vague and would undoubtedly be declared unconstitutional by the courts.

On Friday, the legislature passed a resolution calling for impeachment proceedings against President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch over the Justice Department's guidelines to states on the trans bathroom issue in public schools.

This is the legislative equivalent of running amok.   It's absurd.   It makes our whole country look stupid to the rest of the world.


Another British royal looking good -- Prince Harry

England is on a roll right nowAll kinds of good things seem to be happening -- and they stand out all the more when so much is so ugly and mean-spirited and divisive here in the U.S. 

A few days ago, I celebrated the new mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, and the people of London for having shunned an attempt to defeat him because of his religion.   They elected someone who is likely to be an important world figure in the coming years.  (see blogs x2 on May 13th).

We've all been charmed by Prince William and his marvelous wife and adorable two children -- not only for their good looks but also for their down-to-earth life style and for their good works.

And now comes Prince Harry making his contribution to humanizing and endearing the royal family.    Harry was the hands-on, driving force behind creating the Invictus Games, a Para-Olympics type of games for wounded warriors and veterans.   The second year games have just concluded in Orlando, Florida, where Harry proved himself to be a fun-loving, warm, enthusiastic man of the people, not some stuffy royal elite.   Here are a few photos, credited to Getty Images.

Prince Harry closed the second ever Invictus Games in Florida on Thursday night, name-dropping US athletes Sarah Rudder and Elizabeth Marks while praising all the competitors who took part

Harry, who founded the games for wounded, injured and sick veterans, now in its second running after the London Invictus Games in 2014, surprised many of the competitors by handing out medals himself 

Prince Harry kissed road cyclist Katie Kuiper (right), a former sergeant who served in the US Army as an intelligence analyst and suffered a gunshot wound to the head in 2013

Prince Harry hugs competitors and presents medals during the wheelchair basketball on the final day of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 at ESPN Wide World of Sports on May 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida

Ruth, a spectator at today's wheelchair tennis finals, seemed pleased to return the favour as she leaned in to plant a kiss on his cheek

Prince Harry led tributes to the athletes at the closing ceremony on Thursday night which also featured performances from the likes of Rascal Flatts and Rachel Platten
The last photo is of Prince Harry paying tribute to the athletes at the closing ceremony of the Invictus Games, which borrowed lines from "Invictus," the poem that is the source for the games' name, emphasizing overcoming limitations and adversity:   "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

This is the modern generation of the Royal House of Windsor they are the Sybils of Downton Abbey.  I had thought William and Catherine had the monopoly on loveableness and that Harry was a happy-go-lucky playboy.   Here he shows he is a caring good guy, with no pretentions of elitism -- and truly appreciative of the sacrifices these men and women have made for their country.   He himself trained and served as a helicopter pilot with a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  Fortunately he was not wounded, but his experience in the military, as did William's, seems to have grounded them in ordinary life outside the royal palaces.    Of course, they also had Princess Diana as their mother, and she paved the way as the beloved "People's Princess."