Saturday, May 28, 2016

Odds and ends of interest

Cleaning out my backlog of drafts for stories that got bumped for more pressing ones:

1.   Kim Jong Un says no to Donald Trump.   Trump has, among many things, boasted that he could set things right with North Korea by sitting down for a talk with Kim Jong Un, their Supreme Leader.   A spokesman for Kim responded by saying No.   They know it's just part of Trump's election "propaganda."    Lesson #1 for The Donald about the high stakes complex world of international relations.   The Art of the Deal isn't going to work for you here.

2.   Texas avoids an education train wreck.  A Texas woman just lost her runoff election to be on the State Board of Education that sets curriculum standards and chooses textbooks.   Why do we care?   Texas is notorious for the control that right-wing, religious conservatives have gained over the state school board.  Mary Lou Bruner drew national attention for her views, such as her claim that Barack Obama was a drug-addicted gay prostitute in his youth, that the Boy Scouts is a homosexual organization, and that parents should home-school their children rather than letting them be taught evolution in public schools.   Ms. Bruner earned the most votes in the primary, but was defeated in a runoff on Tuesday.

3.  Merrick Garland always gets it rightSupreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is in a holding pattern as the Senate Judiciary Committee chair refuses to hold hearings on his nomination.   The 415 page information document Garland filed with the committee included this.   During his tenure as judge on the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia (the most important court below the SCOTUS), he has written the majority opinion in 350 cases.   Not a single one has been reversed, either by the Supreme Court or by the full D. C. Appeals Court.   That's a remarkable record, which shows what a careful legal scholar he is and how much he is in the mainstream of legal opinion.    Republicans should jump at the chance to approve his appointment.

4.  Kenneth Starr's come-uppanceIn the mid-1990s, Judge Kenneth Starr was tapped as the Special Prosecutor to investigate some real estate deals that Bill Clinton had been involved in back in Arkansas when he was governor.  Well, actually it was a political witch hunt.  Starr's dogged pursuit turned up nothing on the real estate deals;  but Starr just kept looking for anything on Clinton until he got a tip about the sex scandal with Monica LewinskyHe was no impartial investigator.   His disgust and moralistic attitude were crystal clear in his reports.  In Democratic circles, the name "Kenneth Starr" became synonymous with "relentless pursuit of nothing important."   It was Starr's investigation that led to Bill Clinton's impeachment by the House.  Of course, he was not convicted by the Senate, so that was that.

 But now there's this.   Kenneth Starr's career took him into academic administration, most recently as president of Baylor University Oddly, a few days ago, Starr released a letter praising Bill Clinton for all the good work he has done globally and saying he was "sorry for the unpleasantness."  That puzzling gesture became clear a day later when it was reported that the Baylor football coach is being fired and Starr is being demoted from the presidency because of the university's inadequate response and cover-ups in multiple cases of sexual assault by members of the Baylor football team.    What an irony.  The prude who was so judgmental about Bill Clinton's sex scandal is now disgraced by his failure to address the sex scandal in his own back yard.

5.  Donald Trump liesSorry.  This was going to be a no-Trump day, but I couldn't resist adding this.    He just says what plays well, without regard for truth.   He's touting the anticipated opening of a new Trump hotel in the renovated old post office building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.  It will open this September "two years ahead of schedule, which is unheard of for a project of this size and complexity," Trump boasts.   See, this guy can Get Things Done.   In time for his motorcade to pass by on inauguration day, of course.

The only problem is that in 2013 the Trump organization's web site announced that the hotel would open at the end of 2015Then in 2014 they were saying it would open in mid-2016.    Now it's going to be September 2016 . . . "two years ahead of schedule."   Construction delays are expected.  This little lie doesn't matter.

The fact that you can't believe anything the person in the Oval Office says . . . that would matter a lot.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Predicting who wins in November

A more optimistic article about the election is by Richard North Patterson, whose thesis is that we're not to worry too much.   Demographics, plus Trump's own capacity to turn off as many voters as he attracts, will favor the Democrats,

1.  About Trump's himself as a candidate, Patterson says this:

Trump has managed to gain an unfavorable rating of 60% (even higher among women).   Yes, Hillary Clinton also has very high unfavorables, but that's after 25 years of being pummeling about anything anyone can find, or imagine about the Clintons.    He says:  "Everyone inclined to dislike Clinton already does."    By contrast, Trump's capacity to appall is an ever-expanding possibility. . . .  Further, the Democrats "will be as merciless as Republicans were spineless" in exploiting Trump's lack of knowledge and judgment.

"[T]he Clinton campaign will assault persuadable voters with evidence of Trump’s narcissism, vulgarity, ignorance and instability — not to mention his callousness and failures as a businessman. . . ."

2.   Then there is the problem of demographicsThe Republican party's own "autopsy analysis" after the 2012 loss resulted in a report that called for an outreach to women, Hispanics, the young.   As Patterson says:

"Trump obviously read the memo backwards. While his triumph in the primaries proves that the brain-dead GOP establishment did not know its own base, the party did grasp one basic demographic truth — there aren’t enough old or angry white folks left alive to elect a president by themselves.  This gives rise to a fatal conundrum. Trump may expand his party’s share of shrinking demographic groups, but he will shrink its share of those which are expanding. . . .  

"With Trump’s considerable help, the GOP is not simply dividing — it is fracturing. Its various constituencies — working people; conservative ideologues; rich donors; Chamber of Commerce types; foreign-policy hawks; diehard evangelicals; and more moderate suburbanites — resemble a bad marriage among polygamists. No one can figure out who to divorce first."

Patterson then ticks off the various groups and what will turn them off.  Some consider Trump unfit for the office -- for a variety of reasons:   temperament, lack of knowledge about government or the issues, dangerous as a commander-in-chiefTrue conservatives will find him too ideologically erratic.

In contrast, Clinton's biggest worry is that Sanders' progressives and young people may not support her.   But with the support of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (especially as VP) -- and recognizing that the alternate is a Trump presidency -- will bring most of them to vote for the first woman president. 

So, what about the electoral college map, according to Patterson?   In the last six presidential elections, there are 19 states and the D.C. that Democrats have won every time (242 electoral votes), while Republicans have consistently won 13 (102 electoral votes).     Those 32 states will probably vote the same way, no matter whom their party nominates.

It takes 270 electoral votes to win.   Thus, beyond these sure-thing states, Democrats need only another 28 moreRepublicans need 168.   In 2012, Romney won only another 104.  In recent elections, these states have been the swing states:  Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.

Hillary Clinton could win with the Democrat-reliable states plus Florida alone.   Or Ohio and one other swing state.   Obama  carried all seven swing states, twice.   In some states that Romney carried in 2012, increasing minority populations make them more favorable to Democrats. 

Look at the Hispanic vote.   Bush carried 44%, Trump's support fell to 27%.  And Trump has an 80% unfavorable rating among Hispanics.    Romney got the white women vote by 56%.  Trump's high unfavorables with women will inevitably cut that down.

Trump's counter-argument is that he can bring in alienated white and blue collar workers in industrial states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.    But Patterson points out that these nominal Democrats and independents have already been voting Republican.  In addition, he contends that there simply are not enough of them.  Obama carried Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, combined, by almost a million vote margin.   And they all have significant minority populations.   "Trump is likely to repel as many persuadable voters as he charms."

Patterson agrees that Trump should "not be underestimated. But the GOP has become that special place where sanity goes to die. . . . Hillary Clinton will be a far tougher opponent for Trump than the irresolute crew he faced in the primaries. . . . [and] He will be no match for her in debate, and nothing he throws at her — however personal — will knock her off balance. In the grind of this campaign, no matter his gift for insult, Clinton will wear him down."

Patterson's final prediction:   Clinton will win every swing state, plus North Carolina for 347 electoral votes to Trump's 191.   If she also takes Arizona and Missouri, it'll be 368 to 170.

That's reassuring, for sure.   But I'm not going to relax until it's all over and I see Bill Clinton holding the Bible for his wife as she swears that she, the first woman president of the United States, will uphold its Constitution.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

But here is the truly frightening thing.

Despite all the ways in which he is not qualified to be president, more and more of the establishment Republicans are coming around to support Donald Trump.

Just a few days ago, the New York Times had an encouraging article about the dozen or more of the big money Republican donors that are NOT planning to support Trump.  Then a day later I read about Foster Friess, a religiously conservative mega-donor who bankrolled Rick Santorum's campaign in 2012 and is now supporting Trump.    Last weekend, Friess wrote this to explain why he is supporting Trump. 
"My success came from harnessing people’s strengths and ignoring their weaknesses. . . .  And also, from assessing people not according to their pasts or where they are today, but rather based on what they can become. 

"I believe that as Republicans continue to unite behind Donald Trump, he’ll become an even better candidate."
That seems to be the reasoning that is gaining traction among Republicans who are looking for some way to justify their now ignoring all the danger signals that previously worried them.   Apparently the idea of just accepting another loss of the White House is just too much -- if only they can find some rationalization that lets them avoid looking as opportunistic and unprincipled as they really are.   This might just do it. 

I suppose my concern that he could actually win -- my alarm, really -- betrays the fact that I'm not all that confident in the American people's capacity to withstand the allure of the siren's song that pulls you into dangerous waters.  Especially when Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to be generating much excitement to offset it. 

For a large segment of voters, it seems, November will offer them a choice of "the lesser of two evils."   Which do they dislike/fear more?   Trump or Clinton.   Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party need to do something fast -- or that's what it will become.
I wrote the above a few days ago, as the polls were tightening, some even showing Trump beating Clinton.   And then I read another article that was more optimistic.   It's by Richard North Patterson, whose thesis is that we're not to worry too much.   Demographics, plus Trump's own capacity to turn off as many voters as he attracts, will favor the Democrats.

I'll post it separately tomorrow to keep this a reasonable length.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The KKK joins the anti-trans controversy

Photo by Johnny Milano, Reuters
This has got to be about something other than school bathrooms.

The KKK has now taken up the trans bathroom controversy and Grand Dragon Robert Jones of the Loyal White Knights KKK chapter in North Carolina told a Huffington Post reporter that:
“I think that it’s sick that the federal government is trying to push us on a state level. . . .  I have a feeling a lot of violence is going to come out of this.”

Jones also took responsibility for hateful fliers that were distributed in an Alabama town urging them to stand up against the transgender community.

Undoubtedly, this is tapping into the racial hatred that has been at the base of the KKK for more than a century.   It's flaring up here, worse than ever, in the waning years of the Obama presidency.   It's obviously more than racial hatred, but I submit that it's at the core.   The KKK joining in adds weight to that.


Extreme pockets of discrimination -- still shocking

The "Friendly Atheist" newsletter, under the byline of "patheos," posted this story along with a copy of the document on the school's letterhead.   Here's what patheos wrote:
 *   *   *
"Someone with a connection to Trinity Academy -- a private Christian high school in Wichita, Kansas — sent me a document yesterday with the school’s Statement of Understanding.  It’s the form students and their parents have to sign before they can be admitted.

"Most of it’s standard stuff. You have to believe the Bible is inerrant, that belief in the divinity of Jesus is the only path to salvation, that pre-marital sex is a no-no. . . .  But the very last bulletpoint is one I’ve never seen before, even at fundamentalist Christian schools."

Here is that paragraph on the form parents and students must sign:
Given the debate and confusion in our society about marriage and human sexuality it is vital that Trinity families agree with and support the school’s traditional, Christian understanding of those issues. Therefore, when the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home is counter to the school’s understanding of a biblical lifestyle, including the practice or promotion of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) lifestyle or alternative gender identity, the school should have the right, in its sole discretion, to deny the admission of an applicant or discontinue enrollment of a current student.
*   *   *
In other words, if you have a sibling or anyone else living in the home who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender -- you may not be allowed to attend school at Trinity Academy.

We've always had groups who chose to live apart from the larger society -- to maintain a way of life, or a belief system, or to protect their children from what they deem corrupting influences.   The Amish come to mind.   Usually though they are content to live their lives, willing to share but not seeking to impose.

What we're seeing in the political activism of some of the biblical literalists is different.   They live in the larger world and have set out to force everyone else to be governed by their beliefs.   While railing against "Sharia law being imposed on us," they are hard at work trying to impose their own particular view, i.e. literalist Biblical law.   In my view, they have abandoned much of the humane, moral teachings of Jesus.  While claiming that he is the son of the God they worship, they behave in a way that is often antithetical to what he taught.

Having grown up in the gentle arms of Jesus-centered Methodism, with several preachers in my extended family -- and even though we have parted ways on theology -- I find the humanistic teachings of this "Good Shepherd" to be far more moral than those who would exclude, judge, impose, and condemn.    Like Pope Francis, but without his theological baggage.