Saturday, September 3, 2016

Debate and Forum moderators announced

The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the moderators of the upcoming debates.

The moderator for the presidential debates will be:
Sept. 26:    Lester Holt, (NBC)
Oct. 9:        Martha Raddztz (ABC) and Anderson Cooper (CNN)
Oct. 19:      Chris Wallace (FoxNews)

The moderator for the vice presidential debate will be:
Oct. 4:        Elaine Quijano (CBS)

In addition, on Wednesday, Sept. 7th at 8:00 pm EST, MSNBC is hosting separate, back-to-back forums with the two candidates.    It is co-sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and is being billed as the "Commander-in-Chief Forum."   Clinton and Trump will respond separately to questions, from moderator Matt Lauer and from audience members, on national security, military affairs, and veterans issues.


Favorable/Unfavorable ratings

Wow.    News headlines last week were in an uproar about Hillary Clinton's "increasing" unfavorable ratings.  The latest had her at 41% favorable, with 56% unfavorable.   Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it, for someone wanting you to vote for her as president.

First, the "soaring unpopularity" of headlines and FoxNews is a bit overblown.   Two months ago, those same polls showed her with 42% and 55%.   So 1% change undoubtedly is well within the margin of error.  And, to put this in perspective:   Donald Trump's numbers are even worse:  34% favorable, 60% unfavorable.

I also question the importance put on these numbers.   In Hillary's case, in particular, because she tends to have people dissatisfied with her for disparate reasons.   For some, she's too hawkish;  for others, she's too progressive;   others say she favors Wall Street; some like her because she's a woman;  some dislike her because she's a woman.   Some dislike her policies;   some dislike her wonkish, wooden delivery on the podium.   And then there is that large number of people who don't know anything about her except what they've heard for 30 years on FoxNews and right wing radio -- which is mostly lies and distortions.   In contrast, people who dislike Trump often just dislike everything about him, based on what they can observe in his many televised appearances.   I think it's more of a yes/no binary on him than on her.

But, even more to the point:   where do they stand vis a vis other politicians?  All figures are based on a Huffington Post aggregate of available polling:
                                          Favor      Unfavor        Net
Clinton                              41%           56%         - 15%
Trump                               34%           60%        - 26%
Paul Ryan                         33%          42%         -   9%
Mitch McConnell           16%           44%         - 28%
Harry Reid                       22%           42%         - 20%
Nancy Pelosi                   24%           48%         - 20%
Republican Party          34%           57%         - 23%
Democratic Party          45%          47%          -   2%
Barack Obama                 55%          44%          + 11%

Of these leading political figures, the only one with a positive net rating is President Obama, with a net plus 11%.  Next, with only a minus 2%, is the Democratic Party.    Congress as a whole is not included in this, but previous polls have shown them with a favorable rating of just 18% if my memory is correct.    According to these polls, McConnell is the least liked of all, with only 16% favorables and a whopping minus 28% net.  Lawyers come across pretty low too,  down in the range of used car salesmen.  And even doctors -- the most traditionally revered group -- aren't loved so unconditionally any more.   We're just a nation in a sour mood.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Trump's Hispanic Advisory Council members quit

At least three of Donald Trump's National Hispanic Advisory Council have resigned over his speech about immigration and his demonization of Mexican immigrants.   One, Jacob Montillio Monty, sent out this:
I gave Donald TRUMP a Plan that would improve border security, remove hardened criminal aliens and most importantly give work authority to the millions of honest, hardworking immigrants in the US. He rejected that tonight and so I must reject him. He was moving toward a resonable, pro business and compasionate immigration plan. Tonight he was not a Republican but a populist, modern day Father Coughlin who demonized immigrants.

He must want to lose.   He can do that without me.
Of course, any controversy between Trump and immigrants or their supporters just boosts his tough guy image among his angry, white men base.   But he has those votes already, and it will surely hurt him with the moderate, educated, suburban voters he needs to win over.


PS:  One advisory council member has said that as many as 15 of the 30 members of the council are planning to resign.   That's not confirmed at this point, to my knowledge.

"Trump's makeover no more convincing than his combover" -- Jay Booker

Along with that title from his latest article, here's some wisdom from Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman about where the Donald Trump campaign is right now.   He says that Trump built his entire primary campaign on the ugly, harsh rhetoric about illegal immigrants:

"But these days, facing a general election, that ugliness is less useful to him. . . .  He underestimated the basic decency of the American people, and the polls tell us that he’s paying a heavy price for that mistake. So what we’re witnessing now is a cynical attempt to back away from many of the ugly things that he has said and done over the past year, to project a more humane image. The problem is that once these things are seen, they cannot be unseen. We know who he is, because he has shown us."

Bookman wrote that before Trump's Wednesday night speech on immigration, where he tripled down on the harshness, although with a more detailed plan for dealing with "the illegals."  But it doesn't really matter that the "makeover" is unconvincing, because in his speech Trump abandoned it anyway.

Forget the Hispanic vote;  they're gone.   What this is all about is trying to hold his base and, at the same timeattract more moderate voters.  But I don't think that's possible.  Every time he swings to the angry ugly side, as he did in his Wednesday night speech, he loses more of the moderate vote.

All you really need to know about the speech is that David Duke and other White Supremacists were delighted.   Their radio talk shows and social media were celebrating.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Does he "look presidential?"

Sorry, folks, this is one I just couldn't resist.   Yes, it pokes fun at a presidential candidate. But it uses humor to make a valid point.   It's from a posting on DailyKos by blogger "Hunter."  After discussing his trip to Mexico yesterday, here's what came next:
"The . . . whole event was, naturally, capped off by the only remaining duty of our great national press corps: A . . . discussion of whether or not Trump 'looked presidential.' . . .

"The bar . . . continues to drop lower as the campaign goes on; Trump either dodged the core dispute between himself and his host country or lied about the results, but also did not pull his counterpart's hair or insult the Mexican citizenry to their faces, so it was considered afterwards to be a good day.

"As I mentioned on Twitter at the time, I don't agree that Donald Trump is being graded by the press as if he were a grade-school child, because even schoolchildren giving oral reports (What I Learned In Mexico, by Donny J Trump) are expected to know things. The measure being forever taken of Trump is specifically whether he 'looks' or 'sounds' presidential. Can he control his temper? Can he keep from insulting his audience? How is his coat today?

"So Donald Trump is not being graded as if he were a child. Donald Trump is being graded as if he is a Golden Retreiver in the ring at the Westminster Dog Show. . . ."

Yes !!    Still, what does it mean other than that he now has a campaign manager who is good at flattering him into playing the part.  Why is that reassuring?   Many actors, including Ronald Reagan did it even better, naturally.


SCOTUS says "No" -- again -- to NC voter restrictions

The Supreme Court had already ruled that North Carolina's voter restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution.   But North Carolina appealed for reconsideration and reinstatement of the law, at least for the November election to avoid confusion.

The Court said No . . . again.    Just get over it, folks.

But look how close it was.   Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan voted No.   Thus it was a 4 to 4 tie, meaning that if Justice Scalia were still there, North Carolina's election laws that discriminated against African-Americans would have been reinstated.

Or if Donald Trump is elected president in November and gets to name the ninth justice, which remains a possibility.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Am I paranoid? -- Or does Russia hate ShrinkRap?

ShrinkRap does not have a large readership, and I've done nothing to try to increase it.  Because, although I am happy if people find it worth reading, I really write it mostly for myself -- to help clarify my understanding or to have an outlet when the news prompts an outrage and I want to say:   "Did you read THIS?"

I use a blog service website, which makes ShrinkRap available to search engines;  it also counts the number of page-views each day, lists them by country and other data -- which I occasionally check out of curiosity.   Over the past year or two, it has surprised me that the country with the second highest number of my readers, behind only the US, has been Russia.

Now here's the surprising thing:   I've noticed that, in the past few weeks, since I began writing about Donald Trump's links to Putin and the Russian oligarchs, the number of page-viewers from Russia has suddenly become ZERO.    Now just diminished, but zero.   From one time I checked to the next, it went from Russians comprising maybe 30% of my readers to absolutely none.  And that has persisted now for a couple of weeks.

Do you suppose the Kremlin monitors everything written about Putin and blocks any critical writers from their country's internet?

It reminds me of my previous experience of provoking political revenge -- or maybe it was just a fantasy that I enjoyed.   Way back in the 1970's, you could deduct political contributions from your income tax, just like a charitable donation.   I don't remember when they ended that, but it was still allowed when George McGovern was the Democratic nominee for president.   I made a small contribution to his campaign, which I then, legally, listed as a deduction in that year's income tax calculation.

McGovern lost;  Richard Nixon won.  And that year is the only time I have ever had my income tax audited (they found nothing amiss).  I've always liked to believe that my McGovern contribution landed me on Nixon's infamous "hate list" -- and that he had the IRS audit me in retaliation.     So now, maybe I'm on Putin's hate list. . . .   Or maybe not.


PS:   After I wrote this last night, I read an article in Bloomberg BusinessNews reporting that the Russian duma (parliament) passed a law in July allowing the government "to police Russia's cyberspace and cordon it off from the global net. . . .   [It] allows the state to block sites without seeking a court approval.   Hundreds have been blocked already."

This is ostensibly a security measure to prevent terrorism.   But who thinks it's not also, or primarily, Putin's bid to control dissent?   It now seems plausible that they could have blocked mine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Internet hacking, misinformation, and our election

Donald Trump's warning that our election system is "rigged" is clearly a pre-excuse for the severe loss he's likely to incur in November.    Why, with what's shaping up to be an electoral landslide win, would the Clinton campaign try to pull off such a vast conspiracy involving multiple different voting districts?   It's the Republicans, not Democrats, that try to suppress voting with voter ID laws.

However, this does bring up a worrying threat that is very real:   attempts by foreign governments (with Russia being the prime suspect) to influence our presidential election in two ways -- (1) hacking into our elections' computer systems of voter-registration data and (2) a disinformation campaign by planting false stories in our news media and social media.

(1)  The FBI has reported evidence that foreign hackers have already penetrated into computer systems of two state election boards and, in one state, extracted voter registration databases.    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has warned election officials across the country to increase their cyber-security systems and offered his department's help in preventing further intrusions.

Although neither the FBI or Johnson identified the two states, journalist Michael Isikoff says they are Arizona and Illinois and that it forced Illinois to shut down its voter registration system for 10 days in late July.   According to Isikoff's sources, data on 200,000 voters was extracted, while in Arizona there was an attempt to install malicious software but no data was taken.

However, Tom Kellermann, head of Strategic Cyber Ventures, told Politico that these intrusions fit the patterns of the Russian's digital targeting of European governments that he has been tracking for years.   He believes they have now turned their sights to the U.S. election.

(2)  The New York Times' Neil MacFarquhar reported on Monday, in an article titled "Russia's Powerful Weapon:  The Spread of False Stories," that Russia is using this tactic in Sweden and other European countries to undermine NATO.   Preventing the expansion of NATO is a centerpiece of Russian foreign policy and underlies Putin's invasions into Crimea, Georgia, and Ukraine.

Consider this:   Neutral, peace-loving Sweden, by choice, has not been a member of NATO;  but there is now serious discussion going on there about joining.   Suddenly a rash of false stories began appearing on social media:  that NATO would use Sweden to stockpile nuclear weapons;  that NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.     A typical Kremlin tactic is to plant such a false story on social media, then the news media report on that story -- and thus spread it "legitimately," along with it going viral on social media.

The problem of false information is so serious that NATO and the European Union have established special offices to identify and refute disinformation.  Although they cannot positively identify the source, Russia remains the prime suspect.    In another case, they were able to trace Russia's involvement in a forged letter, purportedly from the defense minister, recommending weapons sales to Ukraine, which would be illegal under Swedish law.

We know, from our FBI investigations, that the Russian government was behind the hacking into the emails of the Democratic National Committee.    So there is no reason to doubt that they will try to influence the outcome of our election.

And we know, from multiple indicators, that Vladimir Putin strongly favors Donald Trump -- one being that Russia's state-controlled media prints nothing but positive stories about him.   At first, the "bromance" between Putin and Trump was treated in our media as a joke -- but we should now recognize that, whatever Trump's motive, Putin is deadly serious.   Which one, Trump or Clinton, do you think is more susceptible to Putin's manipulation?

So, far from a rigged election to favor Hillary Clinton, let's look at the opposite possibility.   If Donald Trump wins, I will be the first to suspect that somehow Russia hacked into our elections system and pulled off a coup.


PS:   MacFarguhar's article pointed out that Russia has another aim in this disinformation campaign:   to sow doubt into what can be believed.  "The underlying narrative is:  Don't Trust Anyone."   That is an important matter, but it is a different story for another time.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rising health costs -- time for Medicare for All?

I could give at least a dozen good reasons to vote for the Democratic ticket in November, the top one being the direction of the Supreme Court for the next two decades.  Here's another top reason:   health care costs.

Republicans all say they will get rid of Obamacare and give us something better.   But there is no conceivable way to maintain the private insurance system and cover as many people at lower costs than the original Affordable Care Act, before Congress and the federal courts meddled with the complex interlocking system.

Right now, Obamacare has some problems that are fixable.  The big one is that major insurance companies are beginning to opt out because they're losing money, and the ones that are staying are raising the costs -- sometimes a lot.  Without going into details, this is the result of removing some of the incentives to get healthy, young people to buy policies -- meaning that insurance companies are left with sicker people who use more insurance, without the offset of premiums from healthier people who use it less.   That's the whole idea of insurance -- spreading around the risk.

A letter to the New York Times from dermatologist Elizabeth Rosenthal last week put this very well:
"How many times must it be demonstrated that health care cannot be treated like any other market commodity before our legislators get the point? . . .

"One cannot make a profit insuring sick people.   Therefore, health insurance companies are most profitable when they avoid sick people while continuing to collect premiums from healthy customers.   When this does not work, raising prices is necessary to keep profits up.

"But health insurance premiums are already unaffordable for most of us. . . .  The only way to make health care affordable is to have everyone paying into the pot in proportion to their income while eliminating the unnecessary expensive middlemen:   health insurance companies. . . ."
I would add that a non-commercial health care system could also eliminate all the money spent on television ads for the latest designer medications.   Big Pharma spends more on advertising than they do on research.

Yes, Obamacare can be made to work.   It's already proven that it could if given a good chance.    But even at best there will be limitations.   If Hillary Clinton gets the landslide win that might just be possible, maybe she will get her second chance to do what she and Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders all really would like to do:   transform our entire health care system to one that is essentially Medicare for All or a similar system that provides it for all,  and is paid for by all, through taxes.

A lot of lobbyists will continue to get very rich fighting such a plan, because it will eliminate or greatly reduce the medical insurance and pharmaceutical industries.   Fundamental to this change will be accepting the idea that health care for all is the responsibility of us all -- and not a swill trough for the insurers and Big Pharma.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hypocrisy in media attacks on Clinton Foundation

The Associated Press, supposedly an impartial journalistic organization, has published their investigation, revealing that, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had met with some 45 people who had also made financial donations to the Clinton Foundation.

"Scandal," screamed the Trump campaign.   The AP reported this as though it were evidence of "pay for play" kind of double dealing -- or at least the failure to avoid the appearance of such.    Even the progressive, very smart newspeople I follow were not immune to worrying about this, saying that at least she isn't very good at rebutting these charges.

Folks, the Clintons have been in the spotlight for well over 30 years of public service.   Yes, they've done some things wrong, especially Bill and his zipper problem.   And Hillary does too often seem to cut corners, does seem to operate on the assumption that, if her motives are good, then it's not such a big deal if she fudges a bit, now and then, on details of what she says.

But 99% of the bad rap, I'm convinced, is created by the constant drumbeat of accusations that have been spewed out relentlessly by the other side.   Donald Trump and his minions (Rudi Guiliani, have you lost your mind?) are scraping the bottom of the barrel with ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims.

But let's go back to this about her meeting with people as Sec. of State.    Look, everyone agrees that there is a delicate line between the social, diplomatic aspects of the job and not letting that turn into pay-for-play dynamics.    There's a certain amount of courting and hosting "important people," including foreign dignitaries, that seems necessary.   Clinton and President Obama had a written agreement for how she would keep a wall between her government job and the Clinton Foundation and its donors.     If she crossed that line at all, it was in a minimum number of cases;   and there is no evidence so far presented to suggest that anyone got anything they wouldn't have gotten anyway and deservedly so.

Let's start with the most unlikely example of anything untoward.   One of these 45 people she met with was Nobel Peace Prize winner, Holocaust survivor and global moral leaderElie Wiesel.    The Nobel Committee referred to him as "a messenger to mankind . . . of peace, atonement and human dignity."   He was a founding board member of the New York Human Rights Foundation.   Now, if Elie Wiesel calls and asks for a meeting with the Secretary of State, are you going to refuse just because he has also made a contribution to the Clinton Foundation?   Might there not also be other, very legitimate, reasons for meeting with Elie Weisel?

Then there were Bill and Melinda Gates, who occupy that rare atmosphere themselves, along with the Clinton Foundation, of channeling huge sums of money to make life better for millions of people worldwide.   You're going to refuse to meet with them, just because they have also contributed to the Clinton Foundation?    And then there was another Nobel Peace laureate, Muhammad Yunus, the Bengladeshi economist who originated the microcredit, microfinance concept that made such a profound change in helping third world poor people become self-sufficient.   These people already know each other -- or, if they don't, they should.   They have common interests in making the world a better place.

What does anyone think these fellow world-changers are trying to get, if anything, other than more of the kind of work that the Clinton Foundation and the U. S. Government outreach programs are doing anyway?   It's not personal enrichment they're seeking.   It's making the world a better place for people on a global scale.

Maybe more questionable was millions of dollars donated to the Foundation by the wealthy Saudi government and other Islamic groups.   Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out that many of the Clinton Foundation programs (empowering women, for example) run counter to their ultraconservative Wahhabi restrictions, thus implying that they would have contributed to the Foundation only to gain access to the Secretary of State.

Maybe.   Perhaps currying favor with the Clintons is what they think will get them better deals in purchasing fighter jets from the U.S. manufacturers.   On the other hand, isn't it just possible that they truly admire the Foundation's humanitarian work (like keeping millions of people in Africa from dying from AIDS) -- and that, because of their particular theological regimes, they cannot do it themselves;   so they give money to the program that is doing it?    Or maybe not;   maybe it is all just quid pro quo.   The fact is, that's only supposition.    Show us the proof, if you have any.

Beyond this, however, let me raise this question.    Why is it scandalous for Sec. Clinton to meet with donors to her husband's charitable foundation, which as far as I can tell, only does good work to help millions of people around the world -- but it's OK for Congressmen to meet with lobbyists who fund their political campaigns, trying to influence their votes?   It's bad to meet with someone who gives money that your foundation then uses to save lives, but it's good to let the NRA fund your re-election campaign in exchange for your firm opposition to any gun control laws?

Answer me that question.   And then we'll talk about diplomatic niceties versus corruption.

There is a circle of good people doing good work out there in the world.   Some of them are very rich -- and also do good work.   Some of them are also in politically powerful positions -- and do good work.   It does not necessarily follow that a meeting between the two could only have a sinister, self-profiting motive.

Only in Donald Trump's world would that be true.