Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bill Clinton is still the best politician out there

Bill Clinton was on Trevor Noah's Daily Show, where he had the best line of the day.  It went something like this:
"There are two kinds of people who support Hillary.    Those that have worked for her.   And those that have worked for Trump."
So succinct.   So packed with meaning through a simple contrast.


Trump may have over-played his hand this time. Angry news panelists admit on air: "We got played."

Donald Trump has been playing coy with the media for several days now.   Will he?   Or won't he?  Admit that he was wrong about President Obama's birth place.   He was the chief of the "birther" movement, even claiming once that he sent people to Hawaii to investigate -- and "they can't believe what they're finding."   Of course, there were no such people.    There was a perfectly valid birth certificate as well as a newspaper announcement of the birth.  But he kept it up until today.  Trump was playing not only the media but the American people.

Donald Trump lacks the gene, or rather the character, to ever admit that he was wrong.  Still, his surrogates (Rudi Guiliani and Mike Pence) have both addressed the question this week and acknowledged that Obama is a natural born U.S. citizen.   All that was left was for Trump himself to publicly admit it -- which he hinted that he would do -- promising a big announcement about it at a press conference on Friday at his new hotel in Washington.

Which, of course, guaranteed that cable news programs would go live to cover the hotel opening.   And -- big surprise -- he never uttered any words closely resembling "I was wrong" or "I'm sorry."  After bragging on his new hotel (under budget and ahead if deadline, another lie), then for 20 minutes allowing some veterans to praise him, he finally made his announcement on Obama's birth;  and here is what he said . . . it took all of 30 seconds:
Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.  Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”
The CNN news team, which covered it live, were particularly livid.  We got played,” they admitted on air.   Jake Tapper was blunt: “Those are two factually false statements. . . .  She and her campaign never, never started the birther issue. Second, Donald Trump did not end the birther issue.”   John Berman pointed out that, in 2011, Trump made this his "signature issue. . . .  No one has gone as far as Donald Trump on the birther issue."

John King, who interviewed Trump the day that Obama produced his birth certificate, was irate.  After four or five years of leading a fraudulent and reckless campaign against the legitimacy of the United States president, you got, what, about six or seven words from Donald Trump?"  Berman chimed in, "And none of those words were ‘I’m sorry, I apologize.’ Or explaining why he ever questioned the birth status of the United States president.”

We'll see how long this story lasts.   At least CNN seems aghast (finally) and abashed that they got played . . . once again.   By promising a big announcementTrump got live cable coverage of his hotel opening, plus 30 minutes or so of basking in praise.  They would never have broadcast that live, except for his teaser of big news coming.   Then he stuck it to them with a little 30 second sound bite that created lies, yet only a perfunctory statement that Obama was born in the U.S..  No explanation for why it took him five years;  no apology.     Then he would not take questions.   So he flat-out lied in calling it a "press conference."   They were played, and they know it.

The only apt metaphor that occurs to me is Lucy and the old football trick from the "Peanuts" cartoon strip.  Is this finally enough for the media to say "enough?"   Or will they be Charlie Brown, so trusting and always believing Lucy when she promises that, this time, she really means it.  She won't jerk away the football just as Charlie Brown runs forward to kick it.  But then she always does.   And he always falls flat on his back.


Late note:   Following that press event, where he took no questions, Trump led a tour of the hotel.   He let the press pool camera come along but refused to allow the pool reporter to come, further avoiding any questions.   So the networks have all refused to air the video footage of the tour.   It's a first pushback from the media.  Will they stop fawning over him now?

Last night on MSNBC, David Korn suggested that this may have crossed the line with the mainstream media, because they have been much more direct since then in using the word "lies" about what he says.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why the testosterone check, Mr. Trump?

Donald Trump turned his medical report into a big TV theatrical event, going on  Dr. Oz's daytime show to have the pitchman for unproved diet pills interpret the results -- or rather what limited results Trump agreed for him to share.  There was nothing very remarkable in the results other than that Trump is overweight, loves junk food, and doesn't get much exercise -- all of which are risk factors for a heart attack.

One bit of trivia stood out:  his testosterone level was above average.  Well, good for him, but here's my question.   Why did they check his testosterone?   It's not part of a routine exam.

I've had an annual physical every year for the past 40 years, and none of the four different doctors over those years has ever suggested getting a testosterone level.   Trump must have requested it himself.  So, is there a problem?  Or just a huge insecurity and looking for reassurance?


"Prime Danger In Vote Hack: Sowing Doubt"

"Prime Danger of Vote Hack:  Sowing Doubt" is the title of a New York Times article by David Sanger and Charlie Savage.   What they say calms my fears of an actual tampering with the vote.   But it only amps up the fear that Donald Trump, if it looks as though he's going to lose, will again try to inject doubts about the results.  Here's what Sanger and Savage write:

"Russian hackers would not be able to change the outcome of the United States presidential election, the nation’s most senior intelligence and law enforcement officials have assured Congress and the White House in recent weeks.

"But disrupting it, they acknowledge, would be far easiercausing doubts in battleground states, prompting challenges to results and creating enough chaos to make Florida’s hanging chads seem like a quaint problem from the analog age. By some measures, in fact, the disruption has already begun.

"And meddling around the edges of an election could sow doubts about the legitimacy of the results — especially in a year in which the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, has told his supporters that the only way he will lose is if the election is “rigged,” and while campaign officials for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, have held a series of meetings about preparing for the possibility that the vote will be hacked. . . .  

"The systems most vulnerable to cyberattacks are large, centralized databases, where breaking into one part of the system can often give access to all of it. . . .  By contrast, the American voting system, with its hodgepodge of state and local polling places, is protected by being decentralized and disconnected. . . . 

"But the problem here is not really about manipulation. It’s about the damage you can do with disruption, so that people lose confidence in the system."

*     *     *
The article goes into much more reassuring detail about voting machines, how the system works, and the cyber-security assistance the federal government is offering to the states.   What it doesn't do is to offer any suggestions of how to combat Trump's ability to sway large groups of his supporters into believing anything he says.  That's the real danger.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Black pastor in Flint, MI tells Trump to stop his political speech in their church

Donald Trump announced a last minute plan to visit Flint, Michigan today.  The mayor was in Washington working to get congress to pass a funding bill to help with their lead contaminating water pipes.  She informed him she wouldn't be there and said that his request to tour a water plant couldn't be accommodated on such short notice.

Somehow he arranged to speak to about 50 people gathered in an African-America church in Flint, which has been a been a center for distributing water and aid during the crisis.   After some short remarks praising the members for their helping response, Trump launched into his stump speech blasting Hillary Clinton for supporting trade agreements that hurt jobs in Michigan.

The church minister, Rev. Faith Green Timmons, walked out on the stage and interrupted to remind him that "I invited you here to thank us for what we've done in Flint, not to give a political speech."  He quickly changed course -- but, typically, did not apologize.

Trump's mistakes trying to court black voters are so blatant, so repeatedly wrong-footed, that you can't escape the fact that he has nothing inside to guide him in trying to relate.   I don't think it's even working for his real purpose:   to reassure the white, educated, wavering Republicans that he's not racist.   Maybe he's not, but his inability to relate to black people in their culture just oozes out of him at every pore.

Let's hope the debate moderators take a lesson from Rev. Timmons;   yes, you can just step in and stop Trump from doing what he's trying to get away with.


More consequences of N.C. bathroom bigotry law

The NCAA has announced that it will hold no championship events in the state of North Carolina in 2016-17 as a response to the North Carolina laws that discriminate against LGBT individuals -- most notably the notorious law that requires trans people to use public bathrooms that match the anatomical sex assignment at birth.

The Chair of the NCAA Board of Governors released a statement saying:  “This decision is consistent with the NCAA’s long-standing core values of inclusion, student-athlete well-being and creating a culture of fairness.”

North Carolina is a frequent site for major sports events, especially basketball.   The state is often referred to as ground zero for college basketball."  This decision will include first and second rounds of men's basketball tournament as well as women's soccer College Cup.   The NBA had already announced that it would move its 2017 All Star game from Charlotte.

In addition, as many as five states have banned state employees traveling to North Carolina on official business.   The state has lost millions of dollars in tourist spending, as well as investment and jobs from corporations who are shunning the state as a location or to expand existing sites.   The national loss of prestige and shame brought upon the state is immeasurable.

But taking away their basketball big games -- that's a blow to state pride that really hurts in N.C.   I know, having spent 7 years in school at Duke.    There was nothing quite like Duke-UNC basketball rivalry in the 1950's -- and since.   So this may have more impact than all the money from the other things they've lost over this bill.

Gov. Pat McCrory remains firmly committed to the law he signed, resisting calls for its repeal, even though it may cost him his re-election bid in November.   His rival, current NC Attorney General Roy Cooper, is among those demanding repeal.   In the RCP average of polls, Cooper is leading McCrory by 6% . . . before this latest NCAA blow.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Medium household income rose by 5.2% last year

Median household income rose by 5.2%, from $53,700 to $56,500 between 2014 and 2015.  This is the largest single year increase the Census Bureau has ever recorded.   A rise in household income was seen across all income groups, while in fact the largest income gains went to the poorest Americans.

Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, told the Huffington Post:  "This is a big fucking deal!"   The one downside is that people living in rural areas did not show the income rise as did those living in urban areas.

This dramatic turn-around to a rising median household income bodes well for a Clinton win.   According to Emory political science professor Alan Abramowitz's model for predicting the winner of presidential races, two of the most important predictive factors are:   the popularity of the incumbent president and the state of the nation's economy.  When they are positive, the  candidate of the party holding the White House is more likely to win.

President Obama's approval rating has just gone up another notch to 58%.   It's considered a positive indicator if it's above 50%.   And the economy is, by most measures, considered to be good -- not great,  but good enough to influence the election positively.   Low gas prices, for example.   And that was before this news about median incomes came out late yesterday.


Two bombshell stories hit Trump campaign

Forget Hillary's pneumonia.  Forget her calling half of Trump's rally supporters "deplorable."  Forget Trump's going on Dr. Oz's tv medical show Thursday to have Dr. Oz discuss the recent physical exam that Trump claims he had last week by some unnamed doctor.  Dr. Oz will only have the doctor's report -- or at least whatever edited portion of the report Trump chooses to reveal.   Forget all that, because two news stories broke last night that may affect the course of the campaign.   Or maybe not.    But here's the breaking news.

1.  The Attorney General of New York State, Eric Schneiderman, said that his office has opened an investigation into the Trump Foundation, as to whether it had followed the rules of New York State for charitable organizations.     This follows the investigative reporting by the Washington Post that Donald Trump uses other people's donations to the foundation to make contributions that he then passes off as his own personal charity.  In fact, he has not put any of his own money into the foundation since 2008.   And the reporter has been unable to identify any of his own money Trump has given to charity other than one $10,000 gift.    All that, of course, is not what the AG is investigating;  because public bragging that isn't true is not a crime.   What they are investigating is more likely to be that some of the money from the foundation has been for things other than charity -- like $25,000 to the Florida Attorney General, who then chose not to pursue a suit against Trump University.   The NY AG's office already has an investigation into Trump University ongoing.

2.  Newsweek magazine has an expose article about Trump's business coming out tomorrow that it says will change the course of the campaign.   MSNBC's Rachel Maddow's producers obtained what was reported to be a copy of the gist of the story, which includes this about the Trump Organization, which it describes as:
   ". . . an enterprise with deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals, although there is no evidence that the Trump Organization has engaged in illegal activities. . . .  [If Trump becomes president]  almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.    [He would be] the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States."

If this turns out to be substantiated, it could really be what leads to Trump dropping out of the race.   If he does, remember that I predicted months ago that there was a 50/50 chance that he would not be on the ballot in November.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dallas Morning News' scathing rebuke of Trump, and endorsement of Clinton

The Dallas Morning News with a circulation of 400,000 is one of the 20 largest daily newspapers in the U.S.   True to its conservative Texan nature, it has endorsed the Republican candidate for president every election cycle since 1964 -- until now.  On September 6th, it ran a scathing editorial denouncing Donald Trump as being "at odds with nearly every GOP ideal this newspaper holds dear."

It further asserted that Trump "is no Republican and certainly no conservative. . . . Individual liberty? Trump has displayed an authoritarian streak that should horrify limited-government advocates. . . .  His open admiration of Russia's Vladimir Putin is alarming. . . .  Free markets? Economic conservatism? . . .  Trump's idea of fiscal conservatism is reducing expenses by financing mountains of soul-crushing debt. . . .

"Strong national defense? Trump pledges to make our military 'so big, so powerful, so strong . . . .  But what does he want to do with that military? He says he supports killing the families of Muslim terrorists and allowing interrogation methods 'a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.'  And if the military balks at obeying such orders?  'If I say do it, they're gonna do it,' he says. . . . 

"We have no interest in a Republican nominee for whom all principles are negotiable, nor in a Republican Party that is willing to trade away principle for pursuit of electoral victory. . . .  Donald Trump is not qualified to serve as president and does not deserve your vote."

After this rejection of Trump, the next day the Morning News followed up with this endorsement of Clinton.

"There is only one serious candidate on the presidential ballot in November. We recommend Hillary Clinton.  We don't come to this decision easily.   We've been critical of Clinton's handling of certain issues in the past. But unlike Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton has experience in actual governance, a record of service and a willingness to delve into real policy.  Resume vs. resume, judgment vs. judgment, this election is no contest. . . .

"[Clinton has] real shortcomings. But they pale in comparison to the litany of evils some opponents accuse her of. . . .  We reject the politics of personal destruction. Clinton has made mistakes and displayed bad judgment, but her errors are plainly in a different universe than her opponent's.

"Trump's values are hostile to conservatism. He plays on fear — exploiting base instincts of xenophobia, racism and misogyny — to bring out the worst in all of us, rather than the best. His serial shifts on fundamental issues reveal an astounding absence of preparedness. And his improvisational insults and midnight tweets exhibit a dangerous lack of judgment and impulse control.

"After nearly four decades in the public spotlight, 25 of them on the national stage, Clinton is a known quantity. For all her warts, she is the candidate more likely to keep our nation safe, to protect American ideals and to work across the aisle to uphold the vital domestic institutions that rely on a competent, experienced president.

"Hillary Clinton has spent years in the trenches doing the hard work needed to prepare herself to lead our nation. In this race, at this time, she deserves your vote."

*     *     *     *     *
We shouldn't underestimate the importance of this reasoned endorsement from a staunch and enduring Republican newspaper.   It is the kind of thinking that more and more traditional Republicans must grapple with in the coming weeks.  You don't have to be a starry-eyed Clinton-lover to recognize the very real dangers of turning the most important job in the world over to Donald Trump.   Congratulations to the editors in Dallas for taking the hard look at the very real choice -- and deciding in favor of sanity and safety.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Open letter to Trump about his embrace of Putin -- from two former defense and intelligence officials

Reprinted from the Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2016

Michael Morell was acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010 to 2013. Mike Vickers was the undersecretary of defense for intelligence from 2011 to 2015. Both writers have served in Democratic and Republican administrations and endorsed Hillary Clinton for president."

*     *     *
"Mr. Trump, with all due respect to you as the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, you cannot credibly serve as commander in chief if you embrace Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader has repeatedly shown himself to be an adversary of the United States. Putin, during his long tenure, has repeatedly pursued policies that undermine U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners. He has steadily but systematically moved Russia from a fledgling democratic state to an authoritarian one. He is the last foreign leader you should be praising.

"Abroad, Putin has interfered in the internal affairs of a host of nations on his periphery — through information operations, manipulation of elections and direct support, including providing weapons, to insurgent groups. Most significant, in the past decade, Putin has invaded two neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine — including annexing Crimea, the first major land grab in Europe since World War II. Putin’s goal in doing this is to keep the nations of the former Soviet Union from linking their futures to that of Europe and the West. Do you back these actions?

"Putin’s support of insurgents in Eastern Ukraine resulted in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 298 innocent civilians. Under Putin’s direction, Russian special forces provided the insurgents with the air-defense system that brought down the plane; Russian special forces trained them on how to use it. As intelligence officers who oversaw covert action, we can tell you that when a country provides overt or covert support to proxies, that nation is responsible for what those proxies do with that support. That makes Putin responsible for downing the airliner. Do you hold him responsible?

"Also abroad, Putin has aggressively supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutality against his own people. Putin’s significant intervention in Syria 12 months ago — via the Russian air force and Russian special forces — propped up Assad at the exact moment that the Syrian leader appeared to be losing his grip on power and might therefore be amenable to negotiating a transition of power. As such, Putin is in part responsible for the continuing civil war that has resulted in the deaths of 500,000 Syrians and displaced 10 million others, the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Do you support what Putin has done in Syria?

"At home, Putin has jailed and killed political opponents. He has jailed and killed journalists. He has neutered the Russian media to the point that he is in complete control of the message reaching the Russian people.  He has the popularity that you so admire only because he determines what the Russian people hear about him and his government. Do you support Putin’s violation of Russian law and his trampling of the civil rights of his populace, explicitly protected in the Russian constitution?

"One of the more interesting questions is who is the biggest loser from Putin’s policies? Take Putin’s actions in Ukraine. One set of losers, of course, was the Ukrainian people, who had their aspirations crushed. Another was the West, particularly the United States, which looked impotent to stop the Russian aggression. But the biggest loser was the Russian people — because Putin has ended any hope of integrating the Russian economy with that of the West, Russia’s only hope for the future. Given this, do you still think Putin is a great leader?

"At the Commander-in-Chief forum on Wednesday, you said that as long as Putin says nice things about you, you will say nice things about him. That is not a standard on which a candidate, or a president, should make policy decisions. That should not even enter your calculus.  Your only question should be:  'What is in the best interests of the United States?"

"So, here is our challenge: Demand that Putin stop his aggressive behavior overseas. Demand that he stop his dictatorial moves at home. Tell him that you will live up to our NATO commitments and defend the Baltics, if need be. Tell him that you want to work with him on solving the problems in the world — but that he must behave in order to do so. That is what a true commander in chief would do."
*     *     *
Now THAT is a challenge.   How can Trump not respond?   And, if he responds, what can he possibly say except something like: "Gosh, gentlemen, I didn't realize how little I knew about this man I have been praising.   Thank you."     That is the only honest thing he could possibly say.   We know he won't say that.

But here's the thing:   If he doesn't, you can bet it's going to come up in the debate two weeks from now.   At least it should -- and will, if they have a decent moderator.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Even on that day . . . 9/11/01 . . . It's about him.

Honestly, people, I would rather be writing about something else.   But Donald Trump just keeps being in the center of the news -- even on this day.   He's like the unavoidable plague -- with the added attraction that his outrageous, outsized narcissism is just so jaw-droppingly compelling to ridicule.   So forgive me, but . . . 

Politico has just released part of an audio from a Sept 11, 2001 interview that Trump gave on a local New York station.    To his credit, he was mostly somber and determined.   He made no wild statements on unsubstantiated claims.   But, in the midst of that 10 minute interview, he just couldn't help but interject this factoid.

Now that the twin towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed, it meant that Trump's own building a few blocks away was now the tallest building in lower Manhattan.

Oh, yes.   Thank you, Mr. Trump.   That must have been so very comforting to the millions clinging to their radios and tv sets, eager for something to hold on to during those awful days of uncertainty and unspeakable grief . . .  

Just knowing that yours is bigger was . . .  [words fail me].


Does Trump favor having journalists murdered?

In my blog yesterday about Trump's admiration and praise for Vladimir Putin's leadership style, I made the assertion that journalists who oppose Putin often wind up dead.  Consider this:

The journalist watch group, Punditfact, reported recently that, since 2000, 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia.  According to the international watchdog Freedom House, Russia ranks #180 out of 199 countries on freedom of the press.

Trump says Putin has "strong control over his country," and that's the kind of leader he admires, the kind of leader he wants to be.    Well, Mr. Trump, it seems that Putin's leadership style includes imprisonment and murder of journalists.  Are you prepared to order the murder of journalists that speak out against you?


September 11 . . . fifteen years later.

Yesterday, NBC aired an interview with Andrew Card, who had been President George W. Bush's Chief of Staff on 9/11.  It was his duty to inform the president on that fateful morning that a second plane had flown into the other tower at the World Trade Center.

The president was on a tour in Florida, and he was sitting in a school classroom reading to a group of young children.   Just before he went in, he had been told the initial understanding that a small plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center.  But a little later, the awful news came, and Andrew Card had to go into the classroom and interrupt to whisper in the president's ear those eleven historic words:   "A second plane hit the second tower.   America is under attack."

Andrew Card obviously has thought a lot about that day.  He is in New York for a memorial service at ground zero today.   The message he wanted to leave with the American people is this:
"Never forget the victims.  Never forget the heroes.  Never forget the obligation to protect Americans."