Saturday, October 08, 2016

My apologies.. and some thoughts.

Good Saturday Morning,
 I have not expired, nor left this earth. I apologize to those of you who have wondered where my blog posts have gone.  I took a leave due to the level of work I am committed to here, in addition to my overwhelming despair about the worst presidential election in history. Thinking it could sink no lower, it did.

I am not surprised about Trump's comments about women- I made my decision on him long ago when I came to the conclusion that::
1. He was willfully ignorant on the issues and wore that ignorance as a badge of pride, and
2. He believed himself entitle to abuse people he held lower than him.

So, his recently released comments neither surprised me, nor changed my opinion. To all of the women in America, you are perfectly entitled to tell him to go F**K himself, as he so eloquently puts it..

But it continues to amaze me that those same women, and a good number of men, would blindly accept the other major candidate, a candidate who simply does not believe telling the truth is in her interest.  Yesterday, as well, transcripts of her speeches were released, where she confirmed that every politician needs both "a public and a private position."  That means, I will lie to you.

Now I realize that you may believe she will implement policies she says are important to her and to you, but why would you believe that? If she openly expresses her willingness to lie, what makes you so special?  I made my mind up on her a long time ago as well. My principles will not permit me to vote for any candidate I do not trust, not because I dislike their policies, but because a politician who does not believe in telling the truth to the American people does not trust them, because she believves she is better than them.

See a pattern here?

I am done with our elected leaders getting away with asserting positions for me because they know more and have the answers.

One example, real life, that I intentionally experienced so I could express facts not conjecture.

This year, under my Affordable Care Act, I pay a monthly premium of $652.43 a month. I have a high deductible policy, and it is one of the least expensive premiums available. I am entitled to one complete physical each year, and then I am required to pay $6450.00 in out of pocket expenses before the policy kicks in to help.
The way I see it, my  elected leaders decided it was a good idea for me to risk fine unless they forced me to buy an insurance policy that effectively costs me $14,740 for a physical.  Blood pressure, temperature, and history questions. With a Nurse Practitioner.

The affordable care act is coming apart, and the American people, sold an impossible dream based on lies told by their elected leaders, are suffering.

And I have heard all the excuses- and they are lies too.

We have lowered our standards so that we will accept as our President anyone who sells us enough dirt to cover up their opponents.
For me, at least, that is not enough.  And I know all the justifications- Supreme Court judges, Hyde amendment, immigration.. all of which sounds to me like, well, I know my choice is really bad, but hey, I can get and keep what I want at least.  Is there a more selfish act in our political toolbox than accepting and making a choice because it pleases you?

So I am taking a break from my blog and my dismay, and I will work with UCLA Extension on technical issues to telecast a class from my office here on the farm, so I can deal with these issues as I  need to do: with reason, with facts and with my unwavering demand that my students to as well.

We shall see how that plays out- and until then, happy hunting. Oh wait, I cant even say that. I have triggered some deep emotional angst about Second Amendment rights, or implicitly called on one of you to harm another human being, or some innocent animal, and for those offenses I plead, no contest.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

The Depressing Campaign

Well, just when you think it cant get any worse, it does.  So, forgive me for dispatching with my usual cheerinness, and throw a little more shade on the campaign.

There are always flaws with candidates, and we always have some dispute on policy and issues.  But I have not seen a campaign with less real debate about those major issues (we can disagree on what they are and their priority, but that too is how we do it  here) than this one.

What is Hilllary's campaign about?
What is Trump's about?

I am being generous summing them up as follows
Hillary; I am experienced, I have waited my turn, I am ready to lead, my opponent is dangerous and unfit, vote for me.
Trump: I am experienced but thankfully not in politics, Americans are being taken to the cleaners by free trade and immigrants and mostly our defective leaders, ,I know how to make deals, Hillary is worse than me, vote for me.

The third party candidates: We need something better than these two above and while I am no great leader, trust me, I am better than either of them.

Issues are really blurred and the campaign has become about personality- and the two top candidates now have unfavorability ratings in excess of 60%. Throw out the undecideds and regardless of who wins, over half of all Americans will not like, trust or support the likely next president.

How can we survive this kind of campaign, and these kinds of candidates?

Each of us has to make a choice and we do that, largely, based on our personal experience. As for me, I cannot and will not voter for any candidate who so easily lies to the American people on significant  issues of public import.  I cannot and will not vote for a candidate who is so uniformly uninformed on those same public issues and appears to believe that his judgment, sans information, is the best way to make decisions.

So, that leaves me with a choice of a third party candidate, or writing in someone that I can accept, when I go to sleep, I could trust with the fate of the world, despite my choosing the cheap electoral out.  My vote will matter only to me.

This cannot be the future of the republic. We have too many serious problems facing us as a people to take a four year pass on them. We have too much promise as a nation to sit on the sidelines of world affairs while the world burns.

And we cannot sit back and lament the situation, and let it slide.
We need a movement that addresses the fundamental disease in our politics, in our system, in ourselves.

Some days, long days, mostly alone, working here, I think back and realize just how much I miss teaching the classes to you all.  And i wonder what it was, the teaching, the generous and kind praise you gave me, that make my remembrances so delightful.

And I realize that it was not those things. Those emotions..
It was that among you all, with your life experiences, your intellect, your questions, that you were evidence of what I believe but could not prove.

That there is a body politic in this country that can disagree on issues, that can fight over them with deep passion, that can agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable, and that at the center of those disputes is a common desire to make our country and the world a better place for someone other than ourselves.

That is the movement- that is the heart of the mission.
And the motto of that mission is not "I'm with Her" or "Make America Great Again."
It is instead, the virtue which puts others first, because it often demands personal sacrifice:
"Equal Justice for All." , where justice includes social, economic, political, legal. And it demands that we make a world where every human being is freed from the shackles of ancient mores, and where the communities they grow up in are places where , ro borrow a phrase, everyone is judged by the content of their character.

And as I begin to assess the work that I have done, and the work that I have yet to do, one column seems long but empty, and the other, empty but long.

It is time for me, for us, to get to work.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why Third Parties Fail

I apologize for the interregnum between posts- I had reached Political Exhaustion, a condition caused by too much talking head discussion and  not enough substance from anyone. Plus, I have been building boat docks, sheds, cutting dead limbs, and basically doing all the work associated with getting years of work done before winter.  I can confidently assert that "it ain't a job on Palisades Park."

So, I have been thinking about the history of third parties and why for the most part they do not succeed. When I mean that, I use the caliper of electoral success, which of course is not the only measure. (More on that later.)

We have a very long and illustrious history of third party challenges to the established political class. Jeffersonian Republicanism, Jacksonian Democrats, Lincoln Republicans, the Populists,  and more recent examples, George Wallace, Ross Perot , Ralph Nader- many of whom while were not successful, did have a dramatic impact on the electoral outcome. Yet, certainly the examples from the Populists forward were unable to form a cohesive movement that lasted from election cycle to the next.

There are several reasons for this (and you all may find more).  First, some of them have really bad ideas that appeal to only  a fringe of voters. Bad ideas do not gain long term adherence and thus, while might engender support as the issue becomes important, it cannot sustain a movement.  {An example of that would be the Build the Wall movement today- which if focused on the movement of illegals into the US from the South misses the point,]

The second reason is that running for elective office is drama, theater, and the actors must be able to perform for the elective audience. And like anything, it requires practice.  Watch the candidates that are truly running from the outside and you will see what we call authentic, but what are really untrained actors.  They sound, for the most part, a little out of place.  Perot had business experience but on many non-NAFTA issues, seemed out of his element.  Trump is a seasoned actor, but his most severe deficiencies derive from his lack of fluency with policy issues.  Hillary has the fluency, but is no actor, and that is another story. Jill Stein is a doctor, as was Ben Carson. Now doctors can deal with diagnoses and treatment, but their bedside manner relating to a wide audience such as voters is often not well tuned.

The third and most significant reason that third parties fail is that their best ideas (and let's be honest, many of the best ideas come from them) are co-opted by one of the major parties.  Look at the Populist platform of 1892 and you will see the foundation of the policies of the 20th century Democratic party. Income tax, redistribution, bottom up power, use of government regulations to manage the economy- all of these saw their formal adoption under Democrat rule, as the Populists turned back to their non-political lives.

And one other issue that matters. It is a very lonely existence in politics if you have no friends  The lubricant  of politics is not money, but power.  And power comes from gaining chits among friends so that you can give what friends need and gain their favor back at the opportune time their return favor.

If you run against the Established Order, you are telling everyone you do not need their favors.  Bernie Sanders essentially ran as a third party, but once he found himself beaten, he had two choices:
continue the "movement" with lots of support but few friends, or go back to Senate where he could try to influence policy on the edges by reminding his colleagues of how successful he ALMOST was.

Trump was, is, I'm not sure, running as a third party still, which is why so many Republicans have themselves disassociated themselves from his campaign.  They want to win re-election, or keep their conservative purity (not sure again what that means exactly), or they, like Ted Cruz, just cant get over the insults. (GIve me a break Ted.)

When you hear that, think self interest.  Bernie and Ted are alike in that regard; they long for power, and when you realize you dont have it, and wont without friends and chits and promises. they have to retrench and go home and do some deep thinking.

We all long for more choices, we want honesty, but in the end, we make the choices we make because, well, we want friends too, and at least in our politicians, someone who makes us feel good.

And we know that half a pie is better than none.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

I'm not quite there yet....

Well, this week was almost, almost the week when I just threw up my hands and said to hell with it.  This campaign is the most vapid, issue-less campaign wrought with inanity and outright  lies.  Here is how I came to that conclusion:
First, I made a short  list of the 3 most significant issues facing our country (my opinion), and here they are: the inability to discuss, deliberate and agree on the major issues facing the US; two, causing us to fail to deal with the long term and short terms problems, (infrastructure failure, educational deterioration, unfunded public liabilities owed to ourselves, and three, our failure to engage in the war (in every respect) between the ideals of freedom and liberty and those of control and obedience espoused by fascist, racist, fundamentalist, and economically repressive regimes and groups.

I didn't pick problems like money in politics because I that list is a micro list of the bigger issues.  I have to look bigger.

Now, since I believe as I do that we can only seriously attack these issues when we confront them like citizens respectful of other beliefs, I find it essential that any leader I vote  for be someone who has the capacity to earn the respect of more than a simple majority of the citizens of this country. And an essential element of earning that respect is the capacity to be believed and trusted.

Hence my dilemma.
I do not, and cannot trust either Donald Trump (who continues to make statements that are either intentionally dishonest or incredibly uninformed), and Hillary Clinton (who has set the standards for trustfulness so low that she thinks not being charged with a crime a badge of honor.)

And Bernie Sanders fades into the sunset (retiring perhaps to his third home to write his memoirs of the "movement' he started), the pundit class begins their rancid clamor that a vote for third party x is a wasted vote.

Well, that's where I nearly threw up my hands and asked myself what the hell?

Despite all the problems we face and the promise of a making us better, this election has come down to whether a habitual liar can convince a majority of voters that her opponent is a dangerous kook.

But for me to do that, would be to become what I have beheld. I can't stand in front of you and teach and preach that you can make a difference, and then quit on that idea.

So I am going to keep doing what I do; I am  going to search out the best candidate that I can trust. I will not find any candidate that agrees with me on every issue, but I want one who I can trust to listen, to think independently, to protect the ideals we profess to believe in, and to tell me the trust, every time they speak.

And if that is a wasted vote, if casting that vote helps elect one of those candidates for which I cannot vote, so be it. At least I will not be complicit in further corrupting a system that, in forsaking its ideals, has sunk to accepting the lesser of two evils


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Two more reforms

Now that we have started down this path, why not go whole hog? (A rural bbq reference meant to evoke the cooking of substantially more than a single cutlet).

1. Within one hour of any vote on any bill or any amendment, each Member of Congress (add to this state legislators, city councilpersons, school board members if you want) shall announce in writing their vote (or failure to vote) and their reasons for such vote, which shall be made immediately available to the public.

No more hiding. If they dont vote, they must tell us why. If they vote no because the amendment is attached to a bill they oppose, tell us upfront, not months or years later in a campaign.  There should be no votes that cannot be explained and this will at least ostensibly require every elected official to tell us not just how but why they voted they way they did.

2. Every 10 years, the states shall elect delegates to a National Constitutional Convention, which shall meet for no more than 10 days, at which time, the delegates may propose and vote on, any such amendments to the US Constitution as such Convention determines, and such proposals gaining sufficient support, shall be then considered by every state legislature for approval or rejection within 6 months. Only such Amendments as are approved by the required number of legislatures shall become part of the US Constitution.

For those of you who want a living Constitution, here it is. You, not the Supreme Court, get to make it live. And yes, I expect many of you to be aghast about trusting the mob with this process. But tell me why this is bad- tell me you dont trust the People, yet you want to be able to change the old document.

Have at it.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Platform for Reform

Fellow Political Junkies,
 I apologize for my extended absence. I could excuse that, telling you just how awfully busy I have been, which, while true, would nonetheless be a lie. I have not written during the two conventions because I am depressed.  I am depressed (politically, not clinically- though I will keep you posted as my symptoms develop) because as an cynical optimist, I believe we have such a paucity of acceptable choices for our next president that we are collectively bound to the least worst choice. (Apologies to both Clinton and Trump supporters, and no intended rebuke on your own views.)

Let me explain.
There is no doubt that our government has grown, and will continue to grow, as people demand it do more.  We can debate that, and how we get to where we want to go, but in many respects, even as Pres. Reagan declared that "government is the problem" and President Bill Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over", in many respects they are both right, and both wrong.

And public trust in government, which is an absolute essential to a functioning democracy, is at historical lows.  If this continues, we will not stand as a nation.

So, instead of drawing the blinds and pulling the covers over my head, what I intend to try to do is offer a series of reforms that would, if implemented, begin to  turn back that public doubt, and while messy, would  I believe, begin to reconnect the people with the decisions made for and in our names.

So, here is my first set of reforms

The next president will by executive order, open up the internal process of decision-making to the people.
 `1. Presidential Question Time: Each week, the President will appear before a joint session of Congress to answer questions from them. The questions shall be no longer than 30 seconds, and any questioner taking longer will be bleeped/horned (of maybe one of you can come up with a unique sound like the clang from Law and Order), that cuts them off. No speeches, just questions and answers. We will see pretty quickly these politicians are no smarter than any of us.

2. Each meeting with any lobbyist and any member of Congress, or staff, or the Administration, shall be recorded, transcribed and made public within 12 hours of said meeting. No secret deals, the public needs to know

3. Freedom of the press is the ballast that should keep our leaders honest.  Every interview with any member of Congress or any candidate, and with every member of the Administration, shall be fully recorded and made available online within 1 hour of said interview appearing in any public format.  We get compare what is made available and what is edited out.  And, the editorial meetings of all news organizations shall be recorded, and transcribed and made available within in 24 hours of said meeting.

4. The oral arguments and open hearings of the Supreme Court shall be broadcast live. (The Court shall have full authority by its own rules to sanction any lawyer using that opportunity to make an ass of him-herself.)

5. All organizations and persons lobbying to any member of Congress or the Administration shall announce any and all such meetings with complete information as to who, what ,when, where and why.

Now, that's just a start of the chaos. You can find a million reasons that they wont work- go ahead and tear them apart, and offer improvements. Keep on topic, I will be adding more ideas in the blog posts ahead.  Keep your powder dry until we hit some of them, like money, access, initiatives etc.

Now imagine this: a candidate who puts a list of reforms together that sound even remotely like this.

And the sunshine peeks out from behind even the darkest cloud.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Republican "unConvention"

We do not know what to expect from the Republican convention this week, either from the party adherents or from the Trump Rump which appears to have beaten back the Never Trump forces.
The ticket is set, the platform, which is a poor fit for the head of the ticket and likely will be ignored, are set.  What remains to be seen is the spectacle, the pageantry, the art of the deal.  Will Trump turn the normally staid, (and frankly boring) convention week into Must See TV.?

And will the events that appear to be increasing in speed, in deadly violence, in chaotic uncertainty tell an entirely new tale?  What happens if there is an attack in Cleveland? Will the law and order rhetoric, (remember Nixon, 1968) split some Dems away from Hillary, and keep independents, who seem reluctant to support either ticket wholeheartedly, holding their noses as they pull the lever for Trump.

We cannot answer any of these questions now. But based on the campaign so far, there are going to be surprises, and it may not be the candidate who responds with traditional political skills that wins the day. In fact, there is a growing divide among Americans as to just what skills are really needed to be President.

And it is this, what would you call it, evolution or devolution, that confounds the national media. None of their past tropes are making sense and they  wonder what is going on.  Blacks shot filmed as we watch, police intentionally targeted for murder, ISIS inspired attacks mount even as the President and Vice President tells us they are in their death throes, losing land and territory that made them caliphate-like.  The institutions of America facing deep doubt by many Americans that see what they see, and react.

And one wonders if we are facing new and old problems, with ineffective, or worse, dangerous solutions. People want answers, but would settle for things that work. In this election we may get neither.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Rage, Race and a Remembering 1968

The current political landscape across much of America is beginning to remind me of the summer of 1968.

During that most tumultuous year, sitting President Lyndon Johnson, scarred by the war in Vietnam, withdrew from the race.  In jumped Robert Kennedy, but by July in Los Angeles, his assassination cut short that dream. VP Humphrey had not won a single primary, and was hugely unpopular among the anti-war Democrats. In Chicago, all sorts of protests came together in Mayor Daley's town, and we watched in stunned disbelief as tear gas from the streets wafted onto the floor of the Democrat Party Convention.

Republican Richard Nixon, (who some would call the most experienced candidate in history) who had only 6 years earlier suffered ignominious defeat in the California governor race, was back. He would wage a campaign designed to break the one-party south from the Democrat nominee by appealing to law and order, supporting police, and identifying the "other" as unAmerican  and  dangerous to the rest of us.

That election would turn out to be razor close, but it was, to be sure, a campaign of anger, of despair, of votes cast for the least worst by many.  Neither candidate was very popular, and the country was largely at odds with their elected leaders.  People did not trust their government.

Now, flash forward to today.  The issue of race in the context of equal justice, particularly but not exclusively, criminal justice, is becoming a huge issue. But that knife cuts both ways.  Black Lives Matters might speak for many African Americans, but there is a large group that opposes them.  The divide over the problem is huge, but over the solution seems insurmountable.

We will see more problems, and as votes begin to assess the ability of each of the candidates to handle the issue, to address the mood of the county, we will also see if either major candidate, or any third party candidate, can assuage the fears and anger of Americans.

Events are beginning to unravel the fabric of the electorate, and this remains a very volatile, very uncertain election.


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Is the email trouble over?

This week saw FBI Director Comey issue the results of their investigation. That, in itself, was unusual.  The spectacle of the Director making the open public statement regarding their conclusions, if they had in fact indicted Hillary, would have been hugely prejudicial to her ability to get a fair trial.

In any event, if you watched the presser, Comey, laid out all of the many things that Hillary and her staff did to jeopardize national security. (his language, not mine.) But then, he indicated that based on context, no reasonable prosecutor  would bring a case against  her, lacking intent to ..

Well there is the rub. Intent to do what?  Intent to deliver secrets to the enemy? No, this was not an espionage investigation. Intent to mishandle classified information. Well, there was no doubt that she set up a home server, a server that  Comey stated was less secure than your Gmail account.

The issue of intent is the crux of Comey's decision. But it is also a mischaracterization of the statute. The law is broken by reckless mishandling- Comey said she was extremely careless.  Is extremely careless, reckless? Let's parse some more words.

What seems clear is that Comey did not want to be the decider of history.  But ,the web once tangled weaves a very tight web.  Hillay  testified under oath, and she said that she did not use more than one device, that there were no classified documents, that her lawyers looked at every email and sent every work-related email to the State Department. And of course, the House Committee is now asking for a criminal referral for perjury.

No one knows where this may lead, and as far as the election is concerned, it most likely will not create an image problem for her- he  bad numbers are baked in.  But this race looks ever more likely like a race to the very, very bottom.  Who do the majority of disengaged, frustrated voters NOT want to be President more.

And my prediction of neither Hillary and Trump now seems like naive wishful thinking.

Unless, the screw turns yet again. And given the bizarrro world we all have entered, that may be a very good bet.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The 4th of July-- my country, right and wrong.

The single biggest mistake we make as Americans is setting up our political arguments as games, games where there is a winner and a loser.   Now, we know that's how elections work, but campaigns and governing are not the same.  In campaigns, because none of have the wisdom (or perhaps cynicism) of Solomon, we must pick a winner and a loser.  Vote counts matter.

But in governing, vote counts should be forgotten.   Who can say who as a mandate, unless you reach into the minds of every voter and sort it out.  So, in governing, what must occur is a process of prioritizing first what are the problems (Identification), and then discussing the possible solutions (Engagement) and then, discerning how the solutions proposed work or dont work, and the consequences, real and unintended, play out (Compromise), and then, putting those solutions to work. (Implementation).

In this country, though, we have another step, one that is often  lost. That is Assessment. We have a duty and long history, of re-examining our collective policies.  And our mistakes.  Find me another country so open about our past mistakes, our past wrong, our past atrocities.  We may recoil from our study of Native American genocide, our horrid tradition of slavery, our discrimination of women, early immigrants, Japanese-Americans, and the current rhetoric about Muslims, but in each of those areas, there has developed a deep and rich field of history that does that each and every day.

We are unified as Americans not because we are the best, but because we have a open process where we can, and are expected to dissent and to criticize the worst behavior among us.  The freedoms we have are not inevitable, and always came at the expense of someone or some group.  And they are themselves writ across the discrimination of many.

So today, I will celebrate the fourth, not because we declared our freedom, but because the fourth came only after the  war had begun, and after the Revolutionary Americans had come to understand that only by becoming something new and apart from the English royal system could they begin to achieve their dreams.  Begin.  Not end.

The fourth was the signal moment when we realized that the fight was ours and would be long, deadly and permanent.

Perhaps we have lost that, but I remain optimistic.  I am a historian, not because I want to celebrate our victories, but because I have an obligation to remind us of our failures, of our faults.

I never learned anything worth remembering from my successes; but I've never forgotten anything I've ever learned from my failures.
Happy Fourth y'all and God (in any manifestation you chose to believe or not believe in) bless American, right and wrong.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Democrat Minority Report and Republican Majority report- Benghazi

An assignment before voting.

I will only make one comment about this so I don't influence any of you adversely.

If the election is about character, then past history of actions under pressure matter.  What does it matter, after all this time, if a public official intentionally lied to the American people about a serious foreign policy failure that resulted in the deaths of four Americans?

You decide.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The next Brexit.

Long story short.  The pollsters, the elites, the all-knowing miss it again.  Britain's vote to exit the European Union sent shock through the markets (do not fret, they always overreact, up and down, to events), but more importantly, through England and Europe. The American pundits (and the Administration) pointed to xenophobia as the root evil that led the unwashed classes to vote Leave. But on the ground, a different story unfolded.

To be sure, rising anxiety over the impact of EU immigration policy played a role.  But it was no blind xenophobia. Instead, it was a growing realization (or belief, if you will) that the type of power the EU exercised over national immigration policy was not in England's best interest.  The Paris and German attacks (and surely those in the US) made the wide welcome of refugees from the Middle and Near East seem irrational.  All the calls for humane treatment seem shallow when you are washing the blood off the sidewalk.

Now, dont misunderstand.  There is racism. there is xenophobia.  What our President has consistently done is emphasize the worst element of our polity as THE reason for an event; he does this, clearly, to achieve some political advantage. But the truth is much more nuanced.  Many voters in England simply did not understand why bureaucrats in the EU should be telling them how to manage their own policy. On this any many other issues, people feel disengaged from the decision-makers.  That is the seed of populist revolt. We want to make our own decisions. We despise the powerful (leaders, bankers, lobbyists, fill in your own blanks) who take our inherent right to decide for ourselves.

Now, underlying this overall motivation and angst (which is easily turned to anger), is certainly some racism, some xenophobia.  What we need to do is to separate those motivations, or at a minimum, not combine them into one indistinguishable lump.

For example, the current gun debate.  We can all agree that the sheer numbers of gun deaths in the US is a national failure.  We all want a solution. But when we conflate the problem without clearly and intelligently separating the causes, we end up with solutions that fail.

Ban all guns is not a solution, unless you ignore the fact that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns.  With over 300 million existing guns in the US, a ban without a massive government confiscation would be useless. So we focus on gun background checks.  Yet, as evidence for the effectiveness of those checks, we end up looking at numerous cases of mass murder where the assailants either passed checks, or would have.  Tell me how you predict violent criminal behavior of mentally ill individuals (which we can nearly unanimously agree seems like a good idea), and I will tell you you have solved the problem of humanity.  Was the Orlando shooter on a terror watch list?  No, but it appears he should have been. Which leads us to ask why he wasn't.  How can we expect putting teeth into a terror watch list stop mass shootings, if we cannot even vet those budding terrorists with long and clear ties to the seeds of hate?

And why do we focus on mass shootings, when the vast, vast majority of gun deaths in this country are not the headline gleaning mass killings?  The mass killings are a misdirection.  The solutions are never easy, and when we jump to them, (oh I have heard the arguments that if the law prevents one killing it will be worth it), what we end up with is fake solution. And that leads us away from a real and deep consideration of the problem, as we go onto another problem.

The  world appears on the verge of a populist uprising, where the people have the power to direct their leaders in ways not seen for decades.  Ask yourself, are we ready to lead ourselves? Are we ready to accept that deep and difficult responsibility to think problems through, to listen to each other fairly for solutions that work, and to make policies that get at the root problems, and then follow them up each day to insure they work?  If we are not, if we do not have that public commitment, the populism we may get may be the most dangerous thing we can do?

On the other hand, how much worse can it get leaving the power where it currently lies.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A little more.

What can you do to change the system? This is the question students always ask me, after I instruct them that it is their duty, their responsibility to act, and not simply complain.

Well, these are the times that try men's *and women's souls.  The candidates are generally lackluster, the issues ignored, our country's problems increase and the divide appears to grow wider each day.
And the process seems broken.

Not broken as in, well, a little axle grease will fix this, but broken, as in, there is nothing we can do to fix this and we ought to just throw it out and start over, except there are powerful forces that make that impossible, broken.

So, we are told that if the two choices are unacceptable, we must hold our nose and vote for one  or the other, because to do otherwise elects the least acceptable choice.  And the issues are sooooo important.

So we continue to get bad candidates, vapid debate and no solutions.

Maybe it is time to use the most powerful tool at our disposal (and no, it is not our vote), to force popular change.

Think back to the civil rights movement.  Many of them had no vote, at least no effective vote.  And they were excluded, minimized, and ignored.

Until they marched, stopped the levers of the southern economy, and made the media pay attention.

The levers of power are not in Congress, not in Washington.  They are in the streets, in the cafes, in the corporate boardrooms of this country. In the press and the media

When was the last time a major public movement, led by ordinary people, shut down the news. Shut down the businesses, shut down the streets, not for a day, or a few hours, but for the long haul

You want change, follow the money. You want to stop special interest PACs, shut down the entrances to every business that supports them.  Stop the media from publishing. Follow every Congressman to their cars, to their homes, give them no escape from their inaction.

Take to  the streets, in massive numbers (if there are not enough of you, recruit more, if there are stilll not enough, maybe there really is no movement), and be willing to go to jail, for peaceful protest against a system that needs you to change it.

No long term change in our history every came down from the top; the top sits there satisfied until it feels its foundations shaking.  Then fearful it may lose its place, it acts.

Your vote this fall will make no difference at all.  It matters so little today who you elect. Trump or Clinton, pick your poison.

You want change, organize your friends and neighbors, from across the country, and pick your spots to disrupt the comfortable and make them squirm.

Now, that, my friends, it what I believe.  From the heartland, the foundation of 1890s Bryanism and Populism, the heart of 1839s Milo Reno agricultural revolt, the place the coast fly-over and ignore, and the place that knows that, sometimes, there are ideas and ideals worth fighting for.

You can accept your lot, or you can fight the status quo, but you cannot count on your vote to make the difference.  Those days are gone, not because the vote is irrelevant, but because your choices have become indistinguishable, like the paint swatches on the display at Home Depot. How much browner is Sumatra  Blend than Deep Walnut?

And the toughest aspect is just how hard this is.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The long interregnum.

 So, we enter a period of political lull, after the primary/caucus period and before the party conventions.  Normally, the parties coalesce, the major issues become clear, the nominees vet VP candidates, and get ready for the fall, organizing, strategizing, raising money, and giving policy speeches intended to move them back to the center of the political spectrum from which they strayed to win their respective nominations.

This is no ordinary year.

Clinton has done more of that than Trump, but she is not positioning herself quite as rapidly as history would expect. She still has a substantial number of Sanders supporters who have not and do no appear likely to follow in lockstep.  She moved on the "radical Islamic terrorist" language, but on other issues, she stays frozen in the primary dilemma.  Is she really vetting Senator E. Warren as her VP choice? Is that the way she wins over the Sanders crowd?  What would two women on one ticket do to improve, or hurt her chances?

And Trump, who proved himself capable of "behaving" with establishment Republicans for about 10 days, now is back to insulting the leaders of his own party. Cruz and Bush (and who else, who knows) might be working behind the scenes to win the nomination, provided the Republican convention rules were changed to "let delegates vote their conscience" as Paul Ryan suggests of his own caucus.  How can that be the rules for the elites and not the common masses?

The Democrats are raising money, and the Clinton machine has kicked into full mode.  Remember the way Bill raised funds, from every source, including the Chinese.  Is the FEC even up to monitoring campaigns that raise hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars?

Trump refuses to release his income taxes, Hillary contends the email/Clinton Foundation investigation are "no problem" and the voters lay in uneasy repose, waiting for a campaign that might be the most divisive, least informative in history.

What gives?  Are the events of this campaign an aberration or do they portend the kind of politics that will be the norm?

As America waits on answers to deep and resilient problems we face in our society, our economy, in our future both domestic and foreign, the campaign of 2016 hangs like an albatross around our collective and uneasy necks.

This will start soon enough, and the interregnum we are currently in, feels like the muggy heat of summer, when the winds die down and the boat waits for the waves.

And we hope they will not swamp us in their anger and fury.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Buzzing of ....

This Sunday morning, I walked outside, early, to let my two Boston terriers do their business. I thought myself still groggy, as the two huge Linden trees that loom like sentinels in front of the house, whispered in the humid stillness.  What was that noise? Wind through the powerlines? Some distant motor humming uncontested?  Then I noticed the ground, covered with layers of pollen (and a hole, where a pesky gopher has determined to disturb my renewed flowerbed), on the walk. And looking up into the Lindens, past the rich, thick layers of branches and leaves, there it was. Hundreds (and I speaking modestly, there were likely thousands) of buzzing bees, busy at work, spreading the life blood of plants.  At first fearful (would they attack me, like some alien in Independence Day II), I watched them. I was but  a spot, a fleck on their world.  They were in charge, and the noise that spilled out into the world, my world, became a wonder.

Events matter.  This week, and last, we have seen Trump attack a sitting judge in a civil case that in the larger scheme of things seems unimportant. We have seen the slow trickle of Freedom of Information emails from Hilary's server, including at least one specifically and clearly marked "C"- confidential, destroying  her central claim about sending or receiving confidential secrets.  And last night, we saw the mass murder in Orlando, at the gay nightclub Pulse, where a person with "Islamic tendencies" (whatever that means), took his hatred and murder out on Americans. On American soil.

The larger point is being missed.  Americans are not dolts, despite what the parties and their sycophantic advisers profess.  Across this country people feel uneasy, their reality at odds with the imagined commercials of the politicians trying to make us believe what we know not true.

And the heroes pass by us, gone from the scene, as if they never were.  Muhammad Ali bragged and boasted his way into the ring, then took care of business. But when he was called on to put up or shut up, to follow his views about Vietnam, he did exactly that.  Disagreement with his views is an American right, but aren't we tired of the people who are all hat and no cattle. (Yes, a western, cattle-raising metaphor).   And Gordie Howe, who played immaculate, rough hewn hockey into his fifties (in part so he could skate with his own kids), lived his life after sport, like Ali, in simple, direct, uncomplicated honesty.

The reason we celebrate these heroes is not because they they are so great, so unusual, but because they remind us all of what we believe we once were, of what we want to become.

American ideals didn't make them, those two, and untold numbers of other men and women, laboring simply in their own pollen, buzzing endlessly on. American ideals didn't make them, they made those ideals.

Events matter, and in the buzzing that surprises us, a new awakening is due. Long past due.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The field is set, now what?

So, it will be Clinton v Trump for the title of next President.  What many had long speculated (at least since Indiana for the Republicans) the two candidates are set.  Gary Johnson has the Libertarian nomination and is polling 10-12%, which is high for any third party, but at this stage, is more a reflection of the deep dissatisfaction by many voters with both major party candidates.

And the coalescing has begun.  Republicans who vowed never to support Trump come on board, calculating that his win would be better for them than a Democratic president.  Anguished Dems, worried about the increasing likelihood that top secret documents on Hillary's server have been compromised (that has not been confirmed yet, but the evidence is pointing very strongly that way) are simply ignoring that issue. Just as many Republicans dismiss even Trump's obviously racist rant against the judge handling his civil Trump U trial,  you will see poll numbers of Dems asked if they would support Hillary even if indicted increase.

But you will also see, I predict, an increasing number of Americans declare themselves independent and unhappy with both candidates. What they will focus on is 1. the economy, 2. events that affect their lives, and 3. state-focused issues, meaning, issues that play different in different states.

The real question for the candidates is how do they attract (or keep the other candidate from attracting) these voters.

And who are these people? Are they young people, followers of Sanders who cant quite accept Hillary as their choice? Will they be strong-defense conservatives, doubtful that Trump is the pro-life guy he claims to be, and fearful he will not defend American interests abroad?

Yes, and there is more.  They will be steelworkers who have seen their industry decline, who are not appeased by promises of retraining at community college. They will be children of immigrants who migrated around the fence, but find themselves in this country as legal as any first born, who dispute the characterization Trump portrays, but also want a good job, and a future.

They will be middle class workers, stung by the third year of double-digit premium increases under The Affordable Care Act, where the average deductible is $3500 per person, and the co-pays run to $30, with premiums that bring the total cost before any non-essential treatment to an average for a single person of $6000.

In the end, you will see the issues move closer to the one that elected William Jefferson Clinton: its the economy stupid.
And on that issue will the campaign, in a few select states, where the hard core R and D are evenly divided, be won or lost.  Remember the fall of 2008? How people feel about the past, and the future, and who they trust to help them do better will be the key of of this campaign.

Unless, of course, there is a  Trump meltdown. Or a Hillary indictment. And neither of those, despite what you may have heard, or currently believe, are both realistic possibilities.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

California or Bust

Sorry for the delay- I had to travel to DC to run the annual SEC Historical Society meeting, where we interviewed Richard Breeden, SEC Chairman under George H W Bush, and point man for the fix of the Savings and Loan Crisis. See his interview and the work on the upcoming gallery in the virtual museum at:

  So the California primary approaches Tuesday.  The number of registered voters has hit an all time high, and the turnout looks to  break records.  What does this mean?

Well, it depends, of course, on who those new registrants are.  How many people have already voted? Is the surge by Sanders shown in recent polls enough to overcome the strong campaign ground effort by Hillary?

I expect the vote to be very close, but does it really matter? It is highly likely that Hillary will have garnered (along with her committed super-delegates) enough votes to secure the nomination.  So, what would a Sanders win in California mean?

Surely the story would be HILLARY WINS, versus BERNIE TAKES CALIFORNIA.  But if Sanders does take California, and by a margin of more than 4 points, he has a strong case to make that his campaign has evoked more excitement than Hillary's campaign. His ideas have motivated many new and old voters, and he appears to be , for independent voters, much more appealing than Hillary.

Yet, she trudges on.  Hillary, barring one of those "events" we have talked about, will be the Democratic nominee.  And she will then have to figure out how to bridge the gap between her and Bernie, and win over his supporters, who have expressed very tepid support for her if she wins.

And what's more, the fall campaign has begun. Hillary denounced Trump in a scripted foreign policy speech and in that, we saw the seeds of her strategy.  She wants to paint the Republican nominee as dangerous, inexperienced, unsuitable intellectually, mentally and emotionally to be in charge of the US military.  She is counting on her foreign policy experience as a way to cut some national security Republicans and independents away and to her column.

The problem with that strategy, despite its underlying validity, is that her experience led her to vote for Iraq II, to the debacle in Libya, to the failed Russian reset, and to the engagement with Iran that so many disagree with. Dont vote for the ignorant, vote for the incompetent is not much of a campaign slogan.

What will happen to the primary trend of bigger and record turnout, in the general election if the campaign is so relentlessly negative it turns every one off.'

Let/s watch California, and the other states on Tuesday, and then reassess. This campaign portends to be a continuing "experience."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Is Cash King? A short discussion about money in this campaign.

For years, reformers have decried the growing amount, and nefarious source of money in campaign. While Citizens United is the focus of most anger, it really was the Buckley Valeo (1976) case that protected campaign spending (so long as it was not tied to quid pro quo corruption) as free speech.

But this campaign is openly challenging the commonly accepted assumption that money talks.  The Republican nominee (not yet but typing presumptive each time is just silly at this point) has spent far less money in the primary to gain  the nomination and many of long-vanquished foes.  Hillary has spent freely, but Bernie has been able (at least until recently) compete with her without the use of PACS and bundlers.  His small, but numerous contributions, belie the concerns about millionaires buying  elections.

Democrats expect to spend over $1 billion in the fall election. Let me gently remind you that until 2008, the general elections were limited by the acceptance of the Presidential checkoff funds. It was candidate Obama, who reneged on his pledge to limit funds, once he realized that he had a chance to win nomination, but not without spending very large amounts of money.  No serious candidate today would handicap their campaign by accepting those funds with those limits.

But will this campaign turn those truisms on their head? Will the celebrity of Trump, which earns him literally hundreds of millions of dollars in free coverage, overwhelm the PAC spending? Is there a diminishing return on spending on negative campaigns?  At some point, does reliance on the Koch brothers or Tom Steyer become a disadvantage?

If there is such a year, this might be it. With the exception of spending to Get Out The Vote, gas for drivers, calls, and on the ground knock on the door work of volunteers, is traditional advertising transforming into a very different kind of fungible good, overwhelmed by non-traditional sources of media impact?

Which leads to the real question, for 2014 and beyond.  When will the ticket of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie appear on the ballots of Americans?

I just witnessed the AP announce that Trump had secured the delegates sufficient to become the Republican nominee. And Hillary, once again exposed by the State Department IG report to have repeatedly lied about her private server and email practices, is facing a very strong challenge by Bernie in California.  You all are actually relevant again.  Miracles do happen.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Knowing the known unknown.

Apologies to Donald Rumsfeld (does that make us even), but this campaign, certainly the coverage of  it, has now turned on its head for the umpteenth time.  A short  few weeks ago, when Cruz was riding high, the narrative was that the Republicans faced a convention fight that  would make Chicago 1968 look like a Girl Scout meeting. But Trump swept and Cruz faded and then the most remarkable thing began to happen.  Republicans, who for the better part of a year were repulsed by Trump began to come around. Voters who had favored one of the 18 or so former candidates begin to assert that, well, Trump might be a dolt but he could be the one to win the election. The most recent polling showed that over 80% of Republicans would support Trump in a general election. That is higher than those who said they would support Romney at the same time four years ago.

So, what is going on? Well, let's remember that polls are but snapshots of a general feeling at the time the questions are asked.  So, as far as being predictive, do not put too much faith in them at this point. What is probably happening is that voters in general are facing a binary choice.  Trump or Hillary (you can use Bernie if you want, the choice for Republicans is still binary). And they dont want either Hillary or Bernie.  So, the majority has moved on to Trump.

What happens over  the next few months is what matters.  And it is hard to see any issues that might move a large enough collection of voters from one candidate to another that is not already in the equation.  What that means is that the campaign may not be about traditonal issues, and may be more volatile, more subject to effect by events, than past campaigns.  Economic upheaval, terror attacks, events that we cannot yet imagine, and how the candidates respond to them will be vitally important. Will the voters like the shoot from the hip Trump, or the careful, calibrated Hillary?  

And the electorate is not happy.  There is both palpable anger, and an undercurrent of unease. And the majority of voters are not yet  engaged, though there is indication that they are paying more attention than in prior elections at this stage.

Will money used in the traditional way, to undercut, define down and disparage the opponent work?  With the negatives of both leading candidates so high, how much worse can we voters think of them? And if individual issues are not key, what good will issue ads do? If this is a campaign based on who we trust more, well, that might be no better than  a coin flip.

The primary season grinds closer to finality, but this general election portends to be a very interesting one.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Turning to the general

Good morning class,
 Please allow me a short moment of personal reflection.  I was thinking the other day (yes that does still happen) about how this journey of mine which brought me back to the farm in Nebraska has opened my eyes up to a broader perspective of what Americans face each day.  I get  up, as I always did, very early and make my coffee, and read the news on my phone.  I read the NY Times, the regional news, the two major papers in Nebraska, and various political sites.  But now, when I read the times, I envision myself back in LA, recalling the places I saw, the roads I traveled, the people I met.

That has meant that I can never think of LA, or anyplace, for that matter, without putting it in the context of the people that live there.  As Americans, we all have some similar interests, but we also have local interests, views and problems that are distinct and different from other citizens elsewhere.  The last two weeks here have been rainy, and this weekend we approached a late frost. And the neighbors worried about the damage to the crops that had already emerged.  Agriculture is king here, and weather is its master.  We dont sweat traffic and mass transit much.

But that does not mean that we should think that those who do worry about how to get to work, about the cost of building faster and more convenient and sustainable ways to move  people in huge urban areas are wasting our time.  What I am seeing more and more is that while we are a big country, we have very different issues that effect us in very different ways.

What we need to understand is this: we have a very large, and very diverse country. It spans a continent, and is unique in its political complexity because it provides a means to address those broad and narrow issues. There are times for a national solution and there are times for local ones, and that has been, and remains, the essential value and conundrum of federalism.  Take, for example, the current controversy over transgender bathrooms.  We have national values intended to promote fairness and end discrimination for all our citizens; but we also worry and wonder about protecting the privacy of citizens in public places.  The battle (for the most part, despite what the media has depicted) is not about Caitlyn Jenner; it is about which solution we choose for our students at Emoryville Elementary in rural Kansas.

Onto the election:
Is is not yet over, but the Republican establishment (anyone holding elective office for more than 12 months or anyone who thinks Trump ought to hold more conservative views) has swallowed hard and decided, well, maybe we can work with Trump if Hillary is the other choice.  Hillary is still facing Bernie, and he is still winning primaries, which does not really hurt her chances because she still is winning super delegates.

But the fact that she is losing elections, after nearly everyone knows she will be the nominee (absent a criminal referral or indictment on her mishandling of secret government documents), is troubling. Many Republicans think Trump ill-suited to be President, but it  seems that just as many Democrats prefer someone other than Hillary.  This looks like an election which may turn on getting people who have never voted or people who couldn't care less about character to vote.

What might be different now is that Hillary is living in 1999, where she thinks Former President Clinton is an asset.  For those who like him, it is likely that they already like Hillary.  Yesterday, she used him by indicating he will be THE jobs engine in the election. She believes that Bill is that because of his record in the 1990s, (remember the boom... ignore the bust), but how many of the voters looking at Bill on the stump are reminded of that?  And can her campaign accuse Trump of his ill-treatment of women with Bill on the stump,

And is Trump really Teflon?  The real questions are this: which of the two will win more of their bases, and which of the two will attract more new voters?  Romney and Obama each won a very high percentage of their party's voters, but Romney failed to bring in many new voters.  Trump is having a hard time right now with his base (and Hillary faces issues with Bernie supporters), but it is Trump that brings more new voters to the table.  This may be THE election where an intelligent VP pick actually helps with one of those two issues.

Well, enough for today. The first purple iris of the season is blooming (my Mom's favorite) and I have work to do.
Stay faithful my friends, to the ideals Americans affirm, and fight for the solutions that make them real.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Will this election break all the rules?

As each party approaches the final, full and complete nomination of their respective candidates, the discussion turns to the general election.  You have seen the electoral maps- mostly blue and some red, and a few states still in play.  But those maps are based on history, on the way voters in past elections have voted and are expected to vote this fall.

Why do the pundits, who have missed the story this election cycle, continue to focus on the past?  What are seeing is the problem with history. We never conclude it is changing in the middle of that change.  In other words, Bernie Sanders tapped into a feeling that the media missed because the media had its blinders on. The media dismissed Trump because they considered him a fool a clown, a character, instead of a serious challenger to both the Republican status quo.  They are not capable of thinking outside of the box  because the box is all they have known and they are essentially cowards to history.  They risk being dismissed themselves as unserious journalists if they write about events that do not fit a template of the past.

But this election may be different.  Did anyone truly think that the 1856 election signaled the end of the Whig Party, and the rise of the Republican that would dominate American politics for until 1932?
Did the nomination of Reagan foretell a new ethos of limited government, of the kind of ethos that Goldwater, dismissed as a kook, espoused in 1964?

Beware of the media tropes.  They are usually behind the curve.  Trump is being told to run a traditional campaign- to follow the traditions.  To get in line.  He is not likely to do that.  He knows by now that he has been able to bring many new voters to his cause.  Despite the wide opposition to him inside the Republican Party, and 16 opponents, he has earned more votes than any previous nominee in history.  That must mean that there are either an awful lot of Republicans who weren't voting for traditional candidates before, or that he has wide cross-over appeal.

Hillary and Bill (we should join them for this election, since they will be working as a team) also kow what works.  Hillary will talk policy, gin up her base, try to look and sound presidential, and have her multitude of surrogates and PACs do her dirty work.  This is how the Clinton's have run every election they won; this is how they will run this one.

The problem for Hillary is that this may be one of those cycles where, like the media, the experts and advisers miss the changes occurring before their eyes. Why didn't any of Trumps "gaffes" in the primary doom him? Why can a candidate with historical negatives remain competitive in almost every current poll. Is it just possible that voters may indeed not care if they like the candidate, that they have grown tired of electing candidates they like that do not accomplish anything?  Is is possible that their dislike of Trump, for example, is not about policy but is about personality, and that this cycle, personality doesnt much matter because the voters have seen that personality doesn't win arguments or put more money in their paychecks?

Keep your eye on the shifting media, as they get results they do not think possible and try to explain them.  It is not racism, it is not xenophobia, it is not gender bias that motivates MOST voters. The media focus on these issues hides the single  most important issue in nearly every election (absent a major foreign policy event)., and that is the economy.  Who do the voters think more capable of improving jobs, of improving wages, of making more families better off, and which approach to they think works best? That is the issue on which the election will be fought, and it will be fought, not on a national, but on a state by state (and partially regional) level.  The candidate who wins that argument wins the election. Hillary has lost West Virginia, probably Kentucky and hurt herself in Southern Ohio due to her honest (but improvident) comments about killing coal jobs.

Pay attention and read local papers online- the NY Times, LA Times and USA Today are not the only papers that do good reporting


Sunday, May 08, 2016

on a personal note

This weekend, May 7 would have been my Mom's 95th birthday.. I got up and did the kind of work she loved, mowing, planting 500 trees and shrubs along the Missouri River. I had the wonderful experience, thanks to the kindness of a member of the campaign class, of planting several packets of California poppies in the evergreen thicket at the end of the yards as heavy thunder clashed above me in the clouds.

For those of you who wonder about those things,I  am fine, getting much done and missing my classes and my students.  Keep the faith that all things may come around again someday, but until then, read on, and continue to engage with your friends and neighbors about the important issues we all face.


Things that we know, we know, and so on

What nearly everyone thought impossible has come true. Donald Trunp will be the Republican nominee for President.   Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are still fighting, but absent some DOJ action, she will be the Democratic nominee.

And the primary election quickly turns to the general election, which is very different than the season we are in.  The uncertainty of this season is adding anxiety to the respective campaigns.  Paul  Ryan, Speaker of the House and former VP candidate, tells us he is not yet ready to support Trump, likely because Ryan believes in certain budgetary principles that Trump has so far not adopted.  Former Presidents Bush I and II refuse to get involved. Yet, those same establishment Republicans tells Trump it is his duty to bring the party together.

What we may see this fall is a broadening, rearranging and realignment of the political table unlike any in modern history.  Trump may be able to pick up Sanders supporters, and Clinton may pick up establishment Republicans unable to support Trump. What's more, there may be millions of voters voting for the first time, or swapping party allegiances.

So, right now,  what we will see is each side using a blitz of ads to define the opposing candidate even before the convention.  Trump likely will have to shift from self-funding to the use of PACS and Hillary will excoriate him for that, despite the fact that she has collected more money from them than any candidate in history.

What will the issues be is far from certain.  But it is safe to say that events as much as issues will determine the outcome of the election. Watch as they unfold and consider how  the candidates respond to them, to unexpeccted crises and events, and if in so doing they can claim this experience is what the voters want.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

What will this week tell us?

Good Sunday afternoon Class,

What will this week tell us?  With the Indiana primary Tuesday, Cruz is banking on a strong showing (meaning that he must finish ahead of Trump), in order to stave off his winning the delegates before the convention to claim the nomination.  If Trump wins Indiana, there is really almost no chance, barring a major upset in California (where Cruz is not positioned to do all that well), of anyone stopping Trump.  So, almost six weeks since our last class, so much has changed, but even more has stayed the same.

Bernie Sanders just will not go away, but the wins he does achieve do not amount to enough to win him the nomination. Hillary Clinton has shifted her rhetoric to the general election, but it remains to be seen what  will happen to the Sanders' supporters if she does. 

Behind the scenes and now in open view, the Republican party trends closer and closer to a crack up. Despite the genial rhetoric about coming together, it is hard to see how either the Trump or Cruz forces team up.  The establishment Republicans are themselves divided, uncertain whether a Trump win over  Clinton would, in the long run, be good for them or the party. 

A little history matters, and we can reflect on the 1968 Democratic convention and the 1976 Republican convention to see what might happen to each party, not so much in the short term, but long term.

In 1968, of course, LBJ left the race open to any number of nominees. The assassination of RFK made the choice even  more problematic.  We should remember that in many respects, with the exception of the Vietnam problem, LBJ and HHH were still popular among the establishment. Their challengers were from outside the inner circle.  In the end, the party crashed at Chicago and only when HHH rejected his own role in the  Vietnam policy did the party come together behind him.

In 1976, Reagan was the outsider, challenging Pres Ford, another insider for the nomination. He lost in a bitter struggle, and was considered anathema by many ,blamed for Ford's loss. But in a short four years after each of these fights, the parties had changed dramatically, and had to a large degree adopted the views and reforms of the outsiders.  (With dramatically different results).

One might argue that in the nature of most change, it happens slowly, especially when the forces of change face entrenched power.  This year, will Sanders get what he wants (once he decides what that is)? Will Trump become of besmirch the establishment? Is Cruz conservatism the future of the Rep party or but the ethers of a dying past? 

While this election is important in its own right, one wonders if the most significant effect might not be yet visible on the horizon.  This is one of the values of looking at history from a longer term viewpoint.   Keep your eye on not only the returns, but on how the losers take their respective defeats.


Monday, April 25, 2016

The end...

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But is is, perhaps, the end of the end of the beginning." Winston Churchill, to the House of Commons, after a series of defeats in Europe and the Pacific, finally announcing the defeat of Rommel's army in Egypt.

The candidates may be feeling something like this.  As of this morning, almost everyone has concluded that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be the respective nominees.  The voters have not yet decided that, and they still get to decide the party nominee.

A larger question posed to both parties has risen up.  What is the purpose of the primaries, that is, do the voters get to decide (purely popular elections) or do the parties and their many moving  parts, get to decide?  Trump has called out the party rules as corrupt (despite the fact that he is winning proportionately more delegates than actual votes), and many on the Democratic side have wondered about the superdelegates. In addition, each state has different rules, which makes the entire process seem oddly out of pace with the electorate.

The history shows us that parties are voluntary organizations, to  which people belong, and that each organization has the right to establish its own rules.The primary voters are not necessarily even party members, Crossover voters in open primaries permit individual voters, who may or may not even consider themselves party members to vote.

Look at two of the candidates.  Donald Trump declares himself a Republican and leads the race, despite his very checkered past supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans.  Bernie Sanders was not elected to the US Senate as a Democrat. But there is no test in either party rules that prohibits any person from declaring themselves to be and then transforming into that which is.

The parties have created this system because so many voters reject party affiliation.  And it's those voters, the independents, the  first time voters, the people who reject party labels, that the parties need to win elections.

One might ask which candidate is best positioned to win those voters this fall? It is likely that both bases of both parties will be ginned up and ready to fight; but is there a candidate that can attract independent and unaligned voters to their cause?  To their side?

This week's primaries will not give any candidate the majority they need to win, but they will push us closer to the end of the beginning. But fear not, this campaign is nowhere near a conclusion, and there is much more to come.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

As we await the results of the NY primary, the media is still searching for a lasting narrative. This week, I have heard the following:
1. Bernie is gaining nationally, and if he comes within single digits, NY will be a huge win.
2. Bernie cannot win the general election, although he polls higher regarding voter trust than any candidate in the field.
3. When was the last time Trump said something offensive;  that is proof that his campaign is changing.
4. Cruz has no chance in NY, but in a week, he looks to win most of the midwestern and western primaries.
5. What is Kasich still doing in the race; Kasich in the race keeps both Trump and Cruz from winning.
6. Reince Priebus should resign.
7. Debbbie Wasserrman-Schultz should resign,

The campaign no one expected still surprises, and it looks like at least one, and perhaps  both campaigns might go to their respective conventions undecided. That would be unprecedented in modern history.   At that point, the party leaders, with various motives, both laudatory and reprehensible, might try to turn the conventions their way.

If Trump wins NY big, (count actual delegates won, not percentages), it will make it very hard for the leaders to fight his candidacy. If he gets close to the magic number, you will see party leaders grow quiet, content to hold their nose and save their own seats.

If the Clinton-Sanders fight continues, the party will be  much tougher to unite after it picks a nominee.  Make no mistake, the divide between Clinton supporters and the ardent supporters of Sanders have two very different visions for America. And the divide between McConnell Republicans and Trump-adherents is as wide (at least on its face) as the Grand Canyon.

California looms large- consider the ability of any candidate to bring in truly new voters and if their enthusiasm is either lasting or contagious.

This is quite a lot of fun, don't you think?

Friday, April 15, 2016

The campaign becomes harsher.

Hello from Nebraska.

Last night's Democratic debate showed that it is  just the Republicans feeling the pressure to do well in next week's New York primary. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fought over Wall Street, tax return, Wall Street speeches, foreign policy and everything in between.  The polls are all over the place: Nationally they are tied. In New York, Clinton still appears to be up by low double digits. In the expectation game, if Sanders keeps it close, or wins, the campaign will go on. New York is not a game changer, no matter what the pundits say.  Even if Sanders wins, (that would be a big blow to her campaign going forward only if the superdelegates become less confident), the odds are high that Hillary will be the nominee.

But the debate is changing. Hillary had resisted supporting a $15 national minimum wage, changed her position last night.  The Democratic candidates now are on record of supporting a very high minimum wage.  That cannot be undone in the general election. In that regard, Sanders' campaign is defining the debate. On the other hand, Hillary appears the most competent candidate when talking about foreign affairs. But even there, Sanders has made his argument: do as I say, not as I did calls into question her judgment on Iraq and Libya.

Trump is riding a wave of New York home court advantage, but in this week's primary, it is how well Kasich and not Cruz does.  If Kasich can move closer to Trump, possibly holding him under 50%, then even without a win, he slowly transforms himself into the loser that the Republican party might actually turn to in a convention contest,

Cruz is looking ahead to other primaries, including California. I think that it will be California that determines the most important question in this primary season:  (no not who is the ultimate candidate), but instead, which direction will the two major parties head  A Cruz win in California will push the Republicans farther to the right, and a Sanders win  will push the Democrats to the left.

Watch for the issues that matter in California, Immigration,  taxes, social policy, character. What will matter to the California voters?  We all know that the issues across the nation play different in each state, with each state's voters deciding what matters to them.  In that respect what we are seeing in this primary season is that while the election for president is national, we are really seeing 50 plus separate elections, local elections, play out.

This is going to remain very, very interesting.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Another week, another Sanders win in Wyoming.  With that win, Sanders has won 8/9 of the last contests.  Yet in Wyoming, each candidate earned an equal number of delegates. In both parties, there is a growing feeling that the party system is ( or is being) rigged. The Democratic super delegates protect the establishment choice, and on the Republican side, Cruz has found a way to pick off a few delegates regardless of the primary results. And the likelihood of a contested convention in Cleveland  grows with each closer primary or Cruz victory.

New York looks like a big Trump win- if he does well he could take all the delegates. But if Kasich or Cruz do well ( or cut into Ttump's support to keep him below 50 %), then all bets are off.

Hillary should excel also. It's her adopted home, she served as its Senstor. But Bernie is drawing big crowds and the polls have narrowed.

Both side are playing this primary relatively safe. Not as much vitriol, but this week may change things.  Trump is realizing that politics is not business, and is ramping up staff to get organized for the primaries ahead and for a convention fight. As long as Bernie wins and stays competitive, and continues to outraise Hillary, he will be in the race.  And as this story unfolds, California looms very key. As we know, anything can happen in California and this season, Californians so long irrelevant in our recent national primaries, may finally play a major, even determinative role.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

New York, New York.

Now that the damage to the Clinton and Trump campaigns has been done by the voters of Wisconsin, the new fight is in New York  Both of the frontrunners (in the sense now not of momentum, but of actually won delegates) should be at significant advantages. Hillary served as the state's senator and makes her home (and the home of her private server there) and Donald has built his buildings and his reputation (as a brash and braggart from the Bronx) in New York.

Cruz has traveled there, yesterday, to double down on his New York values comments.  The question is whether there are any conservative Republicans who are as conservative as Cruz, enough to accept that most of NY Republicans are more like Trump than Cruz. 

On the Dem side, however, something appears to be happening.  While Hillary is still a big favorite, it  is Sanders, once again, who gins up the support.  He is drawing huge crowds, and they are very enthusiastic.  He out fundraised Clinton by $15 million in March, and has won 7 out of the last 8 primary/caucus contests.  He has the big MO, and this might not be as much a coronation as a last, best chance to stop the Sanders rush. 

If Clinton loses NY, she is in serious trouble.
If Trump wins NY, not much else changes.

In a larger context, the problems both parties are facing come at their conventions.  The  battles between candidates and supporters are becoming much more divisive, sharp and wounding.  Who believes that if Trump loses at the convention, many of his supporters will vote for Ted Cruz, or John Kasich. Trump is nothing if not a poor loser and he is not likely to work to unify the party so he can, like Reagan in 1976, get his chance 4 years later.  Trump might toy with running again if he loses, but I doubt he has the stomach for that.

On the Dem side, Hillary and Sanders, who played nice for so long, are now calling each other Unqualified to be President.  That's like saying.. well, you're unqualified to be President.  You cannot support someone not qualified.  So,, the bridge between those camps is if not on fire, certainly soaked in gas.  The longer this goes on, the tougher it becomes.

And the parties are, can we be honest now, not very courageous.  They both might just accept the worst possible outcome and hope to squeak by with very flawed candidates to win, despite the likelihood that this election would be a divisive, angry, scurrilous mess. 

So, what happens now? 
The FBI investigation and interview of Hillary and her aides looms.  Trumps fraud trial over Trump University appears to be set for later summer.  And John Kasich thinks that a contested convention will be his chance for the delegates to come to their senses and pick him as their candidate, despite the fact that he has proven to be the least successful potential nominee among the three remaining. No wonder Paul Ryan wants none of this.

Read up, find more news, explore the unconventional, and see what might be happening in the states after New York, including California, which, finally, might actually have a significant role in this primary season after all.


Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Campaign Continues, liike a bad penny.

And you thought getting rid of me would be easy.

Actually, I just cannot get enough of this crazy campaign.  The events  appear to be colliding. Trump finally stepped in something that he can wipe off with  his comments about punishing a woman in the event abortion became illegal.  Now, it wasn't his answer that was so bad (although it was pretty uninformed), but he went to  Hardball Chris Matthews, a notoriously partisan commentator and let himself get caught up in an entirely unrealistic question.  That, coming after the charge against his campaign manager (by a very democratic prosecutor for grabbing a reporter) did not help.

Republicans began to face the music. Either it will be Trump, and his likely damage to the down ballot (loss of Senate, fight to control the House), or Ted Cruz, the Senator the Senate loves to hate.

And Kasich stays in specifically to get to the convention that he believes will decide that it will be he that he confused and angry electorate turns to.

On the Democratic side, Sanders just keeps winning primaries and caucuses, but cannot keep up with the superdelegates that Hillary has pocketed. Hillary wanted few debates, then more, now none.  The story just keeps getting better and better.

The problem for both leading candidates is this: Among Republicans, over 30% have said they will never vote for Trump if he is the nominee.  And among Sanders supporters, nearly 1 in 4 have taken the same position. This poses a major dilemma for each party. The issue will not simply be who can win, but who can unify the divisions in their own party.  Neither leading candidate offers much encouragement there.

One more thing this week as to the single-issue voters and the flashpoint of abortion/right to choose *depending on your take.  We know that today, under Roe v Wade and its legal progeny, the government cannot restrict a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy in the first trimester, and can do so in the second and third trimester if the state's interest in protecting the unborn fetus (or some other interest such as the current popular state approach being used-- protecting the woman's health by insuring that clinics are aligned with hospitals). But the issue that should be put to every candidate, the issue that the Supreme Court in Roe (years later) admittedly shut down public debate over is this:
At what point does the government have the right to deny a woman the option of abortion to protect the life of the child? (Roe recognized this, but never answered it.) Since the test adopted by the Court balanced those separate interests, what are the issues that weigh on that scale?

And would advances in medical technology, such as those that make the survival rate of babies born more prematurely than were available in 1973 when Roe was decided, play a role in that balancing test?  In other words, if you believe in a living  Constitution, one that adapts with the new social mores and technology, wouldn't you have to accept that when medical technology makes the survival of more prematurely born babies likely, that the state interest in regulating abortions take effect much earlier than the Court test in Roe permitted? 

Food for thought and your comments, as always with due respect for the views of each other, are welcomed.

From windy, sunny, and soon to be wet Nebraska, thank you for your attention.