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."