Trump’s (Needed) Apologies – part 2 of ?

A while ago I thought it would be fun to keep track of the apologies Donald Trump owes the country.  I wrote one on his assertion that Judge Curiel could not rule on his Trump University case since the judge is of Mexican heritage and could not possibly be unbiased.  It was fun.  But I could not keep up.  What with the Khan family, fire marshals, beating up protesters, lying about his changed positions on Syria and Libya, on the number of immigrants in the country illegally, the unemployment rate, crime rates, Obama as founder of ISIS and at least 70 other stories tallied by PolitiFact, I was beaten.

Then I realized those are just chump change!

The biggest and most abject apology owed to America is for accelerating the decline of our most important institutions.  He and his fellow Republicans have for years been doing their best to create darkness where there should be light.  They have turned the perception of science from an instrument of discovery and verification to an instrument for promotion or vilification of political positions.    They have changed reverence for education into distrust of expertise.  Support for common infrastructure has become classified as “tax and spend” programs to wreck the budget.  For these, the Donald gets credit for advancing the ball but not for all the recent progress.  The Republicans, after all, have worked on knocking down government for years.

Mr. Trump’s singular contribution is his unique ability to stare into the mouth of a bear and deny that he sees teeth or even that there may be a bear.  For example, we have his continuing claim that what he said in 2004 about favoring the invasion of Iraq, on film, did not happen.   Also, his claim that president Obama is not a native-born American is now being denied on his behalf by his campaign but he would not admit it in person until 9/16/2016.  And speaking of bears, he still denies Russia has troops in the Ukraine.

Most of all, though, we have his skill in debasing political debate.  I know, I thought that art had already been perfected by Congress, but I was wrong on that too.  Trump has skills in innuendo, ad hominem attacks, misdirection and blatant lying that make the most ambitious sixth grade bully weep from jealousy.  With his recent claim that Secretary Clinton has run a “hate filled” campaign, he has taken the school yard taunt “I know you are but what am I?” to impressive new levels.  Similarly with his continuing attacks on the Clinton campaign regarding Benghazi, the email server, her health and the Clinton Foundation, he has created exactly the sort of distraction that his son now says is the real reason he won’t release his tax returns – that it would create a distraction and keep Mr. Trump from delivering his message.  I wonder what the distraction would be?

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Trump’s Needed Apologies – Part one of who knows?

John Kasich has demanded that Donald Trump apologize for stating that Judge Curiel is incapable of exercising proper legal judgement.  That is only the first unicorn in the parade around Trump Tower.  Just on this issue, he owes apologies to the judge, to the judicial system, to America and to western democratic ideals.  But those are only the apologies for the Trump U. case. There are lots of others for another time.

First, the judge.  Mr. Trump’s comments say more about himself than about the judge.    The judge has some Mexican heritage therefore he must be biased because Trump will build a wall to prevent immigrants from easily breaching the US border and has made disparaging remarks about Mexicans.  Mr. Trump apparently has a world view in which it is normal and natural to judge others based on ethnic identity.  It is particularly disturbing that  he believes an American judge would automatically be subject to that type of bias.

Which brings us to apology number two.  If Mr. Trump believes that a judge of Curiel’s stature is so easily corrupted by nothing more than an accident of heritage and that’s a natural condition, then what does he think of the rest of the institution?  Does that mean he would only appoint Supreme Court Justices that would likely be good for his businesses?  (Thank God for the Senate confirmation process – for once!)  Does it mean that he cannot be judged because those of different racial, ethnic or political groups would be prejudiced against him and those of his groups would be biased in his favor so no one can judge him?  I wonder if that would work for me.

He should also apologize to the country for demeaning its ideals.  I will be far from the first to proclaim that the US has no flaws but I will always argue that its principles are the model of western democracy.  If Mr. Trump believes they can be so easily ignored by a member of one of its core institutions, then perhaps he does not actually believe in the institutions of the country he wants to run.  He shows the same sort of contempt for freedom of the press and to some degree for freedom of assembly (but only if the assembly includes people who are against him).

I’m not holding my breath that we will get any apologies but at least that has better odds than the unicorns knocking down Trump Tower — well, maybe not!

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The Republicans Brought This on Themselves!

The grandees of the Republican party are nearing panic over the potential of Donald Trump becoming their nominee for President.  They alone are to blame for their fate.  And this fate does not depend solely on whether Trump becomes their candidate.

Republicans created the environment that allowed, maybe even enticed, a candidate like Trump to run and win or come close enough to  fracture the party.

They created an atmosphere in which complete disrespect for the other party is not only OK but expected. The 2008 decision by Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor among other Republican leaders to obstruct every Obama initiative gave substance and sustenance  to massive disrespect.  The contempt with which party leaders and now the candidates spew disdain for anything Democrat paves the way for Trump’s outrageous comments to fall on numbed ears.

It extends to public disdain for “the other”.  “The other” is any bogeyman the current political speaker needs to blame for whatever they don’t like to generate an emotional response.  The Republican list currently includes Democrats, immigrants, scientists, Muslims and the press.  For the Democrats, it is “Wall Street”.  That is a shorter list and more nebulous but just as dangerous.  Both parties have culpability in the search for bogeymen.

It is hard to deny the disrespect Republicans create when they attempt to shut down the government rather than advancing principled but achievable options; when they spend more time fund-raising  than they spend working; and when they fail to do their constitutional jobs like passing budgets and confirming court nominees.  If Congress doesn’t respect the government, why would we not expect the people to drift toward a candidate to promises to “make America great again”. Whether you think government should be smaller, larger or just work, most people expect their representatives  to work to make it so and not just avoid tough votes.

Facts have never been of major concern to political campaigns.  Nonetheless, the Republicans’ continuous attacks on science from denying climate change science to defunding the Office of Technology Assessment, helped increase the general populace’s acceptance of the idea that facts are subject to political vetting.  When they assign Representatives who fundamentally do not believe in the process of science to the House  Committee on Science and Technology, you have to think they don’t take science seriously.  (Paul “science is spawn of the devil” Broun for instance.  Google it.  There are now at least five Republican anti-science members of that committee.)

If facts don’t matter in science or political campaigns, why would it matter that 76 of 77 statements made by Mr. Trump and fact checked by Politifact turned out to be false?

The Republicans have also shown a systematic revulsion for their own ideas when proposed by a Democrat – e.g., ACA, Cap and Trade, and Common Core (which was more bi-partisan but a grass-roots initiative).  When a Republican dominated Congress spends six years arguing over purely symbolic issues instead of trying to improve anything, how can a large part of the public avoid a level of cynicism that makes the Donald look attractive relative to professional politicians?  At least he gets things done – according to his branding.  The fact that he makes stuff up, makes outrageous claims and has no political theory is of no consequence if all other politicians are regarded as the same!  Then, simply the facts that he is from outside and reflects the frustration is enough to give him a platform.

Hilary – similar lessons applies to the Democrats!  Wonder why Bernie looks so appealing?


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President Obama’s ISIS Strategy – What I Heard – and Didn’t

I found president Obama’s response to ISIS to be unsatisfying.  It described why we feel a threat from ISIS and that we are planning an extended bombing campaign.  However, it isn’t clear how it really differs from current policy except that it will go on longer  and may extend into Syria.  Most of my questions are still unanswered.

  1. Represent a wide coalition.  All I heard about the composition of the coalition was that Secretary of State Kerry is working on it.  It is intended to be a large group but apparently is not yet.  This is not the George H. W. Bush style of preparing a coalition before the fight starts.  Too bad.
  2.  Enable building respect for traditional Islam.  The president noted that ISIS is not an Islamic organization by any stretch but could have done more to attract true Islamists and promote moderate clerics.
  3.  Make our motivation is clear.  Our motive seems to be only the interests of the US.  That’s ok for us but there was no story to tell those who are inclined to believe that all we care about is oil and our business interests.  He mentioned groups that have been severely oppressed but it was sort of a passing comment rather than a strong motive.  We would not be increasing our activity solely to protect Iraqis.
  4.  Goal. How do we know when we’re done?  How will we know if we are winning?  I still don’t know.  I guess we’ll know when ISIS is defeated because we’ll know it when we see it.  I was hoping for something a little more specific.
  5. Roles.  Since we don’t know who the partners are, we can’t say their roles.  Makes this post easier to write though.
  6.  Sunni relationships. As I feared, the president took the wishful thinking approach that the new government is automatically a better and more inclusive one and that the Sunni’s will therefore automatically be motivated to fight ISIS.  Time will tell but this is a major issue.
  7.  Exit Strategy.  Oh well, maybe that will be clear as well.  It certainly is not now.
  8. Forward.  Last, can we leverage the coalition for the future?  Well, we don’t know who is in the coalition, what their roles are, how they are motivated so a prediction of the future can only be made by a politician.

I give the president an A for effort and for taking on a campaign he really does not want but a D for content.  Now I hope there is more to come and wish John Kerry remarkable success in his mission.

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President Obama’s ISIS Strategy – My Hopes

The president’s and the country’s strategy for “defeating” ISIS has been evolving, as it should, as we learn more and work with other countries to develop the strategy.   Here’s what I hope he addresses.

  1. Represent a wide coalition.The coalition should include European, Arabic, sub-Saharan African and Asian partners from both Islamic and non-Islamic cultures.  This is important because the virus of ISIS exists in only moderately weaker versions in both east and west Africa between al Shabab and Boko Haram plus splinter groups and fringe elements.  If we are going to eradicate it, we need to get it all.   Also, that wide a coalition is important because ISIS is a threat to Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Egypt, Qatar and all the other neighboring governments.  They need to show that they fight against the funding for ISIS that comes from their own countrymen, block borders from ISIS militants and stop providing safe havens.  In addition, Russia needs to participate!
  2.  Enable building respect for traditional Islam.  ISIS is completing the hijacking of Islam that began some decades ago.  They have made it a refuge for psychopaths and sociopaths worldwide that have no respect for the basic tenets of the religion.  Their actions defame Islam and need to be repudiated widely and loudly by legitimate Imams and clerics.
  3.  Make our motivation clear.I want to see opinion pieces in Al Jazeera that reflect the threat and a motive that showing concern for the Arab states as well as the west.   Our stated motives should make sense beyond the shores of the US and western cultures.  This means improving our image with the Arab street.
  4.  Goal. How do we know when we’re done?  How will we know if we are winning?
  5.  Roles.  What role will our partners play?   What will the Saudis contribute?  Jordanians?  Israelis?  Europeans?  Who supplies weapons, troops, tactical command, and strategic command? Who takes care of which border crossings?
  6.  Sunni relationships. We need to show how we are going to get Sunni support in Iraq and Syria to help combat ISIS. The new Iraqi Prime Minister will be said to be the way forward but he has not had time to demonstrate “inclusiveness”. There must be a stronger case for inclusiveness than wishful thinking.
  7.  Exit.  What do we do when we are done?  That will include what we do when things go wrong before we’ve met the goal.  There will be defeats and set backs for us.  Will we be prepared emotionally for those situations?  It must also include the governing arrangements for Iraq and Syria.  Will we make peace with Asad if he stops killing the moderate rebels and drenching his citizens with chlorine gas or are we pushing for regime change?  If the latter, how do we get countries to support us?  If the former, how do we get popular support in the west?
  8. Forward.  Last, can we leverage the coalition for the future?

I fervently hope that the president has a well thought through plan and has the requisite alliances in place. He approaches problems with care and thoughtfulness. Let’s hope he gets this one right.

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Writing 101 – Radical Political Middle

This is an article I’ve had in mind for some time and I’m going to use the WordPress Writing 101 session to get at it!  This is take 1.  There will be more versions of the same idea until I get it right.

Our elected “leaders”, otherwise known as members of Congress (both federal and state versions count) as well as our President and governors and mayors, have little to no incentive to fix probelms for their constituents or their country.  Why not, you ask? Continue reading

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Obamacare – Another Congressional Success Story

Congress takes a lot of abuse!  Their popularity is at all time lows.  Most Americans now claim they would vote even their own representatives out of office.  They never cooperate with the other party!  Well, maybe that claim isn’t quite accurate.  In fact, I think they cooperate all the time!  Let’s look at one example of a program where the parties in Washington have done a wonderful job of working with each other to divide and conquer the difficult issues facing the country!

We’ll look at Obamacare or, as it is more formally known, ACA.  (Note – Because many people like ACA but hate Obamacare, I need to clarify that they are in fact the same thing.  Sorry).  I’ll call it ACA because that’s easier to type.  This is the president’s signature program and illustrates what Congress can accomplish when they really put their hearts into it.

The original goal of ACA was to provide affordable health insurance to most of the 15% (47 million) of Americans who are uninsured.  The short-term goal is 7 million by March 2014 and an estimate of about 16 million by year-end 2014 in a combination of Medicaid and ACA with the rest coming over time.  Note that about 12 million of the 47 million are illegal immigrants and not eligible.  To date, the results are unknown.  They can’t be until initial sign-ups are completed in December.  So both parties agreed to make up their own facts and distort the few honest projections that exist.  Problem solved!

ACA is intended to have the work and administration done by the private sector with the rules being set by the feds.  Thus, all uninsured Americans will need to purchase a health care insurance policy from a private carrier.  All private carriers will stop “rating up” individuals for pre-existing conditions and will give up the ability to decline coverage. That creates a larger group of insured people.  To the extent that people who are uninsured actually participate, there is a downward pressure on the price of insurance.  However, the feds also set rules on the minimum coverages for individual plans as well as ending rating for pre-existing condition and requiring guaranteed issuance.  They chose a minimum coverage that is a good deal higher than many people were voluntarily choosing.  (In the interest of full disclosure, the selection of a “floor” preceded Congress’ new program of cooperation.  It occurred during the passage of the law which was a fully partisan event and includes all the Democrat’s pet health issues like mental health, preventive medicine and erectile dysfunction).  Not that these are bad coverages but their mandatory inclusion in all policies can only be an upward force on price.  As part of their agreement, the Congressional Republicans agreed only to talk about the upward pressures while the Democrats agreed to deal only with the downward pressures.  That gives each of them own set of talking points.  It also avoids the ugly prospect of talking to each other about how both their positions might be true.  That, after all, might offend the base voters that the politicians so carefully selected through redistricting.

Also, as was evident in the inquisition of Kathleen Sibelius this week, the parties agreed to split up the “bad guys”.  The Republicans agreed to put all the blame on Obama and the Democrats who passed the bill (more than three years ago) without a single Republican vote.  The Democrats agreed to blame the IT contractors and insurance companies.  Both agreed not to do a real investigation into the true causes of the website malfunctions.  To do that of course  would require waiting for the facts to become known and that would delay the theater.

The final part of the cooperation pact was to avoid discussing why both parties have done nothing substantive in over three years to fix or to test the suspected problems in ACA.  That agreement gave the Republicans over forty opportunities to pass symbolic and pointless votes to repeal ACA without having to help their constituents by improving it.  The Democrats gained the chance to stay in the background and not have to appear as though they were criticizing the plan that they wrote.

So, far from disagreeing about everything, the parties in Washington are actually working in close cooperation by agreeing not to tread on their rivals’ turf and to continue living in their own, separate virtual worlds.

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