Archive for the 'House Red: Politics & Current Affairs' Category

Krugman et al. on Sanders; and, that Trump team

Of late I have taken a hard line on Bernie Sanders because I believe that it is Hillary Clinton, not Comrade Bernie, who stands between us and a Trump presidency. His present course is more likely to damage Clinton as she shifts into the campaign for November than it is to derail her bid for the Democratic nomination. I am not comfortable with where I find myself but cannot at present see it any other way.

Paul Krugman at his blog and political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels in a New York Times opinion piece offer an interesting take on the Sanders movement. In Krugman’s words, “it’s complicated – not all bad, by any means, but not the pure uprising of idealists the more enthusiastic supporters imagine.”

Matthew Yglesias and Jeff Stein at Vox examine Sanders’s charges that the system is rigged against him. They agree that it is but only after fashion, in certain respects, and not quite in the sense that the charge implies.

The reality, however, is that the system is not rigged — at least not in this way. Sanders is losing the nomination because he got fewer votes and has less overall support from Democratic primary voters. There are a couple of aspects of the nominating rules that have disadvantaged Sanders, but they haven’t been decisive. And in many other respects, the rules have given him a helping hand.

The grain of truth behind the sense that the system is rigged, however, comes from something else. Party elites — including leaders of interest groups whose agenda Sanders has always consistently supported — really have worked against Sanders. Not by cheating, but by exercising the normal channels of influence that influential political actors have at their disposal.

As for the Republican nominee, it would appear that Donald Trump has not exactly assembled the A team to handle his campaign. Trump adviser Michael [emphasis mine] Caputo emailed a Republican Nat’l Committee researcher a request to dig up information on Whitewater “for immediate use and for the afternoon talking points process.” The request became public knowledge when Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks, copied on Michael Caputo’s email, replied to Marc [emphasis mine] Caputo, a POLITICO reporter who is not related to the Trump adviser. Hicks was attempting to warn Michael Caputo not to directly contact the RNC researcher with research requests. I guess he knows now. (Vogel and Caputo)

Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, Do Sanders Supporters Favor His Policies?, The New York Times, 23 May 2016

Krugman, The Truth About the Sanders Movement, The Conscience of a Liberal at The New York Times, 23 May 2016

Kenneth P. Vogel and Marc Caputo, Trump plans to target Clinton over Whitewater, POLITICO, 25 May 2016

Matthew Yglesias and Jeff Stein, What Bernie Sanders gets right when he says the system is rigged against him, Vox, 24 May 2016

Whither, Bernie?

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo speculates that Sanders and his top advisers may be about to go full “Burn It Down”, citing a New York Times article that confirms and expands on much that he has been hearing within the Sanders campaign.

Defiant and determined to transform the Democratic Party, Senator Bernie Sanders is opening a two-month phase of his presidential campaign aimed at inflicting a heavy blow on Hillary Clinton in California and amassing enough leverage to advance his agenda at the convention in July — or even wrest the nomination from her.

Advisers to Mr. Sanders said on Wednesday that he was newly resolved to remain in the race, seeing an aggressive campaign as his only chance to pressure Democrats into making fundamental changes to how presidential primaries and debates are held in the future. They said he also held out hope of capitalizing on any late stumbles by Mrs. Clinton or any damage to her candidacy, whether by scandal or by the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump. (Patrick Healy, Yamiche Alcindor, and Jeremy W. Peters. Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch, The New York Times, 18 May 2016).

With due wariness for reporting and commentary long on hearsay and not much by way of attribution to identified sources, I find the Times article and Marshall’s analysis consistent with what is being publicly reported. Sanders and his advisers, notably campaign manager Jeff Weaver, are locked in on the remaining primaries and the convention, paying lip service to the need to defeat Trump in November while making no allowance for the impact that their actions between now and July could have on the general election.

I believe it is safe to say that at the outset of the campaign even Bernie Sanders did not envision that he would have a shot at the Democratic nomination, perhaps little than a snowball’s chance in hell, but still a chance, still yipping at Hillary Clinton’s heels, as June approaches. His role in the beginning seemed to be to push Clinton to the left with a showing strong enough to argue that the the country is trending in that direction. If along the way he could ignite a movement to carry the torch going forward, so much the better.

Sanders came across as a man who spoke not from talking points based on the latest polls and focus groups but from deeply held principles and from the heart.The perception of him as a man of integrity and authenticity counted for more than his credentials as democratic socialist and man of the left. Early on he took the high road, deflecting questions about Clinton’s emails with an insistence that he would stick to issues that matter most to the American people: income and wealth inequality, the malign power and influence of Wall Street and the big banks, and campaign finance reform. It was easy for Sanders to stay on message because he had but one message, even if it was sometimes frustrating when, for example, he quickly pivoted from questions about foreign affairs back to the economic themes that animate him.

It would be understandable, all too human, if Bernie Sanders has been changed, at least a little, and if only temporarily, by the heady experience of the campaign, the idealism he has tapped into, the incredible energy and enthusiasm he has inspired, now finding the nomination almost within his grasp, yet still tantalizingly out of reach. With the scent of victory came a more strident tone and stepped-up criticism of Clinton and the party establishment, although in fairness it should be noted that neither he nor she has come anywhere near the farcical level of animus and vitriol that characterized the Republican contest.

Sanders’s focus, once laser-like on his economic message, has shifted in recent weeks as he rails against unfair treatment at the hands of the party establishment, charges that the game is rigged, and denounces DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (e.g., Sanders camp slams Debbie Wasserman Schultz for ‘throwing shade’). The complaint about unfair treatment is not without merit, and I would not quarrel with anyone who has Schultz down as a party hack who should be replaced, but the accusation that the game is rigged is questionable.

A case can be made, perhaps should be made, for changing the process, but the process, including provisions for super delegates, was in place before the campaign begin. The rules were not changed in the middle of the game to harm Sanders or benefit Clinton. Sanders to date stands some 3 million votes behind Clinton and trails in pledged delegates by a margin unlikely to be overcome by convention time. Clinton will be the nominee barring landslide losses of unprecedented proportion in the remaining primaries. Sanders does not distinguish himself by inveighing against the institution of super delegates while wooing those same super delegates to throw the nomination his way, nor by his inadequate response to the disruption at the Nevada state convention, which was less than we have come to expect from him.

Then there is the “Bernie or bust” faction.

A loose coalition of [Sanders] supporters…is [planning]…a series of events at the Democratic National Convention.

“I really wouldn’t call it a protest. It’s a political revolution,” said Bill Taylor, a 30-year-0ld Philadelphia resident and Sanders campaign volunteer who is helping organize the demonstrations.” (Byron Tau and Colleen McCain Nelson, “Democrats Fear Unruly Convention,” WSJ, 19 May 2016)

When push comes to shove, Clinton or Trump, will they heed Sanders’s call to get behind Clinton, assuming that she is the nominee and assuming that Sanders makes the call and does so in a convincing manner?

This morning in an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Sanders cited the high unfavorability ratings of both Clinton and Trump and characterized Clinton as the lesser of two evils. Again he made a pitch to super delegates to throw their support to him to overturn Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates come convention time. I would make two points here. First, Sanders far outspent Clinton during his impressive run in recent primaries as she tries to conserve her resources for the general election, which may have hurt her, the string of losses running up to the convention giving the appearance of weakness. Fundraising by the Sanders campaign was way down last month. His cash reserves dipped to under $6 million, while hers are slightly above $30 million. This is not just a matter of her being in Wall Street’s pocket. Sanders has been spending money at quite a clip, with good results to show for it but his coffers diminished.

Second, not a lot of negative campaigning has been directed against Sanders. It has been in Clinton’s interest to be circumspect and muted in her criticisms to avoid alienating his supporters, many of whom are already less than kindly disposed to her. Republicans for their part are delighted to see the contest drag on and salivating at the prospect of an unruly convention. If Sanders should somehow seize the nomination, if Clinton’s ineffectual campaign manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, hundreds of millions of dollars and the resources of Fox News will be devoted to the message that Bernie Sanders is a communist, he will raise your taxes, he will not let you choose your own doctor, and on down the line. Some people would buy it. Enough to have an impact on the outcome? I fear it might.

As for Clinton, it is not unreasonable to expect, and maybe we should insist, for her to give us reason to believe she will be a better president than she is candidate. I am far from sanguine about her hawkishness on foreign affairs. My mind is not eased by her announcement that Bill will take the lead on economic policy. These concerns are somewhat mitigated by the presence of people like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and I hope Bernie Sanders  in a position of strength to influence a Clinton White House — this is a good that can come out of the Sanders campaign. I prefer not to think too much about who might be influencing a Trump White House, should that come to pass.

How far Sanders intends to push things at the convention, how willing he will be to compromise, the extent to which he believes that his strong showing, even in defeat, gives him a veto over the platform, and it should be added, how willing Clinton and the party establishment are to allow him a real voice and genuine influence…well, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Let us hope that it does not turn out to be distressing or, worse, disastrous.

Recommended Reading

Chad Day and Julie Bykowisz, Bernie Sanders’ campaign is down to less than $6 million in cash, Associated Press, posted on Business Insider, 21 May 2016

Gabriel Debenedetti, More Sanders staffers exit campaign, Politico, 17 May 2016

Thomas Frank, Why Hillary Clinton’s 90s nostalgia is so dangerous, The Guardian, 21 May 21, 2016

Paul Krugman, Questions of Character, The Conscience of a Liberal, 17 May 2016

Dan Roberts, Democrats face their own unity crisis amid Nevada convention fallout, The Guardian, 18 May 2016

Ruminations Along the Campaign Trail

Protesters in California forced Donald Trump to leave his motorcade and walk along a highway on Friday, amid chaotic demonstrations in which activists torched an American flag and set fire to a piñata of the Republican frontrunner.

Hundreds of protesters repeatedly tried to storm the hotel where Trump was due to address the California Republican convention in Burlingame, near San Francisco International Airport.

Some protesters managed to get inside the Hyatt Regency by booking rooms in advance. When inside they unfurled two large Stop Hate banners from the upper floors that could be seen from outside, where protesters hurled eggs, clashed with baton-wielding police, and blocked roads. (Julia Carrie Wong, Maria L La Ganga, Sam Levin, Donald Trump forced from his motorcade amid chaotic protests at California convention, The Guardian, 30 April 2016)

There is not a dime’s worth of difference between these blockheads and Trump’s thugs. We have a responsibility to call this horse manure for what it is as surely as we would if it were being shoveled by Trumpists or Lyin’ Ted’s gang. We should stand for better than this. It  is a matter of conscience and integrity.

* * * * *

I have no quarrel with Bernie Sanders for seeing the campaign through to the Democratic Convention in July. How he sees it through, and how he conducts himself at the convention and after, is where the rub lies. Of late his talk has been tough and grumpy, with mutterings of a contested convention and appeals to superdelegates. It is one thing to continue fighting for delegates so as to put himself in the strongest position possible to influence the party’s platform. It will be something else altogether if the price for his backing, should Clinton win the nomination, as now seems likely, comes down to a demand that she and the party essentially adopt his platform. The moral victory that could be his will be frittered away, his legacy tarnished, and worst of all Donald Trump or another Republican of similar stature could become our next president, if Bernie’s support is grudging and tepid because his price is not met in full.

I am delighted to see Sanders pushing Clinton and the party to the left. I fully expect and hope that he will take up the good fight again full bore in the Senate after the November election. Taking the high road now will strengthen his hand for what lies ahead.

Other Thoughts on This Topic

Paul Krugman, Bernie’s Bad End, The Conscience of a Liberal, 2 May 2016
Jeff Stein, Why Bernie Sanders is lobbying superdelegates — even though they won’t save his campaign, Vox, 2 May 2015

What Ordinary Iranians Think

Sanctions, western misunderstanding and religion: 100 Iranians share their views, edited by Matthew Holmes and Maeve Shearlaw. The Guardian, 30 March 2016.

Interesting piece today in The Guardian. Brief comments by 100 ordinary Iranians from inside the country and across the diaspora. I have taken time this morning to read only a few. This one in particular caught my eye:

‘There are Iranians who think like Noam Chomsky or Bernie Sanders’

The world’s view of Iran is so wrong. We are a very diverse people, with millions who believe in the traditional aspects of Islamic culture and we have millions whose views are probably like any other girl or boy in London. There’s even a minority whose views are just like Noam Chomsky or Bernie Sanders. — Morteza Meybodi, Meybod


Last Week on the Campaign Trail: Foreign Affairs and National Security…and it’s not pretty

Foreign affairs took center stage on the campaign trail last week as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz paid obeisance to wealthy Jewish-Americans at the hardline pro-Israel lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) while Bernie Sanders made his Israel speech at a campaign event on the same night. Trump and Cruz named their top foreign policy advisers. Clinton generally locked up the Democratic Party establishment on foreign affairs and national security, leaving Bernie Sanders…well, maybe Comrade Bernie will give me a call.

The terrorist attacks in Brussels gave Trump and Cruz additional opportunity to spew anti-Muslim venom when they were not spewing venom at one another in the contretemps around their wives in a Republican Party contest that plays like something scripted by the writers at Saturday Night Live or The Onion.

Hillary Clinton

The candidate touts her foreign policy experience and accomplishments as secretary of state, when she

worked to restore America’s leadership in the world, after it was badly eroded by eight years of the Bush administration’s go-it-alone foreign policy…. from building a global coalition to impose crippling sanctions against Iran, to brokering a ceasefire in Gaza and protecting Israel, to supporting President Obama’s decision to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and much more [emphasis mine]. (Clinton campaign website)

Along with her experience, Clinton has a reputation for preparation and attention to detail. She is without question a sharp cookie. During the 1992 presidential campaign I found myself thinking that it was too bad her husband was the candidate. She struck me as the more impressive of the two. Yet there is that vote on Iraq in 2002. (n.b., Fred Kaplan, Hillary Clinton Told the Truth About Her Iraq War Vote, for perspective and context that puts her vote in a better light without absolving her of responsibility for what turned out to put her on the wrong side of history, as they say). There is the email kerfuffle, blown up and milked by her enemies for all they can get out of it but nonetheless troublesome. It is not too much to ask what the heck she was thinking. While experience is important, it is not everything. As Bernie Sanders likes to remind us, judgment matters.

Parenthetical observation: Yes, even intelligent people can do things that leave us scratching our heads. My own resume is littered with poor choices and foolish moves that leave me scratching my head. On the other hand, I am merely your oft humbled scribe. Hillary Clinton wants your vote  for president.

The Clinton campaign website and her speech to AIPAC stake out consistent neocon policy. Clinton equates Israeli interests with American security and strategic interests.

Since it was founded in 1948, Israel has become the largest single recipient of U.S foreign assistance — a total of $121 billion, almost all of which has been in the form of military assistance. (Journalist’s Resource).

Under a Clinton presidency, not only will this level of military aid continue, it will be ramped up. She requested increased military assistance for Israel every year of her term at State and promises more of the same to maintain Israel’s position as the dominant military power in the region. It is worth noting that Bibi Netanyahu credited “unprecedented” security cooperation between the two countries during her time as secretary of state.

If there is anything from Clinton to suggest that she will rebut the Netanyahu regime’s presumption that it should hold veto power over American policy in the Middle East, I have yet to find it. She could almost be running as the Likud Party candidate.

Alongside this embrace of Israel comes tough talk and saber rattling on Iran that would do Trump and Cruz proud. She pays lip service to diplomacy, yet emphasizes that her approach to the nuclear agreement with Iran will be “distrust and verify” while “bolstering deterrence and aggressively confronting Iran’s unacceptable [elsewhere labeled “malicious”] behavior in the region.” Her call to “condemn actions that set back the cause of peace” is one-sided, directed solely at Palestinians, ignoring the occupation, settlements, and other obstacles to peace from the Israeli side.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz

Trump and Cruz tell us they will achieve foreign policy objectives and provide for national security via torture and bombing carpets. It turns out that Cruz either does not know what the term “carpet bombing” means or does not care. He uses it because it makes for inflammatory rhetoric, a penchant for which he has in common with Trump. The difference is that Trump tends to be more effective.

Trump’s speech to AIPAC is riddled with inaccuracies and provocations. He repudiates the nuclear agreement with Iran and repeats the fabrication that the U.S. will “reward” Iran with $150 billion as part of the deal. “Trump’s statement makes it sound like we’re cutting Iran a $150 billion check. In reality, the money is already Iran’s to begin with, just frozen under the many economic sanctions levied against the country.” (Linda Qui, No, Donald Trump, we are not giving Iran $150 billion for ‘nothing’). He seems blissfully ignorant of Daesh’s antipathy toward Shi’a Muslims as he invokes the bugaboo of generic “Islamic terrorism,” ignoring Daesh’s vicious and widespread campaign against Shi’a Muslims, including the bombing of mosques and attacks against other civilian targets.

Trump has identified himself as his own primary resource on foreign policy. This is not reassuring.

In a fantasy world of foreign policy, we could be good friends with Putin. Principles get in the way of cozying up with dictators. So does information. But Mr. Trump has found a way around that. He simply has none. (Danielle Pletka, senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, quoted in Damian Paletta and Beth Reinhard, “Foreign-Policy Plans Get Sharper Focus”)

The line-up of foreign-policy advisors Trump named a few days ago did not impress.

“I don’t know any of them,” said Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a former official in the George W. Bush State Department. “National security is hard to do well even with first rate people. It’s almost impossible to do well with third rate people.” (Michael Crowley, Trump’s foreign policy team baffles Republican experts)

The Cruz team of Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, Elliot Abrams, and Lt. General Jerry Boykin may be even worse. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Gaffney one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes, a distinction he earned.

Gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims destroying the West from within, Gaffney believes that “creeping Shariah,” or Islamic religious law, is a dire threat to American democracy. In 1988, he founded the neoconservative turned anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy.  He favors congressional hearings to unmask subversive Muslim conspiracies, and was even banned from far-right Conservative Political Action Conference events after accusing two of its organizers of being agents of the Muslim Brotherhood [emphasis mine]. (SPLC)

Ledeen is a former Reagan administration official involved in the Iran-contra affair who calls for regime change in Iran. Abrams is another Iran-contra alumnus. As part of the Reagan team, he also had his fingers in some unsavory anti-communist activity in Central America that included human rights violations and violations of international law. Abrams graduated to the Bush administration, where he played a major role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of which he noted, “We recognize that military action in Iraq, if necessary, will have adverse humanitarian consequences.” (Adrienne Masha Varkiani, Meet The People Behind Ted Cruz’s Terrifying Foreign Policy Plan). Last but not least, Boykin is former undersecretary of defense for intelligence in the George W Bush administration and presently a senior executive at Family Research Council. Like Gaffney, he believes that American government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Col. Pat Lang offered this pithy assessment of the Cruz team:

Oddly, I know all these men. Where did I go wrong?  Ah, too much time inside the Beltway!…

These four men collectively summon up images from the history channel, and they are not good images.

Cruz identifies Iran and ISIS (Daesh) as responsible for the worsening security climate, as if the two are allies instead of the mortal enemies they are. A Cruz administration would recognize an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and locate the U.S. embassy there, as would Trump. Like Trump, Clinton, and to a degree even Sanders, though Bernie’s take is more nuanced (in a more positive sense of this term than it is customarily given these days), Cruz posits an intimate link between Israel and U.S. national security issues. The opening of Cruz’s AIPAC speech sums up his stance:

“Let me say at the outset,” the Texas senator said as he took the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual gathering, “Perhaps to the surprise of the previous speaker [Trump], Palestine has not existed since 1948.”

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has the twin advantages of offering a levelheaded alternative to both the neocon worldview and the Trump-Cruz collection of third-rate, vitriol-spewing, fear-mongering pinheads. By way of example, take these comments from his campaign website:

The U.S. must play a leading role in creating a two-state solution, which will require significant compromises from both sides. The Palestinians must unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist, and hold accountable those who have committed terrorist acts. The Israelis must end the blockade of Gaza, and cease developing settlements on Palestinian land. Both sides must negotiate in good faith regarding all other outstanding issues that stand in the way of a durable and lasting peace in the region. In the meantime, strict adherence, by all sides, to the tenets of international humanitarian law is necessary in order to avoid escalating the conflict yet again.

Sanders and the other candidates are united in calling on Sunnis in the region to take the lead in providing ground forces for the fight against Daesh. This is one of those common-wisdom numbers that sound good until inconvenient details get in the way. Col Lang pours cold water on the strategy:

The notion that a pan-Sunni armed force can be created for the re-conquest of Iraq and IS controlled Syria is a fantasy. Why? Answer: There are no Sunni dominated countries who either have the forces needed or who are willing to deprive themselves of the homeland presence of what are in essence internal security forces. The idea that Saudi Arabia with its puny actual combat power could be the core of such a force is known to be ridiculous by all with a modicum of actual knowledge of the region. Any such force would inevitably be a screen for the employment of major US ground forces to do the real fighting.  The US citizenry will not accept such a thing. The US government appears to be living in a world of its own dreams and group think.

Sanders is good on principle, which is not to be taken lightly. However, there is nothing here or elsewhere to indicate that he has any more clue than anyone else as to how to bring about desired ends. Nor does he tell us who he might bring onto his team to implement his program.

A problem for Sanders is that Clinton has effectively locked up the foreign-policy establishment on the Democratic side.

One expert said the system helped ensure loyalty for Clinton by creating “the illusion of inclusion.”

“Even though you’re one of hundreds, you feel like you’re part of the team,” said one prominent think tank scholar. (John Hudson, Inside Hillary Clinton’s Massive Foreign-Policy Brain Trust)

Unscientific Conclusions

Hillary Clinton is less likely than Trump or Cruz to do anything truly boneheaded in the international arena. She is more likely to be incrementally boneheaded. This is at best only somewhat reassuring. Her AIPAC speech could almost have been delivered by Trump or Cruz. That the qualifier is in order is some indication of just how far out where the buses don’t run one must venture to find the two Republican candidates and the latrines they are busy digging.

Sanders makes much of the vote on Iraq. He got it right. Clinton got it wrong. On that vote Sanders took a principled stand counter to public opinion and establishment wisdom He also failed to influence the debate. It is disturbingly easy to see this scenario playing out as a hallmark of a Sanders presidency.

There is more to the election that foreign affairs and national security. The candidates’ positions here leave me no more sanguine about the country’s prospects than their platforms on the domestic front. As I have said before, I wish I could feel better about Hillary Clinton. I wish I could be as enthusiastic for Bernie Sanders as others are. Part of my dilemma comes down to being persuaded by people like Molly Ivins and Tony Judt that politics is about fighting for incremental progress that will make a difference, maybe only a terribly small difference, but a real difference for the better in the lives of concrete, individual women, men, and children, and the never-ending struggle to keep even those modest gains from being rolled back.

Some friends on the left will not vote for Clinton under any circumstances, and perhaps would find reason not to vote for Sanders because he is not a real socialist. With them I differ on the grounds that a Republican president, whether Trump or Cruz or some variation more palatable to the Republican establishment, say, John Kasich or Paul Ryan, will do their best to roll back what incremental progress has been made during the Obama presidency, and more if they can pull it off, with a terrible effect on the lives of many people. Principles matter. They are not to be lightly put aside even on pragmatic grounds. Nor should they be allowed to paralyze us into inaction when at best they can be only imperfectly realized.

Maybe the challenge is to retain high-mindedness while accepting the necessity of incrementalism, to acknowledge that often we must settle for incremental change without settling for settling.

Quote of the Week

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you had Ted Cruz saying, what we need to do is send more security into patrolling basically neighborhoods where Muslim Americans live.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I have spent the last week so repulsed by Donald Trump, I had forgotten how ugly Ted Cruz could be, but he reminded us this week. (PBS Newshour, 25 March 2016)


Candidate Websites

Hillary Clinton
Ted Cruz
Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump

AIPAC Speeches

Ryan Beckwith, Read Hillary Clinton’s Speech to AIPAC, TIME, 21 March 2016

Ted Cruz: I could not find a transcript of Ted Cruz’s AIPAC speech and could not bring myself to watch to the youtube video. Those interested may refer to Katie Glueck’s Politico account of the speech listed below under Articles and Commentary.

Bernie Sanders Outlines Middle East Policy (just not at AIPAC)

Donald Trump

Articles and Commentary

Juan Cole, Hillary Clinton goes full Neocon at AIPAC, Demonizes Iran, Palestinians, Informed Comment, 22 March 2016
Michael Crowley, Trump’s foreign policy team baffles Republican experts, Politico, 21 March 2016
Katie Glueck, Cruz courts AIPAC, swiping Trump in process, Politico, 21 March 2016
John Hudson, Inside Hillary Clinton’s Massive Foreign-Policy Brain Trust, Foreign Affairs, 10 February 2016
Human Rights Watch, US: Endorse Goldstone Report on Gaza, HRW, 27 September 2009
Louis Jacobson, Ted Cruz misfires on definition of ‘carpet bombing’ in GOP debate, Politifact, 16 December 2015
Journalist’s Resource, U.S. foreign aid to Israel: 2014 congressional report, 2 March 2015
Fred Kaplan, Hillary Clinton Told the Truth About Her Iraq War Vote, Slate, 4 February 2016
Pat Lang, Two Systems, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 18 March 2016
Lang, The Cruz Team: Abrams, Gaffney, Boykin and Ledeen, SST, 19 March 2016.
Lang, In Re Syria, SST, 10 February 2016
Damian Paletta and Beth Reinhard, “Foreign-Policy Plans Get Sharper Focus,” Wall Street Journal, 18 March 2018 (available online by subscription only)
Ed Pilkington, Ted Cruz campaign’s anti-Muslim propagandists called ‘terrifying’, The Guardian, 25 March 2016
Linda Qui, No, Donald Trump, we are not giving Iran $150 billion for ‘nothing’, Politifact, 17 March 2016
Southern Poverty Law Center, About Frank Gaffney Jr.
Conal Urquhart, The Goldstone report: a history, The Guardian, 14 April 2011
Adrienne Masha Varkiani, Meet The People Behind Ted Cruz’s Terrifying Foreign Policy Plan, ThinkProgress, 17 March 2016

Yet Another Ugly Turn

An ugly campaign season took yet another ugly turn last week when opponents of the demagogue Donald Trump chose to go beyond protest and sought to deny Trump’s supporters the right to assemble and Trump the right to speak. There is more to this than just blockheads out for violence, of which each side has its share.

Some believe that the moral imperative to stand against Trump compels them to disrupt rallies and prevent speech. This is a dubious tactical move even if it were otherwise defensible because these actions provide a patina of legitimacy for Trump’s ludicrous claims that his supporters are an oppressed group and his opponents, most notably “the communist” Bernie Sanders, are responsible for any and all violence. Even Trump has a right to speak, however despicable that speech might be, however clear the imperative to stand against Trumpery. We all lose if it comes down to pitting our mob against theirs.

We give credit where credit is due. Marco Rubio is a generally unimpressive public figure. I do not know that Trump is much worse than Rubio and Ted Cruz. Today Rubio said it well in a CNN interview:

You know, you can’t just say or do whatever you want. This is not about political correctness. This is about rules of civility and a way that society talks to each other. And let me ask everybody this, do we really want to live in a country where everybody hates each other? (quoted in Laughland, “Donald Trump deflects blame…”)

We can and should speak and stand for our values. We can and should vote for a better candidate even when we have reservations about that candidate. We can and should support legislation and regulations that prohibit people from putting principles of bigotry and discrimination into practice. We do not have the right to dictate what others may think and say.


Oliver Laughland, Donald Trump deflects blame from all sides after weekend of chaos, The Guardian, 13 March 2016

NPR Staff, ‘This Can’t Go On In Chicago,’ Says Anti-Trump Protester, NPR, 13 March 2016

Keith O’Brien, Inside the Protest That Stopped the Trump Rally, Politico, 13 March 2016

Is Trump strictly speaking fascist? Loosely speaking? Does it matter?

Charges of racism, sexism, elitism, and fascism should be leveled with discretion. They are trivialized by indiscriminate use, while quibbling over labels may distract us from matters of genuine import even when the charge is legitimate.

Juan Cole’s recent post on Donald Trump, How the US went Fascist: Mass media Makes excuses for Trump Voters, is a case in point. The invocation of fascism and comparisons to Mussolini are not required for the indictment that Cole lays out against Trump, his supporters, the Republican Party, and the mass media. The indictment is damning regardless of whether the wave Trump rides is fascist in a technical sense.

Donald Trump should have been kicked out of the Republican Party the moment he began talking about violating the Constitution. The first time he hinted about assaulting the journalists covering his rallies…. When he openly advocated torture (‘worse than waterboarding’)…. When he began speaking of closing houses of worship…. He has solemnly pledged to violate the 1st, 4th and 8th Amendments of the Constitution, at the least….

Then there is the mass media. As Amy Goodman has pointed out, corporate television has routinely pumped Trump into our living rooms. They have virtually blacked out Bernie Sanders….

This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced. People expressed hope that something good would come of it. Mussolini would wring the laziness out of Italy and make the trains fun on time.

On the other hand, maybe Cole is right to invoke the specter of fascism. Maybe there is within the country a drift toward a dark and dangerous politics that should be acknowledged. Whether Trumpism falls wholly or only in part under the rubric of fascism is a lesser point.

Is Trump really all that much worse than Ted Cruz or Mario Rubio? All three hew to the party line calling for ipso facto opposition to anything Obama puts forth. Cruz is to the far right of the far right and widely disliked even by his Republican colleagues in the Senate. That he would be a disaster is self-evident to the Republican and old-line conservative establishment. While Rubio may no longer be the golden boy that establishment once envisioned, he remains their last best hope. Young, handsome, Hispanic, able to come off as reasonably intelligent, he projects a veneer of respectability that is beyond Trump or Cruz. The powers that be on the right hope that in the general election he would be able to appeal to voters for whom Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are anathema, Bernie because he is a socialist devil, Hillary because she is, well, Hillary the she-devil.

It does not require close scrutiny to detect that Rubio’s rhetoric is no less demagogic than what is spouted by his opponents, his proposals on the economy, taxes, the environment, and foreign policy—feel free to add anything I may have omitted—facile, half-baked, and not infrequently outright dangerous. For details I refer you to Matthew Ygelsias, Why I’m more worried wbout Marco Rubio than Donald Trump and a post by Cole that calls Rubio out on misstatements and falsifications about Israel and Palestine: Rubio’s 7 Fallacies on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Can Bernie or Hillary defeat Trump, Rubio, or Cruz in the general election? Some of it may come down to which party can best coalesce around one candidate after a bitterly contested primary. My thoughts here are altogether off the top of my head, with no data or disciplined analysis to back them up. I can see the Republican establishment going whole hog for Trump, or even Cruz, much as they would prefer a Rubio candidacy, because for them Vince Lombardi’s axiom is the bottom line: Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. For the Democrats, Hillary’s followers strike me as more likely to fall in line behind Bernie than the other way around. This would be a necessary but not necessarily sufficient condition for the inauguration of President Bernie. Bernie’s backers tend to be younger, more disaffected, more passionate, and more antithetical to Clinton than her supporters are to Sanders. It would be no surprise if a goodly number of them were to sit out a Bernie-less election on the grounds that Clinton is the candidate of an establishment that encompasses both parties. The election will be a challenge for Hillary even with Bernie and his people solidly behind her. Without them, it is difficult to see it. Let us hope that my pessimism turns out to be unwarranted.


Trump has now been endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is such a blockhead that his own daughter booted him out of France’s far-right National Front, which he founded. Le Pen has said that the concentration camps and gas chambers were a mere “detail” in the history of the Second World War and that Ebola could could solve Europe’s immigration problem in three months. Duke, for his part, presents Trump as a champion of that oppressed minority European Americans.


Madeleine Albright said what?

There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.—Madeleine Albright, calling on women to support Hillary Clinton at a rally in Concord, New Hampshire

This sounds like something from a Saturday Night Live sketch. Yet Albright indeed said it. It turns out she has been using the line for years.

Hillary Clinton defended Albright, pointing out this is an expression of feelings that grew out of Albright’s own long fight for equality. Fair enough. Clinton goes on to say, “Good grief, we’re getting offended by everything these days! People can’t say anything without offending somebody.” Also fair enough, as far as political correctness goes, but political correctness is not the issue here. The issue is the absurd suggestion that women should support Hillary Clinton because she is a woman and the implication that for a woman to support Bernie Sanders is an act of betrayal.

Is there a special place in hell for men who don’t help each other, thus I should support Sanders? Does the principle hold for Hispanics, who thus should support Marco Rubio? For blockheads who… ah, but this line of thought is of little use with the Republican field.

Clinton’s loyalty to a longtime supporter and a person of accomplishment in her own right is admirable. Her unwillingness to denounce a proposition that would be unacceptable if used to call for men to support a male candidate, for blacks to support a black candidate, or for whites to support a white candidate is ethically dubious and from a tactical standpoint obtuse. This is the kind of thing that leads many people, and not just Clinton’s enemies, not only those inclined to sexism, to question her integrity and character. That she either cannot see this or does not see fit to acknowledge it calls her judgement into question as well. Surely she could find a way to tactfully disavow the statement without throwing Albright under the bus. Why can she not this once bring herself to take the high road?

Contrast Clinton’s reaction with Bernie Sanders’s unequivocal denunciation of a group of male supporters who have made “callous and sometimes misogynistic comments about Clinton”:

“I have heard about it,” he told CNN. “It’s disgusting. Look, we don’t want that crap.

“Anyone who’s supporting me and doing sexist things, we don’t want them. We don’t want them. That is not what this campaign is about.”

Tom McCarthy, Albright: ‘special place in hell’ for women who don’t support Clinton, The Guardian, 6 February 2016

Alan Yuhas, Clinton defends Albright and Steinem apologises as sexism claims dominate Democratic race, The Guardian, 7 February 2016

memo from the editorial desk

Minor edits were made to this piece after it was posted. The revisions were by way of reflection and elaboration on the issues. Nothing substantive was changed.

* * * * *

More Scenes from Tilikum Crossing Running Route. The photos are unedited. Many could do with some cropping.

l’affaire Malheur: denouement; or, a single episode in a long, tedious saga?

The fiends at the editorial desk have advised your oft humbled scribe that this site is not devoted exclusively to coverage of l’affaire Malheur. Fair enough. Nonetheless, certain developments should not pass without comment.

The events of Tuesday, 26 January 2016, did not close out the affair. Far from it. We witnessed only the conclusion of one episode in an ongoing saga as the drama shifts now to the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland.

Meantime, the propaganda machine is cranked up full bore. Paramount leader Ammon Bundy reportedly called his wife from the back seat of a police car to put the word out that Finicum was murdered while cooperating with police officers. Next came characterizations, by Bundy’s attorney and others, of the affair as a peaceful protest, you know, the takeover of a federal building and property by armed blockheads, accompanied by death threats against the local sheriff, stalking of the sheriff’s wife, who felt compelled to leave town for her safety, threats against the sheriff’s elderly parents, hacking into government computers and accessing credit card info and personal data, using federal equipment to build roads and expand a parking lot on a wildlife refuge, these geniuses blithely videotaping themselves committing crimes, etc.—yes, peaceful, these disciples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The murder meme buggers credulity. The authorities at all levels, federal, state, and local, were at evident pains to avoid violent confrontation that would give people opportunity to martyr themselves. The past month witnessed militants sporting firearms wherever they went, bizarrely allowed to come and go pretty much as they pleased, indulging in radical, sometimes violent rhetoric that rejected the legitimacy of the federal government and expressed willingness to kill and be killed. Video shows Finicum speeding away after the truck he drove and a jeep carrying Ammon Bundy and others were stopped on a highway in rural Oregon while en route to the town of John Day to promote their cause. Those in the Bundy vehicle were arrested. One passenger emerged from Finicum’s truck and surrendered to the authorities. After a few minutes Finicum took off, swerved when he came to a roadblock, nearly hitting an officer, and crashed into a snowbank, whereupon he emerged from the truck with his hands first in the air. There is no audio, so we do not know what was said. Finicum and officers reportedly exchanged shouts. He twice reached inside his coat, where he had a handgun. It is not clear that he pulled out the gun before he was shot. Two rifles and another gun were found in the truck after the passengers surrendered. Ryan Bundy was wounded in the incident, though it is not clear exactly how that happened. Some accounts reported an exchange of gunfire, but I have not seen this corroborated. There are so many stories flying around that I could have missed it.

Those of us who did not already know ought to have learned in the past few years to be wary of official accounts of shootings by law enforcement. Under the circumstances I am sympathetic with the police officers. They should not be expected to wait for Finicum take out one of their number before responding. It is not as if he had no opportunity to surrender.

Assorted militia people, self-styled patriots, so-called sovereign citizens, and sundry other bundyista sympathizers do not share this view. Social media outrage is being ramped up. Lost in all this is the case of the Hammonds, the two Harney County ranchers sentenced to prison for arson on federal property. The injustice done the Hammonds is rooted not in federal land ownership, policy, and regulation but in mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, under which the Hammonds were sentenced to a prison term that is arguably out of line with their crime, with judicial leniency not an option.

The militias, sovereign citizens, and their sundry spiritual kin may be a small percentage of the population, but they are armed and tend to be angry, their world view shaped by religious and political mythologies that seem just silly to those of a different mindset, yet form the basis of sincere and deeply held beliefs. Not a few are delusional. One suspects that they will continue to do their part to make the country ungovernable. In this they are not alone.

Ah, ça suffit. Next up, some other topic altogether. We have two pieces more or less in progress and a third in mind: the library as refuge for the homeless, conflicts of interest in the funding of health care research, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which I saw today for the second time. Again I was enchanted.


Kelly House, FBI releases video footage of LaVoy Finicum shooting, OregonLive, 28 January 2016

Sam Levin, Oregon militia standoff: One dead after Ammon Bundy and others arrested, The Guardian, 26 January 2016

Nathan Rott, Finicum’s Death Changes Tone Of Occupied Wildlife Refuge In Oregon, NPR, 28 January 2016

John Sepulveda, Explainer: The Bundy Militia’s Particular Brand Of Mormonism, Oregon Public Broadcasting, 3 January 2016

Sovereign Citizens Movement, Southern Poverty Law Center

Jeffrey Tayler, It’s the Mormons and the Kochs: The secret roots of white, male Bundy rage, Salon, 10 January 2016

Les Zaitz, Oregon standoff: Bundy occupation leaves scars behind, OregonLive, 30 January 2016

Malheur Theater of the Absurd

Who knows what would happen if it was me and my native brothers took up arms and occupied a federal building or even that refuge out there? What would happen? Do you think the government would let us … go back into town? And eat? Get supplies? And have people out there bring us wood and keeping us warm? — Jarvis Kennedy, sergeant of arms of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council (OregonLive, 19 January 2016)

The political class remains bafflingly silent as the insurrection in southeastern Oregon enters its fourth week. With the authorities, federal, state, and local, at considerable pains to avoid a violent confrontation, Barack Obama may feel that public comment from the White House would only inflame the situation. While this is an arguable point, there comes a time when it is irresponsible for the president to ignore outright criminal actions and continued defiance of federal authority.

A search of the transcripts for the Republican presidential debate on 15 January and the Democratic debate on 17 January turned up no mention of Malheur. Republican candidates did comment during the early days of the rebellion, although with the notable exception of Donald Trump, quelle surprise, they were careful not to do so forcefully. Trump stated forthrightly, “You cannot let people take over federal property. You can’t, because once you do that, you don’t have a government anymore.” (Joan McCarter, Daily Kos). Lest Trump be given too much credit for sensibility, we note McCarter’s report at Daily Kos that a Trump campaign official, New Hampshire Veterans for Trump co-chair Jerry DeLumus, is a Bundyista.

Where is Senator Lindsey Graham, who has a penchant for waxing apoplectic on the subject of national security? A gang of Constitution-waving felons, petty criminals, thieves, bigots, tax scofflaws, and general blockheads (Faces of the Malheur occupation, The Oregonian/Oregon Live) who could not pass a seventh-grade civics exam have occupied federal land and buildings, accessed government computers and records, including credit cards and personal information on government employees, built roads and expanded a parking a lot on a wildlife refuge, used government equipment to tear down fences so cattle can graze freely in the refuge, and offered armed “protection” for ranchers who defy the law of the land by refusing to pay fees for their cattle to graze on public property. They deny the legitimacy of the federal government and in effect call for its destruction. How is this not a national security issue?

Guys in camouflage play soldier, no doubt in deadly earnest, as they blow horns, provide armed security for Maximum Supreme Leader Ammon Bundy and other spokesmen for the group, and patrol the perimeter on horseback. Two young girls, sisters ages eight and nine, are at the occupied refuge with their parents. Is it too cynical to speculate that they may be there as a shield of innocents to deter the authorities from using force to end the occupation? One can imagine how the situation will be exploited, and not just by the Bundyistas, should harm come the girls’ way. (Peacher, Militants Bring Young Children…)

The only arrest to date of which I am aware is of Kenneth Medenbach, who in quite an exhibition of hubris, arrogance, and stupidity stole a truck from the refuge and drove it thirty miles to a Safeway in Burns to pick up groceries. A second stolen vehicle was also found in the Safeway parking lot. Medenbach was arrested on suspicion of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Suspicion? The second driver seems to have eluded the authorities by going into the Safeway before they arrived on the scene, a development that is, shall we say, puzzling. These guys do not appear to be masterminds.

Meantime, local residents and others in Oregon and across the Northwest have taken a stand against the Bundyistas in town meetings and organized protests. The opposition includes hunters, environmentalists, Portland Audubon Society, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Native Americans, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Oregon governor Kate Brown and Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Peter De Fazio have called on federal law enforcement to bring the occupation to an end. These heartening developments are tempered by reports that blockheads continue to make their way to Malheur to join the insurrection and antigovernment groups and low level so-called conservative political figures have taken up the cause.

At present there is no end in site. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported this morning that the Bundyistas believe that they can gain recruits and support by drawing out the occupation. The two most likely outcomes are both undesirable. Either it ends with violence, or an accord is reached that allows the Bundyistas to claim a propaganda victory and encourages them to do it over again in another locale, in which case there will be violence down the road, maybe sooner, maybe later. If there is a third way, I do not see it.

memo from the editorial desk

Minor edits were made after this piece was initially published. The gist is unchanged.


Alison Flood, Ursula Le Guin blasts coverage of Oregon militia’s ‘Right-Winged Loonybirds’, The Guardian, 21 January 2016

Jerry Headley, Malheur Occupation: Who Has A Claim To This Land? 6 January 2016, (Seattle)

Sam Levin, Locals demand Oregon militia leave refuge: ‘It’s time for you to go home’ The Guardian, 20 January 2016

Levin, Oregon militia could face more than 10 years in prison, legal experts say, The Guardian, 14 January 2016

Martha Marks (board chair of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship), Protecting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is conservative, The Hill, 19 January 2016

Joan McCarter, Donald Trump says he’d end the Oregon standoff just by telling the Bundys ‘You gotta get out’ Daily Kos

Geoff Norcross and John Sepulvado, How Militants May “Indict” Non-Believers, OPB, 22 January 2016

Rallies in Portland, Eugene, other NW cities implore Malheur occupiers to go home, OregonLive, 19 January 2016

Faces of the Malheur occupation: Meet the militants and their visitors, The Oregonian/Oregon Live, 9 January 2016

Amanda Peacher, Bend Protesters Rally Against Refuge Occupation, OPB, 15 January 2016

Peacher, Militants Bring Young Children To Stay At Occupied Refuge, OPB, 22 January 2016

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