Sunday, January 31, 2016

Obama's team of rivals v Trump's bowling alone

A team of rivals v bowling alone

 My greatest concern about Donald Trump becoming president is not just his campaign based on fear  and loathing  of  certain religious and ethnic immigrants,  hostile reporters, and anyone who crosses him. It is his arrogance and unwillingness to respect and consider other opinions in decision making.  It is bowling alone when his measure of success is the opinion he has of himself and his ideas and who surrounds himself with yes men, valuing loyalty over anything else.

It is an ultimate contrast with the “team of rivals” style of the Obama administration. Barack Obama purposefully included those who had disagreed with him such as Hillary Clinton, to provide different judgement calls in the debates over shaping foreign policy. At last reports, Trump even  had no team of foreign policy experts advising him.

Trump may be a strong leader, but the dangers of having too much strength by someone who is autocratic and egocentric in control of the White House is not good for democracy or our national security.  We should be wary of a leader with that style of leadership in a democracy, particularly one that disdains or is ignorant  the rules of law , vows revenge on those who ‘disrespects him”,  tramples individual and human rights  protected by the Constitution and who has no respect for the innocents he would destroy in pursuit of a foreign policy that would “bomb the ___ out of them”.

 Trump’s  demanding respect and then taking  revenge when disrespected  sounds more  like something out of “The Godfather”. He is already been disrespected by the very allies, Arab and the United Kingdom, for his anti Muslim stance.  That is a formula for having to bowl alone in executing foreign policy, using our own blood and treasure with little help from our friends.

Respecting and including different views leads to looking all options and collateral, unanticipated consequences, but that is wisdom in decision making.  Say what you will about the decisions coming from of his administration, but Obama did deal with blunders of the prior Bush administration that upset the balance of power and kept us out of another  Mid East war, the bottom line of most Americans.  His international poll numbers show greater respect than his predecessors.

I am not one to call Donald Trump a fascist or a dictator, but he has the seeds within him when he makes proposals that ignore the Constitution such as putting American Muslims in monitoring devices, using religion as a test of who can and cannot enter the United States, and replacing general who do not agree with his preconceived notions or that “he knows ISIS better than they do”. Both former secretary of Defense and CIA director Robert Gates and  retired Army Chief General Raymond  Odierno  as well as  retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, who was  the Navy’s top lawyer, have not been shy in criticizing Trump’s attitudes as well.

 I have faith that our Constitutions’ checks and balances will kick in to constrain a leader like that but it will be a painful process. Worse, ignoring sound advice may lead to blunders that defeat him in the next election cycle. The stress and strain on the conflicts and power struggles will cause stress, chaos, distractions, that make the current Washington gridlock look like child’s play, accomplishing little, weakening our ability to form alliances in our fight against ISIS,   and disappointing many.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why experience in both domestic and foreign affairs counts

More than once domestic and foreign crises have influenced  the final outcome of presidential  primaries and general elections. An ideal candidate has to be prepared to deal both domestic and foreign events and can make their case that their approach would work better, or they have the skills and experience  to avoid blunders that could make the situation worse. 

A few months before the 2008 campaign, the financial sector and our economy collapsed, boosting the election of Barack Obama.  With terrorist attacks on San Bernardino and Paris,  national security and foreign affairs became the most important and gave rise to  Donald Trump’s politics of fear and loathing of Muslims and immigrants.  

Domestic policy credentials are based more on ideology and appeal to their bases than reality.  However, foreign affairs is reality politics and more  like a chess game  than a WWE wrestling match, since fallout, collateral damage, and history of  past mistakes have to be considered. That takes knowledge, experience and skill to play at that level.

Bernie Sanders has some  potential weaknesses in his domestic platform and zero experience in foreign affairs. He made his gains in advocating a revolutionary single payer healthcare system and greater income equality. However, by his own admission, raising taxes even on the middle class would be necessary to pay for his health plan, and that it would take a change in the political makeup of Congress as well as campaign finance reform to happen first. That is pie in the sky in the next four years. They are impossible dreams guaranteed to give us more years of gridlock. The House, for sure,  and probably a Senate will be controlled  by the GOP  thanks to gerrymandering and that  most state houses are occupied by Republican majorities with their hands on the political machinery. Losing the White House, too, makes the electability argument critical to preserving Obama’s gains, and Sanders’ professed socialism will spook moderates needed to win a general election.

Clinton on the other hand is in a much stronger position on foreign affairs than she was in 2008. Since then she has served as Secretary of State and she has a reputation as being the hawkish vote in the Obama administration debates, which is more in tune with the mood of 2016 than is Sanders’.  On the domestic side she touts achievable goals as a protector of the Obama legacy on health care and giving more support to programs directly benefitting the middle class, while opposing tax increases.

If Jeb Bush is the GOP candidate, the foreign affairs baggage of the  President George W Bush administration would be a curse. The advisors he has now were the same responsible for the Iraq invasion/occupation blunders.  Trump’s way to make American strong again is sheer bully and bluster and likely blunder into war. He considers diplomacy and alliances a sign of weakness; his stated art of deal making techniques and lies may work in the private sector, but not where other countries’ own domestic pressures play a role. His hate speech has already made chances of military and diplomatic alliances remote.. His CEO authoritarian style is surrounding himself with yes men. He has already indicated he would replace generals who disagreed with him, claiming he knew more about ISIS than the generals did.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The presidential race will be decided more than ever by the middle

The way it appears in January 2016, the likely outcome of the presidential general election will be decided by the middle. A large number of Democrats, independents, and Republicans will have to choose between either extremes or settle for the least extreme.  The middle, while shrinking in the recent years, will be larger because both parties’ bases have swung to their farthest ideological corners and their disparate positions split the anger vote. The result is to give the advantage to a candidate who appeals to a majority of the swing middle.
The Iran deal and its initial success has highlighted the power of diplomatic and economic tools that required the building of alliances, even including the Russians and the Chinese.  The anti- Muslim rhetoric by the extremes in the Republican party have made that kind of diplomacy  nearly impossible by alienating or insulting  European and middle eastern allies needed to forge those diplomatic agreements. Left as a tool in the US quiver would be near solo military action a la Iraq. We know how Iraq turned out ,fueling the rise of ISIS, eliminating Iran’s chief enemy, Iraq,  and the cost in blood and billions in dollars.  The new blood would be contributed by this current generation of younger voters.
Adding to the GOP’s extremist problem is a sizeable chunk of GOP voters supporting either Donald  Trump or Ted Cruz. Both have alienated Hispanics who are swing votes in states crucial to winning the electoral college. It is still GOP litany that government control of health care is bad and  Obamacare should be repealed,  leaving 19 million without affordable coverage and no economically veto feasible way to provide  coverage of pre-existing conditions.
The Democratic debate last Sunday was between the more pragmatic Hillary Clinton and the idealism of Bernie Sanders about whether to improve on  Obamacare (Clinton) or support Sanders’ radically changing the entire health care system to a single payer government controlled program eliminating private health insurers. Sanders plans to pay for his single payer system completely government controlled with a variety of higher taxes on even the middle class in exchange for lower out of pocket and system costs. It is unclear if Sanders’ earlier proposal continues, that states would agree to chip in 14% of the cost.   Getting Obamacare’s nearly free Medicaid expansion has met with significant numbers of states not participating. Most state governments are controlled by the GOP.

 For the Democrats, a bird in the hand should be worth two in the bush. It has been nearly six  years since the Sanders’ approach and a “public option” giving consumers a choice of a government plan or a private insurance one, were debated and rejected.  Then both houses of Congress and the White House were in the hands of Democrats.  Chances of a Sanders’ proposal succeeding now is even dimmer .The House is and will be in the hands of the tea party protected by gerrymandered ‘safe seats” . The Senate control of either party is up for grabs. Opening the debate on health care again is a gamble.   Democrats could be divided.  A united GOP could succeed in altering or killing Obamacare, especially if their legislation is veto proof or signed by a GOP president 

A versiion of this was published in the  January 22, 2016

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Calling opponents liars, the theme of 2015 campaigns

One of the recently emerging themes of the current political season is calling opponents liars. It is beginning to look like an elementary school yard brawl. How does a rational voter sort this out?
Here is the danger.  The dedicated partisans of one side often believe their favorite candidate’s lies are true, even if facts reveal otherwise.  Worse is how those lies are used.  If it is used to make people hate others more to gain their support, Trump is guilty of that. Clinton is more guilty of self-aggrandizement, guilt avoidance, and factual inaccuracies in making a case for a specific government program.
Tapping fact checkers is one way to see who is the  bigger liar. Partisans of the Trump wing usually dismiss fact checkers as main stream media as a way of avoiding arguing the facts.   PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times and uses a “Truth-O-Meter”. Glen Kessler of the Washington Post awards Pinocchios, the worst lies deserving four of them. is not part of the mainstream media. It is a project of the Annenberg Foundation.   What is interesting is to compare them with those from those usually right wing leaning, including the New York Post or Breitbart.
PolitiFact awards the Liar of the Year to Donald Trump. “PolitiFact has been documenting Trump’s statements on our Truth-O-Meter, where we’ve rated 76 percent of them Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire, out of 77 statements checked. No other politician has as many statements rated so far down on the dial.…. But it was hard to single one out from the others. So we have rolled them into one big trophy.”
The Washington Post Fact Checker  gives  Trump  their  liar award, too. They concluded “ In the space of just six months, he earned 11 Four-Pinocchio ratings, far more than any other candidate.” names Donald Trump the “King of Whoppers”.
 Trump frequently makes false claims or claims without proof to gin up hate of others. Mentioned as Trump whoppers by at least one, if not more, are Trump’s “Thousands and Thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attack, that Mexican government sending immigrants that are criminals and rapists to the US, and that “Whites killed by Whites, are 16%; whites killed by blacks are 81%” when the reverse is true. Another falsehood is that Christian refugees cannot come into this country, while Muslims can come easily”.
Hillary Clinton gets criticized by saying she tried to join the marines once, but the NY Post says that is a lie and Washington Post  gave her 2 Pinocchios. The NY Post claims Clinton knew the Ben Ghazi attack was caused by jihadists from the beginning. The Washington Post gave her two Pinocchios for her Congressional testimony on Benghazi and three on some of her email server statements. Fact said she was mistaken when she claimed drug prices had doubled and that cost shifting accounted for higher premiums.  Was she dead broke when she left the White House? NY Post says her net worth was $101 million. Did she come under sniper fire in Bosnia? Clearly not true per videos of the time.

A version of this was published in the  1/15/16

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Muftic: So we want Muslim phobic guys like these to be the leader of the free world?

The primrose path to homeland security advocated by Donald Trump and fellow travelers is simple: keep out Muslims, all of them, or even carpet bomb them. Fear is like a blindfold on a runner. It keeps those driven by fear from seeing the ruts and roots that will trip them up.
Here are some of the obstacles on the path to greater security. Key to reaching the goal of greater homeland security is to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Nearly all of both political parties agree to succeed we need to form a coalition of regional Arabs, Turks, and Shia Iraqis to do the ground fighting in Syria and to bring along our European allies in a support role. The president we elect must also be the leader in creating that coalition, already difficult when those we want to join have conflicting goals. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and his ilk have made coalition building a mission impossible. So we want Muslim phobic guys like these to be the leader of the free world to fight ISIS?
Trump has already alienated the allies he professes he needs to lead in a coalition. He would be a leader with few followers. Ted Cruz’s proposal “ bomb ISIS to oblivion” and the resulting death to civilians would lead to world- wide outrage. Imagine what that would look like on CNN.
To put together that kind of coalition requires strong leadership from the US and Trump has become a persona non grata to those we need most to form a coalition. His anti- Muslim rhetoric has already made him unwelcome in Israel and Jordan and he had to cancel both trips to those countries. His ban also received negative reactions from China to our Middle East allies to Europe. His proposal to keep Muslims out of the US created such a backlash in Britain, half a million Brits in a few days signed a petition to ban him from setting foot on the United Kingdom.
Religious tests for admission to the US to determine who is not a Muslim would dim the lights of the shining city on the hill that that makes us exceptional and admired for our secular laws protecting civil rights, regardless of race or religion. It would require verification of non- Muslim identity that by necessity is based on someone’s word to the immigration officer. Chiming in were other candidates, even reasonable Jeb Bush, who wanted to admit only Christian Syrians, making it necessary to subject them to the same religious tests.
Those are public relations nightmares that would increase anger on the Muslim streets and their leaders veritying that the US is officially against the billions of Muslims around the world when only a fraction of Muslims world-wide subscribe to that death cult of violent jihadism. It would destroy the trust and credibility of the US when diplomacy and coalition building are key to our national security.

Published in December, 2015

Sunday, January 3, 2016

So Trump thinks he can damage Hillary Clinton by reminding the nation of her husband’s sexual exploits or her bathroom habits? That is risky politics.

A memo to Donald Trump:   So you think you can damage Hillary Clinton by reminding the nation of her husband’s sexual exploits or her bathroom habits? That is risky politics. You just do not get it when it comes to women. In national polls, 6 in 10 women do not believe you “represent their interests”.  Why? It is about respect.

 Hillary was not the perpetrator in the blue dress affair. She was the victim. Women understand. She is not the first woman to be in that situation.   The marriage almost broke up, but she put family and her support of Bill’s political accomplishments above it. She deserves respect for grit and determination, and for what she has accomplished as her own person and not your crass reminders of those times.

Here is  the significance of what Hillary Clinton has accomplished. She is paving the way for so many in the future.  In the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, women had to overcome a charge that they were “underqualified”, with no experience in government or political leadership.  No wonder.  The corporate and governmental  powers were not friendly toward women moving up the ladder. They may have been loved, but they were disrespected.

In the FDR era Frances Perkins served as the first woman cabinet member as Secretary of Labor and in the early 1950’s Oveta Culp Hobby was the first head of Health, Education and Welfare.   My mother considered their service as proof that women could do such jobs as well as men.   Nonetheless,   women governmental officials and CEO’s were rare in the 1950’s and ‘60s. A few took over position left by deceased husbands.  Participation as unpaid volunteers and civic activists were the other routes left to women and those credentials were not respected as much as experience in government and the corporate world.

 That began to change with the women’s rights movement in the 1970’s, and now women are governors, many more than in the past serve in Congress and as mayors, and cabinet officials, including Hillary Clinton. They have become ones mothers can hold up to their girls as how far women can go because now they have achieved the experience needed to gain respect.

 There is still a long way to go. Only 20% of Congress are women. Nonetheless, it is a foundation on which girls in the future can build because the possibilities of success have been publicly demonstrated.   No candidate running now can claim the international and domestic experience Hillary Clinton has: lawyer, Senator, Secretary of State.

 Bill Clinton deserves every bit of criticism for his personal follies, but if you persist in visiting the sins of Bill Clinton on Hillary Clinton, you will have also risked giving the opportunity for Bill Clinton to remind voters of successes on his watch that puts the GOP in a relatively bad light. When Bill Clinton took office, the deficit was 4.7% of the GDP; when he left, it was a surplus of 2.4%.  Inflation rates were reduced and growth was 3.8%.  Under Bill Clinton’s watch, the unemployment rate was 3.9%. With GOP presidents, the average is 6.1%. More jobs were created per month during the Clinton presidency than during any other presidency in recent U.S. history.

A version of this was published in the January 8, 2016    Panetta endorses Hillary; experience counts