Monday, August 28, 2017

Pieces of the Russia puzzle are creating a picture

Pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit into a recognizable picture.
Is this what was motivating Trump to cozy up to Putin? I suspected he had hopes of financial gain in Russia and wrote about it then, but I thought there was still more there that motivated such an obvious and publicly stated "bromance" between the two. Speculation has been that Russia knows information of his questionable financial dealings they could hold over him. The Mueller investigation may or may not reveal that. In any case, it smells like Trump was being played by Russia and Trump was willing to go along, seeing it to his advantage in business if were not elected.

. It may explain the puzzle of why so many of those with Russian connections and dealings to be a major part of Trump's campaign staff and the West Wing. They were on the same wavelength, at minimum. The Russian interference in the election shows mutual interests flowed both ways whether or not there was collusion or actual coordination.. All of this was speculation in the 2016 campaign but was either considered fake news, conspiracy theories, or, if considered to be true, it was sadly accepted as being OK by those who otherwise considered themselves as red blooded Americans who put America first and voted him into office.

See the posting on this blog 6/19/16 Donald Trump's position on NATO has a Grand County impact,
and Trump's Foreign policy: Make Russia great again 9/8/16

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why Democrats will struggle to win in the 2018 midterms

Revised 8 26 18  A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News Sept.6, 2017
A recent CNBC analysis concludes that the GOP could still win the midterms in 2018 despite low approval ratings for President Trump. Math and maps are working against the Democrats.
Common wisdom is that in normal mid-term election years, Democrats  always have challenges since they draw strength from young voters  and minorities who tend not to turn out to vote in non-presidential years. Gerrymandering and constitutional provisions  favor rural areas and smaller states,as well. More  Democratic senate  and House seats are in jeopardy than Republican seats.

There is nothing normal about the state of politics in the US. What throws a monkey wrench into the usual suppositions is that a divisive President  Trump is fracturing the Republican party. Trump's single minded intent to appeal to his "base" is part of the cause of the division. He further alienates and chastises members of Congress and threatens them with a primary if they do not support  all of his issues or his leadership style. As this rift deepens, so does the possibility increase that there will be internal fights within the party or that the GOP would break up into two parties: Nationalists and traditional Republicans or their primaries could turn into ideological brawls. The losing faction could sit on their hands in the general election, giving Democrats a chance to win marginal districts.

Another scenario is that a new centrist movement would emerge in time for the 2020 presidential election cycle that would draw from more traditional Republicans and moderate Democrats, leaving the alt-right nationalists as a separate party and the ideological progressives from the Sanders' wing in the remaining Democratic party. Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Democrat Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper floated a trial balloon through a spokesperson that they were contemplating joining together in an independent unity ticket for president. They immediately shot it down, Hickenlooper by Tweet and Kasich on Meet the Press.The two governors had joined together earlier to urge repair of Obamacare instead of the GOP's very unpopular plan to repeal and replace it. Perhaps that bi-partisan, centrist spirit could at least infect Congress.

That rural areas favor Republicans is a given. Both voting history and conservative, cultural identity are natural fits for the GOP. Rural area voters tend to be more anti federal government and against helping minorities with whom many especially in the mid west and west have little personal contact.
In addition, gerrymandering of Congressional districts may be a strategy used by both parties, but  the recent GOP domination  of state and local  officials favors Republicans. Those state and local officials have drawn  Congressional district boundaries to concentrate  Democratic voters in  as few safe districts as possible.  This gerrymandering will not change that reality  any time soon  since the GOP controls  most governors and state legislatures that  determine Congressional boundaries.

Democrats’ message has been one that appeals to inner cities and suburban areas and states  that trend more liberal.    The division between Sanders’ progressives and Clinton voters is  still simmering, confounded  by an inability to arrive at a campaign message that appeals to both factions. The issue that divides the two factions is health care, the ideological differences of  whether to promote a single payer system or repair Obamacare.  If the party is split , it will be hard put to take advantage of a split Republican party.

The actions  Democrats could take is to make sure their  local and state candidates are culturally similar to district voters even though they may deviate from liberal orthodoxy in some issues. The other is to craft messages that makes America a land of opportunity for all, including  rural voters and rust belt ones.  The negative message may depend  on Trump’s failure to deliver promises on job creation, higher wages,  and economic growth policies .Democrats can  make a good case their policies would help  middle class by helping make making family finance  ends meet by fighting for affordable health insurance,  making it easier to repay student loans,  and raising the minimum wage, for example. However, if they too are split into factions, they will be hard put to take advantage of a split Republican party.

How racial and ethnic hatred can destroy nations and their people

(Updated 8/20/17 and references added 9/17)  A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, August 23, 2017
Donald Trump’s once implied  tolerance  of white nationalist support and his many hints of sympathy for them are now explicit. He revealed  that  dark corner  of his mind  in  the bright light of  his  post Charlottesville tweets and public statements.  These events have reminded me of  my personal  lifelong  quest  to understand  why  people of  civilized and educated nations act out  hatred of fellow  citizens, unmindful that it would  lead to the destruction of their own homelands. If the history  of Nazi Germany and the tragedy of Bosnia are not sufficient  lessons of where this can lead, heaven help our country.

I am optimistic that  America  is taking a different course because of  the growing number of  Republican leaders  and corporate America CEOs  who  called out Trump   for giving the KKK and neo-Nazis the same moral equivalence as those who opposed them. Others, from clergy to the military Joint Chiefs reaffirmed their condemnation of  racial  hatred. Sheer numbers of those marching overwhelmingly peacefully against hate in Boston Saturday further relegates those hate groups to a fringe that uses terrorist tactics to inflate their influence.

My 1958-1959 junior year abroad  was spent in  an occupied post war Berlin where  shrapnel scarred remains  of  buildings  were separated by  empty spaces of rubble. I had many conversations with  Germans as I tried to understand how Nazis came to power and the Holocaust happened.  I met my future husband,  a refugee from another destroyed, Nazi invaded country, Yugoslavia.  From him I got personal insights into a family experiences and views. On spring break, I toured  his country, the first of many visits.  Yugoslavia  was not only a battleground between Nazi forces and the  resistance, there was an ethnic war, as well.  The subsequent  Communist government of  dictator Marshal Tito  kept the lid on simmering ethnic hatred until  after his death  the 1990’s Balkan wars  broke out.   I was a close hand witness of the times leading up to  that conflict and the aftermath.   The Balkan’s  economic recovery from communism was set back years. The former Yugoslavia  is now broken up  into  several small countries.

What I did find  from Berlin to the Balkans is that  political leaders rose to power  by appealing to many of their countrymen’s long time hatred  of those of  a different faith or ethnicity   Leaders hyped blame on these “others”   as the reason for individual  and national  failure. They struck  a responsive chord with large numbers of their population who felt victimized   and others  who believed  in those same leaders who   promised  to solve their economic malaise and chose to turn their backs on the rest.

 I see those same elements of blame and victimization in the US in  recent polls. In one study  45% of Trump voters, felt they were  being more discriminated against   than were  minorities. Those in Trump’s own administration have whispered to reporters, while expressing  dismay in his post Charlottesville comments, they would stick with Trump because he has promised tax and  regulatory reform and economic growth. Likewise, recent polls show Republicans are standing by their man.

An  icon of the results of  ethnic hatred is  one of those fragments of  Yugoslavia:  Bosnia.  During   my frequent visits to Bosnia  I have seen what happened when  ethnic hatred erupted into ethnic cleansing.  Bosnia  is now the poorest country in Europe with a government paralyzed by  ethnic groups still not working out their differences, but fortunately working  within a nominal  framework of democracy.  
When I see white supremacists chanting  “ take back America “ which means ridding America  of all who are not white Christians or subjugating them to white rulers, I get sick to my stomach. I know how  that can end.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Meeting violence with non violence

A version of this was published by the Sky Hi News, Aug.30, 2017

Revised 8/25/2017
Non violent protests have usually been associated with social movements combating oppression. Sit ins, marches, and sign waiving have become of a part of the American landscape, but they are  usually initiated by groups seeking change. Fighting violence with violence is not always a smart strategy nor is it the most effective one. What could work even better is using those same non violent protest techniques in counter protesters.  There is emotional satisfaction in taking the moral high road, too, for those who have not lost their moral compasses or a preference for peaceful non violence. If we have learned anything from history of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others, in the long run, techniques they used have worked better to further their cause than did violence. For both pragmatic and moral reasons we should   encourage future counter demonstrators to use non-violent techniques of peaceful marches and shunning associations with perpetrators of racism and hatred.

 Fighting violent demonstrations with violent counter demonstrations only heats up  the conflict and   it opens them up to counter charges that weaken their case, as happened after Charlottesville.  Trump tried to exploit the violence of the counter protesters , but fortunately for the counter protesters, he bungled it with a "plague on both houses" approach,   by claiming "many sides" were guilty of violence. This is what generated the "moral equivalency" charges against him.   He was referring to the violent techniques used by both sides, but the public saw it as approval  or tolerance of the  ideology of hate groups.   He then sealed his fate forever by  defining himself as  being a fellow traveler of racists  by saying "there were some fine people "in the KKK and white supremacist demonstrators.  Trump's approach was not popular with most Americans,, with polls showing only 28% approved of his handling of Charlottesville. Nonetheless, he maintained job approval of 77% of Republicans per an August 23 Quinnipiac poll while his national job approval sank to 35%.

What did happen after Charlottesville shows how  peaceful, none violent marches of overwhelming numbers can bring  public sentiment to their side.  A mostly peaceful marches of masses of at least 20,000 in Boston cowed the "free speech" alt-right event. It makes the alt right look like a fringe group. The large gathering at a candle light vigil on the grounds of the University of Virginia was another  visual picture of the  large size turnout  of those who opposed a hate agenda, too. Violent clashes in Phoenix this week when Trump held a campaign style rally were very unhelpful to either side.

The size of turnout at demonstrations counts. Perception of strength  or weakness is almost as important as actual numbers.  For that reason, the numbers who turn out on behalf of one side or the other can be very important in painting a group as a powerless fringe. What may come as a shock to some is how large the  numbers  are of those who approve of the ideology of hate and violence.  A recent ABC poll found one in ten thought it was OK to hold neo-Nazi and white supremacist views.   The shock value and neo-Nazis' and KKK's   bold openness achieved their goal of raising public awareness of their strength. The alt right demonstrators in  Charlottesville  basked in the glow of Trump's remarks that ""there were fine people "in their ranks and their violence was no worse than Antifa or Black Lives Matter counter acts. They were emboldened to display their hate messages in public again in the future. Since when have "fine people" raised their hands in a Nazi salute or chanted hate slogans?

 Public shunning is another tool in the non-violent toolbox.   We saw that  action taken immediately following Trump's pronouncements.  Corporate and labor leaders and artists  withdrew from Administration's  advisory boards, causing their disbanding.  A large number of GOP leaders likewise distanced themselves from racism and hatred.  They did not want to be associated with anyone who showed sympathy to the ideology of racial and religious hatred.

Shunning is also a physical but peaceful way for individuals or groups of people to show disapproval by resigning from organizations, religious or secular, that  refuse to condemn racism and hatred. An essential part of the shunning technique is  stating the reason for departing so there is no question why your back is turned.  Individuals can also  refuse to participate in conversations and to walk away, unfriend, or hang up after registering their reasons  in quiet terms. A simple statement that you do not participate in racism and hate may take some guts if you are in a group of people you count as friends and colleagues, but if many do it, it could be a powerful movement.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Why Colorado's Trump supporters hold firm

A version of this was in all editions of the Sky Hi Daily News Aug 9, 2017

The polarization of our media, our tendency to get our news from either liberal or conservative biased outlets and sources, causes some head scratching since we have hard time understanding what the “other side” is thinking.  Those from the liberal viewpoint cannot  understand why 38% of Colorado’s electorate is persisting in supporting  President Trump  since the news  they hear from Washington  is so negative . Conservatives take comfort in that   even if he fails or has not yet undertaken  them, they approve  his efforts on issues important to them. He is channeling their attitudes, enjoying his sticking a finger in the eyes of the establishment, no matter how crudely and unpresidential he acts. They have not lost their faith in him to deliver on issues. My  own conclusion: it will take evidence of the magnitude of the Nixon Watergate tapes to prove Trump’s  Russian ties illegal or a stalled, downward turning economy to shake their faith.

Donald Trump’s job approval  is low which should be troubling for the state GOP.  Hillary Clinton won the state with over a 5% margin and Trump appears even weaker now.  This makes it an uphill climb for them  in future state, Senate, and congressional elections, assuming the outcome would be influenced by Trump’s coattails. That is an assumption Democrats should not rely on, since “all politics are local” and traditional Republican loyalties and values could “trump” Trump.  This is still a purple state trending  bluer.

Per a recent Gallup state by state poll averaging  the first 6 months of his term, Colorado is one of 17 states where Trump’s  job approval rating is below 40%.  In 17 states his job approval rating is above 50%, but the national average is around 40% over the period. Real Clear Politics, a  tilting conservative site that publishes all national polling results,  confirms the national Gallup figures as well. Between 52-56% of those recently polled disapprove of Trump’s job.  Trump  is  now in the low 40’s in the same  rust belt states that gave him his electoral victory. He would lose those states today. An August 2, 2017  Quinnipiac poll shows Trump with 33%  national job approval, but even then 76% of Republicans still approve his job performance. One demographic that has supported him in the past, white voters without a college education, now disapprove of him 50-43%.

The political weekly , The Colorado Politics, published  a story that Trump supporters were holding firm. (July 21, 2017
) . Their team of reporters, including Joey Bunch,   interviewed some  Colorado 2016 Trump supporters to see if and  why they still supported him.  Of those interviewed, most liked  his brash attitude- and his anti-Washington appointments and attacks.  They like where his is going on “religious freedom”,   school choice ; more aggressive military action ; immigration; gun rights; Supreme Court  and cabinet appointments; pro life; anti EPA regulations, rollback of entitlements,  and “getting the ball rolling” on jobs and the economy.  Those interviewed  did not take the Russian connection investigations  seriously and blamed  media coverage for being a distraction.  I noted that of those interviewed repeal/replace Obamacare received no specific mention. A Magellan poll  taken in April  showed similar findings on some issues but revealed  60% Colorado voters would rather have Obamacare fixed, not repealed.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The power of slogans for good and evil (updated with comments on Charlottesville)

A version of this appeared in the Aug. 16, 2017 editions of the Sky Hi News

In political marketing successful slogans can determine the winner.  Donald Trump’s win was largely due to  a visceral and effective use of a slogan, "Make America Great Again". The most effective slogans inspire people,  and give them hope. They can also resonate with their worst fears and prejudices as the racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA illustrated last Saturday.

The slogan the Democratic Party has crafted recently, “A Better Deal” , did not exactly touch my heart.  Something that is  just relatively better is not a very inspiring goal. One that might be a positive umbrella with wide appeal could be something like  " for an America, a land of opportunity" . It promotes Democratic platforms of inclusion, supporting the integrity of democratic institutions and voter rights, a rational immigration policy, and helpful to daily  lives of more people from student loan relief and low cost trade schools, raising the minimum age,  and affordable access to health care.

Slogans can also be deceptive and difficult to fulfill. Donald Trump's slogan " Make America Great Again" was  vague enough that voters could imagine   their own  hopes and fears fitting under the  slogan’s umbrella, unless it was more exactly defined. It had an inspirational , nationalistic ring . Fact checkers found he  often lied about statistics and examples he cited to support his slogans and he offered few concrete "how and what" plan details to reach those goals. Trumps's attacks on Clinton's character and hard line immigration policies  fell under the  larger Make America  Great Again banner with the operative word "again" , a time past which meant to many before women's lib and the civil rights movement. There are in-depth post election studies  that showed  racism and sexism motivated a significant number of Trump voters in the  2016 election.

Trump's economic message was a promise he would make America great again by putting American interests first by going it alone without the burden of multinational agreements and reducing regulatory and tax burdens on business and individuals. We would return again to a nation of manufacturing instead of importing from countries to which we had exported our jobs . His  economic message went  virtually unchallenged  by Clinton, a fatal error, and her slogan, "Stronger together" never quite caught on. Her message strategy was not about togetherness for all. Instead, she appealed to certain demographic segments.

Trump’s sub slogans appealed to white supremacists and he has done little to criticize their use/misuse. Throughout the 2016 campaign and in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, instead of calling out the KKK, alt-right, and neo Nazis, he condemned bigotry "on many sides". This was a glaring example of his continued reluctance in the campaign to say anything specific that would lose racists' support. White supremacists used another Trump slogan, "Take America Back", to rally their demonstrators and some wore Trump buttons. Democrats, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and some other GOP senators strongly and quickly called Trump out for not condemning the supremacists as evil doers. The next morning, an unattributed White House statement did "include" as bigots supremacist organizations by name. The following Monday, the President himself called racism evil and called out the KKK, neo Nazis, and white supremacists by name, to his credit.

Hate slogans provoke hate and threats of violence are met with threats and acts of violence. The only way out of such a vicious circle is for moral, religious and political leaders to point a different way. In the midst of the violence in Charlottesville there was another image, of a line of robed clergy singing of love and peace in spite of the KKK and Nazis intimidating them with tiki torch marches and Nazi slogans the night before.

A contrast with Donald Trump's initial message was Ronald Reagan's winning and  inspiring 1980 election eve address: " These visitors to that city on the Potomac do not come as white or black, red or yellow; they are not Jews or Christians; conservatives or liberals; or Democrats or Republicans. They are Americans awed by what has gone before, proud of what for them is still…a shining city on a hill....."