Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Questions for the Candidates

In case anyone's listening, here are some serious questions I'd like to see asked of the candidates. All are related to security and foreign relations.

Clinton: You've said that we will never have boots on the ground in the Middle East again. Since we already have a large number of Special Forces training and aiding our allies, are you saying that you would withdraw them?

Follow-up: Doesn't this mean that you are ceding the Middle East to Iran and Russia?

Trump: The past couple of years have shown that air power by itself is not enough to defeat ISIS. How will you handle the need for American boots on the ground?

Clinton: The Iran treaty was negotiated in secret while members of the Obama administration lied to Congress about sanctions and the intentions of Iran. It was never formally presented to the Senate to ratify, it is in force by executive order. Among the conditions for the treaty to continue, the US has to refrain from interfering with Syria's Bashir who has repeatedly used poison gas on his populous. Will you abide by the terms of the treaty? If not, how will you change it?

Trump: Same question.

Clinton: Your anti-terrorism plan basically consists of increased spying on Americans. Is there anything else to your plan?

Trump: You have also called for increased spying but more targeted at Muslims. Given your reluctance to engage Islamic extremists overseas, how will you stop self-radicalization?

Clinton: President Obama scaled back on American pro-democracy efforts across the globe. Will you continue his policies or return them to the levels they were under President Bush or even your husband?

Follow-up: Obama opened relations with Cuba without any human rights concessions. Will you follow his lead in dealing with the Castro brothers or will you apply pressure on them to improve human rights?

Trump: You have talked about withdrawing from NATO and closing overseas bases. American protection is more than a matter of defense. It is also a huge bargaining chip in trade negotiations and international crises. It would also give Russia and China a great deal more international influence. Given these factors, don't the benefits of overseas bases balance out the costs.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Birtherism

Birtherism, the notion that Barack Obama was born outside the US, has become a hot topic recently. Trump, a birther since 2011, finally agreed that President Obama was born in Hawaii, as claimed.

There are a few interesting things about the media coverage. The first is the blanket denial that Hillary Clinton's campaign was responsible for birtherism in the first place. Politifact gave it a false ruling. While I used to have a lot of respect for this site, they've been getting more and more partisan over the years. While it is true that there is no record of Hillary Clinton ever questioning Obama's birthplace, there is no question that this was part of a general campaign against Obama when the two were competing for the 2008 nomination. The Clinton campaign's surrogates quietly suggested that Obama was a secret Muslim. When asked to deny it, Hillary always said things like "Obama's a Christian... as far as I know."

Two reporters have come forward saying that Clinton campaign operative Sidney Blumenthal pushed stories about Obama's birthplace and his religion.

Remember, this was early 2008. The Republicans were still a long way from settling the nomination and Obama was still the underdog. No one but the Clinton campaign had any reason for spreading doubt about Obama's qualifications to be president. Even if the Clinton campaign didn't start the rumor they were the reason it spread.

Politifact's ruling rests on the construction that there is no evidence that Clinton's supporters invented the claim while admitting that they spread it. They also accept Hillary's statement that this was unauthorized. The statement they were fact checking said, "Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy." Even Politifact admits that people in the Clinton campaign were involved in spreading birtherism. It takes no stretch of the imagination to picture Hillary approving this. It's in keeping with her treatment of the women Bill had affairs with.

Everyone in the news media in 2008 knows this. Hillary covered her tracks (on a private email server?) but there were no other suspects.

So the news media is covering for Hillary.

Even worse, they are insisting that birtherism is racist and that Trump should apologize for it. This is my second point. The media knows full well that birtherism began with Hillary but rather than admitting it and calling her a racist, they are throwing that insult at birther-come-laty, Trump.

For the record - birtherism was always a dumb idea. It required foreknowledge that the newborn Barack would need to claim American citizenship at a time that a black president seemed inconceivable. Regardless of where he was born, Obama's mother was an American citizen, just as McCain's and Cruze's so he'd be a citizen regardless.

One thing that makes me leery of Trump is that he revived this silly idea after it died out.
 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Did Hillary Just Lose the Election?

Very few people are actually planning on voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. They will be voting against the worst candidate. Over the past weekend, Hillary made her case for being the worst.

First it came out that she's been saying that half of Trump's supporters are a "basket of deplorables". She later had to back off from that, saying that she had over-generalized. This did not stop her supporters from doubling down and insisting that she'd lowballed the figure when she said that 1/2 of Trump's supporters (and 1/4 of the nation) are irredeemable racists.

Given the low bar that the left has for labeling people as racists, homophobes, xenophobes, and islamiphobes, a lot of possible voters are going to assume that Hillary included them. Not the proper action for a close election that needs to attract voters from the other side.

A phrase like Basket of Deplorables isn't going to mobilize the Left but the Right won't forget it.

But that's minor compared to September 11 when Hillary left a 9/11 commemoration early and was seen collapsing while waiting for her van. After weeks of denying that Hillary had any health problems, the campaign was caught in a lie - again.

Actually, the campaign was caught issuing a series of excuses. First they said that Hillary was dehydrated. Then they said that she had pneumonia. But they kept falling back on the dehydration excuse, too.

There is a familiarity to this. Hillary went through a long list of excuses and prevarications about her private email server. For now, most people are accepting the pneumonia excuse but there are flaws in it. The official story is that she had only had a cough for a week but people were talking about it long before that. Then there's her detour to her daughter's apartment instead of a hospital. Someone with pneumonia collapses and doesn't go to the hospital?

Given Hillary's problems with the truth, flaws in her story look like possible lies. Hillary never tells a truth that will hurt her. She lies, she prevaricates, she misdirects, she stonewalls, but she never comes out and tells the truth. It's a major character flaw and it hurt her greatly over the weekend. There's a good chance that voters will be skeptical of pat explanations about her health and any other statements she says about major topics. That could cost her the election. 


Monday, September 05, 2016

Trump and Racism

It's a ritual - once the Republican candidate is chosen, the left talks about how racist he is or must be because he's a Republican. In some cases they delight in making fun of any dark-skinned grandchildren that the candidate has. The unusual thing about this election is that they've admitted that they did it in previous elections. The current message is, "Yes, we said that every candidate since Nixon is a racist but they weren't really and we regret saying it because Trump really, really is a racist and you won't believe us now."

There's a problem with this approach, it's hard to find actual racism from Trump. The usual examples are from Trump's statements on illegal immigrants. He's claimed that Mexico sends its worst over here. These are generalizations based on anecdotal stories and are exaggerated by Trump. They are certainly hurtful to law-abiding illegal immigrants (although they did break a law coming here). BUT, illegal immigrants are not a race. They are people who have come here illegally.

Then there is Trump's Muslim ban. He hasn't said that he will ban Muslims. He said that he will put a hold on accepting Muslim refugees until we have a better screening process. This seems like common sense to many people, especially after the spate of terrorist attacks in Orlando and Europe this Summer. Granted these were by long-time residents but people feel unsafe because of these and need assurance that new terrorists aren't being brought in.

Consider the stress that accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees has put on Europe. Accepting unlimited refugees is causing the rise of nationalist, anti-Europe parties. The Left is being foolish to emulate policies that are so unpopular in Europe.

Again, refugees are not a race. Neither is Islam - it's a religion.

Then comes the biggest problem with Trump being a racist - trying to find examples of racism against blacks. If it existed then it would be all over the airwaves. That's a problem when claiming that Trump is Hitler.

And here's another huge problem with claiming that Trump is a racist - he used to be a Democrat. Didn't anyone on the Left notice this back when he was one of them? President and Secretary Clinton were guests at his last wedding. Were they really willing to attend the wedding of the next Mussolini? Or were they willing to look the other way as long as he kept writing checks?

Given the Left's history of crying wolf (or "Hitler"), it's hard to believe that this time they are finally correct.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Sun Queen

During the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, the most desired post in the court was for the man who helped the King put his shirt on in the morning. The reason for this has modern implications.

If you were a wealthy person in 17th century France and you wanted to make an appeal to the King you could go through official channels but it was unlikely that it would reach the king and if it did it was likely to be lost among similar appeals. Plus every step of the bureaucracy expected a bribe to expedite your request.

But there was a short-cut. The person who helped Louis dress was also the first person he spoke with each day. Louis made sure to choose someone he liked and trusted. So, that person was ideally placed to put a word in the King's ear. And he did. His fees for doing this were high but it was a way to bypass the bureaucracy. He couldn't guarantee how the King would act, only that your message would reach the King's ear.

That's how the Clinton Foundation acted during Hillary's term as Secretary of State. You could try going through normal channels but there was a short-cut for Clinton Foundation donors. The head of the Foundation had a direct line to Hillary's chief assistants. That didn't mean that Hillary would act on your request. Sometimes it was outside the control of her office. It also meant that you had a good chance at arranging a a personal meeting with the Secretary of State. Who knows what happened then?

Hillary has said that this issue is all "smoke but no fire" but she has a long and complicated relationship with the truth. The important thing is that donors to the Clinton Foundation didn't have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.

Confidence in the Vote

The Left is upset by Trump's suggestion that the polls and elections are rigged against him. While this is a serious charge, it is hardly as unusual as the Left pretends.

First there was the 2000 election. Bush won and Gore conceded to him then called back to un-conced. Gore spent the next few weeks insisting that the election-night count was flawed and that he would win once "every vote was counted". Things got out of hand and the Supreme Court finally called an end to the recount when it was obvious that different standards were being used in different counties. Gore was an ungraceful looser and many of his supporters believed that he actually won the election. That was reinforced when Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 showed an article claiming that Gore won. This was, in fact, a letter to the editor that Moore typeset to look like an article.

For years the Left referred to Bush as the Resident in Chief, or the Current Occupant of the White House instead of the president.

Admittedly, the fact that Bush won an Electoral victory but lost the popular vote also hurt and there calls that he shold have stepped down in favor of Gore because of that.

Things only got worse in 2004. At a fund-raiser, a Bush supporter said that they would do "whatever it takes" to see Bush reelected. He meant fund-raising but he was also highly-placed in the leading producer of voting machines and many on the Left were convinced that he meant tampering with election results.

After Bush won reelection, the Left went crazy looking for evidence that the vote had been rigged. MSNBC anchor Keith Olberman took the lead on that, pouncing on any report. When someone claimed that it was "statistically impossible" for Bush to have carried sections of northern Florida, Olberman was there (a later analysis showed that Bush's victory was in keeping with voting patterns going back decades). One major embarrassment for the Left during this period was that the cases of suspected fraud never turned out to have the newer voting machines that they suspected.

In the 2006 mid-term election Democratic operatives were still insisting that Republicans were influencing the vote but that this could be neutralized by a large enough turnout of Democrats. After the Democrats swept Congress in 2006 and took the White House in 2008, they stopped claiming that the election was fixed.

But Trump, who was a Democrat during the Bush years, remembers all that talk about fixed elections.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Burkini and the Problem with Headscarves

Violence broke out recently in France after several seaside towns banned the burkini - a swimming suit for Muslim women that covers the entire body except for the face, hands and feet. I've seen various columns and memes on the subject. They tend to deal in false equivalences.

A recent Facebook meme shows a woman in a burkini and a woman in a wet suit pointing out that only one is banned. This is a false equivalence for many reasons. The wet suit is used to protect a swimmer from cold water. It is not normally worn in a swimming pool or on a beach (unless the wearer is surfing in cold water). Men wear wetsuits at the same time, for the same reason as women. There is no cultural reason to wear one.

The burkini, in contrast, is worn instead of a western-style swimming suit. It has no utilitarian purpose. It is only worn by women and only because Muslim culture requires it.

Columnist Kathleen Parker wrote a column comparing the fight for Muslim women to cover themselves with the fight 100 years ago for Western women to bare themselves on the beach. This is another false equivalent since men were also fighting to show more skin 100 years ago. While concentrating on a patriarchal society telling women to uncover themselves, the burkini only exists because a patriarchal society demands that women hide themselves.

I'll make a few other points to put all of this in context. The burkini is a very recent invention. It is part of a general trend among Muslims to control women. While wearing headscarfs is the norm in Muslim countries today and enforced by law in many of them, that was not the case a couple of generations ago. Women in Muslim countries in the 1960s and 70s generally didn't cover their hair. That was something their grandmothers did (the great-great grandmothers of today's generation).

Similarly, when women from Muslim countries immigrated, they also assimilated and dressed like their Western neighbors.

All of that changed with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Even in Western countries, there is pressure on women to follow "traditional" dress.

In theory this is an individual choice but every time I see a woman in a headscarf (normally several times a day), I wonder about what other traditions the woman is being pressured to follow?

Is she allowed to drive a car or even go out by herself? Is she allowed to handle the family money or does her husband own everything and keep her on a small allowance? Did she choose her husband for love or was he chosen for her? Is she at risk for female genital mutilation? These are not idle questions. I live two miles from a radical mosque (two of it's members have gone to fight with Isis). Female genital mutilation is becoming more common in the US. Estimates are that it's been done to thousands of women living here. Arraigned marriages are also fairly common with the groom traveling to his homeland to meet his bride for the first time just before the wedding.

All of this should be troubling to anyone actually concerned about women's rights. Typically, though, concerns are dismissed as Islamiphobia by feminists as part of the theory of Intersectionality.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Return of the Spin Room

Back in 1992, voters were introduced to the concept of the spin artist and the spin room. Spin artists are political operatives who work with sympathetic media to put the best possible face on political events - or the worst for the candidate's opponent. The Clintons were masters at this.

Guess what? They're back.

Hints of the Clinton spin machine were seen during the Republican National Convention with the universal adjective for Trump's speech being "dark". It was far more obvious during the Democratic National Convention when Michelle Obama's speech was described as "a speech for the ages". This phrase is unusual enough and used so often that it has to have been fed to the press, possibly before she ever opened her mouth.

But all of that is nothing. The Democrats in general and Hillary in particular had a big problem: the release of thousands of emails and voice mails showing, among other things, that the supposedly neutral party was against Bernie Sanders. The Clinton spin artists attacked this problem in two stages. The first was to suggest that the emails had been obtained by the Russian government for the express purpose of helping Donald Trump. It was quickly floated that Trump would be Putin's puppet ruler.

While it is true that Trump and some of his staff have had dealings with Russian companies and Trump himself has been skeptical of NATO, it is also true that the Clintons also have deep ties to Russian businesses. Further, Hillary is a known quantity to them and they know how to deal with her.

The second phase started with a comment that Trump made. Trump called on the Russians, or anyone else who had hacked Clinton's private email server, to release the 30,000 emails she had deleted. Trump's jab was a stroke of genius because it reminded people that Hillary used a private email server that was so insecure that the FBI said that there was no way to tell if it had been hacked. It also reminded people of the thousands of "private" emails deleted from Hillary's server.

The spin machine quickly jumped into action insisting that Trump was calling on the Russians to hack Hillary's server. A storm of faux-outrage followed with some media outlets suggesting that Trump had crossed a line by inviting a foreign power to interfere in an American election. A few even called him a traitor.

This may backfire on the Clinton machine. Anyone who sees what Trump actually said knows that it was a lighthearted suggestion that assumed the Russians hacked Hillary's emails years ago. It makes no sense to suggest that Trump wants them to hack the servers now. They have been decommissioned and are in the possession of the FBI.

A good deal of the press is actively working against Trump and are willing to help the spin machine.

This particular spin might backfire, though. Any ordinary candidate would be sputtering and backtracking by now. Trump on the other hand said, "It was a joke" and moved on. Outrageous statements are nothing new from Trump.

The other problem is that the Clintons should want Trump's joke buried instead of given more attention. No matter how much it hurts him, it also reminds people of Hillary's own email mess. The Clinton spin machine shold be working to bury any mentions and put it behind them. Instead, they are being mentioned on the national news again and stealing time from the convention.