Sunday, May 01, 2011

Political update for May, 2011

Things might be speeding up in the world. I finished this Saturday morning and was going to go through it for obvious typos and publish today, but in that one day I had to amend to sections because of developments.

Trump schmump

After wasting everyone’s time for a month or so on the birther issue, he loses and claims victory. If you know Donald Trump, no big surprise.

I don’t know when I first became aware of The Donald (not a bad nickname), but it was probably in the 1980s. He was a business man mostly in real estate development. He liked to put his name on buildings, which were ostentatious but beautiful, and I've gone in “Trump” buildings just to see them. When I became a lawyer I learned from some others who had represented him that he was ridiculously demanding and quick to fire them. Obviously, I don't know his reasons and they may be valid.

I have also read that he or his companies have gone bankrupt more than once, and been close to it other times, but I don’t care about the details. He had a rather public divorce, which mostly served to make his wife’s attorney well known, although he didn’t accomplish anything for her that I could see (they had a pre-nup, which was abided by).

In the past few years, he has also became a reality tv show star (which is one notch below serial killer). And, occasionally, he says he is thinking about running for president. No one took him too seriously until this year when he jumped on a fairly discredited idea that President Obama was born out of the country and was therefore not qualified under the constitution to be president.

Trump kept saying that he thought the president actually was born in America but that he needed to show his birth certificate to end the dispute. But, he’d also throw in his remarks that if he wasn’t born in the country it was one of the all time great scams (and, of course, it would have been, were it true). He also said he had investigators looking into it who were amazed at what they were finding (were they going to break into the two safes in the Hawaiian government’s office which housed the certificates?) He says he can call them back now that it is over (please, laugh along with me). Do you think they hadn’t heard the news themselves? Honestly, I don’t believe these people even exist. If they did exist, they were either completely incompetent or were taking him for his money. Neither scenario is too flattering to him.

He had no serious answer to the fact that a short form birth certificate had been produced, showing that a Hawaii State official had seen the birth certificate and verified its existence, and, even more persuasive, two local Hawaiian newspapers at the time of the president's birth printed notices about it. Even Sean Hannity said he thought the president was born in America. Now, if you have ever listened to Sean Hannity, you know that if he acknowledges that President Obama is right about anything, it must be true beyond any possible doubt.

Sure, even Chris Matthews, whose credibility when it comes to President Obama is as weak as anyone's on the right - just the mirror image - has asked publicly why President Obama didn’t just show the original long form birth certificate. The opposite rule applies with him as the one for Hannity - if he is critical in anyway of the president, you have to give it some credence. And, I had the same thought as him too. Why not just show it? Pride? Or, as occasional commenter Don suggested, because there was something embarrassing on it. But, wondering about the president's motivations didn't mean this still wasn't a ridiculous issue. I would say it was only less ridiculous than the popular belief on the right that he is a Muslim.

And, of course, by coming out with the original certificate, the president trumped Trump, which probably embarrassed someone without Trump's ego and sense of importance. Of course it didn’t stop The Donald from declaring victory in a most pompous way. “I’m very proud of myself,” he said. Why is he proud? – because he “forced” the president to do this. This is the single most embarrassing thing he has said since a week or so ago when he was going around saying how smart he was.

Which leads me to this. I don’t like to climb all over (living) politicians personally (not that The Donald is really a politician yet), call names or assassinate their characters, unless they are really heinous, and that is rare. So, I feel kind of guilty about this. But Donald Trump has always been a bit of a blowhard, someone who shoots his mouth off about how great he is, changes his mind frequently, and says whatever he feels like at the time regardless of consistency. That actually doesn’t make him a bad person, but not someone you want in your face for 4-8 years. That might seem rough, but I’m being gentle because a lot of people would say he was a major blowhard, with few equals. In fact, as arrogant as many on the hard right claim President Obama is (I'd say about average for a president), apparently a good deal of them want to elect someone who makes him look like a Jimmy Stewart character.

But, Mr. Trump not only made himself look foolish, he has made the tea parties and conservatives look foolish by bringing this all up again (to their initial great joy). I support the tea parties’ efforts to get the government to reduce spending, but I can't follow them in their questioning of the president's religion and place of birth. Even with the certificates production, some of them are still questioning it on legal grounds. In truth, it is a decision the court has never made. Being a natural born citizen might or might not have been something that had a definitive meaning to a founder (like, as some argue, being born in America of two American citizens), but, now, it will be very difficult or probably impossible to determine what they meant over two hundred and twenty years ago. That doesn't mean the Supreme Court, or maybe a lower court won't try to define it anyway.

As for The Donald's presidential aspirations, if you consider his flip flops on issues, and that some of his previously uttered opinions were decidedly liberal - Mr. Trump is Governor Romney on steroids. If he runs, these will all be flung in his face by Romney supporters. But, I don't think the people supporting him realize what they are doing if they nominate him.

The other smart guy

Now, I personally think Newt Gingrich is much smarter than DT. I would rather listen to him give a speech than any other politician. But, I would not vote for him. He is way too partisan for me. While he has some positives in his former speakership (ironically, accomplishing some things legislatively that are often attributed to President Clinton), his career in the House led to a government shutdown that might possibly have been more about his hurt feelings than any policy issues, an historic ethics prosecution against him while he was Speaker, and then his decision not to take his seat in 1999, although re-elected, because he thought he'd be hurting the party by continuing on. I don’t think he can ever be president, and I suppose it hurts him every day that people don’t realize how smart he is (or thinks he is).

His behavior in the past two months hasn’t helped my opinion of him. I wrote in my last political update about his waffling over Libya. Last week I watched him on C-Span give a speech to a health care economics forum. As always, he was impressive, speaking of both history and the future with what seemed like some authority. And, then, because I don’t think he can help himself, he took a shot at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the White House’s Office of Management of Budget (OMB) over something that doesn't bear scrutiny. His complaint was that when they “score” something – that is, decide how much a piece of legislation will likely cost to do – they don’t also score the probable cost of not doing it as well. As example, if we don’t do research in a certain area of medicine – what’s that going to cost to us? He'd like them to tell us.

He didn’t say he had a way for them to do this, but that didn't seem to matter to him. It didn't make much sense to me. Which of the infinite number of things that we don't do, do they score? How would they know the costs and ramifications of what we don't do? Even the stuff they already do is fraught with so much conjecture, it is of questionable value.

After the former Speaker finished his speech, a former head of the CBO took the mike and gave a very intelligent, if much harder to understand and less dramatic speech. At one point, he said that he always took Speaker Gingrich seriously, and, when he was at the CBO a few years ago, he invited him in to explain to him how they might go about predicting the cost of things if they don't pass certain legislation. The meeting never happened (although he didn’t exactly blame Gingrich). But, you would think if Gingrich had an answer for him, he would have made it happen.

I haven't changed my mind about him when it comes to the presidency. Smart guy, fun to listen to and sometimes I'm with him on things – particularly on the economy. But, he is way too partisan, too quick to leap to conclusions (like Libya) and has a difficuluty admitting his mistakes (as he did when he flip flopped on Libya recently). Plus, I found his position during the so-called Ground Zero mosque isssue last year to be demagoguery and a deliberate attempt to demonize a minority. No thanks.

The Hermanator

One of the other maybes thinking about running for the Republican nomination is Herman Cain. Some people like to call him the Hermanator. I kind of like that. He’s a businessman (Godfather's Pizza) who turned into a talk radio personality with his own show and who now substitutes in on days Sean Hannity is out.

There are other things about him that I like. Probably his personality, which is grandfatherly, but also some libertarian aspects. He is from Georgia, and speaks with a slow, deep and and distinct voice. He is black, and some people think that would be a good thing for the Republican Party (though, I know some who would not be real happy about it). He’s among the most popular among tea partiers. I honestly don’t think he has a chance unless everyone else clears out except him and Mitt Romney. One on one, I think he might do well in debate, but amongst several other candidates with positions similar to his, not so much.

Unfortunately, that same Muslim issue again comes into play with him. At a recent event he stated that he believes Shariah law is a serious threat in America (sure, some states are going to start permitting the stoning of women any day now) and that therefore he would not allow any Muslims on his cabinet. Has there ever been a Muslim in a president's cabinet? Maybe, but not that I know of.

This may be a position that hopeful nominees are required to take in order to satisfy their base. There is no evidence that there is any serious possibility of Shariah law getting a footing in America, as he claims. Why can't he give an example (I won't go into details here, but the two examples bandied about to support this are grossly exaggerated). My problem with the right in America right now is not so much on policy, as their general antipathy for Muslims, gays and atheists. Although it is said that Mitt Romney gave the same answer concerning Muslims in his cabinet, what he said was actually not so draconian, if also silly. He really said that he didn't think that there were enough Muslims in America to justify a cabinet position (also a dumb answer, indicating that a president should have ethnic quotas). Cain might have had second thoughts about his own statement, as he later stepped back from the cliff on Fox and said that if a Muslim stated that he was dedicated to the Declaration and Constitution, then Cain could consider them for the cabinet. The problem with this is, how does that work? Do all American Muslims have to sign a pledge? Or will there will be pressure on him to appoint a Muslim for Secretary of Treasury who is an al Qaeda member? Is there some well known Muslim who might be considered for some Republican president's cabinet post right now? Who?

Leaving that issue aside, I get the feeling that he could do better in the nomination process than many of the other maybes. Here’s my wrap up for who’s running and who’s not, obviously, on the Republican side:

Christie - He said no emphatically, and efforts to draft him will fail.
Barbour – He already said he was out, which shows he is smarter than some others.
Huntsman – Give me a break. I've never heard one regular person mention his name, and he is probably too liberal to win a single state in a Republican primary or caucus right now. He does not make it to Iowa.
Gary Johnson - Give me another break.
Roehmer – Same as Huntsman and Johnson. I’d love to see a poll of how many people have even heard of him.
Huckabee – No. His life is too good on Fox.
Trump – No. Although it really would make things so pro-wrestlingish and fun if he did.
Gingrich – No. Because he is smart.
Palin – No. The grown ups in the party realized it would be a mistake and I think she did too.
Daniels – Small possibility. He has given some indications he will not run, and I don’t think he will, but I would personally welcome it. He might be the only one who would run that I could feel good about, although, as I’ve learned, eventually everyone discourages me. There have been a few news stories about him lately suggesting that Barbour leaving the field has encouraged him, but these stories seemed based on speculation to me.
Cain – Possibility. Probably greater than 50%. He is my dark horse surprise.
Ron Paul – Another possibility. I'd say 50-50. He also might do better than expected if he goes in it.
Santorum – Very small possibility. I’m leaning no as I think he will garner virtually no support and wrap it up before the primaries.
Pawlenty – A strong possibility but he would not last past Iowa, if he gets that far. Why do I feel a little sorry for this guy? Maybe it’s because he seems to want it so much.
Bachmann – Possible. I’m leaning no. She would not get past New Hampshire.
Romney – Yes. Of course he is going to run. He’s never really stopped. In fact, since my first draft, he has actually quietly announced. Despite sometimes getting outpolled, I beleive he is the acknowledged front runner or guy to beat.

Egypt Schmegypt

Last month I wrote a little about life after Mubarak in Egypt. I’m not alone in wondering just what we are going to get with him gone. We know this now - Egypt is opening their border with the Gaza strip and no longer will enforce the embargo on their side. That would seem to open up the possibility of a lot more weapon smuggling into Gaza. This is not a sign that the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over, as the military is still in charge. But, it is a reflection of popular opinion.

They are also resuming normal diplomatic relations with Iran. Both of these things, of course, are irritants to the U.S. and Israel.

I’m not positive that Egypt's move is necessarily the best thing for Hamas, though it may seem so at first blush. Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt still in effect, and therefore it seems highly unlikely they will do an end run around Gaza, take Egyptian land, and seal the border that way. That would definately mean war, and I doubt even the U.S. would accept that from Israel. However, Egypt's actions might mean that if Israel feels substantially less secure, their crackdowns in Gaza will be more severe than in the past. Personally, I am for very forceful counterattacks by Israel when attacked by Gaza. But, overall, this move by Egypt makes war more likely, and few are for that.

One of the reasons cited for Egypt's change of position with regard to Gaza is that Israel continues to build in the West Bank. I can’t disagree with them on that. I can't say it enough. They should get out for their own good. It keeps them less secure and without moral superiority.

In any event, Egpt's action probably gives us a good idea what we will get in Libya too, if the rebellion is even successful in ending Qaddafi’s regime. Which brings me to another topic where I may be outside the consensus.

Assassinations schmussassination

I had to rewrite this section because of the assassination attempt yesterday.

The leaders of the world understand that they are more secure themselves if they agree not to try and kill off each other. Even Israel makes an effort not to kill Hamas' prime minister, and they don't even recognize him as legitimate. This idea makes the world a lot safer for people like our president and the prime minister of Britain, but also for every tyrant and dictator out there. Why shouldn’t we kill the heads of countries with which we are at war? Why is it okay to kill a lowly soldier but not them. Get past the fact that - wouldn’t it be nice if no one had to kill anyone in a war. When we are in one, being too nice often leads to more trouble and more deaths. Killing the leaders is the best way to end a war. Not doing so means that more regular Joes and Mohammads are going to be killed, both in the military and among civilians.

NATO has tried to take out Qaddafi more than once recently, and it seems that to some degree they are now acknowledging that they are going after him deliberately (maybe because it is so obvious). Lybia, of course, complained bitterly about this as did Saddam. I’m against our involvement in the war to begin with, but if that is what we are doing, then we should try and end it as swiftly as possible, as it will save more lives in the long run. So good for NATO. And, if this makes our leaders less secure, that is too bad. It’s not like other people aren’t trying to kill them anyway or that the have to increase security for themselves.

Of course, I doubt Q is sunning himself on the palace roof any more, so taking him out might possibly mean boots on the ground. Just what we were told wasn’t going to happen. As long as it is not our guys. We are busy elsewhere.

Supervisors schmupervisors

About 8 years ago, I started a horrific job working for an insurance company (worse job I ever had for a number of reasons). As I was getting to know the people in the office, I stated during a lunch that based on my experience, the higher up someone was in an insurance company's legal department, the more incompetent and out of touch they were with practicing law. Their involvement with any particular case usually meant trouble for us, rather than our adversaries. My opinion met with general consternation and criticism from my co-workers. But, sometime after I was there maybe a year, some of them who had vehemently disagreed with me, were now in complete agreement.

This isn't just true with lawyers. It is generally true. It's not that those in management have a lower IQ on the average than regular workers. But, when it comes to the nitty gritty, they are often just not in practice (if they ever were) and sometimes unaware of what is really going on. Often the are pressured to do something because their boss wants it so, and they just don't care if it really works out well. And, sometimes they are dealing with what they want to be the case, rather than what is the case.

Of course, it may just be human nature, or possibly just cultural, that we (the general “we”) seem to assume that because someone is higher up in an organization, they are better than someone below them in what they do anyway, despite common experience telling us this isn't so.

I’m raising this issue here because of a story I heard on the news recently that made me shake my head. There has been a great deal of coverage lately about air traffic controllers who have been caught sleeping on the job. Having fallen asleep at work more than once in my life myself, I asked a friend who was a controller for many years if that wasn’t in fact quite common. I knew the answer, but asked anyway. He said, of course it was. He had fallen asleep many times himself and it was, in fact, more the rule than the exception.

So, last week when Michelle Obama was on an airplane that came within 3 miles of another airplane, all hell broke loose, and now, the controller on the ground for her has to be a supervisor. When they announced this, I went back to my friend and asked him if that wasn’t making it more, rather than less, dangerous. Now, I have to add, my friend is someone whose schtick is disagreeing with everything you say for fun. And, he had also been a supervisor for a long time, which you might think would bias him in their favor. Yet, he couldn’t agree with me more. He said the supervisors are out of practice and are much less competent than the rank and file in actually being air traffic controllers.

So, why do we have supervisors now taking over when the president (long the case) and now the First Lady's plane is landing? The reason is, that most people are more contented with authority figures in control, and expect they do a better job, regardless of the truth of the matter. My bet is, when Air Force One or the first lady's plane is approaching or taking off, the supervisor in control is really just present, and a regular every day controller is the one actually handling it. It only makes sense, because a controller has to know where all the planes are, not just one.

Perception will, naturally, trump reality. As I never tire of saying – the whole world runs on incompetence and fraud. This is just one more example.

Budget schmudget

Like in all political issues, most people seem happy to line up behind whichever political party or ideology they happen to identify with no matter what the issue and no matter whether they know much about the subject. I complain about this so often, I imagine you are sick of hearing it. But, I'll stop complaining when most people stop doing it.

Opinions about the budget and deficit are no different from the general rule. I generally was in favor of the Paul Ryan budget for 2012 because someone finally, after all these years, took the deficit seriously, and tried to reckon with our impending doom if we kept going. He also touched third rails of politics like Social Security and Medicaid/care. Although I'm sure I've watched more debate on this than most, I can't pretend I really know the details either. I am aware of the Democrat/liberal criticism of the Ryan budget (which has passed the House), and I do not dismiss it out of hand. There may be a better way to do it.

After Rep. Ryan came out with his budget, then President Obama came out with his budget, which cut less, but was also claimed to fall less upon “Main Street's” shoulders than the Ryan budget did. Then Senator Paul Rand came out with his plan, which was more severe than the Ryan budget version. Now, the so-called “Gang of Six,” that is, six senators from across the ideological spectrum, are supposedly coming out with their own plan, which is supposed to be a compromise.

I know that I want severe cuts, but I also know that making decisions on this takes a lot of study. Although I believe this is the biggest issue facing us outside of keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists, I just don’t know yet where I stand yet on raising taxes, although my bias is against it. As for where to cut, there is no way to do it so that almost everyone isn't unhappy. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure that cutting “smart” (that is – cutting some here, some more there, according to perceived need) was the best way to do this. I'd rather cut across the board - including for non-discretionary matters - and make every department and agency operate with far less than they have before. We can always tinker later on.

David Stockman, former congressman and head of the OMB under Ronald Reagan is someone for whom I have always had respect. During the so-called Reagan Revolution, he butted heads with the president a couple of times, got “called to the woodshed” by him at least once for openly being critical of the administration, and then finally resigned. Many years ago I read his book - The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, which was deadly dull (how exciting is the head of the OMB’s life going to be?). Although he was always a big supply sider, and should be an elder statesman among the Ryan set, he has recently come out critical of the Ryan budget for not raising taxes among the wealthy, which he say is absolutely necessary given the size of the deficit. But, he is also critical of the Obama budget because it doesn’t raise taxes on the middle class, which he says is also absolutely necessary.

Now, I’m not for our doing anything because of “who” says it, but, he is someone whose voice should be listened to on both sides.

Royalty schmoyalty

I refuse to spend a lot of time on THE WEDDING, but I will comment. I really don’t know anything about the couple except she seems like a good looking woman to me, not that it will make any difference in my life. I never thought much of her predecessor, William’s mother, Diana, who had the last big royal wedding I can recall. I found her annoying, selfish, and I wondered even if she could even have been a good mother when she was jet setting all over the world with boyfriends. As her own brother pointed out when she died, she was no angel (or was it no saint?).

Frankly, the idea of royalty in general seems ridiculous to me. I've never liked even the pretense of it and can’t figure out why they still celebrate it the way they do over there. To show you how much I dislike it, it bothered me in the Lord of the Rings that Aragorn was crowned king, and that's fiction.

This weekend where I live, is the re-enactment for Civil War battle fought here. A bunch of guys get in uniforms and putting on a show for 2-3 days. Yet, they don’t really live their lives as if they were still fighting it out. If the British are going to make a big deal about one family based on their dna, how about Churchill's descendents? What did Queen Elizabeth ever do that her grandchildren should get this much notoriety? What is the difference between William and Kate and the Kardashians, except you are slightly more likely to see the Kardashians in bikinis.

European royalty, particularly the British, act as if they are characters at Disney World who keep their costumes on when they go home. They are embarrassingly rich on the public's pound. They live in castles. They have weddings where people pretend that the brides are Snow White and the goofy groom is Prince Valiant.

I turned on the tv the other day. Watched C-Span a bit (which I am grateful to say - did not cover it) and then went down the channels to find that all of the cable news channels were covering it. You would have thought Joe Scarborough was born in Buckingham Palace, he was so excited.

In the couple of minutes I watched, more from disgust, I heard more than once just how "discreet" Kate was when they had briefly broken up, that she didn't write a tell all book. So, we've turned something someone is not supposed to do - a snitch on a former boyfriend, and elevated it to a sign of greatness. But, if she had a normal wedding and gave the other million pounds they spent, or whatever it cost, to charity, I'd be a lot more impressed with her.

And I don’t know about you, but it makes my skin crawl when the bride is referred to as a "commoner". then again, the Queen game him a dukeship and she became a duchess - which may be worse.

I know, some people, even Americans, love the whole idea, and it doesn’t make them bad people, but I wonder what they are celebrating exactly. If it is heritage, why do they have to focus on this one family? Why don’t they have performers playing royalty, and they can switch roles on and off every few years? There are certainly actors and actresses who might make better royalty than actual royalty. Brad and Angelina might make people happy for awhile, for example (although, probably not Jennifer Aniston).

Some bishop in Britain - I don't know his name, who has now grudgingly apologized, predicted their divorce within 7 years. I don’t know the first thing about William other than he was in the military for a while (but was very carefully protected) and I believe served in Afghanistan. For all I know, he is the single greatest guy in the universe. But, just like when a woman marries a celebrity of any stripe (even if she is also a celebrity), I think that if and when he cheats on her, she can’t really complain very much. It isn’t that she deserves to be cheated on anymore than anyone else, but it is like the well known story of the frog and the scorpion. This is the version I'm most familiar with:

One day a scorpion came to a river it wanted to cross. He couldn’t swim, so he asked a frog that was passing by if he would carry him on his back.

The frog said that he would carry him if the scorpion promised not to sting him.
The scorpion promised, saying, “If I sting you, then I would die too.”
So, the scorpion got on his back and the frog started swimming across the water.
Halfway across, the scorpion stung him.
The frog, before he went under, said “Why did you do that? Now we are both going to die.”
And the scorpion replied, “I couldn’t help it. It’s my nature.”

If you are going to marry a scorpion, expect to be stung.


  1. I'm a Campus President. Guess I'm incompetent. Niccce.
    42 paragraphs to the end just to get the tired old frog/scorpion allegory? Really? Allow me to summarize;
    Trump is a moron.
    Kiss Egypt good bye as an allie.
    republican candidates? BORING
    Royal wedding - who cares about a pack of stiff-backed,large browed in-breds?
    slam bang ending - animal fable older than Methusalah
    EAT ME

  2. Someone missed his happy meds this morning.

    You missed the point about management. Go back where I said it is not that they are more incompetent than anyone else, and then explained the problem. This is why 42 paragraphs (Really? You counted? What's wrong with you?) are necessary. Nuance.


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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .