Evaluating the Presidential Candidates for 2016

Here is the proper response to the title above:  “Are you effing kidding me?”  That has been my reaction when seeing THE NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION seeping into many discussions of politics right now, on TV and in print.   Didn’t we just inaugurate this president a few days ago?  MSNBC pundits and guests seem the most addicted to jumping ahead to 2016.    Not all of them, but Chris Matthews was positively drooling even prior to the last vote at the prospect of an H. Clinton vs.  Chris Christie contest.   Chuck Todd’s Daily Run Down often speculates on that next big election day, too.  And their sickness is contagious.

Horse race

Could that be Hillary in front?  (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

They call themselves the “place for politics” but they should call themselves The Great Race Place. I’ve spent a few decades involved in horse racing, so I’m familiar with gambling addicts.   These people are similar, but instead of gambling, they are addicted to the race itself.    Having the big early favorite in their stable, Hillary Clinton, juices up  their excitement.   They love comparing her chances with, oh Joe Biden I guess among the Democrats, but more so vs.  several potential Republican rivals whose every action is evaluated in terms of their jockeying for position in that NEXT BIG RACE.

I have a few words to say about the matter, which might add to your irritation, but then I’ll shut up for two years, or so, unlike so many others.   If Obama’s second term is judged to be more positive than negative, and if Hillary wants to run, she very likely wins.   No surprise there.  If  for some reason she doesn’t run, then the race opens up among Democrats and the door opens for Republicans.

Chris Christie is the big horse in the Republican barn, and I’m not referring to his size.  Though he’ll need some skillful navigation through the wreckage of his own party, elements of which would rather be right than elect a President( “right” as in far right).    In  a country hungry for a politician who doesn’t envision a focus group reaction before every word he says, Christie is unique and could give Hillary a good fight if nominated, especially if bad things happen over the next four years that Democrats can be blamed for.

As for the other potential Republican candidates?  I don’t see Paul Ryan at all.  His plan to balance the budget by 2040 didn’t make sense and now he’s talking about balancing it by 2023, without new taxes.   What?  Also, consider this:  No VP candidate in a losing race has ever become president.   My guess is that Christie sensed this if he did not know it.

Jeb Bush’s name is often tossed around and he was an effective, popular governor with sensible thoughts on an immigration policy, not to mention fluent in Spanish with a Latina wife.  All that could help with a needed boost in the Latino vote.   Maybe in four years he won’t seem like one Bush too  many.   Our American inclination towards amnesia as to unpleasant pasts could help.   If Christie upsets enough big donors and others on the right, Jeb’s stock would likely jump up.

Governor Bobby Jindal says some good things, but his record in Louisiana conflicts with them.  Also, if you recall, he bombed giving a Republican reaction to a presidential State of the Union message awhile back and I can’t see him in the top spot now.   Not yet.   Senator Marco Rubio maybe, but he needs to show more, like help shape an immigration policy both parties can buy.  Unlike potential rival Rand Paul, he asked some good questions in the hearings with Hillary Clinton on Benghazi, so perhaps the chatter about his rising star status has some validity.  I’m not convinced yet, though again, if Christie takes a tumble, he along with Jeb seem likely to benefit most.

As for Rand Paul, forget him.  When he stated at those hearings that had he been president, he would have fired Hillary after Benghazi, I can only imagine her thoughts which she wisely kept to herself.  Maybe something like:  “YOU fire ME?  Listen piss ant, I know up close and personal what it takes to be president and you’re no president.”

So, that’s basically all you need to know right now about the next Presidential race.   Unless some surprise candidate pops up and picks up steam.   Here is one long shot.   Suppose Hillary doesn’t run, Joe Biden would be an OK Democratic candidate but no shoe in, so how about a real  surprise:  Cory Booker.   He is going to run for the Senate and if he wins and does a few things to catch attention there to build upon his reputation as a popular Newark mayor, who occasionally turned super hero, saving a citizen here and a dog there…???

A contest between the Jersey boys.  The press would eat it up.  Maybe the crew from Jersey Shore would get press credentials, too.  And whoever won, Bruce Springsteen would still play at the inauguration in the spirit of togetherness.   You never know.  Who was Barack Obama back in 2004, four years before the election of 2008?

How is Christmas Like the Presidential Election?

Black Friday(Mansfield)

Black Friday(Mansfield) (Photo credit: George Artwood)

ANSWER:  Each is supposed to be about one thing, but is actually about something else.

Take the recent election.  Given the huge problems we face with a weak economy and a rapidly growing, and already huge public debt, one might think that picking the President to lead us would relate closely to those issues.  But that would be wrong.  Very wrong.

It wasn’t the big issues that counted, but whom each of us disliked less.    Despite a steady smear job of Obama throughout his first term, along with a dragging economy that he was of course blamed for (the standard talking point  being “the economy was bad when he took over, but he made it worse”), in the end more of us apparently disliked Mitt Romney even more.  Of course, Democrat negative advertising helped a lot in that regard, but nothing helped more, in my opinion, than that one secret video revealing Romney’s vision of America, or at least the 47% of it, of us, as essentially people who feel entitled to mooch.

In my previous post I referred to a prize fight being ended by one punch.  This was metaphorically true of Romney as well, though ironically, he hit himself in the face.

My point is that neither Obama nor Romney said much that revealed how either was going to come to terms with our domestic problems and were sufficiently vague about our complex foreign issues to be indistinguishable.   On issues that really count, politicians believe less is more.   The less you say, the more safe you are from attack.   That’s why Obama and Boehner’s fiscal talks  are totally private right now.  If they come up with something, they want to announce it together so the blame – which surely will come – can be shared.

In short, the big issues which the pundits babbled about ad nauseum for months were largely divorced from the reality of political selection, which for many boiled down to:   I don’t like this guy, but I dislike the other guy more.   Sorry my more liberal friends, but being voted the somewhat more likeable man is not much of a mandate (*1).

Now take Christmas.  On the surface Christmas is about the miracle of Christ’s birth, the spirit of giving, the importance of family ties, stuff like that.    Its real significance, however, is that our economy is 70% consumer driven and at this time of the year there are no speed limits.  Many stores make their entire annual profit right now.   Black Friday seeped into Thursday evening this year and mark my words, give it another twenty years, and it will kick off on Halloween (Perhaps called:  Orange and Black Friday).

O. K.  O. K.   I realize some of you really love this season, probably because you are good at focusing upon just what you like about it and not what you don’t, so  I’ll keep my Grinch-like self to a minimum.

And I am happy if you’ve been maxing out your credit cards of late, even if not specifically on my behalf.  Your spending pumps up our economy, and I thank you for it.  I really do.  If all of you were as frugal as I am (some, lacking in Christmas cheer might say “cheap”), we would not be tap dancing around a recession, but in a deep depression that would be insurmountable.  I’m not ungrateful.

It is just that when I hear, as I did yesterday morning, a cable pundit pointing out how all this fiscal cliff uncertainty is cutting down our Christmas consumption, and that’s the last thing we need going into the new year, and that horror of horrors, Walmart moms, reportedly anxious about the fiscal cliff, are spending 15%  less this year, well….. I feel my failure to spend is positively unpatriotic.

Last year as I was driving home one evening a female disc jockey seemed to sum it all up.  After playing some porn pop song, she said:  “Now I’ll  play some Christmas carols to put you in the shopping spirit.”

Remember when it used to be called the Christmas spirit?

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(*1)  In a previous post I wrote about a pre-election poll I conducted consisting of one bartender who was undecided about his presidential vote.   Later I learned he left the presidential box blank on his ballot, leading me to conclude he disliked both candidates enough to pick neither.

Related article

A Look at the Budget Game or at the Fall TV Lineup?

Which would you like to look at now?   First, I guess I should describe the budget game.   According to a piece in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank, there is a new video game called:  “Budget Hero: Election Edition,” …” in which people of all ages can try their luck at balancing the federal budget.”

As Milbank describes it:  “Playing off the music simulation game ‘Guitar Hero,’

English: The new logo of .

English: The new logo of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the nonpartisan Wilson Center and the Public Insight Network devised the game, at BudgetHero.org, to allow would-be budget-cutters to try their preferred mix of policy proposals.

“Play the “Romney Badge” and plug in the various elements of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s fiscal policy. Uh oh, you lose: The government goes bust — the point at which it can pay for nothing other than mandatory spending such as Medicare and Social Security — in 2025. Playing the “Obama Badge” isn’t much better: President Obama’s policy prescriptions would have the government going belly up — the Pentagon and most other government functions shutting down — in 2028.

Play a bit more and you quickly find out that nobody comes out a Budget Hero.” (emphasis added)

Oh, dear, maybe I have  ruined all the fun by revealing too much.  Well, if anybody does play the game and can beat the Obama score by much, please let me know.

For now, since some new TV shows debut this week, perhaps you’d prefer to preview them and push consideration of our budget woes until later since that is what  Congress is doing.    If so, you can go to this Washington Post link, which gives brief reviews of the fall series lineup and grades them (not including premium channels like HBO, of Showcase).  There is a certain timeliness to this in that at least a couple are on tonight, Tuesday.

One is The Mindy Project debuting on Fox which got the second highest grade of the 22 shows previewed, an A-.  The other is The New Normal, which has aired at least one episode and received a B+ (I’d downgrade it to a B – from the episode I saw, but a friend thought it funny).    Anyway, the highest ranked show was Nashville, which won’t debut until mid-October.  Here are the top six if you just want to check them out:

Nashville – A

The Mindy Project – A –

Elementary – B +

The New Normal – B +

The Neighbors – B

Those who don’t watch TV will have to figure out something else to do with themselves.   I can’t be held responsible for entertaining everyone.

“Obama may be the luckiest politician who ever lived.”

….in terms of the opponents he has drawn.   That’s how  Matt Miller, whom I regard as a centrist, ends a recent Washington Post editorial about Mitt Romney’s latest gaff, the one about the “47% who don’t pay income taxes” who will vote for Obama because they do not take responsibility for their own lives.

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057

Mitt Romney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are several problems with the Romney statement, besides the fact it insults 47% of American voters.  A majority of that 47% either do pay quite a bit in taxes, most notably payroll taxes which makes up about 36% of federal income compared with about 47% from income tax (the two “47s” are just a coincidence).

The Republicans never mention that 36% figure, or that most Americans pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes, or a number of other inconvenient details about those who do not pay income taxes, such as around one-fifth of them are elderly.   That would detract from the Republican fantasy of being the makers victimized by all of those takers out there.  Miller provides some of these details in his editorial.

Now my more conservative readers are probably thinking, “you really are an Obama lover and take every opportunity to bash Romney and the Republicans.”  Well, if you look around you can find a number of Republican/conservative voices criticizing Romney’s “47 %”  statement.

One example, is columnist Andrew Sullivan of the The Daily Beast (linked at bottom), who considers himself a political conservative.   He shows a chart of the 47%, and concludes:  “Make of this what you will, but in terms of partisan politics it seems very likely that a large share of these elderly freeloaders are actually Romney voters.”   Sullivan’s statements are followed by several responses, mostly critical of Romney.

However, reader Jamelle Bouie provided a kind of defense, but not really, when stating:  ” To be fair, there’s no way to know if this is what Romney “really” thinks. Remarks to donors and fundraisers are just as crafted and audience-targeted as any speech to the public. This isn’t an excuse, but it’s context worth considering.”    This goes along with thoughts I’ve often had about writing a post after the election titled:  “Who was Mitt Romney?”

Another Romney critic  is Henry Olsen, a vice president at the conservative American Enterprise Institute,   Despite sharp criticisms of Romney, Olsen ends his editorial, also in the Washington Post, by stating:

“I will vote for Romney despite his flaws. The alternative is unacceptable: In this matter, I really have no choice.”

Those of us who will vote for Barack Obama will most likely have the same feeling about the alternative.   But I would bet more of us feel better about our candidate than the opposition does, even those who have grown very skeptical about “hope and change.”

“Has God forsaken the Republicans?”

In my my last three posts I’ve considered the problems that the Romney/Ryan ticket has created for themselves.   Given the happenings over the past few days, Todd Akin in particular, I have pondered the difficulties the Republicans have had in launching an effective campaign from the beginning.  Has the divine hand of providence been backing the other side?  At least certainly not the group soon to meet in Tampa.

Medicare

Medicare (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Thinking of the hand of providence, I recalled the time a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, half black and half white, was elected President of the United States.  That remains a remarkable event even in this land of so yesterday.  I believe Barry Obama to be a unique combination of racial backgrounds that allowed him to win.  I would say he won because, in addition to running a great campaign, he transcends race.  He is the personification of the American melting pot, which has prompted the far right to work all the harder to  caricature him as a secret Muslim socialist  born in Kenya.

His winning the Presidency was remarkable, even if his Presidency has been far less so, though given the circumstances far better than the Republicans portray.   Given continued 8% unemployment and a sluggish economy, what I also find remarkable is the inability of the Republicans to mount a strong campaign against him.   To begin with they couldn’t  even find a candidate they really liked (too soon for another Bush and too early for Chris Christie), so they wound up with Mitt Romney.   There was some truth in Rick Santorum’s assertion that Romney was the “worst candidate” for the Republicans .  The problem was the others available, including Santorum, were worster.  If they wanted to win that is.

I wasn’t being entirely facetious in a previous post when I suggested that Romney chose Ryan as his running mate because he was dying to be liked by his own party.  Certainly if the pick was more rational, the campaign brains didn’t think it through, as I have also argued in recent posts.  And that was before the Akin factor.

Etch-a-sketch Romney combined with facts and figures and clear cut statements on record by Ryan has been like trying to stir together oil and water.  And one undissolved hunk is Ryan’s stance on Medicare, aimed at  saving some form of the program but at what cost to recipients?  This would  seem the last thing the Republicans would want as a banner item at their Tampa convention in the grayest state in the union.

But wait,  Missouri Republican Senatorial candidate Todd Akin topped that when bursting on to the national  scene like a hand grenade with his novel theory of a woman’s body being able to shut down and prevent conception as long as the rape is “legitimate.”   Trying to avoid the shrapnel from his statements, Republicans distanced themselves and one by one called for him to resign.  John McCain called him an “idiot” and the normally intemperate Ann Coulter, hearing that Akin refused to drop out of the race, outdid herself with:  “I officially hate him.”   Romney seemed to wait for others to demand the resignation before he felt it necessary to demand it as well.

Unfortunately, new VP candidate Paul Ryan can’t distance himself completely because he and Akin co-sponsored a number of bills limiting abortion, with no clauses exempting women who are raped, which also just happens to be a party plank at the convention that now has drawn unwanted attention as well.

Medicare, rape and abortion – all tied to Paul Ryan in some way –  just what the Republicans don’t want in the news right before their convention.  And of course you’ve heard about this budding hurricane working its way toward the Tampa area.  

I don’t know about God forsaking the Republicans, but he, she or it sure doesn’t have their backs at the moment.

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P. S. –   I stole the title for this  post  from an editorial by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post a few days ago.   I had begun my piece when encountering Milbank’s and was going to just scrap my own and link you to his, as we cover much the same ground in a similar way.  But I wanted to add a few things of my own, so ……….    Also, his piece offers some additional details, so I suggest you read it as well.  Linked right here.

Finally, I think it curious that current Republican events seemed bizarre enough that both Milbank and I were prompted to look for para-normal explanations.

Romney/Ryan: Still Working Out the Kinks

(NOTE: – My previous post was largely a response to a comment from my post two back, a comment that has prompted two other comments at that post, so it has a little life of its own.  Meanwhile, another reader hadn’t  realized you could leave a comment.  It is easy to miss.  If you look at the bottom of a post, there are various tags, etc. and right at the end of that list is “comments”.  Just letting you know.   Whether or not I respond to a particular comment depends on what I’m interested in talking about at that moment. )

In my previous two posts, I suggested that while solidifying its conservative base and attracting more campaign money, the Romney/Ryan teaming created an awkward situation for themselves in that Romney has avoided specifics like I do robo-calls, while Ryan totes many specifics into the relationship, like step children.  These include a specific plan to “save” Medicare and come to terms with our national yearly deficits and national debt which has earned him a reputation as a fiscal hawk.  However, exactly what will be left of Medicare after he saves it is open to question as are his credentials as a fiscal hawk.

Official portrait of Congressman .

Official portrait of Congressman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The general wisdom is that these issues take attention away from what Romney really wants to talk about and that is the sluggish economy and Obama’s failure to live up to his promise to reduce unemployment.   But when you think about it, what more has Romney got to say?   Being a very successful businessman, he understands the economy better and will do better at growing it and producing more jobs.  Period.  He has a plan with fantasized cuts, but once again he doesn’t want to be pinned down on specifics.  So, what more does he really have to say and what is there for reporters to focus upon?

With Ryan there’s plenty.   Democrats and reporters have focused attention on the details of  Medicare as described in Ryan’s most recent plan and the differences between Ryan’s plan to deal with the debt, which is detailed, and Romney’s which is not.

I don’t believe the R & R team wants to deal with either issue, but they are putting on a brave face and talking like they want to do battle on Medicare  since the topic won’t go away, sort of like General Custer and the Sioux.   Also, they want to pretend that their fiscal plans  are basically the same, even though there are noteworthy differences.  In the process, they have had difficulty integrating their past statements and coordinating their present overall message.

Yesterday they were in New Hampshire together.  A campaign spokesman emphasized how Romney is energized and made more personable by Ryan.  That’s nice.  But I think they needed to stick together like conjoined twins for a day or two trying to get their message straight.

Exhibit A:  Message, message, whose got the message?  Last Tuesday, Ryan was interviewed by Brit Hume on Fox, who doggedly questioned him about the differences between Ryan’s budget plan and Romney’s.   Questions Ryan did not welcome.  Matt Miller, a  centrist well familiar with Ryan’s budgets and who actually can do the numbers, describes the questioning better than I could in a two-page  Washington Post editorial I suggest you read.

There he makes two key points.  1)    Ryan did not want to say out loud that his budget doesn’t balance out until the 2030’s.   Twenty years to balance the budget?   That doesn’t sound like a  “fiscal conservative,” but it’s necessary if raising taxes is not an option.   2)  There are some key differences between Ryan’s plan and the more sketchy Romney one, but the fiscal wonk hadn’t gotten around to really integrating them.   As Miller puts it, Ryan was ” betting Hume is too dumb, uninterested or short on time to press ” these points.   Too bad, Paul.  Good for you, Brit.  Please read the editorial.

Exhibit B:   Do they really want the Medicare fight?  The Romney/Ryan campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday began with this talking point regarding Medicare:  How Obama has robbed Medicare of $716 billion to pay for Obamacare.  Earlier that morning I heard a couple of campaign surrogates make the same point, while in unison asserting that this is a fight Romney welcomes.   If so, why have they kicked off the battle with a talking point that is both hypocritical and misleading?  Is that the best they got?

First, the Obama team was not alone in proposing these “cuts”.  According to ABC the $716 billion appear in the House Republicans’ FY 2013 budget, which Ryan authored.   There they were called “Medicare savings -achieved through reduced provider reimbursements and curbed waste, fraud and abuse, not benefit cuts “.

In other words, Paul Ryan’s budget plan included the same so-called  “cuts” by Obama, and like him, talked about them as “savings”.  Could Ryan’s railing at the Obama “cuts” be any more hypocritical?   Well, it should be noted that in the Brit Hume interview Ryan did make this distinction:  “We’re the ones who are not raiding Medicare to pay for Obamcare.”   They would use those “savings” (not “cuts”)  for deficit reductions or something else.

Point well taken, but that point is so yesterday.  It seems that all those ads attacking Obama for “raiding” Medicare of $716 billion has created a problem of its own.   If the “cuts” were bad, they needed to be cut from Ryan’s plan, too (which seems now the case), so  Romney could promise to restore those dastardly “cuts” when he becomes president.  Smearing Obama as cutting Medicare, Romney seems to feel implicated himself if he doesn’t promise to restore them, even if it doesn’t make sense to do so.  Click to see the short piece from ABC for more details.

If you find what I just wrote to be confusing, I admit that perhaps I could have said it better, but the subject matter is confusing in itself, because I believe the subjects are confused.

At times I think of trying to develop a sideline as a “message stylist,” someone who helps others trim and shape their message for more impact.  The Romney/Ryan team really could use a lot of help in that regard and I sure could use the money, but the “message” so far looks so disingenuous and contradictory that I doubt I’m up to the challenge.

More Gun Control or More Gun Fights at the OK Corral?

The Aurora Colorado killings have focused media attention on gun control and gun violence which is always the case following a killing spree by a deranged soul.  This has prompted a lot of “soul searching” in the words of Fareed Zakaria on his  Global Public Square show this past Sunday morning.  He wants to move past the soul searching and come to terms with “the fact” that we have so much more gun violence in this country than in most others because we have so many more guns.

English: This is the semi-automatic civilian v...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

En route to making his point, he dismisses David Brooks’ argument in a NY Times column last week, that when it comes to these mass killers “it is about psychology, not sociology”.   Brooks, a  supporter of gun control laws though conservative,  argues these killers are uniquely deranged and “if they cannot find an easy way to get a new gun, they’ll surely find a way to get one of the 200 million guns that already exist in this country.  Or they’ll use a bomb or find another way.”

Zakaria sees it differently:  We have no more “nut cases” than other countries, but many more guns, so we should have better gun laws.   Though I respect them both I mostly agree with Brooks and not with Zakaria.

Zakaria conflates two issues that should be kept separate.   One is overall gun violence and the other is killing-spree violence.  We certainly do have a huge amount of guns in private hands,  an eye-popping estimate of  250 million to 270 million.  That’s nearly one for every American (estimated to be about one-fourth of privately owned guns world wide)(*1).   Of course, some of us have many and many of us (including me) have none, but around 50%  of households report owning a gun.

Since our gun related death rate is  around 20 times that of England/Wales, which has relatively few privately owned guns, one imagines a connection to overall death rates.  But there seems no clear cut connection to mass killings.    An article in the conservative National Review describes numerous incidents in several European  countries that have much stricter gun laws than ours, including England.   While making it tougher for the demented to  stockpile guns and ammunition makes sense  –  like keeping sharp objects away from children – Brooks may be right that these safeguards will seldom be enough to deter the diabolically demented.

As for the effectiveness of gun control, the facts are not as clear as Sakaria seems to think.  Justice Steven Breyer is a liberal justice on the Supreme Court who was on the losing end of a 5-4 decision that struck down a Washington D. C. gun control law.   Even so, after Breyer surveyed the vast body of empirical research on the effectiveness of gun control he concluded, “The upshot is a set of studies and counter-studies that, at most, could leave a judge uncertain about the proper policy conclusion.”

If, after a careful study of the issue,  Justice Breyer is uncertain about “proper policy conclusions” when it comes to gun control, shouldn’t all of us who know much less, be careful about jumping to our own conclusions?

Also, rather than more gun control,  studies show an increasing public support for less.   Many have bought into the NRA’s idea that the only real prevention is for each of us to pack iron ourselves.    In Colorado more than in most states.  Last March the  Colorado Supreme Court struck down the University of Colorado’s campus gun ban, saying the CU Board of Regents overstepped its authority in blocking students from carrying licensed concealed weapons.

Tied to that, it has been argued by those on the right that one armed innocent at the theater in Aurora may have saved many others (of course, another imaginable scenario is that the  armed innocent could have  panicked and started firing wildly adding to the carnage.  Also, how do we know whether someone in the the theater did carry a gun but just froze?).

Of course, the distinctions I have tried hard to make may all prove irrelevant in terms of the foreseeable future.   Recognizing the public’s leaning towards less, the Democrats have little enthusiasm for more gun control.  And, though Obama made a statement in support of another assault weapons ban in a recent speech, I don’t take it seriously (*2).   It is simply more political rhetoric to appeal to his base.   Nothing will come of it if he is re-elected.  There are too many bigger fish to fry.

The NRA has won the gun control debate for the time being.  Of course, given the increase of gun toters, one day we will  have a real shoot out like that of the OK Corral, and who knows if the innocents who are packing will act like heroes or panic and make things worse.   I just hope that the NRA’s  gun-use training programs are really good, as I do not have confidence in the ability of the average gun toter to handle things well if suddenly confronted by a well armed demented sort who doesn’t give a flying  “F” what will happen to him or anyone else.

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(*1)  One stat that troubled me in Zakaria’s report was his indicating that Americans own  50% of the world’s  privately held guns.    The information I have found indicates around 25% in 2007, and I can’t imagine it doubling in the past five years.  I think Zakari’s staff just got it wrong.

(*2)   The nature of “assault weapons” seems misconstrued by gun control advocates.  They are not automatic weapons, which are outlawed already, and fire only one shot with a squeeze of a trigger, not many, though they do fire faster than other non-automatics.   They can be fitted with magazines that hold numerous bullets, but that’s true of some other guns as well.  One source of confusion is that what are dubbed assault weapons usually look like they are automatic.   The photo above is an example of that.  And some are knock offs of actual automatic weapons, but without automatic firing capacity.

Killer X and Our Latest Slaughter

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.   A white guy g0es into a school, or place of work or political rally with guns and blows away as many people as he can before killing himself.   The latest of these stories played out in Aurora, Colorado a few days ago, but this time the killer surrendered, perhaps after almost escaping since his outfit resembled that of a SWAT officer .  Also, the theater scenario was novel, the blending of real evil with a  fantasy movie format by a killer who told police he was “the Joker,”  the diabolical antithesis of the caped crusader in the Batman saga.   Killer x died his hair red like the Joker’s.

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web

(Photo credit: kevindean)

The scrutiny is now in full swing, of course.  Just how crazy is this guy and is there any way this could have been prevented?   If one plans for months to devastate others while choosing a scenario that makes real a movie fantasy of good vs. evil, by playing the part of  evil incarnate, is that man really insane?  Or has he just given up on good and chosen evil?   I don’t know.

And as for prevention?   I am at a loss to say.  All I  know is this did not shock me.  And I don’t believe it shocked most of you, either, unless you know the victims.  It has become part of our  way of life.   Back in 1966 when this kind of rage was expressed by a sniper who shot people at random from a 300 foot tower at the University of Texas…..NOW THAT WAS SHOCKING?   It was something new and incomprehensible back then.

Now it is old hat.   On the other hand, if you were shocked, maybe I’m speaking only for my jaded old self.   Still, I’m not so jaded as to sit stone faced watching the  Aurora, Colorado prayer vigil Sunday evening.

Tears welled up hearing of the death of  six year old Veronica Moser-Sullivan and the heroism of three others.  A TV reporter  interviewed Chantel, the  “estranged” wife of one of the heroes, 26 year old Jonathan Blunk,  another of the twelve who were murdered.   The navy veteran died shielding a woman friend  who survived.  He had wanted to reenlist in hopes of becoming a Navy Seal.  Chantel said he was a good guy who “wanted to die as a hero.”  He did.

President Obama was there and told of the bravery of two young friends, Allie Young and Stephanie Davies.   After the gunman threw a smoke bomb on the floor of the movie theater Allie was shot in the neck as she rose to notify others of what was happening. Stephanie placed her finger over Allie’s neck where she had been shot and  called 911.  She refused to leave her friend’s side, even as the shooting continued around them.  She may have saved Allie Young’s life by applying pressure to the wound.

I was touched by both the courage and loss.  Speaking of the actions of these people and others as well as the large gathering and numerous expressions of sympathy, someone said:  “It is amazing that one bad person has brought out so much good.”

Adding to the “good” was the President’s not mentioning the name of the killer as requested by a relative of one of the slain.  Of course, we will hear his name often in upcoming days, but I will keep thinking of him as killer x.   They keep showing that same photo  on TV and in the papers, and I can’t tell if his smile would look so creepy if I did not know what he had done.  I would like to see no pictures of him.   While there are reasons to try to understand him better, can we somehow limit the notoriety in the process?

Another man who never wants to see another photo of killer x is Tom Teves, father of Alex, another who died shielding a woman friend from the killer’s bullets.  A regular reader of USA Today, he has stopped because they show that photo regularly.   Mr. Teves urged CNN and all networks to “move on” and not dwell on the killer.  Instead focus on the heroes, victims and survivors.   Anderson Cooper of CNN was respectful of that in his interview.

In a divided  society that has lost the traditional distinction between the famous and the infamous, blurred by the rise of THE CELEBRITY, can we all at least  agree not to celebrate a murderer with our attention?    Not mentioning his name at the vigil was one small step in the right direction.   Tom Teves suggested another.

Hopefully we will learn how to do this better since this is part of our way of life now.

Smarter than the Average Bear and Nary a Clue

Constitutional Amendments 101

(Photo credit: Village Square)

The title above refers to me.  After writing my previous post suggesting consideration of  a constitutional amendment to combat the ever increasing role of money in politics,  I have come to see what deep waters I jumped into.  It all looks murky from below sea level.   After a response from a lawyer friend and watching a segment on UpwithChrisHayes Sunday.  I have several second thoughts, a few which I’ll mention.

This instance exemplifies how difficult it is to be a so-called informed citizen these days when the key issues are so complex they would be hard to figure out even if  the information available to us could be trusted.  As reflected in the growth of public fact checkers, such as factcheck.org, understanding requires much sorting out with questionable results from one’s efforts.

As I have written in this blog at various times, while  I have left of center biases, I am more concerned with illuminating issues than in pushing a political agenda.   The one thing I know right now is that the financial amendment issue, like so many other political issues I encounter,  probably deserves at least a book.   I cannot write a book on each issue, but I will try to do something useful short of that.  Though it will take time.

First, a couple of  second thoughts on that last post.  There I mentioned  two proposed constitutional amendments restricting political contributions, one proposed by an organization called Move To Amend, and the other by Lawrence Tribe, “one of the nation’s pre-eminent liberal legal scholars.”  The former amendment goes like this:

“We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights. ” (bold added).

That seemed to make sense, so I signed the petition.   Money isn’t speech and corporations are not people, right?   Well, legally not so fast.   My lawyer friend pointed out that corporations are usually treated like people, in that they have rights and restrictions.  As he wrote:

“I am saying that legal entities have the same rights as individuals (almost all statutes classify a business entity as a “person”)  Once you start limiting the rights of certain legal structures you head down a very steep and slippery slope because who is doing the limiting and where does the limiting end?”

Hmm….  Remember when Mitt Romney said  “corporations are people, too”?  I found that hard to swallow, but in this legal sense, a corporation does seem like a real person, just like Mitt Romney.

Then I watched the Chris Hayes show on Sunday and  saw Glenn Greenwald, who is hard to peg politically other than he is very concerned with civil rights.   He explained why he and a number of liberals (including the ACLU) favored the Citizens United  decision because they did not want government to regulate speech.  As someone at the ACLU wrote:   “…the ACLU does not support campaign finance regulation premised on the notion that the answer to money in politics is to ban political speech.”

So, we have some people on the left and the right joining together to resist bans on political speech.  They seem to be saying “money is speech.”  In any event, rather than restrict this “speech”  the ACLU and Greenwald  favor robust public campaign financing, while the ACLU also backs greater disclosure rules as ways to check the escalating cost of political campaigns.

Meanwhile my lawyer friend seems to like the Lawrence Tribe amendment, but I’ll save his reasoning for later after I try to understand it myself.  I will also develop a Constitutional Amendment page under the Centerville category above, where I will gather and sort out information on this topic.   I welcome help with this, especially from those with legal training  (I’ll have a comment button at the bottom of the Amendment page)Right now there doesn’t seem a need to rush.

I still think it a good idea to sign the petition at  Move To Amend, even if you disagree with the wording of the amendment.   That wording can change and a good response will suggest some people out here do care.   Also, I believe it good to do small political acts just to get in the habit should a day come when we can do big political ones together.   It’s  sort of like making a habit of doing  “random acts of kindness.”

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: Montana vs. the United States

Does unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections  corrupt the democratic process or not?   For a 100 years the state of Montana has said “yes”, including when its Supreme Court voted down recent attempts to challenge the law, but yesterday the U. S.  Supreme Court reversed that decision and said “no.”  Actually, they said “no” in a 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, and just reaffirmed that yesterday.

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...

English: The United States Supreme Court,  in 2010.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in 2010, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion declaring that independent expenditures by corporations and unions “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” if those expenditures are absent direct links to political candidates.   Hence the seeds of the burgeoning  Super Pacs were sewn.

Not that this has surprised most of the folks in Montana.  Their history shows the effects of unlimited political spending, which is why they have had a law on the books since 1912 limiting it.   The law was written to reduce the overwhelming influence of big mining interests in the state.  After the Citizens United decision this law was challenged by corporate interests and the Montana Supreme Court affirmed it, so it was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly they (the same five judges who had decided in favor of Citizens United) summarily rejected the Montana State law, which means they refused to even hear arguments in favor of it.   According to the NY Times, two of the liberal justices, who dissented in the Citizens United decision — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — argued that both events since 2010 and the history of Montana were good reasons to reconsider the “absence of links” assumptions used in the 2010 decision.  But they were ignored.

“Absence of links” implicitly means the majority of the Supreme Court believe that you can prevent corruption if the  money bulging Super Pacs do not directly coordinate their activities with the candidates.  Really?  You think the Pacs can’t figure out what to trash in the opposition that will help their candidates win.  That they can’t grasp the general themes of each campaign and fuel them with their millions?  And they don’t expect something in return for their generosity?  It doesn’t require a genius or even a phone call for the Pacs to figure it out.  At the very least it gives “the appearance of corruption”.

Given how money influenced the Republican primaries, such as Sheldon Adelson’s millions alone keeping the Newt Gingrich campaign afloat, isn’t that enough reason to at least hear the Montana arguments?  And now Adelson’s pledged another $60 million or so to support other  Republican fall election campaigns AND the fellow billionaire Koch brothers  is seeing that $60 million with their own dough while raising it with an additional $360 million they plan to gather…..  How could that kind of political clout by a handful of individuals  not corrupt the political process?

No matter, Justice Kennedy and his four like minded Supremes refused to rehash the issue.  Hence the summary judgement against the Montana law.

Of particular interest to me is that the decisions of the two courts reflect the tension among what seems the multiple personalities in the Republican psyche.   Montana is a blood red state whose legislature, for example, is overwhelmingly Republican.  But Montana’s court opinion reflects an older, reformist Republicanism, that of Teddy Roosevelt’s time, when big money influence was seen as  leading to big corruption. It also reflects the traditional conservative preference for a reduction in centralized power, i.e. more returned to the states.

Whatever their thinking, the five Supremes deciding this issue further fueled the politics of expediency:  The belief that whatever it takes to win, no matter what elements of democracy are weakened or destroyed in the process.  Not surprisingly, Mitch McConnell was all in favor of striking down the Montana law – anything to beat Obama –  while John McCain, who’d love to beat him as well, has retained enough of his old “America first” self to disdain it.

In short even if advantageous at the moment, not all Republicans are blind to the corruptive influence of the invasion of the billionaires.   As such this seems a fruitful topic for developing centrist dialogue and actions, as I will gradually elaborate upon in my Centerville pages above.