Friday, September 18, 2015

Cruising the Web

I've given you a round-up of pundit commentary on the debate so I thought I'd summarize the reactions from my students. I was surprised at how many had watched some or all of the debate. Some had even watched the under-card debate. I hadn't required them to watch it, just told them that it was on and they might want to listen for a bit. Over half of my students had watched it and I heard other students throughout the day talking about it. That's a sign of how this election has sparked the interest of people who don't ordinarily follow political news. My students are intelligent and thoughtful, but they're young - mostly 15-year olds and few of them are all that conversant with recent political news. But they chose to watch the debate. I figure their responses are the equivalent to what low-information, young people might be thinking about the election.

The universal response was disgust that the politicians usually didn't answer the question that was asked. That seemed to really bother them. I told them, "Welcome to my world when I'm reading their essay questions on tests." I thought it was rather sweet that they seemed to expect that a politician would actually answer the question as asked.

They all really disliked Donald Trump. They found him rude and several of them commented that his answers were rambling and didn't really end up saying something. They thought it was funny that his first answer became an insult against Rand Paul when Paul wasn't even part of the question. "That was just so random," marveled one girl. It was almost as if they were grading the debate as they are used to their compositions or presentations being graded. And starting off with a total non sequitur would not pass muster in their own work and they dislike it in Donald Trump. They definitely noticed that his answers on foreign policy were incoherent and just didn't tell us anything. And they didn't like that when the questions were about serious issues.

They thought it was very funny when Rand Paul chastised Trump as being sophomoric. Most of them hadn't known that word and, as sophomores themselves, they loved it that there is a word named for them. And then when Trump came back after Paul by saying that he hadn't criticized Paul's looks, though there is plenty he could say, the kids were both highly amused and flabbergasted. One girl exclaimed that she just wanted to punch him at that point.

They were definitely amused at all the faces that Trump made. It seems that they had all seen this Vine of Trumpfaces and it cracked them up. I thought Jason Mustian had the best Tweet about Trump's faces.

When I asked them whom they liked, their answers were Rubio, Christie, and Carson. In each class, there were several kids who said they liked Rubio's answers the best. About 1/3 to 1/2 my students are the children of immigrants, almost all from Asian countries, and they liked how he talked about immigration and his explanation of why he speaks in Spanish to Spanish-speaking audiences. Earlier this year, when we'd discussed various policy issues, those students had had strong opinions on illegal immigration since they know what their parents had gone through to get here legally.

Chris Christie won them when he told Fiorina and Trump to stop talking about their backgrounds and to focus on the interests of ordinary voters. They loved that.

Several kids said that they liked Ben Carson. They just think he's a nice guy. One of them exclaimed that she wished he could be her pediatrician. Though other students thought he was too passive.

So that's the view on today's GOP candidates from 10th graders. I think it augurs well that young people are willing to give up time in their evening to watch 11 Republicans discuss issues. When I told them that there weren't going to be very many Democratic debates and they would have to wait until mid-October for the first one, they were disappointed. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley would appreciate their reaction.

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In a moment of serendipitous timing, today was also the day I scheduled for showing them a video that I taped in 2004 on the eve of the Kerry-Bush debates. It was an MSNBC show that Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw discussing the historic moments from presidential debates. I've seen this video about 25-30 times since I show it each year when we're doing our unit on elections in my AP Government and Politics classes. I could almost recite every minute by heart, but I always get a kick out of watching my kids' reactions. They haven't ever seen any of these clips and they are barely aware of these elections.

They loved Reagan's response in 1980 telling Jimmy Carter "There you go again." And when they saw the clip of Reagan's closing speech asking "Are you better off now than you were four years ago," several students noted that some of the candidates in this year's debate were using a variant of that same line. When Matthews showed the clip of the journalist asking in 1984 about Reagan's age and Reagan's famous quip that he wouldn't take advantage of his opponent's youth and experience, the kids burst out laughing. That line still works.

When they see the clip of Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle that he's no John Kennedy, they all gasp and then start laughing. Probably none of them had ever heard of either Quayle or Bentsen, but they immediately grasped what a zinger that was. And Quayle looked furious and then said, "That was uncalled for, Senator." My students thought that Quayle's fury made the insult even more powerful.

What strikes me each time, after listening to Tom Brokaw's discussion of that moment, since he was the guy who asked the question that elicited Quayle's comparison of his experience in Congress to John F. Kennedy, is what a dumb question it was. Apparently, Brit Hume, whom I usually love, had decided that he would ask Quayle what was the first thing he would do if Bush died and Quayle became president. Quayle responded that he would pray. When he was pressed, he talked about reassuring the American people and talking to the Cabinet. Brokaw decided that Quayle hadn't sufficiently answered the question and asked it yet again. And it was after that third time that Quayle uttered the fateful words that sparked Bentsen's response. I remember thinking at the time, and I think again each time I watch those clips, what was the perfect answer that Quayle was supposed to give. How could anyone answer what they'd do in such a situation. It would depend on the circumstances of Bush's death - if it were natural or an assassination. What is wrong with saying he'd pray and then talk to the country and Cabinet? Is there some magic answer that a Reagan or a Clinton could have answered that would have satisfied the media?

Since this was a 2004 video, the most recent debates were from the 2000 debates between Gore and Bush. Matthews showed clips of Gore's obnoxious sighing. The kids agreed that that was extremely irritating. They loved the montage of Gore repeating "lockbox" and Bush repeating "fuzzy math." They didn't need SNL to see how funny that was. Then there was the clip of Bush talking and Gore walking up to him in a somewhat intimidating fashion and Bush just nodding at him and continuing to talk. The kids burst out laughing at that. Those clips were a good reminder of what an awkward guy Gore seemed to be during that election.

I love showing the kids that video. They have a lot of fun watching it and it provides a nice little history lesson. In a couple of weeks I'll be showing them clips of the most famous and infamous campaign ads. I always enjoy hearing their responses to those ads.

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Some of my students had commented that they didn't like how Jake Tapper kept asking questions that were basically, "Trump has said this about you. What is your response." I agreed that that was irritating. And it also meant that Trump would get more time because every time another candidate got one of those questions, they'd mention Trump's name and that would mean, by the rules, that Trump would get more time. So the questions guaranteed that Trump would have more time than any of the other candidates. That might have been fun for the audience, but it was a disservice to the other candidates.

Rich Lowry is exactly right when he pleads with the media to stop making all the candidates talk only about Trump.
CNN gathered together all of the Republican presidential candidates at the Reagan Library for a highly touted debate — and could hardly think to ask them about anything except Donald Trump.

By one count, 44 percent of the questions touched on Trump. Why even pretend it’s going to be a debate? Just bill it as a seminar on the worldview and foibles of Donald Trump, with occasional diversions into matters of greater public import.
The CNN event was typical of a press that has lost its mind, not to mention its dignity, over Donald Trump. The media follows him with the obsessive interest of a wide-eyed fangirl who’s fallen for the latest boy band.
Everything about him is pored over and dissected, and he’s treated as the biggest thing to happen in American life since the arrival of the Beatles or the moon landing.
A meteor could strike the earth, and the first question that much of the media would think to ask is, “Yes, but how will it affect Donald Trump’s poll numbers?”
There’s no doubt that Trump deserves serious coverage. He’s at the top of the polls. He’s entertaining. He represents an intriguingly populist, heterodox element within the GOP. But none of this explains or justifies him becoming the missing Malaysian plane of American politics.

A couple of weeks after the first debate in August, a CNN analysis found that Trump got more coverage on the nightly news than all of his competitors combined. The Donald got 36 minutes and 30 second on the broadcasts. Ben Carson, who would get the biggest poll boost from the first debate, got all of 11 seconds.

CNN itself has been a prime offender. According to a Wall Street Journal report, between his announcement in June and mid-September, Trump had been the subject of more than 2,100 CNN reports, roughly twice as many stories than about the next most reported-on candidate, Jeb Bush.

It’s not just that Trump dominates the coverage himself. Whenever another candidate gets on the air, he or she is invariably asked questions about the latest controversies involving Trump (and some candidates have foolishly played the game by attacking Trump to try to get attention). Pope Francis will be lucky not to be repeatedly asked about Trump’s favorite Bible verse during his visit here.

The cable networks treat Trump campaign rallies like a car chase. They go to them live and follow them to the end. The rallies are considered theoretically newsworthy, although they are always the same — Trump talks about his poll numbers, about building a wall and Jeb Bush’s low energy, over and over again.

Ben Carson should consider suing for equal time. He, too, is an outsider who has struck a nerve and rocketed up in the polls, but gets a fraction of the coverage that Trump gets. No one consistently broadcasts his events live. No one badgers all the other candidates to address every little thing he says.

The difference is that Donald Trump rates. So the self-styled gate-keepers of our politics, who take themselves so seriously, are happy to slum it with him.
It shows how specious any claims of the media to special privileges in covering politics is. They're driven by ratings. Trump brings ratings, so let's make this entire election about him. It's a true disservice to the public who might be interested in hearing from the other candidates about some topic other than Trump.

One of Fiorina's aides said that her performance during the debate and then the decision not to gather in the spin room was a "mic drop" moment. I like that.

Oh, by the way. Planned Parenthood is claiming that there is no video such as Carly described. Mollie Hemingway proves them wrong.

I also liked that she had the gumption to reject the premise of the question about which woman to put on the $10 bill. That was a quality answer and would clearly differentiate her from Hillary. I also thought that it was pretty lame that Bush chose Margaret Thatcher and John Kasich picked Mother Teresa. Aren't there any American women they could think of? Why would we start putting a foreigner on our currency? And it was extremely nauseating for Huckabee to pick his wife. Ugh. Double and triple icky for Trump to pick his daughter. I expected him to comment once again how he would have been dating her if she weren't his daughter. Ben Carson picked his mom, who sounds as if she was a remarkable woman. However, picking a relative just struck me as if they were too tired to think of a historical figure. And cheers to Ted Cruz for rejecting the idea of replacing Alexander Hamilton on the $10. Much better to replace Jackson on the $20. I just finished teaching the era of George Washington presidency and every year, I'm struck again at what an amazing man he was and how important his guidance of the nation's finances were in those early years. We cover all the economic problems of the Confederation period that led to the Constitutional Convention. When we get to Washington's administration in 1789, I have to remind the kids that those economic problems hadn't disappeared. Jefferson and Madison opposed all of Hamilton's plans and demonized his motives. But by the time Jefferson wanted to buy Louisiana in 1803, he could do so only because Hamilton had put our nation's finances on such a firm footing that creditors were willing to lend us the money to make that purchase. And it was due to Hamilton's brilliance. Of all the people on our currency, he is the one who did the most to make the strength of that currency possible. It is a scandal that the Treasury Secretary has agreed to replace him.

Kimberley Strassel notes that Carly Fiorina didn't play the gender card during the debate.
She isn’t a woman running for president. She’s a presidential contender who happens to be a woman.

That’s new for the GOP. Women have made remarkable inroads everywhere, but there still may be no tougher realm than Republican politics. This isn’t, as the press suggests, because conservative voters are old fogies who’d chain their wives to sinks full of dirty dishes. It’s because conservative voters demand more from their candidates.

Women Democrats pander on gender issues—abortion, birth control, the myth of unequal pay. They promise female voters special handouts. They pitch their womanhood as a qualification for office. And their base loves it.

Women Republicans don’t get to engage in such vote-buying. They are expected to be principled, knowledgeable, serious. They are expected to propose policies—sometimes unpopular ones—designed to help all Americans. And, because the general public (both right and left) is still new to the idea of a woman president, they are expected to do all this twice as well as men.

This was Elizabeth Dole’s problem in her fleeting 2000 presidential bid. Ms. Dole ran on her gender, arguing America ought to elect its first female president—which was no argument at all. It was a problem in 2012 for Michele Bachmann, who loved to claim special insight as “a mother of five” and a “homemaker.” It was a problem for Sarah Palin, whose occasional flubs allowed late-night comics to undermine her seriousness as a vice-presidential candidate....

It isn’t that Ms. Fiorina doesn’t talk about women, or ignores that she is one. It’s simply that she acknowledges it matter of factly, and in the context of opportunity for all. As the men on stage fumbled to think of a lady heroine to grace the $10 bill, Ms. Fiorina demurred. “I wouldn’t change the $10 bill or the $20 bill. I think, honestly, it’s a gesture,” she said. “We ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group.”

She also seems to have mastered the difference between being emotional and being relatable. Every politician seeks to make a connection with voters, but it’s a tougher balancing act for women. Witness the endless fretting in Hillary Clinton’s camp about how to make her more likable, more human, while still projecting toughness and fearlessness.

Ms. Fiorina doesn’t try to do warm or fuzzy or cutesy or folksy. She rarely deviates from her no-nonsense tone. Instead of show, Ms. Fiorina tells. Her story about how she and her husband “buried a child to drug addiction” was a notable moment in the debate. It made her real, a person that many Americans could relate to. As did her obvious revulsion at the practices of Planned Parenthood.

None of this is to say that Ms. Fiorina is unaware of the special challenge of being a female candidate. Her debate performance proved she’s in fact highly aware of it, and that certain additional things are therefore required of her.

And of course, this is no surprise. I hope reporters will call him on this.
Jeb Bush said during Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate that Donald Trump wanted casino gambling in Florida. Donald Trump retorted, "I did not."

Trump in the past has boasted that he's influenced elected officials by giving them political donations, and Bush raised the casino issue to make the case that Trump couldn't buy his allegiance.

"I promise, if I wanted it, I would have gotten it," Trump claimed, during the exchange. Bush replied, "No way, man."

As CNN recently reported, Trump donated to Bush's 1998 gubernatorial campaign while he was actively lobbying to change gambling laws in Florida. The business magnate contributed $50,000 to Bush and also held a $500-a-person fundraiser for him.

As it turns out, Trump wanted casino gambling in Florida and failed to get it under Jeb Bush's administration, despite donating money to the state Republican party and to Bush, the Associated Press (AP) and Politico report.

"The bottom line is Donald Trump was interested in casino gambling in Florida, I can tell you that for a fact," said former Florida House Speaker John Thrasher, who, according to AP, said he met with Trump twice and talked about the issue, once in New York and once in Trump's Palm Beach Mar-A-Lago resort. Thrasher, now president of Florida State University, said during both meetings Trump pushed for Florida to sign a compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow casino gambling.

At the time, early in Bush's first term, Trump was working with the tribe on a deal to manage what's now the Hard Rock Casino. That deal eventually fell through, but not before Trump pushed Florida leaders to come to an agreement. The stumbling block? Bush.

"It was pretty clear Jeb Bush wasn't interested in casino gambling," Thrasher said.

When it was pointed out to the Trump campaign that he actually was interested in casinos during the Bush administration, spokeswoman Holly Hicks said by email, "Mr. Trump never asked Jeb Bush personally to approve casino gambling."

But "personally" is a technicality. Trump did push for it.

News articles across Florida have documented Trump's interest in getting a piece of Florida's gaming industry - from hiring lobbyists to taking a former business partner to court, according to Politico.

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Kevin Williamson does a wonderful satirical editing of a New York Times story about about a woman killed by Palestinians throwing rocks in East Jerusalem. With his corrections he exposes how biased the story is.

Senator Tom Cotton demonstrates how hypocritical the Democrats are in their support of the Iran deal by using their own words against them.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) has spoken against the Iran nuclear agreement so often, that on Wednesday he decided he had “exhausted” his own words, so he chose to use the words of Senate Democrats instead.

“It’s the height of folly, weakness, and credulity, to give Iran tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and to put them on the path to a nuclear weapon. Indeed, I feel like I can say nothing more than I already have said,” Cotton said. “But fortunately, the Democrats who support the Iran nuclear deal have supplied cogent arguments against the deal. Thus, rather than speak myself, I will simply let the Democrats speak in their own astonishing words.”
The only real reason they have for voting to support the deal is out of partisanship. Think of that. They're supporting a deal that they know and their own words demonstrate will be ineffective just to support Obama.

Kerry is trying to stop Russia from helping Syria by making phone calls to them. He tells them that they're going to make the situation worse. Yeah, that will convince Putin not to help them out.

If Kerry is so confused, he can read Krauthammer today for an explanation of what Putin is doing.
Once again, President Obama and his foreign policy team are stumped. Why is Vladimir Putin pouring troops and weaponry into Syria? After all, as Secretary of State John Kerry has thrice told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, it is only making things worse.

But worse for whom? For the additional thousands of civilians who will die or flee as a result of the inevitably intensified fighting. True, and I’m sure Lavrov is as moved by their plight as by the 8,000 killed in Russia’s splendid little Ukrainian adventure.

Kerry and Obama are serially surprised because they cannot fathom the hard men in the Kremlin. Yet Putin’s objectives in Syria are blindingly obvious:

1. To assert Russia’s influence in the Middle East and make it the dominant outside power. Putin’s highest ambition is to avenge and reverse Russia’s humiliating loss of superpower status a quarter-century ago. Understanding this does not come easily to an American president who for seven years has been assiduously curating America’s decline abroad.

2. To sustain Russia’s major and long-standing Arab ally. Ever since Anwar Sadat kicked the Soviets out of Egypt in 1972, Syria’s Assads have been Russia’s principal asset in the Middle East.

3. To expand the reach of Russia’s own military. It has a naval base at Tartus, its only such outside of Russia. It has an airfield near Latakia, now being expanded with an infusion of battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, howitzers and housing for 1,500 — strongly suggesting ground forces to follow.

4. To push out the Americans. For Putin, geopolitics is a zero-sum game: Russia up, America down. He is demonstrating whom you can rely on in this very tough neighborhood. Obama has given short shrift to the Kurds, shafted U.S. allies with the Iran deal and abandoned the Anbar Sunnis who helped us win the surge. Meanwhile, Putin risks putting Russian boots on the ground to rescue his Syrian allies.

Obama says Bashar al-Assad has to go, draws a red line on chemical weapons — and does nothing. Russia acts on behalf of a desperate ally. Whom do you want in your corner?

5. To re-legitimize post-Crimea Russia by making it indispensable in Syria. It’s a neat two-cushion shot. At the United Nations next week, Putin will offer Russia as a core member of a new anti-Islamic State coalition. Obama’s Potemkin war — with its phantom local troops (our $500 million training program has yielded five fighters so far) and flaccid air campaign — is flailing badly. What Putin is proposing is that Russia, Iran and Hezbollah spearhead the anti-jihadist fight.

Putin’s offer is clear: Stop fighting Assad, accept Russia as a major player and acquiesce to a Russia-Iran-Hezbollah regional hegemony — and we will lead the drive against the Islamic State from in front.

And there is a bonus. The cleverest part of the Putin gambit is its unstated cure for Europe’s refugee crisis.

Wracked by guilt and fear, the Europeans have no idea what to do. Putin offers a way out: No war, no refugees. Stop the Syrian civil war and not only do they stop flooding into Europe, those already there go back home to Syria.

Putin says, settle the war with my client in place — the Assad regime joined by a few “healthy” opposition forces — and I solve your refugee nightmare.

You almost have to admire the cynicism. After all, what’s driving the refugees is the war and what’s driving the war is Iran and Russia. They provide the materiel, the funds and now, increasingly, the troops that fuel the fighting. The arsonist plays fireman.

Jim Newell thinks that Donald Trump became the "low-energy candidate" during the debate.
As the debate went on, and moderator Jake Tapper jumped from subject to subject, some actual interesting policy debates arose. Paul, Gov. Chris Christie, and others had a strong conversation about medical marijuana and the policing of drugs. It required details and familiarity with policy. Trump, who hadn’t known about the basics of New Hampshire’s heroin problem until the Rolling Stone reporter briefed him on it, seemed to understand that the further a debate gets into policy, the better off he is pretending he’s not there.

Sen. Marco Rubio was able to effectively corner him on his lack of foreign policy knowledge. “I will know more about the problems of this world by the time I sit [in office],” Trump defended himself, “and you look at what’s going on, this world is a mess.” This was largely Trump’s contribution to the foreign policy debate: I’ll figure it out later, and by the way, you all suck. That’s always been his style, but it’s much harder to get away with it when you’re onstage with your 10 chief rivals for three hours with poor air conditioning.

After a long bout of silence, Trump briefly re-emerged near the end to spread the same sort of bogus vaccination conspiracy theories that former Rep. Michele Bachmann shared when she was flaming out in 2011. He would’ve caught more flak for it had it been earlier. By 10:45 p.m., all he deserved was some eye rolls.

Trump was ready for bedtime by the time he was called to make a closing statement. Stop asking me so many questions about so many things and just let me be president, he pleaded:
If I become president, we will do something really special. We will make this country greater than ever before. We’ll have more jobs, we’ll have more of everything. We were discussing disease, we were discussing all sorts of things tonight, many of which will just be words, it’ll just pass on. I don’t want to say politicians—all talk, no action—but a lot of what we talked about is words and it’ll be forgotten very quickly.
He's right that Trump really seemed to fade in the last hour. He's not a young chicken; maybe it just was too much for him to be on all evening. But that last statement was basically incoherent. Was he saying that "disease" is just a word and will "just pass on"? Huh? And he certainly has no place to be criticizing anyone for being "all talk, no action." What action has he done on any of the issues that were mentioned during the debate? All he's done is talk about them. The politicians are the ones who have been in the arena, particularly the governors. People might not like what they've done or Congress's inability to stop Obama's agenda, but they should talk to James Madison and the men who wrote the rules of the Senate. But don't worry about it. Trump has promised that he will accomplish great things and he'll know what to do about all these issues if he gets elected. Yeah, right.

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Christopher Orr has a funny post in The Atlantic about how the GOP presidential contest resembles the classic comedy, Caddyshack.
There’s a reason that Trump’s wealth is not an issue for him, and that reason can be summed up in a single word—as it happens, the title of a single Harold Ramis comedy: Caddyshack.

Pretty much everyone in America would like to have more money, obviously. What they don’t want is to think that wealth would fundamentally change who they are. This is a basic democratic credo. Most Americans don’t want to be rich so that they can develop a taste for fancy French cuisine to be enjoyed over polite repartee with their fellow snobs at the country club. They want to be rich so they can do whatever they want and never have to take crap from anyone. They don’t want to be Judge Smails, in other words; they want to be Rodney Dangerfield. (Yes, technically Al Czervik, though the character is essentially an extension of Dangerfield’s longstanding persona.)

That’s where Trump comes in. Leave aside the ugly nativism, and he’s basically a real-life Czervik: rich, yes, but an aggressive anti-snob who says whatever the hell he pleases and misses no opportunity to stick it to the establishment. The GOP is Bushwood Country Club (Bushwood!) and Trump the obnoxious interloper who, owing to his wealth, can’t be tastefully ignored. (Jeb Bush is the closest obvious parallel for Judge Smails, given the name and how resolutely Trump has set out to harass him; readers can decide for themselves who fit best as Ty Webb, Carl Spackler, and the gopher.)

Indeed, one line of Czervik’s, in which he’s dissing Bushwood to Judge Smails, seems a remarkably apt metaphor for Trump’s evident view of the Republican Party as presently constituted: “This whole place sucks. That's right, sucks. Only reason I'm here is maybe I'll buy it.”
Follow the link to see clips from the movie. Whether the analogy fits, it's still fun.