Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cruising the Web

Today I'm blogging from Auburn, New York and the Finger Lakes region of New York. We visited where Harriet Tubman settled in the 1850s and lived until her death. Having learned more about her and how she devoted her life after the Civil War to providing a place for poor, sick black elderly people to live made me even more impressed with this remarkable woman. I hadn't known that, as a child, a man had thrown a two-pound metal disk at an escaping slave and hit her in the head. She suffered ever afterwards from temporal lobe epilepsy and would suffer fits of epilepsy throughout her life, but determined not to let that ever hold her back. She was an excellent choice to replace Andrew Jackson and I recommend visiting the site if you're in upstate New York. They don't have much to see there at the present, but the administrator there gave an excellent and dramatic presentation on her life.

Today we're going to tour the Women's Rights Historical Museum at Seneca Falls. It's rather de rigueur for an American history teacher.

At least thinking about 19th century America helps give me perspective for the terrible state of our politics today.

Jim Geraghty argues that the incompetence of the Trump campaign shouldn't overshadow the message from Monday night at the convention.
Yes, Donald Trump is a flawed messenger for the case against Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t make the message any less true or compelling. The decision by a lot of big-name Republican lawmakers to skip the Cleveland convention was a blessing in disguise, because it cleared the stage for ordinary Americans who suffered the cruel, random, and deadly consequences of the Obama administration’s policies.

The speeches from the non-politicians on Monday night weren’t always professionally polished or slick. During these presentations, the high-level media risers to the right of the stage seethed with exasperated sighs, gasps of disbelief, and eye-rolling groans. But the speakers told Americans stories they needed to hear — and while Monday’s effort to force a vote on the rule shows Republican delegates aren’t fully unified on the qualities of Donald Trump, the roaring arena showed they are united in fury at the thought of Hillary Clinton continuing the misrule from the Oval Office.

Some Americans might ask, “Why rehash the Fast and Furious scandal?” — and most other Americans won’t even remember the details of the wrongdoing. But Fast and Furious was an early, important example of the Obama administration’s culture of unaccountability.

If a Republican administration had allowed known gun traffickers to make “straw purchases” — legal purchases of firearms in significant quantities to be resold to criminals on the other side of the border — and let more than 2,000 firearms flow into the hands of the cartels, the national outrage from both Democrats and the media would be explosive. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was shot to death with one of those weapons....

....are drunk drivers. Illegal immigrants may not be more prone to commit violent crimes than the general population, but it is legitimately infuriating to hear about violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants who are briefly detained by police authorities and then released, or even worse, effectively protected by “sanctuary cities.”

Jamiel Shaw, an African American from Los Angeles, described how his son was killed by an illegal immigrant who was released from jail just one day before the murder, after a conviction that could have made him eligible for deportation.

“For two weeks local politicians supported us, and every black politician in L.A. did too,” Shaw said. “Two weeks after that, everything changed. We learned that the killer was an illegal-alien gangbanger from Mexico, released from jail with a deportation hold, three gun charges, and an assault and battery on a police officer [charge]. And the politicians disappeared.”

The more a political figure wants amnesty or an easy path to citizenship, the less they want to discuss crimes committed by illegal immigrants. According to the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 2014 releases included individuals accounting for 86 homicide convictions, 186 kidnapping convictions, 373 sexual-assault convictions, 449 commercialized sexual offenses, 1,194 battery convictions, 1,346 domestic-violence convictions, and 13,636 convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Of course, these messages won't break through the media filter that will spend all its time focusing on the disruptions and mistakes at the convention instead of on the message that these ordinary people had.

And, most importantly, there is no evidence that a Trump victory would do anything to help change the policies that these speakers were talking about.
To watch men and women such as Mark Geist, John Tiegen, and Pat Smith speak is to be reminded of the extraordinary costs of Clinton and Obama’s foreign policy, where “leading from behind” often meant “Let jihadists take charge.” The failure to exert American power not only left Americans exposed and vulnerable to attacks from two-bit Islamic militias, it had the staggering strategic consequence of squandering hard-fought American gains in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

But to listen to Donald Trump — to actually listen to his words, rather than be impressed by his attitude — is to realize that he stands to make things even worse. His foreign policy takes “leading from behind,” magnifies all its failures, and repackages it as “America first.” When you actually look at the details, his foreign policy stands to repeat Obama’s mistakes, compound them with new mistakes, then hide them all behind ignorant, belligerent posturing.

Let’s take, for example, Libya and Iraq. At the heart of the Obama–Clinton Libya failure was the desire to let American allies lead, combined with a deep reluctance to commit sufficient American force to guarantee a favorable outcome. When from the outset a leader vows no “boots on the ground,” he is declaring up front that he is abdicating ultimate strategic responsibility to those who are willing to put skin in the game.

Now look at Trump’s alleged ISIS strategy, just articulated on Sixty Minutes:
Donald Trump: I am going to have very few troops on the ground. We’re going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need; which, right now, we don’t have. We don’t have the people over there. We are going to use —

Lesley Stahl: You want to send Americans —

Donald Trump: Excuse me — and we’re going to have surrounding states and, very importantly, get NATO involved because we support NATO far more than we should, frankly, because you have a lot of countries that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And we have to wipe out ISIS. And speaking of Turkey, Turkey is an ally. Turkey can do it by themselves. But they have to be incentivized. For whatever reason, they’re not. So we have no choice.
Hillary Clinton called, she wants her Libya strategy back. The best that can be said for Trump’s “lead from behind” version 2.0 is that at least it’s a marginal improvement over his previous ISIS strategies — which included ordering American troops to commit war crimes, bombing oil fields (and have Exxon rebuild them in two months), and fantastical notions of calling Bill Gates for help in “closing up” parts of the Internet.
And does anyone believe that a Trump victory would do anything to decrease racial tensions in the country? Clinton would also be a disaster. Sadly, there are no good choices, only choosing the less terrible candidate or declining to vote for either.
Even Trump’s much-vaunted love for “the vets” has its limits. He mocked veteran John McCain for being captured. He’ll threaten civil–military relations and slander the character of our warriors by claiming that troops would obey even his unlawful commands. And he’ll accuse American troops of corruption when it serves his purposes.

Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy record is appalling. Her Russian reset was a bad joke. The Libyan intervention was a disaster. And the Obama administration she defends is fighting a slow-motion war against ISIS that has allowed it to create and maintain vast terrorist safe havens.

American heroes have suffered because of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It’s impossible to read accounts of the Benghazi debacle without feeling rage and despair at the administration’s foolishness and betrayal. Clinton deserved every syllable of last night’s searing indictment, but Donald Trump does not merit a single word of praise.

A plurality of Republican voters and the majority of the Republican establishment have chosen to answer a disaster with a disaster. Behind the slogans and behind the belligerence there exists a singular and disturbing reality — a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for American retreat.

McKay Coppins of Buzz Feed takes a look
on why Donald Trump ultimately decided to run for president. He just wanted to gain some respect. He couldn't stand the derision with which he was treated by so many in the media and he just wanted to show them up and also show up everyone who had ever laughed at him since he was a young man.He felt disrespect at Wharton and ever after. It is then that he began his incessant quest for media coverage whether positive or negative. He just wanted to be talked about. As I was reading through the article, I was thinking that he sounded like Carrie getting her revenge for the pig's blood at the prom. And then Coppins used that exact image in describing Trump's reaction to the ridicule heaped on him at the Washington Correspondents' Dinner.
he longer the night went on, the more conspicuous Trump’s glower became. He didn’t offer a self-deprecating chuckle, or wave warmly at the cameras, or smile with the practiced good humor of the aristocrats and A-listers who know they must never allow themselves to appear threatened by a joke at their expense. Instead, Trump just sat there, stone-faced, stunned, simmering — Carrie at the prom covered in pig’s blood.
Then his feelings were hurt when Romney wouldn't have Trump campaign for him in Florida or speak at the convention.

But for Trump, the ultimate insult came at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. “Everybody wanted me to make a keynote speech,” Trump told me. “People were writing me thousands of letters and emails, all going crazy.” Yet despite the pleading of these vast letter-writing multitudes, the Romney campaign turned him down. Trump was indignant. “What, I wouldn’t say the right thing?” he told me. “Hey, I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I did great.” Anyway, as consolation, the campaign said he could produce a short video to show at the convention — but in the end, even that got scuttled.

Trump told me that Romney and his advisers were simply “afraid of me” — worried about how much less presidential Mitt would look compared to him. But people close to Trump said he has never stopped seething over the campaign’s convention snubs.
Coppins explains how Trump's bragging about not taking money from the big donors was basically an accidental result of a major fundraiser trying to get out of telling Trump that he wouldn't work for him.
Nunberg later confessed to me that Trump’s principled stand against the corrupt donor class was little more than lucky spin. “The truth is, he would have raised money if he could have … Donald never had any intention of self-financing.”

It was a pattern that persisted throughout 2015 as Trump and his hodgepodge team tried to assemble something resembling a presidential campaign. Often, he would start out trying to do it the traditional way — wooing rich contributors, courting conservative elites, making offers to top-flight strategists — only to find himself fumbling through yet another unfamiliar universe of taunting insiders.
While other 2016 contenders carefully strategized over how to bag billionaire mega-donors — from the Koch brothers to Paul Singer — Trump simply assumed that his status as a financial peer would do all the selling necessary, two of his former aides told me. But when he tried making his appeals to them, he was spurned — sometimes in humiliating fashion.
He almost backed off running, but his hired supporters talked him back into running.
Trump’s advisers took turns making appeals to his ego, to his patriotism, to his lust for TV cameras — anything they could think of. What finally seemed to do the trick, according to Nunberg, was floating the notion that his haters might get the final word on him in the history books. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in this election,” he recalled telling Trump. “But no matter what, they’re gonna write about it a hundred years from now. And they’re never gonna be able to say you didn’t run.”

Trump adopted this as a kind of mantra in those final, anxious days before entering the race. “They’re never gonna say I didn’t run,” he recited to one aide after another.
It rather reminds me of both LBJ's and Nixon's personal insecurities and how they both used political success as a way to respond to critics. Yup, just what we all are hoping for - to have another leader who views the presidency as a way of working through his own insecurities.

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Peter Robinson's explanation of why he didn't hire on as a Trump adviser and speechwriter helps to clarify why so many experienced operatives aren't signing up with the Trump campaign. Robinson was willing to help write Trump's acceptance speech because he regards a Trump victory as preferable to a Clinton presidency.
A couple of days later, the campaign asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement. After having a lawyer advise me—note, by the way, that the lawyer is a Trump supporter, one of the few I know here in Northern California—I declined to do so. To speak to the media, to name one provision, the NDA would have required me to seek approval from Trump’s representatives—in perpetuity. Half my friends are in the media. I might as well have sawn off an arm.
While NDAs might be common in political campaigns, I can well understand why someone who comments on politics for a living wouldn't want to sign off on one. I wonder if John McCain wishes that he'd had his campaign advisers sign off on an NDA instead of seeing them write contemptuous campaign books about his efforts and Sarah Palin.

John Fund blames
Donald Trump's cheapness for his inability to get competent help.
One reason for the shambolic nature of Trump’s staff is the difficulty it has in hiring good talent quickly. Just last week, Trump sought $10 million in damages from former campaign aide Sam Nunberg for alleged breaches of his nondisclosure agreement. That action has created paranoia among Team Trump members. “Mr. Trump requires employees to sign and adhere to strict confidentiality agreements,” Trump attorney Alan Garten said in a statement July 13, after Trump announced he was suing Nunberg. “When the agreements are not adhered to, he will enforce them to the full extent of the law, and Mr. Trump’s litigation track record on such matters is outstanding.”
Yeah, nothing like suing a former aide, one who reportedly idolized Trump, to put a chill on hiring new aides.
Trump says his critics don’t grasp that he’s running a different campaign. His social-media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now reach nearly 20 million people at little or no cost. Trump still gets heaps of media coverage, and if you really believe his theory that all publicity is good publicity, he comes out ahead from that coverage.

But what Donald Trump is attempting to do is unprecedented in modern presidential politics. It’s true that he pulled off a remarkable feat by parlaying his 95 percent name ID into 14 million votes in the GOP primaries and winning the nomination. But in the general election, he will need 50 million votes. It’s unclear whether simply promoting his brand will win him enough votes.

Trump could nonetheless win the November election. He might perform well against the wooden, lie-a-minute Hillary in debates; terrorist attacks could drive nervous independents in his direction; promised leaks from Hillary’s e-mail accounts via Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks may well materialize. But if this election is close and Trump loses, his failure to spend money on a competent staff, build a ground game, and avoid unforced errors will probably be blamed.

The irony is that a man who claims to be so successful and so enamored of finding “the best” has brought his campaign into its current disrepute because he’s been a cheapskate when it comes to spending money on the Trump presidential brand.
I suspect also that quite a few of the most experienced and best political operatives just don't want to have Donald Trump's campaign on their resume. They probably hope to have years of jobs working for GOP candidates in their future and worry that, in campaigns to come, having worked for Trump will not be a net positive.

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After learning of the Melania plagiarized speech, Ramesh Ponnuru sees the unifying theme to the Trump campaign. Not to toot my own horn, but it's basically what I wrote yesterday. Ponnuru starts off by saying that Melania's speech sounded like it was written about someone other than her husband. And he was right - it was written about Barack Obama.
Trump is campaigning less on a platform than on his own managerial excellence. He will hire the best people and make the best deals, he tells us. Melania Trump’s prime-time plagiarism undermines that story. It is another sign that he is not running a minimally competent campaign.

Controversy over the plagiarism, and the Trump campaign’s excuses for it and denials of it, have dominated coverage of the first stage of the Republican convention. That can’t be what the Trump campaign wanted. But then it’s a little hard to know what it wanted.

Traditionally the role of a political party’s convention is to unify it and excite it for the campaign to come. Campaign manager Paul Manafort chose, however, to attack the popular Republican governor of a must-win swing state on day one. He went after John Kasich for not endorsing Trump, saying that Kasich had embarrassed his state -- simultaneously drawing attention to and exacerbating the party’s disunity.

Party unity would also have been served by a different approach to anti-Trump delegates, although this screw-up may have been the fault of the Republican National Committee more than the Trump campaign. Those delegates were denied a roll-call vote on the convention’s rules, and the process by which they were denied it was not transparent.

The alternative would have been to allow a roll-call vote, which the anti-Trumpers would almost certainly have lost. Then some of the losers could be asked to tell reporters that they had been treated fairly but that most delegates were with Trump. Some of them would have played ball. But instead of doing any of that, the Republicans appeared to be operating from a playbook Manafort got from his dictator clients.

A roll-call vote, it’s true, would have impinged on the convention’s schedule, maybe even going into prime time. It would have been no great loss. Last night had only one and a half good speeches. Rudy Giuliani, agree or disagree with his content, made an effective attack on Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Trump’s speech, though pedestrian, would have been counted as a success, too, if its banalities had not been borrowed.

This is a stunted convention. Many Republican politicians have found somewhere else to be. You might have thought that Trump could at least bring some celebrities to Cleveland; but in fact Mitt Romney’s convention outdid him for star power. (Scott Baio is no Clint Eastwood.) The theme of the first day of the convention was supposed to be “making America safe again.” It turned out instead to be political incompetence.

Ashe Schow wonders if there is a plagiarism double standard given that Joe Biden plagiarized in law school and in campaign speeches, but is now vice president. And Barack Obama plagiarized a Deval Patrick speech and it was a short story that soon died out. And they were running for president, not the spouse of a candidate.

Some in the media are horrified that Pat Smith, the mother of Sean Smith who was killed in Benghazi, gave a speech on Monday blaming Hillary Clinton for her son's death. Jim Geraghty remembers when mothers of those slain in battle were regarded as founts of wisdom when the person being blamed for a son's death was George W. Bush.
Hey, remember when grieving mothers of American men slain in battle had “absolute moral authority,” in the words of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd?

It will not surprise you to learn that a lot of members of the media seethed at Smith’s speech. Perhaps it was indeed exploitative for the Trump campaign to put her front and center at the convention; she’s grieving and, some will argue, looking for a scapegoat for her son’s death. (Again, I don’t recall this argument coming from any Democrats during the peak of Cindy Sheehan’s public role in antiwar activism. Or the “Jersey Girl” 9/11 widows who endorsed Kerry.)

If you’re one of those folks who found Pat Smith’s remarks shamelessly exploitative, I wonder if you’ll see the same grumbling about the speakers at the upcoming Democratic National Convention:
Also scheduled Tuesday are Mothers of the Movement members Gwen Carr, Mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, Mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, Mother of Dontré Hamilton; Lucia McBath, Mother of Jordan Davis; Lezley McSpadden, Mother of Michael Brown; Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, Mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Geneva Reed-Veal, Mother of Sandra Bland.
Oh, now it’s not okay to invoke tragic deaths in the name of a political agenda? I’ll keep that in mind next week. Or after the next mass shooting.