2020 Las Vegas Dem Debate

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And then there were 6 – Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar and Bloomberg.

If I were Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar or Bloomberg, I’d go after Sanders primarily tonight. I think the Bernie Bros would be one issue worth bringing up.  I would demand that Sanders disavow – that he pledges to investigate and root out the divisive intimidators in his campaign. Second, I’d question his ability to unify the country.  The Democrat tent is much more than a progressive block of activists, socialists, college students, and people 40 and under.  I would question whether a socialist can win the support of Democrats in the critical states of PA, OH, MN, MI and WI.  Any Democrat can win HI, CA, IL, NY, DE, and the NE states.  If I were one of the other 5 candidates, I’d make my case that I could win the key rust belt states. I’d argue that I would expand access to health care (and not end it for those who have it). I’d pledge to kill the tariffs that have hit farmers hard. I’d promise to clean up the environment and rebuild the EPA.  I’d commit to an agenda that would tackle the issue of climate change. I’d end fracking and invest in alternative energy sources, thus creating more jobs and would look to invest in  the nuclear energy sector. I’d commit to other infrastructure projects including upgrading the electrical grid, repairing roads and bridges and modernizing rail and airports.  Finally, I’d commit to visas for all migrant agriculture workers and a path to citizenship for all who want it as part of a comprehensive immigration reform.

This debate should not be about taking Bloomberg down.  He’ll likely do that himself.  No, it’s time to take Bernie down a notch and once the race tightens, the field should go after the Bloomberg candidacy.  Do we really want another billionaire running the country?  The one in office now has nearly destroyed the nation and all of its democratic institutions.

Hey, Dems – it’s anyone’s race.  It’s not too late.  Hang in there.

3 Weeks a Vegan

I’ve been a meat eater all my life.  A carnivore’s carnivore.  I once went on an all-meat diet and took desiccated liver supplements to maximize my protein intake.  That was a long time ago.  I’ve been eating more sensibly since and have started following a vegan diet. I did it not so much for health reasons or ethical reasons but because my daughter challenged me.  Once I accepted the challenge, I began to think about the many dietary changes I needed to make and I had to convince myself that it was in my best interests to eat healthy.  I figured I’d add a few years to my lifespan, maybe even become immortal, if not immortal, at least help to keep the planet alive longer by reducing my carbon footprint. I have not been able to convince myself that eating meat is cruel to animals or a savage practice.  It would be quite hypocritical of me to adopt that stance after so many years of eating meat and fishing.

After three weeks of not eating any meat or dairy and getting all my nutrition from plants, I can say that I feel pretty good.  I have the same amount of energy, perhaps even more than before.  I’m snacking way less and consuming fewer calories and losing weight – not that I need to – about 6 pounds so far.  After I eat a vegan meal, I generally feel quite satisfied, but never stuffed.  I also find that I don’t have as much of a lingering aftertaste like I did after eating meat and dairy.  Though there is one issue that has almost been a deal breaker – not being able to put milk in my morning coffee.  I have never liked non-dairy creamers or any kind of cream for that matter. The only thing I like in coffee is 2% organic milk.  Now I’m stuck with coconut/almond creamer that really takes the fun and taste out of coffee.  Soy is better but it irritates my throat.  I’m getting used to almond milk though.  And it does seem to fare reasonably well in lattes as a replacement for milk.

I have also begun taking B12 and D3 supplements and probiotics to fight off deficiencies.   I go for a physical in March and if my blood work is stellar, I’ll stay on the vegan diet for as long as I can.  If there are no changes or negative changes to my health as measured by blood tests, I’ll ditch the vegan diet in favor of a vegetarian one but limit my dairy.  We’ll see.

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On to SC and NV

Now it’s on to Nevada and South Carolina.  Dems in the more diverse states will have to figure out who they think can beat Trump and also speak to their issues.  Who is best on the economy? Who can unite the country? Who can lead the charge on immigration reform that can pass both chambers? Who has less baggage? Who can solve climate change? Who can bring back the rule of law but also put forward criminal justice reform? Who is best for down ballot candidates to give the dems the best shot at keeping the House and winning back the Senate. Who will make gun control a priority?

Is the rest of the country in love with Bernie? Can he expand the base and turn out more voters? Will his rhetoric motivate baby boomers, independents and former Trump supporters.  Have the electorate given up on Biden and Warren? Is Mayor Pete for real? Does Klobuchar have appeal in states outside of Minnesota with a diverse population? Is Bloomberg a spoiler who will guarantee a brokered convention and become the billionaire who saved the day?

Lots of questions to answer.  Stay tuned.

 

Farenheit 451 Book Review

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought I had read this when a kid but upon reading it “again” I didn’t remember any of it which is ironic given the message of the importance of memory to the preservation of books that may one day disappear. In fact, those days are already upon us as evidenced by the attack from the anti-intellectual alt right that have created an alternate universe where fact is fiction, knowledge is suspect, and the arts are impractical. In the error of Trump, the U.S. finds itself “led” by a man who reportedly refuses to read anything that is not about himself.

In Fahrenheit 451, books are banned and people’s lives are consumed by idiotic TV broadcasts. While today, books compete with the Internet, social media, video streams, movies, video games, and televised sports.  Books have lost their luster in the digital age and are even feared.  There have been regular bans and ritual burning of books that are found by certain communities to be objectionable.

In Fahrenheit 451, an obsession with war and destruction culminates in near nuclear annihilation. People are so dumbed down that they have no idea what is going on. In today’s society, some 63 million prideful low information voters elected a failed businessman who does not like to read who once wondered why we have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them. We are living in dystopian times.

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Fear: Trump in the White House Review

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what I was expecting but not this. I was struck by how it read like an episode from The West Wing full of chaos and drama. Woodward managed to inject order into the chaos and in doing so, painted Trump in a somewhat sympathetic light. His journalistic sense of neutrality is on display as he presented the first year and half of the Trump presidency as a series of huge moments where Trump’s “instincts” enabled by manipulative forces from Steve Bannon, to Peter Navarro and Fox News clashed with the views of key advisors, like the generals and Gary Cohn, who tried to be the adults in the room. Woodward takes us through defining events including the bungled response to the tragedy at Charlottesville, the Twitter wars with North Korea, the steel tariff, and Trumps pulling out of the Paris accords and trade agreements. At every decision point, Trump seems to look through a lens with three filters that revealed how he would look to supporters and the media, how much it would cost and what would the U.S. (or he) get in return. For example, he couldn’t understand why the U.S. couldn’t mine all the minerals in Afghanistan, or why the U.S. had to spend so much on NATO and the defense of South Korea. He couldn’t understand why we don’t just put the U.S. military out for hire. His instincts are to run the country like a Trump business to make money or enhance the brand. And to Trump, the brand should be about toughness and winning. Everything is winning or losing. He scoffs at the word globalism, a term he clearly learned from Steve Bannon.

Significant attention is paid to the carping between the president and his advisors and their battle for power and influence. The narrative is critical of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner who seem to have their own agenda and to have unlimited access to the president, undermining others. Some of the more incendiary bits revealed how Trump’s closest advisors viewed him. One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, called Trump (charitably) incapable of telling the truth. Secretary of State Tillerson called Trump a “moron”. Chief of Staff Kelly offered a variation on the theme calling Trump an “idiot” while National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn called him an “asshole”.

What becomes clear in the narrative is just how impulsive Trump can be (something I think we all have observed) but also just how easily he can be talked down from a bad idea. Increasingly, though, trying to put controls on Trump so that rational and ordered decisions could be made became so frustrating and impossible that many of the “adults in the room” left the administration. Now Trump has few guardrails in place to save him and the country from his bad instincts, one of the reasons he was impeached. To compound matters, he is surrounded by yes men and manipulators who have their own (very often bad) agendas – think Pompeo, Miller, Kushner, and Barr.

What Woodward did not explore were the origins of Trump’s bad ideas – that free trade and a free press are bad, and by extension that democracy is bad; that alliances and agreements are bad; that regulations are bad; that immigration is bad; and that protests against white supremacy are bad. Trump’s racism has been on display for years dating back to housing discrimination rulings against Trump properties, the Central Park 5, and Trump’s erroneous claim that Obama was not born in the United States and was an illegitimate president. Woodward does not explore the roles the influence of Bannon and Miller in any detail or the influence of Fox “News” propaganda on Trump’s world view. And importantly, there isn’t much on the cozy relationship between Putin, Trump and the Republicans. Trump appears to support policies that favor Russia over the interest of the U.S. Why is that?

But the book is really more of a document of the Trump presidency up close and behind the scenes as experienced by the major players. It does not attempt to explain how or why Trump got elected, or to suggest that Trump is a bad president, though definitely one we should fear. Nor does he suggest Trump should be impeached and removed. That is left up the reader, including the meaning of the title, Fear: Trump in the White House. My own interpretation is that we should fear Trump more than ever now precisely because the guardrails are off and all the adults are gone or have flipped and become enablers (like Lindsay Graham) leaving the controls to an impulsive, unpredictable, failed businessman who has terrible instincts, undemocratic ideas, and no clue how to govern.

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The Plot to Destroy Democracy Review

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the WestThe Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West by Malcolm W. Nance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to know how the failed businessman and narcissistic con artist Donald J. Trump managed to become the president of the United States, read this book. To understand what he has done to erode our democratic institutions and norms, and who this benefits the most, read this book. Our collective knowledge of the consequences of the 2016 election could help prevent another kleptocracy from ever taking root again in the U.S. While Malcolm Nance’s writing in spots has a bureaucratic wonkiness to it, his arguments are clear, well-supported, and eye-opening. The Plot to Destroy Democracy is an important and timely work.

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Trump’s Ship of Fools

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The Grateful Dead were never very political although they did a lot of fund raisers and seemed to have a social conscience, a sort of spirit that goes against all that Trump stands for.  Whereas, the Dead always had a wall of sound so that everyone could hear the music, Trump has always wanted to build a wall to keep people out.  The Grateful Dead were always about bringing people together, never alienating or walling out.  So it is in this spirit that I propose to describe the Trump years with Grateful Dead songs.

Looks Like Rain (1972)

Despite the fact that it did rain at his inauguration, Trump declared that the sun was actually shining in what can only be described as a “Sunshine Daydream” (coda from Sugar Magnolia 1970)

Ship of Fools (1974)

It’s a cautionary tale to Republicans who have cast their lot with the devil in a soul destroying Faustian bargain.

Dark Star (1968)

The Republicans appear to be navigating by the Dark Star that may just steer the ship of fools into a giant rock.

Not Fade Away (1957 – Buddy Holly and the Crickets; first played by the Dead in 1968)

Trump may believe that he is above the law but the impeachment stain will not fade away.

Loser (1971 – Garcia/Hunter)

Not only did Trump not win the popular vote in 2016 even with Russian assistance, he lost control of the House in the 2018 midterms.  And 7 of Trump’s associates have been convicted of crimes and have either already served time, are currently in prison or awaiting sentencing.

Mexicali Blues (1971)

Trump is singing the Mexicali blues because he can’t get the wall built, and he couldn’t get Mexico to pay for it, or anyone else for that matter.

Going Down the Road Feeling Bad (arr. 1971 – Traditional, 1924 )

Trump says he doesn’t feel like he’s been impeached but you know that he is going down the road feeling bad, as suggested by the all-caps Twitter tirades and that 6 page rant of a letter to Nancy Pelosi.

 

 

Trump’s Priorities

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I’ve refrained from writing much about the Trump years partly because I still can’t believe he was elected president.  It feels like a cruel joke and I’ve suffered terribly watching the Trump administration roll out the most vile policies and comments that I have ever seen or heard from politicians in the U.S.  Trump has been an utter disgrace and embarrassment to a majority of Americans.  And that he still has the support of 45% or so in his pocket frightens me. I say still because despite his racism, bigotry, lying, criminality, and just overall ignorance in every area in which a president should have expertise, his supporters remain loyal.  I get why Republicans politicians support him. They won’t cross him for fear of being shamed and primaried. However, the MAGA crowd seems to view him as a sort of sports figure who they love to cheer on.  He’s the underdog with power who is kicking the liberal butts.  They don’t like elite liberals who make them feel inadequate, and they see in Trump a kind of savior.  They fanatically and uncritically embrace all that he says and does defending even the most deplorable policies.  And they don’t seem to understand that Trump’s ineffective policies and inept leadership have in many cases made their lives appreciably worse.  They don’t get that Trump is President (by accident) to further his own brand and that he could care less about them.  He wants to be reelected to stay out of prison, not to MAGA. His idea of make America great is to sell it to the highest bidder – Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the fossil fuel industry or to anyone else with cash.  I can’t help but wonder if his antics with Kim Jong Un are nothing more than a ploy to get himself a Nobel Prize or a lucrative North Korean land deal for a future Trump Hotel and Resort.  His deference to Russia clearly suggests he’s more interested in future financial deals and gaining acceptance into the Dictator Club than he is in preserving democracy.  He’s less interested in border security than he is in creating a monument to himself in the shape of a wall.

As to priorities other than himself, his family and his brand, let’s look at some of the key vacancies in executive branch positions that need Senate confirmation.  Out of 726  positions, 137 have no nominees even named.  These vacancies say a lot about Trump’s priorities. Below are a list of a few with brief commentary:

Homeland Security has only an acting director and just 41% of positions within the department filled.  One would think that the 2 billion request for the wall might be more wisely spent to adequately staff the department.  Amazingly, Homeland Security has no Deputy Secretary, no CFO, no Undersecretary for Management, no ICE Directors, (one just announced after two withdrew their nominations) and no Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Over at the Justice Department, less than half of the positions have been filled (and we are almost three years into the Trump presidency). There’s no nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Program Division (surprised?), no Assistant Attorney general for the Tax Division (but of course not), no DEA Administrator or Deputy Administrator,  no Parole Commissioners, no Special Counsel for Immigration-related Unfair Employment Practices, and no Director of Community Relations Service.

At the Department of Interior, incredibly, there is no Director for the National Parks Service, one of the most treasured of our resources and widely visited by tourists from all over the world. But not having a Director for the Parks Service is no accident because Trump hates the environment and can’t understand why we don’t just chop down the forests and frack the hell out of Yellowstone.

Even the Executive Office of the President is understaffed. Clearly key positions are deemed unimportant like Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, Office of Science and Technology Policy and of course who needs an Associate Director for Technology Policy? Not Trump.  I mean, there’s no need to secure our elections or to invest in technology.  We have the Internet, what could be more advanced? And there’s no Chairman for Economic Advisers, and no members even nominated for the Council on Environmental Quality, but who cares about the environment and we all know global warming and climate change are a big hoax.  God is just punishing Macron with a hot summer for levying a tax on big tech companies. We’ll get them back by taxing French wine and anyway, American wine looks better.

And here are some key ambassadorships that are vacant:

Ukraine, Honduras, Belize, Brazil, Chad, Chile, Cuba, Estonia, Georgia, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Singapore, Tanzania.

I wonder if Putin told Trump to stay the hell out of Ukraine, Estonia, and Georgia.  And that we don’t have diplomatic relations with Brazil and Chile is unconscionable.  No diplomat in Japan, what?  And how on earth are we supposed to address the refugee crisis on the border if we have not established a diplomatic relationship with Honduras? Oh, right, Bolton says we can’t do diplomacy.  And that’s also what Senator Tom Cotton is whispering into the President’s ear.

 

 

Warren might be the best candidate

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How do the Dems beat Trump? It goes without saying that they need to nominate the best candidate.  But which of the candidates would have the strongest chance of beating Trump? Or should that even be the metric, especially if any of a number of candidates could beat Trump.  According to the latest Quinnipiac poll that Trump calls fake and 538 rates as an A- pollster, Biden, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, Bernie, and Booker all beat Trump.  Of these candidates, who would be the most formidable on the campaign trail and who among them would be the best president? Frankly, I think the most formidable campaigner would be Elizabeth Warren.  I think Trump fears her or maybe Bernie the most.  Bernie might give Trump a good go,  but a shouting match in all CAPS between the two I think would work to Trump’s advantage.  Harris should fare better than HRC in that she is more likely to stand up to Trump,  but she is not the choice of the progressive crowd who the Dems need to turn out to have a chance.  And then there is Buttigieg.  I think his greatest appeal is that he is an outsider and the polar opposite of Trump.  He’s much smarter and calmer, and more thoughtful and articulate, and more accomplished.  I think he could turn out the vote although he too may struggle with progressives and to attract blacks, women and latino voters though he should fare well with moderates, young and old.  However, Trump will pounce on Pete’s youth, the fact that he wasn’t a combat fighter and served the military “deep state” in intelligence.  He’ll try to concoct some deep conspiracy that Buttigieg is a part of.  Trump will say Mayor Pete is a CIA plant and perhaps even question his credentials and attack his status as the son of an intellectual “foreigner” who maybe didn’t “belong”, not unlike he did Obama with the racist birther nonsense that he claimed Hillary started.  Biden on the other hand is who Trump HOPES to face.  He thinks he can characterize Joe as slow and sleepy, which are not exactly the attributes of a leader.  Trump will associate Biden with Obama who he claims left the country a mess for him to clean up.  Biden could very well be put on the defensive, in the same way that HRC was put on the defensive in regard to her record as Secretary of State under President Obama.  The defensive candidate always looks weak.

So here’s how I rate the candidates in 20 categories:  just the top 3 in each category and only considering the top 5 candidates in the national polls: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Harris.  Points: 3 if listed 1st, 2 if second and 1 if 3rd.

Campaigners: Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders

Policy: Warren, Biden, Buttigieg

Credentials: Biden, Warren, Harris

Star Power: Harris, Buttigieg, Warren

Personality: Warren, Harris, Biden

Communicator: Buttigieg, Biden, Warren

Fear Factor: Sanders, Warren, Harris

Women: Harris, Warren, Buttigieg

Presidential: Warren, Buttigieg, Harris

Least Baggage: Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders

Cool Factor: Buttigieg, Harris, Warren

Known Quantity: Biden, Sanders, Warren

Restore Image Abroad: Buttigieg, Harris, Biden

Climate Change: Harris, Buttigieg, Warren

Stand up to Russia: Biden, Warren, Harris

nonTwitter Dems: Biden, Buttigieg, Harris

Progressives: Sanders, Warren, Harris

Rust Belt Appeal: Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders

Big States: Biden, Harris, Buttigieg

South: Biden, Warren, Harris

And the winner is:  Warren (29), Buttigieg (28), Biden (27), Harris (25), Sanders (11)

And it’s fairly close though Sanders’ star has fallen and the novelty has worn off.  Now that he has branded himself as a Democratic socialist, which was not a particularly smart strategy, he’s toast.  I predict that O’Rourke will pick up some support from the Bernie and Biden crowd making the race even closer and paving the way for Warren to take the lead.  If her debates skills are as good as advertised, I expect her to become the frontrunner.

 

 

A Winning Ticket?

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What are Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s chances of becoming the Dem. Nominee for President in 2020? Not very good, but possible. Consider this, in the 9 states for which there are polls, he’s running 5th.  Now wait before you say that doesn’t sound right.  It is right.  Don’t forget that some of those polls are from early April.  A lot has changed since then.  In the most recent Economist/YouGov national poll as reported by Real Clear Politics  he’s in 4th. Rounding out the top five is Harris at 9%, Buttigieg at 10%, Warren 12%, Sanders 15%, and Biden 27%. Given that Mayor Pete is still not well-known, these numbers are pretty good for him. After the upcoming debates, I imagine there will start to be some separation between these candidates.

What’s interesting is the question of momentum.  And there are only 2 candidates who seem to have any and they are Warren and Buttigieg, both of whom have increased their standings in the national polls versus the states polls, some of which as I mentioned are from early April.  In the state polls, Mayor Pete would have received a total of 8% of all of the delegates in IA, TX, NH, CA, NC, FL, PA, SC and MA, whereas in the latest national poll, he’s at 10%.  Warren’s numbers are 10% and 12%.  By contrast, Biden and Sanders have lost momentum.  Biden’s numbers are 32% and 27% and Bernie’s 17% and 15%.  Harris’ state number is 10% and 9% in national polling.

So what accounts for this momentum?  The obvious answer is campaigning.  When people hear Mayor Pete for the first time, they are impressed.  And when they hear him again and again, they are struck by his consistency.  He is passing each test, each appearance with the highest marks.  Similarly, Warren has been impressive with her focus on her plans – she’s like that saying, “there’s an app for that” only replace app with policy – “I have a policy for that.”  Unlike Buttigieg, she has name recognition, but her name has been somewhat tarnished by the DNA debacle.  She has worked hard to earn back respect as someone who could legitimately beat Trump.  The theory of the case previously had been that Trump would never let her off the hook for claiming Native American heritage and would taunt her with chants of Pocahontas (by the way, Scott Brown was the first to do this when he ran against her for the MA Senate seat) in an attempt to throw her off her game. And she might take the bait and hit back, but that would play into Trump’s small hands.  But she is one hell of a fighter and would give Trump the fight of his life.  She could talk about his bone spur deferments, his inflated claims of wealth and success and of course hit him hard on all of his criminal behavior while in office.  She could intimidate him with the I words – Impeach and Imprison but I don’t think that is what would get her elected.  I think if she stays focused on policy details and continue to discuss them with the raw passion that Hillary failed to express, she has a good shot of taking him down.

Now imagine this:  Warren/Buttigieg.  That would be an intriguing ticket and perhaps a winner.  Time will tell.