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Observations on the Big GOP Debate Night

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Just my two cents on some of the major participants and what it all means for the 2016 election:

Ohio Governor John Kasich: 

This guy has got to be Hillary Clinton’s biggest nightmare.  Comfortable in his conservative beliefs but tolerant of those who differ; compassionate in his views about helping those in need.  Very strong moment for many moderates and independents, I think, when asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage and he said that, hey, he’s an old fashioned guy but how would he respond if one of his kids came out?  He’d love them.  Good answer!

Unapologetic about increasing Medicare subsidies in Ohio, he sounded a compassionate conservative theme I haven’t heard from a Republican in a long, long time.   He also has a smart political team.  The timing of his Presidential announcement gave him the precise buzz and bump he needed to get into the big 9 pm debate.   One of his major slogans right now to GOP voters is- “No Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio.  Ever.”

He also fills the “regular guy” role that was supposed to be Scott Walker’s specialty.   I honestly think Hillary Clinton beats every single GOP contender on that stage- except John Kasich.   The math gets really difficult for Dems without Ohio.

Brilliant move by Kasich to say Trump is touching a nerve with many and not belittling him.  Not only does he get Trump’s supporters at a later date but if Kasich gets the nomination, Trump will remember the kindness and maybe doesn’t launch the 3rd party bid.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

Pretty solid performance.  Really liked his take on the immigration issue when he pointed out the real problem no one talks about- the horrible, inane government bureaucracy that is so inept it turns immigrants who want to be law-abiding into criminals when they give up after waiting for years and years and end up sneaking in.   Rubio’s youth and energy could be a real contrast to Hillary the Grandmother.  And Dems like to win Florida too, and he wouldn’t be making that an easy task.   Not sure he currently has the Presidential demeanor.   I see Kasich as a Commander in Chief way before I picture Rubio.  But if the country really wants change- he’s an attractive, next generation alternative.

Donald Trump and Roger Ailes:

The Fox News President, I’m guessing, did his best to end Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination and probably succeeded with the first two questions that were asked in the debate.  Knowing full well what Trump’s response would be, the first question asked of “all” the candidates was to raise their hand if they would be willing to bolt the GOP and run as a 3rd party candidate.  Trump obliged, proving definitively, that he really does not give a rat’s ass what anybody thinks of him.  He is not a panderer.

Then Megyn Kelly asked about his insulting tweets about women.  Then Chris Wallace asked about his four Casino bankruptcies.

Was he diminished?  I think for some Republicans, the ones who care about the party, the luster has come off of the Trump infatuation.  But for many conservatives and for politically pissed-off people who don’t particularly care about the Republican party- he maintains and even gains a little.

Unless the post-debate Fox news panel with 21 Fox-selected participants reflects reality.  Fourteen of them went into the debate liking Trump only 3 remained loyal by the end of it.  They called him mean and selfish and bombastic.  And then later, a lot of Fox News analysts also were highly critical of Trump’s performance.   This is not subtle.  The Trump people are picking up on the conspiracy vibe.

Trump organization Executive VP and special counsel, Michael Cohen tweets the following:

A total setup by @FrankLuntz and #FOXNEWSDEBATE to try to lower #Trump2016 high poll numbers. American people will not fall for your tricks.

Are we on the verge of a Trump–Ailes war?  Because right now, it’s looking like the Donald walked into a gigantic trap.

Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker

He was sharp and well spoken.  He’s clearly crammed his little heart out on foreign policy.  He’s a guy with a family and a Harley.  He does “regular guy” very well.  He has certainly been consistently dissed and underestimated and just wipes out his opponents in every election he’s ever been in.  He’ll end up being a force to be reckoned with.  But I don’t think Kasich plays “regular guy.”  He actually is one and is a much more experienced political hand with a superior political operation.

Former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush

Meh.  No flubs.  Selling himself as the voice of reason.  Dealt smartly with Trump and didn’t get into the mud in any way.  Stuck to his talking points on his accomplishments as Governor.  I don’t feel it for the third Bush.

New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie

He was pretty solid and articulate but kind of transparent in regard to his strategy of goading one of the other candidates into a brawl and so it was Rand Paul he chose to target.  I thought Paul held his own in the fiery debate between the two on the issue of national security versus privacy rights.  Christie came off tough alright.  Unfortunately for him, that mantle’s been taken by Donald Trump.  In the battle of the bullies, Christie gets Trumped.

Kentucky Senator, Ron Paul

His brand has been deeply tarnished over the months but I thought he put on a decent debate performance.  His libertarian views were pretty clear and consistent and he resisted pandering.

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee

What ever happened to the happy warrior who tells jokes and plays bass with rock n’ roll bands?  He seems so angry these days.  “Get off my lawn” kind of angry.  He stayed away from oven analogies- a wise choice.  He had a staged joke at the end criticizing a candidate that sounded like it was going to be Trump and it ended up being Hillary.  The Fox News hosts thought this was really funny.

Dr. Ben Carson

No surprises. Didn’t get much air time and stood his ground about it.  Fairly funny staged joke at the end saying that as a neurosurgeon there are things he’s done no one else on the stage has- like separate Siamese twins and operate on people with a half a brain which he compared to the half-brains in Washington.

Texas Senator, Ted Cruz

Got seriously short-changed on air time and answered every single question precisely as you would expect him to- extreme hard right.  It struck me that as the champion college debater he was, Cruz would be killer in a more traditional and structured debate setting.  But this was not that.  This is the age of Trump and politics as reality television.  This is the age of 17 candidates and not enough time for any of them, really.

Former HP CEO, Carly Fiorina

Voted Most Likely to Succeed in Leaving the Kid’s Table and Moving Up to the Adult Table for the next debate.   It seems to be very important to the Republican party that there be a woman who criticizes Hillary Clinton non-stop and either the rules will be changed or the good press she got will put her into the top 10, but she WILL be in the next debate with the top folks.  She’s also looking very Vice Presidential to me.   Kasich-Fiorina.

You got some work ahead of you, Hil.

An Election Prediction a Year and a Half Out

April 22, 2015 1 comment

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Do not mistake this as endorsement or repudiation.  I don’t really care one way or the other if Hillary Clinton gets elected President.  Whatever happens, I’m sure the Republic will survive.   But as an amateur pundit who watches politics like a ghoulish NASCAR fan watches car racing- waiting for the spectacular crash- I’m sorry to inform you that my prediction is fairly mundane: Hillary Clinton will be elected the next President of the United States.

It doesn’t matter how many scandals are brought up, dredged up, or created.  It doesn’t matter how many Republican-backed books hit the best-seller lists on a monthly basis. Whitewater won’t matter.  Monica Lewinsky will not matter.  The State department e-mails will not matter.  The Clinton Foundation and which foreign governments did or did not contribute to it will not matter. We don’t even need to get into the latest CNN poll that finds she is ahead by double digits against all the potential GOP candidates. Surely, that will narrow significantly.

But Hillary Clinton’s narrative is set. She has been such a long-time player in American political life that opinions about her are concluded, cemented, done and finished.  The real question is this:  Is the tiny number of American voters who have no opinion of Hillary Clinton larger than the roughly 2 to 3% margin that her positive ratings generally outpace her negative ratings?

The opposition will have a new attack line every month right up until Election Day.  And every single time, regardless of the merits of the arguments, Hillary Clinton will call it predictable partisan vitriol and the slight majority that supports her will completely agree.  Partisan attacks on Hillary Clinton will be eaten up like candy by the anti-Hillary faithful but will change not one single mind among her supporters and I’m not sure there are enough “undecideds” left to make any difference.

The Soft Launch

There was much criticism of the “soft launch” of the Hillary campaign.  Many liberals and just about all conservatives, seemed to blanch at what they saw as the emptiness of her announcement video.  She was waging identity politics, they argued, featuring nothing more than a cartoonish smorgasbord of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Gays in her ad.  She had no policy details whatsoever. Her vow to be the champion of the middle-class echoed hollow to the critics from the left and the right.

Politically/strategically- it looks like it pretty much did the trick.  You could see it in the grudging back-handed compliments from the opposition’s punditry class.  “Slick but empty,” was the common refrain from conservative commentators like Jennifer Rubin.  What was noticeable was the recognition that the ad was actually pretty smooth.  It was, like her or hate her, good packaging.

Politico had these quotes from Republican operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire, about Hillary Clinton’s soft launch:

 “Honestly, I was very impressed,” said a top Iowa Republican…“She’s always been seen as cold. I think this helps warm her up for the general election. It also creates a soft launch for her.”

“She can be very hard to listen to speak, at times shrill, so this was refreshing and a little inspirational,” said a second Iowa Republican. “She knows she needs to earn people’s vote. It’s a smart way to brush off being the ‘anointed one.’”

“The drive to Iowa is the smartest play I’ve seen her make in a while,” declared a New Hampshire Republican.

A second Granite State Republican described the road trip as a masterstroke. “The campaign is, rightly, underplaying it and letting the social media activity promote her and her travels,” he said. “Really, really well played.”

But “where’s the beef?”  Of course, this was all empty calories.  That’s the nature of American politics.  Joe McGinnis articulated it all quite nicely in the Selling of the President written in 1968.  Forgive my cynicism, but when was the last time we expected any kind of substance at all from a politician?  Besides, everybody knows Hillary Clinton is a total policy wonk and would greatly prefer noodling policy then actually campaigning.  I would bet she’s being urged to NOT be that policy wonk, and instead is being counseled to be warm, approachable, humble, Grandmother-like (who doesn’t love grandmothers?) and also generic, non-specific and pure pabulum.

But does it really matter?  Whether she articulates to the granular level or not on every issue known to man, don’t most folks have a pretty good sense that Hillary Clinton will govern quite differently than whoever the Republicans will nominate (Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, is my current pick to get GOP nod)?

Keeping the Obama Block

Some argue she will never approximate the block of voters put together by the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012.   I would concur.  But she doesn’t need to get to that level in order to win.  What she does need is a big turn-out election.  While polls are currently finding there may be less novelty and fascination with a woman becoming President than may have been generally assumed- I don’t believe those numbers.

On the eve of election day next year, a woman standing on the precipice of the American presidency, taking the mantle of Commander-in-Chief for the first time in history, potentially elected as the leader of the free world- will be a really big deal.  It will be historic in every sense of the word.  As has become patently obvious in the last two elections, large turn-out amplifies the country’s changing demographics just as surely as low-turn-out, mid-term elections distort them.

It’s just a prediction ridiculously offered more than year and a half before the main event.  A lesser margin than either of Obama’s victories, but a victory nonetheless.

Immigration- It’s not Easy Sometimes- Even for the Legal Ones

November 21, 2014 1 comment

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I was born in New York City in 1956 and that made me an American. My parents, from Colombia, South America, never actually achieved full citizenship status though they always had the appropriate documentation to work and live in the United States for many decades.

They ended up divorcing and both would return to Colombia but toward the end of my mother’s life, she moved back to the states and lived with me and my family in Atlanta. It was the Pablo Escobar era in Colombia and a huge bomb in downtown Bogota had killed 200 people and taken out a major high-rise office building and broke the windows in the nearby building where my mother worked and I brought her up to the states to get her away from the bloodshed and violence.

It was then that she began the process of seeking American citizenship.

It was a tough go. In her 60’s but not in the best of health, there were hours and hours of bureaucratic engagement and hassles. Stella was a classy, elegant woman; always very well-dressed and proper in every way. From a middle to upper-middle-class background, she stood in stark socio-economic contrast to the hard-working, wonderful, salt-of-the-earth, but much less well-off Mexican and Salvadoran day laborers with whom she shared many hours of waiting time in the Atlanta immigration offices.

After a typical 3 or 4-hour visit to immigration, waiting in long lines, filling out forms, doing interviews and writing out $700 processing checks (money you never get back whether you achieve citizenship or not), she’d end up exhausted by the experience. On a couple of occasions I would take her directly from the chaos and frustration of the immigration offices to the Ritz-Carlton- Buckhead where I could treat her to tea and a nice breakfast and make her feel human again.

Enforcement Beyond the Grave

Stella did not survive the immigration process. She passed away several months after her initial application and before anyone could rule on her status. About two months after her death, I received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, informing me that a court date had been set for her. I called the appropriate authorities and sent a copy of her death certificate. The court date came and went and now the letters started coming in fast and furious, each one increasingly menacing. Stella Garcia-Pena has missed her court date, the letters said, and the deportation process is now underway.

I forgot who I called, but it was not a friendly conversation on my part. “If it makes you feel better to deport a dead woman, by all means, go right ahead. But understand that, really, this is not a living individual you are talking about here.” But if you’d like, I threatened, next court hearing you schedule for my dead mother’s deportation, I can call one of our local Atlanta TV stations, or perhaps CNN (where I worked) and maybe we can have a camera crew document this tough federal action you’re taking against someone who no longer walks the earth.

I think the camera crew thing saved the day. I did receive one more clueless bureaucratic letter threatening more deportation and, as I recall, possible imprisonment. But one final letter of explanation from me and a follow-up phone call did the trick. The Immigration and Naturalization Service had deemed it would, finally, let my dear mother rest in peace.

I am certain she is now a citizen-in-good-standing in Heaven and I understand the entrance process to get past the pearly gates is considerably easier and more efficient than what she had to go through here on earth. Basically, she just had to prove she was a good person.

And that, she was.

This Summer of Horrible News- Get Away From It If You Can

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– The 7-year-old son of an Australian member of ISIS is pictured holding the decapitated head of a soldier, a photo distributed on social media by his father.

– A white towel drapes the corpse of 18 year old, Mike Brown, an unarmed black man, two days from starting his first day at college, shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri last weekend.

– Far-ranging rockets fly into the night, aimed at Israeli citizens while shells land in “safe” places housing Palestinian refugees, wounding and killing women and children.

– Another 135 people die in a single day from the deadly Ebola virus, now spreading through West Africa.

– An actor and comedian who captured our hearts for over three decades with his obvious love and passion for life, kills himself- the victim of a deep depression.

– An airliner with 300 innocents aboard gets shot out of the sky over Ukraine and it is days before repatriation of the bodies and burials can take place as armed insurgents keep even investigators from reaching the scene.

– Thousands of Central American children who survive a 1,300 mile trek to the American border escaping violent gangs in their home countries, are dispersed throughout towns and villages in the U.S. while the government decides what do with them. In many of those towns, angry protestors demand the children leave and let it be known they are not welcome.

– American politicians forget the art of compromise and the business of governing grinds to a halt as partisan gridlock leaves our Congress as one of the least respected institutions in the nation, unable to address any of the country’s problems.

These eight news stories have one thing in common. These are the headlines of our summer of 2014. I am not alone in remarking about how bleak and horrible the world seems right now. Certainly, for those of us who work in the news business, where these dismal stories are part of our normal routine, it is hard to take. And for those not in the media or journalism worlds, it is all equally appalling and sad.

There is only one answer to this as far as I can tell. The world, despite our best efforts, is not going to fix itself. But you do have the power, mostly, of determining what information you receive. So unplug. Just disconnect every now and then. Don’t watch the news. Stay away from news web sites. Go outside. Breath clean air. Go for a walk. Take in a comedy club. Go to a baseball game. Rediscover your partner.

We all need to take a break from this horrid summer of news. For our own mental health.

Tough Guy Putin Not Looking So Great

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Shortly after the Winter Olympics, back when Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea and was making moves into eastern Ukraine, he seemed to become the darling of some of the administration’s harshest foreign policy critics.

After the action in Crimea, former New York Mayor, Rudi Giuliani, seemed to admire how the Russian leader was so decisive, telling Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, “[H]e makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. And then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader,” Giuliani said.

In March, Sarah Palin, said this to Sean Hannity:

Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.

Rush Limbaugh weighed in too:

Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

Michigan Congressman, Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee:

Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles.

You get the drift.

Regrettably for the man who would wrestle bears and drill for oil, it would appear that the luster is now off the big crush. Being connected to the downing of a civilian airliner has that effect. But now it’s getting even worse. Even Europe, deathly afraid of imposing serious sanctions against the Russians for fear of hurting their economies, is beginning to stir. The leaders of Britain, Germany and France had a telephone conference over the weekend and appear to be heading for more substantive actions against Putin.

The Dutch, who suffered more fatalities than any other nation in the downing of the Malaysian airliner, were described at first, as being in a deep state of shock and mourning. But now, after the Russian separatists who control the accident site continue to reportedly restrict access to international investigators; after the disturbingly callous and incompetent handling of the remains of the dead becomes more and more evident- they are described as furious.

Turns out, or so it seems, that Mr. Putin was not playing chess very well. That would require one to look several steps ahead. He doesn’t appear to be the “long-view,” strategic type, to say the least. In fact, I’d say he’s been revealed to be playing a game of one-dimensional checkers all along.

He also strikes me as the type who, when sensing he’s on the losing side, will never give in, and instead of losing graciously, is more likely to upend the entire checker board and stalk off, blaming it all on a sudden gust of wind. Very manly, indeed.

The Iraq Muddle

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So let’s get this straight. Somehow, unbeknown to U.S. intelligence agencies, a major army constitutes out of thin air and in the space of about ten days captures huge Iraqi metropolitan areas and now threatens the Iraqi capital.

In the north, Kurds take over a major city they’ve been eyeing for about a thousand years. Elsewhere, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers also fold like tents leaving millions of dollars of munitions, tanks and helicopters in the hands of an advancing army so extreme in its beliefs of Sharia law and a hardline Islamic state that, they have actually been disowned by Al Qaeda.

The only thing standing in the way of ISIS (Iraq/Syria Islamic State) and Baghdad are volunteers formed after Friday prayers- oh- and our good friends, the Iranians, who have pledged to help defend the capital.

Who’s to blame for the possible collapse of Iraq into complete and utter chaos?

Here’s a possible list of suspects:

1) The British. They’re the ones who sat in some fancy room after the end of World War I and drew up the boundaries of Iraq with apparently zero thought given to the politics of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country; the Kurds to the north, the Sunni and the Shiites.

2) The Bush administration. Not the first one, the second one. The first Bush White House never completed its invasion of Iraq or toppled Saddam Hussein because of the uncertainties of what might occur if a sudden power vacuum were to open up smack in the heart of the Middle East. Plus, we had no interest in accidentally starting and getting involved in a bitter civil war. The second Bush administration did what it did, and praise them or scold them, the fact is the war and its aftermath ended up putting a Shiite leader in place who has spent the last 8 years taking out several centuries worth of anger against the minority Sunni population that had previously lorded over the majority Shiites.

3) Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Not only has he alienated the Sunnis, but it is reported his government is corrupt as the day is long; so corrupt, in fact, that in Mosul, a city of about 2 million people that just got taken over by ISIS, the violent invaders have actually improved city services by, among other things, ending frequent power outages. Of course, in the decree they made public upon their takeover, women are not allowed to leave their homes and anyone in violation of their strict interpretation of Sharia law will be hung or have their feet or hands cut off. But they do get air conditioning.

4) The Obama administration. Responding to an electorate weary of war, and now the victim of what his defenders call disingenuous and hypocritical attacks from those who started the war- his administration has, nevertheless, presided over a national security and intelligence apparatus that has pretty much missed one of the biggest developments in modern Middle East history.

Nice work everybody!

Hank Aaron Fears Racism is Still Alive- Racists Prove Him Right

April 16, 2014 1 comment

San Francisco Giants v Texas Rangers, Game 4

Forty years ago, as he was chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, Henry Aaron was the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. Now 80 years old, Hammerin’ Hank is once again the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. His offense? He told USA Today reporter, Bob Nightengale, that he thought the nation still had a way to go on the race front and that today’s racism is particularly insidious because as he put it:

“The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

I’m not sure what they’re actually wearing these days, but they are clearly armed with internet access and computers. Nightengale reports that in response to Aaron, the Atlanta Braves baseball club has received a torrent of the nastiest, racist e-mails you could ever imagine:

“Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)” a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).”

And there’s more:

Marion calls Aaron a “racist scumbag.” Ronald won’t attend another Braves game until Aaron is fired. Mark calls Aaron a “classless racist.” David says that he will burn Aaron’s I Had A Hammer autobiography.

Oh good, book burning- another sign of enlightened tolerance.

As reporter, Nightengale, puts it quite eloquently- the difference between 1974 and 2014 is that back then, Aaron had the gall to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time homerun king, today, he had the audacity to speak his mind.

Mr. Aaron has kept a good sampling of the hate mail he received forty years ago- as a reminder of what he and Jackie Robinson and dozens of other black players had to put up with. It was when he was asked why he still has all those hate-filled attacks filed away, that Aaron responded with the sentence above- the sentence that has proven his point so vividly and so sadly.

Back when I worked at CNN, Hank Aaron ran a BMW dealership in Atlanta and he wanted the CNN Radio newscasts pumped into the showroom for his customers to get the latest news updates every half hour. Hank loved CNN back then. He was close to Ted Turner and then CNN President, Tom Johnson. We gave Hank’s dealership access to the CNN Radio feed and he very graciously sent back an autographed baseball that I have proudly on display in the living room of my Pentagon City apartment.

I used to look at that baseball from time to time and think, wow- signed by the legitimate home run king of all time. Today, I look at it and see a baseball signed by a kind and wise man who counters hatred with the sword of truth. And it makes me even prouder to have an artifact that, to me, now also stands for the righteous but elusive goal of social justice and racial tolerance.

Please- keep speaking your mind, Hank. Your words in 2014 are as powerful as all the lumber you ever used to pass the mighty Ruth all those many years ago.