Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Criminalization of Hillary Clinton

You can't look anywhere these days without seeing memes calling Hillary a criminal and that she should be "locked up," the most popular refrain at the Republican National Convention.  Despite being cleared of all charges by the FBI, half of Americans still consider her e-mail scandal a major problem.  Donald Trump continues to exploit the scandal on the campaign trail to the point of flippantly suggesting Russia find Clinton's "missing e-mails."  For the record, the FBI recovered the deleted e-mails, poured over them for months and found no national security breach.  The worst Director James Comey could accuse her of was being "extremely careless," in using private servers.

Most Americans have accepted Donald's characterization of her as "Crooked Hillary."  Berniecrats are still upset over the leaked DNC e-mails that prove the party favored her over their man.  As a result, they don't trust her, believing that she set up Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as head of the DNC for this expressed purpose.  Of course, Hillary would have had to be very prescient back in 2011 to have done this.

The oddest thing about all this contempt for Hillary is that a year go she was riding high.  She led all her potential Republican challengers by no less than 13 points (Jeb Bush) and as much as 25 points (Donald Trump).  Many thought not only her nomination but general election victory was a done deal.  Since then we have seen the e-mail scandal, which broke earlier in March, snowball into an avalanche despite there being nothing to these charges that are continuously leveled against her.

The news media, which feeds off conflict, couldn't resist the story, embellishing it over time to make it look like Hillary was using her private server as some kind of covert channel to funnel state secrets to others.  All told, the FBI could only find 113 e-mails that contained "classified" information, out of tens of thousands of e-mails.  The government classification process is very broad,  classifying most information coming out of the state department whether it has the potential to damage national security or not.  Comey didn't get into the exact nature of the classified information, which obviously wasn't enough to warrant major concern, otherwise he would have been much harsher with Hillary Clinton.

Still, the media can't let it go.  The various news channels continue to give air space to those who insist on questioning her judgement, when it is Trump's judgement that we should be more concerned with.  This is a guy who recently egged Russia into hacking American servers to find the so-called "missing e-mails" that in his mind still float around somewhere in cyberspace.  This is far more treasonous than anything Hillary ever did, yet we are now supposed to think Donald was just being "sarcastic."

There is still three months left until the general election and it is safe to assume the e-mail scandal will fade, but it is doubtful Hillary will regain Americans' trust.   It doesn't matter that Americans were sold a phony line of reasoning by the media, which they don't trust very much either.  The public is convinced that Hillary has a nasty habit of covering her tracks and that this scandal is just part of a broader pattern that stretches back to her days as First Lady in the White House, which Trump plans to exploit as well.

It doesn't help that she and her husband, Bill, serve as the role models for the highly popular House of Cards, which builds its narrative on conspiracy theories surrounding them.  What is worse, many persons consider Hillary the "enabler" of the Monica Lewinsky scandal by allowing her husband to engage in such sordid activities.  During Bill's tenure, many thought Hillary was a lesbian.  At one point there was speculation of an affair between her and Markie Post, the popular Night Court actress at the time.  Maybe even a threesome with Bill?  These were the kind of juicy stories that filled the tabloid sheets and no doubt fed the imagination of television scriptwriters.

Trump spokespersons continually press the point that it is what Americans "feel" that counts, not cold hard facts. Trump has built his campaign largely around false presumptions, confident that the public will believe him over the media when journalists try to fact check his allegations.  If the misleading story gets too much unwanted attention, Donald tosses it away as a joke, safely assuming that most persons will dismiss it as such.  The problem is that the stories stick anyway, as they all feed into the pervading mistrust of Hillary.

Whether you like Hillary or not, she is neither the liar nor the crook she is being presented as.  Like any person who has been in politics this long, she has occasionally blurred the ethical line, but she has committed no crimes.  Despite being left hung out to dry by her husband numerous times, she has persevered and become stronger, to the point she is the one clearly in charge and that Bill serves her interests, not the other way around.

Nevertheless, there will be those who continue to doubt her sincerity.  There isn't much she can do about it as these persons have made up their minds.  But, what she can do is shift the focus onto Donald Trump, by exposing a far more tarnished record as a businessman, which he believes is the only qualification he needs to be President.  As in any television drama, it is time to turn the tables.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hollywood vs. the Underbelly of America

Quite a contrast in celebrities from one convention to the other.  Donald Trump wanted to bring some big guns.  It was reported that he tried to enlist a number of conservative celebrities, but none were interested.  Chuck Norris said no, as did Bruce Willis and Tim Allen.  Not even Clint Eastwood pitched up to have a conversation with a chair.

If Hollywood gives you lemons you make lemonade. and the Trump campaign tried to make what it could out of Scott "Chachi" Baio, the "Restless" Kimberlin Brown and Antonio "CK" Sabato Jr.  He did manage to score Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd to play at the convention outdoor arena, but still couldn't resist the temptation to steal Queen's We Are the Champions.  I'm sure Johnny Van Zant would have let him use Call Me the Breeze.  The biggest star was his own daughter, Ivanka, who introduced her father on the final night.

Quite a contrast to the Democratic Convention, which saw a number of A-List celebrities both on stage and in the audience.  One of the more amusing stories was the conservative reaction to Bradley Cooper, who was shown in the audience.  He had played conservative icon, Chris Kyle, in "American Sniper," and it seems many conservatives thought Bradley was one of them.  Katy Perry similarly disappointed conservative fans by singing "Roar" at the convention.  The stars were shining on Hillary.

Not that any of it really matters.  Hollywood actually has very little pull in politics, if so the Democrats would be dominating politics.  The greatest strength the Republicans have is their appeal to the simple man, no better personified than in the son of the Duck Commander, Willie Robertson.  His wizened father was found in the audience, but apparently is still a Ted Cruz man.

You really can't call it a "Southern Strategy" anymore as the Republicans have locked up the Deep South vote.  It has become an expanded strategy to capture the "Orthogonal vote," the squares who Richard Nixon appealed to, and also helped get George W. Bush elected.  These are the persons who feel the mainstream has passed them by and vote for persons they think more closely resemble themselves.  For the most part they loathe Hollywood.

It is hard to understand why they identify with Donald Trump.  Maybe the red trucker cap helps.  Mostly, it is the language Trump uses -- harsh, unrefined, often mono-syllabic words just like his name.  It is the kind of language that resonates among disaffected white voters, echoing a shotgun blast.  He is also very good at seizing on symbols that these folks identify with, even if the symbols are nothing more than cheap props.

He's been called a "blue-collar billionaire," which is equally hard to understand since he went to Wharton Business School, which he is very proud of, and inherited his father's real estate empire.  Anyway, it seems to be working, as he doesn't carry the elitist baggage that cost Mitt Romney the last election, and Mitt is only worth 1/40th of Trump's wealth, if we are to believe Donald's numbers.

Still, you figure Trump could have pulled in a couple of big name celebrities with that kind of clout.  Tila Tequila and Dennis Rodman would have given the convention some splash.  Loretta Lynn had urged Trump to call her, but it seems he didn't get the message.  Here's a rogues' gallery the Daily News assembled.

He might still be able to draw some of these celebrities out on the campaign trail.  It's going to be a long slog until election day.  But, Trump is a big enough celebrity in his own right that he doesn't need these lesser celebrities to vouch for him.  It is enough to don his trucker's cap and make his mono-syllabic appeals to America's forgotten underbelly, which he hopes will carry him to the White House.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The biggest crack in the glass ceiling

It seems the Republicans believe they have God and the American flag on their side.  Fox picked up on the conservative blog stories claiming there were no American flags at the Democratic convention, but once this was shown to be false, went back to Monday night when a woman pastor was allegedly heckled during her opening prayer.

Monday was a rough start for the Democrats, as they had to deal with the DNC e-mail scandal and the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, so not everyone was in a blessed mood.  A few disgruntled Berniecrats voiced their frustration throughout the day, so I doubt Rev. Cynthia Hale took it personally.  Besides, the mixture of boos and cheers were directed at Hillary Clinton not her.  Still, the conventioneers should have shown a little more decorum.

Rather than try to claim some kind of moral or patriotic superiority, the Democrats have pitched an all-inclusive God and nation, which Rev. Hale evoked in her prayer.  It's a kind of pantheism that conservatives find alarming and often equate with socialism.  They would prefer an Old Testament God that defends a chosen people, predominantly white, as Rep. Steve King pointed out to us.

Like the all white country clubs of the past, conservative theology is apparently segregated as well.  Attempts at minority outreach, which followed the Republican landslide electoral loss in 2012, have fallen to the wayside, as Trump pitches his message almost exclusively to white voters, figuring that Hillary won't inspire enough Hispanics and Blacks to make up the difference.  After all, the last several presidential elections have seen white voters favor Republican candidates, with minority voters tipping the balance in favor of Democrats.  

However, Trump has lost a lot ground among women voters, who do vote.  As a result, we are seeing a Democratic convention heavily tipped in favor of women, with men there only in supportive roles.  Bernie was even called on to nominate Hillary in a show of unity, which was met with rousing cheers from the convention on Day Two.  Hillary herself called her nomination "the biggest crack in the glass ceiling," making it clear that women were the stars of the show.

The best the Republicans could offer was Ivanka Trump telling the audience that her father stands for women and lesbians and gays.  We can only guess how Ivanka squares her own personal beliefs with that of her father and the Republican Party, as she had supported Democrats like Hillary Clinton ad Cory Booker before this election season.  But, she is the "good daughter," standing by her father's side, even if she has to cringe at some of his more outlandish statements.

The Democrats clearly represent women.  In many ways Obama was the first woman president.  He has shown a sensitivity toward women heretofore unseen in the White House.  It was for this reason that he won the women's vote (Black, White and Hispanic) both times, and also why he is a favorite on The View and other women's centered programs.  It helps when you have a strong woman like Michelle and two sharp young daughters at your side.  This is a guy who quickly learned to put the toilet seat back down.  

Such equanimity does not square well with the hard line religious view that dominates the Republican Party these days.  Sure, they respect women, but only so long as they accept the core beliefs of the Bible.  All other women are "c*nts" in their minds, which we have heard time and time again.

Hillary would be leading in the polls by 20 points if she didn't have so much baggage.  Few persons like what they heard coming out of the Republican Convention and like Trump even less.  However, Hillary has been saddled with "scandals" by the media resulting in a large segment of the public viewing her with contempt at the way she "gets away" with all this.  

You also hear a lot of persons say they want a female president but not Hillary, feeling that she is tainted goods.  It happened in 2008 and again 2016, with the Democratic Party splitting over her.  She came into both elections the prohibitive favorite, but once the media tarred and feathered her, she had to fight for each state as if it would be her last electoral victory.  

Hillary pointed to her own conservative upbringing in her biography and that she still holds onto many of these values, but you would never know it from what you read in the press.  It is clear that she has a much better understanding of the Bible than Donald Trump, and her allegiance had never been questioned before Benghazi, and then only by malcontent Republicans who hoped to stop her from running for President.

I think any woman would have suffered the same indignities, as it seems as much as Americans like to say they are ready, they still haven't quite brought themselves to accept a woman president.  Well, here she is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Russian Connection

A lot of speculation is flying around as to who hacked the DNC e-mails.  The prime suspect is Russia, as many feel Vladimir Putin has the most to gain from a Trump presidency.  It is highly unlikely that this hack job will turn the election, but it allows the media to sound off on what it sees as an odd relationship that has emerged from this campaign -- the seeming "bromance" between Trump and Putin.

Trump has played on the "strong man" theme throughout his campaign, so it isn't surprising that he would be attracted to autocratic leaders like Putin and Erdogan.  After all, in his business he gets to call all the shots.  It turns out that not only Russia and Turkey like the "strong man," but so do many Americans.  The kind of surety Trump projects in his campaign is very appealing and for the most part overlooked by the press, which has focused mainly on his outlandish statements.

Putin projects power differently.  He is the strong silent type.  You never know quite what he's thinking, which leads you to guess as to his motives, usually assuming the worst.  For Americans, and indeed for many people around the world, this is deeply unsettling.  Not for Trump, who feels he can deal with Putin the same way he would deal with any corporate leader, striking a bargain that is mutually advantageous.  If the two can't reach a deal then they agree to respect each other's domain, which appears to be the case regarding Trump's recent comments on NATO.

Russia has long wanted to see NATO dissolved, as it did the Warsaw Pact following the break up of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations.  Trump appears to have very little respect for international institutions, preferring to conduct foreign affairs on a bilateral basis as he would his real estate deals.  This has sent shock waves through the international community.

However, there is little to suggest that Russia has any vested interest in this presidential campaign.  Whether it is Hillary or Trump, Putin will continue being Putin and there isn't much we can do about it.   This latest hack job may have come from within Russia, but it is highly doubtful it can be traced to the Kremlin.  Russia still has an old Soviet domain .su that was established in 1990.  It serves as a favorite dark spot for hackers to hide in.  These hackers can come from anywhere in the world not just Russia, and are hard to track once inside this virtual black hole.  A Trump hacker could have just as easily used this domain to sabotage the DNC as could a Russian hacker.  Nevertheless, there are those who suspect Putin uses this "red web" to his advantage.

I'm not a very big fan of Vladimir Putin, but what I see here is the same type of projection that we saw during the Cold War, making Putin into a convenient enemy.  The real danger in this election is how easily Trump has been able to play into the Nativism of Americans, appealing to their basest instincts.  This was on full display at the Republican National Convention, and amazingly enough Trump was able to come out of the convention with a "bounce," now polling slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton.

It is doubtful this "bounce" will last for long, and many media pundits are already discounting it because of the many factors that were taken into consideration in these polls.  Nate Silver still gives Hillary a 53 per cent chance of winning the general election based on her lead in key states.  Trump and his surrogates were effectively able to play on the "feelings" of the nation, which as we know changes from week to week like a "mood ring."

What hurts Hillary is not so much the leaked e-mails as her embrace of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, which she announced as the honorary chair of her campaign's 50-state program.  Debbie has become largely reviled in the Democratic Party and was booed off the podium when she resigned as head of the DNC.  If this hack jab was meant to derail the Democratic National Convention, it failed.   The convention goes on with Bernie Sanders offering his full support of Hillary, unlike Ted Cruz who told Republican conventioneers to vote their conscience.

Vladimir Putin is a bystander in these events as are many other perplexed world leaders, who have become anxious watching a nation that prides itself on democratic ideals be so easily taken by a snake oil salesman like Donald Trump.  You might expect this in a third world country, but not the most powerful nation on earth.  It is in no one's interest to see Donald Trump elected President.  Trump's oft repeated disdain for international agreements no more favors Putin than it would any world leader, who relies on international agreements to maintain a relatively even playing ground.  Otherwise, it is every nation for itself in what would be a very bloody international field that would leave no nation unscarred.

Maybe, just once, we could dispense with the demagoguery and focus on the issues for a change.  The media has allowed the Trump campaign to reshape the way we think about the economy, immigration, crime and for that matter the world, despite having no figures to back up their views.  This "bromance" between Trump and Putin is entirely fictive, like just about everything else that comes out of the Trump campaign.  Trump's greatest selling point is playing the "strong man," and he will use whatever means at his disposal to project that image, regardless of the consequences.  As such, he presents a far more imminent threat than Vladimir Putin.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Aunt Hillary and Uncle Tim

We should have expected this, as it is classic Hillary.  She has always played it safe.  Those who thought she might finally loosen up a little and make a daring pick are sadly disappointed, especially all those young Berniecrats who thought this time around might be different.   

Tim Kaine isn't a bad choice, if your aim is to appeal to disgruntled Republicans and Independents who can't bring themselves to vote for Donald Trump.  Tim represents stability and has appeal to both Hispanic and Black voters.  He was a Catholic missionary in Honduras where he learned to speak Spanish, and he was a popular mayor in Richmond, which is predominantly Black.  This aided him in winning the governor's race in 2005 and the Senate seat in 2012.  It looks like Virginia is safe for the Democrats.

But, what of all those Berniecrats who were looking for a sea change in Democratic politics?  It looks like they will have to content themselves with a platform that is more liberal than usual, but with standard bearers that fall far short of expectations, which means they either have to swallow a bitter pill or look elsewhere for a standard bearer.

Jill Stein is openly courting Bernie Sanders and his supporters, and has seen her poll numbers rise to as high as 6 per cent.  Not bad for a Green Party candidate.  She is the only candidate actively supporting sustainable design and renewable resources, which has a strong appeal among young voters.   

Hillary has tried to tilt her campaign in this direction, which ironically pushed one of the nation's largest coal producers, West Virginia, in Bernie's favor, despite he being a strong advocate of renewable energy sources himself.  However, Hillary uses that dreaded word "transition," which could mean five, ten or even fifty years.  

Fortunately, much of the private industry is shifting toward sustainable design and renewable energy as it is cost effective.  We are already seeing the financial benefits of more fuel-efficient cars, appliances, home heating and cooling systems, as the US is less reliant on foreign oil than at any time in recent memory.   Not surprisingly, the Keystone XL pipeline has been a non-issue this campaign cycle, as there simply is no reason to funnel Canada's oil to Gulf Coast refineries, other than to benefit Canada.  So, Hillary has nothing to lose here.  As she does with adopting the bid for a $15/hr. federal minimum wage, which many states and cities have already enacted.

The irony is that she is slow to embrace universal health care, content to stay with the Affordable Care Act, which was never designed to be anything more than a stop-gap measure to remedy the number of uninsured Americans.  Back in 1993, she was a major advocate of a single-payer system.  Her "free tuition plan" looks like a quickly conceived compromise meant to appease Berniecrats, rather than address the underlying issue of skyrocketing tuition costs, playing out pretty much the same as the health care debate.

In a political campaign, you don't have to go too deep.  You just have to make your ideas look appealing and that's all Hillary is trying to do at this point.  She figures that most of the country wants to see more progressive legislation so she will make herself appear to be their champion, as opposed to Trump who would like to get rid of public services all together.  Hillary is not so much a champion, as she is a cheerleader in this regard.  One who would leave all the dirty work to someone else, if bother with it at all.  Of course, one could say the same for Trump, who has never done an honest day of work in his life.  But, what progressive Democrats are looking for is someone who will truly put up the good fight, which was why Bernie Sanders was so appealing.

The other concern is that she has tagged a senator.  No doubt, she will also look to the Senate to fill her cabinet appointments, as Obama did in 2008, which could cost valuable seats in Congress.  Virginia swings both ways and could easily fill the seat with a popular Republican.

The hope was that she would pick a progressive VP that would energize the party.  Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro and Cory Booker were all high on her list.  A youthful face on the ticket would have given her campaign some badly needed punch.  Instead, we have Mr. Nice Guy.  That's not all bad, but certainly not very inspiring.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The United States of Trump

I don't think you could have scripted a more dystopian vision of America than what is being laid out at the Republican Convention.  Frustration and anger have turned to contempt and hatred of the most virulent kind with one of Trump's delegates, Al Baldassaro, calling for the execution of Hillary Clinton for treason.  Chris Christie, who has been put in charge of Trump's White House "transition team," said that a Trump administration would seek Congressional approval to purge all Obama appointees over the last 8 years.  Prime targets would be those appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump would like to do away with all together.

Let's not forget that four short years ago, Chris was flying around hurricane-damaged New Jersey with Barack Obama, telling everyone what a good guy he is for bailing out his failed state.  But, it appears the pugnacious governor is willing to be Trump's lapdog even if his only role is to go out for hamburgers.  It seems Trump's children carry most of the weight inside the Trump campaign, which has to eat at Chris, who gave up everything to be a part of the slow-motion trainwreck, not that he had much to give.

The first days of the convention saw a rogues' gallery of dubious celebrities, former military and political leaders telling the gathered audience how great it would be if Trump was given absolute power to do with America what he will.  We also heard Dr. Ben Carson compare Hillary Clinton to Lucifer and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn stage a mock trial that resulted in chants to "lock her up!"    The only one not sure what to make of Donald J. Trump was Ted Cruz, who urged Republicans to vote their conscience, resulting in a shower of boos.  Looks like only Trumpkins were allowed admission to Quicken Loans Arena.

A mass hysteria has swept the convention that resembles what you would see in one of those mega-churches, as Trump has taken on god-like proportions to those faithful to him.  Trump introduced Melania to the crowd like Jim Baker would Tammy Faye.  His Slovenian wife offered a canned speech in response, sampling portions of it from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech.  But, you have to hand it to Melania, she looked dazzling. 

Most prominent Republicans have stayed away from the convention, hoping to distance themselves from their nominee.  Bob Dole is one of the few former Republican leaders to openly endorse Trump.  Oddly enough, Trump is very popular among elder Americans, despite the fact that there is nothing to indicate his policies would benefit them in any way.  You could say that for pretty much everybody, but for whatever reason Trump has the geriatric vote locked up.

Not to say there aren't some older, wiser Republicans who are not insterested in Trump, notably George H.W. Bush, who has refused to even acknowledge the GOP nominee.  Dubya has similarly chosen to ignore Trump as he stumps for Republican Congressional candidates.  Of course, there is a personal element here as Trump was merciless in his attacks of Jeb Bush on the campaign trail.

Trump apparently tried to heal the rift by having Donald Jr., reach out to John Kasich to be Vice-President, but the Kasich team said no thanks even after being offered virtual control of the White House.  The Trump campaign has since backed away from any such offer, but apparently all VP candidates were screened by Trump's three oldest children and Ivanka's husband.  Mike Pence similarly had to win the approval of Trump's kids.  The Indiana governor may appeal to the religious faithful within the GOP, but it is doubtful he will have very much pull outside this narrow ideological group.  I suppose it doesn't really matter to Trump, who would have never given that much power to Kasich or anyone else as Veep.  This campaign is entirely about himself.

At this point, Trump's best hope is that the general election becomes a four-way race, as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are both gaining traction in the polls.  Johnson may even reach the 15 per cent threshold necessary to participate in the Presidential debates this Fall.  If the two independents can garner as much as 20 per cent of the electorate, Trump only needs to poll 41 per cent to win, greatly increasing his chances.  The only problem is that these two outside candidates seem to be drawing more disgruntled conservatives than they are liberals.

For now, Donald J. Trump is content to be anointed the Republican nominee, projecting an aura of power like a third world dictator.  This is what he shelled out $55 million for in the primaries.  His appearance tonight should spike the ratings as so far this convention has done no better than the lackluster 2012 convention that gave us Mitt Romney.   It is hard to understand why he enlisted such minor players to speak for him but I suppose that only makes him look that much bigger when he finally takes the stage.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Brutal Reminder of our Past

I don't post much about architecture, my chosen profession, but the renovation of Paul Rudolph's government center in Orange County, New York, caught my eye.   Brutalism is not everyone's cup of tea, but as far as such buildings go this one was quite modest in scale and had served the county well for decades until it was closed due to hurricane damage in 2011.

There were many proposals on the table, including one by a prominent New York architect who offered to buy the Rudolph building and convert into an artist colony, if he was given the commission for a new civic structure.  The county executive nixed the idea and slated the building for demolition in late 2015.  However, the legislature overruled him, preferring a more cost-effective renovation and expansion of the existing structure instead.

The building is listed in the World Monuments Fund, as it is considered one of Paul Rudolph's best works.  Zaha Hadid wrote admiringly of it last year,

"As a center for civic governance, it enacted democracy through spatial integration, not through the separation of elected representatives from their constituents.  Many similar projects around the world have also suffered neglect; yet sensitive renovation and new programming reveal a profound lightness and generosity, creating exciting and popular spaces where people can connect.  Rudolph's work is pure, but the beauty is in its austerity.  There are no additions to make it polite or cute.  It is what it is."

Not everyone thought so well of Brutalism.  Jane Jacobs felt it was destroying NYC and many other cities around the country, which led her to write The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  However, ferro-concrete construction was a low-cost solution to rapidly expanding civic and housing needs in the late 1950s, and many city officials, including Robert Moses in NYC, promoted Brutalist architecture.

Granted, the results were sometimes terrifying, but Paul Rudolph made Brutalism human in scale, ranging from his modern Florida houses to his Yale Art and Architecture Building.  It may have been a "perplexing legacy," as Herbert Muschamp wrote in this 1997 obituary, but it was a very important one, as Rudolph had a big influence on succeeding generations, including yours truly.

I'm happy to see the Orange County government center was spared.  If nothing else it serves as a unique marker, especially now that it has gotten all this attention.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


The fourth time was a charm for Serena in reaching the magic number of 22.  She is now tied with Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam victories in the modern era.  I was beginning to worry that Serena no longer had the staying power to compete through an entire tournament, having dropped the last three grand slams in the finals and semi-finals to relatively unknown opponents.  However, grass suits her style of play very well, having won six previous Wimbledons, and she was able to overcome Angelique Kerber in a hard fought match.  She had lost to Kerber earlier this year in the Australian Open.

It doesn't really matter whether Serena builds on this number, which she probably will, as many leading tennis figures already consider her the greatest of all time given the span in which she accomplished this incredible feat.  Her first grand slam victory came in 1999, when she beat Martina Hingis at the US Open.  She had followed on the heels of her sister, Venus, who had won the tournament two years before.  The two quickly became the dominant force in women's tennis, much to the chagrin of Lindsey Davenport and a resurgent Jennifer Capriati, who found themselves reduced to the second tier.

No two players have had such a great impact on tennis as have the Williams sisters.  They appeared out of nowhere in the mid-90s, initially coached by their father on the public courts of Los Angeles, to become major stars that decade.  Their athleticism is what set them apart from the rest of the field.  In so doing, they set a new standard for the game that now sees far more athletic players than any time in women's tennis.

We forget now, but the Williams sisters faced a lot of scrutiny in the press throughout late 90s and early 2000s for what was seen as their haughty nature.  The media quickly fell in love with the two rising Belgian players, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, who would win several Grand Slams of their own.  Then came the wave of Russian and Eastern European beauties who took the tennis world by storm.  Through it all, Serena persevered, overcoming personal troubles and media body shaming to achieve this monumental goal.  

Many sports pundits felt it was a record that wouldn't be tied or broken because Steffi had been so dominant in her day, with many feeling she had retired too early.  Graf had hung up her racket at age 30.  Serena has won 9 grand slam titles since she turned 30 in September, 2011.  Her longevity has not been seen since Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon at 34, and it looks like Serena still has two or three good years left in her.

Women's tennis has always been a young person's game.  Stars break on the scene early and usually go into nova well before turning 30.  Justine Henin inexplicably retired in 2008, at age 26.  She had won 7 grand slam titles, on par with Serena at that stage of her career.  Only a handful of women tennis players remain competitive past 30, which is what makes Serena's accomplishment all the more remarkable.

One can argue that she doesn't face as tough competition today as she did a decade ago, but she had a very hard time with Kerber and Garbine Muguruza, who beat her in the French Open final.  These much younger players were able to wear down Serena after a long fortnight of matches.  One forgets just how grueling 7 matches stretched out over 14 days can be, especially in the middle of summer.

What made Wimbledon even more sweet for Serena is that she was able to share the doubles victory with Venus.  It was the first time these two had teamed up for a grand slam doubles championship in four years.  Together they have now won 14 grand slam doubles titles.  Venus also made it to the semi-finals in singles, dropping her match to Kerber.  So, it seems Venus has found her groove again, which Serena said gave her additional motivation.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Time for open general elections

1832 Democratic Convention in Baltimore

Consternation continues among Republicans heading into their convention.  There remains talk of unbinding the delegates on the first ballot which would open the floor to a host of candidates and denying Trump the nomination.  One figures at that point all hell would break loose and Trump would most likely run as an independent in the Fall.  Whatever the case, it points to the glaring shortcomings in the primary system, not just on the Republican but also the Democratic side.

The primary system didn't emerge until the late 19th century and didn't become a major factor in the nominating process until 1972.  It was an attempt to make the process more open, but it still feels like the nominee is foisted upon us by the respective party national committees.  Trump's victory in the primaries is rare, but it points more to the widespread dissatisfaction with the party power brokers than it does Trump's personal appeal.  To a large degree, the same could be said for Bernie Sanders' candidacy.

Americans want to be free to choose and this antiquated system doesn't allow it.  Candidates have to get big money backers or have a fortune of their own to mount a serious campaign.  There have been some relatively successful grass roots campaigns over the years, which is what Bernie tried to mount, but they have all fallen short.  Barack Obama had substantial support among the Democratic establishment in 2008, which allowed him to overcome Hillary Clinton's early lead.  Sanders was forced to work from a huge hole, due to Democratic superdelegates aligning themselves with Hillary, which he was unable to overcome.

We went through an arduous process that started back the Spring of 2015 when the first candidates declared themselves for President.  For nearly a year, these candidates vied for attention before the first primaries were held in February.  Then began the process of attrition, which saw most of the candidates drop out in the first month due to lack of support and funding.   All of this seems democratic on the surface, but underneath is an arcane process that had surprisingly little voter participation.

Iowa, which has a caucus system had only a 15 per cent voter turnout.  Little wonder since you actually have to participate in a selection process that goes well into the night, meaning only the most committed voters turn out.  Other caucus states saw much lower participation.  There was greater turnout in the primaries, especially the open primaries but even here the mean average was around 30 per cent, about half the turnout in a presidential general election.  This means less than a third of eligible American voters determine the party nominees.

You can blame this on general apathy, but with many of the primaries and caucuses closed to party members only, Independent voters are frozen out of the process.  Independents make up the largest voting block today, nearly 40 per cent.  In fact, Bernie Sanders is still registered as an Independent, but was able to get on Democratic ballots in closed state primaries because he caucused with the Democrats in the Senate.  Trump has changed his political affiliation at least five times, most recently becoming Republican in 2008.

So, why not just do away with these caucuses and primaries all together and have an open general election where any candidate, regardless of his or her political affiliation, can run for President if he or she can get enough names on a petition to register for the state ballots?  This was the way it was done originally.  The current form of party politics didn't emerge until the 1832 election when the Democrats put up Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren as their party ticket.  The National Republicans countered with Henry Clay and John Sergeant.  Two other parties were also represented.

Before 1832, Candidates might affiliate themselves with a party, but these political parties were in flux and didn't hold conventions.  General elections were open and saw a wide variety of candidates, the most hotly contested being 1824, which had to be decided in Congress.  I suppose this is what led to political parties taking greater control of the process.

General elections are still open, but it is pretty hard for an independent or other party candidate to mount much of a challenge, as so much time and money has been spent on the Republican and Democratic primaries that it is difficult for an independent candidate to be heard.  This may change this year as there is such widespread dissatisfaction that Gary Johnson is polling as high as 11 per cent, which is very good for an independent candidate this far out of the general election.  He may have enough support to qualify himself for the national debates in early autumn. This hasn't been seen since Ross Perot ran for President in 1992.

Doing away with the primary system would not only open the door for independent candidates but allow more Republicans and Democrats to enter the race.  Of course, this risks a battle royale like we saw in the Republican primaries, but the top two, or even three, contenders could then face each other in a run-off election, which would be much more fair and much less costly than this bloated primary system.  We could also get rid of the electoral college, so this becomes a truly national election, rather than the state-by-state process we currently have.

None of this is likely to happen as there are too many vested interests in the current system.  Small states are also not likely to give up their electoral votes out of fear their voices won't be heard in a national election, which was the reason for the electoral college in the first place.  More likely we will see a tweaking of the system in an attempt to be more representative.  The Democrats will do away with their superdelegates and the Republicans will do away with their winner-take-all primaries, which occur in many states.  Who knows maybe even the electoral college will be distributed on a proportional basis?  One small step at a time, as they say, provided of course we don't end up with a fascist as president.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Oh, Hillary

What a great week it has been!

Boy oh boy, what a firestorm in the blogosphere!  The decision of the FBI not to recommend charges be brought against Hillary Clinton has every red-baiting pundit rushing to his computer to unleash an angry torrent of abuse.  The predominant theme is that she is above the law, set up in part by Bill's impromptu meeting with Loretta Lynch a few days ago.  Yet, here she was subject to the same scrutiny anyone would have gotten if there was reason to suspect national security had been breached.

The FBI recovered her deleted e-mails, went through them with a fine tooth comb and found nothing to suggest she had breached national security.  The FBI director found her "extremely careless" for relaying some "classified information" through an "unclassified e-mail system," but otherwise saw no reason to prosecute her.

This has been a rough week for Republicans who had hoped to bring Clinton down before the convention.  Now, they literally have nothing.  She has been cleared of all misdeeds regarding Benghazi, once again, and now cleared of having mishandled classified information while serving as Secretary of State.  Of course, this doesn't stop Republicans from venting their indignation, and who knows maybe we will see a separate House investigation now that Trey Gowdy has nothing to do, but it is doubtful the GOP will go down this road again only to have more mud thrown in its face.

We all knew these were politically-generated "scandals," launched as pre-emptive strikes against Hillary with the hope she wouldn't run for President.  The e-mail scandal broke in March, 2015, well before she declared her candidacy, and for a moment took the focus off the ongoing House investigation into her role in Benghazi.  We can thank the NYTimes for that, which had come across a few hacked e-mails that suggested Hillary was corresponding with past and current state officials via her private e-mail account, which is considered a potential breach of national security.  Republicans jumped all over this, as did Hillary detractors in general, prompting the FBI to launch an investigation into the matter.

It didn't help that she deleted so much private e-mail after she stepped down as Secretary of State.  It made it look like she was covering something up.  Conspiracy theories quickly arose, but the FBI was able to recover most of these e-mails and found nothing a "reasonable prosecutor" could bring against her.  Sadly, we all know Republican leaders aren't being very reasonable these days so there will be a follow-up of some kind, probably less public than the House Select Committee on Benghazi that turned out to be a monumental waste of time of energy.

The Donald has vowed to indict Hillary if elected to office, but mercifully we will be spared this, as his chances of becoming President grow dimmer by the hour.  In his rambling rally in North Carolina, on the heels of Hillary in the same state, he let slip how Saddam Hussein knew how to handle terrorists.  This gave further proof, if anymore proof was needed, that Trump's knowledge of foreign affairs is no better than the rednecks he appeals to.

Barack Obama went into full campaign mode praising Hillary for her steady hand, saying this is what we need in a time of uncertainty, not some highly temperamental political gadfly, who doesn't even bother to fact check anything before spewing it out on twitter or political rallies.

It really couldn't be any worse for Republicans heading into their national convention.  They have saddled themselves to perhaps the worst nominee they ever put forward as President with the very real likelihood of not only losing the White House again but Congress as well.  At that point, they will have no way to stop the Democrats from confirming a new Supreme Court justice that will throw the balance of power completely to the Democratic side.  The ultimate coup de grace for the GOP.

Of course, there is still plenty of time between now and November, but "steady and true" Hillary has proven she can withstand all the "slings and arrows" thrown at her and come out smiling, albeit a bit too smugly.  Princess Merida she is not, but she has clearly shown she has the mettle to be President.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Estoy contigo

Let the VP vetting begin.  A lot of names are currently being tossed around for vice-president but one of the more interesting is Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  Castro gave the keynote speech at the Democratic convention in 2012 but has been kind of quiet since then.  Hillary turned to him early on the campaign trail and likes what she saw.  Castro would give her campaign a healthy dose of youthful energy, which she badly needs to carry her through the grueling months ahead.   Castro would also help draw out the sizable Hispanic vote that has voiced its disapproval of Trump.

The Democrats have the luxury to see which way the Republicans go, as the GOP is the first to hold a convention.  Trump is apparently leaning toward Newt Gingrich, but Marco Rubio is still being considered.  It doesn't seem like Trump is worrying too much about demographics.  According to those close to his campaign, he wants someone that suits his personality and would be "deeply loyal" to him, which narrows the list considerably.  At this point, Trump is having a hard time getting names lined up to speak for him at the convention.

Hillary does not have such problems.  She has a wide range of persons to choose from but would also like someone who suits her personality.   There has been a lot of talk she might pick Elizabeth Warren, but Liz has been one of her sharpest critics and it is doubtful the Democrats will go with two women at the top of their ticket.  Other names tossed out have included Sherrod Brown, Corey Booker and Tim Kaine, but none of these have far-ranging appeal, and since this is another campaign about "firsts," the first Latino VP nominee would be a very strong signal to the Hispanic community that the Democratic Party is with them.

Of course, the Donald probably views a VP as a useless appendage.  His campaign from day one has been all about himself and it is doubtful he is going to change his approach after the convention.  Trump seems to think he can sweep the "Berniecrats" out from under Hillary, leading to this amusing segment by Jessica Williams.  Of course, six persons represent a very narrow sample but there were a lot of "independents" who crossed over to vote for Bernie in the open Democratic primaries who had no real interest beyond seeing Hillary go down.  It makes sense these persons would probably vote for Trump.  But, it is going to take more than a few disgruntled Berniecrats to swing this election.

Right now, Donald is having a hard time holding onto core Republicans.  This is why a good VP nominee is key to him avoiding a mass exodus of mainstream Republicans who have already said they want nothing to him.  It would at least show he is willing to listen to their point of view.   But, Donald feels he is now running against both Democrats and Republicans and is content to continue to make divisive comments that he believes appeals to the broader public, especially on trade issues, which he has now made central to his campaign.

Hillary will play this campaign by the numbers, which she has on her side when you look at the latest polls.  Trump had hoped the Brexit vote would give him a lift but here we are a week later and no one seems to really care anymore.  Even the leading Brexiters, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, have retreated to the margins.  The staged trip to Scotland turned out to be bust, which was why he was immediately back in the US, peddling his message to Bernie Bros in Pennsylvania.   It is essentially Hillary's campaign to lose, which is why she has to be careful that Bill doesn't muck it up for her.

June was a great month for her until Bill had his unscheduled meeting with Loretta Lynch.  He has developed this nasty habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, confirming everyone's worst opinion of Hillary.  This is a man who has not only lost his charm but his timing, and led many observers to wonder aloud what exactly were the Clintons scheming with the US Attorney General.  It would be best for him to take a teaching job in Fiji than join his wife on the campaign trail, where he has the potential of doing her far more harm than good.

Still, the Democratic convention should be her shining moment.  It will be a star-studded affair and she needs to have a VP nominee that will bring the party together.  I can't think of anyone better than Julian Castro.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

If you dare wear short shorts

Millennials are a favorite target these days, whether it is their rebellious nature, reliance on smart phones, or penchant for "booty shorts."  We seem to forget we went through all this before, several times in fact, just the gadgets are newer.

The reaction to booty shorts really cracks me up as they have been around for decades.  Yet, it has become an issue in some workplaces, where they are seen as a distraction.  Hooters made booty shorts standard wear for its employees, as have many other restaurants, retail outlets and gyms.  Back in the 70s and 80s, we had sawed-off jeans personified by Daisy Duke, and other such "short shorts" that made mens' heads turn.   These "booty shorts" are a throwback as are many fashion trends these days like the super mini dress.  Yet these shorts are being used as one more reason to attack Millennials.

So what is it about Millennials that seem to tick so many people off?  Maybe we don't like to see that we are aging, and so we begrudge the current young generation for flaunting it in our face.  The clothing restrictions being placed in many schools and workplaces around the country target women for the most part.  Women are viewed as temptresses threatening the social order we try to establish.  We don't go as far as the Taliban by imposing burqas on them, but dress codes are becoming more and more strict in America, and young persons are doing what they do naturally -- rebel.

As a result, Millennials, and what I guess you could call post-Millennials, are being publicly shamed for their insolence.  The more rules we try to impose, the more they rebel, and why shouldn't they? You wanted to know why The 100 is so popular.  We have always taken to the streets, or the woods in this case, when we don't think the rules are fair.

I think the issue is deeper than booty shorts and goes to the core of the individualist identity that has emerged among teens and young adults.  They don't define themselves by our rules, they don't align themselves with our political views and for the most part have shrugged their shoulders at religion.  Millennials flocked to Bernie in this election cycle because he recognized their independent nature.  For the political establishment that is a bad thing because the usual tropes don't apply to Millennials.  The majority political parties actually have to work to get their votes.

This is a generation that has seen nothing but entrenchment and constant bickering in politics over the past three decades and yet we are upset they are more cynical than we would like them to be.  They have had to endure this constant nattering at home, at school and in the workplace and basically said, "fuck it."  I don't think many of them would have even bothered with this election cycle had not Bernie pitched up, but he has given them a platform to express their discontent and we don't like it.

Parents get upset when their kids tell them to shut up, but you see more and more of that these days.  I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing because we say a lot of stupid shit and they have to hear it day in and day out.  Maybe if we stopped to listen to our kids rather than constantly berate them for speaking out of line, we might find out they aren't so different than we were when we were young.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Invincible Hillary Clinton

Hillary is leaving as many Republicans in her wake as is Donald Trump.  The latest victim is Trey Gowdy, who spent the last two years trying to dig up some dirt that would link Hillary to Benghazi and prove the ever-multiplying conspiracy theories surrounding her role in this nefarious attack on an American CIA base masquerading as a US special mission in Libya.

The aim of this mission was to offer logistical support and supply small arms to the Libyan insurgency in the last days of the Gaddafi regime.  It was now trying to form a new government sympathetic to US interests in the wake of the "Arab Spring."

These weren't heroes, as the media presented Stevens and his Navy Seal guard, but rather arms smugglers. Former Ambassador Stevens and the small staff worked closely with CIA contractors. This base was a target as there were competing factions trying to form a new government, some openly hostile to the US interests.   Everyone involved knew this and were prepared for immediate evacuation.  Calling in the military at the 11th hour wouldn't have saved Stevens or his guards  They had been outwitted by a gang of Islamic militants who effectively used the cover of riots to infiltrate the base and eventually track down a fleeing Stevens and his armed guard.

One can argue the efficacy of such operations, but Republicans were clamoring for action in Libya and the US has long used covert CIA operations to undermine regimes they don't like.  Nothing unusual about this so-called special mission, but the Republicans thought they could turn this tragic event against Obama in 2012 and against Hillary in 2016.  The only thing they succeeded in doing was stirring up the base of their own party, which Donald Trump ultimately used against the GOP establishment.

Of course, Donald would have liked to use it against Hillary as well but this latest report all but buries the case against Hillary Clinton.  Attention will now turn to the faux e-mail scandal, or any one of a sundry of past crimes and misdemeanors conservatives insist makes her unfit to hold public office.

The whole thing would be laughable if it wasn't for the outsized attention it has received over the years and the transfiguration of Christopher Stevens into some kind of White Knight.  This guy had made Central Asia and North Africa his specialty for years, operating at various levels throughout the region.  The Navy Seals turned CIA contractors have similarly been transfigured into heroes to protect the former ambassador against a horde of infidels.   As such, it has read like a B-movie script.

The Benghazi hearings have served mostly as a distraction.  Rather than look into the motives for our involvement in North Africa and whether it had any long term benefits, the media was fixated on Benghazi.  That was all we heard for months afterward.  Congressional investigations were carried out with reports that exonerated Clinton, yet these weren't good enough and the House set up a Select Committee under the leadership of 'Trey Gowdy to keep this inquiry going through the 2016 election cycle.

Gowdy was supposed to deliver the dagger but instead offer a limp-wristed speech saying sorry folks, I have nothing.  Instead of damaging Hillary, the Republicans have only made her look invincible, making themselves look weak by comparison.   For Hillary the timing of this report couldn't have been better, as she heads into the Democratic convention with a ton of momentum.  It's Gowdy who may now find himself in the hot seat this election cycle, along with other Republicans who failed to deliver.