Thursday, July 30, 2015

Can John Kasich Win the White House?

I've written about Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and their chances of beating Hillary Clinton next year. Bush will have a mountain of money at his disposal and, like it or not, money means a lot in politics. It is estimated that over $1 billion will be spent on next year's presidential election. Bush can play a moderate, though at heart, he's far more conservative than he lets on. Rand Paul's stances on American foreign policy and domestic surveillance have earned him high praise from both sides of the political spectrum. And, unlike so many of his fellow GOP candidates, he isn't certifiable. There is  a genuineness about him that even his opponents find charming.

But with the announcement that Ohio Governor John Kasich has decided to get in the race, it's only fitting to ask what his odds are of winning the general election, assuming of course he wins the nomination. Here's my answer. Not only could he win, on paper he's actually the best qualified among the Republican candidates to run for the presidency. Consider the following:

  • Unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Kasich is actually popular in his state. He is polling over 50 percent, compared to Walker, who is polling in the low 40s. What that means is that in a general election, Kasich could win his state, while Walker would most likely lose his. A recent poll found Kasich leading Hillary Clinton 47-40 percent among Ohio voters. Historically speaking, when Republicans win the White House, they typically take Ohio.
  • While Kasich isn't the most flamboyant of the GOP candidates - seriously, he makes John Kerry look like Mick Jagger  - he's comes off far more likable and genuine than Walker, Bush or any other candidate, except maybe Paul.
  • He's a fairly effective governor. Yes, I'll admit it, among Republican governors, Kasich has done the best job. He hasn't tanked his state's economy like Walker and Kansas's Sam Brownback have. While Ohio is not exactly near the top in job growth, they're far from the bottom. It will be very difficult for Democrats to criticize his resume in a general election.
  • While he is definitely conservative, he's no ideologue. He expanded Medicaid in his state, a no-no among the wingnuts in the Tea Party.  And he's also smart enough not to get into a pissing contest with Hillary over emails and Benghazi because he knows the last time the GOP tangled with a Clinton over something stupid, they got their clocks cleaned.

My take is that, if Kasich actually gets the nomination, he will focus exclusively on policy. He will avoid the typical trappings of past Republican nominees and be a formidable opponent for Hillary Clinton. And, yes, he can beat her. He can take Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and at least one other swing state like Colorado or Iowa. If you're counting, that's enough to win the White House.

In just the last few days, Kasich's poll numbers have risen sufficiently enough to make it into that all-important top ten field for GOP candidates. That means he will be on the stage for the first Republican debate. It should be quite interesting seeing how he handles himself among his fellow candidates. Will he cower to the Right the way Mitt Romney did in 2012, or will he be his own man and let the chips fall where they may?

National polls are meaningless. It's the individual state polls that determine who gets to call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home in 2017. And if I'm a Republican strategist, I'm rooting like hell for John Kasich to win the nomination. If I'm a Democratic strategist, I'm praying like hell for Donald Trump.

Once More, Mr. President, the Ball Is In Your Court

It's all but certain that the Congress will vote to disapprove the Iran deal. The real question is will Barack Obama's veto be sustained or overridden? The answer to that question will depend on how badly Obama wants the deal he so eagerly sought over the last two years.

It's come down to this: John Kerry did his job. He negotiated all the details with Iran and the other five countries involved in the deal. He went before Congress desperately trying to convince people who had long ago made up their minds. And all the other actors have taken to the cable news outlets doing the heavy lifting for the Administration.

In my opinion, it won't be enough. The opponents of this deal are determined and well funded. The ads are already flowing like water over a dam. The magic number for an override stands at 13 Senate and 42 House Democrats. There are by some estimates as many as 6 Senators and twenty or so Congressmen who will vote to override the veto. By the time of the vote, it wouldn't surprise me if that number doesn't at least double.

That is why this president must take the time and address the nation to make his case. Not in some afternoon press conference in the middle of the afternoon, but at night during prime time in front of millions of people. He must do what he hates doing most: explain what he wants and why it matters.

I have written many times about Obama's lack of intestinal fortitude when it comes to these matters. His inability to artfully engage the nation and draw a narrative has been by far his biggest undoing. It has cost him more than his fair share of political capital. Pick an issue - healthcare, the stimulus, the auto bailout, Libya, the pullout in Iraq, ISIS, the executive order on immigration - and the pattern has been the same. A botched or incoherent message that was coopted by his opponents and turned against him. It's as though the man has a "kick me" sign stapled to the back of his suit.

But this time, the stakes couldn't be higher. This time if Congress is allowed to override him and kill this deal, America may well find itself in the middle of another war in the Middle East that could make Bush's war in Iraq look like a military training exercise.

The opponents of this deal keep insisting that they would've gotten a better one. How? In what universe? There was no better deal available. In that case, they argue, we should've simply walked away and kept the sanctions in place. Except that even with sanctions in place, Iran was able to produce enough centrifuges so as to be approximately two months away from building a nuclear bomb. The deal that was worked out would push that back to at least a year and would be in place for a decade.

The facts are undeniable to any reasonable person. This deal was the best we were going to get and it is considerably better than what we had, which was nothing. But facts alone will not determine the ultimate outcome here. What is needed is a strong and persuasive argument for going forward and, while the President may hate this part of his job, there is no one better equipped to make it than he.

This was a man who ran two perfect campaigns to get elected. He made speech and speech and convinced a majority of American voters that he and not his Republican opponents were best suited to run the country. Now is the time for him to summon that talent and make his case to the country on Iran.

In less than two months we will know if we have a deal with Iran or not. But if Obama really wants the former, it would be in his best interest to get up off his butt and do everything within his power to make it happen. Whether he likes it or not, he's the only one who can do the heavy lifting this time around.

It's time to roll up your sleeves, Mr. President. Time to put your mouth where your money is.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Rand Paul's Tax Dodge

Ever wonder why most politicians are often vague about specifics when it comes to policy? Just ask Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator recently unveiled his tax plan and I'll give him this much. He's brave. He's also completely wrong, not just about what it would mean to economic growth, but also his understanding of both the personal and corporate tax rate, as well as the payroll tax.

Paul's tax plan calls for the following:

  • Reducing both the personal and corporate tax rates to 14.5 percent.
  • Eliminating the payroll tax for all employees, but keeping it for employers.
  • Pulling the employers' share of the payroll tax out of the 14.5 percent corporate tax rate.
  • Eliminating the estate tax

While Paul gets an E for effort, he gets an F for delivery. In a nutshell, if a President Rand Paul ever enacted this cockamamie tax plan, it would be nothing short of disastrous for the country. Let's take it from the top.

For starters, a flat tax is not a new concept. It's been floated several times before. [Remember Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan in 2012?] Some economists laud it because of its simplicity; others hate it because of its impracticability. The stumbling block has always been where to set the rate. Too high and you ostensibly foist a gigantic tax hike on the bulk of the population; too low and you rob the treasury of the funds needed to run the government, thus leading to massive deficits.

So Paul decided on 14.5 percent for both the personal and corporate rates. There are problems with both of these rates. First is that for many middle class tax payers, Paul's plan would mean a tax increase. That's because by definition a flat tax would remove all deductions such as mortgage interest, property taxes and charitable contributions from their tax returns. Middle class homeowners who donate to their churches or synagogues would be penalized under a Rand Paul administration, while the very wealthy would see their taxes go down.

Secondly, Paul doesn't seem to understand the difference between the official corporate tax rate (what American companies are supposed to pay) and the effective corporate tax rate (what they actually pay). The official rate is 35 percent, which admittedly is the highest among developed nations. However, the effective rate is less than half that. It stands somewhere between 16 and 17 percent. And some corporations - G.E. for example - don't pay any corporate taxes at all. Indeed, according to a recent study, corporate taxes amounted to 2.6 percent of U.S. GDP, eleventh lowest among the 27 wealthiest nations.

Paul brags about the need to get rid of the so-called seventy thousand pages of tax code and replace them with one simple page. Unfortunately for him, most of those seventy thousand pages of code were written by corporate tax lawyers on behalf of their clients - corporate America. The last thing either they or their clients would want is for anyone to come along and upset the apple cart.

Moving on, Paul's next step is eliminating the "burden" of the payroll tax. That comes out to 6.2 percent of an employee's wage. Not exactly chump change. Of course, here Paul has another problem; one even bigger than his flat tax proposal. The payroll tax is the sole source of funding for Social Security. The trust fund that provides the principle means of income for millions of retirees does not rely on the general fund for its financing. In other words, it is self sustaining. In fact, the only exception to this was during the payroll tax holiday period when $4.9 billion was diverted to the fund from the treasury to offset the 2 percent break taxpayers received. If it were eliminated, the fund would quickly dry up.

Contrary to what some believe, Social Security is NOT a retirement account. The money that recipients receive comes from current payroll tax deductions that go directly to the fund. If those deductions cease for any reason, bye bye checks. I'd like to see Paul address a group of senior citizens and explain to them how he proposes to protect their checks while at the same time eliminating their funding source.

Of course, Paul has an answer for that. He proposes to come up with the funds needed by deducting them from the corporate taxes that are collected. In other words, the first 6.2 percent of the 14.5 percent corporate tax would go directly to the Social Security trust fund. That would ostensibly reduce America's corporate tax rate to 8.3 percent. While Paul's plan has not been scored by the CBO, it is hard to imagine how the deficit wouldn't explode if it were implemented. And this assumes, by the way, that ALL of the 6.2 percent goes to the trust fund. Remember Republicans have this affinity for block grants and history has shown that when you lump everything into one bucket, you invariably run into unintended commingling consequences.

To make his budget balance, Paul proposes reducing government spending to unprecedented levels and that presents yet another huge problem. There is no way that Paul can balance the federal budget with so little income coming into the treasury. For one thing, a careful look at the budget will tell you that of the $1.16 trillion in discretionary spending, almost 70 percent of that goes to defense, which neocons in his party will never allow him to slash. Indeed, it's entirely possible that Paul will be forced to increase spending here. The much maligned Department of Education that Paul wants to eliminate altogether, amounts to a paltry $70 billion. That doesn't get Paul to first base with respect to balancing the budget. Hell, I doubt it even gets him in the dugout.

And lastly, Paul wants to eliminate the estate tax, or, as it is known among conservatives, the death tax. Republicans have had a hard on for this tax for years and while its repeal wouldn't be a substantial blow to the budget, it does underscore the lengths this party will go to advance ideology over practical policy.

To sum up, Rand Paul's very articulate, but ultimately unworkable, tax plan is yet another example of the GOP's refusal to admit what George H. W. Bush had the courage to admit back in 1980: that supply-side economics is voodoo economics. If you'd like a bird's eye view of what America would look like if Rand Paul's tax plan ever saw the light of day, just take a trip to Kansas. Governor Sam Brownback has so badly damaged that state's economy it could well take years for it to fully recover. Even now, faced with mounting deficits, he has refused to relent; instead he's doubling down.

As strange as it may seem, I like Rand Paul. Unlike so many of his fellow Republican candidates, he seems willing to buck his party when he feels it's wrong. And I still think if he manages to win the nomination, he will give Hillary Clinton the run of her life. But his tax plan is a major bust. The best you can say about it is that it faces some very stiff challenges, ironically from some of the GOP's staunchest allies; the worst you can say is that it would be an unmitigated nightmare for the country.

It's fair to say our tax code needs to be revamped. There are way too many loopholes that permit corporations to avoid paying taxes and the argument can certainly be made that the country needs a more incentive-based tax system. But simply employing a flat tax as a cure-all is not the answer. It further squeezes the middle class and widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots without addressing the core problems that legitimately plague the tax system.

If Republicans are serious about this issue, they should look to New York, where, ironically, a Democratic governor has come up with some rather novel solutions that are working. Andrew Cuomo's Enterprise-Free Tax Zones have encouraged businesses to relocate to the Empire State without putting undo pressure on the state's budget.

It's not perfect, but it's a helluva lot better than this constant, incessant fawning over a badly flawed economic policy that was long ago discredited by virtually every reputable economist.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The GOP's Donald Trump Problem

No, Donald Trump is not going to win the presidency. And despite his party's affinity with nativism and xenophobia, he's not going to win the Republican nomination either. But let's get one thing straight. He's no Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain. The reason for his ascendancy in the polls is as obvious as the nose on your face. Donald Trump is resonating with an awful lot of Republican voters in a way Bachmann or Cain could never do. He's preaching to the choir and, in the process, he's backed the entire GOP into one helluva corner.

I suspect not even his recent slap at John McCain will cost him all that much. Some bad press, a few of the more "courageous" Republicans rebuking him publicly. But in the end, Donald Trump's poll numbers will hold fairly steady. By the way, those "courageous" Republicans, it should be noted, said bupkis when he went off on Mexicans several weeks ago. So much for standing up.

All you need to know about the power Trump holds over the GOP is the phone call Reince Piebus had with him a couple of weeks ago. That was the phone call in which Priebus supposedly told Trump to "tone it down" a notch. Yeah right. I would've loved to have been listening in on that phone call. Here's how I think it went down.

Priebus: Hi, Donald, it's Reince.

Trump: Yes, Reince, what do you want?

Priebus: Well, Donald, I wanted to congratulate you on the energy you've brought to the presidential campaign. It's been very exciting, but I was just wondering if....

Trump: If, what?

Priebus: Well, do you think you could just, you know, tone it down just a bit?

Trump: What's the matter with my tone? You don't like what I'm saying?

Priebus: Oh, no, not at all. I totally agree with you. It's just that...

Trump: Just, what?

Priebus: Well, you might piss off some of the voters we may need next year. And Jeb Bush's wife is Hispanic, you know.

Trump: Fuck 'em, fuck him and fuck you. Stay out of my way. Screw with me and I'll run as an independent and you'll be looking at Hillary Clinton's fat ass in the White House for the next four years. Anything else, Reince?

Priebus: No, no, we're good. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and...Hello? Hello? Donald? Donald? Are you still on the line? Shit!!!

Okay, you tell me that wasn't how the call went. Seriously, can you imagine anyone telling Donald Trump what to do, let alone the man charged with the responsibility of making sure his party wins the White House in 2016. I wouldn't want to trade places with Reince Priebus for all the money in the world. Hell, if I didn't despise the piece of shit so much, I might actually feel sorry for him.

Donald Trump isn't just a bull in the GOP's china shop; he's a goddam 9.0 earthquake. Face it, if you're a Republican strategist, you're shitting your pants right now. Trump can literally ride this wave as long as he wants. If he doesn't get the nomination - and he won't - he has the wherewithal to run as an independent all the way to election day. He's Ross Perot on steroids, or whatever it is Trump is on.

Think about it. Back in 1992, Perot managed to get 19 percent of the popular vote. Trump can easily top that by as much as 10 percent. And the lion's share of that vote will undoubtedly come from whoever the Republican nominee eventually is.

Don't think this is a big deal for the GOP? Guess again. You may think Donald Trump an ignorant, racist ass, and you'd be right. But he's no idiot. He knows he's not going to win the White House, but he also knows two other things: One, he has everyone's undivided attention; and two, he's calling all the shots. This is the ultimate reality TV show for him and there's no way in hell he's going to give it up.

Even if the GOP manages to get him kicked out of the debates, he'll just retaliate it and hold his own debate forum where he'll proceed to enlighten his viewers with his pearls of wisdom. I'll kick Putin's ass, I'll retaliate against China, I'll bomb Iran. Oh, wait, that was John McCain.

You see the real problem for the GOP isn't that Donald Trump's views are so out of step with the party; it's that they're completely in line with it. Pick an issue and Trump has echoed almost to a tee the party platform. Take away the rapist reference and Trump's comments about Mexicans are no worse than those of Steve King or Ted Cruz or any number of Republicans. Sadly, since George Bush managed to secure 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the GOP has done everything possible to drive it away. Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" stance in 2012 was about as idiotic as they come.

The painful truth for Republicans is that every time Donald Trump opens up his mouth he opens up a can of worms for them. Every hate-filled syllable that emanates from his lips is yet another painful reminder that the GOP is hopelessly caught in a no-win scenario with Hispanics. No matter which way they turn, they're screwed.

Funny, I've never watched one of Donald Trump's TV shows before. I find such shows to be an insult to my intelligence. But you can bet your ass I'll be watching that first debate when the Donald takes center stage and gets the chance to tell the world what he would do if he were president. That should be quite the freak show.

Popcorn, anyone?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Let Them Eat Cake

You know you're in for it when a Christian starts off by saying, "We all believe..." Well, actually no, but please do enlighten me, and while you're at it, insult my intelligence. After all, it's what most of the Church does anyway.

I'll tell you what bothers me the most about all the fallout from the Obergefell ruling. It's bad enough to hear people who profess to serve a savior who commanded his disciples to love one another expressing such profound disapproval with the decision. I can live with that. But when I hear from these very same people that it is my duty and obligation as one of them to call out the sin of what they flippantly refer to as a lifestyle, and if I don't, then I, myself, am guilty of sinning, that's when I lose it.

To invoke a former President, let me make this perfectly clear. Stop saying "WE" when you're clearly talking about you. You're as much a sinner as me. The day you expend as much energy going after fornicators, divorcees, murderers, greedy bankers (remember the money changers in the Temple?), corrupt officials, then you can give me a lecture on sin.

Until then, I would greatly appreciate it if you would leave me out of your little "WE" gang. I'm not a member of your posse. Seriously, I'm not. My conscience is totally clear in this matter. Call me a sinner, enabler, whatever. You're wasting your breath. On a list of 1 to 10, you're obsession with gay marriage barely rises to the value of a fraction.

I may not possess the "vast" knowledge of scripture that some of you possess, but I'm smart enough to know that you can twist scripture to support just about any political or religious agenda you want. For the first hundred or so years of our nation's history, slaveholders used scripture to justify slavery. How do you like them apples?

Biblical scholars have wrestled with the meaning of scripture for millennia. The whole issue of how old the universe is was debated as far back as St. Augustine more than fifteen hundred years ago. Want to really rock the boat? Walk into a Bible study and suggest - just suggest, mind you - that the universe is 13 billion years old. I've done it. You can't imagine the fur that flies.

The Bible says, the Bible says...That's what you keep hearing over and over and over and over again. And the Bible, naturally, is the living word of God, so it can't be infallible. Okay, great, then here's a question for all the parents out there. Have your kids ever screamed or cursed at you? If so, have you stoned them to death? No? Why not? According to Leviticus, that's what you're supposed to do with children who do that to you.

Yes, but the New Testament says that's no longer in force. Well, that's nice to know. Can you imagine if that rule were still in play? I dare say a lot of kids wouldn't make it to the first grade.

Okay, so long as we're in the New Testament, how about this one? How many of you have moved a mountain lately? Say, wha? What you talkin' about, Willis? I'm talking about Mark 11:23.

"Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them."

Obviously, you would point out, I've never heard of a metaphor. Jesus often used them along with parables to drive home a point he was trying to make to his audience.

Ahh, metaphors and parables. You mean then that the Bible isn't always literal? Or do you mean it's only literal when it suits your purpose? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Speaking of parables, what if I said that there was no such thing as a physical Garden of Eden or Adam and Eve? The whole Genesis creation story is a giant parable to illustrate our relationship with God. The Garden represents what God wants for his children; the tree of knowledge represents our unaided will; the serpent represents the doubt that enters our mind; the eating of the fruit represents our decision to reject God's will for our own; and the eviction from Eden represents the consequences of that decision.

There was no actual Adam and Even in the physical sense of the word. Turns out, we are all Adams and Eves. When we submit to God's will for us, we enjoy the fruits of his love; when we opt to go it alone, we walk in darkness. He still loves us, but our journey becomes considerably harder and more burdensome.

Now some of you will say that is heresy. Others might agree at least in part. The point is I've just taken a major part of scripture and thrown it out the window. I've rejected a literal interpretation of Genesis, just like others before me have done with other parts of the Bible. That doesn't mean they're sinners or that they're going to hell anymore than I am.

Someone whose opinion I value recently told me that the only requirement of any believer is their acceptance of the repentance story as the key to their salvation. In short, Jesus bore our sins on the Cross and we are redeemed through his blood. The rest we can debate about till kingdom come.

But, apparently, that isn't enough for some. They won't be satisfied until everyone walks and talks like them. They're completely oblivious to the fact that they act and sound very much like the Pharisees that Jesus called out during his short ministry. If ever there was a case of missing the forest for the tree these people are exhibit number one.

Well, I'm not joining in. You see, I don't see gays as sick people. I see them as human beings who need love and encouragement. And, no, not the kind of "love" and "encouragement" that allows them to see the error in their ways. A judgmental heart is a judgmental heart, no matter how nice you wrap it up.

I think what's really going on here is that, for some, the world is turning upside down and everything they knew to be true is being questioned. I imagine it was no different fifty years ago when the Civil Rights Act was passed. It's hard to believe that it was once legal in this country to deny service to certain people because of the color of their skin.

As a rule, I'm generally not very optimistic. It's not that I'm a cynic, mind you. I prefer to call myself a realist. But one thing I am optimistic about is that fifty years from now we will look back on this period in our history as a turning point. And, like all turning points, it won't come without a lot of resistance and rancor.  Some people simply hate change. They see it as threat.

But I am comforted in the knowledge that God does not see us as we see each other. In his kingdom, there are no colors or ethnicities or races or genders. We are all his children, loved equally by him and commanded by him to love one another. There are no qualifiers for that love anywhere in scripture. At least none that I've been able to ascertain. If God made us all in his image, then certainly he made gay people as well. That part about do unto others, I'm pretty sure he meant it.

So go on and persist, if you will, in your bitterness and condemnation. I predict it will consume you before too long. But just in case you think you can ride out this self-made storm you have created for yourself, know this: your self righteousness will amount to nothing in the end. Your empty vessels will be filled with the bile of your restless souls.

You may disagree with me which is your right. Just save the judgmental overtures and the lectures for someone who gives a damn.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

All Roads Don't Lead To Rome

There has been this persistent meme over the last few years that both parties are basically the same. They're corrupt and hopelessly beholden to their own narrow self interests. They could care less about their constituents and their main concern is about staying in power, no matter what the cost to the country.

Now I won't insult your intelligence by saying there isn't some kernel of truth to this. These days, it's pretty damn hard to look at the polarization that has gripped Washington without wanting to throw up. But, despite all the nonsense and the gridlock, there are clear differences that distinguish both parties. And those differences will go a long way towards determining what kind of country we live in over the next four years and beyond.

Go down the list of issues - the economy, the environment, gay rights, healthcare, immigration reform, voting rights - and then look at the platforms of both parties. If you really can't tell the differences, you're braindead.

The Economy: Democrats are for raising the minimum wage and a tax system that rewards the middle class and asks the top 2 percent to pay a little more. Republicans are for massive tax breaks for the wealthy and for reducing the deductions that the middle class and working poor desperately need to make ends meet.

The Environment: Democrats believe that global warming is caused by man and want to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere. Republicans to a man and woman deny that global warming is caused by man and are for eliminating virtually all regulations on coal-run power plants. The latest Supreme Court ruling against the Obama Administration proves just how determined the GOP is in overturning EPA regulations.

Gay Rights: Democrats support them. Republicans don't. It's that simple.

Healthcare: Democrats were exclusively responsible for passing the Affordable Care Act. Republicans opposed it at every turn. While the healthcare law does have its problems, the GOP has been unwilling to assist Democrats in fixing them, instead concentrating all their efforts into repealing it. Whether or not you think Obamacare is a good thing, the fact is, the GOP has no alternative plan to put in its place and most likely never will.

Immigration reform: Democrats, with the help of a few brave Republicans, passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate. It was never allowed an up and down vote in the House because it was blocked by conservatives who are vehemently against any bill that has a pathway to citizenship.

Voting Rights: Democrats oppose any attempt to suppress the votes of minorities and poor people, whose only crime is that they don't have a photo id. Republicans keep claiming that their only concern is wide-spread voter fraud, but have not, as of yet, offered up any hard evidence that any exists. What is certain and indisputable is that the overwhelming majority of those affected by these voter suppression laws tend to vote Democrat. Hmmm.

Any questions?

Look, I realize it's tempting to throw up your hands and, like Ed Norton, say "a pox on both your houses." Some days I find myself uttering the same thing. But if one digs deep and gets beyond the minutia to the substantive issues, it becomes painfully clear just how foolish such thinking can be. Yes, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush come from political dynastic families that represent the power elite of the country, and it's not surprising that both have had trouble energizing their respective bases. There's no denying though that, if given the chance, both would govern very differently.

Think about this for a moment. The next president will likely get to nominate one or possibly two Supreme Court justices. Did you enjoy the Obergefell and King decisions? I did. Want to see them reversed? Easy. Just vote Republican or sit out the 2016 election and watch a future President Paul, or Bush or Rubio nominate the justices who cast the deciding votes against both. Think it can't happen? Read Michael Tomasky's piece in the Daily Beast about being "relaxed" (his word) and complacent (mine).

Remember, apathy is the ultimate enemy of any Democracy. Being a Monday-morning quarterback is all fine and dandy when it comes to your favorite sports team. When it comes to who gets to run the country, it can have tragic consequences.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Could Bernie Sanders Cost Democrats the White House in 2016?

It's official. Bernie Sanders is a phenomena. He drew over 10,000 people at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, the largest crowd of any presidential candidate this year. I'll tell you one thing: they weren't there to watch a hockey game, that's for damn sure.

If I were Hillary Clinton, I'd be shitting my pants right now. The prohibitive Democratic frontrunner now has two major problems on her hands and neither of them are Republican. One, she has a huge enthusiasm gap with her base; and two, Bernie Sanders doesn't. For those who thought the independent senator from Vermont was just a flash in the pan, I've got news for you. He's putting on a clinic and if Hillary knows what's good for her, she'd better take notes.

All this begs two very important questions. The first is obvious: can Sanders win the nomination? Secondly, if he does win the nomination, can he win the general election? But I think there might be an even more important question. Regardless of whether or not he wins the nomination, could Bernie Sanders cost Democrats the White House in 2016?

That is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. For all his enthusiasm and genuineness, Sanders is the Democrats worst nightmare. His platform is built around two central themes. One, that the middle-class is getting squeezed by a system that is rigged to benefit the top 2 percent; and two, that the powers that be in Washington have stood by and let it happen.

The first theme presents no problem and will be a populist message for the Democrats to drive home next November. The second, however, is a problem for them. You see, the powers that be just happen to consist not only of Republicans in Congress, but the present occupant of the White House, who, in case you've forgotten, happens to be a Democrat. Without quite realizing it, Sanders has ripped opened a scab that has grown so infected over the last seven years that the electorate just might end up doing something really crazy, like voting Republican.

Don't laugh, it could happen. Think about it. How did you feel about the latest job numbers from June? Pretty good, wouldn't you say? Unemployment is down to its lowest point in over seven years and the economy is growing at just over 2.5 percent. Not awesome, but a long way from what they're going through in Europe. At least that's what the White House is touting.

Unfortunately, that's not what Bernie Sanders is preaching. To Sanders, this is all just smoke and mirrors. The recovery is weak, with just about all the gains going to the wealthy. Wall Street got bailed out along with the banks, while the average Joe on Main Street got screwed. And then there's the matter of wages, which have been stagnant for far too long.

If you didn't know any better, you'd swear Sanders was running as a Republican. And if I'm the GOP, I'd pray that old Bernie keeps drawing those huge crowds. If he keeps this up, they won't even have to come up with their own platform message on the economy; they'll just rewind the tapes from Bernie's rallies.

I can see the commercial now. "Bernie Sanders says the middle class is getting the short end of the stick and that the game is rigged. What we need is real leadership in Washington. We agree. This November, let's elect a candidate who can turn our country around and bring about a real recovery for everyone."

It won't matter that the GOP's plan is bullshit or that their policies helped bring about the very economic downturn that nearly resulted in a second Great Depression. We've seen all too often that the voters have a very short memory. If someone besides Bush should happen to capture the Republican nomination - say, Rand Paul, for instance - he could be the fresh face people turn to. Imagine an election between Sanders and Paul. That would be a tossup.

Funny thing about tossups. They don't always bode well for the incumbent party. Whatever else you may think of him, Barack Obama made two tactical errors early on in his presidency. The first was underestimating his opponents; the second was his way-too cozy relationship with Wall Street. The Left has never forgiven him for the latter. Throw in the trade deal and you've got one helluva thorn sticking out of their side.

Well Bernie Sanders is picking away at that thorn and, in the process, leaving a really bad taste in an awful lot of people's mouths. He isn't just a legitimate candidate; he's a legitimate threat - to his own party.

The Democrats latest phenom is making a really convincing case for change in 2016. And if he's not careful, the GOP could end up being the beneficiary of that change.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

George Takei Is No Donald Trump

False Equivalence: a logical fallacy which describes where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none.

By now you've heard that the wing nuts on the Right are all up in arms over the comments George Takei made about Clarence Thomas. For the record, this was his complete statement.

"He's a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court. He gets me that angry. He doesn't belong there. And for him to say slaves have dignity. I mean, doesn't he know slaves were in chains? That they were whipped on the back? My parents lost everything that they worked for in the middle of their lives, in their 30s. His business, my father's business, our home, our freedom and we're supposed to call that dignified? This man does not belong on the Supreme Court. He is an embarrassment. He is a disgrace to America."

Now of course, if all you read or heard was the blackface part, then you'd probably conclude that Takei was a racist. But taken in context, the point of Takei's rant was to draw attention to Thomas's dissent in the Obergefell decision, which was beyond belief, even for him. I'm guessing if Takei had the opportunity to go back in time, he would've chosen a different word than blackface to describe Thomas. For instance, a word that comes to mind which many blacks have used to describe Thomas is Uncle Tom. But then, had Takei used that word, he would've been criticized for using a word that, like the "N" word, can only be used by African Americans. I guess that's one of those unwritten rules.

The point I'm trying to make here is that while Takei's choice of words was inappropriate, I don't see any basis for him being called a racist. In fact, take the word blackface out altogether, and Takei's statement on Thomas is quite reasonable. For a jurist sitting on the Supreme Court to write an opinion like that IS a disgrace; one that should offend every thinking human being.

Now let's compare Takei's statement with what Donal Trump said recently about Mexicans. In case you missed that, this is what the Donald had to say about our neighbors to the south.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting."

Now two things immediately stand out when both statements are examined together. First, Takei was speaking specifically about Clarence Thomas and not about black people in general, whereas Trump was in fact making a generalized statement about Mexicans. One was narrow in its scope; the other considerably broader. Secondly, there is context within Takei's statement. Even if you don't agree with his assessment of Thomas, it's clear from Takei's words that he is very angry with him. There is zero context within Trump's rant. It is so clearly over the top, it's beyond vile.

But here's the biggest difference between both men. George Takei realized he was wrong for what he said and issued a public apology. He manned up and owned what he did. Donald Trump has not only failed to apologize, he has doubled down on his disgusting remarks, while the Right has attempted to spin them by insisting he was speaking about our broken immigration system. Yeah, right. If you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

This is the same drivel we keep hearing from the Right. The old false equivalence argument that they keep running up the flag pole, hoping that someone other than themselves will salute it.  George Takei makes an inappropriate comment, therefore he's no different than Donald Trump, or Ann Coulter, or Steve King, or Ted Nugent or any number of ignorant conservatives who have "distinguished" themselves by sinking to the lowest depths of depravity.

Except he is different and they know it. Want to know how? Just take a look at their reactions. One actually said Takei was worse than the Ku Klux Klan. I mean that's rich, even for the Right. You can go up and down the list and what you'll find is this: for every one inartful or inappropriate comment that comes out of the mouths of liberals - and let's just say for argument's sake that Takei is a liberal, though I don't know that for a fact - there's about a dozen or more that come out of the mouths of conservatives.

The truth is we have no Rush Limbaughs or Sarah Palins on our side of the aisle. And whenever someone on our side does step out of line, there are consequences. When Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a slut, he was suspended by MSNBC. When El-Rushbo called Sandra Fluke the same name, he didn't get so much as a timeout. How's that false equivalency thing working' for ya now?

To be honest, I almost feel sorry for the far Right. It must be hell living in a bubble like that, convinced that every molehill is Mount Everest and that everyone is out to get you. I wouldn't want to trade places with them for all the money in the world.