Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Panic

Saturday p.m. story in the Washington Post begins:

"The Republican Party plunged into an epic and historic political crisis Saturday with just a month to go until Election Day, as a growing wave of GOP lawmakers called on defiant presidential nominee Donald Trump to drop out of the race in the wake of a video showing him make crude sexual remarks.

The fallout from the tape published by The Washington Post — in which Trump bragged in obscene language about forcing himself on women sexually — threatens to endanger the party’s hold on both houses of Congress in addition to the White House, which many Republicans now fear is lost. The episode also comes ahead of Sunday’s second presidential debate in St. Louis, which was already a crucial moment but could determine how widely the damage spreads."

The Post reports that "more than two dozen" Republican pols have now called for Trump to drop out of the race, but he has categorically refused to do so.  Other Republicans--like John McCain--have withdrawn support or simply said they would not vote for Trump.

The Clinton campaign, the Post said, "seized on the video as another in a long line of disqualifying remarks and actions by Trump."  But this is the one that for whatever reasons (probably the video and audio) has caused a frenzy, and has resurrected other recorded remarks by Trump that have long been available but are now highlighted as part of the cumulative evidence.  (Although there is one that has been "newly uncovered" and it's ugly.)

Trump tweeted and repeated that he wouldn't abandon his supporters, and some of those supporters showed up at Saturday events to boo and heckle prominent Republicans, including Paul Ryan, for abandoning Trump.  TPM published a list of Republicans who are abandoning Trump in one way or another.  Josh Marshall takes note of Trump's voter support and the civil war among GOPers.

And while Mike Pence issued a statement condemning Trump's words, he also accepted his apology.  But he still won't talk to reporters and cancelled his appearance with Paul Ryan.

Republican pols who didn't seem to care how incompetent, unhinged, authoritarian Trump is--let alone how much of a sexual predator their nominee is-- are now fearing that they will lose the Senate and House, especially those in tough races.  Republican women, like Senator Kelly Ayotte (herself in a tough race) are abandoning Trump, and that's just starting to attain critical mass.

So what these GOPers fear is the straight party ticket and perhaps even more, than many of their traditional voters will just not vote at all.

(As a side note, the one group that seems sincerely outraged by Trump's comments are Mormon office holders in Utah and Idaho.  The once-speculated, previously unthinkable Utah move to blue is once again at least thinkable.)

What we now have emerging is a perfect storm, or rather a cataclysmic storm which nevertheless cannot break out of its contained environment," Josh Marshall writes.

Today is clearly the panic phase, and adds all sorts of dizzying possibilities to Sunday's debate.  Does the impact remain in the month to election day?  Some Republican pols think it might not, while others believe Trump has lost his last chance to make inroads with women and other groups he needed.

The Politico piece linked above contains two especially interesting quotes both from Dems:

“It's done,” a Florida Democrat said. “But moreover, the right spent eight years absolutely maligning the character of Barack Obama, and look what it got them: one of the most disgusting humans as their nominee. Hopefully this will be an inflection moment for the country.”

“At this stage, I don't think it's possible to knock this guy out. He's a cockroach at the end of a nuclear winter,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “But at least people now know he's a cockroach after these comments. He'll still lose, but 45 percent of people are so partisan that they won't change their minds no matter what he's said.”

Friday, October 07, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Surprise!

It's October, and here's its first surprise: video and audio of Donald Trump making lewd and explicit comments about women and his behavior towards them in 2005, including describing what some are calling sexual assault.  Here's the WPost story that broke it.

One can argue whether these are Trump's worst sexual offenses--Josh Marshall reminds us that one ex-wife testified under oath that he raped her, and another similarly testified that he attempted to rape her.

But this has video and audio, and it reverberated through the 2016 campaign in hours, with likely more to come.  Media suggested that this one, really this one, would finally do Trump in. Democrats condemned it, some Republicans did, while others locked the door and wouldn't say anything (Mike Pence especially.)

Democrats also called on Republicans to finally repudiate their nominee--"a tough proposition given how tight many Senate races are, but not unthinkable given the explosiveness of Trump's comments," wrote Burgess Everett in Politico. "Alienating Trump supporters in October could make it impossible for Republicans to win reelection, but Democrats were itching to make the GOP own its Trump endorsements through what marks the toughest stretch of his controversy-scarred campaign for president."

In a sense how voters reacted didn't matter yet--politicians had to at least pretend to be offended.  And that's how it started to play out.  By evening there was this:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan asked Donald Trump not to attend a campaign event with him Saturday as scores of other Republicans attempt to distance themselves from the party’s nominee following the disclosure on Friday of a 2005 video in which Trump made lewd comments about women.

However, Ryan's own statement won't win any awards for enlightenment:

“I am sickened by what I heard today,” Ryan said. “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”

No word on whether Ryan intends to "champion" and "revere" Hillary.

Senate leaders McConnell and McCarthy issued statements condemning Trump's comments as did others but so far the Utah GOP governor and a Utah Rep are the only notables withdrawing support.  Mike Pence has gone utterly silent, although he will appear with Ryan in Trump's stead.

The fallout from this is happening fast.  There are calls for Trump to step down from his candidacy (officially by a GOPer congressman from Colorado and a congresswoman from Virginia, among others)  so the Republicans can nominate somebody else (likely Mike Pence, which may be why he's silent.)  But Josh Marshall sees in the timing of the condemnations-without-withdrawal of support a top down effort by the RNC to see if they can weather this.  Update: The WPost has a persuasive article that replacing Trump is virtually impossible, probably according to RNC rules but mostly because the election has started and ballots in many states can't be changed.

Politico's headline: GOP panics as outrage with Trump boils over

And the story itself is growing.  A woman Trump talks about on the tape has reportedly been identified,  and after she rebuffed his sexual advances, Trump allegedly tried to have her fired as host of one of his beauty pageants.

Nicholas Kristof tells the story of a completely different woman who claims Trump relentlessly groped her, in what ostensibly was a business partnership that included her husband.

Trump then issued a video, in which he clearly is reading a statement of apology and also the intent to raise questions "in the coming days" of Bill Clinton's sexual past and Hillary's behavior towards women involved.  He ends: "See you at the debate on Sunday."

So it seems we can pretty much forget about a policy-driven debate.

Trump's apology was couched in the redeemed sinner mode much favored by fundamentalist Christians (a group he needs)--i.e. I did bad things but I've changed and I promise to be better.  The statement was also a bit schizoid, as if the first half was written by one person, the second half by another.

All of this completely buried excerpts from the wikileaks dump of purported emails stolen from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, mostly having to do with Hillary's speeches before Wall Street groups, in which she appears to have said nothing greatly different from what she says on the stump, although with some different emphasis on trade issues.

On any other day the political headlines would be Trump's (unsubstantiated, needless to say) charge that illegal immigrants are flooding across the southern border to vote in the election, or his continuing smear of five young men of color exonerated in a media frenzy New York rape case.

(The idea that Mexicans would brave border crossing to vote in the US seems ridiculous.  But how about Canadians coming across to vote against Trump?  That makes more sense.)

However the biggest political news of the day would have been that federal intelligence agencies announced they are confident that the emails stolen from Democrats were stolen by Russia with the intent to influence the U.S. elections. Politico called it "amounting to the most significant effort by a foreign power to interfere in U.S. domestic politics in American history."

 This is a charge with international implications and should be a sobering moment uniting Americans.  But that's unlikely to happen.  At least right away.

The Donald Chronicles: What, You Worry?

So what's there left to worry about? Clinton continues to rise in the polls, President Obama is at Reaganesque levels of popularity.  Several political commentators picked up on the precise paragraph from the New York Times article I quoted Wednesday night, to the effect that Trump is doing worse in polls commissioned by the politicians involved than in public polls.  Eric Levitz adds other evidence.

Jennifer Rubin points out that this is the time of the campaign, the poli sci folks say, that most voters make their choice, not close to election day.  Also that polls show there are few undecideds (also reported to be the belief of Democrats) and that only the Clinton campaign has managed the debate period much better ("Team Trump is playing checkers (poorly, at that) while Clinton’s crew is playing 3-D chess in the post-debate spin game") and has far and away the better ground game to get its voters to the polls.

So, thinking like a Democrat, what's left to worry about?  Several things, of course.  Worrying is what Democrats do.

  Probably Trump's last chance to shift the dynamic is Sunday's town hall debate.  And for awhile on Thursday the buzz was that Trump was taking a different approach to it.  He said he wasn't going after Bill Clinton's affairs after all, he would stick with policy.  His handlers suggested he would even practice for the debate--for instance, at a kind of in-house rally with a town hall format in New Hampshire Thursday night.

And sure enough, his speeches on Thursday became more disciplined and tele-prompted.  That is, until he got to that town hall, and then Trump reverted to being Trump.

He told the audience that this wasn't practice for the debate, and suggested he was being treated like a child by his own staff.  Instead of sticking to policy he veered off Trumpantly to castigate Hillary, Bernie Sanders, polling analyst Nate Silver, R Senator Mark Kirk (who doesn't support him) and among others, reporters John Harwood (who reported that a Trump insider said the Donald was not happy with Pence's debate performance) and John King (who repeated Harwood's report on CNN.)

Like the debate Sunday, the format was questions from people in the audience, with a two minute time limit for answers.  But the audience was pro-Trump, the questions were vetted, the host (and not the actual person) asked them, and Trump ignored the time limit.  The debate is scheduled for 90 minutes; Trump left this event after 30.  He answered less than half the questions estimated.  And his "answers" were his usual "it's terrible, I will make it better, believe me."

So while it is just barely possible that Trump could project a kinder and gentler persona on Sunday, the idea that he can discuss policy for 90 minutes is a fantasy too far.

Okay, what else?  Voter suppression--still very actively underway in several states, even in violation of court orders--plus intimidation of voters of color, called for by Trump.  Some are also worried about the effects of hurricane Matthew on Florida, where the Clinton campaign has asked that the voter registration deadline be extended in view of the likely consequences, but this was denied by R Gov Scott.

Even apart from the totally unexpected, there's probably more to worry about--oh yeah, what if Trump actually wins?  Well, it'll be even worse than you thought, not only thanks to Trump but to Paul Ryan. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

This is Our Future

It was big news when China and the US ratified the Paris agreement on climate change, and did so together.  It should have been big news when an essential partner and so far a recalcitrant one--India--ratified the agreement a few days ago.

India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and because of its growing population and economy, would otherwise be likely to make the task of reducing those gases impossible, had it not made this commitment.

Getting China and India to sign on is enormously important, and seemed so unlikely that it became a routine objection by deniers: they would never join, the US would sacrifice for nothing.

Now of course it is US recalcitrance that is the greatest threat to confronting the climate crisis.  The latest polling shows significant divergence of support, or even acceptance of the climate reality, and it mostly relates to party affiliation.  So if the US government remains divided, or even worse, falls into Republican hands, it's all up for grabs.

The climate crisis is here, and there is no more room for temporizing.  Every month breaks a new global heating record, and the latest studies indicates the planet is at its hottest in 115,000 years (Hansen) or 120,000 years (Stanford.)

Moreover the task of reducing greenhouse gases just became more complicated, or it will if this study is confirmed: "A study published Wednesday in Nature says that methane emitted during the production and use of fossil fuels are 20 to 60 percent higher than experts had thought."

These temperatures and the changes demonstrably underway in the oceans and the atmosphere also mean that we need to gear up more seriously to deal with effects, from multiple simultaneous natural disasters and health crises to long-range efforts to protect against catastrophe.

Now with the nations of the European Union formally ratifying the Paris agreement, it passes the majority threshold and goes into effect in 30 days.  As President Obama said on this occasion: "This gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we've got...One the reasons I took this office was to make America the leader in this mission."

"Now, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis. Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go. But make no mistake, this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. It will help other nations ratchet down their dangerous carbon emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations. And by sending a signal that this is going to be our future -- a clean energy future -- it opens up the floodgates for businesses, and scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before. So this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got."

In his five minute address (above), President Obama makes a case for how America assumed that leadership, and did so successfully in his administration.  He deserves great credit for his effective commitment--his seeding of the clean energy economy in particular did a great deal to move it into the strong position it is in today.

John Kerry deserves a lot of credit as well, not only for his diplomatic efforts as secretary of state but for taking the mocking from the ignorant when he names the climate crisis as the greatest threat, or when he said recently that saving the oceans is a life or death matter for human civilization.  This is the kind of perspective--and courage--that is needed in public officials.

Whether America continues to be a leader in this mission depends in part on what happens in November.  But it depends on more than that.  It's going to require commitment at every level, including the career choices of young people.

Making the Paris agreement work is essential, but it is only a framework.  It must generate a great deal more than what is obvious.  This is the work of generations, and will almost inevitably soon become the main work.  Best to get started.

Russian Roulette

Because of this political unreality show that is the 2016 campaign, several other stories aren't getting enough attention.  One of them is the current state of U.S. and Russia relations.

The flashpoint was Syria.  Russia surprised the US and everyone else some months back by its aggressive military involvement in Syria.  In the guise of fighting terrorism, it managed more often to help the Assad regime.  It also looked to me like a classic case of a big power testing out its newest military technology in the third world, possibly with bigger things in mind.

Months of negotiations and attempted partnerships between US and Russia, and cease fire agreements that were immediately violated, led to the US completely breaking off bilateral talks over Russia's increasing blatant military support of Assad.

Russia responded as if Putin was all too ready for this, by reportedly sending advanced anti-aircraft and missile technology to aid Assad in Syria.  But even more strikingly, Putin announced that it would suspend an agreement to dispose of weapons grade plutonium.  It suspended two other related programs on Wednesday.

The first agreement involving nuclear weapons between the two countries was the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed by President Kennedy in 1963, as a direct result of his initiative, and his historic speech at American University which broke the impossible mindset of the Cold War.

Since then there have been many more agreements that have reduced nuclear weapons.  The two nations have had many other problems over the years, but generally they did not affect two areas: nuclear weapons, and cooperation in space.

Now Putin has made this move, which moreover only adds to a deteriorating nuclear situation while he has been in power, as nuclear disarmament has stalled, and both countries have modernized nuclear weapons, and Russia in particular has developed and built new nuclear weapons systems.

This is an increasingly dangerous situation.  It also needs to be discussed more prominently in light of this presidential campaign, and Trump's bromance with Putin and especially his dangerous natterings on nuclear weapons policy and his essential ignorance on these complex and deadly matters.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: IN for a Pence Gestapo

The big political story of the day, which is getting almost no attention, is the Gestapo tactics in Indiana of Gov. Mike Pence's administration in using the state police to shut down voter registration offices, confiscating their equipment and taking away forms that will probably disenfranchise thousands of voters.

It is part of an investigation of voter registration fraud.  But all forms would be reviewed by election officials, so there is no way that simply collecting registration forms constitutes actual voter fraud.

The investigation is the work of an Indiana A-G, emboldened by her success in getting her voter ID law past the Supremes.  And there appear to be other political motivations as well.  The group targeted is fighting back: "A group that registers Indiana voters is being investigated for alleged voter registration fraud. That group says they're not the ones doing something wrong, but that the people investigating them are. They've now asked the Department of Justice to look into their claims."

And there's no surprise in who is being targeted.  Again from this story:
With one week out for the voter registration deadline, the Indiana Voter Registration Project says 45,000 African-American voters are in jeopardy of not being able to vote because the forms they filled out have come into question because of this investigation. They might not find out until they show up to the polls to vote.

Police said it might take months to investigate the forms they confiscated.  Apparently in Indiana the police are the Republican police.  Something to look forward to in a Trump-Pence regime.

Pence of course was involved in the vice presidential debate that nobody watched on Tuesday.  By most accounts Pence won on style points and may have done something for Republican morale.  But he also denied that Trump had made a number of statements that he demonstrably made.

 The Clinton campaign quickly made ads with the denials and the statements, which Josh Marshall argues persuasively, was probably Kaine's job and the campaign's intent.  Fact checkers (for instance at NPR) also had a field day matching Trump's words to Pence's denials or demurrals.  And TV comics have only begun.

A national poll by Fairleigh Dickinson U. conducted in late Sept. through early Oct. gives Clinton a 10 point lead, 50% to 40% over Trump. Two new state polls show Clinton with a 2 point lead in Ohio, by identical spreads of 42%-40.

An interesting tidbit in a NYTimes story about incipient panic in the GOP is that while the Donald has been slipping in public polls: But private polling by both parties shows an even more precipitous drop, especially among independent voters, moderate Republicans and women, according to a dozen strategists from both parties who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the data was confidential.  This combined with increased Dem enthusiasm (i.e. their intent to vote for the party nominee) growing, and outpacing GOP enthusiasm by a significant margin.

Talking small ball now: state polls are starting to show more realistic numbers for third party candidates, particularly Johnson.  The Monmouth poll for Ohio, for example, has Clinton 44% Trump 42% Johnson 5%.  Let's assume third party voting will be a little higher this time than usual, so Johnson will get maybe 3.5%.  Some research shows Johnson voters are splitting evenly between Clinton and Trump.  Which makes William Weld's move interesting.

Weld--former MA gov-- is Johnson's v.p. and multiple stories say he's now concentrating on defeating Trump.  This muddies the waters a bit for Johnson, fading anyway due to his demonstrable ignorance about much of anything, but it may provide marginal help in tilting the former Johnson vote to Clinton, which in a few close contests could be significant.

Finally, the Atlantic magazine joins the list of publications doing something uncharacteristic, endorsing only its third presidential candidate in its long history (the first was Lincoln.)  It's Hillary, and especially, Not Trump.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Don't Panic

According to Douglas Adams, the one item a cosmic hitchhiker needs is a towel, and a single two word motto: "Don't panic."  It's a lesson hitchhikers on this ridiculous non-cosmic but weirdly almost cosmic campaign might take to heart.

The alt.right and the Trump campaign, believing their own p.r., reportedly stayed up bleary-eyed, even past the Donald's preferred tweeting time, to watch their wikileaks dream turn to nothing.  There was no announcement, no docu dump at all--although promises of a ten-week spate of such in future.  Along with a denial that the intent is to sink Hillary's campaign.

And after the angst over a tightening race in PA, two new polls put Hillary up by 9 and by 10 points respectively, in the Keystone State.  One of the polls isolates a chief factor in Clinton's climb: Dem voter enthusiasm over GOPs, 90% to 75%.

Polls show Clinton leading slightly in Nevada and North Carolina (although another poll gives her a bigger 6 point lead in NC.)  Nationally, new polls show Clinton expanding a lead, and in the average, just under 50% of voters surveyed.

Signs of more trouble for the Trump Foundation: Real Clear Politics reports that Trump made strategic donations through his foundation to obtain early support for his presidential ambitions. "That check is one of at least several donations to suggest Trump used his private foundation, funded by outside donors, to launch and fuel his political ambitions. Such contributions, if they were made solely for Trump’s benefit, could violate federal self-dealing laws for private foundations." 

And people called this the much-unanticipated vice-presidential debate?  Not at all.  The RNC clearly anticipated it--posting a story claiming victory for GOPer Pence, with details on how he did it--an hour before the debate was scheduled to begin.  (Looks like a sign of panic to me.)

Now it's over. I suspect this is going to be the consensus: Taegan Goddard:

"Pence needed to do something to reverse the momentum. He didn’t do it. Aside from brushing aside what Trump has said, it’s not clear what his strategy was. On some issues, like Russia and Syria, Pence actually disagreed with Trump.

All Kaine needed to do was make the debate about Donald Trump but he couldn’t do it either. He came off as nervous and overly rehearsed. He didn’t effectively call out Pence for denying basic facts about Trump.

If you scored the debate on style, Pence probably won narrowly. He looked into the camera and came off as the calmer of the two. I suspect most instant polls will find Pence the winner.

However, Kaine was a much better running mate. He defended the nominee at the top of his ticket. Pence wasn’t willing to do it.  After watching the debate, it’s clear that Kaine is running for vice president in 2016. But Pence sounded more like he’s running for president in 2020."

Interesting factoid at MSNBC: Facebook listed viewers priorities, and the first two were taxes and Russia.

Josh Marshall:

But I think the most salient point is that there were two debates happening on that stage tonight...The two debates were so distinct that if I squinted and looked from one angle I could almost see a straight Kaine v Pence presidential debate happening, one in which Donald Trump didn't even exist. Pence is not a terribly impressive politician. But in this debate, when it came to hitting the standard GOP political and policy points, he held up pretty nicely. Kaine was solid too...But big picture - in this alternative universe Kaine v Pence face-off where Donald Trump didn't exist - Kaine and Pence were fairly evenly matched.

But there was this wholly separate debate happening at the same time that was entirely about Donald Trump. And it was largely a monologue by Tim Kaine.

For the aftermath of the debate, I think the key point will be that though Pence didn't have his heart in it, Pence did deny numerous Kaine claims about Trump that are demonstrably true. I'm sure we'll be hearing about that from the Clinton camp.

Kaine himself didn't always come off as well as I might have expected. But he did great for his running mate, sometimes by defending her in ways that are difficult for her to do herself but far more often by reading out crate loads of opposition research on Trump and simply reminding people of all the stuff he's said. Kaine landed lots of punches on Donald Trump, while Pence left Trump largely undefended. Pence got in very few hits on Clinton, but not many. Whether Pence made a tacit decision to abandon his boss or simply wasn't up to the challenge I don't know. But the net effect was that he let Kaine land punch after punch on Trump, largely undefended. That's really all that matters."

Jonathan Chiat:

"Pence provided an evening of escapist fantasy for conservative intellectuals who like to close their eyes and imagine their party has nominated a qualified, normal person for president. It is hard to see how he helped the cause of electing the actual nominee."

"The first and only vice-presidential debate of 2016 was less a game-changer than a channel-changer, a snippy and probably inconsequential 90 minutes marginally won by Mike Pence..."

Short version of nearly all analyses I've seen so far: Pence may have won, but Trump lost.

Who by the way may have upstaged his v-p with his live tweets.  And this very interesting tidbit from the Politico report linked above:

Clinton and her brain trust, according to several Democrats I spoke to, were satisfied (if not elated) by Kaine’s performance. Whether Trump appreciated Pence’s defenses, well that’s less clear. Moments after the candidates left the stage, John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times quoted a Trump adviser saying that the GOP nominee, who was watching the debate from a hotel in Vegas, was less than satisfied with his running mate. “Pence won overall, but he didn’t win with Trump,” the adviser told Harwood.

One late entry, a further wrinkle on the consensus, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells at the New Yorker: Everybody Won at the Vice Presidential Debate Except Donald Trump.

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: The Unreality Show is Still On

Two actual stories emerged Monday--two and a half if you include Trump's comments to veterans--but the day also includes trying to figure out what if anything is coming on Tuesday.

The two Trump stories are the state of New York ordering the Trump Foundation to stop taking donations because it isn't registered to do so, which also includes noting violations in the past, and the AP story detailing Trump's relentless "lewd and sexist" comments and behavior as host of The Apprentice "reality show."

The half story is Trump implying that soldiers with PTSD are weaker than those who don't suffer from it.  It's half a story because Trump didn't come out and call such soldiers weak--he was trying to compliment those in the room who haven't suffered it, while making his usual extravagant promises that VA mental health services would improve unbelievably in a Trump regime.  The effect of course is the same--a total misunderstanding of PTSD, and a very Trumpian revival of harmful prejudices we thought were overcome.

But as Chris Cillizza notes, each horrific Trump story seems to crowd out the others, and while any one of them would sink a normal candidate,  the sheer number of them virtually every day has a numbing effect.

New polls however indicate that they are having some cumulative effect, including the latest state polls which show Clinton gaining in major swing states, except Ohio.  National polls also show Clinton gaining, by varying amounts.  CNN has her up 5 against all comers, and up 7 against Trump.

The CNN poll (and all others but daily tracking polls, also trending Clinton) was completed before the Trump tax return revelations.  Notably however the poll did include a question about the obligation to pay taxes (which did come up in the debate.)  The CNN poll found:

"Voters are in near-universal agreement, though, that paying taxes is every American's civic duty. Nearly 9-in-10 feel that way while just 12% say they see taxes as an unnecessary burden to be avoided. Even among Trump backers, 79% see them as a civic duty."

So much for the genius argument.

Everything seems to be going Clinton's way, which is precisely why what may happen tomorrow has Clinton backers anxious.  It started with a tweet by an alt.right Trump backer warning that a wikileaks dump on Tuesday would end Clinton's candidacy by Wednesday.

The story got more complicated throughout the day.  Various stories suggest that the announcement has been cancelled, the announcement has merely moved its venue, it's a bluff, and even that the wikileaks release will also include material on Trump.  But some folks are not going to breathe freely until late tomorrow.

The anxiety is perhaps less about what wikileaks has as it is in how the media will play it.  There's a lot about false equivalence these days--including this interesting post by Jelani Cobb at the New Yorker, wondering why millennials who are so concerned about racism don't see that Clinton and Trump are not exactly equivalent on this issue:

"If not exactly a false equivalency, it is perhaps a false vicinity: the belief that Trump’s unmitigated bigotry is just a few degrees removed from Clinton’s history of establishment ties and nineties-era centrism. Maybe the debate will have shown them that the two candidates could scarcely be farther apart."

While news is news, columnists Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne in particular are pleading with media to stop treating Trump as a legitimate candidate, instead of a reckless racist and dangerous fool.

 Meanwhile, the infection of the body politic continues, from proudly overt racism (a PA elected official's blatantly ugly racist Facebook posts) to the kind of semi-conscious racism that emerges as attempted humor (a racist depiction of President Obama and a float showing Trump throwing the switch on Hillary in an electric chair, in an Indiana parade.)

With all the meta movement and lasting implications, the election itself is coming down to specifics--namely the battleground states of Pennsylvania (now looming as the most important), North Carolina, Florida.  A Trump victory in those states could indicate ultimate victory.  (It's conceivable that Clinton could win PA without winning Ohio, but if Trump wins PA, he'd pretty certainly win Ohio.) Clinton is ahead in all three, but not comfortably, at least according to these polls which lag behind this news onslaught.  Which is another reason some folks are nervous about tomorrow.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: Hingeless Update

Nothing much new on Sunday--a lot of talk about the NYTimes tax story, the predictably laughable Trumpian responses, and maybe a little too many very similar declarations that this time, this time, Trump was really and truly destroyed.

However there was some more detailed reporting on Trump's rally rant in PA late on Saturday.  The parts of it initially reported proved his hingelessness, and the lengthier reports merely amplified the impression of a psychotic ramble.  At one point, after slandering Hillary, Bernie and President Obama, alternating with his counterfactual soundbite bragging, he suddenly complained that they don't make movies like they used to.

But there was one comment that needs to be emphasized.  Previously in PA, Trump called on supporters to monitor voters for improprieties, in a dog whistle way.  This time he used a bullhorn.

As Chas Danner reported: Furthermore, Trump revisited his baseless claims about voter fraud. Previously, he had said that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania would be if the election was rigged, and deputized his supporters to become poll watchers. On Saturday, Trump added what was almost certainly a racially framed warning that the majority white crowd should “watch” the voters in “certain areas,” because “you know what I’m talking about” and “we don’t want to lose for that reason.”

If I'm Hillary Clinton, I make it a priority to ask Trump in the next debate, just which "certain areas" did he mean?

As for Clinton abandoning Ohio, the campaign denied it, and as it turns out, that's where Hillary will be on Monday.  In advance of that appearance, Ohio hero LeBron James endorsed her in what was described as an emotional statement.

 There's also this story that indicates some of the fallout of the tax story in Ohio.  Perhaps most importantly I saw one of the Republicans quoted as being very upset by Trump's terrible week is an Ohio pol.  It's always been unlikely that Ohio R governor Kasich would push his party people to get out the vote for Trump.  I did see a story saying that Trump had won over on the ground R pols in Ohio anyway.  But that may have changed enough to alter things, even though R Senate candidate Rob Portman is apparently running away with his race and Rs would have to split tickets.

How about Florida?  Here's a Tampa paper's summary of how the tax story hurts Trump with voters.  A new Clinton ad (presented here in a This Week story) makes the main points in a few potent seconds.

It's way too early for postmortems, but Goldie Taylor at the Daily Beast gives us these sobering paragraphs in her piece:

"Never in the history of American politics has a major party nominee made such a mockery of the process. But the game changed the moment GOP voters cast their lot with a one-time reality show personality with no public policy experience, little in the way of intellectual curiously, and no guiding values. It changed the moment sitting GOP members of Congress refused to call foul on some of his most egregious remarks. If you believe in nothing, nothing is truly out of bounds and, for Trump, apologies are an admission of defeat.

To the extent that Trump (and an almost laissez-faire media class) has begun to normalize various brand of racism, bigotry, and misogyny, it is truly a reflection on all of us. He needed willing participants and, unfortunately, he found them. Not only among the alt-right and white supremacists; he also found them in the halls of cable news networks with people incapable or unwilling to challenge his nonsensical rants and stop booking surrogates who flat out lie.

Trump found co-conspirators among so-called reformists Democrats and independents who would prefer to see the “system” burned to the ground than elect another Clinton. They don’t see Trump as dangerous so much as they see him as a tool to their nihilistic fantasies.

To our own collective peril, we allowed Trump to tear up the scorecard and trample over the rules, but this won’t end with him. Ultimately, he may well lose in a landslide, picking up only the reddest of red states, but that won’t right the playing field. The game has been contorted, disfigured and maimed almost beyond recognition in this election cycle."

Brexit On Our Minds

A Marshall Plan poster
We pause our unreality show called the presidential campaign for this message from Overseas.

The new PM of the UK  has announced that the formal process of Brexit--Britain's exit from the European Union-- will start by the end of March.  A major country leaving the EU has never happened, and so even with these past months of commentary and debate, this is a traumatic moment, and a very disturbing one.

The UK is already seeing the prospect of adverse economic consequences, and there are fears for the European Union itself.  The latter is especially troubling if you know the history.

At the end of World War II Europe was in shambles.  Major cities were clotted with rubble, there was widespread hunger and homelessness.  Things didn't improve fast enough in the later 1940s and nations were near collapse, with the Soviet Union ready to pick up the pieces.

Then came the Marshall Plan, which brought billions in US aid and financing but with meaningful direction from European governments.  Partly to make the Marshall Plan work, and partly to help strengthen Europe in the long term, the US used its leverage to encourage economic integration across national borders.

The breakthrough came when France and West Germany shared their coal and steel industries.  The first steps to the European Common Market and then to the European Union were taken.  Europe returned to pre-war levels of prosperity and exceeded them.

 Eventually, economic integration, common currency and free movement of people and goods had cultural and political effects.  Apart from keeping themselves free of Soviet domination, the countries of this continent--where two devastating world wars began, where hundreds of years of wars were fought--became unified to an extent that warfare among them was almost impossible.

But from the beginning, England resisted this integration.  After a couple of centuries as an imperial power, England had much stronger economic relationships with its former colonies--the Commonwealth--than it did with Europe.   But gradually and inevitably, that changed.

From this remove, there seems no broad economic reasons for the UK to leave the EU.  In terms of governance, the argument has been made that the EU is too bureaucratic and not sufficiently responsive, or democratic.  President Obama alluded to this at the UN:  "In Europe, a well-intentioned Brussels often became too isolated from the normal push and pull of national politics. Too often, in capitals, decision-makers have forgotten that democracy needs to be driven by civic engagement from the bottom up, not governance by experts from the top down."  In fact, while US commentators tended to view this address only through the lens of US politics, much of it applies directly to the dilemma of Europe and Brexit, including underfunded institutions and income inequality.

That's particularly true of its central theme of the push-pull of global integration vs. renewed national, ethnic, tribal, religious identity and resulting hostility towards the Others.

This is an undeniable part of Brexit. To an extent still debated, it was fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment.  Its passage apparently unleashed more violence against immigrant workers, particularly Polish workers, including one death.

Reactionary sentiment is what shocked the UK and disturbs the US.  Voters for leaving the EU also were almost twice as likely to deny the climate crisis, and so on.  The fears are made explicit with the news that one of the main Brexit advocates who is also a Brit version of an alt.right politician, is hurrying over the Atlantic to coach Donald Trump for his next debate.

Even in victory the hard reactionaries are pushing for a Hard Brexit--an immediate exit without negotiation with the EU, or hope of negotiating continuing if changed relations.  Update: In an interview reported Sunday, PM May specifically supported limiting immigration as part of Brexit, regardless of its economic effect in free trade with Europe.  So she is apparently siding with the reactionaries.

While the UK still seems in a dizzy denial, seemingly without adequate leadership anywhere--certainly not of the quality that got the UK and Europe through the postwar years.

And many in the US look at this and know that it can happen here, with nightmares of waking up November 9 feeling like a lot of Brits did when Brexit passed, despite utter disbelief (including by pollsters) that it would.