Category Archives: Politics

And Then There Were Two*

Donald Trump v. Hillary Clinton, a no holds barred cage match to the death**.

This should be fun. Clinton is very much “the devil you know.” She’s the closest thing the Democrats have to Bob Dole in the sense that her candidacy feels as though it’s a result of it being her turn as much as anything. I like Bernie Sanders, but I’d wager that a stronger Democratic candidate would have put him away a long time ago. She’s been in the public eye for decades, but it’s hard to remember any time she’s every received much positive press. It’s hard to point to much in the way of achievements. She’s rightly perceived as elitist and she’s much more comfortable discussing the minutiae of policy than she is delivering a rousing stump speech.

On a broader scale, she gives every indication of being the next in an unbroken line of Reagan-ish presidents. She’s hawkish on defense, fiscally conservative, pro-Wall Street, but generally liberal on social issues. A Clinton presidency would likely look a great deal like a Reagan, Bush, Obama, or, um, Clinton presidency. Probably more like her husband’s terms than any other, not because she isn’t her own person, but because there would be an endless sideshow of fake scandals in the press***. If you like the way things are going now, and have gone for the last 35 years, then a Hillary Clinton presidency looks appealing.

Donald Trump offers a much greater opportunity for amusement. Like Clinton, one gets the impression that a strong opponent would have swept the floor with him. Instead, he squared up against Ted Cruz, whose “I’m Just Like Donald Trump But Not Donald Trump” marketing plan didn’t have any more appeal than the “I’m Ted Cruz” plan.

Trump’s campaign strategy of “saying whatever he thinks people want to hear” has been stunningly effective. There’s no compelling reason to believe that he actually believes anything he’s saying. Remember the jab against Cruz, suggesting that Cruz’ father was linked to Lee Harvey Oswald? Trump flat-out admitted that he didn’t actually believe it; he was just saying it because he thought it would be effective. Some people call that a clever use of “rhetoric,” but c’mon, he’s just lying. That’s what he does.

It’s hard to imagine what a Trump presidency would look like because he has no track record, he dishonest about his beliefs, and there’s little indication either party would work with him. It might just be a ridiculous side show, or it might be a complete train wreck. Sure, Hillary Clinton has been party to war crimes but at least she has the good grace to evade questions about them. Trump has stated that he admires war crimes and wants to commit more. His supporters have suggested that he’s only saying this to get votes, but even if that’s true, that’s hardly a reason to vote for him.

As for the campaign, it’s going to be really weird. Clinton is relatively easy to attack and, while you’d think someone like Trump would be, the fact is that it’s very hard to pin someone down when they’re not constrained by facts. Clinton can attack his terrible record as a businessman and he’ll just say something like “Hillary’s just a loser. I’m the richest, most handsome, most successful businessman in the history of the United states and she knows it.” It’s crap, but it’s really, really hard to deal with in a debate setting, especially when the moderators have been cowed into non-participation in the name of “neutrality.”

We just haven’t seen a candidate like Donald Trump before. Even Ross Perot had beliefs and scruples (not to mention the fact that he was a genuinely successful businessman). My gut feeling is that Trump’s negatives are so enormous, even greater than Clintons, that even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would get 40% of the vote against him. That’s a tough starting point. Maybe he can expand his support, maybe he can attack Clinton effectively enough to drag her down with him. There’s not precedent for this so anyone who claims to know how it’s going to play out has a better crystal ball than I do.

I’ll tell you this though: It’s going to be very, very amusing to watch.

* Barring a miraculous comeback by Bernie Sanders. I’m not holding my breath.

** Of one’s or the other’s political career, I expect.

*** While the real scandals are swept under the rug.


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Questions for the Candidates

It turns out that I’m not a credentialed journalist, or a journalist of any sort, or even a real person at all. That being the case, I’m not likely to be allowed the opportunity to ask the four remaining candidates any questions. That won’t stop me from formulating what I would ask them given the opportunity. Maybe someone else, you know, a real journalist, can pick these up and run with them.

Preferable with lie detectors. And maybe sodium pentothol*.

Bernie Sanders:

Your candidacy has been crippled by being less organized and prepared than that of Hillary Clinton. Was it ever your serious intent to challenge for the nomination, and if so, why were you so far behind in planning and organization? Why would we expect your presidency to be any different?

Ted Cruz:

In the event of a likely apocalypse, would you, as President, you would have the ability to forestall the event? Would you attempt to do so?

Hillary Clinton:

Wealth inequality is a vastly greater threat to the United States than terrorism. What is your plan to combat this problem, and why should we trust you to do so?

Donald Trump:

No small part of your support comes from people who believe that you cannot possibly mean the things you’re saying and that you’ll be much more reasonable if elected. What do you have to say to these people? Do you genuinely intend to make good on your campaign promises?

I’m genuinely interested in the (honest) answers to these questions. Will they ever be asked? I’m not holding my breath.

* WTF Pancakes does not endorse drugging presidential candidates. I’m just making a joke about trying to get the candidates to tell the truth instead of repeat stump speeches. I repeat: Please do not drug the candidates.

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Forgetting the Lessons of the Algerian War…Again

There’s a useful piece up on Salon about the reaction of the American right to the terror attacks in Belgium. The gist, and I’m paraphrasing, is that the goal of the attacks is not to harm the enemies of ISIS, it’s to drive a wedge between westerners and Muslims. By reacting to the attacks by blaming all Muslims, by promising murder and torture and police-enforced ghettos for all Muslims, the theory is that the Muslims who are not anti-Western will be driving into the fold.

This is the lesson of Algeria all over again. The radicals on either side have a common enemy in the moderates. Accommodation and integration are a threat to the hawks on both sides. The experience in Algeria remains the template for asymmetrical warfare. Terror succeeds not by winning on the battlefield, but by getting your enemies to destroy themselves in how they react.

It’s not true to suggest that doing something your enemies would like is always bad. If ISIS side “Oh, I sure hope you don’t give us a zillion dollars,” that doesn’t mean that giving them a zillion dollars would be good. But…c’mon. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are doing exactly what the terrorists hope they will do. They’re doing everything in their power to ensure that Muslims feel as though they aren’t welcome in the west and will never be anything other than “other.”

Yes, I know…they’re not the problem. They’re just symptoms. They wouldn’t be espousing this racist, bigoted, warmongering, un-American, and, most importantly, counter-productive nonsense if it didn’t win the hearts and minds of their constituencies. It’s their voters who are the problem.  But it’s not the voters who are going on television and reading directly from the ISIS script. That’s all on you, Donald and Ted.

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Dear Everyone-Who-Is-Afraid-Of-Trump: Ted Cruz Is Still Worse

Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump is still a horrible person, a bigot who courts the vote of white supremacists, and proud know-nothing whose ego won’t allow him to learn. He is going to be a contender for the Worst Major Party Candidate In The History of the United States award.

Cruz is worse.

Here’s his response to the terror attacks in Belgium wherein he gets approximately everything wrong (I’ve added some helpful notes):

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, presidential candidate Ted Cruz responded to the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels:

“Today radical Islamic terrorists targeted the men and women of Brussels as they went to work on a spring morning. In a series of coordinated attacks they murdered and maimed dozens of innocent commuters at subway stations and travelers at the airport. For the terrorists, the identities of the victims were irrelevant. They –we—are all part of an intolerable culture that they have vowed to destroy.

(There’s not a great deal of content here, but yeah, that’s not a completely unfair way to describe what went down.)

“For years, the west has tried to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear.  We can no longer afford either. Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods.

(Actually, for fifteen years now, we’ve been hearing about very little except for terror when it comes to foreign policy. Any time someone with brown skin kills more than one person, it’s a terror attack. Weirdly enough, when white people do it, like, when bombing a women’s health clinic, it’s not called terror.)

“We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here. We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.

(What the actual fuck, Ted? Aside from the fact that the refugees are, by and large, people who are fleeing from al Qaeda and ISIS, the idea of singling out “Muslim neighborhoods” and securing them is creepy and very likely illegal.)

“We need to secure the southern border to prevent terrorist infiltration. And we need to execute a coherent campaign to utterly destroy ISIS. The days of the United States voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we can be are at an end. Our country is at stake.”

(America’s southern borders have fuck-all to do with terrorist infiltration. The idea that a campaign to utterly destroy ISIS is possible is silly, and that’s without even addressing whether or not it’s a good idea. The United States has, to my knowledge, never voluntarily surrendered to anyone. I get that he’d like to nip “enlightenment” in the bud, as that would be the antithesis of what he stands for, but seriously…”Our country is at stake?” Don’t be an idiot. The United States is never going to be overrun by terrorists. He’s just trying to scare old people and to justify his own absurdly hateful positions by making straw men out of any other point of view.)

There’s been no small amount of digital ink spilled trying to suggest that Trump is a Clinton operative, destroying the Republican party from inside. I think it’s more likely that Cruz is a Trump plant. Think about it: The only way a doofus like Trump can be taken seriously is if the only other viable candidate is an even bigger doofus. He makes Trump look positively decent in comparison.

Well, ok…decent is overstating it. Trump still brags about wanting to commit war crimes. But seriously, why would anyone support the one guy who makes Trump look like literally the lesser of two evils?


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I Get Mail! (Deep in the Heart of Texas edition)

John Cornyn (R-Tex) is one of those senators whose job is so safe he gets to say the really nutty stuff that politicians who have to actually run for re-election can’t get away with. This morning, he sent me this marvelous bit of fundraising duplicity:

Having served as Texas’ Attorney General, I have a unique understanding of how important it is to protect our conservative values from the bench. Many of the issues that our country will face in the upcoming years can only be solved through strong, conservative leadership — including a Supreme Court with justices who strictly interpret the Constitution and refuse to bow to executive overreach.

That’s why I’m counting on you to stand with me in the fight to give the American people a voice in this matter. Will you chip in just $5 right now to help me do that?

You made your opinion of Obama’s agenda loud and clear in 2014, when America put a Republican majority back in charge! In the past year, the GOP-led Senate has worked together to successfully roll back the overreach and excesses of the Obama administration.

I know firsthand the level of responsibility and influence our judges have in shaping our society. We can’t allow President Obama to sneak his Supreme Court nominee past the American people!

We need a trusted defender of the Constitution. Chip in $5 today to demand strong, conservative leadership on the bench.

Please, stand with me to ensure our nation has a say in selecting our next Supreme Court justice.

I removed the links to his “gimme gimme” site because screw this guy. Here’s the paragraph that gave me tingles:

You made your opinion of Obama’s agenda loud and clear in 2014, when America put a Republican majority back in charge! In the past year, the GOP-led Senate has worked together to successfully roll back the overreach and excesses of the Obama administration.

As such an amazing constitutional defender, I’m sure that Mr. Cornyn is aware of the fact that the constitution is pretty clear on the whole “who gets to nominate candidates to the Supreme Court” thing, and that the American people overwhelming re-elected that guy in 2012. The idea that the 2014 midterms were a referendum on the Supreme Court is as silly as it is unconstitutional.

Oh, and the claim that the GOP-led Senate worked together on anything is adorable. He might have noticed that his colleague, the junior Senator from his state, Ted Cruz, spent most of the last two years flinging poo at the other Republicans. President Obama is on the roll of his lifetime over the last two years in large part due to the Keystone cops routine of the GOP-led Senate.

Of course, I’m pretty sure that Senator Cornyn knows full well that his fundraising pitch is only going to work with the fact-challenged crowd, but I reckon his OK with that. That’s his constituency, so I’m sure they’ll continue to bury him in cash. It’s just kind of sad to watch.

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The Evil of Two Lessers

As you might imagine, I’m not super-thrilled with  Donald Drumpf as the likely Republican candidate for President of the United States. His success owes as much to his embrace of racism as it does people knowing his name and mistakenly associating it with success. He’s got oodles of entertainment value, but he’s a pretty piss-poor candidate in terms of things like “ability to say things that make sense” and “understanding of how anything works,” but, oddly enough, he’s not even close to the worst candidate in the Republican primary.

Ted Cruz is special. He’s somehow earned the devotion of the people who think that “Constitutional Originalism” is a real and good thing. It’s funny, because Cruz has shown himself to believe in one thing: Ted Cruz. His campaign has been nothing but shady borderline-illegal and certainly unethical con-jobs trying to steal votes from other Republicans. His views on the Constitution and governance in general are equally egocentric. He doesn’t support the Constitution; he believes that the only valid interpretations of the Constitution are those which support Ted Cruz. He knows what the Founding Fathers really meant, and it just happens to be exactly whatever Ted Cruz believes.

Here’s a marvelously damning example: Ted Cruz wants to pardon the people who committed crimes in an unsuccessful attempt to get Planned Parenthood to aid them in their crimes. The key word here, of course, is “unsuccessful.” They failed to induce any illegal actions on the part of Planned Parenthood, but that didn’t stop them from cutting their video in a way as to give the impression that Planned Parenthood broke the law. The courts were unimpressed and noted that, while law enforcement officers can sometimes get a pass when they’re setting up a sting, filmmakers don’t get the same leeway.

So, to sum up: Ted Cruz wants to pardon lawbreakers who tried to illegally set up Planned Parenthood and then lied about Planned Parenthood’s activities when their mark failed to take the bait. Ted Cruz sees the criminals as the “good guys” here because they produced a result that he believes in, even what they did was against the law AND their story was a complete lie.

Ted Cruz is a far worse candidate than Drumpf. Drumpf is just a bad haircut with good marketing and weird charisma who figured out that pandering to racists is a winning strategy.  Cruz is Drumpf without any of the positives. He’s a racist, he’s an egotist, and he puts his faith above the law he’s supposedly so enamored of. Given the choices, the fact that the Republican party has embraced Drumpf actually gives me a little more respect for them.

And yes, I know that’s setting the bar very, very low.

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What We Know So Far (post-New Hampshire)

Well, at least it’s going to be interesting, isn’t it?

On the Democratic side, we’ve had a tie in Iowa and a Sanders win in his backyard New Hampshire. This promises to be a long battle. I suspect that this will work to their advantage. For the most part, Clinton and Sanders are espousing the same values; their disagreement is largely about how to achiever their goals, not what the goals are. A long primary will keeps both of them in front of the camera for a long time.

Neither primary result was a big surprise. Sanders has the momentum right now, but if I were a gambler, I’d bet on Clinton’s support within the party, her big supporters, and her near-monopoly of the super-delegates to win the race. Sanders will probably keep her from being able to tack to the center until after the convention. She’ll say a lot of progressive things, although I think it would incredibly naive to put too much faith in her desire to deliver on them*.

The Republicans are a lot more interesting because there’s a good deal more in the blender at this point. Cruz won in Iowa, but managed to turn that in to a plunge in the polls. Rubio finished surprisingly well in Iowa and appeared poised to assume the mantle of “establishment candidate.” Trump, whose entire campaign is based on being a “winner,” desperately needed a big win in New Hampshire, which he got. Kasich took second in NH, and Cruz finished third, less than a thousand votes ahead of Rubio and Jeb!.

So, the front-runner is…who knows? I guess Trump is. Maybe? It’s a very fragile position because he doesn’t really bring anything to the table other than being a bully, and a bully who loses a fight or two isn’t much of a bully. Cruz is trying to position himself to take Trump’s support if Trump implodes by being “the other anti-establishment candidate.” Rubio had a disastrous debate, but he’s still close enough that I wouldn’t write him off. The rest are just jockeying for jobs on Fox News.

How does it look on a national level? The Republicans have to be absolutely salivating at the opportunity to run against either Clinton or Sanders. Sanders is far enough left that the “socialist” tag will stick to him. Clinton, of course, is a Clinton and the Republicans would love to finally beat a Clinton. The second-worst place on the web refers to her as “Hitlery” so you know that they’ll eager to get at her.

You’d think it would look grim for the Democratic party as well, but this is a strange cycle. The best-case for the Democrats would be for Cruz to get the nomination. The more he talks, the more damage he does to the Republican party. There’s a reason that the Democrats were happy to let his faux-filibuster run as long as he wanted. Trump’s easier to attack, but harder to hurt. He’s a very different animal and it’s tough to know how much support he’ll draw from women and minorities when he’s been so openly hostile to them. With both of them, do not underestimate the blow-back against their positions on Roe v. Wade, Obamacare, and women in general.

Rubio’s probably the best bet in a general election in that he has the fewest obvious weaknesses. The base might be tepid towards him now, but when he’s up against Clinton or Sanders, bet on a big turnout. If I were going to put a fiver on it, I’d bet on Marco Rubio being the next President. It’s way too early to have any confidence in that prediction. I’m not especially happy about it. The only one of the candidates I really like is Sanders, and there’s essentially no chance he’d be effective if he were elected. I’m not a fan of Clinton as she seems to be ethically compromised.

Trump is a Trump. If that strikes you as presidential, then you’re probably not reading this blog. And Cruz? Cruz is special. He’s as ethically challenged as Clinton, panders like Trump, is as wacky as Rand Paul, and has the charisma of Richard Nixon. I don’t think that Christie’s criticism of Rubio as an “empty suit” was unfair, but that makes him the frightening of the Republicans. I’ll take an empty suit over a suit full of Ted Cruz or Donald Trump any day of the week.

P.S. I hate election season.

P.P.S. I really, really hate election season.

* If Sanders winds up winning the nomination, he’ll have all kinds of desire to follow up on his progressive promises, but “desire” and “ability” are two very different things.

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It’s probably mean to keep picking on Ted Cruz

…but man, is he the gift that keeps on giving or what?

Cruz has decided that Supreme Court rulings only apply to the states who are party to the particular case being decided. No really. Here’s what he said:

“Article III of the Constitution gives the court the authority to resolve cases and controversies. Those cases and controversies, when they’re resolved, when you’re facing a judicial order, the parties to that suit are bound it. Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it.”

I don’t think I’m misreading that. This isn’t just “novel,” this is “pulled completely out of his ass.” I’m reasonably sure that Cruz himself doesn’t believe it. He seems smarter than that.

I’ll be the first to admit: I’m enjoying watching conservatives twist themselves into knots trying to find a way to oppose a pro-liberty ruling by the courts. It’s like watching Democrats trying to line up behind the President on the TPP.

Cruz is, I think, sunk as a serious candidate. He’s gone so far out on a limb trying to appease the Brotherhood of the Incredibly Credulous that he’s lost the ability to appear rational. If he gets any further out there, he’ll be claiming that the U.S. is now a theocracy because gays can marry. Surely no one would be that wacky

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Well, at least Obama gets points for answering the WaPo’s question promptly…

Yesterday, the Washington Post posed the question: Has Obama delivered the most transparent administration in history?  That’s a reasonable question given that the President promised to meet this mark when he was sworn in and this promise is prominently displayed on the White House web site. The Post does a nice job examining the evidence and, after some mealy-mouthed qualifications, determines that the answer is “No, but they’ve been better than most.”

Apparently, the President read this article and decided to forcefully respond only hours later….by summarily rejecting all FOIA requests of the executive branch and deleting them. Now, the President may well be acting within the bounds of the law on this, but if memory serves, he made kind of a big deal out of saying that there should be a presumption of openness with regards to all requests. In fact, I don’t have to rely on memory: Here’s the “Presidential Document.”

The WaPo gives him a bit of a pass, noting that the government is big and the bureaucracy is tough to wrangle, but you know what? President Obama knew that when he made the promise. And besides, if there’s any branch he can wrangle, it’s the executive. While I’m pleased to see him respond to the charges so quickly, I rather wish he hadn’t responded with two middle fingers extended.

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Why Stop at a Flat Tax?

Ah, the Flat Tax! The panacea of Libertarians and the Extremely Wealthy everywhere! So seductive in its simplicity: A single tax rate for all tax payers, regardless of income. Believe it or not, even I support a slightly modified version of the Flat Tax*. There’s no question that it would reduce the tax-related infrastructure (and tax-evasion infrastructure). Besides, isn’t the Flat Tax more fair (ask the people who, for every other matter of finance or law, insist that “fairness” isn’t a valid consideration)?

So, yeah, the Flat Tax has some attractive features. But then, I read this article about a very wealthy individual in Finland, where they scale fines to the offender’s income. What a brilliant idea! However, I don’t think the folks in Helsinki go nearly far enough. If we’re going to have a Flat Tax, let’s base every cost on the income of the purchaser. Instead of costing, say, $20,000 dollars, the car would cost 35% of your annual income. When it comes to food, of course, you get to some pretty small percentages, but hey, that’s just an incentive to learn math, right?

I get it. I really do. Folks want the benefits of wealth without the costs scaling along with them. I can’t blame ’em for trying. But if you expect me to take that kind of one-sided proposal seriously, you’re going to have to do a better job than the Flat Tax folks have managed thus far.

* In my version, the first quarter million is exempt. After that, there’s a flat rate. Call me a dreamer…

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