February 12th, 2016

My advice to Rubio for tomorrow night’s debate

Tomorrow, you say? There’s another debate already?

Yes, more’s the pity (I don’t like debates).

So I’m offering the following as advice to Marco Rubio for the debate. I hope he gets it (and if any of you knows how to reach someone high up in his campaign with the information, feel free to do it or let me know how to do it).

In fact, this information may prove useful to you, or to anyone faced with an argument where the ground keeps shifting and your find yourself playing a game of whack-a-mole and losing.

It’s based on some things I learned in school long, long ago. Till then, when I’d argued with people I’d often felt like I was swimming in a sea of mud. One moment we’d be talking about one thing, the next moment something else, then back and forth and back and forth. It seem unlikely that a conceptual distinction could help, but it sure helped me wade through that murky muck.

So, here’s the advice for how to avoid a trap like that in the future:

(1) Arguments can be about content (facts/events) or process (for example: tone, repetition, name-calling).

(2) In Saturday’s debate, Christie had no effective content rejoinder to Rubio’s point about Obama, so Christie switched to a process argument about Rubio’s style.

(3) When your opponent switches to a process argument, you must (a) recognize that’s what happened; and (b) respond directly and quickly with a comment exposing the game behind the process argument before returning to content. For example, Rubio might have said to Christie: “You’re criticizing my way of talking, but that’s to distract us from the fact that you haven’t responded to my point about Obama’s intentions, and that’s why I repeated myself.”

(4) Never let a process argument go unanswered, but then return quickly to content.

That’s it, folks.

It’s based on a lengthy and detailed analysis I’ve done of the Christie/Rubio dust-up in last week’s debate, blow by blow. The content/process dynamic was sharply revealed when I took a close look. One day soon I’ll get to posting my report on that longer and closer look—because people are still talking about what happened, and I have a different take on it than most. But I thought I’d keep this one short.

[ADDENDUM: I want to clarify one thing. My basic analysis of what happened with Rubio in that exchange with Christie is that Rubio got stuck in a content loop while, with mounting frustration, he kept trying to get Christie to respond on content about Obama. Meanwhile, Christie never answered on content and had switched to process. Rubio kept trying to hold Christie’s feet to the content fire and ignored Christie’s process accusations, to Rubio’s detriment.]

February 12th, 2016

Sweden: where starry-eyed multi-culti generosity meets harsh reality

Here’s an interesting article in Foreign Policy on the situation facing Sweden in its attempt to absorb the recent wave of Syrian/Iraqi/Afghan newcomers.

Reading the first third or so of the article almost made me stop reading it. Although the general topic interests me, the author seemed to be blaming Europe for not being more magnanimous, and also appeared to be making some false analogy to WWII refugees—who may indeed have been from other countries, but who nevertheless were part of the same basic Judeo-Christian culture as the Swedes and held pretty much the same values.

But then the article shifted gear and got a lot more interesting:

Diana Janse, a former diplomat and now the senior foreign policy advisor to the Moderate Party (which Swedes view as “conservative”), pointed out to me that some recent generations of Swedish refugees, including Somalis, had been notably unsuccessful joining the job market. How, she wondered, will the 10,000-20,000 young Afghan men who had entered Sweden as “unaccompanied minors” fare? How would they behave in the virtual absence of young Afghan women? But she could barely raise these questions in political debate. “We have this expression in Swedish, asiktskorridor,” she said. “It means ‘opinion corridor’ — the views you can’t move outside of.” Merely to ask whether Sweden could integrate Afghans today as it had Bosnians two decades before was to risk accusations of racism.

I’d never heard the term “opinion corridor” before, but I’m certainly familiar with the concept. And Europe must be far worse than the US in that respect.

The author then goes on to interview a refugee arriving in Malmo—and this refugee really is a refugee, because he’s a Yazidi from Iraq. As such, he seems to not be aware that, now that he’s in Sweden, he might be crossing the boundaries of the Swedish opinion corridor when he says this:

I asked Edo why he didn’t stay in Diyarbakir. Krit relayed my question, and then replied, in a whisper, “He says, `I can not live with Muslims.’” I pointed out that Diyarbakir was a largely Kurdish city. Krit, amused, said to me, “You have the black dog and the white dog, but they’re both dogs.” Given Swedish hypersensitivity to ethnic stereotyping, I’m hoping that Edo did not try out that expression at his asylum interview.

The following is how Sweden is “vetting” its immigrants. It is apparent that the policy is dangerously—almost insanely—naive [emphasis mine]:

The Swedish Migration Agency is responsible for deciding who does and does not receive asylum. The agency assumes that anyone fleeing Syria has a well-founded fear of persecution or death, and thus automatically accepts such applications. Large majorities of Iraqis and Afghans are also accepted. Sweden does not take economic migrants; for this reason, authorities deny almost all migrants from Albania or Kosovo. At the same time, Sweden has made only the most modest efforts to ensure that rejected applicants actually leave.

I suggest you read the whole thing.

But there is evidence that more Swedes are entering the no-go zone of the opinion corridor:

Back at the Red Cross station, opinion was surprisingly anti-refugee, including among volunteers. The translator said that he did not believe many of the new arrivals would ever be able to integrate into Sweden’s liberal, individualistic society. A border policeman told me, “Last summer, my grandmother almost starved to death in the hospital, but the migrants get free food and medical care. I think a government’s job is to take care of its own people first, and then, if there’s anything left over, you help other people.” I had heard the same view a few months earlier in Hungary, the country in Europe most outspokenly hostile to refugees — the anti-Sweden. Europe has not experienced economic growth in almost a decade. One could hardly think of a worse moment to ask citizens to make sacrifices on behalf of outsiders.

I’ll close with this startling fact:

Unlike Americans, Swedes do not raise the subject of terrorism when they question the virtues of accepting asylum-seekers. I arrived in the country days after the Paris attacks, and I expected to hear a pitched battle over the dangers to national security posed by the newcomers. Scarcely anyone raised the issue. Sweden has not suffered a serious attack on its soil; the national mood could change very quickly if it did. But the issue that is raised — in Sweden as in Germany, Hungary, and all over Europe — is national integration.

As I said, the whole thing is worth reading, if you can get past the first third.

February 12th, 2016

Harry Reid…

has words of praise for Trump.

Harry Reid has many reasons for being somewhat nice to Trump. Let’s see what they might be:

(a) Trump has praised him and given him money in the past.
(b) He might want Trump’s business some day in Nevada.
(c) He probably thinks Trump would be the easiest of the leading GOP opponents to beat.
(d) He believes Trump is also the most liberal of the leading GOP opponents, the one most likely to compromise or even sympathize with the Democrats on quite a few of their causes.

February 12th, 2016

At this point, Ben Carson is just damaging himself

Shortly after last Saturday night’s GOP debate, I wrote this about Ben Carson’s performance during that debate:

Until this debate, Ben Carson had been the most consistently likable person of all, whatever you may think of his qualifications to be president. Personally, I think he’d make a pretty good one if he was pressed into service (fast learner, calm temperament, basic conservative), but that’s the only way he could be nominated at this point and it’s not going to happen. And last Saturday night at the debate’s beginning, he seemed to be demonstrating he seemed to be demonstrating his stellar personal attributes: he responded to one of the “gotcha” questions near the outset by saying he wasn’t going to attack other Republicans and quoted Reagan’s eleventh commandment, which made me feel a sense of relief that maybe it wouldn’t be one of those MSM-guided attack fests after all—and then Carson proceeded to do just that to Ted Cruz, in a slightly subtle way that came across to me as snide and sneaky and passive-aggressive.

In other words, he said he wouldn’t do something and then proceeded to do it. That was the first time Carson seemed like an ordinary politician to me, and it didn’t enhance him in my eyes. For me, it was a surprise and a disappointment that set me on edge at the outset.

Each of the candidates has (or should have) a leitmotif, a raison d’etre as a candidate, a need to answer the question “Who are you and why should I choose you rather that the others?” For example, Trump’s answer is I do stuff, and I can talk about things without worrying about propriety. Bush’s is I’m the reliable steady one, the grownup. Cruz’s is, I’m the smart conservative and I won’t change in midstream. Rubio’s is I’m the young energetic guy who can inspire people. I could go on and on (Kasich is obviously I balanced a budget!), but you get the idea.

Carson is the one who has demonstrated extreme competence in a very stressful and difficult-to-master field, but he’s also been the guy with integrity who doesn’t play petty games. He’s lost the latter part of that distinction, and what’s more he’s not doing well in the polls. Like Christie and Fiorina, he should drop out. But he seems to have no intention of doing so:

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said Friday morning that South Carolina will be “the turning point” for his flagging presidential campaign.

“It’s a long race. It’s a nine-inning game, we don’t call it after the second inning,” Carson told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts. “We’re going to do just fine and I think South Carolina will be the turning point.”…

Carson said the tactics by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) during the Iowa caucus nights were “despicable” but “water under the bridge.”

There it is again: the stab that masquerades as a holier-than-thou forgiveness. Unconvincing. If it’s water under the bridge, refuse to talk about it anymore.

What motivates Carson at this point? Perhaps he thinks he really does have a chance in South Carolina, a state with a lot of evangelicals. But if he thinks he’s got a chance nationwide, I’m afraid he’s somewhat delusional. I believe that sometimes candidates get hooked on the adulation and the bully pulpit, the crowds and the love, and the widespread news coverage. Maybe it’s a bit of that for Carson, too.

Or maybe it’s that he knows the candidate he hurts most by staying in the race is Ted Cruz.

At this point, the graceful and decent thing for Carson to do would be to bow out. That goes also for Kasich, who at least has the excuse of having done very well in NH, even though I don’t think he’s got a chance overall. That would, of course, leave Bush as Mr. Establishment. He did far better than Carson in NH but also has the excuse of having a national presence (and plenty of money, as the designated establishment choice).

But I wish they’d all drop out except Trump, Cruz, and Rubio (actually, come to think of it, I wish Trump would drop out, which would be absurd of him unless he really doesn’t want to be president). And then, after South Carolina or perhaps the next state or two, I wish whoever seems the weakest (my guess is that it would be Rubio, but that could change) would drop out and leave just a two-man race.

But you know what? My wishes don’t always come true.

February 11th, 2016

RIP Violette Verdy

Last night I got the urge to see a clip of the ballet “Dances at a Gathering,” which is on the short list of my favorite ballets of all time. It was choreographed by the musical theater and dance genius (that is not an exaggeration; more like an understatement) Jerome Robbins in 1969.

I saw it then with the original cast on which it was choreographed, and about five more times in the next few years, and I count each experience as peak. It was dance as radiance and transcendence. Set to a series of Chopin pieces for piano—a single piano accompaniment is somewhat cliched these days, but back then it was a revelation—the choreography was the near-perfect (perhaps the perfect) realization of the glorious music by Chopin. For me it was an hour that went all too fast.

Then at some point it left the NYCB repertoire—I saw it again with a subsequent cast, and it was not the same, but it was still great—and later a lot of the original dancers retired. Time marched on, and I noticed that it was rarely produced by other dance companies. But I remembered.

YouTube has no videos of the original. It doesn’t even have many videos of revivals, and for some reason most of them are from the Paris Opera Ballet. There is even a full-length version from POB, but it’s hard for me to watch because the images in my memories interfere, and the video is so inferior to what I remember that the contrast almost makes me weep, even though I suppose if you never saw the original you’d think the new one quite fine.

Here’s one of the very best excerpts by POB, of one of the very best portions of the ballet. I think if you watch it you will see what I mean about the merging of choreography and music in a seamless whole. My curmudgeonly and nitpicky observation, though, is that the original dancers did the bravura moves with such abandon, such wild recklessness and beauty, that they made the audience gasp with delight. No such animal here, although it’s still very lovely:

Thinking of “Dances at a Gathering” got me to thinking of one member of the original cast, Violette Verdy, who played the girl in green. No one has ever equaled her in the role, and I don’t see how anyone ever could. It was built on her quicksilver musicality, perfect phrasing, and infectious charm. I started searching to see if there were any new YouTube videos of her old clips, and suddenly noticed in the comments section of an old video of her the word “RIP.”

How odd, I thought; some misinformed person thinks she’s dead.

And then I saw the news that she had died on February 8, 2016. No!!!! I practically screamed, and put my head down in sorrow.

I knew Verdy was in her 80s, and I know people can’t live forever. But it’s sad to think that her shining, sparkling light is gone from the world.

There were obituaries and tributes; I’m not the only one who remembers. And fortunately, there are photos and videos of her talking. Watching and hearing her converse, even as an elderly person, was almost as enjoyable as watching her dance had been—she had that wonderful a quality of lightness and depth at the same time. Here is Verdy talking, just about two years ago, at 80:

In her memory I ask that you read a post I wrote about her last September, and that you watch the videos there. I don’t think you’ll be sorry. In it, I wrote about a certain video of another dancer doing one of the parts choreographed on Verdy and meant to showcase Verdy’s unique qualities:

…[A]s you watch the dance (which is only about two minutes long) it is as though you can see the ghost of Verdy’s movement peering through the choreography…

I said her shining, sparkling light is gone from the world. But it strikes me that it’s an odd but wonderful thing that her presence, the “ghost of Verdy’s movement,” still shines through in the choreography that was made on her. And the ghost of that extraordinary choreographer, Jerome Robbins (who died in 1998), can be seen there, too.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

February 11th, 2016

The strategy against Trump: can it work?

John Hinderaker opines as follows:

The other candidates have spent months jockeying to be the alternative to Trump. The idea was that at some point, Trump’s campaign would implode and the nomination would go to whoever was still standing as the alternative.

It seems clear now that this strategy won’t work. Trump isn’t going away. It is hard to imagine a scenario that would cause his campaign to collapse. (What, he might say something dumb or inflammatory? He might be sternly chastised by Democratic Party reporters? Or some peccadillo could come to light?) So the remaining candidates are going to have to go after Trump and convince voters that they are the the best in the race, not the best other than Trump.

My sense is that the vast majority of Trump’s 1/3 of GOP voters are locked in. They’re not going to desert him. But the others are up for grabs, and that constitutes 2/3 of the GOP voters. That fact explains why the other candidates are for the most part not going after Trump, at least they’re not doing it until they reach the point where there’s one or two of them left standing. Until then, they have seen their path to victory as knocking the rest of the field out of the way and scooping up over 2/3 of the remaining 2/3 of voters.

Unfortunately for those who would like Trump to not get the nomination, in the meantime Trump is amassing delegates and each of the un-Trump candidates is hurting the others, weakening them. It something like a weirdo version of The Tragedy of the Commons, although this battle isn’t over scarce resources (unless you consider the electors resources, but that’s not really a proper analogy, either). As in the Tragedy of the Commons, the un-Trump candidates are all “acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest” and yet behaving “contrary to the best interests of the whole”—that is, if they’re assuming that defeating Donald Trump is in the best interests of the whole.

Psychologists and counselors sometimes ask people to play cooperative board games to get to a common goal, and their strategies are studied. Usually the games pit self-interest against cooperation, and people have choices. The question can be whether people will act in their own perceived self-interest at the expense of their long-term interests, which would best be served by cooperation in the game. The 2016 campaign has become an example of one of those games of choice—and politicians are not exactly known for acting against their own self-interest.

February 11th, 2016

David Brooks is still in love with the crease in Obama’s pants

David Brooks is the supposedly-conservative guy who writes for the NY Times and originally fell in love with Obama’s pants leg. You may remember:

“I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” In the fall of 2006, two days after Obama’s The Audacity of Hope hit bookstores, Brooks published a glowing Times column. The headline was “Run, Barack, Run.”…

That’s one of the most astounding examples of superficial thinking I’ve ever seen from a person who seems to want to be taken seriously as pundit and thinker. It struck me today when I read the following that Brooks has never retreated from that position (or at least the gist of it) even after these seven long years:

On Tuesday, establishment Republican favorite columnist David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a column called “I Miss Barack Obama.” In it, he pilloried Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and lamented that Obama “radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss.”

Just astounding.

February 10th, 2016

The GOP primaries and the dropouts: what will happen now?

Why pay attention to a primary in a tiny state like New Hampshire? Is it just that it’s the primary primary in terms of the calendar? Doesn’t that mean it has a disproportionate influence? And isn’t its population not only small, but non-representative?

The answers are pretty much “yes.” But still, along with Iowa (which is a caucus), it’s the only real-world evidence we have so far. And like it or not, New Hampshire creates a buzz and provides momentum. In that case, Trump supporters must be very very happy.

As someone who most definitely does not support Trump, I am hoping for dropouts, the sooner the better, and lots of them. The greater the number of people who think they’re still in the running, the greater the number of people who will hang on. Even though Kasich, for example, has hardly a chance long-term, why would he drop out now? And certainly Bush won’t. Ben Carson, who paid little attention to NH and has barely reached 2% there, appears to be headed for South Carolina, the next primary state, where he is polling better.

Fiorina was one of my early favorites, and though it makes me sad to say it, she didn’t catch on and she won’t catch on, and I was about to add that she needs to give up and give others a chance—something I happen to think Carson should also do. But I just learned that she has dropped out, which shows good judgment, although I actually think she should have done it before New Hampshire.

In a post I put up about two hours ago, I mentioned that Christie should drop out, and reiterated an earlier statement of mine that on Saturday night, “Christie was like a drowning man who reaches out to another person and tries to pull him under too.” Sure enough, Christie has just announced his departure from the race. Good riddance.

I predict that South Carolina will be a repeat of NH, except that Kasich’s number two spot will probably go to Ted Cruz, and the rest of the vote will be split among what I will now start to call the moderate candidates: Bush and Rubio in particular (Rubio being more conservative than Bush, but less conservative than Cruz), with Kasich doing very poorly there. Carson will do somewhat better (if he stays in, which I think he will do).

It all comes down, however, to who will drop out and when, and where will their votes go. If it comes down to three people, for example—Trump and two others, let’s say Cruz and Rubio, or it could be Cruz and Bush—what happens? Do the voters split into roughly even thirds, and do they then limp on like that in an uneasy troika, right up to the finish line and perhaps a brokered convention? Or does one non-Trump person pull ahead by drawing most of the votes of the dropouts? Has a controversial candidate such as Trump already attracted most of the people who might ever be persuaded to vote for him, or can he appeal to significantly more as the field winnows and get the nomination?

I have been disturbed but not surprised that the field hasn’t winnowed so very much yet. I fear that self-interest on the part of each candidate, and deep pockets for some, argue against its happening soon enough. Who would be the candidate[s] willing to take one for the team? As Matthew Yglesias points out:

The establishment’s consistent dream, ever since Trump rocketed into a national polling lead, has been that consolidation of the “establishment lane” candidates will lead eventually some someone from the Rubio/Bush/Christie/Kasich foursome taking a strong lead. The problem for the establishment is that New Hampshire is the only state where this would have actually worked. Had supporters of those four men all united behind a single candidate, he would have won.

But they didn’t…

So far, the establishment has been trying to beat Trump with wishful thinking. It keeps not working. Trump could self-destruct or drop out for no reason at all. He could be abducted by aliens. Who knows? But merely hoping for those things is not a plan. The plain reality is that right now he is on course to win the nomination unless some concerted effort is made to stop him. And so far, there’s no sign that any such effort is underway. Republican leaders not actively involved in the campaign simply seem baffled and stunned into indifference. And they’re running out of time.

.

If it’s any consolation (and to me it is not), the same muddled incompetence that the establishment GOP has shown in fighting the Democrats it now shows in fighting for its own survival. That argues in favor of “fools” in the “fools vs. knaves” controversy (some, of course, would say “both”).

Too many cooks spoil the pot. Too many candidates spoil the—GOP chances? If the all-powerful much-feared-and-hated “establishment” could coalesce around one candidate (the un-Trump, the anti-Trump), their candidate would have a decent chance of wining, perhaps a good chance. But at the moment, it seems most likely that by the time the South Carolina primary is over, the leading non-Trump candidate would be—if numbers are what you’re looking at—Ted Cruz. After all, he won Iowa, he came in third to Trump and the anomalous Kasich in NH, and he will probably come in second to Trump in South Carolina.

David French explains why his NH primary showing was even better for Cruz than it seems. It has to do with what he was up against, and how little effort he expended:

First, Cruz spent just 27 days in New Hampshire, about half the number of Bush and Fiorina. Kasich and Christie both spent more than 70 days, and even Rubio was in New Hampshire more than Cruz. Even more importantly, Cruz spent very few resources on New Hampshire: Less than $1 Million combined between the campaign and SuperPACs. Compare that to Bush, whose combined efforts spent $35 Million in New Hampshire, while Christie spent $18 Million, Rubio $15 Milllion and Kasich $12 Million. All of them were beaten by Cruz in a state that was supposed to be a bad fit for him. Cruz enters the South Carolina primary with by far the largest war chest of any GOP candidate in hard campaign dollars and has by far the most extensive grassroots fundraising network to add to that total. Furthermore, he’s best organized candidate in the coming states in the “SEC Primary” March 1, and is the only candidate in the field right now who definitely has the resources and organization to compete throughout the primary season. A Southern supporter of Trump’s recently lamented that “Cruz is actually running the perfect [expletive] campaign” and while there are still many roadblocks in his way Cruz’s pathway to the nomination has never looked clearer.

The dilemma for the establishment is that Ted Cruz is not their guy. If you ask who they dislike more, Trump or Cruz, the answer would almost certainly be Cruz.

That argues against their backing Cruz, but if they don’t it would play into Trump’s hands. Common wisdom would say that a two-person race is more likely than a three-person race to lead to the defeat of Trump, but if the two people are Trump and Cruz, then the establishment is likely to want a third. It almost doesn’t matter who it is, but Bush would be the obvious choice, or perhaps Kasich (despite the fact that he’s less popular than Bush). Rubio could be a sort of honorary establishment choice, because he’s a bit too conservative to be a natural for them, but they probably would take him in a pinch. His trajectory was halted by the drowning Chris Christie, though, and it’s unclear whether he can start the climb again.

[NOTE: Here’s a good piece on the prospects.]

[ADDENDUM: Here’s Carly’s farewell message, which is excellent. Hint: it’s not exactly farewell, although she is indeed dropping out of the running.]

February 10th, 2016

Initial NH primary reflections

Donald Trump did about as expected in NH: very well. About a third of the people who decided to vote in the GOP primary race went for him, and if you look at the NH polls over time, you’ll see that he’s hovered around the low 30s there ever since he first started catching on last summer.

So the polls were fairly accurate about Trump in NH. They were pretty accurate about the others, as well. The number two guy Kasich has been polling at about 17% recently. And by gum, he’s sitting fairly close to that at 15.8 as I write this, with 98% of precincts reporting. What’s more, he’s been doing well in NH for many months. Kasich, however, is not expected to do well elsewhere (he practically became a NH resident since last summer, he was there so often).

As for Bush, he did just about as polls predicted, too (11% right now). He’s stronger in NH than in most other states, for similar reasons to Kasich: he’s spent a lot of money there, and he’s got a lot more money than Kasich had to begin with, so he probably has a great deal more left. Also, as I wrote in this post, NH may be quirky but it has strongly tended to favor moderate Republicans, and that would make it especially good territory for both Bush and Kasich.

And indeed, moderate Christie did well there, too—that is, if you don’t look at “well” in the objective sense, and you just compare his standing in NH to his abysmal support numbers in other states. In NH he’s running at 7.4 right now, but he is doing so poorly elsewhere that rumors are that he may drop out of the race, and certainly suggestions that he should (and it can’t happen soon enough for me, I must say). As I wrote in this comment, during that fracas on Saturday night with Rubio, Christie was like a drowning man who reaches out to another person and tries to pull him under too. That appears to me, at least to a certain extent, pretty much what happened.

That brings us to Rubio (10.6 right now). You can see that Cruz, Bush, and Rubio all are clustered close together around third place, but Rubio is the last of the three. Rubio has not visited NH much, but in general he was polling somewhat better than his performance yesterday, and the evidence is not that his supporters left him so much as late-deciders (and there are a lot of those in NH) went to Kasich rather than Rubio (I heard this cited on TV as being evidenced by exit polls).

Then there’s Cruz, who campaigned very little in the state but did about as polls predicted at 11.7, which means he slightly edged out Bush for third. This is surprisingly good in a state like NH, which is more moderate than conservative and not particularly religious.

All in all, the pollsters should be proud—and especially proud because this was in notoriously-difficult-to-forecast NH. And Trump supporters are very happy, with Cruz supporters a little bit happy. Kasich is overjoyed, but unless he’s completely out of touch with reality, he shouldn’t be all that happy. Bush is probably satisfied, and Rubio apologized to his supporters and made a promise:

Christie is probably very angry about his NH results, especially since he spent a lot of his money and time there. Of course, Christie’s default emotion appears to be anger, but he can comfort himself with the idea that Democrats and Trump-supporters, as well as others who were already angry at Rubio, will love him forever.

As for the Democrats, Sanders’ victory there was also no surprise. I would hate to have been around Hillary last night, but I still don’t think she’s all that down and out in the long run. But NH had to have been a bitter bitter pill compared to what she expected when she was contemplating the prospects of a 2016 run, which must have seemed as though it would be a coronation. Now the race moves to the South, where the demographics would appear to favor her.

February 10th, 2016

Ted Cruz and tone

There’s been quite a bit of talk about a recent appearance of Ted Cruz’s at a New Hampshire church, where he tells the sad story of his half-sister and her addictions. A lot of people who’ve seen the video have said it shows a different side of Cruz, one that’s more human and warm, a side voters need to see.

On watching it, I agree. But obviously he can’t be working in sob stories every time he speaks; that would be both absurd and exploitative of the suffering involved. But as I listened to him, it occurred to me that his relative warmth here is not just conveyed by the subject matter. It’s signaled by a marked shift in his tone and manner from his usual declamatory style with many studied pauses for emphasis, a style he probably learned as a master debater when he was a student.

I wonder if there’s a way Cruz can drop at least some of that and just talk, as he does here, when he’s speaking of things that are less emotional, like policy? After all, all he’s doing here is adopting a more conversational tone, he’s not weeping and wailing and carrying on:

February 9th, 2016

Fool or knave: on the interview in which Obama called ISIS the “jayvee”

[NOTE: Even though this is somewhat of an old topic, I’m taking it up because of the revival of the “Obama, fool or knave?” argument the other day.]

We all know that Obama called ISIS the “jayvee” back when it had already taken over quite a bit of territory and was slaughtering great numbers of innocent people. It was so transparent an error even back then that it’s become nearly legendary in its ignorant, arrogant, wrongheaded condescension.

The time was January, 2014. The interviewer was a friendly admirer, David Remnick of The New Yorker. The article describes Obama as doing a number of things that—had they been, for example, done by President George W. Bush—would have been spun and criticized for weeks. For example, Obama says he never watches any Sunday news shows, although on the day of the interview those shows were showing reactions to Iran’s agreement to freeze its nuclear program for six months. Instead, Obama played basketball. After that, he embarked on a three-day fundraising trip to hobnob with rich donors. The Remnick interview is a long one, and it took place on Air Force One at the outset of that trip.

When Remnick goes to the front of the plane to talk to Obama, the president is watching a football game on TV, and Remnick adds, without any emphasis:

As we talked, mainly about the Middle East, his eyes wandered to the game.

I repeat: imagine if George W. Bush has done all of this. Imagine.

The Remnick interview started with some small talk about the game, while Obama chewed some Nicorette. At this point in the article, Remnick digresses to mention the following:

hen Obama leaves the White House, on January 20, 2017, he will write a memoir. “Now, that’s a slam dunk,” the former Obama adviser David Axelrod told me. Andrew Wylie, a leading literary agent, said he thought that publishers would pay between seventeen and twenty million dollars for the book—the most ever for a work of nonfiction—and around twelve million for Michelle Obama’s memoirs. (The First Lady has already started work on hers.) Obama’s best friend, Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman, told me that, important as the memoir might be to Obama’s legacy and to his finances, “I don’t see him locked up in a room writing all the time. His capacity to crank stuff out is amazing. When he was writing his second book, he would say, ‘I’m gonna get up at seven and write this chapter—and at nine we’ll play golf.’ I would think no, it’s going to be a lot later, but he would knock on my door at nine and say, ‘Let’s go.’

“The most money ever for a work of nonfiction”—no wonder Obama thinks he’s the most amazing, competent, and smartest guy on the planet. And whether he writes his own books or not (and think how Marty Nesbitt’s story might reflect on that question), I have to say that the excerpts I’ve read from The Audacity of Hope certainly read as though someone (perhaps Obama himself) wrote the chapters in less than 2 hours.

Note again the emphasis on quick work and then off to play golf. And that was when Obama was a senator.

As I said, the Remnick article is long. Along the way there are a lot of the obligatory digs at Republicans and respect for Obama, but one passage that struck me as ironic (and which I doubt that subsequent events have ever caused Remnick to revisit) is this one:

Toward the end of Obama’s speech, Ju Hong, a Berkeley graduate, broke in, demanding that the President use his executive powers to stop deportations.

Obama wheeled around. “If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so, but we’re also a nation of laws,” he said, making his case to a wash of applause.

Later Obama is about to address another crowd, and this exchange occurs:

Obama turned to his aides and said, “How many we got out there?”

“Five hundred. Five-fifty.”

“Five-fifty?” Obama said, walking toward the wings of the stage. “What are we talking about? Politics? Can’t we talk about something else? Sports?”

Is it a joke? Hard to say; Remnick doesn’t indicate, but I’ll assume so, because Obama goes on to make an impromptu speech of some length that once again defends the rule of law and separation of powers, with passages like this:

A man in the balcony repeatedly shouted out, “Executive order!,” demanding that the President bypass Congress with more unilateral actions. Obama listened with odd indulgence. Finally, he said, “I’m going to actually pause on this issue, because a lot of people have been saying this lately on every problem, which is just, ‘Sign an executive order and we can pretty much do anything and basically nullify Congress.’ ”

Many in the crowd applauded their approval. Yes! Nullify it! Although Obama has infuriated the right with relatively modest executive orders on gun control and some stronger ones on climate change, he has issued the fewest of any modern President, except George H. W. Bush.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Obama said. “Before everybody starts clapping, that’s not how it works. We’ve got this Constitution, we’ve got this whole thing about separation of powers. So there is no shortcut to politics, and there’s no shortcut to democracy.” The applause was hardly ecstatic. Everyone knew what he meant. The promises in the second inaugural could be a long time coming.

That’s a fascinating passage to me for two reasons. The first is that Remnick chooses to pretend (and a pretense it is) that the number of executive orders has some meaning, when of course it’s their content and seriousness that matters. The second is that Obama uses the rhetorical device of whipping the crowd up to demand he abuse his powers and then saying he can’t (at least, not yet, because we all know he later did, and I have little doubt it was already something he planned to do when the “politics” allowed it).

Remnick then goes off on a long riff in which he criticizes people who say Obama is cool and removed and then Remnick goes on to describe Obama in such a way that the reader can only conclude that he is very cool and very removed.

Later in the piece when the discussion of the situation in Syria begins, Obama sets up one of his favorite defenses, which is that any alternatives to what he did that were proposed by his critics were “magical thinking.” In other words, his way was the best possible way, even though it didn’t turn out quite as planned or desired. And then he adds this:

…[O]ur best chance of seeing a decent outcome at this point is to work [in Syria] the state actors who have invested so much in keeping Assad in power—mainly the Iranians and the Russians—as well as working with those who have been financing the opposition to make sure that they’re not creating the kind of extremist force that we saw emerge out of Afghanistan when we were financing the mujahideen.”

Well, he’s right; in Syria we didn’t create “the kind of extremist force that we saw emerge out of Afghanistan when we were financing the mujahideen.” We created one that’s far worse.

At this point in the interview, even the admiring Remnick challenges Obama with the obvious:

I pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.

And here it comes. You’ll notice in the following that the “jayvee” part alone is nothing compared to the profound misjudgment of the whole [emphasis mine]:

The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.

“Let’s just keep in mind, Falluja is a profoundly conservative Sunni city in a country that, independent of anything we do, is deeply divided along sectarian lines. And how we think about terrorism has to be defined and specific enough that it doesn’t lead us to think that any horrible actions that take place around the world that are motivated in part by an extremist Islamic ideology are a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”

You have a schism between Sunni and Shia throughout the region that is profound. Some of it is directed or abetted by states who are in contests for power there. You have failed states that are just dysfunctional, and various warlords and thugs and criminals are trying to gain leverage or a foothold so that they can control resources, populations, territory. . . . And failed states, conflict, refugees, displacement—all that stuff has an impact on our long-term security. But how we approach those problems and the resources that we direct toward those problems is not going to be exactly the same as how we think about a transnational network of operatives who want to blow up the World Trade Center.”

Obama’s analysis of and predictions about the entire situation are about as wrong as they can be. He misreads not just the size and the strength of ISIS (which would be a bad enough error on his part) but he misreads ISIS’ intent towards the west, which is the more fatal error.

So, what did we actually know about ISIS at the time Obama made these remarks? The interview seems to have occurred in late November of 2013; here’s a paper written the September before that, and these are some excerpts of what we already knew:

…[On]ne can see a number of images from Syria circulated among pro-ISIS circles that openly affirm the goal of establishing a Caliphate, which should eventually encompass the entire world.

The paper shows an image from ISIS propaganda that shows a map of the entire world under the ISIS flag. On page 6, the article features a video it says was an official ISIS video series entitled “Those who believe, emigrate and wage jihad.” In it, the desire to take over the world is explicitly stated, and waging jihad in order to do that is that goal. This is noted to have been virtually identical with the message of al Qaeda before it.

The article differentiates between the behavior of ISIS in Syria, where it already had a great deal of power, and in Iraq, where it was still consolidating its power. In the former it was secure enough to be open about its worldwide ambitions; in the latter it was keeping them hidden and concentrating on a more local message for now.

Here’s an article written a few weeks before the Remnick interview. It makes it clear that ISIS is composed mainly of al Qaeda members and, far from being a jayvee, it has established its power in record time.

THis article written a few weeks before the interview, describes the route jihadis take to enter Syria for what they belive will be an end-of-the-world battle. One of them makes clear that:

Our fight is with the West now too, as their silence means they are complicit,” he says, listing the “international community” alongside Iran, Russia and the Assad regime as an enemy…ISIS is linked to al Qaeda; it seeks an Islamic caliphate, it blames the West for what is happening, and it is sitting on NATO’s border.

Shouldn’t have been hard to connect those dots. And it wasn’t; many, many people did. Here’s an article from October 2013, about a month before the interview:

A U.S. counterterrorism official said Syria poses a “two-pronged terrorist threat” to Western nations.

“There is continuing concern that some of the foreigners fighting in Syria with the Nusra Front and other extremist factions could leave the battlefield and mount attacks in their home countries,” the official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss security issues. “At the same time, we are watching for signs that the al Qaeda-affiliated groups present in Syria could shift some of their focus from toppling [President Bashar Assad] to launching external operations against the West.”

Significant parts of the country are controlled by jihadi groups, and the U.S. doesn’t have any strategy,” said Barak Mendelsohn, a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “It’s weird to me that the U.S. went to take out the safe haven in Afghanistan, went to Iraq for the fear of a safe haven, and now you have a safe haven in Syria.”

According to some estimates, more than 1,000 opposition groups such as the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are fighting alongside — and sometimes with — Syrian rebels in a conflict in which more than 100,000 have been killed since March 2011. Groups affiliated with al Qaeda have provided the most effective fighters because of their superior organization, equipment and funding.

Mr. Rogers said more than 10,000 “committed” al Qaeda members are operating along Syria’s eastern border with Iraq — more than the number of jihadists in Iraq during the U.S.-led occupation or in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of the 1980s. Jihadists in Syria are “talking about conducting external operations, which is exactly what happened in Afghanistan, which led to 9/11,” Mr. Rogers said.

Oh, what’s the use? Even if Obama never read or heard a word of this, common sense should have suggested that it was the case. Since when are extremist Middle Eastern jihadi groups composed of al Qaeda members going to limit their ambitions to the locals?

By the way, this post does not answer the question of whether Obama is fool or knave, because for many years I have thought it to be a false choice in Obama’s case. He sometimes sounds like a fool (although never to his many supporters) or acts foolishly. But there is way too much pattern to his seeming foolishness, which is not the least bit random. So my verdict is: knave sometimes dressing in fool’s clothing.

February 9th, 2016

Five myths about the New Hampshire primary

Here are the five.

About that first one—the article neglects to mention that the main reason there are so many independent (“undeclared”) voters in New Hampshire is that not registering with a party means a person can vote in either party’s primary. That’s a pretty strong motivation to remain independent. I suppose there also might be the satisfaction of saying you’re not a party member when in fact you pretty much always vote one party or other, and only cross lines in order to wreak havoc with the other party’s results.

As I wrote earlier, this year since both parties’ races are contested I don’t think there will be quite as much of those particular crossover shenanigans as can happen when one party has an incumbent.

Here’s another post I wrote just a few days ago about forecasting the New Hampshire results. You won’t catch me doing it, nosiree.

But I will go on record as saying I think turnout will be large.

One more thing, about polls—I keep clicking on headlines that shout that this or that candidate has dropped or risen in the polls, and when I read the article I discover it’s talking about something on the order of a point or two shift in a poll that has at least a plus minus five point margin of error, with something like 40% undecided. A huge change might sort of mean something, but a point or two? Give me a break. Anything for a story.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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