Weekly Musing 3-22-15
Run Ted Run!! Ted Cruz Plans ‘Important Speech’ in Virginia
Sen. Ted Cruz‘s political operation appears to be strongly encouraging attendance by the media at an event in Lynchburg, Va., Monday for what’s being billed as “an important speech.”
Aides to the Texas Republican, who has been contemplating a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, were tight-lipped Friday about the details of the visit to the campus of Liberty University, but the timing of the speech would be right for getting somewhat ahead of the curve on announcing a White House run, at least among senators.
Cruz has spoken previously at the private, Christian university in Virginia, delivering the convocation address in April 2014.
Cruz focused his remarks that day on a topic of significant interest to his audience, actions by the government that conservatives view as attacks on their religious liberty.
“For a nation that was founded by pilgrims fleeing religious oppression, how, through the looking glass, have we gone that the federal government is now litigating against our citizens trying to force us to violate our faith?” Cruz asked at the time.
Multiple reports have indicated that another could-be presidential contender from the Senate is blocking off April 7, as a time to make news. That’s when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is expected to make an announcement in Louisville.
Ted Cruz is the most underrated candidate in the 2016 field
A prominent Republican consultant — who isn’t working for any of the 2016 presidential candidates and who has been right more times than I can count — said something that shocked me when we had lunch recently. He said that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had roughly the same odds of becoming the Republican presidential nominee as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Jaw-dropper, right? After all, the conventional wisdom is that Bush, the son and brother of presidents, is the frontrunner to be the Republican standard-bearer, while Cruz, a conservative’s conservative, is a factor, sure, but not someone who could actually win the nomination.
How, I asked this guy, could he say such a thing? He explained it this way.
Think of the Republican primary field as a series of lanes. In this race, there are four of them: Establishment, Tea Party, Social Conservative and Libertarian. The four lanes are not of equal size: Establishment is the biggest followed by Tea Party, Social Conservative and then Libertarian. (I could be convinced that Libertarian is slightly larger than Social Conservative, but it’s close.)
Obviously the fight for the top spot in the Establishment lane is very crowded, with Bush and possibly Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leading at the moment. Ditto the Social Conservative lane with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum all pushing hard there. The Libertarian lane is all Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s but, as I noted above, it’s still not that big.
Which leaves the Tea Party lane, which is both relatively large and entirely Cruz’s. While Paul looked as though he might try to fight Cruz for supremacy in that lane at one time, it’s clear from his recent moves that the Kentucky senator is trying to become a player in a bunch of lanes, including Social Conservative and Establishment.
So, Cruz is, without question, the dominant figure in the Tea Party lane. What that means — particularly in the early stages of the primary process in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — is that he will likely be able to win, place or show repeatedly, wracking up enough strong-ish performances to keep going even as the Establishment lane and the Social Conservative lane begin to thin out. (Cruz’s ability to raise money, which remains a question, is less important for him than it is for other candidates — especially those in the Establishment lane. His people are going to be for him no matter how much — or little — communicating he does with them.)
The trick for Cruz, according to this consultant, is to hang around long enough to not only be the preeminent figure in the Tea Party lane but also in the Social Conservative lane. (Cruz is decidedly conservative on social issues and talks regularly about his faith on the campaign trail.) The complicating figure in that consolidation effort is Huckabee, who is a) likely to run, b) an ordained Southern Baptist minister, and c) likely to be able to stay in the race for an extended period of time because of the number of Southern primaries in the early stages of the primary process.
Why Primaries Aren’t All Bad
Primaries can be expensive and divisive, but treating them like the plague — as party spokesmen are prone to do early every cycle — distorts electoral reality.
GOP strategists looking to hold the party’s newly attained majority are reveling in the potentially crowded field of Democrats for the open seat in Maryland. Setting aside the state’s strong Democratic lean, Republicans need not look back far to know that a crowded and competitive open-seat race is a poor predictor of future failure.
.. The natural argument against primaries is that clearing a field is a way to guarantee a primary outcome (and thus a certain nominee). But what ultimately matters is who wins that primary and how unified the party is after the internal fight. In some instances, a competitive primary can sharpen a candidate for the general, including on the country’s biggest stage.
… Primaries can of course be a detriment to a party’s general election chances. But it’s important to remember that competitive, divisive and expensive primaries can also ultimately lead to victory.
2016 PRESIDENT UPDATE: CLINTON ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE…YET On the Republican side, Christie’s moving in the wrong direction
Hillary Clinton went before cameras and reporters at the United Nations last week to address the ongoing controversy over her use of a private email system during her time as secretary of state. She was terse, combative, and essentially told the American people to “trust her” when she says that she didn’t do anything wrong and isn’t hiding anything. Clinton’s visceral dislike of the media was obvious and can be summed up by three words (“Go to Hell”), which was how Politico‘s John Harris put it after Clinton’s presser.
But Clinton’s position as the undisputed frontrunner in the Democratic field has hardly wavered. In fact, Democrats are perhaps more worried about Clinton’s ability to address controversies like the email affair and the foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation than the “scandals” themselves. Many Democratic donors and insiders around the country are urging her to quit delaying and officially announce her candidacy. Having a campaign apparatus, they say, would help her more effectively respond to the probing media and other attacks on her candidacy. Given the paucity of strong foes, the media appear to be a bigger opponent than anyone in the Democratic field.
The email episode, the questions about foreign money, and other challenges to Clinton may eventually prove damaging or even fatal to her candidacy — but certainly not yet. Not even close. The media and Clinton’s conservative critics, the two entities most riled up by the recent revelations, don’t vote in the Democratic primaries, and unless these controversies become real scandals with smoking guns, they won’t topple Clinton as the Democratic frontrunner.
What ISIS Really Wants – PLEASE read – very insightful
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
Israel Chose Bibi Over Barack
The experts who said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vulnerable before yesterday’s national election insisted that the vote was a referendum on him. His overwhelming victory shows that it was equally a referendum on U.S. President Barack Obama.
Netanyahu gave voters a choice between whom to trust more with their nation’s security. The result was clear.
To understand how the political dynamics played out, consider Netanyahu’s comments on the eve of the vote. Asked in an interview with the right-leaning website NRG if there was any chance for a Palestinian state under another Netanyahu government, he declared there was none.
Lots of journalists and analysts saw it as a reversal of the prime minister’s speech in 2009 at Bar Ilan University, in which he laid out his vision for a demilitarized Palestinian nation. But the context here is important. Netanyahu prefaced his answer by stating something very obvious: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.”
This was not fear-mongering. It was something Israelis have been grappling with for a decade. Following then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to unilaterally uproot Jewish settlements and remove troops from Gaza in 2005, Hamas took over the territory. It didn’t happen all at once. But after Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 and the Fatah faction of the Palestinian Authority refused to seat its ministers, Hamas fighters expelled the Fatah loyalists from Gaza’s security agencies and took control of the territory.
More Obama Hypocrisy – So Much for Transparency – US sets new record for denying, censoring government files
For the second consecutive year, the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.
It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.
Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000.
The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever. Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up.
The government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease over the previous year. The government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.
On 215,584 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
Can Putin Survive?
There is a general view that Vladimir Putin governs the Russian Federation as a dictator, that he has defeated and intimidated his opponents and that he has marshaled a powerful threat to surrounding countries. This is a reasonable view, but perhaps it should be re-evaluated in the context of recent events.
Ukraine and the Bid to Reverse Russia’s Decline
Ukraine is, of course, the place to start. The country is vital to Russia as a buffer against the West and as a route for delivering energy to Europe, which is the foundation of the Russian economy. On Jan. 1, Ukraine’s president was Viktor Yanukovich, generally regarded as favorably inclined to Russia. Given the complexity of Ukrainian society and politics, it would be unreasonable to say Ukraine under him was merely a Russian puppet. But it is fair to say that under Yanukovich and his supporters, fundamental Russian interests in Ukraine were secure.
This was extremely important to Putin. Part of the reason Putin had replaced Boris Yeltsin in 2000 was Yeltsin’s performance during the Kosovo war. Russia was allied with the Serbs and had not wanted NATO to launch a war against Serbia. Russian wishes were disregarded. The Russian views simply didn’t matter to the West. Still, when the air war failed to force Belgrade’s capitulation, the Russians negotiated a settlement that allowed U.S. and other NATO troops to enter and administer Kosovo. As part of that settlement, Russian troops were promised a significant part in peacekeeping in Kosovo. But the Russians were never allowed to take up that role, and Yeltsin proved unable to respond to the insult.
… Putin is far from finished. But he has governed for 14 years counting the time Dmitri Medvedev was officially in charge, and that is a long time. He may well regain his footing, but as things stand at the moment, I would expect quiet thoughts to be stirring in his colleagues’ minds. Putin himself must be re-examining his options daily.
Retreating in the face of the West and accepting the status quo in Ukraine would be difficult, given that the Kosovo issue that helped propel him to power and given what he has said about Ukraine over the years. But the current situation cannot sustain itself. The wild card in this situation is that if Putin finds himself in serious political trouble, he might become more rather than less aggressive. Whether Putin is in real trouble is not something I can be certain of, but too many things have gone wrong for him lately for me not to consider the possibility. And as in any political crisis, more and more extreme options are contemplated if the situation deteriorates.
Those who think that Putin is both the most repressive and aggressive Russian leader imaginable should bear in mind that this is far from the case. Lenin, for example, was fearsome. But Stalin was much worse. There may similarly come a time when the world looks at the Putin era as a time of liberality. For if the struggle by Putin to survive, and by his challengers to displace him, becomes more intense, the willingness of all to become more brutal might well increase.
The myth of ‘settled science’ – When the left shuts down debate, it’s time for skepticism
National Geographic’s latest cover story has generated lots of attention because it sneers at those close-minded Americans — mostly conservatives, of course — who do not accept scientific “facts.” Only 40 percent of Americans (according to Pew Research Center) “accept that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming,” and the magazine finds it “dispiriting” that so many “reasonable people doubt science.”
National Geographic compares global warming doubters to those disbelieve NASA’s moon landing and those who think water fluoridation is an evil plot. How could so many dismiss “established science?”
Well, here’s one reason: The public has come to distrust government warnings and the scientific experts; they are often wrong.
Ironically, National Geographic’s sermon on settled science could have hardly come at a more inopportune time. In recent months, leading scientists have reversed themselves and have admitted their expert findings and advice were wrong on eating fat. After decades of telling us not to do so, we now learn that fat can be good for your diet and for weight loss. What we all thought to be true based on the expert testimonies, turned out to be precisely the opposite of the truth. Oops.
How do Americans stand out from the rest of the world?
The differences between America and other nations have long been a subject of fascination and study for social scientists, dating back to Alexis de Tocqueville, the early 19th century French political thinker who described the United States as “exceptional.”
Nearly 200 years later, Americans’ emphasis on individualism and work ethic stands out in surveys of people around the world. When Pew Research Center surveyed people in 44 countries last spring, 57% of Americans disagreed with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,” a higher percentage than most other nations and far above the global median of 38%.
True to the stereotype, surveys showed that Americans are more likely to believe that hard work pays off. When asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, about how important working hard is to getting ahead in life, 73% of Americans said it is was a “10” or “very important,” compared with a global median of 50% among the 44 nations.
Americans also stand out for their religiosity and optimism, especially when compared with other relatively wealthy countries.
10 Things America Wants in Its President in 2016
Another week in politics, and another view into the dysfunction and lack of real leadership that has become all too common in our country today. Makes a boy who grew up in the Midwest (granted it was Detroit) saying the pledge of allegiance each day at school wonder what has happened to the leaders we so desperately search for.
As I watched the unfolding of the Hillary Clinton email controversy where I felt like I was in a time machine back to the 1990s (no bridge to the 21st century, but rather a bunker to the 20th century), and GOP senators sending a wacky and unprecedented letter to Iran undermining the president’s negotiating position, it got me thinking of the list of attributes or qualities we are looking for in our leaders and in our next president. And right now I have seen no candidate or potential candidate out there who has captured even half of them.
Here are my 10:
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