Monday, November 28, 2016

Can We Have A Constitutional Society?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Preamble to the United States Constitution 

These words are perhaps the most famous words in all of political history--certainly in all of American history--and deservedly so. With this single sentence, America's Founding Fathers renewed their belief in a simple premise: political power flows from people into their government. With this single sentence, America's Founding Fathers reminded the world of Thomas Jefferson's stirring pronouncement from the Declaration of Independence, that "...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...."

Much has been written, and much will continue to be written, about how best to apply these words, and the words of the Constitution that follow, to the government of the United States. That is a worthy debate and one that should never cease.

Yet it is not the only debate we can have, and I submit it is not the only debate we should have. People, be they in America or in any other country, regardless of ethnicity, never merely form governments. "We the People" form also societies. "We the People" also form communities. Justice, tranquility, safety, and prosperity are not merely the attributes of good government, but even more so they are the attributes of good society, and of healthy and vibrant communities. The rights of people are not merely a matter of government, but are an essential element of every human interaction. What else are simple manners and courtesies if not defenses of the most basic of liberties, simple respect?

As rights and responsibilities transcend government and are part of the essential fabric of ordinary living, might we then view a document such as the Constitution as not merely a blueprint for just and ethical government, but also a blueprint for a just an ethical society? Might the defenses of liberty enshrined in the Constitution guide not only government action but also personal action? Might the distribution of government powers mandated by the Constitution also serve as a guide for how our private business and social structures might be wisely and justly organized? 

I believe this to be true.

As the Preamble to the Constitution makes clear, people are eternally striving to improve the world in which we live. We constantly desire a more just government, we constantly seek a more humane and equitable society. However we articulate it, if there is one desire shared by all people it is the desire for things to be somehow "better". We see this in protest movements, we see this in political rallies, we see this in the fulminations and rampant rantings in social media and elsewhere. The constant quest for improvement is the ultimate order of all human society.

Thus, the Constitution is not merely the supreme law of the United States. It is not merely a blueprint for government. It is a blueprint for a potential social order. The Preamble to the Constitution speaks not of a more perfect government, but of a more perfect Union--it acknowledges our constant quest for justice in all parts of life, not merely the political. Why not look to it for guidance in realms beyond the political?

The Constitution places restrictions upon the powers of government, and reserves through the Ninth and Tenth Amendments all other rights and powers either to the American people or to the several states. Is this so different from the "empowerment" of which management gurus and life coaches everywhere speak so blithely? Is this not an expression of a larger principle, that authority should be given sparingly, used sparingly, and kept within carefully defined boundaries, leaving people the freedom without to explore the world as best they see fit? 

The First Amendment bars the Congress from inhibiting the right of people to speak freely, worship freely, assemble peaceably.  Is it not common courtesy and etiquette to listen to one another and to refrain from inhibiting others' capacity to speak, worship, and gather with friends?

The Fourth Amendment bars against unwarranted searches. Is it not basic human respect to refrain from intruding upon another's privacy without serious cause?

The Eighth Amendment bars cruel and unusual punishments. Is it not essential to good parenting, or sound business management, to be measured and proportionate when responding to bad behavior? 

As regards the government, the Constitution has the force of law. Every act of Congress, every act of the President, must conform to the strictures of the Constitution. Among private citizens, there is no absolute requirement to respecting free speech, free assembly, or privacy. The Constitution does not bind us in our personal interactions with each other. That does not mean that precepts of behavior laid out in the Constitution are meaningless. It merely means they are "a good idea" as opposed to being mandatory.

These precepts are, in fact, very much a good idea. They deserve to be celebrated, they deserve to be upheld and uplifted. They deserve to be discussed, not merely now and again, but now and often. How we come together in our communities, how we come together as a people, is a discussion in which we all should participate, and should all have a voice. If two centuries of this grand experiment proves anything it is that the Constitution is not the end of that discussion, but rather the beginning.

I pray that discussion, once started, will never end.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Can we please read the Constitution accurately?

The core of the right to free speech is that each of us deserves to be heard. Basic human respect requires we take the time to listen and reflect upon our several opinions.

However, basic self-respect requires that when, upon reflection, we realize that what someone has said is complete and utter nonsense, we state--plainly, bluntly, unequivocally--that it is complete and utter nonsense.

Consider this bit of balderdash from Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School professor and lawyer of some renown:
Conventional wisdom tells us that the electoral college requires that the person who lost the popular vote this year must nonetheless become our president. That view is an insult to our framers. It is compelled by nothing in our Constitution. It should be rejected by anyone with any understanding of our democratic traditions  — most important, the electors themselves.
What makes this seemingly reasonably phrased paragraph balderdash? Upon inspection, quite a few things.

The most glaring error is a rather unforgivable error of fact--namely, that a popular vote for the nation's Chief Executive is somehow within the Constitutional order of things. It is not. The text of the Constitution flatly contradicts this idea, 

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
This particular clause of the Constitution has never been amended. The Clause 3 of Article II, Section 1, was rewritten by the Twelfth Amendment, and Clause 6 by Amendments Twenty and Twenty-Five, but that is the extent to which Article II--which governs the office of the President--has been modified from the original text.

This particular clause is clear and unmistakable in its language: The states, acting principally through the agency of their respective legislatures, select Electors, who in turn cast their votes for President and Vice-President of the United States. Nothing in the Constitution requires that any state hold a popular vote as part of the selection process--and the historical fact is that in the Presidential elections of 1788-1789 and 1792, only six states held a popular vote of any kind. The remaining states appointed their electors via the legislature.

While the popular vote method of choosing electors has become ubiquitous throughout the Republic, it very much remains at the discretion of state legislatures--and in theory a state could abandon the popular vote mechanism at any time through a simple act of the legislature. Professor Lessig is factually in error when he speaks of a monolithic "popular vote" and factually in error again when he suggests that the Constitution is silent on the matter. The Constitution is explicit on how a President is elected: States elect the President.

Professor Lessig is also therefore guilty of an egregious error of logic when he states that an Electoral College outcome that is at odds with a nationwide amalgamation of state popular votes is somehow an insult to the framers of the Constitution. The framers of the Constitution did not assign the election of the President to "the people", but to the states, and further very explicitly called upon state legislatures to decide the particulars of each state's process for appointing Electors. The nationwide vote total is legally, politically, and historically irrelevant. Surely Professor Lessig knows this--for surely anyone who reads the Constitution can see this (one hopes that the Constitution is still taught in Harvard Law School).

Professor Lessig is also guilty of erroneous historical statement when he speaks of the operation of the Electoral College being at odds with our historical traditions. The earliest historical tradition of American governance is that the Constitution defers to state legislatures in the selection of Presidents and Senators (South Carolina did not hold popular votes until after the Civil War).

Debunking Lessig's thesis takes but a few moments of perusing the text of the Constitution--and the Constitution fully and flatly rejects Professor Lessig's thesis in its entirety. Simply put, he is wrong.

Professor Lessig is entitled to his opinion. He deserves a chance to be heard. The First Amendment and basic decency demand of us no less than this. But honesty, intellectual integrity, and that same basic decency demand of him--and of all of us--that we at least ensure our statements of fact are accurate, that our logic is sound, that our reasoning sober and grounded. Professor Lessig has failed in all these respects, and while he retains his right of free speech, he retains also the right to be ridiculed for being foolish. That is precisely what his thesis is: foolish. There is no Constitutional foundation for any of it, nor for the trope of a national popular vote in the election of the American President.

As important as discussion and debate over the merits and demerits of our electoral system are, the one absolute imperative upon everyone--and in particular lawyers and professors of law such as Lawrence Lessig--is that we read the text of the Constitution accurately.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton jumped the political shark with Reno rant against Donald Trump

This past Thursday, on August 25, Hillary Clinton launched a full rhetorical broadside against Donald Trump. She called him out as a racist, and for having built his campaign on "prejudice and paranoia."

However, Hillary Clinton also exposed several vulnerabilities in her own campaign:

1. Unlike Donald Trump, she does not have a transcript of her speech (or, indeed of any speech) posted on her campaign website. Donald Trump not only posts transcripts of all his prepared speeches (NOT his rally presentations, which are mainly extemporaneous performances), but he documents those transcripts with liberal footnoting and citation of sources.

Donald Trump cites facts and evidence, while Hillary Clinton does not, yet Donald Trump is the candidate trafficking in "paranoia"?

2. Hillary Clinton abandoned substantive policy statements to attack Trump for his "divisive rhetoric." That "divisive rhetoric" is Trump speaking out directly, forcefully, and even bluntly about problems not only within black communities, but across America. His "divisive rhetoric" IS substantive and IS about public policy--one can argue his assessment, criticize his conclusions, and pan his proposals, but one cannot realistically dismiss the fact that assessment, conclusion, and proposal is the stuff of which serious public policy discussions are made. Rather than attack Trump on policy, she abandoned all discussion of policy to attack Trump personally. Worse, she explicitly admitted as such in her opening sentences. For a supposed policy wonk to concede the policy battlefield to Trump seems a bizarre and unwise strategem.

3. She resurrected her claims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" from the 90's -- now recast as the "alt-right" conspiracy. The claim was absurd then and it is absurd now, and for the same reason: conspiracies by their nature require a rather limited group of conspirators, and to link together all Trump surrogates, conservative media outlets, and alt-right social media personalities in a single organized cabal simply flies in the face of all observed behavior by the people involved. Even worse, she bizarrely claimed this conspiracy was masterminded and controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin--without a trace of irony she branded him as the "godfather" of an oxymoronic "global brand of extreme nationalism" (nationalist movements by their very nature are the antithesis of "global" anything).

4. As verbal barrages go, her attacks are largely weak and ineffective. Donald Trump has endured a steady stream of negative ads and campaign tactics since the middle of the GOP primaries and he's STILL running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton. The negative tactics and negative ads, and now Hillary's negative speech, simply are not moving the needle on Trump much, if at all. The negative campaigning to date has had the perverse effect of inoculating Trump against further attack, such that continued or even increased negative rhetoric against Donald Trump has little potential to pull Trump supporters into the Clinton camp.

On the other hand, there are reports from some Democratic circles that the extreme nature of Clinton's attack on Trump may alienate portions of the Democratic base--in particular those segments who were all in for Bernie Sanders.

5. With 76 days still to go before election day, Hillary Clinton has, quite simply, jumped the shark. Negative attacks, and even personal insults and slanders against a political opponent are hardly novel ideas for political campaigns. Yet to set aside presumably substantive policy remarks for an extended personal attack against Donald Trump begs the question "What does Hillary Clinton do for an encore?" How can she top this speech?

If this speech were to exist in a political vacuum, within a week or two its impact would be next to nil. For this speech to have lasting impact on Trump, Hillary Clinton has to keep repeating it, or at least keep repeating the talking points contained therein. And to ensure continued public focus on those talking points, she will have to keep making the charges more extreme, more noxious, and all the while each of those charges and talking points is time NOT spent discussing her public policy proposals and ideas. Worse, by focusing everything on Donald Trump, she is making sure Donald Trump's public policy proposals and ideas receive even more attention than they are now, while at the same time ensuring her own ideas are virtually ignored.

As Ted Cruz found out the hard way in the primaries, exchanging policy points for personal attacks quickly becomes a swamp of negativity that will drown a campaign. Hillary Clinton has not merely conceded a few policy points; she has abandoned policy altogether. After the Reno speech, her campaign strategy is now reduced to simply this: Donald Trump is evil.

It is very hard to envision a demonizing of The Donald as inspiring waves of Democratic voters to turn out and pull the lever for Hillary Clinton come Election Day.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Declaration of Independence. As relevant today as in 1776

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare America's independence from Great Britain. Throwing caution to the wind, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor to securing freedom for a fledgling United States of America.

Yet the Founding Fathers did something far more profound that merely tear thirteen colonies away from Great Britain. In putting their names to the Declaration of Independence, they ushered in one mankind's few successful political revolutions. In one single paragraph, Thomas Jefferson brought together all the reason, all the power, all the passion of the Enlightenment to reorder the foundations of governments everywhere:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Coming barely a century after England's chaotic and bloody Civil War, in an age when nearly all monarchs held virtually limitless power over their subjects, Jefferson's words were not merely radical. In a very real sense, the Declaration of Independence was and is the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence declared not just the creation of a new nation, the United States of America, but declared for all time that, as President John F. Kennedy would later observe in his 1960 inaugural address, "...the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

The inalienable rights of man the Continental Congress declared in 1776 were under assault in 1776, they were under assault in 1960, and they are under assault today. In the wake of Great Britain's seismic "Brexit" vote, the European Union seeks to punish the British people for invoking their right to abolish a government deemed hostile to protecting man's inalienable rights--namely, their membership in that political union. In the Middle East, the Islamic State has proclaimed a new Caliphate, and seeks dominion over all Muslims worldwide, as well as the extermination of all non-Muslims. Totalitarian ideologies--fascism in all its myriad malevolent forms--have never ceased inspiring the power-hungry and the power-mad to seek dominion over various parts and peoples of the world.

The Declaration of Independence remains the proper response to all who would dominate and enslave their fellow men. The Declaration of Independence reminds us that when government anywhere is hostile to individual liberty, people everywhere are released from any allegiance to that government. The Declaration reiterates that the duty of free men is not just to resist tyranny, but to erase it, to drive tyrants wherever they may be into oblivion.

So long as tyranny exists in the world, the Declaration of Independence will remain relevant, not just to Americans, but to all people, in all places, at all times.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Donald Trump and the Five Paragraph Order

Donald Trump is often criticized in the media for being "evasive" and lacking suitable specifics for his policy proposals. As often happens with the media's chattering class, this criticism is both unfounded and unrealistic. Indeed, people outside of the media bubble recognize Donald Trump's policy statements as those of a dynamic, goal-oriented leader.

In every field of human endeavor, perhaps the principal challenge of all who desire to lead is effective communications. As former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca once observed, "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." Communication requires not elevated language, not flowery language, but effective language--words that are easily understood and digested by the audience at hand. Contrary to the opinions of many in the media, Donald Trump meets Iacocca's standard for good communication.

Case in point: during the primaries, Donald Trump was often faulted for his fourth grade vocabulary (as scored by the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests). Yet fellow GOP candidate Ben Carson--medical doctor and noted neurosurgeon--only used a sixth grade vocabulary. Dr. Carson was briefly the GOP front runner and remains regarded by the GOP electorate, while Trump has secured the GOP nomination with a record popular vote despite the very large GOP primary field at the outset. Donald Trump's vocabulary might not be the stuff of Harvard, or of Yale, or any of the policy wonks either in government or in the media, but it is difficult to dispute the efficacy of his words. By the only standard that matters in a democracy--the vote totals--Donald Trump's communications have been undeniably effective.

This should surprise no one. One of the most fundamental rules of effective communication is to "have efficient vocabulary and phraseology." Henry David Thoreau's famous dictum in Walden was "Simplify, simplify." Even Albert Einstein is reputed to have suggested that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler". Simple words and phrases are more characteristic of good communication than complex words and phrases.

Donald Trump's simple rhetoric is more than just good communication of his ideas. His rhetoric is also a demonstration of good leadership. Good leaders do not merely act themselves, they act through others. Every treatise and lecture on leadership highlights the importance of delegation as a principal leadership skill. Among military leaders--for whom good leadership is quite literally a matter of life and death--communication and delegation go hand in hand
Commanders use orders to express their will and translate their decisions into actions. MCRP 5-12A, Operational Terms and Graphics, defines an order as
"A communication, written, oral, or by signal which conveys instructions from a superior to a subordinate.  In a broad sense, the term order and command are synonymous.  However, an order implies discretion as to the details of execution whereas a command does not." 
Within the US Military, the fundamental structure of command communications is the Five Paragraph Order. As the United States Marine Corps teaches officer candidates:
The purpose of the 5 paragraph order is to issue an order in a clear and concise manner by a thorough orientation of the area of operations. A 5 paragraph order gives subordinates the essential information needed to carry out the operation. The order converts the leader’s plan into action, gives direction to the efforts of his unit, and provides specific instructions to subordinate elements.
In my day job as an Information Technology consultant and entrepreneur, I have long advocated the use of this communications format as the basis for effective project planning and execution. This structure works because it is simple, but also because it is both highly modular as well as goal oriented. Its modular approach leads to effective delegation by leaving the "how" of goal achievement up to those subordinates tasked with the goal, and also allows each successive level of leadership to break down larger goals into more precise objectives, each with its own more granular Five Paragraph Order issued to subordinates. A general does not tell his troops how to capture a hill, he merely tells his officers "capture that hill"; his officers in turn relay commands to various portions of troops, giving ever more specific tasks to each lower level of command, until that single command is expanded into a detailed, flexible, yet effective plan of attack to capture said hill (for the military-minded, I will apologize for the obvious oversimplication here, trusting the basic point is still made).

When I read Donald Trump's Immigration Policy, or the text of his recent economic policy speech, I am struck by a salient feature of both--and of all his policy positions and prepared speeches: In each, he states goals and objectives. He does not describe in painstaking and wonkish detail how each objective would be achieved. He lays out what he plans to accomplish, and he states why he believes this is the right plan. There is even a rough outline of a Five Paragraph Order in his presentation--there is Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Command and Control. His economic speech, for example, breaks down thus:

  • Situation
    We are thirty miles from Steel City. Pittsburgh played a central role in building our nation. The legacy of Pennsylvania steelworkers lives in the bridges, railways and skyscrapers that make up our great American landscape. 

    But our workers' loyalty was repaid with betrayal. 

    Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization - moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas.

  • Mission
    I want you to imagine how much better your life can be if we start believing in America again. 

    I want you to imagine how much better our future can be if we declare independence from the elites who've led us to one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.

  • Execution
    Here are 7 steps I would pursue right away to bring back our jobs.
    One: I am going to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not yet been ratified. 

    Two: I'm going to appoint the toughest and smartest trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers. 

    Three: I'm going to direct the Secretary of Commerce to identify every violation of trade agreements a foreign country is currently using to harm our workers. I will then direct all appropriate agencies to use every tool under American and international law to end these abuses. 

    Four: I'm going tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers. And I don't mean just a little bit better, I mean a lot better. If they do not agree to a renegotiation, then I will submit notice under Article 2205 of the NAFTA agreement that America intends to withdraw from the deal. 

    Five: I am going to instruct my Treasury Secretary to label China a currency manipulator. Any country that devalues their currency in order to take unfair advantage of the United States will be met with sharply, and that includes tariffs and taxes. 

    Six: I am going to instruct the U.S. Trade Representative to bring trade cases against China, both in this country and at the WTO. China's unfair subsidy behavior is prohibited by the terms of its entrance to the WTO, and I intend to enforce those rules. 

    Seven: If China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets, I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs consistent with Section 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

  • Administration and Logistics
    We will make America the best place in the world to start a business, hire workers, and open a factory. 

    This includes massive tax reform to lift the crushing burdens on American workers and businesses. 

    We will also get rid of wasteful rules and regulations which are destroying our job creation capacity. 

    Many people think that these regulations are an even greater impediment than the fact that we are one of the highest taxed nations in the world. 

    We are also going to fully capture America’s tremendous energy capacity. This will create jobs for our workers, growth for our economy, and begin reducing our budget deficit. Hillary Clinton wants to shut down energy production, and shut down our mines and miners. I want to do the exact opposite.

  • Command and Control
    A Trump Administration will also ensure that we start using American steel for American infrastructure. 
I am not saying Donald Trump gave America economic marching orders in his speech--he did not and he does not. I am saying that Donald Trump is employing leadership-style communications strategies, that he is speaking as a leader would and should: he sets forth goals, and he states what he wants to see done. 

Following on this, we can expect that people within a Trump administration will, upon being given these objectives, devise subsidiary plans to accomplish their delegated tasks, replicating the process to whatever level of detail is required.  Donald Trump's rhetoric is effective because it is the language of leadership, something working people everywhere intuit because they experience regularly, and see it as far more credible than the anodyne homilies and boilerplate policyspeak the professional political class has been offering up on both sides of the political spectrum.

We should therefore dispatch with the foolish and childish notions that Donald Trump is either a buffoon or a bloviating blowhard. He is neither. He is as he has been his entire adult life--a leader, a person in charge of himself and in charge of others. He has been a successful leader in business, and he believes he can be a successful leader of this nation's government.

I believe he should be given the chance.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Yes, CNN, it does matter if Obama uses the term "radical Islamic terrorism."

CNN's bias is showing again--or, rather, still.

Throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump has repeatedly called for  both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to call the motivations behind atrocities such as the Orlando and San Bernadino shootings by name: "Radical Islamic Terrorism." When assessing the importance of this label, CNN conveniently leaves off the "Radical" adjective while pontificating about the efficacy or inefficacy of the term.

To critique a term, one must first accurately reference the term. If the term is "Radical Islamic terrorism," then critiquing the use of "Islamic terrorism" is ultimately a straw man argument. CNN is, as is its wont where the Republican nominee is concerned, making a straw man argument.

I will say that I am at the present unpersuaded of any difference between "Radical Islam" and "Islam". I lean towards agreeing with Breitbart's Milo Yiannopolous on this point--that the problem, and the enemy, is in fact simply "Islam". 

Still, I appreciate Trump's nuancing with by making it "Radical Islam." It opens the door towards the posture of "Radical Islam" being different from "Islam", in the same way "crony capitalism" is different from "capitalism." It allows for common cause with moderate Muslim communities here in the USA to eradicate those who would use religion as a justification for murder.

If a Muslim living in the United States accepts that Sharia is not the law of the land, and will not be the law of the land, we need not make of him an enemy. We can make of him a friend.

If a Muslim living in the United States accepts that he or she lives in cosmopolitan society, with diverse belief systems and creeds, and is willing to live in peace with those creeds, we need not make of him an enemy. We can make of him a friend.

If a Muslim living in the United States is willing to assimilate into our culture, meeting our culture "halfway", we need not make of him an enemy. We can make of him a friend.

If a Muslim living in the United States demands Sharia, rejects our cosmopolitan society, and refuses to assimilate, then he has made of himself an enemy, and we can never make of him a friend. That is simply not one of the potential outcomes under those circumstances.

The United States is still the nation founded on the premise that all men are created equal, with inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that government is the tool men use to preserve those same rights. Any religion or creed that cannot celebrate this premise will never be compatible with American civic life, and so must be removed from our civic society.

It necessarily follows from the term and Trump's repeated use of it that Trump understands both the nuance and the need for the nuance. In this chaotic and painful aftermath of the carnage in Orlando, that nuance and only that nuance allows Trump (or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton), to label, identify, and call out the threat that faces us--"Radical Islam"--while leaving an opening for the more moderate Muslims to make common cause against what should be a common enemy.

"Radical Islamic Terrorism" is the nuance that allows Muslims either living in this country or wishing to legally emigrate to this country the chance to be Americans, certainly in spirit and ultimately in citizenship as well. "Islamic terrorism" compels all Muslims to decide: their fate or this nation, their personal liberty or the freedom our society hopefully still cherishes. "Radical Islamic Terrorism" is the nuance allows us to oppose ISIS directly on its own without alienating the Muslim states we need as allies to defeat ISIS once and for all.

So yes, CNN, is does matter if Obama uses the term "radical Islamic terrorism." The term tells us he's looking at the right problem, in the right time, and in the right frame of mind. The term tells us if Hillary Clinton can or cannot competently address the real problems facing our society, here and around the world. It matters so much, that it even matters if your staff will are able to use the term "radical Islamic terrorism."

Sadly, it appears that your staff, just like Barack Obama and just like Hillary Clinton, are not able to call the enemy by its name: 

Radical Islamic Terrorism.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ted Cruz Demands The Media Discuss His Mistresses

Ted Cruz gives yet another lesson on how to turn a non-story into a story.

The Daily Mail asked Cruz to put the National Enquirer sex scandal story to rest and state specifically that he'd 'always been faithful' to his wife Heidi. Instead of saying that simple statement, allowed surrogate Carly Fiorina to rail at the putative injustice of "dancing to Donald Trump's tune."

Can there be a more bizarre, cringeworthy, and thus newsworthy response to what should be a simple straightforward question?

No matter the journalistic ethics (or lack thereof) of the National Enquirer, Ted Cruz has been accused by that publication of multiple adulterous affairs and sexual liasons. Instead of rebutting the charges simply and directly, Ted Cruz has

  • Denounced the story as "garbage".
  • Said the story was an attack on his wife, Heidi.
  • Attacked Donald Trump and his "henchmen" (despite the media reporting the likely origin of the story was the Rubio camp).
At no time has he said whether or not he has been unfaithful to his wife.

As Rick Sanchez of Fox News notes, the National Enquirer story is not an attack on Heidi Cruz or their daughters, but on Ted Cruz himself. Calling the story an attack on his wife is a bit of disingenuous distraction. 

Moreover, it is not Donald Trump accusing Ted Cruz of multiple infidelities (one hopes Donald, whose marital track record is hardly perfect, would know better than to commit that particular hypocrisy), but the National Enquirer. Other than calling the story garbage, Ted Cruz has said very little about the tabloid directly, preferring to go after Trump in each response to the story's allegations. Calling such behavior bizarre is an understatement to say the very least. Were this unfolding in a courtroom, with Cruz testifying from the witness stand, one can almost hear the attorneys lambasting his diatribes as non-responsive and asking the judge to direct Cruz to answer the question.

In an equally bizarre episode, when one of Cruz' alleged mistresses, CNN contributor (and former Cruz staffer) Amanda Carpenter, was challenged directly on live television by pro-Trump Boston Herald columnist Adriana Cohen about the allegations, her response was to "lawyer up":
What’s out there is tabloid trash. If someone wants to comment on it, they can talk to my lawyer. It’s categorically false. You should be ashamed for spreading this kind of smut. Donald Trump supporters should be held to account for it.
What Ms. Carpenter, who is married, did not say, is that she had not had an affair with Ted Cruz. The lawyerly parsing of words certainly gives the appearance of the spirited denunciation sought by Ms. Cohen, but closer scrutiny shows considerable wiggle room with regards to the specifics.

As Rick Sanchez succinctly said at the beginning of his op-ed column on the l'affaire Cruz:
If the National Enquirer wrote a story about me cheating on my wife with five women, I had better be extremely definitive in my response; because if I’m not, my wife –smelling the guilt – would kick my ass.
Both Ted Cruz and Amanda Carpenter have spouses. Neither has been "extremely definitive" in their responses. Rather, both Cruz and Carpenter have, at every turn, sought to turn the story onto Trump. Thus a story that Cruz does not want discussed remains legitimate material for the media to discuss.

In 2008, the New York Times published an article alluding to an affair between Senator John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Both McCain and Iseman denied the allegations, and thereafter refused to discuss the matter. The story died out soon after, and the New York Times had its own ethics questioned for the way it sourced and presented the story. Cruz and Carpenter have done the exact opposite.

Bizarrely, and probably suicidally, Cruz demands the media discuss his mistresses. For whatever reason, he deems this a more meaningful and relevant story for the campaign trail than his stances on the various issues.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Inevitable Victory? Election returns say otherwise.


Edward Luce, of the Financial Times, has declared the 2016 Presidential election over except for the shouting, and declared Hillary Clinton the winner in a blowout victory--an amazing feat, given that the actual election itself is still six months away.

Luce' argument is that Donald Trump is the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee, that Hillary Clinton is assured of being the Democratic nominee, and that Donald Trump cannot help but lose horribly to Hillary Clinton in the general election. 

The first leg of his thesis is admittedly fairly sound. Donald Trump leads the Republican field, and is the only candidate with a plausible chance of securing a majority of delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. 

The second leg of his thesis is slightly less certain, given that Bernie Sanders swept the 25 March primary contests in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii by huge margins (his narrowest victory was in Hawaii, where he won over 69% of the popular vote), and has now bested Hillary Clinton in the last 5 of 6 state contests. Hillary remains in the lead in both overall popular vote and in overall delegates, but in terms of the number of states each candidate has won, the race is far more balanced. Thanks to the Democratic party's large number (712) of so-called "superdelegates"--delegates not bound to any candidate but free to vote however they choose--the nomination remains within the grasp of either candidate. 

The third leg of his thesis, however, suffers from some rather significant cognitive dissonance. While innumerable polls point to a myriad of problems Donald Trump presumably will encounter with various voter demographics, all polling is at best a projection of future behavior--respondents are telling pollsters how they will vote, not how they actually have voted. Actual vote totals in the Democratic and Republican primary contests thus far paint a far different picture of how the as-yet hypothetical Clinton-Trump matchup would go.

Here are the actual numbers. These are the total votes cast in both the Democratic and Republican primaries through 25 March 2016.


  • Hillary Clinton has received 8,924,920 votes out of 15,323,340 Democratic votes cast.
  • Donald Trump has received 7,811,245 votes out of 19,783,685 Republican votes cast. (Actually, the total Republican vote is underreported as Real Clear Politics, my source for these figures, is no longer reporting vote totals for candidates who have dropped out after the primaries began: Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush).
  • Ted Cruz has received 5,732,220 Republican votes.
  • Donald Trump has received more votes than Hillary Clinton in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.
These are raw numbers, without any filtering, editing, or normalizations applied. They do not take into account, for example, that up until the most recent primaries, Donald Trump has led the field in a four-way race while Hillary Clinton has only had to run against Bernie Sanders. There is no weighting given to the argument that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are fairly close in terms of policy proposals and ideology, and are jointly grouped by the commentariat as "insurgent" candidates. There is no prognostication of the impact of the "Bernie or Bust" movement among Democrats, asserting that if Bernie Sanders is not the nominee his supporters will not vote in November (or possibly might defect to likely GOP nominee Donald Trump).

With the primaries a little more than halfway done, Republicans have convinced over 4.4 million more voters to the polls and caucuses than the Democrats. The Republican turnout edge is equal to just under half of Hillary Clinton's vote total.

On the raw numbers alone, Donald Trump trails Hillary Clinton only by 1.1 million votes overall, although he outpolls her in twelve states.

On the raw numbers alone, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz combined outpoll Clinton in all but four states (Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota), and their combined vote total exceeds that of Hillary Clinton by in excess of 4.6 million votes--a vote margin that exceeds the Republican turnout margin. If only half of Ted Cruz voters are added to Donald Trump's total, Hillary Clinton prevails in only two more states, Louisiana and Virginia.

If one follows the commentariat model of counting Trump and Cruz as insurgent candidates, it is not unreasonable to presume that, come the general election, supporters of whomever of the two is not the nominee will support the other. Certainly the two are not far apart on such matters as immigration, healthcare reform, and confronting terrorism and radical Islamic jihad.

Regardless of what polling prognosticators predict, based solely on votes cast thus far, the most optimistic scenario for Hillary Clinton is a close race and likely a photo finish in the popular vote, with maybe a slightly larger edge in the Electoral College. But scenarios where Donald Trump wins convincingly in both the popular vote and the Electoral College are not at all unreasonable.

Hillary Clinton might win in November. So might Donald Trump. Neither candidate is assured of victory, and it is foolish of the commentariat to suggest otherwise.



Donald Trump: Foreign Policy Heretic, Foreign Policy Visionary

In addition to rocking the political firmament in Washington with his full throated championing of American workers, Donald Trump is also breaking with many long standing Republican orthodoxies on foreign policy.

Donald Trump's foreign policy can be summed up in two words: America First. He says this openly and proudly--the New York Times quotes him as saying "Not an isolationist but I am America First....I like the expression."

I like the expression, too. I like the notion of an American President who will champion American interests, and not global interests.

Why should we keep troops on the border between North and South Korea? North Korea is a pariah nation, and even its sole sponsor China is not going to blithely go along with any military adventurism south of the 38th parallel. The 38th parallel is no longer a front line in the battle against Soviet expansionism; the historic rationale for a continued military presence does not apply--either devise a new rationale or bring the troops home.

Likewise Trump is correct to question NATO. The NATO alliance was both a reaction to the Second World War and to the rise of Soviet expansionism in the immediate aftermath; NATO's own official history states that "the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration". 

The Soviet Union is no more, and Putin's Russia is a problematic threat, given its shrinking population and shrinking economy. Europe is already politically and economically integrated--some would say too much so. Neither France nor Germany--the leading political and economic actors in Europe--show any appetite for military adventurism on the continent or abroad. Against what threats do US troops stationed in Europe guard? And exactly whom are they guarding--Europe or the United States?

Moreover, as Brussels tragically demonstrates, the NATO alliance does nothing to stop ISIS from exporting terror into the western world. NATO has not stopped jihadist attacks in New York on 9/11, in Madrid and London in 2005, nor in Paris earlier this year. As an alliance predicated on mutual defense and protection, NATO is failing its members horribly against the enemy of radical Islam. Trump is right: NATO is obsolete.

US military adventurism in Iraq under Bush and Libya under Obama has not turned out at all well--sobering realities that speak to the limits of what military power can achieve: US military might is formidable, but no military can build nations ex nihilo, and no military can impose democracy on a people from without. US military muscle can topple dictators--and Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were unquestionably dictators--but it cannot create stable governments to take their place. For all the seeming electoral successes in Iraq in the years following the US invasion in 2003, without US troops the artificially created regime in Baghdad quickly lost credibility and legitimacy, and is now too weak to confront ISIS militarily even on Iraqi soil.

Challenging these assumptions does not make Trump an isolationist. It does make him a realist. And it calls to mind George Washington's warning in his farewell address two centuries ago against entangling foreign alliances; they were dangerous then and they are dangerous now. Not every foreign crisis calls for the sacrifice of American blood and treasure. Not every foreign crisis is a significant threat to America or American interests.

Contrary to the "experts" of the establishment, "America First" is a vision of foreign policy. It means to measure each foreign engagement, each foreign alliance, each deployment of troops in foreign lands, against the cold objective yardstick of how these things benefit the United States. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute is wrong to say "'greatness' is not a foreign policy"; in fact, it is the only foreign policy stance worth having--it is the stance that says "engage where it benefits America and disengage where it does not."

The duty of the American government is to advance the interests of the American people. Donald Trump is the only candidate willing to say that, and willing to do that--loudly and proudly.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Despite advance warning, Cruz' best response to sex scandal was to blame Donald Trump. Seriously.

In answer to the somewhat rhetorical question of how much should we care about a Ted Cruz sex scandal come hints that the Cruz campaign knew this story was about to break.

One thing is certain: allegations of Ted Cruz' serial infidelities have been a background whisper in the GOP primary campaign for months. Indeed, it is highly likely that Marco Rubio spurred the National Enquirer on, and not Donald Trump. This does not mean, and should not be taken to indicate, that the allegations are true. At the present time, the only material presented in support of those allegations is the National Enquirer story, and the truth of that story must be judged on that basis.

But it speaks poorly of Ted Cruz that his best response with week of advance warning was to attempt to snare Donald Trump in this web of sleaze. Not only does that do little damage to Donald Trump, but it raises the possibility that Ted Cruz used super PAC money to buy silence from staffers for the Carly Fiorina campaign, and that Liz Mair's foolish trolling was a cynical diversionary tactic by Cruz to take the sting out of the story when it finally broke.

If true, we again come back to the truism that the coverup is always worse than the original sin. Adultery is not an attractive quality in a political candidate, but collusion between candidates and super PACs is a violation of election law.

By his response, Ted Cruz, far from putting the matter behind him, has raised instead more questions--and more damning questions--to be answered.

Ted Cruz: Not missing any opportunity to miss an opportunity

At the end of this summary explanation of our voyeuristic fascination with the sex lives of politicians comes a challenging question: what if Ted Cruz is innocent?

If he's innocent, then the National Enquirer has printed factually false information with the clear intent of defaming him. If he is innocent then the National Enquirer owes him both an apology and significant monetary damages.

But regardless of whether he's innocent of adultery or not, what he is guilty of is stupidity. Regardless of whether the National Enquirer story is true or not, it was both foolish and clumsy to give the story a life of its own by wrapping it up in its own anti-Trump packaging. By making the story part of the larger campaign rhetoric between him and Donald Trump, Cruz made a discussion of his private life a legitimate public interest.

Back in 2008, the New York Times ran a poorly sourced story hinting at an affair between Presidential contender John McCain and a Washington lobbyist. McCain issued a simple, terse, and swift denial of the allegation, and thereafter refused to comment further. The story went nowhere fast, because without ongoing response by McCain the story had no staying power.  

This is the second time in as many weeks that Cruz has missed an opportunity to show his statesmanlike side. The first was his failure to come out swiftly in condemnation of Liz Mair's ugly implication that Melania Trump did not deserve to be First Lady; he could have seized that moment to rise above politics and defend the larger political principle that wives should be off limits, period. The National Enquirer piece likewise was a chance for him to show a cool head under fire, and a determination to press ahead with his agenda, and not get moved off message by salacious gossip. 

We should not care overmuch if Ted Cruz has committed adultery. We should, however, care about how Ted Cruz handles a crisis, be it personal or political--and so far, he handles crises very badly.

Donald Trump--crude, crass, but correct

Milo Yiannopoulous makes an excellent case for why Donald Trump's over-the-top rhetoric might actually be necessary and even therapeutic for American politics--and perhaps even American culture as well.

Yiannopoulos definitely has a point that political discourse in this country has largely devolved into an endless cycle of claims of grievance. Legislation is passed, and entitlements granted, not on the basis of national interest, but simply to appease a particular demographic over their hurt feelings regarding a real or imagined slight of some kind. Even issues upon which common sense suggests there should be broad consensus--e.g., national security, the state of the armed forces, the efforts of police to enforce the laws--have been consumed in the language of grievance: when it matters less whether or not the United States military can defeat all comers and more that it is sufficiently "inclusive" to various putatively maligned groups, an important dialog on how to defend this nation has come seriously off the rails.

Donald Trump's language is hyperbolic, boorish, crass, vulgar, and rude. What it is not is hateful, racist, sexist, and xenophobic. What it is not is dangerous--unless one traffics in the politics of grievance. To the establishment aristocrats and the political left, who are heavily invested in such politics, Donald Trump is most emphatically an existential threat.

Donald Trump is demonstrating almost daily that the establishment emperor truly has no clothes. By stripping away the artifices of politically correct language, he has revealed an appalling truth about the political establishment--they really DON'T know what they're doing. They AREN'T responding to ISIS, they AREN'T confronting the harsh economic realities of unemployment and stagnant wages...and they aren't because they don't know how.

The most glaring proof of their total incompetence? This late in the election cycle and they STILL haven't found a response to Donald Trump that works.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Only One Moral Response To "Stop Trump" -- Stand With Trump.

Would that everyone could and would do as Tuscon police officer Brandon Tatum, and attend a Donald Trump rally for himself or herself. A little more due diligence on the part of the voting public might shift the narrative dramatically. If Brandon Tatum's observations are in line with behavior of rally attendees and rally protesters overall, the measure of responsibility Trump must bear for violence at his rallies must decline if not disappear.

Consider first the legal framework: 

Donald Trump rents a facility in which to hold a rally. He coordinates the security measures with the local police, and does all of the other tasks associated with holding an event. While the event may be "open to the public," as most rallies are, it is still very much the affair of a private citizen. Donald Trump is well within his legal rights to call for the ejection of anyone breaching the peace even in protest; indeed all political candidates have that right. 

There is no legal right for protesters to breach the peace at any rally; there is no moral right for protesters to breach the peace at any rally. A person's right of free speech is always bounded by the dividing line between public and private spaces. The right of free speech does not extend into entering a political opponent's rally and disrupting the proceedings; such conduct is a breach of the peace, a breach of decorum, a breach of common decency. It is wrong, at every level.

There is no right for protesters to engage in acts of violence. None. It does not exist. Obviously there is no right for rally attendees to engage in acts of violence. None. It does not exist.

The other part of the First Amendment is the right to peaceably assemble.

Against this backdrop we have the report of Brandon Tatum. We have a report of protesters using obscene gestures in front of rally attendees. We have a report of protesters hurling insults, obscenities, and a sordid array of vulgarities at rally attendees.

I will note that I have not attended a Donald Trump rally myself. I merely have the word of Brandon Tatum, and the reports in the news media covering Trump's rallies. Still, I take note of what is not being reported regarding Trump's rallies:

  • There have been no reports of people leaving Trump rallies and physically or verbally attacking people.
  • There have been no reports of Donald Trump suggesting either explicitly or implicitly that people initiate acts of violence.

Imagine, if you will, that the setting was not some political rally but your own living room. How much of such behavior would you be willing to tolerate from guests in your house? What level of force--which is to say what level of "violence"--would you be prepared to use to remove guests who indulge in such behavior from your house? What level of force--which is to say what level of "violence"--should you be allowed to use to remove such guests?

If people disagree with Donald Trump, or take issue with his choice of words, then they should protest. That is not only their right but their duty as engaged, involved, citizens of this republic. Such protest should be celebrated and respected even by those who disagree with it. That is the "American way", that is how civil discourse should be.

But the Trump protesters are shouting nothing but hatred, spewing nothing but filth. They are the very thing Trump stands accused of being--violent, even fascist, demagogues. That deserves not celebration but contempt, merits not respect but ridicule.

If I were not already a Trump supporter, opposition to such malignancies would demand I become one. There is but one moral response to those wishing to "Stop Trump" -- stand with Trump.