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Posts published in October 2016

Trump 13: Wanting a dictator

trump

I'd never heard of the movie Gabriel Over the White House until a few days ago, when a friend (who also had just recently learned of it) screened it for me. If you're in a mood to be frightened, this one will do the job.

It was set for release early in 1933, within days of Frank Roosevelt's swearing-in, and at a peak (or depth) of the Great Depression. The film, technically advanced for the time, was set in that time and place, and focused on Judson Hammond (played by Walter Huston), the newly-elected president of the United States. At first he seems ineffectual, until an accident leave him in a coma. He revives from it, apparently with the help of the angel Gabriel, and becomes decisive - extremely decisive. He dissolves Congress and the Supreme Court, wipes out any remaining opposition within the country (the army is employed), then imposes his will on leaders of other countries - and miraculously saves the country. Whereupon, he dies.

The picture was pulled from general distribution after producers and others observed what was happening at the time in Germany. But it has a strong and eerie resonance now.

But for the last plot bit, Gabriel seems to be what a large portion of Trump supporters seem to want. Trump's statements have all the earmarks of a dictator-in-the-making, but he has never applied that term to himself. (Yet.) Some of hs followers have, though, and enthusiastically.

Huffington Post on July 29 reported how “Hundreds of posts in Reddit’s The_Donald forum ― where Donald Trump this week participated in a Q&A session ― refer to the Republican presidential nominee as “God Emperor.” The practice of using this name for Trump apparently caught on last spring. New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman wrote in May about the deluge of anti-Semitic hate he’d received from self-identified Trump supporters, including “Nazi iconography of the shiftless, hooknosed Jew” from a user called “Trump God Emperor.” Among Trump’s active online supporters, using the nickname is now commonplace. The post announcing Trump’s participation in the Q&A heralded “our God Emperor,” and a search of the phrase returned over 200 posts in the day after Trump’s appearance."

I don't mean to overstate here: "Some forum members say “God Emperor” is simply a tongue-in-cheek attempt to rile up Trump opponents who fear he would be a strongman as president. The term is attributed variously to God Emperor characters in the science fiction series Dune and a tabletop game called 'Warhammer 40,000'. 'We know he can’t literally be one,' wrote member NewJersey908, but the phrase whips people 'into a frenzy saying that we literally want a dictator.'”

I've learned to be wary - and often dismiss - followup statements from this crowd saying something to the effect of, "We were only kidding." When eyes look away, that's often followed by statements that more clearly say, "No, we weren't."

The idea of We the People as the big boss of this country, of democracy as our form of government now and always, is so ingrained that many of us have a hard time imagining anything else - or that any significant number of Americans do think in any other way.

But there's no mistaking it. Quite a few Americans do think otherwise, and that's one of the scariest realizations of electiono 2016: That a lot of Americans really would prefer it be the last. - rs

Democratic fatigue?

harris

There is evidence that Oregon voters are showing some fatigue over Democratic management of the State.

It appears M97 is going to be defeated. Perhaps handily.

A poll released October 17 conducted for OPB by DHM research shows 48% would vote no while, 43% would vote yes. with only 10% undecided. The cross tabs show that 38% are certain no votes and 30% are certain yes votes. This is consistent with the Survey USA poll released last week showing 44% opposed the measure while 28% supported it with 29% undecided.

The Governors race: The DHM poll showed Brown with a comfortable 46% to 33% lead, but the Survey USA poll showed a tight contest, with Brown leading just 46% to Pierce’s 42%. The DHM poll showed the same level of support for Governor Brown, though still under 50%. The Survey USA poll was conducted October 10-12 while the DHM poll was done October 6-13. That could mean that many undecideds are breaking towards Pierce. However, Brown can easily break the 50% mark by capturing only a few undecideds.

If the race continues to tighten, the wildcard here may be Independent Party candidate Cliff Thomson who is polling at about 4%. Thompson has an eclectic platform including support of a sales tax and reduction of real estate tax (to produce a reliable revenue stream) Support for the marijuana and hemp industry, and returning local control to various State functions. Of course, his voters may also be swayed by the name of the party, promising a break from the Democratic and Republican Party feuds.

With Oregon’s looming fiscal crisis, general voter unhappiness and the fact that Democrats have been in charge of Oregon’s State government for some time, could the 2016 results reflect some Democratic fatigue? There is some data to suggest that could be the case.

In the Secretary of State race, DHM poll shows that Republican Dennis Richardson with 34% and Democrat Brad Avakian with 29%. There are still a lot of undecided voters in that race and a lot of support for various third party and Independent Party candidates. It appears many Democrats and Democratic leaners simply don’t want to vote for Avakian. Avakian has been one of the more partisan candidates this election as well.
Both polls also show that the POTUS candidates are viewed more negatively than positively by Oregonians. Trump is viewed negatively by 66% and Clinton by 54%.
Finally, the DHM poll shows that 44% of Oregonians believe the State is headed in the wrong direction while only 40% believe it’s headed in the right direction.

Maybe the 8 year cycle will manifest itself down ballot

Historically, when a party has held the White House for 8 years, it has a down election cycle. But this is an unusual year in the POTUS race and while many voters were prepared to vote Republican for President this election, given our options, we are going to end up electing a Democrat again.

In State races, particularly in a State like Oregon where Democrats have controlled the State for years, voters may be showing their frustration with the status quo by with holding their votes from Democratic candidates. There is evidence of that in the number of voters opting for third party or alternate candidates not just in the Presidential election, but also in the races for Governor and Secretary of State. While there is no risk that the Governors race will be won by a third party candidate, The Republicans have a great shot at the Secretary of State race, and we should watch the State Houses of Representatives to see if in some of the swing seats the Democratic candidates don’t do as well as they historically have.

And, in races where an Independent Party candidate has a one on one race against either a Democrat or Republican, voter discontent at the status quo -regardless of party – may result in some surprises. In particular I’m watching these races that don’t appear to be on the radar of the main stream media:

House District 17: Incumbent Republican Sherry Sprenger against Sweet Home City Councilperson and Independent Party Jeffrey Goodwin.
House District 23. Independent Jim Thompson running against very conservative incumbent Republican Mike Nearman.
House District 35: Independent Party candidate Jessica Cousineau is running against Incumbent Democrat Margaret Doherty
State Treasurer: This is a three way race between Independent Chris Telfer, career politician Democrat Tobias Read and Republican Jeff Gudman.

With the overwhelming voter registration edge and munificence from the Public Employee Union treasure that the Democrats enjoy, it’s not likely that there will be too many upsets this election. But Trends are important. If the Democratic majority, or total vote, is chipped away this year when Oregon falls over the fiscal cliff in 2017, the Democratic brand will be battered in the next Legislative session. 2018 could be tough for many Democratic incumbents. That could open the door to some modern Republicans or well funded Independent candidates.

Trump 14: Two or more parties

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Some of the sharper political analysts have speculated that the result of this year's election could be far more than the normal in this way: We could be seeing the fracturing of the two-party system.

The United States has had a two-party electoral system in place since very nearly the beginning. On those long-ago occasions when it did fracture, with the Federalists and the Whigs, the system of having to major parties - no more and no less - proved so durable that it quickly reconstituted itself. The two current parties, Republican and Democratic, have gone so far as to nearly exchange their historical positions in our country, but the structure of just two - as opposed to an ever-shifting collection such as most European countries see - has endured. And for good reason, since it has served us well for a long time.

Now one of those parties, the Republican, is on the verge of splintering, and the immediate, proximate, cause is Donald Trump. To a great extent of course he simply has brought into view forces and people and ideas that already were there. But they might stayed unnderground and eventually faded, left to themselves. With a leader to follow, the alt-right and its allies have shown themselves in confidence, and however the election turns out, they're not likely simply to go away after next month.

The problem will be greater if Trump actually wins election. The Democrats probably will be at least as united, in opposition, as they ever have been. But a Trump presidency would rip Republicans in two, as conventional Republicans struggle with what to support or oppose in "their" administration.

Not a few Republicans have warned that they would be far better off serving as the opposition to what they think is wrong, than having parts of their own organization in place and then having to oppose it.

So fierce might this become that some analysts even talk of splinter into three parties on the American right.

Some Democrats might cheer all this. But most probably realize that such an extreme internal war in half of America's political system could be dangerous for the country. There's some risk of this however the election goes. But the risk becomes a near certainty if Trump actually won. - rs

Trump 15: The backers

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Ask a Donald Trump supporter about the developer's appeal as a candidate and you'll likely hear - at least in the early days - about how, since he was so rich, no one could buy him. For many, it was an article of faith that the guy would simply underwrite his campaign.

It sounded plausible, on the surface: If a man worth $10 billion, as Trump liked to proclaim he was, really wanted to run for president, surely he could come up with a tenth of that to fund a campaign.

It didn't work out that way, of course. Trump is surely worth less than $10 billion - how much less is unclear - but he is evidently unable to get his hands on more than a few million at a time. He has spent some money on the race (some of which has been recycled through his businesses), but he most certainly has taken campaign contributions.

At one point last summer, NBC TV reported the Trump campaign was planning to fundraise enough that the candidate can be repaid for his own "contributions" to the campaign.

Trump has been raising contributions.

A lot of contributions, in fact.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Trump's campaign has raised $218.8 million. About $92 million have come from individuals, but a sizable chunk of that comes from big contributors.

Beholden? He's plenty beholden. - rs

A nation being divided

rainey

We’re told in our youth “change is the only constant.” As we age, we pass that piece of wisdom to our young. With elder perspective, we realize how much lifelong change we’ve adjusted to and how much of it we survived.

I’ve recently been confronted with a need to deal with a couple of significant changes. They’ve caused me to look both deep inside and, quite realistically, outside myself with some starkness I’ve not experienced before. Not about me. About life in general. More specifically, changes in our nation.

Since our founding, change has been a constant. For most of the last 300 years or so, we’ve slowly evolved through crisis after crisis, learning and relearning, adjusting and trying to keep up. For nearly all those years, the process was mostly doable. Whatever the change - peace or war or anything else - we adjusted, modified, eliminated the old ways and evolved into the new information or other realities. Pretty successfully.

Then came the instant communication of the Internet. The world’s learning curve for change went nearly straight up. Time was compressed. Changes - good or bad - now come at warp speed and in multiples so staggering we barely have time to adjust before we’re hit again. Most of us have kept up. Some haven’t. As that’s happened, we’ve experienced a growing communications gap which has, in turn, become a chasm between what really is and what really was. Or perceived as what was.

I believe this accelerated information flow - and the inability of millions of Americans to keep up - underlies many of the growing divisions in our country and has been successfully exploited. Coupled with hate radio/TV, anti-social media, well-paid hate mongers spewing vitriol and unchallenged lies, politicians unfit for public office and ignorant of the real constitutional role government plays in guiding our nation, billionaires buying and selling politicians and wannabe politicians, paying for and spreading divisive public legislation for private gain, our divisions are being exploited.

If you look at any demographic breakdown, those Americans most likely drawn to this destructive stew are older, white, male and with less education. They’re also less likely to have adapted to change and are, instead, clinging to and promoting a past that seems more comfortable to them, if it ever existed. They reject political, social, racial and other rapid changes while refusing to accept or support any information different from what they already “believe.”

Unfortunately, this cutting off of “suspect” societal, political communications or other inputs is not confined to the far right. Many moderates and some liberal folks do the same. I know Rachel Maddow followers who wouldn’t be caught dead tuning in to O’Reilly or Hannity. And they haven’t listened to a Limbaugh or a Coulter for years. So, with daily exposure to only a single viewpoint, knowledgeable communication with others who think differently is lost and the chasm widened.

Another factor of national divisiveness is the loss of the “melting pot” characteristics that existed in this country for a couple hundred years. That’s largely gone now as people of like races, nationalities or religions separate themselves from all others. Or are forced to. We now tend to hold to our differences rather than accept, learn or enjoy the lives, skills and beliefs of people different from ourselves.

Social media is playing a large, new role dividing us. With this unedited flow of information we face daily, there are two factors. One is there are no checks and balances to determine fact from lie. Hardly a day goes by I don’t see an entry that’s false, facts selectively avoided or copy entirely made up. We all see postings that appear as fact which are copied and re-sent so the lie expands in widening circles.

The second social media affect on our division is it offers people of like minds - rational or not - direct contact with each other, feeding only information they accept. Real or not. Again, a closed circuit without benefit of a reality that may be entirely different. Often a few can be regarded as a large group when that’s not really the case. But, again, causing divisiveness and feeding ignorance of other viewpoints.

We’re also becoming less tolerant and accepting. Look at the current irrational rejection of all things Muslim by too many Americans. Politicians wanting religious tests for immigration or allowing only “Christians” entry to our country. “Ship home11-million possibly illegal immigrants already here,” they say. Attacks on places of worship, threatening acts on their private property, ignorant derision in some media for others religious beliefs and practices. You may say that’s not how you feel or not how others you know may feel. But, too many of the folks who do are in elective office. And that’s a large - and divisive - difference.

These factors - and more - cause me to believe we’re in the throes of becoming a country much different from what we’ve known. Not necessarily a better country. But, certainly, much different. More segmented. More prone to violence with each other. Less communicative with people with whom we have differences. Certainly much more angry. A nation of less participation in organized religion or social/fraternal groups which, in the past, provided a social “glue” which helped tie us together. A nation of fewer direct, face-to-face social contacts which further isolates us, one from the other.

I don’t mean to be too dour in all of this. But platitudes (“It’ll all get better” or “It’ll all work itself out” or “We’ve survived thus far”) are meaningless. While we’ve always had factors separating us and we survived, we’re living with real divisions of issues, religions, races, politics and even families all at the same time. Divisions being actively driven by bought-and-paid-for hate-mongers with seemingly unlimited cash backing.

The distrust of government and each other have never been as real or as widely practiced in my four-score years. In too many instances, the electronic umbilical chord tying all of us together is also providing a means of separation we’ve never dealt with before.

I pray I’m wrong. And maybe I am. But, tell me, what meaningful, effective, concrete solutions can you cite being taken by anyone - or any group - to bridge the problems we face? To solve the problems we face. Taken separately, or as a whole, what real and lasting improvements do you see at work? Not what might or might not happen in the future, but now.

I can ask the questions. But I cannot provide realistic answers.

Whatever emerges as a nation in the next decade or two is guaranteed to be something very different.

Trump 16: Perfection

trump

You don't need to be of any particular religious persuasion to to get the point of this religion-based question and answer.

In an interview before an audience (the point being that Trump knew he was in public), moderator Frank Luntz (a sharp Republican message consultant) asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.

Trump's reply: "I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."

He did say that he has performed other religious rituals, such as Holy Communion: "When I drink my little wine - which is about the only wine I drink - and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of 'let's go on and let's make it right.'"

No, that doesn't fit at all, because it's not related to any particular thing the participant did, just a more generic "have we got the books balanced? okay?" sort of thing.

There's no surprise that these statements from a year ago got the attention of a significant number of Christians, for whom seeking forgiveness for the inevitable sin in life is central. But the import is much broader: This is a man for whom he has nothing to apologize to anyone, not to God and not to any person. The rare occasions when words like "I'm sorry" have crossed his lips have in no real sense been an apology; they have been no more or less than an attempt to get him past some controversy he'd rather see in the rear view mirror.

He does not see himself as flawed, or in any need of self-reflection.

That is the real point here, and for a prospective president, the scariest. - rs

Trump 17: The disinformer

trump

Previously I've made the point about Donald Trump as a persistent purveyor of outright lies - not just the number or kind that happens periodically in political discussion, but of a volume and expansive falseness that runs far beyond the norm, to the point of ...

Gaslighting the American people?

There's a separate point to be made here about the larger picture, the bigger sense of what is happening when the canvas of lies becomes an epic picture of disinformation.

Here's the difference, in two successive fact items in a James Fallows post about a Trump speech from July:

"Trump makes his claim that America has grown so dysfunctional that people were asking for “a moment of silence” for the man who murdered five police officers in Dallas. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I am not aware of any real-world evidence for that claim. Translation: I believe he is yet again making this up."

This was a clear falsehood, but compare with Fallows' next item:
"Right after that, Trump goes into his 'we never win any more' riff, about how the United States is an all-fronts failure. Lord knows that the United States has more than its share of grave economic, social, racial, public-safety, civic-culture, educational, infrastructure, and other problems ... But if you’re talking in crude “we win” / “we lose” terms, you have to ask: OK, which major nation is 'winning' more often, in more ways, than the U.S. now?"

But he repeats this stuff - the broad-brush "we never win any more" stuff - so regularly that much of his audience seems to internalize, accept it as received truth, and not bother to question it, when a sober-minded review of the world around us tells us otherwise. As in: We're sure not without problems, but lose all the time? The most powerful, richest, most influential country on the globe? Really?

Ask yourself how many of his larger conclusions, not to even mention his "facts", stand up to serious, sensible reflection? The answer is, not very many. Try it the next time you see him speak. - rs

The activist

stapiluslogo1

Ken Robison was a public man, in many senses of the term. He was a journalist, one of the most visible in Idaho for a decade and more. He was a state legislator (and in between his many successful elections, a candidate) over a span even longer. He was a civic activist and, more recently, an author.

Even so, after his death at Boise last week, no public services were held – at his request. And that seems entirely in character.

Though Robison was a public man, he did not go public because he enjoyed publicity or acclaim, or because he was such a social person – he did not seem to reach out for any of those things. Robison was a public man because of the cause, or rather causes, he was captivated by and that he undertook, and dominated much of his life.

To do that meant moving out of his profession. Robison was a news reporter at Pocatello (for the Idaho State Journal), the Associated Press in Boise and Denver, and for the Idaho Statesman at Boise. He had been in the trade for only about a decade when he was named editorial page editor at the Statesman, relatively young for that job, and he might have moved upward in the news business.

Instead, he moved more and more toward wild lands and wildlife conservation, writing about Hells Canyon and the White Clouds, about protecting wildlife and designating wilderness. Much of what he wrote was several years ahead of the general public discussion, for which he received national attention for his editorials but which also led him increasingly away from the news business. He became active and involved in conservation efforts around the state.

He became interested in taxes, too, but not in the way many tax activists, fixated on tax cuts, are. True to his in-depth researching nature, he dug into the way taxes are structured, into who paid what and who seemed to be overpaying their share. He was one of the leaders behind the 1982 initiative for the 50 percent homeowner property tax exemption, which has reshaped Idaho tax law ever since.

Quiet and low-key, Robison didn’t present himself the way most gregarious politicians do, but having concluded he could make more progress as a public official, he decided to run for the legislature. Thorough as always, he threw himself into intensive campaigning. He lost his first race for the state Senate in 1978, won his second (in the Republican year of 1980), lost his third. Four years later he won election to the House in Boise’s north end district, and kept on representing it for the next 18 years.

The Idaho Legislature proved a tough crowd to convince, more so as the years went on, and Robison was often on the minority side of things.

But the causes never went away, and he never forgot them.

After leaving the legislature he intensively researched and wrote a book, Defending Idaho’s Natural Heritage, which was published in 2014. It consists of a series of stories about the battles over conserving Idaho’s wild places and creatures, and it was dedicated “to all those who spoke up for fish and wildlife habitat, for flowing rivers and for exceptional natural areas.”

When eventually someone writes a successor book to that one, they’ll have to include Ken Robison.

And not just because of the specific contributions he made toward those efforts, but also because of the way he provided a role model for civic activism.