Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Democratic Debate - A few Thoughts...

 The Democratic candidates for President finally had their first debate last night in Las Vegas, Nevada. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee rounded out the debate field.

Generally speaking, it was quite different than what we've seen from the Republicans this cycle. No insults, no put-downs or other nonsense. For just short of two and one-half hours, there was civil discourse about a variety of issues. Adults speaking like adults. Few instances of one candidate interrupting another. No one was chastised.

It was a yawner...

Full disclosure, I'll likely wind up voting for one of these people from last evening to be our next President. Unless and until the GOP puts forth a candidate that isn't some genuflecting, pandering, intellectually dishonest caricature of the politician he/she thinks they really are, I won't...I can't vote Republican anytime soon. For most of my early voting life, I voted Republican. Like others have said I didn't leave the Republican Party, they left me somewhere during the George W. Bush Administration. The Dwight Eisenhower's, the Richard Nixon's and yes the Ronald Reagan's of yesteryear would find no home in today's raucous and ridiculous Republican Party. And, neither can I.

Back to last night's debate...

A few thoughts on each of the participants...

Hillary Clinton - The media seems to be convinced that HRC had a fantastic evening putting forth a Presidential air while demonstrating a clear superiority in the debate environment. I agree, she was the smoothest and best prepared voice on the stage last night. Bernie Sanders shunned any serious debate prep, while O'Malley, Webb and Chafee tried to make their cases but mostly failed. Clinton's best moment when she took the GOP to task for their hypocritical stance on "big government."

"When people say that, it's always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say you can't have paid leave, you can't provide health care," she said. "They don't mind having big government to interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They're fine with big government when it comes to that. I'm sick of it! You know, we can do these things.

I thought her worst moment was her response to CNN Host Anderson Cooper's question "which enemy you've made during your political career are you most proud of?" Clinton  responded, "Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians; probably the Republicans."

Tuck that away in your memory banks friends, I think we will see that in an ad during the general...

Bernie Sanders - A great number of people likely saw and listened to Bernie Sanders for the first time last night. They heard vintage Sanders railing against big banks, corporations, climate change, etc. In some ways Sanders is the opposite of HRC.  While the first question to Clinton regarded her "flip-flops" on various positions "Will you say anything to get elected?"  no one seems to question Bernie's sincerity or authenticness. Truth is, he's been beating the drum on most of these issues for decades and for that he deserves respect. True to his word, he had nothing harsh to say toward anyone, even after Clinton said he wasn't tough enough on guns. In the end, both she and Sanders want basically the same things out of gun reform. Better/faster background checks, close the gun show loophole, fund mental health, etc...

For better or worse, his biggest moment of the night was when he interjected a question about HRC's emails with this...

“I think the secretary of state is right, the American people are sick and tired about hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders said to hoots and cheers from the audience, after CNN moderator Anderson Cooper pushed Clinton on the ongoing scandal.
He concluded by saying: “Enough of the emails – let’s talk about the real issues facing the American people.”
If we can consider that last night was bernie Sanders making a first impression on the American people, he did pretty well. While his genuiness came across effectively last night, I think the typical general election voter isn't actually prepared to pull the lever for a Socialist. Sanders is a Democratic Socialist, but I think most people only read/hear "socialist." For that and many other reasons (finances, ground game, etc...) he is limited to being a charming diversion during this campaign. 

Jim Webb - Webb was the candidate I was most interested in watching last night. A decorated Vietnam vet, former Secretary of the Navy and former Senator from Virgina. He is also a well-regarded author. Webb had several smart things to say about guns, cyber security, etc. but seemed less impressive when it came to criminal justice (Black Lives Matter), and the Iran Nuclear deal (it's upsetting the region's balance of power.) He's certainly entitled to his opinions, but he seemed to me to be more of a professorial moderate conservative than a Democrat. He's clearly an interesting guy but his complaining about not getting enough time combined with the above responses place him somewhere other than a serious position for the Democratic nomination. 

Martin O'Malley - Two things stood out for me as I watched the former Governor of Maryland. The first was his response to Coopers "enemies" question when he simply said "The National Rifle Association" and then his closing statement where he drew a distinction between the Democratic debate and the prior Republican ones. 

"On this stage you didn't hear anyone denigrate women, you didn't hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn't hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious belief," O'Malley said. "What you heard was an honest debate of what will move us forward, to lead to a clean electric grid by 2050, and employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more people in the economic and social life in our country."

The problem in all of that is that ALL the Democrats on stage last evening are no fans of the NRA. He put it succinctly, but for that to be a high moment reveals how the rest of his night went. His closing statement was good, but not nearly enough. Had the rest of his night gone well, it would've been a terrific close, but in the end-he needed to demonstrate how he differs from Clinton and Sanders NOT how all of them differ from the GOP clown car. 

Lincoln Chafee - Mr. Chafee's night can be summed up in two short videos...

This one on his vote on Glass Steagall:

And this one about Clinton's email scandal/US reputation around the world:

The perpetual grin on his face made him appear clownish and I doubt anyone feels that his performance last evening improved his very, very small chances in the race for the Democratic nomination. He should suspend his campaign yesterday.

The next Democratic debate will take place in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, November 14th, 2015.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Who's the Party of Old White People? (Presidental Candidate Version...)

For several year's there's been this notion that the Republican Party is the party of "old white people." This has been based mostly on the voting habits of older white males, to be specific, which skew hard to the right side of most issues.

As the pool of Presidential wannabees begins to form on both sides of the aisle, Reasonable Conversation wanted to see how age was being reflected from both parties announced and presumed/potential candidates. To increase the sample size of this exercise, we'll also include the heads of both Parties National Committees,

First, the Republicans:

Jeb Bush - 62 years old
Marco Rubio - 43 years old
Rand Paul - 52 years old
Ted Cruz - 44 years old
Scott Walker - 47 years old
Mike Huckabee - 59 years old
Chris Christie - 52 years old
Dr. Ben Carson - 63 years old
Carly Fiorina - 60 years old
Bobby Jindal - 43 years old
Rick Perry - 65 years old
Rick Santorum - 57 years old
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus - 42 years old
Average age: 53.0 years old

Next, the Democrats:

Hillary Clinton -67 years old
Bernie Sanders - 73 years old
Martin O'Malley - 52 years old
Jim Webb - 69 years old
Elizabeth Warren - 65 years old
Joe Biden - 72 years old
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz - 48 years old
Average age: 63.72 years old

Let's limit each group to only the strongest candidates...


Jeb Bush - 62
Scott Walker - 47
Marco Rubio - 43
Mike Huckabee - 59
Average age: 52.8 years old


Hillary Clinton - 67
Bernie Sanders - 73
Average age: 70.0 years old

Strictly by the numbers, the GOP field is significantly younger than the top two Democratic candidates. Age alone doesn't dictate policy preferences as clearly the two parties seem to cater to different voters.

I'm on record as saying I'm underwhelmed by a Clinton candidacy. I think Senator Sanders is a long shot to say the least. An exercise like this provides very, very limited information beyond the age of the candidates. It also however shows us the differences between the depth of each Paty's bench of national aspirants. The Democrats would be wise to identify and promote some younger high upside members of their party to raise their national profile.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton: No, I'm Not Excited...

In less than two years, the United States will have elected its next President. From the right, the GOP will need to sort through a long list of aspirants, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Dr. Ben Carson, among others.... The primary season will begin in earnest next January, when Iowa conducts its traditional "straw poll" followed shortly thereafter by the first official primary in New Hampshire.

It is certain to be a hoot AND a holler.

Conversely, the Democratic Party seems to be preparing for a coronation of sorts. Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive favorite in 2008, hasn't officially declared, but all signs point toward her running. There are several actions and behaviors potential candidates for President often employ and Clinton has ticked them all off.

Write a Book - check

Schedule many speaking engagements - check

Distance one's self from the current president - check

Yes, Hillary Clinton is already running for President.

Who might challenge her from the left?

Jim Webb (former Senator from Virginia) has formed an exploratory committee to consider the question. While Webb has some attributes that can appeal across party lines (ie military service, pro-gun, etc,) but his views and voting record on abortion probably cancels that appeal out for some.

Bernie Sanders is another who has indicated an interest in a possible run. An Independent from Vermont with 26 years experience as a Congressman and Senator, Sanders is one of the stronger voices speaking from the hard left. Championing progressive values and positions, he has announced an intention to run for President, but hasn't officially done anything in terms of declaring, forming an exploratory committee, etc.

Other names such as current Vice President Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Martin O'Malley, Howard Dean and Deval Patrick have all been mentioned but either aren't considered serious possibilities or have already said they weren't running in 2016.

Should both Webb and Sanders actually mount a campaign, we quickly have to talk about campaign finances and fundraising to be specific. The 2008 Presidential campaign cost roughly 1.8 billion dollars only to be outdone by the cost of the 2012 campaign, which exceeded 2 billion. There is no reason whatsoever to think that the coming election of 2016 won't set a new record.

It is highly questionable for either man, especially Webb, to actually raise the kind of money he'd need to set up a national operation, hire a staff, pay for transportation, etc.

Further, it is believed by many in political circles that the Clintons have long memories when it comes to who has been on their team and who hasn't over time. Even if such thoughts are exaggerated, with Clinton positioned as such a favorite to win the nomination, will donors with (agendas) risk crossing the Clinton machine to donate to an opposing campaign that seemingly has no real chance of beating her? Will campaign professionals risk the wrath of the Clintons to work on someone else's campaign that's probably going to fail in the end? One wonders. I think any challenger with the possible exception of Warren will have difficulty raising enough money to survive more than a few months, with the caveat that should Clinton somehow lose in the early primaries, then the possibility grows. But, that's unlikely. Especially with Warren not in the race.


Clinton can't be regarded as a "fresh face" or "the change we need" type candidate. I suspect she will trumpet her experience and leadership as the country faces many challenges going forward. While experience and leadership aren't always substitutes for accomplishments and successes. Once the election moves past the primaries and into the "general", Clinton will likely have a big advantage over anyone the GOP will have nominated when it comes to foreign policy. No Governor or Senator will be able to match her level of experience and time spent with other foreign leaders.

The Clinton time as Secretary of State was productive, make no mistake. I'm not clear on how her work to change the "attitude and tone" of the State Department, how her pivot from the "hard power" of the previous administration to "smart power", how her work to improve women's rights, gay rights, etc. will necessarily translate to an excited electorate come November 2016. Yes, she's the foreign policy heavyweight in the room, but will voters care?

Fair or not, the Benghazi and Arab Spring matters will almost certainly hurt her more than help her. "Four dead Americans" matter far more than improved conditions for women in Africa does to most American voters. The vacillation of the Obama Administration regarding the Arab Spring uprisings, as perceived by most critics on the right, will also be an easy club to hit her with.

In the end, fair or not, I almost think HRC would be wise to not try to use her FP experience as her springboard into office. It might wind up being a net negative, after all, is said and done.

I haven't even mentioned the email nonsense yet. Sigh...

A great number of elected officials including Presidents have had a weak regard for detailed and thorough record keeping when it comes to electronic communications. Hillary Clinton is hardly the first politician to decide which emails we the public needed to have preserved in our name and which ones we didn't. There is a certain "trust me" coming from the former Secretary of State which bugs the crap out of me. During her remarks last week about the email issue she said, "..we went through a thorough process to identify all of my work- related emails and deliver them to the State Department."  Who is this "we" she refers to? Does having government employees decide for themselves which emails are worth keeping and which aren't really satisfy the spirit of the rules of this sort of thing? If you say yes it does, will you have any problems should President Walker or Cruz adopt the same approach?


Perhaps Clinton would be more suited to working with Congress than President Obama has been. That requires faith that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate will seek to find mutual bipartisan projects on which to work with her on. As unpopular as Barack Obama has been to his loyal opposition across the aisle, I actually think the contempt for Hillary Clinton might be higher. And, her husband is no darling of the right either, is he?

I'm not excited in the least right now. Maybe after she declares in April (according to the latest guesses), and I can hear her on the stump and she begins to make her case I'll warm up to her. If I hear a full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act that would help. If I hear a defense of the Obama Administration's Executive actions on immigration while seeking a bipartisan longer-term solution, I'll feel better.

Is this the best the Democratic Party can do right now? Seriously?


Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Evil and the Good" (Best Thing I've Read in Some Time...)

Over the last week or so I've read several articles about what the recent immolation execution of the Jordanian pilot by ISIS is supposed to mean, what our reaction should be, etc.. Virtually everyone agrees that it was horrific and that ISIS will need to be dealt with in a serious way until they are no more. Some point to "a feckless foreign policy" by the Obama Administration. Some point to the Muslim faith and make the case for a stronger reaction from the Islamic world towards extremists. Right now, it doesn't seem any one government has a clear sense of what to do about eliminating ISIS. There are strategies currently in place which seem to be more about holding off new gains by the ISIS fighters than anything else.

A friend sent this article over in the last few days. Its from a blogger who is the wife of a US foreign service worker. She is a mother of four and currently lives in Jordan. Here is here bio...

"I'm a freelance writer, mother of four and foreign service spouse who moves every few years because of my husband's job. We've lived in Moscow, Russia; Armenia; Kazakhstan; the United States; Beijing, China; and Amman, Jordan. We moved back to Moscow in summer, 2014. It's a crazy sort of lifestyle, but it's working for us so far."

The writer's name is "Donna" and she blogs at "Email from the Embassy"

Here is an excerpt from her post from 2/4/15 titled, "The Evil and the Good.."

It’s hard to know what to say in the face of such senseless barbarism as the world witnessed yesterday, when ISIS released that video showing the murder of Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kasasbeh.

As someone who spent 4 years in Jordan, and counts many Jordanians amongst my friends, I found this news particularly heart wrenching.  My newsfeed has been filled with sad posts for the past 24 hours, with friends changing their profile pictures to reflect their support for Jordan, while others busily unfriend people for making hate-filled rants against Muslims.

I am far from the events in the Middle East, but I am feeling the pain of my Jordanian friends all the way up here in Moscow. I never met that pilot, who was just 11 short years older than my eldest child, but I know people who knew him.

Just last week, ISIS murdered a Japanese journalist, who was actually a friend of a friend of a friend.  Such is our life in the Foreign Service: when tragedy strikes, it is seldom about something that is happening “over there.” We have a personal stake in it, either because we served there, because we have friends there now, or because we are personally involved in trying to fix the problem at hand.

Someone once tried to make the argument that I, along with other diplomats and their families, am somehow “out of touch” with America, I guess because we can’t watch American television or attend American sporting events in person.  I think the argument was that we don't interact with everyday Americans and thus cannot be relied upon to make the right decisions for the United States, or to even explain the U.S. to the foreigners we encounter at post.

It was a strange and offensive argument to make. I would argue that my service overseas makes me more of an American, not less. Yes, I am giving up some everyday American things by choosing to live outside of the borders, but the very act of giving them up makes me appreciate them more. It’s sure easier to appreciate the importance of free speech when you live in a country where people are jailed for speaking their minds. It’s easier to defend the idea of democracy when you see first-hand how people can suffer without it. And it’s also – yes, this is true, too! – it’s also easier to see the things that are wrong with the U.S. when you see how people in other countries manage the everyday tasks of working and praying and loving.

I didn’t know much about Islam before moving to the Middle East, and truthfully, even after 4 years there, I am certain that I’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be Muslim.

But it bothers me to read the anti-Muslim comments that seem to be prevalent back there in the States. I say “seem to be,” because as my friend pointed out, I’m not in the States now, so I can’t say for certain what the average person is thinking and saying about Islam. I can tell you what the media are saying, and I find it profoundly disappointing.

These people who did these horrible things to the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese journalist and so many others, these people don’t represent Islam any more than a “Christian” protester who chooses to picket an abortion clinic or a funeral can be said to represent my religion.

These brutes, with their vicious and twisted misunderstanding of God, represent no real religion, no real faith. They know nothing of God.

That's about half of her post, the rest is absolutely worth your time and attention. It does not insult your intelligence, rather, she makes an interesting case on how she looks at the role of faith in time like this. I thought it was excellent...

Go read the whole piece here:


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Some Claim Media Ignores Right To Life March - Legitimate Complaint or Just a Fundraising Tactic?

Every year, in late January, there is a well attended march. It is called the "Right to Life" march and it is a time for those who feel strongly about ending abortion in the United States to gather in our nation's capital, make their case to anyone who will listen. Which is a LOT of people. Congressmen, religious groups, private citizens who support this cause all will find a friendly audience to make speeches against abortion, the preservation and sanctity of life, etc.

This year, the crowds were estimated in the 500,000 person range, which is nothing to sneeze at. By most accounts these protesters of abortion behave themselves quite well. They don't damage businesses, deface public property or disrupt the business of our Federal government. These are well mannered, serious people gathering to address a serious issue. Regardless if one agrees with them or not, they deserve some respect. There is also an associated boost to the local economy that does the area businesses good.

Of question to some is does the media cover them in a fair and adequate fashion?

This question gets brought up often, usually in an accusatory tone, on social media. While I haven't done extensive research, I can anecdotally share that I've seen about 5 such postings since last evening.

For example, I found a link to a website called "Catholic Online" which ran this article:

Hey Main Stream Media - Do Your Job! Media Bias on March for Life...

With a caption of a photo of the event saying, "The hundreds of thousands who gatherred in Washington, DC were virtually ignored by the mainstream media because they gave a voice to children in the womb intentionally killed by procured abortion"


There was also this image, created by someone who felt a need:

I wondered to myself if ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, the New York Times, the Associated Press, USA Today, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and even a popular online news gathering organization like Yahoo News had ignored this story? What about national public television cable channel, C-Span? Would they ignore it too?

I did some digging. Actually, all of the next ten examples of a national media outlet covering the March too me about 5 minutes to find. It wasn't hard, google "right to life march" and (insert media outlet of your choice here) and hit enter. It comes right up...Honest.

Ok, well what about C-Span?

Exploring the C-Span website, I quickly found one major video of over an hour in length, AND the full transcript from that broadcast.  I also found videos of previous Right to Life Marches from recent years.

Here is how C-Span covered it:

C-Span Covers the 2015 Right to Life march in Washington DC

So, to my eye, it looks like there was plenty of coverage available from a wide and diverse swath of mainstream media outlets. Networks, cable news channels, major newspapers, public radio, etc. This reminded me of the "WAR ON CHRISTMAS" crap that we hear about from the far right voices every year. Messages like both tend to rile up a base and most importantly, it likely helps with fund raising. Abortion is a highly charged issue and if you can convince that the lame-stream media forces are conspiring against you and the unborn, makes opening a wallet or a purse a little easier, I guess. 

I also did some research on the National Right To Life website. I looked for their financial reports but couldn't find them. So, I then went to some charity ratings websites and found out that the results weren't so great. lists the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund as a 67.66 out of a possioble 100 scale. Financially they were rated a 91.89, but in accountability & transparency, just a 55.

The Better Business Bureau has requested the national right to life information, but the organization has declined to provide it. From the BBB website:

This charitable organization either has not responded to written BBB requests for information or has declined to be evaluated in relation to BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. Charity participation in BBB review is voluntary. However, without the requested information, it is not possible to determine whether this charity adheres to all of the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. The BBB encourages charities to disclose accountability information beyond that typically included in financial statements and government filings, in order to demonstrate transparency and strengthen public trust in the charitable sector.
The BBB reports on charities and determines if they meet 20 voluntary standards on matters such as charity finances, appeals, and governance. The BBB does not evaluate the worthiness of the charitable program.
- See more at: 

I'll close with these words of advice to the Right to Life organization. Be careful what you wish for, increased media coverage or scrutiny, may not be what you had in mind...