Election Day at last

The election is at last here, although with the expansion of early voting, millions of Americans–myself included–have already voted. I voted for Hillary Clinton for president.

This is actually my first vote for a Democrat for president. In 2008, the first election year I voted, I voted for John McCain, whom I had always admired. My admiration was a bit tainted by his shift to the right in order to win the primary and his selection of Sarah Palin as running mate, but I thought John McCain would make an effective president and commander-in-chief. I somewhat regret that, as I think Barack Obama has been a much better president than I gave him credit for in 2008, although I still think McCain as president wouldn’t be bad.

In 2012, I was living abroad in Ukraine while in the Peace Corps. My intention was to vote to re-elect Obama, but I never received an absentee ballot in time (or at all, really). I’m somewhat embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t vote. But obviously my opinion of Barack Obama changed in those 4 years, enough to decide to vote for him over Mitt Romney. Why?

I remember when it started to change. In 2010, I was still skeptical enough of Obama–or at least wanted Congress to be able to check a Democratic president, if nothing else–that I was somewhat pleased by the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives that year, reading from abroad. I thought this would force Obama to govern more from the center and lead to a more consensus-based government. How wrong I was! The Republican Party’s behavior since then has led me to totally regret any support I ever gave them. Their single-minded opposition to any form of compromise, rejection of almost any sensible bipartisan measures (notably on taxes and gun control), constant fear-mongering and blatant falsehoods propagated by both politicians and conservative medias, ranging from Obamacare’s death panels to the shrill screeches in response to the Iran nuclear deal last year, has led me to believe that most Republicans are fundamentally unfit to govern this country. Most, not all. The Republican primary process has shown that it forces politicians who are by nature centrists or center-right moderates to bend to the right in order to pass through highly partisan electorates. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, insisted he was “severely conservative” during the 2012 primaries. It doesn’t produce candidates that can govern or even be palatable to a diverse nation.

That being said, a year ago, I considered myself not really in support of any one candidate, although I was leaning toward whoever won the Democratic primary, especially Clinton. I had my doubts about Bernie Sanders’s policies, even if I liked him (or what I knew about him) as a person. On the Republican side, I allowed myself that I could be convinced to vote for candidates like John Kasich, George Pataki, or Jim Gilmore. Donald Trump was interesting to me. At first, I followed him for the sheer spectacle of it all, like most people probably did, not expecting him to go anywhere. When he did, I looked more critically at him. I liked that he didn’t emphasize social issues, and that he was seemingly willing to deviate from conservative orthodoxy on many issues. There was maybe, maybe, a window in which I could have been convinced to vote for him. But it closed very quickly.

There were a few reasons for this. One was the relentless barrage of childish insults coming from him as well as the incendiary, racist rhetoric. Another was the blatant disregard for facts or truth in any meaningful sense. No, inner cities are not hell, the unemployment rate is not as high as 40 percent, crime is not the worse it’s ever been, and ISIS is not infiltrating the U.S. through refugees. Selecting Mike Pence, a social conservative who has supported gay conversion therapy and inane “religious freedom” bills to permit discrimination against gay couples, as his running mate was another. When Trump finally did get around to defining his positions on various issues, that was another. Cutting taxes for highest earners while doing essentially nothing to rein in spending is a recipe for disaster. Treating NATO and other alliances like mafia protection rackets is not what a world leader and a country that prides itself on maintaining global order does. Acquiescing to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and not-so-secret war in Eastern Ukraine is shameful. Bringing back waterboarding and “worse” is not something I could ever support as something the president endorses. Insisting that the elections and polls are rigged when things don’t seem to be going your way is what a whiny toddler does. The “scandal” over Clinton’s private email server is not the worst scandal since Watergate.

My hope tonight is for a strong win, even a landslide from Clinton, not for her sake but for the sake of rebuking this idiotic, farcical campaign from the Republican Party.

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14 Days

Only two weeks separate the country from the election. Two debates have happened since my last post, so here are my thoughts on both of them.

Clinton was fairly predictable Clinton in the second debate. Some of her answers were probably dodgy, but she said and did nothing that would cause her to lose support.

Trump, on the other hand, gave a performance that probably thrilled his stanchest supporters and maybe even some right-leaning independents who hate Clinton, but he didn’t really offer much to a lot of people. A lot of rambling answers, like talking about ISIS when asked about the sex tapes. He seemed really off in the first few answers, with the sniffling and the low energy, although he did improve. He contradicted his own running mate. The “You’d be in jail” line, like his whole performance, probably thrilled his supporters and the kind of people who chant “Lock her up!” at his rallies, but does that really play well to a 50 year old, college-educated moderate voter in a Philly suburb? He interrupted, although not as much as the last debate, and he complained about the moderators several times, which even if true, doesn’t make him look confident and like a winner.

Those are my highly biased opinions, but those are some of the things that may stick out to a lot of people. I think overall he landed some good attacks that could stick (certainly with his supporters, but I doubt with independents) and it was more or less a strategic draw. Given that all the evidence is that Trump’s down in key states and overall polls, he needed better than a draw, and in my view, he didn’t get that.

In the third debate, Trump seemed rather subdued–“low energy,” you could say–at the start, yet was a bit more disciplined than in the other debates. He didn’t really capitalize on some missteps from Clinton, who was solid but not utterly commanding–such as missing the chance to hammer her on a “pivot” on a question about an “open borders” comment she made in a private speech.

What sticks from the final debate, in my mind, is that Trump gifted Democrats with two phrases practically tailor-made to rally key demographics for a blue landslide: women and Latinos. “Bad hombres” and “such a nasty woman” were different in the context he spoke them in, the former being in an answer about immigration policy and the latter an interjection in one of Clinton’s last moments of speaking, but they’ve both taken on prominence following the debate. Trump has lost a significant amount of support from women, and he’s never really had support from Latinos, but this could rally turnout from both groups.

A question of temperament

Adding on to the post-debate news of Hillary Clinton rising and Donald Trump sinking is the unfolding story line of Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe from the 1990s who resurfaced this week after Clinton mentioned her in the final minutes of the debate Monday.

The context was, in brief, in an exchange over Trump’s supposed mistreatment of women. Clinton accused him of calling Machado, a Latina, “Miss Piggy” over a weight gain and “Miss Housekeeping.” Trump has not, to my knowledge, denied that he said those, but since the debate has called Machado’s character into question…most notably with a storm of tweets in the wee hours of this morning.

Take the “he said, she said” nature of this question out of this. I don’t think Clinton’s intent in bringing this issue up was to focus solely on Trump’s supposed misogyny. Rather, I think this was to feed into the narrative that he is temperamentally unfit for office, someone who “can be baited with a tweet,” as was said at the Democratic convention. I’m not sure what a presidential contender hopes to gain by firing off a string of snarky tweets between 2 and 6 am, but it’s not a good look.

First Debate: Reflections

Two days have passed since the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and more than a month has passed since my last entry here. Time for summer laziness to end, and fittingly, it’s the first week in Texas that it doesn’t quite feel like summer any more. It’s still probably hotter than summer in half of Europe or the northern U.S., but for Texas it’s quite mild.

So, the debate on Monday, moderated by NBC News’s Lester Holt, went off pretty much the way I would have predicted. Trump had a few good moments, but he wound up spending more time interrupting Clinton, arguing somewhat childishly, and clearly reacting to Clinton’s attempts to wheedle or get under his skin. Here’s my quick take on both of their performances:

Donald Trump: His best moment, in my opinion, was criticizing Clinton for her record on free trade agreements. The mood of the electorate has turned against free trade this year. Whether that’s because of Trump raising this issue or his focus on trade is following the public mood is debatable, but his criticizing Clinton on NAFTA and the TPP could resonate with a lot of voters. In fairness to her, she was not in elected office when NAFTA was negotiated and signed and has [tepidly] voiced opposition to the TPP now, but it’s a strong issue for him. However, he didn’t really effectively answer a lot of questions about his past statements or effectively respond to critiques from Clinton in a lot of ways. He gave some rambling answers to simple questions, the worst here in my mind being “why doesn’t anyone call Sean Hannity?” and his non sequitur reply to being asked if he’d respect the results of the election no matter who won. Overall, I’d give him a D+.
Note: I found the “call Sean Hannity!” defense for his supposed opposition to the Iraq War prior to it starting pretty damn disingenuous. It’s the equivalent of asking employers to trust your aunt as a character reference for a background check. It’s not that Hannity (or your aunt) is dishonest, but it’s that he’s not impartial and clearly has a horse in the race. Take that as you will.

Hillary Clinton: Her more extensive preparation showed in this debate. She was much more comfortable talking about policy, although she was more than happy  to sling mud at her opponent as well. She seemed calm and rehearsed. I thought her response to a question about her emails was, for once, the right length and was overall decent. It’s not going to win over her most vociferous critics (and she never will), but she succinctly apologized and moved on. She landed a few good blows on Trump, her best being the exchange over an incident of an Iranian naval ship taunting a U.S. Navy vessel–would he order the U.S. vessel to open fire over such an incident (it seemed that he agreed that he would, which is a bit troubling). Overall, I’d give her a B.

I have plans to start posting much more regularly here, so stay tuned if that’s your cup of tea. And the presidential contenders roundup will finally be finished, only about 6-12 months late (but who’s counting?).

Summer sneaks up on you

So it’s been far too long for my tastes since I posted here. In an effort to get something up in August before another post-less month goes by, I’m going to try something different: a quick round-up of several big stories in the last week

Trump campaign manager Manafort resigns. This was not that surprising in the last week following the staffing shakeup at the Trump campaign earlier, where Breitbart financier Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway were brought on to run the campaign. However, looking back just a week, the prospect that Manafort would be out in August is somewhat surprising. This follows the allegations that he received enormous payments for his political consulting work in Ukraine with ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych, money that would be more corrupt than pretty much anything either candidate has been accused of as of yet. These sums–if true, of course–are money stolen from the Ukrainian people.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called for a ban on the burka and other face coverings commonly worn by Muslim women. This follows proposals in France to ban the “burkini,” a swim garment that mimics their modest attire. This is part of a charged debate on Muslim immigration to Europe, something that could fundamentally change the demographics and culture of the countries, and is in the context of a string of Islamist terror attacks across the continent. Most of these attacks have been fairly low-scale, save for the truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day last month.

Following a few bad weeks for his campaign, Donald Trump gave his most apparently conciliatory speech yesterday. A lot of damage has been done, mostly from self-inflicted wounds on his part, like the public spat with the Khans, Muslim parents of an Army officer killed in Iraq. According to the Politico article, about a third of Republicans already reckon that any “pivot” from their party’s candidate would be too little, too late, or ineffectual. They quoted an anonymous Republican from the great commonwealth of Virginia thus: “You can keep moving people in and out of the car, but so long as the drunk guy is driving it while blindfolded, the ride probably isn’t going to get any smoother.” Trump is down considerably in the polls, and the way the electoral college math is shaping up does not bode well for him either. Clinton has solid leads in enough states to win without tossups at all, according to RCP. Some swing states, like Virginia and Colorado, already seem to be fairly solid for Clinton, while Trump’s campaign does not seem to have made any headway in must-win states for him, like Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, let alone the Midwestern states that he was supposedly able to put in play, like Michigan or Wisconsin. There is still a long way to the election, but most elections don’t see giant swings one way or another after a month or so after the conventions. Time is tight for both parties, but especially the one that’s down and keeps digging its hole deeper.

Brexit, and more

In the almost month since my previous post, I’ve moved across the country and started a new job. I suppose that will mean I need to update my bio on this page, which I’ll get to later. Right now, I want to go ahead and get a quick post up–I have an internal goal of at least 2 posts on this blog per month, which I generally meet…in the last few days of each month. May was an unusually productive month for me at 3 posts.

Last week, British voters decided by a slim (yet convincing) majority in a referendum to leave the European Union. This shocked most observers and politicians, led to Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation (to take effect after a successor is elected by his Conservative Party in a few months) and an ongoing revolt in the Labour Party against Jeremy Corbyn. Oh, and complete economic turmoil–the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 1000 points from Thursday to Monday, for starters.

One of the key reasons for Britons’ vote to leave was opposition to immigration. The EU’s freedom of movement principle has resulted in a lot of immigration, but so has British policy toward many of its former colonies as well. Most of the leave vote came in England–except for the London area–while Scotland and Northern Ireland, along with London, voted to remain in the EU by considerable margins. This complicates the unity of the UK, to say the least.

So, the task facing Cameron’s successor (former London mayor Boris Johnson, most likely) is not an easy one. Negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU, face an almost certain economic recession and highly likely independence pushes from Northern Ireland and Scotland. The other option would be to disregard the results of the referendum, which is obviously fraught with its own dangers. It’s an unenviable position, to say the least.

The First World War

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a World War I kick. It’s an area of history that I’ve found interesting but never really delved that much into until now, but I’m kind of perplexed as to why I never did. I think the reason WWI doesn’t get that much attention in the popular consciousness and among history buffs is that it’s overshadowed by WWII, which was bigger, bloodier, and resolved the issues that WWI didn’t–for starters, WWII resulted in peace throughout Europe for decades, and in Western Europe to this date.

But WWI is utterly fascinating to me for a lot of reasons. One of them is just how old the world that went to war in 1914 was. The Russian Empire was led by a czar, as it had been since the 1500s. Officers wore white gloves and carried sabers. Troops going into combat wore cloth caps, not metal helmets (those came about after the war had already begun). In 1914, European empires or their successor states (i.e. the United States and Latin American countries ruled by those of European descent) controlled almost all of the world outright. Not only did all the militaries of the world still use cavalry and horses for reconnaissance, combat, and transport, but photos of their cavalry units could be almost indistinguishable from Napoleon’s cavalry.

There are two great sources for my interest that I’d like to highlight: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, specifically the Blueprint for Armageddon series, and the Great War channel on YouTube. Both of these are fantastic, informative, and highly entertaining, and I can’t recommend them enough. I plan to write periodically about a few episodes or themes from the war, and I’ll certainly be drawing upon some of their work.

Some of the ideas I want to talk about are pan-Slavism and its role in leading to the conflict, how military tactics and technology evolved from essentially U.S. Civil War or Franco-Prussian War-era to true twentieth-century tactics, the strategies used to wage the war after the stalemate on the Western Front became apparent, the political and social changes the war wrought on European and American countries, and more. There’s so much to talk about with it that I’m genuinely excited to discuss the Great War and everything related to it.