Now the Democrats

Last night’s Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prompted several quick thoughts. For one, it’s refreshing to once again hear candidates talking mostly substantive matters without resorting to wretched excess. Second, it’s a reminder that a head-to-head debate is much more meaningful than a conversation between seven or eight or more candidates. And third, congratulations to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow, the hosts, who served up serious, thoughtful questions and stayed out when the two candidates engaged in into some intense back-and-forth talk.

A few other thoughts about the race, now entering its final days (finally!!) here in New Hampshire:

This campaign is all over for Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. They will receive very few votes in New Hampshire and have no prospects. I expect both to quit. Neither is remotely qualified to be President of the United States. Carson is a nice guy and clueless as potential President. Fiorina is not a nice person and would be equally disastrous in the White House. Happily, the voters have recognized that.

Hillary is conceding the New Hampshire race, apparently. She is abandoning the state over the weekend to go to Flint, Michigan, a sharp signal that she knows she will lose to Bernie. It’s doers;t look very good, but it is a realistic step. Her battles will be fought later this month in South Carolina, Nevada and elsewhere.

Finally, it will be interesting to see what the voters do on Tuesday with John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. One and possibly two of them will get few votes and have to consider dropping out of the race. My best guess? Bye-bye Chris.

Takeaways from Iowa…

I’m so happy to to be able to write these words: Donald Trump is a loser.

If there’s one giant message from yesterday’s Iowa caucuses, it surely has to do with Trump’s loss. It certainly punctured the myth of his inevitability and seems to suggest that big rally turnouts don’t always translate into big voter turnouts. But however you slice it or project it, the fact is that Trump lost to Ted Cruz and only narrowly managed to edge Marco Rubio. He was the night’s big loser. It will be interesting to see what now happens in New Hampshire for the Donald, who has always maintained a large lead in the state’s polls.

Other takeaways: Mike Huckabee ended his campaign, about six months later than it died. Jim Gilmore managed a measly 12 votes — not 12 percentage points — just 12 votes in the entire state of Iowa. There is no reason for Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum to continue, though I suppose their funeral will have to wait for the results in New Hampshire.

And a special shout-out to Ben Carson, whose finished fourth in Iowa and whose doomed campaign continues for reasons only he knows. After the results were in, his aides announced Dr. Ben is going to Florida for a few days “to grab a change of clothes.” Really. Everyone else is in New Hampshire for the last week of campaigning. Carson will be out of sight in Florida. Bye-bye Ben. Enjoy the sun.

However you analyze the Democratic caucus votes, it is clear that Bernie Sanders did better than anyone expected. And Hillary appears in for a long slog since she trails Bernie in New Hampshire polling by big numbers. It seems almost certain she’ll wind up as the party’s nominee, but it is going to take more energy and more money to accomplish that, and we’ll have to see if it take any sort of toll on her with voters.

Martin O’Malley ended his campaign after miserable results in Iowa. He had neither the money nor the charisma to have any impact against Bernie and Hillary, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he was an attractive, intelligent and thoughtful candidate.

And finally, did I mention that Donald Trump is a loser?

GOP Debate thoughts…

Random thoughts about last night’s Republican debate…

– Without Trump, as disgusting as he is, the entertainment value of the debates was down. Arguably there may have been a bit more policy discussions as a result, but the discussions wound up mostly as the usual posturing about military adventurism and domestic divisiveness. There was very little new as the candidates repeated their now-familiar campaign taglines.

– I watched the undercard debate which convinced me that Carly Fiorina may be even more loathsome and slimy than Ted Cruz. She can say nothing that is short of vindictive, vicious and untrue. She dissembles about Planned Parenthood, demeans Hillary Clinton and grossly misstates her own work record. She is totally lacking in any qualification to be President.

– And so is Ben Carson. The sleepy neurosurgeon continues to speak incoherently about foreign policy and almost everything else. In many ways, it’s a shame, but his campaign has descended into a spectacle of humiliation. Someone needs to pull the plug quickly on Carson, Fiorina, Santorum, Huckabee and Gilmore (who confessed he isn’t bothering to campaign in Iowa and is about to start in New Hampshire, just over one week before that state’s primary). Ugh.

–Marco Rubio seems to get younger and younger with each debate. His invocations of God, his switches on immigration policy and his silly hard-line militarism mark him as a tad unprepared to be President. Maybe sometime down the road when he’s grown up, but for now he’s a little boy not quite ready for the big time. Seriously.

– Rand Paul was probably the night’s big winner, although it’s doubtful it will do him any good. He spoke with some thoughtfulness about the issues, effectively needled some of the other candidates, and in general looked prepared and knowledgeable. And for that matter, Jeb Bush had his best debate, more forceful and perceptive in his responses.

– John Kasich and Chris Chrsitie were pretty much marginalized during the debate. They didn’t have much to add and have said some of the same things things just a little too often. In Christie’s case, the bridge scandal may not yet be over in spite of his eagerness to downplay it. Still, next to Cruz, both candidates do come down on the sane side of things.

– Ted Cruz remains scary. Oily slick, acidly glossing over facts, and accusing everyone of misunderstanding his positions on many issues. His was an unimpressive performance by any measure — he would make a terrible President — and he did nothing to change opinions about his loathsomeness (although Fiorina made a serious run at that).

Trump, Fox Deserve Each Other

This small column may soon be overtaken by events, but until then….

Donald Trump’s standoff with Fox News would be funny if it weren’t so sad. It speaks so clearly about a bigoted, abusive, child who wants to be President of the United States and a national news network that claims it is truthful, reliable and has a shred of integrity.

So Trump won’t appear on the Fox-sponsored debate tonight in Des Moines. In fact, of course, he may well choose to show up at the last minute and thereby confound everyone once again. But if he doesn’t — and putting aside his trumped-up dispute with Fox newscaster Megyn Kelly — his failure to show points up what a shabby operation Fox really is.

In case you missed it, after Trump initially announced he would skip the debate, the CEO of Fox News put out a press statement in which the network said it had learned that the Ayatollah of Iran and Vladimir Putin would deliberately treat Trump unfairly if he should be elected President. Well, in the first place, that’s ludicrous. It has no basis in fact and even strains the notions of fiction.

But in fact it was prepared by the head of Fox and distributed to other media as the “real thing.” Think for a moment: if the president of The New York Times, or CBS or NBC, or just about any real media did the same, he/she would be shaming the organization and turning it into a laughing stock. No, this statement from Roger Ailes indicates only what we already know all too well: Fox News is a political arm of the Republican party establishment and carries zero credibility.

So, given that, who really cares about Trump’s behavior? He’s as slimy as the network he’s feuding with; both carry only the most casual of relationships with truth, honesty and integrity. Trump and Fox are bedmates in that regard, no matter how far they envision their separateness.

Neither should EVER be believed or trusted. Both deserve only shame, a word that both seem quite unacquainted with, sad to say.

Snow, Brain Paralysis

Much of the East Coast is paralyzed today by a heavy snowstorm. Sort of like the way the government has been paralyzed over the last seven years by the Republican party. And sort of like the paralysis that now grips the GOP in the midst of the presidential campaign.

The party’s candidates are caught up in a right-wing frenzy that renders them unpalatable to the center of the country’s voters and assures them of a loss in the national election in November. The possibility of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz — or really anyone who has a chance of winning the nomination at this point — winning is nil. They are in their various ways very scary, ugly candidates.

Trump has become a consummate master of babble and bigotry, while Cruz is the dark prince of repellant and unprincipled ideas. There is hardly much better that can be said of others, all of whom base their campaigns on appeals to right-wingers in the party’s base, the very same base that has directed the Republicans in the Congress on their sadly effective pledge never to cooperate with President Obama.

This is a political party that has no business in government. And if it proceeds to nominate one of these incompetents for President, it will lose and will be out of the governing process once again. Yes, the Republicans will still control the House of Representatives with their Tea Party crazies, but a Democratic victory in the presidential race will almost ensure a Democratic Senate, too.

That, of course, would be a positive step for the process of governing the country. And governing the country is something the Republican abandoned seven years ago, a decision reaffirmed by their leading candidates in this election. What a shame. The country would benefit from a healthy political debate over many difficult issues. The Democrats would be a better party is they had genuine adversaries to confront over the best ways of governing. For now, though, that seems a chimera. About as elusive as intelligence among the Republican presidential candidates.

An Episcopal Issue

Sad news for those of us who are Episcopalians. The governing body of the International Anglican Communion has decided to punish the Episcopal Church of the United States for its continuing endorsement of equality for women and homosexuals. Sad indeed.

What this means is that for the next three years the Episcopal Church has been suspended from participation in the Anglican Communion. And what that means, for nearly all Episcopalians in their pews, is nothing. Except perhaps sadness. And wondering why it has come to this regrettable point.

The issue here is plain. The Episcopal Church has in recent years affirmed its support for women as priests, for the equality of homosexuals in the church and for the sanctity of same-sex marriages. This is to my mind and to many other Episcopalians a very good thing. It is not universally endorsed, however.

The majority in the Anglican communion — and we’re speaking of a quite culturally conservative group of African Anglicans — are adamantly opposed to giving anything resembling full equality to women and homosexuals. They are morally repelled by same-sex marriage and women serving as priests. And sadly, they are on the wrong side of history.

The result of this disagreement is not going to be a change of heart by the Episcopal Church, in my mind. Instead, I hope there might be some compromise reached with the Anglicans, one based on acknowledgement of a common faith and a loving, respectful brotherhood, which will help them move toward acceptance.

I am, I need hardly say, no theologian. And there are many questions here I am not qualified to answer, among them concerns about the the ultimate authority of the Anglican Communion to take such actions. And whatever this may lead to, I am prayerful for an eventual resolution. But I am also fully comfortable in the direction of my Episcopal Church. There can be no going back, not should there.

Dumb and Dumber

If anyone had any doubts about why Ted Cruz is such a horrible person and would make a disastrous President, look at his choice of Rep. Steve King of Iowa to oversee his presidential campaign.

King is — let’s put this pleasantly — not merely the stupidest person in the U.S. Congress but one of the most hated men in that same body. And that’s saying something given that Ted Cruz tops a lot of the lists of the most despised Congressman. Birds of a feather perhaps?

King may be best known for his blunt slurs about Mexican immigrants. He’s also suggested that electric wires placed across the Mexican-U.S. border would deter any illegal immigrants (sure it might kill a few, but hey, it works most of the time with livestock, so …..

Let us not forget that King said a couple of years ago that he’s never heard of a girl getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest. What he said specifically is this: “Well, I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way.” Perfect guy to run Ted Cruz’s campaign right?

And why is he so disliked in Congress apart from being too dumb go find his way to the cafeteria without help? Well, for one, he accused Democrat Harry Reid of endorsing not just Planned Parenthood’s abortion programs but child prostitution and illegal immigration.

Now, Ted Cruz is a manipulative, unprincipled, smug prick, but with those degrees from Princeton and Harvard he’s not stupid. So why would he let a total dolt like Steve King run his campaign? My take is this: first, Cruz wants to win in Iowa, and by attaching himself to Iowan King, his chances of winning in the caucuses improve. (I know this doesn’t answer the question of how stupid you have to elect someone like Steve King, but I have to assume voters in his Iowa district must pay much more attention to cow dung than politicians.)

Second, Steve King will have almost no impact on Cruz’s real campaign. He’ll be used as a nameplate to appease the stupider voters who admire Cruz — never overestimate the quality of Cruz’s voters — while real campaign decisions will be made by smarter people (that could include most of the cows in Iowa).

Or, there’s a third possibility: Cruz isn’t as smart as we give him credit for being. Could that be the REAL connection between the two men?

Let Us Pray for What Is Right

The year 2015 ended on a down note. So let’s try to start 2016 with something a bit more upbeat, even if it is really nothing more than an appeal for reason and civility in a society in which those qualities have been severely strained lately.

The prince of babble and bigotry, Donald Trump, seems to be arguably the main reason for those strains, although there are others whose efforts have been only slightly less shameless in their pandering to the bottom-feeders. Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, immigrants, women, gun-law advocates are among those who have become targets by the mean-minds.

The debate on these and other issues — truthfully, it is no debate any longer, it is merely screaming — has diminished and demeaned all of us. And it seems endless as we peer into the new year. Is there anything to be done? Is there anything that might succor?

On a national scale, I admit I don’t know. But perhaps the best answer is to look locally, to the communities in every part of our nation. In the very tiny corner of the world I live in, there is something being attempted, and it deserves not just support but emulation everywhere.

It is a candlelight vigil to honor love and civility, honesty and justice, a call to our higher ideals. In our community, that vigil will be held on the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend — is there any better time? — on the Common in the town of Walpole, NH, hosted by the churches of the area. I’ll be there, and I know others will, too. My hope is that many others will join all around our country to observe why we are a great country and to counter the noisy voices of discord and shame.

I’ll quote the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of the hosting churches, the Rev. Susan Kershaw, who wrote of the vigil “As Americans, we must speak out out in order to counter these fearful, divisive message with a call to resist fear, seek justice, and appreciate the diversity of faith and race in our great nation.”

Amen. The vigil will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, January 17.

Goodbye to 2015

A couple of topics today, ending the year on a down note, for sure, but then there have been a lot of reasons to feel too many things have not gone well in 2015.

One of the most upsetting elements of the year has been the behavior of police officers. Not all of them, certainly, but far too many of our cops have been involved in murderous activities. And way too many of them have gotten away with it. Their victims have been disproportionately black. The conclusions: too many cops have a racial bias. And, too many cops are cowards.

Cops need more training, a lot more. They need to learn that firing on people without knowing what they’re up to is not courage, it’s cowardice. Cops are supposed to serve not to defend themselves at all costs. And when they take aim and murder victims who may or not be armed they are behaving as untrained people who are so scared they lose their sense of service, of training, of common sense. They are cowards, plain and simple.

And that’s disgraceful, shameful and murderously wrong. Those cowards need punishment.

******************

This year has been a downer in part because of the surfeit of unqualified candidates seeking the office of President. There is not a single Republican candidate who is fit for the job, and most have no business running.

But there’s this: The Manchester Union Leader earlier endorsed Chris Christie for President. Several pundits have referred to the Union Leader as an “influential” paper in New Hampshire. Donald Trump has denounced the newspaper’s editorial endorsement.

So here’s the truth about all of this: The Union Leader is not an influential newspaper, only the state’s largest circulation newspaper. Its editor Joe McQuaid is a right-wing, tea party admiring Republican, and his newspaper occasionally reflects a GOP bias in its news coverage. That makes it not a very good newspaper. Its editorial pages, where opinions are expected, are mostly drivel since the paper has a long history of right-wing editorial drivel. The sum of that is that the paper is not influential save among some of the more extreme elements of the population. Fortunately, most of New Hampshire is more grounded and sensible than the Union Leader.

And on that note, Happy New Year. Surely 2016 will be better?

Thinking about Republicans

A few thoughts about the Republicans who want to be President:

– The enthusiasm for Ben Carson, as predicted, is falling. The more he talks (when you can hear him), the less qualified he seems to hold the highest office in the land. He is, I presume, a decent man, but he is over his head in this race, and that fact is becoming increasingly obvious. Night-night, Ben.

– A writer for the Washington Post smartly leveraged the words and style of Donald Trump throughout his bigoted, rabble-rousing campaign and found a close parallel: with the words and style of the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The Italian was a fascist; Trump is doing all he can to evoke that kind of political opportunism.

– Ted Cruz has seen his polling numbers going up a bit. But it seems he’s having some problems, according to The New York Times: namely, he’s finding it difficult to convince people he’s a nice guy. Apparently Ted comes off as a prick, no matter how much he tries to disguise it. This will come as no surprise to his senatorial colleagues, who tired of him two years ago.

– It’s still astonishing to watch the campaign of Jeb Bush disintegrate. And who could have predicted that a year ago? All it took was for Jeb to hit the campaign trail to allow everyone to discover that he seems not fit for the job. Heck, he doesn’t seem fit for the debates.

– Why is Rick Santorum still in the race? Ego? Idiocy? Hoping for a book contract?

– Lindsay Graham is way too hawkish and lacking in domestic policy chops to interest me. But I like his sense of humor and his occasional whiff of non-partisanship. And I give him credit for the best line of the campaign so far when, after Trump’s call for banning Muslims in the U.S., Graham replied, “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”

– Donald Trump got one thing right: Carly Fiorina is a loser. And was.

– At this point in the campaign — which is to say before most people are aware there’s even a campaign ahead — it’s hard to believe there is a Republican candidate who can be elected President. The leaders are too far right to win a majority of American voters in the general election, and honestly, there’s not a one of them at this moment who shows any presidential qualities. Sad. And sort of unbelievable.