Stop the madness: enough with the extravagant presidential centers

Enough with the lavish presidential centers.

Barack Obama revealed the latest iteration of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Jan. 9.

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Newest design of Obama Presidential Center, Jan. 9, 2018’\\\\[[[”\’

“Michelle and I want this center to be more than just a building,” Obama said in a video statement released on Jan. 9. “We want to create an economic engine for the South Side of Chicago, a cultural attraction that showcases the South Side to the rest of the world.”

Why?

Why can’t it just be a damn presidential library?

As presented on Obama.org, the 225,000 sq. ft. the Obama Presidential Center will consist of: the Forum, a two-story public meeting space; a 235 ft. tall 165,000 sq. ft. museum tower; a library building; a plaza; an athletic center with multi-sport indoor facilities; a new outdoor running track; and a 400-450 space underground parking garage. At an event to unveil the plans, Obama said he’s also like to add a snow sledding hill, as well as play lots and paddle boats for a lagoon in new park space.

Not only will the library be one of the smaller elements of the site, it won’t actually contain any paper records. Instead, all Obama’s unclassified records will be digitized, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Obama’s actual papers will go to separate facilities maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at locations to be determined, John Valceanu, NARA’s director of communication and marketing in Washington told the Chicago Tribune.

Opposition to the center is already surfacing. Faculty at the University of Chicago, where Obama was a lecturer at the Law School, released a letter on Jan. 8 asserting they had “concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods” and that the private Center would be taking over a major part of a historic Chicago park.

“Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation,” the letter said. “Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted’s vision of a democratic urban park.”

The letter also bemoaned expected public expenses associated with the Center.
“ It is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation,” the letter said.

As of Jan. 10, 173 faculty had signed the letter.

Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation, estimated the total cost of the project will be $350 million. Groundbreaking is planned for late 2018 and and the grand opening in 2021.

The Obama Foundation, established in Jan. 2014, has been hard at work trying to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Center.

During 2015-16, the Foundation raised $14,371,979 and had net assets of $10,888,797 at the end of 2016, according to the standard Form 990 non-profits are required to file annually with the IRS.

The Foundation raised its fundraising game substantially during those two years, spending just $12,000 on professional fundraising fees in 2015 and $578,579 in 2016. The Foundation’s 2017 Form 990 report is not yet available, but if the Foundation’s goal is $350 million [l;it likely has quite a way to go.

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” and eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.

With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another presidential center funded by influence seekers and built by a /legacy-hungry ex-president?

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million in 1979; $99.8 million if you include the $79 million 68,000 sq. ft. Edward M. Kennedy Institute, complete with a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber, added in March 2015

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs cost $60 million.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR cost $165 million.

At the rate things are going, The Donald J. Trump Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Presidential Library and Emporium will be a billion dollar extravaganza.

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The Donald J. Trump Center on the Hudson?

Enough of this insanity.

It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding and more lavish presidential centers celebrating former presidents’ egos.

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Geez, so much depressing news today

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Talk about depressing news. The following came out just today:

  • The Republicans’ House tax bill includes a provision lifting a 1954 ban on political activism by churches.
  • According to the New York Times, one complaint to NBC about “Today” host Matt Lauer came from a former employee who said Lauer , who is married, had summoned her to his office in 2001, locked the door and sexually assaulted her, instigating intercourse. She told The Times that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse.
  • North Korea showed on Wednesday that missiles it has developed could reach all of the United States.
  • The House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 38) on Wednesday that would allow concealed-carry permit holders from one state to legally carry their guns in any other state, regardless of any other state’s concealed-carry laws. Additionally, the bill specifies that a qualified individual who lawfully carries or possesses a concealed handgun in another state: (1) is not subject to the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm in a school zone, and (2) may carry or possess the concealed handgun in federally owned lands that are open to the public.
  • Garrison Keillor, the down-home host of A Prairie Home Companion until last year, has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of misconduct.
  • With the U.S. Department of State in turmoil, there are reports that President Trump will replace Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who has held his job for only 10 months, with Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA. Politico reported today that Pompeo has no formal diplomatic experience and is widely considered a hawk skeptical of the kind of international deal-making, even with America’s enemies, that many diplomats consider a necessary part of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Yesterday, President Trump shared videos on Twitter that supposedly portray Muslim turmoil, committing acts of violence, images that are likely to fuel anti-Islam sentiments.  UK Prime Minister Theresa May admonished Trump, declaring that he was “wrong” to share anti-Muslim videos posted online by a “hateful” British far-right group. Some MPs in Parliament called Trump “racist,” “fascist” and “evil.”
  • While Trump and Republican members of Congress are pushing to lessen regulation of for-profit schools, California is suing for-profit online-only Ashford University and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education, for misleading students about its tuition costs, burying them in student loan debt and offering little of value in return.
  • Steven T. McLaughlin, a member of the New York Assembly, was only moderately disciplined for sexual harassment after an investigation by the Assembly’s ethics committee found that he had asked a female Assembly staff member for naked pictures. The sanctions include forbidding him to employ interns, and an official statement of admonition from the Assembly speaker. The ethics committee also determined that he leaked the name of his accuser, in violation of instructions he had received that the victim’s name and incident remain confidential.
  • Despite warnings from investment professionals Jamie DimonJack Bogle, Warren Buffett , Joseph Stiglitz and Ben Bernanke that Bitcoin is a fraud, people are still buying it.  Bitcoin advanced yesterday to a high of $11,434 before the reversal took it as low as $9,009,” though “as of 3:36 p.m. in New York, it traded at $9,911.10. “If you’re stupid enough to buy it, you’ll pay the price for it one day,” Dimon said.
  • Media disclosed that the Republicans’ House tax bill includes a provision conferring a new legal right for fetuses. The provision would allow families to open 529 educational savings accounts for “unborn children” – essentially college plans for fetuses. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, argues, “Affirming this language through the tax code would lay the foundation for “personhood,” the idea that life begins at conception thus granting a fetus in utero legal rights. It’s long been the holy grail of the anti-choice movement, since it would be the basis on which they would argue to outlaw abortion entirely.”
  • Media reported that playwright-screenwriter Israel Horovitz has been accused by nine women of sexual harassment. One accuser said she was 19 when she began a summer fellowship with Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts. On her first night, she said, Horovitz drove her to the family home. locked the door, kissed and fondled her,  then led her to his bedroom, where she said he raped her.
  • A Nov. 26-28 poll by pro-Trump group, America First Policies, found Republican Roy Moore ahead of Democrat Doug Jones 46 percent to 45 percent.

    And finally…

  • After spending eight years bitching about the unconscionable $9 trillion increase in the national debt under Obama, Republicans are pushing a tax bill that could add $1.5 trillion or more to the deficit over the next 10 years and maybe a lot more if Congress renews expiring tax provisions.

All this in just one day. Depressing.

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Trump’s Immigration Order: Fact Checking The Fact Checker

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There’s little question that President Trump thoroughly botched the rollout of his immigration order on Jan. 27. But so-called fact checkers don’t need to try to tip the scales even further.

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,” Trump said on Jan. 29.

Some background.

Following the arrest of two Iraqis in Kentucky in May 2011 for terrorism, Obama pledged to re-examine the records of 58,000 Iraqis who had been settled in the United States and the administration imposed more extensive background checks on Iraqi refugees.

“As a result of the Kentucky case, the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months in 2011, federal officials told ABC News — even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets,” ABC News reported. ABC said that as a result of the visa pause, an “Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays.”

At a congressional hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said a hold had been placed on Iraqi visa applications “…until they could be more stringently vetted to ensure that we’re not letting into the U.S. people who would do Americans harm.”

The Economist reported, “Immigration authorities soon began rechecking all Iraqi refugees in America, reportedly comparing fingerprints and other records with military and intelligence documents in dusty archives. About 1,000 soon-to-be immigrants in Iraq were told that they would not be allowed to board flights already booked. Some were removed from planes. Thousands more Iraqi applicants had to restart the immigration process, because their security clearances expired when the programme stalled.”

The result? The pace of visa approvals slowed to a crawl, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011, telling of an Iraqi who had served as an interpreter for the U.S. military and was unable to secure a visa to the U.S. “…Thousands of former interpreters have been cast adrift, threatened by insurgents as they wait for the federal bureaucracy to act,” The Times reported.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler initially argued that since Obama didn’t announce an actual ban on Iraqi visa applications, but “danced around” the question, what Obama did bore no resemblance to Trump’s order. Kessler said further that Trump’s policy wasn’t the same because because Obama’s policy didn’t prevent green card holders from traveling to the United States (though the Trump administration has since made it clear that green card holders are not affected by Trump’s Executive Order).

So Kessler said the assertion that Trump’s policy was similar to Obama’s action in 2011 “was worthy of at least Two Pinocchios”. The Washington Post explains what this means as follows:

 Two Pinocchios

Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true.”)

More disturbing, Kessler later updated his rating to Three Pinochios” in light of new information”.

The Washington Post explains what this means as follows:

Three Pinocchios

Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions. This gets into the realm of “mostly false.” But it could include statements which are technically correct (such as based on official government data) but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading.

Kessler said his revised rating was based on statements by two former Obama Administration officials, as though they should be the final word. One of those officials said there was no ban on Iraqi refugee admissions under Obama because although there were processing delays, but here was was no single month during which no Iraqis arrived in the U.S.

Another former Obama Administration official said there may have been “a lower level of Iraqi resettlement” for a period, “there was never a point during that period in which Iraqi resettlement was stopped, or banned.”

Kessler also reiterated that Trump’s order was different because Obama’s policy did not prevent green-card holders from traveling to the United States. (Again, Trump’s order did not do this either)

Fact check? I don’t think so.

It would have made more sense for Kessler to simply say “In my opinion…” rather than try to disguise himself as an unbiased truth-teller.

The fact is that although Obama did not announce a ban on visa applications by Iraqis, the impact was essentially the same. To say otherwise is a dishonest portrayal of reality and as disingenuous as can be.

 

What Hath Obama Wrought? Drone Warfare in the Trump Era.

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President Barack Obama was going to be different.

“Eight years ago, Mr. Obama suggested a messenger from a dreamy, multicultural future,” said Adam Shatz, a Fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities. “America would be steered back on track, working with other countries to meet the challenges of what he often called an ‘interdependent’ world…”

“But it hasn’t worked out that way,” Shatz said. “Despite the best of intentions, Mr. Obama became one of the midwives of of this dangerous and angry new world , where his enlightened cosmopolitanism increasingly looks like an anachronism.”

One area where the dreamy optimism eroded was with the drone strikes carried out from operations centers around the world that President George Bush initiated and Obama escalated.

Pressed by public interest groups, in July 2016 the Obama Administration released its estimates of the number of civilians killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, all countries where the United States is not officially at war. The three-page report, titled “Total Number of Strikes Against Terrorist Targets Outside Areas of Active Hostilities”, said 473 U.S. drone strikes in those three countries during Obama’s two terms killed 64-116 civilians. The report also said 2,372-2,581 combatants were killed in U.S. airstrikes from January 20, 2009, to December 31, 2015.

The government acknowledged that its figures differed substantially from estimates by non-governmental organizations. The Long War Journal, for example, estimated 207 civilian deaths just in Pakistan and Yemen, New America estimated at least 216 civilian deaths in the two countries   and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated that 380-801 civilians died during Obama’s presidency.

The U.S. defended its conclusions, however, asserting that:

  • U.S. government post-strike methodologies for determining combatant and non-combatant deaths were superior
  • The government relied on a more extensive collection and analysis of multiple sources of intelligence before, during, and after a strike, and
  • Some figures released by others have been tainted by the deliberate spread of misinformation by some actors, including terrorist organizations.

President Bush’s embrace of drone killings (he authorized about 50 non-battlefield drone strikes) stirred angry protests by liberals, but the massive escalation of drone strikes under Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Obama, including strikes on American citizens, hasn’t stirred up much public turmoil.

Until now.

Now, with President-elect Donald Trump about to take office, public debate and concern about the drone program is resurfacing in liberal circles.

“That any president has this kind of power is concerning on its own, but it’s even more alarming now that Donald Trump, who has praised repressive dictators like Vladimir Putin and shown little respect for things like international law and the Geneva Conventions, is going to be in the White House,” reported Vox on Jan. 10.

If Trump does go even more hog-wild with drones, a supine Congress, deferring to the Bush and Obama administrations, set him up for it by tolerating aggressive presidential behavior and being willing to watch passively as executive power was stretched beyond its constitutional bounds.

“…the truth is that both major parties under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have worked to remove the restraints on the presidency and drastically exaggerate its authority,” Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently in The Week. “If Donald Trump wants to wield nearly unlimited power, he’s seeking an office that provides it.”

“War, huh. What’s it good for?

On this Memorial Day, it seems like the United States has been at war for most of my lifetime. The cost in American lives has been unbearable. Parents of friends, and friends themselves, have died. The financial cost has been astronomical. The impact on our culture has been massive. The resulting erosion of trust in government has been substantial. What have we accomplished?

Vietnam

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used reports of attacks on two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin as political cover for a Congressional resolution that gave him broad war powers in Vietnam. There were only two dissenting votes, Senators Morse of Oregon and Gruening of Alaska.

As American involvement in the war and body counts escalated, so did anti-war protests at home. The end came when Saigon in South Vietnam fell to the communists in April 1975.

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David Halberstam wrote “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident people in leadership roles in the United States who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Now, 41 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam are reconciling. The U.S. wants the business opportunities that are expected to open up in Vietnam and a counterweight to Chinese adventurism.

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President Obama reviewing a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at Vietnam’s Presidential Palace in Hanoi, May 23, 2016.

 

Cost of the Vietnam War to the United States                                            $173 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War                                             58,220

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War       58,220

 

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan war began in October 2011 to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

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The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission in December 2014, according to the White House.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people, CNN recently reported. The result is thousands of refugees and a continued safe haven for ISIS.

The Taliban currently controls more territory than at any time since 2001, when it ruled from the capital, Kabul, Western defense officials say, and the United Nations says civilian casualties are at a high since it began keeping records in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations said 3545 civilians were killed in 2015 as Taliban stepped up attacks after British and American troops left at end of 2014.

Furthermore, U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak, according to the Journal.

 

Cost of the war in Afghanistan to the United States                            $686 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the war in Afghanistan                          2,381

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties                                      2,381

Iraq

On March 19, 2003, the United States and coalition forces, began a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the Sunni leader of Iraq.

When explosions from Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships in the Persian Gulf began to rock Baghdad, President George W. Bush said in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

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U.S. soldiers hold back crowds as the statue of Saddam Hussein falls in Baghdad, April 9, 2003, by Peter Nicholls

The Shia-led governments that have held power since Hussein was toppled have struggled to maintain order and the country has enjoyed only brief periods of respite from high levels of sectarian violence. Violence and sabotage have continued to hinder the revival of an economy shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions.

Politically and economically, Iraq’s trajectory is currently a negative one, Brookings said recently. The country is politically fragmented at all levels and the centrifugal forces appear to be gaining strength. This, in turn, has paralyzed the government, suggesting that the most likely paths for Iraq are toward a situation analogous to the Lebanon of today.

Cost of the Iraq War to the United States                                             $818 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War                                             4,491

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War       4,491

 

“War, huh

Good God, y’all

What is it good for?”

      “War” by Edwin Starr

 

 

Should I stay or should I go: Bernie’s conundrum.

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Hillary Clinton and her allies want Bernie Sanders to withdraw from the race. For additional pressure, the liberal media, including Talking Points Memo,the Washington Post, Daily Kos and the NY Times are piling on in unison. With increasing vehemence, they all argue Sanders should quit because he can’t win the Democratic nomination.

“…Sanders’ campaign is now taking a scorched-earth approach toward its opponents—even if that means helping Donald Trump win the White House,” wrote David Nir in today’s Daily Kos.

Sanders’ continued presence in the race increases divisiveness in the party, his critics assert, makes it harder for Hillary to focus on Trump and forces Hillary to keep spending millions to secure her nomination that would be better spent in the general election.

On March 17, the New York Times reported that the previous week President Obama had privately told a group of Democratic donors that Sanders was close to when his campaign against Clinton would end and that the Democratic Party must soon come together to back her.

According to the Times, people at the donor event “took his comments as a signal to Mr. Sanders that perpetuating his campaign, which is now an uphill climb, could only help the Republicans recapture the White House.”

So let’s look at what Hillary did in her own 2007-2008 contest with Obama.

The objective of each of the candidates in the primaries and caucuses was to secure the support of 2,117 delegates, a majority, to the August 2008 Democratic National Convention.

At the end of 2007, Clinton led in the national polls with 42% of likely voters, over Obama at 23% and John Edwards at 16%.

On Jan. 3, Obama unexpectedly won the Iowa caucuses with 38% of the vote, over Edwards, 30%, and Clinton, 29%. That gave Obama 28 pledged delegates, Clinton 14 and Edwards 3.

At the conclusion of the next three primaries (New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina) on Jan. 26, the pledged delegate vote count was Obama 88, Clinton 46 and Edwards 3. This was after Obama won by a more than two-to-one margin over Clinton in South Carolina, taking 55% of the vote to Clinton’s 27% and Edwards’s 18%. After his shellacking, John Edwards suspended his candidacy on January 30, 2008.

With the Super Tuesday primaries looming, Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama, a high profile endorsement that buoyed Obama’s hopes. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, with 23 states and territories and 1,681 delegates up for grabs, Obama captured 847 delegates and Clinton 834. That put Obama at 1036 pledged delegates and Clinton at 1056.

Earlier in 2008 it had been expected that the nominee would be known after Super Tuesday, but Obama and Clinton were essentially tied in pledged delegates.

During Feb. 9-19, Obama swept 11 state contests and expanded his pledged delegate lead by 120. By the end of February, Obama had 1,192 pledged delegates, Clinton 1,035. But Clinton led among super-delegates, 240 to 19.

In the March primaries and caucuses, both candidates hung in there, with Obama winning 210 pledged delegates and Clinton 205, putting Obama slightly ahead with a total of 1,562½ pledged delegates and Clinton with 1,421½.

 On March 29, Obama’s lead prompted Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, to call for Clinton to drop out of the race. “I think that her criticism (of Obama) is hurting him more than anything John McCain has said,” Leahy said. “I think that’s unfortunate.”

 As the contest continued into April, a consensus began to grow that Clinton didn’t have much of a chance to overcome Obama’s lead in pledged delegates. Coincident with that growing feeling, some Democrats began to argue that Clinton staying in the race was damaging Obama’s likelihood of success in the general election.

Clinton did go on to win in Pennsylvania, but Obama won in North Carolina and the two almost tied in Indiana on May 6. At that point, Obama led Clinton by 164 pledged delegates and there were only 217 pledged delegates left to be decided, leading to more calls for Clinton to drop out of the race.

Even comedians got in the act. “Hillary Clinton says she isn’t dropping out because there are still six states that haven’t had their Democratic primary,” said Conan O’Brien. “That’s right. Barack Obama’s favored in the states of Oregon, Montana and South Dakota, and Hillary is favored in the state of denial.”

Clinton’s fortunes deteriorated further on May 10 when Obama’s super-delegate total passed Clinton’s, making it even more likely that Clinton’s run was doomed.

But Hillary Clinton persevered.

It wasn’t until June 3 when Obama’s delegates from South Dakota and Montana primaries, plus his announcement of more super-delegates, put Obama over the majority needed for the Democratic nomination.

Still, it took until June 5 for the Clinton campaign to post a letter to supporters on its website saying Hillary would endorse Obama on June 7.

From my perspective, that pretty well sums it up. Bernie, ignore the calls to drop out coming from Hillary and her bought and paid for acolytes. Keep a-pluggin’ away.

 

                                       If the hills are high before

                                       And the paths are hard to climb,

                                       Keep a–pluggin’ away.

                                       And remember that successes

                                       Come to him who bides his time,—

                                        Keep a–pluggin’ away.

“Keep a-plugging away”, Lyrics of Lowly Life, Paul Laurence Dunbar

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It’ll be too damn bad if Trump gets walloped

The glee was palpable. This past weekend, E.J. Dionne Jr., a liberal columnist at the Washington Post, exuberantly declared that Donald Trump’s candidacy is set to implode.

But such elation may be misplaced if Trump’s defeat allows the status quo politicians, power brokers and so-called thought leaders to claim victory and dismiss the concerns of many of his frustrated and embittered supporters.

PoliticsAsUsual

Trump’s supporters reflect a lot of discontent that’s boiling up in this country. If it’s just dismissed as the complaints of a fringe and we return to politics as usual, that would be a tragedy.

It would mean ignoring millions of Americans like Sam W., a longtime friend from back East.

Sam called me the other day to shoot the breeze. We started talking about cycling tours and our children, but it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to politics.

And off he went, hardly pausing for a breath.

Sam’s a professional, has a graduate degree and is drawn to Donald Trump, partly because of his disgust with politics as usual. In an exasperated tone, he said he felt that the pundits, the media and political leaders in both parties are demonizing him and others like him as poorly educated, ill-informed, racist bumpkins who need to get with the program.

“It’s really discouraging,” Sam said, “to be labeled a nutcase and a low-knowledge voter because I think the leaders of both parties have utterly failed us in confronting America’s problems.”

His litany of frustrations was a long one.

When he argues that massive illegal immigration and sanctuary cities undermine the rule of law, sanctimonious liberals call him a bigot, he said.

When he lambastes Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous lead-from-behind foreign policy, the collapse of one Middle East country after another, Russia’s takeover of Crimea and ascendency in Syria and other international messes, he said he’s dismissed or ignored.

Sam also endorses the argument that some international defense agreements need to be reexamined. “Too many countries are only able to afford their cushy social welfare programs because the U.S. picks up the tab for their security,” Sam said. “That’s crap. When our own budget is strained, isn’t it legitimate to consider more sharing of the burden?”

When he expresses his frustration with the latest PC controversy, such as  the complaints by Emory University students that somebody writing “Trump 2016” in chalk on a campus sidewalk makes them feel unsafe and in pain, he’s accused of being a narrow-minded old fogie.

Sam is also disheartened with the failure of both parties to honestly tackle the ever-expanding national debt. When George W. Bush left office in January 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. Now in the eighth year of Obama’s presidency, it is over $19 trillion.

But neither party is talking seriously about the critical need to reduce federal spending and avoid a debt crisis. Democrats never seem to give a damn, Sam said, but the Republicans aren’t much better because they say they care, but the truth is they still vote for budget busting bills.

Sam also doesn’t think either party has really shown much real concern for the poor. The Democrats just want to expand the welfare state and generate thank-you votes, he said, and the Republicans seem insensitive to the legitimate concerns of struggling Americans.

For that matter, the establishment elite of both parties doesn’t seem to understand the legitimate worries of the middle class either, Sam said. A lot of Americans are really scared and struggling just to stay in place, he said, but politicians seem more focused on catering to big banks, corporations and the wealthy.

And think about what we may end up with if Trump is pushed out, Sam said. “On the Republican side we could be faced with Ted Cruz, a right-wing bible-thumping moralist who is a pariah in his own party. On the other side, Hillary Clinton is an uninspiring and widely distrusted candidate whose entire family stinks of greed and appears oblivious to common standards of conduct.”

“An awful lot of Americans are just completely disillusioned with U.S. politics as usual,” Sam said.

 “Whether they are the academic, media, and entertainment elites of the Left or the political and business elites of the Right, America’s self-appointed best and brightest uniformly view the passions unleashed by Trump as the modern-day equivalent of a medieval peasants’ revolt. And, like their medieval forebears, they mean to crush it,” the National Review said earlier this year.

If they succeed, and then ignore the concerns of Sam and millions of Americans like him, the prognosis for stability and progress is not good.