Thursday, October 13, 2016


Profound thoughts arise only in debate, with a possibility of counterargument, only when there is a possibility of expressing not only correct ideas but also dubious ideas.
8212; Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom

They weren’t watching the debate. Because of their close quarters, the parents knew that if they were watching, their children would be watching and they knew that what the children didn’t hear would be upsetting for the children. They would be unable to explain to the children why they didn’t hear what they didn’t hear. Those parents’ reasons for not letting their children watch were different from those parents who didn’t let their children watch because of what might be explicitly said about Mr. Trump’s voracious sexual appetite.

The parents in the first group would not know how to explain to their children that for almost the first half hour of the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on October 9, 2016, the children heard no discussion of their plight. The parents would not know how to explain to their children that when directly asked in the second half hour of the debate what each of them would do to help the few families that may be left when sworn in as president, one at first answered obliquely and only in follow up discussion made more definitive statements as to what she would do. The other made no attempt to answer the question. The question had been submitted by a listener: “[I]f you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”
The question might have been inspired by a report in the New York Times that sought to explain why so many children were being killed in Aleppo. As the opening paragraph of the New York Times report said: “They [children] cannot play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their parents in windowless underground shelters . . . . Among the roughly 250,000 people trapped in the insurgent redoubt of the divided northern Syrian city are 100,000 children.

Secretary Clinton gave the first inadequate response. She said that the situation in Aleppo is “catastrophic.” As Secretary of State she said she had advocated no-fly and safe zones. She said the United States had to work more closely with its allies on the ground.

Mr. Trump responded using 349 words. He never mentioned Aleppo. The moderator repeated the question about Aleppo quoting Michael Spence, the vice-presidential candidate saying that the United States “should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.” Mr. Trump’s only statement about what the United States should do in Aleppo was to say that he disagreed with Mr. Spence and said: “I think Aleppo is a disaster- “humanitarian-wise.” Pressed further, he began discussing events in Mosul, Iraq, at great length. When he had finished, Secretary Clinton was again asked whether she would advocate the use of U.S. military force to back up diplomacy and what she would do differently from what the president was doing. She responded that she would not use ground forces in Syria, but would advocate the use of special forces as was being done in Iraq. With that response, Aleppo went to the back of the discussion, a discussion that concluded with more discussion of the use of forces in Iraq. As Martha Raddatz, one of the moderators, brought that discussion to a close, Mr. Trump, who had only mentioned the word Aleppo once in his answers, concluded his remarks on the subject saying: “You know what’s funny? She went over a minute over, and you don’t stop her. When I go one second over, it’s like a big deal.”

The parents huddled in the basements of what was left of their houses, did not want their children to hear what the two candidates for the presidency of the strongest country in the world had said in response to the question about their plight. The little boy who had been photographed sitting pitifully in a chair with his bloody face only a few weeks earlier would not have understood when his mother tried to explain to him why only one of the candidates to become president of the United States even attempted to explain what she would do to help him and his family and others like him. The parents of the child who was seen being pulled from the rubble after a bunker bomb had destroyed his safe haven, would not understand why one of the candidates was so concerned about how much time he had to answer a question, when the little boy wondered how much time he had left before another bomb landed on his dwelling.

There was one bit of encouraging news the Aleppo parents could have shared with their children had they let them watch. They could tell their children that whereas the word “Aleppo” was used only ten times in the Sunday night debate, it was not mentioned at all in the debate ten days earlier. As a spokeswoman for the American Relief Coalition for Syria said after the first debate, the coalition was “deeply disappointed by the utter failure of last night’s debate to even mention Syria.” The Coalition’s disappointment with the candidates’ responses after Sunday night’s debate was probably only slightly less than it had been the previous week. Understandably. Imagine how the children in Aleppo would have felt had they only known.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Slough of Despond

Deliver me from your cold phlegmatic preachers, politicians, friends, lovers and husbands.
— Abigail Adams, Letter to John Adams

Alabama is back with us. Its arrival preceded by just one day the news that thanks to Donald Trump’s sophistication, he had probably paid no taxes for many years. As Rudolph Giuliani explained it, “The man’s a genius. He knows how to operate the tax code for the people that he’s serving.” The people he is serving do not include the people who were serving Mr. Trump as workers in his construction projects whom he repeatedly stiffed by not paying them what they were owed, and who, thanks to Mr. Trump’s clever use of the bankruptcy laws, were left holding an empty bag of compensation while Mr. Trump was left holding a bag full of tax benefits. But never mind all that. Let’s go back to Alabama where it’s two for three and that’s just as exciting as what’s happening in the presidential campaign.

Readers who follow events in Alabama will recall that all three of what might be called its “top dogs,” were in hot water because of their conduct as elected officials. Two of them have now been happily dispatched (although one of them intends to appeal) and the third is in a holding pattern as lawyers quibble over how to proceed. Of the three, perhaps the most interesting is Roy Moore, the now-suspended Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Moore is the most interesting because he is probably the only Chief Justice in Alabama who has been a repeat customer of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. Each of his appearance before that body has resulted in his not being permitted to continue to serve as Chief Justice although the manner in which that result was achieved differed in the two cases. When he became the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court the first time, Chief Justice Moore caused a 5,280-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments to be installed in the central rotunda of the state judicial building. When the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered him to have it removed, he refused. As a result, instead of the monument being removed from the rotunda, Justice Moore was removed from the bench by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.

In 2012 Mr. Moore was re-elected as Chief Justice and, in 2016, the Court of the Judiciary suspended him. On this occasion he was suspended for ordering lower court judges in Alabama to ignore federal court rulings permitting same-sex marriages, and for instructing probate judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Using the sort of nicety that only lawyers can appreciate, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary did not remove Justice Moore from office following his second appearance since removal required a unanimous vote of the members of the Court and the members of the Court were not unanimous in voting for his removal. Instead, it suspended him without pay until his term ends in 2019. (Alabamans needn’t fear another resurrection of the Chief. In 2019 he will be too old to run again.)

Meanwhile, back at the trial court level in Alabama, we have the conviction of the former Alabama House Speaker, Mike Hubbard. He, it will be recalled, was first elected to the House in Alabama in 2010, vowing to clean up the state legislature. In a book he wrote following his election, he said: “Ethics was a subject that set Republicans apart from the Democrats.” That assertion was made because of pre-election scandals and indictments involving Democrats. Mr. Hubbard is no longer the Speaker of the Alabama House. In a good news-bad news kind of way, in June 2016 he was convicted of only 12 counts of corruption instead of the 23 counts with which he had been charged. He was sentenced to four years in prison and given $210,000 in fines. He will, of course, appeal. That leaves us, as we consider Alabama, with Governor Robert Bentley. He is in the midst of a process that may result in impeachment proceedings. His offenses involve the kind of conduct that has suddenly become one of the hot issues of the presidential campaign-infidelity.

In the presidential campaign, the question Mr. Trump has repeatedly suggested voters should consider, in comparing himself and Hillary Clinton, is whether it is a greater offense to (a) engage in sexual misconduct with someone other than a spouse while married or (b) be a spouse who is cheated on. Since Mr. Trump is critical of Secretary Clinton’s response to the infidelity of her husband, it would be helpful to learn of the responses of Mr. Trump’s betrayed spouses to his acts of infidelity. That would be helpful to know since, as in all things Trumpian, one can be confident that the responses of his former spouses to his repeated acts of infidelity represent the gold standard in dealing with unfaithful spouses. But I digress.

In Alabama, the House Judiciary Committee is conducting an investigation to determine whether impeachment proceedings against the governor are warranted because the governor has been accused of having an affair with a staffer BEFORE he was divorced. The outcome of the investigation will not be known until after the presidential election is past. However it comes out, Alabamans may, for good reason, feel that their state has fallen into the Slough of Despond. They are not alone. Thanks to the campaign for president, the entire country has joined them in the Slough.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Best Friends

Sticks and stones can break my bones
But words can never hurt me.
A child’s reply to a taunt

It was a truly heart-warming couple of days-the rapprochement of two former bitter rivals, one of whom, in a moment of amazing grace, buried the hatchet and the other, in a similarly generous gesture, assisted in the burial. It was reminiscent of the small boys who, having quarreled, are instructed by their mothers to kiss and make up to show that they are, in fact, best friends. Any small boy who has kissed another small boy after a quarrel can attest to the unpleasantness of the task even though mandated by well-meaning mothers. The mothers in this case are expediency and the little boys none other than Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It was all brought to mind because of Mr. Cruz’s recent acknowledgement that he plans to vote for Mr. Trump. It cannot have been an easy decision, given some of the unkind things that Mr. Trump said about Mr. Cruz, his wife, and his father, during the primary season and it shows how truly magnanimous Mr. Cruz can be when magnanimity and self-interest demand it.

The animosity between Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump finds its genesis in their respective efforts to get their party’s nomination for president in 2016. In his effort to convince voters that he would be a better president than Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump employed a number of creative tactics that had not theretofore been used in national elections. Comparing the beauty of candidates’ wives was one. Mr. Trump has had three beautiful wives whereas Mr. Cruz has had only one beautiful wife. That gives Mr. Trump a three to one advantage over Mr. Cruz and, as if to emphasize that advantage, Mr. Trump posted on the twitter account of which he is so fond, a picture of his beautiful wife and an unflattering picture of Mr. Cruz’s beautiful wife. Not content to rely on an unflattering photo of a beautiful woman in order to show how beautiful his own and current wife is, Mr. Trump also ominously said he would eventually spill the beans on Mr. Cruz’s wife. That was apparently an idle threat since there were no beans to be found. The foregoing is not meant to suggest that Mr. Trump was a one issue candidate. He also brought Mr. Cruz’s father into the picture.

A tabloid published a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin, distributing pro-Castro leaflets in New Orleans. Mr. Oswald was accompanied by another man that the tabloid said was Mr. Cruz’s father, an assertion that was denied by Mr. Cruz and never proved. Not deterred by the fact that there was no evidence that the unidentified man was Mr. Cruz’s father, Mr. Trump pretended it was and said it was “horrible” that he’d been with the assassin two days before the assassin killed the president. After Mr. Trump had accepted the nomination at the Republican National Convention, he again repeated the assertion about Mr. Cruz’s father, apparently miffed that Mr. Cruz had not endorsed Mr. Trump in his convention speech.

Mr. Cruz was, as most decent people were, upset by Mr. Trump’s comments. The day after Mr. Trump’s comments about his father, Mr. Cruz explained why he had not honored his pledge to endorse the eventual nominee of the Republican party saying: “[T]hat pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father,” Everyone who has a wife and/or a father applauded Mr. Cruz for his strong defense of family. Mr. Trump was not the least bit upset by Mr. Cruz’s decision not to endorse him saying: “If he gives it, I will not accept it.”

On September 23, Mr. Cruz became, as he had earlier described what he would be were he to endorse Mr. Trump, a servile puppy dog. He attributed his puppy dog like servility to his earlier pledge to support the Republican nominee, irrespective of who that might be, the pledge he had described two months earlier as “abrogated.”

Readers will be forgiven if they assume that Mr. Cruz’s endorsement of Mr. Trump would be ignored by Mr. Trump who had said, after the Republican convention, that he would not accept the endorsement even if offered. Instead of acting on his earlier announced intention to decline an endorsement from Mr. Cruz whom he had persistently addressed as “Lyin’ Ted” during the primary season, Mr. Trump accepted the endorsement saying: “We have fought the battle, and he was a tough and brilliant opponent. I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again.”

It was almost certainly a distasteful kiss for both men. Politics makes strange bedfellows.