Obama’s historic speech in Havana — finally!

The tragedy in Brussels and the endless election campaign came to overshadow President Obama’s historic speech in Havana, Cuba, yesterday.

So I am posting it here because of its  importance. Finally, the United States and Cuba have broken with the past and started on the road towards a new, constructive relationship.

I am also posting it because of its eloquence, Obama at his best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEw3H0C-Lj8

 

It’s Hillary Clinton vs. the GOP’s “Frankenstein monster”

I once thought that the American presidential election was going to be a battle between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, between the country’s two legacy families, the Clintons and the Bushes.

I am still right, at least so far, that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. In fact, I believe so now more than ever after her spectacular victory yesterday in South Carolina, capturing over 73 percent of the vote and over 80 percent of the African American vote. She simply trounced Bernie Sanders, and I believe this pattern will repeat itself in the primary contests in the slew of Southern states, also with large and important African American constituencies, on Super Tuesday in two  days. And, then, the race is more or less over.

But, obviously, I was wrong about Bush. His legacy did not carry him for long, or really not at all, as his candidacy whimpered out after only four primary contests, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. He was a bad campaigner, almost pitiful, and although he tried to stand up for what the Republican Party used to stand for, he had no chance in the toxic climate created by Donald Trump, the GOP’s “Frankenstein monster,” as foreign policy expert and Brookings Institution scholar, Robert Kagan, writes in a scathingly critical article of his old party in today’s Washington Post.

Trump has picked up, Kagan writes, where Republican pundits and intellectuals had already had taken the party and where they had left it off, “tapping the well-primed gusher of popular anger, xenophobia and, yes, bigotry that the party had already unleashed.” So let’s be clear, Trump is the party’s creation, “its Frankenstein monster, brought to life by the party, fed by the party and now made strong enough to destroy its maker.”

For Kagan, a former Republican, the only choice in November is to vote for Hillary Clinton, as the “frantic efforts” within the Republican Party to stop Trump have failed, according to a report in today’s New York Times. There was talk of the “Republican establishment” stopping Trump, but who is that and where is it? No, it now seems too late to stop Trump, as all the polls on the doorstep of Super Tuesday point to many more victories for the New York businessman.

What a sad turn of events!

Scalia’s death raises the stakes but also the question of reforms

The presidential election campaign all of a sudden got more contentious, more exciting, and more important with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the leading conservative on the Court.

The voters on November 8 will now decide not only who occupies the White House after President Obama, and who controls the U.S. Congress, but also who, conservatives or liberals, will control the third branch of the American political system, the Supreme Court.

With Scalia gone, the Court is tied, 4 – 4, between conservative and liberal justices. An Obama appointment would almost certainly swing the Court to a liberal majority and, for the first time since 1972, the justices appointed by Democratic presidents would outnumber those appointed by Republican presidents. The change would be monumental.

The Republicans in the Senate led by majority leader Mitch McConnell have instantly made it clear that they have no intention to consider an Obama nominee, no what who that is. The decision to appoint Scalia’s replacement should be made by the next president. But Obama is not elected to a three-year but to a four-year term. He has almost a year left in office and he has, rightly, declared that he intends to nominate a new justice. So we are in for a big fight, a complicating, new factor in an election campaign already fraught with uncertainty and tension.

McConnell, who famously said during Obama’s first term that his primary political goal was to make sure that Obama was not reelected now wants to deny the president, who has already appointed two new high court justices, the chance to appoint a third. McConnell’s stern “no” could have serious election implications for the Republicans and their goal to keep their Senate majority, as NYT’s Nate Cohn outlines. We’ll see how this plays out.

The death of Scalia is also an important reminder of how totally unpredictable the system of appointing Supreme Court justices is. It’s time to change what’s been, rightly, called an undemocratic system by doing away with life time appointments and create more orderly nomination procedures with term limits and a retirement age. In Minnesota, to which I presently spend a lot of attention, the retirement age for the state’s highest court is 70. That’s a bit young, maybe, but why not 75? And why not a 20-year term limit? Or both?

Sadly, such reforms are seldom part of the American political dialogue. They should be, particularly as the politicization of the Supreme Court shows no signs of abating.

Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing — and that’s good!

Two down but no end in sight. Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing.

That’s the only conclusion to draw after the first two contests in the American presidential election campaign.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic America. How can they be when 95 percent of New Hampshire’s population are white and when two thirds of the Republican voters in Iowa are evangelical? That’s not today’s America.

At least, the candidates in both parties are fewer than before. Among the Democrats, it’s now a real race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Who would have thought just a short time ago that Bernie Sanders, who sounds like a good Swedish social democrat like Olof Palme, would capture such enthusiasm and support among American voters? As someone who has grown up in that northern European political culture, much of what Sanders says sounds right: basic fairness, health care for all, income equality, free education. But is it a sign of something new in American politics? Is it a sign that a “democratic socialist’’ all of a sudden is acceptable, maybe even mainstream? Or is it more an indication of the country’s voters so desperately seeking something new, and fresh, that even a 74-year old Senator can symbolize this?

Still, in today’s America, his vision is politically completely unrealistic, and, I believe, will only carry him so far. In the end, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But the fact that Sanders won 83 percent of the voters between 18 and 29 years of age while Clinton only won among those over 65 and failed to win the women’s vote must be most worrisome. Is America ready for a woman president, or is Hillary Clinton the wrong female candidate?

That depends, largely, on who the Republican nominee is. Right now, it could be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or one the so-called establishment candidates, if one of them catches fire. If not, the Republican Party will be led by either the chief clown, Trump, or the chief spokesman of evangelical America, Cruz, the most conservative nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964. We know how that ended. And that’s what worries the establishment in the Republican Party, but can they do anything about it? So far, no.

Both Sanders and Trump are outsiders, and, ironically, both have no chance in realizing their vision of America. Trump plays the strong man with an enormous ego who thinks he can solve all the problems. His message is fool’s gold and he should not be taken seriously. It’s sad to see so many do, that two thirds of the Republican primary voters in New Hampshire agreed with his proposal to bar Muslims from entering America, or that Trump, a man with zero foreign policy experience, is the best man to handle an international crisis. Unfortunately, the Republican voters, at least so far, seem to listen to what David Brooks calls the “pornography of pessimism” among the Republican candidates about of the state of affairs in America. Will that last? We don’t know.

Uncertainty before Iowa, no matter what the polls say

Whatever the polls might say, the outcome of the Iowa caucuses next Monday is far from certain among both Republicans and Democrats.

In the Republican so-called establishment the nervousness is growing as a Trump victory or a Cruz victory seems ever more likely. But it’s too late to do anything about it now or even before the New Hampshire primary on February 9. The Republican Party is reaping what they have sown. Later, possibly, as the primary campaign goes on to bigger and ethnically more diverse states, the Republican voters might come to their senses as they realize that the course the party is taking is a suicide mission. Or at least, that is what many establishment Republicans are wishing, for a Republican Party with Trump or Cruz as its presidential nominee cannot win the general election in November.

On the Democratic side, the race is even, surprisingly so. A Town Hall last night from Iowa with the three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley and broadcast on CNN, was forceful, energetic, positive, and informative. The issues of America were discussed seriously and the negative attacks on the opponents were largely absent.

A confident, relaxed, articulate Hillary Clinton made a strong case for herself as the most knowledgeable and experienced of the three, yes, of all the candidates, including the Republicans. Her knowledge of foreign policy, in particular, impressed, and should impress the voters, in these times of upheaval and uncertainty around the world. I think this is the Hillary Clinton that the voters want, and should, see, and staying positive and upbeat. She needs to make sure the voters know of and understand what she stands for. Attacking Bernie Sanders is not what she should be doing. Sanders is running his race and he is doing it well, talking about the serious issues facing America. It might pay off handsomely in Iowa and New Hampshire. But…beyond that? He is no threat.

Sanders, the senator from Vermont and the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, whose campaign has developed into a popular movement that no one predicted, including Sanders himself. He, also, did well, as he continued to hammer forcefully on his main themes of economic inequality, healthcare for all Americans, and reigning in Wall Street’s excesses. As a progressive, born and raised in Europe, I agree with much of what he says. The political revolution that Sanders urges might be a revolution for America, but not in my old home country of Sweden, or in Europe as a whole. It is far out to the left for America, and although Sanders certainly has many Americans supporting him, they are not enough for him to win in November. America is not ready for a political revolution.

Martin O’Malley, finally, the former governor of my home state of Maryland, has strong progressive credentials, and in another year, without Sanders, he might have had a chance. Not this year.

In all, the Democrats are in better shape than the Republicans, keeping the big picture in mind — the general election in November — regardless of what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and whoever the Republicans choose, they will have a formidable opponent.

“Please don’t go quietly into the night”

Today, on the same day, two of America’s leading Republican columnists, New York Times’ David Brooks and Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, plead for their party to take a different route, away from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

In his rally cry, Brooks writes that it’s time to get together and for a new coalition of the forces of the “hopeful, practical, programmatic Republicans.” “Please,” he ends, “don’t go quietly and pathetically into the night.” For Gerson, the only good outcome for the Republicans of Trump vs. Cruz is “for both to lose.” And he ends, that “for the future of the party as the carrier of a humane, inclusive conservatism now depends on some viable choice beyond them.”

Neither Brooks nor Gerson recognize their party today. Gerson describes it under Trump and Cruz as a party that undermines religious liberty and encourages an ethnic basis for American identity that, in turn, strengthens prejudice. And for Brooks, alienating every person of color in the 21st Century is “borderline insane.”

As the showdown in Iowa and New Hampshire quickly approaches, Brooks and Gerson have grown visibly more frustrated and nervous. They fear not only for the future of their party but also for the outcome in the November elections. It’s a nervousness and fear they share with many in the Republican Party establishment, or governing Republicans, as Brooks calls them. The reality is that they are facing a new party, a party full of anger, as David Leonhardt writes in today’s New York Times. This unhappiness among Republican Party members and voters is unprecedented in the last two decades. Its reasons are both economic and cultural, and, in addition, racial.

We’ll soon know if the Republicans primary voters will diverge from the polls and turn their backs on the demagogic messages of Trump and Cruz.

The sad state of affairs of the Republican primary campaign

”The best advice may be to deal with him (Donald Trump) the same way we’re told to deal with bees, small children throwing tantrums and Internet trolls: Just ignore him.”

That’s Boston College professor Emily Thorson in yesterday’s Washington Post, and that’s what I have been trying to do all of last year, staying away, on this blog, in disgust and frustration over a Republican primary election campaign that not only has been ridiculously long but also utterly depressing.

Now, the year of the elections has arrived but the Republican primary campaign, “that (has) disqualified the qualified,” as the headline reads in Robert Draper’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, is even more depressing, if that’s possible. It’s become a campaign of two factions, the outsiders without political experience – amateurs, in plain speak — vs. the establishment. I have never been in favor of amateur politicians, like Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. What makes them think, other than their enormous egos, that they can lead the United States, even in the best of times, and these are not the best of times, just because they can earn billions on real estate like Trump, operate on brains like Carson, or sink Hewlett Packard like Fiorina. Politics is a more complicated than that and should get more respect than that.

So why is this kind of presidential candidates taken seriously? Why don’t we all just ignore them? The media, seemingly, won’t let that happen and it’s not the first time this happens. We just have to go back one election cycle, to 2012, to remember the pizza man, Herman Cain, who was treated far too long as a serious candidate, although he was sorely lacking in both knowledge and political experience. Such candidates are not the answer to who should lead this country.

Still, Republican polls show substantial support for not only Trump but also for Carson, and only a few weeks before the voters have their first say, Trump victories in Iowa or New Hampshire do not seem implausible. David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, wrote in early December that Trump won’t win the Republican nomination, and he cited a “mental shift” among voters taking place as the actual caucuses and primaries get closer. The voting booth focuses the mind, Brooks wrote, and, he added, “I doubt Republican voters will take a flyer on their party’s future – or their country’s future.”

Today, a few weeks before Iowa, those words seem to be wishful thinking. Nothing, at least not yet, point to that the Republican voters are less angry now or have come to their senses, whatever that means. Most of them still want Trump — the “chief birther,” the man responsible for one the saddest and most humiliating chapters in recent American politics, who is now trying to lie and demagogue his way into the White House — to lead them.

Doyle McManus, columnist at the Los Angeles Times, also in early December, wanted us to make sure to remember that polls at least until about a month before the Iowa caucuses are largely meaningless. Well, Iowa is only a couple of weeks away now and Trump is far ahead in New Hampshire and a close second in Iowa. His support is strongest among those Republicans who are less affluent, less educated and less likely to vote. Will they continue to back him at the voting booths? We will see.

I believe in the political process in the sense that those in the party who have been tested in that process have also earned a chance to seek the highest office in the land. That’s what political parties are for. Otherwise, we will have the circus, the chaos, just like we now have.

Now, I am sure many will argue that the so-called establishment candidates, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, or for that matter Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are not much better. That’s not the point. Although a President Ted Cruz, for example, is truly a frightening thought, he and the others are men of the party, battle-tested and they have been elected, and so they have earned a place at the table, or as the campaign now unfolds, a spot on the debate panels. Trump, Carson and Fiorina have not.

And I am sure many will argue that the three Democratic candidates are not much better. Although I don’t agree, it is a sign of weakness that the party cannot come up with more candidates, and, most of all, younger candidates, than a tainted Hillary Clinton, an angry, old socialist like Bernie Sanders, or a former governor, who could not get his successor elected.

Half a year ago or something, I said that I thought the fight for the White House was going to come down to Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush. Now, with Bush sinking like stone in the polls, such a race seems much more unlikely. Will he sink to the bottom in Iowa and New Hampshire? If so, his dream of becoming a third Bush in the White House is dead and his place could be taken by Donald Trump. Is that really what the Republican Party wants? It is certainly not what America needs.