Sunday, November 22, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris

The GOP Field: 14 Candidates Who Would Never Do This

On Friday November 13, 2015 a series of coordinated, sophisticated terrorist attacks were conducted in Paris. One hundred and thirty people were killed. The Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the act. In the week since the attack there have been several raids in France and Belgium and an uptick in the military strikes against ISIL, Including France deploying its only aircraft carrier to drop bombs on Raqqa, Syria, the city which has been ISIL's de facto capital.

The domestic conversation has focused mostly on the issue of whether or not to accept refugees from this crisis, with every single Republican presidential candidate saying no to Muslim refugees. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have somehow been even worse, saying that they would only allow Christian refugees.  President Obama has been overseas all week and has been very consistent that he will not change the process for screening and accepting refugees.  At least one Governor, Mike Pence (R-IN) has turned away refugees from him state and about 30 other governors, mostly Republican have said they will do the say.

This post is meant to record my impressions of the tack and my expectations for what will happen next. I will organize the topics roughly from most to least important. And I can remove all suspense by telling you that I don't know how to fix the biggest issues here.

I. Climate Change.

This mess was created by the decision of the Bush administration to depose Sadaam Hussein in 2003 and a drought in Sryria. That drought forced many farmers to abandon their land and head to Syria's cities. The tension in those cities contributed to unrest that coincided with the so-called "Arab Spring" of 2011. This conflict eventually turned into a full-fledged Civil War. The chaos created by that Civil War and the ongoing problems in Iraq created a situation that allowed ISIL to thrive.

If you're reading this and anticipating push back from some obnoxious relative at Thanskgiving: bookmark this link.  They won't read it, but they at least you will know you tried.

II. The Refugees

In the days since the attacks, the most pressing issue has been the fate of the more than three million refugees created by the war in Syria. In addition to the aforementioned Governors, Poland and other EU nations have also backed off from commitments to receive refugees.

A lot of these decisions are based on two related fears, which are rooted in very different degrees of reality. The immediate fear was that the attackers in Paris were people who came to Europe as refugees from the Syrian conflict. So far all of the identified attackers were French or Belgian nationals. A Syrian passport found at the soccer stadium may have been a forgery planted by ISIL to spread fear of refugees.

The bigger fear is that somewhere among the more than three million people currently crowding refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and Jordan are people trained by ISIS to penetrate the western world and carry out more atrocities.  This despite the fact that our screening process for refugees is thorough and exhaustive, taking a minimum of 18 months.

But I don't want to dismiss these concerns out of hand. ISIL is proving to be a lot more savvy with the ways of the world than Al Qaeda ever was. That is probably generational to an extent but it also reflects the influence of ISIL members who were raised in the West. They know how to produce slick videos and how to use social media in ways that earlier incantations of Jihadism never would have thought of. So maybe they can infiltrate the refugee camps. And maybe some of the people displaced by the war are sympathetic to ISIL because they think the real cause of their trouble is President Asaad or the Iraqi government or the American decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

We have been accepting refugees from war torn countries for a very long time. One of our greatest shames, after slavery, was the decision to not allow more Jewish refugees in from Nazi Germany. And the refugees we have accepted in recent years have committed virtually zero acts of terror here. The only recorded instances of people being granted asylum here and then committing wars are two Iraqis who tried to buy arms to send back to Iraq and the Tsarnaev brothers who committed the Boston Marathon bombing.  The Iraqis are in prison for their crime. One Tsarnaev is dead, and his brother is on death row.

The mature thing to say now is that the risk is minimal and we can accept it because the alternative is much worse. ISIL hates these refugees because they consider them traitors for having fled their territory for life elsewhere. Even more importantly, ISIL needs as many people as it can keep under its thumb. It needs soldiers, and workers and most of all, tax payers. ISIL would love for the people of Syria and Iraq to believe there is no hope in fleeing. They want those people to accept life in their caliphate and have made it a state goal to destroy the "grey zone" where Muslims can mix with and live among people of other faiths. We live in that grey zone and we should be very proud of that.  ISIL will use any reticence by Western governments to accept Arab refugees as a propaganda talking point. And they hope that attacks like the one in Paris will make Westerners less likely to accept and live among Muslims. Our fear makes us look weak to ISIL and cruel to the people they terrorize.

If we are better than that, we will accept all the refugees we have pledge to, and tens of thousands more. Bu the politics of that is going to be sticky.  More on that later.

III. A Word About Empathy

One of the most common topics of discussion on social media this week was the disparity in interest between this attack and an earlier attack by ISIL in Beirut, Lebanon.  The Beirut attacks killed 43 people and although the media did cover these stories, the public reaction was much more muted. The common explanation was that this was rooted in racism. But that's a bit simplistic, considering that ISIL recently bombed a Russian airliner, killing more than 200 mostly European people.

The real issues is empathy. Every Westerner has either been to Paris, planned to go to Paris eventually or dreamed about it as some vague future goal.  It is one of the great cities of Earth and it has been romanticized in more movies and books than just about any other. When Americans hear about a rock concert in Paris being shot to hell on a Friday night, we all think, "That could have been me, if I had saved a little more money for that vacation I've been meaning to take."

For as long as I have been aware of the larger world, Beirut has been synonymous with war and deprivation. Of course there are Americans who have been there, or who have family there, but for the rest of us, Beirut is not a place we dream to see one day. When a hotel blows up there, we rest easy because we know we would not have been there at any time and we're virtually certain that no one we know was there either. The same goes for a flight from Egypt to Moscow.  I have been to Egypt and I am something of a Russophile. But the odds of my being on that flight are practically zero. The very human instinct of empathy just does not kick into gear the same way when we know that we and our loved ones were never at risk of being hurt.

On the Friday after the Paris attacks another Islamist group took 270 hostages at a hotel in Mali, eventually killing 27 of them. The press covered it.  And two days later no one in the West is talking about it. I guess they didn't grow up dreaming of Honeymooning in Bamako.

 IV. Allow Me to Upset Everyone.

Two broad camps have emerged with very different opinions of the role of Islam in all of this. The left-wing group claims that this has "nothing to do with Islam" so often that the phrase has become a sardonic hashtag for new Atheists and other critics of Islamism.  On the right, Islam itself is presumed to be inherently violent. Every single Republican candidate for president has said he or she would refuse to accept any Muslim refugees from Iraq and Syria. Donald Trump has expressed support for monitoring mosques and for requiring Muslims to register as such with the government.

Neither of these opinions are serious. The former is at least well-intended, but that's not a good enough reason to justify it's naivete. For simplicity's sake, I will discuss these two camps as Reactionary and Apologist.

The Reactionary view of Islam is extremely harmful to our national security. Donald Trump's polling numbers have improved since the attacks in Paris, because a lot of people are afraid of similar attacks happening here and he has been most willing to say outrageous things that give the fleeting feeling of comfort. Jeb Bush seemed to toy with the idea of being a grown-up on this situation by half-heartedly denouncing some of the more outrageous statements of the Xenophobes. And then he backtracked to clarify that we should only accept Christian refugees.  This made me think of those idiotic Facebook Memes of George W. Bush asking "Miss Me Yet?"  As president? Of course not. But as the figure head of one of our political parties? We apparently could do a lot worse. And we are.

Even Marco Rubio, the great establishment hope, has said some truly stupid things this week, desperately flailing to look "tough" on this issue, without giving a moment's thought to how his comments will be received in Muslim-majority nations. He has proven himself to be every bit as much of a demagogue as Ted Cruzy.  I will remind everyone of that next summer when the media tries to tell us that Rubio is the serious choice for conservatives.  There is no serious choice for Republicans in 2016.  The base is over run with the phobias that Fox News has been slinging for the past seven years. They are stuck with 14 childish options.  And that is a shame.

But the Apologists are not helping either. Lots of liberals rushed this week to say that ISIL does not "represent" Islam. Indeed they are not representative of mainstream Islam. They are a fringe movement, and a good analogy can be made to the standing of the KKK in Christianity 75 years ago. But here's the thing about a fringe: it is part of the rug.

In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris a lot of Apologists spread a modernized translation of a verse of the Koran translated as: “Whoever kills an innocent life, it is as if he has killed all of humanity. And whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved all of humanity” –Quran 5:32

 A noble sentiment. But the Apologist crowd ignores the very next verse:

Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment, -Quran 5:33.

The Reactionaries seem to delight in the brutality of that second verse. But since most of the Reactionaries identify as Jewish or Christian, they would do well to read the Old Testament passages on stoning rape victims (Deutoronomy 22:28-29) or mandating the death penalty for people who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14).  My point is not that the Quran is especially violent. It is a product of its time, and taken literally, it can have very bad consequences.  And Islam's biggest problem is that too many Muslims are fundamentalists.

It's become a canard of the right that moderate Muslims do not denounce terrorism. In fact, they do. By wide margins, and loudly. What they do not do, is state publicly that the Quran is imperfect or subject to liberal interpretations.  Opinion polling on these issues is inherently suspect because a lot of people probably answer affirmatively to questions such as "Do you agree with the punishments for adultery as prescribed in the Quran or the Haddiths" because they either don't know what that punishment is or because they feel obligated to answer that way, but would never actually support those punishments being carried out in reality. (For the record the Quran calls for lashing in the case of extra-marital sex. Several Haddiths, statements of the Prophet Mohammed, call for Stoning. See 

Other statistics are more troubling. Substantial minorities believe that Honor Killings, the killing of women by male relatives when she is found to have dishonored her family are permissible, at least under some circumstances. This is true even in moderate, democratic countries like Turkey (32%) and Indonesia (18%).  (Source: Pew Survey)

This is relevant because ISIL bases its governance on a literal reading of the Quran. Countless scholars have shredded their views on this point, but the fact remains that Theology is never a settled science. And ISIL is pretty meticulous in justifying its policies by pointing to specific passages of the Quran or to specific Haddiths. There are Jews who believe that the Old Testament should be taken literally. But they are few in number. Fundamentalist Christians believe silly things like that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that Evolution by Natural Selection is a myth inspired by Satan. Happily, the Enlightenment tamed the worst of these movements by making, for example, the burning of people for owning a Bible written in English a capital offense.  (But let's remember that Sir Thomas Moore did just that when he was the attorney general of England less than 500 years ago. And Pope John Paul II made him the patron saint of Politicians less than 20 years ago.)

I've never heard anyone claim that the KKK represents mainstream Christianity. I've also never heard anyone seriously deny that it was a Christian movement. Islam is not uniquely violent. But it is uniquely fertile ground for violence justified by fundamentalism.  That is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. And while we must be careful not to demonize the 23% of the Earth that practices that religion, we also should not ignore this very real problem. Pretending that ISIL does not justify its violence by pointing to sacred Islamic texts is a delusion. And we have to face this problem with the full force of our reason.

V. What Is to be Done?

Now the hard part. Every single candidate for President has said that we need to step our efforts against ISIL. When pressed for specifics they usually say this means more airstrikes, especially against ISIL's de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria. France reacted to the attacks by dropping 20 bombs on Raqqa and some thought this was a sign of things to come. But not much has happened in the week since, which makes those missions look like they were mostly done for show. Only a few candidates have called for large numbers of American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria.  And for good reason.

If we send in thousands of American troops, we could route the military forces of ISIL. Most of their soldiers will probably blend back into civil society. And we would suffer some heavy casualties and spend a lot of money. And the biggest question is, what will replace ISIL. Russia and Iran pushing to ensure that President Asaad be allowed to remain in power after all. That seems tempting but is probably a bad idea considering that this conflict arose as a reaction to his barbarity, including the use of chemical weapons. He is not an acceptable player on the world stage. The normally staid Economist suggested this week that the West increase its military strikes and even called for an army of Turkish, Saudi and Gulf Arab soldiers to govern what's left of Syria.

I'm not sure that this would be much of an improvement over ISIL. Saudia Arabia recently sentence a poet to be crucified for having renounced Islam. Last year they beheaded a man for the crime of sorcery. So how a Saudi-led military coalition would be an improvement over the present bunch of fanatics is very much in dispute.

We all know this conflict is not worth World War Three but some politicians are willing to call for actions that would lead to just that. Hillary Clinton and some of the Republicans have called for a no-fly zone to prevent Asaad from terrorizing his people. But no one has yet pressed them on whether this would include a commitment to shoot down Russian fighter jets.  Marco Rubio wrote an even more reckless Op-ed which basically calls for a repeat of the mistakes we made in Iraq. That's incredibly foolish but seems predicated on a common, very false presumption that there exists some force in the region which will take power and rule peaceably if only we rallied to its side. That force does not exist and any politician that bases its policies on that fairy tale is being dishonest.

ISIL has styled itself as a Caliphate, which is a necessary component of the Quanic End Times. Al Qaeda did not got so far as declaring that status for themselves. They lacked the geographic region or blood ties to the Prophet Mohammed to make such a claim plausible. ISIL feels otherwise. The most hopeful sign is that ISIL has not expanded it territorial control in many months, and has recently lost some land, including the city of Sinjar, Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the leader of ISIL, the proclaimed successor to Mohammed. Killing him will be a big blow to their claims of Quranic legitimacy, so a targeted strike that takes him out may do some good. But realistically, ISIL will not fold just because their leader dies. They may point to the Quran as their inspiration now, but they've had enough earthly success to just fold up after a setback like that.

And if they do fold, if their members do slip back into civilian life, the issue will not go away. If we procure peace in this region, it will be tenuous at best. The scare of the civil war and the effects of the drought will not go away no matter what military and political solution the world comes up with. An all out effort will cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.  Nine months later we'll begin reading about some new shitty acronym and the pundits will rush to declare them worse than, or nothing compared to ISIL. This cycle is reality for the present and the names are more likely to change than the underlying facts.

If you want to see what "victory" looks like in this war, consider these photos taken after the Western Powers and Kurds "liberated" Sinjar, Iraq from ISIL:

It just may be time for us to admit that we have to live with this situation for now. The Kurds have performed admirably and they deserve our support. But we have to remember that their demand will be recognition of a Kurdish state when this war is over. They will probably deserve that but the consequences for Turkey, Iran and what ever is left of Syria and Iraq will be enormous. The West is in no position to make that promise now.

We lose about 30,000 Americans every year to gun violence. A majority of that is lost to suicides. But about 12,000 are murders and a substantial number are accidental deaths. We have made the collective decision to live with those numbers because the alternative, surrendering the right to bear arms is too great. In the more than 14 years since the 9/11 attacks, only 71 Americans have died in domestic terror attacks. But we seem willing to spend any price to combat this threat, including more than 5,000 members of the armed forces, well over a trillion dollars in military expenditures and significant curtailment of our civil liberties.

Barack Obama has made this observation many times, usually in the context of calling for more gun control laws. Maybe the first grown-up to make it in the context of calling for a deescalation of the War on Terror should be the next President of the United States.  More likely we will be choosing between two watered down versions of more of the same.

VI. Politics.

It may seem in poor taste to discuss that subject in the aftermath of a large slaughter of civilians, but for the past year this blog has focused mostly on the 2016 Presidential election and I want to indulge in some speculation about what this means for the candidate.

The short-term reaction has been very clear. Donald Trump jumped up in the polls, mostly at the expense of Ben Carson. Ted Cruz has also seen a bump, defying the expectation that Marco Rubio was about to begin consolidating the establishment vote. The base seems to think that Cruz is built for this fight a little better than Rubio.  The Democrats continue to coalesce around Hillary Clinton. Bernie might win New Hampshire but he has not built a serious national operation and O'Malley remains stuck in very distant third place.

Trump continues to double-down on nativism and fears of terrorism. Today he claimed to have watched "thousands" of Arabs in Jersey City celebrate the 9/11 attacks. No evidence of these celebrations exist, but he says he saw it "with his own two eyes", albeit on television. Carson has also been a profile in cowardice, comparing refugees to rabid dogs. John Kasich, another semi-serious candidate has stooped to calling for the creation of a department of the federal government to promote "Judeo-Christian values". Even Rand Paul has said some stupid things about the need for more military action. Apparently he realized that  Paris obviated his flirtations with defense sanity.

This is ugly. And the first caucus is only ten weeks away. If Carson's support continues to slip, Iowa is anyone's game. But Cruz might be best positioned to win there. Trump seems destined to win New Hampshire now and Rubio will need a win in SC or NV to stay relevant. By March 1st, this will probably be a three way race, and I can see any of the three winning.

As for the general election, the Democrats have to be worried. Another major attack, even in Europe, will hurt their credibility, fairly or not.  Next fall Hillary will need to distinguish herself from President Obama and she might be tempted to run to the right. But that's not a great way to beat any of the likely Republican nominees, any of whom will be willing to say things far crazier than what she might say.  She admirably resisted the temptation to say "radical Islam" during the recent Democratic debate.  I hope she keeps her senses about her, because as bad as the politics of trying to out crazy the Republicans on this issue are, it's an even worse method for governing.  And the world of 2017 can not afford a President Trump, a President Cruz or a President Rubio. That much is clear.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Symmetrical Warfare: The GOP Race Enters Phase Two

The most substantive part of the debate.

Last night the GOP held its fourth debate of the 2016 cycle. Only eight candidates made the main stage, while four were relegated to the kiddie table and three candidates failed to qualify for either event. The pared down cast improved the show by allowing the plausible candidates to have more time.  Almost immediately I notice that the most sense was coming from the far ends of the stage, from the two candidates clinging for dear life to their right to be on that stage at all. So for this review of the state of the GOP race, I will evaluate the candidates by how they were paired up on stage.

1. The Outliers (Kasich and Paul).  Here is a sentence I never expected to write: I thought Rand Paul was the best candidate in that debate.  He obviously has decided that his only hope for relevance is to reignite some love for his watered down Libertarianism by shitting on the ridiculous neconservative fantasies that pass for policies among the serious candidate.  He also corrected Trump on a very stupid factual mistake related to free trade.

From the other end of the stage, John Kasich came thundering to the defense of reason and in opposition to the truly insane, unsustainable tax policies of his competitors. He was impolite and sensible, so not surprisingly he was booed by the crowd and roundly panned by the right wing media figures today.  At one time I thought Kasich might become the establishment candidate that the base could put up with if they became convinced that he was their best shot at carrying Ohio and taking the White House. That seems very unlikely now.

Neither Kasich nor Paul will be the Republican nominee next year. Paul has apparently decided to speak up for his ideological preferences and Kasich for pragmatism.  Paul will probably benefit from this choice and get a modest bump.  But Kasich is officially doomed.  If he keeps u this rationale nonsense he just might play his way out of what should be a very strong chance at becoming the Vice-Presidential nominee.

2. The Lamestream (Jeb! and Fiorina).
Sixty days ago I'm sure that both Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina believed they were likely to become the nominee and probably thought they would more likely than not become the 45th President of the United States. It is quite obvious that this will not happen. Jeb is a terrible candidate who managed to finish dead last in microphone time for yet another debate.  When he did speak he was boring and way off-message.  He doubled-down on the invasion of Iraq for the 947th time and that did him no favors.

Someday Carly Fiorina will be an amusing piece of presidential campaign trivia. She vaulter herself from the kiddie table to the primetime debate with a well-rehearsed shtick as the anti-Hillary.  The base took a good look at her in this fall but she did not complete the sale.  She is playing out the string.

In some alternate reality, these candidates are not stuck in the 5th and 6th spot. But I don't see either of them moving up, barring a profound implosion by a couple of the heavyweights.

3.  The Finalists  (Rubio and Cruz).

Rubio and Cruz have run the most intelligent campaigns in this cycle.  They still have not come close to closing the polling gap with the nominal front-runners, but they have built steadily and they have not alienated anyone.  The establishment and the donor class are ready and even eager to support Rubio.  Cruz does very well among evangelicals and working class Trump voters. He is well positioned to take the votes from Cruz and or Trump should they fall from grace.

Six months from now, this race will probably be whittled down to these two men. Both are intelligent, ambitious and willing to fight. One of them is a sociopath.  But my money is on the other guy, even if he sometimes uses the wrong credit card in Las Vegas.

4.  The Cincinnati Bengals (Trump and Carson).

The weirdest part of the geometry in Milwaukee was that the center-most podiums felt the least relevant to the process.  Dr. Carson and Mr. Trump dominate the national and state-level polling.  They typically combine for a bare majority of the responses while every other candidate in the field is delighted to be at or near 10 percent. But nearly everyone expects an implosion for them once real voting happens.

Dr. Carson did not even try to look prepared. Most of his answers were the rambling word salads of a very bright man talking about a subject he knows nothing about.  Imagine a Supreme Court justice holding forth on quantum physics. It almost sounds serious, but when you parse it out, there's just nothing there.

Trump was his usual self but that really is beginning to wear a little bit thin.  Which does not mean he will slide in the polls.  A certain kind of voter just loves his shtick. But part of his appeal is the arrogant confidence that will be destroyed by coming in third in Iowa or New Hampshire.  If he has a setback like that, he'll probably leave the field with a lot of huffing and puffing about how great he did very early next year.

The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the better teams in the AFC over the past half-decade.  Since Marvin Lewis became their head coach they have won 55% o their games and made the playoffs six times. But they lost their first playoff game all six times.  This year they are undefeated at 8-0 but no one can quite take them seriously given their track record  And that's how you have to feel about the candidacy of Trump and Carson.  They are crushing the competition but it's hard to shake the doubts that they will fold when the campaign begins in earnest.

The Updated Forecast

There is not a lot of movement in this one.  Rubio inches up slightly and Cruz improves his odds form 8 to 1 to about 6 to 1. Carson, Trump and Bush slip slightly and I've officially given up on Fiorina's chances. If she was going to win the nomination she would have built on the momentum she had coming out of the first debate. She has not. 

 There are 4 candidates who will have the option of going beyond the early states.  But I think Trump and or Carson may tire of this game by then. I am hoping we get a middle stage of the primaries with Rubio and Cruz having to deal with Trump on a stage that only has three podiums.  But eventually this will come down to a fight between the establishment choice of Rubio against the Tea Party's favorite Cruz. That will be tough emotional waters for me because I loathe Ted Cruz.  But I fear Marco Rubio. 

Candidate Pre 1st debate Post 1st Debate Pre 2nd Debate Pre 3rd Debate Post 3rd Debate Post 4th Debate Change
Rubio 23 28 26 46 53 54 1
Trump 2 1 8 12 18 17 -1
Cruz 1 1 2 10 12 17 5
Carson 0 0 3 5 7 6 -1
Bush  34 31 24 17 3 2 -1
Huckabee 3 3 1 1 1 1 0
Santorum 1 1 1 1 1 1 0
Kasich 1 2 6 3 2 1 -1
The Field 1 1 3 3 2 1 -1
Paul 2 1 1 0 0 0 0
Christie 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jindal 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Fiorina 0 2 3 2 1 0 -1
Graham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Pataki 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Gilmore 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Walker 32 29 22 -- -- -- --
Perry 0 0 -- -- -- --

Sunday, November 8, 2015

All Tactics, No Strategy (The Walking Dead Season Six, so far)

This post refers to events that transpire through the first five episodes of season six. If you don't want those episodes to be spoiled, stop reading.

I have written pretty long preview posts before each half-season of the previous two seasons. This year I didn't think there was enough to talk about so I skipped it.  Six seasons in, I still find myself looking forward to and enjoying every episode. But the show remains very frustrating because of its predictability and refusal to focus on the big picture of this new world the show has created for us.  The characters seems to be doomed to an endless cycle of moving form one false oasis to the next for the foreseeable future.   Five episodes in the ratings have slipped for the first time in the show's history but they remain sky high for the world of basic cable. And there is no reason to think that AMC will not continue to milk this Golden Goose for as long as its audience are big enough to justify the special effects budget.

This season is about part for the course.  Each episode is entertaining and suspenseful in the moment, and frustrating and stupid upon further reflection.  Here are my thoughts on each episode in the season so far:

1. First Time Again.  The season premiere was entertaining and I liked the way they told a bifurcated story that covered a lot of exposition without sacrificing much action. But it was also disappointing when you step back and think about how stupid Rick's plan was.  The Walkers were trapped in a quarry.  The thing to do was seal off the gap between the two 18 wheelers and then light all the Walkers on fire.  There are a variety of ways to do that, but enough flame tipped arrows from Darryl would have eventually done the trick.  Instead they decided to march 30,000 zombies down the road for a day's shamble and hope for the best.  Dumb, dumb, dumb. Grade: B+

2. JSS.  Easily the best episode so far.  They had just lulled me into thinking this was going to be a filler episode about the women folk of Alexandria when the Wolves attacked.  The action was great and the combat was very suspensefull.  I also liked the Enid story line.  Her back story was written sparsely, which is something the show should do more often. And her interactions with Carl felt genuine. My theory on her is that she has some kind of affiliation with a group outside the walls but I do not think it is the Wolves.  She doesn't have a W carved on her forehead for one thing and I think we've learned that the Wolves are some kind of whacky death cult.  Enid is not that.  But she apparently started to tell Carl some kind of secret about how "we" got to Alexandria during the Wolf attack.  I think she will turn out to be a good guy and her return will probably be dramatic and heroic. I sure hope Carl gets to kiss her this season.  Grade: A.

3. Thank You.  A fun episode to watch but frustrating in respect because I'm pretty sure they are going to come up with some kind of cop out reason that Glenn survived that impossible situation in the dumpster.  It's one thing to make the audience learn they should not jump to conclusions and another thing to just cheat.  I suspect a really big cheat is coming and nothing in the following episode dissuades me from that opinion.  I'm writing this while watching the Talking Dead after episode 5 and the actress who plays Jess is desperately trying to convince us that Glenn is dead. And I think we all know that means he is alive.  Grade: A-,

4.  Here's Not Here.  I have to acknowledge that this is the kind of episode that I have been wanting since the end of season three.  But the timing seemed gimmicky, as if they were just trying to drag out the "Is Glenn story line for an extra week. And the execution was uneven.  The acting by Morgan and Eastman were first rate.  I expect one or both of them to receive the first Emmy nomination(s) in this history of this show. (Eastman will be eligible in the guest star category.)  But the plot was very predictable.  We know from the moment we meet him that Eastman is going to be Morgan's Yoda and we know that he is doomed to die before the episode is over.  Eastman's backstory was about as cliche as television gets in this golden age.  But the performances redeem the episode.  I just hope that Morgan survives beyond this season. It seems like either he will have to give up his Akido philosophy or pay the price for it.  I'm hope he kills that last Wolf before the Wolf kills him, but I doubt they writer kept him alive unless he is going to do damage to someone in our group.  Maybe he will kill Gabriel or Abraham.  Someone important.  Grade: B+.

5.  Now.   This story was a shambling mess of plot holes. Rick shouts that everyone should keep noise to a minimum.  Later on he teaches Jesse's kid how to shoot by firing his revolver into the herd.  In between there is no attempt to kill any of the Walkers who are threatening Alexandria. I know there are a lot of them, but the armory appears to be well stocked, so why not put Rosita in the lookout tower with a rifle and a silencer, to take down as many as she can? For the love of God, THIN THE HERD!  (A few ideas for that: big knifes mounted on a long piece of pipe, throwing rocks, sling shots, etc.  There are a lot of options.)  Grade: C.

But that is just a small demonstration of my biggest frustration with the show. It's all tactics, never strategy.  I just want someone on this show to do some math and teach the others that the only way to get civilization back is to kill all of the approximately one billion Walkers that are shambling around the Americas. Every Walker put down is a step towards that goal. It's daunting, but you have to assume others are out and about doing their share of the work as well.  Kill your quota every day and eventually the world will be tamed. Then you can get to work on figuring out how to cure the survivors or at least come up with a protocol for preventing the dead from doing any damage after they pass.

But this is not the show for that.  Maybe Fear the Walking Dead will become that, but it doesn't seem likely.

Stray Observations and Predictions:

-  Milking the Glenn story line is a cheap trick.  Next week seems to focus on Darryl, Sasha and Abraham so we might go three straight weeks without learning what happened to Glenn.  I'm beginning to suspect we won't find out his fate until episode 7 or even the midseason finale. But I'm more convinced than ever that he is alive and he will be reunited with his pregnant wife.

- They seem to be saving on actor's salaries by holding key characters out of some episodes. Where was Carol tonight? Where was Eugene?

-  There should have been some mention of Morgan's Wolf prisoner.  Even if he was committed to not killing him, I can't believe that he would not let Rick or Deanna that there was a Wolf left.  Maybe he wouldn't have wanted to put the Wolf's life in danger, but she certainly knows that his prisoner intends to kill the others.  Keeping him out of sight seems to be part of a strategy of making his return more dramatic.

-   Remember when Darryl was on this show? It's a good thing that next week's episode apparently focuses on him.  The dip in the ratings is not just because the narrative is trapped in a cycle of going from one false oasis to another. It's because Darryl isn't getting enough screen time.

-  We are overdue for a familiar death and I think we'll get one next week. Abraham seems like a good candidate.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Field is Steady but the Math is Uncertain (Updated GOP forecast)

Not going to happen, except when it might.

I. Upate on Our Taxonomy of Candidates.

In my previous post on the GOP field I created a new taxonomy for the candidates. This taxonomy included four categories: Outsiders, Serious, Niche and Charity. My thesis was that the traditional "tiers" model could not accurately capture the dynamics of the 2016 GOP primary. The Outsider candidates (Trump, Carson and Fiorina) were dominating the polling but nearly everyone still believe the nominee would be a more conventional candidate.  Two weeks and one debate later, the polling number of the Outsider candidates remain strong but I'm still skeptical of their chance to be nominated.

At the start of this process I thought there were three candidates (Walker, Rubio and Bush) who had roughly equal chances at being the nominee. Since then Walker has dropped out and Bush has imploded. I now believe that Marco Rubio is a better than even money bet to win the nomination. The bookmakers at Paddy Power agree that he's the heavy favorite but not by as much as I do.  (The have him as a 2.37 to 1 shot, which translates into a 30% chance of being the nominee.  I have him at 52%.)

Before I write about my updated handicap, I want to look at the recent polls for this nomination process.  In the earlier post, I added up the Real Clear politics averages of the candidates in each of my categories.  There has been almost no movement among these groups in this time.  The Outsiders are a majority, the Serious Candidates are fighting over 1/4 of the voters and the rest of the field is right around 10 percent.  Whoever gets the nomination will get them by convincing undecided voters or persuading votes away from the Outsider candidates.

Category Oct. 18 Nov. 1st
Outsiders 54.3 54.8
Serious 26 25.4
Niche 10 8
Charity 1.1 1.6

II. Individual Candidates

Two big themes emerged in the post-debate coverage. The first was that Marco Rubio crushed Jeb Bush in a head to head confrontation over his voting record. The second was that the candidates complained about the toughness of the questions. The questions were pretty tough, but no more than than during the first two debates on Fox News and CNN.  What was different this time was that the moderators did a terrible job of controlling the candidates. We saw a lot of interruptions and cross-talk, which of course is how CNBC sounds during most of its broadcast day. It made for bad television and gave the GOP an excuse to whine about the event.  I think this whining may bounce back on them as they came out of the hulabaloo looking like a bunch of men who promise to thrash ISIS but are incapable of withstanding CNBC.  

We also saw another predictable theme with regards to the front-runner. After each of the first three Republican debates, the punditry has been quick to declare a setback for Donald Trump. After the first two, his numbers slipped slightly for about a week and then rebounded. I expect that pattern to repeat this time.  But I think Trump did fine. The moderators for this debate, unlike their predecessors at other networks, didn't give him an excessive amount of questions and he faded into the background a little. But he didn't need to dominate the conversation. He just needed to be himself. And he was, especially during a rousing final speech about how he saved us all from the event being 30 minutes longer than it was. (If future generations are reading this blog post on a recovered Internet cache, just trust me on this.  The front runner got rousing applause by bragging about keeping the event short.)

But they were right about Jeb Bush. He got crushed.  I have come to the conclusion that he is a lousy candidate and that people just don't like him. The conventional wisdom at the start of this process was that Jeb would have to work hard to overcome the stigma of his name.  I didn't really buy that because the Republican base never really blamed Bush for all the horrific things his presidency led to. I thought Jeb could bill himself as the smarter, wonkier version of his older brother. But he's not even getting that chance. People don't like him, which probably explains why he lost his first crack at becoming Governor of Florida.  He still has a lot of institutional support, so I'm not completely writing him off.  But it is hard to imagine the narrative he would corral to get back into this race. When John McCain was faltering in the polls we all knew he had an extremely remarkable biography to fall back on.  Jeb's biography is remarkable but not for reasons that could ever make him credible as a plucky outsider.  He is no maverick and he probably needs to get used to living with the fact that his idiot brother achieved a pinnacle that he will never reach.

In my original forecast, I gave Bush, Rubio and Walker a combined 89% of being the nominee.  I know have Rubio at 52, Bush at 3 and Walker has left the race. I gave Trump a 2% chance and Carson and Fiorina none at all. Today I have them with a combined 31% chance. So they have gained nearly all of the probability lost by my three original front-runners. 

The only other significant movement has been the emergence of Ted Cruz.  Given just 1% in my first forecast, I now have him at a solid 12%. He has played the game well. His fund raising is strong and he has positioned himself to pick up a lot of Trump/Carson voters should one or both of them implode sometime between now and Super Tuesday.  

Here's the Updated Forecast:

Candidate Pre 1st debate Post 1st Debate Pre 2nd Debate Pre 3rd Debate Post 3rd Debate Change
Trump 2 1 8 12 18 6
Bush  34 31 24 17 3 -14
Walker 32 29 22 -- -- --
Rubio 23 28 26 46 53 7
Huckabee 3 3 1 1 1 0
Santorum 1 1 1 1 1 0
Paul 2 1 1 0 0 0
Cruz 1 1 2 10 12 2
Kasich 1 2 6 3 2 -1
Carson 0 0 3 5 7 2
Christie 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jindal 0 0 0 0 0 0
Fiorina 0 2 3 2 1 -1
Graham 0 0 0 0 0 0
Perry 0 0 -- -- --
Pataki 0 0 0 0 0 0
Gilmore 0 0 0 0 0 0
The Field 1 1 3 3 2 -1

III. Process and Very Premature Delgate Math

The first delegates will be determined four months from tonight in Iowa.  The field has been pretty stable up until now but I'm sure we will see a flurry of changes as that date draws near.  Some of the minor players might drop out, although it's hard to say who.  Christie and Paul should throw the towel in but they both seem too stubborn to do so. I think Paul finds value in espousing his vaguely libertarian ideals in these forums.  All of the field seems to enjoy the attention. Even absurd long shots like Jindal and Pataki have access to national microphones that will be gone forever once they drop out. 

Jeb is too well-heeled and connected to drop out soon. He probably believes that he can weather this storm and that most people will eventually come to their senses on Trump and Carson. But he also seems weary of the process. He might drop out before Iowa, but only if he thinks the nomination is going to be won by someone he respects. I think that's a short list. Kasich for sure and presumably Rubio too. The most likely outcome is that he hangs around through the early states and hopes to swoop up some delegates on Super Tuesday.

Individual Contests.

Iowa seems likely to be won by either Trump or Carson.  I think Carson might benefit from the same dynamic that helped Obama in 2008. Iowans are nice people and I know that Iowa takes some pride in the role it played in electing the first black president. I think that pride has rubbed off on the Republicans there and unless Carson says something disqualifying or the competition succeeds in portraying him as a fraudster for selling snake oil supplelments and then lying about it, he will be in a strong position there. 

Rubio and Cruz should battle for third place but this contest has previously been won by two of our long shot candidates-Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. I think some odd ball like that will get a surprising third place or a very strong 4th. That person will be able to survive New Hampshire.

Trump is dominating the polls here. NH has a long history of shunning the Iowa winner so it might be in Trump's best interest to lose close in IA, then sweep up in NH.  In fact, that seems likely. Bush, Kasich, Rubio, Christie will all be vying or 2nd place. If Kasich doesn't get that, he'll probably drop out and wait for his phone to ring in July. If Christie finishes lower than 4th, he will probably drop out too.


South Carolina votes on February 20th, Nevada on February 23rd.  I think the field will split after NH with most candidates focusing on one of these states and ignoring the others.  Rubio and Cruz will try for NV, Trump, Carson and Bush for SC.  The hangers on will each take a shot somewhere but they won't have much chance of medaling in either place.  

The most interesting scenario is if Trump manages to wins South Carolina.  His outer boro obnoxiosness should not play in the south, but I think it will play to this crowd. He is currently leading the polls there by 13 points and I think he will win there next February. That will begin to push Carson to the margins.  

Nevada could be won by Rubio, Cruz or Trump.  If Carson has pulled the upset in SC, then this race could pull him back into the lead ahead of Super Tuesday. There has only been one published poll of this race in he last 90 days.  Trump led comfortably but I suspect some of the lower-tier candidates will try to ramp up a presence there in December and January.  

DISCLAIMER:  The picture beyond these early states is very murky.  I'm going to go through the rest of the states in order to create a record of my predictions, but the truth is, if Kasich or Bush pulls an upset in NH, the rest of my predictions will look foolish. The underlying premise of everything else is that Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz all come out of the first 4 contests with at least some delegate and one or more strong performances in an early state.

5. SUPER TUESDAY:  12 States Voting on March 1st, 2016.

Twelve states vote on March 1st. The states are from all over the map but more than 2/3 of the available delegates come from Southern states. (And that's with counting Oklahoma as a Midwestern state, although its politics are a lot more like the former Confederate states than the great plains.)

Southern: 408 delegates from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
Western: 57 delegates from Alaska, Wyoming
Northeastern: 58 delegates from Massachusetts, Vermont
Midwestern:  81 delegates from  Minnesota, Oklahoma, 

By this point, Trump will either have burned out, dropped out in a fit of pique or gained national credibility.  I suspect the latter is most likely but Cruz and Rubio will be well-positioned to get a lot of delegates in the Southern and Western States. 

I suspect after these contests that Rubio, Trump and Cruz will all have enough delegates to seem like plausible candidates. Carson also could be viable then.  Bush, Kasich and Fiorina will have needed one or two big upsets to still be around.  Santorum, Huckabee and Jindal will be playing out the string but why not hang around for 4 more days

6. MARCH 5th: Old Home Saturday.  Caucuses in Maine, Kansas and Kentucky. Primary in LA.

By now we will be playing for pride.  Every contest before March 15th must award its delegates proportionally.  Jindal and Paul will be hoping for home state wins to corral some delegates.  That will be the last we hear from them. And it's hard to imagine Maine and Kansas resolving much.

7. MARCH 8th; The Last Proportional States; Idaho, Hawaii, Michigan and Mississippi.

Cruz could win Idaho and Mississippi, Trump should win Michigan and Rubio will probably compete in all Four States.

8. MARCH 15th: The Field Will Thin.

With apologies to Puerto Rico (March 13th), the nomination very well may be decided on the first day of Winner Takes All Contests. Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Florida and North Carolina all go to the polls.  If Rubio holds home court in Florida, those 99 delegates will probably get him at or near the lead in the delegate count.  Trump will need to win Ohio and Illinois, Cruz will be banking on wins in NC and MO.  If Rubio wins any of those other states, he will have the delegate lead. 

If Kasich has hung on to this point, he could throw the math off by winning Ohio's 66 delegates. But this seems increasingly unlikely.  He may stay in the race at that point only if he thinks he can keep Trump from getting those delegates.

I know I've been discounting Carson through all of these predictions.  I guess I just don't see him having the wherewithal for a long political fight.  I know Cruz and Rubio have that.  Unless one of them is shut out on March 15th, they will soldier on to the next contests.  Trump will probably be neck and neck with Rubio for the most delegates, and ready to go scorched earth on the young Senators.

9.  The Rest of the Races
March 22nd: I think Rubio will win UT because he is far and away the most polite candidate of the three left standing.  Arizona could be a sprawling three way race. 

April 5th: Wisconsin.  This will be 2 weeks where Scott Walker wishes he didn't give up so easily. 42 delegates to either Trump or Rubio

April 19th: New York.  If Trump is still running, he wins. If not, it's Rubio's.  Cruz could be on life support after this race.

April 26th: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.  So THIS is where the establishment has stashed the sane states. That's 172 delegates and I think Rubio does well in all of those states. Cruz will probably have to concentrate in MD and PA. If he wins those 2, then the race is still too close to call.  

The Delagate Math So Far:
I don't know the exact mechanics for distributing delegates int he proportional states. But I just tried some very crude back of the envelop math on how the delegate counts will look after April 26th.  What I have is a very competitive three way race.   Here's the very inaccurate projection:

Trump      694
Rubio        534
Cruz          520
Carson        58
Paul             21
Jindal          15
Bush             3
Huckabee     2
Santorum     1

I have Kasich at 0 but that is likely to be off by a lot if he does better than expected in the early states and is able to win all 66 delegates by squeaking out a win in his home state of Ohio.  He may have an incentive to stay in if the math is this close, because those 66 delegates might be the difference between getting the needed majority and not.  And the VP Slot is not too much to ask in that scenario.

10.  What the Heck: Why Stop Being Wrong Now?.

I was going to write some boring paragraph about the rest of the races being too early to call but let's face it, this blog is just for fun and almost certain to be wrong.  So no half-measures tonight.  Here's how the rest of the races will go, with the winner's haul of delegates in parenthesis. 

May 3rd
Indiana  Rubio (57)

May 10th: This could be Cruz' last stand. He will need a win that day but I don't think he'll get one.)
Nebraska Turmp (36)
West Virginia Trump (34)  

May  17th  Oregon Rubio (28)

June    7th  Each of the 3 candidates could get a win here but only 2 of them can win more than one race. If Trump and Rubio both go all in for California, Cruz would be wise to concentrate on the other states and hope to finish the day in 2nd place. More likely they will all fight for CA and Rubio will win.

California Rubio (172)
Montana Cruz (27)
New Jersey Trump (52)
New Mexico Rubio (24)
South Dakota Trump (29)

June 14th:
District of Columbia  Rubio (19)

The Dates to be Determined.
Obviously the timing and spread of these contests will affect who wins where. But I'm assuming none of these will go before March 16th and I'm taking my best guess at who will win. 

North Dakota  Cruz (28)
Colorado Rubio (37)
Washington Rubio (44)
America Samoa Rubio (9)
Guam:  Cruz (9)
N. Marianas Trump (9)
Virgin Islands Trump (9)

10.  Final Delegate Math (A Political Nerd's Dream Come True)

Rubio:  933     37.8%
Trump: 853     34.5%
Cruz:    584     23.6%
Others: 100       4.1%

A brokered convention is too good to be true.  If the math begins to shape up this way the party would put enormous pressure on Cruz to drop out and let Rubio vanquish Trump mano e mano. But Cruz has big ambitions and he won't come cheap.  He also probably prefers Trump to Rubio if only because he's more likely to inherit Trumps supporters in 2020 should he not stick Trump in the back. So next July in Cleveland might be the first brokered convention of my lifetime, but I know there are powerful forces dedicated to preventing that.  I'll try to update my Math as we get past the early states and have real voting data to work with.


We could get through the four February contests with eight candidates who still believe they can be the nominee.  The early states are not important because of the delegates they allocate. They are important because the media ignores and the donors stop supporting the candidates who do poorly there.  This year's Republican field is twice the size of a typical nominating process which means that the votes will be distributed across many more candidates than usual. In 2012 John Huntsman dropped out after only getting 17 percent in New Hampshire.  Any candidate other than Trump would be delighted with that number this time around.  I can foresee five or even six candidates vying for double digits there, and a couple other candidates might do well in Iowa and/or South Carolina.  Even little Bobby Jindal has reason for optimism this week after an Iowa poll put him at a whopping six percent.

Iowa's most likely outcome is Carson first, Trump second and Cruz third. If Huckabee and Jindal break double digits there, they will soldier on to South Carolina.  Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz will all set their sites on winning new Hampshire.  Kasich, Bush Christie and Paul will all be hoping to edge out the others to finish a strong fifth.  That's ten candidates who will choose between SC and NV to get one more respectable finish.   Lindsay Graham will have to choose between accepting reality or hoping to play spoiler with a 4th place finish in his home state.

Then it will come down to personality.  I can see Kasich getting discouraged, maybe Huckabee and Christie too. Bush might succumb to reality if he hasn't yet medaled. Pataki and Santorum (barring another Iowa miracle for him) will pack it up. But the other seven will probably move on to Super Tuesday if only for lack of something better to do. And only when the race moves to winner take all contests will we know who the real contenders are.  Trump, Rubio and Cruz will almost certainly still be standing.  Carson could be out by then, but he also could be the front-runner.  Bush, and Crhistie will probably be gone by then. Paul, Jindal and Kasich might be tempted to try to steal their home state contests to influence the process in the summer.  Or they might clear the field to prevent the Trumptacolypse.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Liz Mair Debate Questions Challenge (An Extremely Unlikely GOP Candidate Answers Extremely Unlikely Debate Questions)

That's how you debate.

Last night's Republican debate on CNBC was a complete mess.  The narrative coming from the candidates is that the questions were "unfair". That's a nonsensical accusation but the moderation was in deed terrible and there was an almost constant din of three people speaking at once in between the questions. The panelists were unable to regain control and it was terrible television. Tonight several of the campaigns announced that they will be meeting on Sunday to discuss a new format for the future debates. If I had a vote, it would be for more debates with fewer candidates. Imagine 3 debates with 4 candidates each, chosen at random.  That will never happen because the networks want Trump in every debate. 

A much better but equally improbably proposal was made by Liz Mair on Twitter last night. Ms. Mair is a former adviser to several major Republican candidates, including Carly Fiorina and Rich Perry. She has been a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher and is one of the most intelligent right-wing voices on Twitter. (That praise is more faint than I intended. She is worth following: @lizmair.)

Her proposal was not for a new format but for better questions.  She posted 18 questions that she would want the candidates to answer.  I would LOVE to hear Presidential candidates answer these questions. I never will, but I decided to do the next best thing: answer them myself.  Spoiler alert: I will not be the 2016 Republican nominee for President of the United States.  Here goes nothing.

Q1: Get your tax person up on stage with you. Here's a whiteboard. Do the math on your tax and spending plan. Show me deficit reduction.

Well there goes the nomination for me.  In this fantasy scenario where I am running for President I would have fleshed out a much more specific proposal but here's the broad strokes:

1. Tax hikes for income rates over $125,000 , with income taxes above $200,000 going back to pre-Bush rates.  
2.  Eliminate the preferential treatment of capital gains. (Tax investment income at the same rate as earned income.)
3. Raise the cap on pay roll taxes, over 10 years to $200K.
4. Increase the federal gas tax by 5 cents a gallon.
5. Increase the Estate Tax to pre-Bush levels.

I don't know how much more revenue that would generate, but it would be significant.  In a rational party, this would be well received. 

Q2: If you failed that question, here's a pie chart showing how much we spend on everything. What are you prepared to cut, right now?

I would make very steep cuts to defense spending. I would roll back our submarine fleet and I would kill some of the unwieldy impractical weapons programs like the F-35. But while we are being honest, I would turn that money around to spend on useful infrastructure programs like roads and bridges.

Q3: Here's a map. Find these places on it right now: Tblisi, Kiev, Islamabad, Kabul, New Dehli, Beijing.

This obviously is a visual question, but I'll do my best to explain how I would do. I know Tiblisi is the capital of Georgia, and Georgia is directly south of European Russia. I have no idea where within Georgia Tiblisi, so I would put a dot right in the middle of that country. (Since she didn't specify, I will assume this map has lines for national borders.)

Kiev is the capital of Ukraine, and it's in the eastern part of the country, more southern than northern. (I think.) Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and it's up north, closer to India than Afghanistan. Kabul is the capital of Aghanistan and it's in the northeast portion of the country. New Dehli is the capital of India, and it's pretty close to the border with Pakistan. Beijing is the Capital of China and it's well the Northeastern part of the country but I'd be fudging the exact location.

Q4: Now, who runs each of the countries in which those cities sit? Ever met any of them? Ever talked to any of them?

Ukraine: I know they had a very attractive female President for a while, but she's out of office now. I don't know....Plitcheko? Total guess. I know he doesn't like Russia.
Georgia: No idea
Pakistan:  His name is Hussain. That's all I know about him.
India's Prime Minister is named Modi  He held a big rally in Madison Square Garden last year. I think he was accused of ethnic cleansing when he was a governor. That's about all my Moodi knowledge.
China: Xi Jinping.  The worlds worst Communist. He was at the White House a few weeks ago.

Q5: Who's the British PM? Who's the Canadian PM? Who's the German Chancellor? Who's the Russian President? Met any of these people?

David Cameron, Justin Trudeau, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin.  No, I have not met any of them but I obviously know a lot more about NATO countries than the rest of the world.

Q6: Are you for free trade?
Generally, yes. That might be I would lose the Democratic primary too.

Q7: Do you think immigration is a net positive or a net negative for our country? Will you make it easier to come here legally?

Net positive and yes, absolutely. Sad to think that none of the candidates on that stage could have given this simple answer.

Q8: What will you do about the 12m people currently here? If you say "deport," show me your math to prove it's doable & inexpensive.

If I was running for Dictator, I'd wave a magic wand and make them all legal. Because I have to provide political cover to congress, I will agree to some stupid points system that punishes people for having committed crimes and to generate some revenue I would agree to a substantial fee for the process. Oh and I would call the form a Ted Cruz form, because he's an evil dickhead.

Q9: Show me your actual health care plan. No, an actual plan. No, writing "repeal Obamacare" on the whiteboard doesn't count.

Well, I suppose we have to give Obamacare 10 years or so to work but I'd love to lay the ground work for states to be able to experiment with single payer systems. That will have to be surreptitious.

Q10: Name 15 specific regulations that you know hamper small business right now, and explain how, in detail.
I can't name 3. But this would be a great excuse to rail against the drug war. Hopefully by this point Chris Christie will have given his eloquent defense of Fantasy Football and I can point out the hypocrisy of him wanting to throw people in jail for smoking weed.

Q11: How will you fix education in this country. In detail. No, "repeal Common Core" does not count as "in detail." You can phone a friend.

I would reduce standardized testing and rebuild our arts and music programs. I would double the time devoted to physical education and I would make federal funds available to high schools that create programs oriented toward skilled professions. In short: more band, more gym, more shop.

Q12: Do you really think we can defeat ISIS. If so, how? Be specific. How much are you willing to spend to do it? How do we measure success?

No. the cost of winning a military struggle against them would not justify the costs. And if we entered that fight in full-force it would legitimize the Jihadists' narrative that the United Stats is at war with Islam. The long term solution to groups like ISIS is for a non-fundamentalist version of Islam to become mainstream and acceptable in the Arab world. I don't know how to bring that about but it's not worth a trillion dollars and several thousand American lives to find out.

Q13: Have you ever met Bibi Netanyahu? How about King Abdullah of Jordan? Any other Middle Eastern leaders?

I have not had the pleasure. This is the one question that I would probably re-work because it would be too sickening to watch all 10 of those jerks compete over how wonderful they think Netanyahu is.

Q14: Name 5 nominations you'd like to make to the Supreme Court.
I can't give names because the only people I know who would possibly be qualified are a few law professors that would be too embarrassed to read their name on my shitty blog so I will give 5 categories of people I would like on the bench:

1. Someone with an advanced degree in a hard science.
2. A lifelong criminal defense attorney. (So the 4th amendment has a chance.)
3. Someone that went to a non-elite Law School. We've had way too many Harvard, Yale and Stanford grads on the bench. How about a UCLA or a Minnesota?
4. Someone from Staten Island so all 5 Boros can be represented on the court.
5. A WASP. It's crazy that our entire Supreme Court is made up of (6) Catholics and (3) Jews.

Q15: Describe to me the precise process you will use to stop abortions happening after 20 weeks & how you'll deal w legal challenges...

Obviously this is a quesiton that only works at a Republican debate. The scientific consensus is that fetuses are incapable of experiencing pain until the 26th week. A policy of ending abortions six weeks before that line is crossed is not something I could ever support.  What I would like to do as President is force the proponents of such laws to explain what the specific punishments should be for a woman who has an abortion during week 21 and for the doctor who performs the procedure. 

Q16: What caused the 2008 financial crisis? What do you think the next crisis might be? How about the next bubble? How will you stop it?

The three principal causes were the Bush Tax Cuts, the 2005 reforms of the bankruptcy code and the extremely suspect lending practices of the home mortgage loan. I think the next crisis might related to student loan debt. I would try to work reductions in the interest rate on student loans into the budget over time, but they would be gradual. I would also love to gradually eliminate the mortgage interest deduction over a course of several decades. It would be unfair to hit homeowners with that hit immediately but if you reduce it by 5% a year for 20 years, the real estate market will absorb that shock.

Q17: What is your biggest weakness
I get bored with ambitious projects before they are completed.

Q18: Who's your political hero? Note: You cannot say Ronald Reagan. I repeat: You cannot say Ronald Reagan.
The 40th president of the United States. (Ha! I played by your rule, Ms. Mair.) Okay, in all seriousness it's FDR.
Q19: What will you use the bully pulpit for as President? Recognizing that you won't be able to/want to legislate/regulate everything.

Secularism and the need for evidence-based reasoning, especially in the sciences. I would also beat the drum for baseball as our national past time and refuse to meet with any soccer team, no matter how many trophies they win. In my administration, the Vice-President will handle the soccer photo ops, no exceptions.

Q20: Explain to me what net neutrality means, in theory and in practice? Can't do it? Phone a friend. Now, same deal re: patent reform.

Net neutrality is the very important concept that Internet Service Providers can not favor certain contents over other content. I am less familiar with patent reform but I believe it relates to eliminating predatory practices like patent trolling.