Friday, June 17, 2016

Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting

Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

[This column appeared in the Press-Citizen's online edition as Nicholas Johnson, "Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), June 16, 2016, 6:51 p.m. It draws upon the earlier blog essay, "Keeping Up With ISIS; There Is Another Explanation for Orlando," June 14, 2016. The column to which today's [June 17] column refers and responds is Ian Goodrum, "Finger-Pointing After Orlando Massacre," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 15, 2016, p. A9.]

Ian Goodrum has reminded us, with writing befitting our City of Literature, of both the causes of the home-grown mass violence in Orlando, and how such tragedies are seized upon by those promoting political or other causes. (“Finger Pointing After Orlando Massacre,” June 15.)

He notes the killers’ “common denominator” is that they are “young, angry men,” and then provides insight into the pathology of their anger.

Among those promoting causes, he observes, are “bloodthirsty pundits and politicians” now calling “for state-sponsored discrimination against believers in Islam, along with a general ramping up of our military presence in the Middle East.”

Goodrum’s right on all counts, as I see it. Our enemy is not Islam. It’s a few of our home-grown, American “young, angry men;” mostly citizens, with a diversity of histories, persuasions, mental conditions, motives, weapons and targets. More domestic hate crimes involve perpetrators who would claim to be Christian than Muslim. Their targets are no more predictable than where a lightning strike may hit — federal buildings, universities, African-American churches, gathering spots for Latinos, Asians, Mormons, Catholics, Jews and the LGBT community.

To reduce mass violence, we must focus on our young, angry men. Our mission: to treat their anger before we have to treat their victims.

That is but one of the reasons why focusing on Muslims is counterproductive. Even if it were not unconstitutional and inhospitable, as President Barack Obama points out, it is precisely what ISIS wants us to do — confirm their assertion that we have declared war on Islam and its 1.6 billion followers, giving an enormous boost to their recruiting.

The “bloodthirsty pundits and politicians” who think more troops and bigger bombs are the answer are clearly not our friends. This is a high-stakes whack-a-mole drama in which all the world is ISIS’ stage, where for every bomb we drop more actors come on stage to respond with creative acts of violence.

ISIS has proven creative and adaptable. When we X-ray passengers for guns, they switch to plastic shoe bombs. When they lose a city, they move elsewhere. When they begin to lose on every battlefield, they invite and train terrorists to execute ISIS-orchestrated slaughter in Europe and elsewhere. When the West’s intelligence capabilities to track their messages, movements, and money begins to interfere with such organized efforts, they need a new strategy.

Here it is.

Our State Department describes Abu Mohammed al Adnani as the “official spokesman and a senior leader of Isis." In September 2014 he used ISIS’ sophisticated communications networks to propagate the following message:

"If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, French, an Australian or a Canadian, then rely upon Allah, and kill him. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place. Don’t try to communicate with us. Don’t expect our help, he said. Just do the killing, and pledge allegiance to ISIS."

Since that time, in each of those named countries, using the itemized means of murder, followed by declarations of allegiance to ISIS, there have been killings.

Goodrum is right that the Orlando shooting wasn’t the result of “direct involvement or orchestration by” ISIS; as were Orlando officials’ conclusions the shooter wasn’t a “member of ISIS.” But ISIS’ latest strategy may have been at play.

None of which changes the numbers. One day in Orlando, 49 were gunned down. But every day in the U.S., nearly 100 die from guns. An Islamophobic focus on this carnage is both self-defeating and close to statistically irrelevant.

Meanwhile, somebody better tell those “bloodthirsty pundits and politicians” who didn’t get the memo that they’re three strategies behind ISIS, running a trillion-dollar program as old as Windows 95.
Contact Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City through

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Keeping Up With ISIS

There Is Another Explanation for Orlando

And see, Nicholas Johnson, "Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.

-- Abu Mohammed al Adnani, the “official spokesman and a senior leader of Isis" according to U.S. Department of State, Yara Bayoumy, "Isis Urges More Attacks on Western 'Disbelievers;' Group Spokesman Adnani Seems to be Encouraging Attacks . . .," Independent, September 22, 2014

All Americans share the grief and heartache of our Orlando neighbors.

And almost all wonder how that horrific tragedy could have occurred. Was it a hate crime? Was the shooter mentally deranged? Was it the easy accessibility of AR-15 type weapons? Was it an ISIS-directed attack?

Humans are complex beings whose behavior can be driven by forces of which even they may be unaware. Frustration and anger, focused on one group or another, are often precursors of violence. There seems to be consensus that the shooter was not a "member" of ISIS, communicating with ISIS, following ISIS instructions for this massacre, nor was he trained, funded or otherwise aided by ISIS.

So then why do I say only "almost all" are wondering? Because surely there are some Americans in our national security establishment who are fully aware of the significance of ISIS' role, and what it means for our global anti-terrorist strategy.

And what might they know that they haven't shared with the rest of us?

They know that, however evil ISIS may be, it is also incredibly nimble and adaptive to modern technology and changed conditions. ("Can't bring metal guns or box cutters on planes anymore? OK, let's try undetectable plastic bombs in our shoes.")

In Iraq and Syria they have to risk their lives placing bombs along the roadside. We can drop even bigger bombs from unmanned airplanes without risking the life of a single pilot. It's no match. Theirs is a terrorist operation. Ours is a military operation. We can leave it to the International Criminal Court to sort out the ethical differences.

It's not going well for ISIS on the ground. So much so, that they are now discouraging the flow of replacement troops to help defend their new caliphate state.

They've tried ISIS-trained terrorists executing ISIS drafted plans outside of their territory -- in Europe and elsewhere. Sometimes successful (from their twisted perspective), that approach is also not working as well as it once did. The U.S. and its allies have become better at tracking the movement of their members, money and messages. Besides, it's expensive at a time when cash flow is declining.

So now they're trying another innovative strategy.

Officials from Orlando assure us that the shooter was not a member of ISIS, as he claimed, since it would be inconsistent with his claims at various times to have been a member of other terrorist organizations, some of which were opposed to ISIS. Officials are probably right about that -- if not solely for those reasons. And a few years ago that would have cleared both ISIS and the shooter of any ISIS involvement.

But those observations miss what Paul Harvey used to call, "the rest of the story."

To understand the latest switch in ISIS strategy and tactics you need to reflect, first, on the expression "practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty." Are you familiar with it? Do you practice it? I try to.

Note that, in following it, little if any money or other resources are required -- and certainly no major military operation. It may be simply a kind word or greeting to one of those millions of Americans who go through their days feeling as if they must be invisible to the rest of us.

Note also that there is no organizational planning or operation. This is not something that your local church, synagogue, or mosque is behind, orders you to do, or assists you in executing -- although it is something that may be consistent with its teachings.

Now consider, if it is possible for undirected individuals to do "random acts of kindness" all on their own, with little resources and no direction, it is also possible for undirected individuals to do "random acts of violence."

Indeed, the expression "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty," at its creation, was a rejoinder to the expression "random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty."

And that, like the switch from guns to plastic bombs on planes, is ISIS' latest switch in strategy and tactics for responding to what they view as our war on them.

Their message, first in the fall of 2014 (as quoted at the top of this blog essay), and repeated this spring, has been (in effect and sometimes literally): "Don't come to the Middle East to fight along side us. Don't travel to training camps to learn terrorist techniques. Stay where you are, use what you have, kill and injure those you can reach. It doesn't have to be a military facility. You don't have to use a bomb. You don't even have to use a gun if you don't have one. You can kill with a knife, or a rock, or a car. You can drop someone from the roof of a tall building. Don't contact us. You don't need additional permission or instructions. But for the sake of keeping the ISIS movement alive, it is very important that you make a public declaration that you have done what you've done in the name of ISIS."

This is what happened in Orlando. Yes, there was hatred; yes, the shooter is at best a very odd duck; yes, AR-15-style weapons are easily accessible in Florida. But the pattern of violence followed by a statement of allegiance to ISIS is clear.

This pattern -- random acts of violence, followed by a statement about ISIS -- has evolved from repeated incidents in Australia, Canada, France and the U.S. (involving guns, knives, and automobiles) -- the very countries, and methods, suggested by Adnani. Orlando is just the latest.

Oh, no, I guess it's now just next to the latest: "The murder of two police officials by a man claiming allegiance to so-called Islamic State (IS) is 'unquestionably a terrorist act,' President Francois Hollande says." BBC -- "30 minutes ago."

That switch in ISIS strategy makes the job of the NSA, FBI, CIA, military, and local law enforcement even more difficult than it is already. But it's the consequence of our military "success" in Iraq and Syria, so we best confront that reality and pivot as promptly as possible -- starting with a public discussion of what we're now confronting.

[With thanks to Rachel Maddow.]

# # #

The following day [June 15] a story appeared in the Washington Post that provides support for some of the assertions in this blog essay:
“America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state . . . I pledge my alliance to [Islamic State leader] abu bakr al Baghdadi . . . may Allah accept me,” Omar Mateen wrote [in Facebook] . . ..

Mateen then posted . . .: “The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west” and “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes . . . now taste the Islamic state vengeance.” . . .

The social media postings corroborate accounts that Mateen was motivated in part by a perceived connection to the Islamic State. The shooter made 911 phone calls during the shooting in which he pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, . . ..

FBI Director James B. Comey said . . . there were no signs that Mateen was directly tied to any kind of network, and . . . it remained unclear exactly which extremist group he supported. Mateen’s references to terrorist groups have at times been muddled. Officials say he made comments in recent years to co-workers claiming he had family connections to al-Qaeda and was a member of Hezbollah, two opposing terrorist groups that have clashed repeatedly in Syria.
Kevin Sullivan, Ellen Nakashima, Matt Zapotosky and Mark Berman, "Orlando Shooter Posted Messages on Facebook Pledging Allwegiance to the Leader of ISIS and Vowing More Attacks," Washington Post (online), June 15, 2016, 11:12 p.m.


Thursday, June 09, 2016

On Being, Doing and 'Compromise'

What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion

In one way, what Sanders and Clinton will be doing is common at the end of spirited nomination battles. . . . Leading Democrats say that this time is different and potentially more difficult.

For one, Sanders operates outside the Democratic Party structure. He has run in Vermont as an independent and self-described democratic socialist. And although he caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, his ties to the institutional party are decidedly looser than were Clinton’s.

Even more important, however, is that his candidacy . . . generated great enthusiasm and spawned a powerful grass-roots movement made up of independents and others who do not identify with the Democratic establishment.

-- Philip Rucker and Dan Balz, "Next for Democrats: A Delicate Dance to Broker Peace Between Clinton, Sanders," Wasington Post (online), June 8, 2016.

For Sanders, as his remarkable White House bid runs out of next stops, the only question is when. Just as important for Sanders is how to keep his campaign alive in some form, by converting his newfound political currency into policies to change the Democratic Party, the Senate or even the country itself, on issues including income inequality and campaign finance reform. . . .

Clinton told The Associated Press in an interview, "I think it's time that we move forward and unite the party and determine how we are going to defeat Donald Trump, which is our highest and most pressing challenge right now." . . .

Sanders ended his final California rally with three simple words — "The struggle continues" — but his brief address in a Santa Monica airport hangar felt at times like a valedictory as he thanked supporters for "being part of the political revolution."

-- Erica Werner and Josh Lederman, "Sanders Under Pressure to Quit as Democrats Look to Unite," Associated Press, June 8, 2016.

"Being" and "Doing"
In 1960, fresh-faced in my early twenties, I arrived in Berkeley, California, to begin my career as a law professor at Boalt Hall, the University of California's College of Law. It was only two years of judicial clerkships after having been a law student. The offer had come from the Boalt Hall Dean, Bill Prosser -- a colorful torts guru, formerly only known to me as the author of my torts textbook.

I was so inexperienced, naive, and curious that I once simply asked Dean Prosser straight out, "What is it that law school deans actually do?"

He smiled and replied, "Nick, it is the job of the dean to do those things that even the janitor refuses to do."

His reply has stuck with me over the years as colleagues at Iowa, and friends elsewhere, have expressed interest in applying for law school or other deanships. Recalling that a department head has been described as "a mouse training to be a rat," I ask them, "Now tell me, is it that you really want to do what it is deans do, or is it just that you've always wanted to be a dean." When they reply, "I've just always kind of wanted to be a dean," I say, "Very well then; go and be a dean, but my guess is that in two or three years you'll decide you'd really rather do what it is professors do" -- as often later proves to be the case.

Being and Doing in Politics

And what applies to teachers and professors aspiring to be educational administrators goes ten-fold for politicians seeking ever "higher" public office. They may talk a good game regarding what they will do for their constituents once elected. It may all be disingenuous, or may be partially sincere, if naive. But for many, it's not what they want to do. The enormous effort and sacrifice that goes into campaigning is largely, even if not exclusively, an ego-driven desire to be -- a congressperson, senator, or president of the United States.

Clearly, Hillary Clinton has been a legitimate policy wonk -- from her early days on the board of Marian Wright Edelman's Childrens Defense Fund through her unsuccessful efforts with health care reform during her husband's presidency. (Ms. Edelman was later enraged by the harm to children from the Clintons' "welfare reform" efforts. Her husband, Peter Edelman, resigned his White House job over it.) And although her speeches now focus on Trump's less endearing qualities, as the Democrats' earlier presidential primaries moved on she certainly weaved into her stump speeches some of Bernie Sanders' substantive talking points, either in whole or in part.

But equally clearly, Clinton, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Party's Establishment, so-called "superdelegates," and their own major donors, have from the beginning of this year's presidential campaign devoted their efforts to what they wanted Hillary Clinton to be -- namely, president of the United States -- rather than what they wanted her to do. (That is, aside from some Wall Street backers who declared themselves to be quite comfortable with what she would do on their behalf). After all, some 400 superdelegates endorsed Clinton before the primaries even began. Their futures and fortunes depend upon a perpetuation of Establishment control. It's probably fair to assume she has wanted to be president since at least 2000, when she ran, and won, a Senate seat from New York -- if not decades before. At a minimum, since she actually ran for president in 2008, we know what she wants to be goes back at least eight years.

Compromise Requires Shared Values and Experience

Those who want to be elected officials, and the campaign advisers and staff who live to experience the excitement of helping them win, have much in common with each other. They know for every winner there's at least one loser. If they want to run again, or work again -- as most do -- they know that, regardless of how vicious the rhetoric the day before, once the winner is obvious it's time to make amends and fall in line.

Shared experience binds those in many professions, up to and including the military. Most military personnel support the Geneva Conventions -- a sort of "Golden Rule of War." They know what it's like to be a soldier, regardless of whose side you're fighting for. Perhaps one of the most dramatic proofs occurred during World War I. David Mikkelson, "Christmas Truce,"
During World War I, in the winter of 1914, on the battlefields of Flanders, one of the most unusual events in all of human history took place. The Germans had been in a fierce battle with the British and French. Both sides were dug in, . . ..

All of a sudden, German troops began to put small Christmas trees, lit with candles, outside of their trenches. Then, they began to sing songs. Across the way, in the "no man's land" between them, came songs from the British and French troops. [T]he Germans . . . were able to speak good enough English to propose a "Christmas" truce. . . .

A spontaneous truce resulted. Soldiers left their trenches, meeting in the middle to shake hands. [T]hey exchanged gifts. Chocolate cake, cognac, postcards, newspapers, tobacco. In a few places, along the trenches, soldiers exchanged rifles for soccer balls and began to play games.

It didn't last forever. In fact, some of the generals didn't like it at all . . .. After all, they were in a war. Soldiers eventually did resume shooting at each other. But . . . for a few precious moments there was peace on earth good will toward men.
Similarly, those who focus on "being in politics" can ultimately come together. Like James Carville and Mary Matalin, they can sometimes even literally intermarry across party lines. At a minimum, within one's party, so long as the winner is within the circle of reason, all party members can reasonably be expected to fall in line for the good of the party and support the winner. (Donald Trump is an example; he is so far beyond the borders of that circle of reason that even members of the Republican Establishment find it necessary to disassociate themselves from him, or at least criticize his actions and remarks.)

The Difficulties of Compromise Between Those Want to Be and Those Who Want to Do

The problem now, for those searching for compromise between Senator Sanders and the Democratic Party Establishment is that it's like trying to find a compromise between rabbits and alligators, bicycles and cruise ships, Iowa summers and snow.

He's just not that kind of politician. Of course, whatever he thought of his chances when he informally declared on April 30, 2015, he could not have been unmindful, as his number of pledged delegates increased along with the size of his crowds, that he might actually win the nomination. But this was not something he and Jane had spent their lives working toward. It was neither the goal of his life nor the centerpiece of his campaign. His was a campaign about doing, not about being. Indeed, he would reject his crowds' chants of "Bernie! Bernie!", from the beginning of the campaign through his Santa Monica rally two nights ago, by telling them that it is they, not just he, who are "part of the political revolution."

Sanders' campaign was just the latest in a lifetime of doing and saying, blending the analysis from his brain with the warmth in his heart, that government can, and should, focus on the needs of the least of us. He was, and is, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist. He has been advocating the same things over the past 30 years as he was talking about for the last 13 months. His core beliefs, his consistency, authenticity and caring, his desire to build a revolution that could change our government and improve our lives, was not only at the center of his appeal to the millions in his campaign, it is what has made him the single U.S. senator with the highest approval rating from his constituents -- 83%. He had the highest positives among all the candidates. (Clinton and Trump had the highest negative ratings.) He got the largest crowds, the greatest enthusiasm. He was the favorite, not only among the young, first time voters, but those under 45 years of age -- the people any party needs to build its long term growth.

Put aside the Democratic Party's mistakes -- with Party membership down to 29% of the voters, it needs someone who can attract the independents, new voters (and even Republicans) it often excludes from its primaries. It needs someone who is viewed as a genuine advocate by the poor, working poor, working class, and trade union members -- once the Party's natural, winning constituency. It needs to be able to project the prospect of real change, rather than perpetuation of Establishment control, to the millions involved with the Tea Party, Occupy Movement, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders' campaigns. Everything the Party's leaders do to trivialize, ridicule, and reject Sanders' campaign and proposals, cutting back on opportunities for debates, treating him as a spoiler, putting roadblocks in his way, urging him to abandon his campaign, only drives home the message that the Democratic Party not only does not really care about the less fortunate, it affirmatively rejects those who do.

Why Bernie Cannot, Should Not, and Need Not "Endorse" Hillary -- But Can Still Help Elect Her

While conventional politicians can turn on a dime and start endorsing the opponents they've spent a primary season excoriating, those who are leading "revolutions" cannot. For Bernie to now "endorse" Hillary Clinton -- the poster grownup embodying all he finds objectionable in a politics favoring the rich -- would be the end of his revolution. It would be like Dr. Martin Luther King finishing a speaking tour opposing the Viet Nam War, and then announcing he had just accepted a job as spokesperson for a major defense contractor.

Moreover, whatever Senator Sanders does or doesn't say or do about Hillary Clinton's campaign is not likely to have much impact on his "revolutionaries." Some will end up writing in his name. Some will vote Green, Libertarian -- or even Trump (the Washington Post reports 9% will do so; others report as high as 20%, and 44% in West Virginia). Some will leave their ballot's presidential choice blank. Some will stay home. Some will formally resign from the Democratic Party. And some will end up voting for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders should certainly be permitted to actively participate in the D.C. Primary, June 14. He should be permitted to continue making the case to superdelegates, to and throughout the Democratic National Convention, July 25-28, that if they really want to beat Donald Trump -- more than they want to perpetuate the Democratic Party Establishment from which they feed -- they might want to consider the poll results showing how much stronger a candidate he is against Trump than Clinton.

Does this mean he should continue to criticize Clinton by name, even after she has actually, in fact, been nominated by the Convention? Of course not; nor need he do so. What he can do, indeed has already indicated he will do and has begun to do, is to help her cause by campaigning against Trump -- while continuing to spread his lifelong message, and falling short of doing anything reasonably considered an "endorsement" of a candidate who represents much of what he's been fighting against throughout his life. A significant "detail" in this connection is what happens to Sanders' lists of supporters (the email list) and donors. To simply turn them over to the Clinton campaign would also, legitimately, be seen as a betrayal of a movement challenging much of what the Democratic Party Establishment stands for and does. Perhaps a compromise, if one is thought to be needed, could be an "opt-in" email to supporters -- a sort of, "If you wish to remain on the Bernie Sanders list, and not have your name shared with the Clinton campaign, do nothing. If you wish to have your name and information shared with the Clinton campaign, click here. If you wish to be removed from the Bernie Sanders list click here."

That's the best win-win-win that occurs to me -- for Clinton, Sanders, and the followers of both. That doesn't force him to appear a turncoat to his followers -- thereby reducing further any influence he might otherwise have with them -- while assisting Clinton by beating on Trump. It holds his revolution as together as possible following his failure to win the nomination -- its emailing lists and crowd funding network -- enabling his and his followers' ability to affect the election of progressive candidates and lobby Congress (and the White House) following the election.

# # #

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse

California Primary Leaves More Questions Than Answers

Yesterday I wrote about the Associated Press report, the evening before the big California primary, that Hillary Clinton had already won the Democratic Party's nomination for president. See "Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016.

I expressly noted that it was not intended as yet another assertion of anti-Bernie media bias. Nor did I suggest there were any dirty tricks involved. It was simply an analysis of the journalistic errors on the part of those who ordered and created the AP story, and the lemming like lapping up and repetition of the story by the AP's clients. It was kind of like the rush to war in Iraq, after the unquestioning acceptance of the Administration's assertion regarding "weapons of mass destruction."

I noted the report was wrong to include Hillary's superdelegate support, given that asking them their "preference" at this time is little more than a polling exercise, since they can't vote until July 25. The report's mention of number of primary votes received, or primaries "won," were irrelevant since it is pledged delegates that count. And, if Clinton's delegates from what the AP called her "decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico" had been included in the report's analysis, those numbers were clearly inappropriately used since the votes had not yet been even counted.

I suffer no illusions that anyone, let alone from the media, is going to pursue this incident with as much, let alone greater, depth.

But for the record, I'd like to at least put the following on the table.

First, note the probable impact of the AP's eleventh hour bombshell the day before the California primary.

Polls at that time indicated the California primary was a toss up, a statistical tie. "Heading into the last big primary day, California's contest looks like a virtual toss-up with Hillary Clinton up two points on Bernie Sanders, 49 percent to 47 percent, as Sanders has closed a double-digit gap there in recent weeks." Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton, "Poll: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders down to the wire in California," CBS NEWS June 5, 2016.

"It’s hard to know how much the news may depress turnout, but it has easily been the closest contest in a big state, at least in the pre-election polls. . . . [T]he polls are close enough that he could win." Nate Cohn, "Race Appears Over for Bernie Sanders, but California Still Offers Drama," The New York Times (online), June 6, 2016.

In other words, not only is Bernie virtually tied with Hillary, he has been gaining on her, he has the momentum, he's continuing to draw crowds measured in the thousands, there's a real possibility he might get more votes that she will.

And the results of that primary, we discover this morning? With 94% of the precincts reporting, it turns out that Clinton has a 13% gap over Sanders (56.0% to 43.1%; 1,841,285 to 1,416,742 votes). "California Primary Results," The New York Times (online), June 8, 2016.

Was there a relationship between the AP story the day before the primary, and the results the next day? As the Washington Post put it, "Tuesday’s primaries were somewhat anticlimactic, given the AP’s tally Monday of Clinton’s support among superdelegates — the elected officials and other party elites whose convention votes are not bound by the primary results in their states. The AP count showed her reaching 2,383 pledged delegates and superdelegates, the exact number she needs to clinch the nomination." Anne Gearan, Robert Costa and John Wagner, "Clinton Celebrates Victory, Declaring: 'We've Reached a Milestone,'" Washington Post (online), June 8, 2016.

And see, "Although Tuesday had promised to be a watershed moment in the nation’s political history, it proved anticlimactic after The A.P. reported Monday night that Mrs. Clinton had secured enough delegates to clinch the party’s nomination. . . . Sanders advisers were on edge over the declaration that Mrs. Clinton had locked up the nomination, worried that it would depress voter turnout in California. And Mr. Sanders told NBC on Tuesday evening that he was “upset” and “disappointed” that The A.P. had made its call based on a survey of superdelegates, party officials who can shift their allegiances as late as the convention." Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin, "Hillary Clinton Wins California, Boosting Claim to Nomination," The New York Times (online), June 7, 2016.

And, Matt Pearce, "'It Was Just Chaos': Broken Machines, Incomplete Voter Rolls Leave Some Wondering Whether Their Ballots Will Count," Los Angeles Times (online), June 7, 2016

Of course, polls have been inaccurate predictors before. But this seems a particularly great disparity.

Was it merely a coincidence that the AP survey of superdelegates ended up with precisely the number -- 2,383 -- that Clinton need to be nominated? It almost seems like someone kept looking until they reached that number and then stopped and published the story.

What role did Clinton campaign staff, or supporters, have in encouraging the AP to make these inquiries? Did they prepare just enough delegates and then pass their names to the AP group?

See, "On 6 June 2016, the Associated Press reported that Hillary Clinton had 'clinched' the Democratic nomination. Shortly thereafter, a Twitter user published a video about an e-mail sent by the Clinton campaign . . . The video showed the e-mail on the screen; when the [Twitter] user clicked to save the embedded graphic, she claimed that it then showed the following filename: The graphic was hosted on what appeared to be a Clinton campaign 'intranet' inaccessible to the general public and probably used to host campaign-related content. According to the video, the graphic appears to have been created on 4 June 2016, two days before to the AP's pre-primary call . . . It is true that the Twitter video's claims checked out." Jeff Zarronandia, "Clinton Campaign 'Secret Win' Controversy; After the AP called the Democratic presidential nomination for Hillary Clinton on 6 June 2016, social media users questioned a campaign graphic that appeared to be dated 4 June 2016," (a typical Snopes-balanced account, which notes that this does not definitally prove the Clinton campaign's early influence in the AP's story and decision to publish on June 6).

Who at the AP was behind this effort and why? When and why was the decision made to (a) include superdelegates in the count, knowing that they don't vote until July 25, and (b) release the story the night before the big California primary?

I don't have, let alone argue for, answers. And probably no one else will even ask the questions.

But for me, from the perspective of today, the morning after looks even worse than the day before.

# # #

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Searching for the Media's Soul

When Wishing Can Make It So

"We have searched our souls. We must use this responsibility very carefully. Some day in our time, because of this technological and journalistic ability [to predict election outcomes and prematurely declare winners], all the polls in the United States -- in the 50 states -- will close at one time."

-- Fred W. Friendly, President, CBS News, 1964
[Robert Bendiner, "The Danger of Declaring Winners by Computer; Quickie 'Results' Could Sway the Election," Life Magazine, September 18, 1964, pp. 125, 133]

Last evening (June 6) the Associated Press sent out a story asserting that Hillary Clinton was now the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. Hope Yen, Stephen Ohlemacher, Lisa Lerer and Caterine Lucey, "AP Count: Clinton Has Delegates to Win Nomination," Associated Press, June 6, 2016. The AP's account was picked up by everything from The New York Times, to National Public Radio, to local papers around the country. As the Los Angeles Times headlined, Chris Megerian, "Hillary Clinton Clinches Democratic Nomination in Historic First," Los Angeles Times (online), June 7, 2016, continuing with the lead sentence: "Hillary Clinton has secured enough delegates to claim the Democratic presidential nomination, the Associated Press said Monday night . . .."

As the AP reported, "The former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic nominee on Monday with a decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico and a burst of last-minute support from superdelegates."

This is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin.

And that's without even addressing what to all appearances has been an anti-Bernie Sanders orientation on the part of some media organizations and reporters since the beginning of this presidential campaign.
(Full disclosure: I have been, and remain, a Bernie Sanders supporter who has fought against the Democratic Party's transformation over the past 25 years into a 21st Century equivalent of the 1960s and '70s Republican Party of Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon. Gallup reported last January that 42% of Americans identify as independents, 29% as Democrats, and 26% as Republicans. Given these numbers, why would the Democratic Party elite not want to make a bona fide effort to serve, energize and thereby retain, its original, natural base of the poor, working poor, and working class -- with whose support they could win every election from city councils to the White House?

In fairness to the thousands of professional, independent journalists who recognize the importance and responsibility associated with their role, as the bumper sticker has it, “The 'liberal media' are only as liberal as their conservative owners permit them to be." Having said that, however, it does seem fair to note that the media seems to have had a preference for Hillary over Bernie -- a subject I have addressed before: "Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016; "Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016; "Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016.)
So, putting aside the pro and con arguments about a media Bernie Sanders bias, what's the problem?

For starters, the Democratic Party's nomination requires a candidate receive the affirmative votes of 2383 delegates. As of last evening, Clinton had 1812 pledged delegates -- those who had been chosen in caucuses, primaries and conventions, and are required to vote for her on the first ballot.

Second, the votes in that "decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico" (the delegates from which were apparently counted among her 1812) had not even been counted Monday. Puerto Rican officials stayed up late Sunday night counting ballots, only got through about half of them, and decided to take Monday off. ("It will be a little while longer before final vote totals are known in Puerto Rico's Democratic presidential primary, because the U.S. territory's election commission workers took the day off on Monday." Danica Coto, "Vote Count Stalls in Puerto Rico as Officials Take Day Off," Associated Press, June 6, 2016.) That assertion of a "decisive victory" was based on projections from the votes that had been counted. And as we've all seen from numerous elections over the years, the actual, future, final result is not really known until all the votes have been counted. Nor would the 60 Puerto Rican delegates, even if she ends up with all of them, be enough to bring her to the necessary 2383.

Third, the AP "Clinton Clinches Democratic Nomination" story contains a single sentence with a number of errors: "Indeed, Clinton's victory is broadly decisive. She leads Sanders by more than 3 million cast votes, by 291 pledged delegates and by 523 superdelegates. She won 29 caucuses and primaries to his 21 victories."
(1) "She leads by more than 3 million cast votes." (a) Clinton did comparatively better in primaries than caucuses; Sanders did comparatively better in caucuses than primaries. (In my Johnson County, Iowa, precinct, there were over 500 who caucused for Bernie, and about 90 for Hillary.) Since the number of primary voters are reported (and apparent from the total votes) and the numbers of caucus attendees are known only to those attending a given caucus, and "cast votes" excludes Bernie's caucus "voters," it's not surprising that Hillary would appear to have the larger number. (b) Votes, "cast" or otherwise, are irrelevant in this process. It's delegates that matter. Clinton apparently has 291 more than Sanders -- though not enough to say she's already "clinched" it. It will be the same story in the general election next November; the total, national popular vote is not irrelevant, but neither is it decisive. It's the Electoral College vote that picks the president. Just ask Al Gore who had 543,895 more votes than George Bush in 2000 (50,999,897 to 50,456,002) and yet watched President Bush take the oath of office.

(2) "She won 29 caucuses and primaries." A presidential candidate in a general election can be said to have "won" a state (meaning the votes of its electors in the Electoral College), because it is a "winner-take-all" election. Whoever gets a majority, or plurality, of a given state's popular votes usually gets all of that state's electoral votes. But most of the Democratic Party's primaries and caucuses were not winner take all; they resulted in a proportional allocation of delegates. You can say, if you want to, that whoever got the most delegates "won" that state -- as the media has persisted in doing -- but it is meaningless in terms of who gets the ultimate nomination. It is only meaningful because the media (and Hillary Clinton) say it has meaning.
Fourth, "superdelegates." Superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention are elected officials (all Governors, U.S. House and Senate members) who belong to the Democratic Party along with Party leaders.
(1) As the costs of campaigning have risen over the years, these are the very individuals who have become most dependent upon the contributions of the nation's richest donors, corporations, lobbyists, Wall Street banks, Big Pharma and Oil, and their secret and public PACs. They may hate to ask for money as much or more than the donors hate to have to give it. But they are all in a tight symbiotic relationship from which divorce is impossible, and all of whose futures and fortunes turn on successfully protecting their circled wagons. So at the outset, there is a real question as to whether this Party Establishment's choke hold on the pledged delegates' choice should even exist for a political party that calls itself "Democratic."

(2) But even if Establishment-superdelegate veto power was appropriate for the Democratic Party, the Party's rules provide that, unlike pledged delegates (whose "votes" are essentially cast early in the primary season), the superdelegates can, by definition and rule, have no more than a "leaning" -- for this day and time only -- prior to the time they cast their first "vote" at the Convention itself. Until then, they are free to change their minds, and leanings, as often as they choose and changing conditions warrant. No matter what the pressures may be from the Clinton campaign, the Party Establishment, and perhaps even the Associated Press, it is inappropriate to designate Clinton as the nominee until the superdelegates have actually cast their votes -- on July 25.

(3) Stuff happens. This is June 7. The Convention is July 25. That's 49 days of political time -- the equivalent of a light year in space. As those of us following this presidential primary have observed, and as Rachel Maddow has relied upon for a daily show, unexpected events, from the trivial to the blockbuster lie along the path to victory like Improvised Explosive Devices along the roads in Afghanistan and Iraq. Clinton (and Trump) have some of the highest unfavorable poll ratings ever seen. Bernie has one of (if not the) highest positive ratings. Most (all?) polls show him running well ahead of Hillary in a head-to-head match up with Trump. We still don't know if Hillary will be indicted, or what more Trump will uncover and throw at her and how that will affect her standing. She (or Bernie) could have a sudden, serious health problem. Twenty percent of Sanders' supporters say if she's the nominee they'll vote for Trump. Bernie has had both the largest, and the most enthusiastic crowds. Considering where he's come from, his strength has been awesome. He's not just talked about, but demonstrated and used, a funding mechanism that eliminates the need for PACs. There aren't enough members of the Democratic Party to elect Hillary. Bernie has strong appeal with independents, newly-registered and young voters -- needed to build a future Party. When it comes to the crunch, if it looks like Hillary can't win, and that Bernie can, the Party Establishment may still decide they'd rather go down to defeat with her than win with Sanders. But it is not inconceivable that a majority of superdelegates might then decide to switch.
Fifth, media corruption of the electoral process. CBS News President, Fred Friendly (and then-CBS President Frank Stanton) were broadcasters of the old school during the 1960s and '70s when I was serving as an FCC commissioner. They, and their general counsel, Dick Salant, were not always on the same page with me. But what I admired then, and even more so now, was their sense of public obligation, and responsibility, for their use of "the public's airwaves."

The Fred Friendly quote, with which this blog essay begins, is an example. They were dealing with mainframe computers that could handle big data, in rapid time, and make much more accurate predictions, sooner, of an election's outcome. Choose the right precincts and do enough exit polling during the day (or vote counting immediately after their polls close) and the final statewide result could be anticipated relatively accurately, and broadcast, before one's competitors. Unfortunately, if done before the polls closed, there was the possible consequence of potential late voters choosing to stay home rather than make the effort to cast a pointless vote.

Given trans-continental television programming networks (CBS' Edward R. Murrow had the first simultaneous coast-to-coast broadcast November 18, 1951) an even more serious problem emerged in presidential elections. With four (actually more) U.S. time zones (when it's 8:00 p.m. in New York, it's 5:00 p.m. in California), if early projections of Central and Eastern time states' results indicate the ultimate winner, all west coast evening voters may be deprived of a meaningful incentive to vote.

The point is that back then there were some with the journalistic ethics, and sense of public responsibility, to be concerned about the media's potential interference with the actual process of voting. They agonized over it. They proposed potential solutions: have voting end and polls close at the very same moment all across America, say, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, 9:00 p.m. Central Time, 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time, and 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time.

We all know the expression, "Wishing doesn't make it so." But the power of today's media is such that media owners, and their journalists, who wish for Hillary's nomination, can make it so. Last night's AP assertions, the their viral distribution and acceptance by the rest of the media, are but one example.

Today's media not only don't propose solutions, they don't even see the problem. They see nothing wrong with proclaiming the nomination process is over -- the very evening before the day of what are arguably (at this point in this campaign's history) the six most significant primaries of the season insofar as the Sanders-Clinton contest is concerned. This would be serious enough if Clinton already had the 2383 pledged delegates. Why discourage letting the primaries run their course, and give everyone a chance to vote? But that they were willing to do this with an inaccurate and misleading analysis is shameful and depressing.

In Fred Friendly's day CBS' executives were honestly able to say "we have searched our souls" regarding their ethical and legal obligations -- because they still had souls to search. Today neither they nor we can search their souls, for there are none to be found.

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Saturday, June 04, 2016

My Take on Supervisor Race

Why I'm Supporting Kurt Friese (and Rod Sullivan)

Kurt Friese combines a love and knowledge of Johnson County's farms and small towns with the service he provides Iowa City. He applies the same levels of competence and compassion to social programs as to the challenges of running a business. His vision, keen mind, and easy manner will make him a meaningful and welcome addition to our Board of Supervisors."

-- Nicholas Johnson's Kurt Friese endorsement

Next Tuesday, June 7, will be a big one for the Democratic presidential primaries, with six states up for grabs (California, New Jersey, North and South Dakota, New Mexico and Montana).

But as former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, used to say, "all politics is local." And for Johnson County voters next Tuesday nothing could be more local than the election of three supervisors for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

As the quote with which I led this blog essay indicates, I'm supporting Kurt Friese.

The only reason I highlight, and lead, with him is because two of the other candidates are incumbents already better known to the voters.

Rod Sullivan is one of the best public officials I have ever known in any position anywhere in the United States -- because of many things from his personal values, life, and contributions to his public leadership as a supervisor. If you're unfamiliar with that record, you'll find a little more detail here: Rod Sullivan, "Sullivan Lays Out Qualifications, Record," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), May 26, 2016, 3:53 p.m.

As the Press-Citizen summed it up in its endorsement, "Sullivan, a 12-year incumbent, has amassed an impressive record in his time as a supervisor." Editorial, "Sullivan, Green-Douglass, Friese Our Picks for Supervisor," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), June 4, 2016, 9:20 a.m.

There's little more that need be said about Sullivan. If you still have questions, read the items linked above.

Kurt Friese, however, as the Press-Citizen notes in its endorsement of Friese, is a "newcomer."
"The only potential newcomer to the board in our endorsements, restaurant owner Friese would be an essential voice for sustainability and conservation during a time when development is king. As a longtime advocate for local and organic food, Friese has deep roots — pun absolutely intended — with farmers, business owners and activists. Friese is uniquely positioned to represent all these groups in local government and shows a passion for the preservation of farmland unmatched by any other candidate in the race. Johnson County has been blessed with reliable sources of revenue, and in electing a candidate who has so persuasively articulated a need for responsible growth, voters can show their commitment to ensuring a habitable, verdant community for future generations. Though another candidate, Jason Lewis, has agreed with Friese on many of these issues, his direct experience 'in the weeds' makes Friese our pick for the third and final seat."
Editorial, "Sullivan, Green-Douglass, Friese Our Picks for Supervisor," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), June 4, 2016, 9:20 a.m.

For more about Kurt Friese, here is his own Press-Citizen column about his candidacy, Kurt Friese, "Friese Running on Issues, Not Allegiances," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), May 25, 2016, 3:36 p.m., his Web page, and his Facebook page.

The Press-Citizen's editorial says of two more candidates: "another candidate, Jason Lewis, has agreed with Friese on many of these issues" and "Green-Douglass [whom the Press-Citizen also endorsed] has taken to her position well, learning the ropes and ably fulfilling her duty through the remainder of Terrence Neuzil's term." The paper expressed the wish that it could endorse both of them, as do I.

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