Friday, July 29, 2016

The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It

The Real Significance of DNC Emails
[A] man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter.

-- Mark Twain, "Corn-pone Opinions," (1901)

Update on polls: They vary, both over time and between pollsters. The only one that really matters, because it is definitive, is the one that counts voters' ballots on November 8, 2016. Meanwhile, here is what The New York Times "National Polling Average" reported on July 30, 2016: Hillary Clinton 42.6%, Donald Trump 42.1% -- in other words, a toss-up. Of the 5 polls averaged, among the 3 putting Clinton ahead they range from 43-42% to 40-35%; the two favoring Trump are 48-45% and 44-40%. Results for 11 swing states show Clinton leading in 9, by 0.2% (Ohio) and 1.3% (Florida) to 4.5% (Virginia) and 7.0% (Wisconsin). Trump leads in Georgia by 3.3% and Missouri by 8.2%. "2016 Election Polls; National Polling Average," New York Times, July 30, 2016.


The Convention

The Morning After

How the Democratic Party of 2016 Has Become the Republican Party of the 1940s and '50s

Why The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It

The Growing Cancer of Campaign Finance

Why Sanders is Not Just a Candidate, and His Followers Are Not Just Campaign Supporters

Things Worth Losing an Election For


On Monday of this week [July 25] I wrote:
Today [Monday, July 25, 2016] before watching any of the Democratic National Convention, or reading any of the news reports coming from Philadelphia, I'm going to write about some of the reasons for my discouragement. Later this week, once the Convention is concluded, I plan to write on the same subject once again to see what impact the Convention has had on my thinking.
"Why Trump May Win," July 25, 2016. Now that the Convention is over, here are my thoughts.

The Convention

The Convention got off to a bit of a bumpy start. Senator Sanders' "Revolution" had been mollified earlier, somewhat, with a party platform incorporating most of Sanders' proposals. But the DNC's and party establishment's disdain remained, and was confirmed with the revelation of DNC emails confirming what Sanders had complained of from the beginning (e.g., the number and scheduling of debates to favor Secretary Clinton, joint fundraising by the DNC and Clinton campaign, and emailed discussions of how best to set back the efforts of Sanders' followers). See, Aaron Blake, "Here Are the Latest, Most Damaging Things in the DNC's Leaked Emails," Washington Post, July 25, 2016.

Monday morning DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was booed so loudly by her own Florida delegation that, in an effort to minimize the booing in the full Convention hall, it was decided to relieve her of the normal DNC Chair role of opening and closing the Convention. Nonetheless, the Sanders' backers continued with booing every time Clinton's name was mentioned by a speaker.

Tuesday through Thursday, with Sanders' appeals to his followers, and full-throated support for the election of Secretary Clinton, the booing subsided somewhat and a rumored walk out Thursday evening did not occur -- although Sanders' flip left many of his followers with a sense of betrayal, and some in tears.

I won't review them all here, but I thought many of the speeches throughout the week were excellent and even moving (see, e.g., Philip Bump, "The Father of Muslim Soldier Killed in Action Just Delivered a Brutal Repudiation of Donald Trump," Washington Post, July 28, 2016). However, the media seem to have given Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech mixed reviews. The PBS panel, including David Brooks, seemed to think her speech text and delivery to be no better than just "acceptable." But even a couple New York Times' folks whose evaluation of the speech was a little snarky, had to acknowledge that their fact check of her assertions found them mostly 100% accurate. Michael D. Shear and Thomas Kaplan, "Fact-Checking Hillary Clinton's Acceptance Speech," New York Times (online), July 29, 2016.

If you haven't read her speech text I urge you to do so. "Hillary Clinton's DNC speech: Full Text," CNN Politics, updated July 29, 2016, 1:14 a.m. ET (with 59:22 video). Frankly, I liked it -- from the perspective of what she needed to say, and wanted to say, and did say.

No speech can erase her ties to Wall Street billionaires and refusal to share with us the texts of what she told them in $650,000 speeches, or her support of costly, unnecessary wars of choice that have diminished, rather than enhanced, our national security, or whatever else has produced negative opinions of her that are the second highest of all those who have ever been presidential candidates. (Trump's are the highest negatives.) But in the speech she embraced the Sanders' Revolution. ("Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together -- now let's go out there and make it happen together.") She provided a State-of-the-Union-style list of what she wanted to do as president, along with how she intended to pay for it. She made an effort to accommodate her advisers' urging that she try to make herself more human (with references to Chelsea and Bill Clinton, her mother and grandmother). I could go on with all the other bases she touched on her way to bringing it home. But you can come to your own judgment about that.

Only time, and continuous polling, will tell what impact it had.

As for general impressions of the Convention, I thought it was professionally well produced and for the most part smoothly executed -- a real contrast with the Republican Convention and Trump performances the prior week.

The Morning After

Because this morning [Friday, July 29, 2016], as I stretched, wiped the sleep seeds out of my eyes, and ground the coffee beans, I realized that we are now, at best, back where we were on Monday morning, July 18 -- before the Republican Convention.

She came into the Democratic Party Convention well behind Trump in the polls, nationally and in the states she must carry: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, among others. Trump's performances in Iowa Thursday [July 28] afternoon and evening stole some of the media attention and poll bounce she otherwise would have received. He was back to calling her "Crooked Hillary." And Secretary Clinton had done herself, and the Democratic Party, no favors by going out of her way to honor the disgraced, and overtly anti-Sanders, former DNC Chair with the title of Honorary Chair of her campaign! At a minimum, this does nothing to refute the suspicion that she was complicit with Schultz's efforts to turn the DNC's resources to helping Clinton and defeating Sanders.

Her selection of Senator Tim Kaine as her vice president -- for all his virtues in that role for her -- only added to the disappointment among members of what the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" that the Party establishment was offering them just the same-old, same-old.

How the Democratic Party of 2016 Has Become the Republican Party of the 1940s and '50s

Yet Senator Kaine, perhaps inadvertently but clearly ill-advisedly, provided one of the most revealing assessments of his party during his acceptance speech when he said:
"Any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from [the Republican] party of Lincoln. And I’ll tell you [disaffected Republicans], if any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we have got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party."
Will Drabold, "Read Tim Kaine’s Speech at the Democratic Convention," TIME, July 27, 2016

As I and others have earlier observed, the Democratic Party today (as distinguished from, say, the Democratic Party of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, or Lyndon Johnson) most closely resembles the Republican Party of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller.

Alabama Governor George Wallace used to say, "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between the Democratic and Republican parties. That's not true. One has to evaluate the differences issue by issue. Then there is a dime's worth of difference, especially with regard to some social issues (e.g., abortion and gay marriage). But when it comes to capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Oil, large corporations, major donors generally, the NRA and other special interests, it is very difficult to make the case that those earning less that the median income (say, $50,000 a year) are better off with Democrats than Republicans.

Indeed, one of the most shameful and revealing bits of information in the DNC emails were the workings of the DNC in their relationships with major donors -- the provision of special perks and benefits, up to and including government jobs. Nicholas Confessore and Steve Eder, "In Hacked D.N.C. Emails, a Glimpse of How Big Money Works," New York Times, July 25, 2016, and Aaron Blake, "Here Are the Latest, Most Damaging Things in the DNC's Leaked Emails," Washington Post, July 25, 2016 (see "10) Flippant Chatter About Donors"). For an independent, professional, detailed and coherent report of a single event to explain this horrifying process, see Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick, "After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore," New York Times, July 29, 2016, p. A1 (e.g., "While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, Center City Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth. . . . 'It’s business as usual,' said Libby Watson, who monitored lobbying events in Philadelphia on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.")

If one needs more illustration of the inequality created, and then ignored, by both major parties, one need look no further than the contrast between the Convention delegates' $600-a-night rooms (arranged by the DNC) with the 650-a-night homeless sleeping on the streets of Philadelphia while delegates ate, slept, partied, and met in comfort. ("[T]here are more than 500,000 homeless people in the United States. Out of all of them, 31 percent are living on the streets . . .. Philadelphia alone has more than 13,000 homeless people, both living on the streets and involved in programs and shelters. Approximately 650 homeless individuals sleep on the streets of Philadelphia on any given night." "South Philadelphia: Homeless People Are Struggling To Survive In The City," Philadelphia Neighborhoods, July 15, 2015.) Who spoke for them, let alone did anything?

Bluntly put, the Democratic Party has lost its soul, where access to power is gladly exchanged for access to money, and elected officials (not to mention DNC staff) spend up to half of every working day "dialing for dollars" rather than legislating.

Why The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It

The afternoon of September 7, 2015, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley stopped by the Iowa City Federation of Labor's Annual Labor Day Picnic, held in the usual City Park Shelter #3. There were then five Democratic candidates in the race in addition to O'Malley: Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Larry Lessig, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb. During my visit with Governor O'Malley he asked me who I was supporting. I explained that I was solidly behind Bernie Sanders, but that he, O'Malley, was my second choice. Given the field of competitors, rather than expressing disappointment he indicated that he was quite delighted to be my second choice.

And why was he my second choice? Because from among the conventional candidates he scored highest on my checklist: range of experience, accomplishments, values, and political/social skills; that is, both elect-ability and capacity to function as president. As it turned out, few primary and caucus-going Democrats seemed to share my assessment.

So why am I writing about Martin O'Malley in a race that narrowed to Clinton and Sanders and stayed on track at the Democratic National Convention to select Hillary Clinton?

Because I need an example of what I mean by a "conventional candidate" to explain the three examples of why it is I think "the DNC still just doesn't get it."

The DNC (and Party establishment) has failed to recognize and embrace what Sanders was offering them. And I don't mean his candidacy. They could be thankful for his gifts to them and still decide that, for whatever reasons, they believed someone else would make a better candidate. (Although given that most of the polls indicated he would run stronger against Trump than Clinton, elect-ability could not have been among the reasons.)

Why was what Sanders was offering of value to the Party?

Americans are increasingly unwilling to give their unwavering, lifetime loyalty and trust to major institutions, whether government, corporations (as employers or suppliers), or traditional organized religions.

Not surprisingly, they are also falling away from political party identification, which Gallup reports is now at all-time lows. Nearly a half of all voters (42%) now identify as "independents;" only 29% are still Democrats, and 26% say they are Republicans.

There are many ways to increase party identification and membership, but the long-term most efficient may be to focus on (1) the young (Robert Kennedy used to "campaign" among high school students too young to vote) and (2) that 42% who are independent. Senator Sanders was dramatically successful with both groups.

He walked away with the youth vote. "In the Democratic primaries and caucuses overall, Mr Sanders won 70% of the under-30 vote . . .." "Young v Old Votes for Bernie and Hillary in the 2016 Primaries," The Economist, April 27, 2016. And Nate Silver 538 has explained Sanders' attraction to independents:
Sanders does much better among independents than among Democrats. In New Hampshire, for instance, Sanders won Democrats by 4 percentage points while winning independents by nearly 50 percentage points, a split we’ve seen repeatedly since then. Some of Sanders’s strongest performances in primaries have come in places such as New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin, states whose rules allow independents to vote in either primary. In fact, to date Sanders has compiled an unexpected record, performing very well in caucuses but having won just a single closed primary (Oklahoma’s). So why is Sanders doing so well among independents? It appears to be driven not by their ideology so much as their dislike of partisan politics.
Dan Hopkins, "Why Sanders Does Better With Independents; It's Not Because They're More Moderate Than Democrats,", April 18, 2016.

The Growing Cancer of Campaign Finance

The number one political concern for overwhelming majorities of Americans is the corrupting influence of money. Even 80% of Republicans oppose the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court opinion. A New York Times/CBS poll revealed that 85% of Americans believe we need fundamental changes to our campaign finance system. Another found 72% preferred small-donor financing of campaigns as a solution. A Des Moines Register poll of Iowa's caucus-goers revealed that 91% of Republicans and 94% of Democrats were somewhere between "unsatisfied" and "mad as hell" about money in politics. Jeff Robinson, "There's Nothing Naive About Wanting To Change Our Broken System," Every Voice, January 20, 2016.

Needless to say, campaign finance is the elephant in the political living room when it comes to building party membership and winning elections -- even for those benefiting from the system who see no ethical or moral problems with a democracy choosing legislation based on the size of campaign contributions.

Indeed, as mentioned above, one of the most embarrassing revelations to come from the 20,000 DNC emails revealed by Wikileaks has to do with what they explain about how the DNC trades benefits, and even government jobs, for the biggest political contributions.

When challenged, most professional politicians come back with resigned explanations regarding the costs of electioneering, and how PACs and large donations from corporations and the top 1/10 of 1% are really just the only way they can pay for the process.

Well, Bernie Sanders has just shown them how he could run a very successful and well-funded campaign with roughly 8 million donors contributing an average of $27 to what became a $200 million campaign.

Trump may be despicable, but he has figured it out. So had Bernie Sanders. The DNC has not.

Americans are angry; only 24% believe the country is headed in the right direction. "Right Direction or Wrong Track; 24% Say U.S. Heading in Right Direction," Rasmussen Reports, July 25, 2016. Over 90% want a change in campaign finance. Young people are less interested in committing themselves to traditional, 20th Century political parties. The fastest growing American "political party" are independents.

Senator Sanders offered the DNC an example of how to cure their woes -- how to generate enthusiasm instead of disdain, how to appeal to the new, young voters and independents, and how to eliminate the crippling burden of multi-million-dollar fundraising from the wealthy. Like Swiss watchmakers ignoring the growing market for digital watches, or Kodak rejecting the opportunity to develop videotape and the Xerox process, the DNC turned its back on what Sanders was not only advocating, but demonstrating by example was possible.

Not only did the DNC ignore him, worse still it actively opposed his efforts. It bulled ahead with its 20th Century notion that the Democratic Party could win a national election all by itself, using nothing but what we called in Texas "yellow dog Democrats" (those who would vote a straight ticket for Democrats even if a candidate was a yellow dog). It assumed it could once more ignore the overwhelming public opposition to the way it finances its operations. It got behind a quintessentially establishment presidential candidate (and then vice president) who would enhance, rather than suppress, its ability to raise money. And it did everything in its power to prevent Sanders' success.

Why Sanders is Not Just a Candidate, and His Followers Are Not Just Campaign Supporters

All of which brings me back to Governor Martin O'Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders.

If you've noticed, as far as I know there has not been a peep out of Governor O'Malley, or any of his supporters, objecting to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. By contrast, although most of the Sanders supporters say that if they are in a toss-up state they will hold their nose and vote for Clinton (though they are unlikely to contribute money or work in the campaign), they also say that if they are in a state that is overwhelmingly either pro-Trump or Clinton they will stay home, or vote Green or Libertarian.

Why are the Sanders supporters so upset? What's the difference between them and the O'Malley supporters?

Conventional political campaigns are kind of like a game. Indeed, the media is sometimes criticized for treating them like "a horse race" -- poll results, money raised, and crowd size. That doesn't mean they aren't hard fought, or that there aren't often bruised feelings that take a long time to heal. But the attitude among what we call "political people" is kind of like what I imagine the attitude among professional football players must be.

Pro football is rough and tumble. Games are hard fought. There are lots of injuries, and an occasional death, or lifetime consequences from too many concussions. At the end of a game there is a winner and a loser -- with financial rewards for the winner. But there are rules, and there will be another game next week, or next season. Players are traded from team to team. There is a kind of camaraderie among players, given their similar backgrounds, experiences and lives.

Politics is kind of like that. Going in, the candidates, staff and consultants know there will be winners and losers. There's a rough sense of the rules, and how the game will be played, and admiration for one's more skilled adversaries -- with whom one may work in the future. There is an understanding and acceptance of the role of big money in politics (as they say, "money is the mother's milk of politics"). No matter who wins they will probably have more in common with their opponent than differences -- like football players, due to their similar backgrounds, experiences and lives. Even if the election is stolen, there's a certain admiration for someone who can "steal it fair and square." It's a game played out within a closed system. You live to run another day.

Bernie Sanders "campaign" was not like that at all. He was, after all, not even a member of the Democratic Party (although he became one for purposes of the primaries). He was a Democratic Socialist. He had virtually no national name identification. He had virtually no money. He had no powerful, or wealthy, political friends, fans, or armies of followers. He did not agree with the golden rule of politics that "those who have the gold make the rules." He was, in every sense, an outsider, one of the least likely persons to be thought a serious presidential candidate. No, Bernie Sanders did not have a "campaign" to get himself nominated (though it had that appearance). He had a "revolution" in nearly every sense, and acknowledged it as much. (His continuing efforts now bear the name, "Our Revolution.")

He did not think campaigns should benefit, or be paid for by, the wealthy (later paid back on their "investment"). He thought they should include all demographic groups, including former non-voters, not just the older, regular voters. He believed that governments' primary responsibilities were to those without a voice, rather than those with the megaphones of modern media.

When Bernie Sanders did not win the nomination, when he was rebuffed and actively opposed by the DNC, it had almost no similarity to the significance of Governor O'Malley not getting the nomination. It was the defeat of a political revolution, the rebuff of an effort to democratize both the process and the public benefits that would flow from such changes. The closer analogy would be if those wishing to break from England in 1776 lost a vote, and those opposing the separation then asked them to please join in supporting their candidate for the Virginia House of Burgesses.

When Clinton seeks the support of Sanders' supporters (as distinguished from O'Malley supporters) she is not just asking them to switch from the candidate who lost to the candidate who won. It is as if Bill Maher was appealing to devout Catholics to abandon their faith and join in his campaign for president of an atheist organization. She is asking them to abandon their beliefs, their motives, what brought them into politics in the first place; she is asking them to suddenly switch from opposition to everything they hate about the present Democratic Party, and her, and work to perpetuate it.

Things Worth Losing an Election For

Then-Senator Joe Biden once told me, "Nick, there are some things worth losing an election for."

I don't know if he still believes that. I'd like to think he does. But if so, it would put him in a very small minority amongst today's professional politicians. Well over 90% of those in the U.S. House now have things so rigged that if they want to be reelected they will be. And they want to be reelected. There is, in the minds of many of them, no thing worth losing an election for. Like football coaches of old proclaimed, "winning is not the most important thing, winning is the only thing." Some are neither show horses nor work horses. They're not even sleeping in the barn. They spend their days raising money, and then paying back the donors at ratios of 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996. For what? To keep their job. Because, they believe, "there's nothing worth losing an election for."

As I started this blog entry, it turns out that Mark Twain was right over 100 years ago when he observed, "[A] man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter."

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Trump May Win

Discouraged By The Democratic Party's Self-Inflicted Wounds

And see, "The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It," July 29, 2016.

Update July 25, 3:27 p.m. CT: Nate Silver 538 projects if election were held today [July 25] Trump would win by 54.5 to 45.5% for Hillary (percentages change over time).

Update on polls; July 30, 2016: They vary, both over time and between pollsters. The only one that really matters, because it is definitive, is the one that counts voters' ballots on November 8, 2016. Meanwhile, here is what The New York Times "National Polling Average" reported on July 30, 2016: Hillary Clinton 42.6%, Donald Trump 42.1% -- in other words, a toss-up. Of the 5 polls averaged, among the 3 putting Clinton ahead they range from 43-42% to 40-35%; the two favoring Trump are 48-45% and 44-40%. Results for 11 swing states show Clinton leading in 9, by 0.2% (Ohio) and 1.3% (Florida) to 4.5% (Virginia) and 7.0% (Wisconsin). Trump leads in Georgia by 3.3% and Missouri by 8.2%. "2016 Election Polls; National Polling Average," New York Times, July 30, 2016.

As a lifelong Democrat, I have for some years now been discouraged by the actions of the Democratic National Committee, and others who are considered members of the Party's establishment (many of whom are superdelegates). So discouraged that I'm going to undertake a two-part blog experiment.

Today [Monday, July 25, 2016] before watching any of the Democratic National Convention, or reading any of the news reports coming from Philadelphia, I'm going to write about some of the reasons for my discouragement. Later this week, once the Convention is concluded, I plan to write on the same subject once again to see what impact the Convention has had on my thinking.

It is not my purpose in this blog essay to deal with the personalities or qualifications of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donald Trump, or others. It is, rather, to address the way in which the Party, as a Party, has positioned itself in today's America. [Photo credit: Maring Photography; Contour by Getty Images.]

The Democratic Party establishment has historically served, and been supported by, the poor, working poor, working class, union members, family farmers and a broad range of other demographic groups. Were it still both perceived and actually functioning as such, it could elect a majority of officials from school boards and city councils to the U.S. Senate, House and White House. While there are still occasional nods in the direction of the unrepresented, the Party's leadership has become -- and obviously wishes to remain -- funded by, and the legislative advocates for, Wall Street, large corporations, and the top 1% of America's socio-economic elite. It's mission, far more than the enactment of populist policies, is the perpetual re-election of office holders whose highest priority daily activity is raising money.

In the latter years of the 20th Century this evolution might not have been very honorable, but at least it could still work.

The question is whether it will still work in this or any other country when one considers the Tea Party, Occupy movement, Brexit, and the unprecedented numbers and enthusiasm of the supporters of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Whether justified or not, millions of angry Americans now look upon government, corporations, other powerful institutions, and those who run them, not just as uncaring for people like themselves, but as an enemy, deliberately adopting policies and budgets knowing the harms they will impose.

I am not arguing, in this essay at this time, that every Democratic Party official should have joined the Bernie Sanders campaign. But to so obviously trivialize, or oppose, his candidacy -- now documented in the DNC emails revealed by Wikileaks (not that it wasn't well known before) -- and carry on with 20th Century politics, was unnecessary and counter productive. For the angry Americans, independents, youth, Democrats, Republicans, and others, it was "a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."

However experienced and well qualified for the presidency Hillary Clinton may be thought to be, when millions of potential voters (and what may turn out to be non-voters) have taken to the streets with pitchforks in hand, for the Party leadership to offer them its preeminent establishment icon only confirms their worst fears about their Democratic Party, not to mention America's future and their own.

And that's, I believe, "Why Trump May Win."

Having written this, I now discover I'm not the only one with this assessment.

Michael Moore has written his analysis of why there is not just a chance that Trump could win, but "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win."

Frankly, I think that all politics is too volatile to ever predict, with certainty, what will happen 100 days in the future. But I certainly share Moore's sense that Trump could win, and that he has a much greater chance of doing so than the Democratic Party establishment's actions indicate it understands.

Moore's analysis is too long to reproduce here in its entirety. But here are such clues as you may be able to pull from his five headings: (1) Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit, (2) The Last Stand of the Angry White Man, (3) The Hillary Problem, (4) The Depressed Sanders Vote, and (5) The Jesse Ventura Effect.

Read the full text and judge for yourself. Here's the link: Michael Moore, "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win,", July 23, 2016.

Robert Reich takes a comparable view. Here are some brief excerpts:
Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

I worry she doesn’t –- at least not yet. . . .

In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did . . ..

But this view is outdated. . . .

The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

This is a big reason why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. It’s also why Bernie Sanders took 22 states in the Democratic primaries, including a majority of Democratic primary voters under age 45.

There are no longer “moderates.” There’s no longer a “center.” There’s authoritarian populism (Trump) or democratic populism . . ..

If Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party don’t recognize this realignment, they’re in for a rude shock -– as, I’m afraid, is the nation. Because Donald Trump does recognize it. His authoritarian (“I’ am your voice”) populism is premised on it. . . .

Most basically, the anti-establishment wants big money out of politics. This was the premise of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. It’s also been central to Donald (“I’m so rich I can’t be bought off”) Trump’s appeal . . ..

Last January, a Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers found 91 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about money in politics.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to move toward the “middle.” . . .

She needs to move instead toward the anti-establishment –- forcefully committing herself to getting big money out of politics, and making the system work for the many rather than a privileged few.
Robert Reich: Does Hillary Get It? Tim Kaine Is As Vanilla Middle As You Can Get," July 24, 2016

Watch this space. I'll return with my post-Convention reactions by the end of this week.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Doing It Ourselves

Include People in Process

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, July 24, 2106, p. D3

I started life in a house on the former underground railroad, in an Iowa City with “northern racism” -- few black students and fewer professors, none of whom could find a barber to cut their hair, or a landlord to rent them an apartment.

I spent the 1950s in a Texas with “southern racism” – including the poll tax and other remnants of slavery those underground travelers escaped. I clerked for a federal court of appeals judge when civil rights decisions sparked burning crosses in judges’ yards.

Later, as a President Johnson appointee, I watched how he passed the Voting Rights Act, knowing it would hand the South to the Republicans.

And how, as a result of that act, the mud and gravel roads in southern black neighborhoods began to be paved. The number of southern black legislators increased from 5 to 313.

Those memories came back to me as I read that Cedar Rapids’ leaders had met regarding a sub-set of local gun violence that gets little public or media attention: young black gang members shooting each other.

Ultimately, those leaders created the Safe, Equitable and Thriving (SET) Communities Task Force.

Wisely, the members chose to focus, not merely upon the existence and consequences of these shootings, but upon their causes. They mentioned “poverty, social vulnerabilities, and other systemic hardships.”

Having done so, they realized their challenge is less about race relations (though that’s involved) than about the basic needs of all residents – a challenge confronting most American cities.

The usual approach lists things like jobs at livable wages, housing, transportation, and healthcare – noting their interrelationship. Three weeks ago this paper addressed the adverse effect on education from both inadequate housing (in an editorial) and insufficient transportation (in a column).

Perhaps our answer this time will be found, not alone in substance (like housing proposals) but in process. The Task Force might first find the problems by focusing on those most impacted by what Cedar Rapids lacks (for them), rather than those most benefited by what it has. It might focus more on listening to their stories, recording and reporting anecdotal evidence, than on cold data and multiple choice questions. [Photo credit: Unknown; interviewing people where they live may be more revealing than the multiple choice questionnaire results from those willing to attend meetings.]

What if identifying each individual’s problems came before those of the community, a search through the catalog of alternative solutions, pilot projects, and the difficult task of final implementation?

We might just find that, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, we, too, have been “waiting for someone/to really discover America,” and that our democracy requires more than voting. It needs citizens who feel, and are, included in the identification as well as the resolution of our challenges.

Indeed, our leaders might wish to meditate upon Lao Tsu’s 2500-year-old observation that the goal of a good leader is that “When his work is done [the people] will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”

Iowa City now has less “northern racism.” And Cedar Rapids can have less shooting by gang members. We can do it. But only when the people can say, “We did this ourselves.”
As a former FCC commissioner, Nicholas Johnson highlighted the role of media in race perceptions and relations and urged increased station ownership by women and minorities. Contact:

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

An Answer To Athletes' Doping?

Lessons From the 'War on Drugs'

Update, August 6, 2016: I have a confession. Some of the blog posts at FromDC2Iowa are triggered by a news item, some follow a considerable amount of research, others are simply the sharing of an idea floating through my brain -- the motivation for this one on July 23. To the best of my memory I had never before read of a proposal to deal with athletes' doping by simply eliminating the prohibition. It was just a brief idea that I thought worth sharing.

This morning [August 6], while making coffee, I caught a bit of the discussion on Bill Littlefield's "Only a Game," on NPR. A guest was expressing some of the same ideas regarding doping that I'd written about here a couple weeks ago. With a little research I tracked down an article that guest had written. I'm always pleased, rather than disappointed, to find that an "original" idea of mine has occurred to professionals who really know what they're talking about.

Here are some excerpts from Patrick Hruby's article:
Doug Logan had seen enough. For years, he had served on the front line of the sports war on performance-enhancing drugs, first as the commissioner of Major League Soccer, and later as the chief executive officer of USA Track and Field. For years, he believed in the fight. . . .

This was a war, Logan began to realize, with few victories. . . . In an online [2013] column titled "May the Best Meds Win," he called the sports war on drugs hypocritical and unwinnable. A quagmire. . . . If athletes break criminal laws, then let them face the consequences; otherwise, let them decide what's best for their bodies.

For decades, the sports world's response to PED use has been . . . : zero tolerance. Police and punish. No retreat, and certainly no surrender. . . .

However, a small group [has] started to challenge that view. The war on doping, they contend, has done far more harm than good: wasting money, retarding medicine, fostering corruption, and trampling on athletes' rights and dignity while failing to protect their health. The ongoing Russian scandal . . . resulting in at least 111 Russian athletes being banned from Rio -- is not, to them, a meaningful victory. Rather, it's a sign of ongoing defeat. Sports keep fighting. Drugs keep winning. Wouldn't it be safer, rational, and arguably more honest to end PED prohibition? To permit, study, and regulate the drug use that already happens regardless of the rules?

-- Patrick Hruby, "The Drugs Won: The Case for Ending the Sports War on Drugs," Vice Sports, August 1, 2016


I'm not proud to say it. It wasn't a matter of health concerns or rigid discipline. As a licensed lawyer and public official at the time there was no alternative -- even while living as a hippie-public official. Illegal drugs could not be a part of my life. And so it has been to the present day.

That doesn't mean I'm a fan of our "War on Drugs." It seems to me that it has just promoted more crime, not less. It has, thereby, probably contributed to more deaths from the use of guns than from the use of drugs. Moreover, because there's no quality control of illegal drugs they cause even more deaths. It's occasionally involved our government in the cocaine trade. Not only has it cost taxpayers billions of dollars, it has kept the government from collecting taxes on drug sales, like it does with alcohol and tobacco. On occasions when it produced a dip in supply, it's simply driven up street prices and financial reward for drug traffickers. It has made America number one among nations in percentage of incarcerated citizens -- including more blacks working as prison laborers today than once worked as slaves.

In 2001, Portugal repealed all criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Fears of increased consumption proved unwarranted. Health services for addicts were cheaper than incarceration. There was a drop in teens' drug use, and HIV infections from dirty needles. The number of addicts seeking treatment more than doubled. See, e.g., Maia Szalavitz, "Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?" TIME, April 26, 2009.

This all came back to mind while reading the latest episode in sports' longest-running drama: the unsuccessful efforts to prevent athletes doping to improve performance. This time the accusation is that Russia has a state-supported doping operation that threatens to ban all of its athletes from performing in the forthcoming Olympic games. There has been so much written about what The Guardian calls "The Russian Doping Scandal" that it has devoted an entire section of its Web site to links to the stories.

Doping has been going on for at least 2000 years. ("The use of drugs to enhance performance in sports has certainly occurred since the time of the original Olympic Games [from 776 to 393 BC]. . . . [A] viscous opium juice [was] the drug of choice of the ancient Greeks." Larry D. Bowers, PhD, "Athletic Drug Testing," Clinics in Sports Medicine, April 1, 1998.) No wonder stopping it has proven to be an unwinnable challenge in virtually all sports, and from high school, to college, to the Olympics, to professional athletes.

As for the Olympics, The New York Times reports, "Results from the second wave of retesting [brought] the total number of implicated athletes to 98. The new results affected 30 athletes from eight countries who competed in four sports in Beijing, and 15 athletes from nine countries who competed in two sports in London, according to the I.O.C. . . . Revelations of a government-run doping program in Russia have called into question global sports’ antidoping system, as well as sports officials’ willingness to expose drug offenses. . . . [I]n a cat-and-mouse dynamic, both testing methods and doping methods have gotten more sophisticated, with those seeking to beat the system devising new ways to skirt detection." Rebecca R. Ruiz, "Russia’s Paralympic Team Is Facing a Ban of Its Own," The New York Times (online), July 23, 2016, p. A1.

The UCLA Bruins Coach Red Sanders' saying (often erroneously attributed to Vince Lombardi), "Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing," describes the attitude of many coaches, athletes, fans, and sports reporters. That being the case, why should anyone care about doping? Equipment changes enhance performance -- from pole vaulting poles, to baseball bats, golf clubs, and their balls. These and other techniques are not deemed unsportsmanlike, even though they make it difficult to compare yesteryear's record books with today's.

Doping is different. Since it is banned, those who do it anyway are considered to have cheated their way to an unfair advantage. In contests where hundredths of a second can make the difference between a medal winner and an also ran, it's the individualistic equivalent of an entire team conspiring to throw a game. But many things are done to enhance performance -- training in the scientifically most efficient way, training at a higher altitude (gaining an oxygen boost upon return), or controlling diet. Athletes who can devote their full time to training will enhance their performance over those who cannot.

Like illegal street drugs, doping can also involve overdoses, and the use of impure and untested substances without quality control. Need athletes be protected from themselves? Injuries and death can occur in many sports; athletes "assume the risk," both legally and morally. One of the more dramatic examples are the brain injuries from football. Education programs may be desirable, but shouldn't adults be otherwise as free to do their own benefit-cost risk assessments of doping as of any athletic or other risk?

Perhaps organized athletics, including the Olympics, should consider abandoning anti-doping efforts that have proven ineffective -- certainly in insuring that every competing athlete is clean; that encourage subterfuge, lying, and risks to athletes' health, and ever more sophisticated efforts to design difficult-to-detect substances. Perhaps they should consider the sports equivalent of the Portugal approach. Let doping join the list of things athletes and their coaches can use to enhance performance -- using drugs that are regulated and used under the supervision of medical doctors and pharmacists.

Given the widespread practice of doping in all sports, the results would be little different from today. But it would be safer, less deceitful, and create a more honorable and level playing field for athletes, coaches, and fans alike.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cancer: 'Of Course; But Maybe'

Cancer: 'Of Course; But Maybe' Nicholas Johnson The Gazette, July 17, 2016, p. 6A

Louis C.K. has a stand-up bit he calls, “Of Course ...; but maybe ...”

The Cancer Moonshot Summit June 29 brought it to mind. [Photo source: White House]

Vice President Joe Biden has been tasked with accomplishing ten years of cancer progress in the next five years.

Louis C.K. hasn’t used “Of course ...; but maybe ...” regarding health care, but he could. Here’s my example, based on UNICEF’s reporting one billion people “don’t have a safe water supply within fifteen minutes’ walk” and “a lack of clean water and basic sanitation is responsible for 1.6 million preventable child deaths each year.”

“Of course, we should develop more medicines to treat children’s diseases from impure water. Of course. We should provide medicines and personnel to help those children. Of course, we should. But maybe, just maybe, we should also provide those children easy access to pure water and sanitation facilities.”

The Cancer Moonshot program, and Vice President Biden’s speech at the Summit, almost exclusively focus on the detection and treatment of the roughly 200 forms of cancer.

Most of the 20 “activities to support the goals of the Cancer Moonshot” involve drugs — easing and speeding their discovery, clinical trials, patents, and patients’ access. There is genetic research, and the search for effective and less toxic therapies. Some are efforts to improve communication and coordination between agencies, institutions, researchers and doctors, the creation and sharing of big data and the Genomic Data Commons, and speeding up information distribution.

“Of course, we should launch a Cancer Moonshot, find a cancer cure, and alleviate patients’ suffering from cancer and its treatment. Of course, we should support doctors’ research. Of course. But maybe, just maybe, we should devote at least as much in the way of personnel and resources to discovering and eliminating the carcinogens to which we are all exposed.”

When Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein set out to understand and report the story of the 1972 Watergate break-in, one of their most useful sources was FBI Associate Director Mark Felt — known only as Deep Throat until he revealed his identity in 2005.

Never direct or fulsome, Deep Throat’s suggestions sounded more like those in a Zen master’s koan. One of his most useful was, simply, “Follow the money.”

It’s equally useful advice in our search for cancer’s causes.

Who profits from cancer? Not who profits from researching and treating it. Who profits from causing cancer?

Major causes of cancer are carcinogens — substances in our homes, workplaces, air we breathe, water we drink, and food we eat.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lists 132 known carcinogens — just in the workplace. Physicians for Social Responsibility provides 10 categories of carcinogens and their cancers.

Virtually all carcinogens are the products or byproducts of corporations. In addition to which there are 100,000 additional substances we ingest that haven’t even been tested — thanks to a subservient Congress. [Photo source: unknown]

The tobacco industry hooks junior high kids (the “replacement smokers” for the 400,000 it kills annually) on its cancer-causing product with addictive nicotine.

But most of our exposure to corporate cancer results from neither our choice nor a corporate executive’s homicidal tendencies. It’s the result of our unawareness, congressional subservience, and corporate executives’ everyday profit maximization (carcinogens may be cheaper than safe alternatives), apathy, or ignorance.

“Of course, we should support cancer research and treatment. But maybe, just maybe, we should also go after the corporations that are contributing the carcinogens that cause the problem.”

Nicholas Johnson was the co-director of the former University of Iowa Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy. Comments:

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Note: In an email from Google on May 29, 2023 at 3:19 AM I was informed that the above article contained "sensitive content" that violated the "Community Guidelines" and therefore would be blocked from direct access for visitors with a warning notice that required a "continue" button.

I have read the "Community Guidelines." I have been unable to find any provision that would apply to any of the text -- and the email contained neither a suggestion as to which guideline was applicable nor which language in the text was involved.

The text of this post is, in fact, the content of a column published in The Gazette (Cedar Rapids). Had the paper's editor seen any questionable content it would have been removed.

It has been available from my blog for 7 years -- without, so far as I am aware -- any concern expressed to me before.

I have today (May 31, 2023) requested the block be removed.

-- Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City, Iowa
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Monday, July 04, 2016

Clinton-Lynch Tarmac Talk; 'What Were They Thinking?'

Here Are Some Possibilities
For a politician long praised for his political smarts, it was a striking error of judgment on [Bill] Clinton’s part to walk to [Attorney General Loretta] Lynch’s plane for any kind of conversation. It was a similarly huge lapse on the part of the attorney general, who was appointed by Clinton as a U.S. attorney in 1999, to allow him to come aboard for any kind of conversation.

-- Dan Balz, "How Everyone Looks Bad Because Bill Clinton Met With Loretta Lynch," The Washington Post (online), July 2, 2016
NOTE, July 5, 2016, 1:00 p.m.: Since writing this blog essay, the FBI released its report regarding possible criminal violations by Hillary Clinton regarding her use of a private email server. What follows in this section is a link to the New York Times story about FBI Director James Comey's news conference, and a link to a transcript of his remarks on that occasion. They are followed by what I believe to be the most significant portions of that transcript. (For anyone interested in the case, the full transcript is very much worth reading.) Finally, I add some comments of my own. While this information is of sufficient significance to be noted here, none of it affects the analysis in the earlier blog essay regarding the meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Lynch -- with the possible exception of the timing of Director Comey's statement (about which I comment).

Mark Landler, "F.B.I. Director James Comey Recommends No Charges for Hillary Clinton on Email," The New York Times (online), July 5, 2016; "Statement by FBI Director James B. Comey on the Investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Use of a Personal E-Mail System," FBI National Press Office, Washington, D.C., July 5, 2016
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.

. . .

She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.

. . .

Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.
My thoughts. (1) If the only possible prosecution was under the statute requiring proof of "intention," then I think Director Comey's announced decision not to prosecute is, if not inevitable, at least reasonable lawyering by a prosecutor for the reasons he cites (quoted above). But if there are statutes making it a criminal offense to be "extremely careless" when handling top secret documents (without the need to prove "intention" to risk disclosure), or if "any reasonable person person . . . should have known that an unclassified system was no place for" classified documents or email conversations -- both of which Director Comey charged as having occurred -- then more explanation is called for as to why those criminal statutes were not used.

(2) Timing. (a) Media. As I write this, the evening news programs have not yet aired. By Comey's releasing this statement today [July 5] rather than tomorrow the story will have to compete with news coverage of the joint Obama-Clinton campaigning in North Carolina today, thus weakening the FBI's decision's adverse impact on Clinton (as well as Trump-camp criticisms of both Comey's decision and Clinton's use of private email servers). (b) Speed. The past Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were holidays for millions of Americans -- including some journalists -- an ideal time to kill, or reduce the impact, of stories one would rather censor. Maybe Comey had already written his statement by mid-week of last week, predicting how the Saturday morning questioning of Hillary was likely to go. But no matter how one counts the time, going from a Saturday morning questioning session to a Tuesday morning statement, regarding a year-long investigation involving tens of thousands of documents, is more than fast-track service for any government agency. I take the Director at his word that no one from the White House or Justice Department interfered with the investigation's outcome. But that does not necessarily exclude suggestions as to when a decision would be preferred.

(3) CNN has created a two-minute video with clips contrasting Hillary's statements with the FBI's findings revealed by Director Comey. Gregory Krieg, "FBI Boss Comey's 7 Most Damning Lines on Clinton," CNN Politics, July 5, 2016, 1805 ET. Look at the top of the page, immediately below the big video screen, for the small picture from the video titled "Watch the FBI Refute Clinton Email Claims" (it has no separate, unique URL) which runs 2:03

(4) Criminal statutes. The following is not legal advice, is not the product of thorough research, and is not intended to suggest that Hillary Clinton violated any of these laws -- none of which seems to precisely cover the facts in her case (some deal with theft of government property that includes documents, others the deliberate doing of harm to the United States, or removing documents with no intention of returning them). But together they give some sense of what federal criminal statutes provide (as found in Title 18 of the United States Code) that might be thought to be in some way related. For what I believe does represent solid legal research and analysis (whether or not other lawyers will agree with it) -- from last January no less -- see Dan Abrams, "Trump is Wrong, Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Be Charged Based on What We Know Now," LawNewz, January 29, 2016, republished, March 2, 2016 (continued with a link at the bottom of Abrams’ editorial).
18 USC 793
(f) Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, . . . note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody . . ., or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody . . . , and fails to make prompt report of such loss . . . — Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

18 USC 1924
(a) Whoever, . . . by virtue of his office . . . becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. . . . (c) [T]he term “classified information of the United States” means information originated, owned, or possessed by the United States Government concerning the national defense or foreign relations of the United States that has been determined pursuant to law or Executive order to require protection against unauthorized disclosure in the interests of national security.

18 USC 2071(b)
(a) Whoever willfully and unlawfully . . . removes . . . or, with intent to do so takes and carries away any . . . document . . . filed or deposited . . . in any public office . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both. (b) Whoever, having the custody of any such record, . . . document, paper, . . . unlawfully . . . removes . . . the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.

18 USC 641
Whoever . . . knowingly converts to his use or the use of another . . . any record . . . of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, . . . Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years . . ..

[The original blog essay begins here.] The FBI has been investigating whether Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, did anything illegal by establishing a private server for her official and private email -- thereby subjecting top secret and other classified government documents to greater risk of hacking or other disclosure.

She was subjected to three and a half hours of questioning by the FBI on Saturday, July 2.

Normally, it would befit media savvy, sophisticated political campaign managers to choose that date (the beginning of a three-day July 4th holiday weekend), and to control her movements as they did (they avoided any still or video pictures of her leaving home, entering or leaving the FBI offices). They thereby insured there would be the least possible media coverage that day, and that stories about FBI questioning of their candidate will have faded by July 5th -- further guaranteed by arranging for President Obama to campaign alongside her on the 5th. In this case, however, Hillary is haunted -- as she and her managers have acknowledged -- by a majority public perception (that may be both untrue and unfair) that she lies, is secretive and untrustworthy. When the FBI investigation is focused on one of the reasons for that public perception -- her home-based personal email server while Secretary of State -- her managers' minimizing public knowledge regarding the FBI's questioning might not have been the wisest choice.

But those issues I leave to others. This blog essay is not about how she handled her emails, her experience and qualifications for the presidency, or the desirability of her holding that office. It is how events of last week were perceived and covered by the media, Washington insiders, and the rest of us.

On Monday evening, June 27, former president Bill Clinton, Hillary's husband, held his plane at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor executive airport to await the arrival of Attorney General Loretta Lynch's plane a few minutes after his plane had been scheduled to take off. Ken Kurson, "EXCLUSIVE: Security Source Details Bill Clinton Maneuver to Meet Loretta Lynch; Former president delayed Phoenix takeoff to snare '20-25 minute encounter' with Attorney General," The Observer (online), July 1, 2016.

Dan Balz is one of Washington's most experienced and ablest political reporters. His take on the Clinton-Lynch meeting, in the excerpt quoted above, was the take of most reporters and Washington insiders -- for them to meet at that time was "a striking error of judgment," and a "huge lapse" (for reasons explored below).

Is that a possible explanation? Maybe. As we say, "anything's possible." The most likely explanation? I don't think so.

I have no inside knowledge of the events and conversations preceding and during the Clinton-Lynch visit, involving them and others. How could I have? But there are certainly more possibilities than those being offered by the parties, their apologists, and the media.

Clinton and Lynch are both lawyers; she is the nation's (or at least the government's) top lawyer. Both are fully seeped in the professional requirements of legal ethics (a major subject of their annual, mandatory Continuing Legal Education courses). They had to have been aware of the impropriety of a private meeting between an interested party (Bill Clinton, Hillary's husband) and the ultimate decider during this investigation of Hillary Clinton. If this were already a contested judicial or administrative agency proceeding the meeting would have constituted what is called an ex parte contact with a judge -- an occasion at which both parties are required to be present -- that could result in disbarment of the offending lawyer.

Both are politically savvy. President Clinton has made his share of bad decisions during his career as a politician, but most have been personal rather than political -- and no one is suggesting this one was in the former category. Indeed, he is probably one of the most well informed, experienced, sophisticated and successful politicians of our time. Lynch is politically experienced as well -- a Harvard law graduate who practiced law with two of the nation's prestigious law firms, as a prosecutor going after Democratic and Republican office holders alike, and successfully maneuvering through her Senate hearing.

What were the motives behind the Clinton-Lynch encounter? There is no explanation that I find persuasive. But the one I find least persuasive is the possibility that the two of them were totally oblivious to the legal, professional, political, media, and other consequences of their getting together for a chat about golf and grandchildren at this time, in this way, in this place.

Here are some other possibilities.

(1) They did talk about the merits and disposition of the Hillary investigation. Of all the possibilities, this is the least likely in my opinion -- in part because of the points made above.

(2) However, . . . depending on when the decision was made to schedule her FBI questioning for Saturday morning (July 2), they might have discussed that scheduling.

The Benghazi report was going to come out the next day (June 28). That might have seemed worth talking about.

They might have talked about the advantages of replacing the Attorney General with the appointment of an independent counsel -- thereby postponing the conclusion of the investigation beyond the November election.

(3) Perhaps Bill just wanted to reestablish and reinforce the Clintons' personal relationship with Lynch -- to implant a face on what might otherwise be a dry legal document. Yes, money is probably the most persuasive element of political power in Washington. But close behind, if not ahead of money are personal relationships. These may not be Iowa-style "friendships," perhaps, let alone b-f-f relationships. As President Truman is said to have observed, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

But establishing, and maintaining personal relationships is a major part of a lobbyist's job description. It's the part that doesn't always involve pressing the client's case directly. It's dropping in for a chat about whatever; sharing and paying for a drink or lunch, round of golf, fishing trip, pro ball game, or travel abroad. It's said that before a lobbyist asks a member of Congress for a favor, he or she should first do ten favors for the member.

As Maritime Administrator or FCC commissioner I always refused that kind of contact, but I would take time to visit with almost anyone coming to my office (if it would not violate the spirit of ex parte prohibitions). One of my visitors was an AT&T representative. He was a tall, friendly guy from Alabama, with a southern accent and smooth manner, great stories, and an ability to relate to anyone. He knew me well enough to never talk about AT&T business, and I'd like to believe AT&T's lawyers' efforts to remove me from AT&T cases, coupled with my dissenting opinions, would support my belief that he had no effect on my positions on telephone issues. But he did lighten my day and I was always happy to chat with him. I have never had my own private jet plane, but if I had one back then I wouldn't have been surprised, if the occasion arose, that he might have walked across a tarmac to pay me a visit.

Maybe that was a part of Bill Clinton's instinct; after all, he had given Lynch's career a big boost with a U.S. Attorney appointment earlier in her career. It couldn't hurt, he might have thought, to have his mere presence remind her of that without even mentioning the appointment -- or the pending investigation of his wife.

(4) Maybe this meeting was a way of signaling the Attorney General's preferences to the FBI and Justice personnel. The President, of course, has already done this with his earlier statements suggesting he doesn't believe Hillary's private email server was all that serious, his endorsement of her (before the Democratic National Convention selected her or the FBI investigation was concluded), and his agreement to go campaigning with her this week.

Those who wish to thrive (or at least survive) within any bureaucracy, including government, develop sensitive antennae that pick up on signals from those higher up the food chain. Of all the civil service, among those whose honor I respect the most are those at the Justice Department and FBI. I'd like to believe they'd not be swayed in their decisions by anything other than the merits of a case.

But Bill Clinton may have thought that, whatever else Justice and FBI employees might surmise from public revelations of the Clinton-Lynch meeting, they would at least aware that their top boss has a sufficiently friendly and casual relationship with Hillary's husband to have had this meeting with him at this time. And he may have thought these signals from the President and Attorney General would be of benefit to Hillary with regard to the election generally, and this investigation in particular.

(5) It's possible that Bill Clinton, Lynch, or both wanted the Attorney General to have a conflict -- and therefore be able to stay out of the FBI's Hillary investigation. There were enough security and other folks around at the time of the Clinton-Lynch visit that they would both have to have known that the meeting would become public knowledge.

How might Lynch's recusal advantage them?

The Attorney General was confronting a lose-lose choice. As the polls reveal, and many commentators are now saying, the fact that a majority of the public thinks Hillary lies and can't be trusted is one of her major hurdles at this time. (Obviously, I'm not asserting those public perceptions are warranted or fair; I'm just saying they exist and are a political problem for Hillary as a presidential candidate.)

If the FBI indicts Hillary, and the Attorney General either lets that decision proceed without comment, or expresses support for it, she would engender the enmity of the the entire Democratic Party establishment on the eve of the Party's convention. It would be even worse if the FBI gives Hillary a soft slap on the wrist and does nothing more, and then the Attorney General intervenes and, with the advice of staff members, essentially reverses the FBI and imposes serious penalties.

On the other hand, if the FBI doesn't indict Hillary, and Lynch goes along with that result, or worse if they do indict and Lynch essentially reverses their decision, it would support Trump's assertion that "the fix is in," reflecting badly both on the Attorney General and the President.

Following the revelations, and criticism, of her meeting with Bill Clinton the Attorney General appears to have taken what are seemingly two inconsistent positions. The first was that she would simply accept whatever the FBI decides. Because this seemed to raise some questions about the propriety of her doing so, given her responsibilities for review and approval, she then seemed to backpedal a bit, reserving the right to intervene.

Anyone with the political history and power of the Clintons, and their campaign and other staffers, might very well have access to individuals within the Justice Department, or FBI, willing to pass along information about the status of the investigation. (Again, for reasons stated earlier, I do not believe this would happen with those employees; but such things are not unknown in Washington.) Hillary certainly at least knows what she was asked during her FBI questioning that may have given her some clues. But if, for example, there were inside reports, and they indicated that the upper levels of the Justice Department want an indictment, but the FBI seems to be more lenient, there would be an advantage to the Clinton campaign to remove the Attorney General from the process.

Bottom line. I'm not suggesting any of these possibilities are true. I certainly have no desire to do Donald Trump any favors. But as I began, this blog essay is not about Hillary's merits and the November election.

It is about how the media, Washington insiders, and the rest of us thought and wrote about these events. The predominant response seemed to be simply, "What were they thinking?" The only possibility those asking this question could imagine was that Lynch and Bill Clinton weren't thinking. On the other hand, I believe this bizarre behavior of Bill Clinton and the Attorney General, whose department is investigating his wife's past actions, could be explained by a number of things they might have been thinking. And that if we're going to discuss what they did, and its significance, we have an obligation to get beyond the conclusion that the only possible explanation is that it was just "a striking error of judgment" and a "huge lapse."

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