Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Hofstra Debate

History is about to be made at Hofstra University, and excitement is building to a crescendo among the school's nearly 11,000 students.  On Monday evening, Democrat Hillary Clinton will face Republican Donald Trump in a presidential debate that will likely be the most watched television program in U.S. history.   It will also be the first time in American history a woman presidential candidate from a major party will debate during a general election.   

Hofstra University 
The Hofstra debate will be a major turning point in the election.  While Clinton is ahead in the polls, her lead is fragile.  Meanwhile, Trump has shown some momentum recently, and he has even pulled ahead in polls from key battleground states, like Ohio and North Carolina.  Political advisors for both candidates are vigorously playing the expectations game so as to favorably position their candidate in advance with the press.   If expectations are low for Trump, a good debate performance by him may win him more supporters.

Each candidate has major hurdles to overcome in how they are perceived by Americans.  Trump is viewed as more trustworthy than Clinton by likely voters in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, but she outperforms him overwhelmingly in temperament, being a good commander-in-chief, and experience.  Trump holds an edge over Clinton in who would be best to handle the economy.   Clinton enjoys a strong lead among minorities, women and young voters.  Trump does well with men, white voters and those without a college degree.  Interestingly, half of Trump's likely voters say they will vote for him because they are against Clinton.   

A majority of Americans polled want a change in Washington, and that frustration with government gridlock and political bickering fueled the rise of Trump.  Trump has campaigned as the change agent while Clinton has had difficulty clearly articulating how she would change Washington.   Trump's loyal supporters don't care what he says and how he says it.  But temperament will be a big factor in winning over independent and uncommitted voters.  So Trump is likely to be on his best behavior Monday night in hopes of securing undecided voters.  Conversely, Clinton will not be able in a single debate to get more voters to think she is more trustworthy.  But she may be able to use her enormous experience to overshadow Trump on key issues.

This will be the third presidential debate held at Hofstra University, which is more than any other university.  During the 2012 Hofstra debate Governor Mitt Romney spoke of "binders full of women," and in the 2008 Hofstra debate Senator John McCain repeatedly brought up "Joe the Plumber."  This year's debate will be moderated by NBC News' Lester Holt.  There will be six 15-segments, for a total of 90-minutes.  The topics, chosen by Holt, will be "America's direction," "achieving prosperity" and "securing America."   The candidates will have an opportunity to respond directly to each other.  

To be sure, Trump and Clinton will try hard to avoid making gaffs that may change the course of the election.   But will Clinton look healthy?  How will she handle questions about her emails?  Will Trump be able to endure 90-minutes of tough questions?  Will he explain his positions on issues in-depth, like his "secret plan" to eliminate ISIS?  And how will the recent police shootings factor into the debate?

Hofstra took over the debate on short notice when Wright State University in Ohio pulled out in July for financial reasons.  Hofstra's president, Stuart Rabinowitz, said at the time, "We greatly appreciate the faith shown in us by the Commission on Presidential Debates."  Now, six weeks later, security around this 250 acre campus in Hempstead, NY, will be unprecedented. Monday's classes have been cancelled, many parking lots and some nearby major routes will be shut all day.  Meanwhile, hundreds of media outlets will take up positions on campus as Hofstra becomes the political epicenter of the universe for one day.  

As one student wrote in her blog, "I firmly believe that this debate is an incredible opportunity not only for the university, but for the students who dream of building and shaping these events in the future."   

Friday, September 9, 2016

Tsar Trump

Donald Trump's interview with host Larry King Thursday on RT, the English language Russian television news network, was embarrassing.  Trump's campaign was caught off guard by his comments and struggled for an explanation.  "A former CNN superstar, Larry King, has a podcast, and Mr. Trump went on his podcast," explained campaign manager Kellyanne Conway Friday on CNN. "Nobody said it would be on Russian TV." 

Trump has been under attack for his repeated praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.   During a presidential forum on NBC Wednesday, Trump said that Putin has been a better leader that President Barack Obama.  "Certainly, in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."  

Trump has repeatedly made in clear throughout his campaign that he admires Putin.  This has been especially true since Putin heaped praise on Trump at his annual press conference last December.  "He is a bright and talented person without doubt," Putin said, "an outstanding and talented personality."   Putin, a former KGB officer, knows how to manipulate egos, and no one has a bigger ego than Trump.  Trump's response, in the form of a statement, was, "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."

Respected?  Putin's annexation of Crimea and military intervention of Ukraine led to international condemnation and the imposition of sanctions.  Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its tyrannical leader, Bashar al-Assad, has also drawn condemnation and prolonged the conflict. Russia is also looking to play a bigger role in Iran's nuclear program.

Putin rules Russia with an iron fist.  Human Rights Watch, a non-government organization advocating human rights, harshly criticizes Russia.  "The Kremlin's crackdown on civil society, media, and the Internet took a more sinister turn in 2015 as the government further intensified harassment and persecution of independent critics," the organization says on its website.  Putin has turned the country against the West, especially the United States, in an effort to keep tight control.  He has successfully shifted blame for Russia's struggling economy from government policies to Western sanctions.  Putin has rigorously maintained a corrupt system of government where he and his loyal supporters reap great personal reward.

Punditfact reported earlier this year that 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000.  The international watchdog Freedom House ranks Russia 180 out of 199 countries when it comes to press freedom.   Perhaps Trump, who regularly denounces the American media, admires how Putin handles the press.  Trump told King, "there's tremendous dishonesty with the media.  Not all of it, obviously, but tremendous dishonesty."   

Larry King has a regular program on RT, and RT billed the interview as an "exclusive."  RT, a Kremlin sponsored network, describes itself as, "an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints international audience with a Russian viewpoint."   General Michael Flynn, the former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and now a national security advisor to Trump, attended an RT gala in Moscow last year, and has appeared on the network several times.   

In his RT interview, Trump told King that he doesn't think Russia is trying to meddle in the American election.  "I think it's probably unlikely.  Maybe the Democrats are putting that out -- who knows," he said.  "If they are doing something, I hope somebody's going to be able to find out so they can end it.  Because that would not be appropriate at all."  (However, last July Trump called on the Russians to hack Clinton's e-mails.) Nonetheless, Trump's views on the media and President Obama pretty much align with the Russian viewpoint.  

The website Talking Points Memo reported in July, "Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin."  Trump's tax returns might shed light on the extent of the investment, but he says he won't release them.  Both Trump and Putin have spoken out against NATO, although for different reasons.  TPM also reported that Putin has sought to prop up nationalist movements in Europe in part to sow discord in those countries.  

Trump is running a nationalist campaign positioning himself as a strong leader, and he is certainly sowing discord.  "I alone can fix it," he said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July.  He has campaigned using bombast and bluster, while seldom offering specific answers to policy questions, like details of his "secret plan to eliminate ISIS."  In his Wednesday appearance on NBC, he said, "Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I think the generals have been reduced to rubble."  He continued, "They have been reduced to a point where it's embarrassing to our country."  Of course, he would fire them.

On Wednesday, Trump praised Putin for "having great control over his country."   If elected in November, perhaps Tsar Trump will try to assert his control over this country.  

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Trump's Immigration Plan

Wednesday was a very good day for Donald Trump and his campaign.  He met with the president of Mexico, participated in joint statements that were carried live in the United States on cable channels, and he delivered an immigration speech in Arizona filled with plenty of red meat for his base.  

Sure, there were disputable statements.  For instance, near the end of their joint appearance, Trump said that he and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto did not discuss who would pay for the wall in their private meeting.  Trump has made building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border a centerpiece of his campaign since the beginning. And he has repeatedly told supporters that Mexico would pay for it. 

President Nieto, apparently unprepared for reporter's questions, did not attempt to correct Trump during their joint appearance.   But after Trump departed the presidential palace, Los Pinos, President Nieto took to Twitter to clarify the issue.  "At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump I made clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall," he tweeted.  The president is very unpopular in Mexico and he received much criticism for agreeing to meet with Trump, perhaps the only man more unpopular than he is in Mexico. Trump may have prevaricated, but he got a much desired photo-op with a world leader.

The Mexican trip was put together over the past few days by Trump's campaign team and then announced the night before he travelled to Mexico City.  The Mexican trip came on the same day he was scheduled to outline in detail his immigration policy in Arizona.   Over the past week Trump had been accused of softening his position on immigration in order to win back Republicans who were concerned about his extreme rhetoric on the issue during the primary campaign.   A Fox News poll released Wednesday found that 48% of Trump supporters would be more likely to vote for him if he "softened his position on handling illegal immigrants living in the United States."

A fiery Trump took the stage in Phoenix vowing there would be "no amnesty" for undocumented immigrants, that he would build a "beautiful" wall along the border, and that Mexico would pay for it.  Trump laid out a ten point plan that focused heavily on securing the border, crime by undocumented immigrants, reforming immigration laws, and cutting off federal funding to sanctuary cities.  His speech included attacks on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, and Washington for failing on immigration.   Trump fed off the wildly enthusiastic crowd.

But Trump's speech was filled with claims that are factually untrue. Illegal immigration has actually been declining in recent years, and more Mexicans are leaving the United States for Mexico than are coming to the U.S.  Also, numerous studies show that "immigrants--regardless of their legal status--are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated."  And many studies have found that illegal immigrants do not takes jobs away from native Americans.   

Trump's plan for undocumented immigrants included an end to the catch and release policy, zero-tolerance for those who have committed a crime, a tripling of the number of deportation officers, repeal of President Obama's executive orders, no more visas for any country where "adequate screening cannot occur," and an "ideological certification" to ensure that immigrants share America's values.   While Trump said that all 11 million illegal immigrants would have to leave the country and apply for reentry, he did not specify a time frame for deporting them all.  

Trump told his supporters what they wanted to hear.  He also noted that the latest polls show he has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton.  Trump appeared to have his old mojo back, even though he used a teleprompter.  He was brash, strident and at times overly harsh.  Facts don't matter to Trump; rather the performance is what counts.  And his presentation played to those who are fearful, angry and frustrated with the federal government.    

Trump put on quite a show Wednesday.  More importantly, he dominated the news cycle for another day, and no one loves that more than Donald Trump.  eading the main story