Thursday, February 25, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election

As many of you know, I began my career working in electoral politics, but honestly, that was a long time ago, and aside from my avidly following US campaigns, I am no more qualified than you to comment on the 2016 election.  So, after reading this, I honestly welcome your feedback.

The Republicans

Let me start that as a lifelong Democrat, I am continually baffled by which candidates wind up as the Republican nominees for President and Vice President.  After all, how was John McCain, a decent man and long-term public servant, duped into selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate?  And does anyone think that if the Romney/Ryan ticket were running now, they wouldn't have a better shot at winning than they did running against an incumbent Democrat in 2012--certainly a better shot than any of the current candidates?

But instead, we have the field now narrowed to five candidates, about whom I will write in inverse order of their current standing:
  • Ben Carson: Really?  The guy must be smart, because he's an accomplished brain surgeon.  So why has he seemed so stupid on the campaign trail?  Fortunately, he's gone from being a front-runner to an afterthought.
  • John Kasich: He's the greatest living symbol of the fact that the Republican Party has been hijacked by the Koch bothers and the Tea Party.  If there's anyone in the race who truly represents traditional Republican values, it's Kasich, but nobody is voting for him.
  • Ted Cruz: Whoever thought before now that amongst a field of candidates, he'd be considered reasonable?  The man built his reputation being an ultra-right-wing firebrand.  Yet, people are describing him as a "mainstream" alternative to Trump.
  • Marco Rubio: Am I the only one who thinks he looks, and acts, like a guy running for president of his high school student government?  He's arguably the most extreme right-wing candidate on the ballot, and his experience level is very low.  Does anyone remember how vehemently the Republicans berated Obama as being a "first-term senator?"  Yet, Rubio is in the same boat, except that he's missed a higher percentage of Senate votes than anyone else currently holding that job.
  • Donald Trump: I don't think I've ever before agreed with Lindsey Graham, but how did this media clown become the presumptive nominee?  And how must lifelong Republicans feel about the demise of their party in favor of hateful zealots?
A lot of my liberal friends are hoping that Trump wins the nomination, because they feel he will definitely lose in November.  I disagree.  Let's face it, you never know what will happen in a general election.  Clinton and Sanders may take off the gloves to the point where the winner is bloodied and must regroup.  I will address the Democrats shortly, but the thought of President Trump makes my skin crawl.

After all, this is the "Grand Old Party" (GOP)...the party of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Nelson Rockefeller, who would be considered a leftist by today's Republican standards.  You'll notice I didn't mention Reagan, because I believe he started this movement toward the right that is leading to the party's demise.  The candidates each claim to be the most "conservative," but that very word indicates being in favor or preserving the status quo, not turning back the clock.  Historically, conservatives favor a reduction of excessive spending, including military spending, but that's not the case with any current Republicans.

I believe we need two parties--it makes us stronger--and it shouldn't be the Democrats vs. the Crazies or the Democrats vs. the Obstructionists.  A strong Republican party is good for America, but the current version appears to have lost its bearings.

The Democrats

As an idealist, I appreciate what Bernie Sanders is saying, and as someone who struggles to pay his monthly bills, I agree that the system is rigged.  In 1976, I was on the national staff of the Fred Harris for President campaign, and Fred's platform then ("a fundamental redistribution of wealth, income, and power") was similar to Sanders's today.  However, that was a long time ago--before two or three corporations controlled every industry and the word "regulation" was seen as taboo.

What Bernie is advocating can't happen in four years or eight years, and if he tries to make it happen during that timespan, he could trigger a worldwide depression.  In addition, his advocacy of free universal health care, free public college tuition, forgiving college debt, and enlarging Social Security, as great as they might sound, are hollow promises that cannot be adequately funded by increasing the income tax on the top one or two percent, especially when our budget deficit is already greater than $16 trillion.

On top of that, Sanders is clearly out of his league when it comes to discussing foreign policy, and I'd worry about his temperament when facing down Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un.  Of course, I'd enjoy seeing a Jewish president, but in Sanders, there are just too many question marks.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, rubs many people the wrong way.  Maybe, like Adlai Stevenson in the 50s, she's just too smart for most people, or maybe they just don't like it that a woman is that smart.  I find it humorous that someone with Clinton's progressive credentials and general success as Secretary of State could be seen by so many as too much of an "establishment" candidate.

I want to return to the "smart woman" issue.  Just as there is an underlying current of racism in the opposition to Obama, there is a similar anti-woman current running beneath the anti-Clinton rhetoric.  I can only wonder why major democracies and US allies like the UK, India, Germany, and Israel have all had female leaders while the US has never even had a woman as the presidential nominee of one of its major parties.

Joni (my wife) has told the story of speaking with her grandmother many years ago and asking about politics.  Her grandmother responded that she couldn't always vote and Joni asked her why, surprised to learn that when her grandmother turned 21, women didn't have the right to vote.

As I get older, and remember campaigning alongside Gloria Steinem, Sissy Farenthold, LaDonna Harris, and Shirley Maclaine, it distresses me that many young women don't appreciate how hard it has been to get to this point, when a woman could be considered a front-runner in a US presidential contest.  Of course those women should vote for the candidate who best represents their interests (as some say Sanders does), but who better than a qualified, experienced, progressive woman to represent positions including equal pay, gun control, and abortion rights, which are being restricted in state after state (if you don't believe that, watch the recent John Oliver show)?

In Conclusion

So, as you've probably guessed by now, my ideal contest would be Kasich (admittedly a longshot) vs. Clinton.  I believe that would give us the best shot at an honest, issues-oriented debate between experienced candidates, and isn't that what we really deserve?  In addition, whichever of those candidates were to win, it would not encourage me to move to Sweden, as a Trump presidency might.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Behind the Trump Numbers

If you listen to CNN and other news outlets covering the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses, you could easily have the perception that there is a groundswell of support across the country for Donald Trump.  So, let's take a minute to look behind those numbers:
  • Of the registered voters in the United States, approximately 25% are Republican, and another 40% are Independent.  If we assume that half of the Independents are voting as Republicans, which is a stretch given Bernie Sanders's candidacy, then we will say that 45% of voters are picking up a Republican ballot.
  • The news outlets have talked about "record turnouts," but those are records for primaries, and the highest of them has been around 40%.
  • In the states where Trump has "won big," he's received about one third (33%) of the Republican votes.
So, if my math serves me correctly, we're looking at 45% of 40% of 33%, which turns out to be less than 6%.  In other words, in the states that have voted so far, less than 6% of all registered voters are picking Donald Trump for president.

Now, let's take it one step further and look at the specific states:
  1. Iowa, where nothing ever happens of any real interest to the rest of us.
  2. New Hampshire, which, for political purposes, is the Arkansas of New England.
  3. South Carolina, where they only recently removed the Confederate flag from the state capital.
  4. Nevada, (where Trump is expected to win big), where most of the state revenue comes from gambling.
It would be hard for anyone to claim that these four states represent the country.  Let's face it, there isn't even a major professional sports franchise in any of them, and together, they account for about 4% of the national vote.

Even if Trump's momentum continues as it has into Super Tuesday next week, we're still talking about less than 6% of the registered voters in the United States.  But the news outlets continue to report it like he's won the Super Bowl.

So, as you go about voting and watching the primaries, please rest assured that no one has ever won the presidency by winning 6% of the registered voters.  Even if you assume that only half of them will actually vote in the general election, then Trump is looking at 12% of the votes.  Unless he can seriously build on that base (at least quadrupling it), which is unlikely given the vehement anti-Trump sentiment, we can look forward to another Democratic victory in November.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Reid's 2016 Oscar Preview (2015 Movies)

As many of you know, each year, I write an Oscar Preview using a format from the Boston Globe in which critics preview the Academy Awards, using 4 categories:  “Will Win,” “Should Win,” “Shouldn’t Be Here,” and “Was Robbed,” following each with a paragraph about the races.  So, here is the preview for this year's contests:

Best Picture

The Nominees: "The Big Short," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Mad Max: Fury Road," "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Room," "Spotlight"
Will Win: “Spotlight”
Should Win: “Spotlight”
Shouldn’t Be Here: “Brooklyn”
Was Robbed:  “Creed” 

"Creed" was the movie most hurt by this year's slight of African American artists by the Academy.  It's the year's best movie, and it wasn't even nominated.  My second favorite movie of 2015 was "Bridge of Spies," but I'm saying that "Spotlight," although slightly flawed, will win and should win because of the importance of its subject matter.  People should see this movie, and an Oscar win would help that.  "Brooklyn" was a good, little movie, but it's not Oscar-caliber.

Best Actor

The Nominees:
  • Bryan Cranston in "Trumbo"
  • Matt Damon in "The Martian"
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"
  • Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"
  • Eddie Redmayne in "The Danish Girl"
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"
Should Win: Bryan Cranston in "Trumbo"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Michael Fassbender in "Steve Jobs"
Was Robbed:  Michael B. Jordan in "Creed"

DiCaprio did a great job in a physically difficult role, but he never really made me care about him as a person, while Cranston's portrayal of Dalton Trumbo was incredibly nuanced.  Michael B. Jordan showed again that he's a star on the rise in his non-nominated role as the son of Apollo Creed from the "Rocky" movies, while Michael Fassbender's reading of Aaron Sorkin's overly wordy script seemed more like an acting workshop than an actual movie.

Best Actress

The Nominees:
  • Cate Blanchett in "Carol"
  • Brie Larson in "Room"
  • Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy"
  • Charlotte Rampling in "45 Years"
  • Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn"
Will Win: Brie Larson in "Room"
Should Win: Brie Larson in "Room"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Jennifer Lawrence in "Joy"
Was Robbed:  Charlize Theron in "Mad Max: Fury Road"

The race for this award should be between Brie Larson and Charlize Theron, but absurdly, Theron was not nominated.  Fortunately, Larson was, and she will deservedly win her first Oscar (I'm predicting more in her future).

Best Director

The Nominees:
  • Lenny Abramson for "Room"
  • Alejandro Iñárritu for "The Revenant"
  • Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
  • Adam McKay for "The Big Short"
  • George Miller for "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Will Win: Alejandro Iñárritu for "The Revenant"
Should Win: George Miller for "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Adam McKay for "The Big Short"
Was Robbed:  Ryan Coogler for "Creed" and Steven Spielberg for "Bridge of Spies"

Iñárritu will win for the difficult task it took to make "The Revenant," but George Miller's reimagining of the Mad Max franchise was visually breathtaking.  Coogler suffered from the lack of nominations for African Americans, but after making "Fruitvale Station" and "Creed," I have a feeling he'll have more Oscar opportunities.  And it's easy to overlook Spielberg, as the Academy often does, but this was one of his best movies.

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:
  • Christian Bale in "The Big Short"
  • Tom Hardy in "The Revenant"
  • Mark Ruffalo in "Spotlight"
  • Mark Rylance in "Bridge of Spies"
  • Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone in "Creed"
Shouldn’t Be Here: none
Was Robbed: Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation" and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. in "Straight Outta Compton"

It's a shame that the only person nominated for an award in "Creed" was the only white person with a major role, but that's not to take away from Stallone's performance, which reminded us that despite all the action-film bluster, the guy can act.  Aside from that, it's a good group of actors that could have benefitted from the addition of Idris Elba and/or O'Shea Jackson, Jr., who did an outstanding job playing his father (Ice Cube) in "Straight Outta Compton."

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:
  • Jennifer Jason Lee in "The Hateful Eight"
  • Rooney Mara in "Carol"
  • Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight"
  • Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl"
  • Kate Winslet in "Steve Jobs"
Will Win: Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl"
Should Win: Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Rachel McAdams in "Spotlight"
Was Robbed:  Tessa Thompson in "Creed"

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander was in four good movies this year, but this was her best role, and it was arguably better suited for the "Best Actress" category.  Nevertheless, she nailed it, making the most of a difficult part.  And while Rachel McAdams did a decent job, the role was somewhat inconsequential, especially compared to that of Tessa Thompson in "Creed."

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:
  • Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for "The Big Short"
  • Nick Hornby for "Brooklyn"
  • Phyllis Nagy for "Carol"
  • Drew Goddard for "The Martian"
  • Emma Donaghue for "Room"
Will Win: Emma Donaghue for "Room"
Should Win: Emma Donaghue for "Room"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Phyllis Nagy for "Carol"
Was Robbed:  Donald Margulies for "The End of the Tour"

Any time you watch all of the actors do a great job, you have to give some of the credit to their lines, and that's the case with "Room."  And while I barely remember the actors saying anything in "Carol," I loved the writing in "The End of the Tour."

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees:
  • Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen for "Bridge of Spies"
  • Alex Garland for "Ex Machina"
  • Peter Docter, Meg LeFauvre, and Josh Cooley for "Inside Out"
  • Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
  • Jonathan Herman for "Straight Outta Compton"
Will Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
Should Win: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight"
Shouldn’t Be Here: Peter Docter, Meg LeFauvre, and Josh Cooley for "Inside Out"
Was Robbed: Amy Schumer for "Trainwreck"

This one should be close between "Spotlight" and "Bridge of Spies," but "Spotlight" has the momentum, so it will win.  I thought the premise of "Inside Out" was intriguing, but the script itself was not so interesting.  In the meantime, Amy Schumer redefined what you can and should say in a romantic comedy.