Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not." -- Millard Fillmore
I watched part of last night's Democratic debate with a longtime friend and liberal activist (we were both in Washington Park when Eugene McCarthy spoke there in 1968). He supports Secretary Clinton, and I support Senator Sanders, but we both agreed that we were hearing a debate of ideas and not just sound bites. It occurred to me that we were watching the equivalent of a mid-level playoff game; in fact, our process to select a president is similar to a sports playoff. Candidates are divided into the Left League and the Right League, go through some prequalification process (organizing a committee, raising some money, and giving trial-balloon speeches), then start the playoffs. Iowa and New Hampshire eliminate about half the contenders, Super Tuesday eliminates about half of the remaining contenders, and the ones that remain battle it out for the championships of their respective leagues (or in this case, parties). The Left League and Right League champions then face off in November for the title.
One difference between sports playoffs and this year's campaign struck me. In sports playoffs, all of the contenders are playing the same game. They may have different styles -- one football team might pass a lot and another might prefer to run -- but the teams all share the same basic objective, which is to outscore the opponents. By contrast, this year the Left League and the Right League are aiming at different goals. Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton talked about their experience in foreign and domestic policy, each trying to persuade the audience that he or she was the better and more experienced candidate. They both larded their speeches with facts and figures.
The Republican campaign has been the opposite. The Candidates of the Right are wooing the voters by bragging about how little they know about government. Two of the four leading Republican candidates have never held elective office, and a third is a newly-minted senator. Their campaigns play up how little they've been sullied by Washington. That's akin to a football coach saying that his team deserves to win the championship because the players haven't been spoiled by too much time on the gridiron.
Thus the quirk in the 2016 election. The two parties are not only not on the same field, but they aren't even playing the same game.
I've enjoyed the debate over whether Ted Cruz, now running for the Presidency, is eligible to serve. The Constitution requires that the president be a "natural-born citizen" of the United States, a phrase that the Supreme Court has touched on three times, most recently in 1875. In those three early cases (The Venus, 1814; Shanks v. Dupont, 1830; Minor v. Happersett, 1875), the Court suggested that citizenship extended to persons born in the United States to parents of whom at least the father was a United States citizen, without, however, explicitly defining the constitutional term.
Senator Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. Under the law of the United States, he became an American citizen at birth. So he is a "natural-born citizen." Yes?
Not so fast, maybe. It's possible that not all persons who are citizens at birth are natural-born citizens. The wrinkle is the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, which includes as its first sentence: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." A court might find, if it undertakes to decide the question, that the Fourteenth Amendment defined natural-born citizens to be only those persons born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction (so excluding children of foreign diplomats). Congress, the court might say, has the power to extend citizenship at birth to other classes of persons, including children born abroad to American citizens, but has not the power to change what has been from 1868 the only constitutional definition of "natural-born."
I imagine that if someone sues a secretary of state to keep Senator Cruz's name off the ballot on the ground that he is not a natural-born citizen and therefore not eligible to serve, any lower court faced with the case will hold that it is a political question and not one for the courts. If the question is political, then elected officials would have to rule; for example, had Senator Cruz run four years ago and faced a challenge to be listed on the Oregon ballot, the question would have gone first to Oregon's secretary of state, our now-Governor Kate Brown, who was born in Spain.
If the government is going to let people bring food to the Bundy band while it occupies the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it should allow in only meals that comply with federal guidelines. I'd like to imagine the occupiers eagerly opening the boxes that their supporters bring, only to discover that each package has a sticker that says "Approved by Michelle Obama." Would they eat them? Would they starve? It would be fun to find out.
During the Democratic debate Saturday, Hillary Clinton returned late to the podium from a bathroom break. Yesterday Donald Trump said, "I know where she went - it's disgusting, I don't want to talk about it." Then today Post columnist Zachary Goldfarb said that in using the word "disgusting," Mr. Trump had played a clever trick, describing research showing that conservatives react far more strongly to disgusting or repellent images than liberals and moderates do. Mr. Goldfarb summarized the research as follows:
Consciously, liberal, moderate and conservative participants showed no significant differences in rating these pictures [such as pictures of dead animals and dirty toilets], although conservatives “had marginally higher disgust sensitivity than the liberal group.” But things changed when the subject had their brains scanned using fMRI machines as they saw the images.
With a more than 90 percent success rate, the researchers were able to predict whether the participants were conservative or liberals based on how regions of their brains lit up while viewing the images. And it turned out that conservatives had a much stronger reaction to disgusting images than liberals. Reactions to other types of images were not predicted by political views.
“Disgusting images … generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation,” the authors write. “Remarkably, brain responses to a single disgusting stimulus were sufficient to make accurate predictions about an individual subject’s political ideology.”
The delightfully ironic kicker: immediately below this portion of the online version of the article, the Post ran this apposite image. Someone in Washington has a sense of humor.
In recent months we've seen stories of persons who, when accused of civil violations, solicit money for their defense through crowdfunding, including most notably a website called GoFundMe.com. GoFundMe turned down the effort of the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky after she was briefly jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses, but has accepted efforts to fund the defense of Second Amendment cases, marijuana cases, and deputy sheriffs.
It's all very well to raise money to get people out of legal trouble, but these efforts point out the need for a similar crowdfunding source to get wealthy miscreants into legal trouble -- or, more exactly, to provide a way for the general public to express their view of the malefactors' crimes. Hence the Laquedem Crowdfining Plan: GoFineMe, to provide a measure of the public wrath against those who steal and cheat on a grand scale. It works like this: if a judge or jury convicts a defendant of (say) securities fraud or some other massive financial crime that has identifiable victims, the court will open a GoFineMe account for a specified period of time, into which the public can donate funds to be used as restitution for the victims. The GoFineMe wrinkle is that the judge will also sentence the malefactor to pay a fine equal to X times the GoFineMe fund. A piker at the swindling game might be fined an amount equal to somewhere between half and twice the GoFineMe fund. A master of the art, if convicted, might be fined 10 or 20 times the GoFineMe amount. The fine would be used as restitution to the victims. It would work like a matching gift to charity, and it's far more gentle on the offender than setting up the stocks in the town square next to a supply of rotten tomatoes.
Having been bemused by the "Hillary is IN for 2016!" messages that I've been receiving and not having received anything similar from the Sanders camp, I tried an experiment this morning by Googling "Hillary is in for 2016." Google gave me 10 results, of which 5 were from a site called biggsforkansas.com and one was my own blog post.
This seemed low, so I tried "Clinton is in for 2016," and also got only 10 results. Then I tried "Bernie is in for 2016," which produced only one result. However, "Sanders is in for 2016" produced what Google claimed to be 2,290 results, of which Google shared just 28 with me -- low, but still nearly 3 times as many as the similar search for Secretary Clinton.
I'm not sure what to make of this result -- treating a Google search as an opinion poll risks falling victim to the Literary Digest syndrome -- except to note that Senator Sanders must be running an efficient campaign if Google associates his lead opponent's tagline with the Sanders campaign more strongly than with the Clinton campaign.
It's time to remedy the disrespect that President Obama showed to the memory of William McKinley when he restored the name of Denali to Mount McKinley in Alaska. The President has taken some flak from Ohioans and Republican candidates, including Donald Trump, who has vowed that if elected he will change the mountain's name back to McKinley.
William McKinley never visited Alaska, but he was a staunch supporter of American business, and it would be appropriate to commemorate him by attaching his name to something of commercial significance. How about renaming this building the McKinley Tower?
My Facebook feed occasionally shows a sponsored post from the Democratic Governors Association, which chirps "Hillary is IN for 2016!" and invites me to add my name to a list to "welcome Hillary to the race!"
As Secretary Clinton was the first to announce her candidacy, nearly five months ago, I'm bemused by the DGA's slow reaction to the news. I am, however, pleased to see her enter the race, because the moneyed classes now have candidates from both sides of the aisle. The plight of the billionaires who might otherwise go unrepresented terrifies me.
As the Republican party attempts to formulate a respectable position on immigration, several of its presidential candidates are responding to Jeb Bush's use of the term "anchor babies" in an interview a few days ago to describe the children of non-citizens who enter the country while pregnant and then give birth here. The children are citizens of the United States, even though the parents aren't, and (in Governor Bush's view) give their parents a leg up on obtaining legal immigrant status. Donald Trump has defended using the term.
Donald Trump was born in the United States, but two of his three wives were born abroad and became citizens only after marrying Mr. Trump. I await with great interest the day when Governor Bush or another GOP candidate will tag Mr. Trump as a two-time anchor husband.