Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Midweek Update

We lead with an obituary of a person who had great influence on global society, operating behind the scenes, and move to some commentary motivated by current events. 

Sir George Martin (1926-2016)
He was honored in many ways, including the British knighthood, Grammys, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but above any others, there was the unofficial title of "the fifth Beatle".  There are others, such as their first manager, Brian Epstein, or the drummer who preceded Ringo Starr in the group, who have been named so, but he truly deserved it. George Martin's record production revolutionized the popular music industry, using superior recording technique, his classical music training, and by helping the rock group experiment with new instrumentation, clever arrangements, and mixing rock 'n' roll instruments with all kinds of sounds.

Martin worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison to help them turn their songwriting into the best recordings possible.  They recognized Martin's contributions, and his efforts helped change the Beatles from "just a pop group" to the world-changing artists that we remember.

Martin did a lot of other good work with other groups afterwards, and even recorded instrumental pieces and movie soundtracks under his own name.  My family and I recall with "Love" the musical by that name that he put together, from original Beatles recordings, released and unreleased, which we saw performed in Las Vegas by Cirque du Soleil.

McCartney described him as a "true gentlemen", a man whose behavior just added to the respect due to the Beatles and their groundbreaking recordings.  Martin died today, at the age of 90.

Act II, Scene 3 (continued)- From Super Tuesday to Winner-Take-All
Super Tuesday didn't provide many surprises or too much drama (if one doesn't get too worked up about who finishes second in Republican primaries); the most significant close race was Hillary Clinton's narrow win over Bernie Sanders in Massachusetts.   On the other hand, last night produced some significant, unexpected drama, with the upset victory of Bernie Sanders in the Michigan Democratic primary.  His two-point victory defied all the polls leading up to the voting, which had an average lead for Clinton of 13%, and which Nate Silver's gave Clinton a 99+% of winning.  Here are some takeaways from that shocker:

  • Sanders showed the ability to produce huge turnout in the college towns, and, from exit poll data, dominated the votes of independents participating in this open primary (no party registration required).  Clinton's campaign must counter with comparable turnout efforts in any competitive primaries, while the vote of independents is a long-term issue which could be decisive in the general election. 
  • Polls have sometimes been good in these early primaries, sometimes not (and in most of the caucus states, hardly present).  There are real issues about developing statistically valid samples properly representing the share of voters who do not have land lines, and the percentage of phone responders willing to take these surveys continues to drop (if you've ever done one, you would know what an irritant it can be).  And you can discount heavily any polls developed online. 
  • Michigan's primary once again defied predictions or reasonable expectations. I will remind the reader that George Wallace won its Democratic primary in 1972, and there are other historic examples of the state producing these surprise results (Henry Ford won the primary there vs. Woodrow Wilson in 1916); however, Michigan has been more predictable in general elections, going consistently (if narrowly) Democratic in every Presidential election since 1992. 
  • Despite the narrow victory in Michigan, Clinton actually won more delegates than Sanders because of her enormous victory margin in Mississippi, and thus added to her substantial lead in elected, pledged delegates (not even counting that huge one in unelected superdelegates).   What Michigan did for Sanders was keep his contest legitimate for at least another month. 
  • At this point, I should admit that he has done much better generally than I expected, particularly due to his success in caucuses in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.  Prairie Populism, indeed, from a Yankee Jew from Brooklyn!
It's good to have such a dramatic moment to rekindle interest in the Democratic race.  In my view, Sanders has already won, putting his selected issues front-and-center onto the table for Democrats, noticeably moving Clinton's positions toward his, and showing once again that People Power can be translated into meaningful results on the natonal stage.  I am certain that Sanders never expected to win the nomination when he entered this race, but he found, to his surprise, that there was more of an audience for his message, more broadly, than he suspected. Which is not to say that he has much of a chance to win the nomination, still; has it at 18% tonight, up from 10% after Super Tuesday.

In other Scene 3 developments, the threat of a third New York multi-millionaire in the general election, after Trump and Clinton, receded a bit in these days when former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided not to file.  The relevant facts at the time were that his entering would play into he hands of Trump or Cruz, and that the Clinton's likely ultimate nomination would give him a candidate he could get behind.

Is There Still Hope to Stop Trump? 
Well, there's hope, but not much substance to the effort.  Marco Rubio joins a long list of candidates who dared to take on The Donald and whose carcasses lie by the side of the road.  Rubio's descent into mud-wrestling was particularly humiliating.  Rubio's candidacy is not officially dead yet, but it depends entirely on his being able to pull off what now appears to be an upset victory in his home state.  If he could win Florida--a winner-take-all primary next week--he would be able to go forward, raise more money (he is spending huge amounts this week, in Florida, and, I can testify, in Illinois), and make the math for Trump getting the delegates to get a first-ballot nomination much more difficult.

The general expectation now is that he will fail in Florida and drop out.  John Kasich--the last, best hope of reasonable Republicanism--will face a similar challenge in Ohio the same night.  His odds of winning on his home turf, and of winning all the state's delegates, are a lot better, but he is even further behind the pace, not having won a single state's primary or caucus so far.   His support has been weak in most of the primaries, though improving some since the field has gotten smaller.

Ted Cruz' argument that he is the only one who can stop Trump, and that Rubio and Kasich should get out of the way, is founded in facts but doesn't pass the smell test.  He has won several states, ones with sufficiently large hardcore conservative voters, but not all of such states.  Trump has trounced him in states with large populations (except his home state of Texas), and especially those with open primaries, due to Trump's own strength with independents.   Cruz' argument of being an authentic, reliable conservative, and its corollary, that Trump is an unreliable one, may be correct but it won't make him a good bet to win the nomination, and it would make him a worse general election candidate.  That doesn't matter too much to me, but it should for Republican regulars.  My suggestion to voters in Florida or Ohio is to vote for the home state guy--Rubio or Kasich--no matter what party or Presidential candidate you prefer--as long as its not Trump or Cruz.

The Supreme Court Nomination
In a few days, President Obama will fulfill his constitutional duty, showing an amazing lack of regard for my advice to him (snark), and nominate someone to take the seat and robe of the Supreme Court which was filled by Antonin Scalia.  My thinking was that the Republican Senate majority in this Congress would never confirm an Obama nomination to take the place of Scalia and his hard-right Constitutional interpretation.

I'm sure my belief was correct, but other considerations will hold sway.  The Republican candidates, and their Senators, headed by Majority Leader McConnell, were so unseemly quick in announcing that no Obama nomination should even be considered, that the natural reaction to such extremism was to challenge it.  Clearly, there is some political advantage for the Democrats if they can, once again, make the Republicans in Congress look unreasonable and obstructionist.  It has worked before.

Based on the rumors, there have been a number of candidates apparently being considered, all of whom meet Obama's announced criteria of being fully qualified, confirmable by a Republican Senate, and having some kind of real-world understanding and experience (that is, beyond the academic and judiciary experience).  Tactical considerations may enter the selection:  one candidate from Iowa would put Judiciary Chairman Grassley in a tough spot.  Grassley, who has a fairly strong challenger for re-election in Iowa this year, would be under pressure to allow her to have hearings, though he has already announced that, though she may be qualified, he has pledged not to allow it.  Another candidate might add Asian-Americans to the list of majority groups the Republicans have permanently alienated.  Women and African-Americans figure prominently among the candidates. In the desire to actually get someone who would be approved, or at least seriously considered, there was consideration even for a Republican Governor, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, before he took himself out of the running.

At the end of the deliberations, I have no doubt Obama will do the right thing, nominate someone very qualified, with absolutely no chance of being confirmed--unless it is by the next Senate, which is becoming ever more likely to be controlled by the Democrats.  That appears to be the real point of the political confrontation which will follow his announcement, and the battle for control of the Senate is due to be the subject for my next political blogpost.

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

Well, it's late, but the Rubio campaign has come to the right understanding: Rubio makes the argument that anti-Trump voters should exclusively vote for him in Florida (I doubt the Cruz supporters will be convinced, though), and that it would make sense for them to vote for Kasich in Ohio. Kasich looks as though he may win in Ohio, but Rubio's chances in his home state look doubtful.