Wednesday, November 9, 2016

HILLARY: Much to Blame

                                                             Oh America, 1989                        

                                                  © Gee Vaucher, Courtesy Firstsite


She coulda, shoulda

won the presidency... 

but the election was rigged!

I get the impression from Facebook friends around the planet that they are shocked and confused at the outcome of America's presidential election -- at how Hillary Clinton could lose to Donald Trump, even while  winning the popular vote.

Indeed, as reported by National Public Radio, Clinton as of the morning after had 59,299,381 votes and Trump 59,135,740 — a margin of 163,641 votes.  And the margin was growing toward half a million as ballots were still being counted days after the election.

 Because of  other choices on the ballot, neither of the main contenders received more than 50 percent of the vote. And speaking of numbers, perhaps more stunning -- nearly half of the eligible voters across America did not participate. Thus, Trump becomes president having garnered the votes of perhaps 25 percent of the potential electorate.

Clinton will be the fifth  presidential candidate in United States history and the second in this still-young century to win the popular vote but lose the election.

Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but lost the election when a split decision by the Supreme Court awarded George W. Bush the 25 electoral votes of Florida after a disputed election in that populous southern state.

By the time the final numbers are in, Clinton's margin over Trump may be similar to that of Gore vs. Bush, which was more than half a million. But Gore's loss in electoral votes was much smaller at 271-266.  In the final state-by-state tally for this presidential election, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the electoral count of 306-232. She was thumped -- or maybe Trumped.

In short, the American presidential election system is crazy. Maybe even, as Trump frequently whined, rigged.

This process of electing a president was established by the nation's "Founding Fathers"  as a compromise between proposals of election by popular vote or election by the Congress -- and, in a sense, incorporates both. It protected the voice of voters and influence of smaller states against the power of numbers of larger and more populous states in choosing a leader.

Each state and, by subsequent amendment, the District of Columbia has at least three electoral votes. For the states, the number is based on its seats in Congress -- each has two senators, and at least one member of the population-based House of Representatives.  Seven states share the distinction of having just three electoral votes; by comparison, California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes.

The winner of the popular vote in nearly every state (exceptions are Maine and Nebraska) gets all of its electoral votes. The system prevents states like California (which these days favors Democrats) from dominating a presidential election. That's the real rigging of the system.

But that said, it still fell to Hillary Clinton to win it.

Instead, if you'll pardon my choice of words, she managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
I am not a political pundit. I have never, as a journalist for more than 40 years, covered national politics. But I have been voting in, caring deeply about and closely observing presidential elections since the 1960s. And my conclusion  for 2016 is that Hillary Clinton could have and should have won more than a thin moral victory in the popular vote.

That she did not is at least partly of her own doing.

Clinton should never have lumped together half of Trump's supporters into what she termed  a "basket of deplorables."  It served only to fire up the passions of people who opposed Clinton -- assuring that more of them would vent their anger by voting for Trump, even some who might otherwise have cast ballots for libertarian Gary Johnson.

And it was not just poor and struggling middle class white guys who reacted to her remark. As my wife and I stood in line for nearly an hour in early voting to cast our ballots for Clinton at an upscale neighborhood polling place, a pro-Trump voter behind us sadly lamented that his wife would not allow him to put an "I'm Deplorable" bumper sticker on his Mercedes-Benz automobile.

The next huge problem came two weeks before Election Day, with announcement from the Obama administration that the rates Americans were paying for health-care insurance under the still-controversial Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) would rise sharply for 2017, and choices for providers would be fewer.

For all the good that the government-mandated insurance provided, including guarantees of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions and coverage of parents' children to age 26, it was a key target of Trump and other Republican candidates. Trump vowed to end Obamacare and replace it with "something" much better. And that was music to the ears of Americans looking at monthly insurance premiums increasing by hundreds of dollars.

Finally, there was that e-mail thing. Dumb stuff. Maybe because Clinton was ignorant of how electronic communication functions, how to operate a laptop, how to separate her private life and government business, and possibly caught up in conflict, innocuous or otherwise, between her family's Clinton Foundation and her job.

As secretary of state, she routed much of her electronic communications through a private server installed in the basement of her home. And there were allegations that some of the emails contained classified (as in top-secret) information, and her actions compromised national security.

After years of Clinton being subjected to Republican-pushed congressional inquisitions over the deadly attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, the e-mail hoo-hah became the new Benghazi for Republicans and even brought a time-consuming examination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which sort-of concluded there was no reason to prosecute her.

But ten days before the election, FBI Director James Comey -- against the wishes of the U.S. attorney general who ostensibly oversees federal criminal justice issues and the FBI -- sent a letter to House Republicans announcing a re-opening of the investigation after the discovery of 650,000 emails on the laptop computer of disgraced  and sexually-compromised former New York congressman  Anthony Weiner. It was a computer Weiner had shared with his now-estranged wife Huma Abedin, top aide to Hilary Clinton.

Three days before the election, Comey sent word that a review of the emails on Weiner's laptop had turned up nothing of consequence regarding Clinton. But the damage had been done, and clearly could not be undone before voters finished casting their ballots in the presidential election.

And the link to the laptop of Anthony Weiner, who is under investigation for alleged sexting with a 15-year-old girl, clearly helped mute the controversies about the sexual behavior of Trump as a purported groper of women and voyeur of naked women and teenage girls competing in the beauty pageants he owned.

Clinton was hammered by Trump, who proved himself a master at "branding" opponents -- and thus labeled Clinton as "crooked Hillary," sneered and then just smiled as his adoring crowds chanted "Lock her up!"

So Americans made their choice of a new leader, rejecting a woman who devoted most of the last 30 years to public service in favor of a self-proclaimed billionaire who has devoted his life to self-service.

Clinton's tax returns and records of the Clinton Foundation are readily available for public scrutiny.
Trump, who has protected himself through repeated bankruptcies and tacitly acknowledged not paying federal income taxes for close to two decades, refused to make public his tax returns -- despite questions of whether his finances were ever buttressed by wealthy Russian interests.

And the U.S. government has pointed to Russian sources behind WikiLeaks distributions of Clinton and Democratic campaign-related emails, raising the question of whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin was behind efforts to disrupt the American election.

Trump has said he would not make public his tax returns until completion of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.

In little more than two months, Trump will take the oath of office to become president of the United States.

The IRS has a deadline.

(The "Oh America" image appeared in numerous Facebook posts in the wake of Donald Trump's election victory. It is used here by permission of the British artist Gee Vaucher, whose  50-year career is being celebrated with an exhibition at the Firstsite gallery in England that opened on Nov. 12, and running until Feb. 19, 2017. Information:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An anthem from the Confederacy

Time to chuck out

Maryland's ugly state song

The murders of nine people in a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., brought quick demands across the nation to bring down that state's official flag -- a Confederate banner symbolizing for many its history of slavery and racism.

But surprisingly, there seems to have been no new call in Maryland to bring down its state song, "Maryland, My Maryland" -- an anthem steeped in that same ugly history.

((UPDATE JULY 10: The Frederick News Post reported this week that state Delegate Karen Lewis Young, a Democrat from Frederick County's District 3A, has submitted a bill to at least change the lyrics -- replacing them with a poem by the same title written in 1894 by John T. White, a Frederick County native.

“His poem celebrates the beauty of Maryland. The beautiful shores, the majestic mountains,” Young was quoted by the newspaper. “It is in no way controversial, and I think we want to have a song that endures over time and something that just celebrates the state beauty, is unifying and enduring, and not controversial and divisive.”)

 I took note of the song's history in The Real Muck four years ago, as Baltimore marked the 150th anniversary of its "Pratt Street Riot" when federal troops -- summoned by President Abraham Lincoln to defend Washington in the wake of the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina -- were attacked.

No one died in the Confederate conquest of Fort Sumter, but as the troops marched through Baltimore from the end of one rail line at President Street to another, at Camden Station close to a mile away, a southern-sympathizing mob began throwing rocks and bottles. Then came gunfire, and at least 16 deaths... the first casualties of what became a four-year war.

The riot inspired an incendiary poem by James Ryder Randall, "Maryland, My Maryland!," which was subsequently set to music (as in "O Tannenbaum") and became the official state song.

You hear the sanitary, short rendition performed by the U.S. Naval Academy chorus at the annual running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. But there's a lot more of the song that's never sung, such verses as:

The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain-
“Sic semper!” 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back again,
Arise in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

Interestingly, assassin and Maryland-born actor John Wilkes Booth shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis!" after shooting Lincoln on April 14, 1865, five days short of the Pratt Street Riot's fourth anniversary.

There are some nine verses to Randall's poem; the song we hear on Preakness Day is just the third verse, to wit:

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Thy gleaming sword shall never rust,
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!

The question is whether Maryland could do better.

I suggest a competition inviting Maryland's many talented songwriters to propose a better anthem, with original music -- one that sings to a brighter future rather than an ugly past.

It's about time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Turmoil then and now

Artist Nether works on his Freddie Gray mural. (Photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Racial tension haunts Baltimore

across chasm of 45 years

Today marks the 45th anniversary of Ohio National Guard soldiers fatally shooting four students during a protest of the Vietnam War at Kent State University. The eventual Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a young girl kneeling in anguish over the body of one of the slain students ran atop the front page of newspapers across the world.

In the next morning's edition of The Baltimore Sun, the Kent State story ran under the picture. But the lede story -- at the top right of the page -- carried my first front-page byline, and had nothing to do with the shootings or the increasingly unpopular war that was raging in Southeast Asia.

My story was about policing and racial tension in the City of Baltimore.

You don't see much these days about war protests, even though America has been at war for close to 14 years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But racial tension is back in the news in Charm City, in the wake of the arrest by city police officers, and subsequent death, of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in a westside neighborhood little changed economically or demographically since the rioting here and elsewhere that followed the 1968 murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

My story began with a call to the city desk by a priest at a Catholic church along Old York Road, about two miles north of the central downtown area. A man who had been robbed had come knocking at rectory door in the wee hours, seeking help. To the priest's astonishment when he called the police, he was told that officers could not respond there because it was a "gray area."

It turned out there were half a dozen so-called "gray areas" around the city, each of them near the location of headquarters of what were perceived as black militant groups. In this case, it was a group called Making a Nation, located more than a block away on Cator Avenue.  The fact that the city police were refusing response to portions of Baltimore out of fear of provoking racial unrest was stunning enough to make it the top front-page story in Baltimore the next morning.

Not many people remember my story. Kent State, however, was and remains a watershed moment in American history.

The "gray areas" fiasco proved to be misinterpretation of a directive issued by then-police commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau for officers not to respond to any of the addresses occupied by black  militant groups without the presence of supervisory personnel.

You don't hear the term "black militant groups" in Baltimore these days. More often, you hear about street violence and gang disputes over drug territory. The 2015 gang roll call: Crips, Bloods, Black Guerrilla Family. They were more about turf control for drug dealing and crime than addressing racial inequities in Baltimore -- until last week, when gang leaders came together seeking to discourage the rioting and disorder that brought a surge of thousands of police officers and National Guard soldiers into  town.

In 1970, Baltimore was a powder keg of racial tension. It was just two years after the King riots, whites were fleeing to the suburbs in ever-increasing numbers, the downtown shopping district was in its  death throes, and police were trying to avoid confrontations that might make matters worse.

Forty-five years later, the city population has shrunk to about 630,000. Parts of Baltimore look like ghost towns for all the vacant buildings. Poverty is endemic, opportunity elusive. The American Dream -- well, what is it? Does it even exist in cities like Baltimore? Or is it just an American Nightmare now.

Today, driving through town, we were passing through a section where a week ago young people had been throwing rocks and bottles at riot-equipped cops in skirmishes broadcast live on television, globally. It was an explosion of the racial powder keg, again.

At the intersection of Mount and Presbury streets, an outdoor mural artist who uses the name Nether was rolling brown paint to create a giant image of Freddie Gray's face, flanked by a scene of marchers for social justice.

There was not a police officer or soldier in sight.