Monday, October 5, 2015

Why a Bill on Gun Background Checks is So Hard to Pass

As Steve Benen points out, 93% of Americans (and 90% of Republicans) support the idea of requiring background checks on all gun purchases. In light of that, why has it been so difficult to get a bill like that through Congress? President Obama recently said that, as voters, we've got work to do.
You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue. And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them. And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side.
The premise of that argument is that the power of the NRA (and other groups like them) comes from the fact that their members are prepared to vote against candidates who support any form of gun control. But for gun control advocates, that issue is often overshadowed by other priorities.

David Adkins appears to be making a similar case.
Gun control will pass precisely when legislators become more afraid of the votes of gun control supporters than they are of gun control opponents. That will only happen when interested organizations invest in mobilize voters on that issue, and when liberal organizations work to unseat Democrats who do the bidding of the NRA and replace them with ones who vote to protect the people. That is how the Tea Party accomplishes its goals: not by visibility protests or list-building campaigns, but by making examples of “RINO” Republicans and putting hardcore conservatives in their place. Many Democrats see that as “extremist” and bad form. But it isn’t. The Tea Party is extremist because of its positions, not because of its tactics.
To evaluate this idea, it is helpful to go back and take a look at the last time the Senate voted on the bill sponsored by Senators Toomey (R) and Manchin (D) that would have required background checks for gun purchases. It is important to note that the vote on that bill happened a few months after the Newtown shooting and getting Senator Manchin (a huge gun rights supporter) to sponsor such legislation was a major victory. In the end, 5 Republicans voted for the bill. But 4 Democrats voted against it. They were Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska). As a result, the vote was 54/46 and the bill failed to get the supermajority of 60 votes needed to pass.

So if we focus on Adkins more specific recommendation, what gun control advocates need to do is identify candidates to challenge Senators in states like Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota and Alaska in primaries on the issue of gun background checks. I wouldn't totally dismiss such a strategy. But when you get specific about what it means, you begin to see why its a challenge. Those are all fairly red states and the fact that we had Democrats serving in those seats at all (Pryor and Begich have since been replaced by Republicans) was likely a result of their more conservative-leaning positions. Beyond that, voters in predominantly rural states like Montana, North Dakota and Alaska rarely experience the kind of gun violence that is often more associated with urban areas. Field work in those states to mobilize voters who are willing to prioritize background checks for gun purchases would indeed be an uphill battle.

On the other hand, here are the Republicans who voted for background checks: Senators John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.). Both Toomey and Kirk are from relatively blue states that are home to large urban centers. While Arizona is still considered a red state, its demographics are changing fast and Maine tends to be pretty independent. That is why voters in both Arizona and Maine give their Senators more leeway to be, as McCain would say, "mavericks" when it comes to Republican positions.

Ultimately, for President Obama's suggestion to work, it would require Republicans and Independents in red and swing states (most likely those with major metropolitan areas) to become single issue voters on gun background checks. Is that likely to happen in this climate? I doubt it. But it doesn't hurt to put it out there.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

MARS Voters vs Goldwater Republicans

As I speculated previously, now that the media's obsession with Trump-mania has been interrupted by actual news, "the Donald" continues to fall in the polls. It's not that Trump has changed his tune. He continues to say inflammatory and ignorant things. But with the Pope's visit, Boehner's resignation (followed by the chaos that's about to ensue in the House leadership elections), and the shooting in Oregon, we actually have some other things to talk about.

And so it's interesting to note that, just as all that is happening, John Judis writes what is likely to become the definitive description of Trump supporters. Referring to a 1976 book by Donald Warren, he calls them Middle American Radicals (MARS).
“MARS are dis­tinct in the depth of their feel­ing that the middle class has been ser­i­ously neg­lected,” War­ren wrote. They saw “gov­ern­ment as fa­vor­ing both the rich and the poor sim­ul­tan­eously.”
I would simply note that it would be a more accurate description of MARS if we added one word: "MARS are distinct in the depth of their feeling that the white middle class has been seriously neglected." Also, since the 1970's we have increasingly made the distinction between blue collar and white collar middle class - the former being what we tend to refer to as "working class," who are the heart of the MARS demographic.

Judis suggests that these are the voters who supported candidates in the past like George Wallace, Ross  Perot and Pat Buchanan. Where this is especially helpful in understanding the MARS voters of today is that Judis explains the ingredients that contribute to a burst of Middle American Radicalism: (1) "a widespread sense of national decline," (2) "pronounced distrust of leadership in Washington," and (3) a leader to play the catalyzing role.

What many have been noting for a while now (including me) is that the conservative sense of national decline is fueled by the fact that the white male patriarchy is dying - both as a domestic force and around the world. The fact that our President is African American and their Republican leaders have failed to stop him has inflamed their sense of distrust in Washington. Along comes Donald Trump to tap into all of that.

But when it comes to the candidacy of Trump, here is where Judis provides some optimism: MARS voters tend to make up 20% of the electorate and 30-35% of Republicans. That reality is demonstrated by this chart from a recent Pew poll (note: they polled registered voters rather than likely voters, which is probably wise this far out of a general election). Trump's support peaks with non-college educated voters who make less than $40,000.

What's also interesting to note is that the number of registered voters who are undecided at this point is about 25%. Among those who have decided, support for Rubio and Fiorina peak among college educated voters who make $75,000 or more. That tends to support what I've said previously about "Goldwater Republicans."

The wild card in all this are the Carson supporters - who are pretty evenly dispersed (except for the fact that he gets less support among those who make less than $40,000). If there comes a time that Carson overtakes Trump in the polls (as he did recently in an IDB/TIPP poll), he will likely come under more scrutiny by the media and other Republican candidates. That's when we'll learn whether or not he has staying power or is the 2016 version of Herman Cain (my money is on the latter).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Time to Declare Debate Winners

The CNN Republican presidential debate came about one week after the end of "silly season" (during which all the media had to talk about was Trump-mania). After an event like a debate, we are always told to wait a while to see how the results are reflected in the polls. What's interesting though, is that by the time we actually get poll results, everyone has moved on. So lets change that. It's now been two weeks since the debate. What happened? Here's a look at the Huffington Post's poll aggregator (but you'll find pretty much the same thing at Real Clear Politics).

From Labor Day until today, here's how things have changed for the top 6 contenders (the rest of the candidates are under 4% right now):

* Trump  - 5.9%
* Carson + 0.6%
* Fiorina + 6.6%
* Bush + 0.2%
* Rubio + 3.1%
* Cruz - 0.3%

Overall, Carson, Bush and Cruz have stayed pretty stable. Trump is down. Fiorina and Rubio are up.

That doesn't tell us whether these trajectories will continue. But if we're ever going to be able to identify the winners/losers in a debate, we now have the data to do so. It's obvious that both Fiorina and Rubio did well. On a purely anecdotal note, my hunch is that Trump's drop is at least as related to the fact that the media isn't talking about him incessantly as it is to a poor debate performance.

While Trump has certainly lost ground, his lead was so "YUUUUGE" (as he would say), that even after slumping almost 6 points, he still leads the pack. Unless someone does something really dramatic (certainly not out of the question), this is probably how things will look until the next debate on October 28th.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Senate Judiciary Committee Will Act of Criminal Justice Reform

Carrie Johnson at NPR is reporting that the Senate Judiciary Committee will act on criminal justice reform this week.
A bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee is preparing to unveil a criminal justice overhaul proposal as early as Thursday, two sources familiar with the deal told NPR...

The proposal will not go as far as some reform advocates may like, the sources say. For instance, the plan would create some tough new mandatory minimum sentences, after pressing from Grassley. It stitches together proposals that would allow inmates to earn credits to leave prison early if they complete educational and treatment programs and pose a relatively low risk to public safety along with language that would give judges some more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders.
She also reports on where things stand right now in the House.
In the House, meanwhile, Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., are pressing their own legislation, known as the SAFE Justice Act. The two leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and John Conyers, D-Mich., are writing their own bills, staff members said.
Given the chaos that is being generated over funding for Planned Parenthood and the looming 2016 campaign, it's difficult to imagine that something will get done this session. But it's clear that the pressure is building to do so.

One element that is contributing to that pressure is the Vice episode that aired last Sunday titled "Fixing the System." If you don't have access to HBO, they have made the hour-long documentary available on youtube. I highly recommend that everyone watch it.

Will Rand Paul Be the Next One Out?

No one is paying much attention to the Republican candidates that didn't make it to the main stage in the last debate (Santorum, Pataki, Jindal, Graham and Gilmore). If any of them were to drop out of the race at this point, it wouldn't produce many headlines. Of the remaining ten, it is looking more and more like the next one to go could very well be Sen. Rand Paul.

There have been a couple of stories lately that might signal a move sometime soon. First of all, one of Paul's SuperPacs has quit raising money.
In a Tuesday telephone interview, Ed Crane, who oversees the group, PurplePAC, accused Paul of abandoning his libertarian views -- and suggested it was a primary reason the Kentucky senator had plummeted in the polls.

“I have stopped raising money for him until I see the campaign correct its problems,” said Crane, who co-founded the Cato Institute think tank and serves as its president emeritus. “I wasn’t going to raise money to spend on a futile crusade.”

“I don’t see the point in it right now,” he added.
Futile crusade? Ouch! When it comes to those polls, Paul was at about 9% at the beginning of the summer according to Huffington Post's aggregator. And today he's coming in under 3%.

The other story has to do with the fact that - as Steve Benen notes - Sen. Paul is the only one of the 20 candidates currently running for president who is also running for re-election to his current Senate seat. Jonathan Easly reported that this week Paul will take a break from the presidential race to do some fundraising for his Senate campaign.

Of course Paul's supporters were quick to point out that this doesn't mean he is giving up on his presidential bid. But you have to wonder how long he can keep this up - and why he'd want to when he's at under 3% in the polls.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"A Shocking, Almost Certifiable Faith in Humanity"

Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politico captured what most people heard in President Obama's speech on Monday to the United Nation's General Assembly.
President Barack Obama took repeated swipes at Vladimir Putin, Dick Cheney and even Donald Trump, without mentioning them by name, in an address to the United Nations on Monday, holding them up as examples of forces playing off fears and attempting to pull the country and world backward.
There is a lot of truth in that summary. But it captures the trees and not the forest. In many ways, the President's speech was an affirmation of an Obama Doctrine. He pointed out the failure of domination as a model for conducting both domestic and foreign affairs.
There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date -- a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own. Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.
Because of the interconnectivity of our world today, we have to work together in order to succeed.
But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world -- one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences. That is true for the United States, as well. 
Finally, he defined the real source of strength.
Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people -- ordinary people -- are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.

I believe that’s the future we must seek together. To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict -- that is not weakness, that is strength. It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.
The notion that ordinary people are fundamentally good is something we've heard often from this President. It reminds me of what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a few days after Obama was first elected in 2008.
Here is where Barack Obama and the civil rights leaders of old are joined -- in a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity, something that subsequent generations lost. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.
I have to admit that there are times that I still "suck my teeth" when I hear things like that. But I think Coates is right...that's my cowardice talking.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cleaning Up the Last Bush/Cheney Mess

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won't try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address "Turning the Page," a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on...the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden's bodyguard.
The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.
Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.
The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.
For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail - mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn't be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama's likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Boehner Gets Himself Out of a Jam

For the record, let's simply note that the idea that this Republican Congress would actually pass a budget went out the window a long time ago. What's on the table right now is a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that would maintain funding at it's current level. Since coming back from the August recess, the Republican lunatic caucus in the House has demanded that the CR defund Planned Parenthood or they'll allow the government to shut down on October 1st.

Furthermore, the lunatic caucus has said that if Boehner tries to pass a CR that does not defund Planned Parenthood, they will initiate a procedure to remove him as Speaker. Apparently they had a least the threat of 30 votes that would throw his re-election into question.

On Wednesday, Democratic leaders in the House made it clear that Boehner couldn't depend on their votes to save his speakership.
"It's not our responsibility to try to solve their divisions," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday...

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, echoed that message Wednesday, saying it's "their war" and the Democrats aren't ready to engage. He further suggested that it remains unclear if the Democrats stand to benefit by picking one GOP division over another.

"Like the Syrian Civil War, I'm not sure it's easy to discern which side anyone is on," Becerra said by phone.
That led Boehner to make a deal with the lunatic caucus: if he stepped down as Speaker, they would vote for a "clean" continuing resolution and avoid a government shutdown.
Following Boehner’s announcement, House Republicans said there was agreement to pass a clean spending bill to keep the government open though mid-December while broader negotiations on spending levels are held. Several members of the Freedom Caucus, the conservative group that led the revolt against Boehner’s leadership, said they will now support the spending bill without demands that it include language to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

“The commitment has been made that there will be no shutdown,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).
Boehner leaves at the end of October and the CR keeps the government functioning through mid-December. In the meantime, House Republicans will have to settle on a new Speaker while the lunatics try to defund both Planned Parenthood and Obamacare via budget reconciliation legislation (which they know President Obama will veto). Or maybe another government shutdown in December...Happy Holidays, everyone!

So Boehner got himself out of a jam and the government won't shut down next week. I guess that's what passes for progress with this Republican Congress.

The Republican "Southern Strategy" is Still Alive

At a time when:

* African Americans have to stand up to say that "Black Lives Matter," while Republican candidates talk about a mythological "crime wave,"

* The Cradle to Prison Pipeline means that 1 in 3 black boys born in 2001 will face imprisonment in their lifetimes,

* The candidate leading the race for the GOP presidential nomination has become the standard-bearer for white supremacists,

* Republican leaders blame African American poverty on the lack of an "urban work ethic."

* Republicans all over the country are working to restrict access to voting,

* Republicans demand to see our first African American president's birth certificate to prove he is an American citizen, and things like this happen...

Jeb Bush basically tells a room full of white people in South Carolina that the only reason African Americans vote for Democrats is because they are offered "free stuff."

That, my friends, is the Republican Southern Strategy in a nutshell.

DOJ and HUD Target Redlining

Regular readers know that one of the untold success stories of the Obama administration that I tend to focus on is the way the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice has been reformed after it was decimated during the Bush/Cheney years. Under the initial leadership of Thomas Perez (who is now the Secretary of Labor) and now Vanita Gupta, the division has been aggressively investigating police brutality and defending voting rights. And so, of course, I noticed this story reported by Sarah Lynch:
Hudson City Bancorp will pay nearly $33 million to settle civil charges alleging the New Jersey-based bank wrongfully discriminated against prospective black and Hispanic home buyers, in a case that marks the largest ever redlining settlement in history, the U.S. government said on Thursday.

The joint action by the U.S. Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that Hudson City Savings Bank tried to avoid locating branches and marketing mortgages in neighborhoods with a majority of black and Hispanic residents...

“This case should send a message to lenders throughout the country that the Justice Department will not tolerate racial discrimination in the extension of credit,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in a statement...

Gupta said Thursday that the settlement is the largest the Justice Department has ever struck both, in terms of the monetary amount and the geographic regions covered.

She added that the civil rights division has recently seen an increased number of active redlining investigations.
As the work of the Civil Rights Division was restored, several settlements were reached with banks like Wells Fargo and Countrywide for systematically charging higher fees to Black and Hispanic customers as well as steering them into costly subprime mortgages. But Emily Badger points out how this case marks a more aggressive approach to combating discrimination.
Hudson City, unlike several other banks recently accused of discrimination, wasn't charged with denying loans to qualified minorities, or jacking up their interest rates. In a subtle but more insidious claim, the government says it was "structuring its business so as to avoid majority-Black-and-Hispanic neighborhoods."

Hudson City, in other words, was set up to ensure that few borrowers in minority neighborhoods ever even applied in the first place, according to prosecutors.
This is a classic case of the practice known as "redlining."
"Redlining" just sounds like an an old-timey term, a practice that exists only in history and our re-tellings of it. The word has particular roots in the 1930s, when the government-sponsored Home Owner's Loan Corporation first drafted maps of American communities to sort through which ones were worthy of mortgage lending. Neighborhoods were ranked and color-coded, and the D-rated ones — shunned for their "inharmonious" racial groups — were typically outlined in red.

This government practice was swiftly adopted by private banks, too, during an era of massive homeownership expansion in the U.S. And the visual language of the maps became a verb: To redline a community was to cut it off from essential capital.
It is interesting to note that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under Secretary Julian Castro, is also targeting the practice of redlining.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced an agreement with Associated Bank, N.A. (Associated) to resolve a disparate treatment redlining case, one of the largest redlining complaints brought by the federal government against a mortgage lender. At approximately $200 million, it is the largest settlement of this kind HUD has ever reached.

The settlement stems from a HUD Secretary-initiated complaint alleging that from 2008-2010, the Wisconsin-based bank engaged in discriminatory lending practices regarding the denial of mortgage loans to African-American and Hispanic applicants and the provision of loan services in neighborhoods with significant African-American or Hispanic populations.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates has documented in articles like "The Ghetto is Public Policy," when we see practices like redlining, it is clear that "the wealth gap is not a mistake." These actions by the Obama administration cannot undo the past practices that led to that gap. But they can ensure that it doesn't affect generations going forward.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Hope Builds on Itself. Success Breeds Success"

One of the things that has fascinated me for the last seven years is to try and understand President Obama's views on the politics of power and change. Often we get glimpses of that from extended one-on-one interviews he does with journalists. His conversation in Alaska earlier this month with Jeff Goodell on climate change is full of gold mines on that topic. But the one that stood out to me came in the President's response to a question about how he will define success at the UN's Global Climate Conference in Paris.
For us to be able to get the basic architecture in place with aggressive-enough targets from the major emitters that the smaller countries say, "This is serious" — that will be a success.

I'm less concerned about the precise number, because let's stipulate right now, whatever various country targets are, it's still going to fall short of what the science requires. So a percent here or a percent there coming from various countries is not going to be a deal-breaker. But making sure everybody is making serious efforts and that we are making a joint international commitment that is well-defined and can be measured will create the basis for us each year, then, to evaluate, "How are we doing?" and will allow us, five years from now, to say the science is new, we need to ratchet it up, and by the way, because of the research and development that we've put in, we can achieve more ambitious goals...

And the key for Paris is just to make sure that everybody is locked in, saying, "We're going to do this." Once we get to that point, then we can turn the dials. But there will be a momentum that is built, and I'm confident that we will then be in a position to listen more carefully to the science — partly because people, I think, will be not as fearful of the consequences or as cynical about what can be achieved. Hope builds on itself. Success breeds success.
Here's how Goodell summarized his take on that at the end of the article:
The two biggest take-aways from my time with the president were these: First, he is laser-focused on the Paris climate talks and is playing a multidimensional chess game with other nations to build alliances and cut deals to reach a meaningful agreement later this year. Second, whatever deals he cuts, it won't be enough...This is a long war, with everything at stake. "I do what I can do and as much as I can do," the president told me as we walked along Kotzebue Bay. 
This approach of being strategic about change has often been the source of tension between President Obama and many on the left. He addresses some of those particulars during this interview: the stimulus was too small, Obamacare instead of single payer, the failure of cap and trade. I am sure that before the ink has dried on any deal negotiated in Paris, we'll be hearing the same's not enough.

I am often reminded of a conversation Pete Seeger had with Majora Carter about the pace of change. Here's what Seeger said about why Martin Luther King, Jr. started with a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
Why did he start with a bus boycott? Why didn't he start with something like schools, or jobs, or voting? Couldn't a bus boycott come later?

When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.
That's a perfect example of how "hope builds on itself" and "success breeds success." The only other ingredients that are necessary are patience and a sustained commitment.

The Pope's Speech to Congress Was Grounded in Morals, Not Politics

When conservatives want to critique Pope Francis, the usual line is to suggest that he needs to stick with questions of faith and stay out of politics. I'd suggest that in his speech to Congress, the Pope provided us with a moral basis on which to build our politics. In many ways, he echoed the message of Rev. William Barber.

In what was one of my favorite parts of his speech, the Pope articulated the moral calling of our elected officials.
You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. 
When he talked about religious freedom, Pope Francis addressed the need to avoid extremism, fundamentalism and polarization.
We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. 
When he talked about immigrants and refugees, he did so in a spirit of empathy.
We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants...

Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.
Pope Francis spoke to the issues of poverty and climate change together.
The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable...

Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a "culture of care" and "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."
He spoke to the need for peace through dialogue.
It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.
And finally, he talked about the importance of family - especially for vulnerable children.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions.
Contrary to what some people expected, he did not mention abortion or same sex marriage, although his did affirm "our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” The one and only policy prescription in the Pope's speech followed that affirmation.
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. 
And so, even in the one case where he advocated a specific policy, Pope Francis grounded it in our moral obligations to humanity and a commitment to rehabilitation.

Those who disagree with what the Pope said will therefore have to do so on moral grounds...not political.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Building Towards a Global Climate Agreement in Paris

In December more than 190 nations will gather in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference. The goal will be to negotiate the world's first legally binding and universal agreement on climate. For years now, the Obama administration has been working towards such an historic landmark.

You may have thought that Sec. of State John Kerry had been singularly focused on the successful conclusion of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries over nuclear weapons. As much as he deserves a lot of credit for that major accomplishment, back in January 2014 Coral Davenport reported that he has been quietly building towards Paris from day one.
In his first year as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry joined with the Russians to push Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, and played the closing role in the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. But while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution...

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.
Combined with the announcement of the EPA's new guidelines on carbon emissions, this work bore fruit recently when the United States was able to reach agreements with China, India and Brazil in the lead-up to Paris.

President Obama's trip to Alaska this month was designed to heighten awareness about global climate change - not only as a future threat - but one that is already having a direct impact on that state. It's also obvious that the Pope's visit to the United States and his speech to the United Nation's General Assembly has been timed to maximize discussion about this important issue at a critical time.

And so I found it interesting that it's not just the Obama administration and Pope Francis that have set their sites on Paris this December.
Nine more giant corporations, including Nike and Walmart, pledged to transition to 100 percent renewable energy Wednesday. The announcement, made during Climate Week, is intended to show international governments that there is broad-based business support for going off fossil fuels in advance of the United Nations climate talks in December.

Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Voya Financial also took the RE100 pledge, organized by the Climate Group, an international sustainability non-profit.

“Research shows that the most ambitious companies have seen a 27 percent return on their low carbon investments,” Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group, said in a statement. “Today these companies are signaling loud and clear to COP21 negotiators that forward-thinking businesses back renewables and want to see a strong climate deal in Paris.”
Of course we all know that the only ones who are not on board these days are Republicans. Their Congressional leaders are doing all they can right now to actually undermine the prospects of an agreement. But I suspect that they'll be about as successful with that as they were in undermining the agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons.

In the end, this will likely be the last legacy-building accomplishment of the Obama era. Here's how Jeff Goodell summed it up in a truly fascinating interview with the President in Rolling Stone.
Obama's trip to Alaska marked the beginning of what may be the last big push of his presidency — to build momentum for a meaningful deal at the international climate talks in Paris later this year. "The president is entirely focused on this goal," one of his aides told me in Alaska. For Obama, who has secured his legacy on his two top priorities, health care and the economy, as well as on important issues like gay marriage and immigration, a breakthrough in Paris would be a sweet final victory before his presidency drowns in the noise of the 2016 election.

Photo of the Day: Enjoying the Scenery

Yes, I only read Rolling Stone for the in-depth articles :-)

Eventually Republicans Have to Settle on One of These Candidates

Unless you are one of the people who think that Republicans are headed for a brokered convention (not out of the realm of possibilities), then we have to assume that at some point during the primaries, they'll settle on a candidate. But I'll take it one step farther than Ed Kilgore, the idea of "normalcy" eventually settling in to this campaign is a pipe dream.

By now, most of us have heard enough about the unhinged rantings of candidates like Trump and Carson. When it comes to Fiorina, a lot has been written about the lies she told in the last debate. Much less noted is the fact that she said she wouldn't even talk to Vladimir Putin...not a very "Reaganesque" kind of thing to say, is it? Sticking with the theme of foreign policy, you have Marco Rubio who actually said that the world "has never been more dangerous than it is today." I'll let Jonathan Chait take it from there:
To be sure, Rubio’s claim that the world “has never been more dangerous than it is today” is not just wrong but insanely wrong. How about when a massive communist empire threatened us with nuclear annihilation? Or when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan launched a war of extermination? Or when the Mongols amassed the largest land conquest in human history and left behind smoking ruins and pyramids of skulls?

As Stephen Pinker has argued, the world has in fact grown comprehensively safer in nearly every respect. This is true whether safety is defined in humanitarian or geopolitical terms.
Ahhh...but how about that other "serious" candidate, Jeb Bush? Yes, the one who's most recent faux pax was to embrace a new campaign theme about how his brother "kept us safe." Josh Marshall's reaction to that one was: "Put a Fork in Him."
It's not simply that George W. Bush's tenure is still quite unpopular with the country at large, though feelings have softened toward the man himself. It's that quite obviously not being his own man makes Jeb look weak and silly, quite apart from being identified with policies that at least the general electorate remains broadly opposed to.
And when it comes to John Kasich - get back to me about him when he's averaging more than 3% in the polls. I also don't think that any candidate in the last debate was more incoherent than Kasich. So it's not looking good for him right now.

Of course, a lot of this pinning for "normalcy" hinges on the mythology that in 2012 Republicans rejected the candidacies of people like Herman Cain and Rick Perry to settle on the "serious" one in that group...Mitt Romney. That completely ignores - as Steve Benen chronicled so assiduously - "Mitt's Mendacity." Or perhaps people are thinking about 2008 when they chose the "serious" John McCain - with his running mate Sarah Palin.

The fact is that Republicans on the national level rejected "normalcy" after the Presidency of George W. Bush left us mired in two wars in the Middle East with mounting debt and the Great Recession. The three pillars of GOP orthodoxy - military interventionism, tax cuts and deregulation - had been demonstrated to be total failures.

At that point, they could have chosen to rethink their orthodoxy. Instead Republicans decided to fuel an insurgency against the Democratic President in order to mount a campaign of total obstruction. Since then, their options for presidential campaigns have been to either drill down on policies that failed or become "post-policy" and simply rail at the opposition (or some combination of the two). We're not likely to see a return to normalcy until they come up with a third option. In the meantime, if you are a Republican who still has the capacity for rational thought, these are your choices.