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A Crisis of Confidence in Our Criminal Justice System

I mentioned the other day that the most deeply troubling take-away for me after watching the Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer" was the inability of our criminal justice system to correct mistakes and hold members of that system accountable. We've seen the same thing happen in many of the cases of police shootings - most recently in Cleveland with the shooting of 12 year-old Tamir Rice. The whole "bad apple" defense falls apart when the system does everything in its power to cover up for the corruption of those bad apples.

I've heard some comparisons lately to another recent movie - Spotlight - about the journalists who were responsible for uncovering Boston's sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The parallel that has been drawn is about the lengths those journalists at the Boston Globe had to go to in order to get the Church (and community) to admit that it had a problem. Simple proof wasn't enough. The evidence had to be overwhelm…

15 Photos of POTUS in 2015

White House photographer Pete Souza has posted his annual collection of favorite photos for 2015. I've chosen 15 to post here because I found them to be either somber reminders, historical moments or just simply too adorable (with an admitted emphasis on the latter). Enjoy!

















Republicans Want Revenge

If you're a Democrat who occasionally talks to Republicans, you might have heard this response when you point to the ridiculous charges that have been waged against President Obama: "Democrats did the same thing to George W. Bush when he was president."

What can ring true about a statement like that is that a lot of Democrats thought that things like invading a country based on lies, sanctioning the use of torture, and skirting Constitutional processes by setting up a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were actions that are antithetical to our values as Americans. Now listen to how Frank Luntz describes what Trump supporters think about President Obama:
...just about all of them think he does not reflect the values the country was built upon. For those of you who think I've lost my mind by making that comparison, stick with me. I have a bigger point that I want to make beyond a question of whose argument is more grounded in reality.

It is true that liberals/Democrats wer…

The 2016 Senate Race

Leading up to the 2014 midterms, almost everyone acknowledged that the deck was stacked in favor of Republicans. That was especially true in Senate races where Democrats from some swing and red states who had been swept into office in the 2008 election of President Obama came up for re-election.

Going into the 2016 election, all that has been reversed. This time the odds favor Democrats. That becomes obvious when we take a look at Hotline's list of the of the 12 Senate seats most likely to flip. Keep in mind that these are listed in order of those most likely to flip party control.

1. Illinois - Mark Kirk (R)
2. Wisconsin - Ron Johnson (R)
3. New Hampshire - Kelly Ayotte (R)
4. Florida - Open (Marco Rubio -R)
5. Pennsylvania - Pat Toomey (R)
6. Ohio - Rob Portman (R)
7. Nevada - Open (Harry Reid - D)
8. Colorado - Michael Bennet (D)
9. Missouri - Roy Blunt (R)
10. North Carolina - Richard Burr (R)
11. Arizona - John McCain (R)
12. Indiana - Open (Dan Coats - R)

The first thing tha…

A Bad Day for Republican Lies

Traveling with Chris Christie in Iowa today, here's part of Zeke Miller's report:
Christie: "The president doesn’t have the first idea of how to keep you safe" — Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) December 29, 2015 That's pretty bad timing for Christie given recent events.

As I mentioned yesterday, Iraqi forces are in the final stages of retaking the city of Ramadi from ISIS with assistance from U.S. air power. Today, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi was actually able to visit the city.

From Brussels comes news that authorities were able to stop a terror attack.
In a series of raids on Sunday and Monday around Brussels, the surrounding Flemish-speaking region of Brabant, and the city of Li├Ęge, the authorities found Islamic State propaganda and military-style hardware and computer equipment in the homes of the two suspects.

Investigators say they believe that the two suspects being held “were possibly planning” and “had the intention to carry out” terrorist attacks on Brussels…

Rubio as Computer Algorithm

I remember a few months ago watching Bret Baier interview Marco Rubio on Fox News and being impressed with how articulate he was. It represented a dramatic improvement from that time Rubio fumbled so badly in his role of providing the Republican response to President Obama's 2013 State of the Union Speech. My thought was..."he's been practicing." And immediately it dawned on me that perhaps that was how he was spending all the time he took off from casting votes in the Senate.

The problem for Rubio is that rehearsed answers don't always cut it. That's what Erik Eisele noticed when the candidate sat down for an interview with staff from New Hampshire's Conway Daily Sun.
In New Hampshire we’re lucky. We guard the frontline of presidential politics. Every four years the candidates come, wave after wave, to sit and discuss the issues, to interview for the job. It’s a democratic utopia, a dreamland for reporters, where the action is.

But it’s a weird place too…

Why You Should Watch "Making a Murderer"

Last week I started seeing people rave (mostly on twitter) about the new Netflix series "Making a Murderer." So over the weekend, I decided to watch it. The story is as gripping as everyone claimed it was. But it stirred something deep inside of me that I can't shake. As someone else put it, "This is the worst indictment of the criminal justice system in America that I’ve ever seen."

While I promise not to give away too many spoilers about the story, it takes place far away from hotbed urban areas like Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, etc. where we've watched battles about our criminal justice system play out recently. The setting is a small town in eastern Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. The people who are "othered" by the system aren't African American - but poor (mostly uneducated) working class white people.

The series begins with the release of Steven Avery from prison after serving 18 years for a crime he did not commit. As proc…

The Role of Black Women in the Democratic Party

We're hearing a lot these days about the angry white base of the Republican Party. Beyond analysis of this group as the core of support for presidential candidates like Donald Trump, there are people who suggest that Democrats (like President Obama) need to reach out to them either to calm the waters of our political divide or as people who might be lured back into the Democratic Party.

There are occasions when people also refer to the base of the Democratic Party. Often it is assumed that this group is made up of the most liberal activists  - in this election cycle, Bernie Sanders supporters.

But take a moment to look at some of the data in a report about a group that doesn't get much attention in our political discussions these days: The Status of Black Women in American Politics.

First of all, the number of black women who turn out to vote is higher than any other demographic group - 70% in 2012. That number has been rising since 1996, so it is more than a response to the …

What Really Matters

One of my Christmas traditions for the last few years has been to spend some time contemplating what "kid oakland" wrote 11 years ago about the historical Jesus, whose birth so many of us celebrate today.
Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know. He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father. But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power. He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them. Because of the events of the last few months, this year I also want to reflect on what Kareem Abdul-Jabar wrote recently: My Very Muslim Christmas.
Although I am Muslim…

Is Karl Rove Kidding? He Can't Be Serious!

Karl Rove has taken to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal to do what Karl Rove does best - projection.

The man who rightfully earned the nickname, "Bush's Brain" (as in George W. Bush), is all a-flutter about remarks President Obama made to Steve Inkeep about ISIS. And so the advisor to the president who destabilized the Middle East by invading a country that had no weapons of mass destruction under the illusion that we would be greeted with hearts and flowers, accuses the current occupant of the White House of lacking foresight.
The Obama administration seems clueless about ISIS’ catastrophic potential and has no long-term strategy to bend events to America’s benefit. Does this statement by Rove remind you of anything we've heard before?
Whenever events undermine his view of the world, he has the habit of retreating to an alternate reality. Mr. Obama is a man with an uncommonly rigid, anti-empirical mind. Back in 2004, Ron Suskind wrote the definitive art…

Getting Beyond the Racism That Divides Us

Issac Bailey has written that President Obama is the person who should reach out to angry white Trump supporters.
There is only one person who can unite the country again, and he works in the White House. Yes, President Barack Obama—ironically, the man who is the personification of the fear Trump is exploiting—is the one in the best position to quell the anger being stirred up.

This is not something the president can do from the Oval Office, or from a stage. What he needs to do is use the power of the office in a different way, one that matches the ruthless effectiveness of a demagogue with a private jet. Obama needs to go on a listening tour of white America—to connect, in person, with Americans he has either been unable or unwilling to reach during his seven years in office. As I read this article, I tried to get beyond my initial reaction that Bailey was simply making another Green Lanternism argument. That's because, as I've written before, I've been closely watching B…

President Obama Sends a Signal to Governors on Commutations

Last Friday I noted that President Obama had commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners - mostly non-violent drug offenders. It turns out that "mostly" was accurate because two of them didn't fit that description.
Carolyn Yvonne Butler of Texas, convicted of three counts of armed bank robbery and using a firearm during a violent crime, and George Andre Axam of Georgia, convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon. Activists within the criminal justice reform movement noticed and weighed in.
“It’s a good message to send to governors across the country, given that they have similar commutation and pardon powers that could be exercised this way,” Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, told TakePart. The reason Mauer says that is because at some point, in order to effectively deal with mass incarceration, we're going to have to deal with "violent offenders." And that is primarily an issue for the states, where their prison population is b…

Asian Influences on Our African American President

During the 2008 election, I noticed that there were a couple of reporters who were telling a story about the Obama campaign that the rest of the media pretty much ignored. They were people like Zack Exley at Huffington Post and Sean Quinn with his "On the Road" series at FiveThirtyEight. It was reporting like theirs that got me curious about this guy Barack Hussein Obama. He seemed different and it wasn't clear that the media were really capturing the story.

That curiosity continued after the election when views about President Obama hardened pretty quickly. It wasn't long before the right came to the conclusion that he was a Kenyan socialist, the mainstream media decided that he was aloof, detached and professorial, and a lot of people on the left called him weak and naive. What struck me was that so many of these conclusions sounded like pre-constructed categories in people's minds into which they slotted this newly elected president. It always seemed to me tha…

It's Not Just About Bombing ISIS

I've written previously about the strategy behind President Obama's containment policy with regards to ISIS.
Its [U.S.] containment policy, Watts explained, is designed to wall ISIS into increasingly restricted territory and letting it fail due to its own mismanagement, economic problems, and internal discord, rather than because of the actions of a foreign oppressor. If you want to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and engage in an apocalyptic battle with the West, you need financial resources to do so. Hence, the United States has been pursuing a financial as well as military containment policy.

But those efforts won't succeed unless the countries of the world joins us in both abandoning any financial transactions with ISIS and policing private entities within their own borders who might attempt to do so. That's why, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote, last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew took on the role of foreign diplomat.
...to defeat these …

Symbolic Gestures Aren't Enough

It is only natural for political candidates to make bold statements during campaigns. That is often how you get the attention of the voting public. But as a party that claims to be reality-based, it is important for Democrats to make sure that those bold statements also happen to be true.

At Saturday night's Democratic debate, Martin O'Malley made a bold statement that is not true. While addressing Hillary Clinton about Wall Street and economic inequality, he said this:
And that's why today you still cannot support, as I do, breaking up the big banks and making sure that we pass a modern-day Glass- Steagall, like we had in late 1999, before it was repealed and led to the crash, where so many millions of families lost their jobs and their homes. As many people - including Andrew Ross Sorkin - have pointed out, the repeal of Glass-Steagall (the Depression era law that created a firewall between investment and commercial banking) is not what led to the Great Recession.
Let’s …

A World View in its Death Throes

A lot of people are trying to grapple with the question of what the hell is happening to our country with the prominence of Donald Trump in the presidential primary. As I mentioned yesterday, I think Rebecca Traister articulated it very well in her article titled: The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power.
The public spectacle of this presidential election, and the two that have preceded it, are inextricably linked to the racialized and gendered anger and violence we see around us…

Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…

This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke. But of course, this goes way beyo…

A Different Kind of Courage

Much has been written lately by people who think that President Obama has done an inadequate job of calming the nation's fears. Today he takes on a very different task as the Consoler-in-Chief. On his way to the family's Christmas vacation in Hawaii, the President will stop in San Bernardino to spend some private time with the victims and families of the shootings that took place there earlier this month.

I don't expect that we'll hear much about these meetings. But they'll probably be much like the ones he held with the families of the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago. If you've never read Joshua Dubois' account of that day, here is a portion of it:
The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daught…

Whose Job Is It to Call Out the Lies?

Here's a little walk down memory lane:
I’m in my mid-forties and remember well the terrorist incidents of the 1980s – the bombing of the US Embassy and the Marine Barracks in Beirut, the bombing of the US Embassy in Kuwait, the kidnapping of CIA Station Chief William Buckley, the high jacking of Kuwait Airlines Flight 221, the high jacking of TWA Flight 847, the high jacking of the Achille Lauro, the bombing of the Rome and Vienna airports, the bombing of the La Belle disco in West Berlin, and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. It’s quite a list. That comes from a note sent to James Fallows by someone he describes as a "current U.S. diplomat." S/he goes on to point out that all of that failed to provoke the kind of hysteria we are seeing today...which raises the obvious question: what changed? Here's how the diplomat answers it:
I think the primary explanation for the divergent attitudes of the American public is the 24-hour cable (and internet) news cycle and an opp…

Getting to the Source of the Lies

A theme emerged at Tuesday night's Republican debate that went something like this: because of political correctness, the Obama administration has failed to keep us safe from terror attacks. It was applied in reference to the shooting in San Bernardino by several candidates, including Ted Cruz.
It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it. That is the story that has become embedded over the last week in the right wing mindset. But as FBI Director James Comey said yesterday, it's not true.
So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reportin…

Republican Lies and Distortions About the Middle East

One of the reasons it is so difficult to comment on the actual content of what the Republican presidential candidates said last night is that so much of it was simply untrue. By the time you are done fact-checking, there isn't much there there.

The debate produced a lot of material for the fact-checkers to work with. But most troubling, given the topic they were focused on, was the complete lack of understanding and/or truthfulness about what is actually going on in the Middle East. A perfect example of that was the claim from Ted Cruz that the Obama administration "toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt." One can only assume that Cruz is ignorant of the whole "Arab Spring" rebellions of 2010/11 and the fact that it was the people of Egypt who forced him to step down.

For a more comprehensive review, Ishaan Tharoor has written: The Middle East dreamed up at the Republican debate doesn't really exist. He begins by talking about Cruz's proposal t…

A Study in Contrasts

The message from conservative politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders and right wing media is that the world is on fire and we face an existential threat from radical Islam. When it comes to Republican presidential candidates:
Donald J. Trump, who is leading polls in the Republican presidential primary race, has called for Muslims to be blocked from entering the United States. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican candidate, has said he plans to introduce legislation barring Syrian Muslim refugees from entering the United States, and Jeb Bush, a Republican rival, has suggested that the authorities allow only Syrian Christians into the country. As a result of all that fear mongering, we are seeing a surge in the number of hate crimes and threats against Muslim Americans.

Meanwhile, today President Obama spoke at the naturalization service for 31 new Americans who hail from 25 different countries at the National Archives on the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the …

Would a Ted Cruz Candidacy Be Good for the Country?

In case you've forgotten, there was an insurgent vs establishment battle for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2012 too. One big difference was that Mitt Romney was clearly the establishment candidate back then. So conservative writer David Frum mapped out the four possibilities of a Romney vs Tea Party nomination and general election result.

Possibility 1: Romney is nominated, Romney is elected.

Possibility 2: Romney is nominated, Romney loses.

Possibility 3: A tea party Republican is nominated and loses.

Possibility 4: A tea party Republican is nominated and wins.

Being a good establishment conservative, Frum's preference was #1. But he described #4 as resulting in a "political and economic crisis." What is most interesting however, is how he described #3:
Yet within the disaster might lurk a silver lining. At least the GOP will get the ideological adventure out of its system. For three years, Republican activists have lived in a fantasy world in which…

Indabas as a Tool of Partnership

Frankly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that this weekend in Paris all of the 196 nations of the world reached a consensus agreement on a plan to combat global climate change. I've been wracking my brain trying to remember when the entire world has managed to agree on anything beyond symbolic gestures. So far, I haven't come up with an example - but if you historians can think of something, let me know.

As others have noted, the work of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to bring China on board removed one of the major obstacles to an agreement. But have you ever worked with a group that tries to use consensus as an approach? I sure have - and even in small groups it is a painfully slow and frustrating decision-making process.

That's why I find it fascinating that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius adopted a South African process known as "indabas" to reach consensus.
Zulu and Xhosa communities use “indabas” to give everyon…

Republicans Play the Blame Game

When this presidential primary began, we heard from a lot of Republicans about how deep their bench was because they produced 17 candidates. At least that's the kind of thing they said when the cameras were on. There was a lot of gloating about their wealth of choices this time around.

But with talk about the possibility of using a contested convention to stop Donald Trump, at least right now we know that they're saying something very different behind closed doors. I found the conversation about all that on Morning Joe last Friday to be fascinating. The group pretty quickly dismissed the idea of a brokered convention, but they went on to try and conjure up what Reince Priebus' options might be at this point.

Let's first of all acknowledge that things like the emergence of huge super pacs after the Citizens United ruling have pretty much neutered the power of the RNC. That's exactly why there were 17 candidates in the first place. But even if there was something Pri…

The News From Paris

The negotiations at the UN Global Climate Change Conference in Paris were scheduled to conclude today. But this morning, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister and chair of the talks, announced that they will extend into Saturday (some expect they'll go through Sunday).

The good news is that, in a new draft agreement that was released yesterday, there was positive movement on a big issue.
One issue that had divided nations earlier in the conference appeared to be largely resolved, with a consensus emerging around acknowledging the need for a more aggressive temperature goal in the draft, according to one source. Though current proposed text sticks with the target agreed at a previous climate conference of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, it also says countries should “pursue efforts” to hit the more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).Graham Readfearn brings us the reaction t…

Donald Trump as Angry Adolescent

As a family therapist, I occasionally worked with adolescents who struggled because they were at a point where they were ready to mature past their parent's level of development. For whatever reason, some people simply fail to grow up.

That is essentially how Mark Bowden describes Donald Trump based on an interview he did with him for Playboy magazine back in 1996. Here are a couple of the pertinent excerpts:
Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression...

He has no coherent political philosophy, so comparisons with Fascist leaders miss the mark. He just reacts. Trump lives in a fantasy of perfection, with himself as its animating force...

Apart from the comical ego, the errors, and the self-serving bluster, what you get from Trump are commonplace ideas pronounced as received wisdom...The ideas that…