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Showing posts from May, 2015

A Progressive View of Change

In 2008 after Barack Obama announced that he would run for president, he said that - while he ultimately favored single payer - he felt that to go directly from our current system to single payer would be too disruptive. A few months ago, as Vermont attempted to set up a single payer system and failed , they demonstrated that he was right. It turns out that even if a single payer system would save money on administrative costs, there is a whole lot of money we are collecting to pay for our current system. Finding a way to capture all that and use if for a single payer system would create big winners and big losers. Addressing the problem this creates in making that kind of transfer fair - especially to average Americans on Main Street - is something advocates of single payer haven't addressed. So instead of single payer we got Obamacare, which has brought the rate of uninsured Americans down to a historical low, all while slowing the rate of health care inflation and extending


Given that I'm an old-timer, rap music has never really been my cup o' tea. But while I was reading around for the post below about Native American voting rights , I ran across an interview with a young man named Frank Waln . I always wanted to heal and help people. It’s something I saw my grandfather doing, and that my mother does now, so it was always in me. I just didn’t know how. Not many people from my reservation go to college, and I was the first from my high school to get this very prestigious scholarship—a full ride, the Gates Millennium Scholarship—to wherever I chose to go. Music was my interest, but everyone said, “be a lawyer,” “be a doctor,” because not a lot of us get these opportunities. So I went to Creighton University in Nebraska to study pre-med... After I left Creighton, I told an elder I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore and wanted to do music. He said, “Sometimes music is the best medicine.” And that stays with me today... A lot of Western cultu

Native American Voting Rights: DOJ is ON IT!

When we hear about the challenges to voting rights these days, it's usually about voter ID requirements, felony voting rights and elimination/reduction of early voting opportunities. But many Native Americans face a whole different kind of challenge. It was mid-April, and Montana was gearing up for this year’s primary election. Voting would get underway in Big Sky Country on May 5, with a month of advance voting by absentee ballot—by mail or by delivering a ballot to the county courthouse—leading up to Primary Day on June 3. If people hadn’t registered, they could head to the courthouse to sign up. But for Ed “Buster” Moore, who lives on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north-central Montana, it wasn’t so simple. To cast a ballot during the absentee-voting period, he would have to make the 126-mile round trip to the Blaine County Courthouse in Chinook. That’s about $21 worth of gas, not to mention the income that Moore, an artisan, would lose by taking a half day of

Elizabeth Warren: The Pragmatist

In his bio about Elizabeth Warren, Ryan Lizza tells a pretty interesting story that might surprise a lot of people. It takes place in 2009/2010 when a Democratic Congress was considering Wall Street reform. Warren was not a Senator yet, but was trying to make sure that the legislation included her idea for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Warren decided to work with Camden Fine, head of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA). Her goal was not to convince this group to support CFPB, but to ensure they remained neutral. For some background on ICBA, they represent 6,500 community banks around the country. But they are no small-fries themselves. The group donates generously to both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and spends almost $5 million a year lobbying on behalf of their member's interests.  It's interesting to note how various people describe the ICBA. Here's what Lizza says about them: For years, she [Warren] has worked closely wi

The Story We've Told Ourselves About "Too Big to Fail" is False

There is a story we've told ourselves about what caused the Great Recession of 2008. Here's how it goes: "Too big to fail" banks engaged in criminal and unethical activities that led to their near collapse, so government (i.e., taxpayers) had to bail them out in order to stop another Great Depression. With that as the story, a lot of "populist" Democrats suggest that the solution is to break up the "too big to fail" banks in order to prevent us from ever having to bail them out again . Of course that story is combined with the fact of growing income inequality and so many assume that taking the big banks down a peg or two will mitigate the gap. Finally, blaming the Great Recession on the big banks provides us with a villain to blame for all the pain and suffering of millions who lost jobs, homes, retirement savings, etc. Given my distrust of conventional wisdom, I've always thought that it is important to do a reality check on this kind

Perspective 101

Whether or not you believe that this is how life works, it's definitely how most of our media works.

Photo of the Day: A "Dream" Field Trip

For the past 16 years , [97 year-old Vivian] Bailey has led a fundraising effort to help Running Brook Elementary School fulfill its "wish list" for students. Part of that wish list includes funding field trips for the school children, something Bailey finds particularly important. "I've been very insistent on trying to make sure our kids get field trips," Bailey said. "I want our children whose parents are certainly not wealthy to have those opportunities."... Bailey, who does not have any biological children, said she considers the children at Running Brook Elementary as her own. "When people ask how many children I have, I try to keep my face straight. I have over 300!" she said. This year the students took a field trip to Washington, D.C. and they invited Ms. Bailey to go along...her first field trip ever! It included a tour of the White House. And then this happened.

Not Good Enough, Bernie (updated)

Here are a few of the things I'm reading about today: The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case that could overturn the practice of "one person, one vote." For 50 years the “one person, one vote” principle has been used to divvy up political power by counting all people in states and putting them into electoral districts of roughly equal size. But the mathematics of power may be about to change in a way that could shift political clout away from fast-growing Latino communities in states such as California, Texas and Florida and move it to the suburbs and rural areas. The Supreme Court surprised election-law experts Tuesday and said it would hear arguments this fall about whether voting districts should continue to be drawn by using census population data, which include noncitizen immigrants who are in the United States both legally and illegally, or whether the system should be changed to count only citizens who are eligible to vote, as conservative challengers

The Phone Part of a "Pen and Phone" Strategy

We all saw how President Obama came out swinging after the midterm elections with his "pen and phone strategy." Most of the things that drew headlines were items that depended on the "pen" (executive orders) side of things - the latest being a new Clean Water Rule issued by the EPA. But as Gregory Korte reports, a quieter use of the "phone" part of that strategy has been underway as well. President Obama has quietly racked up a series of legislative victories during the past few months as lawmakers have enthusiastically embraced his calls for a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and universal pre-kindergarten. Instead of Capitol Hill, those victories happened in city halls, state houses and county buildings far from Washington. At least six major cities — Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., and Washington, D.C. — have passed paid sick leave laws in the four months since Obama called for state and local action in this year

An Insurgency by Any Other Name is Still an Insurgency

In my very first post at Political Animal , I described the possible threat from a Confederate insurgency . In his review of Charles Murray's latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission , Ian Millhiser basically describes it as an insurgency by another name. Before he gets to the book, Millhiser reminds us of a couple of things. First of all, he points to the fact that it was not that long ago that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that democracy wasn't working. At the height of 2011’s debt ceiling crisis, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered a candid explanation of why his party was willing to threaten permanent harm to the U.S. economy unless Congress agreed to change our founding document. “The Constitution must be amended to keep the government in check,” McConnell alleged. “We’ve tried persuasion. We’ve tried negotiations. We’ve tried elections. Nothing has worked.”... Few politicians are willing to admit what McCo

Reflections on Cynicism and Hope

In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama returned to a theme he talks about quite often. But my hope is that over time that debate gets back on a path where there’s some semblance of hope and not simply fear, because it feels to me as if … all we are talking about is based from fear. Over the short term that may seem wise—cynicism always seems a little wise—but it may lead Israel down a path in which it’s very hard to protect itself — as a Jewish-majority democracy. You might recall that last summer, the President's stump speech always concluded with something like this: So just remember this: The hardest thing to do is to bring about real change. It's hard. You’ve got a stubborn status quo. And folks in Washington, sometimes they’re focused on everything but your concerns. And there are special interests and there are lobbyists, and they’re paid to maintain the status quo that's working for somebody. And they’re counting on you getting cynical,

Photo of the Day: Respect

President Obama greets 107-year-old WWII vet Army Lt. Col. Luta Mae Cornelius McGrath at Arlington on Memorial Day.

Gotcha =/= Tough

The national news media in this country is facing a couple of really big challenges right now. One is that not enough people are reading/watching. The rise of the internet has given people all kinds of alternatives. And that means that the business model most media outlets have relied on for years no longer provides the financial resources they need to continue functioning as they have in the past. Secondly, one of the reasons people aren't reading/watching is that the American public has lost confidence in both the print and television news media. Gallup places that confidence at an all-time low of about 20%. That's why it was so interesting to watch last week as some national political reporters had a bit of a hissy fit about Hillary Clinton not answering questions from reporters. The line was pretty much: How DARE she?! After we dug up "scandals" related to emails and donations to a charitable foundation that might suggest some sort of impropriety! How dare Cl

The Search for Heroes and Villains

The most enduring story in our culture is the one that focuses on the battle between a hero and villain. Perhaps that's because it captures the way so many of us see the world. And so it should come as no surprise to any of us that much of our political story winds up being about the search for a hero and the identification of a villain. As the Cold War ended in the early '90's, a lot of us on the left celebrated the fact that conservatives were relieved of their overarching villain...communists. Of course, it didn't take long before communists were replaced by terrorists and now, for some, that has morphed into Muslims as the villain in our world today. But make no mistake about it, liberals have their own villains. These days they go by names like corporations, corporatists, plutocrats, etc. The same anger and fear that drives conservatives to blame the world's woes on Muslims drives liberals to do the same with corporations. Of course, there is an element of

"We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace"

I always have a hard time "celebrating" Memorial Day. The superficiality of a lot of the patriotic jingoism seems at odds with the profound sense of loss that is the essence of war. It seems to me that this should be a day when we grapple with the horrific costs of war - most notably in the lives of loved ones who were taken too soon. As I struggled with that today, I kept remembering how President Obama talked about war and peace in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Here are some excerpts: So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another -- that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such. So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths -- that war is so

Odds & Ends

Get ready for another round of "Obama the Tyrant" from Republicans. Coral Davenport says that the President is getting ready to issue new EPA rules that strengthen the federal role in clean water regulation. A TPM reader fills us in on what led up to the Nebraska legislature's decision to end the death penalty. It strikes me that this is yet another example of how criminal justice reform will continue to advance. It's not a federal issue (yet), but it's clearly a hot item at the state and local level. Since Chief Justice John Roberts thinks we're living in a color blind society, perhaps someone should fill him in on the racist responses to President Obama's new twitter account as well as what recently happened at a North Dakota gun show (trigger warning: if you follow all the links, this stuff gets really ugly). This is a story that I keep suggesting has political implications. Todd VanDerWerff is the latest to tell us that network TV is collap

Daylight Photo

Pando is a forest of quaking Aspens growing near Fish Lake in Utah. Pando, whose name is Latin for "I spread," is a clonal colony. This means that all the trees in the forest are genetically identical, and are believed to have one combined root system. Pando covers more than 106 acres, and is estimated to weigh in the region of 5,900 tons. More than 40,000 trunks (which look like individual trees) make up the forest, and the roots are believed to be at least 80,000 years old. Yes, 80,000. That's not a typo.

Dear Hillary: Let Your Wonk Flag Fly

Let's be honest. One reason why Hillary Clinton has struggled as a politician is that voters sometimes doubt her authenticity. If you need an example of that, during the 2008 New Hampshire primary when she shed some tears, too many people wondered whether or not that was simply staged to boost her campaign after the deafening blow she took in Iowa. That's why Peter Beinart's take on what the Clinton campaign is up to this time around is so interesting. He notices that she keeps delaying her "why I'm running for president" speech and has instead given two engaging speeches on policy (criminal justice and immigration reform). He posits that: "Soaring rhetoric and grand themes have never been Hillary’s strengths." Instead, he suggests that: She’s at her best talking about America not abstractly, but concretely. She’s most inspiring when talking not about what she believes, but about what she wants to do. And she most effectively humanizes herself b

Big News Overnight

Even though it was a Friday night on a holiday weekend, a lot happened while you were sleeping. Here's a quick rundown: Enough of the votes have been counted that both sides agree: Ireland voted to legalize marriage equality . The Senate voted 62 - 37 to pass Trade Promotion Authority . Now it's on to the House. But in the most convoluted story, the Senate failed to pass a bill to change or extend the Patriot Act . To understand what happened here, it's important to know that the Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1st if it is not reauthorized. There are currently three factions on this one: Majority Leader McConnell and a few Republican hawks in the Senate want the Patriot Act extended "as is." Senator Rand Paul and a few libertarians want the whole thing to expire. A huge bipartisan majority in the House (338-88) voted for the USA Freedom Act , which would change the NSA metadata program by shutting down the government's collection of phone ca

Pope Frances Heals Cold War Wounds

For anyone who is aware of the liberal struggles of the 1980's, this is wonderful news . SAN SALVADOR — Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to convene in a central plaza here on Saturday to celebrate the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, 35 years after he was shot in the heart while saying Mass. Romero, a towering and polarizing figure in Salvadoran history, was chosen by Pope Francis earlier this year to be beatified, the last step before sainthood. It is the first time a Salvadoran has received this religious honor. After years in which the process was stalled, Francis’s decision was a “surprise and a thrill for everyone,” said Simeon Reyes, a spokesman for the Catholic church in El Salvador... Romero’s death was a watershed moment in El Salvador, a murder that helped propel the country into civil war. He was shot on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a church at the hospice for cancer patients where he lived. A “truth commission” set up after the

Honest Question

In commenting about the Senate cloture vote on Trade Promotion Authority yesterday, Paul Waldman wrote this: If I were a cynic, I’d say the only thing that can bring Democrats and Republicans together like that is a bill that’s supported by corporate America. Does anyone else remember that corporate America strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform? Why hasn't that brought Democrats and Republicans together? I'm certainly not one who is interested in taking up a defense of "corporate America." But I do think they've become the convenient villain for liberals to blame. Truth is, it only bothers me when it becomes a knee-jerk response that keeps people from looking a bit deeper into things that are often much more complex than an over-simplified " point-and-blame " response can capture.  

President Obama is "Deeply in Touch with the Heart and Spirit of the Jewish People"

Jeffrey Goldberg has conducted yet another fascinating interview with President Obama. They spent time discussing three topics: ISIS, Iran and the President's relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. I was particularly struck by the depth with which the President addressed the last one. I said in a previous interview and I meant it: I think it would be a moral failing for me as president of the United States, and a moral failing for America, and a moral failing for the world, if we did not protect Israel and stand up for its right to exist, because that would negate not just the history of the 20th century, it would negate the history of the past millennium. And it would violate what we have learned, what humanity should have learned, over that past millennium, which is that when you show intolerance and when you are persecuting minorities and when you are objectifying them and making them the Other, you are destroying something in yourself, and the world goes into a t

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Endorsed TPP

Ron Brownstein brings up a group of people we haven't heard much from when it comes to the discussion about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Back in 2012, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is dominated by Democrats) passed a resolution endorsing TPP at their annual meeting. And recently their president, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, CA, and vice-president, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, MD, sent a letter to Senate leaders  urging them to pass trade promotion authority (TPA - or so-called "fast track"). You might wonder why Democratic mayors would disagree so strongly with their counterparts in Congress. Here is Brownstein's answer to that: New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors' tilt toward trade...Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth

What We Can/Can't Learn From President Obama's Jump in Favorability

Gallup had some interesting news today. President Obama's favorability rating jumped 4 points this month. It is important to distinguish this from the President's job approval rating. Here's what Gallup says about that. A president's favorable ratings are distinct from approval of his performance; job approval ratings generally tend to be lower. For the Obama presidency, Gallup trends show the two measures have changed largely in tandem. As Obama's approval rating has rebounded nine percentage points from a low of 37% last fall, his favorable rating has increased 11 points from 42%. But what is even more interesting is to take a look at the recent results by party affiliation. As you can see, there has been almost no change in the President's favorability rating with Republicans and Democrats. Most all of the change has come from Independents - with an increase of 6% in the last month. What you will always hear from political scientists is that i

When "Populists" Are More Interested in Fighting the 1% Than in Protecting the 99%

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that five banks pleaded guilty to currency manipulation and six of them will pay $5.8 billion as part of the agreement. Adam Lerner at Politico reported Sen. Elizabeth Warren's response. “The big banks have been caught red-handed conspiring to manipulate financial markets, and several have even admitted in court that they’re felons — but not a single trader is being held individually accountable, and regulators are stumbling over themselves to exempt the banks from the legally required consequences of their criminal behavior,” Warren said. “That’s not accountability for Wall Street.” On her first point about not a single trader being held individually accountable, she is simply wrong. From the link above: As part of its settlement with New York banking superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, Barclays agreed to terminate eight employees engaged in currency trading between London and New York... Cases against individual traders also

The Nuance of Climate Change Denialism

Recently Jeb Bush said this: "The climate is changing. I don't think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. "And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it even." So he's embraced the scientific fact that the climate is changing. We can't really accuse him of being a true climate change denier. I would also suggest that he's right...the science isn't clear about the exact percentage of climate change that is man-made and how much is natural. But from there, what he has to say is one hot mess. He makes the subtle suggestion that those who prioritize dealing with climate change are saying that the science is decided on how much is man-made and how much is natural. Tha

Acting Director of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ: Vanita Gupta

I've made the case previously that the turn-around of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ after it was politicized and decimated by the George W. Bush administration is one of President Obama's most unsung accomplishments. Initially, the President and AG Holder appointed Thomas Perez to head that division. When he became the Secretary of Labor, Debo Adegbile was nominated to be his successor. You might remember that his nomination was derailed when the Fraternal Order of Police objected because he had worked as part of a legal team on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal. Since then, the position has technically been vacant. But pay attention to that word "technically." Because the "acting" director is a woman named Vanita Gupta. Prior to working at the Department of Justice, Gupta worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and then for the ACLU's Center for Justice. Of particular note is that in her very first case at the NAACP she successfully led the effort to