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Showing posts from September, 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 continu…

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 Jus…

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 se…

"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 be…

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…

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 repor…

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 neighb…

"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 …

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 polarizat…

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, behin…

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 d…

Photo of the Day: @POTUS Meets Pope

I don't have a funny caption - this one simply makes me smile (we could use a little more of that these days).

A Demand that Christians Renounce the Old Testament

As you all probably know by now, Ben Carson is doubling down on his Islamophobia. Here's how he answered some questions about that on Facebook:
Under Islamic Law, homosexuals – men and women alike – must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed.

I know that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenants are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President. Of course, the vast majority of people elected to public office these days take their oath of office with their hand on the Bible - including both the Old and New Testaments. In the former are texts like this:
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18

He [Josiah] executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars …

What We Can Learn From Walker's Demise: The Limits of SuperPacs

If all it took to win a presidential nomination (or the presidency itself) was big SuperPac money, Scott Walker would still be in the race. As of August 1st (the last reporting period), he was number 3 in the Republican race for SuperPac dollars ($20 million). No matter how much the Koch brothers loved Scott Walker, it couldn't get him the nomination.

Nicholas Confessore has a pretty good run-down on the limits of SuperPac money.
While a super PAC supporting him, Unintimidated, was relatively flush with cash — on track to raise as much as $40 million through the end of the year, according to people involved with the group — Mr. Walker’s campaign committee was running dry, contemplating layoffs and unable to find enough money to mount a last stand in Iowa, a state that once favored him.

Super PACs, Mr. Walker learned, cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, airfares or ballot access fees. They are not entitled to the preferential rates on advertising that federal law grants candidat…

Who Has a Seat at the Table?

Back in January 2013, Annie Lowrey wrote an article that surprised a lot of us titled: Obama's Remade Inner Circle Has an All-Male Look, So Far.
...Mr. Obama has put together a national security team dominated by men, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the secretary of state, Chuck Hagel chosen to be the defense secretary and John O. Brennan nominated as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama’s inner circle will continue to be dominated by men well into his second term.

From the White House down the ranks, the Obama administration has compiled a broad appointment record that has significantly exceeded the Bush administration in appointing women but has done no better than the Clinton administration, according to an analysis of personnel data by The New York Times. Lowrey obviously wrote that when the administrati…

The Many Ways a Government Shutdown Hurts Republicans

I'm aware of the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz went to Harvard. Rumors continue to circulate that he's actually smart. If that's true, then it's hard to figure out why he'd continue to embrace dumb strategic moves like shutting down the federal government over funding for Planned Parenthood. Let's list all the ways that a move like that is destined to not only fail, but hurt Republicans.

The easiest place to start is with the facts that fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte included in a letter to her colleague.
Ayotte, who is not a supporter of Planned Parenthood, voted last month to defund the group. That bill received 53 votes in the Senate, short of the 60 votes it needed to pass.

“How do we get 60 votes? And if for some reason there were 60 votes, how do we get 67 votes in the Senate to overcome a Presidential veto?” Ayotte asked in her letter. There aren't enough votes in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood - much less override a presidential veto. We alr…

Goldwater Republicans

In an effort to understand what is happening in the Republican Party and the way the 2016 presidential nominating process is unfolding, we tend to apply labels. Often that means contrasting "the base" with "the establishment." In thinking about the former, we talk about the tea partiers and/or evangelicals (who often overlap). When it comes to the establishment, we assume that it's all about the big money folks who finance these campaigns.

One way this plays out is in an assumption that Trump is appealing to the base while the establishment supports candidates like Bush. But as people like Ed Kilgore have pointed out, Trump's base is made up primarily of white working class Republicans. Many of them are what we used to call "Reagan Democrats" because prior to the Southern Strategy (ignited by Nixon and Reagan) and culture wars (fueled by folks like Pat Buchanan), they were Democrats.

But in order to understand the appeal of someone like Carly Fior…

Jeb Bush Plays Two Truths and a Lie

Have you ever played that game, two truths and a lie? It's fun as an ice-breaker in groups. But it's not a good idea in politics. Yesterday, that's exactly what Jeb Bush did.

I'll give him credit where it's due. At a town hall meeting in NH, he disputed the lunatic claim that Donald Trump affirmed by omission when an attendee at his even called President Obama a Muslim (also suggesting that this was somehow a threat). Here's what Jeb Bush said about that.
Barack Obama is a talented man -- and by the way he's an American, he's a Christian -- his problem isn't the fact that he was born here or what his faith is. Two truths. So far, so good. But then he told the lie.
His problem is that he's a progressive liberal who tears down anybody that disagrees with him. Obviously Bush felt he had to give some raw meat to his Republican supporters once he'd actually told the truth. But rather than doing what John McCain did when faced with a similar charg…

100 Immigrant Women Write an Open Letter to Presidential Candidates

I am going to assume that since this is an "open letter," it is fair to reproduce the whole thing. The voice of these women needs to be heard at least as loudly as those who are trying to gain political traction by demonizing them.


Dear candidates for president,

Elections are about leadership. Leaders influence and shape the world around them. So far, the election conversation about immigration has caused us great alarm.

Many of you have engaged in rhetoric that is feeding a rising tide of hatred toward migrants in the United States and globally. This is precisely the type of rhetoric that seeds and promotes hate violence, and emboldens the most hateful among us. This is type of hatred that often results in the tragic loss of human life. And, it creates the context for hate-based policies with profound humanitarian implications.

Your proposed solutions are the same recycled solutions that have been proposed for years. From border walls to mass deportations and guest worker p…

Reversing the Trend of Mass Incarceration

Days after both the Atlantic and the National Review published editions focused on the issue of mass incarceration, Keith Humphreys noted a report issued by the Department of Justice with the headline: U.S. is at a 13-Year Low in Imprisonment.
The U.S. imprisonment rate has fallen for the sixth straight year. In 2014, the rate fell to a level not seen since 2001. A 13-year low sounds good. And it certainly represents progress. But to get a picture of what that means, take a look at the trajectory over the last 40 years (note: this chart does not include 2014 numbers).

I have written before that, when we look at statistics like this, there are many different ways of representing the numbers. The above chart looks at the raw number of prisoners. Another way to tell the story is to mitigate for population increases by providing the number of prisoners per 100,000 adults in the U.S. That number dropped from 621 to 612.

The DOJ report combines the number of people in federal prisons with tho…

Finally, the GOP Establishment Has an Outsider it Can Embrace

In terms of the "winner" of last night's Republican debate, this is an instance where conventional wisdom is probably right...Carly Fiorina "won." And while I am usually loath to make political predictions, I think its a pretty sure bet that over the next couple of weeks we'll see that translated into rising poll numbers.

What's interesting about this is that the Republican base has been itching to support a political "outsider" - which has put them at odds with establishment love for candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio (the latter of whom also helped himself with his performance last night). But based on what I'm reading this morning, it looks like the establishment has finally found an outsider they can embrace in Carly Fiorina.

Last night Fiorina was articulate, forceful and came off as "presidential." In doing so, she demonstrated that there is a clear policy vacuum when it comes to Donald Trump. I have no doubt that his…

Race and Mass Incarceration

I have no idea if it was a coincidence that the recent editions of both the National Review and the Atlantic focus on the topic of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform (I doubt it). But some of the articles sure make for some interesting side-by-side reading, which is what I did with the headline articles by Stephanos Bibas in the National Review and Ta-Nehisi Coates  in the Atlantic.

Not all of Bibas' recommendations for criminal justice reform are awful. But I sure do hate how he ended his piece.
American criminal justice has drifted away from its moral roots. The Left has forgotten how to blame and punish, and too often the Right has forgotten how to forgive. Over-imprisonment is wrong, but not because wrongdoers are blameless victims of a white-supremacist conspiracy. It is wrong because state coercion excessively disrupts work, families, and communities, the building blocks of society, with too little benefit to show for it. Our strategies for deterring crime not on…

Just How Bad Have Things Gotten for the GOP?

You know things are bad for Republicans when...

Mitch McConnell is the voice of reason.
McConnell (R-KY) went on the record with Politico to tamp down fears that there would be a shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding...

In the meantime, he said he wanted to focus on more moderate goals that are achievable in the current landscape, like infrastructure funding and a cybersecurity bill. And Bill Kristol starts talking about supporting a third-party candidate in 2016.
Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, said he would likely look beyond both of the major parties if Trump, the clear frontrunner in the GOP's crowded presidential field, emerged with the party's nomination.

"I doubt I'd support Donald. I doubt I'd support the Democrat," Kristol told CNNMoney in an email. "I think I'd support getting someone good on the ballot as a third party candidate." Just sayin...

Paying for Single Payer

For a while now I've been saying that one of the questions I have for Bernie Sanders is how he would pay for single payer health insurance - especially in light of the fact that this is what stopped single payer from going forward in his home state of Vermont.

And so I was interested that, buried within an article in the Wall Street Journal about the costs of Sander's various proposals, was reference to a paper by Gerald Friedman, Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts which outlined a payment plan for single payer. It's important to note that the bill Friedman analyzed (HR 676) is authored by Rep. Conyers. Sanders has never endorsed this bill and it differs from the one he introduced in the Senate in 2013. But we'll get to that later.

One of the assumptions about single payer is that it will save money in administrative costs (Friedman builds that into his calculations). But since it would eliminate the way we currently pay for health insurance (employer/employee …

President Obama Provides Ben Carson With a Little Cognitive Dissonance

By now we all know that Ben Carson's schtick has come down to railing against political correctness. I'd venture that Monday, President Obama served up a whole helping of cognitive dissonance for Carson to chew on about all that.

At a town hall meeting in Iowa on higher education, the President pretty effectively smacked down Carson's proposal to cut funding to colleges that demonstrate political bias.
The idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think ahead of time or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought or idea or perspective or philosophy, that that person would be -- that they wouldn’t get funding runs contrary to everything we believe about education. I mean, I guess that might work in the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t work here. That’s not who we are. That’s not what we’re about. The Soviet Union? Good comparison, but ouch!

Then he went on to talk about how political correctness can be a problem on c…