Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2016

Sen. Warren Initiates an Important Discussion

Senator Elizabeth Warren has issued a report and written an op-ed in the New York Times  titled: One Way to Rebuild Our Institutions . On a broad scale, I think she is attempting to initiate an important discussion. Here is the opening line from the report: Much of the public and media attention on Washington focuses on enacting laws. And strong laws are important – prosecutors must have the statutory tools they need to hold corporate criminals accountable. But putting a law on the books is only the first step. The second, and equally important, step is enforcing that law. A law that is not enforced – or weakly enforced – may as well not even be a law at all. In writing about this report, David Dayen zeros in on what is so important about this as we are in the midst of electing our next president. The focus on how laws are enforced rather than the intricacies of the law itself carries on a theme Warren has stressed throughout primary season – that personnel is policy, that who y

Sanders' Numbers on Single Payer Don't Add Up

Just prior to the Democratic debate in Charleston, SC, Bernie Sanders released his " Medicare for All " plan. It focuses mainly on where the revenue will come from to pay for it. When talking about this, it is important to stipulate that the costs for single payer are not additional costs. Almost everyone agrees that reducing administrative overhead and profits in our current health insurance system will save money. But moving from the hodge-podge system we have now of who picks up the tab (individuals, employers, government) to single payer means re-allocating who pays. And that gets complicated. That was the question the Sanders campaign was addressing with the release of his plan. Before you can decide who pays how much though, you have to determine what the overall cost of a single payer system would be. The folks at Vox asked Kenneth Thorpe - an Emory University health care expert who had worked with Vermont on their single payer plan - to take a look at Sanders'

The Not-So-White Side of Iowa

Much of the analysis of the Iowa caucuses (especially on the Democratic side), has focused on how white the electorate is. That is because it is true. But I wonder if any of you remember the horror of seeing the Bush administration's ICE agents raid a meat-packing plant in 2008 and round up (mostly) Hispanic immigrants. Do you remember where that happened? It was in Postville, Iowa. Back in 2011, the New York Times ran an interesting story by A. G. Sulzberger about the changing face of the rural plains. For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region. Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even ex

What Sanders Means When He Says That the System is Rigged

The more I listen to and read about Bernie Sanders, the clearer it becomes to me that there is one central theme we need to understand about him on which almost everything else rests. It is what he clarified in the last Democratic debate . In all due respect, you’re missing the main point. And the main point in the Congress, it’s not the Republicans and Democrats hate each other. That’s a mythology from the media. The real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do. Notice that he didn't say that "Republicans are owned by big money." Sanders believes that ALL of Congress is owned by big money. That's what he means when he says that the system is rigged. His view is that the gridlock we are witnessing right now is not a result of ideological differences. It is because big money is in charge and that makes Congress oblivious to the needs of the American people. That is why Sanders has never formally joi

It Didn't Bleed, So it Didn't Lead

Following the shooting in San Bernardino last December, most of this country went on a giant freak-out about terrorism spurred by Republican fear-mongering and media complicity. I understand the old journalism axiom about how, "if it bleeds, it leads." But you would think that with all the nonsense we were subjected to just a few short months ago, at least someone would have noticed this story . A terrorist-style plot intended to kill dozens of people with automatic weapons at a Masonic center in Milwaukee was foiled this week by FBI agents, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. Samy Mohamed Hamzeh discussed his plan to attack the center with two others, detailing how they would quickly and quietly kill the first people they saw and then methodically move through the building, "eliminating everyone" they encountered, according to a federal criminal complaint. This Justice Department report says that Hamzeh had been under surveillance since September last year when

Trump's Palin-Like Word Salad About Tonights Debate

As of this writing, it looks like Donald Trump will not participate in tonights Republican presidential debate hosted by Fox News. I qualify that because - knowing the two sides involved in this battle - it wouldn't surprise me to see further developments throughout the day. But here is Trump answering questions about all this yesterday at a press conference. What struck me as I listened to it was that - based on his sentence structure - I'm guessing that he and Sarah Palin had the same English teacher in school. They both seem to have an appetite for the same kind of word salad. The best I can make of Trump's diatribe was that he has three problems. The first, of course, is that he doesn't like Megyn Kelly. He also talks repeatedly about how "they" should donate money to Wounded Warriors. Those sound like excuses to me. What he really didn't like is the statement Fox News issued when one of his spokespersons issued this threat. In a call on Satu

The Underlying Sexism of the 2016 Presidential Race

When we elected our first African American president in 2008, his race wasn't the central issue. Except for his speech following the controversy about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama didn't make it central to his campaign. His appeal had more to do with what David Axelrod identified. Here’s the gist. Open-seat presidential elections are shaped by perceptions of the style and personality of the outgoing incumbent. Voters rarely seek the replica of what they have. They almost always seek the remedy, the candidate who has the personal qualities the public finds lacking in the departing executive. In other words, in a country that had gone sour on George W. Bush, Barack Obama was the anti-Bush in almost every way that mattered. But it wasn't long before race became a central theme in the insurgency that erupted against this President. That was coupled with what Tim Wise called "the perfect storm for white anxiety," including the fact that the changing demog

President Obama Tackles the Overuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

On January 22, 2009, just two days after he was inaugurated, President Obama issued Executive Order 13491 - basically ending the torture policies that had been incorporated by the Bush/Cheney administration. The specifics of that executive order were eventually written into the the United States Army Field Manual on interrogation. At the time, a lot of reporters and activists pointed out that these updated policies continued to endorse practices that were at minimum abusive and could amount to torture. Labeled Appendix M, and propounding an additional, special "technique" called "Separation", human rights and legal group have recognized that Appendix M includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. What always struck me is that those practices were not reserved for detainees identified as "terrorists." They were common practice used by law enforcement and prisons all over the c

The Insanity Started a Long Time Ago

Julian Zeilzer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, isn't buying the handwringing we're seeing from David Brooks and the National Review about the presidential candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. In a case that others have made, but perhaps not so thoroughly, he says: GOP Establishment Deserves Trump, Cruz . Going back to Reagan's embrace of the Moral Majority, the racism Lee Atwater infused into George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign and the fact that it was McCain who chose Palin to be his running mate in 2008, Zeilzer demonstrates how GOP presidential candidates laid the groundwork for what is happening today. He also captures how Boehner and McConnell initially embraced the election of tea party candidates like Ted Cruz back in 2010. In the House of Representatives, Republican leaders were more than welcoming to the tea party revolution that took hold in 2010 — until it no longer suited their purposes. John Boehner and Mit

Our Fear of Black Boys: Past and Present

Over the weekend, I finally watched the documentary, The Central Park Five (it is now available on Netflix). Of course I was already familiar with the story. But watching those young men recount their experience is deeply troubling. It is one of those films that will be disturbing my soul for a while. But it is also worth noting the role that Donald Trump played in the story and how it is reminiscent of the kind of hatefulness he is still spreading. Back in 1989 before the five boys were tried, he took out an ad in the Daily News with the headline: BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE! It contained rhetoric like this, "“How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!” Sound familiar? As recently as 2014, when the 5 young men got a $40 million settlement for the way they were treated by police and prosecutors, Trump wrote

The Anti-Obama Candidacies

A lot of conservative pundits have been blaming the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican primary on President Obama. Their reasoning is that this President has been so liberal and divisive (read: Black) that he ignited a backlash among voters. Of course, that's nonsense. But in some ways, David Axelrod makes a similar case. He goes back to a memo he wrote to then-Senator Barack Obama in 2006 making the argument for why he should enter the race. Here’s the gist. Open-seat presidential elections are shaped by perceptions of the style and personality of the outgoing incumbent. Voters rarely seek the replica of what they have. They almost always seek the remedy, the candidate who has the personal qualities the public finds lacking in the departing executive. Then he explains how Donald Trump is the antithesis of Barack Obama. Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesit

What Do We Mean by "Establishment?"

Bernie Sanders took some flak recently for calling Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights campaign part of the establishment. Here's what he said in response to a question from Rachel Maddow about the fact that those two organizations have endorsed Hillary Clinton. "What we are doing in this campaign -- and it just blows my mind every day, because I see it clearly, we're taking on not only Wall Street and the economic establishment, we're taking on the political establishment,” Sanders said. "And so I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund [sic], in Planned Parenthood," Sanders continued. "But you know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time and some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment." He later walked that back a bit by saying that what he meant was that the leaders of those organizations and their endorsement process are part of the establishment. I have to disagree with Stev

It All Comes Down to Turnout

As we get closer to the first actual voting in this 2016 primary, we're seeing a lot of variation in the polls. Just yesterday two polls in Iowa came to drastically different conclusions : Monmouth: Clinton 48 and Sanders 39. CNN: Sanders 51 Clinton 43. Who gets it right? A couple of tweets from CNN's political director spell out the difference. BREAKING Iowa DEM - CNN/ORC poll #’s: Sanders 51%, Clinton 43%, O’Malley 4% — David Chalian (@DavidChalian) January 21, 2016 More CNN/ORC #'s - Among 2008 DEM caucusgoers: Clinton 55%, Sanders 38%, O’Malley 4% — David Chalian (@DavidChalian) January 21, 2016 It all depends on how you define "likely voter." Will it be people who have attended caucuses previously, or have the campaigns done enough at the grassroots level to turn out new caucus-goers? Apparently CNN has a "looser" screen on that question. Here's what Nate Silver tweeted in response: A lot of differences in these polls are based

Theories of Change 2008 - 2016

How a Democratic president will deal with an intractable opposition fueled by a base committed to insurgency is an important question to ask. To simply critique Bernie Sanders' proposals on the grounds that they'd never get through Congress is to ignore the fact that none of Hillary Clinton's would either. That can lead some people to suggest that the differences in what they are proposing don't matter. But in many quarters, it is raising the whole question about each candidate's theory of change. What is interesting is how each side is laying claim to President Obama's view. As I wrote about yesterday , Sanders approach is to lead a revolution in which millions of Americans rise up to combat the influence of big money that he sees as the obstacle to change. For a lot of people, that is reminiscent of Barack Obama's "hope and change" campaign in 2008. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is cast as the competent pragmatic incrementalist. I am rem

Can a President Lead a Revolution?

I love Bernie Sanders' latest ad. In discussing this ad, Greg Sargent got it right when he compares it to the Obama 2008 campaign. He quotes what Sanders said in a Vox interview about how he would realize his goals. The real way that change takes place — and that’s always been the case in this country — is when people on the bottom begin to stand up and say enough is enough. That’s true of the civil rights movement, it is true of the women’s movement, it’s true of the environmental movement, of the gay movement. Millions of people begin to stand up and say, ‘We need change. Current situations are intolerable.’ That is when change takes place….The United States Congress is going to start listening to us and not to a handful of wealthy campaign contributors. But then Sanders also said this: The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama, is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway. You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and org

The Connection Between Victimhood, Fear and Authoritarianism

With Sarah Palin back in the headlines, the whole specter of conservatives (who used to claim to be members of "the party of personal responsibility) as victims is front and center again. Peter Beinart did a good job of capturing how Palin did that in her endorsement speech for Trump. She began by reasserting her own victimhood. When considering endorsing Trump, Palin said she was “told left and right, ‘you are going to get so clobbered in the press. You are just going to get beat up, and chewed up, and spit out.’” But she wasn’t fazed because the media has been trying to do “that every day since that night in ‘08, when I was on stage nominated for VP.” Then she connected her own victimhood to the crowd’s, declaring that, nonetheless, “like you all, I’m still standing.” And she linked both back to Trump: “So those of us who’ve kind of gone through the ringer as Mr. Trump has, makes me respect you even more.” After that, Palin expanded the circle of victimhood to include Ameri

Republicans: "Do What I Say, Not What I Don't Do"

Think for a minute about the agenda that is being articulated by Republicans these days. And then, given the fact that they now control both houses of Congress, think about what they aren't doing about it. For example: * They say that we need to fight ISIS more aggressively (whatever that means). But President Obama has been asking Congress to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS for months now. Nada. * They say that we need to secure our borders. Most of them think we should build an impenetrable wall on our border with Mexico. Some of them even say that we should deport all 10 million undocumented immigrants. Have we seen a bill on any of that in Congress? No. * They say that they want to repeal Obamacare. OK, they actually passed a bill to do that. But they've also said that they want to replace it. Anyone seen that plan floating around anywhere? Not so much. * They say that the problem with gun violence is that we don't do enough to p

If Reality Mattered

If reality mattered, the information in a new report on undocumented immigration to the United States by the Journal on Migration and Human Security would upend the nasty nativism that has consumed the Republican presidential candidates. Here is how Jerry Markon reports the findings in the Washington Post. The total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003, says the report from the Center for Migration Studies, a New York think tank. The number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008, the report says, driven primarily by a steady decline in illegal migrants from Mexico... Although the new report does not cite specific reasons for the decline, other experts have attributed it to a combination of tighter U.S. border security measures and economic and demographic changes in Mexico, such as women having fewer children. A key — but largely overlooked — sign of these ebbing flows is the changing makeup of the undocumented populatio

When Bernie Sanders Becomes a Pragmatist

The passion of Bernie Sanders is so much a part of his persona that Larry David was able to capture it perfectly in this skit on Saturday Night Live . But one of the things I've noticed in every debate so far is that Sanders' demeanor and language changes pretty dramatically when the topic is gun control. He stops waving his arms, shouting, and talking about the big money that controls our politics. Instead, he talks about the need to reach out to opponents and work to find consensus. Sanders often refers to his own personal experience with gun owners in rural Vermont and his ability to understand them. I was reminded of that shift towards consensus-building and pragmatism when I read this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled: Why Precisely is Bernie Sanders Against Reparations ? As a prelude to that discussion, it is important to remember that in June 2014, Coates wrote a definitive article in The Atlantic on The Case for Reparations . It was widely acclaimed as being one of

Not Enough Popcorn!

I usually don't like to write about every stupid thing a Republican says - especially when that Republican is Sarah Palin. But today's antics are just too delicious to resist. As I write this, the possibility that Sarah Palin will endorse the candidacy of Donald Trump is still just a rumor. But her daughter, Bristol Palin , has already weighed in. Apparently Bristol is too busy with diapers to actually know whether or not her mother is going to endorse Trump. But she's obviously not too busy to write about it. And she's mad that the Cruz campaign said this in response to said rumor. “I think it [would] be a blow to Sarah Palin, because Sarah Palin has been a champion for the conservative cause, and if she was going to endorse Donald Trump, sadly, she would be endorsing someone who’s held progressive views all their life on the sanctity of life, on marriage, on partial-birth abortion,” Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said on CNN’s “New Day.” Apparently in the wor

What Do You Think of the Presidential Primary So Far?

The folks at First Read published some really interesting numbers from the latest NBC/WSJ poll today. Respondents were asked whether the primary made them feel more or less favorable to the Republican Party. Here are the results: African Americans: 57% less favorable, 5% more favorable (-52) Latinos: 45% less favorable, 13% more favorable (-32) Whites: 40% less favorable, 22% more favorable (-18) All: 42% less favorable, 19% more favorable (-23) By comparison, here is what those same groups said about how the primary was affecting their view of the Democratic Party. African Americans: 29% more favorable, 5% less favorable (+24) Latinos: 29% more favorable, 17% less favorable (+12) Whites: 33% less favorable, 14% more favorable (-19) All: 28% less favorable, 17% more favorable (-11) The numbers that stand out are those for African Americans (R -52/D +24) and Latinos (R -32/D +12). For white voters, the two parties are pretty even (R -18/D -19). While not a direct re

Media Loves Trump

If you ever doubted the media's love of the Donald Trump candidacy, this headline at Politico should disabuse you of that, How Donald Trump Defeats Hillary Clinton: Obama's black supporters are crucial to a Trump win, and pollsters say he has a chance with this bloc . Of course I had to click on that one to see what it was about. What candidate could possibly win the support of both White Nationalists and black voters? It didn't take long to find out that I had succumbed to click bait. “If he were the Republican nominee he would get the highest percentage of black votes since Ronald Reagan in 1980,” said Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz, referring to the year Reagan won 14 percent of that bloc of voters. “They listen to him. They find him fascinating, and in all the groups I have done, I have found Obama voters, they could’ve voted for Obama twice, but if they’re African-American they would consider Trump.” It turns out that the Politico reporter on this story,

Are Americans Willing to Hear "No" on Health Care?

For months now I have been saying that Bernie Sanders needed to release a plan on how single payer health insurance would work. Especially among Democrats, single payer is popular. But in order to know if we're really ready for that kind of change, we need more specifics. Just prior to last night's debate, Sanders released a plan . We can now see how he proposes to shift away from the current mix of health care funding to a single payer system. As part of the document, he identifies the taxes he would implement as an alternative. But Sanders also says this about cost savings: Other industrialized nations are making the morally principled and financially responsible decision to provide universal health care to all of their people—and they do so while saving money by keeping people healthier. Those who say this goal is unachievable are selling the American people short. It has always been an assumption that single payer would be cheaper than our current system because of l

Democratic Debate: Visions Clarified

In many ways, last night's Democratic debate (especially the first half) clarified the different visions Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have for this country. Clinton wants to build on the gains we've made during the Obama era and Sanders thinks we need a fundamental restructuring of our health care, finance and political systems. That is the basic question Democrats are being asked to consider in this primary. Just prior to the debate, Sanders released a plan for how he would pay for his proposal on single payer health insurance. And he's been pretty clear about his approach to Wall Street. But what I found most interesting were a couple of his exchanges about how he diagnoses the problem in our politics. We all know that both he and Clinton have plans for how to reign in the influence of money. But when the moderators asked about how the candidates would deal with the political polarization that exists today, Sanders made it clear what he sees as the source of the