Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Woman Who Could Be the First Democratic Senator From Kansas Since 1932


Kansas Republicans thought they had dodged a bullet when the so-called “establishment candidate,” Rep. Roger Marshall won the Senate primary against Kris Kobach, a Trump mini-me. But recent polls show that Marshall is in a dead heat with his opponent, Democrat Barbara Bollier.

Back in 2004, Thomas Frank put Kansas on the modern-day political map with his book titled, What’s the Matter With Kansas? In his telling, “conservatives won the heart of America” by convincing Kansans to vote against their own economic interests in an effort to defend traditional cultural values against the bicoastal elites. Does Frank’s analysis still apply?

We know that Trump’s Republican Party, now that it’s passed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, has no agenda other than the so-called “culture wars” against women, people of color, immigrants and LGBTQ Americans. That’s what animates the Republican base of nostalgia voters, including those in Kansas. It should have propelled Kobach to victory in the 2018 Kansas governor’s race. But it didn’t. 

Prior to running as the Democratic nominee for Senate, Barbara Bollier was one of four Kansas state legislators who left the Republican Party back in early 2019. All four were women representing suburban districts just outside Kansas City, MO in the congressional district where Democrat Sharice Davids was elected in 2018. Explaining her decision to switch parties, Bollier said, “Conservatives, or the further-right faction of the Republican Party, have continued and continued and continued to try to force those of us of the moderate mind out of the party.” 

With that kind of shift going on in Kansas suburbs, it is important to also take a look at what is happening in rural areas of the state. While anecdotal, journalist James Fallows and his wife Deborah spent some time in small-town western Kansas in 2016, where Hispanic immigrants now make up over half of the population. They asked everyone they met one question: “How has Kansas handled this shift in demography?” Here’s what they heard:

Every single person we have spoken with — Anglo and Latino and other, old and young, native-born and immigrant, and so on down the list — every one of them has said: We need each other! There is work in this community that we all need to do. We can choose to embrace the world, or we can fade and die. And we choose to embrace it.

None of that means that Kansas is likely to go blue anytime soon. But Trump’s 20 point lead in the 2016 election is now down to just under nine points, according to the polling aggregate at FiveThirtyEight. But the major threat that has Kansas Republicans worried about the Senate race is that there are obviously voters who support the president, but plan to vote for Bollier. She captured some of that in a recent television ad.

That is not the kind of message that will please progressive Democrats, but it’s worth remembering that Kansas is the state that elected the first woman to serve a full term in the Senate without her husband having previously served in Congress. That would be Nancy Kassenbaum, a truly moderate Republican who held this Senate seat from 1978 to 1997. Kassenbaum recently endorsed Bollier saying, “I’ve known Barbara for many years, and she has the character, know-how, and compassion to represent all communities in our state.

As Burdett Loomis, Professor of Political Science at the College of Liberal Arts and Science, wrote, it is Marshall who is the true radical. Especially given that both candidates are doctors (Bollier an anesthesiologist and Marshall an OB-GYN), healthcare is a major issue in this race. Polls have shown that significant majorities of Kansans support the expansion of Medicaid. But Marshall fought hard for the repeal Obamacare in 2017 and continues to campaign on a “repeal and replace” health care platform, which he quotes the Bible to support.

Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us." There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves. Just, like, homeless people. … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care.

It is one thing to oppose Obamacare. But it should be offensive to anyone with an ounce of humanity for a politician to use the Bible to suggest that poor people just don’t want health care

This Senate race is rated “likely Republican” by both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Others that are more likely to flip and give Democrats a majority include the races in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Iowa, and North Carolina. But Bollier actually has a shot, which is astounding given that Kansans haven’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.

We're Likely to See an Epic Showdown at Fox News on Election Night

Donald Trump has made it perfectly clear how he plans to try to steal the election. He'll declare victory on election night and then attempt to stop the counting of mail-in ballots via his disinformation campaign about fraud. His hope is to create enough chaos to force the issue to the Supreme Court or Congress, where he expects to have the advantage. 

The Biden campaign and Democrats have assembled a team to handle the legal challenges. But this will be a public relations battle as well. That's where the role of the media will come into play and, as I've already suggested, they should be planning now for how they will handle the scenario that the president has telegraphed will come. 

Recognizing all of that, David Ignatius at the New York Times talked to senior political journalists at Fox News, ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC to find out how they are planning to cover "the results of a presidential contest unlike any other in our history." What he heard is somewhat reassuring. 

David Chalian, the political director at CNN, explained: 'If someone out there is claiming victory, and we haven’t counted the vote yet and made a call, we have to be clear that the facts don’t back up that claim. . . . One thing that’s critical is that we be as transparent as possible about what is and isn’t in the vote count, and what we know about the still-outstanding vote.'

Even Bret Baier, who will be co-anchoring election night coverage for Fox News, said that "If the difference in the number of absentee ballots yet to be counted is too large, you can’t make the call.”  Will Baier's statement hold sway under the scenario posed by Ben Smith?

The nightmare scenario goes like this: It’s a close race, and Mr. Trump leads in the early vote count in Pennsylvania, and needs just that state to win the election. Tens of thousands of votes are still untallied, and the counting may take weeks — but Mr. Trump has already declared that he’s been re-elected. He’s demanding that Fox do the same, making calls to Fox Corporation’s co-chairman, Rupert Murdoch, or working back channels to the executive who effectively runs the network, Viet Dinh. Mr. Trump’s most loyal acolytes at Fox, the prime-time hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, are backing the president’s claim on the air. And Fox faces the temptation it often succumbs to: offering its audience the alternate reality it wants.

Smith used that scenario to introduce us to Arnon Mishkin, who is in charge of the decision desk at Fox News. You might remember that on election night 2012, Karl Rove challenged a call by the decision desk that Barack Obama had won the state of Ohio. In response, Megan Kelly brought Mishkin on camera. He emphatically stood by his call and, as it turned out, he was right.

Smith describes Mishkin and Fox News pollster Dana Blanton as "wonky reality-based election nerds" who operate fairly independently due to a rather chaotic hierarchy at the organization. That's why we regularly see tweets like this from the president.

Trump is going to at least need Fox News to back up his declaration of victory on election night in order to spark the kind of chaos he hopes to create. That could set up an epic showdown that will make the one between Mishkin and Rove in 2012 look like child's play. It might be worth renewing my cable subscription just to watch that one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Is the Durham October Surprise Fizzling?

As we head into the last month of this election season, we are approaching the time when political analysts expect a so-called “October surprise.” One that has been bandied about as a possibility stems from Attorney General Barr’s assertion that he won’t wait until after the election to release the findings of U.S. Attorney Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. But there are some indications that one could be fizzling. Here is a timeline of recent events related to that investigation.

Durham interviewed former CIA Director John Brennan - August 22, 2020

According to multiple news reports, the Durham investigation has focused on a claim that Brennan politicized the intelligence indicating that Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election was aimed at supporting Trump’s candidacy—which has been refuted by both the Mueller probe and the bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

According to Brennan’s spokesperson, Nick Shapiro, the former CIA director was interviewed by Durham for eight hours last month, indicating that the investigation was in its final stage. Shapiro also stated that, while “Brennan expressed appreciation for the professional manner in which Mr. Durham and his team conducted the interview,” he “also told Mr. Durham that the repeated efforts of Donald Trump and William Barr to politicize Mr. Durham’s work have been appalling and have tarnished the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice.”

Durham’s top aid resigned from the investigation - September 11, 2020

Federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy, who had worked with Durham for decades, was recruited to join the investigation soon after it was launched. In reporting on her resignation, the Hartford Courant noted that her colleagues said that it was “at least partly out of concern that the investigative team is being pressed for political reasons to produce a report before its work is done.”

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials leaked information about the investigation to a right wing reporter - September 24, 2020

Paul Sperry is the reporter at RealClearPolitics who was the first journalist to out the name of the whistleblower in the Ukraine matter that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment. According to his most recent report, he was the recipient of leaks from senior U.S. intelligence officials claiming that Brennan “overruled dissenting analysts who concluded Russia favored Clinton.”

The so-called “evidence” Sperry points to includes the fact that a Brennan protege, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, was involved in writing the intelligence community assessment that exposed Putin’s motives for interfering in the 2020 election. Taylor’s other supposedly spurious ties include the fact that she donated money to the Clinton campaign and had worked with the person Sperry outed as a whistleblower. 

The intelligence officials who leaked this information to Sperry also claim that Putin must have favored Clinton in the 2016 election because, while serving as Secretary of State, she was involved in the “reset” of relations with Russia. What they fail to mention is that the reset was launched while Dmitry Medvedev was still president of Russia and the endeavor soured when Putin was once again elected in 2012. Competent intelligence officials would be aware of this rather dramatic turnaround, which was captured in detail by Obama’s ambassador to Russia at the time, Michael McFaul.

New York Times reported that Durham is looking into the Clinton Foundation - September 24, 2020

Based on information from “people familiar with the matter,” the NYT reported that Durham “has sought documents and interviews about how federal law enforcement officials handled an investigation around the same time into allegations of political corruption at the Clinton Foundation.” 

Given that U.S. Attorney John Huber, who was tasked with investigating the claims made by Steve Bannon and Peter Schwizer, “found nothing worth pursuing,” this appears to be a move to find something—or anything—with which to tarnish Trump’s opponents. 

Maria Bartiromo announced that the Durham report isn’t likely to be released prior to the election - September 27, 2020

Bartiromo claims that, while a report isn’t likely to be issued prior to the election, the investigation is significant and is expanding to include the Clinton Foundation. 

It is difficult to determine what to make of these seemingly contradictory events. But it is very possible that there is dissension in the ranks of the Durham investigation that goes beyond Dannehy and could extend to Durham himself—putting him at odds with the attorney general. Barr’s calculation might be that it is better to keep Trump supporters speculating on the nefarious deeds of members of the Obama-Biden administration than release a report exonerating people like Brennan of any wrongdoing. If that is the case, it would be somewhat reassuring to know that there are still people in the Department of Justice who aren’t willing to corrupt its efforts in service of punishing Donald Trump’s enemies or to help him win the election.

Monday, September 28, 2020

No, Amy Coney Barrett Is Not the New Feminist Icon

By all accounts Amy Coney Barrett is an intelligent woman. Noah Feldman, who expects to disagree with her on most of her future opinions and votes, described Barrett as "a brilliant and conscientious lawyer." Of course, she seems to have grown up in a fairly privileged environment, as the daughter of a lawyer with Shell Oil Company and a high school French teacher. Living in the suburbs of New Orleans, Barrett attended an all-girls private high school before going on to college and graduate school. But as intelligent as Barrett might be, she is not a "new feminist icon," as Erika Bachiochi has written.

Let's take a look at how Bachiochi makes that claim. The entire argument is based on the fact that Barrett and her husband are the parents of seven children. In the ultimate "you can have it all," they've done so while advancing their professional careers. Barrett has suggested that it's all about teamwork.

We were open to either one of us staying home at different points. … What’s really made it work is that it’s very much a team effort. … Right now … Jesse is really doing much more of the heavy lifting … the cooking and kids’ doctor’s appointments during the day. We’ve gone in cycles and right now … he’s doing a little bit more of the home stuff. ... We evaluated at every step whether things were working well for the family, for the job I was in … but it was always working and it worked well: the kids were very happy, I loved teaching.

In addition, Barrett credits her husband's aunt, who provided child care for more than a decade. Even though women all over the globe have been teaming up with their children's fathers and extended family members to care for their children for decades now, Bachiochi seems to think that this arrangement is somehow unique to Barrett and poses a "new feminism."

Bachiochi uses that argument to write that Barrett "builds upon the praiseworthy antidiscrimination work of Ginsburg" by insisting on equal responsibilities (not just rights) for men and women. 

In this new feminism, sexual equality is found not in imitating men’s capacity to walk away from an unexpected pregnancy through abortion, but rather in asking men to meet women at a high standard of mutual responsibility, reciprocity and care.

Call us greedy, but actual feminists want both. We want the ability to chose what to do with our bodies AND for men to share in the responsibilities of caring for their children. 

In pointing out that workplace accommodations have also been a significant contributor to Barrett's ability to pursue both motherhood and a career, Bachiochi actually suggests that women should have MORE babies in order to press harder for those accommodations. See if you can catch the flaw in this one.

[Barrett] points to the flexibility of her workplace and credits the growing presence of women in the legal profession as giving rise to better working conditions than when she was a young lawyer: “As women are more present in law schools … on faculties, at law firms … the workplace bends to be more flexible as women seek those accommodations.” As women seek those accommodations … by bearing and raising children rather than sacrificing their very lives on the altar of the marketplace instead.

This is where privilege raises its ugly head. Law schools and law firms might be more responsive to the needs of a pregnant woman than the shift manager at McDonalds. Bachiochi takes her point a step further and actually blames Roe v Wade for allowing women to have abortions rather than press employers for accommodation. It's almost as if, in her world, sexism doesn't exist. She implies that women would be more valued in the workplace if they simply didn't have abortions. 

For Bachiochi, the lives of women who are less fortunate aren't even acknowledged—those who struggle on their own (often without extended family) to put food on the table by working at jobs that don't even provide sick leave, much less maternity leave. A woman working at a minimum wage job could march right up to the boss's office and tell them that she demands accommodation for a pregnancy...and she'd be bounced out as fast as you can say "feminist icon."

As we honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is helpful to remember that she was a feminist icon precisely because she understood how a Supreme Court ruling can effect poor women. Here's what she told Jay Rosen about the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade.

If we imagine the worst-case scenario, with Roe v. Wade overruled, there would remain many states that would not go back to the way it once was. It doesn’t matter what Congress or the state legislatures do, there will be other states that provide this facility, and women will have access to it if they can pay for it. Women who can’t pay are the only women who would be affected.

Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Two generations of young women have grown up understanding that they can control their own reproductive capacity and in fact their life’s destiny. We will never go back to the way it once was. Roe v. Wade, in its time, was not all that controversial. It was a seven-to-two decision, only two dissenters. Even at the time of Roe v. Wade, there were four states where a woman who wanted an abortion, at least in the first trimester, could have access to a safe, legal abortion. And now, it would be a lot more than four states. What that means is any woman who has the wherewithal to travel, to take a plane, to take a train to a state that provides access to abortion, that woman will never have a problem. Any woman who has the means to travel from one state to another—you don’t have to go to Japan or Cuba—will have access to a safe abortion. So it’s the poor people—whatever the state legislation may be, whatever the Court may do—it is only poor women who will suffer.

In that perspective, Ginsburg was demonstrating what former President Barack Obama outlined as the third quality he looked for in a Supreme Court nominee. They included not only that the person be imminently qualified and recognize the role of the judiciary, but also this:

The third quality I seek in a judge is a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook.  It’s the kind of life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom; experience that suggests he or she views the law not only as an intellectual exercise, but also grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.  That, I believe, is an essential element for arriving at just decisions and fair outcomes. 

To qualify for a seat on the Supreme Court—and even more so as a feminist icon—a nominee must have either lived on the margins of society or have the ability to empathize with those who are less privileged. I have seen nothing to indicate that Amy Coney Barrett, for all of her supposed intelligence, passes that test. 

From Wellstone to Weeks: The Uprooted Election in Minnesota's Second Congressional District

Until last week, no one was paying a lot of attention to the race in Minnesota’s second congressional district. Incumbent Democrat Angie Craig has been running ahead of her Republican challenger, Tyler Kistner, in a suburban district that has mirrored the swing towards Democrats over the last few years. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball
rates the seat “likely Democrat,” while the Cook Political Report has it “lean Democrat.” 

But then Adam Weeks, representing the Legal Marijuana Now Party in the race, died suddenly at the age of 38. The cause of his death is unknown at the moment. But a friend of Weeks, Joey Hudson, told the Star Tribune that he had been worried about the candidate’s health.

He had a bad ski accident the year before and was recovering from addiction, Hudson said, adding that he should not have been out walking miles on the campaign trail.

Weeks had supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 but was also concerned about the major parties, Hudson said. Hudson also said Weeks was wooed to run for office by “hard-core Republican, borderline QAnon-type guys,” and the duplicitous nature of the campaign was also wearing on him.

Lest anyone assume that the Legal Marijuana Now Party would, by definition, be left-wing, Weeks was a Trump supporter who had been talked into running by “borderline QAnon-type guys” on a three-point platform: (1) end the war on drugs, (2) legalize marijuana, and (3) weed out corruption. In other words, his candidacy resembled the attempts by Republicans to get Kanye West on the presidential ballot in some states. 

The issue raised by the death of Weeks is that, following the 2018 election results, the Legal Marijuana Now Party met Minnesota’s requirements for being declared a “major party.” That means that a law passed by Democrats following the death of Senator Paul Wellstone has been triggered for the first time. 

Wellstone was killed in a plane crash just eleven days before the 2002 election. According to Minnesota law at the time, ballots cast for him prior to his death could not be counted for Walter Mondale, who agreed to step in as the Democratic nominee. Republican Norm Coleman went on to beat Mondale by just over two points. 

Demonstrating the pitfalls of legislation via anecdote, Democrats passed a bill in 2013 that would delay an election until February if a candidate from a major party dies within 79 days of an election. In light of that, MN Secretary of State Steve Simon issued a statement on the current situation in the second congressional district, saying that “the law is clear on what happens next. If a major party nominee dies within 79 days of Election Day; a special election will be held for that office on the second Tuesday of February (February 9, 2021).” In the meantime, the seat for the second district will remain open from the end of the lame duck session in December until after the special election in February.

Rep. Craig issued a statement suggesting that “there are still many outstanding questions” and urged voters to “continue to vote for the entire ballot, including for this congressional race.” Those questions stem from the fact that the Minnesota law hasn’t faced legal scrutiny and contradicts a federal statute which requires that House elections be held on “the Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November.”

If the Minnesota law is upheld, it is unclear if the delay would boost the candidacy of Tyler Kistner, who has been outraised by Craig five to one. Kistner failed to report his fundraising totals last quarter, indicating that he had not raised or spent the $5,000 threshold required to file. For all of their talk about winning in Minnesota, Republicans have been ignoring the suburbs and focusing all of their attention on rural areas where the party is already strong. But all of that could change if this becomes the only contest on everyone’s radar in February.

In a long-shot scenario, this seat could become relevant to the presidential race in the event of an Electoral College tie, where the outcome is decided in the House. If that should happen, each congressional delegation gets one vote, with the current partisan split in Minnesota at 5-3 in favor of Democrats. That becomes a 4-3 advantage if this seat remains open. But there are two other congressional races in Minnesota that are currently rated as toss-ups: one Republican and one Democrat. If both went to Republicans, their delegation would have a 4-3 advantage and Minnesota could go for Trump, regardless of the popular vote in the state. 

"With fear for our democracy, I dissent."

My title is how Justice Sonia Sotomayor concluded her dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court case granting presidents criminal immunity for...