Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Biden Was Right to Call MAGA Republicans "Semi-Fascist"

The other day Bill Kristol tweeted something that I found fascinating. Someone had tweeted a picture of "manly man" Seb Gorka holding a rifle. Kristol responded with this: 

Other than recognizing the name, I didn't know anything about Umberto Eco. I was curious what he meant by "Ur-Fascist," so I googled and found the article Eco had written about it. He was born in 1932 and grew up under Italy's Mussolini. Most of the article contains references to various forms of fascism with specifics that - not being a historian - I am not acquainted with. But eventually it comes down to this central point he was making (emphasis mine):
The contradictory picture I describe was not the result of tolerance but of political and ideological discombobulation. But it was a rigid discombobulation, a structured confusion. Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations...Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist.

So Eco invented the word Ur-Fascist.

[I]n spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

He goes on to list 14 features of Ur-Fascism, one of which is quoted by Bill Kristol in the tweet up above. Here they are:

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition...As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism...The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism...For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups...

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism...

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies...However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak...

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world...

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party...

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death...The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say...For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter...There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak...All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.

According to Eco, those are the 14 features of Ur-Fascism. Please note what he said: "it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it." I was struck by the fact that every one of them could be applied to MAGA Republicans - some more obviously than others. 

We are witnessing one of the two major political parties in this country coalesce around what Eco described as Ur-Fascism. I am not someone who is given to fiery rhetoric, so that isn't a fear-mongering statement. It is simply a fact. In other words, President Biden was right.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

After Success With the Clintons in 2016, Right Wingers Fail to Sell Their Lies About the Bidens

In the coming months, House Republicans have made it clear that Hunter Biden's laptop will be the new Benghazi. They'll hold endless hearings and proclaim outrage ad nauseam. But here's the kicker: given that right wingers have been in possession of copies of the laptop for 2 1/2 years (which they claim to be authentic), they haven't produced a shred of credible evidence that implicates President Biden in any wrongdoing. If they had anything of substance, they would have been shouting it from the rooftops incessantly. 

Instead, the story they are more interested in has to do with claims that the media suppressed the story about the laptop. In some respects, they're right. Mainstream media hasn't jumped on the bandwagon...this time. What's interesting to note is that the same players and strategies that were successful in getting the media to buy into the lies about the Clinton Foundation in 2016 didn't work this time. 

You might recall that in 2015, Steve Bannon's business partner Peter Schweizer published a book titled "Clinton Cash." The premise was that Hilary Clinton used her position as Secretary of State to garner millions of dollars that flowed to the Clinton Foundation. 

Bannon and Schweizer were able to get the New York Times to publish a front-page story repeating these claims as if they had merit. After that, the story quieted down for awhile, until Bannon - via Breitbart - released a movie version on YouTube just before the Democratic Convention in 2016. 

After that, major outlets like the Associated Press and Washington Post picked up the story and ran with it. The Berkman Klien Center at Harvard documented how that happened in a report titled: "Dynamics of Network Propaganda: Clinton Foundation Case Study."

Even after the election, these same players refused to let the story go. Using his platform at The Hill, John Solomon continued to spread the lies relentlessly. It was at that point that Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed a special counsel to look into the story. Of course, he found nothing.

In a profile of Steve Bannon, Joshua Green wrote rather extensively about this strategy. Here is what it all comes down to:

The reason [Bannon] does this is because it’s the secret to how conservatives can hack the mainstream media. [Wynton] Hall has distilled this, too, into a slogan: “Anchor left, pivot right.” It means that “weaponizing” a story onto the front page of the New York Times (“the Left”) is infinitely more valuable than publishing it on Breitbart.com…

The same players (along with a few new faces) tried the same thing in the lead-up to the 2020 election. The roots of the whole laptop story are embedded in the idea that, as vice-president, Joe Biden used his position to stop the Ukrainian investigation into Burisma, a company that was paying Hunter Biden to sit on its board. You'll never guess where that one started...in a book written by Peter Schweizer titled "Secret Empires."

We don't know if Bannon and Schweizer shopped that story around to major news outlets, but we do know that the New York Times and other organizations published stories about the unsavory nature of Hunter Biden's business activities. 

Then in 2018, a new player came on board - Rudy Giuliani. While he was traveling around trying to get dirt on the Biden's, Solomon was writing articles filled with lies about the family's ties to corruption in Ukraine. By the spring of 2019, Giuliani, Schweizer, and Solomon became regular guests on Fox News to peddle their lies, but that's about as far as things went...until Bloomberg News busted the entire premise of their claims in May. Their reporters gathered evidence that Ukrainian prosecutors were not, in fact, investigating Burisma at the time that VP Biden called for their removal from office.

That should have been the end of it. But as we all know, that July Trump attempted to pressure Ukrainian President Zelensky into investigating the Bidens by withholding military support. With impeachment, it looked like the whole story had backfired. 

But six months after the Senate failed to convict Trump, Giuliani somehow found himself in possession of a copy of the hard drive from Hunter Biden's laptop. We know that he shopped that story around to multiple outlets - who all refused it - before finally getting some folks at the New York Post (one of Rupert Murdoch's right wing publications) to run with it. 

In response, some reporters at the New York Times published an article titled, "Their First Try Backfired, but Giuliani and Allies Keep Aiming at Biden." They open the piece by reporting that, on the weekend that the NY Post published their story about Hunter Biden's laptop, Giuliani and Bannon met in the apartment of one of their collaborators - Guo Wengui - to celebrate the resurgence of the story they'd been trying to sell for years. But these reporters weren't buying it (emphasis mine).

Mr. Giuliani and his allies — operating in parallel with a loosely linked network of conservatives — are in effect trying to recreate the blueprint Mr. Trump and his allies employed in 2016...But, as the anti-Biden forces quickly discovered, 2020 is not 2016.

While the president has promoted the material relentlessly, many of the Trump-friendly news outlets and other organizations that sustained the effort four years ago have been diminished or sidelined. Their 2020 replacements have had less reach, and the anti-Biden material they have been pumping out has been met with heightened skepticism from traditional news outlets and social media platforms determined to avoid being seen as abetting dirty tricks.

It would have been nice if these reporters had acknowledged the fact that the news organization they work for had been used for these "dirty tricks" in 2016.  But alas, that seems to be a bridge too far. 

So after their success with the Clintons in 2016, the right wing cabal totally failed to get mainstream media to bite on their lies about the Bidens. That's why, with an assist from Elon Musk and his "Twitter Files," the whole story has evolved into one about suppression. They're trying to "work the refs." However, as far as I can see, that one isn't working either. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Getting Rid of Trump Won't Save Republicans

With Raphael Warnock's win in Georgia on Tuesday night, the 2022 midterms are over and pundits will turn their attention to the 2024 election. When it comes to the presidential race, the question on the right is, "if not Trump, then who?"

In order to understand the dilemma Republicans face, it is important to look at how they got here. The two major moves were (1) the Southern Strategy, which aligned the party with white racists, and (2) the use of abortion and gay marriage to align the party with white evangelicals. From the 1970s to 2008, those issues were used to rile up the party's base, while the establishment implemented their policies of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, and a hawkish foreign policy. That worked for the GOP, until the disaster of the George W. Bush presidency. By the end of his two terms, those policies had given us the Great Recession, two seemingly endless wars in the Middle East, and a horrific response to Hurricane Katrina.

In 2008, we elected Barack Obama - the country's first African American president. Given the abject failure of their policies, Republicans decided on a strategy of total obstruction. No matter what the issue, if Democrats were for it, they were against it. That not only relieved them of having to actually articulate an agenda for governing, right wing news outlets fanned the flames of racism to justify the obstruction. It was suggested that President Obama was a secret Muslim who didn't love America. That worked to keep their racist white evangelical base fired up.

In 2012 Mitt Romney ran on the party's failed policies of the past and lost. Republicans also lost two seats in the Senate and eight in the House. That is when the GOP performed an autopsy, which suggested that the party needed to do more to reach out to people of color, women, and young voters. Those recommendations were totally rejected as Republicans simply doubled down on their racism and obstruction. 

After giving the Democrats a "shellacking" in 2014, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. But other than ousting Boehner as Speaker and installing Paul Ryan, they failed to get much of anything done.

In June 2015, Donald Trump announced that he would run for president as a Republican. He did so after spending three years spreading racist birther lies about Barack Obama. During his announcement speech, he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals - then went on to talk about banning Muslim immigrants. In other words, he overtly tapped into the racist fears and hatreds of the GOP base. Along with an assist from mainstream media and FBI Director Comey, Trump was successful in spreading lies about "crooked Hillary" and won in the Electoral College.

Since then, Republicans have struggled in 2018, 2020, and 2022. So what now? Trump has already announced that he will run again in 2024. But he's old and is facing possible criminal charges on several fronts. While he still maintains a loyal base, some in his party are getting tired of losing - and blame him. 

If Trump was removed from the equation, the question I would pose to the GOP is not so much "who?" but "what?" When it comes to actual policies, the ones embraced by the party in the past are still unpopular - that includes those focused on economic issues or foreign policy. What's left are the so-called "culture wars." While the Republican take on those issues is also unpopular, they still fire up the base of racist white evangelicals.

Here's the problem Republicans face when it comes to the culture wars. They aren't fought over ideas, but emotions (hatred, fear, grievance, etc). Those emotions not only need to be fed constantly, the impact wears off after a while and the effort to ignite them needs to be ramped up. Like alcohol/drug addiction, a tolerance develops and dosage needs to be increased to get the same high. 

How far can the GOP go with this trajectory? In 1981, Lee Atwater described the "dog whistle" element of the Southern Strategy.

By 1968 you can't say "n****r"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

As recently as 2006, anti-civil rights activist Edward Blum wrote that "Republicans don’t want to be branded as hostile to minorities, especially just months from an election."

Ten years later, a Republican presidential candidate called Mexicans rapists and criminals. He went on to win (at least in the Electoral College) and recently had dinner with people who openly brag about the fact that they love Nazis. 

If Republicans reject Trump, their base is certainly not going to respond to candidates who talk about repealing New Deal programs to reduce the federal deficit. More tax cuts for the wealthy aren't going to cut it. All they've got are the culture wars, which means they need to ramp up hatred and fear of the "enemy." How someone does that by taking things up a notch from where Trump left off is hard to imagine. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Was Twitter Right to Ban the Hunter Biden Laptop Story?

For the last couple of years, I've pretty much ignored the whole Hunter Biden laptop story. That's because I don't really care much about what private citizen Hunter did/didn't do. But now that Elon Musk owns Twitter and Republicans gained a majority in the House, it is clear we're going to be hearing about the president's son nonstop. So I decided that it was finally time to get some information to debunk the lies that are spreading like wildfire.

When it comes to the ridiculous "expose" from Musk and his buddy Matt Taibbi, I'll simply note that the only way they've shown that Joe Biden intervened on Twitter was to provide examples of his campaign asking the site to review pornographic tweets. That's it. Perhaps the best response to that one came from Tim Miller in an article titled "No, You Do Not Have a Constitutional Right to Post Hunter Biden’s Dick Pic on Twitter." Here's my favorite line from that one:

Why MAGA Republicans and Elon Musk are so adamant that people be able to post photos of Hunter’s johnson is something that should probably be explored with their respective preachers or psychiatrists, but it is certainly not a matter for constitutional scholars or litigators.

But Taibbi also included a few emails of discussions at Twitter about their decision to ban references to New York Post stories about Hunter Biden's laptop. A lot of people are saying that the social media site made a mistake in doing so. I would suggest that it is important to look at the context in which they made that decision - something that Philip Bump did last March. Here's a timeline that helps do that:

May 2017: In addition to their efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, Russian intelligence hacked Emmanuel Macron's campaign and leaked data - as well as fake information - to social media sites 36 hours before the French election. This mixing of hacked data with fake information is worth noting.

Nov. 2019 - Russian intelligence hacked Burisma, the Ukrainian company that had hired Hunter Biden.

Oct. 2019 - U.S. intelligence warned Trump that Rudy Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence. In attempting to dig up dirt on the Biden's, the president's lawyer had several meetings with Andrii Derkach (a Ukrainian legislator), who was sanctioned as a Russian agent.

December 19, 2019 - the FBI receives Hunter Biden's laptop based on a subpoena. All subsequent news reports are based on copies of the hard drive.

Aug. 2020 - Guiliani is in possession of material from the hard drive of the laptop. He shops it around to news outlets, all of whom passed on it - even Fox News. After the New York Post took it, Giuliani said, "nobody else wanted to take it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it [ie, vet the material] before they put it out." Multiple reporters at the New York Post turned the story down too.

Oct. 11, 2020 - New York Post gets the material and publishes their first story three days later on Oct. 14. One of the two reporters whose names appeared on the byline didn’t realize she would be included as a coauthor until after the stories ran. When other news outlets asked to review the material on which the story was based, the New York Post refused to share it with them.

Oct. 20, 2020 - Fifty national security experts, who had served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed on to a statement that included this:

[T]he arrival on the US political scene of emails purportedly belonging to Vice President Biden’s son Hunter, much of it related to his time serving on the Board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.

We want to emphasize that we do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement -- just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.

That is the context in which Twitter made the decision to block the spread of the New York Post story. In hindsight, did they do the right thing? A couple of pieces of information that have surfaced since then validate that, at minimum, they were right to be skeptical of the story.

First of all, last spring the Washington Post finally got a copy of the material from the hard drive in order to analyze its authenticity. 

We had multiple experts examine the contents of a hard drive that purported to contain the laptop’s contents, validating tens of thousands of emails as likely to be legitimate. But an enormous amount of the material on the drive couldn’t be validated as legitimate, in part because of the game of telephone that the material had undergone by the time it reached us...

“The experts found the data had been repeatedly accessed and copied by people other than Hunter Biden over nearly three years,” our report explained, with those we spoke with being unable to “reach definitive conclusions about the contents as a whole, including whether all of it originated from a single computer or could have been assembled from files from multiple computers and put on the portable drive.”

Secondly, last April Philip Bump found this from an interview with the owner of the computer repair shop - John Paul Mac Isaac - who gave Giuliani a copy of the material on the hard drive.

"I do know that there have been multiple attempts over the past year-and-a-half to insert questionable material into the laptop as in, not physically, but passing off this misinformation or disinformation as coming from the laptop,” [Mac Issac] said. “And that is a major concern of mine because I have fought tooth and nail to protect the integrity of this drive and to jeopardize that is going to mean that everything that I sacrificed will be for nothing.”

In other words, Mac Isaac says that he has seen claims about what the laptop contains that don’t actually reflect what he saw on the laptop at the outset.

So Twitter - as well as everyone from Fox News to a few reporters at the New York Post - were right to be skeptical about the Hunter Biden laptop story. Two years later, that skepticism is still warranted. Those are the facts.

I'll just add that the stakes of getting this kind of thing right are enormous. A few years ago,  Peter Pomerantsev wrote about how Vladimir Putin was taking propaganda to a whole new level. The line that stuck with me was, "This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible." I thought of that when I heard Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa explain how all of that is connected to the threats being posed to democracy.

Here's her formula: Facts + Truth = Trust. Without those elements, we have no shared reality and democracy is imperiled. When people like Elon Musk use claims of "free speech" to spread lies, he doing what Ressa suggested: using free speech to stifle free speech. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Disney's "Woke" Leader Returns, Which Doesn't Bode Well for DeSantis

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been some developments in the whole story about DeSantis vs Disney. First of all, Disney's board of directors fired their current CEO, Bob Chapek, and rehired the guy who preceded him in that position, Bob Iger. I didn't pay much attention to that news until I saw this tweet from Christopher Rufo (the right winger who is central to their culture wars). 

My first thought was that this could provide the excuse Gov. DeSantis needs to get out of the mess he created with Disney. He could claim that, with new leadership, it's time to bury the hatchet. That would solve the problem of Disney's $1 billion in bond debt falling on Florida taxpayers if he follows through with revoking the company's special district status.

Yesterday a report in the Financial Times confirmed my suspicions. It is titled, "Florida prepares U-turn on Disney’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ punishment." Apparently they got the scoop from one of the Florida Republican legislators who wrote the initial bill.

[S]tate lawmakers are working on a compromise that would allow Disney to keep the arrangement largely in place with a few modifications. Some believe the return of Bob Iger as CEO last month will help pave they way for a resolution, according to people briefed on the plan.

Randy Fine, the Republican lawmaker who drafted the law to end Disney’s control over the 25,000-acre Reedy Creek property, said that Chapek’s removal from executive office last week improved the chances that “something will get sorted out” over the district.

You have to read to the 12th paragraph of that story to hear about the $1 billion in bonds - which the Financial Times notes as an aside. The emphasis is all on the idea that Iger will be more open to compromise.

That story prompted me to do a little digging to learn more about Chapek and Iger. The latter stepped down from his position as CEO of Disney in 2020, after 15 years of running the company. Chapek only ran the company for two years before being replaced by his predecessor. 

The Florida "don't say gay" bill was passed on March 8, 2022 and signed by DeSantis on March 28 - all during Chapek's term as CEO. As the bill was being discussed, Iger tweeted this in February:

During an interview on CNN a couple of weeks later, Iger said this about that tweet. 

“A lot of these issues are not necessarily political,” Iger told CNN+ host Chris Wallace. “It’s about right and wrong. So, I happen to feel and I tweeted an opinion about the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida. To me, it wasn’t about politics. It is about what is right and what is wrong."

Chapek refused to take a stand and sent this email to employees on March 7th, the day before the bill was passed. 

“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” said the Disney exec in an email sent out to staff this morning. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame,” Chapek added. “Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”

In response to that message, Disney employees began to protest, staged walkouts, and created a website aimed at their boss called whereischapek.com. The CEO knew he had a big problem on his hands, so he reached out to DeSantis asking the governor to put a pause on the legislation and sit down in a meeting with himself and Disney officials representing the LGBTQ community. In a message to shareholders, Chapek indicated that DeSantis had agreed. 

But the meeting never happened. That's when Chapek finally spoke out publicly and Disney took at stand against the "don't say gay" bill. 

But the phone call from Chapek seemed to motivate DeSantis. The day after it took place, Fox News suddenly found themselves in possession of this video:

Thus began DeSantis's war on Disney. By April, the governor had signed a bill revoking the corporation's special tax status. Here's how Michael Kranish described the set-up:

The conflict also highlights the careful political calculus of DeSantis, who had previously said little publicly about gay rights issues.

“When Disney stumbled, DeSantis pounced,” said a person familiar with the episode who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. “They served it up to him on a silver platter.”

We'll probably never really know how big of a role all of this played in Chapek getting fired. But I assume that it was a major factor, as this paragraph from the Financial Times article indicates:

Iger’s full-throated opposition to the legislation, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, put pressure on Disney to reverse course this spring and come out against the bill after initially refusing to take a stand. The vacillation helped fuel a sense Chapek was struggling to make big calls as CEO.

That vacillation is what DeSantis saw...and pounced on. 

Meanwhile, Iger (who is actually responsible for Disney's messages about diversity and inclusion) is continuing to make his position perfectly clear. Here's what he said recently during a discussion with Disney employees:

“This company has been telling stories for 100 years, and those stories have had a meaningful, positive impact on the world, and one of the reasons they have had a meaningful, positive impact is because one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion and acceptance and tolerance, and we can’t lose that,” Iger said Monday.

For his part, DeSantis is denying the recent report in the Financial Times. A spokesman said that the governor "does not make U-turns" and that a plan for dealing with the revocation of Disney's special status is "in the works." One would have thought that a governor who "knows how to get things done" would have come up with a plan before pressuring the legislature to pass something this reckless. But let's wait and see what he can conjure up after-the-fact.

All I know is that, going forward, Florida's governor will be dealing with a whole different breed of corporate CEO. If this boils down to a battle between DeSantis and Iger, my money is on the latter. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Right Is Going to War with Corporate America

Perhaps like me, you're old enough to remember the days when Republicans fought to give corporations free speech rights by granting them the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on political causes. Or how about that time they celebrated the Supreme Court's decision to grant private corporations "personhood" by allowing them to claim religious freedom. As recently as 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney insisted that "corporations are people!"

Of course, all of that was predicated on the assumption that corporations would fall in line when it came to supporting Republicans. As we saw with Florida Governor DeSantis, it became time to punish corporations when they challenged his "don't say gay" bill. All of the sudden the Disney corporation doesn't have free speech rights anymore.

Over the last few years, a growing chorus on the right is beginning to claim that corporations are generally being led by "leftist elites" who are spreading a "woke agenda." Where is that coming from? 

Two years ago, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chair of the World Economic Forum, raised an important question, “What kind of capitalism do we want?” He posited that there were three potential alternatives.

1. Shareholder capitalism—is focused on maximizing short-term profits;
2. State capitalism—otherwise known as “democratic socialism”—trusts the government with setting the direction of the economy; or
3. Stakeholder capitalism—is a system in which corporations serve the interests of all their stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, and local communities.
For decades, shareholder capitalism has ruled the day in the Western world. All that mattered was producing profits. But primarily since the turn of the century, corporations and their investors have been leaning towards stakeholder capitalism. That commitment has led to the development of something called ESG data collection. 

1. Environmental aspect: Data is reported on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, deforestation, pollution, energy efficiency and water management.
2. Social aspect: Data is reported on employee safety and health, working conditions, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and conflicts/humanitarian crises.
3. Governance aspect: Data is reported on corporate governance such as preventing bribery, corruption, diversity of Board of Directors, executive compensation, cybersecurity/privacy practices, and management structure.

The theory is that corporations that pay attention to environmental, social, and governance issues are a reduced risk for investors. According to at least one study, that has been verified.
[O]ver the past five years US sustainability funds with a capitalization of $10 billion or more that focused on growth averaged an annual return of 14% while conventional non-ESG funds grew 11% a year.

If all of this is news to you, then you probably haven't been consuming right wing news. They have launched a massive campaign against ESG. For example, Fox News regularly runs anti-ESG segments. The right wing Heritage Foundation has published numerous anti-ESG articles, but its also gone so far as to start a whole campaign titled "ESG Hurts." The message is always: how dare corporations consider any factor other than short-term gains for shareholders! Of course, anyone who pays attention to environmental, social, and governance issues is merely buying in to the "woke liberal agenda."

But it isn't just right wing media. Trump's Labor Department issued a ruling that put roadblocks against a corporation's ability to consider ESG factors in employee retirement funds - a rule that is now being overturned by the Biden administration. Both Governor Abbott of Texas and DeSantis of Florida have moved to ban or restrict pension fund investment in companies that take ESG factors into consideration.

Of course, the hypocrisy of all this is demonstrated by the fact that, when corporate America (Hobby Lobby) wanted to restrict employee's access to birth control, Republicans were all for it. But if corporations take the risks associated with climate change into account, they're "forcing woke policies down American's throat without going to the ballot box."

This is all part of the movement on the right towards "National Conservatism." Rather than an open embrace of free markets, they want to use government to punish anyone who doesn't toe their line in the culture wars. If that means going to war with corporate America...so be it.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

How the Underclass Voted Is All About Race

One of the things I often think about following an election is how Barack Obama talked about the pundits trying to "slice and dice" the electorate during his 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention. Everyone who has an ax to grind tends to find a way to slice and dice the electorate to confirm their agenda. 

But someone who goes by the name Izzy on Twitter sliced the 2020 electorate in a way I haven't seen done before. He looked at how the poorest county in each state voted. Here's what he found:

Those results might surprise some folks. But it clarifies one thing: the poorest counties (as measured by median household income) where a majority of residents are white voted for Donald Trump. Other than in the Northeast, the poorest "blue counties" are where the majority is either African American, Native American or Latino. The one exception I found is Robeson County in North Carolina - which is approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 Native, and 1/3 African American - and has a fascinating history

As far as I can tell, all of the poorest counties are in rural areas. In states like Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, they are Indian reservations. In Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, they are majority Latino. In Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, the poorest counties are majority African American. In the red areas across the middle of the country, the poorest counties are primarily rural white. 

What this tells us is that, among the poorest counties in the U.S., the divide is primarily based on race. 

But there's something that a map like this obscures. We could pick any state to demonstrate, but since all eyes in the political world are on this one right now, let's do Georgia. The poorest county in that state is Clay, where the total population is 2,848. By comparison, the population of the city of Atlanta is 496,480. With a poverty rate of 18%, almost 90,000 people in Atlanta live in poverty - which is over 30 times the entire population of Clay County. 

To demonstrate that's no fluke, let's take a look at a very rural state - South Dakota. The population of its poorest county, Todd, is 9,319. But South Dakota's largest city is Sioux Falls, where almost 18,000 people live in poverty - twice the population of Todd.

Just to take things one step farther, there are almost as many people living in poverty in the richest county in Texas (Rockwall, a suburb of Dallas) as there are in the poorest county in the state, 5,500:6,000. 

Those kinds of numbers are important to keep in mind as the media (and some pundits) feed us stories about how the so-called "elite" in major metropolitan areas voted. In major cities/metropolitan areas, a data point like "median income" is meaningless given the diversity that often spans from uber-wealthy to extreme poverty. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Education Level =/= Class


There is a group of pundits who focus most of their time setting their hair on fire over the idea that Democrats are losing ground with working class voters. Ron Brownstein calls them neo-New Democrats. While I tend to disagree with their proposed strategies, it is also important to set the record straight on what they mean by working class voters.

The truth is that we really don't have a definition of what we mean by working class. The word "class" indicates that level of income is determinative. But for some reason, that definition is rejected. Instead, level of education is substituted - suggesting that those without a college degree are working class. 

In order to analyze the accuracy of that assumption, it is helpful to have some data. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a full-time employee in the United States is currently $53,490. So half of Americans make less than that and half make more. 

I decided to cherry-pick some professions where the average salary is slightly less than the median and compare those that require a college degree to those that don't.

  • An elementary school teacher makes about the same as a plumber ($48,300).
  • A social worker makes slightly less than a garbage truck driver ($49,250 vs $50,640).
  • A librarian makes less than a police officer ($50,300 vs $53,890)
  • A special ed teacher makes less than an automotive technician ($51,430 vs $53,290).
I was reminded of the fact that, in the early 90s - when I became the executive director of a small non-profit that required at least a bachelors degree for staff - my first order of business was to raise enough money to give everyone a salary increase. When I was successful, I met with each staff person individually to tell them what their new salary would be. One person told me that, for the first time, he'd be making as much money as he had as a landscaper.

For jobs that don't require a college degree, a few that make more than the median might surprise you. The average salary for a truck driver is $57,680 and pipe welders average $60,340. But here's the shocker: according to the USDA, the median total household income for farmers is $80,060. That's on par with a clinical psychologist, which requires at least a masters degree.

My point is that whether or not one has a college degree isn't always indicative of how much money one makes. As an aside, my cursory review seems to indicate that a more pronounced factor might be that professions where women have been the majority of workers seem to have lower salaries than those that have been dominated by men. 

To the extent that exit polls are accurate, Joe Biden won those making less than $50,000 by 11 points (55-44). Hillary Clinton's margin in 2016 was 12 points (53-41). In the 2022 midterms, Democrats won the group 52-45. 

But here's something to keep in mind: the less money you make, the less likely it is that you will vote (even more pronounced in midterms).


To the extent that we focus on income rather than education, we learn that Democrats are winning the support of people on the bottom. Perhaps the question we need to be asking is: "why aren't more of them voting?"

Monday, November 21, 2022

Democratic Candidates Outraised Their Republican Opponents 2:1

As pundits pour over the minutia that contributed to the outcome of the 2022 midterms, not many of them are paying attention to the fact that Democratic candidates outraised their Republican opponents 2:1. The closest I've seen is an article at the AP titled "GOP’s lackluster fundraising spurs post-election infighting." Here's some of the data they reported:

  • In Arizona, Masters was outraised nearly 8-to-1 by Kelly.
  • In Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto raised $52.8 million compared to Republican Adam Laxalt’s $15.5 million.
  • In Pennsylvania, Democratic Sen.-elect John Fetterman took in $16 million more than his GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. That’s despite the celebrity TV doctor lending $22 million to his campaign.
  • Similar disparities emerged in crucial House races, including in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia, helping to limit House Republicans to a surprisingly narrow majority.
It is important to keep in mind that the contributions described above were made directly to the candidate's campaigns. Where Republicans tend to make up ground is in big money contributions to super PACs. But those dollars come with some major restrictions. Super PACs can't coordinate directly with campaigns, which limits their ability to get involved in grassroots efforts to engage and mobilize voters. As a result, their money is primarily spent on television ads. But the kicker is that television stations are required by law to sell air time to candidates at their cheapest rate. But that doesn't apply to super PACs. Here are some examples of the difference:
  • In Las Vegas, a candidate could buy a unit of TV advertising for $598. That same segment cost a super PAC $4,500. 
  • In North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham media market, a $342 spot cost a super PAC $1,270.
  • A $580 candidate segment in the Philadelphia area cost a super PAC nearly $2,000.
Super PACs get much less bang-for-their-buck in the TV ad game. But this isn't a problem that just emerged in 2022. As I've been writing, the same discrepancies plagued Republicans in 2018 and 2020. The problem facing the GOP in trying to correct the imbalance stems from their affinity for corruption.

Since the success Democrats have had with grassroots fundraising was enabled by the web site ActBlue, Republicans attempted to replicate it with their own - WinRed. But last summer the watchdog group, Campaign Legal Center, filed a complaint with the FEC about the site's lack of transparency.

Similarly, Senator Rick Scott - who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee - seems to have blown much of the money he raised on questionable activities. In addition to spending enormously on paid consultants who didn't produce anything, the NRSC did this:

The committee would send text messages that didn’t say who they were from, but simply said: “This is URGENT! Do YOU support Trump? Reply YES to donate $25.” Users who replied yes, had their credit cards charged (thanks to their numbers being on file with payment processing company WinRed), and that was it.

Not surprisingly, Goldmacher notes that the amount the committee has had to refund has quadrupled since 2020.

With the Georgia senate run-off just around the corner, here's Scott's latest scam: 

Of course, the one person in the GOP who can potentionally raise small donor contributions from his MAGA followers is their leader. But...
[Donald Trump] was parsimonious when it came to sharing some of the more than $100 million he’s amassed in a committee designed to help other candidates. He ended up spending about $15 million on ads across five Senate races, records show.

In other words, it's all a grift for these guys. 

Democrats have never been very good at celebrating their success stories. But this one is about a couple of techies who started with an original idea back in 2004. Folks began to notice by 2007.

Operating from an office just off Harvard Square, Matt DeBergalis and Ben Rahn, through the Web site they created, ActBlue.com, have raised $32 million since it was started in 2004. They are gearing up to make good on their promise that it will raise $100 million for Democrats in this election cycle.

In many ways, ActBlue has turned fund-raising on its head by exploiting the power of the Internet and small donors that was pioneered by Howard Dean and bringing it to the next generation of grass-roots supporters and online donors.

Where big-dollar fund-raising is typically done behind closed doors with well-connected bundlers and showy, costly fund-raisers, ActBlue is just the opposite. It is an Internet-based political action committee that lets Democratic candidates use their Web site as a portal to collect donations, making fund-raising cheap, and, for donors, as simple as a click of a mouse.

The site now boasts that it has raised $11,580,000,000 since its inception in 2004. That includes over $1,883,000,000 for the 2022 midterms. It is, as Biden would say, a BFD!

But this story might also be a metaphor. Someone should tell Republican donors that they're being duped. And if you can't trust a party with your contributions, it's pretty clear that you shouldn't trust them with your tax dollars either.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Republicans Will Undermine Zelensky in Their Attempt to Go After Biden

The day after it was projected that Republicans would gain a majority in the House, there was no mention of what they'd do to address the issues they campaigned on: inflation, crime, and the border. Instead, they announced that their "top priority" will be to investigate the Bidens. 

That's not a surprise. But it's even more dangerous than most people realize. Take a look at how Ted Cruz talked about this at about the 1:00 minute mark of this video:

He brought up that Hunter Biden was on the board of the Ukrainian company Busirsma when Joe Biden was vice-president. He goes on to say that the president of Burisma was being investigated and Joe Biden insisted that the prosecutor be fired.

Compare that to what Trump said to Ukrainian President Zelensky during the infamous phone call that led to his first impeachment.
I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved...There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.

A brief clip from the House impeachment hearings is perhaps the best way to correct the record. This is Rep. Jim Himes questioning Deputy Chief of Mission to Ukraine George Kent. 

To summarize, then-Vice President Biden was insisting that a corrupt prosecutor be fired as part of the Obama administration's "thoughtful and well-calibrated anti-corruption program." As Himes noted, however, "President Trump wasn’t trying to end corruption in Ukraine, I think he was trying to aim corruption in Ukraine at Vice-President Biden and at the 2020 election."

It's important to keep in mind that, prior to Zelensky's election in 2019, Trump had secured a deal with President Petro Poroshenko "in which the Ukrainian leader would get electoral help via a state visit to the U.S., while he would give Trump a lift by announcing investigations into the Biden's and potential Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections."

Trump was livid when Zelensky was elected. It stymied the deal he and Giuliani thought they had arranged with Poroshenko and explains the president’s reaction to the report he received about Zelensky from those who attended his inauguration. Here is how Ambassador Volker described that meeting.


Of course, all of that preceded Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. For most Americans, President Zelensky's performance since then has been remarkable, if not inspirational. But take note of Cruz's tweet up above. He said that the House Republican investigations will focus on whether "Biden was on the take from enemies of America" (emphasis mine). 

I doubt that Cruz wants to come out publicly claiming that Ukraine is an enemy of America. But that's what he's suggesting. Other right wingers haven't been so subtle. Here's Ned Ryun, CEO of American Majority, telling Laura Ingraham that "Zelensky is a corrupt oligarch & psychopath."

Republicans not only refused to hold Trump accountable for his attempt to extort Zelensky. Now they're going to resurface all of the lies the former guy told in an attempt to smear Biden and undermine the Ukrainian president who is currently leading his people in a war to maintain their sovereignty as a free country. The word "deplorable" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Healing From the 2016 Trauma


Over the last few years I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the fact that, in the weeks before the 2016 election, I assured my friends, "Don't worry. The same country that just elected Obama twice will never elect Donald Trump." Putting aside the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, I was completely and totally wrong.

The fact that so many Americans would vote for a narcissistic lying con man who spewed nothing but hate rocked my world. Perhaps it is overkill to call it trauma. But it shook me to my core and became the lens through which I viewed the next six years. This once optimistic, hopeful person became deeply cynical about the future of this country. I became dour and frightened.

While some of those reactions are still warranted, I feel like the 2022 election helped me turn the corner. For just one example, voters in Arizona not only rejected the narcissistic lying con woman Kari Lake. They also passed a referendum allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at local colleges and universities. One of the real border states didn't buy into the GOP's fear mongering about immigrants. 

Some of the healing I began to experience came with seeing Barack Obama on the campaign trail during the last days of this election. Take a look at what he said about Tudor Dixon, the Republican running against Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

He did something similar while talking about Herschel Walker in Georgia.
That is vintage Obama. I was reminded of "Romnesia" in the final days of the 2012 election.

 

Less noticed was what he did to Sharon Angle in the 2010 election.

   

Watching Obama in those last few days before the 2022 election reminded me how I'd lost the ability to point and laugh at GOP absurdities. Trump's presidency made these extremists more scary than ridiculous. Obama had me laughing again.

As the results of the midterms started coming in, it also became clear that, under the leadership of Donald Trump, Republicans have lost the last three elections. Sure...they weren't all resounding defeats. But we're not likely to see any of those in the foreseeable future. Instead, we're in a period where small, incremental steps are the most likely pathway to change. 

Let me be clear: the threat to our democracy is still alive and well. The fear of that is not gone. But I'm not going to let the trauma of 2016 color my vision going forward. To paraphrase Cory Booker, "I'm done with letting these extremists steal my joy."

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

DeSantis Stepped in a Pile of Manure. Will the Media Ever Catch On?

Tuesday evening, Trump announced that he will run for president again in 2024. After tagging his potential opponent as "Ron DeSanctimonious," the governor of Florida shot back with this: 

Frankly, I don't know what's going to happen to the Republican Party over the next two years. We all know that Donald Trump is just another disaster waiting to happen. But the line on DeSantis in much of the media is that he's the "normal" (ie, not crazy) alternative who actually knows how to govern and get results. 

Excuse me, but I don't think that someone who goes on a rant like this in a fundraising email qualifies as "normal."
Our country is currently facing a great threat. A new enemy has emerged from the shadows that seeks to destroy and intimidate their way to a transformed state, and country, that you and I would hardly recognize...

This enemy is the radical vigilante woke mob that will steamroll anything and anyone in their way. Their blatant attacks on the American way of life are clear and intensifying: stifling dissent, public shaming, rampant violence, and a perverted version of history.
When it comes to "delivering results," I'll just remind you of the fact that DeSantis is pretty much "all hat and no cattle." Over the coming months it will be interesting to watch whether the media catches on to that. 

As just one example, the Florida governor garnered a lot of attention for taking on Disney by supposedly stripping them of their special district status. What we didn't hear very often is that the bill passed by the state legislature punted the process down the road and it's not scheduled to take effect until next summer. In the meantime, we learned that if the special district is actually dissolved, taxpayers in Orange and Osceola counties will be responsible for the $1 billion in bond debt Disney currently holds. 

What's going to happen is that sometime between next month (a December special session) and June 2023, DeSantis and the legislature have to figure out what to do about that. According to the Orlando Business Journal, they have three options:

1. Delay the dissolution date,
2. Retain the district and amend certain powers, or
3. Change/replace the district's charter.

In other words, there is NO scenario where Disney's special district status simply goes away.

The simplest solution would be #2. But that would mean that DeSantis winds up with a good deal of egg on his face. Some people are suggesting that #3 is the course the governor will take.
That sounds like exactly the kind of thing DeSantis would do, but here's the catch: it would still leave Florida taxpayers on the hook for the #1 billion. In addition, "it would require a 30-day public notice, discussions and approvals by delegations in the affected counties — Orange and Osceola counties — and other processes needed before a vote were allowed."

I'm sure DeSantis will try to muscle his way around all of these obstacles. But there's one thing he can't do: f*ck around with the municipal bond market. 

One thing we know about DeSantis is that he doesn't like being corrected, much less being proven wrong. But he stepped in a deep pile of cow manure on this one and is going to need to repurpose those white boots to wade through it. To twist the metaphor, it will be interesting to watch what the media does when the shit he flung starts to hit the fan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

How Small Incremental Steps Lead to a Thunderbolt of Justice

There is a lot of speculation about how Twitter is going to implode now that Elon Musk has taken over. I don't know if that's true, but there are a lot of reasons why I have appreciated that platform. As just one example, it introduced me to a young Democratic woman who ran for a state house seat in Missouri - Jessica Piper

I first started noticing Piper's tweets because she talked so intelligently about the issues around K-12 education. That makes sense, given that she is a teacher. But her take was all about how Republican efforts to "defund education" in her state were affecting rural families. 

Piper's district is in the upper northwest corner of Missouri and it's as rural red as they come. The largest city is Maryville, population 10,000. So Piper refers to herself as a #DirtRoadDemocrat. 

The sad news is that Piper overwhelmingly lost to her Republican opponent. But in a lengthy Twitter thread, she provided us with some hard truths by recapping what she faced.

I'd love to give y'all some examples of what I heard at doors in rural Missouri to help you understand what folks out here say when confronted with a progressive message. I will say that we knocked over 5k doors and made as many calls. Also, we had near zero data to go on.

I knocked a door in a town of 200 people. The woman asked if I was a D or R. She immediately handed back my lit and said she was a Christian and couldn't vote for Democrats. She then said she'd heard I was a teacher (her kid's schools just went 4-day). She said there's something you can do about our schools and I was hopeful that she would talk about getting her schools funding so they could stay open 5 days. She wasn't. She said legislators should be working to mandate prayer in classrooms.

I talked to a man who said that if a woman dies of an ectopic pregnancy, it's God's will. Another man told me that a child who has been raped and impregnated should have to deliver the pregnancy because "a baby shouldn't suffer for another person's crime."

I had an elderly woman send my postcards back to me with "Biden's Demonrat" scrawled across my face. A man who I knew (I had his kids in class) sent me an email hoping "my soul would forever rest in hell for murdering babies."

I talked to a woman at her door who said she had heard that Democrats are releasing murderers onto our streets. I asked for an example and she cited a Fox News story. She also thought Biden was in control of gas prices and setting high grocery prices to starve the elderly.

There is a massive amount of misinformation out here and folks not only hear it on Fox, but also in church. They share it on Facebook and it came up at so many doors. Our papers lean conservative and elected Republicans are given space every week to preach their message in papers.

That last bit reminded me of an article written back in 2018 by Andrew Levinson on the challenges Democrats face in these deeply red rural areas. Levinson didn't limit the so-called “information bubble"  to right wing media like Fox News. He pointed out that national messaging is reinforced by local sources in many of these red-state areas, including “Sinclair TV stations, regional talk radio, and local hometown editorial pages.” But he also wrote about the third tier of this information bubble that is perhaps the most significant and least commented upon.

Finally, and most importantly, it is the network of personal relationships between neighbors and friends that works to validate and confirm the broader messages. Casual conversations with friends, Facebook messages and e-mails from relatives, and jokes passed among co-workers all reinforce the sense that Democrats are the “other” and lead people who once supported Democrats to mute their views, creating what sociologists call a “spiral of silence.” The result makes support for the Republican Party seem not just dominant but unanimous.

Levinson didn't specifically mention churches, but as Piper suggested, they are a major contributor to the "spiral of silence" in rural areas.

So should people like Piper just give up? She says "absolutely not!"

Every ounce of me and my energy went into a campaign that swayed 4% of non-Democratic voters. Hundreds of thousands of dollars went into 4%. Grassroots is HARD work and it takes more than just me knocking doors. It's very long game. Folks can walk away and say it wasn't worth it.

I can't walk away...I live here. So, I am now organizing those that put in the work with me. My campaign brought out a silent minority who has decided to be silent no longer--we found each other and we will continue the work. Every. Day.

I don't know what the future holds, but I will keep working in my community while our roads continue to crumble and our teachers flee and healthcare gets more scarce. The Dirt Road Democrat didn't start with me and it won't end in my failed run. I am rural. These are my people.

Even in a red state like Missouri, there are tiny glimmers of hope. 

Missouri House Democrats had their best election night in years Tuesday, adding three [suburban] seats to increase their caucus to its highest total in a decade.

The party also successfully defended a St. Louis County state Senate seat that saw massive spending by Republicans.

The New York Times is tracking county-level swings from the 2020 election. They haven't included all states yet, but what stood out to me was what happened in Missouri. 

All of this reminds me of something President Obama said on the day the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality.

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.

Jessica Piper is one of those citizens Obama was referring to when he talked about progress coming in small incremental steps. I'm sure there are thousands like her all over the country. A thunderbolt of justice isn't likely to arrive without their courageous, tireless efforts.

  

Two Americas

The word "trifecta" has been used to describe states where one party holds the governorship and a majority in both houses of the s...