Humping Jerry Jones, Or, How Our “Democracy” Works

There was, in case you missed it, a celebration of American democracy on Tuesday. Family, friends, and big money folks were on Capitol Hill to usher in the latest incarnation of Congress.

Nancy Pelosi gave a gracious speech, just before she passed on the ceremonial giant gavel to the Grim Weeper, John Boehner. And as an African-American president continued to occupy the White’s House, Congressman John Conyers, an African-American Democrat who is now the longest serving member in the People’s House, swore in the Grim Weeper as Speaker.

And an anything-but-grim Joe Biden, who has more fun being Vice President than he is probably entitled to have, had a lot of fun administering the oath of office to newly-elected Senators. So happy was he in his constitutional role, that he didn’t want it to stop. He reportedly asked the television crew if any of them wanted to be sworn in. That’s a man who loves his job, whatever his job is when he’s not swearing in people.

All of this made our democratic system look good. For a day at least, everyone was gathered around the Capitol campfire and you could almost feel the warmth from the collective breath of the Founders.

But our system is not all it should be. Vox reported that over the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections, the 46 Democrats (including the two independents who caucus with them) who will sit as a minority in the U.S. Senate for the next two years actually “got 20 million more votes” than the 54 Republicans who will control the chamber. As Vox notes, though, “Democrats got more Senate seats than their vote share suggested they should” in the 2008 and 2012 elections:

The problem isn’t that the deck is stacked in favor of Republicans. The problem is that the deck is stacked in favor of small states, which receive equal representation in the Senate despite dramatic variance in population. The Senate is a profoundly anti-democratic body and should be abolished.

I’ve preached that sermon before. Many of us know about this gigantic flaw in our system but it’s not going to change anytime soon. Thus, we don’t have a genuine representative democracy. Maybe that’s because not enough time has passed since our founding. Maybe we are still a young democracy. Maybe we are still in a protracted democratic adolescence and we will continue to grow into a more representative adulthood. Maybe someday we will fix such anti-democracy.

Or maybe we are sick. Maybe there is a disease among us that is stunting our growth. Maybe there is more wrong than just that big state-small state problem.

First, consider that although this is the most diverse Congress in history, 83% of our national legislators are white and less than 9% are black. Only 6% are Hispanic. Even more troubling is the fact that 80% of them are men.

Of the 56 new members on the Republican side, 95% of them are white—47 of them are white men and 6 are white women. Yes, I am still talking about the most diverse Congress in history. (On the Democratic side, of the 18 new members, only 61% are white—8 of them are white men and 3 are white women.)

As far as religion, while only about 73% of American adults identify as Christians, 92% of our legislators do—and only one of the 301 Republicans in Congress is not a Christian. Perhaps more disturbing, while 20% of Americans consider themselves “unaffiliated” with any particular religious group, only one person in Congress—not one percent, but one person!—dares to claim she is unaffiliated (Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona).

Now let’s look at wealth. In the last Congress, there were at least 188 millionaires, which is about 35% (and given the intentionally murky rules that govern disclosure of wealth, there is likely more wealthy legislators than we know). Go ahead, survey your neighborhood and see if 35% of them are millionaires. Nah, I’m guessing you don’t have to ask.

Maybe, though, you might want to ask your neighbors about their net worth. The median net worth for an American adult is about $45,000. Yet, according to Roll Call, last year’s “median lawmaker” had “a minimum net worth of $456,522.” Again, I’m guessing you don’t have to ask your neighbors if they’re as wealthy as a median lawmaker.

Now we get to the sickness, which is related to wealthy people and their disproportionate influence on what is supposed to be American democracy. I want to illustrate this point by way of this now famous picture of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie making love to Dallas Cowboys owner and big-time Republican Jerry Jones last Sunday:

I hope they had paper towels handy in Jones’ luxury box.

It turns out that Christie, who (along with the governor of New York) oversees the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is now in hot water over the free tickets and free travel Jones has supplied to Christie so that the governor could attend games and hump the owner, unashamedly, on national TV.

Christie, according to International Business Times, “personally pushed the Port Authority to approve a lucrative contract for a firm part-owned by Jones.” That contract was “to operate the observation deck on the top floor of One World Trade Center.” Who is surprised? People don’t toss money and gifts at politicians just for the hell of it. Just ask former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell—when he gets out of the hoosegow.

At the end of last year, Politico published a piece by Kenneth Vogel (“Big money breaks out”) that began with the following:

The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014 — almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less, a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings found.

Worst still is that Politico’s analysis did not “include nonprofit groups that spent at least $219 million — and likely much more — but aren’t required to reveal their donors’ identities.”

Politico also notes what it calls,

a surprising decline in the number of regular Americans contributing to campaigns, as well as a shift in political power and money to outside groups unburdened by the contribution restrictions handcuffing the political parties and their candidates.

Taken together, the trend lines reflect a new political reality in which a handful of superaffluent partisans can exert more sway over the campaign landscape than millions of donors of more average means. And that’s to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of voters who never spend so much as a single dime on politics.

The article quotes Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and an activist trying to rid our system of big money:

As you see that your democracy is controlled by a smaller and smaller number of funders, you have less and less interest to be engaged in it.

And if people are less engaged in democracy, then democracy is not really democracy, is it?

But the system does work for those who fund it, that’s for sure. That is why they fund it. Saint and Senator Elizabeth Warren gave an important speech on Wednesday before the AFL-CIO. Part of the speech was about what certainly will once again rear its ugly tax-cutting head now that Republicans control Congress: trickle-down economics. She said:

George Bush Sr. called it voodoo economics. He was right, and let’s call it out for what it is: Trickle-down was nothing more than the politics of helping the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, and it cut the legs out from under America’s middle class. The trickle-down experiment that began in the Reagan years failed America’s middle class.

I have a pretty good picture of that failure, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

job growth from wall street journal

That ugly looking hole is voodoo economics working its magic on the American people. It’s the result of what happens when big money people get their way, sometimes by influencing both political parties. Warren said:

Pretty much the whole Republican Party — and, if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats — talked about the evils of ‘big government’ and called for deregulation. It sounded good, but it was really about tying the hands of regulators and turning loose big banks and giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do.

Warren acknowledged that things are better now than when Obama took office and gave him credit. But she also said that, “Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.” How deep?

These families are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead. Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them—and they are right. The game is rigged against them…. The world has changed beneath the feet of America’s working families.

I have another pretty good picture of what a rigged game looks like, also courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

average hourly incomes change from previous year

Trickle-down economics leads to flatlining wages. Who could have guessed that? That’s about as easy as guessing that tossing free NFL luxury-box tickets at a hump-ready Chris Christie will get you some bidness on top of One World Trade Center.

So, what do Republicans, traditional warriors on behalf of the moneyed class, propose to do about the flat line that represents the lack of earnings growth for average Americans? What will be one of the first acts of the 114th Congress—you know, the Congress that is supposed to represent we the people but was pretty much bought and paid for by big donors? Voodoo, anyone? Yes, sir:

House Republicans on Tuesday formally adopted a controversial change to congressional math rules that will most likely make it easier to cut taxes.

As Ronald Reagan—who first brought us voodoo economics—might say, “There they go again.”


#Je Suis Charlie!

From The Wall Street Journal this morning:

PARIS—Armed men Wednesday stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine targeted in the past for its cartoons on Islam, leaving 12 people dead, according to the Paris prosecutor.

The Journal described the satirical magazine, whose editor in chief and at least one graphic artist were slaughtered by Muslim fanatics, this way:

Charlie Hebdo has often put France’s secular dogma to the test, printing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on several occasions. In 2011, its offices were struck by arson, hours before a special issue of the weekly—dubbed “Shariah Hebdo”—was published…In 2006, the paper reprinted images of Muhammad that had appeared in a Danish magazine a year before. The next year, it published a picture of Muhammad crying, with the tagline “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.”

The Associated Press noted:

The extremist Islamic State group has threatened to attack France, and minutes before the attack Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of that extremist group’s leader giving New Year’s wishes. Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, among other controversial sketches, and its offices were firebombed in 2011.

According to The Guardian, a mere six days after that firebombing in 2011—which “completely destroyed the Paris offices”—Charlie Hebdo,

published a new front page depicting a male Charlie Hebdo cartoonist passionately kissing a bearded Muslim man in front of the charred aftermath of the bombing. The headline this time was: L’Amour plus fort que la haine (Love is stronger than hate).

CNN has been reporting that witnesses said the gunmen shouted, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad,” as well as, “We have killed Charlie Hebdo.”

Like hell they have.

Twitter users all over the world are using #JeSuisCharlie, “I Am Charlie.” Many of the magazine’s covers and articles have been reproduced and presented to millions upon millions of people who had never heard of Charlie Hebdo until today. Charlie Hebdo is very much alive, even if some of those who produced the magazine have now been silenced by Islamist bastards.

Kudos to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, by the way. Earlier today, the morning news anchor said the following to the control room at CNN:

Put up the cover! Today’s publication date of Charlie Hebdo—if they’re not able to get their message out, we’ll get it out for them—there’s the cover of the magazine…

charlie hebdo and cnn

…This is a satire of someone who is obviously about to get their head cut off, right? The person who is the victim is supposed to be Muhammad. He’s saying, “Wait, I’m the Prophet, you idiot!” And the guy who is going to cut his head off is saying, “Shut your mouth, infidel!” And it says on the caption on the top, “If Muhammad Were To Come Back.” 

Long live Charlie Hebdo! Even as we mourn the loss of those who died in Paris today, let us champion the work they have done. Let us celebrate free speech:


Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox, made a point about President Obama that demonstrates why it is that right-wingers hate him so much. Despite what they have tried to do to him, he is still doing stuff for the country:

On November 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year. About two weeks later, Obama’s appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system. Yet both of these were minor stories compared to normalizing relations with Cuba after decades and his sweeping plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Somewhere in the meantime, Democrats broke the congressional logjam and got a whole boatload of nominees confirmed.

And that is just what O has done since his second mid-term shellacking. Yglesias offers more pre-shellacking O-complishments, including,

♦  the Affordable Care Act (“an expansion of the welfare state rivaled by only the New Deal and the Great Society”)

♦ the remaking of student-loan programs (“that’s made it possible for the government to offer more help with college tuition”)

♦ the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation (“a safer banking system”)

♦ the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“a major goal worth fighting for separately from questions of macro-level financial stability”)

♦ Yglesias also includes “smaller measures from the 111th Congress like a food safety bill, a child nutrition bill, a Children’s Health Insurance expansion, and a public lands bill the Sierra Club hailed as “a historic day for conservation.”

To all that, I will add more O-complishments:

♦ became the first African-American POTUS

♦ rescued the country from the losing-800,000-jobs-a-month, Bush-era Great Recession, which people seem to have forgotten, now that job growth is pretty damned good (“the best private sector jobs creation performance in American history” says Forbes) and the stock market is soaring (the Dow just had its best day since 2011)

♦ rescued the auto industry, which God only knows how many jobs that saved

♦ oversaw a reduction in the budget deficit from almost 10% of GDP in 2009 (mostly George Bush’s doing) to just under 3% this fiscal year

♦ gave “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a dishonorable discharge from the military, and helped create an environment in which LGBT people are steadily becoming first-class citizens all over the country

♦ appointed worker-friendly members of the National Labor Relations Board

♦ appointed the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve; appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court

♦ banned torture of detainees

♦ made fish bait out of bin Laden and killed a number of high-ranking leaders of al-Qaeda

♦ raised taxes on rich folks, after Bush had cut them

♦ appointed two women to the Supreme Court, only the third and fourth females to serve there in history

♦ signed a new arms control treaty with Russia, reducing the number of nukes in the world

♦ made FEMA a real emergency management agency (just ask people in tornado-ravaged Joplin)

♦ made “science and the scientific process” part of decision making in the executive branch and officially acknowledged that climate change is real

♦ established tougher fuel economy standards for vehicles, which will reduce carbon pollution

♦ made a “landmark agreement” with China, the world’s worst carbon polluter, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

♦ has appointed 307 federal judges, and has increased the number of federal appeals courts that have Democratic-appointed majorities from 1 to 9—out of 13!

♦ has pissed off, and will continue to piss off,  a whole lot of white right-wingers just by showing up to work each and every day with this face:

Thank you, O.


H/T: Please Cut the Crap

Crimes Of Passion

On August 27, 2014, Reuters reported:

A Texas jury on Wednesday found a father not guilty of shooting dead a suspected drunk driver who hit and killed his two sons while they pushed a truck down a country road late at night.

David Barajas, 32, had been charged with murdering Jose Banda, 20, in December 2012, after he plowed into Barajas’ sons David Jr., 12, and Caleb, 11, in a small town south of Houston after a night of drinking.

Without going into the details of Mr. Barajas’ trial or discussing the evidence or lack thereof, it was widely believed that the jury acquitted David Barajas because they understood his actions, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them. The jury may have understood that a father who had seen what he had seen might very well have run the hundred yards to his house to get his gun and then returned to kill the drunk who had just killed his little boys. The jury may have reasoned that, after he had witnessed such a horrifying scene, no one could totally fault the father for acting so rashly, beyond the limits of the law. Maybe the jurors didn’t want to imprison him—even if he actually did kill the man who killed his sons—for his crime of passion.

We all know by now that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence discovered horrific things related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The unclassified Executive Summary of the “Findings and Conclusions” is 525 pages long, but the classified material is many times more voluminous and, we might assume, much more damaging to the CIA and the Bush administration.

Since there are plenty of places where you can go and get the gory details of what went on under the banner of Old Glory, I’ll leave that portion alone. There is only so much you can say about “involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration” or waterboarding or a detainee who froze to death while “partially nude and chained to a concrete floor”—and that was after he had been tortured.

Here is what I have concluded from almost a week of exploration:

A. It is obvious that many of the techniques the CIA used were in fact torture. That those involved in the program say it wasn’t torture is absolutely predictable. They have to say that. What else can they say?

B. That such techniques as were used constituted prosecutable torture was decided a long time ago. As Sheldon Whitehouse, who sat on the select committee, said on Fox “News” Sunday:

We decided waterboarding was torture back when we court-martialed American soldiers for waterboarding Philippine insurgents in the Philippine revolution. We decided waterboarding was torture when we prosecuted Japanese soldiers as war criminals for waterboarding Americans during World War II, and we decided waterboarding was torture when the American court system described waterboarding as torture when Ronald Reagan and his Department of Justice prosecuted a Texas sheriff and several of his associates for waterboarding detainees…

C. Since it was torture and since torture is a war crime (and against U.S. law), it is irrelevant whether the torture “worked.” There is no theory of justice that I know of that excuses a crime because of its associated effectiveness.

D. Since it was torture and since torturing prisoners is a crime and since somebody in government had to officially authorize the CIA to do it so comprehensively, that somebody is ultimately responsible for the crime. And that somebody is George W. Bush and no one else. Here is an exchange between Chris Wallace and Karl Rove on Fox “News” Sunday:

WALLACE: Karl…the report says that President Bush didn’t know about these enhanced interrogation techniques until 2006. You were there. Is that true?

ROVE: No, in fact, he says in his book, describes how he was briefed and intimately involved in the decision. He made the decision. He was presented I believe 12 techniques. He authorized the use of ten of them, including waterboarding.

Not surprisingly, Rove’s account perfectly matches the account of Dick Cheney, who said on Meet the Press on Sunday:

The president writes about it in his own book…This man knew what we were doing. He authorized it. He approved it. The statement by the Senate Democrats for partisan purposes that the president didn’t know what was going on was just a flat out lie.

Thus we have it that if anyone in government is potentially prosecutable for any crime, it is George W. Bush. Not Dick Cheney—as much as that would satisfy some of us—not Karl Rove, not the head of the CIA, or anyone else. The president, says Karl Rove, was “intimately” involved. Cheney said he “knew” and “approved” of what was going on.

E. Nobody in government, especially not Barack Obama’s Justice Department, is going to charge George W. Bush with a crime and then prosecute him. That’s not going to happen. Ever. People on the left clamoring for such a prosecution are, alas, wasting their time.

F. Therefore, this crime of passion will go unpunished.

Whether it should go unpunished, whether we should consider the context in which the Bush administration’s actions were set, whether we should give the benefit of every doubt to those who were confronting what Senator Dianne Feinstein called “the pervasive fear in late 2001,” is a situation much like those jurors in Texas faced in the case of David Barajas, who watched his two young boys die at the hands of a drunk driver and, if we are to believe the prosecution, shot and killed the offender.

I confess I don’t know how I would have voted if I were on that Texas jury evaluating what may have been a crime of passion by a shocked an angry father. A perfect system of justice would obviously demand that vigilantism be punished, but no man-made system of justice can be perfect. Justice is often an approximation.

In the case of torturing prisoners, I am simply not sure that I would, if I were sitting on a jury judging George W. Bush, vote to convict him. It may be clear, as Senator Feinstein put it, that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was “morally, legally, and administratively misguided.” But it is less clear that, as she said in the report, the “pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.” Maybe they don’t. But such a judgment is made a long way in time from the unfolding events and therefore a great emotional distance from the heat of the moment. Again, I just don’t know what I would do if the decision to convict were mine.

What I do believe, though, is that President Obama should do the country a favor and pardon his predecessor and all of those involved. That way, as many have pointed out, we could at least establish, for all time, that what was done in the months following the horrific attacks on 9/11 was, by our own lights and the lights of the international community, illegal and should never happen again.

Because, after all, crimes of passion are still crimes.

Bad Poker And The Distorted Middle

Likely because of President Obama’s pressing Democrats in the House to vote with John Boehner, 57 of them supported CRomnibus, which was more than enough to ensure passage of the bill last night, 219-206. Tea Party nuts couldn’t stomach the bill and 67 of them essentially said it wasn’t extreme enough for their extremist tastes.

Now that the House passed the spending bill, the Senate will likely do so sometime this weekend and President Obama will sign the damned thing and we will move on to the next Republican-inspired crisis. That’s the way it has been since after the 2010 election, since radicals on the right took over de facto command of the Republican Party.

The sad thing about it all is that many of our guys, the people we expect to look after the interests of the little guy, put up a good fight but will lose in the end because President Obama and Harry Reid, pragmatically conspiring with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, decided that taking the spending bill deal—even with all the goodies in it for fat cat political donors and fat cat bankers, as well as other provisions that should make Democrats nauseous—was better than waiting until next year when Republicans will be in full control of Congress and better than risking that they would get the blame for a government shutdown.

I happen to find that pragmatism, which I normally support because I understand compromise is a necessary part of making things work, a bad and unnecessary call in this case. Republicans could not have passed the bill in the House as it stood. If Boehner wanted to get Democrats to help him, he should have been forced to pull those offensive provisions. If Democrats can’t win public sentiment by opposing sweetheart deals for rich people—stuffed in a so-called “must pass” piece of legislation—then it is hard to see how they can win anything. If Republicans were willing to risk a shutdown by insisting that they would not excise from the do-or-die bill provisions that make the world safer for the moneyed class, including Wall Street, then it seems a no-brainer that Democrats could win the resulting PR fight. But there won’t be a fight, apparently.

As much as I admire Mr. Obama, he has never been much of a poker player. Maybe chess is his game. But politics like we see going on right now—in this era of Tea Party extremism—is not a cerebral game of chess, not a matter of thinking seven moves ahead. It is about bluffs and calling bluffs, about who has the guts to go all in, making the other side have to choose between calling or folding. Most of the time, Republicans are very good at the game. Our side usually folds, for good reasons—we want government to keep running and helping people—and bad reasons—some on our side actually are pretty cozy with fat cats and find them good company.

The CRomnibus bill is, in important ways, fairly extreme. Oh, sure, there were some things in there that Democrats wanted, you know, like keeping the freaking government running, but the provision to drastically increase contribution limits to political party committees by a factor of 10—from $32,400 to $324,000 a year—doesn’t exactly apply to working stiffs, which should be a major Democratic constituency. There aren’t too many working people I know who can contribute to political campaigns $324, much less $32,400 or, God help us, $324,000. Rich people, though, now have even more ammunition to bid against each other, as our demwall street cashes inocracy is, election by election, quickly being auctioned off.

Likewise, the provision to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, the recent legislative attempt by Democrats to rein in some of the excesses of Wall Street, is a gift to bankers, who now, as Vox put it, “are free to make risky bets that put taxpayers and the financial system as a whole at greater risk.” How would you like to put a bet on, say, the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend (you’ll have to give 11 1/2 points) against the Oakland Raiders and know that if you win, you win, and if you lose, the taxpayer behind the curtain will cover your loss? Yeah, me too. That’d be pretty sweet. That’s why Citigroup went to a lot of trouble to write the provision and get it inserted into CRomnibus.

Perhaps the worst thing about all this is that President Obama, at least if you listen to his spokesman, still doesn’t get it, when it comes to evaluating and responding to deals with Republicans. Read this, from HuffPo:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest argued that the bill does more good than bad, and that it represented compromise for the GOP, which initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“This is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years now,” Earnest said in an appearance on MSNBC.

I’m sure the bill does more good than bad, since the government, or most of it, will keep going until October. And, as I said, compromising is part of the political process. But look at what Earnest based the idea of this compromise on: Republicans “initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.” See how clever Republicans are, when they are negotiating with this White House? They take the most extreme position possible as a starting point and force non-poker-playing Democrats to move way over to their side, to a distorted middle, and call that a compromise. That’s not compromise, it’s bad poker.

And, I hate to say it, if “this is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years,” then I am not looking forward to the last two years of his presidency.

Democrats Play, Uh, Softball

Here’s the headline that ran just a while ago on The Hill:

Left revolts over funding bill

In case you missed it, there has been talk of a “deal” (known now as “CRomnibus”) between Republicans and Democrats to keep the government, or most of it anyway, running through September of next year (the Homeland Security department only gets funded through February, which is how Republicans have initially decided to dope-slap President Obama for treating undocumented immigrants like people).

The deal is around 1600 pages long. I just wonder how many conservatives in Congress, especially those who criticized Democrats for not reading the entire Affordable Care Act, have read this one? In any case, the deal would avert a government shutdown this week, a shutdown that Republicans with brains want to avert.

It is unclear to me why Democrats would make such a deal without getting something substantial for it. Just keeping the government running is, of course, something worth fighting for, but it hardly amounts to exploiting the advantage that Democrats have: Republicans, without Democratic help, cannot pass through the House any reasonable spending bill, what with that dictator in the White’s House stirring up the crazies in Boehner’s caucus with his executive action on immigration reform.

So, as details of the deal have come to light, more thoughtful members of the Democratic Party, led by Elizabeth Warren in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, are saying no thanks. If Republicans want to shut the government down again by making demands that no Democrat should support at this point, then let them shut it down. People who voted for Republicans last month should get an early taste of what they voted for. Why is it that our side just doesn’t know how to play hard-ball politics?

Among the things in the tentative agreement that have upset Democrats the most seem to be these two:

1. An attack on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. From The Hill article:

Among the host of provisions included in the $1.1 trillion funding measure is one that would partially repeal a Dodd-Frank rule aimed at ensuring risky derivatives trading happens away from banks that have a government safety net.

Republicans have been after Dodd-Frank since before it became law. It appears that they won’t stop until things are exactly the way they were prior to the financial crisis because, after all, that wasn’t a big deal, right?

2. Killing any semblance of restraint when it comes to rich people purchasing elections. From HuffPo:

The omnibus bill includes a provision (on page 1,599) to create three separate funds within the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. Each fund would be allowed to accept $97,200 from just one donor per year. If this change becomes law, it would mean that a single donor could give up to $324,000 per year, or $648,000 for a two-year election cycle, to finance the party’s operations.

The change would effectively obliterate campaign contribution limits to the parties, while eviscerating the limits placed by the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law on how much a political candidate can seek from a donor. The current maximum a donor can give to a national party committee is $32,400 per year, plus an additional $32,400 per year to a separate fund to be used only in case of an election recount. 

That provision would make a worser situation worser-er.

There are other bad things in the deal:

Butting into the internal affairs of the District of Columbia—voters approved an initiative that would have legalized pot—because, apparently, ain’t no white conservative gonna allow the District’s black folks a little legal up time.

A not-so-subtle attack on Michelle Obama and her efforts to get schools to serve more nutritious food to kids. Republicans won’t rest until everyone looks like Newt Gingrich.

♦ Allowing truckers to do more sleeping while driving. Anyone who has been on an Interstate highway and who has witnessed weary truck drivers weaving in and out of their lanes should appreciate this gift to the trucking industry.

Cutting retiree benefits for some 10 million folks. Because, who needs money when you’re retired?

♦ Trimming the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by another $60 million. As The Washington Post pointed out,

The agency’s budget has been slashed by $2.2 billion, or 21 percent, since fiscal 2010, according to GOP aides. The cuts mean that EPA will have to reduce its staffing to the lowest levels since 1989.

They won’t stop, people, until EPA staffing is reduced to 1889 levels.

Slashing the budget of the IRS by almost $350 million. How stupid is it to cut funding for the one agency that collects the money that, uh, funds the government? Republicans, of course, are still mad at the IRS for maliciously targeting right-wingers, which, of course, didn’t happen. But, as Kevin Drum points out, slashing the budget of the IRS “means fewer audits of corporations and rich people. Any other questions?”

Nope. No more questions.

“I Am Not A Racist”

tribe: any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.

Many of you know Anson Burlingame, either by his comments on this blog, his postings on his own blog, or by way of his contributions to the Joplin Globe editorial page. Recently, another commenter called Anson a racist, claiming that “to some degree all of us have it.” Naturally, Anson didn’t accept the designation. “I am not a racist,” he wrote. He added,

At my advanced age I know pretty well what my motives and fundamental “instincts” are in most situations.

In a later comment, he wrote:

I freely admit that, using today’s standards for calling someone a racist, I was raised as a racist in the 1940’s and 50’s. But over the years, 54 years (since HS graduation) and counting I have read and talked myself beyond, out of, such [animus], like many other older Americans have done during that period.

I know I have written a lot about issues involving race lately, but so be it. It is important, as far as I’m concerned. I think cultural angst among whites is a major reason we have such gridlock in Congress, as Tea Party Republicans, representing such anxious and fearful folks, have essentially been holding the legislative process hostage since 2010.

I wrote a long response to Anson’s comment on my piece about the sad racism that occurred here in Missouri, when marching black demonstrators passed through a couple of white small towns last week. My response included the following, which is related to the charge of racism:

As for the accusation that one or more commenters have now and in the past made against you—calling you a racist—let me say that I am very careful in applying that word to individuals. As you know, “racism” strictly means the belief that one’s race is superior to another’s race, necessarily implying the idea that the superior race should rule over the other. Historically, there is no doubt that America was founded by, and for years was governed by, racists, as black slaves were used to economically benefit white people.

You have never given me any reason to suspect that, despite your admittedly racist upbringing in Kentucky in the 1940s and 1950s, that you think white people are inherently superior to black people. But just like it is true that America still has a lot of work to do to rid itself of the legacy of slavery and white supremacy—our cultural institutions, after all, were built and maintained for years in that context—individual whites living in this culture also have work to do. That includes you and that includes me.

Without going into detail, I was also raised with the idea that somehow blacks were inferior to whites. For whatever reason, I never consciously embraced that idea. Perhaps it was because in my lower working-class neighborhood, most of the kids I played with when I was very young were black kids. My next-door neighbors to the east, less than 30 feet away, were black. Across the street lived black people. Across the alley in the back lived black people. Down the street lived even more black people. I was surrounded by African-American kids my entire young life. In all the ways that I could see, they seemed just like me.

In elementary school and junior high, one of my best friends was black (forget the cliché). I spent a lot of time in or near his home, a few blocks away from mine. I walked the streets with him and played neighborhood sports with him. In high school, my best friend was a black kid a year older than I. We spent nearly every school night together, riding around in his car delivering newspapers (it was his job, not mine) and then later cruising and listening to music (some might find it odd, but he was a fan of Steely Dan like I was).

But having said all that, I still catch myself getting a little irritated by, for instance, certain things I see in hip-hop culture, including the attitudes in some, but not all, of the music. I have to check myself sometimes. I have to remind myself that a thing like wearing your pants in a certain way is just an expression, a way of fitting into a specific “tribe,” if you will. I have my own specific micro-tribes I belong to. You have yours. We act and dress accordingly. We should be open-minded enough to allow others the luxury of belonging to, and conforming to, their own smaller tribes. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we look down on other tribes. Sometimes we think ours is superior.

In the same way, you and I belong, by birth, to a larger tribe of “white people.” Because we belong to that tribe, we have inherited certain benefits that come with our skin color. And we have inherited certain prejudices against that other larger tribe of “black people.” If we work hard, we can overcome many of those prejudices. But it is often really hard work. Some of the prejudices we hold we may not consciously be aware of. We may think we have rid ourselves of all the bad qualities of our upbringing, but it is inevitable that at least a few remain. That is just the nature of the case. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we react to black people in ways that look a lot like a form of, a much milder form of, the racism that not only served as the cultural backdrop for much of our nation’s history, but as the backdrop for our childhoods.

I will also suggest to you that because you and I belong to that larger tribe of white people, it is very hard for us, as part of the historically dominant tribe in this society, to get inside the heads of members of the black tribe. We may think we can do so, but it is really hard to pull it off. Our tribe was the oppressor, their tribe was the object of the oppression. That reality makes for very different ways of looking at the world, for understanding the way things work, for teaching children how to make their way through life.

As whites, we may think it is pretty simple: the old laws have been changed to reflect racial equality, so, dammit, just get on with it! Work hard and you will prosper now, we might say. You are every bit as free as we are! Except it isn’t that simple. Black people still face a lot of race-based resistance in this society. Some of that resistance is structural—see voting restrictions that disproportionately affect African-Americans, for instance—and some of it is found in the fact that feelings of white superiority still exist among members of our tribe, members who still mostly run things. You grew up in the ’40s and ’50s with it. I grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s with it.

And while it is true that such attitudes of white superiority have diminished, they still exist. An AP poll a few years ago found that “51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes.” The legacy of white supremacy, from slavery to Jim Crow, still infects white minds and still harms black people in so many ways, ways that you and I might be tempted to discount because we don’t experience them, don’t feel them in our bones.

All this is a long way of saying that you are not a racist in the historical sense. But like so many white people, including myself, we carry in our heads some residue of racist thinking, of thinking that our group of people with white skin is in some way or another superior to that other group of people without it. So, when you say, “I have read and talked myself beyond” racial animus, you may be right. I don’t believe for a second that you harbor any malevolent ill will toward black people simply because they are black. But neither you nor I can read or talk ourselves beyond all the racial prejudice that still lingers somewhere in our tribe-conditioned minds, especially when we interpret what it means when we see a black kid with drooping pants or when we watch a cop choke a black man to death on the streets of New York City.


Where’s Thomas Crapper When You Need Him?

The population of the United States, every man, woman, and child, is about 319 million and counting. Think about it. That is a lot of folks.

But if you double that number, you have just about the number of people in India who poop outdoors. I’m not kidding. From The Wall Street Journal:

Some 620 million people across India defecate outside, the largest number world-wide. About 70% of rural Indians don’t use toilets, and 28 million children have no toilet facilities in school, according to Unicef. It is common practice for India’s mothers to dispose of their children’s waste in the open.

crapperSo, why is it that 70% of India’s rural population still don’t use indoor toilets, particularly since India’s rural economy is, according to Forbes, “booming”? The magazine says that rural wages “have risen by close to 15% per annum over the past ten years, compared to city wages which are down more than 2% over the same period.” So, again, why do these folks resist indoor dumping? The Wall Street Journal offers us a reason:

In rural areas, defecating outside has been the natural choice for centuries, said Vijayaraghavan Chariar, a sanitation expert at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology. “There’s a reason it’s known as ‘nature’s call,’ ” he said. “Some feel suffocated by toilets, and don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.”

That may seem odd to us. How can anyone, even rural people, not see the obvious health benefits of sanitary, poop-disposing plumbing? Why would anyone want to do their dirty work out in the open when they don’t have to?

Before we get too judgmental, maybe we should look at something that happened here in my state, in rural Missouri, that I will connect to those rural folks in India who prefer defecating in public.

Rosebud is a little town in the east central part of Missouri and, as per the 2010 census, boasts a population of 409 souls. Those souls are, overwhelmingly, animating white bodies. It would be difficult, probably impossible, to find in Rosebud one soul inhabiting an African-American body. And, knowing what I know about small towns in Missouri, most of the white-bodied souls in Rosebud belong to, or claim they belong to, Jesus, their savior and, presumably, their behavioral compass.

It happened last week that a group of about 75 demonstrators passed through Rosebud on their way to Jefferson City. The 134-mile demonstration march, organized by the NAACP and called “Journey for Justice,” began in Ferguson. The demonstrators, as USA Today reported, hoped “to bring light and attention to the disproportionate number of African-American men and boys who are killed by law enforcement officers across the country.”

But many of the white, Jesus-fearing folks of Rosebud—and of a neighboring city called Gerald, four miles away, population 1,345 and just as white—didn’t much appreciate the light and attention that the marchers, both black and white, were bringing through their town.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, the demonstrators “were greeted with the words ‘Shoot Thieves’ spray-painted on a large container.” In Gerald, they were greeted by, among others, these two good ol’ boys:

photo from Missouri net

Rhea Willis, a public school instructor in St. Louis, was one of the marchers, along with her 15-year-old daughter. As St. Louis Public Radio reported, they and others had to endure being called “thieves” and yells of “Get a job! Get off welfare!” Then there was this:

One of the most disheartening sights, Rhea said, was seeing a young boy, about the age of 8, hold up a sign that said, “Go home, nigger.”

“It wasn’t a shock because I know how these small counties in Missouri are,” Rhea said. “I exchicken melon and beer in rosebudpected it, but it wasn’t until you actually see it. Wow, it was amazing.”

While their bus was stopped and empty, someone shot at a window and shattered the glass. Some townsfolk left out 40-ounce beer cans, chicken wings and watermelon. Rhea said one woman was supportive and told them, “Good job!” But a man next to her said, “Yea, they are good niggers.”

It’s easy for Americans to look down on or even pity those rural people in India who have been defecating outside for centuries, who “feel suffocated by toilets, and don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.” But what happened last week in rural Missouri is just another kind of long-standing tradition, another kind of open defecation, another kind of human behavior that is connected to poor social health.

And although, fortunately, there aren’t as many people around these days who defecate in public, metaphorically or otherwise, there is still much work to be done to help ensure that human waste, whether it comes out of one end or the other, is not polluting the commonweal.

Reactionaries, Eagle Scout Cops, And The Denial Of Reality

I was listening to WNYC radio in New York (God bless smart phones) when Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about the grand jury’s decision not to indict the white cop who helped kill Eric Garner. I heard the whole thing. I was amazed at how thoughtful de Blasio was about it all, how careful he navigated the waters of controversy.  He said,

It’s a very emotional day for our city. It’s a very painful day for so many New Yorkers. That is the core reality. So many people in this city are feeling pain right now. And we’re grieving, again, over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man – a man who should be with us, and isn’t. That pain, that simple fact, is felt again so sharply today.

He also talked about how the tragedy is not just a personal one for Garner’s family,

but it’s become something personal to so many of us. It’s put in stark perspective the relationship between police and community.

He went on to explain his personal feelings, about how his wife Chirlane (who is black) and he have had to teach their son Dante to “take special care” during any interactions with police, and it was that explanation that has so many on the right, and so many cops (often right-wingers themselves), seething:

This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the other day, and the President of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, ade blasiond yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face – we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first – that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear. So I’ve had to worry, over the years, Chirlane’s had to worry – was Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night – is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities – crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods – but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors? That’s the reality. And it conforms to something bigger that you’ve heard come out in the protests in Ferguson, and all over the country.

That “reality” he talked about, a reality that most black folks feel in their bones, is undeniable. It’s not just anectodal, it’s backed up by data, even though the data are incomplete. Black people aren’t just imagining that they have to be extra careful when interacting police, it is the sad truth they do. Doing otherwise could cost them their lives. But even if conservatives dispute the data, even if right-wingers think blacks are wrong to be extra-wary of the police, no one can deny that black people do feel that way. As the mayor said, there is “a history we have to overcome.”

Yet, the reactionaries just can’t seem to acknowledge any reality outside of their own. For instance, I watched the interview of the often repulsive Rudy Giuliani on the always repulsive, IQ-slaying Fox and Friends program rudy and de Blasioyesterday morning. Giuliani called de Blasio’s response “racist.” He said he was “tearing down respect for a criminal justice system that goes back to England in the 11th century.” He made that reference, which he used to support a false claim, as if he didn’t understand that 900 years have passed and that our Western justice system has evolved. It’s better now than it has ever been, as imperfect as it is. And it’s better because people were willing to fight to make it better, people were willing to criticize it, to demand it be changed, as opposed to offering it a “respect” it did not deserve.

I won’t go deeply into the other ridiculous or irrelevant right-wing rot that Giuliani spouted to Fox viewers yesterday morning—you know, there was “no racism” in the Garner case and blacks should stop killing blacks, blah, blah, blah—neither will I bother to go deeply into Bill O’Reilly’s false claim that de Blasio “continues to denigrate his own cops” and his ridiculously false claim that ” the nation’s largest city has a mayor who has lost the support of his 35,000-member police force.” Neither Giuliani nor O’Reilly have a love affair with reality.

Nor does the president of a group of police unions, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s Patrick Lynch. Here’s what Lynch said about de Blasio’s comments:

What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference is that they were thrown under the bus. That they were out there doing a difficult job in the middle of the night, protecting the rights of those to protest, protecting our sons and daughters and the mayor was behind microphones like this throwing them under the bus.

That statement, as delusional as it was, wasn’t the worst thing the union president said. He actually chimed in on the attributes of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put a violent chokehold on Eric Garner and then pushed Garner’s face into the concrete with as much force as he could muster:

He’s a model of what we want a police officer to be. He’s a mature, mature police officer, motivated by serving the community. He literally is an Eagle Scout.

The Eagle Scout, the model of a police officer, I remind you, helped kill a man in July, a man who was merely accused of merely selling loose cigarettes on the street. The Eagle Scout, CNN reports, has a problematic professional past:

…court records show he has been sued at least twice, both times on allegations of false arrest and unlawful imprisonment.

One suit was brought by two men from Staten Island, Darren Collins and Tommy Rice, who alleged that Pantaleo arrested them in 2012 on baseless charges, and humiliated them in public.

They claimed that on the street, during an arrest on drug suspicions, Pantaleo and another officer “pulled down the plaintiffs’ pants and underwear, and touched and searched their genital areas, or stood by while this was done in their presence.”

Lawyers for the officers denied the charges, saying they acted reasonably and exercised their discretion. But they reached a settlement in the case, for $30,000, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“The other suit,” CNN reported, “has not yet been resolved.” That suit involves false arrest and false imprisonment related to, gasp, “marijuana possession.”

As a union man myself, as someone who has represented employees accused of wrongdoing, I understand the need to stand behind your guy, if you think your guy is innocent, or if you think your guy deserves the benefit of the doubt, or even if you think your guy deserves mercy. But I don’t understand the union president saying the mayor tossed cops under the bus, when he clearly didn’t—he didn’t even toss Officer Pantaleo under the bus—when he clearly went out of his way to carefully state the reality that black people feel in New York City and elsewhere.

And I certainly don’t understand his saying, with a straight face, that Eagle Scout Daniel Pantaleo is “a model of what we want a police officer to be.”  Since 1908, all Scouts have supposedly subscribed to Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

While Eric Garner was dying, just after he was put on a stretcher, just after he had received no apparent first aid treatment for several minutes, our chokehold-loving Eagle Scout was waving, mockingly, to the camera:

Here is the video of the aftermath of the takedown of Eric Garner. The waving comes at 6:57, if you want to see how a helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, and reverent Eagle Scout-cop behaves while the man he choked is about to die:



White Magic

huffpo on eric garner non indictment

Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, speaking about the travesty of justice in the killing of Eric Garner by a New York City cop—Garner was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, for God’s sake, and Officer Daniel Pantaleo apparently choked him to death—said this on MSNBC this afternoon:

I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut, again. Shame on us! Shame on us for having a criminal justice system that seems completely incapable of prosecuting a white police officer for the death of an African-American.

We seem entirely unable to do that, even when we have a video tape, even when we have a man who posed no danger to anyone, according to anyone. Even when we have a coroner who says the death was a homicide. Even when the police, on the videotape, applied a chokehold to Eric Garner, which is against NYPD rules. If we can’t get an indictment in this case, we can’t get an indictment in any case involving the death of an African-American at the hands of a white police officer. 

If Ferguson was not a wake-up call, this case better be.

Not much to say after that. Just watch the video of the incident again—if you can stomach it—and wonder why it is that black lives seem to matter so little to some policemen, and wonder what the grand jury in New York was, or wasn’t, thinking:

Do Black Lives Matter?

Melissa Harris-Perry noted over the weekend that a lot of protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere have been chanting, “Black lives matter.” The MSNBC host asked the question: Do they? Do black lives matter?

Well, do they?

By now you have seen all or parts of the video in which 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an Africa-American boy who had been playing in a Cleveland park on November 22, was gunned down by a police officer.

The sixth-grader, besides smashing snowballs with his feet, had been playing in the park with a cheap Airsoft pistol, essentially a toyish gun that, minus its orange safety cap, from a distance looked like the real thing, even if Tamir Rice didn’t look like a real adult. Shooting: On Sunday, Tamir's father, Gregory Henderson, said the youngster had his whole life ahead of him when he was gunned down outside Cudell Recreation Center. Above, the BB gun that Tamir was carryingThe cop who shot him had been on the force for only a short time, just over eight months. His partner, who was driving the car and who pulled right up next to Rice, was 46 and had been with the force since 2008.

A concerned citizen at the park had called 911 and told the dispatcher that someone, “probably a juvenile,” was pointing a gun at people, even though the caller thought the gun might be “fake.” In response to the dispatcher’s inquiry, the caller identified the gun-wielding kid as black. By the time word got out to the cops on patrol, the part about the juvenile and the part about the potentially fake gun got lost. Responding officers were essentially looking for a black male with a dangerous weapon who was threatening people with it, and since young black males are 21 times more likely to get shot by the police than young white males, no one should be surprised that Tamir Rice is now dead.

According to Cleveland police, after arriving at the park where the boy was sitting on a picnic table in a gazebo, it took the rookie cop less than two seconds to shoot the kid when he approached their car. “Shots fired. Male down, black male, maybe 20, black hand gun,” one of the cops tells a dispatcher. Rice never had a chance to explain to officers that he was, presumably, just doing what many boys, including myself, have done: pretending to shoot the bad guys with a pretend gun. And the boy never received immediate first aid from either of the responding officers. A detective and an FBI agent arrived on the scene some four minutes later and tried to save him. He died the next day in the hospital.

The policeman who fired the deadly shots is 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann. He has a degree in Criminology/Sociology and had completed law enforcement training at the local police academy. According to one report,

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said he spoke to Loehmann and said he ‘is broken up about this’ and ‘didn’t want to do this, but had to protect himself’.

I hope all of us can understand that cops have a legitimate right to protect themselves. They should get to come home at the end of a day’s work just like anyone else. But it seems to be the case that when it comes to the police, especially the white police, the response when encountering a black suspect is to aggressively act first and then figure out what is going on later. We have to ask ourselves why that is and, more important, what we should do about it. It might be a way of affirming that, indeed, black lives matter.

Are police trained to shoot first and ask questions later, when it comes to black males? Putting aside what happened in Ferguson—and putting aside what happened in Nevada earlier this year when a group of white people with guns took aim at federal agents, doing so with impunity—there are plenty of examples of this shoot-first mentality in practice, if not in theory. Here are just a few:

♦ In August police in Ohio shot and killed John Crawford in a Walmart. Crawford was a 26-year-old African-American. He was walking around the store, talking to the mother of his kids on his cell phone, while carrying an air rifle that the store sold. Police responded to the scene as a result of a 911 call from a citizen who exaggerated Crawford’s actions. When police confronted Crawford, they started yelling and shooting at him at about the same time. He had no chance to tell them what was going on.

Neither of the two officers involved in that shooting were indicted by a grand jury even though a video from a surveillance camera clearly showed how hastily the officers acted.

In July, police in New York City killed Eric Garner on the sidewalk by placing him in a deadly chokehold, a move that is banned by the NYPD. Garner’s crime was selling untaxed cigarettes, which apparently is a capital offense on Staten Island. The officer accused of killing the unarmed father of six testified before a grand jury ten days ago and a decision is expected next month. A video of that deadly incident is also available, otherwise it is quite likely there would have been no grand jury at all, since police accounts of such incidents are always designed to protect and serve the police.

♦ A dash cam video from the car of a former South Carolina state trooper showed us all what might happen if a black male is stopped for a seat belt violation in that state: he might get shot. Fortunately, 35-year-old African-American Levar Jones lived to tell about his September encounter with a white cop, Sean Groubert. Jones was merely retrieving his wallet, in response to a command from Groubert to get his license, and for that he was yelled at and then shot. In this case, the trooper has actually been charged with “assault and battery of a high and aggregated nature.” Comparing the video evidence to what Groubert said about the incident clearly shows the officer’s self-serving account was an attempt to cover up his panicked behavior.

Which brings us back to Tamir Rice.

Here’s the way The New York Times reported on the Cleveland Police Department’s explanation of why the 12-year-old was killed:

The police said the officer yelled at Tamir three times to show his hands, but the boy instead reached to his waistband for the object, which turned out to be a fake gun.

Well, maybe all that can happen in less than two seconds, but I have serious doubts. It is more likely that a rookie cop did what so many other white cops have done when it comes to black males: shoot first and then appeal to the public, the white public, for understanding later.

In the mean time, the hunt for dirt on or around the Cleveland sixth grader has begun. How about this headline:

Tamir Rice’s father has history of domestic violence

Or this one:

Lawyer representing Tamir Rice’s family defended boy’s mom in drug trafficking case

The publisher of those two articles, Northeast Ohio Media Group, defended the effort to dig into the background of Tamir’s family this way:

In a city where…police are quick to resort to force, a 12-year-old randomly aiming a gun in a public place is in mortal danger. One way to stop police from killing any more 12-year-olds might be to understand the forces that lead children to undertake behavior that could put them in the sights of police guns. 

So our reporters at NEOMG have been looking into Tamir’s background, to see if he lived a life exposed to violence that could explain why it might be normal for him to randomly aim what looks like a real gun in a public place.

I suppose there could be a special “background” reason why Tamir Rice was playing with a non-lethal gun in public, something I did as a kid countless times, even if it was unwise of Tamir to point it at strangers. Maybe it is the case that revealing the “criminal records involving violence” of his two parents will “shed further light on why this 12 year old was waving a weapon around a public park.” But what it won’t do, what it can’t possibly do, is shed further light on why it is that to be black in this country, even in this the 21st century, means that even sixth grade African-American students had better be careful how they spend their play time.

So, do black lives matter? Yes, they matter. Even the life of a little boy whose parents weren’t necessarily the best role models, a naive kid who apparently trusted the police enough to approach them without fear, a misplaced trust that cost him his life.


The following is the entire available video of Tamir’s last minutes on earth. His family approved the release of the video so that the public could see the actions of the officers involved. The family has also asked “for the community to remain calm,” and they want to use the emotions associated with this tragedy “in a way that will contribute to positive efforts and solutions that bring change to Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and cities across the nation as it relates to how law enforcement officials interact with citizens of color.” 

Two Reasons Why The Darren Wilson Grand Jury Did Not Reach The Right Decision

A lot of people, good people, believe that the grand jurors did the right thing when they did not indict Darren Wilson for any crime related to his killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. I’m not one of those people, as you all know. Neither is MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

In my last attempt to change minds on this matter, I post below two segments from O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” program from earlier in the week. The first segment has to do with the witnesses in the case, centered on the one known as “Witness #10,” who ostensibly corroborated Officer Wilson’s testimony and who ostensibly was beyond impeachment.

The second segment has to do with a Missouri statute, dealing with a police officer’s use of legal force in making an arrest. Just before Officer Wilson’s hours of testimony, prosecutors presented to the jurors, either mistakenly or intentionally, that state statute, which had been written to authorize the reasonable use of deadly force against a suspect running away from a police officer. Later on the prosecutors had to tell the jurors that they may not want to “necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn’t comply with the law.” Yes, because that “portion”—the portion which authorized the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspect—was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

I urge all of you, those of you who think the grand jury did the right thing, those of you who may not be sure, and those of you who just want to know a little more about what happened inside that grand jury room, to watch these two segments:


Ferguson: Justice Is A Journey, Not Just A Destination

Let me declare at the beginning: there is simply no excuse for the burning and looting and violence we saw in Ferguson on Monday night. Most of the people who committed those acts were not protesters. They were opportunists. Criminals. And for those few who were genuinely disgusted by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and who took their anger out on their surroundings: we don’t settle things that way in a civilized country, no matter how outraged one is about an outcome. It’s unacceptable regardless of what one’s grievance is. It is unquestionably immoral, ultimately counter-productive, and therefore utterly stupid.

Let me further declare that I don’t know whether Officer Wilson is, or should have been found, guilty of any crime. I have seen and read the accounts of various witnesses—including Wilson—some of wilson and brownthem conflicting with each other, and I acknowledge that those accounts can be interpreted in more than one way, as is always the case. I have heard specialists discuss the autopsy results, which also can be interpreted in several ways, including supporting Officer Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown was the aggressor or supporting the claim that Michael Brown posed no threat when the fatal shot or shots were fired. I have seen other evidence in the case, recently released, none of it case-closed conclusive one way or the other, as far as I can tell.

I will also admit that Brown’s behavior just minutes before he was shot—when he stole cigarillos from a store and bullied his way out—could easily be interpreted as supporting Officer Wilson’s account of his initial encounter on the street with an aggressive Brown, even though strictly speaking Brown’s prior behavior had nothing to do with whether Wilson acted lawfully when he fired 12 shots at him, one of them entering through the top of his head.

But even though Brown’s aggressive behavior in that convenience store is technically unrelated to what happened minutes later, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the video of Brown bullying his way out of the store at the very least makes Wilson’s account of a demon-faced aggressor plausible to many people, including people sitting on a grand jury. And it is quite likely that that video, and the images from it that were widely distributed, doomed any prosecution of Officer Wilson from the start, no matter whether the officer’s fact-tailored story of what happened seems “difficult or impossible to believe.

That is why prosecutor Bob McCulloch had little trouble, through his assistants who presented evidence to the grand jury, convincing the jurors that Officer Wilson acted lawfully, even though that is not normally how the grand jury process works. McCulloch’s unusual use of that process, in which his team clearly was acting partly on behalf of Wilson, has a lot of African-Americans angry. Think about it:

1. An unarmed black teenager, who some witnesses say either had his hands up or was otherwise not aggressive, is killed by a white policeman.

2. What followed was an almost unprecedented use of the grand jury system, in which prosecutors presented voluminous amounts of evidence in what was essentially a trial that the prosecutors manifestly controlled.

3. That nearly unprecedented quasi-trial before the grand jury was followed by an equally unprecedented decision not to indict the shooter—almost all such juries hand down indictments if asked to by a prosecutor—done by a grand jury that was 75% white.

Those items and others are why a lot of African-Americans look at this case and find more reasons than ever to doubt the justice in our justice system.

mccullochThat being said, my first thought, when I heard that the district attorney would announce the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting case on Monday evening, was why do it so late at night? That was exactly the wrong time to announce it, as many have now realized. There was no compelling reason to announce it around 8:30pm. It was as if the entire event was designed to cause what we in fact witnessed.  It seemed to be fashioned in order to provide fuel for a easy-to-ignite fire. It took only a handful of violent people, those who burned buildings and cars, threw bricks and fired shots, to make the whole community look uncivilized and out of control. Late into the night, Jon Belmar, St. Louis County Police Chief, said,

I really don’t have any hesitation in telling you that I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protesters out there tonight….What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worse night we ever had in August.

Yeah, well, the Chief should take that up with the prosecuting attorney. Except that Chief Belmar told reporters that it wouldn’t have mattered much when the announcement of the non-indictment was made. Huh? He also said that it would have been a violation of the grand jury process to get advanced notice as to whether there would or wouldn’t be an indictment, so that he could better prepare. What? Hooey.

What happened was an utter law enforcement failure, from the governor on down. These people weren’t powerless in this situation. They could have influenced the timing of the announcement of the decision and been better prepared to deal with the results. (I won’t even get into how Governor Nixon could have and should have appointed a special prosecutor for such a sensitive case, especially since Bob McCulloch, whose policeman father had been tragically shot in the line of duty by an African-American, had close ties with law enforcement and had a history of protecting the police in four out of four similar cases.)

As I said, the whole thing, from the announcement last week that the decision was imminent to Bob McCulloch’s press conference on Monday night, seemed orchestrated to produce the results we all saw on our TVs Monday night. But I confess that I don’t really have the slightest idea what was in the head of the prosecutor. I don’t know why he did what he did when he did it. I don’t have anything but flimsy circumstantial evidence that he was trying to maximize the negative reaction that would, most certainly, take the focus off Bob McCulloch and put it on the black community in Ferguson and elsewhere. I hope that his decision to make the announcement well into the evening was just a very misguided act by a public official who was trying to do the right thing and nothing more cynical than that.

In any case, prosecutor McCulloch’s weird theatrics Monday night struck me as a oddly cold. Like ice. Like ice that would, paradoxically, unleash a protest of fire into the night. His team had brought the case to the grand jury as both prosecutor and defense, which one lawyer said was “not the normal process” and another called “rare.” Yet another lawyer said—a former prosecutor—that not only were McCulloch’s actions during the grand jury process almost unheard of in his long experience, but that often the process is almost as important as the outcome itself.

He’s right about that. The process has to be right. Justice is a journey, not just a destination. It matters how outcomes are achieved. It has to appear that the prosecutor is as aggressively pursuing justice for a dead black teenager killed by a white policeman as he would be for a dead white policeman killed by a black teenager. It may be that had the system run its natural course, from indictment to trial to verdict, Officer Wilson would have and should have been found not guilty of any potential charge. But this McCulloch-guided process didn’t even get to a charge, even though all that was needed to indict was “probable cause.” Thus there will always remain large doubts as to Wilson’s innocence or guilt.

From the beginning, after Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9, the process did not seem right. It didn’t seem normal. Michael Brown’s body was left on the hot August street for more than four hours, uncovered part of the time. Officer Wilson apparently was never required to offer an official written statement after the incident nor were there any recordings or transcripts of interviews done with him at that time. His first comprehensive explanation of what transpired was a month after the shooting—in front of the grand jury and without real cross-examination—plenty of time for him to lawyer up and shape his story to fit the facts that were subsequently and widely available. That in itself raises suspicions about the process. Then there were the leaks of certain information, leaks that always seemed to exculpate Officer Wilson, like the release of that video of Brown stealing the cigarillos. Tack on the quite unusual way the prosecutor handled the grand jury and you have understandable questions about the justice process, even understandable anger.

President Obama said two days ago that “in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.” No doubt about that. Much of that distrust is generated by police behavior, to be sure. But a lot of it is generated by the legal process itself. The President, ever the optimist, continued:

…there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.  Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion.  I don’t think that’s the norm.  I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials.  But these are real issues.  And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.  What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress.  And that can be done.

I hope he’s right. But what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, here in 2014, makes me wonder if he is.


[image of Officer Wilson on the street is taken from Piaget Crenshaw’s video]


The Joplin Globe’s “Monkey House” Problem

In his response to my post about a local Joplin Globe columnist’s racist tweet, Anson Burlingame, a local blogger who sometimes contributes to the Joplin Globe and who often contributes to the comment section of this blog, wrote in to defend columnist Geoff Caldwell’s use of the term “monkey” in reference to President Obama:

…a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing”. When one is accused of “acting like a monkey” I never considered it a racist comment. Get off this liberal racist accusation against any and all opposing Obama.

Another frequent contributor to this blog, King Beauregard, wrote in response to Anson’s claim:

“Monkey” carries racial baggage and you know it, and more importantly, Geoff knows it. That was the entire point of his tweet.

Exactly. That was the entire point of the tweet, whether Anson realizes it or not. And another commenter, Henry Morgan, put some force behind King Beauregard’s claim:

Anson tells us that “a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing.”
Yes, and a “coon” is a small animal of American forests known for its fastidious eating habits.
And an “ape” is a member of a family of primates inhabiting tropical environs.
A “buck” is a male deer.
A “boy” is a young human male.
And most certainly, as Anson implies, one’s first meaning attached to these words when African-Americans are part of the discussion, is the denotative, not the connotative.
Gee, just nice, kindly words.

Brilliant stuff.

Another frequent contributor, Jim Wheeler, doubted whether Anson was unaware of the obvious fact “that the monkey reference is terminology historically used to deprecate the inferiority of the black race.” Jim writes:

Anson presents an apparently blind eye to this, despite having grown up in Kentucky. That he really didn’t understand the slur is about as likely as believing that Archie Bunker wouldn’t. But wait. I can picture Archie using it and not even realizing its effect, so never mind. ;-)

Okay. I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that Anson genuinely was not aware that the term “monkey” has historically been used as a racial epithet and worse. I’m going to assume that Anson didn’t see the story earlier this year about North Korea’s state media describing President Obama as a “wicked black monkey.” I suppose it could be that the North Koreans were just saying that our wicked president was a “funny and scatter brained like ‘thing.'” They’re known for their playful chatter, right? Not even Anson Burlingame would believe that, I am sure.

In any case, in order to help make Anson—and others tempted to think that a local columnist comparing our first African-American president to a monkey was just a playful form of criticism—aware of the awful history behind the connection, I’m going to introduce them to Ota Benga, a Congolese man who actually became part of an exhibition at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.  According to Encylopedia Virginia,

…tens of thousands of people came to see the famous Pygmy who shared a cage with an Asian orangutan, several chimpanzees, and a parrot…The so-called man and monkey show was immediately controversial. 

As Wikipedia notes, Benga was displayed in the zoo’s famous “Monkey House,” which closed in 2012. But pay particular attention to this historical fact on the Wiki page:

Displays of non-Western humans as examples of “earlier stages” of human evolution were common in the early 20th century, when racial theories were frequently intertwined with concepts from evolutionary biology.

It’s no accident when someone who wishes to disparage an African-American uses the term monkey. It’s not just “another word for a funny and scatter brained like ‘thing,'” as Anson claimed. And it is especially no accident when someone who literally despises Barack Obama tweets the following:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Geoff Caldwell, a disturbingly reactionary columnist for the Joplin Globe, may never have heard of Ota Benga and his appearance as an exhibit in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. But he most certainly knows the awful and racist meaning behind calling President Obama a monkey. And that is precisely why he did it.

The only question remaining is whether the Joplin Globe will tolerate such behavior.

Joplin Globe’s Local Columnist Writes Racist Tweet

Every Wednesday someone working on behalf of the Joplin Globe throws trash in my yard.

That trash comes in the form of a column on the editorial page inside the “free” newspaper that is distributed to non-subscribers. That column is written by a man who is now a regular columnist for the Joplin Globe. His name will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog: Geoff Caldwell.

Caldwell is a troll that I banished from commenting on this blog a long time ago, details of which I won’t go into now. Neither will I go into the details of why I think calling Caldwell’s columns “trash” is, well, an understatement. But even though I hesitate to even bring attention to him—because he is starving for attention from me or anyone—I do think that my fellow Democrats out there, as well as independents, who support the Joplin Globe through subscriptions or daily purchases should be aware of what your money is subsidizing.

As we all know, President Obama decided recently to take executive action to defer deportment of some undocumented immigrants, which would, among other things, help keep families together. You would think that keeping families together would be something that self-professed “family-values” Christians like Geoff Caldwell could appreciate. But hatred for Barack Obama has poisoned the minds of so many teapartiers like Caldwell that instead of appreciation of a humane act, or instead of reasoned criticism of what some consider executive overreach, we get this:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Now, Caldwell may think he can get away with this obviously racist tweet because of the “banana republic” reference, but he and I both know better. We’ve been down this road before.

I am sure the Joplin Globe will continue to litter my lawn with Caldwell’s columns on Wednesday mornings in an effort to more widely distribute the advertising that is stuffed into that edition, as well as to pick up new subscribers. But I am also sure that as long as my local paper publishes a column by a pedestrian writer who calls our first African-American president a “monkey,” I will never again be a subscriber.

By the way, for those of you interested in expressing your displeasure to the Joplin Globe, the phone number is 417-781-5500. If you want to make a written complaint to the Globe’s parent company, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., here is a link to its site:

‘Nuff Said About Benghazi?

From the Associated Press:

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees. 

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

No wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.” “Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies.” “No, no, no.”

How telling is this:

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.

After all the hysterics, after all the accusations, after all those “dark conspiracies,” the Benghazi “conspiracy” dies with a gobble-gobble.

That’s it? Don’t bet on it:

The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

What A Leader Does When The Cowards Won’t Act

When President Obama was speaking last night, I was thinking, “Dammit, this is what Democrats are supposed to do!” We’re supposed to bring some measure of mercy to people who otherwise would be without it, who otherwise would be at the mercy of the merciless. We’re supposed to lead this country into a more hopeful future. And, for all the foolish talk about how weak a leader he is, President Obama was a powerful leader last night. He looked right into the eyes of the American people and asked:

Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, immigration speechand give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works together to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration. We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

Hope over fear, help over hate. That’s what the Democratic Party should be about, and its leader should be about leading the country to embrace those values. President Obama, after waiting so long for Republicans to act, finally just shoved the cowards out of the way.

The President told the story of Astrid Silva, a beneficiary of his earlier order deferring deportation action for those undocumented young people—”DREAMers”—who were brought to the country as children. Silva became an immigration activist who demanded a more comprehensive fix to what “everybody knows,” as the President noted last night, is a “broken immigration system.” About her he said,

Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and she became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mom cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school, not because they didn’t love her, but because they were afraid the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant –- so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid, or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

astrid silvaMost of the people who oppose this president—the people who want his political scalp, who want to sue him or impeach him or worse—are not fighting against Obama so much as they are fighting against the changing face of America that Obama, so dramatically, represents. Many of the millions of people who will be helped by his executive actions look like Astrid Silva and not like Rush Limbaugh. And you are kidding yourself if you don’t think that makes a difference. If those undocumented immigrants were mostly white, immigration reform would have happened a long time ago.

The questions that journalists should ask every single Republican in Congress who opposes Obama’s action are these: Why do you want to load up buses with hard-working people who adore America and send them away? Why do you want to break up families through deportation while simultaneously championing “family values”? And if not Obama’s way, then what way?


The Chaos To Come Will Be John Boehner’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s political life will be over on January 20, 2017, and he has some things he wants to do before the end comes.

One of those things is immigration reform. There is a bill in Congress that would go a long way toward fixing our immigration system, a bill that has been passed by the Senate—in June of 2013—with, gasp, 14 Republican votes. But that bill, a bill that would quiet all the fuss over executive orders if it reached the President’s desk, will never get a vote in the Tea Party-controlled House because Speaker John Boehner knows it would pass with Democratic votes, joined by a handful of Republicans. And the Speaker knows that if that were to happen, he wouldn’t be Speaker anymore. There would be a rebellion of historic proportions.

So, let’s get it straight: There is a bi-partisan solution to the immigration problem that has been rejected by a Republican leader because he values his leadership job over the well-being of the country. It’s pretty much that simple. And if journalists spent as much time reporting on that salient fact as they have on the issue of Obama’s executive oJohn Boehner smilerder—which he will announce tonight—an order that would only partly and temporarily address a long-standing problem, then maybe there would exist some decisive pressure on the Speaker to allow the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate to come to a vote. And we could move on to other things.

But there has been no real pressure on Speaker Boehner. He is rarely, if ever, asked a question about why he is tearing the country apart by not allowing that vote on the Senate bill. Most of the questions these days are focused on just how ridiculously nuts will his caucus go, if the President issues his order, an order that will not only help millions of undocumented immigrants and the country as a whole, but would also help Republicans in the 2016 presidential election (just ask the Chamber of Commerce). Those questions raised about the craziness of the Republican reaction are certainly legitimate, but they shield Speaker Boehner, who is the real problem in this mess, from the criticism he richly deserves.

When President Obama (Boehner’s spokesman now calls him “Emperor Obama”) finally announces his executive action on immigration reform (Boehner himself falsely but intentionally calls it “executive amnesty”), the resulting tumult, both in the Congress and throughout the foaming-at-the-mouth conservative media complex and beyond, will be Speaker Boehner’s responsibility. Whatever ugliness happens after tonight—and it will get ugly—history will blame much of it on John Boehner, even if contemporary journalists have largely given him a pass.

[AP photo]

Claire De Lune?

clair de lunea very pale blue color…

Let me begin by showing you this headline over a Huffington Post story posted on Sunday evening:

Sen. Claire McCaskill Distances Herself From Obama, Senate Democrats

That characterization of McCaskill’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation wasn’t a totally accurate one, as you can see by this exchange with the program’s host:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me talk a little bit about what [Romney] said on immigration. He said what the Republicans have been saying up on the Hill, the President taking unilateral action on immigration is a poke in the eye like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Are you comfortable with the President taking unilateral action?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: You know I’m not crazy about it. But let me say this, I’ll tell what you a poke in the eye is. A poke in the eye is for the United States Senate almost a year and a half ago passing by a two-thirds majority and a comprehensive immigration bill with Republicans voting for it from places mccaskill on face the nationlike Tennessee and South Carolina that just got re-elected by double digits. And Speaker Boehner has refused to debate one of the most complicated and difficult problems facing our country. They won’t take our bill up. All he has to do next week if he doesn’t want the President to act is take up the Senate bill, amend it, change it, put up your own bill. Let’s get back to doing our work instead of just blaming the President for everything.

I actually don’t see much distance between her and Obama, at least in that statement. I would venture to say that President Obama isn’t exactly “crazy” about the idea of unilateral action either, but he understands the reality of the politics facing him, especially given the fact that next year’s Congress will be even more reactionary than the present one.

But there is some awful truth to the other part of the claim about McCaskill made in that HuffPo headline. Clearly she is distancing herself from some Senate Democrats (many suspect she is going to run for Missouri governor in two years). She was one of only six Democratic senators not to vote for Harry Reid as their leader next year. But even more troubling for me is that she is distancing herself from those Senate Democrats who actually stand for something, who actually stand for what should be important Democratic values. McCaskill made it clear she preferred more “moderate” voices over clearly liberal ones:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this: Elizabeth Warren, the fiery populist from Massachusetts has now been part of the– voted in as part of the leadership in the Senate. How do you feel about that? It’s another woman in leadership. But is this going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left when a lot of people think the only way that you can get anything done is if both parties move toward the center?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think that the leadership team, hopefully, may expand even more with more moderates in it. And by the way the same day that Elizabeth Warren was selected, so was Jon Tester, a flat top farmer from Montana who is about as salt of earth as you can get, and who is a moderate through and through and so his voice is going to be in that room along with Elizabeth Warren’s.

“Moderate through and through,” she said. She admires that. During her campaign in 2012 she emphasized just how moderate she was.  No, she actually bragged about it. Who could forget this commercial:

I have been mostly supportive of Claire McCaskill over the years. I’ve even knocked on doors for her. I know what politics is like here in half-Democrat, half-Republican Missouri. I understand the need for compromise (which she appropriately embraced on Face the Nation). And I wish her luck should she decide to run for governor in 2016. But I confess there is something about that whole moderate thing that just bothers the hell out of me.

Last year McCaskill became an honorary co-chair of Third Way,” a group of “Democrats and Independents” who “believe that America is best led from the center” and who are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” They say,

Third Way’s role in these debates is to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity – forces that serve only to preserve the status quo.

That sounds nice to a lot of people. I know it does. But think about it. What it actually means is that this group of Democrats, presumably including Claire McCaskill (she said on Sunday that she hopes “to be somebody who is driving people to the center”), actually think there is an equal amount of blame to go around for the polarization and ideological rigidity we have seen, especially over the last four years. But there most certainly isn’t an equal amount of blame. Even Claire McCaskill at one time recognized the reality of the situation.

In 2012 McCaskill said that “the far right-wing base of the Republican Party” wanted candidates who believe “we need to turn out the lights on the federal government and go home.” She was absolutely right about that. But no one could say the same thing about the liberal base of the Democratic Party. They actually want candidates who want to govern. It’s what they send them to Washington to do because they actually believe in government. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is a democratic socialist, actually compromises with Republicans, for God’s sake.

So any Democratic group that says it exists “to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity” has it wrong from the start. And one suspects that something else is cooking, and it doesn’t smell much like working class populism to me.

But there’s more to it than that. As I noted earlier, the Wall Street-backed group of so-called moderate Democrats in Third Way claim they are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” That highly suggests they think the visions of the Elizabeth Warrens out there are as extreme and disturbing as the visions of the Ted Cruzes, that the economic populism championed by the senator from Massachusetts is as bad for the country as the know-nothing Tea Party extremism advanced by the senator from Texas.

And if that is what Claire McCaskill believes, she should say so.

-CINCpt_07-18-2014_Enquirer_1_A009~~2014~07~17~IMG_0210_sherrod_brown.j_1_1_.jpgOne Democratic Senator (and one of my favorites) who isn’t afraid to speak up in defense of working class populism is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Last week in The New York Times he said,

Too many Democrats are too close to Wall Street. Too many Democrats support trade agreements that outsource jobs, and too many Democrats are too willing to cut Social Security — and that’s why we lose elections.

I don’t know if Brown is completely right about why Democrats lose elections. But if the Democratic Party, in the name of “moderation” or “centrism” gets even chummier with fat cats on Wall Street, if the party helps make it even more profitable for American companies to outsource jobs, and if party leadership agrees to additional cuts to social programs, then I will know that the Third Way moderates have won the battle for the soul of my party—and the forces of reaction and regression will make life even harder for the poor and for the working-class, often, we all should be ashamed to admit, the same people.


[Sherrod Brown photo: AP]

Breitbart: “Impeachment Goes Mainstream”—Yes!

It’s official: Charlie Krauthammer, the ringmaster of reactionary columnists, has blessed impeachment. Alas, my strategy is working!

After last week’s election, I published a piece (“Get Out Your Matches, Mr. President, And Start A Circus”) in which I urged President Obama to go ahead and incite incitable Republicans with his promised executive action, including de-prioritizing deportation of certain classes of undocumented immigrants (“deferred action”), such as those who have been here for some time and those who have families here. His action would not be unprecedented (even Republican presidents have done it), nor would it be outside of his authority as chief executive of the country, which, after all, does give him discretion on how to use the limited resources available for prosecution of any crimes (the Feds, for instance, aren’t prosecuting marijuana munchers in Colorado).

After Fox “News” and The New York Times reported that Obama may in fact throw his executive authority on the side of immigration reform next week, the circus clowns began putting on their creepy makeup and the sideshow artists began honing their acts—rumor has it that a sword-swallowing Sean Hannity will attempt to deep-throat Rush Limbaugh’s sweaty sword. Anything for the team!

It was one thing when Sarah Palin, who knows more than a little about not completing terms in office, called for impeachment this past summer:

…we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is. 

Or when right-wing legisnutters like Joe Barton of Texas floated the idea last week:

…impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir.

breitbart on impeachmentBut when Ringmaster Krauthammer says that action by Obama on immigration reform “is an impeachable offense,” then, God bless P.T. Barnum, it’s time to set up the big tents!

Just yesterday I heard a smug John Boehner say, “All of the options are on the table,” when it comes to depriving the President of his executive powers. He also claimed that he wanted to stop Obama “from violating his own oath of office and violating the Constitution.” Now, if he really means that, it’s impeachment, baby!

But then, dammit, The Washington Post came out last night with a report that suggested the House would only consider a lawsuit as a response:

The idea to use the courts as an initial means of dissent, should the president move forward in the coming weeks to protect millions from deportation, moved to the front of the House GOP’s playbook after the leadership reviewed it. Boehner reportedly wants to respond forcefully and quickly should the president act and believes a lawsuit would do that, as well as signal to conservatives in his conference that he shares their frustrations about the president’s use of executive power.

Darn, darn, darn! Maybe the clowns and Sean The Sword-Swallower will have to wait on the lawyers. But the sue-Obama-for-doing-his-job lawyers are sort of hard to find:

Boehner first announced plans to initiate a federal suit against Obama in late June, when he called the president’s executive orders an unconstitutional power grab by one branch of government.

But the suit has wallowed ever since as GOP lawmakers have struggled to find a D.C. area law firm willing to take up their legal fight.

The good news is that if the House is serious about finally bringing a lawsuit against the President, as opposed to bringing up articles of impeachment, that means Obama can go even further on immigration reform than he might now be contemplating. And that would be good not only for the immigrants involved, but good for the country.

And going even further would, Allah willing, bring us Ringmaster Krauthammer and The Greatest Show On Earth. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, get ready!

Rosetta And The Future Of Man

I’ve been a fan of space travel and NASA since I was a little boy. I read about the Mercury and Gemini programs and followed the Apollo missions. I dreamed of earthlings colonizing Mars, a dream helped along by Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and other books.

But I never thought I’d live to see mankind land a probe on a comet! Did you get that? Just when we thought the world was going to hell in all kinds of ways, when we felt all our institutions were failing us (they really aren’t, of course), we landed on a comet. Wow.

By “we” I mean the European Space Agency, with help from NASA. All morning I waited for the big event, and a little bit after 10 this morning it happened, as this tweet from ESA indicates:

rosetta mission landing tweet

 “Philae” is the landing craft that left its mother ship, Rosetta, and landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is currently 300 million miles away from Earth and headed toward the Sun. All of which merited a shout-out from Captain Kirk himself:

captain kirk tweet

The journey to the comet took more than 10 years, after its launch in March of 2004. That was before some guy named Barack Obama gave the famous keynote speech at his party’s convention that first brought him national attention. Think of all the events we have witnessed since then. Yet, during all that time there was Rosetta speeding its way to a rendezvous with, and carrying a probe that would eventually land on—let me say it again—a comet! One of these things (photo of Comet West via NASA; Comet 67P can’t be seen with the naked eye):

Comet West

Comet 67P actually looks like this closeup (the primary landing site is enlarged):

Philae's primary landing site, Site J, now named Agilkia

Needless to say, this is one stunning technical achievement, even though as of right now the probe Philae hasn’t been secured on the surface of the comet. Because Comet 67P is so small, its gravitational pull is hundreds of thousands of times weaker than Earth’s and harpoons were suppose to fire from the lander to help keep it in place. They didn’t fire and no one knows why. There are, though, ice screws on each of the lander’s three legs that are supposed to use the impact energy from the landing to drive them into the surface. Hopefully that will be enough to keep it attached while the science is conducted.

In any case, whatever happens, it is a remarkable day for our kind. I want to share with you what Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, had to say about the event. Mr. Green was at ESA when Philae touched down and couldn’t contain his American-style enthusiasm in front of the distinguished guests:

Personally, from my perspective, how audacious! How exciting! How unbelievable to be able to dare to land on a comet! To take that step that we’ve all wanted, from a scientific perspective…It is the start of something important. The Solar System is mankind’s. This mission is the first step to take it. It is ours! Let’s learn about the environment that we are in. It’s these steps that will lead us beyond this planet and onto Mars and out into the Solar System. I truly believe that a single planet’s species will not survive long. It’s our destiny to move off this planet.

You have to love the guy. He thinks big. Like human beings should do. This planet is too small to hold us!

I want to inject into this tribute to human ingenuity a note about a couple of old friends of mine. The old friends are actually spacecraft that were launched in 1977, one just before and one just after I turned 19. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still alive and transmitting data back to earth, even though by the time the radio signals arrive here, they are less than a billionth of a billionth of a watt. Yet, those signals shout out our expansion into the universe.

Both Voyagers flew by Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager 2 managed to also take in Uranus and Neptune on its scientific sightseeing tour of the Solar System. After their planetary missions, they headed for interstellar space. Voyager 2 is 10 billion miles away from home and counting and hasn’t yet reached the boundary that defines interstellar conditions. Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space—the first man-made object to do so—and is more than 12 billion miles from Earth. Travelling at 38,000 miles per hour, it is headed in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, which brings us back to the comet.

In Book II of Paradise Lost, John Milton compared Satan to a spectacular comet flashing across the constellation Ophiuchus:

Incens’d with indignation Satan stood
Unterrify’d, and like a comet burn’d
That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge
In th’ arctic sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war.

Paradise Lost is based on the story of the Fall of Man found in the book of Genesis, a story that attempts to persuade us that death is God’s punishment upon us for our failure to resist Satan’s offer of forbidden knowledge. Milton’s use of the streaking comet as a metaphor for Satan shaking “pestilence and war” on mankind is perfect, now that we have actually set our collective feet on a real comet today. Perhaps it is that all the knowledge and imagination and intelligence that went into the ESA’s Rosetta mission represents a metaphorical conquering of our ancient fears and superstitions. And perhaps Voyager 1’s planet montagestreaking “the length of Ophiuchus” represents a newer, far superior image of mankind than the horrific imagery found in the Old Testament and in Bible-based epics like Paradise Lost.

Aboard Voyager 1 is a 12-inch gold-plated phonograph record that holds selected cultural sounds and images of life on Earth. Featuring sounds of nature and music and a sampling of the world’s languages, NASA says the record is “intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.” But I think the story is better told to ourselves. We are an amazing species when we want to be.

The great Carl Sagan, who chaired a committee that determined the content of the record aboard both Voyagers, said,

The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.

Indeed, it does. And so does riding a comet.

A Veterans Day Lesson On Our “Democracy”

I will acknowledge from the start that I know why we have the political system we have today. I can read history books (or Wikipedia), too.

But on this Veterans Day, a day celebrating those who actually defend what we often call a democracy, it is worth taking a look at just how un- or anti-democratic our system really is, a system first constructed from a blueprint in west point first black graduateour Constitution, and modified by court decisions, amendments, and evolving practices.  And of course I know there will be no constitutional convention to alter our system of governance or no new and radical amendments to a document that is damned hard to amend under the best of circumstances. All that being said, we owe it to ourselves now and then to note just how we fail to govern ourselves democratically in some important respects and why we have failed from the beginning.

1. To start with, the  successful attempt by Republicans to suppress voter turnout among Democrats by enacting needlessly burdensome voting laws, which disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities, is as shameful as anything one can think of for people who live in a democracy. But the right-wing “patriots” who engage in such voter suppression are beyond shaming. Winning will only produce more attempts to skew the vote their way and undermine the principles of democratic government. But there’s more to the story of why they are doing such nasty things to our system, which I will get to at the end.

2. Next, we have the issue of money and politics. Theoretically, we all have the ability to influence the electoral process by making contributions to partisan candidates, or on behalf of or in opposition to ballot initiatives. Yes, we are all free to inject into the process a million or ten million or a hundred million dollars, right? Of course not. But people with real money can and do buy votes and people without real money can and do suffer because of it. Undemocratic or anti-democratic? You pick. Either way it is also a shameful aspect of our system.

3. Another people-unfriendly flaw in our electoral schemata was illustrated just 14 years ago. Everyone remembers that Al Gore, former Vice President of the country, actually got over 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush did in the presidential election of 2000. Yet there was no President Al Gore. The Constitution, in all its compromising glory, denied him the office, by virtue of a partisan Supreme Court decision that prematurely settled a messy election in Florida, which then led to Gore’s subsequent defeat in the very weird and anti-democratic electoral college.

Al Gore’s I-won-the-popular-vote-but-I-lost-the-election misfortune (and the country’s misfortune, given what happened on 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which has set part of the world on fire), though, is a relatively rare event. Such an outcome is not a regular occurrence even under our Constitution. Before the 2000 election, the last time a candidate won a presidential election without at least a plurality of the vote was in 1888. But still it happened and its consequences were costly and catastrophic, and given the trends in our electorate, it may happen more frequently in the future.

4. A more regular anti-democratic feature of our system is gerrymandering, a process of manipulating demographics in order to achieve lopsided outcomes by drawing up Ebola-looking congressional districts. For instance, here’s Maryland’s 3rd District and North Carolina’s 12th District, two of the most gerrymandered House districts in the country:

gerrmandered districts

The most recent beneficiary of this form of voter manipulation is, of course, the Republican Party. After that Democrat-shellacking 2010 election, right-wingers got to draw boundaries for a larger number of congressional districts than Democrats did. After the 2012 election, the results were in: Democrats outpolled Republicans by about 1.4 million votes nationally in House races, but were under-represented by 18 seats. We saw the effect here in Missouri again this year, where even last Tuesday’s pitiful statewide electoral performance by Democrats (they only received 36% of the vote in all U.S. House races) would, under a more people-friendly system, have entitled them to an additional representative in Congress.

Consider the following analysis of the 2012 election done by Sam Wang, who founded the Princeton Election Consortium:

In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.

5. Another regular anti-democratic feature of our strange electoral system is what happened last Tuesday relative to the U.S. Senate, which, as some political scientists claim, “may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.” Let’s look at Louisiana. There were eight candidates in the Senate race. Here are the top three finishers:

Democrat Mary Landrieu: 618,840  42.1%
Republican Bill Cassidy:    602,439  41.0%
Republican Rob Maness:   202,413  13.8%

Rob Maness is a typical Tea Party wingnut Republican. As far as I’m concerned, Maness shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether to buy a new street sweeper for the city of Baton Rouge, let alone make reactionary whoopee with Mitch McConnell in Washington, D.C.  But Maness did manage to get over 200,000 votes in a multi-candidate race. Compare that to fairly-liberal Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware. He won his race by almost 16 points, yet he received only 130,645 votes. Coons will be a U.S. Senator and Maness will not, thank God and, in this limited case, the Founding Fathers.

But there is something about that 130,645 vote total in Delaware that should unsettle us all, at least those of us who value representative democracy. And there is something unsettling about Mike Rounds’ U.S. Senate victory in South Dakota. He got 140,721 votes. Republican Senator Mike Enzi was reelected in Wyoming with a whopping 72% of the vote, but he got a total of 119, 534 votes. In Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is leading with 110,203 votes. Compare all those totals with what Republican Senator John Cornyn received in his Texas race: 2,855,068. That far exceeds the vote totals of 12 U.S. Senate winners, Republicans and Democrats, last Tuesday. Think about that. There were 36 Senate seats up for grabs and John Cornyn got more votes than one-third of the winners put together. Yet Cornyn, who represents 26.5 million people, will have only one vote, and those 12 other Senators, including Mike Enzi from a population-poor state like Wyoming—583,000—will each have a vote that counts as much as Cornyn’s. In effect, Wyoming citizens enjoy 46 times more representation than do Texans—and 66 times more than Californians!

Put another way on this Veterans Day, an American soldier from Texas or California who is fighting on behalf of the country’s democratic values, is getting considerably shortchanged. Those soldiers from Wyoming or Delaware have, democratically speaking, more to fight for and more to lose. And the small-state advantage is not only big, but it is increasing because of the population growth in large cities in the larger states. Because of the nature of that population growth—African-Americans and Latinos tend to live in the largest states—the smaller states with the lopsided representation make the country’s governance much more whiter and conservative than it would or should be. As The New York Times pointed out,

Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

The Times reports another disturbing feature of our political life related to the anti-democratic Senate:

In the last few years, 41 senators representing as little as a third of the nation’s population have frequently blocked legislation, as the filibuster (or the threat of it) has become a routine part of Senate business.

Given that reality, even when Democrats do manage to control a majority of Senate seats, they are still fairly powerless to do anything. One-third of the country’s people can stop two-thirds. It’s hard to see how that is anyone’s idea of representative government.

As I said, there isn’t going to be any mad rush to change any of these flaws in our system. We’re stuck with it, as far as the eye can see. But I do want to point out a dark and disturbing connection between all of the items on my list of anti-democratic elements in our political system, starting with voter suppression efforts by Republicans and ending with the very anti-democratic U.S. Senate.

It is well established that conservatives in our country, whether they have called themselves Democrats or Republicans historically, have always had a problem recognizing the citizenship-legitimacy of African-Americans. The obvious attempts by conservative Republicans today to discourage black people (and other minorities, to be sure) from voting is just another manifestation of institutional discrimination that has bedeviled our democracy since its founding. From the Times:

Robert A. Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who is 97 and has been studying American government for more than 70 years, has argued that slavery survived thanks to the disproportionate influence of small-population Southern states. The House passed eight antislavery measures between 1800 and 1860; all died in the Senate. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, he added, was slowed by senators representing small-population states.

Related to that excellent Times article, professor of political science and author Corey Robin wrote,

…for all the justified disgust with Emory University President James Wagner’s recent celebration of the 3/5 Clause, virtually no one ever criticizes the Senate, even though its contribution to the maintenance of white supremacy, over the long course of American history, has been far greater than the 3/5 Clause, which was nullified by the 14th Amendment.

Now you can see why we have had, and continue to have, such an anti-democratic system. The causes are rooted in white supremacy, and we see a manifestation of that same spirit in the Republican-led defense against what they Gordon, scourged back, colored slide 2.pngperceive as threats to white Western culture. The voter suppression of minorities is part of that defense. The big money that controls our politics is part of it (how many black billionaires do you know?). The Electoral College system, which is directly related to the issue of slavery, is another part. Gerrymandering, where minority voting power is diluted by packing voters into often-convoluted districts, is still another part. And, finally, the Senate is part of it, too, a place where, as Corey Robin wrote, “democracy goes to die.”

So, the next time you hear a Republican talk about voter fraud and the need for stricter ID laws, or talk about how money equals free speech, or how the Electoral College “keeps the values of traditional America relevant,” or how gerrymandering “isn’t really about race,” or how the U. S. Senate balances rural interests against big-city interests, you will know what that Republican is really saying: white might makes right.

Democrats Need To Learn Something From The 2014 Election And Evangelicals May Be Their Best Teachers

I know Democrats are still stunned and angered by last Tuesday’s election results. Over the weekend I heard a lot of talk about what went wrong and why it went wrong. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion, including me.

Beyond the unfavorable mathematics of the situation—so many Senate Democratic seats to defend in so many indefensible places—and beyond the problems with voter ID laws that right-wingers used to make it more difficult for Democrats to cast votes, there was the troubling notion that voters, who said they were dissatisfied with the economy and believed the country was on the wrong track, looked to Republicans to help fix things. That in itself is enough to tempt a rational person into abandoning all hope that there is in fact any rationality in our electoral process.

We all saw the news last Friday that 214,000 more jobs were created in October, lowering the unemployment rate to 5.8%, the best it has been since 2008. Amazingly, it was 7.2% just a year ago. We now have seen nine consecutive months in which more than 200,000 jobs were created—the strongest job growth since 1998—and in just over four and a half years 10.6 million private-sector jobs have been added to the economy. The stock market has soared beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. More people have health insurance now. We’ve come a helluva long way since Barack Hussein Obama’s first few months in office.

Yep, all that makes one wonder what people were thinking on Tuesday. And it makes one wonder what Democratic candidates were thinking before Tuesday when most of them didn’t bother to run on the progress that has been made—progress made despite Republicans sabotaging the economy with shutdowns, threats of shutdowns, threats of defaulting on our debt, not to mention their strategic legislative obstruction in Congress. You gotta scratch your head.

But the biggest head-scratching fact of the election was, of course, the problems our side has with turnout. Hispanics, a strong Democratic Party constituency, constituted 11% of eligible voters this year yet only represented 8% of actual voters. And although Democrats won a significant share of the overall Hispanic vote nationally, in places like Texas, where Hispanics represent 17% of the electorate and where Democrats expect to become competitive in the near future, Hispanics gave Nugent-loving Greg Abbott 44% of their share. Texas Senator John Cornyn actually outperformed his Democratic opponent among Hispanics, 48% to 47%, as did reactionary Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who won his race with only 49.96% of the vote but managed to win the Latino vote 47% to 46%. (I should point out that there are some analysts who believe the exit polling showing these results was skewed and that Republicans didn’t do so well.)

Democrats, as usual, won the 18- to 29-year old vote, this year by 11 points. Problem is that they only represented 13% of the electorate on Tuesday, down from 19% in 2012. Turnout among single women, another stronghold for the Democrats for many important reasons, was also down and those who showed up only favored Democrats this time by a 60-38 margin. Women overall only favored Dems by five points, compared to +11 just two years ago. African-American turnout was down slightly from 2012, even though they remain a reliable voting block for Democrats.

I can’t explain to you why all those groups, groups that have so much to lose if Republicans have their way, don’t bother to show up in droves for the mid-term elections. It boggles my brain. The folks that Democrats help the most aren’t very good at helping Democrats when they need the most help. I just don’t know why that is. I don’t know why such folks need to be energized by a presidential campaign. Makes no sense to me. And I don’t know how long the country can continue progressing with what essentially are two distinct electorates, a younger and darker and more liberal one for presidential years and an older and whiter and more conservative one for off years.

But as a former evangelical Christian, something I do know and understand is this:

White Evangelicals turned up at the polls in large numbers on Tuesday, playing a key role placing Congress in the hands of the Republican Party.

That’s from a HuffPo article on “the religious landscape” of the 2014 election. The fact that conservative Christians showed up and voted, and voted in large numbers like they always do, doesn’t surprise me a bit. Those folks, even though they sometimes get frustrated with politics, nevertheless play the long game. They organize at the local level, move on to control their state’s GOP, and have a big say in who gets on the ballot. They then volunteer in campaigns and make sure to get out their vote, no matter what the election is. They are largely responsible for what we have seen since 2009. Barack Obama scared the devil out of them, or somewhat more accurately from their point of view, Barack Hussein Obama is the devil.

Take my next-door neighbor, Arkansas:

52 percent of the electorate was composed of self-identified white evangelicals or born-again Christians. About 73 percent voted for Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, which helped unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

Now, Mark Pryor was no atheist. In fact, he was co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast—where Republicans take time out from demonizing Democrats in order to assert their Christian values—four times. He was as sincere a Christian as one can find in politics (don’t laugh). But that didn’t stop the National Republican Senatorial Committee from attacking Pryor’s faith in December of last year, an attack that Tom Cotton even criticized, that is, just before Cotton attacked Pyror’s faith himself in July:

Barack Obama and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings. That’s when we worship, but faith is what we live every single day.

Cotton, who apparently has more ambition in his bones than Christian charity in his heart, didn’t know in July whether he would beat Mark Pryor. Polls showed the race was fairly tight. But he had good reason to believe a whole lot of evangelical Christians would turn out to vote in November—turnout was actually up in Arkansas over what it was in 2010. So, why not take a shot at Pryor in Jesus’ name? And it was a nice touch putting Barack Obama’s name in that statement, don’t you think? What most evangelicals in Arkansas heard was, “The Devil and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings.” Pryor, who didn’t want anything to ralph reed and faith and freedom coalitiondo with The Scary Negro because he is so unpopular in Arkansas, didn’t even get 40% of the vote last Tuesday. He lost by 17 points—in a state that saw 168,000 people, out of a population of only three million, benefit from ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion (the state had, until Tuesday, a Democratic governor).

But I can’t really blame Tom Cotton—who once called for the prosecution and imprisonment of three New York Times’ journalists—for such tactics, given the nature of electoral politics in Arkansas and across the Deep South (where, if Mary Landrieu loses in December, there will be no white Democrats in Congress). It isn’t as though we should expect that Cotton, being an “every single day” Christian, has any better manners or morals than your average beer-slamming blogger (don’t judge me too harshly). But he and his handlers understand his base. They know what buttons to push. They know what will get even more evangelicals than usual to the polls on Tuesdays in any November when there is an election going on. Cotton doesn’t care that he slandered a fellow Christian (actually, two fellow Christians, if you count that crypto-Muslim in the White’s House) in order to score points with white evangelicals in Arkansas. He wants to be a senator for God’s sake!

All of which gets me back to Democratic constituencies and our problems with turnout. It is simply a stubborn fact that we have to cobble together enough votes to win by appealing to a more diverse collection of people. We can’t rely on an overwhelming number of white voters (whose electoral strength is slowly dissipating), who this election made up 75% of the electorate, compared to 72% in 2012, and who gave the GOP 60% of their vote. Or, I hate to say it, we can’t rely on 65-year-old and older voters, who this time made up 22% of the electorate and, although most of them are living off Democratic programs like Social Security and Medicare, nevertheless voted Republican 57-42 .

We continue to heavily rely on the under-45 vote, the female vote, the union vote, and the minority vote, while getting significant shares of those between the ages of 45 and 64—they make up 43% of the electorate and we got 45% of their vote (yes, I know, these groups overlap). And as noted we continue to fail to get out our voters in sufficient numbers in off-year elections. As I said, beats me as to why that is or what we can do about it. I suggest, for a starter, not running away from our leader or our accomplishments.

But beyond that Monday-morning analysis, maybe we need to stop underestimating the power and influence of  white conservative evangelicals, who make up about one-fourth of the national electorate and a much higher percentage in states like Arkansas. There is no other group in American politics quite like these evangelicals. I think this explains a lot about why Republicans have a habit of winning mid-term elections. These folks don’t quit. They don’t tend to stay at home out of frustration. They don’t tend to let anything stand in their way, including voting for a Mormon in 2012, even though many evangelicals consider Mormonism to be a cult. They seem to have an immunity to apathy. Most of them believe every election, every vote, is crucial to fighting the tides of secularism that they are certain threaten their faith, perhaps their very existence. It is a good-versus-evil choice for them each and every time a national election is held.

Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, don’t seem to understand this reality. For some reason, instead of attempting to match or exceed evangelicals’ electoral enthusiasm—if that’s even possible—liberals keep wanting to wish it away. ThinkProgress published a piece two years ago, after Obama’s victory over Romney, that ended with this:

The 2012 election season appears to have been an ominous one for the Religious Right, and – if the trend continues – may very well signal the end of their traditional dominance of Republican politics…the Religious Right looks to have already lost persuasive power with many American voters.

Nope. Just ask Tom Cotton, uh, I mean, Senator-elect Tom Cotton.

Finally, I want to say that as a former evangelical I have spent a lot of time over the past several years writing about the influence of conservative Christians, whom I consider to be the most reactionary force in American society, especially in our politics. And I want to end this rather sad blog post by noting just how powerful the evangelical movement has been in terms of restricting reproductive freedom for women. Anyone who thinks that conservative Christians are losing their political clout, anyone who wants to ignore their influence over what happened last Tuesday in evangelical-rich Arkansas or Iowa or Colorado or Georgia or North Carolina or elsewhere, need only look at this headline:

Anti-Choice Group Moving Into Planned Parenthood Clinic Closed By Texas Abortion Restrictions 

Let that sink in for a moment or two. Now read this:

BRYAN/COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Nov. 6, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — The worldwide 40 Days for Life movement is moving its headquarters into a former Planned Parenthood abortion center in Bryan/College Station, Texas. The pro-life initiative began outside that same facility ten years ago.

“This news shows what God can accomplish when His people pray,” said Shawn Carney, campaign director of 40 Days for Life. “More than 6,400 children lost their lives in this building, but God is making ‘all things new.’ What was once a place of death and despair is now going to be a place of life and hope. We are excited to start using this location to aid the rapid worldwide growth of 40 Days for Life, and to help other cities become abortion-free.”

Instead of ignoring or writing off right-wing Christians in America, Democrats have to find a way to stir up the same passion and commitment that evangelicals attach to their theocratic vision of a better society. If we don’t, then not only will the on-again, off-again electoral cycle we have seen continue, but in more places than Texas we will see liberal values diminish or disappear.


UPDATE: A commenter directed me to the following video, which captures much of the frustration on our side but also demonstrates the passion necessary for us to win again (for you folks who don’t like profanity, there are a few naughty words toward the end):

Get Out Your Matches, Mr. President, And Start A Circus

My favorite moment in John Boehner’s post-election, in-Obama’s-face press conference Thursday afternoon was when a reporter, Nancy Cordes of CBS News, ask him this question:

Mr. Speaker, you have a new crop of conservatives coming into the House who have suggested, among other things, that women need to submit to the authority of their husbands, that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ, and that feel that the Sandy Hook victims should just get over it. So, the “Hell No!” caucus,” as you put it, is getting bigger and some of them think you’re not conservative enough. How will you deal with them differently than you did in the last Congress?

boehner news conference nov 2014The way that question was set up was priceless. But the question itself was absolutely the right question to ask. Problem is, Boehner didn’t answer it. What he said, in my loose translation, was essentially this: Look, you’re right, there are some nuts in the new crop, but most of the new guys are “good candidates.” Yikes.

The reason Boehner couldn’t answer that question is pretty simple. He has no idea how he will deal with the Hell No! caucus. I mean, how do you deal with, say, the “Neo-Confederate Christofascist” who just got elected in Maryland? And he may not be the nuttiest new member, to say nothing of the nuts who were reelected. Boehner knows controlling these people is going to be harder than ever before, since the caucus, though larger, is also much more reactionary and since his members, with the Senate as partners, will expect real ideological action, not pragmatic compromise of any shape or form.

And speaking of the Senate, it is the same for McConnell. His majority in January will be much more radically conservative than the minority he leads now. He knows how difficult it will be to rein in Ted Cruz and other extremists, especially now that they have zealous reinforcements in the persons of Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, David Perdue, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner and probably Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (after a runoff on December 6).

So, now that we have heard from the two gloating GOP leaders, as well as a strangely but touchingly romantic President Obama (“I continue to believe we are simply more than just a collection of red and blue states”), what should our side, meaning our leader who will today meet with Boehner and McConnell, do? The clue is in what both Republican leaders have now famously said relative to immigration reform. Both of them went out of their way to assert that if Obama takes executive action to help fix the immigration mess, it will “poison the well.” That very much sounds like a threat, right? Boehner said, which everyone is quoting,

When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.

Yes, that sounds like a threat. It sounds like an impeachment threat. But there is another way of interpreting his language. It is a plea. It is Boehner begging Obama not to set his House caucus on fire, not to make the job of herding his members, which under the best of circumstances is close to impossible, completely impossible to do. And McConnell, too, is begging the President not to give Ted Cruz and the other nuts in his caucus their own matches to play with, matches they will use to burn not just Obama, but burn the whole damned place to the ground.

Listen to what John McCain said on Thursday afternoon:

I literally am pleading with the president of the United States not to act. Give it a chance. We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate. Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not.

It couldn’t be any plainer. No relatively sensible leader in the GOP (and I emphasize the qualifier, “relatively sensible”) wants Obama to act because they know what will happen to their party. The impeachment circus will come to town. There will be freak shows with bearded ladies and two-headed men talking about the President’s lawlessness. There will be Obama-hating fire breathers and glass eaters on every news show. The Cruz-led clowns will come out and shut down the government.

That’s what would happen if Obama were to do what, in his own press conference, he indicated he was going to do sometime this year:

...we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern.  And at the same time, I’ll be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic leaders to find out how it is that they want to proceed.  And if they want to get a bill done — whether it’s during the lame duck or next year — I’m eager to see what they have to offer.

But what I’m not going to do is just wait.  I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.

He said a bit later:

But what we can’t do is just keep on waiting.  There is a cost to waiting.  There’s a cost to our economy.  It means that resources are misallocated…separating families right now that most of us, most Americans would say probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal in this country. So where I’ve got executive authorities to do that, we should get started on that.

Well, he should have already been “started on that,” but that’s another argument. What he should do now is light the match of executive action and move as boldly as any generous reading of the law will allow. There are two reasons for doing this, one moral and one political.

The moral reason: Such executive action will actually help real people in real time and it won’t get done otherwise. De-prioritizing deportation action against non-criminals who are here without documentation, particularly folks who have been here a long time and have family here, would do a lot of instant good.

Not only that, Obama could, and should, go further and build upon his executive move in 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As the Immigration Policy Center pointed out, that action has, as of March of this year, helped more than half a million undocumented young people gain “widened access to the American mainstream,” including legally joining the workforce and attending college. Many legal minds believe the President has the executive authority to go further, as Talking Points Memo pointed out:

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has recommended an expanded deferred action program for close family members (including parents, children, spouses and siblings) of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and DACA beneficiaries.

“Technically under the law there is not a specific constraint preventing the president from designating a broad category of individuals for whom he’s going to suspend enforcement against,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director for [the American Immigration Lawyers Association].

That would be a lot of people that President Obama could help immediately, if not permanently. And there is exactly no reason, given what we have seen Republicans do on this issue for the last two years, to think that those undocumented people will get any relief from right-wingers in Congress. The President said himself yesterday:

I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.  Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.

Exactly. And nothing has changed except those anti-reform folks have grown stronger.

The political reason: As far as politics, the reason the President should proceed with executive action on immigration is that it would do two things. As I suggested above, it would throw Republicans in Congress into ideological convulsions, which would be both entertaining and electorally useful. And that’s worth doing even if that were the only reason. But executive action would also certainly strengthen the attachment between Hispanics and the Democratic Party for the upcoming presidential election, an election we obviously cannot now afford to lose.

It’s no secret that the President’s hesitation to act this summer on the immigration issue hurt the Democratic Party. If he does nothing this year, if he waits too long for Republicans to act when there is almost no chance of their acting, then the unfortunate—and unwarranted—apathy we saw this past election among Hispanics will likely get worse.

Look at this from NBC News:

Hispanic voters made up only 8 percent of 2014 voters, compared to 10 percent in 2012, a disappointment to voter advocates who hoped that Latino votes would increase at least due to the growing population. In 2010, the last midterm election year, they were 7 percent of voters, according to Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.

And Democrats did not garner the support they were hoping to get from Latino voters.

In 2012, Democrats enjoyed a wide margin over Republicans; 71 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama to 27 percent for Romney – a 44 percent advantage for the Dems. But as NBC News’ Carrie Dann reports, in Tuesday’s elections Hispanics voted for Democrats by a margin of 28 percent.

If President Obama unilaterally acts this year on immigration, he will have done all he can to make life better for undocumented immigrants, most of them Hispanics. That would be the right thing to do no matter the politics. But it would also help whoever is the Democratic presidential nominee and the many Democratic candidates running in 2016.

Exit polling from this last election, as bad as the election was for Democrats, showed that 57% of voters believe that undocumented immigrants should have “a chance to apply for legal status.” Most non-Tea Party folks, by the time the next election comes around—the electorate will be more Democratic than Republican—will have forgotten about Obama’s executive action—his DACA order wasn’t an issue on Tuesday. But Hispanics everywhere will remember, and it will be much easier to get them to the polls to vote, and to vote for Democrats.

Bottom line: There simply is no good reason for President Obama to wait too long on John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to figure out how to work a miracle and get an immigration reform bill— one that Democrats could support—through this lame-duck Congress or through a much more conservative Congress next year. But there are moral and political reasons for him to act in the next month or so.

Do it, Mr. President. And then we’ll all get our popcorn and sit back and watch the Tea Party circus.


[Matches by; Republican Cirque by Mario Piperni]

Apathy And Its Consequences, Part 2

“Fear is better than apathy because fear makes us do something.”

—Emiliano Salinas, anti-violence and anti-corruption activist from Mexico

No further commentary necessary:

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