Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category
Kevin Drum has an extremely interesting post in which explores possible explanations for the differences in how conservatives and liberals approach things.
Michael O’Malley is an ambitious politician who is generally liberal in his policies. He went from mayor of Baltimore to governor of Maryland, and in Washington Monthly Haley Edwards takes a look at his movement toward the presidential race:
Jay Baker/Office of Governor Martin O’Malley)
The governor is hungry.
Brown paper bag in hand, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley strides into a conference room on the fourth floor of an old government building in downtown Annapolis. “I brought lunch,” he whispers to no one in particular and, stooping slightly in the way that people do when they enter a meeting late, takes a seat. For a moment, he is quiet.
He’d spent the morning in discussion with various members of the state legislature, which is in session just a few steps away at the statehouse on the hill. Up there, laws are being shaped and votes cast, mostly in the governor’s favor, but it’s down here, in this windowless room, packed with staff from three of Maryland’s state agencies and his own executive team, that O’Malley’s political impact is deepest. In 2000, as a young mayor of Baltimore, he pioneered this type of meeting—biweekly, multi-agency, data-driven performance reviews—and thirteen years later they’re still the cornerstone of his legacy as a politician.
“So that’s the carrot at the end of the stick that you hope the community colleges are going to close in after?” O’Malley asks, breaking his short silence. He leans forward in his chair, his elbows on the table and the contents of his lunch—a dry deli sandwich, a bag of potato chips—lined up in front of him like a control panel.
“That’s right, sir,” a man in the back of the room says. They’re referring to an incentive to get students to use Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s online Workforce Dashboard. It was designed to help colleges, businesses, and job seekers get a snapshot of employment opportunities in the state, but also to allow the state to gather better data on who’s looking for jobs, where, and with what skills, to improve both monitoring and outreach efforts. As of now, not enough people are using the Dashboard to make it a valuable tool.
“I know everyone’s got budget constraints, but why don’t we all talk about how to market this more?” the governor asks, and as is typical in these meetings, the attention turns to an array of charts, maps, and digital reams of Excel spreadsheets, each illustrating the nuts and bolts of the program, the population it’s serving, and the various outputs and inputs and outcomes over the past few months. The idea is to use data like a scalpel to dissect how a government program works, to pinpoint where, exactly, it’s breaking down, and then to use these collaborative meetings to solve the problem at hand.
“We gotta get those numbers up,” O’Malley says, gesturing to one graph in particular and taking a bite of the sandwich. In addition to the Department of Labor, the Departments of Business and Economic Development (DBEV) and Veterans Affairs are also present. “What about DBEV? Can you guys help with this?” he asks, still chewing.
And with that, the governor launches a spirited question-and-answer session—he compares it to a cross-examination—that lasts for the better part of forty-five minutes, his voice sometimes muffled by mouthfuls of bread. As the meeting unspools, the topics shift, from the jobs Web site to foreclosure rates to reducing recidivism among recently released convicts.
Nearly an hour later, the governor stops for some air. He attends meetings like this only about once every couple months, usually delegating the day-to-day management to his executive staff, but it’s clear he enjoys the role. He leans back in his chair and wipes the smudges of his lunch off his iPad with his green-striped tie. “Sorry, Sam,” he says, chuckling and turning to one of his staffers, who usually heads up these meetings. “The witness is yours!”
O’Malley is not the kind of person who’s afraid to take over a meeting. “I’m an operations guy,” he tells me afterward, partly by way of explanation. “I’ve always liked digging into the numbers, figuring out what’s going on and doing the kind of analysis that the other guys won’t do.” In the hallway after the meeting, two staffers corroborate the point. He seems so much more relaxed in meetings like that, they say, when he’s not “doing all the politician stuff.”
In truth, O’Malley, who is fifty and handsome in a Kennedy sort of way, has made a career out of all the politician stuff, chomping his way up the political food chain like a man hungry for more than a deli sandwich. After serving as a Baltimore city councilman in the 1990s, he was elected mayor of Baltimore in 1999 and then governor of Maryland seven years later, where he’ll remain until 2015. Because of term limits, he can’t run again. Every pundit in America has predicted he’s going to run for president in 2016, and O’Malley has done everything he can to encourage that speculation, short of outright admitting it’s true.
As governor, he’s pushed a series of bills that are all but guaranteed to impress Democratic primary and caucus voters three years from now, on topics ranging from guns (against), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against), medical marijuana (for), and implementing Dream Act-like policies at Maryland’s colleges and universities. Just as Bill Clinton did in the 1980s, when he too was a relative unknown, O’Malley has also sought positions in recent years that have allowed him to sidle into the national limelight. In both 2011 and 2012, he served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and he’s since stayed on as the finance chairman, which will allow him to continue to meet top donors. During the election last year, he was a regular fixture on the talk show circuit, often playing the role of President Barack Obama’s personal attack dog. In one interview with ABC’s This Week last summer, O’Malley managed to mention former Governor Mitt Romney’s “Swiss bank accounts” and “offshore” tax havens seventeen times in three minutes flat.
With that iron message discipline, plus his standing as one of the Democrats’ most successful governors (with thirty statehouses in GOP hands, the Dems’ roster is slim), O’Malley won a coveted primetime speaking slot for the second time (he spoke in 2004, too) at the Democratic National Convention last September. He whiffed it—again, just as Clinton did in 1988—but spent the remaining time juggling a packed schedule of schmooze, addressing swing state delegates by day and jamming with his Irish rock band, O’Malley’s March, by night. In recent years, the governor has also made public forays into Iowa and New Hampshire and launched a political action committee, the O’Say Can You See PAC, to raise money that he will be at liberty to distribute, one of his critics groused, “like favor-doing fairy dust,” to fellow Democrats before the midterm races in 2014. . .
Power leads to the due exercise of the power which seems inevitably to lead to overreach and the turning of power to inglorious ends. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a report of a vivid example by Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
The last few weeks have seen an amazing move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In response to a prominent set of arrests of high-ranking Democrats and Republicans, the governor has proposed a series of proposals to strengthen the power of district attorneys to investigate corruption. Okay, that seems like a reasonable enough response.
But the governor has also proposed another response to the corruption scandal. He has proposed banning the Working Families Party. I know, he can’t ban a political party. But he has proposed to eliminate “fusion” voting. He calls it “cross-endorsement,” but fusion is the historical term. More on fusion below, but let’s stay in the news cycle for another moment.
The governor’s stated reason for banning fusion is silly. But his real, unstated reason is not. Let’s take them in turn.
Three weeks ago, State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe his way into the Republican Primary for mayor, despite being a registered Democrat. The governor seized on this and said to the New York Post, “In an ideal world, there would be no cross-endorsements.” In other words, because Smith attempted to bribe his way to a “cross-endorsement,” we ought to ban cross-endorsements. By this logic, as one Working Families Party leader said on television recently, if Malcolm Smith had tried to bribe someone to get his kid a job, would we then pass a law to ban jobs?
The more likely (if unvoiced) reason for this proposal is plain. For reasons both similar and different, the governor and the real estate/Wall Street/low-wage employer wings of the Democratic Party in New York would like to see the Working Families Party disappear. The WFP is the most persistent threat to the power of business interests in the Empire State, and the governor doesn’t want anyone to point out that he governs as a centrist on economic issues and a liberal only on social issues. The business lobby is serious about crushing “the little party that could” (a Newsday headline of a few years ago), spending millions of dollars on television and mail against WFP candidates, and even trying to hire well-known progressive public relations firms to wage a PR battle against them. So far, they have failed.
Now, the governor’s aides are pushing a line to the press that the “third parties” in New York have “too much” influence. It’s true that the Conservatives have power and influence with the Republicans, and that the Working Families Party has the same with the Democrats. But that’s because they have support among the voting public, they have ideas, and they have verve. The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts—each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.
So it’s not a surprise that the business class and its allies want to see them weakened or, better yet, destroyed. One can’t help but point out that this is not the first time that establishment power has decided that one potent way to weaken the progressive left is to eliminate fusion voting. It happened more than a hundred years ago, and it’s a vital if little-known part of our political history. It’s unlikely that the legislators and press corps in Albany are aware of this, but it’s a history worth reciting as they consider the current proposals from the governor and Senator Jeff Klein, the renegade/independent Democrat who has aligned with the Republican State Senate majority.
In a fusion system, a candidate can . . .
Obama has done some good things, but on the whole he’s not been a strong president, caving in to readily in areas in which he should have stood firm. One is in his attack on Social Security. Digby of Hullabaloo comments:
Mark this day. For the first time in history, a Democratic president has officially proposed to cut the Democratic Party’s signature New Deal program, Social Security:
President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget in an effort to demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans and revive prospects for a long-term deficit-reduction deal, administration officials say.
In a significant shift in fiscal strategy, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that departs from the usual presidential wish list that Republicans typically declare dead on arrival. Instead it will embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year, before Mr. Boehner abandoned negotiations in opposition to the president’s demand for higher taxes from wealthy individuals and some corporations.
The way this was explained to me is that the liberal Democrats in the House put out a leftward proposal and the Democrats in the Senate put out a moderate proposal, which the president tacitly endorsed. The Crazy Republicans then came back with a rightward proposal so now the president has simply set forth a compromise between the Senate Dems and the Crazy Republicans. And it’s his final, final offer this time.
God help us if the Republicans wise up and take this deal. After all, it’s a more conservative budget than even their hero Ronald Reagan ever submitted.
This is what he proposes: . . .
Also in Hullabaloo is a must-read article by David Atkins with some startling graphs:
Since cutting Social Security, a retirement program directly tied to wage earnings, appears to be a bipartisan thing now (sigh), it’s worth noting that wages are stagnant even for college graduates. Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute explains:
The wages of young college graduates have fared poorly during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Between 2007 and 2012, the wages of young college graduates dropped 7.6 percent (9.4 percent for men and 6.6 percent for women). As the figure shows, however, the wages of young graduates fared poorly even before the Great Recession began; they saw no growth over the entire period of general wage stagnation that began during the business cycle of 2000–2007. Between 2000 and 2012, the wages of young college graduates decreased 8.5 percent (6.1 percent for men and 10.9 percent for women). These drops translate into substantial amounts of money; for full-time, full-year workers, the hourly wage declines from 2000 to 2012 represent a roughly $3,200 decline.
The wage declines since 2000 stand in sharp contrast to the strong wage growth for these groups from 1995 to 2000. During that period of low unemployment and overall strong wage growth, wages rose 19.1 percent for young college graduates. The stark difference between these two economic periods illustrates how the outcomes of young graduates vary considerably depending on whether the overall economy is experiencing low unemployment and strong wage growth or high unemployment and wage stagnation. Young graduates who enter the labor market during periods of strength (e.g., 1995–2000) face much stronger wage prospects than young graduates who enter the labor market during periods of weakness (e.g., 2001 to the present).
There’s even a handy chart: . .
Extremely interesting article in Salon by David Sirota:
As Colorado goes, so goes the nation. With the culture and demographics of the Intermountain West so rapidly changing, this motto about my home state has become conventional wisdom in national electoral politics, and for good reason. After all, the square state is the capital of the so-called Rocky Mountain Empire, a region that is fast becoming the political equivalent of a test market for the whole country. And if it is true that the way Colorado goes is the way the nation as a whole goes, then America better get ready for some extremely large changes.
Part of Colorado’s story of change comes from the statehouse where Democrats control both the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. But as much of the story comes from outside the Capitol, where organic grass-roots uprisings are obliterating old political assumptions.
For decades, this was a state whose electoral topography was reliable Republican and whose politics was dominated by an unholy coalition of cultural conservatives and oil and gas interests. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became the national conservative movement in a microcosmic petri dish, passing socially conservative constitutional amendments and a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights aimed at pulverizing the public sector.
Now, though, everything is shifting. In just a few years, Colorado is pioneering a Western version of pragmatic progressivism, one built on a much different political coalition than the one that made Colorado the conservative movement’s grand experiment.
Here are the nine ways the state has so quickly changed, and what this Colorado Miracle portends for America.
1. The first state in the Intermountain West to embrace serious gun control
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is expected today to sign the Intermountain West’s first set of serious gun regulations in contemporary history. Those include an expansion of background checks and limits on the size of bullet magazines.
After the Columbine and Aurora massacres, Colorado polls showed solid public support for sensible gun control, and public opinion eventually compelled Hickenlooper to reverse his earlier positions on the issue. Indeed, in just a few months, the conservative Democratic governor went from saying Colorado shouldn’t discuss gun control, to noncommittally acknowledging the need for a debate, to promising to support the measures if they passed the Legislature, to reassuring fellow Colorado Democrats that supporting gun control will not harm their political prospects.
If Colorado’s status as home to Columbine and Aurora and its status as a critical electoral swing state don’t convince you that its gun control moves will have a national ripple effect, then declarations from the state’s Republican leaders should suffice. As state Sen. Greg Brophy (R) told the Wall Street Journal: “This is ground zero on this issue … If these bills pass — and the Democrats survive the next election cycle — we’ll see gun-control groups spreading to other parts of the country, saying, ‘We did it in Colorado, we can do it here.’”
2. The home of Focus on the Family legalizes civil unions
With Focus on the Family headquartered in archconservative Colorado Springs, Colorado has long been one of the headquarters of the Christian right. Not surprisingly, those cultural conservative forces in the state have spent the last two decades waging a scorched earth fight against equality for gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans, ultimately passing not one but two constitutional ballot measures outlawing same-sex marriage. At the same time, the Christian right helped pass a 2006 ballot measure tooutlaw recognition of same-sex domestic partnerships.
Last year, though, Democratic state lawmakers backed a civil unions bill. Simple, straightforward and long overdue as the bill was, it threw the legislative session into chaos after Republicans used their fleeting one-vote majority to prevent it from even getting an up-or-down vote. The impasse eventually forced Gov. Hickenlooper to call a special session, where the bill was rejected. However, in the process, conservatives’ anti-gay politics became so extreme and off-putting that it helped lay the groundwork for Democrats to take back the House and ultimately pass the bill.
Underscoring the speed of Colorado’s turnaround, the House bill on civil unions this time around initially passed on a voice vote, signaling that Republicans had all but given up defending the fringe elements of the Christian right. Next up? Quite likely a 2014ballot measure to repeal Colorado’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
3. Rejecting Tancredo-style politics and allowing . . .
Continue reading. The list is longer than you probably expect.
Heavens to Betsy. Sen. Elizabeth Warren leapt from the gate of her first term pummeling Ben Bernanke on too-big-to-fail financial institutions. Then she demanded to know why American banks were never brought to trial. Finally, last Thursday, looking for all the world like a school principal called to sort out teenage hooligans, she queried regulators  as to why HSBC bankers who launder money for drug lords and terrorists should go free. Quoth the senator:
“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”
Game on! Naturally, the left is swooning. Elizabeth Warren says what we all wish we could say to the besuited jerks who defend a crooked industry. Except, instead of snatching them by the lapels and screaming obscenities as we might do, Warren sits calmly and repeats her inimitably direct questions like a blond Terminator. The big banks and their lackeys can’t stand her, and it looks as if the feeling is mutual.
Americans love her because we have serious unfinished business with the banking industry. We remember how the White House chose to protect the bankers from the pitchforks in the wake of the financial crisis. We’ve gritted our teeth as bankers have charted a course to record-breaking profits as the rest of us slogged through a shitty economy.
Now it feels like the day we hoped for. The one the banking industry feared as it tried to thwart Warren’s victory in 2013. There’s a new sheriff in town, a real champion for the 99 percent who will not accept a two-tiered justice system and who dares look the criminal and the complicit in the eye. That Warren’s showdown in the Senate Banking Committee corral came just a day after Attorney General Eric Holder fessed up to the fact that some banks are so big and powerful they are really above the law felt like balm on a freshly salted wound.
Economist Robert Johnson, executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, who served as chief economist to the Senate Banking Committee under the leadership of William Proxmire, praised Warren’s resolve in an email to me: “Elizabeth Warren has chosen to do something novel as a US senator: represent the people. In our money-drenched political system that is akin to defying gravity. God bless Elizabeth Warren.”
Warren is certainly making welcome noises in these early days of her tenure. She is breaking a taboo in speaking up so forcefully this early in the game, as newbie senators are generally expected to keep their heads down. Cynics cannot deny the fact that it actually matters tremendously that someone knowledgeable is at the table. If regulators know they’ll be cross-examined by a person who knows what they’re up to, they may think twice about what they’re (not) doing. They can’t completely ignore congressional pressure, particularly as Warren is a majority member of the Senate. On HSBC, unfortunately, the case is probably closed. But banks certainly hate the negative light Warren shined on them with her latest confrontation. And that’s welcome news. This is not small potatoes.
However, Warren . . .
David Sirota has a good column in Salon:
Despite its success in recent elections, and despite the image of unity it projects, the Democratic Party is in the throes of an epic identity crisis pitting its corporate money against its stated principles. The recent actions of two of the party’s rising stars — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — tell the deeper tale of that crisis. It is a microcosmic story, suggesting that the 2016 election may be a decisive turning point in the party’s history.
The money side of the schism is embodied by Hickenlooper. As the new vice-chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, the former petroleum geologist and beer mogul represents a cabal of Democratic politicians whose brand couples moderate positions on social issues with hard-edged corporatism on economic ones.
Corporatism, of course, is a vague label, but in Democratic politics it typically refers to helping campaign contributors bust unions and dismantle environmental regulations, with the expectation that servile labor and environmental leaders will sit by as their movements are decimated.
Hickenlooper’s actions this month show how the formula works.
On labor issues, after a summer of staging media events to thank firefighters for combating wildfires, the Colorado governor publicly threatened to veto legislation that would enshrine the right of those firefighters to choose to form a union. Of such basic legal protections, Hickenlooper flippantly declared that he does “not believe it is a matter of state interest.”
On environmental issues, it is the same story. Hickenlooper this week testified against federal legislation that would compel energy companies to disclose what toxic chemicals they use when fracking for natural gas. His testimony made headlines after he insinuated that fracking fluid is so harmless that Americans can safely drink it.
While Hickenlooper’s claim was later debunked, few observers were surprised he would utter such a pernicious lie. After all, with Hickenlooper’s electoral career bankrolled by fossil fuel firms, he has not just ignored the scientific evidence that shows fracking is dangerous; he has also denied that climate change is happening, offered to back corporate lawsuits to overturn municipal drilling regulations and appeared as a spokesman for the oil and gas industry in its political advertisements. Additionally, the Denver Post reports that Hickenlooper’s regulators “rarely penalize companies responsible for (drilling-related) spills.”
If you find this repulsive, then you are probably on the other side of the Democratic Party divide, the one personified by Warren.
Though a freshman legislator, she is already a celebrity thanks to her longtime advocacy on behalf of the poor, her fiery tenure running the panel that audited the 2008 bank bailout and her 2012 election victory over a Wall Street-financed opponent. This week, as if deliberately underscoring her commitment to live up to the Democratic Party’s populist billing, Warren rejected the unspoken Washington rule requiring junior lawmakers to keep quiet. Instead, she used her first committee hearing to slam Obama administration regulators for being weak on financial crime.
In assuming such a posture, Warren, along with Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Al Franken, D-Minn., represents what the late liberal Sen. Paul Wellstone called “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” In other words, unlike Hickenlooper’s cadre, she doesn’t represent the business elites who buy politicians like shares of stock. She represents the millions of voters who win the party elections.
For his part, Hickenlooper has . . .
In Salon today there’s a long excerpt from Tom Allen’s Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong With the U.S. Congress:
Twelve years in Congress. Daily conversations with Republican members of Congress. Bipartisan trips abroad with time to talk at length. Work on legislation of mutual interest with members across the aisle that I respected and admired. But those dozen years left me alarmed and frustrated by the inability of Republicans and Democrats to comprehend each other well enough to work together on our country’s major challenges. We share the same titles and vote on the same legislation, but we see the world through dramatically different lenses.
It’s those lenses that interest me most. To be sure, multiple other factors feed polarization and congressional gridlock. Cable TV 24-7 news has broadened coverage, but the scramble for ratings favors short segments with guests representing both ends of the political spectrum, not the middle. These days, political campaigns never end; there is little breathing space for governing without looking toward the next election. Vast sums of money and highly organized groups create pressure on elected officials not to stray from the party line. House and Senate rules can be used for partisan purposes. Redistricting every decade creates chances for parties to draw lines that favor them for years. But in my experience, our greatest challenge is first to understand and then to bridge the gap between the dominant but incompatible worldviews of the two parties.
Nothing I had learned about politics before my election prepared me for the intense polarization of contemporary congressional politics. When I first went to Washington to work for Sen. Ed Muskie in 1970, Republicans and Democrats debated public issues vigorously, but there was more genuine give-and-take and mutual respect, and the players did not treat politics as a blood sport. Six years on the Portland City Council taught me that most local issues could be resolved without petty or partisan combat.
Dwight Eisenhower accepted the major legislation of the New Deal. John Kennedy started the legislative push for a substantial tax cut. Lyndon Johnson came from a Senate known for working across the aisle. Richard Nixon signed clean water and clean air legislation. Ronald Reagan raised taxes many times to deal with mounting deficits created by his 1981 tax cut; George H. W. Bush did the same, to resounding criticism from the Right. Bill Clinton antagonized elements of his Democratic base by supporting a balanced federal budget, free trade and welfare reform.
George W. Bush was different. His election in 2000 was, in hindsight, stage two of the Newt Gingrich revolution. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.) recalled, shortly after Bush’s election, that Dick Cheney quickly laid out to a small group of moderate Senate Republicans, “a shockingly divisive political agenda for the new Bush administration, glossing over nearly every pledge the Republican ticket had made to the American voter.” In his first term, President Bush abandoned international treaties, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and drove through two massive tax cuts that primarily benefitted wealthy Americans.
Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign employed “microtargeting” as a part of their successful strategy of mobilizing the Republican base instead of reaching out to the middle. That political strategy was consistent with the Bush administration’s style of governing and the way Gingrich and Tom DeLay controlled Congress: Drive through the most right-wing policy that the Republican caucus could support; only move legislation that has the support of a substantial majority of the majority party; take no prisoners.
As I listened over the years to baffling arguments in committee, on the House floor or in private conversations, I lost hope in our capacity for bipartisan agreement on our major public policy challenges. On budgets, taxes, health care and climate change, the evidence that mattered to us made no difference to our Republican colleagues. What Democrats took as well-established fact, Republicans understood as easily dismissed opinions. When we wondered, “Do these guys believe what they say?” our answer was usually no. But if the Republicans didn’t believe the things they were saying, they were extraordinarily gifted performers on the House floor.
Our debates over particular budget and tax policies, health care, global warming or Iraq were not driven by the details of the legislation. Differences over health care reform became more about the role of government than the critical health care trifecta of cost, coverage and quality. To some, President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq seemed grounded in family history — the failure of his father to “take out” Saddam Hussein. In addition, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stripped the military leadership of much of its desired invasion force and pushed for a rapid turnover of responsibility to Iraqis because he didn’t want to create a “culture of dependency” among that population.
Taxes evoke intense emotions unrelated to their economic consequences. The Republican tax cuts were less connected to an established theory of economic growth than to convictions that tax cuts “pay for themselves” and the government is “too big.” Moreover, the proponents believed that individuals know best how to spend “their own money” — even though individuals don’t generally buy fighter jets or bridges, or spend their money on pensions or health care for people they don’t know.
On economic issues, most Democrats accept mainstream Keynesian analysis about the federal government’s capacity to reduce the adverse effects of recessions by stimulating aggregate demand (private and public) through a combination of spending increases and tax cuts. Republicans, on the other hand, are drifting with no coherent economic theory. The scientific consensus on global warming has been denied by the Right primarily because it is “an inconvenient truth” that would require Republicans to rethink the role and responsibility of the federal government.
Again, it’s not the difference of opinions across party lines that matters but the inability to understand and value what the other side is saying. The ideological gridlock that plagues our government and politics now has multiple sources and is beyond the scope of this book. However, I believe that such an inquiry should start with the changes in the nature and reliability of work, particularly for American men, over the past four decades. Those changes are undermining the ability of individuals to control their own destiny. Yet economic dislocation and fear of change seem to be reinforcing attachment to the core American value of individualism and breeding hostility to collective action.
Whatever the socio-economic factors that feed our discontent, our system of government was designed by James Madison and the founders to foster sustained deliberation by representatives of the people who would be committed to acting in the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Too often, the Congress in which I served responded to the short-term interests of particular industries and groups. The Senate, once recognized as the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” hardly warrants that title today.
In short, although other explanations for our dysfunctional polarization abound, ideas do matter, especially when bundled into disparate worldviews. They have a power of their own that profoundly affects what politicians and the public say and how we act. Despite much of the press commentary, heated political rhetoric on major issues isn’t all for show or about pandering to voters, gaining or retaining political power, or soliciting campaign contributions. Members of Congress are, in general, not that detached or disinterested in policy issues. They care, most of them passionately, about the outcome of a debate, although less about the details than the direction the legislation represents. . .
Paul Krugman focuses on the destruction of consumer protection:
Like many advocates of financial reform, I was a bit disappointed in the bill that finally emerged. Dodd-Frank gave regulators the power to rein in many financial excesses; but it was and is less clear that future regulators will use that power. As history shows, the financial industry’s wealth and influence can all too easily turn those who are supposed to serve as watchdogs into lap dogs instead.
There was, however, one piece of the reform that was a shining example of how to do it right: the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a stand-alone agency with its own funding, charged with protecting consumers against financial fraud and abuse. And sure enough, Senate Republicans are going all out in an attempt to kill that bureau.
Why is consumer financial protection necessary? Because fraud and abuse happen.
Don’t say that educated and informed consumers can take care of themselves. For one thing, not all consumers are educated and informed. Edward Gramlich, the Federal Reserve official who warned in vain about the dangers of subprime, famously asked, “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” He went on, “The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”
And even well-educated adults can have a hard time understanding the risks and payoffs associated with financial deals — a fact of which shady operators are all too aware. To take an area in which the bureau has already done excellent work, how many of us know what’s actually in our credit-card contracts?
Now, you might be tempted to say that while we need protection against financial fraud, there’s no need to create another bureaucracy. Why not leave it up to the regulators we already have? The answer is that existing regulatory agencies are basically concerned with bolstering the banks; as a practical, cultural matter they will always put consumer protection on the back burner — just as they did when they ignored Mr. Gramlich’s warnings about subprime.
So the consumer protection bureau serves a vital function. But as I said, Senate Republicans are trying to kill it.
How can they do that, when the reform is already law and Democrats hold a Senate majority? Here as elsewhere, they’re turning to extortion — threatening to filibuster the appointment of Richard Cordray, the bureau’s acting head, and thereby leave the bureau unable to function. Mr. Cordray, whose work has drawn praise even from the bankers, is clearly not the issue. Instead, it’s an open attempt to use raw obstructionism to overturn the law.
What Republicans are demanding, basically, is that the protection bureau lose its independence. They want its actions subjected to a veto by other, bank-centered financial regulators, ensuring that consumers will once again be neglected, and they also want to take away its guaranteed funding, opening it to interest-group pressure. These changes would make the agency more or less worthless — but that, of course, is the point.
How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? . . .
Alex Pareene in Salon puts the blame for this where it belongs: on the “leadership” of Harry Reid in seeing that the filibuster was preserved:
It was very fitting that pretty much immediately after Harry Reid ended the possibility of filibuster reform in the more-sclerotic-than-ever U.S. Senate, a Republican appointee-run court effectively killed the recess appointment. Reid cut a “deal” on filibusters that actually strengthened the 60-vote threshold, by legitimizing what had been widely seen by non-senators as unprecedented abuse of Senate rules. All the deal does is speed up the process of breaking a filibuster with 60 votes, making the act offorcing a 60-vote threshold on all Senate business — something that rapidly became the new normal — even more painless than it was before.
Right after Mitch McConnell was granted unelected co-leadership of the Senate, the D.C. Court of Appeals announced that we’ve been doing this whole recess appointment thing all wrong for the last century or so, and that the Founders only intended for presidents to make recess appointments during “the Recess,” between sessions, and only of positions that became vacant during that recess. This allows Senate Republicans to totally prevent Barack Obama from appointing anyone to the National Labor Relations Board and the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Not just “people Republicans disapprove of,” but anyone at all, because Republicans disapprove of those two agencies carrying out their missions.
Now, naturally, after Reid cut the deal allowing them to do so without consequences, Republicans wasted no time in announcing their intention to prevent Barack Obama from appointing anyone to run the CFPB unless he effectively restructures the agency to not serve its purpose. This is, as a couple of others have noted, effectively “nullification,” and it’s generally frowned upon by fans of functioning republican forms of government.
The signs of the total normalization of what would have been considered a shocking violation of political norms just a few years ago are all over the Reuters story on Republican intentions. The story presents it as a typical political fight, one side against the other, both lobbing accusations and impugning the motives of the other. One subheadline reads, helpfully, “POLITICS AT PLAY.” Typical Washington, always with the politics! Why can’t No Labels just get these jokers to get along?
The story begins by quoting Republicans, who have objections to the board, and then quoting Democrats, who say they think the board is a good thing. Toward the end is the part that should’ve been near the top, along with some indication that it’s an insane state of affairs:
For the most part, Republicans and business groups have said they do not oppose Cordray personally, saying he has been accessible and the bureau has tried to incorporate comments from both industry and consumer advocates in its rules.
But the senators said “common sense reforms” are needed before they will confirm anyone to lead the bureau.
In other words, 43 Republicans — not a majority of the Senate, at all — have pledged to block the appointment of someone they have no real issue with, because they are demanding the right to change the structure of the agency entirely before they will allow it to function. A small minority in one of America’s two congressional bodies is demanding the right to fundamentally rewrite, on their own terms, a law passed by both houses and signed by the president, because they really dislike it. That’s not normal, “what are you gonna do?” politics. That’s setting an insane precedent. . .
Ben Popper has a very interesting article at The Verge:
The tech team behind the 2012 Obama campaign has probably received more attention than any political programmers in history. A so-called “dream team of engineers from Facebook, Google and Twitter [who] built the software that drove Barack Obama’s reelection” were extolled in the press for bringing Silicon Valley strategies like Agile development to the normally hidebound process of a political campaign. In the post mortems that followed Obama’s victory, many credited the superiority of the Democrats’ tech team and its famous Narwhal platform, in contrast to the failure of Mitt Romney’s digital efforts, with mobilizing the vote and winning crucial swing states.
But in the aftermath of the election, a stark divide has emerged between political operatives and the techies who worked side-by-side. At issue is the code created during the Obama for America (OFA) 2012 campaign: the digital architecture behind the campaign’s website, its system for collecting donations, its email operation, and its mobile app. When the campaign ended, these programmers wanted to put their work back into the coding community for other developers to study and improve upon. Politicians in the Democratic party felt otherwise, arguing that sharing the tech would give away a key advantage to the Republicans. Three months after the election, the data and software is still tightly controlled by the president and his campaign staff, with the fate of the code still largely undecided. It’s a choice the OFA developers warn could not only squander the digital advantage the Democrats now hold, but also severely impact their ability to recruit top tech talent in the future.
“The software itself, much of it will be mothballed,” believes Daniel Ryan, who worked as a director of front-end engineering at OFA. To the techies who supported the campaign, this would be a travesty. The historic work the campaign was able to achieve in such a short time was made possible, Ryan and others argue, because the Obama tech team built on top of open source code — code that has been shared publicly and can be “forked,” essentially edited, by anyone. “The things we built off of open source should go back to the public,” says Manik Rathee, who worked as a user experience engineer with OFA. The team relied on open source frameworks like Rails, Flask, Jekyll and Django. “We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did in one year if we hadn’t been working off open source projects,” says Rathee.
In this sense, the decision to mothball the tech would be a violation of the developers’ ethical principles. But the argument is about more than whether putting the tech back in the hands of the public is the right thing to do. “The biggest issue we saw with all of the commercial election software we used was that it’s only updated every four years,” says Ryan. It was these outdated options that convinced team Obama to build all the campaign tech in-house. If the code OFA built was put on ice at the DNC until 2016, it would become effectively worthless. “None of that will be useful in four years, technology moves too fast,” said Ryan. “But if our work was open and people were forking it and improving it all the time, then it keeps up with changes as we go.”One argument made by the DNC against making OFA’s code open-source is privacy. The campaign collected millions of names, addresses, credit card numbers and, of course, political affiliations. But Rathee says the tech was developed with this in mind. “I understand the need to keep the data sets private, but not the codebase. The work was meant to be modular, so it could go from site to site and be applied to different campaigns without sharing sensitive information.”
Members of the tech team suspect that the real rationale for keeping the code private is much less high-minded. “The gist of it is, they’re concerned that with the superior funding of the Republicans, if they had our software, they’d be unstoppable,” says Ryan.
OFA’s top engineers believe that keeping the code base private would actually do more harm than good to Democrats. . .
Very interesting article by Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard:
Those conservatives are appalling: They couldn’t care less if people get hurt. And liberals? They think anything goes, and have no concept of the meaning of loyalty.
Caricatures? Absolutely. But such stereotypes are widely held among Americans, newly published research confirms, with liberals particularly clueless about the concerns of conservatives.
Regarding issues of morality, “people overestimate how dramatically liberals and conservatives differ,” psychologists Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and Jonathan Haidt write in the online journal PLoS One. Specifically, their research suggests those on the left unfairly assume their counterparts on the right are cold-hearted on issues involving harm and fairness.
“There are real moral differences between liberals and conservatives,” the researchers write, “but people across the political spectrum exaggerate the magnitude of these differences, and in so doing create opposing moral stereotypes that are shared by all.”
The research provides the latest insights derived from Haidt’s framework of moral attitudes. He has identified five distinct moral realms: harm/care, fairness, in-group loyalty, deference to authority, and purity/sanctity. The first two promote individual freedom and self-expression, and are beloved by liberals; the final three bind societies together, and are close to the hearts of social conservatives.
This new study featured 2,212 visitors to the projectimplicit.org website, a research portal that focuses on “the gap between intentions and actions.” About half identified themselves as liberals, while 500 placed themselves in one of three conservative categories, and 538 defined themselves as moderates.
They were first asked a series of questions to determine their own moral attitudes. For instance, to measure how strongly they believe in loyalty to one’s group, they were asked the extent to which they agreed with such statements as “It is more important to be a team player than to express oneself.”
They then completed similar surveys, offering not their own feelings, but those of a “typical liberal” or “typical conservative.” The researchers compared their assumptions to the answers provided by actual liberals and conservatives, as well as to a different, nationally representative sample of Americans. . .
Continue reading. I recall this same scale coming up in another context in an earlier blog post.
I am a liberal—indeed, a progressive—and I completely understand the relatively low value I (and others like me) place on the virtues of loyalty and authority. Loyalty is quite easy to feel so long as the group or person to which you feel loyalty manifests values consistent with your own. The only time it’s tricky is when the group or person demanding loyalty is engaged in things that you consider seriously wrong: for example, an executive for whom you work is hiding data about the dangers of a medication the company is about to release. “Loyalty” requires that you go along with the deception and accept the danger to the public as a good trade-off for being loyal. To expose the fraud is to be “disloyal,” both to the executive and the company, and those in the company will doubtless be quick to label you as disloyal—indeed, you can expect to lose your job and possibly be blackballed. As proof, look at the common reaction to whistleblowers by those whose misdeeds are exposed: “disloyalty” is the first phrase that leaves their lips. So I don’t place much value on loyalty to people or institutions; OTOH, I place a high value on loyalty to truth and to the general welfare. Look at where “loyalty” took Penn State. I rest my case.
The same arguments apply in much the same way to authority: Authority is fine so long as it enforces what is right and just, but it should always be questioned and required to justify its right to the authority it claims. Scientists go seriously awry when they respect authority instead of experiments, for example.
I’ll be interested in the thoughts of readers who see my stance as wrong, provided those thoughts can be expressed without involving personal insults. A civil discussion would be interesting, since I expect many will disagree with my view. I’m interested to hear their arguments.
I don’t understand the many commentators who write that the election has changed nothing in Washington. It’s a whole new ballgame, even apart from the distinct possibility that the filibuster will die. See this article by Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek:
At first glance, the results of the 2012 election look like a return to the status quo: President Obama was reelected, Democrats retained the Senate, and Republicans held on to the House. But don’t be fooled. The political dynamic of the next four years will be almost exactly the opposite of the last four.
Sure, partisan bickering will endure. There will still be Red America and Blue America, Fox News and MSNBC. But with one big difference: During Obama’s first term, and particularly in the last two years, the Republican Party had most of the leverage. The GOP’s willingness to reject stimulus, default on the debt, and sabotage the nation’s credit rating—threats that shook financial markets—often put the White House at the mercy of the opposition.
In Obama’s second term, leverage will shift to the Democrats on almost every issue of importance. And that shift has already begun.
Once the economy stabilized, the defining struggle in Obama’s first term was the battle for revenue. From his efforts to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich, close the carried-interest deduction, and enact the Buffett Rule, Obama failed in every attempt to generate higher tax revenue to pay for new spending and reduce the deficit. Obama confronted a Republican party determined to starve government and convinced that its path back to power lay in engineering his failure. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Republicans mostly held the line.
To keep the economy afloat, the White House cut the deals it felt it had to. Many, such as Obama’s agreement to extend all of the Bush tax cuts in 2010, were poorly received by Democrats. Now comes the payoff. The expiration of those cuts and the automatic reductions set to take effect at year’s end—the so-called fiscal cliff—mean that Obama and the Democrats can gain a huge source of new revenue by doing nothing at all. Republican priorities are the ones suddenly in peril. The combination of tax increases on the rich, higher capital-gains taxes, and sharp cuts in defense spending have congressional Republicans deeply worried. To mitigate these, they’ll have to bargain.
Despite their post-election tough talk, Republican leaders have dealt themselves a lousy hand. Obama can propose a “middle-class tax cut” for the 98 percent of American households earning less than $250,000 a year—while letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more—and dare the Republicans to block it. If they do, everyone’s taxes will rise on Jan. 1. It’s true that going over the fiscal cliff, as some Democrats believe will happen, would set back the recovery and could eventually cause a recession. But Democratic leaders in Congress believe the public furor would be too intense for Republicans to withstand for long.
Going over the cliff would also weaken the Republicans’ greatest point of leverage: renewing their threat to default on the national debt. Right now, the Treasury expects to hit the debt ceiling in February. But if the cliff can’t be avoided, tax rates will rise and government coffers will swell, delaying the date of default—thus diminishing the Republicans’ advantage. Alice Rivlin, the founding director of the Office of Management and Budget and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that “as quickly as the IRS began changing the withholding schedule, the date would be pushed back.”
This new, post-election reality should compel both sides toward the “Grand Bargain” on entitlement and tax reform that President Obama and John Boehner tried, and failed, to strike in the summer of 2011. Most people in Washington expect these negotiations to dominate the 2013 calendar year. Here again, leverage has shifted from Republicans to Democrats. . .
Dave Lindorff has an interesting column on PressTV:
Just looking at the video images of the two conventions – the Republican one last week in Tampa, Florida, and this week’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, NC – one can see the fundamental contrast between the rank-and-file of the two parties.
They are really and truly different cohorts.
Scanning the Republican delegates and convention-goers in Tampa, one labors mightily to find even one black face, or even an obvious brown Latino face or an Asian face. It is a white and predominantly male crowd that one sees. It is also an angry crowd, cheering at the venom spewed against Democrats, welfare recipients, immigrants and others who are not part of the “real America,” of allegedly self-reliant white men.
Scanning the Democratic convention’s delegates and attendees, meanwhile, one is immediately struck by what an ethnic stew it is, with blacks and Latinos, whites, Asians and even Native Americans all mixed together, with straights and homosexuals standing side by side. And these people are cheering passionately when speakers talk inspiringly about the need to take action to support those who are less fortunate – the poor, the immigrants who came to the US with their parents as little children, and grew up in the US, who could now be deported to countries of their birth where they may not even speak the language, the disabled, the unemployed.
The big difference between these two groups of people and the masses of rank-and-file supporters of the two parties across the nation is clear: Republicans are, by and large, a selfish, smug, and angry group of white people who don’t want anyone cutting in on their turf, who don’t want to have the government do anything to help the less fortunate with their tax dollars, and who, by the way, want their own taxes lowered, but also want all kinds of benefits from the government, like tax credits for their businesses, and to send their kids to private schools.
Democrats are, for the most part, a multi-racial group who believe that government should help the less fortunate, whether it’s getting access to health care, paying for food, sending small children to daycare so the parent(s) can work, getting job training, ensuring access to clean water and clean air, or having good schools for their kids. They are generous people who are concerned about others, not just themselves.
What is different about the parties themselves is also apparent.
The Republican Party, in terms of both its organizational leadership and its elected officials, is closely aligned with its rank-and-file membership. The membership wants immigrants deported and wants a military-style policing of the nation’s borders to prevent illegal entry. Its elected officials also favor such action. The membership wants more military funding and more wars. The elected leaders from that party also want those things. Its members want lower taxes for the wealthy, and that’s what the elected officials in Congress want to give them. There is a strong congruity between what the Republican base favors, and what the elected officials push for in Congress.
With the Democrats, something else is going on.
The Democratic base wants to cut military spending and end the wars, but the Democratic President, Barack Obama, and most of the Democrats elected to Congress, support more war, support a militarist foreign policy, and keep pouring money into the military budget, which is at this point about as large as the rest of the world’s military budgets combined, and consumed half of the tax dollars collected each year, when the cost of military-related debt interest, veterans’ care and benefits, and intelligence costs are added in. The Democratic base wants more funding for schools, action on global climate change, a public jobs program, a national health care program, more scholarship aid for college students, a break-up of the big banks, a strong defense of Social Security and Medicare, new laws protecting and expanding the rights of unions to organize and bargain with management, and other such progressive change, but the Democratic president and Democrats in Congress won’t give them any of that.
What they do instead is promise at the convention and on the campaign trail to do such things, but then when they get elected, or re-elected, they forget all those promises, or just enact tiny largely meaningless changes in some of those areas, or in other less significant areas, to try to appease their membership.
Evidence of the split between the Democratic base and the party’s leadership became apparent Wednesday, when . . .
Continue reading. The Democratic leadership has become corrupted and co-opted by power. Thus the weakness of the Democratic party.
Excellent article by George Lakehoff and Elisabeth Wehling at AlterNet:
Framing is (or should be) about moral values, deep truths, and the policies that flow from them.
As of their kickoff speeches in Ohio, Romney and Obama have both chosen economics as their major campaign theme. And thus the question of how they frame the economy will be crucial throughout the campaign. Their two speeches could not be more different.
Where Romney talks morality (conservative style), Obama mainly talks policy. Where Romney reframes Obama, Obama does not reframe Romney. In fact, he reinforces Romney’s frames in the first part of his speech by repeating Romney’s language word for word — without spelling out his own values explicitly.
Where Romney’s framing is moral, simple and straightforward, Obama’s is policy-oriented, filled with numbers, details, and so many proposals that they challenge ordinary understanding.
Where Obama talks mainly about economic fairness, Romney reframes it as economic freedom.
As the authors of Authors of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, here’s a discussion of Obama’s speech.
Obama began his kickoff campaign speech in Cleveland stating that he is “in complete agreement” with Romney: “This election is about our economic future. Yes, foreign policy matters. Social issues matter. But more than anything else, this election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions” regarding economic policy.
Obama’s strategy is to pin the Bush economic disaster on Romney, with good reason, since Romney has essentially the same policies as Bush. Since Obama has not consistently pinned the blame on Bush over the past four years, he comes off as defensive.
Romney’s strategy is to pin the disaster on Obama. He uses the Caretaker Metaphor — Obama has been the national caretaker, so the present condition is his responsibility. Since Obama started out assuming a caretaker’s responsibility, it is difficult for him to escape the frame now. He should have avoided it from the beginning. Pinning the disaster on Bush is possible, but it will take a lot of repetition, not just by the president, but by Democrats in general. Not just a repetition of economic facts, but of the moral differences that led to both the Bush disaster and the Obama attempt to recoup.
Perhaps the most important omission from the Obama speech was any overt mention of The Public — everything that our citizenry as a whole provides to all, e.g., roads, bridges, infrastructure, education, protection, a health system, and systems for communication, energy development and supply, and so on. The Private — private life and private enterprise — depends on The Public. There is no economic freedom without all of this. So-called “free enterprise” is not free. A free market economy depends on a strong Public. This is a deep truth, easy to recognize. It undercuts Romney’s central pitch, that is it private enterprise alone that has made our country great, and that as much as possible of The Public should be eliminated.
Romney calls free enterprise . . .
I really liked Alan Grayson when he was a US Representative: he wasn’t afraid to speak out and talk straight. I just got this email:
Two years ago, I was fed up with endless right-wing attacks on Democratic plans to help the 50 million Americans who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick, and to make healthcare affordable for everyone else. So I stood on the Floor of the House, and mocked the Republicans for their “healthcare plan”:
- Don’t get sick.
- If you do get sick, die quickly.
And when the Republicans demanded an apology – an apology for pointing out the obvious – I did apologize: to the 40,000 Americans who die each year because they have no healthcare, and to their loved ones.
In an oversight hearing two years ago, I got the Inspector General of the Federal Reserve to admit that she had no idea what happened to the Fed’s then-known $1 trillion in bailout money. That has become the most-watched Congressional video in history, with over five million views. I then teamed up with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to do something about it; we passed his 24-year-old bill to audit the Fed. The resulting audit report disclosed an astounding $17 trillion in secret bailouts – more than America’s GNP.
With 70% of the homeowners in my district owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth, and thousands fighting foreclosures, I introduced an innovative mandatory mediation program that cut foreclosures in half. The program was so successful that it was adopted statewide.
I was actually in the courtroom when the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision, giving giant corporations a green light to inundate us with campaign propaganda. I said that night on MSNBC, “if we do nothing, then you can kiss this country goodbye.”And I did something — I introduced eight bills in our “Save Democracy” platform, three of which were included in the DISCLOSE Act passed by the House. And to demonstrate popular support for campaign reform, we collected over 100,000 signatures on our Save Democracy petition, and delivered that petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A year ago, when the Republicans were so bent on extending their tax cuts for the rich, I calculated and exposed on the Floor of the House just how much money these tax cuts were worth each year for Rush Limbaugh ($2,689,135), Glenn Beck ($1,512,352), Sean Hannity ($1,006,352), Bill O’Reilly ($914,352), Sarah Palin ($638,352), Newt Gingrich ($247,352) and George W. Bush himself ($187,552).
And when Fox News attacked me, I hit back on national TV, labeling them “Monty Python’s Lying Circus.” I also pointed out that more people watch the Cartoon Network than Fox News – they both show cartoons all day long, but the ones on the Cartoon Network are funny.
What does all this mean? That I’m fighting for the things that you believe in. If you want to support a candidate who has earned your support, then click here and join our grassroots campaign.
But courage and outspokenness has a price. In the 2010 election, the Koch Brothers spent $2 million to defeat me. Health insurance lobbyists, who were incensed that I had introduced a four-page bill to open Medicare to any American who would pay for it, spent $2 million to defeat me. The National Republican Congressional Committee declared me their #1 target in the nation, and they spent $1 million to defeat me. A few weeks before the election, Politico calculated that almost 20% of all of the special interest sewer money in the entire country had been spent against me.
Which is why I need your help. Please click here to contribute to our campaign.
Let’s face it: the big corporations, the lobbyists and the special interests aren’t going to give my campaign a penny. They know that I’m not going to put the law up for sale to the highest bidder, the way they want. I’m not going to give them a no-bid government contract, a tax break, a bailout or an earmark. So I have to turn to you, and people like you, for support. People who want nothing in return for their contribution but good government – government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Time and time again, I have said the things that you’ve been thinking, but no one else has been saying. Please join the 100,000 contributors who are the real power behind our People Power campaign.
The People, united, will never be defeated. Join our campaign today.
I did indeed sign up for a monthly contribution for the next 5 months. Perhaps you also can send a few bucks his way.
This story by Olga Pierce appears in ProPublica. Not only is she a Democrat, she’s apparently part of a cabal of Democratic legislators working unethically (and, perhaps, illegally) to distort the redistricting process. I hope they serve hard time if found guilty, for this is the worst kind of corruption: destroying the very system.
California Congresswoman Laura Richardson is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for directing her staff to use government resources for redistricting work, according to a Politico story yesterday.
Richardson and her staffers, according to the story, recruited and trained citizens to testify before the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, even providing them with canned testimony, anonymous individuals told Politico.
Asked for comment, Richardson’s attorney sent ProPublica a statement calling the allegations in the Politico story “groundless,” adding that “to date, the House Ethics Committee has not issued any recommendations, conclusions or findings of any kind.”
The statement says Richardson is committed to following the law and House Ethics rules.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission was created by the state’s voters with the promise of removing political influence from the drawing of new district lines—a high-stakes
process that can guarantee a representative a safe seat, or virtually ensure defeat in the next election. To that effect, the commission pledged to use citizen testimony—and not the wishes of politicians—as its main basis for decision-making.
But Richardson’s alleged tampering with the commission by manipulating public testimony was not unique. As ProPublica detailed in December, California’s entire Democratic congressional delegation held meetings in Washington, D.C. to strategizeabout ways to manipulate the commission. We found other members of Congress using a front group, drummed-up testimony and other means to dupe the commission into drawing the districts they wanted.
In an email obtained by ProPublica, members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines.” As we noted, one staffer on California’s delegation sent out more than 100 emails about redistricting. The House Ethics Committee did not return our request for comment about the investigation, and whether it may go beyond Richardson.
America certainly is moving with haste in its new direction. Glenn Greenwald points out a column in the Washington Post the declaims the new paradigm:
. . . There is a new Washington Post article which contains three short passages that I really want to highlight because they so vividly capture the essence of so much. The article, by Greg Miller, is being promoted by thePost this way: “In 3 years, the Obama administration has built a vast drone/killing operation”; it describes the complete secrecy behind which this is all being carried out and notes: “no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.” Here is the first beautifully revealing passage:
Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.
In sum: the President can kill whomever he wants anywhere in the world (including U.S. citizens) without a shred of check or oversight, and has massively escalated these killings since taking office (at the time of Obama’s inauguration, the U.S. used drone attacks in only one country (Pakistan); under Obama, these attacks have occurred in at least six Muslim countries). Because it’s a Democrat (rather than big, bad George W. Bush) doing this, virtually no members of that Party utter a peep of objection (a few are willing to express only the most tepid, abstract “concerns” about the possibility of future abuse). And even though these systematic, covert killings are widely known and discussed in newspapers all over the world — particularly in the places where they continue to extinguish the lives of innocent people by the dozens, including children — Obama designates even the existence of the program a secret, which means our democratic representatives and all of official Washington are barred by the force of law from commenting on it or even acknowledging that a CIA drone program exists (a prohibition enforced by an administration that has prosecuted leaks it dislikes more harshly than any other prior administration). Then we have this:
Another reason for the lack of extensive debate is secrecy. The White House has refused to divulge details about the structure of the drone program or, with rare exceptions, who has been killed. White House and CIA officials declined to speak for attribution for this article.
Inside the White House, according to officials who would discuss the drone program only on the condition of anonymity, the drone is seen as a critical tool whose evolution was accelerating even before Obama was elected.
The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ not only prevents public debate by shrouding the entire program in secrecy — including who they’re killing and why, and even including their claimed legal basis for these killings (what Democratic lawyers decried during the Bush years as the tyranny of “secret law”) — but they then dispatch their own officials to defend what they’re doing solely under the cover of anonymity so there is no accountability. And, of course, the Post (in an otherwise good though imperfect article) dutifully allows them to do this. In other words: if you ask us about our systematic killing operation, we’ll refuse to answer or even acknowledge it exists and we will legally bar critics from talking about it in public; nobody in government can comment on any of this except us, which we’ll do only by issuing anonymous decrees declaring it Good and Right.Finally, we have this:
Key members of Obama’s national security team came into officemore inclined to endorse drone strikes than were their counterparts under Bush, current and former officials said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former CIA director and current Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan seemed always ready to step on the accelerator . . .
The only member of Obama’s team known to have formally raised objections to the expanding drone campaign is Dennis Blair, who served as director of national intelligence.
During a National Security Council meeting in November 2009, Blair sought to override the agenda and force a debate on the use of drones, according to two participants.
Blair has since articulated his concerns publicly, calling for a suspension of unilateral drone strikes in Pakistan, which he argues damage relations with that country and kill mainly mid-level militants. But he now speaks as a private citizen. His opinion contributed to his isolation from Obama’s inner circle, and he was fired last year.
Obama officials love secret, targeted killing far more even than Bush officials did. They’re “always ready to step on the accelerator” (and, of course, they went further than Bush by even targeting U.S. citizens far from any battlefield). Only Admiral Blair raised objections, and was fired for them, and is now reduced to explaining in Op-Eds that these killings at this point do relatively little to harm Al Qaeda but rather do the opposite: they increase the risk of Terrorism by fueling anti-American hatred, predictably left in the wake of the corpses of innocent men, woman and children throughout the Muslim world piled up by the Obama program.
Americans love to think that they are so very informed as a result of the robust, free press they enjoy, while those primitive, benighted Muslims are tragically manipulated and propagandized by their governments. Yet here we have an extraordinarily consequential “vast drone/killing operation,” and while those in the Muslim world are well aware of what it is and what it does and debate all of that openly and vigorously, Americans are largely kept in the dark about it. That’s because: (a) the U.S. Government shields it all in secrecy (hiding it from nobody except their own citizens); (b) the U.S. media generally avoid highlighting the innocent victims of American violence; and — most of all — (c) this is all now enshrined as bipartisan consensus, with the GOP consistently approving of any covert government aggression that kills foreigners, and Democrats remaining mute because it is their leader doing it. That’s why this Post article provides such a vivid snapshot of what Washington is and how it works. . .
Continue reading. Very bad things are on the horizon.
Certainly the GOP has no monopoly on bad behavior in politics and governing. Nick has pointed out in comments how the Democrats in the House and Senate all too often are eager to do the bidding of their corporate sponsors (I wish they would wear those little labels like race-car drivers), corrupted by association with moneyed power—much as union leaders over time became corrupted and stopped representing the interests of their members.
The GOP effort to prevent people from voting is despicable, but what the Democrats did in California is just as bad. Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson report for ProPublica:
This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only — no aides allowed — and the mission was seemingly impossible.
In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.
The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”
In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines,” according to another email.
The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.
When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.
In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats’ map.
California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.” . . .
Continue reading—there’s a lot more.
I certainly agree that “this is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region” if by that he means that this is a despicable effort to undermine the foundations of democracy and deceive the public and the government. I hope the authors of this plan go to prison, which they richly deserve. They won’t. The US as a democracy is crumbling fast.
Here’s the reaction from the GOP, which is (naturally enough) displeased, though with apparently no recognition that the GOP is pursuing much the same course through their voter-disenfranchisement plant.
Very interesting post by Eric Kleefeld at TPM2012 based on an interview with George McGovern, who was there at the time:
Amidst the ongoing controversies surrounding the Republican primary calendar — with Florida moving its contest to late January, and triggering a move up by the officially sanctioned early states — some people have probably wondered if it might be possible to come up with better ways to pick a presidential nominee. But is there, really?
Already every cycle, the parties review the rules of their primary processes, and often make small or large adjustments. But can they produce major change?
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner told TPM: “Well, would another commission be successful, when we’ve had a commission almost every four years going back for 30 years?” (For the history of the New Hampshire primary, see our post in which we interviewed Garder.)
And for his own part, Florida GOP chair Lenny Curry told TPM that the state is not trying to challenge New Hampshire’s spot as the first primary. “No way,” said Curry, explaining that “there’s a tradition there, there’s a history there. It’s important, and it matters, and it works. So by no means do we want to — that was never the intent.”
So what does Florida want?
“We would like to see Florida to remain an early state that goes by itself. We are too big, and too important,” said Curry. “And we can debate how we get there, but what is important is we get there, and we get there consistently, and we’re not having a debate every four years as to why Florida should be there early, and by itself.”
With all that in mind, it is worth remembering just how the modern primary system developed — in a process that lasted decades, before it became formalized about 40 years ago. And counter-intuitively, many of the same forces that shaped the process becoming what it is today, may also be the same ones that could prevent a truly centralized reform.
In 1969, following the many controversies that beset the 1968 Democratic convention — in which Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated without winning any primaries, on the basis of victories in caucuses and state party conventions, which in those days were sparsely attended and dominated by party insiders — the Dems convened a special commission to overhaul and reform primary and caucus process, and open up participation. The commission was co-chaired by Sen. George McGovern (D-SD), who went on to become the party’s nominee for president in 1972, and Rep. Donald Fraser (D-MN).
It was from that commission that Democrats formalized many rules that people take for granted today: More widespread participation in primaries, caucuses that are adequately advertised and open to the public, proportional representation of delegates, and many more. And over the years, the Republicans copied many of those same principles, fostering the competitive national primary races we see today.
“There weren’t any young people involved, they were out in the streets protesting,” McGovern said of the 1968 convention, in an interview with TPM. “There were very few women inside the convention, that was the basic problem. And under that circumstance, there were other abuses. Sometimes caucuses were held without notifying anybody, and the only people that knew about them were a few insiders.”
“I don’t blame Humphrey, either,” McGovern added. “He was operating as we had always operated, by getting the endorsements of the mayors in large cities, and the heads of the party in various states, members of Congress, governors. And that comprised the process of selecting the nominee up until ‘69. I don’t blame Humphrey for exploiting it, because that’s the way it was done.”
However, one thing that the McGovern-Fraser committee did not address, was . . .
If you’re going to steal, it only makes sense to restrict your thievery to venues in which it is legal—Wall Street is a master of this, because businesses who raid their pension funds to get the millions of dollars they award to top executives as bonuses, knowing that eventually the employees whose retirement funds they’re using will get nothing. And for law enforcement, asset forfeiture works quite well:
Let’s be clear about what civil asset forfeiture is not:
- It’s not confiscation of contraband or illegal goods
- It’s not property that has been withheld as evidence during a criminal investigation.
- It’s not a fine or restitution imposed on someone duly convicted of a crime
Civil asset forfeiture instead refers to legal property or cash owned by individuals not charged with any crime, which is nevertheless seized by law enforcement agents who merely suspect it was used in a crime.
- If tens of thousands of dollars in cash are found in a person’s home, it is automatically suspected of having been used in drug dealing, because no “normal” person would have that much cash lying around. “Odd or eccentric people”, who distrust banks and keep their savings at home, are at risk.
- If trace amounts of marijuana are found in a vehicle, the vehicle may be seized, even if the owner was unaware that any drugs were transported in the vehicle.
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), was intended to correct some of the worst abuses. (More information on the history of Civil Asset Forfeiture and CAFRA are found on our Background page.) But abuses and outrages continue . . .
- A police dog’s sniff of bundles of cash totaling $124,700 was used as sufficient evidence for the government to confiscate the money, even though a large percentage of currency in circulation contains traces of narcotics, and the government couldn’t establish how or when the money was used in criminal activity.
- An Ohio man who kept a small amount of medical marijuana and who also kept his life savings in his own home saw the money taken by the FBI – even though he was never charged with marijuana possession.
- Individuals who consent to police searches can lose money kept in their cars – even where there is no trace of illegal drugs or suspicion of illegal activity.
- A woman charged with illegally selling medical equipment saw her assets frozen by the government, on the grounds that her wealth was from ill-gotten gains – preventing her from hiring adequate council to defend herself, as is her right under the 6th Amendment.
Civil asset forfeiture can’t be “fixed” because its very essence breeds conflict-of-interest: . . .
We really need to put an end to this.