Sunday, December 14, 2014
Of course I'm waxing poetically here. We both know what really happens in Washington. Jimmy Stewart doesn't really prevail; Claude Rains doesn't really waltz onto the Senate floor and confess his crime; and life never really imitates art. That's why it's called art. In Hollywood, the hero is exonerated and the villain defeated. Batman triumphs over Bain. The audience wouldn't have it any other way. In real life, however, Bain nukes Gotham. There is no Batman to save it; there never was.
But, for just that moment, Elizabeth Warren wasn't having any of it. She had had enough and she made a decision to stand up and speak her mind. Like Peter Finch in the movie "Network," she was mad as hell and she wasn't going to take it anymore. So she challenged not only Wall Street, but her own party leaders, who, thanks to her, now have a lot of egg on their faces and a whole lot of 'splainin' to do.
Know who else has a lot of 'splainin to do, and quickly? Hillary Clinton, that's who. Not only did Elizabeth Warren read out Democratic leadership, she boxed in her party's prohibitive front runner for the presidential nomination. Warren may or may not run for president in 2016, but, unless you've been living under a rock or on another planet in a distant galaxy, the only way Hillary doesn't run is if an alien spaceship abducts her. The question isn't if but when she will announce her candidacy.
But before she makes that announcement, you can bet the ranch she will be asked what she thinks about Warren's speech. And her answer will go along way towards determining whether or not she will go down as the next Al Gore. Assuming Jeb Bush tosses his hat into the ring for the GOP and actually manages to win the nomination - a long shot, I know - we could have a repeat of 2000. And we all know how that turned out.
Make no mistake about it, Hillary and the Democrats have a huge problem on their hands. There is a disconnect between the Party and the base and it reared its ugly head in the 2014 midterms. It's convenient to shrug off, as many pundits have mistakenly done, the election results as your typical midterm swoon. Democratic voters stay home, Republican voters turn out. In presidential elections, Dems turn out in droves. It's always been that way.
Except this year, there was a monkey wrench thrown in the works. While Democrats were getting trounced at the polls, progressive initiatives like raising the minimum wage were passing, some of them in Red states. What does that tell you? What it tells me is that the country is moving to the left, in spite of what the wingnuts on the right keep insisting. And while most Democrats were desperately trying to pivot to the center, the base that has historically propelled them into power has grown increasingly disenchanted.
This disenchantment did not spring up overnight. It began during the Clinton years. The ascendancy of Bill Clinton is a political paradox of sorts. While he captured the center, many on the left felt betrayed. For a long time they swallowed their wounded pride, buoyed by the fact that he beat the GOP, not once but twice. Not since FDR had a Democrat won back to back presidential races.
But Al Gore was the first casualty of the Left's indifference. In what should've been a cake walk, Gore lost a very tight election to George Bush in 2000. Four years later, John Kerry lost another close race. The latter left a lot of people scratching their heads. By 2004, the Iraq War was becoming unpopular, as was Bush. The election was there for the taking, but Kerry was unable to drive enough Democratic voters to the polls.
Barack Obama was supposed to be the progressives' savior. The Messiah, as many sadly called him. But almost from the start, Obama governed more like Clinton than FDR. The half-measured stimulus that Paul Krugman correctly predicted would be insufficient to jump-start the economy; the hybrid, bastardized healthcare law that nobody likes and few defend; all were evidence of a man who couldn't find his moral compass and who all too often threw his base under the bus. He might've been the smartest man in the room, but he often came off looking smug and detached.
By any and all accounts, Obama should've been a one-term president. The economy was improving but still sluggish. The mood of the electorate was hardly reassuring. Had it not been for the fact that he was running against a party that could fuck up a sunset, Mitt Romney might very well have won in 2012. The sad an undeniable truth is that for the last six years, the Democratic formula for success has been to sit back and wait for Republicans to implode. That strategy worked brilliantly until this year. This time the GOP didn't fall on their sword. This time they pushed the ball over the goal line. And they did it against a Democratic Party that didn't so much as put up a fight. If anything, Democrats ran away from who they were and played right into the waiting arms of their opponents.
For most of the last six years, the talk around Washington has been about the civil war raging within the GOP between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party. Few paid any attention to the growing rift within the Democratic Party between progressives and centrists. Elizabeth Warren's speech has given voice to progressives within the Party that have felt abandoned and betrayed for years. They finally have their champion, even if it's a reluctant one.
And if Hillary Clinton knows what's good for her, she will commit that speech to memory, word for word, and do whatever it takes to win them over. It won't be easy. She's never been their favorite. She's a hawk and a corporatist, two huge strikes against her from the start. And then there's her husband. Bill's signing of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a stupendous blunder and indirectly played a role in the '08 financial meltdown. Warren went out of her way to cite it. If push comes to shove, Hillary may have no choice but to throw him under the bus. The worst possible scenario would be for her to win the nomination only to lose the general because the base stayed home.
Then there's the Party itself. It drastically needs a course correction. The fissure that this budget deal has created will undoubtedly lead to a crack as the remaining Blue Dogs attempt to push the Party even further to the right. If Democrats have any hope of recapturing the Senate in 2016, they must resist this push at all costs.
And finally, there's Obama. Less than a month removed from what many progressives were calling his boldest stand since taking office, he has seemingly retreated back to the safety of his old pragmatic ways. He took the lead in the budget negotiations and pressured many Democrats in the House to vote for it, angering Nancy Pelosi and most of her caucus in the process. While it was laudable and somewhat encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats come to the table and agree on something, the way in which this bill got cobbled together left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. And the way in which Wall Street managed to strike down a key provision in Dodd-Frank was frightening.
For months I have been insisting that people like Elizabeth Warren have no chance of winning a general election. I'm not so certain anymore. Voters are fed up with crony capitalism and crooked politicians. Warren may just be the perfect tonic for what ails the country; the one ray of sunshine that can pierce through the gray clouds that shroud it. If nothing else, she has provided a road map for her party.
It would behoove them to follow it.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
But we do have actual video evidence of Eric Garner being strangled to death by Daniel Pantaleo. And yet, astonishingly, a grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo for manslaughter. How can that be? How can there not be at least 12 grand jurors out of 23 who were able to see what every person with half a brain clearly saw?
The mind boggles.
This was not a he said / she said. There was no exculpatory evidence that muddied up the waters. This was a young man being placed in a chokehold by a police officer for committing the heinous crime of selling illegal cigarettes. Running a red light or rolling a stop sign carries a harsher penalty. The medical examiner concluded it was homicide. The NYPD banned the use of chokeholds more than a decade ago. And yet, despite all that, a cop walks free while another life is snuffed out.
Please spare me the usual, "Why did he resist?" bullshit. I don't want to hear it. And, yes, stop playing that ridiculous Chris Rock video "How not to get your ass kicked by the police." You do know he's playing you, right? Or are you that stupid? What part of "get a white friend" didn't you get, bright eyes? If you're sincerely interested in what Chris Rock really thinks, his tweet summed it up perfectly: "This one was on film."
Still laughing? I didn't think so. That's because there's nothing to laugh at, except perhaps the criminal justice system. Once more it has thoroughly failed to do its job. A 12-year old boy is gunned down in Cleveland; a young man is choked to death in Staten Island. Both are captured on video. The common denominator in both is the skin color of the victim and the occupation of the killer.
Yes, there are a lot of good cops out there. The vast majority of them observe the law and respect the communities they serve. And, no doubt, many of them are appalled by this decision. But, let's face it, a certain percentage of them no more belong in a uniform than I do teaching physics. A bad cop with a badge and a gun is a tragedy waiting to happen. And America has seen way too many of these tragedies.
I honestly do not know where we go from here. When something so obvious as this is dismissed, what justice can there be? I do not know what it feels like to be an African American male in this country. I have never been stopped in a mall or pulled over while driving for no other reason than the color of my skin. And any white man who even attempts to "identify" with the plight of the black man is a fool.
But, speaking strictly as a white man, I am deeply embarrassed by the events that have unfolded in the last ten days; indeed the events that have unfolded over the last six years. Prosecutors behaving like defense attorneys, grand juries failing to use the common sense God gave them, states enacting voter suppression laws. I have never seen this nation as polarized as it is right now. When a certain segment of the population loses hope, where can they turn?
Ask yourself this question and try to be as honest as possible: If you were a black man or woman, would you ever trust a cop or a jury again? Would you? Be honest. I know I wouldn't. Hell, I'm white and I'm not that fond of cops.
No matter what happens in the future - whether the Justice Department brings civil rights charges against Pantaleo or not - this decision will be a stain, not just on New York, but the whole country, as well. And, like most stains, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
Friday, November 28, 2014
It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented. - Antonin Scalia, 1992
One of the most conservative jurists, possibly in the world, in a Supreme Court case argued more than twenty years ago, defined perfectly what went tragically wrong in the Ferguson case. District Attorney Robert McCulloch eschewed the traditional role of prosecutor and turned the grand jury into a trial jury. Indeed, he sounded more like a defense attorney at his press conference. Look at the charge that was given to the grand jury:
"And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence."
If you're confused, imagine what the grand jury must've been thinking. Basically, McCulloch tied two distinct charges together and instructed the grand jury that if both were not true they had no choice but to no bill. As someone who has sat on a criminal case as a juror, I find this incredible. I cannot conceive of any prosecutor being so stupid as to hamstring himself like that in front of a jury. Putting all one's eggs in a basket like that borders on prosecutorial negligence.
There's only one legitimate reason why any District Attorney would do such a thing. He simply didn't want an indictment. This is the fifth case that this prosecutor has taken against a police officer and the fifth time he has failed to get / seek an indictment. It is a well-established fact that if a prosecutor wants to indict someone, that person is indicted. Period! You've heard of the saying "You can indict a ham sandwich if you want?" Well, apparently, ham was not on the menu in Ferguson.
Once more the wheels of justice have driven over the African American community. In Sanford, Florida, an inept prosecuting team allowed George Zimmerman to get away with murder in an actual trial. This time, the prosecution didn't want to take a chance with a jury, so they soft-soaped what should've been a rigorous and thorough cross examination. Robert McCulloch did everything except kiss Darren Wilson on the lips during his testimony. Then, to make sure there were no loose ends that could gum up the works, he deliberately gave the grand jury an impossible task; one that only a trial jury would and should get.
I honestly do not know whether Darren Wilson is guilty of murder or whether he was a cop who simply panicked under pressure. Neither does anyone else. And that is the problem with what happened here. By no-billing, the grand jury didn't pronounce Wilson guilty or innocent. Instead there is this huge void that is left. The family of Michael Brown will never know true justice and the family of Darren Wilson will never know true vindication, in spite of what his supporters keep saying.
But, more importantly, a country that is bitterly divided just became more so. And here is perhaps the saddest thing of all: this issue isn't going away any time soon. By ignoring his duty as a prosecutor, Robert McCulloch not only did a disservice to the legal community, but the message such conduct sends will have profound repercussions throughout law enforcement as a whole.
Just the other day in Cleveland, a rookie cop shot a 12-year old black kid dead for brandishing a toy gun. The officer's report said he ordered the boy to put his hands in the air. A video taken of the incident, however, showed the cop car pulling up, the cop opening the door and immediately firing on the boy who then instantly fell to the ground. The boy, Tamir Rice, was pronounced dead at Metro Health Medical Center.
Based on the progression of events that are unfolding in this country, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the cop ends up getting a ticket for speeding.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
You know that old saying, be careful what you wish for? Well, over the next 24 months - and beyond - an awful lot of Republicans are going to get a crash course in it.
It's tempting for a good many Republicans - and , it goes without saying, the vast majority of the lame-stream media - to interpret the 2014 midterms as a mandate. The public hath spoken and all ye should pay heed to thy warning, lest thee suffer thy wrath.
Well, no so fast. According to a GOP strategist, the Republican wave is actually "very bad news." In a piece in the Daily Kos, Chris Ladd lays out the GOP's problem in a nutshell. While they continue to do a very effective job at the Congressional level, mainly due to gerrymandering, on a national level, they still can't break what Ladd calls "the blue wall." This is a group of states that Democrats have ostensibly locked up. At present, they constitute 257 out of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. It's damn near impossible to win a national election when your margin for error is reduced to just 13 electoral votes.
In essence, by winning big in the midterms, all Republicans did was pile on where they are already strongest without laying the foundation for building a coalition in other less-reinforced geographic areas that they will desperately need in 2016. Long story, short: "Republican support grew deeper in 2014, not broader."
Of all the points Ladd makes, the three most salient for me were: 1. The Democratic ballot initiatives which were successful in every state, even Red ones, signal a shift in the electorate not to the right but to the left; 2. Republicans will have to defend 24 Senate seats in 2016, while Democrats will only have to defend 10. It shouldn't be that difficult for Democrats to net at least five seats, regaining the majority; and 3. Rather than come up with viable solutions for an ever-changing global economy, Republicans will pander to their worst elements by focusing on "climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings."
But the most damning indictment Ladd makes is this statement:
It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping the next wave of our economic and political transformation. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called “issues” so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation. Something, some force, some gathering of sane, rational, authentically concerned human beings generally at peace with reality must emerge in the next four to six years from the right, or our opportunity will be lost for a long generation. Needless to say, Greg Abbott and Joni Ernst are not that force. ‘Winning’ this election did not help that force emerge.
To a certain extent both political parties have been guilty of misreading their electoral successes as mandates. As a result, they've tended to overreach. The Democrats were guilty of doing that in 2006 and '08. The Republican gains in both 2010 and 2014 have been likewise misread by their base. The difference between the two, however, is that the Republicans, unlike the Democrats, are swimming upstream nationally. Going into 2016, the GOP is facing the prospect of losing six out of the last seven popular votes for the presidency. That is a damning indictment and one which Ladd and many other Republican analysts are deeply concerned about.
Of course, it doesn't help matters either that the GOP has been hijacked by an element - the Tea Party - that is as looney as it is extremist. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, in-coming majority leader Mitch McConnell is going to have his hands full keeping his caucus in line. Buckle up, kids. These next two years should be hysterical.
Friday, November 21, 2014
With one stroke of a pen, Obama not only made his bones with a vital demographic group his party will desperately need in 2016, he ostensibly boxed in the GOP, who will now spend the next several weeks, if not months, trying all kinds of stupid maneuvers to undo what many of them already know cannot be undone. Two birds with one signature. All in all, a pretty successful day for a president who was supposed to be settling in for what everyone expected was going to be a very lame duck final two years. So much for lame duck.
To be clear, this executive order is not a cure for all that ails our broken immigration system. Indeed, it is barely a band aid. Politically, though, the move is brilliant in that it will force whoever the Republican nominee is in 2016 to either grudgingly admit Obama was right - not likely - or run on rescinding the order - much more likely. For a party struggling to prove it isn't a whites-only party, that's a nightmarish scenario.
But the move is not without some risks. Some independent voters may not like the fact that Obama took executive action and they could take out their frustration on whoever the Democratic nominee is in two years. But, on the whole, it's a risk Obama had to take.
Anyone who paid close attention to the exit polls in the last presidential election knows full well that, without the support of the Latino community, Obama would likely have lost to Mitt Romney. Another way of putting it would be that if Romney had gotten the same percentage of the Hispanic vote that George Bush got in '04, he would've gotten an extra three million votes and Obama three million less. If you're counting, that's a six million vote swing. Bye, bye Florida (29 electoral votes), Virginia (13), Ohio (18) and Colorado (9). That's 69 less electoral votes Obama would've gotten, giving him a total of 263, seven shy of winning reelection. Know this much: they can add in the White House.
They can also add in the Clinton household. Both Bill and Hillary wasted no time throwing their full support behind Obama's executive action. She may not like Obama, but Hillary knows full well that no Democrat can win the White House without the Hispanic vote. Indeed, the party's fortunes are tied to getting the lion's share of the minority vote. Without it, the electoral map looks a lot like the last two midterms.
Of course, all the Republicans would have to do is "pass a bill," as the President challenged them to do, and his executive order would basically be rescinded. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. I've said it once and I'll say it again: Republican leadership will never permit a comprehensive immigration bill to see the light of day. Not because they don't think it's a good idea, but because they know the minute they do, they'll be tarred and feathered by their base.
Obama knows this all too well. Give him credit for finally having the spine to do the right thing. Look for him to be more assertive in other areas, like the Keystone Pipeline. He looks like he's got his mojo back and that's bad news for a Republican Party that was hoping to set the tempo for the next two years.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Okay, let's get this over with.
Democratic candidates who lost on election day. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, everyone of these candidates employed a failed strategy. And that strategy was to run as far as they could away from President Obama. Fearful of his sinking pole numbers, they not only distanced themselves from him, they practically disowned him.
So why was this a tactical blunder? Because it ostensibly told the base that they didn't have their back; and that base repaid their repudiation by staying home. Whether it was Alison Lundergan Grimes refusing to say whether she voted for Obama or Mark Udall bashing Obama in public, it was as though they had never even heard of the man. Obama's not on the ballot, they kept insisting.
There was only one problem with that stance. It wasn't true. Obama WAS on the ballot. 2014, like it or not, was a referendum on Obama's policies and it was foolish for Democrats to think otherwise. What they should've done was to defend the good things that had been accomplished over the last six years. Maybe Obamacare wasn't perfect but it ended pre-existing conditions and allowed parents to keep their kids on their healthcare plans an additional two years. While the economy isn't growing as fast as some would like, the country is better off now than it was six years ago. Remember when your 401k was a 201k? Well not anymore.
But rather than defend their voting records, these candidates hemmed and hawed and tried to deflect them. And that played straight into the waiting arms of their opponents who really had nothing to run on except voter frustration with the president. When you look across the map, the Democratic candidates who won were able to differentiate themselves from their opponents and make the case for why they should be reelected. The ones who didn't, lost.
The lesson here couldn't be plainer. Denying who you are is a losing strategy in politics. It discourages voters who might vote for you without attracting a single voter who otherwise wouldn't.
The Democratic base who stayed home. And now we come to the crux of matter; the real reason for this year's nightmarish results. On several occasions I have ripped progressives in this blog. In my mind, they are almost as bad as Tea Partiers. When they don't get their way, they stay home and pout. Or, even worse, they don't think voting in a midterm election is a big deal. Presidential elections, no problem. But ask them to turn out for a midterm and you might as well ask a cat not to chase a mouse. You want me to vote? And miss NCIS or New Girl?
So you didn't get the candidates you wanted; so they were lame. So what! This is the same drivel I heard over Al Gore. So what happened? You voted for Ralph Nader or just stayed home and we got eight years of George W. Bush, that's what fucking happened! Really, some of you are worse than four-year old's on Christmas Day who didn't get all the toys they wanted.
Elections have consequences. And not voting has even greater consequences. So Bruce Braley, Mark Udall, Kay Hagen and Charlie Crist didn't do much for you. To be honest, they didn't do much for me either. But answer me this: what do Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Rick Scott do for you? Because your decision to sit this election out was the principle reason those Republicans beat those Democrats. It wasn't an overly enthusiastic Republican base who voted that put them over the top, it was a lackadaisical Democratic base who didn't.
I checked and I checked Democratic strongholds in various states and what I found was staggering. With the exception of the Denver suburbs, every area that went heavily for Obama in 2012, had similar margins for the Democrat in each race. The difference wasn't the percentage of the vote, but the number of votes cast. In Broward county alone, there was a drop off of about 200,000 votes from the 2012 election. 200,000! That's more than some Republican counties had in total.
We don't always get the candidate we want. Sometimes the candidate we end up with is flawed. And sometimes the candidate we want can't win a general election. Progressives need to understand this and come to terms with it, especially with a presidential election in two years. Already there is static in the air that if the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton, some of you might not vote for her in the general. Such thinking is suicidal and can have tragic consequences.
How tragic? Consider this: because of your indifference, for the next two years the country will have to contend with the likes of James Inhofe - who not only thinks global warming is a hoax but believes nothing bad could happen to the Earth because God wouldn't permit it - running the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Think things couldn't get any worse? Try imagining a President Ted Cruz running the country.
Wake up, assholes!
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Allowing for the obvious politics involved - all except Warner will face tough reelections in 2018 - the threat presents a real test for Reid and his caucus. Assuming Mary Landrieu loses her runoff next month - a forgone conclusion, in my opinion - the GOP will hold 54 seats next year. If all six of these Blue Dogs abandon ship and vote lock step with the new majority, Republicans will reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster. To make matters worse, Angus King, the independent from Maine, has hinted he may not caucus with the Democrats in the nest Congress. Even if he doesn't officially bolt, he won't hesitate to vote Red if it suits his interests.
Knowing what's at stake, Reid tossed a bone to his Blue Dogs by appointing one of them, Tester, to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He's even allowing an up and down vote on the Keystone Pipeline in a futile attempt to save Landrieu's seat. The measure should pass and will likely be vetoed by President Obama.
But while Reid will have his hands full keeping Republicans from jamming their agenda through, it's not like McConnell will have a cake walk. For one thing, it's not a given that he will be able to keep his own caucus in line. Ted Cruz and his band of merry men and woman (Joni Ernst) promise to make life a living hell for him. The Tea Party hates compromise and nothing turns their stomachs more than striking deals with the enemy. Secondly, even if everything goes McConnell's way and he gets the 60 votes to pass his bills, he doesn't have the votes to overcome Obama's veto pen. So, either way, he could be screwed.
Ironic, isn't it? Now that McConnell has finally achieved his life-long dream of being Senate majority leader, he'll likely find out what his counter part has known for the last eight years: that it's a whole lot easier wanting to be leader than being one. As for Reid, if he can thread this needle till 2016, when the Dems will have a much better electoral map, it'll be his greatest accomplishment yet.