Friday, October 24, 2014

Tip of the Hat

It's been quite a while since I've done one of these features; to be honest, with David Frum sort of out of circulation, I haven't seen a whole from the other side to tip my hat to. That is until now.

As most everyone knows, Ebola is now a full-blown pandemic that will wipe out every single American in a matter of weeks and Obama is to blame.  Of course, there are a few doubting Thomases who aren't falling for all the paranoia and you'll never guess who one of them is. Even better, you'll never guess who this doubting Thomas works for.

Our doubting Thomas, and this month's Tip of the Hat recipient, is none other than Fox News' anchor Shepard Smith. In what has to go down as one of the most surreal moments in the history of a network that has spent the last eighteen years riling up an awful lot of gullible people, Smith not only called out his own colleagues for inciting the country to hysteria over the virus, he managed to do something few in the main-stream media have had the courage to do: he actually talked about FACTS.




In a little more than three minutes, Smith calmly spoke to the audience, most of whom I'm sure weren't buying what he was saying, and told them they should have "no concerns" about the virus. That those who were spreading fear were being "very irresponsible." He rightly called out those who were making political hay out of this and steadfastly said that the United States does not have an outbreak of Ebola.

And then Smith did something truly remarkable. He encouraged everyone to ignore suggestions that medical professionals were "covering up" the real facts or that leaders were "lying" about the virus. And he said the best thing all of us could do was to "get a flu shot." Because as any reasonably person should know, more people are vulnerable to getting the flu than contracting Ebola.

Imagine someone in the media being that reasonable. Imagine someone working for Fox News being that reasonable. If I hadn't seen the video, I wouldn't have believed it. I've spent a large part of the last decade blasting the hell out of the Right and its Godfather - Roger Ailes. Now one of his employees has gone completely off the reservation and good for him for doing so.

It's one thing to spread lies about politics or healthcare laws or banking regulations or global warming. But ginning up the general public over an epidemic that doesn't exist is beneath contempt. I not only tip my hat to Shepard Smith, I implore more people like him to find the courage to speak truth to hysteria.

Way to go, Shep!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rachel Maddow Bitch Slaps Senate Democrats

I'll say this for Rachel Maddow, she doesn't pull any punches. If she's got something to say, she says it.  In an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Maddow didn't mince words when she said that Democrats who distance themselves from the White House and President Obama deserve to lose the Senate.

"So, Republicans spent the last, hmm, six years decrying Obamacare as the end of the world. Now we have Obamacare. It’s kind of working. Costs are down, lots of people signed up, sky didn’t fall. Literally, it’s working the way it’s supposed to. Millions of people have health care who didn’t have it before. Working.

"So the Republicans’ reason for living has just disappeared. The main thing they like to talk about, they can no longer talk about. If your opponent loses the thing that they’ve been using as a crutch for six years and you just let them walk away from it like it never existed, maybe you don’t deserve to win.  They just don’t have the killer instinct it takes to make their opponents pay for a big mistake and I don’t understand why the Democrats are doing that."

Ouch!

Maddow has hardly been alone in her criticism of Democrats. A few months ago, Michael Tomasky wrote a piece in The Daily Beast back in February virtually echoing Maddow's sentiment. To sum up Tomasky urged Democrats to "collect stories of success" on Obamacare to "confront the party of no." It was his belief that if Democrats did that they could persevere in November.

In another piece, Tomasky backed that up with actual data. He cited pollster Geoff Garin, who worked for losing Democratic candidate Alex Sink, who found that far from being a "drag" on her campaign, Obamacare proved to be "more of a lift." And it should be noted Sink was hardly one of the law's most ardent supporters.

Wow, that's quite a finding. But it isn't inconsistent with what other Democratic pollsters have been discovering. The problem with Obamacare is the name in front of word care. The President's low approval numbers have been like an albatross around the necks of the law's proponents, thus prompting many of them to run away from it.

But behind all the scare tactics that the GOP has employed over the last six years is an undeniable fact. When you get right down to it, most people actually like the components of the law, even if they don't necessarily like its name. And it's this paradox that has Maddow, Tomasky and even me - yes, yours truly wrote a piece about this very topic - all up in arms.

I have long held that it was a failed strategy for Democrats to distance themselves from a law everyone in the Milky Way galaxy knows they were responsible for passing. It was a no-win scenario that played right into the hands of the GOP. Voters can tell when a candidate is hedging. Alison Grimes' ridiculous response to a simple question on whether she voted for Obama is a case in point. There was only one correct answer to that question: "Yes, I voted for Obama." If she had done that the whole thing would've gone away. Instead, she made a mountain out of a molehill and sounded like she had something to hide. That's the political equivalent of suicide.

All over the map, Democrats are having similar homina, homina moments. They have been on the defensive when they should've been on the offensive. They haven't so much made the case for why Republicans should be elected so much as they've helped make the case for why they shouldn't. Given the low approval numbers of the GOP in general, that's disgraceful and Maddow is right for calling out Democrats for being so lame.

You often see football teams employ the prevent defense to protect a lead. But that typically implies they have one to protect. The Democrats had no such lead going into this election. Everyone knew that. At best they were tied with the Republicans. History shows that in tied games, the team that goes on the offensive usually wins the game. Going three and out is a sure-fire way to lose.

Now I'm certainly not going to say that every single Democrat up for re-election this year has phoned it in. That would be unfair. In New Hampshire and North Carolina, for instance, the Democratic candidates have gone after their Republican opponents. As a result, they are ahead in their respective races. And let's be honest, Arkansas and Louisiana are deep Red states that in a midterm election would be difficult for Democrats to win under any circumstances.

But in Purple states like Colorado and Iowa, there is no excuse for Democrats to be trailing in either race, especially given that both went for Obama in 2012. When you factor in that Republican governors are in trouble in Wisconsin, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Florida, it's even more embarrassing. Yes, presidents in their sixth year typically lose seats in Congress, but others, like Bill Clinton, actually picked up a few.  Considering how badly both parties are viewed by the voters, this didn't have to be the clusterfuck that it is shaping up to be.

Time is running out on the Democrats, if it hasn't already. Most pollsters will tell you that there is little, if any, needle movement in the polls in the final week before an election.  That leaves about a week for them to decide whether they want to go all out and try to win or simply go out with their tails between their legs. Given their history, the latter is looking pretty good.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dear White Long Island

I'm not naive. I know that racism exists everywhere, not just in places like Ferguson, Missouri or Sanford, Florida. I grew up in one the most segregated neighborhoods on Long Island and saw it first hand. We had a saying in Massapequa Park: If you were black you were obviously lost.

My upbringing and a few off-handed overt comments notwithstanding, I had never come face to face with an actual full blown example of racism in all its raw ugliness. Until last night, that is.

That evening, a young man rang my door bell. He was asking for donations for a charity to help young African American kids who lived in impoverished nations. His name was Joshua and he was himself African American. I could tell he was relatively new at this; he seemed nervous and overly anxious. Being in sales myself, I could feel some of his pain. It's hard dealing with rejection.

I decided to contribute to his cause; mostly because, I'll admit it, I felt sorry for the kid, but also because I feel good when I can help those who are less fortunate. It took a bit longer than I thought to fill out the paperwork, but the two of us got through it.

At one point he asked me if I would mind if he put on his hoodie. It never occurred to me that there would be a problem so I said sure. After all the paperwork was completed, he thanked me and I said good luck to him. Apparently, I had been his one and only "yes" that day.

A few minutes later, I left the house to pick up something to eat. As I drove down the block, I saw a cop car pulled over and the same young man who had been at my house standing in front of it, the headlights shining brightly on him. I stopped beside the cop car. I was concerned about Joshua's safety, especially since he was still wearing his hoodie.

I lowered the passenger door window and asked him if he was okay. He said yes. I then said to the cop that I could vouch for this young man and I had just contributed to his charity, to which he replied, "He still needs a permit."

Permit? The cop was concerned that Joshua didn't have a permit? That was his whole reason for pulling him over: to check if he had a permit?

And I suppose that the fact that he was black and wearing a hoodie, or that he was knocking on doors in a predominately white neighborhood had NOTHING to do with it.

Let me explain a little about the neighborhood I live in. Most of it - the men that is - is comprised of cops, firemen, sanitation men and contractors. In fact we probably have more contractors per square mile than any other town or city on Long Island. And some of those contractors are, you guessed it, cops.

The contractors are, for the most part, hard-working people who make a good living doing good work. And while I'm sure that most of them are fully licensed, I'll bet the ranch that some of them aren't. I'll also bet the ranch that none of them have ever been pulled over by a cop to prove they had all their permits.

I'll go one step further. I'll bet your ranch that if Joshua had been white and wearing a suit, he would never have been stopped in the first place. Probably because the lily-white homeowner who took a shit in his or her pants when Josh rang the door bell wouldn't have bothered to call the cops in the first place. You see I also know a thing or two about the cops in my neighborhood. They're never around when you need them and the only thing that gets them off their asses is either a football game or some frightened Caucasian bellyaching about them Negroes interrupting their Real Housewives' show.

Randy Newman had us pegged perfectly in his song "Rednecks." The North really is full of shit. We may not shoot our African Americans in the back, but we treat them with just as much disrespect as the South does. In fact, for all the talk about how piss-poor the plight of blacks are in Dixie, strange, isn't it, that the North has neighborhoods like Harlem in New York, Roxbury in Boston and the Southside in Chicago. And let's not forget about Watts in Los Angeles.

Want to see how segregated the North is? Come on out to Long Island and drive down Clinton Street between Garden City and Hempstead. In case you're not up for the trip, I'll spell it out for you: it's like going from Pleasantville to a Third World country. Or, if that's not your cup of tea, try Carmen Mill Road in Massapequa. On the west side of the road is my former High School, A.G. Berner. On the other side is East Massapequa. Want to hear a "funny" story. The kids on the east side of the street - who were close enough to the school to spit on it - couldn't attend it. That's because East Massapequa was in the Amityville school district, which was in a DIFFERENT FUCKING COUNTY!  Meanwhile, my skinny white ass got safely bussed to Berner every morning. We used to see the kids across the street lining up waiting for their bus to pick them up and take them to the black school. That was the kind word that was employed back in the '70s. I won't burden you with the actual word that got thrown around, but you get the picture.

Levittown, that bastion of suburban development that helped paved the way for the white flight that took place in dozens of American cities during the 1950s, was exclusively white up until the '70s. And even then, few blacks ever had the opportunity to actually buy a house in that neighborhood. When my wife and I were looking for a house in '03, the realtor made it a point to mention that we ought to be looking for a neighborhood with "good" school districts. She showed us a home in the Salisbury section of Westbury, which is south of Old Country Road and in the Levittown school district. Meanwhile, the homes on the north side of Old Country Road were in the Westbury school district; hence they were off the table. More than 50 years after it was ruled illegal, realtors are still engaging in some form of racial profiling when it comes to which homes to show which buyers.

This shit is personal to me, but up until last night it was still primarily a macro issue. Well now it's become a micro one. I had a front row seat to it not even six doors from my house. I don't know what happened to Josh; I didn't stay around to find out and quite frankly I'm embarrassed at myself. I sincerely hope he is alright. Maybe I should've warned him not to wear that hoodie; maybe I also should've warned him that even in the "enlightened" North, a black man at night in a white neighborhood is still a huge problem for some.

You can drive just about anywhere on Long Island and you will find some of the most segregated communities in the country. The place sometimes looks more like Pretoria in Apartheid South Africa than a suburb of New York City. It outrages me that this could happen in my neighborhood but these days, anything is possible. You wouldn't think that three cases of Ebola in a country of 350 million people could produce the kind of paranoia and hysteria we've seen, but it has.

Look, I know there are plenty of good, decent white people on Long Island who are not racists. It's just a shame that the assholes who are end up embarrassing the shit out of the rest of us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The DSCC's Big Gamble

The decision by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to stop buying TV ad time in Kentucky with three weeks to go before the election on the surface seems wise. Despite one outlier poll, Mitch McConnell has held a consistent lead over Alison Lundergan Grimes for the last two months. Some polls in fact show him up by as many as 6 points. Indeed, the last time Grimes led in this race was May. With incumbent Democrats struggling to survive and the Senate majority hanging in the balance, logic dictated that the money would be far better spent on races that are winnable, such as Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina.

But the decision is also a huge risk for the DSCC. Whether or not you think Kentucky is within reach - and it's not, folks, trust me - pulling out of the state allows the GOP to divert some of its funds to other races, like, for instance, the same races that Democrats are trying to win. In short, the DSCC is kind of caught in a catch 22 scenario. Had it kept its money in Kentucky, it would've by default been unable to fully fund other state races; but it also would've forced Republicans to tie up their money as well. With a ton of soft money at its disposal in states like Kentucky, the GOP already had a built-in advantage over Democrats going into these midterms. Now that advantage just got bigger.

In the elections of 2006 and '08, Democrats employed the now famous 50-state strategy. They aggressively campaigned and spent money in every state, which forced a badly out-funded GOP to do likewise. The result was that Democrats cleaned up at the ballot box both years.

But that was back in the days before Citizens United, before soft money took over the whole election process. While the Democratic Party continues to enjoy an edge in fundraising over Republicans, that edge is canceled out when it goes up against the likes of the Koch brothers.

And that has forced Democrats to do a better job choosing which fights are worth waging and which ones aren't. Instead of a 50-state strategy, they are employing a firewall approach. That tactic worked brilliantly for Barack Obama in 2012. Democrats basically drew a line around several key swing states like Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Wisconsin and Colorado. Obama ended up sweeping all of them, as well as Florida, which even as late as the last week of October the DNC thought might go for Romney.

If the DSCC's gamble pays off then the Democrats will likely hold their majority; if it doesn't then this decision will end up being one of the costliest mistakes the party ever made. For all her shortcomings and missteps - the non-answer to the vote question was a beaut - Grimes was only trailing the current Senate Minority Leader by 5 points in a state Obama lost by 23. Anyway you slice it, that's pretty damn significant. It seems to me that staying put would've put even more heat on old Turtle face and given more than a just a few Republican strategists agida.

They say hindsight is 20 / 20. But it can't make up for short sightedness.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What If Hillary Had Won in '08

Normally I don't engage in what if scenarios. Never saw any point to it. Unless of course we're talking about the 2000 election. That one's easy. What if Ralph Nader hadn't been such a dick and dropped out of the race. What if progressives hadn't thrown away their vote on him. I'll never get over either of those two what ifs. Sadly neither will the country.

But I've been thinking a lot about '08 lately and I think there's one what if scenario that deserves a fair hearing. What if Hillary Clinton had beaten Barack Obama in the Democratic primary and had gone on to beat John McCain in the general. Would Democrats be on the verge of losing the Senate this November? I think not.

It's a hard fact for Democrats to swallow but Obama is killing his party and not all of it is his fault. Don't get me wrong, he's made a number of blunders over the last two years. From the botched roll out of the healthcare law to his seemingly incoherent foreign policy that even his supporters don't quite understand, it hasn't been pretty. And I don't mean to beat a dead horse but the man simply can't draw a narrative to save his life. He's done more to advance the GOP's agenda than the Koch brothers could ever have done. If Obama were an NFL team he'd lead the league in unforced turnovers. Next to him, the New York Jets would look like the Green Bay Packers.

Can you imagine Hillary being this inept? Or Bill for that matter? No need to answer. They were rhetorical questions. Put simply, the Clintons don't fumble the ball on the one yard line. They ram it in for a touch down. Thirty years experience will do that for you.

But ineptitude notwithstanding, a lot of what has been going on comes down to one word: racism. When you look at the polls, especially the ones in red states, it's clear that the anti-Obama sentiment is off the charts. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mark Begich in Alaska are all trailing their Republican opponents by considerable margins. If the election were held today all three would lose badly.

How is that relevant? Simple. In other states, Democratic fortunes are fairing much better. Kay Hagen is ahead by 3 points in North Carolina; Mark Udall is holding his own in Colorado, as is Bruce Braley in Iowa. Indeed the appearance of Sarah Palin on behalf of Joni Ernst might well end up hurting Ernst more than helping her. And in Kansas, Independent Greg Orman is making life a living hell for Republican Pat Roberts. The farther you get from the color red and the closer you get to blue, the less vitriol there is against this president and his party.

Republicans would have you believe this is about Obama's "failed" policies. Bullshit. Bill and Hillary recently stumped for Mark Pryor. They were met by throngs of people who cheered them like they were rock stars. Yes, I get it, Bill used to be governor of Arkansas; so was Mike Huckabee. I'll bet the ranch Huckabee doesn't pull near those numbers for Tom Cotton. It's been 150 years and the South is still fighting the Civil War.

None of this would be happening if Hillary were president. Yes, she would still be the target of every single conservative attack dog in the country from the Kochs to Sheldon Adelson. Let's not forget that it wasn't that long ago she was loathed by the Right. She still is. All these Benghazi hearings are nothing more than a smoke screen for her anticipated run in 2016. But one thing's for certain, she would not have the same handicap Obama has. It's an ugly truth, but a black man in power is simply not a welcomed sight to some people and a lot of those people reside in red states.

Let's be honest, none of us saw this coming in '08. All of us were wrapped up in the historical significance of the nation electing its first African American president. I still remember my eyes welling up with pride election night. But in some parts of the country, eyes were welling up for a different reason. All this "we're taking our country back" rhetoric, in my opinion, would never have gotten off the ground if a woman were in the Oval Office. If anything, Hillary would've likely done more to advance progressive causes in solid blue states, without being the lightning rod Obama is in red ones. And in purple states like North Carolina and Colorado, the incumbent Democrats wouldn't be running from him like frightened deer from a shot gun. Can you imagine a president Hillary Clinton with the first man and former president Bill at her side stumping in the South for Democratic Senators and governors? Can you imagine the GOP shitting its pants at that sight?

When you see the trouble incumbent Republican governors are having in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas, it's pretty damn hard to make the argument that any of this has to do with policy. Hillary supported universal healthcare, so did Bill. Indeed, Obama managed to get his bill passed, while Bill failed. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I'm guessing on most policy matters, Hillary and Obama are a lot closer than you think. With the exception of Iraq, most of their differences are probably more semantic than anything else. The sticking point is the color of their skin, not their stances or gender for that matter. No other conclusion is possible given the facts.

Answer me this: Are Kay Hagen and Jeanne Shaheen really that much better than Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor?

Six points better?!

Actually, you could argue that both Pryor and Landrieu have had more distinguished careers as senators for their respective states than either Hagen or Shaheen. The truth is the big difference isn't so much the candidate on the ticket but the location of the election.  Face it, if you're a Democrat running in the deep south, you're in deep shit.

Obama keeps insisting he's not on the ballot this year. He's wrong. He's been on every ballot since he raised his right hand and took the oath of office in January '09. That's the price he's had to pay since he was sworn in as president. And it's the price his party keeps on paying year in and year out.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Beware of Outlier Polls

With the midterms less than a month away, some rather interesting polling is giving some Democrats and Republicans all kinds of goosebumps.

First the Democrats. In Kentucky, a poll by Survey USA shows Alison Lundergan Grimes ahead of Mitch McConnell by 2 points. It's the first poll in months that has shown Grimes ahead in the race and, predictably, it has garnered a lot of attention in progressive publications.

For Republicans, two polls out of Colorado, both by Quinnipiac, show the Republican candidates for governor and senator up by substantial margins over the Democratic incumbents. And, just like the Survey USA poll in Kentucky, both polls are polar opposites of virtually every other poll taken. Naturally, conservative publications are falling over themselves in anticipation of flipping the state.

Well, permit me to throw some cold water on both camps, but both Quinnipiac polls in Colorado and the Survey USA poll in Kentucky are nothing more than outliers. What is an outlier? Basically, it's anything that is so far removed from other measurable data that it could only have been the result of a statistical error. In 2012, you'll recall, Republicans were all pointing to a Gallup poll that showed Mitt Romney up by four points over Barack Obama nationally. It was the only national poll showing the former Massachusetts governor ahead in the race and, as it turns out, it was completely wrong. In fact, it was Obama who won the election by four points.

Outlier polls are fairly easy to spot, if you're paying attention. For instance, when you see one candidate ahead consistently in several polls and then, all of a sudden, one poll shows the other candidate ahead, you have to conclude that either all the other polls are wrong, which is highly unlikely, or that the lone poll is an outlier.

Kentucky and Colorado aren't the only states that have been the benefactors of outlier polling. New Hampshire and Georgia have been victimized by them, as well. In New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen has led pretty much from the beginning in her reelection bid over Scott Brown. Then a poll taken in early September showed the race tied. In Georgia, David Perdue, likewise, has been consistently ahead of Michelle Nunn when one lone poll showed Nunn ahead by four points. While these polls initially caused a stir in both races, it's worth noting that they have not altered the overall trajectory of either. As things stand now, both Shaheen and Purdue are favored to win. And, though it pains me to admit it, old Turtle face in Kentucky is going to win too.

The moral of this story is simple: if something is too good to be true, then it probably is.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How Many Times Have We Come Close To Another Dallas?

I used to think that movies like "White House Down" were silly and impossible; Hollywood with an overactive imagination, I figured. Certainly there were security measures in place to ensure that our government - particularly its executive branch - was well protected.

I figured wrong. The recent revelations of the screw-ups at the Secret Service - let's stop calling them mishaps as if someone spilled a glass of milk or something - are deeply disturbing. The level of incompetence at this agency borders on criminal. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald, the Warren Commission's report found serious problems within the Secret Service. More than fifty years later, the agency once more is in the hot seat.

How many times has President Barack Obama's life been in jeopardy? Hundreds? Thousands? We know now that a man with a knife rode in an elevator with him. A knife! In an elevator!! With the leader of the free world!!!

How can this be allowed to happen? Knowing the level of threat this particular president faces on a daily basis, you'd think the agency tasked with safeguarding him and his family would do everything imaginable to prevent another Dallas from happening. You'd think that and you'd be wrong. If you're Obama, you could be dead wrong.

I'm starting to believe that we have been very fortunate we haven't had a successful assassination of this president. If a man can scale a fence, run across the White House lawn and gain access to supposedly the most secure building in America without so much as a clue, imagine if a person or group of people actually put a little thought behind it and had a real plan of attack.  To those who think something like that could never happen, I would remind you that on September 10, 2001, the idea of terrorists commandeering planes and flying them into buildings was about as remote a possibility as you could imagine. We all know what happened the very next day.

This isn't about mere carelessness, though even that cannot be excused. This is about an abject failure at the highest level. Julia Pierson's decision to resign as director of the Secret Service is but the first in a long list of actions that must be taken to root out the problems within this agency. From the Salahis incident to the prostitute scandal, interim director Joseph Clancy has his work cut out for him.

If these problems aren't corrected soon, the next time a madman takes it upon himself to attempt to kill this president, he may well end up succeeding.

And that wouldn't just be an unspeakable national tragedy, it would be an unpardonable sin.