Browsing the blog archives for January, 2016.

The No We Can’t Candidate

Democratic Party

Tomorrow there will be caucuses in Iowa, and shit starts to get real. Nate Silver says Trump is substantially ahead of the competition. Clinton is slightly favored but not a sure thing.

I wrote a few days ago that Hillary Clinton has been selling herself as the pragmatic progressive, arguing that an incremental approach to change will get better results in the long run than Bernie Sanders’s Hail Mary promises. But this weekend she seems to have gone from being the “yes we can, eventually” candidate to the “no we can’t” candidate.

“I want you to understand why I am fighting so hard for the Affordable Care Act,” she said at Grand View University after hearing from a woman who spoke about her daughter receiving cancer treatment thanks to the health care law. “I don’t want it repealed, I don’t want us to be thrown back into a terrible, terrible national debate. I don’t want us to end up in gridlock. People can’t wait!”

She added, “People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass.”

She didn’t specifically say that the U.S. will “never, ever” get single-payer health care, but that’s how she’s being quoted. David Atkins wrote,

Clinton is offering what seems to be a false choice: advocating for single-payer healthcare doesn’t mean that the Affordable Care Act isn’t protected. Presumably, a Sanders administration would fight to protect the Affordable Care Act just as stridently as a Clinton administration would until and unless a superior replacement were passed.

I could respect her if she said that a true national, taxpayer-funded health care system is not going to happen in the near future in our current political climate. I don’t think it will, either. But never, ever? That’s not incrementalism; that’s surrender.

Brian Beutler thoughtfully deconstructs what’s really going on in the Dem campaign. The real argument for HRC all along has been that she’s the one who is electable. Sanders is too big a gamble. But is this true? Beutler says the pragmatists “must demonstrate that he is likely to lose to a Republican nominee, where Clinton is likely to win.” As it is, everybody’s going by what’s in his (or her) gut. Nobody really knows. Certainly Hillary Clinton has some big vulnerabilities, even if her supporters refuse to acknowledge them.

Especially if it turns out that Donald Trump really will be the Republican nominee, I think it’s safe to say all bets are off.

And if we call the electability argument a wash, which candidate is the better champion for progressivism?

It’s true that single-payer health insurance and free public college aren’t likely to become federal law even if Sanders wins the presidency. But by the same token, neither are Clinton’s plans to improve Obamacare, and provide debt-free college and paid family leave.

Clinton’s agenda would become politically viable if Democrats were to somehow reclaim the House and Senate during her time in office–her proposals are designed to reflect party consensus, while Sanders’s platform reflects the consensus of just one of the party’s wings.

But if we’re imagining both of their agendas as opening bids in negotiations with Congress, why fault Sanders for not negotiating with himself? Ask a future Democratic Congress for single payer and a $15 minimum wage and you might get laughed at… but you also might get the public option and a bump to $12. Ask it for the public option and a $12 minimum wage, as Clinton might, and you’ll get a fair hearing from the outset, but you might end up with advancements barely worth fighting for. President Obama, as Sanders is fond of noting, negotiated with himself, and progressives paid an unknowable price as a result.

My concerns also.

Odds are still very high that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. I wish I felt better about that than I do.


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Update On Oregon

Obama Administration

This is being reported on NBC:

The FBI and state police staked out a spot along the route to John Day to stop the caravan. At first, both vehicles complied with an order to pull over, but then the lead vehicle took off, the law enforcement official said.

It didn’t get very far, hitting a snow bank. Finicum, the official said, jumped out of that vehicle “brandishing a firearm.” He was shot and killed.

This account of things appears to be corroborated by a guy claiming to have been driving one of the two vehicles involved. A teenage girl who was with the Bundy crew claimed that Finicum had his hands up when he was shot, but she also said she was hiding on the floorboards of the truck when this happened.

See also Charles Pierce, in posts written before and after the arrests.

Also, too: Eyewitnesses knock down conspiracy theories about LaVoy Finicum dying on his knees

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A Bang and a Whimper

firearms, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

So the Bundy boys and some of their followers are in FBI custody. LaVoy Finicum, the “live free or die” warrior known for taking in foster children to work on his unprofitable ranch so he could collect government checks has been killed. So far no details have been released describing Finicum’s death, but already the Web is buzzing with the rumor that Finicum was shot trying to surrender.

Before Finicum’s death was even confirmed, supporters rushed to portray him on social media as a martyr who, according to unverified accounts, had his hands up and was unarmed when he was shot. Law enforcement sources told CNN that Finicum and Ryan Bundy were the only two leaders who did not surrender during the confrontation.

One of the crew at Gateway Pundit, official home of the Dumbest Man on the Web®, reported that “The man was on the ground hands up, unarmed and cooperating. A real need to be shot three times.”

Those details hasn’t been reported anywhere, so how he could have known that is a mystery. And I didn’t think Finicum was ever unarmed. I imagined he had a gun and holster strapped around his PJs when he brushed his teeth at night. But perhaps Black Lives Matter has a surplus “Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ T-shirt this guy could buy .

USA Today reports that five or six of Bundy’s followers remain at the wildlife sanctuary they’d been occupying.

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Damn, How I Hate Democratic Presidential Primary Season

Democratic Party

There was a time in 2004 that if one were not totally in the tank for Howard Dean, one was a Republican shill. I remember writing some complementary things about Wesley Clark on a liberal forum and was promptly screamed off of it for selling out.

And don’t get me started on 2008. Supporting Barack Obama cost me some friendships I never got back.

And now social media seems entirely taken up with Clinton and Sanders supporters hurling juvenile insults at each other. Just from a social-psychological standpoint, it fascinates me that Hillary supporters are utterly unconscious that they are just as bad as the so-called “Bernie bros.” They seem to feel entitled to stoop to whatever kindergarten-level insult they want about Sanders and his supporters while patting themselves on the back for being mature and un-divisive. The Sanders people also indulge in cheap insults, but most of them (that I’ve seen) seem a tad more self-aware about it. Both sides are equally bad at over-simplifying issues, mindlessly repeating second-hand talking points and painting everything in black-and-white terms. There’s lots of political naïveté out there.

One actual difference that is emerging is that Clintonistas see themselves as pragmatic incrementalists, while Sanders supporters are calling for revolution. As I wrote earlier this week, there is a strong argument to be made for the incremental approach — call it half a loaf is better than none. On the other hand, a Sanders supporter recently commented that HRC is promising half a loaf, which means maybe we’ll get a couple of slices.

Sanders is calling for two loaves, and Clinton people doubt he can deliver even the two slices. On the other hand, maybe the time has come to stop accommodating our expectations to the power of the Right. Maybe the time has come to demand two loaves, because the Right ain’t what it used to be. Maybe now is the time to think big, while the Right is in chaos.

Just analyzing myself, I realized eight years ago that one of the reasons I supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, in spite of the fact that their stands on issues were nearly identical, is that I resented the hell out of being told, over and over, from 2004 on that Hillary Clinton would be the 2008 nominee. No one else need apply.

Dear DNC: Don’t tell me who I’m supposed to support. In a democracy, I’m supposed to be allowed to make up my own mind. Thanks much.

And then, of course, Obama ran a very smart campaign, while Clinton did not. This rather put the lie to the claim that she was the only one who was “electable.”

Per Charles Blow, Clinton is repeating many of the mistakes she made in 2008. Not being able to learn from mistakes is not a good sign. See also Corey Robin on the basic dishonesty of Clinton’s current campaign.

On the other hand, without some backup from Congress Sanders possibly couldn’t deliver the two slices. And he seems weak on policy details, while Clinton is a super-wonk.

So there really is a serious debate to be had here about which of these two should be the nominee. It’s a shame we can’t seem to have it.

My sense of things is that this election is going to break some old molds. Already Nate Silver has been found to be out of his element. This would argue that we’re about to see a major shake-up in the political system.  We’ll know more once we see some primary results, I think.

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The Crumbiness of Toast!

The Smarter Brother

Speaking of being out of touch with the times, consider the politician formerly known as “the smarter brother” until he embarked on a national political campaign and we all realized he isn’t.  In truth, Toast! is in some ways a more pathetic doofus than Dubya, if that’s possible. Just goes to show how nepotism and cronyism can carry one way beyond his level of competence.  #Jeb!

Anyway, Toast! dropped some jaws yesterday when he praised Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for his handling of the Flint water crisis.

I’ll pause a moment to let that sink in.

Toast! blamed the crisis on too much government regulation, and then praised Snyder for stepping up to solve the problem. Seriously; he did that. I’m not sure even the rubes will buy that one.

A few days ago the Toast! campaign — no, he actually hasn’t dropped out yet — released his education platform. It includes lots of “school choice” rhetoric and stuff about “expanding charter schools.”

Although charter schools still have a lot of supporters, my sense is that the once soaring idea is quickly becoming a lead balloon. It’s like privatizing Social Security; the more people look at it, the less popular it gets.  And it opens Bush up to additional scrutiny about his absolutely awful charter school failures in Florida. See, for example,

The Big Jeb Bush Charter School Lie

Florida’s big charter school problem (which Jeb Bush manages not to talk about)

Charter School in Miami Fails, but Proves Useful on Jeb Bush’s Résumé

Testing Time: Jeb Bush’s Educational Experiment

That last article proposes that Toast!’s charter school initiative was supposed to be his answer to Dubya’s “no child left behind” program. We might also remember that one of Dubya’s claims in 2000 was the story of the “Texas miracle,” and how his reforms had so improved Texas schools. And then we found out the “miracle” was based on phony numbers. But that didn’t become public knowledge until after Dubya was selected. Toast!’s claims are already thoroughly debunked.

Not that it matters, since nobody is paying any attention to Toast! any more.

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We Need Some New Dogs, ‘Cause the Old Tricks Ain’t Workin’


My insight into politics 2016 is that the old political tricks that used to win elections don’t work any more, and the candidates who realize that are the ones who are winning.

For example: Once upon the time, the candidate with the biggest war chest, the most money, had a huge (or is that “yuuuuuge”?) advantage. More money, more ads, more votes. But that’s no longer true.

In this strange primary season, there is little relationship between money spent on ads and poll numbers for candidates, at least on the Republican side. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, the top two spenders, have spent about 10 times as much on ads as have the two polling leaders in Iowa, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — who until recently bought far fewer ads than their rivals.

At this early stage of the race, the negative correlation between spending and support appears to be the result of the ever-evolving media landscape and a few other factors, some unique to 2016: a celebrity front-runner, a crowded field, questionable campaign strategies and voter burnout.

I remember reading a few years ago that television ads were getting less bang for the buck with every passing election cycle. I’d like to believe viewers are better at recognizing bullshit than they used to be, but the truth is we’ve all been so saturated with advertising that, unless it is unusually clever or funny, we tune it out.

(Example of funny/clever ad; not from U.S. television)

I don’t know if that makes me want to buy the dumplings, but at least I would remember the ad.  The problem is, how many funny/clever campaign ads can you think of? And would the infamous “Daisy” ad of 50+ years ago work today, or be laughed at?

On the Dem side, IMO Hillary Clinton’s biggest blunder is that she’s trying to run a 1990s-style campaign against Bernie Sanders, who is way not a 1990s-style candidate. Charles Blow nicely sums this up:

… instead of Clinton finding a way to express that her plans are more tangible than Sanders’s, and her chances in the general election are stronger than his, she and her campaign have made some incredulous inferences about Sanders’s honor.

Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her.

There are a tremendous number of echoes starting to be heard between the way Clinton ran against Obama, and the way she is running against Sanders. …

… If Clinton can’t find a positive, energetic message to project, and soon, she is going to be swept away by Sanders.

Clinton’s off-the-wall swipes at Sanders do connect … with Clinton supporters. I see the same talking points repeated ad nauseam in social media. But people who are not already in the tank for Hillary are not buying them.

Clinton could just as easily make a positive argument for herself, saying that while she supports Sanders’s ideals, her more incremental approach has a better chance of actually working to realize those ideals than his “revolution” approach. That’s a very compelling argument, I think, and one that could win over people on the fence. But instead she’s going for cheap smears, and that does nothing but underscore her own negatives — in particular, the perception that she has a history of selling out progressive principles for her own political expediency.

And yes, her campaign is starting to sound like a re-run of 2008 — when she lost, as I recall.

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The Crackup Continues

Obama Administration

Rick Klein has a pretty good analysis of what ails the GOP right now.

What’s left of the GOP establishment is so deeply divided that it can’t even decide which of its two frontrunners needs to be stopped more urgently. That says nothing of the party’s inability to settle on one or even two candidates to represent its traditional power bases, despite a deep talent pool helped by opposition to President Obama. …

…The conservative National Review has taken the unprecedented step of publishing an entire issue aimed at blocking the party’s leading candidate. Generations of prominent conservative journalists, tea party activists, and former administration officials are uniting to say that Donald Trump should not even be considered a true conservative.

Meanwhile, in the halls of Congress, Republican lawmakers are coming together to argue that one of their own, Sen. Ted Cruz, is the candidate who must be blocked. Their argument is that Cruz would not just lose but damage the party brand for years to come.

I didn’t read any of the National Review issue — life is way too short for that — but Amanda Marcotte did read it.

The editors can’t quite seem to decide what their exact objections to Trump are. Is it that he’s driving the right too far in the direction of fascism or that he’s a secret liberal in disguise? Both! Whatever you need to hear! The strategy is argument through overwhelming. They’ll throw everything they’ve got, even contradictory stuff, at the reader and hope the sheer volume of words impresses them enough to vote for Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.

The everything-and-the-kitchen-sink strategy produces some hilarious contradictions. The main anti-Trump editorial, written by the editors, darkly warns that Trump isn’t the racist that his followers think he is. “Trump says he will put a big door in his beautiful wall, an implicit endorsement of the dismayingly conventional view that current levels of legal immigration are fine,” they write, even trying to get the reader to believe that Trump’s mass deportation plan is “poorly disguised amnesty”.

Of course they can’t come up with a coherent objection to Trump, because Trumpism is the inevitable extension of their own deranged politics.

Charles Pierce, on the National Review anti-Trump issue:

OK, I have decided that, for the next two hours, I am going to be a supporter of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. Why? Because the nation’s most conspicuously advertising-free longtime journal of white supremacy has gathered the finest minds in American conservatism to create the world’s biggest mudpie with their toes, that’s why.

I mean, look at this wingnut slide zone: Beck, Loesch, Podhoretz, Erickson, Bozell, a few of the now completely laughable reformicons, Butcher’s Bill Kristol. This is like the ’27 Yankees of bad ideas.

This crew is incapable of generating anything resembling a coherent ideology, but they are too self-oblivious to see it.

Andrew O’Hehir:

So when I read through National Review’s barrage of “Conservatives Against Trump” broadsides, a collection of mini-essays from miscellaneous haters with little else in common, I didn’t just notice the desperation, the flailing, the misplaced snobbery and self-righteousness, or the pervasive sense of abandonment and bewilderment. All of which were considerable: Trump was variously compared to Hitler, Mussolini and Barack Obama (I’m not sure who’s supposed to be worse); derided for his outer-borough accent and the vulgar design of his casinos; accused of being a phony conservative and a phony Christian (guilty as charged) and described both as a hateful racist and a stealth advocate of illegal immigration.

But when you get past the outrage, anger, betrayal and name-calling, you get to the unexpected but powerful nuggets of truth. To a significant degree, the National Review roster of right-wing philosopher-kings perceive that the jig is up, not just in terms of the 2016 nomination but in terms of the entire jury-rigged Frankenstein apparatus of the Republican Party.

The elites and insiders have lost control. Can they pull themselves together before the general election?

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An Epic Moment in Derp



Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) argued this week that restaurants should be able to “opt out” of health department regulations that require employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

It gets better.

“Don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentlemen to wash his hands before he serves your food is important?” Tillis was asked by the person at his table.

“I think it’s one I can illustrate the point,” Tillis told the women. “I said, I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as the post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restrooms.’ The market will take care of that.”

Um, Senator, do you think restaurant owners will post that sign voluntarily? Wouldn’t you need another regulation?

What can one say, but … derp.

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All Wet

Obama Administration

It says something about the state of journalism today that the clearest explanation of what happened to Flint’s water was on the Daily Show.

Anyhoo — Flint is a good example of what happens when someone tries to run government “like a business.” We’re told Flint switched its water supply to save money, but the real cause of this disaster goes a bit deeper. The best explanation is in Fortune (of all places):

Five years ago, Snyder signed legislation that expanded the reasons why the state could choose to appoint a municipal emergency manager, then granted those appointees almost complete power over their assigned municipalities. Under Public Act 4, as it was called, state-appointed emergency managers could break collective bargaining agreements, fire elected officials and determine their salaries, and privatize or sell public assets.”We can’t stand by and watch schools fail, water shut off, or police protection disappear,” the governor said in a statement defending the emergency management law. “Without the emergency manager law, there is precious little that can be done to prevent those kinds of nightmare scenarios. But with it, we can take positive action on behalf of the people to quickly avert a crisis.”

Let that part sink in for a minute.

Emergency management is a way to short-circuit democracy when a city faces financial insolvency, with the idea that a leader free from accountability to voters can make unpopular but necessary decisions. But Michigan voters rejected that law in a state-wide referendum, as many unions and civil rights groups raised alarm that this new breed of emergency managers could break union contracts and usurp local governance. A month later, the state legislature passed a replacement law that made minor adjustments and one major one: an appropriation banning a referendum on the new law. That was 2012.

By 2013, six Michigan cities—and almost half of the state’s African-American population—were under emergency management. In many of these cities, public services were pared down to the minimum.

This is a very right-wing approach to dealing with poverty. The cities in question were failing because the employer void left by the auto industry was not filled, leaving cities like Flint without enough tax base to run the city with. But instead of addressing that problem, the state assumed these cities were failing because the locals weren’t able to govern themselves. They needed someone to get tough with them and instill a little fiscal discipline. It’s a bit like the way 19th century Europeans treated the simple brown natives in their colonies.

The emergency managers didn’t answer to the people; they answered to Rick Snyder. And they tried to run Flint like a business, meaning all they cared about was short-term profitability.

Without the checks and balances present in a democratically-elected government, the emergency manager was able to make unilateral decisions. “Having one person as the decision maker, the idea is that you can get things done quickly and efficiently, but most of these emergency managers are people like city managers and financial experts,” says Eric Scorsone, the founding director of the Michigan State University Extension Center for State and Local Government Policy. “They don’t have the expertise they need. They aren’t civil engineers, and they aren’t health experts. You need to have other voices in the room.” Scoresone said that emergency managers need to work with other state agencies to bring holistic change to the cities under their care—not just cost cutting. …

… In Snyder’s speech Tuesday night, he spoke of one other problem in Michigan besides Flint: Detroit’s Public Schools, where teacher shortages, dilapidated buildings and enormous deficits have led to teacher protests. Both problems in Southeastern Michigan spiraled out of control under state-appointed emergency managers. The Detroit Public Schools’ current emergency manager? Darnell Earley, the man who once ran Flint.

On top of that, the “company” (i.e., Michigan) tried to brush off the problem with aggressive PR.  Emails revealed that the guys in the top-floor offices were determined that there was no problem that a little messaging couldn’t handle.

 The city’s mayor at the time, Dayne Walling, encouraged leaders to “toast” the switch with a taste of the “regular, good, pure drinking” water, the governor’s emails show. …

… Within months of the switch, a General Motors engine plant in Flint found that the city’s water had corroded parts, and stopped using it. A hospital saw that the water was damaging its instruments, and stepped up its own filtering and use of bottled water, as did a local university.

Still, officials seemed slow to respond. In one memo for the governor from February 2015, officials played down the problems and spoke of “initial hiccups.”

“It’s not ‘nothing,’ “ the memo said, adding that the water was not an imminent “threat to public health.” It also suggested that Flint residents were concerned with aesthetics.

Yes, a city full of lead-poisoned children is so unaesthetic. See also Charles Blow.

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The Pause Before the Votes

Obama Administration

The caucuses and primaries begin in a couple of weeks, so shit’s about to get real. I haven’t been able to watch the debates, but I do read the reviews, and here are my thoughts at the moment regarding Sanders and Clinton.

Bernie Sanders has the stronger, clearer vision of where the country, and the Democratic Party, need to go next. He also seems to have the stronger grasp of the underlying issue of big money corroding democracy. However, there’s a compelling argument that Hillary Clinton is better at the nuts-and-bolts stuff and would be a more pragmatic choice in the short term. I’m not going to argue which candidate is more electable, because they both have strengths and vulnerabilities. We’ll see how they do in the primaries.

My biggest fear of a Hillary Clinton term in office is that it will be more of kicking the progressive can down the road, in hopes of some bright, shiny future when the progressive vision can be actualized. This leads to people getting turned off and giving up on participatory democracy, especially younger people. Sanders, I think, understands that nothing will change unless it’s forced to change.

My biggest fear of a Bernie Sanders term in office is that once he gets into the give-and-take of actually governing, which means making some compromises, the progressive Left will turn on him as rabidly as they did on Obama. In a weird kind of way this is an advantage for Clinton, whom progressives expect to sell us out. When she makes compromises it won’t cost her as much support.

I also question how much of his vision Sanders can accomplish without a progressive majority in Congress. I suspect we’re stuck with tweaks no matter which Dem is in the White House, as long as the Wingnut Right is still calling the shots. However, a Republican in the White House is unthinkable. I have to believe that won’t happen.

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