Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Time to Declare Debate Winners

The CNN Republican presidential debate came about one week after the end of "silly season" (during which all the media had to talk about was Trump-mania). After an event like a debate, we are always told to wait a while to see how the results are reflected in the polls. What's interesting though, is that by the time we actually get poll results, everyone has moved on. So lets change that. It's now been two weeks since the debate. What happened? Here's a look at the Huffington Post's poll aggregator (but you'll find pretty much the same thing at Real Clear Politics).


From Labor Day until today, here's how things have changed for the top 6 contenders (the rest of the candidates are under 4% right now):

* Trump  - 5.9%
* Carson + 0.6%
* Fiorina + 6.6%
* Bush + 0.2%
* Rubio + 3.1%
* Cruz - 0.3%

Overall, Carson, Bush and Cruz have stayed pretty stable. Trump is down. Fiorina and Rubio are up.

That doesn't tell us whether these trajectories will continue. But if we're ever going to be able to identify the winners/losers in a debate, we now have the data to do so. It's obvious that both Fiorina and Rubio did well. On a purely anecdotal note, my hunch is that Trump's drop is at least as related to the fact that the media isn't talking about him incessantly as it is to a poor debate performance.

While Trump has certainly lost ground, his lead was so "YUUUUGE" (as he would say), that even after slumping almost 6 points, he still leads the pack. Unless someone does something really dramatic (certainly not out of the question), this is probably how things will look until the next debate on October 28th.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Senate Judiciary Committee Will Act of Criminal Justice Reform

Carrie Johnson at NPR is reporting that the Senate Judiciary Committee will act on criminal justice reform this week.
A bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee is preparing to unveil a criminal justice overhaul proposal as early as Thursday, two sources familiar with the deal told NPR...

The proposal will not go as far as some reform advocates may like, the sources say. For instance, the plan would create some tough new mandatory minimum sentences, after pressing from Grassley. It stitches together proposals that would allow inmates to earn credits to leave prison early if they complete educational and treatment programs and pose a relatively low risk to public safety along with language that would give judges some more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders.
She also reports on where things stand right now in the House.
In the House, meanwhile, Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., are pressing their own legislation, known as the SAFE Justice Act. The two leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and John Conyers, D-Mich., are writing their own bills, staff members said.
Given the chaos that is being generated over funding for Planned Parenthood and the looming 2016 campaign, it's difficult to imagine that something will get done this session. But it's clear that the pressure is building to do so.

One element that is contributing to that pressure is the Vice episode that aired last Sunday titled "Fixing the System." If you don't have access to HBO, they have made the hour-long documentary available on youtube. I highly recommend that everyone watch it.

Will Rand Paul Be the Next One Out?

No one is paying much attention to the Republican candidates that didn't make it to the main stage in the last debate (Santorum, Pataki, Jindal, Graham and Gilmore). If any of them were to drop out of the race at this point, it wouldn't produce many headlines. Of the remaining ten, it is looking more and more like the next one to go could very well be Sen. Rand Paul.

There have been a couple of stories lately that might signal a move sometime soon. First of all, one of Paul's SuperPacs has quit raising money.
In a Tuesday telephone interview, Ed Crane, who oversees the group, PurplePAC, accused Paul of abandoning his libertarian views -- and suggested it was a primary reason the Kentucky senator had plummeted in the polls.

“I have stopped raising money for him until I see the campaign correct its problems,” said Crane, who co-founded the Cato Institute think tank and serves as its president emeritus. “I wasn’t going to raise money to spend on a futile crusade.”

“I don’t see the point in it right now,” he added.
Futile crusade? Ouch! When it comes to those polls, Paul was at about 9% at the beginning of the summer according to Huffington Post's aggregator. And today he's coming in under 3%.

The other story has to do with the fact that - as Steve Benen notes - Sen. Paul is the only one of the 20 candidates currently running for president who is also running for re-election to his current Senate seat. Jonathan Easly reported that this week Paul will take a break from the presidential race to do some fundraising for his Senate campaign.

Of course Paul's supporters were quick to point out that this doesn't mean he is giving up on his presidential bid. But you have to wonder how long he can keep this up - and why he'd want to when he's at under 3% in the polls.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"A Shocking, Almost Certifiable Faith in Humanity"

Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politico captured what most people heard in President Obama's speech on Monday to the United Nation's General Assembly.
President Barack Obama took repeated swipes at Vladimir Putin, Dick Cheney and even Donald Trump, without mentioning them by name, in an address to the United Nations on Monday, holding them up as examples of forces playing off fears and attempting to pull the country and world backward.
There is a lot of truth in that summary. But it captures the trees and not the forest. In many ways, the President's speech was an affirmation of an Obama Doctrine. He pointed out the failure of domination as a model for conducting both domestic and foreign affairs.
There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date -- a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own. Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.
Because of the interconnectivity of our world today, we have to work together in order to succeed.
But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world -- one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences. That is true for the United States, as well. 
Finally, he defined the real source of strength.
Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people -- ordinary people -- are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.

I believe that’s the future we must seek together. To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict -- that is not weakness, that is strength. It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.
The notion that ordinary people are fundamentally good is something we've heard often from this President. It reminds me of what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a few days after Obama was first elected in 2008.
Here is where Barack Obama and the civil rights leaders of old are joined -- in a shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity, something that subsequent generations lost. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. may have led African Americans out of segregation, and he may have cured incalculable numbers of white racists, but more than all that, he believed that the lion's share of the population of this country would not support the rights of thugs to pummel people who just wanted to cross a bridge. King believed in white people, and when I was a younger, more callow man, that belief made me suck my teeth. I saw it as weakness and cowardice, a lack of faith in his own. But it was the opposite. King's belief in white people was the ultimate show of strength: He was willing to give his life on a bet that they were no different from the people who lived next door.
I have to admit that there are times that I still "suck my teeth" when I hear things like that. But I think Coates is right...that's my cowardice talking.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cleaning Up the Last Bush/Cheney Mess

One of the sad realities of the Obama presidency is that he and his administration have had to spend so much of their time cleaning up messes that were left by Bush and Cheney. I won't try to capture all of them, but two wars in the Middle East, an economy careening towards a second Great Depression and exploding federal deficits are the three big ones. When President Obama titled his 2015 State of the Union Address "Turning the Page," a lot of what he was saying is that his administration was finally ready to move on from most of that.

But one intransigent mess lingers on...the prison Bush/Cheney built in Guantanamo, Cuba. President Obama is determined to close Gitmo before his term ends and the White House has been clear that they are drafting a plan to do so.

This week right wing media sites have gone a bit berserk over the fact that two more detainees have been released. The first was the man who was reported to be Osama bin Laden's bodyguard.
The former detainee, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, 39, is from Saudi Arabia, and he was one of 32 Middle Eastern men who were captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was among the first batch of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the American naval station in Cuba on Jan. 11, 2002.
Second was the last of several British residents and citizens who have been held at Gitmo.
The Obama administration has notified Congress of its intent to send Shaker Aamer, a suspected al-Qaeda plotter held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than 13 years, back to Britain, yielding to a lengthy campaign to secure the British resident’s release, officials said Friday.
For a status update on where things stand with closing Gitmo, the New York Times has some helpful graphs. Of the 771 detainees who have been held there, 657 have been released and 114 remain. Of the 53 who have been cleared for release, 43 are from Yemen. The Obama administration has been reluctant to repatriate detainees to Yemen due to the chaos that currently exists in that country. Ten detainees have either been convicted or await trial. Finally, as a testament to how badly the Bush/Cheney administration handled all this, the remaining 51 have been recommended for indefinite detention without a trail - mostly due to the fact that evidence has been tainted by their treatment (read: torture).

In December of last year, Pope Francis offered to help the Obama administration in their efforts to close Gitmo. This is very likely one of the topics he and the President discussed in their one-on-one meeting this week. I would assume that the Vatican might be most helpful in in working with countries to provide alternatives for the 53 who have been cleared for release. No matter how controversial plans for that might be, you can be sure that whatever President Obama proposes to do with the remaining detainees (10 convicted/awaiting trail and 51 to be indefinitely detained), there will be howls from both sides of the political spectrum. The left will suggest that they shouldn't be held at all and the right will complain because President Obama's likely solution will be to move them to a maximum security prison(s) in the United States.

I will simply say that one of the problems that is endemic to cleaning up your predecessors messes is that there is almost never a way to do so that pleases everyone. Nothing more ably demonstrates that than Gitmo. Perhaps the one thing that everyone can agree with is that President Obama deserves some credit for his determination to not leave this one to the next president.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Boehner Gets Himself Out of a Jam

For the record, let's simply note that the idea that this Republican Congress would actually pass a budget went out the window a long time ago. What's on the table right now is a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that would maintain funding at it's current level. Since coming back from the August recess, the Republican lunatic caucus in the House has demanded that the CR defund Planned Parenthood or they'll allow the government to shut down on October 1st.

Furthermore, the lunatic caucus has said that if Boehner tries to pass a CR that does not defund Planned Parenthood, they will initiate a procedure to remove him as Speaker. Apparently they had a least the threat of 30 votes that would throw his re-election into question.

On Wednesday, Democratic leaders in the House made it clear that Boehner couldn't depend on their votes to save his speakership.
"It's not our responsibility to try to solve their divisions," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday...

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, echoed that message Wednesday, saying it's "their war" and the Democrats aren't ready to engage. He further suggested that it remains unclear if the Democrats stand to benefit by picking one GOP division over another.

"Like the Syrian Civil War, I'm not sure it's easy to discern which side anyone is on," Becerra said by phone.
That led Boehner to make a deal with the lunatic caucus: if he stepped down as Speaker, they would vote for a "clean" continuing resolution and avoid a government shutdown.
Following Boehner’s announcement, House Republicans said there was agreement to pass a clean spending bill to keep the government open though mid-December while broader negotiations on spending levels are held. Several members of the Freedom Caucus, the conservative group that led the revolt against Boehner’s leadership, said they will now support the spending bill without demands that it include language to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

“The commitment has been made that there will be no shutdown,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).
Boehner leaves at the end of October and the CR keeps the government functioning through mid-December. In the meantime, House Republicans will have to settle on a new Speaker while the lunatics try to defund both Planned Parenthood and Obamacare via budget reconciliation legislation (which they know President Obama will veto). Or maybe another government shutdown in December...Happy Holidays, everyone!

So Boehner got himself out of a jam and the government won't shut down next week. I guess that's what passes for progress with this Republican Congress.

The Republican "Southern Strategy" is Still Alive

At a time when:

* African Americans have to stand up to say that "Black Lives Matter," while Republican candidates talk about a mythological "crime wave,"

* The Cradle to Prison Pipeline means that 1 in 3 black boys born in 2001 will face imprisonment in their lifetimes,

* The candidate leading the race for the GOP presidential nomination has become the standard-bearer for white supremacists,

* Republican leaders blame African American poverty on the lack of an "urban work ethic."

* Republicans all over the country are working to restrict access to voting,

* Republicans demand to see our first African American president's birth certificate to prove he is an American citizen, and things like this happen...


Jeb Bush basically tells a room full of white people in South Carolina that the only reason African Americans vote for Democrats is because they are offered "free stuff."

That, my friends, is the Republican Southern Strategy in a nutshell.

DOJ and HUD Target Redlining

Regular readers know that one of the untold success stories of the Obama administration that I tend to focus on is the way the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice has been reformed after it was decimated during the Bush/Cheney years. Under the initial leadership of Thomas Perez (who is now the Secretary of Labor) and now Vanita Gupta, the division has been aggressively investigating police brutality and defending voting rights. And so, of course, I noticed this story reported by Sarah Lynch:
Hudson City Bancorp will pay nearly $33 million to settle civil charges alleging the New Jersey-based bank wrongfully discriminated against prospective black and Hispanic home buyers, in a case that marks the largest ever redlining settlement in history, the U.S. government said on Thursday.

The joint action by the U.S. Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that Hudson City Savings Bank tried to avoid locating branches and marketing mortgages in neighborhoods with a majority of black and Hispanic residents...

“This case should send a message to lenders throughout the country that the Justice Department will not tolerate racial discrimination in the extension of credit,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in a statement...

Gupta said Thursday that the settlement is the largest the Justice Department has ever struck both, in terms of the monetary amount and the geographic regions covered.

She added that the civil rights division has recently seen an increased number of active redlining investigations.
As the work of the Civil Rights Division was restored, several settlements were reached with banks like Wells Fargo and Countrywide for systematically charging higher fees to Black and Hispanic customers as well as steering them into costly subprime mortgages. But Emily Badger points out how this case marks a more aggressive approach to combating discrimination.
Hudson City, unlike several other banks recently accused of discrimination, wasn't charged with denying loans to qualified minorities, or jacking up their interest rates. In a subtle but more insidious claim, the government says it was "structuring its business so as to avoid majority-Black-and-Hispanic neighborhoods."

Hudson City, in other words, was set up to ensure that few borrowers in minority neighborhoods ever even applied in the first place, according to prosecutors.
This is a classic case of the practice known as "redlining."
"Redlining" just sounds like an an old-timey term, a practice that exists only in history and our re-tellings of it. The word has particular roots in the 1930s, when the government-sponsored Home Owner's Loan Corporation first drafted maps of American communities to sort through which ones were worthy of mortgage lending. Neighborhoods were ranked and color-coded, and the D-rated ones — shunned for their "inharmonious" racial groups — were typically outlined in red.

This government practice was swiftly adopted by private banks, too, during an era of massive homeownership expansion in the U.S. And the visual language of the maps became a verb: To redline a community was to cut it off from essential capital.
It is interesting to note that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under Secretary Julian Castro, is also targeting the practice of redlining.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced an agreement with Associated Bank, N.A. (Associated) to resolve a disparate treatment redlining case, one of the largest redlining complaints brought by the federal government against a mortgage lender. At approximately $200 million, it is the largest settlement of this kind HUD has ever reached.

The settlement stems from a HUD Secretary-initiated complaint alleging that from 2008-2010, the Wisconsin-based bank engaged in discriminatory lending practices regarding the denial of mortgage loans to African-American and Hispanic applicants and the provision of loan services in neighborhoods with significant African-American or Hispanic populations.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates has documented in articles like "The Ghetto is Public Policy," when we see practices like redlining, it is clear that "the wealth gap is not a mistake." These actions by the Obama administration cannot undo the past practices that led to that gap. But they can ensure that it doesn't affect generations going forward.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Hope Builds on Itself. Success Breeds Success"

One of the things that has fascinated me for the last seven years is to try and understand President Obama's views on the politics of power and change. Often we get glimpses of that from extended one-on-one interviews he does with journalists. His conversation in Alaska earlier this month with Jeff Goodell on climate change is full of gold mines on that topic. But the one that stood out to me came in the President's response to a question about how he will define success at the UN's Global Climate Conference in Paris.
For us to be able to get the basic architecture in place with aggressive-enough targets from the major emitters that the smaller countries say, "This is serious" — that will be a success.

I'm less concerned about the precise number, because let's stipulate right now, whatever various country targets are, it's still going to fall short of what the science requires. So a percent here or a percent there coming from various countries is not going to be a deal-breaker. But making sure everybody is making serious efforts and that we are making a joint international commitment that is well-defined and can be measured will create the basis for us each year, then, to evaluate, "How are we doing?" and will allow us, five years from now, to say the science is new, we need to ratchet it up, and by the way, because of the research and development that we've put in, we can achieve more ambitious goals...

And the key for Paris is just to make sure that everybody is locked in, saying, "We're going to do this." Once we get to that point, then we can turn the dials. But there will be a momentum that is built, and I'm confident that we will then be in a position to listen more carefully to the science — partly because people, I think, will be not as fearful of the consequences or as cynical about what can be achieved. Hope builds on itself. Success breeds success.
Here's how Goodell summarized his take on that at the end of the article:
The two biggest take-aways from my time with the president were these: First, he is laser-focused on the Paris climate talks and is playing a multidimensional chess game with other nations to build alliances and cut deals to reach a meaningful agreement later this year. Second, whatever deals he cuts, it won't be enough...This is a long war, with everything at stake. "I do what I can do and as much as I can do," the president told me as we walked along Kotzebue Bay. 
This approach of being strategic about change has often been the source of tension between President Obama and many on the left. He addresses some of those particulars during this interview: the stimulus was too small, Obamacare instead of single payer, the failure of cap and trade. I am sure that before the ink has dried on any deal negotiated in Paris, we'll be hearing the same thing...it's not enough.

I am often reminded of a conversation Pete Seeger had with Majora Carter about the pace of change. Here's what Seeger said about why Martin Luther King, Jr. started with a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.
Why did he start with a bus boycott? Why didn't he start with something like schools, or jobs, or voting? Couldn't a bus boycott come later?

When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.
That's a perfect example of how "hope builds on itself" and "success breeds success." The only other ingredients that are necessary are patience and a sustained commitment.

The Pope's Speech to Congress Was Grounded in Morals, Not Politics

When conservatives want to critique Pope Francis, the usual line is to suggest that he needs to stick with questions of faith and stay out of politics. I'd suggest that in his speech to Congress, the Pope provided us with a moral basis on which to build our politics. In many ways, he echoed the message of Rev. William Barber.

In what was one of my favorite parts of his speech, the Pope articulated the moral calling of our elected officials.
You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. 
When he talked about religious freedom, Pope Francis addressed the need to avoid extremism, fundamentalism and polarization.
We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. 
When he talked about immigrants and refugees, he did so in a spirit of empathy.
We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants...

Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.
Pope Francis spoke to the issues of poverty and climate change together.
The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable...

Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a "culture of care" and "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."
He spoke to the need for peace through dialogue.
It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.
And finally, he talked about the importance of family - especially for vulnerable children.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions.
Contrary to what some people expected, he did not mention abortion or same sex marriage, although his did affirm "our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” The one and only policy prescription in the Pope's speech followed that affirmation.
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. 
And so, even in the one case where he advocated a specific policy, Pope Francis grounded it in our moral obligations to humanity and a commitment to rehabilitation.

Those who disagree with what the Pope said will therefore have to do so on moral grounds...not political.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Building Towards a Global Climate Agreement in Paris

In December more than 190 nations will gather in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference. The goal will be to negotiate the world's first legally binding and universal agreement on climate. For years now, the Obama administration has been working towards such an historic landmark.

You may have thought that Sec. of State John Kerry had been singularly focused on the successful conclusion of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries over nuclear weapons. As much as he deserves a lot of credit for that major accomplishment, back in January 2014 Coral Davenport reported that he has been quietly building towards Paris from day one.
In his first year as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry joined with the Russians to push Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, and played the closing role in the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. But while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution...

Shortly after Mr. Kerry was sworn in last February, he issued a directive that all meetings between senior American diplomats and top foreign officials include a discussion of climate change. He put top climate policy specialists on his State Department personal staff. And he is pursuing smaller climate deals in forums like the Group of 20, the countries that make up the world’s largest economies.
Combined with the announcement of the EPA's new guidelines on carbon emissions, this work bore fruit recently when the United States was able to reach agreements with China, India and Brazil in the lead-up to Paris.

President Obama's trip to Alaska this month was designed to heighten awareness about global climate change - not only as a future threat - but one that is already having a direct impact on that state. It's also obvious that the Pope's visit to the United States and his speech to the United Nation's General Assembly has been timed to maximize discussion about this important issue at a critical time.

And so I found it interesting that it's not just the Obama administration and Pope Francis that have set their sites on Paris this December.
Nine more giant corporations, including Nike and Walmart, pledged to transition to 100 percent renewable energy Wednesday. The announcement, made during Climate Week, is intended to show international governments that there is broad-based business support for going off fossil fuels in advance of the United Nations climate talks in December.

Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, and Voya Financial also took the RE100 pledge, organized by the Climate Group, an international sustainability non-profit.

“Research shows that the most ambitious companies have seen a 27 percent return on their low carbon investments,” Mark Kenber, CEO of the Climate Group, said in a statement. “Today these companies are signaling loud and clear to COP21 negotiators that forward-thinking businesses back renewables and want to see a strong climate deal in Paris.”
Of course we all know that the only ones who are not on board these days are Republicans. Their Congressional leaders are doing all they can right now to actually undermine the prospects of an agreement. But I suspect that they'll be about as successful with that as they were in undermining the agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons.

In the end, this will likely be the last legacy-building accomplishment of the Obama era. Here's how Jeff Goodell summed it up in a truly fascinating interview with the President in Rolling Stone.
Obama's trip to Alaska marked the beginning of what may be the last big push of his presidency — to build momentum for a meaningful deal at the international climate talks in Paris later this year. "The president is entirely focused on this goal," one of his aides told me in Alaska. For Obama, who has secured his legacy on his two top priorities, health care and the economy, as well as on important issues like gay marriage and immigration, a breakthrough in Paris would be a sweet final victory before his presidency drowns in the noise of the 2016 election.

Photo of the Day: Enjoying the Scenery

Yes, I only read Rolling Stone for the in-depth articles :-)

Eventually Republicans Have to Settle on One of These Candidates


Unless you are one of the people who think that Republicans are headed for a brokered convention (not out of the realm of possibilities), then we have to assume that at some point during the primaries, they'll settle on a candidate. But I'll take it one step farther than Ed Kilgore, the idea of "normalcy" eventually settling in to this campaign is a pipe dream.

By now, most of us have heard enough about the unhinged rantings of candidates like Trump and Carson. When it comes to Fiorina, a lot has been written about the lies she told in the last debate. Much less noted is the fact that she said she wouldn't even talk to Vladimir Putin...not a very "Reaganesque" kind of thing to say, is it? Sticking with the theme of foreign policy, you have Marco Rubio who actually said that the world "has never been more dangerous than it is today." I'll let Jonathan Chait take it from there:
To be sure, Rubio’s claim that the world “has never been more dangerous than it is today” is not just wrong but insanely wrong. How about when a massive communist empire threatened us with nuclear annihilation? Or when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan launched a war of extermination? Or when the Mongols amassed the largest land conquest in human history and left behind smoking ruins and pyramids of skulls?

As Stephen Pinker has argued, the world has in fact grown comprehensively safer in nearly every respect. This is true whether safety is defined in humanitarian or geopolitical terms.
Ahhh...but how about that other "serious" candidate, Jeb Bush? Yes, the one who's most recent faux pax was to embrace a new campaign theme about how his brother "kept us safe." Josh Marshall's reaction to that one was: "Put a Fork in Him."
It's not simply that George W. Bush's tenure is still quite unpopular with the country at large, though feelings have softened toward the man himself. It's that quite obviously not being his own man makes Jeb look weak and silly, quite apart from being identified with policies that at least the general electorate remains broadly opposed to.
And when it comes to John Kasich - get back to me about him when he's averaging more than 3% in the polls. I also don't think that any candidate in the last debate was more incoherent than Kasich. So it's not looking good for him right now.

Of course, a lot of this pinning for "normalcy" hinges on the mythology that in 2012 Republicans rejected the candidacies of people like Herman Cain and Rick Perry to settle on the "serious" one in that group...Mitt Romney. That completely ignores - as Steve Benen chronicled so assiduously - "Mitt's Mendacity." Or perhaps people are thinking about 2008 when they chose the "serious" John McCain - with his running mate Sarah Palin.

The fact is that Republicans on the national level rejected "normalcy" after the Presidency of George W. Bush left us mired in two wars in the Middle East with mounting debt and the Great Recession. The three pillars of GOP orthodoxy - military interventionism, tax cuts and deregulation - had been demonstrated to be total failures.

At that point, they could have chosen to rethink their orthodoxy. Instead Republicans decided to fuel an insurgency against the Democratic President in order to mount a campaign of total obstruction. Since then, their options for presidential campaigns have been to either drill down on policies that failed or become "post-policy" and simply rail at the opposition (or some combination of the two). We're not likely to see a return to normalcy until they come up with a third option. In the meantime, if you are a Republican who still has the capacity for rational thought, these are your choices.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Photo of the Day: @POTUS Meets Pope

I don't have a funny caption - this one simply makes me smile (we could use a little more of that these days).

A Demand that Christians Renounce the Old Testament

As you all probably know by now, Ben Carson is doubling down on his Islamophobia. Here's how he answered some questions about that on Facebook:
Under Islamic Law, homosexuals – men and women alike – must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed.

I know that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenants are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.
Of course, the vast majority of people elected to public office these days take their oath of office with their hand on the Bible - including both the Old and New Testaments. In the former are texts like this:
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18

He [Josiah] executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them.... He did this in obedience to all the laws written in the scroll that Hilkiah the priest had found in the LORD's Temple. Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since. 2 Kings 23:20-25

You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. Leviticus 25:44-46
So it strikes me that, by Carson's standards, every politician who is a Christian and swears on the Bible needs to renounce these tenants in order to be suitable for office in the United States. No?

What We Can Learn From Walker's Demise: The Limits of SuperPacs

If all it took to win a presidential nomination (or the presidency itself) was big SuperPac money, Scott Walker would still be in the race. As of August 1st (the last reporting period), he was number 3 in the Republican race for SuperPac dollars ($20 million). No matter how much the Koch brothers loved Scott Walker, it couldn't get him the nomination.

Nicholas Confessore has a pretty good run-down on the limits of SuperPac money.
While a super PAC supporting him, Unintimidated, was relatively flush with cash — on track to raise as much as $40 million through the end of the year, according to people involved with the group — Mr. Walker’s campaign committee was running dry, contemplating layoffs and unable to find enough money to mount a last stand in Iowa, a state that once favored him.

Super PACs, Mr. Walker learned, cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, airfares or ballot access fees. They are not entitled to the preferential rates on advertising that federal law grants candidates, forcing them to pay far more money than candidates must for the same television and radio time.
Much to the chagrin of a lot of Republicans I'm sure, we still have a few laws on the books about campaign funding/spending. While SuperPacs are required to operate independently of a campaign and can raise unlimited amounts of money, actual campaigns run by the candidates are limited to $2,700 from an individual. That is the bread and butter candidates rely on for their daily survival. In that arena, Walker was broke.

As Ed Kilgore points out, Walker could have found a way to hang in there without those kinds of funds - much as people like Rick Santorum are doing. But here's the interesting part: there is enough of a correlation between individual donations to a campaign and actual voter support to make that a losing proposition.

One of the things we should have learned from President Obama's two campaigns is that small donors ($200 or less) to a candidate not only represent a lot of voters, they are also the foot soldiers who recruit others. So it's interesting to take a look at who is doing well along those lines among the Republican candidates (BTW, Clinton is blowing the rest of the field out of the water on this one with $47.5 million).

Cruz - $14.1 million
Bush - $11.4 million
Carson - $10.6 million
Rubio - $8.7 million

What's interesting about Cruz is that he also leads the field on the percentage of donations to SuperPacs of $1 million or more (over 95%). As I've noted before, the role of SuperPacs has traditionally been to spend money of television ads for a candidate (something that will lose appeal over time as viewers have other entertainment choices). But Confessore notes that Cruz's SuperPacs are experimenting with something different.
Other super PACs are placing their bets on grass-roots activism, using their cash to build get-out-the-vote operations intended to mimic and complement what the candidates are doing — usually with more money than the candidates can spend. A multimillion-dollar network of super PACs allied with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, is focused on forming partnerships with anti-abortion groups to help Mr. Cruz with evangelical voters.
That might have something to do with why Cruz is leading Republicans in small donations. I doubt these moves by Cruz are enough to overcome the kind of hostility he has fueled among a lot of Republican elites. But it's probably why he remains in the running while their "favorite son" Walker is now out of it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Who Has a Seat at the Table?

Back in January 2013, Annie Lowrey wrote an article that surprised a lot of us titled: Obama's Remade Inner Circle Has an All-Male Look, So Far.
...Mr. Obama has put together a national security team dominated by men, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the secretary of state, Chuck Hagel chosen to be the defense secretary and John O. Brennan nominated as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama’s inner circle will continue to be dominated by men well into his second term.

From the White House down the ranks, the Obama administration has compiled a broad appointment record that has significantly exceeded the Bush administration in appointing women but has done no better than the Clinton administration, according to an analysis of personnel data by The New York Times.
Lowrey obviously wrote that when the administration was in the midst of transition, as many first-term appointees left their positions and the President was appointing their replacements. But it fed a meme that had been developed early on in the administration that the White House culture was dominated by men (at least until some folks decided to put a target on Valerie Jarrett's back as the woman who was responsible for all of the President's failings).

Recently, Juliet Eilperin revisited the whole issue of Obama's appointments - not only of women, but a more broad perspective of diversity in the administration.
Obama has presided over the most demographically diverse administration in history, according to a new analysis of his top appointments. The majority of top policy appointments within the executive branch are held by women and minorities for the first time in history.

The transformation partly reflects a broader trend in U.S. society, but it also reflects the results of a calculated strategy by the nation’s first African American president. The shifts are significant enough, experts say, that they may have forever transformed the face of government...

O’Connell said that her research reveals that Obama has placed women and minorities in 53.5 percent of those posts. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, by contrast, installed women and minorities in 25.6 percent, while President Clinton’s number was 37.5 percent.
In order to chart that development over the last few presidents, the Washington Post provided these graphs:


Due to the fact that the lead for this article was the announcement by the White House that President Obama will nominate Eric Fanning as the first openly-gay Secretary of the Army, Eilperin also notes the following:
And Fanning’s nomination punctuates the fact that members of the LGBT community have also made similar advances under Obama: There are now hundreds of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender appointees in the executive branch, compared with a handful in past administrations.
One omission in all this is the lack of any reporting on Native American appointments. I am not aware of any that the Obama administration has nominated to Cabinet positions, but the only Native American currently serving as a federal judge is Diane Humetewa, who was nominated by President Obama in September 2013 (the President also nominated Arvo Mikkanen but his confirmation was blocked by Senate Republicans).

When President Obama says that "everyone gets a seat at the table," this is an example of him walking his talk.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Many Ways a Government Shutdown Hurts Republicans

I'm aware of the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz went to Harvard. Rumors continue to circulate that he's actually smart. If that's true, then it's hard to figure out why he'd continue to embrace dumb strategic moves like shutting down the federal government over funding for Planned Parenthood. Let's list all the ways that a move like that is destined to not only fail, but hurt Republicans.

The easiest place to start is with the facts that fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte included in a letter to her colleague.
Ayotte, who is not a supporter of Planned Parenthood, voted last month to defund the group. That bill received 53 votes in the Senate, short of the 60 votes it needed to pass.

“How do we get 60 votes? And if for some reason there were 60 votes, how do we get 67 votes in the Senate to overcome a Presidential veto?” Ayotte asked in her letter.
There aren't enough votes in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood - much less override a presidential veto. We already know that. But Cruz and House Republicans have enough votes to stop their party from passing a budget over their objections - thus leading to a government shutdown on October 1st.

It's interesting to note what happens to Planned Parenthood during a government shutdown. Most of their federal funding continues.
A government shutdown wouldn’t shut down Planned Parenthood.

Instead, Planned Parenthood would continue to receive the majority of its federal funding — including all of its Medicaid payments — even if Congress cannot enact a new spending law on Oct. 1, according to a nonpartisan study by the Congressional Research Service.
Meanwhile, Congressional leaders will have to figure out a way to end the government shutdown. If the Cruz wing of their party won't negotiate, who do they turn to? The same group they've always had to work with when the lunatic caucus throws a hissy fit...Democrats. That gives the Democrats increased leverage in budget negotiations.

So, in the event of a government shutdown, Planned Parenthood continues to get their funding, Republicans - who have a majority in Congress - are forced to negotiate with Democrats on a budget and Republicans get blamed for the whole mess. How's it going for you so far, Senator Cruz?

But let's imagine an alternative world in which somehow these folks are successful in passing legislation that strips Planned Parenthood of all funding. What happens then?

Keep in mind that approximately 75% of the government funding Planned Parenthood receives is in the form of reimbursement for services from Medicaid. Court cases in Indiana and Arizona struck down state attempts to strip the organization of Medicaid funding because it violates the patient's right to choose their own provider.

You've got to wonder what it would ultimately look like for Republicans to go to the Supreme Court demanding that the government intervene in plaintiff's choice of a medical provider. Not a good look, huh?

As the chief proponent of this strategy, doesn't someone have to eventually question the intelligence of Senator (and presidential candidate) Ted Cruz?

Goldwater Republicans

In an effort to understand what is happening in the Republican Party and the way the 2016 presidential nominating process is unfolding, we tend to apply labels. Often that means contrasting "the base" with "the establishment." In thinking about the former, we talk about the tea partiers and/or evangelicals (who often overlap). When it comes to the establishment, we assume that it's all about the big money folks who finance these campaigns.

One way this plays out is in an assumption that Trump is appealing to the base while the establishment supports candidates like Bush. But as people like Ed Kilgore have pointed out, Trump's base is made up primarily of white working class Republicans. Many of them are what we used to call "Reagan Democrats" because prior to the Southern Strategy (ignited by Nixon and Reagan) and culture wars (fueled by folks like Pat Buchanan), they were Democrats.

But in order to understand the appeal of someone like Carly Fiorina lately, we need to talk about people who were Republicans long before any of that happened. Let's call them "Goldwater Republicans." These are the people who didn't need racial dog whistles to develop a distrust of big government. They bought it back in 1961 when Ronald Reagan fought against the idea of Medicare by calling it socialized medicine. They are the foreign policy hawks who thought we lost in Vietnam because political influences made us fight with one hand tied behind our back. They are also the ones who have always taken the side of management over labor (the reason most working class white people were originally Democrats).

We might call these folks "the Republican base" because they've been there all along. But, due to their identification with management over labor, they might also be called "establishment Republicans." Many of them are white collar as opposed to blue collar. And yet, they're not in the same class as the Kochs and Adelsons.

You will find these voters in the ranks of the 70-75% of Republicans who are not joining the Trump bandwagon. It's probably true that some of them have toyed with the idea of supporting Ben Carson (all of these groups have tremendous overlap with self-described evangelicals who tend to love Carson). But at least in the debates, he has sounded rather mushy and weak, so it will be interesting to see how long that lasts.

From what I've seen of these folks, they're floundering about who to support. Bush is looking pretty emasculated and Rubio hardly looks old enough to vote - much less run the most powerful nation on earth (although he looks better with each debate).

That's where Fiorina scored so well in last week's debate. Since these folks already think that what this country needs is someone with real business experience to run the government, the fact that she doesn't have any political experience is seen as an asset rather than a liability. And, from their perspective, all that nonsense about her failure at Hewlett Packard is probably just noise from the liberal media.

I'd say that when it comes to actual voters (rather than simply financiers), the battle for the Republican nomination is coming down to one between white collars and blue collars. For the former, it might turn into a contest between Fiorina and Rubio. Via Sam Wang, here's how that's looking right now.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Jeb Bush Plays Two Truths and a Lie

Have you ever played that game, two truths and a lie? It's fun as an ice-breaker in groups. But it's not a good idea in politics. Yesterday, that's exactly what Jeb Bush did.

I'll give him credit where it's due. At a town hall meeting in NH, he disputed the lunatic claim that Donald Trump affirmed by omission when an attendee at his even called President Obama a Muslim (also suggesting that this was somehow a threat). Here's what Jeb Bush said about that.
Barack Obama is a talented man -- and by the way he's an American, he's a Christian -- his problem isn't the fact that he was born here or what his faith is.
Two truths. So far, so good. But then he told the lie.
His problem is that he's a progressive liberal who tears down anybody that disagrees with him.
Obviously Bush felt he had to give some raw meat to his Republican supporters once he'd actually told the truth. But rather than doing what John McCain did when faced with a similar charge and simply say that he disagrees with the President on almost every one of his policies, he had to lie and say that Obama "tears down anybody that disagrees with him."

I'll leave it to you to decide why someone like Jeb Bush would rather tell a lie than actually engage on the areas of disagreement. But in a nutshell, this is exactly what's wrong with our political discourse these days.

Friday, September 18, 2015

100 Immigrant Women Write an Open Letter to Presidential Candidates

I am going to assume that since this is an "open letter," it is fair to reproduce the whole thing. The voice of these women needs to be heard at least as loudly as those who are trying to gain political traction by demonizing them.


Dear candidates for president,

Elections are about leadership. Leaders influence and shape the world around them. So far, the election conversation about immigration has caused us great alarm.

Many of you have engaged in rhetoric that is feeding a rising tide of hatred toward migrants in the United States and globally. This is precisely the type of rhetoric that seeds and promotes hate violence, and emboldens the most hateful among us. This is type of hatred that often results in the tragic loss of human life. And, it creates the context for hate-based policies with profound humanitarian implications.

Your proposed solutions are the same recycled solutions that have been proposed for years. From border walls to mass deportations and guest worker programs, we've heard nothing new.

The rhetoric and solutions we have heard are not grounded in reality. The reality is, many of you count on immigrants every day. We know, because we clean your homes and take care of your children and aging parents. We drive you to work, cook and serve your food. We teach your children language, art and dance. We design your apps and build your homes.

In this country, we are interdependent. The 11 million undocumented people living and working in this country are integral to this economy and our social fabric. We are powering local economies with our labor and businesses, and entire sectors -- from caregiving to agriculture -- are dependent upon an immigrant workforce. Immigrants and non-immigrants need one another.

Our decision to walk 100 miles is also an act of leadership. And it is an act of faith and love. Rather than wait for others to take action, we decided to embark on this pilgrimage, to echo the Pope's message of humanity and compassion toward migrants, and to share our stories with all who would listen.

We hope to feed a rising tide of cooperation, generosity and welcoming of immigrants that we are also witnessing throughout the nation and the world. From train stations in Europe to the towns in Pennsylvania we pass as we walk, we are finding that people want to be a part of solutions based in reality, and rooted in a recognition of everyone's human dignity.

We believe that this moment in history calls for courageous moral, innovative and practical leadership. As we prepare for his arrival, we hope Pope Francis's leadership and challenge to elected leaders around the world to welcome migrants, and our decision to boldly walk 100 miles, serves as inspiration to you.

Sincerely,
100 Women
(from mile 26 on our 100 mile pilgrimage for migrant dignity and for all of us)

You can follow them on twitter @WomenBelong

Reversing the Trend of Mass Incarceration

Days after both the Atlantic and the National Review published editions focused on the issue of mass incarceration, Keith Humphreys noted a report issued by the Department of Justice with the headline: U.S. is at a 13-Year Low in Imprisonment.
The U.S. imprisonment rate has fallen for the sixth straight year. In 2014, the rate fell to a level not seen since 2001.
A 13-year low sounds good. And it certainly represents progress. But to get a picture of what that means, take a look at the trajectory over the last 40 years (note: this chart does not include 2014 numbers).

I have written before that, when we look at statistics like this, there are many different ways of representing the numbers. The above chart looks at the raw number of prisoners. Another way to tell the story is to mitigate for population increases by providing the number of prisoners per 100,000 adults in the U.S. That number dropped from 621 to 612.

The DOJ report combines the number of people in federal prisons with those in the states. Leon Neyfakh provides us with the more recent trajectory of those two populations (in this case, the data is provided as a percentage change).

Neyfakh notes that, while the federal government houses 13% of prisoners, the more recent reductions there account for one third of the total decrease. He also provides some interesting information that suggests that this might be related to federal initiatives to end the war on drugs.
Contrary to the messaging we’ve been seeing from politicians interested in criminal justice reform, more than half—about 53.2 percent—of the people serving time in state prisons were there because of violent offenses, and only about 15.7 percent were there primarily because of nonviolent drug crimes. In the federal system this was reversed: about 50 percent of federal prisoners were doing time on nonviolent drug charges, and about 7.3 percent were there for violent crimes.
As more and more states take up the task of criminal justice reform (even very red ones), it should come as no surprise that those with the highest rates of over-incarceration will exhibit the greatest gains. Hence, the number one state for prison population reduction is Mississippi (-14.5%). Neyfakh also identifies those who have seen the biggest increases.
Notably, the three states that saw the biggest increases in their prison population—North Dakota jumped by 9 percent, Nebraska by 8.3 percent, and Hawaii by 4.2 percent—are small ones, where it doesn’t take much to move the needle by a lot.
In summary, the good news is that we are finally on the right trajectory for addressing this problem. We've still got a long way to go and - as Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out - the solutions will be much more complex going forward. But this is one more example of change that is moving in the right direction.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Finally, the GOP Establishment Has an Outsider it Can Embrace

In terms of the "winner" of last night's Republican debate, this is an instance where conventional wisdom is probably right...Carly Fiorina "won." And while I am usually loath to make political predictions, I think its a pretty sure bet that over the next couple of weeks we'll see that translated into rising poll numbers.

What's interesting about this is that the Republican base has been itching to support a political "outsider" - which has put them at odds with establishment love for candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio (the latter of whom also helped himself with his performance last night). But based on what I'm reading this morning, it looks like the establishment has finally found an outsider they can embrace in Carly Fiorina.

Last night Fiorina was articulate, forceful and came off as "presidential." In doing so, she demonstrated that there is a clear policy vacuum when it comes to Donald Trump. I have no doubt that his hardcore nativist base will continue to support him. But there is now some very real competition for those Republicans who have been uncomfortable with his candidacy.

As Democrats, last night gave us some good insight about Carly Fiorina. While being articulate, she was grossly negligent when it came to facts. Steve Benen did a good job of summarizing that (click on the links for the specifics).
Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality. She said it takes “two-thirds of the states” to ratify a constitutional amendment, but it actually takes three-fourths. Her comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue. She insisted that Democrats, who’ve been pleading with Republicans for years to pass immigration reform, “don’t want” to pass immigration reform. Her defense of her failed tenure at HP was hard to take seriously. Her rhetoric about foreign policy was “bizarre.”
So what does that tell us about Fiorina? There's no doubt that she's a smart woman and prepared very well for this debate. So I doubt that any of those arguments were based on ignorance. What it tells us about her is that she is a gifted liar (I'd suggest, the best on that stage last night) - and is not real worried about being outed as such. After all...the Republicans have shown over and over again that they are in an age of "truthiness." In other words, if it sounds good and reinforces my biases, it must be true.

Last night Carly Fiorina put on a masterful performance. I don't know that it means she'll get the nomination. But I doubt she'll be making the kinds of gaffes/mistakes that sunk the candidacies of people like Rick Perry and Herman Cain last time around. And she has a lot of potential to bridge the gap that has developed between the Republican base and establishment. That means she'll be one of the "top tier" contenders for a while.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Race and Mass Incarceration

I have no idea if it was a coincidence that the recent editions of both the National Review and the Atlantic focus on the topic of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform (I doubt it). But some of the articles sure make for some interesting side-by-side reading, which is what I did with the headline articles by Stephanos Bibas in the National Review and Ta-Nehisi Coates  in the Atlantic.

Not all of Bibas' recommendations for criminal justice reform are awful. But I sure do hate how he ended his piece.
American criminal justice has drifted away from its moral roots. The Left has forgotten how to blame and punish, and too often the Right has forgotten how to forgive. Over-imprisonment is wrong, but not because wrongdoers are blameless victims of a white-supremacist conspiracy. It is wrong because state coercion excessively disrupts work, families, and communities, the building blocks of society, with too little benefit to show for it. Our strategies for deterring crime not only fail to work on short-sighted, impulsive criminals, but harden them into careerists. Criminals deserve punishment, but it is wise as well as humane to temper justice with mercy.
Perhaps I was primed to react to that when, earlier in the article, Bibas said this:
Contrary to the liberal critique, we need to punish and condemn crimes unequivocally, without excusing criminals or treating them as victims. But we should be careful to do so in ways that reinforce rather than undercut conservative values, such as strengthening families and communities.
The premise for those arguments rests on an old caricature that, when it comes to criminal justice policy, liberals see victims in need of rescue while conservatives see criminals in need of punishment and/or accountability. I get really tired of that either/or dichotomy that is used as a straw man against liberals, many of whom have long advocated for being "smart on crime" by embracing a both/and. Perhaps that's why his last sentence about tempering "justice with mercy" bothered me so much. I'm all for injecting a little more empathy and compassion into our criminal justice system. But mercy seems to be more about providing the giver with a sense of benevolence rather than recognizing that treating offenders as human beings means finding out what works, i.e. being smart on crime.

My other big problem with the Bibas article is that, when it comes to race and mass incarceration, he basically says, "nothing to see here...move right along." He backs this up by saying that African Americans want enforcement against crime too (duh) and that a lot of Black leaders were involved in promoting the tough-on-crime initiatives of the 90's (as if that makes it all non-racist).

That's exactly where Coates comes in strong. My one big critique of his article is that it is so long and filled with so much information that the very people who need to read it the most probably won't. But in response to Bibas' ridiculous notion that mass incarceration has nothing to do with race, let's take a look at just a little of the history Coates provides. Here are some excerpts from his section on "the crime stained blackness of the negro."

During slavery:
In 1860, The New York Herald offered up a dispatch on the doings of runaway slaves residing in Canada. “The criminal calendars would be bare of a prosecution but for the negro prisoners,” the report claimed. Deprived of slavery’s blessings, blacks quickly devolved into criminal deviants who plied their trade with “a savage ferocity peculiar to the vicious negro.” Blacks, the report stated, were preternaturally inclined to rape: “When the lust comes over them they are worse than the wild beast of the forest.” Nearly a century and a half before the infamy of Willie Horton, a portrait emerged of blacks as highly prone to criminality, and generally beyond the scope of rehabilitation. In this fashion, black villainy justified white oppression—which was seen not as oppression but as “the corner-stone of our republican edifice.”
Post-slavery:
“From the 1890s through the first four decades of the twentieth century,” writes Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, “black criminality would become one of the most commonly cited and longest-lasting justifications for black inequality and mortality in the modern urban world.” Blacks were criminal brutes by nature, and something more than the law of civilized men was needed to protect the white public. Society must defend itself from contamination by “the crime-stained blackness of the negro,” asserted Hinton Rowan Helper, a Southern white-supremacist writer, in 1868. Blacks were “naturally intemperate,” one physician claimed in The New York Medical Journal in 1886, prone to indulging “every appetite too freely, whether for food, drink, tobacco, or sensual pleasures, and sometimes to such an extent as to appear more of a brute than human.”...

In 1904, defending southern states’ lack of interest in education funding for blacks, James K. Vardaman, the governor of Mississippi, offered a simple rationale, as one report noted: “The strength of [crime] statistics.”
The 1914 Harrison Narcotics Tax Act:
The reasoning was unoriginal. “The use of cocaine by unfortunate women generally and by negroes in certain parts of the country is simply appalling,” the American Pharmaceutical Association’s Committee on the Acquirement of the Drug Habit had concluded in 1902. The New York Times published an article by a physician saying that the South was threatened by “cocaine-crazed negroes,” to whom the drug had awarded expert marksmanship and an immunity to bullets “large enough to ‘kill any game in America.’ ” Another physician, Hamilton Wright, the “father of American narcotic law,” reported to Congress that cocaine lent “encouragement” to “the humbler ranks of the negro population in the South.” Should anyone doubt the implication of encouragement, Wright spelled it out: “It has been authoritatively stated that cocaine is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the negroes of the South and other sections of the country.”
Civil Rights era:
Elijah Forrester, a Democratic congressman from Georgia, opposed the Eisenhower administration’s 1956 civil-rights bill on the grounds that “where segregation has been abolished,” black villainy soon prospered. “In the District of Columbia, the public parks have become of no utility whatever to the white race,” Forrester claimed, “for they enter at the risk of assaults upon their person or the robbery of their personal effects.” Unless segregation was immediately restored, “in 10 years, the nation’s capital will be unsafe for them in the daytime.” Around that time, Basil Whitener, a North Carolina congressman, dismissed the NAACP as an organization pledged to “the assistance of Negro criminals.”
Nixon's war on crime and drugs:
Nixon’s war on crime was more rhetoric than substance. “I was cranking out that bullshit on Nixon’s crime policy before he was elected,” wrote White House counsel John Dean , in his memoir of his time in the administration. “And it was bullshit, too. We knew it.” Indeed, if sinking crime rates are the measure of success, Nixon’s war on crime was a dismal failure. The rate of every type of violent crime—murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault—was up by the end of Nixon’s tenure. The true target of Nixon’s war on crime lay elsewhere. Describing the Nixon campaign’s strategy for assembling enough votes to win the 1972 election, Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman later wrote, “We’ll go after the racists … That subliminal appeal to the antiblack voter was always in Nixon’s statements and speeches on schools and housing.” According to H. R. Haldeman, another Nixon aide, the president believed that when it came to welfare, the “whole problem [was] really the blacks.” Of course, the civil-rights movement had made it unacceptable to say this directly. “The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to,” Haldeman wrote in his diary. But there was no need to devise new systems from scratch: When Nixon proclaimed drugs “public enemy No. 1,” or declared “war against the criminal elements which increasingly threaten our cities, our homes, and our lives,” he didn’t need to name the threat. A centuries-long legacy of equating blacks with criminals and moral degenerates did the work for him.
The "super-predator" myth:
In 1996, William J. Bennett, John P. Walters, and John J. DiIulio Jr. partnered to publish perhaps the most infamous tract of the tough-on-crime era, Body Count: Moral Poverty … and How to Win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs. The authors (wrongly) predicted a new crime wave driven by “inner-city children” who were growing up “almost completely unmoralized and develop[ing] character traits” that would “lead them into a life of illiteracy, illicit drugs, and violent crimes.” The threat to America from what the authors called “super-predators” was existential. “As high as America’s body count is today, a rising tide of youth crime and violence is about to lift it even higher,” the authors warned. “A new generation of street criminals is upon us—the youngest, biggest, and baddest generation any society has ever known.” Incarceration was “a solution,” DiIulio wrote in The New York Times, “and a highly cost-effective one.” The country agreed. For the next decade, incarceration rates shot up even further. The justification for resorting to incarceration was the same in 1996 as it was in 1896.
That's just a taste of what Coates has to offer on this topic. But perhaps that last sentence sums it up pretty well.

At the end of his article, Coates talks about the fact that success in ending mass incarceration will be more complex than most politicians are talking about these days. One of the big reasons for that is this centuries-long mythology of equating black with criminal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Just How Bad Have Things Gotten for the GOP?

You know things are bad for Republicans when...

Mitch McConnell is the voice of reason.
McConnell (R-KY) went on the record with Politico to tamp down fears that there would be a shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding...

In the meantime, he said he wanted to focus on more moderate goals that are achievable in the current landscape, like infrastructure funding and a cybersecurity bill.
And Bill Kristol starts talking about supporting a third-party candidate in 2016.
Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, said he would likely look beyond both of the major parties if Trump, the clear frontrunner in the GOP's crowded presidential field, emerged with the party's nomination.

"I doubt I'd support Donald. I doubt I'd support the Democrat," Kristol told CNNMoney in an email. "I think I'd support getting someone good on the ballot as a third party candidate."
Just sayin...

Paying for Single Payer

For a while now I've been saying that one of the questions I have for Bernie Sanders is how he would pay for single payer health insurance - especially in light of the fact that this is what stopped single payer from going forward in his home state of Vermont.

And so I was interested that, buried within an article in the Wall Street Journal about the costs of Sander's various proposals, was reference to a paper by Gerald Friedman, Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts which outlined a payment plan for single payer. It's important to note that the bill Friedman analyzed (HR 676) is authored by Rep. Conyers. Sanders has never endorsed this bill and it differs from the one he introduced in the Senate in 2013. But we'll get to that later.

One of the assumptions about single payer is that it will save money in administrative costs (Friedman builds that into his calculations). But since it would eliminate the way we currently pay for health insurance (employer/employee payments, a mix of individual payments and government subsidies in the health insurance exchanges and government programs), any proposal for single payer will be required to identify who will pay and how much. Here is Friedman's proposal for that:

* Existing sources of federal revenues for health care

* Tax of 0.5% on stock trades and 0.01% tax per year to maturity on transactions in bonds, swaps, and trades

* 6% high-income surtax (applies to households with incomes over $225,000)

* 6% tax on unearned income from capital gains, dividends, interest, profits, and rents

* 6% payroll tax on top 60% of income earners (applies to incomes over $53,000, tax paid by employers)

* 3% payroll tax on the bottom 40% of income earners (applies to incomes under $53,000, tax paid by employers)

What this information provides for us is some idea of what such a system would mean - both in terms of the magnitude and the politics. Beyond the 6% surtax on upper incomes and 6% tax on unearned income, employers would be required to take on additional payroll taxes - depending on how much the employee earns, either 3% or 6%.  For those who currently pay for part of all of their employees health insurance, they would substitute that expense with the new payroll tax. And for those who haven't contributed to health insurance, it would entail a new cost.

When it comes to individuals, since the proposal does away with co-payments and deductibles, only those making over $225,000 or benefiting from unearned income (or trading stocks) would have to pay anything for health insurance.

As I noted earlier, this is an analysis of a bill that Sanders has never endorsed. The bill he introduced in 2013 (S 1782) differs mainly in the fact that, while Conyers would set up a national single payer system, Sanders allows for individual systems in each state.
The federal government would collect and distribute all funds to the states for the operation of the state programs to pay for the covered services...

Each state would have the choice to administer its own program or have the federal Board administer it. The state program could negotiate with providers and consult with its advisory boards to allocate funds...State programs could negotiate with providers to pay outpatient facilities and individual practitioners on a capitated, salaried, or other prospective basis or on a fee-for service basis according to a rate schedule.
This summer Sanders said that he was preparing to introduce such legislation in the Senate again sometime soon.
Addressing a rally outside the Capitol to mark the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday announced that he will introduce legislation to provide Medicare-for-all health insurance...

Sanders’ bill, which he said he will soon introduce in the Senate, would set federal guidelines and strong minimum standards for states to administer single-payer health care programs.
In terms of financing, here's what Sanders has proposed in the past:
(1) a health care income tax, and (2) an income tax surcharge on amounts of modified adjusted gross income exceeding $1 million. Imposes an excise tax on securities transactions and allows an income tax credit for such taxes.
As others have noted, this part of his plan remains under construction.

I am curious about why Sanders has never signed on to Conyers' bill. It would seem that - especially after the failure in Vermont - a national program has at least the possibility of cost efficiencies that could be necessary to make single payer viable.

Overall, there is a lot to like about proposals like this - just as they raise a lot of questions. But given the fact that what derailed single payer in Vermont was the possibility of an 11.5% income tax on all residents, Friedman's proposal looks better than that - as long as it raises sufficient revenue. Still...it is clear that Sanders is right to say that it would take a veritable progressive revolution to make this even a remote possibility.

President Obama Provides Ben Carson With a Little Cognitive Dissonance

By now we all know that Ben Carson's schtick has come down to railing against political correctness. I'd venture that Monday, President Obama served up a whole helping of cognitive dissonance for Carson to chew on about all that.

At a town hall meeting in Iowa on higher education, the President pretty effectively smacked down Carson's proposal to cut funding to colleges that demonstrate political bias.
The idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think ahead of time or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought or idea or perspective or philosophy, that that person would be -- that they wouldn’t get funding runs contrary to everything we believe about education. I mean, I guess that might work in the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t work here. That’s not who we are. That’s not what we’re about.
The Soviet Union? Good comparison, but ouch!

Then he went on to talk about how political correctness can be a problem on college campuses.
It’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem. Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, "You can’t come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." That’s not the way we learn either.
That part about not "listening to the other side" is quintessential Obama - if conservatives like Ben Carson would ever actually pay attention.

The whole exchange reminded me of how - way back in 2009 - President Obama was actually in a position to walk his talk on this. In case you might have forgotten, he was invited to give the commencement address at Notre Dame, where he would also receive an honorary degree. Pro-life students objected and there was even some talk in the media about how the President should be uninvited. But Obama went to Notre Dame, dove right into the controversy to discuss abortion and gave what I think was one of the most important speeches of his presidency.
This generation, your generation is the one that must find a path back to prosperity and decide how we respond to a global economy that left millions behind even before the most recent crisis hit -- an economy where greed and short-term thinking were too often rewarded at the expense of fairness, and diligence, and an honest day’s work. Your generation must decide how to save God’s creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it. Your generation must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity -- diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and diversity of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

And it’s this last challenge that I’d like to talk about today...For the major threats we face in the 21st century -- whether it’s global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease -- these things do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and greater understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history. Unfortunately, finding that common ground -- recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a "single garment of destiny" -- is not easy...

...And yet, one of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, bringing together men and women of principle and purpose -- even accomplishing that can be difficult...

The question, then -- the question then is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonetizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

And of course, nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion...

...in this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. In other words, stand as a lighthouse. But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen...

And this doubt should not push us away from our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. 
The crassness of the debate we're hearing these days about "political correctness" rings completely hollow and petty when compared to that kind of depth and wisdom.