Friday, August 19, 2016

Trump Exposed

"NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small." -- Parks Department spokesperson Sam Biederman
The statues of a grotesque, flabby, emasculated Trump that appeared in public spaces on Thursday in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Seattle were, depending on one's view: (1) a brilliant takedown of an offensive demagogue or (2) a tasteless body-shaming joke that diminishes our politics.

The project was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes.  As reported in the Washington Post, "hoping to strip away the Teflon Don’s legendary confidence to reveal the fleshy mortal beneath the expensive suits and long ties, members of the anarchist collective INDECLINE decided they would showcase the aspirant president in the most humiliating way they could imagine: without his clothes."

The idea that this guerilla art project does a disservice to the political process by being disrespectful to a presidential candidate, and thus proves how low our country's politics have fallen, has it exactly backwards.  It is the nomination of Donald Trump that demonstrates how diminished our politics have become.  This art project is an apt reflection of the fact, to paraphrase Andy Borowitz, that the bar cannot be lowered any further.  Certainly not by art.

One thoughtful writer questioned the value of a "humiliation mode of politics":
Are we laughing at Donald Trump because Donald Trump is naked, and fat, standing in front of us? Are we mocking the fact that anyone who has cellulite or a gut or a figure that’s not valued by a capitalist, health obsessed, body-shaming society dares to be nude in a public space? Are we laughing at Donald Trump because we believe that men should be manly, and that manly means to have a big penis, and that anybody who doesn’t fit into that violent, cissexist masculinity is worthy of contempt?
I very well could have a blind spot here because of how much I loathe Donald Trump and all he stands for, but I truly think we are mocking Trump because he is Trump -- regardless of body type.  Of course we would be -- and should be offended -- if an unflattering, vulgar, naked statue of Hillary Clinton appeared.  But she is not an arrogant, bigoted, misogynistic vulgar white man who prides himself on being a "ladies man," has bragged about the size of his penis during a presidential debate, and attempts to diminish, disparage and humiliate anyone who deigns to criticize him.  In my view Trump is fair game for all manner of humiliation.

At bottom, these are not normal times.  Donald Trump should not be treated by the public, by the media or by the art world as just another candidate for president.  He is a unique danger to the country.  He is grotesque whether he is wearing a suit and spouting hateful lies or, presumably, when he is fully exposed.  And he needs to be fully exposed.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Devil And Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy's historic playoff performance last year carried the Mets into the World Series.   In the Mets' 4-game sweep of the Cubs in the League Championship Series, Murph batted over .500, with four home runs, a double, six runs batted in and six runs scored. Including the final two games of the Division Series, Murphy homered in six straight post-season games. 

Murphy had been a pretty productive hitter for the previous few seasons -- second in the league in hits in 2013 and ninth in 2014, and even made an All Star appearance in 2014.  But he would often make baffling mistakes in the field and on the basepaths.  I believe it was Mets' announcer Keith Hernandez who once said that Murphy believes he is invisible when he runs the bases. 

Murphy was bound to come back to earth after his ridiculously hot playoff run and, unfortunately for the Mets, he crashed a little too early. 

In Game #4 of the World Series, the Mets were on the verge of tying the series up at two games apiece, leading 3-2 with two on and one out in the 8th inning.  Closer Jeurys Familia came in and coaxed an easy grounder from Eric Hosmer, but Murphy, rather than scooping it up and throwing to first for an easy out, charged the ball and missed it completely, allowing the tying run to score.  As he later said, “I tried to one-hand it, and it probably deserves to be two-handed.”

Probably.  Fangraphs found this to be one of the most costly fielding errors in World Series history -- right up their with Bill Buckner.  On the next play, Mike Moustakas hit a ground ball beyond Murphy's limited range, for the go-ahead run.  The Mets lost the game and the Royals went up 3 games to 1.

Murphy also made a costly error in Game #5, and finished the series with a .150 batting average (3 for 20 with no extra base hits). 

Of course, Murphy wasn't the only Met to play poorly in the World Series -- there was plenty of blame to go around.  But in analyzing Murphy's body of work -- his seven year career and 2015 regular season (.281 batting average, 14 home runs, 73 RBI) -- his NLCS performance seemed like an aberration and his World Series play -- particularly his fielding gaffes -- seemed more Murphy like.  Comparable players identified by were Rance Mulliniks and Martin Prado -- not Rod Carew and Joe Morgan.

So, when the Mets declined to sign Murph as a free agent, and chose the more consistent and far better fielding Neil Walker, it appeared to be the right move. 

Little did we know that Murphy made a deal with the devil.  The devout Christian sold his soul in return for an MVP-type year.  There is no better explanation.

Eerily tracking the Broadway hit Damn Yankees, Murphy joined a Washington team against their New York rivals and has been transformed into a star.  Signed by Nationals, Murphy flirted with an other-worldly .400 batting average for much of the first part of the year and showed the kind of power that he displayed in the playoffs last year.  He is leading the National League in hitting (.346), and is third in RBI (82).  And he has absolutely crushed his former team -- hitting six homers and knocking in 19 runs in 12 games.

But far worse, the devil appears to have thrown in for no extra charge, the complete and utter demise of the Damn Mets.  While Murphy's Nationals are comfortably in first place, the Mets have imploded.  Their all-too-familiar mix of injuries, uninspired play and baffling managerial moves, has just culminated in a humiliating three-game sweep by the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks. 

The Mets haven't won back-to-back games since early July.  They can't hit and they can't run. David Wright's career is in doubt.  Matt Harvey looked haunted early in the year and then succumbed to a season-ending injury.  Two other great young pitchers -- Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz -- are plagued by bone spurs that appear to have hampered their effectiveness. Yoenis Cespedes could play as long as he has a caddy and a golf cart.  Other key players are aging fast and/or getting hurt.     Once promising youngsters seem utterly lost.  Manager Terry Collins' tenuous grasp on baseball strategy is slipping away.  The Mets have no chance of catching the Nats, and their wild card hopes are quickly vanishing.  In short, the season has gone to hell.

Last year's run, despite a devastating World Series loss, was -- in a word -- amazing.  The Mets transformed what looked to be another depressing year of mediocrity into a joyful one filled with magical, unforgettable moments.  They were a fun, exciting team with a great core of young players, a fascinating collection of personalities and star power.

At the time, I wrote about how perhaps it was time to change the Mets narrative:
For Met fans, there is always a lingering sense that disappointment is not far off -- that the Mets' penny-wise owners will not do what it takes to keep the team competitive and that something unexpected but nevertheless devastating will undermine the team's seemingly limitless future.  But, things feel different this time.  The Mets have a deep core of great young talent, savvy veterans, and apparently great chemistry.  They surely need to make a few changes and add some key new pieces this off season, but maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a new era.  Maybe it is time for a new narrative.  Not lovable losers or unlovable losers tempered by the occasional miracle, but a truly solid baseball team that doesn't have to rely on magic to win. 
I guess I was premature.  I didn't take into account Murphy's deal with the devil.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Donald Trump Is An American Monster

He "represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character that almost every country in the world has learned to fear and despise. . . . [He] is also America's answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string warts, on nights when the moon comes too close .... " --  Hunter S. Thompson, The Death of Richard Nixon:  Notes on the Passing of An American Monster

As everyone has heard by now, Donald Trump suggested at a rally today that the "Second Amendment people" were the only ones who could prevent Hillary Clinton, if she were elected, from abolishing the Second Amendment. 

Here's the actual quote:  "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.  [Crowd boos]  By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks.  Though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know."

Was this a call to assassinate Clinton?  Supreme Court justices?  As the understated Nicholas Kristof put it:  "When you have to ask the question about a presidential candidate, that's a problem."

Rebecca Solnit aptly explains:  "Trump is a master of doublespeak, dog whistles, deniable statements, and the rest. He puts things out there that can mean terrible things but that he can wriggle around about. So he both did and did not call for an assassination; he made a statement whose grammatical looseness includes that possibility and allows him deniability." 

Together with his recent efforts to delegitimize a Clinton presidency, encouraging his supporters' calls to "lock her up" and stating "I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, to be honest," Trump is unconscionably setting the stage for undermining democratic rule and encouraging a violent response to a Clinton electoral victory. 

So, has Trump finally gone too far?   Has he finally provided cover for those craven Republican leaders who continue to support, if not endorse, him to belatedly rid themselves of his taint?  Has he finally gone so far that the media will shed its reflexive "both sides do it" analysis in which Trump's lies, bigotry and batshit craziness is equated with Clinton's fumbling explanation for her use of a private email server?

And speaking of the media, I miss Hunter S. Thompson.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Has Red Donald Finally Gone Too Far For The GOP?

It has become clear that no matter how racist, misogynistic or xenophobic Donald Trump is -- no matter how offensive his statements about Mexicans, Muslims or women are -- the Republican Party establishment will not denounce him and the vast majority of Republicans will continue to support him.  This should not be surprising.  Racism, xenophobia and misogyny, albeit in a more subtle form, have been an essential aspect of the GOP for decades.  It is the special sauce that has kept white working class Americans in the fold ever since the segregationists abandoned the Democratic Party in the wake of LBJ's signing of the Voting Rights Act and Trump forerunner Patrick Buchanan devised Nixon's Southern Strategy a few years later -- a strategy perfected by Reagan (e.g., welfare queens) and advanced by Bush I (e.g., Willie Horton). 

From Birchers to Birthers, Republicans have sought to woo uneducated, socially conservative white men with racist and anti-immigrant appeals.  Throw in attacks on the gays and abortion-seeking women, and you've got the making of a coalition just big enough to make the presidential race competitive, control at least half the Senate and retain a gerrymandered House of Representatives.  Notwithstanding the attempts of the few moderate Republicans still extant to treat Trump as a gross aberration from Republican Party orthodoxy, Trumpism is Republicanism writ large.

But, Trump's Putin fetish and his soft-on-Russia stances are hardly Republican -- they should be an anathema to Republicans who love a good Cold War and hate a good Communist.  Throughout Obama's presidency, Republicans harshly criticized him for having the audacity to negotiate an arms treaty with Putin and for not confronting Russia's aggression more aggressively.

This ever-expanding bill of particulars should be disturbing, indeed disqualifying, for any GOP candidate -- even Donald J. Trump:

1.  Trump has repeatedly praised Putin as a leader, alternatively stating that he knows him, has a relationship with him, and never met him.
2.  Trump has relied on Russian capital to prop up his businesses, the extent of which would likely be revealed by tax returns that Trump refuses to release.
3.  Trump either appears to be unaware of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, given his word salad response on ABC's This Week, or does not oppose it -- with Trump supporters eliminating from the GOP party platform support for providing lethal defensive weapons for Ukraine.
4.  Trump's campaign manager has been a lobbyist for several pro-Putin clients, including a deposed pro-Russian Ukraine president.
5.   Trump appears to have legitimized Russia's seizure of Crimea, contending that the people there actually welcomed it.
6.  Trump has stated that he would not necessarily defend NATO countries if they were attacked by Russia, in direct violation of our heretofore unquestioned security commitments.
7.  After Russia hacked the DNC, Trump invited Russia to intervene in a United States presidential election by "finding" Hillary Clinton's missing emails and disseminating them.

Republicans have little problem with the prospect of an erratic, grossly ill-informed, racist creep, but are they comfortable with an erratic, grossly ill-informed Russian stooge?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Raising Kaine: Clinton Disappoints With VP Pick, But I'm Still With Her

Hillary Clinton could have chosen a chimpanzee to be her running mate and I would still support her.  The stakes in this election are too high.  If nothing else, the last few Days of Dystopia, aka the Republican National Convention, have made it clear that Donald J. Trump is intent on harnessing the darkest and most dangerous instincts of disaffected white Americans whose fervent cries of "build the wall," "lock her up" and "all lives matter" were absolutely chilling.  It isn't hyperbole to say that this is how fascist regimes get their start -- drumming up fear and hatred, claiming to be the one and only person who can make the country safe and strong, and then promising with nothing more than slogans to make it all happen on the first day in power.

Thankfully, because Trump is so remarkably disorganized and erratic -- and women and people of color still have the vote --  the odds still greatly favor Clinton to win the presidency.  But the fact that this might be anywhere near a close vote in November is deeply troubling, indeed, frightening. 

Which brings us back to Clinton.  I don't really need to rehash the reasons why I supported Clinton in the primaries.  (See, e.g., On Loving Bernie But Not Feeling The Bern)  And I don't really need to repeat the familiar litany of reasons why Clinton is not my ideal candidate.   (See, e.g., The Pros and Cons of Voting for Hillary Clinton)  At bottom, I believed -- and continue to believe -- that she was the candidate best positioned to beat the Republicans.  I have come to accept that while she will generally support issues critical to progressives, she also will invariably disappoint.

I just didn't think she would disappoint so soon.  I really hoped that she would not heed the calls from the more moderate/corporatist wing of the Democratic Party to choose a running mate that would make her candidacy more palatable to white blue collar men and the Democratic establishment.  I really hoped that she would shed her more cautious political instincts and understand that the political zeitgeist calls for a less traditional, more progressive choice.  I really hoped that her response to Trump's pick of a right-wing religious zealot would be to go in the other direction rather than trying to fill the vacuum in the center. 

Choosing a candidate to her left -- particularly Elizabeth Warren -- would have sent a strong signal that Clinton, having dispatched with Bernie Sanders, was not going to hew to the center.  It would have shown that she was willing to tap into the passion and energy that drove the Sanders campaign and that is, frankly, lacking among Clinton supporters.  Warren, as a running mate, would be better than anyone in the country at shaming the Republicans for their coziness with Wall Street, attacks on reproductive rights, disdain for consumers, and intransigence on the Supreme Court -- as well as exposing the idiocy, the hypocrisy and the danger of Donald J. Trump. 

But, alas, this was not to be.  Clinton has chosen Tim fucking Kaine.  Kaine is a Senator and former Governor from Virginia, an important battleground state to be sure.  He is the son of a welder with Midwest roots that give him an appealing blue collar aura.  He speaks Spanish.  But he has strong ties to Wall Street and favors greater deregulation of banks.  He is an advocate of free trade deals and supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Warren, Sanders and purportedly Clinton oppose.  And he is "personally" anti-choice. He is a white man.  He is not a progressive.  He is not an electrifying speaker.  He is a conventional pick in what is not a conventional election cycle.

I'm disappointed. Very disappointed. Extremely disappointed.  Progressives should be very, very disappointed.  Dammit!  Fuck!  ...

OK?  OK.

Now, let's get back out there and support the ticket.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Business As Usual While Police Kill Black Men

"I think he's just black in the wrong place."  -- Valerie Castile
"The ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement is about acknowledging the brutal, painful injustices our Black sisters and brothers have endured and are continuing to endure. When we talk about #BlackLivesMatter, some people hear that we don't think "all" lives matter. Supporting #BlackLivesMatter, especially in the face of these killings by police officers, doesn't mean that no one else matters. It means that we white people haven't done justice by our brethren of color, and it's time that we step up to the plate. All of us. Together." -- Jim Hightower
Republicans on Capitol Hill, determined to validate their conspiracy theories, are grilling the FBI Director over his recommendation to not indict Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal email server while Secretary of State. Democrats defend the Director. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is decompensating from criticism over his posting of an anti-Semitic image obtained from a white supremacist site and his praise of Saddam Hussein, becoming even more incoherent than usual.  Fox News is reeling from a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by one of its female stars.

In short, another typical day in America.

Meanwhile, Philando Castile, a black man, was fatally shot by the police in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota after being stopped for having a broken tail light.  This comes only one day after Baton Rouge, Louisiana police shot and killed another black man, Alton Sterling.

In short, another typical day in America.

123 black men have been killed by U.S. law enforcement THIS YEAR.

But as my friend Reggie Shuford (Executive Director of the Pennsylvania ACLU) notes, there continues to be a palpable disconnect between Black America and the rest of us:
Yesterday, I felt like I existed in a parallel universe, where Black America was collectively grieving and expressing outrage at yet another killing of a Black man, while just about everyone else (with a few notable exceptions) was going about business as usual. This business as usual - the killing of Black folk and the lack of awareness and engagement by others - has got to stop. I need EVERYONE of goodwill to join the fight to preserve Black lives. Everyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

More Than A "PR Problem" -- How The Mets Can Ethically Bring Jose Reyes Back Into The Fold

In 2006, the Mets were one pitch away -- albeit, a nasty, possibly unhittable Adam Wainwright curveball (that Carlos Beltran watched for strike three with the bases loaded, but I digress) -- from making the World Series.  That team was led by two of the game's brightest young stars:  David Wright and Jose Reyes.  And although the next two promising years resulted in epic, brutal, end-of-the-season collapses, Wright and Reyes (with the exception of Reyes' slumping September in 2007) lived up to the hype with explosive campaigns and were poised to be the two pillars of an exciting new era of winning Mets baseball. 

Well, that is not exactly what happened.  The Mets would not have another winning season until last year when Reyes was long gone and Wright was mostly hurt. 

David Wright did have a couple more stellar years, but starting in 2009, when he suffered a concussion from a Matt Cain beanball, he has endured a never-ending series of injuries that has plagued his career. This culminated in a diagnosis of spinal stenosis last year and a season-ending neck injury this year. 

Meanwhile, Jose Reyes remained, for a time, one of the most exciting players in baseball.  He played with passion, joy and fire that not only made him a delight to watch and root for, but he often carried a team that otherwise lacked those qualities.  However, after the 2011 season (in which he led  the National League in batting), only 28 years old and seemingly approaching the peak of his career, Reyes (unlike Wright) was not signed by the Mets to a long-term contract but was allowed to pursue free agency.  He signed a massive deal with the Miami Marlins but was traded to Toronto after one year, where the artificial turf wreaked havoc on his legs.  In 2015, Reyes was traded again, this time to Colorado, where he played poorly.

His skills seemingly diminished, the now 33-year old shortstop has been put on waivers by the Rockies, and if not claimed in 48 hours, Reyes will become a free agent.  From a purely baseball perspective, Reyes would be a bargain for any team that wants to give him a try.  His new team would only have to play a pro-rated league minimum while the Rockies remain on the hook for the $39 million left on his contract.

Some have clamored for the Mets to bring Reyes back into the fold, perhaps to make the loss of David Wright, the other half of the erstwhile dynamic duo, less acute  And given how little the team would have to pay for his services, it might be worth the risk.  The Mets could certainly use his undeniably electric energy to shake up what feels like a team that needs some shaking up.  Even at this advanced stage of his career, Reyes has more speed than just about anyone currently in the Mets dugout.  If he still has a bit of pop in his bat, he could be a worthy contributor to what has become a fairly anemic lineup.  In the field, he could play not just shortstop, where Asdrubal Cabrera is doing just fine, but could possibly play David Wright's old position -- third base -- or he could play second and the Mets could move Neil Walker to third.  Or he could play the role of a utility man, coming off the bench to pinch hit, pinch run, and play any of the infield positions when needed.

But -- ah, there's always a but -- last year on Halloween, Jose Reyes was charged in a domestic violence incident after a particularly frightening assault on his wife:
According to the report, Reyes grabbed his wife by the throat after an argument in their hotel room and then shoved her into the sliding balcony door in their room. He was arrested for abuse of a family or household member. His wife was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for injuries to her thigh, neck and wrist.
Charges were dropped after Reyes' wife declined to cooperate with prosecutors. But Reyes was suspended by Major League Baseball, pursuant to its domestic violence policy, for 51 games, essentially, the first two months of this season.  In addition to his loss of playing time and salary while suspended, Reyes made a public apology.  He also has apparently participated in some kind of a counseling/therapy program and contributed $100,000 to a charitable organization on preventing domestic abuse and treating domestic abuse survivors. 

It has been suggested that signing Reyes would merely be a "PR" problem given the domestic violence incident.  But this is about much more than PR.  Instead of talking about Reyes' batting and fielding statistics we should be talking about the following statistics from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
On average, 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 10 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story—nearly 2 million women are raped in a year and over 7 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year.
When Major League Baseball adopted a domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy last year, it finally accepted responsibility for addressing such significant societal problems.  As MLBPA executive director Tony Clark stated: "Players are husbands, fathers, sons and boyfriends. And as such want to set an example that makes clear that there is no place for domestic abuse in our society. We are hopeful that this new comprehensive, collectively-bargained policy will deter future violence, promote victim safety, and serve as a step toward a better understanding of the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse."

Particularly if they sign Jose Reyes, the Mets organization would have a civic obligation and moral duty to show their fans that they take domestic violence deadly seriously.  They could do this by making sure that Reyes continues in a therapeutic/counseling program for domestic violence abusers.  They should require him to make public service announcements and appearances about domestic violence that could have a far-reaching impact on the community.  The team should also devote significant resources to fostering awareness about violence against women and contribute to anti-domestic violence organizations. 

A reunion with a formerly beloved star who appears to be on the decline could be a great story of redemption if Reyes has some game left and helps the Mets win but, more importantly, if he and the Mets show a demonstrated commitment to taking meaningful action to combat violence against women.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Four Words For Why Clinton Must Defeat Trump: The Fucking Supreme Court

"SCOTUS too important to lose for generations."  -- a tweet from Republican National Chairman and obvious anagram Reince Priebus
It is pretty simple.  Do you want the Supreme Court to overturn Citizens United or Roe v. Wade?  Do you want the Supreme Court to add progressive-minded justices with a range of experience, ethnicity and gender or do you want vacancies filled by only conservative white males personally vetted by Donald J. Trump?  (If you have any doubt that diversity on the Court is critical, read Justice Sotomayor's extraordinary dissent in Utah v. Strieff, skewering the Court's majority opinion that found an arrest after an unlawful police stop to be valid and the evidence seized to be admissible.)

There has been a conservative majority on the Supreme Court since President Nixon's appointments put an end to the liberal Warren Court.  Since then, the Court has become increasingly more favorable to corporations, law enforcement, landowners and gun owners, and more skeptical of voting rights, civil rights, privacy and reproductive rights, and LGBT rights.  And while there have been some noteworthy Supreme Court victories for liberals over the last few decades, the conservatives have long been in firm control.

But now that Justice Scalia has left the building, we can begin to imagine what the Court would look like if his seat is taken by a liberal-leaning justice.  Suddenly, Justice Kennedy, the conservative Reagan appointee who occasionally votes with the liberal bloc, would no longer be the coveted swing vote.  That role would go to Justice Breyer, a left-of-center Clinton appointee (notwithstanding that Breyer incomprehensibly joined Clarence Thomas' opinion to provide a 5-3 majority in Utah v. Strieff).  And just like that, right wing fevered dreams of overturning Roe v. Wade, eliminating the concept of one person one vote, sabotaging Obamacare, destroying the financial capability of labor unions, and restoring the ban on same sex marriages would be gone.

Even better, progressives could begin to play offense instead of defense for the first time since about 1970 -- taking up cases to expand rights and remedies, rather than fighting the limitations of rights and restrictions on remedies.  This could result in greater access for women seeking abortions, the abolition of capital punishment, more robust interpretation of environmental and financial regulations, and greater ability of employees, consumers and whistleblowers to go after corporate wrongdoing.

And keep in mind that not only is there one current vacancy to fill, but there soon may be more. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Anthony Kennedy is 79 and Stephen Breyer is 77.  And 67-year-old Clarence Thomas is rumored to be mulling retirement so he can spend more time driving around in his RV with his right-wing activist wife.

Sure, I wish Hillary Clinton had not followed Colin Powell's lead and used her private email server as Secretary of State.  I wish she had not given paid speeches to Goldman Sachs.  And I wish she were not married to Bill.  But, say what you will about Bill Clinton's presidency -- and there are a lot of negative things to say --  he did put Justice Ginsburg on the high court.  Justice Breyer too.  There is no reason to think that Hillary Clinton's choices for the Court won't be equally, if not more, progressive.

The bottom line is that presidents come and go, but they can have an outsized impact on the Supreme Court -- an impact, as Reince Priebus notes, that can last for generations.  Republicans get this.  It is why they have used unprecedented obstruction to prevent President Obama from filling the current vacancy.  And it is why many Republicans will end up supporting their Party's nominee despite how repulsive they may find him.  This is a reality that Democrats, Independents, Sanders supporters and anti-Clinton progressives must come to terms with -- it is a reality that trumps everything. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Passion For Justice

Quin Denvir, a long-time criminal defense attorney -- with significant stints as the State Public Defender and the Federal Defender for the Eastern District of California -- embodied the zealous advocate, representing countless criminal defendants with fierce determination and more than occasional brilliance.  He and I were co-counsel for Tom Thompson, who was executed on July 14, 1998 -- a case that was fraught with legal errors, arbitrary rulings and mind-blowing unfairness with serious questions of Tom's guilt remaining unresolved.  (I've written extensively about the case, including here: The Arbitrary Execution of Tom Thompson

Quin died last week at the age of 76.  At his funeral yesterday, I heard for the first time that when the State of California was busy killing Tom, Quin was at the St. James Catholic Church in Davis, having asked the pastor to open the doors for him, weeping.  I found this story about this remarkably accomplished, greatly esteemed man with a deep faith in humanity and an intense passion for social justice confronting such stark inhumanity and injustice so deeply moving.  It is an image of my friend and colleague that I will not soon forget.

A couple of months before his death, Quin wrote a letter to Governor Jerry Brown (who had appointed Quin to be the State Public Defender during Brown's first term) urging him to commute the death sentences of the men and women on California's death row.  He pointed out that he had represented several death row inmates" and "lost one, Tom Thompson, [who] was very likely innocent of capital murder." Quin wrote that “the state should not make the moral choice to kill women and men because they themselves have killed.” He also pointed out that "the criminal justice system is an imperfect one, administered by men and women with their human frailties and susceptibility to public pressure and political tides. We accept those imperfections when life is not at stake, but we should not when there is the great risk that the death sentence will be imposed, as it has been in the past, in an arbitrary, discriminatory or unreliable manner." 

In his letter to the Governor, Quin appealed to Brown's Catholic faith: “Now, in Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy, I would like to see California stop its, as  [former Supreme Court] Justice Blackmun put it, tinkering with the machinery of death." He closed by saying,“I hope and pray that you will see this as the right thing, something that you can and should do."  Governor Brown never responded.

Reportedly, having been rebuffed by Brown, Quin next wrote to Pope Francis.  He never heard back from the Pope either.  But perhaps now Quin can go over the Pope's head and appeal to an even higher power.  If he can, I know he certainly will.  RIP.

Friday, June 10, 2016

When Was The Last Time A Popular Incumbent Actively Supported His Successor?

President Obama endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday, proclaiming: "I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.”  And he promised to take an active role in seeking her election: “I’m with her, I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there to campaign for Hillary.”

With his approval ratings high and going higher, Obama's participation in unifying and energizing the Democratic base for Clinton could be pivotal.  As Heather Digby Parton points out, Obama is a key member of a deep bench of influential and politically talented Democratic surrogates that includes Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and (eventually) Bernie Sanders who will enthusiastically hit the trail for Clinton.

Obama's role is unique in modern presidential politics.  Indeed, there hasn't been a sitting president who was not otherwise diminished by scandal or dementia or both who actively campaigned for his successor since ....

It wasn't Bush II, whose universally-acknowledged ineptness kept him out of McCain's Straight Talk Express. 
It wasn't Clinton I, whose popularity was high but whose scandalous behavior had Gore running scared.
It wasn't Reagan, whose popularity was also high, but whose effectiveness was diminished by his waning cognitive skills and the Iran-Contra scandal.
It wasn't LBJ, whose popularity was so low that he decided not to seek a second full term for himself.
It wasn't Eisenhower, who when asked to list one of Nixon's policy ideas he had adopted, responded, "If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don't remember."
It wasn't Truman, who was very unpopular at the end of his second term and only became a folk hero years later.

The answer is:  Calvin Coolidge, who decided not to seek a third term and supported his commerce secretary, Herbert Hoover to succeed him.  Although even Cal did not do so enthusiastically, saying of Hoover, "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad."

It is, thus, virtually unprecedented for a presidential candidate to have the active support of a popular U.S. president, not to mention being married to another still-popular former U.S. president.  As for Trump, perhaps he can call upon the world leaders who have already endorsed him -- Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  I like our team better.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Abandoning The Dog Whistle: Awkward Times For Republican Bigots

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Ni***r, ni***r, ni***r." By 1968, you can't say "ni***r" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Ni***r, ni***r."  -- Lee Atwater, 1981
Ronald Reagan, the ultimate master of dog whistle politics, launched his first presidential campaign in 1980 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place notorious for the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers, and gave a speech about states' rights:  "I believe in states' rights.... I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment."  What Reagan was really signaling by talking about states' rights in that particular venue was that he was squarely on the side of White America.  It presaged his relentless hostility to civil rights and voting rights, and his opposition to entitlements for the poor, particularly, African Americans, who he later famously disparaged with another classic dog whistle -- his unsubstantiated story about a "Cadillac-driving welfare queen."

Ever since, Republican politicians have been expert at using coded language to tap into anxiety of white middle and lower class Americans about losing ground culturally and economically to African Americans and immigrants.  Support for states' rights, calls for curbing food stamps, blaming poverty on a "culture problem," referring to illegal aliens, expressing fear of the spread of Shariah law, and framing opposition to LGBT rights as "religious liberty" all get the message across without sounding overtly racist, bigoted, xenophobic or homophobic.  The references to "Barack Hussein Obama" and relentless questions about Obama's birth certificate, of course, tap into the code as well.

But Donald Trump has discarded the dog whistle.  He refers to Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists.  He argues for discriminatory treatment of Muslims.  And, in his latest remarks, Trump asserts that the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud cases, born in Indiana but of Mexican heritage, must be biased against him in light of Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Republicans are shocked, shocked at these latest remarks about the partiality of Mexican-American judges, which have since been expanded to include Muslims and presumably all other groups that Trump has disparaged -- which would be everyone other than white males.  House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed these comments were "out of left field" when they are simply poorly disguised views out of the GOP playbook.  Ryan and others Republicans treat these unabashedly racist statements as mere rhetoric that Trump can -- in the words of Sen. Orrin Hatch -- "tone down a bit," rather than deeply held beliefs of not only Donald J. Trump, himself, but of the entire Republican power structure -- that only white males should be in power and only white male judges can mete out justice.  Indeed, take a look at the list of Trump's tentative list of Supreme Court nominees -- cribbed from a conservative think tank and endorsed by the Republican leadership.  It is, not shockingly, comprised only of white males. 

Of course Republicans are not shocked as much as they are embarrassed and discomfited that their candidate for President has dispensed with the code.  And since he is simply saying what they are thinking, all they can do is try to distance themselves from his tone and isolate his specific remarks as unfortunate gaffes.  Meanwhile, they continue to support him, the justices he would choose (AND NOT CHOOSE) for the high court, and everything else that he stands for.

Monday, June 6, 2016

When Words Fail

"I really think each of us has got to do something about it, him, our collective problem ... I make nasty little street posters, mostly about nasty people. That’s what I can do ... My point: whatever you’re good at, please apply that talent, skill, whatever—even if you think it’s a stretch—to our Drumpf problem. We can do this. We pretty much must. Don’t you think?" -- Robbie Conal
I first encountered Robbie Conal's work when I was living in D.C. in the 1980s, working on Iran-Contra related litigation, and Conal's posters would magically appear throughout the City. 

He had -- and continues to have -- the remarkable ability to capture in a drawing with a few choice words the corruption, dishonesty and hypocrisy of our political, religious and financial leaders.

A few years ago when I changed careers and joined a law firm that represents investors against corporate fraudsters, Robbie sent me, upon request, a signed poster of more recent vintage that I proudly hang in my office:

Well, he's back.

Over the weekend, Robbie and his cohorts plastered L.A. with his latest creation -- a double-sided poster -- proving that a picture, especially one of Robbie's, is worth a thousand words.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Elizabeth Warren For Veep

There are some very good reasons why Elizabeth Warren would not be an ideal choice for Hillary Clinton's running mate.  Democrats would be giving up a key Senate seat at a time when they need to pick up at least four seats to regain a majority. (A Republican Governor would appoint an interim Senator until a special election could be held.)  Warren, especially assuming the Democrats do take back the Senate, would be giving up a position of enormous influence (e.g., chairperson of the Banking Committee) for a more ambiguous role.  She would be ceding her place (along with Bernie Sanders) as the leading progressive voice in Congress and would undoubtedly have to subordinate some of her views to the leader on the ticket.  

But if you put aside those pragmatic -- and very legitimate concerns -- think about how exciting it would be to have Elizabeth Warren as a candidate for national office.  For Democrats and left-leaning Independents, there isn't a more universally admired politician.  There isn't a more forceful voice for the working and middle classes.  There isn't anyone more suited to reach out to the many voters who are chafing against the status quo.  There isn't anyone better at shaming the Republicans for their coziness with Wall Street, attacks on reproductive rights, disdain for consumers, and intransigence on the Supreme Court.  There isn't anyone who is more skilled at exposing the idiocy, the hypocrisy and the danger of Donald J. Trump. 

For those of us who support Clinton but have some concerns that she will start hewing towards the center once she disposes of Bernie Sanders, it would be reassuring to have Warren as her running mate.  For those who have bought the narrative about Clinton's dishonesty and unsuitability for office, Warren's presence on the ticket would soothe the Bern.

(And Warren doesn't have the baggage that would make Sanders such a tricky choice for VP.  The right wing attack machine has yet to 'swift boat' Sanders for, e.g., his honeymoon in the Soviet Union, his conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War, his call for eliminating the CIA, his role as an elector for the Socialist Workers Party at a time when it supported abolishing the military budget and seeking solidarity with revolutionary regimes in Iran and Cuba.)

And think about what it would be like to have two powerful, brilliant, fearless women running against an arrogant, misogynistic man-baby.  Such a combination, unlike any other, would electrify the non-Neanderthal electorate.  It would most likely bolster candidates down the ballot and actually make it easier for Democrats to take back the Senate and make inroads into the House.

And once elected, Warren could craft a role as a Vice President that would give her far-ranging influence on the issues she and we care about most.

Clinton-Warren 2016. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Spaceman For Governor

You're supposed to sit on your ass
And nod at stupid things man, that's hard to do
And if you don't they'll screw you
And if you do, they'll screw you, too
And when I'm standing in the middle
Of the diamond all alone
I always play to win
When it comes to skin and bone
And sometimes I say things
I shouldn't, like
And sometimes I say things
I shouldn't, like . . .

-- "The Ballad of Bill Lee" by Warren Zevon

Bill Lee is running for Governor of Vermont on the Liberty Union ticket (Bernie Sanders was the Liberty Union's candidate for Governor in 1976)   The former lefty pitcher, not surprisingly, has lefty positions, including legalization and taxation of pot in Vermont, single-payer health care, and paid family leave.  In contrast to Donald Trump, Lee wants to abolish the border between Vermont and Quebec to make travel easier.  He has astutely compared penurious Republicans to pterodactyls: “They have little short arms that never get to their front pockets." He has said that “if things don’t go our way, if we get Trump as president, I’m out of here and I’ll take Vermont with us."

Lee pitched for the Boston Red Sox (1969-78) and the Montreal Expos (1979-82).  When with the Red Sox, he often clashed with manager Don Zimmer, who he dubbed the "Designated Gerbil."  He was known less for his pitching than for his eccentricities, counterculture persona and clashes with management in an extremely button-downed profession.  But he was actually a pretty good pitcher, winning 17 games for three years in a row from 1973-75, and making the All Star team in 1973.  Not bad for a lefty pitching at Fenway Park, a notoriously difficult place for lefties to succeed.  (Lee once asked whether they left the Green Monster there during the games.)  He had a couple of good years in Montreal too, before he was released for staging a one-game walkout to protest the release of his friend, second baseman Rodney Scott.

This isn't his first run for office.  In 1988, Lee ran for president on the Rhinoceros Party ticket under the slogan: “No guns. No Butter. They’ll both kill you.”  His unassailable platform included outlawing the designated hitter, AstroTurf, and domed stadiums. He promised to include Lary Bird in his cabinet. 

This time around, his platform also includes some baseball-related issues such as pushing for steroid users to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and moving the Tampa Bay Rays to Montreal, which he argues would spur economic activity by harvesting trees for bats and by Red Sox fans spending money in Vermont on their way to Montreal for games.

The first line in the Zevon tune comes from Lee's quote:  "Baseball's a very simple game. All you have to do is sit on your butt, spit tobacco, and nod at the stupid things your manager says."  And sometimes he said things he shouldn't, but in this crazy political season, a lot of what he says makes perfect sense.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#NeverNader: A Reminder About The Perils Of Purity

It is no coincidence that the most potent insurgencies from the left come to the fore at the end of a Democratic -- not Republican -- Administration.  That is when progressives are (often understandably) angered and disillusioned by the lack of progress (often betrayals) by their own elected leaders while the disastrous policies of the Republican predecessor have receded in memory.

And so, after Bill Clinton's second term, Ralph Nader launched his third-party effort -- a quixotic exercise that had no discernible positive long term impact on the political landscape but did help usher into power one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. 

Undeterred, Ralph Nader continues to be unsafe at any speed.  He is unapologetic, myopic and arrogant as ever.  For him, the system is corrupt, there are no lesser evils, and any compromise that might entail voting for a less-than-pure candidate is nothing short of unconditional surrender to corruption.  For him, there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.  For him, there apparently is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 

Nader rails against Clinton, using the kind of incendiary rhetoric that feeds into the frenzy of Sanders supporters convinced that she is stealing the election:  "She's going to win by dictatorship. Twenty-five percent of superdelegates are cronies, mostly. They weren't elected. They were there in order to stop somebody like Bernie Sanders, who would win by the vote."

And he praises Trump for bringing important issues to light, all but dismissing what could be a real dictatorship and discounting the dangers of electing a reckless, ignorant vulgar talking yam:  "He's questioned the trade agreements. He's done some challenging of Wall Street - I don't know how authentic that is. He said he's against the carried interest racket, for hedge funds. He's funded himself and therefore attacked special interest money, which is very important."

Thanks, Ralph.  You can crawl back under your rock now.

I have no issue with Sanders campaigning until the end of the primaries to amass as many delegates as possible.  And I agree that the more delegates he gets and the more states he wins, the more influence he should have on the party's platform, on changing the rules on how the Party should nominate a presidential candidate in the future and on pursuing progressive policies going forward. 

But the reality is that when the last primary is held next month, Clinton will have amassed the most votes and the most pledged delegates, and she will have won the most primaries (including more states where independents were permitted to vote).  Super delegates generally go to the candidate with the most pledged delegates.  That is Clinton, not Sanders. 

Thankfully, Sanders is no Nader, and he understands what is at stake in this election.  It is hard to imagine that he would willfully undermine a Clinton candidacy.  But what is critical is that he communicate this to his supporters.  He needs to make sure that what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas.

In case you missed it, the Democratic State Convention in Nevada spun out of control when unhinged Sanders supporters harassed and threatened the Party Chair, and then threw actual chairs.  They rushed the stage yelling obscenities and screaming about a conspiracy when, by more objective accounts, they were simply out organized by a Clinton campaign that understood the rules. 

In a formal complaint lodged with the DNC, the Nevada State Democratic Party ("NSDP") expressed the fear that "the tactics and behavior on display here in Nevada are harbingers of things to come as Democrats gather in Philadelphia in July for our National Convention." The NSDP was justifiably alarmed, after "having seen up close the lack of conscience or concern for the ramifications of their actions – indeed, the glee with which they engaged in such destructive behavior," that Sanders activists will engage in "similar tactics at the National Convention in July.”

Bernie Sanders has articulated better than anyone the myriad problems with how we elect our political leaders and hopefully he will remain engaged after the election to help fix it.  But Ralph Nader's recent appearance is a timely reminder of what happens when progressives lose sight of the greatest threats to our democracy.  At present, that would be the election of Donald Trump who among many other things would have the power to nominate the next justice on the Supreme Court (and probably more after that).

Let's hope that Sanders will ensure that his supporters understand what Nader still fails to see.