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. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

American Exceptionalism: Celebrating Our Favorite War Criminal

"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."  -- Satchell Paige
Interesting juxtaposition.  President Obama announces plans to become the first sitting president to visit Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima -- the very spot where an American nuclear bomb exploded, killing more than 100,000 people.  Meanwhile the Department of Defense presents Henry Kissinger the Distinguished Public Service Award. 

Needless to say, the United States has a very complicated relationship to war crimes.  We crow about our values, our freedoms and our exceptionalism, and condemn as unpatriotic and treasonous any American who has the temerity to question the darker aspects of our history.

And we celebrate Henry Kissinger, one of the most villainous U.S. political leaders of the 20th Century. 

Kissinger's role in the Viet Nam War, from undermining the Paris peace talks prior to Nixon's election to directing the massive clandestine bombing campaign in Laos and Cambodia, which indiscriminately killed and displaced millions of civilians, is not in dispute.  That should be enough to remove him from polite society much less make him a sought after foreign policy expert and Hillary Clinton's bff.  But, of course, there is plenty more, including his planning of the overthrow of  Chile's democratically elected president, his support for Indonesia's massacre in East Timor, his  encouragement of right wing military leaders in Argentina's Dirty War, and his role in other so-called proxy wars.  As put by Greg Grandin, the author of Kissinger's Shadow, Kissinger is "responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of millions of people in Southeast Asia, East Timor, Bangladesh, and southern Africa, among other places."

And, as Grandin points out, even Kissinger's arguably admirable role in fostering détente with the Soviet Union and an opening to China was undermined by his own actions:
In one region after another, [he] executed policies that helped doom his own grand strategy, undermining détente and canceling out whatever steadying effect it might have provided the planet. In southern Africa, for instance, Kissinger supported civil wars that would last decades and kill millions. In the Middle East, he pointlessly provoked the Soviet Union and laid the foundation for the jihadists. The militarization of the Gulf, including the brokering of ever larger arms sales to Saudi Arabia in exchange for petrodollars, was a Kissinger initiative.
So why is Henry Fucking Kissinger being honored with the Pentagon’s highest award for private citizens?  And what does it say about a country that cannot confront its worst excesses? 

When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for "all offenses against the United States," he stated that it was out of concern for the "immediate future of this great country." Next came Iran-Contra. While the Republicans stacked the joint legislative committee undertaking the investigation with the conservative wing of their party (e.g., then-Representative Cheney), the Democrats relied mostly on moderates, and thus the committee members were skewed toward those who were disinclined to probe very vigorously.  By rashly granting immunity to key witnesses such as Ollie North, the committee undermined prosecutions by an independent counsel.  The Iran-Contra Affair culminated in the pardon by first President Bush of several participants who had been implicated.

More recently, President Obama refused to seek any investigation of his predecessor's "War on Terror," despite substantial evidence that wiretapping laws were broken and torture was authorized at the highest levels.  Much like President Ford, Obama claimed that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” 

As we look ever forward, never backward, the presumptive nominee for president of one of this country's two major parties unequivocally calls for combatting terrorism with torture and other violations of human rights.  The other considers Kissinger a dear friend and trusted adviser.

What's next?  Given our penchant for whitewashing the past and honoring our war criminals, someone should tell Dick Cheney to get ready for his close-up. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Obama's Mic Drop In Flint

"And this kind of thinking -- this myth that government is always the enemy; that forgets that our government is us -- it’s us; that it’s an extension of us, ourselves -- that attitude is as corrosive to our democracy as the stuff that resulted in lead in your water." -- President Obama
While we anxiously await the decision of Republican leaders (whose anti-government, anti-regulatory, climate change-denying, anti-choice, anti-immigrant ... rhetoric created the primordial soup out of which rose their presumptive presidential nominee) on whether they will endorse or merely support Mr. Trump, President Obama happened to deliver a speech in Flint, Michigan. 

It was a stemwinder that should have gotten a lot more attention.  It destroyed long-cherished Republican talking points about the dangers of government overreach, and gave an unapologetic, irrefutable defense of government's critical role in the welfare of our society.  And it provides an extremely useful template for the presumptive Democratic nominee and other Democrats running for office this fall.
Here are some of the key nuggets:
[I] do think there is a larger issue that we have to acknowledge, because I do think that part of what contributed to this crisis was a broader mindset, a bigger attitude,
And it’s a mindset that believes that less government is the highest good no matter what.  It’s a mindset that says environmental rules designed to keep your water clean or your air clean are optional, or not that important, or unnecessarily burden businesses or taxpayers.  It’s an ideology that undervalues the common good, says we’re all on our own and what’s in it for me, and how do I do well, but I’m not going to invest in what we need as a community.  And, as a consequence, you end up seeing an underinvestment in the things that we all share that make us safe, that make us whole, that give us the ability to pursue our own individual dreams.  So we underinvest in pipes underground.  We underinvest in bridges that we drive on, and the roads that connect us, and the schools that move us forward.
And this is part of the attitude, this is part of the mindset:  We especially underinvest when the communities that are put at risk are poor, or don't have a lot of political clout -- and so are not as often heard in the corridors of power.
And this kind of thinking -- this myth that government is always the enemy; that forgets that our government is us -- it’s us; that it’s an extension of us, ourselves -- that attitude is as corrosive to our democracy as the stuff that resulted in lead in your water.  Because what happens is it leads to systematic neglect.  It leads to carelessness and callousness.  It leads to a lot of hidden disasters that you don't always read about and aren’t as flashy, but that over time diminish the life of a community and make it harder for our young people to succeed....
So it doesn't matter how hard you work, how responsible you are, or how well you raise your kids -- you can't set up a whole water system for a city.  That's not something you do by yourself.  You do it with other people.  You can't hire your own fire department, or your own police force, or your own army.  There are things we have to do together -- basic things that we all benefit from.
And that’s how we invested in a rail system and a highway system.  That's how we invested in public schools.  That's how we invested in science and research.  These how we invested in community colleges and land grant colleges like Michigan State....
So the people in Flint, and across Michigan, and around the country -- individuals and church groups and non-for-profits and community organizations -- you've proven that the American people will step up when required.  And our volunteers, our non-for-profits, they're the lifeblood of our communities. We so appreciate what you do.
But volunteers don’t build county water systems and keep lead from leaching into our drinking glasses.  We can’t rely on faith groups to reinforce bridges and repave runways at the airport.  We can’t ask second-graders, even ones as patriotic as Isiah Britt who raised all that money, to raise enough money to keep our kids healthy.
You hear a lot about government overreach, how Obama -- he’s for big government.  Listen, it’s not government overreach to say that our government is responsible for making sure you can wash your hands in your own sink, or shower in your own home, or cook for your family.  These are the most basic services.  There is no more basic element sustaining human life than water.  It’s not too much to expect for all Americans that their water is going to be safe....
But it’s not enough just to fix the water.  We’ve got to fix the culture of neglect, the mindset I was talking about -- that has degraded too many schools and too many roads and hurt too many futures.  We’ve got to fix the mindset that only leaves people cynical about our government.  Our government is us -- of us, by us, for us -- the people....
So Flint is just a tip of the iceberg in terms of us reinvesting in our communities. We’ve seen bridges fall and levies break.  So we’ve got to break that mindset.  These things aren’t a coincidence.  They’re the same mindset that left Flint’s water unsafe to drink.  And it’s self-destructive when we don’t invest in our communities.  Because a lot of times the people who are against government spending, they’ll say, well, the private sector is the key.  The private sector is the key for our economy.  Free markets and free enterprise are great.  But companies won’t invest in a place where your infrastructure is crumbling and your roads are broke.  You’re not going to start a business or be able to recruit outstanding staff if there’s no safe drinking water in the city.
So my hope is, is that this begins a national conversation about what we need to do to invest in future generations.  And it’s no secret that, on this pipeline of neglect, a lot of times it’s the most poor folks who are left behind.  It’s working people who are left behind.  We see it in communities across the Midwest that haven’t recovered since the plants shut down.  We see it on inner city corners where they might be able to drink the water, but they can’t find a job.  We see it in the rural hills of Appalachia.
We’ve got to break that mindset that says that that neighborhood over there, that’s not my problem; those kids over there, they don’t look like my kids exactly, so I don’t have to worry about them -- out of sight, out of mind.  We’ve got to break that attitude that says somehow there’s an “us” in “them,” and remind ourselves that there’s just one big “we” -- the American family, and everybody has got to look out for each other.   Because the kids here in Flint aren’t “those” kids, they’re “our” kids....
That’s America.  That’s who we are at our best.  We are a nation of individuals, and we should be proud of everything that we can accomplish on our own through hard work, and grit, and looking after our own families, and making sure we’re raising our children right.  But we don’t do these things alone.  Ultimately, our success is dependent on each other.  Our success is dependent on each other.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Convention-al Wisdom: A Progressive Campaign Will Appeal To A Non-Neanderthal Electorate

"There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." -- Jim Hightower
Here we go.  The experts, pundits and insiders are beginning to suggest that Hillary Clinton, having sewn up the nomination by tacking to the left, must now move to the right for the general election.  For example, The New York Times, "cites some Democrats" who are concerned that if Clinton embraces positions pushed by Bernie Sanders, it "could later hurt Mrs. Clinton and other Democratic candidates."  And who are these "some Democrats"?  We don't know because they aren't named.  The only source for this bit of conventional wisdom, comes from the founder of the "Third Way," the fiscally conservative, so-called centrist group that had far too much influence over the first President Clinton.

The mainstream media continues to yearn for a candidate who magically will unite the left and right by appealing to ordinary (white) Americans  -- a candidate who will eschew the polarizing effect of embracing such progressive concerns as climate change, economic inequality, Wall Street corruption, campaign finance, mass incarceration, immigration reform, reproductive rights and LGBT rights.  According to the conventional wisdom, Hillary's failure to hew to the right will not only endanger her candidacy, but it will be the singular cause of a dispirited electorate and increasing rancor and gridlock on Capital Hill.  As the always insufferable David Brooks warned a while back, Clinton's campaign will become destructive and divisive if she "dispens[es] with a broad persuasion campaign" that fails to attract the ever-elusive swing voter.

We will continue to hear more of this fact-free claptrap about the need to resist pressure from the Sanders campaign and move to the center; about how Clinton and her fellow Democrats must seek to attract moderates and independents rather than continue to engage in narrow and potentially divisive pandering to liberals. But this unquestioned conventional wisdom is sorely out of date. 

It ignores that the Republicans have moved so far to the right and are so ideologically extreme that the center is nowhere near where it used to be. 

It ignores that while the Republican Party is moving to the right, the electorate -- increasingly younger and less white -- is moving to the left.  Indeed, the underlying premise that liberal ideas are unpopular and inherently divisive is simply wrong, with recent polls consistently showing that Americans have shifted to more liberal positions on a variety of issues.

It ignores the outsized role that Americans who are angry and frustrated with the status quo will play in this year's election.  It is a fact that independents are no longer -- if they ever were -- the equivalent of middle-of-the-road, moderate voters.  They are, instead, reflective of those energized by the Sanders campaign who decry the corrupting influence of money in politics and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.  Moving to the center is going to alienate, not engage them.

It ignores that Clinton's leftward-leaning campaign has done nothing to undermine her support with the various constituencies of the Democratic Party that she has energized and that what she now needs to do is engage the voters energized by Sanders. 

And it ignores that Clinton actually is pretty liberal.  Sure she had a bad patch of supporting her husband's horribly misguided policies in the 1990s, and there is no excusing her Iraq War vote.  But she does have long history of supporting core progressive positions on reproductive rights, on childhood poverty, on health care, on gun control and a host of other issues.  As pointed out at FiveThirtyEight, she was one of the most liberal members of the Senate when she was there and has a history of espousing liberal views.

So, here's some wisdom for the Convention and beyond that stands at odds with the conventional wisdom:  Clinton must unequivocally embrace a progressive party platform.  She must choose a running mate to her left.  At the Convention, Elizabeth Warren should be the keynote speaker, Bernie Sanders should nominate Clinton, and other progressives must play prime time roles.   

A campaign and candidacy that focuses on progressive themes and chastises Trump, Cruz/Fiorina or whoever runs on the Republican side for not believing in climate change, for seeking to undermine women's reproductive rights, for their hostility to LGBT rights, for inhumane immigration proposals, for insisting that tax cuts for the wealthy are always the cure for what ails the economy, for facile demagoguery in the place of foreign policy ideas, might alienate extremist Republicans.  But such an approach will appeal to the wide swath of non-Neanderthal voters needed to elect the next president. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thanks For Playing, Bernie

I would seem to fit the demographic that has come out full throttle for Bernie Sanders -- I consider myself very progressive in my politics and live in Berkeley, California, very comfortably among my fellow progressives; I am a (relatively) well educated, white, professional; I have been a big fan of Bernie Sanders since he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, when I was in college there.

Yet, as I've written before, I just haven't felt the Bern.  To me, Sanders has been a great protest candidate who has invaluably raised the profile of critical issues about the root problems of our democracy and our economy.  He has no doubt pushed Hillary Clinton to take more progressive positions than she otherwise would have.  He has excited young (white) voters and drawn wildly enthusiastic crowds of progressive-minded people who will hopefully remain engaged in the political process.

But I have never viewed Bernie Sanders as a realistic candidate for President.  If his Congressional career and presidential campaign are any guide, he is far better at oppositional politics and protest than policy.  His proposals -- from single payer health care to free college tuition -- are wonderful, worthy ideas that lack any chance of getting through Congress. His overarching goal to stop money from corrupting the political system is righteous and admirable, but he has yet to realistically explain how he would make this happen. 

And, crucially, while Sanders' national poll numbers remain high, if he were actually seen as a threat to Republicans -- or if he were to actually win the Democratic nomination -- he would be swift boated and red baited faster than you can say "Joseph McCarthy" by an enormously well-financed Republican machine.  Sanders is a socialist Jew whose radical left wing past would provide endless fodder for devastating attacks. He honeymooned in the Soviet Union.  He sought conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War.  He has called for eliminating the CIA.  He served 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. These positions might not matter to progressives -- indeed, they may comprise a badge of honor --  but in a time where Republicans so expertly prey on American fears of terrorist attacks, they would be used to undermine his support among moderates and independents critical to a Democratic victory.  Look what they did to John Kerry, who actually served heroically in Viet Nam.

It surely has been dispiriting and frustrating to his legions of supporters to find that Sanders' candidacy has not been embraced by the wider Democratic Party and appears to have been undermined by the Party's Establishment.  But it is important to remember that Sanders is not really a Democrat.  He has long been an Independent who as a member of Congress chose to caucus with Democrats, and has joined the Party solely for his presidential run. 

Moreover, unlike Clinton, Sanders has not raised funds to support Democrats down the ballot -- a critical step for any candidate who hopes to lead his or her Party.  And, that's a fundamental problem for Sanders when it comes to winning the Democratic Party's nomination -- he doesn't want to lead the Democratic Party.  He wants to lead a left-leaning political revolution (not that there is anything wrong with that).  But the Democratic Party for better or worse (and often, for worse) put rules in place to limit the ability of insurgent candidates to win the nomination.  If Sanders wants to revolutionize the political system, perhaps he will be able to change these rules for the next insurgent.  In any event, while the Sanders campaign complains about the unfairness of Super Delegates, the bottom line is that Clinton is beating him handily when it comes to pledged delegates and the popular vote. 

And now that Clinton has won the New York primary so decisively, Sanders' very difficult path to the nomination has become nearly impossible.  Nate Silver puts Clinton's chances to win somewhere between 95 and 99.5%. 

So what's next for Sanders? 

He doesn't need to drop out of the race.  He should keep campaigning on his signature issues.   He should go to the Convention and push for changing the rules to make it less arduous for a grassroots candidate to win the nomination.  He should begin campaigning for Senate and House candidates in key races and urge his supporters to participate in local races where they could make an enormous difference.  Most of all he should stop attacking Hillary Clinton's judgment and character.  He needs to make absolutely clear to Hillary-haters, Ralph Nader dead-enders and Independents that Clinton is not the scurrilous enemy caricatured by the right -- that it is the Republican candidates who pose a real and present danger to our society and must be defeated. 

You say you want a revolution?  Let's elect a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate (think Elizabeth Warren as chair of the Banking Committee, the return of Russ Feingold, and other progressives in key leadership positions), more Democratic representation in the House, and more Democrats in state houses.  A Democratic President and Senate will lead to the confirmation of nominees to the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts) that will tip the balance to the left for the first time in decades, and transform the Court from the most corporate-friendly one since the 1930s to one that is far less deferential to polluters and Wall Street fraudsters, and far more protective of women's health and reproductive rights, LGBT rights, criminal justice, consumer rights, voting rights and civil rights.  Citizens United and other unprincipled decisions of recent terms can be overturned.

That might not be considered revolutionary, but I'll take it.