Sunday, June 30, 2019

Race, And South Carolina

It's on to South Carolina.

People are still buzzing about what Natasha Korecki of Politico described as "Kamala Harris’ takedown of Joe Biden." John Blake of CNN "watched Sen. Kamala Harris' exquisite takedown of Joe Biden." Greg Sargent asserted "Harris grabbed control of the debate with a simple phrase: “I would like to speak on the issue of race.”

This "takedown" was not extemporaneous, and likely not a result of suppressed memories from Kamala Harris' experience as a school-age child in Berkeley, California. Instead

Her campaign had spent months fixated on Biden, whose support from black voters has kept him atop all of the early polls. They gamed out several scenarios in which she could use her personal story as a point of contrast with his decades-long record, including over his opposition to busing.

In the debate, Harris willed her way into the conversation about race and policing, calmly noting that as the only black person on the stage, she’d like to be heard....

While walking through her planned exchange with Biden over busing, Harris’ campaign planned for a variety of answers from him, from contrition to a more measured approach to the more forceful denial of the position that he ended up giving — a stance that was called out by fact-checkers as untrue given his past quotes rejecting the wisdom of busing.

Harris herself ended up settling on a line that within minutes would appear in social media memes and just a few hours later would be screen printed on t-shirts selling for $29 on her website: “That little girl was me,” she said, of her desegregated class.

Harris knows well an unstated- but well understood- maxim of politics:no one ever lost a vote invoking "the children."  Her narrative would not have been as powerful to the coastal elites who dominate the commentariat had the Senator not invoked "that little girl," dramatically intoning "that little girl was me."

As luck would have it- and unlike Harris' strong and clear implication- placing her in a majority- white school may not have been the primary factor driving an extremely successful career governmental career. We learn

In the mid-1990s, Harris had dated (Willie) Brown, who was investigated by the FBI when he was speaker of the California Assembly and as mayor was dogged by conflict of interest, and she had benefited from his political patronage. As the speaker of the state Assembly, Brown had named Harris to well-paid posts on the California Medical Assistance Commission and Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. As mayor of San Francisco in 2003, Brown was supportive of her district attorney campaign although they were no longer dating.

Taking advantage of personal connections is just common sense, as is exploiting in a Democratic debate one's minority status. Three days after Senator Harris had skillfully done the latter, fellow candidate Cory Booker was questioned on Meet the Press about Harris' famous confrontation of Biden. The New Jersey senator maintained that the former vice-president may not be "up to that task" of being able to "talk openly and honestly about race with vulnerability."

Harris' racially-driven performance can be viewed in the spirit of Booker's call for honest dialogue.Ten months ago, seemingly before hardly anyone had realized it, David Siders wrote in Politico

In the wake of South Carolina’s pivotal role in the past two competitive Democratic presidential contests, top Democrats are beginning to rethink their traditional approach to primary season, and to focus their energy on the first Southern state to vote.

It’s a tacit acknowledgment of the essential role African-American voters play within the Democratic Party as much as it is a nod to recent primary election results. With the racially diverse Obama coalition increasingly viewed as the key to the party’s future, the two early states that have historically overshadowed South Carolina — Iowa and New Hampshire — are suddenly looking outmoded to many Democrats.

Joe Biden had held a substantial lead in South Carolina, a state in which African-Americans are expected to constitute roughly half of the Democratic primary electorate. However, perceived as black by virtue of having a Jamaican-born father, the California senator has a serious shot at winning the vote there- and a much greater chance than she had before Thursday.

Kamala Harris' statement on Thursday was not about Herman Talmadge, education, or little children. It clearly was about race, and almost as clearly about South Carolina.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

An Opportunity Seized. An Opportunity Lost.

Politico reports

The mood in the spin room — among other campaigns, Democratic National Committee consultants, reporters and pundits— was that Harris dominated and tapped into Biden’s weaknesses.

“She exposes the cracks in Biden,” said one DNC consultant. “She brought it. Hard.”

Harris at Thursday night's debate contended

So, on the issue of race, I couldn’t agree more that this is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully and honestly. I–there is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a coworker who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination. Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because she–because we were black. And I will say also that–that in this campaign, we’ve also heard–and I’m going to now direct this to Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.

Imagine you're a 30-year-old man who drinks more than most, holds down a full-time job, is in good health and a stable marriage, and on whom alcohol has negligible effect. An acquaintance and rival of yours asserts "I do not believe you are an alcoholic."

Your first- and accurate- thought is "he's accusing me of being an alcoholic."

Having planned this attack for months, the California senator continued "But, I also believe–and it’s personal."

(Well, isn't it always these days?)  And then

And I–I was actually very–it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.

And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.....

She does not believe Biden is a "racist," she told him, after which she implied that his opposition to busing to achieve racial integration (a policy at the time very unpopular with whites and not particularly popular among blacks) had oppressed that "little girl in California" and others. But not a racist.

In what should have called into mind a political party (and its leader) for whom facts are a nuisance, Harris added "So, I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."

"It cannot be an intellectual debate," pleaded the lawyer and former prosecutor, who prefers that it be an emotional one. Facts cannot come into play.

It worked, as the anonymous DNC consultant understood. It worked because Harris knew that none of the debaters, nor host, would call her out for suggesting (in other words) that the former Vice President is a racist nor that the interests of one little girl should drive public policy. ("You're not attacking me; you're attacking that little girl.")

Biden then played defense- defending what he maintains is a lifelong commitment to civil rights- rather than responding in what would have been a more appropriate and probably effective, albeit extremely risky, manner.

Never a hungry fighter, and perhaps still deluded into believing this is his race to lose, Biden failed to do what he should have done.  He should have turned the attack back on Harris.

Self-righteously (generally an effective posture, as Harris demonstrated), the former Vice President should have pointed out that at a time when the President they all want to unseat is an unmitigated bigot, Senator Harris is invoking the race card.  We've had too much of that the past few years, he might have noted, and this subject is too important to be trivialized by an unsubstantiated accusation. (It also was a pious accusation but that shot would have multiplied the risk to him.)

Of course, Biden didn't do that because it was a gamble and he would have broken a couple of rules of Democratic politics. He concluded the exchange by stating "My time is up. I'm sorry."

It was fitting, not only because he is probably finally beginning to realize that his time is indeed up. Harris could have pointed out that her opponent had played second fiddle to the man who had played second fiddle to Mitch McConnell.  In his story about two long-deceased segregationists, Biden pined for the days when there was "some civility" before politicians believed "you're the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy." And he believes, quite remarkably and dangerously, that this all started with Donald Trump.

Harris remarked "I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," which suggests that she either agrees with Biden's approach to governing the nation (unlikely) or was lying (likely). So instead, she went for the cheap shot, knowing she would, in today's politics, be immune from attack during the debate and then  lionized afterward.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

The "We Love Our Children Less Than We Love Illegal Immigrants" Caucus

In his defense, it's difficult keeping track of things when you're on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees of the House of Representatives in an age in which the President is trampling on the law, the constitution, and the country. If you're also running for President, it's even easier to forget and it gives you an incentive not to remember. Moreover, his priorities may be all to prevalent among other Democrats

In Thursday night's debate in Miami, Representative Eric Swalwell maintained that he is running for President because he is part of the younger generation, the one which will "end climate chaos," "solve the student loan debt" (sic), and "end gun violence.

Earlier, he had stated that if there would be only one thing he'd get passed early in his presidency, it would be "ending gun violence." When the issue of gun safety was raised, Swallwell was asked how his plan for a national, mandatory firearm buyback would work in pro-gun  states and he responded

Keep your pistols, keep your rifles, keep your shotguns but we can take the most dangerous weapons from the most dangerous people. We have the NRA on the ropes because of the Moms because the Brady Group, because of Giffords, because of March for Our Lives. But I’m the only candidate on this stage calling for a ban and buyback of every single assault weapon in America. I’ve seen the plans of the other candidates here. They would all leave 15 million assault in our communities. They wouldn’t do a single thing to save a single life in Parkland. I will approach this issue as a prosecutor. I will approach it as the only person on this stage who has voted and passed background checks–but also as a parent of a generation who sends our children to school where we look at what they’re wearing so we can remember it in case we have to identify them later. A generation who has seen thousands of black children killed in our streets and a generation who goes to the theater and we actually where the fire exits are. We don’t have to live this way. We must be a country who loves our children more than we love our guns.

If Swalwell's plan is more than talk, it would require less-than-friendly, and probably violent, visits to many homes by law enforcement personnel. However, the congressman's apparent emphasis on gun safety legislation is admirable.

Apparent- but not real.  In February the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would have would have "required background checks in private sales, including gun shows and online transactions. by a vote of 220 to 209.The bill would ensure that all sales (with a few exceptions) are run through the national criminal background check system. Having passed the House with 232 votes from Democrats but only 8 from Republicans, it was dead on arrival in the Senate.

The bill included an amendment (since reintroduced in the House by a Virginia Republican but stalled in committee) to require that law enforcement be notified "when an individual attempting to purchase a firearm fails a federal background check," which notably would have included illegal immigrants. After first being rejected, the amendment passed the House with 194 Republican votes (one against) but with only 26 Democratic Representatives in favor and 208 opposed. 

On Wednesday night, the only other US Representative queried on gun safety was Ohio's Tim Ryan, who contended "I support all the gun reforms here."

Swalwell spoke passionately about the need to end gun violence. If, however, he had been as passionate in February, he would have voted in favor of the amendment which would have helped block individuals in the country illegally from getting a gun or a rifle. He was, however, among the 208 who voted against it (along with Ryan, Gabbard, and Castro; Delaney not voting).

It seems fairly simple. Some people have no right to a firearm, and that includes people who have violated the nation's immigration laws.

Yet, some Democrats don't agree. Swalwell is probably not alone, though we can only speculate how United States senators would have voted had the bill been acted on in that chamber. Nor do we know how committed Swalwell, Ryan, or any of the other 23 Democrats would be committed to gun safety legislation if elected President.  However, if I were offered a bet by someone who believed that the next Democratic president would support gun legislation which might inconvenience an illegal immigrant, I'd jump on it.

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Thursday, June 27, 2019


The Democratic Party is in danger of dividing (or further dividing) men and women. The threat comes, ironically but not surprisingly, from the center. Politico comments

.... it was her spontaneous retort at Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that made the biggest mark, after Inslee touted his record on abortion rights as stronger than his fellow candidates.

“I just want to say there’s three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” said Klobuchar, prompting a roar of applause.

It certainly did, and if  the players on Twitter- as is often charged- are out of touch with the rank-and-file voter, the perspective of debate spectators is even more narrowly focused.  Not everyone cheered the Minnesota Senator, who was responding to Washington governor Jay Inslee's remark (at :20 of the video below)

And I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman's right of reproductive health in health insurance, and I'm the only candidate who has passed a public option. And I respect everybody's goals and plans here, but we do have one candidate that's actually advanced the ball. And we've got to have access for everyone. I've done it as a public option.

If Klobuchar has a problem with Inslee or his actions as governor, she could have noted it. If there were Democrats on the dais who insufficiently support reproductive choice, she should have mentioned it. Instead, she played the gender card, unconcerned about the lesson Democrats should have learned in 2016. 

Men vote. They vote in slightly lesser numbers than women, but they do vote. Had the votes only of women been counted in November of 2016, Hillary Clinton would have been elected President

So men vote, and their votes are counted.  Yet, there are "three women up here that have fought pretty hard for a woman's right to choose," Klobuchar smugly asserted. The implication that only women support abortion rights, or that only women can deliver victories for reproductive freedom, is not only inaccurate. It is divisive- and potentially lethal in a nationwide, general election.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Encouraging No-Beef Debates

You probably remember the greatest hits of Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6). In a debate during the primary contest of 1980, he declared "I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green." There were "there you go again" and "are you better off than you were four years ago" directed against President Jimmy Carter. Four years later, President Reagan quipped of Walter Mondale "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."

Mondale himself benefited from a one-liner when he asked primary opponent Gary Hart "where's the beef?"

In 1988, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen turned toward GOP vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle and charged "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." 

These remarks had two things in common: they occurred during a debate between presidential or vice-presidential contenders, and they contributed nothing toward understanding issues or what the individuals would do once in office. And if not for these great one-liners, it's not certain that we would have hurtled down the road to the hatred of government and vast economic inequality President Reagan promoted.

Thankfully, these zingers have become less common the past quarter-century. However, that somewhat ancient history may rear its ugly head again. 

Earlier this month, Joe Biden commented "It's a little bit of exaggeration calling it a debate. It's like a lightning round." and for once he won't have to retract a statement.

When in Miami Wednesday and Thursday evenings the Democratic presidential candidates "debate" each other, they

will have 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups. And there will be no opening statements, though candidates will have a chance to deliver closing remarks.

The two-hour debates will zip by quickly, with five segments each night separated by four commercial breaks.

Ten candidates will face off each night on NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo after a total of 20 candidates met the Democratic National Committee's threshold for participation.

With so many candidates, there's only so much time to go around.

Yes, superficiality will rule the day (night).  If- as will prevail-  there is insufficient time for any particular candidate to explain a policy, there will be plenty of opportunity to stage a quick strike with a prepared one-liner that will leave pundits breathless with excitement.

Worse, the isolated, out-of-context remark will hit social media with a bang and be replayed continually by cable news and broadcast networks. And it will tell us nothing.

It didn't have to be this way. There could have been five nights with four hours of debate each night, one hour with each of two candidates squaring off. That would have been eight candidates per night and 40 for the week.

With 20 candidates making the cut, each individual would have appeared twice, facing a different opponent on the two occasions. Amy Klobuchar, for instance, might have debated Joe Biden one night, Andrew Yang the other.  Biden in turn would have (obviously) debated Klobuchar and, perhaps, Julian Castro- or Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, or Kamala Harris.

Almost no one would have watched all twenty hours. However, everyone could pick and choose which hours she or he wished. And who could pass up the chance to hang on every word from John Delaney?

Perhaps it would have been too much to expect that a news network would have sacrificed ratings for the opportunity for viewers, who will be voters, to be informed.  The DNC also may have balked.  But it would have given the candidates more time to explain their positions and would have spared us prime-time meaningless speculation from MSNBC employees, contributors and guests about what to expect in the debates upcoming that evening.

Admittedly, there would have been a downside. Whomever emerges as the eventual nominee would not have had the experience, so needed in a general election campaign, of debating nine other candidates simultaneously.

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Interrogate The Suspect

It's called a "follow-up question." Asking it is a valuable tactic, particularly when the subject is the President of the United States of America.

Lee Moran of Huffington Post writes

Late night television hosts this week took President Donald Trump to task for the way in which he denied the rape allegation that advice columnist E. Jean Carroll made against him last week.

Trump on Monday brushed aside Carroll’s accusation that he attacked her in a dressing room of New York department store Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s. “I’ll say it with great respect: No. 1, she’s not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, OK?” Trump told The Hill.

“Really? First of all, that’s not ‘great respect,’” responded Trevor Noah on Tuesday’s broadcast of “The Daily Show.”

It certainly is lack of respect, even gross contempt. However

“If your denial leaves people thinking there is a type of woman you would rape, that’s not a good denial,” he noted. “And I don’t understand how we’re still struggling with this in society. A woman’s attractiveness has nothing to do with whether or not they were raped. Nothing at all.”

It's hard to believe that a woman's attractiveness never has anything at all with being raped. However, not being a social psychologist, nor ever having committed rape or been a victim, I'm willing to be corrected.

Nonetheless, contrary to Noah's assertion, it is a very good denial. It's a very good denial because it's in character, and the President wants (and needs, to avoid prosecution) to be re-elected.  Additionally, "she's not my type" probably is credible with most people, who picture Carroll as she appears now rather that some 25 years ago. Moreover, it's a good denial because as Trump is aware, reporters will be afraid to probe the incident.

Trump was intentionally vague when claiming "it" never happened. He wants to avoid specific questions and fears being pinned down. So throw political correctness, good old fashioned prudishness, or excessive deference to a President to the wind and and ask him "if she wasn't your type, why did you follow her into the dressing room?"

The President has claimed that he never knew Ms. Carroll, but that's demonstrably inaccurate. He should be asked because he was savvy enough strategically to claim "she's not my type" and to be confident no one would ask him a mutually uncomfortable follow-up question.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Profits Over Children"

A long, long time ago- May of 2018, actually- Reverend William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign criticized the detention of children by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (an arm of HHS). He maintained "to target children this way is racism. What we're seeing now, we saw in the days of slavery, where children were separated and lost from their families."

The situation is now even more dire and Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics in the second Obama Administration:
Perception of the policy as both racist and cruel reached its zenith last week when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the detention facilities as "concentration camps."

The indifference cited by Shaub probably would be actual support if the victims were not children, unaccountable for their actions whether their parents were sensible or foolish,  responsible or irresponsible.

(Pelosi on a controversial border funding bill: “It’s for the children, the children, the children. This is a very strong first step for us, for the children. It’s very exciting.”)

But maybe the limited response, the seeming acceptance of these conditions, has been in part prompted by the sense that the Trump Administration's policy is racist and cruel. The election of Donald Trump itself, buttressed by continuing support of over 40% of voters, suggests that tolerance for cruelty and bigotry is not insubstantial.

Blinded by the apparent barbarity- or at least callousness- of the conditions in the camps, the media and Democrats (the latter, depressingly) have largely missed another aspect of the policy, one which may even go to its motive.

In March, Bernie Sanders tweeted "no more private prisons and detention centers."  On June 21, Elizabeth Warren's campaign issued a press release/statement/paper which pledged that the presidential candidate would "ban private prisons and detention facilities; stop contractors from charging service fees for essential services; hold contractors accountable by expanding oversight, transparency and enforcement."

In the time it has taken me to write this post, other Democrats- cognizant that ending private detention centers would throw a monkey wrench into the Administration's immigration scheme- may have come out for ending this practice.

That would be a good start. But there is no (and then, limited) chance of being implemented until and unless there is a Democratic president. And the chance of that occurring is lessened if Democrats do not understand and convey to the American people that the Trump policy is less cruel and racist than it is an appalling example of crony capitalism. It's conceivable that Warren understands, arguing

While contractors getting paid taxpayer dollars cut corners to maximize margins, the government has turned a blind eye. Food companies make millions but serve bug-infested food to save cash. An investigation into a prison transport company that allowed at least five deaths and a sexual assault to occur under their watch has gone nowhere.

Someone, some people, or some agencies are making big profits off the suffering of children. The cost of maintaining these facilities, $670 a day thirteen months ago, is probably higher now. Fat cats are profiteering, stuffing their pockets in an Administration which is characterized by grifters. From there, it's a short trip to corruption- and an even shorter trip to convincing Americans there is corruption. It's faceless businessmen getting rich off their tax dollars.

It's highly unlikely that every company involved in the Administration's detention program, whether for phone calls, bank transfers, health care, other services, or the facilities themselves was chosen on the basis of merit. If Republicans counterattack and try to engage Democrats on this issue, the movie cliche applies: go ahead, make my day.

Or at least it would be a losing issue for the GOP if it's one which Democrats, aside from Warren and perhaps Sanders, choose to invoke. If they cannot or will not make that argument, our two-party system will more closely resemble a one-party system, both ideologically and in outcome.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Populism Sidelined

Open Markets Institute's Matt Stoller, who does not likemonopolies and may like President Barack Obama even less, prefers Bernie Sander's college debt proposal to that of Bernie Sanders:

Huffington Post explains that the Vermont senator's program

which was shared in advance with HuffPost, goes further than what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) ― who, along with Sanders, occupies the progressive lane in the 2020 race — has proposed. While the two will be on different nights for this week’s first Democratic presidential debates, it introduces a key difference in approach on a prominent policy issue.

The Sanders bill eliminates all student debt, whereas Warren’s plan ― while still substantial ― covers $1.25 trillion for 42 million people. The difference is that Warren’s plan has caps.

Warren’s proposal forgives $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of $100,000. People between $100,000 and $250,000 in household income would have a portion of their debt forgiven, and people above that amount would get no cancellation.

(Video below is from 11/14.)

Both Sanders are proposing progressive taxation to pay for their plans. wherein

Sanders, along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has already put forward legislation to pay for the plan, by imposing a small tax on the trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives, which would generate, they estimate, up to $2.4 trillion over 10 years.

“In 2008, the American people bailed out Wall Street,” Sanders said. “Now, it is Wall Street’s turn to help the middle class and working class of this country.”

Warren would cover her plan through her ultra-millionaire tax ― a 2% annual tax on the 75,000 families with $50 million or more in wealth.

Warren is expected to release her college debt plan legislation in the coming weeks, with a companion bill in the House introduced by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African-American member in Congress.

Consider four individuals who have recently graduated from college after racking up considerable debt.   One has graduated from Harvard University, annual tuition $47,730, and the other from StanfordUniversity, annual tuition $52,857.

The other two have graduated from two reasonably prestigious public universities: the University of Georgia, whose annual tuition is estimated at $12,080 for in-sate students and $31,120 for out-of-state students; and Purdue University, at which the comparable numbers are $9,992 and $28,794.

Don't fret that the two groups are not exactly comparable because the first two colleges are considered the best (aside from MIT) in the nation while the latter two are only reasonably well-respected public institutions.

That's just the point; some students go to wildly respected colleges, anticipating their earnings will eventually more than compensate for their choices. Others go to fine, reputable colleges and are likely to receive a good education. They may have selected the institutions because they couldn't afford the likes of Harvard or Stanford, or their qualifications ((e.g., grade average, standardized testing, high school activities) were solid but unexceptionable.

That, too, is the point. Their earning potential is not as good as that of the graduates of the most prestigious schools, but at least they've avoided paying exorbitant fees for their education, a social good in not pushing the cost of education even higher than it is.

Under Senator Sanders' plan, their debt would be paid for. So, too, would the debt of those students who made a different trade-off: greater costs now for much greater return later. And, curiously for someone so progressive and populist, Senator Sanders does not want to pay off an equal amount of debt of these students. He wants to pay off what is likely to be much greater debt of the Harvard and Stanford graduates. (Alternatively, the latter somehow may not have much student debt, in which case their family probably was particularly well-off.)

This simply makes no sense, at least in a party which prides itself in helping most those whose need is the greatest. It makes no sense in terms of equity and in Sanders' case, makes no sense politically. If nominated, he would have to explain why students who attended a less expensive school will be rewarded less than those who attended a more expensive school, especially when the latter individuals were more likely of an upper-class background.

Stoller's reasoning fails for an additional reason .  Most likely, a majority of the hypothetical graduates of Harvard and Stanford will gravitate to "Wall Street and fancy hospitals" even if their debt is paid by the federal government. If they do not, they will presumably be competing in the fields favored by other, less privileged, students, thus putting downward pressure on wages in those industries.

Competing, as the Democratic presidential candidates have, for the most progressive policies on a range of issues probably will have a positive effect on the next administration, if it is a Democratic one. Failing that, the candidates may at least be moving the Overton window. That can still be done while imposing caps on college debt cancellation, both a superior policy and wiser political strategy.

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Threaten And Win

Police procedures vary widely depending on circumstances. Understandably

Seventy people were arrested outside of The New York Times building in Manhattan on Saturday, according to a New York Police Department spokesman, during a protest to call attention to the way news outlets cover the climate crisis.

Charges against the protesters are pending, an NYPD spokesman told CNN.

The protesters were affiliated with a group called Extinction Rebellion, which describes itself on its website as an "international movement" aimed at combating climate change through nonviolent protest and minimizing the "risk of human extinction and ecological collapse."

Those protesters were peaceful, however. The outcome is not as predictable when, as reported by Williamette (Oregon) Week

Oregon Senate Democrats hastily cancelled a planned Saturday floor session late Friday afternoon, citing reports that right-wing militia members were planning to rally at the Capitol.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland) posted on social media a text message from Senate leadership, stating that the Saturday session was cancelled.

 "The State Police Superintendent just informed the Senate President of a credible threat from militia groups coming to the Capitol tomorrow," the message says. "The Superintendent strongly recommends that no one come to the Capitol and President [Peter] Courtney heeded that advice minutes ago."

First: these extremists were not members of a "militia." They want the media and the public to label them "militia" because the Second Amendment grants to "a well-regulated Militia" the right "to keep and bear arms." Nonetheless, as this tweeter notes, "they're not the militia. They're an armed mob. The militia, as legally defined in Oregon State Law, consists of the organized militia (Military Dept) & the unorganized militia, the latter of which can only be mobilized by the governor."

If that sounds to you like the Oregon State Police were intimidated by threats of violence, you're paying attention. Willamette Week continues

"The Oregon State Police have advised us that there might be a militia threat tomorrow, so the Capitol building will be closed," said Carol Alice McCurrie, Courtney's communications director. "We don't have any details beyond that one."

The cancellation comes on the heels of right-wing militia members offering armed protection to Republican Senators who have denied Democrats a quorum by disappearing, probably across the Oregon border into Idaho.

Republicans left the Capitol on Wednesday, trying to block the passage of a cap on carbon emissions. Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) implied that he would shoot and kill any Oregon State Police officer sent by the governor to retrieve him.

That outburst seemed to embolden right-wing militia groups, which pledged Thursday to protect the Senate Republicans while they fled the Capitol. Those groups included members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia.

Boquist had told a local television station "Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I'm not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It's just that simple."  Emboldened right-wing radicals got the State Police to shut down the Capitol and the session to consider the climate bill was cancelled. Mission accomplished.

While in New York City dissidents who posed no immediate threat to the public order were arrested, extremists in Oregon threatening violence were pacified when the Oregon State Police turned tail and ran. The latter might be a harbinger of things to come, with a President who has informed the public of his intention:
So if and when Donald Trump loses in 2020, he'll claim the election was "rigged" or fixed, and his supporters, like the "armed militias" in Oregon, will get the message. Then if federal law enforcement authorities demonstrate the same (lack of) backbone that the administration of the Oregon State Police has, we're in trouble, where "we" is spelled "this republic."

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Echo Of The Past

In August of 2016 Politifact noted that Donald Trump had "tweeted about dead voters delivering President Barack Obama’s victory in 2012, floated charges about multiple voting in the primaries, and suggested that undocumented immigrants "just walk in and vote" in some polling places." It rated the charge of election rigging as "pants on fire" but Trump kept on lying.

However, if Trump meant that someone, such as, oh, maybe his own party, was trying to rig the election, he was not far off the mark. Ari Berman, who has been following GOP voter suppression efforts for several years, in January 2018 wrote

Across the country, from Arizona to Ohio to North Carolina, people had trouble voting as a result. According to a study by MIT, an estimated 16 million people – 12 percent of all voters – experienced at least one problem voting in 2016. There were more than 1 million lost votes because eligible voters didn’t have the right ID or they encountered long lines at the polls or couldn’t register. Trump won the election by a combined total of 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

No one, to my knowledge, ever thought to ask candidate Trump the question of which party was "rigging" the election. Presumably he would have claimed "the Democrats" but, given Trump's habit of psychological projection, he may have been aware that the door was swinging the other way.

Now writer E Jean Carroll has made a very credible claim that Donald Trump raped her in the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1995 or 1996. Carroll even still has the garment, presumably with Trump's DNA, and never has had it cleaned. However, when asked whether she would bring a charge of rape against Trump

No," Carroll said. "I would find it disrespectful to the women who are down on the [Southern] border who are being raped around the clock down there without any protection. They're young women, they, you know, try to come here - as you know, they are there by the thousands. The women have very little protection there; it would just be disrespectful."

"Mine was three minutes; I'm a mature woman, I can handle it. I can keep going," she added. "You know, my life has gone on, I'm a happy woman. But for the women down there - actually, around the world, you know in every culture this is going on. No matter if you are high in society, low in society, this is disrespectful. It just doesn't make sense to me."

If that makes sense to you, you're a smarter person than I am.  (You probably are anyway, but this would almost prove it.)

Trump has denied the accusation, even claiming that he never knew Carroll, belied by a photograph in which the future businessman, actor, and president and his then-wife are seen together with Carroll and the man she was married to at the time. Now, however,  the President has gone further, issuing a statement which includes

If anyone has information that the Democratic Party is working with Ms. Carroll or New York Magazine, please notify us as soon as possible.  The world should know what’s really going on. It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations.

This past week Iran, we are told by intelligence officials, downed a USA drone with a missile in international waters. We were "cocked and loaded," the President said, with a retaliatory strike planned and aborted at the last minute once he was told people would die. Unsure of himself, Trump looks like a fool.

And then this accusation, likely factual and capable of being substantially proven, emerges but the accuser refuses to proceed for reasons she does not clearly explain.   The President, with overtones of his accusation of election rigging by Democrats (while any rigging was going in reverse), accuses Democrats of working with the alleged victim.

Twenty-four hours later, the accusation has gone nowhere, we hear little of Iran, and Donald Trump's strategy has succeeded again.

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Friday, June 21, 2019

McConnell Speaking For Many

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded at a news conference to a question about reparations by stating

Yea, I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for which none of us is currently living are responsible is a good idea. We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. Uh, we've elected an African-American president. I think we're always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive was responsible for that.

There is a lot, a very lot- as the cliche goes- to unpack here.

But the most intriguing point to me is the suggestion that electing an African-American president was one way in which we've tried to "deal with our original sin of slavery."

(Two notes here: That latter point was made in a separate sentence, separated by an "uh" and thus McConnell did not explicitly attribute that election to the original sin of slavery. Additionally, he did not say that we have "dealt" with the sin, only that we've "tried" to deal with it. However, no one else has noticed this, so we'll assume mine is a distinction without a difference.)

At 1:17 here, The Atlantic staff writer Vann Newkirk remarks

The thing that really gets me is the comment about President Obama, the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to believe that Obama was reparations. That's a tough one for me. I think it was a big thing for African-Americans, uh, 40 acres and a Barack Obama (last phrase barely distinguishable, perhaps "that's not how it works.")

He's right: McConnell does seem to believe that the election of Obama was reparation; it was a big thing for African-Americans; 40 acres and a Barack Obama is not reparation.

But the statement by the second most powerful Republican in the land reflected what a lot of Republicans (and many Independents) believe. Now that Barack Obama was elected, the thinking goes, African-Americans have been paid back. And as a plus, we have proven that America is not racist.

Oh, you protest, most of those people did not actually vote for Obama, but I am not a social psychologist, though sometimes I play one here. But many individuals unsympathetic to demands of minorities for equality believe- nay, feel- that it is done and accomplished.

Of course, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency did no such thing The "original sin" was not wiped out because white America had allowed (as is the perception) a black President. However, it was nearly inevitable that many whites would believe it was.

It is thoroughly understandable especially given  Newkirk's comment "I think it was a big thing for African-Americans." If blacks believe the election of a black President was of tremendous significance, it should not be surprising that whites- who live in the same country- would labor under the misconception.

The attribution of awesome, historic importance to that election is misplaced.  It's misplaced by blacks, by whites who voted against Obama, even by some whites who voted for Barack Obama.

Events of recent years make that clear. Moreover, Joe Biden, currently way out ahead of his rivals in South Carolina (in which approximately half of Democratic primary voters are African-American), says "thank you very much." Although a little harsh about Biden's record and rhetoric about race, Emma Vigeland nevertheless beginning at 1:33 of the video below recognizes the danger posed by the Biden-Obama connection as she remarks

The Democratic front-runner now, someone who's polling well with black Americans, especially older black Americans, is someone who was supportive of segregation at the outset of his career as a legislator. And so we have to have a reckoning, we have to have a conversation about why that is and why maybe name recognition and association with Barack Obama is winning out over his very disastrous rhetoric at the current moment.

If Biden had not been Vice-President to Barack Obama (for whom he professes undying love and loyalty), he would have been rudely escorted from the race by now. That would have occurred even before he bragged about having palled around with white segregationists in the good 'ol days. And his relationship with those rascals was not as congenial as that he has had with the creditcard industry and other powerful financial interests.

The election of Barack Obama did not significantly alter the power structure in government or even in society. But it has had a powerful impact on the attitude of both black and white Americans, a dirty little secret which few very few in the political set are willing to acknowledge. 

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Real Problem With Joe Biden

One almost has to feel sorry for Joe Biden. Almost.

The former Delaware senator (sorry, Joe, you're not in any meaningful way from Pennsylvania) recently reminisced about the cordial working relationship he had as legislator with two segregationist colleagues when

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” said Biden, reportedly imitating Eastland's southern drawl. “He never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'” Talmadge, he said, was "one of the meanest guys I ever knew."

But according to Biden, despite these differences, "At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore.”

Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist Connie Schultz, wife of Democratic senator Sherrod Brown, denounced Biden's remark, commenting in part "That segregationist never called you “boy” because you are white."  "Joe Biden speaking nostalgically about working with segregationists is halfway to Trent Lott behavior," maintained the New York Times' Jamelle Bouie.

New Jersey senator Cory Booker, like his target a candidate for President, commented "You don't joke about calling black men 'boys.'"  Candidate Bill de Blasio charged "Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal &  that whites were entitled to 'the pursuit of dead n*ggers.'"  

Yet another presidential hopeful, Kamala Harris, charged "to coddle the reputations of segregationists, of people who if they had their way I would literally not be standing here as a member of the United States Senate, is, I think, it's just misinformed and it's wrong." (He did coddle their reputation and Harris is a member of the US Senate, but never mind.)

Defiantly, Biden responded "I don't have a racist bone in my body," which probably is true but- notwithstanding what he, Schultz, Booker, de Blasio, and Harris seem to believe- is not the problem with the initial statement, anyway.

Consider Booker's criticism, aside from that of Biden's comedic stylings, that "I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together."

The campaign slogan of Richard Nixon, master of the Southern Strategy, was "bring us together."  Another President promised the night before his inauguration "we're going to unify our country" and in his inauguration speech declared

The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly , but always pursue solidarity.When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

That man was (and is) Donald J. Trump.

When a politician promises to unify people or the country, hold on to your wallet. He (or she) is coming to fleece you.  The danger posed by the election of Joseph R. Biden is not that he does not want to unify the nation, nor that he doesn't want to do so. It is that it his primary goal.

In early June, the ex-vice president argued "With Trump gone, you're going to begin to see things change. Because these folks know better. They know this isn't what they're supposed to be doing."  This was no slip of the tongue, for a month earlier he had boasted  "I just think there is a way, and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House — not a joke — you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends."

Now this week, evidently (to some; see above) hidden in the midst of an arguably insensitive racial remark, the candidate suggests that not only was Senator Biden able to work cordially with political opponents but that President Biden would, also.

Bipartisanship is such a charming concept, one beckoned by the allure of "shame."  Segregationist senators and Senator Biden may have enjoyed, even prospered in, the collegiality of a bygone era. However, it is decades later, and Charlie Pierce recognizes

Here with a rebuttal is an actual concept: President Donald J. Trump. Here with another rebuttal is a sadly imaginary concept: Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland. Damn, Joe. You were there, my dude. You were doing more than just putting on the Ray-Bans in viral videos.

He is not a racist, but those Ray-Bans appear to have transformed into rose-colored glasses.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Immigration Issues For The Debate

Roque Planas reports in Huffington Post that California senator Kamala Harris "is now a leading foe of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown." However, when she was state Attorney General

From 2011 to 2013, as pro-immigrant California activists and legislators struggled to pass a trailblazing, statewide sanctuary law called the Trust Act over the objections of then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Obama administration, Harris remained largely silent.

Harris, however, is currently only one of 23 candidates, albeit one of the five leading Democratic contenders for the presidency. Her ambiguous record toward immigration policy, though, raises a larger issue about immigration (and beyond), one which should be raised by the hosts of the upcoming debates. Planas explains

Under President Barack Obama, deportations from the interior of the country had climbed to the highest levels recorded since the mass expulsion of the 1950s. That increase was driven by Secure Communities, a program that requires local police to share the fingerprints of arrested migrants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE, in turn, slaps local arrestees with a request to hold them in jail on the feds’ behalf, even if their charges are dropped or they are eligible to bond out.

At the upcoming debates, the NBC/MSNBC moderators can ask general questions, thus soliciting general answers which mean little. Fortunately, on immigration at least, they can ask specific questions. 

One of these would be whether the candidates believe that local authorities should be required to offer to ICE the fingerprints of any individuals who are arrested and/or whether they believe that accused misdemeanants or felons should be held for any length of time for the agency.

But an even more important question, because it suggests a much larger issue, would be the use of private prisons.  The private prison industry has grown substantially in the past two decades, and Mother Jones' Madison Pauly notes that nearly three-quarters of individuals detained for immigration violations now are held in private prisons. Further

Between 2002, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, and 2017, the total number of immigrants arrested by ICE and apprehended by the Border Patrol fell by more than half, correlating with lower levels of illegal immigration. Yet the average daily population of US detention centers nearly doubled.

While profits in the private prison industry have grown because immigrant detainees, it is likely also that the detention of immigrants has grown because of the prominence of private prisons. If Democrats are sincere in wanting to curb the lock-'em-up policy toward immigrants, they need to come out decisively in opposition to private detention.

The issue of private prisons extends beyond immigrants, however. Although employed primarily for (presumably) illegal entrants, for-profit centers are utilized also to house inmates in the general population, thus encouraging Judges to incarcerate defendants. If Democrats are intent on reforming the criminal justice system, they need to advocate the elimination of private prisons, for immigrants and for the native-born population. A debate is a good place to start.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Open Book

It has become famous now, the video in which

Trump, during an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that aired Sunday, was in the middle of telling the journalist about releasing a financial statement when Mulvaney sounded off a cough that can be heard during the President's remark.

"Let's do that over. He's coughing in the middle of my answer," Trump said, pointing toward Mulvaney.

"Yeah. OK," Stephanopoulos said.

"I don't like that, you know, I don't like that," Trump said, as Stephanopoulos notes that the cough is from "your chief of staff."

"If you're going to cough, please leave the room. You just can't, you just can't cough," Trump said, shaking his head. "Boy, oh boy."

The camera then swings around as the crew works to rearrange and restart the shot. A crew member tells the President that "we just changed the angle."

Trump then briefly looks directly into the camera before finishing his answer....

CNN legal analyst Gloria Borger had an interesting take, remarking

this is a reality TV star who became president of the United States....he's used to taping hours and hours of interviews. He did 30 with George Stephanopoulos and having it cut down. So he said, stop. What he didn't expect was for ABC to use that....

Suppose, however, that Borger inadvertently flipped the script (pun intended). Consider the possibility that, as a former (Un)Reality TV star Donald Trump knew exactly what he was doing and how it would be perceived. If so, he would be showing a bad side of himself- a rude, intolerant germaphobe who enjoys humiliating subordinates- and was only too happy to do so.

He might then let it all hang out, be transparently reprehensible, on a different topic. He might even come up with is that at the end of 6 years, after America has been made GREAT again and I leave the beautiful White House (do you think the people would demand that I stay longer? KEEP AMERICA GREAT), both of these horrible papers will quickly go out of business & be forever gone!

Do not avert your eyes or be distracted by the question "do you think the people would demand that I stay longer?" It's entirely rhetorical. Many supporters of his would demand, unprompted, that he stay longer. And strengthened by eight years in the White House- and the disappearance of America's two greatest newspapers- President Trump's bullhorn would be the loudest and strongest in the nation.

The bully pulpit would be maximized and utilized as never before.  And why not? He will have earned it, after eighteen months of (initial) campaigning and eight years of ruling in which he will have made it clear who- no, what- he is.

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The Lie Laughed At Around the World

I suppose if a guy would in the Oval Office advocate the execution of "a staffer who leaked a story ," it's not surprising th...