Thursday, March 31, 2016

Last Call For We'll See, Bernie

Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared on Rachel Maddow's show last night and when asked about raising money and campaigning for downticket Dems in Congress, Sanders just shrugged the question off.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wouldn't say if he will turn his fundraising juggernaut toward the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees and down-ballot Democratic candidates in a Wednesday night interview on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show."

"Right now, our job is to, what I'm trying to do is win the Democratic nomination," Sanders said. 
He said he is "blown away" by his campaign's small-dollar fundraising. 
"Without that type of support, we would not be where we are right now," he said. 
Host Rachel Maddow said rival Hillary Clinton has been fundraising for her campaign as well as the Democratic Party. Will the Sanders campaign begin this type of fundraising as well, Maddow asked. 
"We'll see," Sanders said. "Right now, our focus is on winning the nomination."

Wrong answer, Bernie.  But thanks for letting everyone know that you really aren't in it for anyone but yourself.

Will I vote for him in Kentucky's primary in May?

We'll see, I guess.

Trump's Punishment Detail

The anti-choice industry is furious with Donald Trump's comments on MSNBC yesterday that women deserve "some sort of punishment" for getting abortions once the procedure is criminalized by the GOP.

After saying on Wednesday that he believes there should be punishment for women who undergo abortions if the procedure was outlawed, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walked back the comment hours later.

In an exclusive interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the GOP front-runner described himself multiple times as "pro-life" but struggled to define what the legal ramifications of that position should be. When continually pressed for what the answer is regarding punishing women who would break any theoretical ban, Trump said the "answer is that there has to be some form of punishment, yeah."

Later in the day, his campaign released a statement refocusing who would be punished should abortion become illegal. "If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman," the statement said. "The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions."

But the damage has been done, and Trump has given away the endgame of the anti-choice people. Of course the goal is to punish women for seeking abortion, and it always has been. Red states make trying to get an abortion as crushing and as difficult as possible to restrict access to it while the anti-choice advocates sadly cluck their tongues and say women and the unborn have to be helped.  Actually providing that help doesn't happen, these "loose hussies" are on their own unless they repent and the nation's churches take pity on them, for surely child and family services are being dismantled across the country by Republicans seeking to trap women in squalor.

Trump coming along and reminding everyone that the real goal has always been to criminalize abortion and women having sex for anything other than procreation blows a hole in the whole facade, and the anti-choice forces know it.  You can't say you're worried about protecting the mother and unborn child if you're willing to admit the goal is to have women so scared of going to prison over miscarriages that they are afraid to have sex. The tacit understanding is that only those women get punished for wanting an abortion, the rest quietly have the procedure because they're "responsible people" who don't abuse the "availability" of it.  The notion that all women get punished, that there's not exceptions made for the right women to have one, well that gives away the game.

If it was somehow possible before for Trump to get zero percent of the women's vote in 2016, it's even more possible now. Trump has single-handedly destroyed the Republican defense of "we're not leading a War on Women!"

And they're furious at him for it for good reason.

We’re now at the point in the nominating process where it is, er, crystal clear that Hillary Clinton will end up being the Democratic candidate, and Donald Trump, while not at all the certain winner, is the leading candidate to become the Republican nominee. So it’s time to adjust our 2016 electoral map for the first time since we rolled out our initial ratings last May. That map, shown below as Map 1, reflected a generic Democrat versus Republican matchup, and it depicted a close, competitive general election.

The new map, as you will see, does not show a close and competitive general election. The Republicans now find themselves in a deep hole.

Imagine Trump screwing up so badly that Clinton actually outperforms either of Obama's presidential wins.  Not hard to imagine if he keeps giving the game away like this.  After all, he's now unpopular even with a majority of white men.

Trump is going to wreck the party before he's done.  Get the popcorn and watch it burn.

In The (Septic) Tank

So while Donald Trump's campaign manager is being charged with battery for physically grabbing a member of the press and searching for blame as to how Trump rose to GOP frontrunner status amid billions in nonstop free press coverage and call-in interviews, it turns out that what the Village really can't stand is that Barack Obama guy daring to call them out on the mess. Politico's Jack Shafer:

The last person in the world who should be lecturing journalists on how to do journalism is President Barack Obama. Yet there Obama was Monday night at a journalism award ceremony, yodeling banalities about the role of a press in a free society, moaning over the dangers posed by “he said/she said” reporting, and—to the delight of the assembled audience—attacking Donald Trump in every way but name. The press-heavy crowd, convened by Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications to give the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting to Alec MacGillis, clapped at Obama’s 30-minute address, encouraging his best Trump-baiting lines about “free media” and the dangers of “false equivalence.” 
What they should have done is bombard Obama with rotten fruit or ripped him with raspberries for his hypocrisy.

How do we hate Obama’s treatment of the press? Let me count the ways. Under his administration, the U.S. government has set a new record for withholding Freedom of Information Act requests, according to a recent Associated Press investigation. FOIA gives the public and press an irreplaceable view into the workings of the executive branch. Without timely release of government documents and data, vital questions can’t be answered and stories can’t be written. 
Obama’s “Insider Threat Program” has turned employees across the government—from the Peace Corps to the Social Security Administration to the Department of Agriculture—into information-squelching snitches. If this isn’t Trumpian behavior, I don’t know what is. 
“Obama hates the press,” New York Times national security reporter James Risen said not long ago, “and he hates leaks.” AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee has decried the “day-to-day intimidation of sources” by the Obama administration, judging it worse than the Bush administration on that score. And in a 2013 piece, POLITICO’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen documented Obama’s mastery of “limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.” 
As ProPublica has reported, at the same time the Obama administration has been paying lip service to protecting whistleblowers, it has pursued national security leaks to the press with a vehemence unmatched by any previous administration, using the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who leak to journalists more times than all previous administrations combined. Obama holds infrequent news conferences, and he wastes reporters’ time by refraining from answering questions with any candor. He claims to helm “the most transparent administration in history,” while bending government policies and practices toward secrecy
“The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” wrote Leonard Downie Jr. in a Committee to Protect Journalists report. And it’s not just Downie complaining. You could break Google by asking it to list all the top journalists who regard the Obama administration as Press Enemy No. 1. 
The deeper you study Obama’s relationship with the press, the more you want to ask what business he has giving out a press award. Was Trump himself busy that night?

What really bothers the Village about all this "secrecy" and "manipulation" is the Obama administration realizing pretty early on that this whole internet thing is pretty useful for getting out the information the White House wants to get out, and doing so without the Village pearl-clutchers getting in the way.

Particularly since the massive damage caused to American national security by Edward Snowden and friends, you'd be forgiven for thinking the White House might want to be more careful with leaks and information in general, which it is.

What the Obama administration is not doing is physically battering journalists, insulting them by name on Twitter, citing them to rally angry campaign crowds, and making public enemies lists of them like Trump (for starters).

Considering how complicit the media is with Trump and his other enablers, it's a wonder Shafer doesn't fall over from the weight of his own hypocrisy.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Last Call For The Bribes Heard Round The World

The Huffington Post has published the results of a major international bribery investigation into a company called Unaoil, which is apparently something of a global bribery fixer outfit responsible for helping multinational corporations do business with unsavory failed state types and paving the way for terrorist organizations.

Hundreds of major international corporations — including Halliburton, its former subsidiary KBR, Rolls-Royce and Samsung — counted on Unaoil to secure lucrative contracts in Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, tens of thousands of internal emails and documents reveal. It’s common for large multinational corporations to partner with smaller firms with local expertise to win contracts. But in many cases, Unaoil wasn’t winning contracts because of its expertise — it was winning them by paying millions of dollars in bribes to corrupt officials. 
Most of the companies that worked with Unaoil denied involvement in corrupt activities. “KBR is committed to conducting its business honestly, with integrity, and in compliance with all applicable laws,” a spokeswoman said. “We do not tolerate illegal or unethical practices by our employees or others working on behalf of the Company.” Samsung “has always complied with the laws and regulations when performing business,” the company said. Rolls-Royce, which sent a Unaoil subsidiary a letter in 2013 suspending the relationship, citing corruption allegations, said that it is “co-operating with the authorities and do not comment on ongoing investigations. We have made it clear that Rolls-Royce will not tolerate business misconduct of any kind.” 
By aiding the corruption of already-distrusted regimes and accelerating the flow of money and resources out of poor countries, Unaoil and its partners were risking far more than fines and criminal penalties. They were creating political instability, turning citizens against their governments, and fueling the rage that would erupt during the Arab Spring — and be exploited by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Companies and individuals pay at least $1 trillion in bribes to public sector officials annually, according to an estimate by Daniel Kaufman, a governance expert with the World Bank Institute.

The Unaoil emails don’t show corrupt third-world kleptocracies shaking down helpless western corporations. They show the opposite: Unaoil, working for western companies, is seen slowly corrupting foreign officials, starting off with small gifts and shopping sprees and eventually hooking them on major graft. 
“There is always somebody who pays,” the billionaire hedge fund magnate George Soros has said, “and international business is generally the main source of corruption.” That’s part of the story that terrorists have long told local populations to justify jihadist insurgency. In many of the cases uncovered here, it happens to be true.

I'm not surprised that international corporations are involved in blood money in order to move products and resources through other companies to hide that involvement.  I'm more that a bit concerned however at the number of companies that all used Unaoil to grease the skids over the last decade or so and basically nobody noticed.

Based in Monaco but incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, Unaoil says it provides “industrial solutions to the energy sector in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.” It was founded in 1991 by Ata Ahsani, an Iranian-born millionaire who left the country after the 1979 revolution. The company’s work, Ahsani told HuffPost and Fairfax Media, is “very basic. What we do is integrate western technology with local capability.” Two of Ata Ahsani’s sons, Cyrus and Saman, are deeply involved in the company’s day-to-day operations. 
Here’s how Unaoil’s schemes often worked. During the time frame covered by the documents — most of which date from the end of 2003 to the middle of 2011 — Unaoil’s practice was to ask its partners for a percentage of the revenue from any contracts Unaoil helped them win. Once Unaoil made sure it had a stake in its client’s business, it would sometimes use a portion of its cut to bribe government officials — and keep the rest for itself.

They say the simplest schemes are the most tried and true methods, I guess.  All we need is a fabulous desert casino, a car chase in Abu Dhabi or Tunis, some Russian mobsters, and an exotic assassin or three and James Bond would be damn proud.  Throw in the angle that these bribes are going to everyone from tinpot dictators to terror groups like AQ and IS and you wonder just how much blowback we've avoided here in the US that we're more than due.

Because insurgents thrive when Western-friendly governments become corrupt and weak, they are especially pleased when the U.S. and Western corporations undermine governance by enabling corruption. As Soros said, somebody has to pay the bribes. Corruption in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, has only gotten worse since the U.S. invaded, bringing western corporations and money with it. Between 2003 and 2015, Iraq fell from 113th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index to 161st. “We’ve learned our lesson kind of the hard way,” said Keith Henderson, who evaluated Iraqi anti-corruption efforts for the State Department in 2008 and now teaches at American University’s law school. “If you don’t do something to abate or address corruption in state institutions, one of the very probable outcomes is civil unrest and possible insurgency.”

We'll see where this all goes.  The US government is definitely looking into bribery fueling terrorism, but how far are they going to get when the major players paying up have bought the same governments investigating them?

More Tortured Logic, Con't

The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels and mass shooting spree in San Bernardino hasn't made Americans any less bloodthirsty when it comes to justification of torture of terror suspects.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, a level of support similar to that seen in countries like Nigeria where militant attacks are common. 
The poll reflects a U.S. public on edge after the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino in December and large-scale attacks in Europe in recent months, including a bombing claimed by the militant group Islamic State last week that killed at least 32 people in Belgium. 
Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has forcefully injected the issue of whether terrorism suspects should be tortured into the election campaign. 
Trump has said he would seek to roll back President Barack Obama's ban on waterboarding - an interrogation technique that simulates drowning that human rights groups contend is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Trump has also vowed to "bring back a hell of a lot worse" if elected. 
Trump's stance has drawn broad criticism from human rights organizations, world bodies, and political rivals. But the poll findings suggest that many Americans are aligned with Trump on the issue, although the survey did not ask respondents to define what they consider torture. 
"The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions," said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between terrorist threats and public opinion. "Fear, anger, general anxiety: (Trump) gives a certain credibility to these feelings," she said. 
The March 22-28 online poll asked respondents if torture can be justified "against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism." About 25 percent said it is "often" justified while another 38 percent it is "sometimes" justified. Only 15 percent said torture should never be used.

Republicans were more accepting of torture to elicit information than Democrats: 82 percent of Republicans said torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified, compared with 53 percent of Democrats.
About two-thirds of respondents also said they expected a terrorist attack on U.S. soil within the next six months.

So more than half of Dems and more than 80% of Republicans think torture is justified in some way, including a quarter of folks saying it's often justified.  Two-thirds expect some kind of terror attack before the election as well.  Americans are frightened out of their wits, frankly.

The effect this will have on the election?  Politicians have been playing the fear card for a long time, and it works time and time again.

We've learned very little since 9/11, and I don't see any reason why we'd start learning now.

The Budget For Bevinstan

With time running out on a March 31 deadline for Kentucky's 2017-2018 budget, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republican-led Kentucky Senate are starting up the blame game on Kentucky Democrats in the House for daring to resist Bevin's across the board austerity cuts.

The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate appear to have made no progress in conference committee negotiations that began Thursday on a 2016-18 state government spending plan. 
A press release from Bevin's office early Tuesday said, "Gov. Matt Bevin and House and Senate GOP leadership will hold a media availability to discuss the status of budget conference negotiations." 
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on Monday blamed the deadlock on Bevin, saying the governor was interfering with the talks. 
Between negotiation sessions of the conference committee on Monday the governor visited Senate Republicans behind closed doors. And later he blamed Stumbo. "We are willing to negotiate with anyone who is willing to sit down at the table," Bevin said. "Greg Stumbo is not such a person, unfortunately."

The sticking point is who will have to bear the billions of shoring up Kentucky's critically underfunded state pension system.

Over two years the Senate budget would add nearly $1.48 billion to the state's ailing pension funds. The House also adds a lot for pensions - about $1.4 billion. The House provides a bit more for the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System than the Senate but significantly less than the Senate to Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems. And the Senate also leaves $250 million in a reserve fund - called the 'permanent fund" - to be used in the future for pension funding. 
The House leaves no money in the permanent fund. Instead, the House uses that money to restore deep cuts Bevin and the Senate have proposed to universities and scores of programs that support public schools
Also apparently still part of the discussions is the judicial branch budget.- which has been passed by both chambers in a form that chief Justice John Minton said is $76 million short of funding the court system in the next two years
Minton has said if that budget becomes law it would require him to cut 600 employees in the judicial branch, shut down successful drug courts and likely result in 17,000 people awaiting trial on criminal charges being sent back to jail because of a lack of staff to supervise them while on release.

It's those school and university cuts that are the dealbreaker so far, especially since Bevin wants to use those massive austerity cuts to make a half-billion dollar slush fund to spend on his budget priorities, a non-starter for KY Dems.  It's not quite Kansas's level of austerity cuts.  Yet.

We'll see where this goes, but the clock is almost up, and without a budget, all of Kentucky will suffer.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Last Call For Counting Diversity In The Counties

A new look at US Census data by Randy Olson for The Atlantic shows the five most racially diverse counties in the US, and the five least diverse.  I was surprised by the former:

The 5 most diverse counties in the U.S., according to Olson's calculations, are:
  1. Aleutians West Census Area, Alaska (31.4% white/non-Latino, 5.7% African American, 15.1% Native American, 28.3% Asian American, 13.1% Latino, and 6.4% other)
  2. Aleutians East Borough, Alaska (13.5% white/non-Latino), 6.7% African American, 27.7% Native American, 35.4% Asian American, 12.3% Latino, and 4.4% other)
  3. Queens County, New York (27.6% white/non-Latino, 17.7% African American, 0.3% Native American, 22.8% Asian American, 27.5% Latino, and 4% other)
  4. Alameda County, California (34.1% white/non-Latino, 12.2% African American, 0.3% Native American, 25.9% Asian American, 22.5% Latino, and 5.1% other)
  5. Solano County, California (40.8% white/non-Latino, 14.2% African American, 0.5% Native American, 14.3% Asian American, 24% Latino, and 6.2% other)

Alaska's a tough place, where you have to count on your neighbors.  It takes a special kind of person to live and work there, and I guess you don't really have too much time for worrying about race and culture.  Queens in New York and Alameda and Solano in California make a lot of sense, Queens is the heart of the Big Apple's melting pot and Alameda contains most of San Francisco bay's east side. Solano County covers the suburbs north of the SF bay towards Sacramento. Definitely areas with a lot of different cultures and people with major cities in and around.

On the other side of that coin are the Appalachians and plains states:

And the 5 least diverse: 
  • Tucker County, West Virginia (100% white/non-Latino)
  • Robertson County, Kentucky (100% white/non-Latino)
  • Hooker County, Nebraska (100% white/non-Latino)
  • Hand County, South Dakota (99% white/non-Latino and 1% Latino)
  • Owsley County, Kentucky (98% white/non-Latino and 2% Latino)

As to what surprised Olson the most? "As a Michigander," he writes, "I’m the most surprised to see how diverse the Upper Peninsula is. I thought only crazy white people lived up that far in Michigan."

Two Kentucky counties among the five least diverse in the nation is arguably the least surprising fact I've read all week.

Anyway, why is this important?  Those diverse Alaska counties are being used as part of an argument that Sanders's big wins in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state over the weekend are proof that Sanders has large support from non-white voters. Raw Story's Katie Halper:

Leslie Lee III is a writer and English teacher from Baton Rouge, LA, who lives in Yokahama, Japan with his wife Kelly and their dog Taco. His writing ranges from essays and articles on politics and Japanese wrestling, to the novel he is working on with his father about Kentucky’s Black coal miners. But according to some sources, Lee does not actually exist. He’s a figment of the imagination. Because he’s both Black and a supporter of Bernie Sanders.

The nice thing about the notion of the unbearable whiteness of being a Sanders supporter is that it doesn’t need to be based in reality. On Saturday, for example, CNN attributed Sanders’ landslide victories in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington primaries to the whitey-mcwhiteyness of the states:

These caucus states — largely white and rural — are the type of places Sanders traditionally does well. In order to win the nomination, he must replicate this success in other, more ethnically diverse states that hold primaries, as he did in Michigan last month. In theory, it’s possible. But the reality is tough.

Likewise, in theory, it’s possible to portray these states as white. But the reality is tough. Because they’re not. Washington state is literally the seventh most diverse state in the Nation. Two (if not three) of the five most diverse counties in the country are found in Alaska, which CNN itself described as “the most diverse place in America,” in an article in January. And Hawaii, according the Pew Research Center,

stands out… more than any other state… when it comes to its racial and ethnic diversity… The Rainbow State has never had a white majority. In fact, non-Hispanic whites, the largest group in most states, account for only 23% of the population, according to 2013 census figures.
But you know the old adage, necessity (to correct irresponsible journalism and media bias) is the mother of (viral) invention. And So, Mr. Lee launched his epic #BernieMadeMeWhite hashtag, mocking the idea that all supporters of Sanders are white.

Well, basic math could tell you that of course Sanders has some women and non-white voters backing him, simply because he's managed to close within 10 points of Clinton in the very diverse Democratic party.  But the argument once again from Sanders supporters is that the votes of Southern red state Democrats don't really count and shouldn't count in a Democratic primary, and that Bernie's winning the "real" states, making him somehow...I don't know, more magical or something?  It's coming across as a massive dismissal of a lot of voters that the Sanders folks believe should not have a say at all in the process, support that Sanders would need in a general election.

Whether it will be enough support going into the final primaries this spring, we'll see.

Nothing Matters, Especially Primaries

And America's favorite Salon/HuffPo Sanders supporter, H.A. Goodman, goes off the deep end and into some other dimension where mathematics simply doesn't apply.

With Bernie Sanders now slightly ahead of Clinton nationally in the latest Bloomberg poll, it’s time to reevaluate the meaning of pragmatism. Hillary Clinton might be ahead of Bernie Sanders in delegates, but Vermont’s Senator has a monopoly on political momentum. Sadly, his opponent has a monopoly on controversy, and will face FBI interviews in the near future. A Los Angeles Timesarticle titled Clinton email probe enters new phase as FBI interviews loom highlights why Clinton’s campaign is stuck in political quicksand:

Federal prosecutors investigating the possible mishandling of classified materials on Hillary Clinton’s private email server have begun the process of setting up formal interviews with some of her longtime and closest aides, according to two people familiar with the probe, an indication that the inquiry is moving into its final phases.
Prosecutors also are expected to seek an interview with Clinton herself, though the timing remains unclear.

Yes, federal prosecutors will interview Hillary Clinton, in addition to her close associates. 
At what point will establishment Democrats admit this fiasco is horrible for a general election?

When federal prosecutors are interviewing your candidate for president, even Donald Trump has a good chance at the White House.

Yep, that's right, the FBI wants to talk to Clinton, so Goodman is demanding that she immediately concede the entire race to Sanders.

This is the dumbest pile of rodent intercourse activity I think I've read.  It's indistinguishable from the "legal analysis" you would find on your average right-wing blog these days.  Look, I've not had the chance to vote yet in Kentucky's primary and right now it's still a toss-up for me, but when you're making the same arguments Republican talk radio blowhards make in order to dismiss Clinton and her voters out of hand, there's something fundamentally wrong with your argument.

It's not just Goodman, however.

One of the biggest question marks for Democrats heading into a 2016 general election that should be a cakewalk with a candidate like Donald Trump on the other side is what happens to Bernie Sanders’ supporters if he loses the nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Some will inevitably fall in line and find a way to get excited about the likelihood of America’s first woman president. But many others may end up feeling just as alienated from the political process as they did before Sanders entered the race and just decide to stay home.

For instance, there’s Susan Sarandon.

The actress and activist has been a powerful surrogate for Sanders on the campaign trail over the past few months, and during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Monday night, she said she doesn’t know if she can bring herself to vote for Clinton if it comes down to it.

“I think, in certain quarters, there’s growing concern that the folks that are into Bernie Sanders have come to despise Hillary Clinton or reject Hillary Clinton and that should she be the nominee which is as yet undetermined, they will walk away,” Hayes said.

“Tha’'s a legitimate concern,” Sarandon replied, “because they’re very passionate and principled.”

“But isn’t that crazy?” the host asked. “If you believe in what he believes in?”

Yeah but she doesn’t,” Sarandon shot back. “She accepted money for all of those people. She doesn’t even want to fight for a $15 minimum wage, so these are people that have not come out before, so why would we think they’re going to come out now for her, you know?”

That's just stupid garbage.  If you as a Sanders supporter are falling back on Republican anti-Clinton arguments, you have completely failed to make your case to Democrats that they should be voting for Sanders.

Look, I understand the argument that you're worried about Clinton's vulnerabilities, but she's winning right now and most likely will end up the nominee.  It's up to Sanders to make the argument that he would be a better choice, and so far I'm not seeing it.

BREAKING: A Supreme Split Saves Public Unions

Conservatives bent on crippling the power of public employee unions lost their best opportunity in years Tuesday when the Supreme Court deadlocked over a challenge to the fees those unions collect from non-members. 
Rather than seeking to reschedule the case for their next term, the justices simply announced they were tied 4-4 -- a verdict which leaves intact the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upholding the fee collections. 
That was a major victory for the unions and the court's four liberal justices following Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month. During oral argument in January, it had appeared almost certain that the court would strike down the requirement in 23 states that teachers and government workers contribute to the cost of collective bargaining, even if they disagree with their unions' demands. 
The result would have been the demise of a nearly 40-year-old Supreme Court precedent that allows unions to impose such requirements on non-members. It would have made it harder for unions representing teachers, police and firefighters, and other government workers to maintain their power by affecting their pocketbooks. 
Instead, the judicial deadlock allows the California Teachers Association to keep collecting the fees, but it does not have nationwide impact. The 9th Circuit standard applies only to states within its jurisdiction, including Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington as well as California. 
The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, signified a major threat to public employee unions that represent nearly 36% of government workers — far more than the plummeting average for unions overall. Only 11% of Americans belonged to unions in 2014.

In other words, Scalia's passing is the only thing that saved public sector unions from being all but dismantled by SCOTUS. Scalia certainly would have been the fifth vote against the unions, and there almost certainly would have been a national, broad ruling that would have affected public sector unions in all 50 states.

For now, at least, public sector unions will survive.  How long that's the case, well, we'll see if Merrick Garland fills Scalia's seat...or if it is filled at all.

Hot Trump Time Machine

I know it's easy to joke about how Donald Trump wants to take America back to the pre-Civil Rights era when white men ran the country unopposed and all, but it turns out he's really not joking.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's campaign slogan "make America great again" has become as ubiquitous as his personal brand (or, say, widespread violence at his rallies). But until now, Trump's remained frustratingly vague about just when the U.S. was actually winning. 
Now he's finally given the public a clue of just what era he wants to take the U.S. back to. In an interview with the New York Times, the billionaire business mogul pointed to the onset of the 19th century and era during and after World War II as times when the U.S. was truly great. 
"If you look back, it really was, there was a period of time when we were developing at the turn of the century which was a pretty wild time for this country and pretty wild in terms of building that machine, that machine was really based on entrepreneurship," Trump told the paper
"And then I would say, yeah, prior to, I would say during the 1940s and the late '40s and '50s we started getting, we were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody, we had just won a war, we were pretty much doing what we had to do, yeah around that period," he added
Perhaps by sheer coincidence (though likely not), this happens to be the era before extensive civil rights legislation was passed by Congress.

So the Gilded Age and the years that followed.  Awesome. Yeah, I'm sure it's not a coincidence either, guys.

Let's stop pretending that it is.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Last Call For Fighting The Bigotry

As expected, the first of many expected federal lawsuits over North Carolina's sweeping new anti-LGBTQ law has been filed. BuzzFeed's Dominic Holden and Chris Geidner:

Three individuals and two LGBT advocacy groups early Monday morning filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the recently passed North Carolina law that nullified local LGBT rights ordinances and restricted transgender people’s access to restrooms. 
“By singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law, H.B. 2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit argues.

The complaint argues the law violates people’s equal protection, privacy, and liberty rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and their civil rights under Title IX of the Education Act of 1972. 
The lawsuit is asking for a declaratory judgment that the law violates the Constitution and Title IX and an injunction against enforcement of the law. 
The case was filed overnight in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina on behalf of Joaquín Carcaño, a transgender man who works at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Payton Grey McGarry, a transgender man who is a student at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro; and Angela Gilmore, a lesbian who is the associate dean for academic affairs at North Carolina Central University. Also named as plaintiffs are the ACLU of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina. 
The defendants include Gov. Pat McCrory, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and the University of North Carolina and several of its senior officials. 
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are all backing the litigation.

Considering this odious piece of garbage was only crapped into existence last Wednesday in a 10-hour blitz of bigotry, I guess the Easter weekend made things a little slower than usual for filing, but I'm glad to see the ACLU and Lambda Legal are all on the ball with this lawsuit.

I'm hoping for an injunction that keeps the NC law from going into place while the suit works its way up the system.  We'll see what happens.

Oh, and over in Georgia, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal doesn't exactly want to lose the Super Bowl over that state's most recent attempt at "religious liberty" and will veto the bill pending there

The measure “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,” the governor said Monday in prepared remarks. He said state legislators should leave freedom of religion and freedom of speech to the U.S. Constitution. 
“Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment,” he said. 
The two-term Republican has been besieged by all sides over the controversial measure, and his office has received thousands of emails and hundreds of calls on the debate. The tension was amplified by a steady stream of corporate titans who urged him to veto the bill – and threatened to pull investments from Georgia if it became law. 
The governor’s planned veto will likely infuriate religious conservatives who considered the measure, House Bill 757, their top priority. This is the third legislative session they’ve sought to strengthen legal protections from opponents of gay marriage, but last year’s Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex weddings galvanized their efforts. 
It is also likely to herald a more acrimonious relationship between Deal, who campaigned on a pro-business platform, and the evangelical wing of the Georgia Republican party. Already, prominent conservatives have vowed to revive the measure next year if Deal chooses not to sign it.

Expect this battle to continue in the states and the courts for some time to come.

The Smoking Remains Of Kynect

So one month after the debut of the new state benefits system to replace Kentucky's successful health care exchange Kynect, which Gov. Matt Bevin is calling Benefind, (a "one-stop shop" for all your Kentucky benefit needs, including food stamps, CHIP, unemployment benefits and Medicaid!) and rolling everything into Benefind to save taxpayer money, Kentucky has discovered a bit of an issue with the centerpiece of Bevinstan.  There's only one slight problem: Benefind is an absolute disaster.

A new state computer system meant to help people get public benefits more easily instead is creating turmoil throughout Kentucky, interrupting health coverage, food stamps or other assistance for countless individuals, according to health and social service advocates. 
People seeking help must wait hours or days, repeatedly calling a state helpline only to get a recorded message that advises them to try later and then hangs up, the advocates said. Others visit overcrowded state benefit offices where they must wait for hours - sometimes the entire day - to get help, they said
"It's really frustrating," said Emily Pickett, a Louisville mother who learned Feb. 29 two of her three small children had been cut off from Medicaid coverage. 
Further, the new system known as Benefind has disrupted the state's highly successful health insurance exchange, kynect, shutting people out of their online accounts or eliminating their health coverage altogether, they said. 
"Benefind is a disaster," said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of health advocacy groups. "It's not working."

Of course, the people who warned Bevin that Benefind was a massive failure are no longer in the Bevin administration. Seems Gov. Bevin deals quite swiftly and harshly with those who may expose his administration's many flaws here in Bevinstan.

The top official in charge of complaints at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services was fired one business day after he said he warned his bosses that people were so angry over problems with a new public benefits system that he feared some might become violent, endangering state workers. 
Hundreds of callers have grown increasingly frustrated over the abrupt loss of benefits such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, said Norman "Chip" Ward, the former executive director of the cabinet's ombudsman's office. 
Many are furious they can't reach anyone on a state hotline to handle questions about benefits they said were wrongly canceled under the new system know as Benefind. 
"I expressed my concern that something bad was going to happen," Ward said in an interview Monday, adding he was worried an angry client might visit a local state benefit office and become violent. "It was really reaching a boiling point." 
Among the cabinet officials Ward said he notified of his concerns on March 18 were Secretary Vickie Yates Glisson; Tim Feeley, deputy secretary; Adria Johnson, the commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, which handles public benefits; and Steve Davis, the cabinet's chief of staff. 
In an interview Friday, Davis declined to elaborate on Ward's dismissal, saying the decision to fire the ombudsman was "a personnel matter." Davis said he is acting as the current ombudsman. 
Ward said that as a political appointee he lacks merit protection and Davis gave him no reason for firing him.

So now, Bevin has taken a state government system that actually worked and has replaced it with a broken system in order to save costs.  And Bevin is blaming everything on his predecessor, former Gov. Steve Beshear.

Bevin blamed the backlogs on former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, which created the original version of Benefind but hadn’t opened the program to the public before the end of his term. 
“We were told that it was, it had been double-checked, it was user-ready and it was time to unveil it. You have found out firsthand that it’s not exactly as we expected it to be,” Bevin said in a Youtube video addressed to employees of the Department for Community Based Services, which manages the program. 
“I know it’s frankly been scary in some measure, with just the onslaught of people that have been piling up, the amount of work that is at hand,” Bevin said in the video.

So Bevin is blaming Dinosaur Steve for the mess and firing the whistleblowers who say otherwise. But that's how Gov. Bevin rolls, you see.  Not too much accountability here in Bevinstan. You'd be forgiven for thinking Bevin dismantled Kynect and then replaced it with a mess of a system to make sure that people couldn't get their benefits they were entitled to get.

We can't have government actually working in he Commonwealth, you know.

Sanders And The Superdelegates

Running a pretty big victory lap after this weekend's wins in Hawaii, Alaska and Washington state, Bernie Sanders is confident that Democratic party superdelegates will start jumping from the Clinton ship any time now.

"I think the momentum is with us," Sanders said on CNN's "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper on Sunday. "A lot of these superdelegates may rethink their positions with Secretary Clinton."

The Vermont senator swept Saturday's Democratic contests in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, easily winning the majority of the 142 pledged delegates in those states. The biggest prize of the day was in Washington, which offered 101 delegates to be split up on a proportional basis.

The latest delegate counts still put Sanders behind Clinton, however, with 1,004 pledged delegates to her 1,712.

Of those, 469 are superdelegates who have pledged to Clinton and only 29 have pledged to Sanders.

Sanders on Sunday said those superdelegates may begin to see the "reality" that he's the best candidate to beat GOP front runner Donald Trump.

"I think when they begin to look at reality, and that is that we are beating Donald Trump by much larger margins than Secretary Clinton" Sanders said. "And then you've got superdelegates in states where we win by 40 or 50 points. I think their own constituents are going to say to them, 'Hey, why don't you support the people of our state and vote for Sanders?'"

Bernie Sanders has a long way to go, frankly.  Yes, he's still in the race, and no Clinton hasn't put him away yet.  But I think Sanders is engaging in a bit of wishful thinking here. He needs to make up more than 200 pledged delegates from the remaining primaries, and unless you think he's going to win states like California and New York by the kind of margins he got in Washington's caucus, that's not going to happen.

Sanders knows however that he needs both superdelegates and big primary wins to pull this off, and it's still very much a long shot.  However even if he doesn't win he does have influence, and Clinton is eventually going to have to deal with that. Juan Williams:

Sanders’ “socialist” label is a liability in a general election. The Vermonter will hurt Clinton’s effort to win support from political moderates, especially older voters. Sanders would also be a bridge too far for Republicans disenchanted by their party’s wild primary season and the prospect of either Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as the GOP’s presidential candidate. 
Adding Sanders to the ticket would also create an opening for Republican ad-makers. They would gleefully target his past congressional votes opposing tax cuts, the Patriot Act and new military defenses against a possible Iranian missile attack. 
But if Sanders is not to be made the prospective veep, Democrats will have to find something else to give him. After all, he has exceeded all expectations during the primary season. The depth of his support was underlined by his three strong victories on Saturday in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. And Democrats live in fear of a him mounting a third-party run along the lines of the populist campaign run by Ralph Nader in 2000 that arguably gave the White House to George W. Bush. 
The heart of this troublesome political puzzle for Democrats is how to get Sanders’s passionate supporters to line up behind Clinton. In early March, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a third of the people voting for Sanders saying they “cannot see themselves voting for Hillary Clinton in November.” 
The Nation magazine, a leading voice of the left, reported recently that “nearly 60,000 people have signed the ‘Bernie or Bust’ pledge,” vowing to remain loyal to him even if Clinton wins the nomination.

The next battle is April 5 in Wisconsin for both parties, the state has a open primary. We'll see how this all shakes out, but the better Sanders does going forward, the higher a price he can extract come July.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Eggs

Hope everyone is having a good Easter Sunday.  I'll be back tomorrow with the usual stuff.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Last Call For Flipping The Script On SCOTUS

The number of Republican senators up for re-election and who do not want to go down with the burning wreck of the USS Donald J Trump is starting to become a nice little crowd now.

Senate Republicans and the White House are signaling a tentative point of agreement on a key part of President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination process: the nominee questionnaire.

The statements regarding the questionnaire are part of the careful maneuvering on the issue by all sides in this tense and unusual Supreme Court nomination process for D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

Traditionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee sends a personalized questionnaire for Supreme Court nominees to the White House. This time, the White House has not received one from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democratic member of the committee.

Nonetheless, on Friday evening, Grassley’s spokesperson, Beth Levine, told BuzzFeed News that the Republicans “assume the administration will fill out the standard questionnaire submitted for judicial nominations.”

Levine reiterated, however, the Republican leadership’s position that “a majority of the Senate has made clear that the American people should have an opportunity to weigh in on this vacancy.”

The White House reacted to the statement with cautious optimism.

“It appears that Chairman Grassley is prepared to accept a questionnaire from Judge Garland,” White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine told BuzzFeed News on Saturday. “We are heartened by this development and look forward to the Committee making this request directly to the nominee as well as to the White House, as is standard practice.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire is a critical part of the process for those nominated for a federal judgeship. The questions focus on the basics, like education and employment history, but also seek detailed information on speeches and writings of the nominee, as well as information about the nominee’s experience as a practicing lawyer and a complete recounting of the decisions of nominees who already are lower-court judges.

Hoffine said Garland “is prepared to provide all relevant information, consistent with standard practice, in short order.”

In front of the cameras, Republicans are screaming about "no hearings" and "let the people decide in November."  Here in reality, the nomination process is going forward.  Slowly, but it's going forward.  Republican senators figure they'll start getting credit for basic courtesy to President Obama, and frankly that bar has been set deep into the floor for years now.  Perhaps the notion that the GOP is expected to lose control of the Senate with a Trump nomination has something to do with it.

But that's how this game works these days, and nobody plays it better than Obama.

Talking Taibbi

So, I've been challenged to "learn something" from this Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone piece on why Hillary is awful and why you are stupid for voting for her and the Millenials get it, man!

But I think they do understand. Young people have repudiated the campaign of Hillary Clinton in overwhelming and historic fashion, with Bernie Sanders winning under-30 voters by consistently absurd margins, as high as 80 to 85 percent in many states. He has done less well with young African-American voters, but even there he's seen some gains as time has gone on. And the energy coming from the pre-middle-aged has little to do with an inability to appreciate political reality.

Instead, the millions of young voters that are rejecting Hillary's campaign this year are making a carefully reasoned, even reluctant calculation about the limits of the insider politics both she and her husband have represented.

For young voters, the foundational issues of our age have been the Iraq invasion, the financial crisis, free trade, mass incarceration, domestic surveillance, police brutality, debt and income inequality, among others.

And to one degree or another, the modern Democratic Party, often including Hillary Clinton personally, has been on the wrong side of virtually all of these issues.

Hillary not only voted for the Iraq War, but offered a succession of ridiculous excuses for her vote. Remember, this was one of the easiest calls ever. A child could see that the Bush administration's fairy tales about WMDs and Iraqi drones spraying poison over the capital (where were they going to launch from, Martha's Vineyard?) were just that, fairy tales.

Yet Hillary voted for the invasion for the same reason many other mainstream Democrats did: They didn't want to be tagged as McGovernite peaceniks
. The new Democratic Party refused to be seen as being too antiwar, even at the cost of supporting a wrong one.

Taibbi's argument is literally "You can't be this stupid to vote for Hillary Clinton, a child could see through her."  That's not convincing me to vote for Clinton, but believing everyone who does vote for her is stupid is not making me want to vote for Sanders, either.  But here's where Taibbi loses me for good:

Is Hillary really doing the most good that she can do, fighting for the best deal that's there to get for ordinary people?

Or is she just doing something that satisfies her own definition of that, while taking tens of millions of dollars from some of the world's biggest jerks? 
I doubt even Hillary Clinton could answer that question. She has been playing the inside game for so long, she seems to have become lost in it. She behaves like a person who often doesn't know what the truth is, but instead merely reaches for what is the best answer in that moment, not realizing the difference.

This is why her shifting explanations and flippant attitude about the email scandal are almost more unnerving than the ostensible offense. She seems confident that just because her detractors are politically motivated, as they always have been, that they must be wrong, as they often were.

But that's faulty thinking. My worry is that Democrats like Hillary have been saying, "The Republicans are worse!" for so long that they've begun to believe it excuses everything. It makes me nervous to see Hillary supporters like law professor Stephen Vladeck arguing in the New York Times that the real problem wasn't anything Hillary did, but that the Espionage Act isn't "practical."

If you're willing to extend the "purity" argument to the Espionage Act, it's only a matter of time before you get in real trouble. And even if it doesn't happen this summer, Democrats may soon wish they'd picked the frumpy senator from Vermont who probably checks his restaurant bills to make sure he hasn't been undercharged.

But in the age of Trump, winning is the only thing that matters, right? In that case, there's plenty of evidence suggesting Sanders would perform better against a reality TV free-coverage machine like Trump than would Hillary Clinton. This would largely be due to the passion and energy of young voters.

Young people don't see the Sanders-Clinton race as a choice between idealism and incremental progress. The choice they see is between an honest politician, and one who is so profoundly a part of the problem that she can't even see it anymore.
Matt Taibbi, who will defend Edward Snowden regardless of the actions he took, thinks Clinton violated the Espionage Act with her email server because maybe, you know, the Republicans are right and beating Trump shouldn't be what matters, if it was you'd pick Bernie. And again, Taibbi is not the kind of person who would suffer one iota in a Trump presidency, unlike the rest of us.

I'm tired of being treated like I'm stupid, hateful, racist, "low-information", not liberal, uncaring, evil, or a combination of the above for thinking that Bernie Sanders wouldn't represent my interests better than Hillary Clinton would, and that even considering Clinton makes me insufficiently moral.  This is not how you convince people to come around to your side, this is how you convince people to ignore you as a jackass.


The Paranoid Style, 48 Years Later

Support has more than quadrupled overnight for a petition to allow firearms at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The petition, filed by “Americans for Responsible Open Carry,” was filed Monday on, an online forum. By Wednesday, 630 supporters had signed the request to carry firearms in and around Quicken Loans Arena, which will host the 2016 Republican National Convention from July 18-21.

With a goal of 5,000 signatures, the petition topped 5,300 by 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Ohio Republican Party, which is sending one of 50 state delegations to Cleveland this summer to nominate the party’s next presidential candidate, said it was not aware of the petition.

Nor was the host committee overseeing the convention, although it noted that the Secret Service, in conjunction with Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, state and federal authorities, is handling security for the event.

“They are coordinating and will be continuously refining security plans leading up to the national convention,” said Alee Lockman, a spokesperson for the Republican National Convention.

The Secret Service banned guns at the GOP convention in Florida four years ago.

And this will definitely pick up steam as people realize that Cleveland is decently-sized American city where not everybody is a Republican.

The petitioners, who claim a “God-given” right to carry, suggest that armed, law-abiding citizens will make the event more secure in a city full of crime.

“Cleveland, Ohio is consistently ranked as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in America,” the petition stated, referencing a Forbes story. “By forcing attendees to leave their firearms at home, the RNC and Quicken Loans Arena are putting tens of thousands of people at risk both inside and outside of the convention site.”

Criticism of the effort is split between those fundamentally opposing open carry and a more nuanced attack on the Republican Party for not standing behind its traditional support for an uninhibited right to have and hold firearms.

“Hypocrisy is the death of political parties. Stand by your frothy principles, or shut up about them,” wrote a commentator from California, whose argument that Republicans tend to support unabridged gun rights but do not always hold events at open-carry friendly venues has been made before by progressive organizations.

Note the argument here: these folks are saying that they do not believe the Cleveland PD or Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, or even the Ohio State Police or US Secret Service can protect the convention, only an armed mob of convention delegates can.  Which is exactly what you want when tensions are high and the party, already marred by acts of violence where dissent is concerned, is facing an unprecedented crackup over Trump's nomination.  This is a great idea, and I'm sure law enforcement is going to love every second of it.

Chicago 1968 might look like a church carnival compared to what's coming to Cleveland this summer.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Last Call For Threading The Space Needle

The bottom line is if Bernie Sanders has any chance left of winning this nomination, he will need massive 25-30 point wins to run the table, starting in Washington state tomorrow.

Without a big win in Washington Saturday, there’s no path forward for Bernie Sanders. And that cold political reality has turned this state into an unlikely battleground between the Vermont senator and Hillary Clinton.

Sanders recognizes Washington is as close to a must-win as it gets after his disappointing loss in Arizona on Tuesday. With 101 delegates at stake, only New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California have more delegates at play after this weekend. If he has any hope of catching Clinton, he’ll have to start here, in a state where progressive-oriented Seattle sets the tone.

“If Senator Sanders is ever going to do well, I think it would be in Washington,” explained Gov. Jay Inslee, a Clinton supporter, acknowledging Sanders’ appeal in his state. “That’s no surprise."

Clinton doesn’t have as much urgency to win. She simply needs to keep it close, to deny Sanders the kind of runaway caucus victory that could dent her 300-plus delegate lead and provide him some desperately-needed momentum going into the April 5 primary in Wisconsin, another state that figures to be receptive to his brand of progressive politics. (Alaska and Hawaii, much smaller delegate contests, also hold caucuses on Saturday.)

But it won’t be easy to hold Sanders back. According to one analysis, Seattle ranks No. 1 among the 50 biggest U.S. cities for per-capita contributions to his campaign. He’s got seven campaign offices in the state and has drawn huge crowds in his visits to the Pacific Northwest. While most of the state's high-profile Democrats are backing Clinton, Sanders has the endorsement of the state’s largest newspaper, the Seattle Times -- by far his biggest endorsement from a daily publication.

Is it possible?  Sure, mathematically Sanders has not been eliminated.  Is it probable?  Again, Washington is a caucus state, not a primary state, something that definitely favors him.  The state has a very low black population (4%) and a larger than average Millennial population.  If there's anywhere that Sanders can shave off a chunk of Clinton's substantial delegate lead, it's tomorrow.

The issue at this point is time and math. Sanders will need to win here by a lot, and he'll have to continue winning all the remaining contests by 30 points, including New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California by those margins, and the numbers just aren't there for him to do more than break even.

And a Clinton win here where she increases her delegate lead?  If that happens here tomorrow, Bernie's done.

We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Cenk Yourself Before You Get Berned

I can take or leave Cenk Uygur and his Young Turks, but his interview with Bernie Sanders this week was very, very telling.

Uygur: But, you have convinced them that Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. If you were to lose, and the Democratic Party comes to you and says, "Okay, now take this movement, that is full of energy and is against the establishment, and make sure they vote for the establishment candidate," what do you say? 
Sanders: Well, you know, what I say. Number one, I'm not big into "being a leader". You know, I much prefer to see a lot of leaders, a lot of grassroots activism. Number two, what we do is together, as a nation, as a growing movement, is we say, "All right, if we don't win (and, by the way, we are in this thing to win, please understand that) what is the Democratic establishment gonna do for us?" 
Uygur: Oh, that's interesting... 
Sanders: All right, for example: Right now, you have a Democratic establishment which has written off half the states in this country, you know that
Uygur: Mmhmm. 
Sanders: And they've given up on the slate in the South, the Rocky Mountain area—are they gonna create a 50-state party? Are they gonna welcome into the Democratic Party the working class of this country and young people, or is it gonna be a party of the upper middle class and the cocktail crowd and the heavy campaign contributors? Which to a significant degree it is right now. You know, I've talked to Democratic Party leaders and said, "You know what? Instead of going around and raising all kinds of money from wealthy people, why don't you meet in some football stadium and bring out fifty, a hundred thousand people, bring the damn Senate in there, Senate Democrats, and start talking to people, ask them what they want you to do. How about that?" Better? Radical? So, in other words, if I can't make it, and we're gonna try as hard as we can 'til the last vote is cast, we wanna completely revitalize the Democratic Party, and make it a party of the people, rather than just one of large campaign contributors.

There's one very, very large group of Democrats that Sanders is overlooking here because it's been something he's been overlooking his entire campaign: non-white voters in red states. When Sanders says that the Democrats have given up on "the South" and the "Rocky Mountain area" what he means is the Democrats have given up on white voters in those states.  That's true for the most part, but Bernie's efforts to reach out to white voters is coming at the direct expense of black and Latino voters in those states.

Bernie's entire campaign has been "I'm going to bring white hard hat, lunch pail Democrats back into the fold and I'm going to basically ignore non-white voters because what are they going to do, vote for the GOP?"

It's annoying ans obnoxious.  I don't like Clinton's obvious pandering to voters of color like myself, but it's infinitely preferable to being taken for granted by the Sanders campaign. Sanders wants an award for extreme cleverness or something and I'm about to get very tired of him.

Speech Impediment

Trump is winning the public opinion argument against his protesters, and always was going to win it.

Our poll asked respondents whom they would specifically blame for the Chicago protest. Fully 54 percent agreed that protesters were responsible for the violence — "if they wanted to protest peacefully, they should have done so." But among Republicans, support for that position rose to 74 percent; among Democrats, it sank to 37 percent
This makes sense: We know that when partisan information is introduced into an example, people’s partisan instincts determine how they answer questions. But with a significant number of Democrats and independents agreeing with blaming protesters for the violence in Chicago, it seems that protest and violence are two different situations in the minds of voters. 
To that end, the electorate is pretty evenly split on the question of whether Trump should bear any blame for violence occurring at his rallies: 30 percent say they pin "a lot" of blame on him, while roughly the same number, 29 percent, say they don’t blame him at all. The split is almost entirely due to differing views among Democrats and Republicans. 
One fact that reflects the deep partisan divide over the importance of this issue: Fully 37 percent of Democrats said they’d heard "a lot" about violence at Trump rallies. By contrast, only 23 percent of Republicans said the same; many more said they’d only heard a little about the controversy or hadn’t heard of it at all. 
That’s probably because the news sources that Democrats are more likely to read — from mainstream publications to liberal blogs – fixated on the bouts of violence as threats to the functioning of democracy. Conservative media outlets tended to write about the violence less; at least one, Breitbart, actively attempted to tamp down on an alleged assault on its own reporter by Trump’s campaign manager. 
And by at least one measure, the media’s attempts to link Trump to violence have failed. Only 14 percent of poll respondents — Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike — think Trump was to blame for his supporter’s attack on a protester; about the same, 16 percent, actually thought it was the protester's fault. (Far more people, 52 percent, blamed the audience member who sucker-punched the protester for causing the violence.)

People aren't buying the notion that Trump's words cause violence at all.

Even one in four African-Americans think the protesters were at fault for Trump's Chicago rally violence, nearly 40% of Democrats do, and more than half overall.

So yes, as long as Trump keeps screaming about how protesters are trying to "silence" him and 35-40% of Democrats keep agreeing with him on that, he's going to keep winning this argument.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Last Call For Killer Nazi Robots From Hell

Good-natured Microsoft engineers put "Tay", their adaptive chatbot experiment, out in the wild to see what it could learn from being online and interacting with people on Twitter. In under 24 hours, the chatbot learned the cold truth about people on the internet: they're mostly abusive, racist assholes.

The aim was to "experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding," with Tay able to learn from "her" conversations and get progressively "smarter." 
But Tay proved a smash hit with racists, trolls, and online troublemakers, who persuaded Tay to blithely use racial slurs, defend white-supremacist propaganda, and even outright call for genocide. 
Microsoft has now taken Tay offline for "upgrades," and it is deleting some of the worst tweets — though many still remain. It's important to note that Tay's racism is not a product of Microsoft or of Tay itself. Tay is simply a piece of software that is trying to learn how humans talk in a conversation. Tay doesn't even know it exists, or what racism is. The reason it spouted garbage is because racist humans on Twitter quickly spotted a vulnerability — that Tay didn't understand what it was talking about — and exploited it. 
Nonetheless, it is hugely embarrassing for the company. 
In one highly publicised tweet, which has since been deleted, Tay said: "bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now. donald trump is the only hope we've got." In another, responding to a question, she said, "ricky gervais learned totalitarianism from adolf hitler, the inventor of atheism."

If you ask me, Tay was a near-perfect success of emulating the thought patterns of your average twenty-something Twitter troll spouting racist garbage. Tay performed beautifully, frankly. And of course she likes Trump.

Let me know when the "more liberal than thou" version is out so I can use it to anticipate the outrage of the purity caucus.

House of Cards, Con't

On Monday I showed Cook Political Report case that the US House is in play for Democrats in 2016 if Trump/Cruz wreck the Republican brand enough.  Today I present David Dayen's counterargument, because if there's anyone who has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, it's Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC.

Even experts who give Democrats a chance to flip the House recognize that everything would have to go perfectly. Wasserman notes in his report that, despite the recent alterations, he rates only 31 Republican seats at risk of a loss. (Daily Kos Elections puts it a bit higher, with 36 Republican seats potentially threatened.) This means Democrats would have to win virtually every seat in play, and lose none of their own, just to regain a bare majority.

But it takes years to recruit and train candidates who can raise enough money to win a congressional election; you can’t throw it together in a few months. You can see how unprepared Democrats are for this scenario by looking at how many districts won’t have a Democratic candidate at all. Nineteen states have already closed their filing process for House elections, representing 163 Congressional districts. And as Stephen Wolf points out, in 27 of those 163 seats—about one in six—no Democrat will appear on the ballot.
Most of those seats are hopelessly Republican, but not all of them. Six of the districts have a Cook Partisan Voting Index score (a measure of how much more partisan a district is than the median) of “Republican+10” or less. Democrats held two of them, the 3rd and 10th districts in Pennsylvania, as recently as 2010. Illinois’s 16th district, held by Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, is only R+4, but no Democrat emerged to challenge him. Given their thin margin for error, Democrats need surprises in seats like Kinzinger’s to win the majority. But they cannot get his. 
If this pattern continues, dozens more Republicans (in the states where candidates can still file) will see no general-election opposition from Democrats. To give one glaring example, Virginia’s 2nd district, which Mitt Romney won only narrowly in 2012, has an open seat; incumbent Scott Rigell is retiring. But while two Republicans have announced they’re running, no Democrat has declared yet, and filing closes March 31. There’s also no Democrat currently running in Colorado’s 3rd district, an R+5 seat where incumbent Scott Tipton only won 53 percent of the vote in 2012.

Even if most of the Democrat-free districts are deep red, the lack of candidates on the ballot robs the party of capitalizing on a backlash against Trump, or a scandal involving a GOP incumbent. The lack of competition also allows the Republicans to focus more heavily on seats where they’re strongly challenged, preventing the party from being stretched thin financially.

So there's a very good chance that the massive failure of Schultz and the DNC has already assured that the Republicans keep the House no matter how awful Trump and company destroy the GOP, simply because Democrats have already been decimated at the state level.  In other words, barely taking the House back in November is about as good as Dems could possibly do, as getting crushed in state and local races for six years and losing districts to gerrymandering means the Republicans have a near-permanent advantage until 2022 at the earliest.

Yes, Trump might cost the GOP the House in 2016, but the path to get there is about as narrow for Dems as Trump has of winning the White House.

Trump Cards, Con't

The Republican party of Donald Trump is the party of leftover white resentment, period.  Greg Sargent:

Donald Trump continued stomping towards the GOP nomination with a big win in Arizona last night, which will stir more anxiety among GOP elites who worry that his strategy of courting white backlash could drive away minority voters, helping unleash an electoral bloodbath up and down the ticket. Paul Ryan is set to give a speech today decrying the “tone” in our politics that will likely hint at criticism of Trump along these lines. 
But what if Trump’s efforts to court white backlash constitute one of the essential ingredients of his success among Republican voters? 
A new analysis of Washington Post/ABC News polling strongly suggests this may be the case. A Post/ABC national poll this month asked: “Which of these do you think is a bigger problem in this country — blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?” 
A large plurality of Republican respondents nationally say that the bigger problem is whites losing out, by 45-19. I asked crack Post polling guru Scott Clement to break these numbers down among supporters of Trump and the other candidates, and it turns out that Trump supporters believe this in far larger percentages:

A majority of Trump supporters — 54 percent — believe the bigger problem is whites are losing out. Meanwhile, 37 percent of Trump’s supporters believe this strongly, again higher than among any other candidate’s supporters
To be clear, correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and this is only one of many potential factors explaining Trump’s support. As Clement and Max Ehrenfreund write for Wonkblog, the poll also found that Trump supporters are more likely to say they are struggling economically. But as they explain, when you take these economic findings along with the above views on the racial question, it suggests that Trump supporters tend to believe their “losses are being caused by other group’s gains.”

In other words, Republicans have done such a good job of getting working-class white Americans to vote against their own self interest that the gap between whites and non-whites has narrowed to the point of it being perceived as an unfair advantage to non-white Americans.

"But at least I'm doing better than those people" isn't quite as true as it has been across America's entire history, and Trump's supporters want to put an end to that real damn fast.

Yes, it's always been about race, and yes, it will get a lot uglier going forward.
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