Thursday, March 24, 2016

It's my Party and I'll Care if I want To

 Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
No matter who wins the nomination and ultimately the presidency this year, the Democratic Party is in trouble.  For almost two decades, after the economic successes of the Clinton administration went sour, after things got rough again for the 99 percent, my party didn't try hard enough to repair the damage. They made enemies on the left and made bullies on the right.  And now, when it seems they're finally waking up, both the left and the right are going after them, loaded for bear

George W. Bush and his cohorts systematically and deliberately destroyed a thriving economy, took away the homes and livelihoods of millions of Americans, and lied their way into a murderous, protracted trillion dollar war.  And what did the Democrats do? Not a whole hell of a lot.  With all of the excesses and outrages the GOP and the Right Wing were throwing at us, the Dems were in a perfect position to build a movement so big and so strong the painful realities of the Bush years would have been left to the history books and not to the burdens of generations to come.

Instead, leaders of the Democratic Party took us farther away from our Rooseveltian roots, playing nice while the demons haunted us.  Their refusal to fight back was a puzzlement, disturbing to those of us who still believed our party could do great things.  Then our knight in shining armor--Barack Obama--appeared on the horizon and we thought we were saved.

Obama won the 2008 election, riding in on a colossal wave of hope and change, but when the Democrats were given two full years of nearly unencumbered opportunities they squandered them, allowing the Republicans to go on acting as if they were still in charge.

After the Dems lost both houses in 2010, mainly because the voters were fed up and stayed home, the triumphant Republicans found themselves having to share the catbird seat with a gaggle of new and dangerous occupants: The Tea Party.  They came in with no governing experience, making demands so outrageous and out-of-touch the Dems should have been able to turn public opinion against them without much fuss or muss.   It didn't happen. 

In 2012, we won a partial battle but lost the advantages we needed to win the war:  Obama won the presidency but the GOP took back the House and the Senate, this time with more anti-government Tea Party newbies, all willing to suck at the teat of the government while threatening to drain it dry.

Aided and abetted by big money donors with ties to the John Birch Society, the NRA, and the religious right, pushing a pro-business, anti-government agenda with help from the Right Wing media, the GOP swept the board, handing entire states over to pro-business, anti-government leaders who promptly went to work finishing the job of shredding what we bravely but foolishly used to call our unalienable rights.

So here we are, Democrats, just months away from our chance to get it back and do it right this time. Our successes during the Obama years were encouraging, considering the Congress we had, but few and far between. We've just begun to build on them and we can't allow them to be thrown away. We have two presidential candidates to choose from. One of them, Hillary Clinton, is the pragmatic establishment candidate, and the other, Bernie Sanders, is the anti-establishment, pro-revolution counterpoint.

Bernie, the Independent, is closest to our populist roots and tells our story best.  Hillary, the Washington insider, may be better positioned to build on the populist theme and get the work done.  At this writing, it looks like Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination.  Then the job begins. We'll be back to Hope and Change but this time it has to work.

We--and I'm addressing Democrats here--have drifted from being the party of good to being the party of good intentions. "We meant well" is a far cry from "We got it done".  Our party needs a good swift kick in the pants and they're getting it in the person of Bernie Sanders.  People who are disillusioned, disappointed and tired of waiting are flocking to him.  Even those of us who are pushing for a Hillary win are cheering Bernie on.  (Come on.  You know we are. We might grouse at how he's doing it, but he's pressing our leaders to take us back to our inestimable roots. Even if we're not voting for Bernie, we're sitting up and taking notice.  It's been a long time coming and Sanders' candidacy is the catalyst to move it forward.)

We owe Bernie Sanders an enormous debt of gratitude and we'd be wise not to forget it. We are the party of populists and always have been.  We're liberals, we're progressives, we're white collar humanitarians, we're blue-collar do-gooders, we're pink collar nurterers.  We're the unabashed, unrepentant caretakers of our society.  That's what separates us from the other party.  That's what makes it so imperative that we sweep the election in November.  There are people hurting out there and they need us.

If we want to win in November we'll have to work together against the Republicans.  There are two parties in a position to fill the big vacancies.  Only two. If Bernie's people abandon the Democrats, we'll lose.  If Hillary's people stay miffed at Bernie's people, we'll lose.  The anger on both sides is going to have to take a back seat once we choose a candidate, just as it did in 2008 when Barack Obama won on a message of hope, the Democrats went on to hold the majority, and Obama's toughest rival, Hillary Clinton, became his friend, his ally, his Secretary of State.

We have a chance to do it right this time.  The Republicans should, by rights, be easy to beat. (You've seen their candidates, right?)  We have more to offer than they do, but in order to get our message out, in order to draw the most voters, we have to get our leaders to get with the program and agree on what our message is.

Simplified, this is how it goes:  Down with Oligarchy!  Up with Democracy!

The message may be simple but the execution won't be.  But we're Democrats and the other guys aren't.  We've done it before, we can do it again.

Emphasis on "we".

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mitch McConnell Tells a Big Fat Lie. Or Two.

Today, a little more than a month after Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly while hunting at a Texas ranch, President Obama announced his choice for a replacement.  He has chosen Merrick Garland, a D.C Circuit judge well known by most Beltway pols, almost unanimously endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats during previous nominations, a man whose views range from moderate to conservative, appealing to all but the most liberal among us.

This choice by Obama was, by all accounts, deliberate.  Republicans are on record singing Garland's praises. They go way back, these guys. Good man!  If anyone could get through the gawdawful GOP gantlet this most brilliant choice for SCOTUS would be it.

It was as if Mitch McConnell had been talking to brick walls! The day after Justice Scalia died, mere minutes after taking off his sad face, the Senate Majority Leader wasted no time making one thing crystal clear: This particular sitting president has no right appointing anyone to the Supreme Court during a presidential election year.  It should be the right of the people, McConnell said, and the right of the people doesn't start until January, 2017, when a new president not named Obama will be sworn into office.

Well, some people--even people who knew Mitch McConnell--were stunned!  What?  What did he say?   He said President Obama could nominate up the wazoo but even Jesus Christ almighty wouldn't go up for a vote. (Not his exact words.)  He would never allow a vote on any nominee put out there by Barack Obama.  Period.  End of story.

That was in February.  Today President Obama broke the news to Mitch McConnell that he, Barack Obama, president of these United States has the right to nominate anyone of his choice and the Congress of the United States had both the right and the obligation to vote on his choice. 
At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they are disposable, this is precisely the time when we should play it straight and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves because our Supreme Court really is unique. It's supposed to be above politics. It has to be. And it should stay that way.

To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn't even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two- thirds of Americans believe otherwise, that would be unprecedented. To suggest that someone who has served his country with honor and dignity, with a distinguished track record of delivering justice for the American people might be treated, as one Republican leader stated, as a political pinata. That can't be right.

It should be noted that every Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee was invited to the Rose Garden to hear the nomination speech this morning, and not a single one showed up.  Mitch McConnell was a no-show, as well.  He was writing his own speech:

"No way.  No how.  Uh uh. Ain't gonna happen.  Because Joe Biden." (Note: This is a synopsis and not the actual speech. Thank you.)

McConnell, that old constitutional scholar, brought up a previously unknown argument for his side known only by McConnell as "The Biden Rule".  According to McConnell, Joe Biden once said that a president shouldn't be able to nominate a supreme court justice during his final year in office.  There is no Biden Rule and Joe Biden never said what McConnell says he said.  In fact, Igor Volsky made that clear in a ThinkProgress article published right after McConnell made that claim, citing a partial clip of Biden's speech C-Span had put up on their website .
 Conservatives quickly pounced on the clip and used it as evidence to argue that Congressional Republicans are following long-standing precedent in refusing to consider President Obama’s nomination to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia until a new president takes the oath in January of 2017.

 But Biden's full speech undermines their claim. Rather than urging his colleagues to deny Bush's potential nominee a hearing, Biden was bemoaning the politicization of the confirmation process -- hence his suggestion of not holding a hearing in the heat of a presidential election -- and what he saw as Bush's refusal to properly consult with the Senate in selecting a nominee. In fact, just 10 minutes after calling for temporary inaction on Bush's candidate, Biden actually promised to consider a moderate Supreme Court nominee.
Later the same day, Volsky updated his piece to include this:
Joe Biden's office has released the following statement: "Nearly a quarter century ago, in June 1992, I gave a lengthy speech on the Senate floor about a hypothetical vacancy on the Supreme Court. Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject. Indeed, as I conclude in the same statement critics are pointing to today, urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended. That remains my position today."

But just today, some three weeks later, Mitch McConnell used that same already disputed Biden claim as reason not to consider President Obama's nominee. McConnell knows he's lying.  He has to know that WE know he's lying. But, true to form, he doesn't care. So now we wait to see who does care.  And what will happen in November if they don't.

Monday, March 7, 2016

When the cameras leave Flint, Michigan Will Still Be Michigan

On January 1, 2011, Rick Snyder, Michigan's new governor was sworn in.  Almost immediately after he solemnly swore to uphold the duties of his office, he made it clear that Michigan was in for a drubbing.  He was going to Make Michigan Great Again. The message was clear: "I'm the boss and you're not. I have friends in high places and you don't. Thanks for the votes, now get outta here."

On March 10, 2011, three months after his swearing-in (and five years ago, almost to the day), I wrote a blog called Michigan is Under Siege: Is Anybody Watching? It highlighted Rachel Maddow's yeoman efforts to draw attention to the plain fact that Michigan was heading toward dictator rule.  She centered her investigation on the emergency manager takeover of Benton Harbor, a poor, black city that had fallen on hard times and desperately needed help, but was far from requiring a potentate.

Among other observations on the new governor's outrageous first efforts at a full-blown takeover, Rachel said this:
Right now, [Michigan] Gov. [Rick] Snyder is pushing a bill that would give himself, Gov. Snyder and his administration, the power to declare any town or school district to be in a financial emergency. If a town was declared by the governor and his administration to be in a financial emergency they would get to put somebody in charge of that town, and they want to give that emergency manager that they just put in charge of the town the power to, “reject, modify, or terminate any contracts that the town may have entered in to, including any collective bargaining agreement."
  Five days later, in a blog called Michigan Under Threat of Dictatorship. NOW Can We Panic?  I quoted from Michael Moore's "Letter to My Fellow Michiganders", sounding the alarm:
What is most shocking to many is that the new governor, who ran against the Tea Party and defeated the right wing of his party in the primaries -- and then ran in the general election as "just a nerd from Ann Arbor" who was a moderate, not an ideologue -- has pulled off one of the biggest Jekyll and Hyde ruses I've ever seen in electoral politics.
Governor Snyder, once elected, yanked off his nice-guy mask to reveal that he is in fact a multi-millionaire hell-bent on destroying our state and turning it over to his buddies from Wall Street.
 On April 26, 2011, in a blog titled We're Michigan and Most of Us Don't Deserve This, I wrote:
Nothing unusual about a new governor being sworn in in early January, but this particular brand-new governor raised hackles in some circles (okay, in nearly ALL circles outside the corporate honchos and people still having Tea Parties in the midst of the rubble) by stepping off the podium and almost instantaneously barking orders to annihilate anyone outside his own elite space who thought they might be entitled to a taxpayer-funded public education, or wages beyond the truly laughable, or even a retirement free of toil and strife.
For most people bent on taking over an entire state that might have been enough, but some days later this man Rick found the Holy Grail.  An existing Financial Emergency Manager Law that he and his Republican-led legislature then got to work enhancing and extending until it no longer would only be used in--okay--emergencies, but could be tweaked to kill the unions, take over public education and. . .oh, let's say. . .fire duly elected officials in cities and towns that may or may not have potentially fatal fiscal wounds but do have too many poor people and thus can't keep the Gov and his court in the style to which they've become accustomed.
 On June 13, 2011, I wrote a blog called The Taking of Benton Harbor and lo and behold, the first inkling of problems with water appeared:
These Republican "small government" devotees took office on January 1 and immediately began dismantling governmental policies and protections, many of which had been put in place long before the parents of these hoo-haws were even born.  As public officials, their not-so-hidden goal is to turn the power of the state over to private interests, and Big Bucks says now is the time.  They can and they will do it, or their name isn't Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.
Just last week Eclectablog's Chris Savage wrote about another Emergency Financial Manager takeover, this time in Pontiac, in order to privatize the water-treatment services and hand them over to a company already in trouble with the DOJ for violations of the Clean Water Act.
Michael Stampfler is Pontiac, Michigan's EFM. He has the dubious distinction of being the first Michigan EFM to use new powers granted by Michigan Republicans to cancel a union contract. What went nearly unnoticed was that last week, he dissolved the Pontiac Planning Commission and replaced it with a smaller number of his own hand-picked, unelected members. But he also did another thing. He made a contract for water treatment services with United Water Services permanent, outsourcing the water treatment to them and laying off city water treatment officials.
And on March 21, 2013, almost three years ago, in a blog called News From Michigan, the Nation's First Dictator State, I wrote: 
It could be that with all that's going on in the world you might have missed what's happening closer to home, in the sovereign state of Michigan.  In just over two years, since businessman and venture capitalist Rick Snyder became governor, bringing along with him a Republican majority in the legislature and in most courts (including the Supreme one), with a push from the Tea Party, the Koch Brothers and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, our beautiful state has suffered under the country's first duly elected dictatorship.

In March of 2011, two months after his inauguration, Snyder pushed through a draconian Emergency Financial Manager law, essentially giving him the authority to appoint one person to take over the governing of any municipality or school system deemed failing by Our Man Snyder.

In November, 2012 the voters, finally coming to their senses, soundly voted down that outrageously unconstitutional law.  A few weeks later Snyder's minions, ignoring the wishes of the voters, not only reinstated the law, they added wording that would keep the voters from ever voting it down again.

This slid by just days after the Republicans stuck it to the already bruised and bleeding unions by making Michigan, the home of the labor movement, a Right-to-Work state

Just last week, the Republican legislature was back working on a bill that would allow health care providers to refuse services to patients/customers for religious or moral reasons.  It's a transparent smackdown of abortion and contraception, but it could also affect anybody from gays to Muslims to blacks to liberal Democrats.
 The point of all this is to amplify the fact that we've been sounding the alarm for years--long before Snyder won his second term handily--and, while there has been some state and national attention from the press, it took a  disaster in Flint--a tragic, wholly avoidable man-made assault on innocent children by poisoning their water with lead--to make what has happened in our great state serious enough to warrant visits from politicians, all too aware of the opportunities, and breathless reporters standing in front of cable news cameras hoping--admit it--to spike their ratings.

On Tuesday, Michigan's Democratic primary election takes place. On Wednesday the politicians, the reporters, the camera crews, and the protesters from outside will pack up their bags and leave.  Will they look back? If past history is any judge, probably not.  The next far-off disaster awaits.

But for the people of Flint, grateful for the attention, hoping it'll finally be the catalyst they need to repair both their city and their lives, let me beg anyone who sees this:  Don't let this die.  Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan cannot tweet his way out of this.  If he won't at long last take seriously what he has allowed to happen in Michigan, the world needs to camp on his doorstep until he does.

It should be obvious by now that we can't do this alone.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bernie and Hillary and Me: Can't We All Be Friends?

I agree with Bernie Sanders on almost everything.  I agree that the minimum wage should be raised--even higher than Bernie advocates.  I agree that workers are being shafted and our jobs have to come back from overseas. I agree that health care for all without stipulations or roadblocks has to become reality.  I agree that we can't keep funding wars around the world.

Photo Credit:  David Goldman/AP

I agree that the Republicans have been complete and total shits for more years than we should have allowed, and that the Democrats have been weak-kneed and back-bone-free when it comes to fighting against them.  (If you want to call that fighting.)

I agree that the money interests have taken over this country and we have to take it back.

I agree that it's way past time for a revolution. (Vive la révolution!)

I get it!  I'm as mad as Bernie is!

And I want Hillary Clinton as president.

Photo Credit:  AP
I've wrestled with my warring sides for a long time, wondering how I could have changed my mind when all along I was sure if Bernie should decide to run he would be my first choice.

It comes down to this:  Bernie is my first choice as revolutionary leader. As revolutionary leaders go, Bernie ranks right up there at the top. But if Bernie should win the presidency, his days as a radical revolutionary leader are over.  (Radicalism is frowned on in the White House. See The West Wing.) He wouldn't in a million years be able to accomplish as much as he might if he stays on the outside pressing for the goals he has outlined during his campaign. 

We need people like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to be the gadflies, the pushers, but it's nigh impossible to do it from the inside. I'm convinced that's why Warren chose not to run. She knows she can be far more effective as the conscience of a nation from where she is. A president has to be all things to all people. The leader of a revolution has to stay focused on the cause. Bernie, if he wins, won't be able to do that and he'll disappoint the people who are counting on him to make radical change. They'll start a revolution without him, or in spite of him, or against him.

Hillary, no matter how much she would like to be seen as the dewy-eyed outsider, thrives inside the establishment. She knows the players and knows how to play their games. With Hillary it'll be a chess match. With Bernie it'll be hand-to-hand combat.  With the Republicans, it'll be business as usual, and they'll fight dirty no matter who goes after them. 

I see more advantages to getting Hillary, the tougher, more pragmatic candidate, in there, and then helping Sanders and Warren, along with a host of powerhouse liberal Democrats, to get her to where they--and we--want to be.

Bernie has done the country a true service by running for president. He has drawn in and energized crowds of voters who had given up hope that the system would work for them. They're pumped now, as they'll have to be if we're going  to take the presidency away from Donald Trump, or any other spectacularly unworthy candidate the Republicans throw at us.

Eyes on the prize now.  Whether the nominee is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, we vote for our side.  The Democrats have to win.  Losing at this point is not an option.