Author Archives: PB Goodfriend

Redressing the redressers, because the money matters

“Congress shall make no law respecting…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights

We are Constitutionally empowered to redress the actions of our government, or its inaction, in matters both social and criminal. American activism is the quintessential expression of that guaranteed right.

Some put their talk to their feet, and march in protest. Some put their grievances to paper, press or keyboard, and some express with their wallets, either by withholding money through boycotts or by making it rain on a politician or a cause. The latter, it should be noted, has become a grievance in itself, for fear the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon will give some voices an unfair advantage when it comes to petitioning for change.

Such is the case with the recent attacks by Democratic leaders on the obscenely wealthy, conservative buttresses, Charles and David Koch. “These two brothers are trying to buy America,” Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada) declared on the floor of the upper chamber, in late February.

Because they throw so much money at their robber baron agenda, laced with an unhealthy obsession against government and taxes, the Kochs have become an anathema to progressives and the liberal base of the Democrats. They also have the social sensitivity of Marie Antoinette.

“I guess if you make that much money, you can make these immoral decisions,” Reid added, in his chastisement of the pair’s funding of a group that is airing deliberately misleading ads against Democratic incumbents who voted for the Affordable Care Act. He said the commercials demonstrate that the Koch brothers may have money, but they “have no conscience and are willing to lie” to push their agenda.

“The Koch brothers are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” he said. Why such a nationalistic pejorative for two men just trying to lobby their government? Because Reid fears that policy in this country is made by the wealthy, and it is. But more about that below.

So why does Harry Reid bother putting statements like that on the record? That’s what one red state Democratic Senator wondered about the majority leader’s rant.

“If you’re trying to rally the base, the bases have already been rallied,” West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told Fox News, earlier this month. “The right and left bases have been rallied.”

It may be true that, as the Senator says, “There’s people (sic) who don’t like the extreme Democrat politics or extreme Republican politics,” but the money for the political parties is not coming from those people. It’s coming from the ones closer to the extremes, who have an issue with, and perhaps even an unhealthy anxiety and fear of, the opposing party gaining control of the policy arm of our country.

Capitol SOLD

A recent study by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University bears out that it’s the money that makes policy in American politics. The study finds “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Reid’s purpose, then, is more of a direct appeal to “average citizens.” He cannot ask for contributions outright, from the floor of the United States Senate, so he rails against folks like the Kochs, to remind the left just what the they’re fighting against, and to get them to pony up. House Republicans do the same thing, but in a more subtle way, by casting vote after futile vote to repeal the ACA.

Despite President Obama’s calls, last week, for the Republicans in Congress to stop the repeal train and realize that “it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about,” the House has vowed to keep it going.

The president rightly pointed out that “these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost,” but not for the John Boehner (R-Ohio), Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) and the rest of the House Republican caucus. Every one of those 50 times they’ve wasted the people’s time and money to hold one of those seemingly “fruitless” votes, it’s been anything but that for them, loading their campaign coffers with “speech” from conservative groups and tea party activists. The message to Congress is, hold a vote, get money.

As the university study says, “A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favor) is adopted only about 18% of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favor) is adopted about 45% of the time.” The money is the message, and according to the Supreme Court, the message is the money. You can expect a similar tactic in the Senate, if the GOP gets control next year.

The two professors go on to warn, that their “analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts… [W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Manchin, who considers himself a centrist, said it’s people like him who “have to start making something happen here in Washington to move this country forward.” That may be, but because of the Court’s decisions liberating campaign finance, it’s the extremists – and their money – who decide what moves on Capitol Hill. Centrists are left out in the cold. Except for a few organizations like No Labels and Third Way, there’s no place for the political centrist to have her valued voice heard, except, perhaps, by directly contributing to the candidate of her choice.

The American political system is not abiding those who politely decline to pick a side and stick with it, abhorring them for their unpredictability, but never shy to boast when they vote for the party favorite. That’s a bad thing, when the number of Americans identifying as independents is at its largest, ever.

If, as Manchin lamented about the partisan rhetoric pandering to the extremes, “we got to start being Americans again,” then we all must have equal power in redressing the Congress for our grievances. While this Court sits, that is unlikely, because our voice (money) isn’t “loud” enough to breach the Koch’s dam and reach Capitol Hill. But maybe it can have enough volume to reach Manchin’s Americans, and at least get them to vote for a future that preserves a role for government in helping sustain and improve people’s health and welfare. These used to be things reasonable people agreed on, but that’s when reason was free.


Friday’s verdict just the beginning of trial trouble for Nathan Deal

PB Goodfriend:

With one super successful lawsuit against Deal’s handling of the state ethics investigation, it appears inevitable that more will follow. Will Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) make it through the May primary, or even to it?

Originally posted on Political Insider blog:

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Over the weekend, it became more than obvious that one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s most daunting tasks this year is the drumbeat of ethics-related trials he’ll have to cope with in the run-up to the May primary and November general election.

Fallout from the verdict in the Stacey Kalberman trial will be challenging enough for the Deal camp.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogWe’ve already seen the governor distance himself from Friday’s verdict and deny even monitoring the Kalberman case from afar. We also expect Democrat Jason Carter to use some of the $1.6 million in his campaign piggy bank to launch constant reminders of the trial – and whatever comes next – the governor’s way.

But two other lawsuits are in the offing, from former ethics commission staffers Sherilyn Streicker and John Hair, with claims strikingly similar to Kalberman’s. If emboldened by Kalberman’s victory, at least one other former employee could soon seek…

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Losing Crimea to a ‘bastard’

Landmines are down. Russian troops are on the ground in Crimea, and mobilizing on the border with Ukraine. “If Russia does establish facts on the ground that increase tensions or that threaten the Ukrainian people, then… there will be costs,” warned U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in London, Friday.

There’s no other way to put it, other than the way former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates said it on Fox News Sunday. “I do not believe… that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hands.”

The Republicans love it, because, in their eyes, he’s pointing to a foreign policy weakness of the Obama administration, namely, that Barack Obama is not assertive enough against a tyrant like Vladimir Putin. Indeed, their rhetoric suggests they wish he was more like the Russian leader. “That’s a leader,” lamented former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, of the Russian despot. That’s quite ironic, since their vitriolic base already considers Obama a tyrant, on par with Hitler. He’s either Hitler or Neville Chamberlain, sometimes both. They can’t seem to make up their minds.

But what the hell could our president do, under these circumstances? As Sec. Gates put it, “Our tactical options are pretty limited.”

The hawks like to point to our refusal to bomb Syria after the regime used chemical weapons, and the administration’s slowness to send arms to the anti-Assad forces, as a sort of green light to Putin. As Gates pointed out, “[E]ven if we had launched attacks in Syria, I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.”

“I don’t think Putin needs to respond to weakness. He’s just the bastard he is,” observed author Salman Rushdie, on Real Time, with Bill Maher, Friday.

Republicans also reveled in the media replaying former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney’s insistence, during the 2012 campaign, that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” calling the statement both accurate and prescient. But like most rhetoric the GOP puts out there, it was from their smug perspective of moral relativism. They ignore the key phrase, which President Obama rightly pointed out, that Russia is not the “number one” global threat to the United States. As the commander-in-chief rightly stated, we are in far greater danger from extremist terrorism than we are from Putin.

Crimea mapThe Russian leader acted because he does not want the strategic peninsula to fall into the hands of the European Union, or even worse, NATO. So he aggressively crossed the narrow, Kerch Strait, which separates Russia from the peninsula by a much shorter distance than Putin’s federation is from Sarah Palin’s house.

It’s not like the Pentagon could have sent the US Navy into the parts of the Black Sea that are not part of Russian territorial waters, to protect the western side of the Crimean peninsula from the Russians sending their ships, because the Russians have a fleet of ships already in Crimea – the Black Sea Fleet. Surrounding Crimea to the west would have meant blockading Russian ships, too. Then, they really would have had a legitimate claim on their interests being threatened.

Any military response on our part would not result in the proxy wars of the Cold War era. There is no organized resistance against the Russians in Crimea for us to arm. It would be World War Three.

Think of it like the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, but instead of the US sending ships to surround Cuba, Khrushchev would have sent ships into the Florida Straits to protect Castro’s regime. We wouldn’t have stood for that, and we had definite U.S. military interests in Cuba, in Guantanamo Bay, since 1903.

The United States has no defense pact with the Ukraine, only with her NATO member neighbors on the Baltic – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – and Poland. Not only are we not compelled to act by treaty, we cannot send forces into Ukraine without their asking, and they haven’t asked.

What they have asked for, and what we can genuinely provide, is money. According to CNN Money, their situation is dire:

“The European Union says it will offer Ukraine at least $15 billion (€11 billion) in aid. The U.S. government has also stepped in to help, offering $1 billion in loan guarantees.

The money can’t come soon enough. Ukrainian leaders said last month the country needs $35 billion in aid, funds that will go to pay creditors…”

Our only response, and it may be the inevitable one, is sanctions. But given the intransigence of Putin’s devotees combined with Republicans in the United States Congress who are conflagrating World Bank reforms with an aid package for the fledgeling Ukraine governing coalition, it appears there will be no action to stem Russia’s perceived aggression until at least after Sunday’s Crimean referendum. That’s when the separatist territory will decide whether to become an independent country or join the cultural Russian majority with the motherland.

“I presented a number of ideas on behalf of the President, which we believe absolutely could provide a path forward for all the parties,” Sec. Kerry told the world press, Friday, “However, after much discussion, the Foreign Minister made it clear that President Putin is not prepared to make any decision regarding Ukraine until after the referendum on Sunday.”

And as far as sanctions go, the EU is beholden to Russia as a trading partner and an energy supplier, and any quid pro quo from Putin could leave them reeling, just as their economy was starting to come back. “Analysts say Russia would be the ultimate loser of any prolonged trade war,” CNN reported this week, “but European exporters and investors would suffer too.”

Foreign ministers from the EU countries are scheduled to meet in Brussels, Monday, following the Crimean referendum and the Russian reaction. After the London talks between Kerry an Lavrov failed to produce a diplomatic solution, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was urging “a firm and united response from the EU at the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council Monday and that the time has come for tougher restrictive measures.”

When asked about U.S. and European sanctions, Friday, Kerry insisted, “I think that’ll have an impact.”


Senate to Vote on Competing Military Sexual Assault Bills

PB Goodfriend:

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) wants to keep the prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wants the cases to be referred immediately to the JAG Corps. Given some commanders’ penchant for protecting the reputation of their own commands, where would you rather these cases go?

Originally posted on TIME:

The Senate is set to hold dueling votes Thursday on two measures overhauling how the military handles sexual assault cases. The sticking point has come down to whether to leave the prosecution of such crimes within the chain of command.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has been doggedly pushing to give the cases to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. She has the public endorsement of 54 of her colleagues, five short to avoid a filibuster. Gillibrand, who has the support of most victim’s groups, notes that according to the Pentagon’s own research, more 25% of women and 27% of men who were victims of unwanted sexual contact indicated that their offender was within their chain of command, thus making it difficult for them to report such cases. Gillibrand’s bill would leave 37 serious crimes uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders of going AWOL, within the chain…

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Cummings vs. Issa on IRS targeting probe

After reading his own opening statement, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cal.) got so ticked that embattled former IRS official, Lois Lerner, was continuing to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, that he adjourned the hearing. That didn’t sit well with Ranking Member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) who thought he too should be heard. Even after Issa cut off his microphone, Cummings kept on, for nearly ten minutes, shouting so the media microphones could still hear him.

To view the entire segment, click here. Notice the guy on the right coaxing Issa to leave the dais.

The problem with Clinton nostalgia

Hillary Clinton, 1997, 2007, 2013

Hillary Rodham Clinton, as first lady, in 1997 (White House photo), as presidential candidate in 2007 (photo by Veni Markovski) and as departing Secretary of State, 2013 (Dept. of Defense photo)

Let’s start with, on the whole, I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton. She commits. She works hard. She gets thing done.

Her impressive performance as secretary of state made sure that the good ship Hillary never bottomed out, buoyed by a tide of political good will, domestically and abroad. The energy of, let’s call it love, for her direct political style, despite her loss of the 2008 presidential nomination, makes her the overwhelming choice of an overwhelming majority of Americans to lead our country after 2016. I don’t agree with all of the stands she has taken, but unless someone better comes along, I can see myself voting for her.

But let’s be clear: Hillary Clinton is an establishment Democrat, a stalwart, with her husband, of the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC made a political calculation, twenty-plus years ago, to tone down the traditional social welfare, pro-labor rhetoric of the Democratic Party, to try to win back centrists they had lost to Reagan and Bush 41.

The strategy, at the time, seemed to be effective. “The DLC hailed President Bill Clinton,” the Wikipedia entry reads, “as proof of the viability of Third Way politicians and as a DLC success story.” (That, of course, is arguable. There are lots of reasons George Herbert Walker Bush lost that election.)

But it was this move away from the political left that brought us welfare reform and the repeal of the strong banking and insurance regulations of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which many believe directly led to the abuses that crashed our economy in the Great Recession of 2008.

The conscience of the DLC was also present when Hillary voted to authorize the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war in Iraq. And her defense of lobbyists at an appearance before liberal and progressive bloggers, in 2007, got her booed because, as Politco wrote, at the time, “it seemed to solidify the perception of Clinton as a Washington establishment figure in a year when Democrats are eager for change.”

It was more than two years into President Obama’s first term, before the DLC folded, and had its records acquired by the Clinton Foundation. The change that we were eager for seemed to have come.

Now, in the wake of the release of historical documents from the Clinton White House, Republicans are dredging up the 1990s, again. Reports that Hillary Clinton “dissed” the individual mandate the GOP had proposed during the Hillary-care discussions are now fodder for the Right, but their agrument ignores that, like many liberals today, she didn’t approve of that solution because she was working toward a public option healthcare system.

Sen. Rand Paul has even chosen to revisit the Lewinsky affair, and has been referring to President Bill Clinton as a “predator,” in his obvious attempt to splash some taint of the affair onto the former first lady. What Sen. Paul doesn’t seem to realize is that America didn’t care about it then, and we certainly don’t care about it now. Move on.

I mean, let’s not reminisce about the 1990s, or even the Hillary Clinton of 2008. Let’s have a discussion about Hillary, today, the one who is neither a true liberal nor a solid centrist. What Hillary Clinton is, and perhaps always has been, is a pragmatist, and a damn smart one.

“Clinton is positioning herself perfectly,” wrote Brent Budowski, in the Hill, recently. “If the politics of the [healthcare] law get better for Democrats, she can play it cool. If the politics of the law become worse for Democrats, she can escalate her calls for change and tell voters — accurately and honestly — that she was against the mandate then and that she was right and Republicans wrong.”

If you want to join the mania over Hillary 2016, by all means, jump aboard. Just remember that the direction of United States policy is larger than the promises made by, and the personality of, one politician. It has always been up to the people to steer the course. Don’t just stand on the sidelines, watching MSNBC and reading blogs. Stand for something. Work for something, as if the future of your country depends on it, because it does.


The partisan imperative: fighting for the love of an agenda

Sanitation workers marching in Atlanta's MLK Day parade, January 20, 2014 (PBG)

Sanitation workers marching in Atlanta’s MLK Day parade, January 20, 2014 (PBG)

Two days after most of the country marched and served their neighbors in celebration of the legacy of equality and civil rights preached by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thousands gathered in Washington, DC, to protest the forty-first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s pro-choice, Roe v. Wade decision.

Both events sprung from a time in this country when people came together, showing solidarity and common purpose, in order to affect change. Dr. King’s legacy was as “a drum major for peace,” who worked for the advancement of all segments of society. Roe v. Wade was the culmination of a struggle for women, who won the right to decide what to do with their own bodies. But neither outcome sat well with the movement that spawned those who marched against choice, Wednesday. Their demonstration showed that, for the culture warriors of the Right, the fight against even decades-old, settled law is never over.

Conservative culture warriors never stay buried. They do go underground, however, and like a dormant seed, they wait until conditions are right for their reemergence. Fertilized by the rotting carcasses of shamed John Birchers, nourished by the spiteful rhetoric of the Tea Party and their 1% puppet masters, they awoke to find themselves in a Grand Old Garden Party. They celebrated with and were lauded by leading Republicans like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and former presidential candidate, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).

Not that long ago, though, at the time the high court sent down its historic abortion decision, the Republicans who are now their benefactors looked at the beliefs of the hard right as an anathema to party unity, wrought with political poison. Pat Nixon, who was first lady when the decision came down, was pro-choice. Betty Ford was also pro-choice, and she came out in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. And even the arch-conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), who ran for president in 1964, told the Senate, in 1981, “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?”

The Bipartisan Flat Line

According to some scholars, that was during a very rare era in American politics, when bipartisanship was at its peak. Writing in the Washington Post earlier this month, political scientists David W. Brady, of the Hoover Institution, and Hahrie Han, from Wellesley College, point out that, for most of our history, there is little to no bipartisanship between the parties in Congress. They reached that conclusion by counting the number of lawmakers who are ideologically opposite the vast majority of their own party, and who are even closer to the other party’s ideology than 10% of that party’s contrarians.

In other words, they looked for a time when the most conservative Democrats in Congress “overlapped,” or were more conservative than, 10% of the most liberal Republicans. What they found validates the feelings of a lot of people growing up in 1960s and 1970s, that people actually worked together, then, to get things done.

According to Brady and Han’s data, the politicians who came up in post New Deal, post war America have the highest amount of aisle crossing cooperation in our history. Before that, and since, bipartisanship has been “a flat line.”

They write:

“In the post-WWII period, the number of legislators from each party in the overlap region spiked upwards and persisted until the early 1970s, when the numbers began to decline…

“By the 1980s, however, we are back to a flat line. There are no Democrats or Republicans in the overlap region…

“Taking this view, we realize that it is the immediate post-WWII era that is really unusual.”

Why did the lawmakers of that era act in that “unusual” way? Perhaps the camaraderie of the foxhole that the Greatest Generation shared, and the pitching in on the home front, allowed for the rare occurrence, where cooperation and unity of purpose were essential tools for survival.

So partisanship, then, is our political norm, and it just falls short of the expectations of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, who may not know the times they long for were the exception in our country’s history, and not the rule. That means it’s just by relative comparison that we call it “hyper-partisanship,” so maybe we should just relax and lose the hyperbole. It’s just partisanship.

If that’s the case, that our country flat-lines bipartisanship as a matter of course, why not be fearless about promoting our core beliefs? The two major political parties in the United States certainly need the extremists in their relative bases, but what happens when once extreme positions go mainstream? Will the pols follow?

A More Liberal America

Democratic strategist Steve Rosenthal thinks they will. “America is becoming more liberal,” exclaims an op-ed he penned in the Washington Post, this month. In it, Rosenthal goes through a laundry list of causes in which, he points out, polls demonstrate that “evolving” national sentiment favors the positions of the left. From marriage equality to immigration to pot to climate change, even income inequality, he looks at the numbers and concludes “the United States is steadily becoming more progressive.”

And, Rosenthal says, liberals need to keep pushing their agenda. “Progressives have an opportunity,” he wrote, “not only to come into the mainstream but also to lead — and shape public opinion.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees. “We’re going to have four or five issues that we choose and they must be examples where government is clearly needed to do good,” he told a group at the Center for American Progress, Thursday, reflecting on the tactics Senate Democrats plan for 2014. Arguing that his party needs to stay on message, Schumer went on to tell the liberal audience “[T]he prominence in the issues of government’s ability to restore and build the middle class, provides us with a golden opportunity to expose what has always been a fault line in the tea party. The obsessive anti-government philosophy of tea party elites does not meet the actual needs of tea party membership.” In other words, the Democrats are going to say that government has helped, and can continue to help, everyone, even the tea party rank and file.

Yes, we are all individuals. Yes, we are all different.

Despite Schumer’s assertions, some Democrats running for office in red states seem to be gun shy, as far as promoting an aggressive liberal policy. Republicans, though, have no qualms about voicing their own agenda. Maybe that’s because the GOP hardliners think everyone is in the echo chamber with them, while liberals believe no one can ever completely agree with their unique opinion, even others with a similar social philosophy. That’s what science says.

According to a recent study by researchers at New York University, and reported in Scientific American (and re-posted on, “Conservatives overestimated how similar their preferences were to those of other conservatives, while liberals underestimated how similar their preferences were to those of other liberals.”

The authors liken the “false uniqueness” liberals feel to this clever scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

Conservatives may believe that they can easily agree with each other, the study concludes, but, “It remains to be seen whether the conservative false consensus effect can lead to any real consensus in the GOP.”

Just ask Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), who quipped with Jay Leno, the other night, “I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill. It’s hard to do.”

Boehner’s frustration with his caucus boiled over, last month, when he told the press he couldn’t believe it when one of the principle players in the GOP government shutdown, last fall, went on television and said, “We didn’t expect it to work, anyway.” That caused Boehner to give the press a stridently plaintive, “Are you kidding me?”

But the extremists don’t kid. They expect fidelity to the conservative cause, even though, as the NYU study says, that means different things to different people, and the definition of “conservative” seems to change over time.

“Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe,” economist Paul Krugman wrote in a New York Times op-ed, at the beginning of the year, “and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists. For some time now it has been impossible to be a good Republicans while believing in the reality of climate change; now it’s impossible to be a good Republican while believing in evolution.

“And of course,” he continued, “the same thing is happening in economics. As recently as 2004, the Economic Report of the President of a Republican administration could espouse a strongly Keynesian view, declaring the virtues of ‘aggressive monetary policy’ to fight recessions, and making the case for discretionary fiscal policy too.” Using government money to stimulate the economy, you see, sounds too much like what a Democrat would do, so now, of course, only supply-siders are welcome to the tribe.

The Imperative

The tribal, cultural divide is being played out, early in this midterm election year, over the issue that brought all those conservatives to D.C., Wednesday: abortion, and its sister issue, birth control.

In a preview of the event, the New York Times seemed surprised that the issue was even in play, this year:

“Abortion is becoming an unexpectedly animating issue in the 2014 midterm elections. Republicans, through state ballot initiatives and legislation in Congress, are using it to stoke enthusiasm among core supporters. Democrats, mindful of how potent the subject has been in recent campaigns like last year’s governor’s race in Virginia, are looking to rally female voters by portraying their conservative opponents as callous on women’s issues.”

So the GOP is going back to the 2004 playbook, when it used anti-gay marriage ballot measures to get their base to the polls. Since consensus on that issue has shifted, they’ve turned to abortion and birth control, which, the conventional wisdom goes, they’re trying to turn into an economic issue, rather than a cultural one.

But when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got up in front of the National Republican Committee meeting, Thursday, it was the cultural side of the teeter-totter he dropped a load on. “The Democrats,” he said, “want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.”

In an excellent article in the Atlantic, Molly Ball points out that Democrats are missing the bigger picture, if all they do is gleefully point to the shiny object of another misstep by Republicans in their efforts to reach women. It may seem like easy pickings, when the RNC’s own 2012 postmortem, the Growth and Opportunity Project, advised a “need to use language that addresses concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.” Yet, Ball writes:

“The RNC has been raising money at a record clip, enabling Chairman Reince Priebus to fulfill his goal of staffing an unprecedented national political operation. There are more than 160 field staffers living and organizing in 26 states, and they’ll be in all 50 by the end of the year.”

Add in outreach to Hispanics and young people in several states, and investment in digital resources, and it becomes apparent that the GOP is not about to change its stripes, just how it shows its colors to communities it is trying to reach. Ball also points out, there are observers who are predicting a better than 60% chance of the GOP winning in 2016. Her advice is cautionary:

“Democrats roll their eyes at these efforts—see, they say, Republicans think they can dress up the same old ideas with fancy Facebook doodads and slick new slogans, but they’re not fundamentally changing what it is they’re offering in policy and philosophical terms. But to Republicans, the idea that they would change what they stand for was always oversold. The Growth and Opportunity Project’s only policy recommendation was immigration reform—which, granted, hasn’t happened, blocked by House Republicans, though it still could get done this year. The bulk of the report, though, focused on changing the party’s image and effectiveness through rhetoric and tactics.”

They’re still conservative, still tribal. “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be,” Mississippi’s Henry Barbour, who was part of the group involved in the 2102 postmortem, told Ball. “We said we need to articulate conservative principles in a way that’s inclusive and loving as opposed to shrill and strident. That doesn’t sell.”

There’s a danger of complacency for Democrats who stand on the sidelines like the hare, pointing, laughing and shaking their heads, while the Republicans plod past the finish line and take the Senate. Conservatives are talking up their brand, not changing it, and trying to reach more people with it.

Schumer’s call of “bringing back a renewed faith in government’s ability to do good,” is a worthy start at demonstrating the liberal brand sells, too. The best way to do that is to harken back to a time of solidarity and commitment to common purpose for the common good. We don’t need bipartisanship in Congress to make that happen. We need Americans.

Kerry insists Assad must go, but then what?


Participants and stakeholders in Syria’s civil war meet in Switzerland for Geneva II talks. (State Dept. video)

In his opening remarks at talks aimed at halting the years of violence and killing in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that there is only one way for things to move forward in the war torn country. “[W]e see only one option: a negotiated transition government formed by mutual consent.”

That means, he said, Assad must go:

“We really need to deal with reality. Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern. One man and those who have supported him can no longer hold an entire nation and a region hostage. The right to lead a country does not come from torture, nor barrel bombs, nor Scud missiles. It comes from the consent of the people. And it’s hard to imagine how that consent could be forthcoming at this point in time.”

Kerry repeated the call in the Geneva communique issued following talks in June, 2012, and called for “a peaceful roadmap for transition. And,” he added, “the only thing standing in its way is the stubborn clinging to power of one man, one family.”


US Secretary of State, John Kerry, giving remarks at Syria peace talks, in Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2014 (State Dept. video)

Iran, which backs the Assad regime, had its short-lived invitation to the talks rescinded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, after Tehran refused to acknowledge Assad’s departure as a precondition. According to other reports, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement, saying the powers that want to see Assad go are “are behind instability” in the country.

Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly told a state news agency, Tuesday, that allowing the rebels to have a voice in deposing Assad “would legitimize the terrorists,” who, he claims, “are being supported by the Zionist regime of Israel and the arrogant powers and reactionary governments.”

Israel, however, while not fond of Assad, insists that they know how to deal with him, and are reluctant to deal with another new regime at its border, especially a Jihadist one. As one unnamed Israeli intelligence officer told The London Times, last spring, “Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos, and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.”

Despite Kerry’s stated hopes for “a resolution that can provide peace to the region and peace to the people of Syria,” Israeli Defense Forces say they believe the U.S. and her European allies know better. “The West has come to the realization,” one IDF official told a regional news site, “that the alternative to Assad is worse.”


The morality cause: Moral Mondays sweep a region

Morality means giving resources to stay healthy

Moral Monday Georgia protesters leave religious symbols at on the Capitol steps to signify 650,000 uninsured Georgians who would benefit from Medicaid expansion

“There is a longing in America for the recovery of our deepest moral and Constitutional values in public policies, policies people know that hurt the poor, children, women, the sick, and voting rights…
“We know our politics can be moral. Our politics can be merciful. Our politics can be kind, caring, loving and just and fair and equal.”

- Rev. William Barber, of Moral Mondays, North Carolina, helping to launch Georgia’s Moral Monday efforts, January 13, 2014

It’s a great movement. A moral movement. Not merely a moment captured in clever alliteration. Moral Mondays is a movement started in Raleigh, North Carolina, last year, motivated by the extreme actions of a newly elected governor and state legislature whose “policies are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically in shame.”

Rev. Barber speaking

Rev. William Barber, of the North Carolina Moral Monday movement, flanked by Moral Monday Georgia activists

Rev. Barber said those words in front of the Georgia Capitol, in Atlanta, Monday, not just to point a finger at North Carolina and Georgia, but at every state, he said, “that divides people by race and extremist propaganda.”

“Justice,” protester Rod Mack called it, as he held a hand written sign calling to replace Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal with Democrat State Senator Jason Carter, this fall.

Barbara Adle calls Medicaid expansion a moral and ethical issue

Barbara Adle calls Medicaid expansion a moral and ethical issue

Barbara Adle, a participant in the Atlanta rally who would benefit from Medicaid expansion, agreed. “Justice means, to me, equal access to affordable housing, health care, food, jobs. Until every person has equitable access to get their basic needs met, there is no justice.”

Mack said the injustice in Georgia comes from Gov. Deal having “no interest in making sure that 650,000″ uninsured Georgians are covered under the Affordable Care Act. “Our state is so far behind in a lot of things,” he lamented. “We need to catch up.”

Another protester, Chris “Cholu” Bondurant, who describes himself as “a frequent flyer” in the local health system, also pointed to Deal as the one person who could change things, but is unwilling to do so. “I have ongoing healthcare problems,” he said, “and would appreciate it if the governor would quit kowtowing to his right wing ideologues and do what is best for the working class people of Georgia.”
Of course, Georgia and North Carolina aren’t the only states where this is an issue. On Tuesday, Rev. Barber and the thirty members of his home state’s Moral Monday Coalition who took a bus to Atlanta, headed to Columbia, South Carolina, to rally with that state’s Truthful Tuesdays protesters.

As he said in Atlanta, “We need state movements to have national implications. It’s the only the way forward.” He called this state-by-state movement away from the politics of fear “a new Southern Strategy.”

That term, “Southern Strategy,” was originally a Republican plan started by Richard Nixon’s campaign for reelection, where the idea was to drive a wedge between white southerners, and the Democrats’ cultural base, by reenforcing the notion of white privilege and exploiting Southern Man’s worst fears about minorities and federalism. That Rev. Barber co-opted it for the growing Moral Monday movement is not surprising, because, he says, the so-called Religious Right, who are the cornerstone of the Republican strategy, ignored the principal of providing for “even the least of these,” and adopted, instead, what he called a “Pharisetical” and “heretical” morality of hate and exclusion.

What would he do?

What would he do?

“If you really want to have a moral discussion,” he challenged the far right, “bring it on, baby!”

Some took a more humanistic approach to the moral questions of fairness. “I think of it as an ethical issue,” said Adle. “If we don’t have a ‘common good’ theme or practice, that’s how you end up with what we have, the split between the haves and the have-nots.”

What was most encouraging about the first Moral Mondays Georgia rally, was that it showed that all Georgians are stakeholders, because it brought out not only seasoned activists and sign waving liberals, but also young Millennials for whom this cause resonates.

Joanna Petolillo and Sarah Walling are twenty-five-year-old women who have been best friends for eight years. They finish each other’s sentences. Their birthdays are both in November, and they both fear what will happen when they are no longer able to be on their parents’ health insurance policies. They found out about the rally through Facebook, and this was the first time either of them participated in political activism.

Walling, a nursing student at a school in Forsyth County, Georgia, said that talking about current events was important to her, and her contemporaries. “You’d be surprised how many times I’ve gone out to just grab a drink with friends and we end up talking about the political policies in place and the ones they’re trying to put in place, and just how it’s going to have a negative effect on us and our economy and our ability to move forward.”

And what will she do with what she learned, Monday? “We can go back and be a voice to our friends and our communities and our co-workers and expand it beyond just ourselves,” she said.

Petolillo said they chose to participate, not just because of their own futures, but for the futures of the children they plan to have. “Just the possibility of our kids getting up to better status than we were able to,” she explained.

Walling agreed. “As my dad always says, we want to leave it better than when we came into it.”

And that may just be the perfect defense of activism, in pursuit of a moral cause.


Moral Mondays Georgia will participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday march, Monday, January 20, 2014. The next rally at the State Capitol is scheduled for January 27, at 4pm. See for details.

Pulling my ‘liberal hack’ head out, man

(Public Domain)

(Public Domain)

“Thank God for the Koch brothers…Pull your head out, man…The rich carry this country.” - excerpts of several tweet exchanges from a self-described “Capitalist, Libertarian,” directed at @proseandthorn, after sharing the news of the Koch founded group, Americans for Prosperity, opening a Louisiana branch to defeat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D)

I don’t want to encourage the RWNJ who tweeted those words, and more, by publishing her name here, but you can read her tweet-raid, where she calls me a “liberal hack,” and warns that if the Senate remains in Democrat control, “we will be officially a communist nation,” on my Twitter feed.

Happy New Year. It’s less than a week into 2014 and the partisanship that divides Congress once again cleaves a gulf between American activists as we bounce down the rutted campaign trail of our respective candidates, to November. Expect there to be billboards – bought by folks like the Kochs and the Heritage Foundation – every ten feet, on the right side of the highway, talking about the Affordable Care Act’s shaky roll-out and Obama’s misleading sales pitch.

Louisiana is only one state where Americans for Prosperity is applying pressure to unseat an incumbent Senate Democrat. They are also attacking New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Sen. Kay Hagan, in North Carolina. The year wasn’t even 24 hours old when AFP released a television ad across the Tar Heel state, attacking Hagan for her Obamacare vote, where someone whose policy was cancelled (for reasons the ad doesn’t explain) blames Hagan, and says, “She just doesn’t get it.”

Similar ads were aired by the Koch-backed group against Landrieu and Shaheen, in their home states.

Meanwhile, Heritage is using the lawsuit of Colorado nuns against the law’s birth control mandates for its own purposes, publishing stories sympathetic to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who, they say, the law “punishes…for holding beliefs that spur them to compassionate service.” It’s an interesting choice of words for a group like Heritage, which fights banking regulations that protect all Americans from exploitation, calls the New Deal policies that put millions back to work during the depression “an all-out assault on liberty,” and refers to progressivism as “a pseudo religion that must be soundly defeated.” Compassion, indeed.

While the Right attacks incumbent Southern Democrats for their support of the ACA, the open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia provides more of a dilemma for their machine. With a crowded field of Republicans trying to out-Todd Aiken each other for the conservative base, it gives a moderate Democrat with name recognition and no Senate vote baggage, Michelle Nunn, an opening to win in a reliably red state.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Nunn raised $1.6 million last quarter, meaning she has raised $3.3 million since she announced her candidacy last July. While “80 percent of those donors gave less than $100,” the AJC notes, the campaign also received an as yet unknown amount from former Virgina Sen. John Warner, a Republican.

Georgia Republicans insist that Nunn cannot win. “[T]his is not a purple state,” state Republican chair John Padgett recently told supporters, according to the AJC story. “And the Georgia GOP is not going to fall down on its duty to you and the rest of the country and let this state turn into a purple state.”

That’s reassuring, I suppose, to my Twitter heckler, who sees a Democrat led Senate, representing at least some of the Old South states, as the equivalent of a Communist America. Certainly, it indicates that the Right views conservatism as an essential “duty to the country.”

Let me pull my head out long enough to point out to them that they have bought into, and are in support of, a mythical country, a picture drawn in Sunday schools and the Fox News echo chamber. I’ll pull my head out long enough to point out to them that one day they and the people they love may have to rely on the government programs they rail against – Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps. I’ll pull my head out to admit, yes, I love government, because I love and care about my fellow Americans – even the ignorant – who I alone do not have the resources to help feed and clothe, and I don’t trust the rich to carry anything but their stock portfolios.

But what do I know? I’m just a liberal hack.



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