Author Archives: PB Goodfriend

Have a Havana again, maybe


“I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

President Barack Obama, Wednesday, announcing his intention to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba

Southernmost Point, Key West

This is how close most Americans are used to getting to Cuba – Key West, Florida. (wikimedia commons)


Following the release of a U.S. assistance program prisoner who has been held in a Cuban prison for five years and an unnamed agent who has been held for twenty, and a reciprocal release of three Cuban prisoners held by the United States, the president is finally moving forward in reestablishing diplomatic relations with the island nation.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the diplomatic agency would be sending a delegation to Havana in January to continue talks about migration between the two countries. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said at his announcement.

Cuban-American politicians in Washington, D.C., not surprisingly, were not wholly supportive of the president’s initiative. The reaction came from both sides of the aisle. According to USA Today’s story:

“Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said ‘President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.’

“Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida and a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said he rejoiced at Gross’ release. But he condemned the rest of the deal as ‘the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.'”

Really Sen. Rubio? Appeasement, as if making it easier for people with a mission to travel to Cuba were like handing Czechoslovakia to the Nazis?

But if that is the prevailing sentiment of the incoming, Republican dominated Congress, it will be exceedingly difficult to get the embargo entirely lifted, as Congress has to vote to do it.

Still, given the changing attitude most Cuban-Americans have about America’s decades long stand against the Castros, there is a good chance Republicans will find enough courage to include Democrats in their voting bloc.

“Florida International University in Miami has been polling Cuban-Americans since 1991,” NPR reported, Wednesday. “Back then, 87 percent of Cuban-Americans supported the embargo…but in the 2014 poll, conducted this summer, a [69%] majority…favored lifting [most of] the embargo.”

Read the FIU 2014 poll

The numbers for those wanting to restore diplomatic relations were overwhelming: 68% of all respondents and 88% of young people, under thirty.

More importantly to the folks on Capitol Hill, the FIU poll also concluded that 55% of registered voters approve of restoring diplomatic ties. If the Republicans want to be the party of the future, they can’t ignore that FIU says it’s only the 70-plus crowd that want to maintain the status quo.

Still, the rhetoric of cautious responsibility is par on this course that crosses the Florida Straits, especially when we’re talking about swing-state politics. “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship,” former Florida governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, told reporters.

Even President Obama, in his announcement, Wednesday, warned that this was not an unfettered approval of the Cuban leadership’s practices. “I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” he said. “The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.”

At the same time, as Sec. Kerry said, “Today’s step…reflects our firm belief that the risk and the cost of trying to turn the tide is far lower than the risk and cost of remaining stuck in an ideological cement of our own making.” And that is what will take convincing for the conservatives in Congress, that we, and we alone, are responsible for a meaningless and unproductive embargo, not the Cuban people, and they shouldn’t be made to suffer because of our own stubborn lack of political will.

Now, if we can only get Israel to put an embassy in Tehran.

-PBG

The galling and the brave – police unaccountable to justice


Demonstrators in Atlanta. Photo by Steve Eberhardt. All rights reserved.

Demonstrators in Atlanta, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, protest recent decisions that leave police involved in the killing of unarmed African American men unindicted and uncharged. (Photo by Steve Eberhardt. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.)

“…the way we do policing needs to change.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reacting to a grand jury’s decision not to indict in the death of Eric Garner.

After September 11, 2001, there was no pedestal too high on which to place the brave members of the NYPD, and by association, those who served all other police departments. But that deification of the duty-bound washed out to sea with the ashes and dust clouds of the fallen. Respect for their bravery has turned into resentment of the gall with which too many carry out their daily chores. The veil has been lifted, and now justice is in pursuit of those for whom it has often been a shield.

Following the Staten Island, New York, grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, President Obama said he is “somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job; that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us… but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system.”

The lawman carries a gun, and a Taser and a nightstick. If those fail, he can always use pepper spray or even his fists. These are his crime-fighting tools. Too often, as Attorney General Eric Holder announced in Cleveland, Ohio, last week, the use of those tools can result in the loss of our Constitutional rights, because of bad training and an “us vs. them” mentality.

“We have determined,” he said, “that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force – in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and as a result of systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.”

It’s important to note that the Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland police began in March, 2013, well before the recent, tragic shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed by a young officer who CNN discovered had previously been cited for:

“…’a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions,’ a ‘dangerous loss of composure during live range training’ and an ‘inability to manage personal stress.'”

Although the Tamir Rice incident is not part of the events detailed in Justice’s report, it is consistent with its accusations of bad “pattern or practice,” including:

  • The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;
  • The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists;
  • Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and
  • The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable.”
  • What the DoJ is pointing out is the one tool that the Cleveland police consistently fail to use – good judgement and discretion. It concludes that “this pattern of excessive force has eroded public confidence in the police. The trust between the Cleveland Division of Police and many of the communities it serves is broken.” The result? It isn’t crime the Cleveland Division of Police is fighting with their often deadly implements – it’s people. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. People.

    And when the people he is taught to target are always targeted, always harassed, always arrested or charged, based on the melatonin in their DNA and their zip code, he has lost their respect.

    “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me… every time you see me, you want to harass me,” exclaimed the late Eric Garner, before an overzealous, poorly supervised police officer choked him to death.

    We are no longer talking about police committed to public safety, but to a methodology that supports a community corroding agenda. Whether it be filling privately run prisons or the county coffers or their own incentivized arrest performance, it seems that cops are expected to be, and are rewarded for being, more Dirty Harry and less Andy Taylor. Maybe part of it is a holdover of swollen post-9/11 pride, where no wrong can be done in pursuit of justice. Maybe it is the recent wars, where we give no quarter to disruption, giving undue attention to the benign in pursuit of the horrid.

    The head of the NYPD Police Benevolent Association issued a statement, last week, blaming the victim in the Garner case, in the same way many blamed Michael Brown for the tragedy in Ferguson. “Mr. Garner made a choice that day to resist arrest,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said, adding, “You cannot resist arrest. Because resisting arrest leads to confrontation. Confrontation leads to tragedy.”

    But unless the suspect draws a weapon, resisting arrest shouldn’t result in tragedy. Never, ever. A cop yelling, “Stop, or I’ll shoot,” at a fleeing suspect, and following through on that threat, was ruled a civil rights violation by the United States Supreme Court in 1985 (Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1):

    “The Tennessee statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorizes the use of deadly force against, as in this case, an apparently unarmed, nondangerous (emph. mine) fleeing suspect…”

    In the case of Eric Garner (no relation to the Tennessee victim), not only was he “unarmed” and “nondangerous,” he wasn’t even fleeing. The officers had many alternatives, but the choice was theirs to gang tackle and choke Eric Garner to death – not the victim’s. Resisting arrest, if that is what he was doing, is not a capital offense.

    The police in all these cases have lost their perspective. Like a soldier who has been deployed too many times for too long, the method has replaced the mission. That is what Mayor de Blasio meant when he said, “…policing needs to change.”

    Stop-and-frisk was bad policing because, like an antibiotic, it affects good cells as well as bad. The good cell doesn’t care that you think this is all for the betterment of the community. It only knows it’s under attack. Likewise, busting drug users on a possession charge doesn’t get rid of drug dealers. It treats a symptom of the crime and not the reason for it.

    “Stop because I told you to,” is the language parents use with unruly children because they have the authority. It cannot be the language we use with self-determined, adult human beings. The authority of police is delusional when it is based on power – having carte blanche to hassle and bully, and the means to beat, maim and kill – instead of on the law they are supposed to represent, and their respect for the community they are sworn to serve.

    -PBG

    Recommended reading:

  • The Police in America Are Becoming Illegitimate, by Matt Taibbi (rollingstone.com)
  • Ferguson fallout: justice dancing on the head of a pin


    The skin remains thin where old wounds receive no healing salve and are not allowed to mend. The scar is prodded by forces seeking control and picked at when it tingles in a sadly familiar way.

    There is little sympathy for those robbed of justice when their justification for anger crosses over into mob hysteria. Moreover, it harms the community in which they live and, more importantly, the cause for which they were marching in the first place. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that police aren’t always the “good guys” and their claims are never unassailable.

    By (Kane Farabuagh/VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Riot police prepare for unrest on the streets of Ferguson after a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 24, 2014. (Kane Farabuagh/VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    People in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country marched this week for a cause deeply rooted in the story of America – the fight for equal treatment under the law, and a fair shot at justice. Through the smoke of burning businesses and lost jobs and racial epithets and Klan threats it may be hard to discern the silhouettes of purposeful people looking to wrest reconciliation from the restless mobs. Attacking the status quo with bricks, bats and bottle glass only maintains it, while power’s grip hides behind riot shields and rolling clouds of teargas.

    Yet we cannot walk away from this fight, and while changing it from the outside is tantamount to attacking a retracting tortoise, the old reptile understands that in order to breathe free, he must acknowledge the threat that looms outside his shell. When the rabble rouses to anger, only real change appeases. It then falls to the earnest and purposeful to calm both sides and find a way to mediate peace through mutual respect.

    Our racial dysfunction “has led – for whites, blacks and Hispanics as well – to a widening sense of disrespect,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks opined on the PBS Newshour, Friday, “that not only is there no opportunity, but they’re being disrespected by the people with authority, and that’s especially true with African-Americans because of the historical legacy of racism in this country.”

    Respect is not born from threats of violence, neither from a hysterical mob nor a policeman’s gun. Some suggests body cameras to protect officers’ reputations and the rights of civilians, and though recent studies have proven the devices to be an effective bulwark against use-of-force excesses by police in some communities, it is like attaching training wheels to a bicycle even though the rider should be expert without them. The problem is with the bicycle, not the rider.

    We don’t have to teach the police they have to be watched to be effective. We have to teach them that proper policing is being civil, especially in the face of communities that have an existential fear of their relationship with the cops. The onus is, and has always been, on the police, here.

    Regardless of whether Michael Brown is responsible for the interaction with Officer Darren Wilson that precipitated the tragic events of August 9, as the grand jury seemed to believe, a policeman chose to use deadly force because he could, not because he had to. In that context, “good guys” with guns shooting “bad guys” without guns means, to me, that the so-called “good guys” should not have a gun, at least not until they receive more complete training.

    When a police officer, who is sworn to protect a community, pulls a weapon and fires, he must have an understanding of the impact of his actions. He is shooting not only at an individual who may or may not be armed; he is aiming to kill a member of his community, even if they have nothing in common other than a similar zip code. The shooting will have an impact. The policeman must comprehend that, just as he must have an understanding of why he takes any punitive action.

    Even if a police officer is just pulling someone over for a traffic violation, is he doing it because they were being careless and dangerous on the road, or because he has a mandate to raise revenue for his municipality? Is his performance evaluation based on how many tickets he writes and arrests he has made, or is he judged on how well he gets along with not just his fellow officers, but with the community he serves?

    The system is broken, if a police officer’s job is to help keep the court dockets and jails full and the pockets of the county’s general fund overflowing. His job is, and should always be, policing first, arresting second, shooting last. That is his link in the chain of justice. There is no room in a civil society for anything else.

    -PBG

    A line too long: no choice but action on ‘Broken immigration system’


    President Obama speaks at Del Sol High School, Las Vegas. Nov. 21, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)

    President Obama speaks at Del Sol High School, Las Vegas. Nov. 21, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)

    “Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time — and everybody knows it.”

    -President Barack Obama, addressing Las Vegas high school students whose families are affected by his use, this week, of executive authority on immigration reform

    The Republicans know it. The conservative cabal that pulls the party’s purse strings knows it. They would have you believe that getting in the “back of the line” is the only fair way to handle immigration reform. The problem is, some people are doomed to wait in line for almost 25 years, and the more people we put in the line, the longer that line gets.

    Maybe that’s what the far right wants, a broken system where, as the president said, Friday, families are “stuck in line for years.” After all, it fits in with their narrative of a broken and incompetent government.

    The State Department has three major categories of visas it considers: family members of U.S. citizens, employment based visas (for which there is a relatively short waiting period) and diversity visas (a quota system for global regions that is only good for the fiscal year in which the application is filed).

    “There are so many different lines. It’s very hard for people to understand that there are so many different categories and that each wait time is different,” Mary Giovagnoli, of the solutions oriented Immigration Policy Council, told the Washington Post in January.

    A year ago, according to the State Department, there were 4.3 million people with family sponsored visa requests. The latest bulletin from Foggy Bottom says that the last family visas for siblings from Mexico it was considering were applied for in February, 1997. For married children of U.S. citizens, the last visas approved for Mexicans were applied for in November, 1993. If you are a citizen and want a visa for your sister in the Philippines, the last visas granted were for people who applied in May, 1991!

    And just because someone applied for a visa back then doesn’t mean they are next on the list, because only a limited number of employment based and family requested papers are available every year to applicants from each country.

    “The idea that the people can simply get in the back of the line is a little bit simplistic in practice,” Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration policy think tank supported by philanthropic and government policy advocacy groups, told the Fiscal Times, this past spring.

    At least one Republican considering a 2016 presidential run seems to understand the difficulties of the “wait in line” concept. At a panel of GOP governors who are seen as contenders for the nomination, Ohio Gov. John Kasich went counter to the crowd and the rigid stance of his on-stage colleagues in Boca Raton, Florida, when he admitted:

    “My sense is I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it. It may be a laborious and tough process. I would never say we would never do it. … At the end of the day it may be necessary.”

    President Obama’s executive action acknowledges that reality, and he admits he can’t do anything about the wait, right now. His order, though, is neither amnesty nor a path to citizenship. That, he admits, requires Congressional action. The only thing it does is keep law abiding, tax paying folks who have children who are citizens or are otherwise here legally, from being deported. As he said on Friday:

    “If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law.”

    The only line that may be getting shorter is the one for employment based visas.

    Both the memoranda the president signed are geared to spur the executive branch to find means and methods, with the help of immigration advocacy groups and technology companies, to expedite repairing the broken process for everyone. That is well within his authority. It is unrealistic to expect the Republicans in the upcoming Congress to have the political courage to do any meaningful immigration reform, that takes into account the affect our inaction has on millions of families.

    “The U.S. is kind of torn between wanting to be generous, yet not wanting to be too generous,” Sumption said in May, “And that means that on paper U.S. laws pretend to give people the right to come to the country, but in practice they have to wait so long that many of them may as well not have that right.”

    - PBG

    For more information:

    The Democrats’ mutual denial society


    President Obama holds a press conference at the White House after the 2014 midterm  elections, Nov. 5, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)

    President Obama holds a press conference at the White House after the 2014 midterm elections, Nov. 5, 2014 (whitehouse.gov)

    “There is much that is going right in this country, and there is still time for Democrats to say so.”

    - New York Times Editorial Board, October 21, 2014

    If President Obama would not have delayed acting on immigration until after the election, he may have saved the seats Democrats lost in the Senate, that he was trying to protect by not acting. That wasn’t his idea. It was the idea of the Democratic Senate candidates.

    If the Democrats running statewide in North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky had not tried so hard to distance themselves from Obama, by not meeting with him, not having him campaign for them, touting his economic record and and his call for a raise in the minimum wage, the successes of Obamacare and the efforts at fair pay and immigration reform, they might have won.

    They disavowed the leader of their party by refusing to say if they voted for him, by stammering through questions about his policies and even by omitting their party affiliation from their campaign ads. They could not run away fast enough.

    When the president said at an economic speech at Northwestern University in early October, “But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them,” Democrats groaned.

    Then he told Rev. Al Sharpton, at the end of the same month:

    “The bottom line is though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress; they are on the right side of minimum wage; they are on the right side of fair pay; they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure; they’re on the right side of early childhood education.”

    And in an effort to get the Democratic base fired up in Georgia, he called an Atlanta radio station two days later and gave the Republicans this little morsel for an attack ad:

    “If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the Senate. And that means that we can keep on doing some good work.”

    The problem with all of these assertions that the president made isn’t that they weren’t true. They were. The problem for the Democrats in states the president recognized he lost in 2012, was that they became blatheringly and disingenuously defensive. Rather than assert, “Yes, I support these policies. They are good for the middle class and for the American people,” they sought to distinguish themselves from President Obama with ineffective TV ads.

    “I’ve always believed that it’s not an effective strategy to run against a president of your own party, unless you’ve been actively opposed to that president,” Obama political strategist David Axelrod told the Washington Post, a week before the election. “You’re going to get tagged with it anyway.”

    They could have danced with the president. Instead, they left him by the punch bowl to talk about his agenda and accomplishments to anyone who would listen.

    The New York Times editorial board urged the Obama deniers to change their ways. “By not standing firmly for their own policies,” they advised, “Democrats send a message to voters that the unending Republican criticism of the president is legitimate.”

    In Georgia, in a rebuttal to charges that he was slow to help his fellow Democrats and was cozying up to Republicans to aid his future plans, Atlanta mayor and sometimes Obama surrogate Kasim Reed retorted, in a Tweet, “When the President landed to visit the CDC. I was there to greet him. That’s what a ‘true Democrat’ would do.”

    And, he went on:

    “I never saw any of them. When I was running for re-election, I proudly accepted President Obama’s endorsement and support… a ‘true Demcrat (sic)’ would not lead their party to failure and then get on Fox5 [local news] & blame ‘Obama, Obama, Obama…'”

    “Wow,” he concluded.

    There is no telling how Grimes, Pryor, Nunn or Hagan would have fared had they been more welcoming of the president. It’s all hindsight. The only thing for sure is that even good candidates with the best campaign volunteers in the country are unable to bring out the base better than he can. By definition, the base is the most committed to party principles. If you voice it, authentically, they will turn out for you. A “D” after your name doesn’t get you votes. Being what your party stands for does. Being “Republican Light” does not.

    “Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.” – Samuel Johnson

    -PBG

    Broken government comes from a broken electorate


    “It stung like hell.”
    – Georgia Democratic Party Chair, DuBose Porter, in a conciliatory email to party activists

    If a dramatic election happens and no one votes, does it still mean the electorate changes to purple?

    The finger pointing over who was to blame for Tuesday’s devastating losses started as soon as the polls closed – maybe even before in places like Colorado and Kentucky, where flawed campaigns and unforced errors by candidates killed off an incumbent and skewered a rising star.

    In Georgia, the senate campaign of Democrat Michelle Nunn was shaking its heads in near disbelief. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported it:

    “As soon as the GOP nomination was settled, the names ‘Harry Reid’ and ‘Barack Obama’ were hung around Nunn’s neck like a two-headed albatross. She couldn’t get out from under it, her team said.”

    But Democrats and political analysts all realize that, for the most part, it wasn’t the candidates. It wasn’t the message. It wasn’t the low approval numbers for President Obama in states that could have been in play, or the billions spent by outside groups to link Democratic candidates to him and the majority leader.

    It was the voters – those who chose to show up and those who stayed home.

    “So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you,” President Obama acknowledged at a post-election briefing, Wednesday afternoon, adding, “To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”

    As Politico rightly points out, the president’s choice of words indicate he doesn’t see the Republicans’ big night as any kind of mandate from the people, since it’s only a third that chose to have their voices heard. A lopsided third, but a third nonetheless.

    Who showed up? In Georgia, even with a turnout that was better than the national average, at just under 50 percent, neither young folks nor minorities voted in sufficient numbers to achieve the results Democrats were looking for. It was older white people who did their civic duty. According to exit polling reported by ABC News, only 13 percent of those under 30 voted nationally, down six points from the way they turned out in 2012. Yet in the Peach State, 59 percent of that demographic went for Michelle Nunn.

    But the real damage to the Nunn and Jason Carter campaigns came from a lack of African American voters both registered and at the polls. While African Americans accounted for nearly 30 percent of the Democrats’ tally in Georgia, it was only about the same as the numbers who voted in 2012. In order to win, there had to be an increase in voter registration of a half-a-million voters. Voter registration groups were only able to garner 85,000.

    Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was slow to show his enthusiasm for Carter’s campaign, pointed out the shortfall to the New York Times:

    “‘We needed to change the electorate,’ Mr. Reed said. He faulted the campaigns of Michelle Nunn, who was following in her father’s footsteps in running for the Senate, and Jason Carter, a grandson of Jimmy Carter who was running for governor, for not spending more time and resources to register and turn out what he said were roughly 600,000 unregistered black voters in Georgia, and 200,000 unregistered Latinos.”

    Why were so many needed? “The pros estimated they needed 500,000 new black voters in order to get 200,000 to the polls,” reports Walter Jones of Insider Advantage.

    William Boone, a poli-sci professor at Clark University, told Jones that:

    “…blacks tend to think of the president as the most significant office and figure other posts are not important enough to bother voting over. In a sense, that makes Democrats victims of their own presidential campaigning where they overpromise what control of the White House means without explaining the role of Congress, governors and legislators.”

    Jones goes on to point out:

    “Consider that black males typically have a 66 percent turnout in presidential elections but just a 44 percent rate in non-presidential years. Compare that to white males’ 75 in presidential years and 58 percent in off years, a 22-percent[age point] falloff versus a 17.”

    Volunteers at a Democratic field office in DeKalb County, Georgia, use Obama campaign methods to reach out to targeted voters. (PBG/Prose and Thorn)

    Volunteers at a Democratic field office in DeKalb County, Georgia, use Obama campaign methods to reach out to targeted voters. (PBG/Prose and Thorn)

    While volunteers were using Obama-proven targeting methods to make phone calls and knock on doors to motivate people to vote, it just wasn’t enough. “Some of my biggest, hottest precincts, there was no activity, no street corner activity, no poll activity,” lamented State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) to the AJC. “They were running an Obama-style campaign without Obama. It’s like doing ‘Othello’ without Othello.” Or an audience.

    In the end, Michelle Nunn was only able to capture 23 percent of the white vote. Their estimates said they needed to capture at least 30 percent. Republican David Perdue took 70 percent. Seventy.

    The stark contrast was evident by the actual impact in two of the least racially diverse counties in the state. The AJC reported Wednesday:

    “In his march to victory, Senator-elect Perdue, had his best showing (84 percent of the vote) in Pierce County, which has a white voting population of 83 percent. He did worst (15 percent) in Clayton County, which has a white voting population of 14 percent.”

    How did they manage to grab such a large chunk of the electorate? During the last week of the campaign, Louisiana’s incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu told NBC’s Chuck Todd it was something insidious in our social and political DNA. “I’ll be very, very honest with you,” she said, “The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”

    Former evangelist and author Frank Schaeffer says it comes down to two things – lies and racism:

    “Since the economy has rebounded, health care reform has worked, all that remained for the GOP was to lie. And since the base of the GOP is white aging southern evangelicals the GOP was in luck. These are easy folks to lie to. That’s because they already accept an alternative version of reality. Also, of course since the lies are about a black man, that doesn’t hurt. Yes, race is ‘still’ an issue.”

    “This is about race,” a particularly nasty viewer told a C-Span host on a call-in show, Thursday. “The Republicans hate that n—– Obama.”

    While that may be at least partly true, it’s important to keep in mind no group is politically monolithic (Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal received 10 percent of the black vote in his reelection, after all), and there is definitely work to do for the Democrats to reach out to white Americans. “Republicans know they have to expand their base to include minority voters,” state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D) told the AJC, “and we need to do a better job expanding ours to include white voters.”

    Despite the Republican slate’s unexpected margin of victory, Georgia’s Democratic Party chair, DuBose Porter, was optimistic.”Make no mistake about it ya’ll,” he wrote to supporters, “Georgia was, and is, in play.”

    The goal remains to expanded the voter rolls for 2016, so the state can make a tectonic shift and awaken from this apathetic slumber.

    Says Porter:

    “I understand taking a bit of time to lick these wounds. But not too much time. We have work to do. We will continue to build. We will continue to raise hope. We will continue to believe in Democrats.”

    Two years is not a lot of time. Before the next state legislature convenes and tries to limit voter registration, we need to go back out there and get more than 500,000 new voters registered. Two years, starting last week. Go.

    -PBG

    PS: Click here for a full list of states with on-line voter registration. If you live in Georgia, you can register anytime through the Secretary of State’s website: https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR/

    Electing Democrats in Georgia eases the path to Liberal Progressivism


    CanvasserPerry-crop

    Canvassing in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Nov. 1, 2014.

    Time, money and faith – this is the most I have given of all three to Democrats in Georgia. I’ve written posts. I’ve knocked on nearly 400 doors. I’ve opened my wallet to attend and host fundraisers.

    I do this not only to return Democrats to power in statewide and national offices, but also because I believe that this state cannot succeed, this country cannot turn the corner economically and socially, with Republicans steering policy in a hard right direction. In this part of of the country, when it comes to Republican politics, there is no soft right, no simple fork. Every right turn the Georgia GOP makes is 90 degrees from center.

    NunnCanvassers

    Canvassers pick up packets for final days at Democratic Campaign Headquarters in Decatur, Georgia. (PBG)

    In the phone calls and the canvassing, I have met a handful of folks who do not see the point in voting. I can tell them, as Michelle Obama did on a visit in support of our candidates in September, that if we can just get 50 more votes in each precinct, we can turn Georgia blue. I can tell them that Michelle Nunn will work for all Georgians, bringing her skills in philanthropic activism, getting those with means to have a social conscience and help those in need. I can tell them that Jason Carter should be our next governor because he believes in strengthening education, understands that Medicaid expansion would return federal money to our state that we’ve already paid, and could help 650,000 Georgians, and will do everything he can to restore integrity to the ethically challenged office of the state’s chief executive.
    PhonersNunn
    I can tell them that, but the most important thing to remember, is that even though we have been disappointed by Democrats as well as Republicans, and the Democratic Party in the South has a long way to go to be the party of FDR, getting Southern Democrats elected now, prepares the soil for the acceptance of the kind of liberal, progressive Democrat we really want. It is much easier to plant a seed in accepting ground than to keep trying to force a plant to root in frozen, unyielding soil.

    The time is now. Vote Tuesday. The future of a progressive South is in your hands.

    -PBG

    Is another 6 years of obstruction what we really need in the Senate?


    Campaign signs

    Campaign supporters flank the entrance at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, Sunday, for the U.S. Senate debate. (PBG)

    “We have to make a hard right hand turn.”

    - David Perdue, Georgia Republican candidate for U.S. Senate

    Put it down to defensiveness born of desperation. David Perdue has been running marginally close to his Democratic rival, Michelle Nunn, over a string of recent polls, in a state he and the GOP thought was likely in their pocket. He has been forced to scream inside the echo chamber of his party’s conservative base, to get their attention and rile them up to go vote. That may explain why he dog-whistled his way through the pair’s last debate, Sunday night, in Atlanta.

    Over and over, he reiterated his charge that Nunn was “handpicked by Obama,” and therefor would be a “rubber stamp” for his policies because “she’s not going to bite the hand that feeds her.”

    He also charged that Nunn’s campaign has been funded by “liberal parties who want to come in here and steal this election,” like gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg (hardly a liberal) who recently gave over $300,000 to a PAC supporting the Democrat.

    Sam Nunn

    Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) greets voters who have come to support his daughter, Michelle, at the U.S. Senate debate in Atlanta. (PBG)

    Nunn was gracious, but sharp. To the former point about the president, she simply stated that Obama was not on the ballot in Georgia, that she disagreed with him on several policies, and that “no one hand feeds me.” To the latter, she said that despite Bloomberg’s largesse, “right now” she only supports Manchin-Toomey legislation, which calls for universal background checks.

    While Nunn promised to “work with whoever is the president, Democrat or Republican,” Perdue called for “a hard right hand turn” in Washington.

    The real question is, is that where the voters of Georgia are? Admittedly, I tend to operate within an echo chamber with a liberal bias, but I have seen no evidence that six more years of unapologetic obstructionism by Congressional conservatives is what the American people want. Time and again, in poll after poll, voters blame the stubborn Republicans for our nation’s legislative failures. The president may be at 41% approval, but Congress remains in or near the single digits. In that type of relative atmosphere, Obama may be underwater, but at least he doesn’t have to come up as far for air.

    Despite my wishes and the expressed desires of many of my friends, there is no doubt Georgia is a conservative state. Sadly, it often seems our politicians would feign ignorance unbecoming their level of education, just so they can be mouthpieces for the one-percenters who fund their campaigns, and promise continued quid pro quo support once elected. We’ll know by January just how far right we are allowing our politicians to take us.

    -PBG

    Nunn’s strength: caring community through corporate involvement


    In the summer of 2013, weeks before Michelle Nunn announced her run for the U.S. Senate, a nationally recognized Democratic VIP asked me if I thought she would fulfill the rumors and finally throw herself into the race. Referring to the extremely right wing members of Georgia’s House delegation who had joined the Republican field of candidates, he punctuated his question by saying, “With all those crazy people running, she could actually win this thing.”

    By the end of the GOP primary and subsequent runoff, all the “crazy people” had fallen, leaving Romney-esque businessman David Perdue as the Republican nominee, meaning Nunn had to find something besides the sanity card to play in the lead up to November.

    Michelle Nunn, Jason Carter

    Democrats for Georgia: US Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and gubernatorial candidate, State Sen. Jason Carter at a fundraiser in Decatur, Georgia, Oct. 20, 2014. (Photo by PBG)

    With all due respect to the aforementioned Democratic vizier, anyone who expects the Georgia Democratic nominee for Senator to fail because she doesn’t have a foe with “loser” tattooed on their face, doesn’t understand that Michelle Nunn will win on her own strengths and merits, not because of her family name, and not because of a lame opponent.

    In the South, you don’t win elections based on who you are or what you say, as much as what you do, meaning how you show up in the community. Nunn shows up big in the wide spectrum of communities that matter to Georgians, from the needy to the corporate giants that dominate this state, like Delta Airlines, Coca Cola and Home Depot.

    Her campaign has not only received donations from R.E. “Ted” Turner – who recently donated $20,000 to her Super PAC – but also from Arthur Blank (Home Depot co-founder and owner of the Falcons), real estate developers Tom Cousins (Cousins Properties), Jim Cox Kennedy (Cox Enterprises), and John Wieland (John Wieland Homes). With the exception of Turner, as Bloomberg reported last fall, they all have something else in common – they’ve given heavily to Republicans in recent cycles, including to Romney in 2012 and Georgia’s other senator, Johnny Isakson (R), in 2010.

    “Michelle understands that middle ground, and that’s why we wrote the checks,” Wieland explained to Bloomberg, last year.

    It’s not only the political “middle ground” that Nunn gets, but the social middle ground as well. The volunteer organization she started 25 years ago, Hands On Atlanta, works directly with United Way to provide willing hands for the charity organization’s many good works, including helping the homeless, veterans and battered women and families. That is where her heart is.

    Michelle’s other connection to corporate Georgia comes directly through the organization’s corporate partners. These are not just blind dollars going into a charity’s coffer. United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta creates a community for its friends, including regular breakfast meetings where volunteer community leaders mix with the corporate community. Besides Cox, Delta and Coke, other million dollar United Way of Atlanta supporters include AT&T, Wells Fargo and UPS.

    The other positive her work with Hands On has brought her is the outcome of the group’s merger with the Points of Light Foundation, where she was CEO. It has brought her into the room with presidents, including President George H.W. Bush whose words inspired the founding of the organization.

    Recently, Nunn has been under fire from Perdue’s supporters because of her insistence on using photos of her with the elder Bush in ads, as a demonstration of her bipartisanship. Bush 41’s camp has repeatedly requested her not to use the photo, as the former president has publicly thrown his support to fellow Republican Perdue. But it’s likely that endorsement was out of party unity, and not because of any animus toward Nunn.

    When the GOP started accusing her of running an organization that “gave money to organizations linked to terrorists,” current Points of Light CEO and son of G.H.W. Bush, Neil Bush, reacted angrily.

    “It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September, “whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office.” He added:

    “Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorists organizations. Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”

    The Democratic nominee is out with a new ad that again shows a photo of her with Bush 41, but also one with her standing near the last President Bush, and one with President Obama, to bolster her claim that she can “work with Republicans and Democrats.”

    The Nunn ad is a counter to a commercial for Perdue featuring a photo of Obama’s arm around Nunn, implying she’ll be a “rubber stamp” for his policies. In her spot, Nunn says the photo of her and Obama was taken at the same event as the photos of her and the elder Bush, so instead of showing her allegiance to our president, it demonstrates her bipartisan approach.

    Indeed, in his earlier defense of Michelle Nunn, Neil Bush went on to praise Nunn for demonstrating “the right kind of visionary leadership – a non-partisan or bipartisan approach to our service world.”

    It is precisely that approach to serving the public at all levels that makes her such an appealing candidate, and why she has been leading in the most recent three polls, albeit within the margin-of-error. Her work demonstrates she is authentically engaged in making the world a better place for everyone, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat.

    Perdue’s outsourcing debacle and his stated pride in that activity points to the real problem with the Republican playbook in Georgia – an awareness by the rank and file that the economy may be doing well for the wealthy, but remains stagnant for everyone else. As reports surfaced recently of a secretive Swiss investment fund for multimillionaires being part of his portfolio, it threatens to expose him as an elitist fat cat who doesn’t think blue collar jobs matter.

    Politico posted a report from Georgia, Thursday, where they examined why the outsourcing attacks are taking a toll on Perude’s campaign:

    “Nunn, in an interview after an event in Decatur[, Georgia,] this week, called Perdue ‘out of touch’ with Georgia citizens. ‘I was surprised at his response, and I think most Georgians have been whether by starting out by saying he was proud of his career in outsourcing or then moving forward and saying that Georgians didn’t understand business.'”

    “Republicans are supposed to be the party of American business and the economy and all that,” Augusta resident Elizabeth Grubbs told Politico, “but [Perdue]’s moving jobs overseas. It isn’t right.”

    The 30 year old Waffle House waitress, who leans Republican, is unsure about Nunn, too, but recognizes the economy isn’t getting better. “It’s still crap,” she said.

    The numbers bear that out, for Georgia. For the second month in a row, the state has been dead last, with the worst unemployment in the country, at least two points higher than the national numbers. The Wall Street Journal points out that the decline in manufacturing jobs in the Peach State in the last ten years is largely responsible for that.

    Yet incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R), in a tight reelection race with State Sen. Jason Carter (D), has been running around touting Georgia’s number one status as a “place to do business.” So yes, given the tax breaks he has offered companies to relocate to Georgia, companies are coming here, but jobs are not. A good environment for business does not directly correlate to a good environment for jobs.

    With low paying retail and service sector jobs filling the void, “don’t expect Ms. Nunn to stop her attacks any time soon,” warns the Wall Street Journal. “Outsourcing attacks may have become common among Democrats, but they seem to have particularly fertile ground in which to take root in Georgia.”

    To be clear, there’s no Romney class jealousy, here. No one begrudges Perdue his millions, but in what way does his ability to make money for himself and his clients help most Georgians, other than the fat cats in this state whose own purses are sure to be padded if he wins? He will make a couple of hundred investors happy, but there are more than 6 million of us who have a stake in Georgia. Both David Perdue and Nathan Deal ignore us at their own peril, and to the detriment of their party, which is due to flame out in Georgia in the next few years, anyway. They’re just the ones driving the train as it derails.

    - PBG

    Ebola: Has ‘America lost its mind?’


    Ebola virus - CDC
    After mere days of Republican mouthpieces like the volatile Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) calling for the president to anoint an “Ebola Czar” to give an appearance of executive oversight on the health crisis, Obama decided Friday, to name Ron Klain, a “savvy politician” to the position.

    It was only a matter of time until the GOP realized that they would have been better off approving Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General of the United States, than deal with their misgivings about a Democratic worker bee whose appointment requires no check and balance from Congress.

    From hhs.gov

    From hhs.gov

    Indeed, less than 24 hours after the announcement, Republicans assailed Klain as a politician, not a medical professional. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told CNN, “While the President’s pick may have the ear of the White House and experience from the campaign trail, I am concerned he doesn’t have significant relationships in the medical community that are imperative during this current biological emergency.”

    McCaul, who is chair of the House Homeland Security Committee went on to call for the president to “create a permanent position within the government to coordinate the response,” CNN said.

    But again, there already is a permanent position to coordinate a medical response – the Surgeon General. McCaul’s colleagues on the Hill won’t let it through because the nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, once called guns a public health crisis, so the pistol packers at the National Rifle Association warned lawmakers they would score the confirmation vote.

    Politico reports that 29 House Democrats, who don’t get a vote in the confirmation process on the other side of the Capitol, wrote a letter to both Senate party leaders, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), urging Dr. Murthy’s nomination forward. “Given the public’s increasing fears regarding the spread of the disease,” the letter says, “it is imperative that we confirm a Surgeon General who will play a significant role in educating the American public about the disease.”

    President Obama echoed that concern in his Saturday weekly radio address. “This is a serious disease,” he said, “but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear-because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science.”

    Ahh, science – the process that comforts the rational and confounds the fearful. But comfort doesn’t excite voters nearly as effectively as fear.

    That may be why even some Democrats are now calling for travel restrictions from the West African countries where the virus is prevalent. Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, Thursday, called for at least a “temporary travel ban to affected countries in West Africa with an exception for military and health workers,” but went on to admit that “Scientists and public health experts at the CDC are in the best position to guide our response to this crisis.”

    The president, Saturday, said he does not agree with taking that drastic step:

    “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world-if that were even possible-could actually make the situation worse. It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth. Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track.”

    Fear is not the appropriate response, but it is very American, in the sense that nothing happening in the world seems to matter until it happens to us. This is a classic American pitfall, where we reach for a mask of ugly paranoia because of our own self importance.

    To borrow a slogan from McCain’s ill fated 2008 presidential campaign, “America First” is where we always get tangled up. If we are first, who is second? Third? More importantly, which population is the last we consider worthy of attention and concern until the desperation and disease imbued in their toxic poverty creeps onto our shores? They’ve been slammed by a sledgehammer and we turn away, but cry at our own pin prick.

    Make no mistake. “Ebola is truly scary,” as University of Chicago social services professor, Harold Pollack, wrote in Politico, Sunday. But he urged us to keep the situation in perspective:

    “It has so far killed nearly 4,500 people, overwhelmingly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—societies that had already experienced more than their fill of sorrow. There are only three confirmed cases in the United States: Two American nurses were infected in Dallas after they cared for a severely ill Ebola patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. In Africa, it’s a disaster; within the United States, however, Ebola is a tragic, but eminently containable public health threat that requires a calm, methodical response.”

    Pollack goes on to say that given the facts about the disease, and the infinitesimally small rate of infection in the United States, we should be more concerned about how alarmist our media is making the situation. “If you’re just tuning in,” he added, “you might believe that America has lost its mind.”

    The phrase “abundance of caution” has been prevalent in stories about Ebola. People vomit on airplanes all the time, but now, we lock them in bathrooms. We close schools and bridal stores for a disease that is not communicable except through direct contact with bodily fluids. That’s not “caution;” it’s rationalized paranoia.

    The good news for Dr. Murthy and his supporters is his nomination vote may be scheduled after election day, when the NRA’s scoring threat has less immediate impact. Still, if control of the Senate is not settled until runoffs complete in January, it is less likely Reid will bring it to the floor with all the other items of business the Congress must get done before the new year.

    Meanwhile, the “calm, methodical response” that Pollack calls for is expected in the person of Mr. Klain, which is why an administrator rather than a scientist is what is required, here. Inasmuch as we now have an Ebola czar, he has our blessings. Those who are still railing against him do so only to fill the echo chamber of paranoia and hate.

    -PBG

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