Tag: politics

This Is What A Real Scandal Looks Like

Now that I’ve vented regarding all the trivial and petty Hillary Clinton scandals, let’s talk about something that matters.

If you could only be angry about one thing in America today, the poisoning of Flint, Michigan should be it:

In 2014, the city of Flint, under the control of an “emergency manager” appointed by the governor, was looking for ways to save money. To that end, the Snyder administration approved a plan in which the city would switch its water source: instead of getting water from Detroit, Flint would cut costs by drawing water directly from the Flint River.

In theory, there’s nothing particularly wrong with getting drinking and bathing water from a nearby river; plenty of communities across the country already do that. But in order to make Flint River water safe for people, it has to receive a special anti-corrosion treatment. Failing to treat the water sends corrosive river water through local pipes, it starts to eat through plumbing, and the result is lead poisoning.

The Snyder administration did not take the necessary precautions. What’s more, as the community grew concerned about its water, administration officials initially told local residents not to worry and to keep drinking the water.

The result, of course, is a public health crisis in which countless city residents, including many children, have been poisoned, which leads to severe and long lasting  consequences. Snyder last week declared an official emergency – he also issued an apology of sorts on New Year’s Eve – but the people of Flint still don’t have safe, clean water.

There’s also the political crisis as a result of this man-made disaster. The EPA warned Snyder administration officials about rising lead levels, but the governor did not alert the public and state officials delayed action to address the problem.

The Republican governor is now facing calls for his resignation and #ArrestGovSnyder protests. Local residents are also moving forward with a class-action lawsuit over the crisis, and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Michigan has confirmed it is investigating the matter to determine if any laws were broken.

The Detroit Free Press reported late yesterday that Michigan State Police troopers and other state officials “will start a door-to-door sweep of Flint on Tuesday to hand out bottled water and water filters, and the White House says it is monitoring the situation ‘very closely.’”
Flint has (of course) been a Category 5 economic shitstorm for about 30 years now. (Remember when a thin and youthful Michael Moore went searching in vain for some guy named Roger?) This is a scandal with very long roots, and it is not even entirely Rick Snyder’s fault; Flint was abandoned by GM, the government, and eventually by many of its residents. Snyder is just the latest fat cat to take a piss on Flint.

Democrats In Disarray? A Roundup of Responses to Matt Yglesias

Earlier this week, Vox posted an article by Matthew Yglesias suggesting that the Democratic Party is in great peril due to the lack of attention paid to state and local races:

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won’t lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.

Not only have Republicans won most elections, but they have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House. But Democrats have nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot. Democrats aren’t even talking about how to improve on their weak points, because by and large they don’t even admit that they exist.

Instead, the party is focused on a competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over whether they should go a little bit to Obama’s left or a lot to his left, options that are unlikely to help Democrats down-ballot in the face of an unfriendly House map and a more conservative midterm electorate. The GOP might be in chaos, but Democrats are in a torpor.

Insofar as this piece has been widely read and discussed — Yglesias has succeeded as an author. It seems like everyone from Rush Limbaugh to public radio picked up on it.

So naturally, I’d like to weigh in with a few thoughts:

1.) This issue comes up at the same time that both the national Republican and Democratic Party leaderships are under fire. The GOP, of course, is running Congress like a poorly-managed three-ring circus and their presidential nomination contest so far, has been a dumpster fire. And on the other side, the first debate revealed a major feud between DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tulsi Gabbard over the former’s heavy-handed management of the party (ostensibly on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions).

2.) Given the inanity of national politics these days, it is only natural to take a look “outside that box” to say something fresh and interesting. As a professional contrarian, it makes complete sense for Yglesias to look to state and local races.

3.) It is hardly news that the Democrats have suffered several blow-outs in a row in state legislative races. Cokie Roberts made the same point months ago.

4.) Democrats are not oblivious to the issue. As Ed Kilgore notes (h/t to Ryan Cooper):

After reading Matt Yglesias’ cri de coeur against “complacent” Democrats who don’t seem to be aware the Donkey Party is a presidential loss away from a total conservative makeover of the country, my basic reaction is that Matt needs to get out more. The whole premise of his Vox piece is that Democrats either don’t know or don’t care that they are at a historic disadvantage at the state government level and have little chance of—or a “plan” for—regaining control of the U.S. House, either. The Democrats I talk to seem pretty aware of the situation, if perhaps too sanguine about their long-term prospects (thanks to faith in demographics or doubt that the craziness rampant in the GOP will enable that party to pull of a trifecta).

Hillary Clinton herself went on MSNBC yesterday to stress the importance of down-ballot races.

5.) Yglesias is doing some cherry-picking here. Yes, 70 percent of state legislatures are controlled by the GOP. But as Ed Kilgore notes, “controlling a majority of the states can be accomplished with far less than a national majority thanks to the number of small (and often conservative) states.”

Note that the 70-percent-of-legislatures translates to only 55.6 percent of seats across the country.

Moreover, even the share-of-seats measurement is an inflated measurement of Republican electoral success. Ideally we would be looking at share-of-the-vote, since that reflects the actual support among the electorate. Unfortunately, that is a metric I can’t find, possibly because not all state legislative seats nationally are up in a single election. But we can reasonably assume that the Republicans won less than 56 percent of actual votes based on a few factors:

  • We do know that (federal) House Republicans got only 52 percent of the vote in the last election, and this translated into the largest majority for them since Hubert Hoover was president (56.7 percent of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives). We can probably assume that most of the partisans who voted for the GOP in the national legislature voted for the GOP in state races.
  • Some of the states with the largest number of legislators tilt GOP, despite relatively small populations. For example: Massachusetts has 160 members of the state legislature (123 D, 35 R) but the D’s advantage in seats in Massachusetts is nearly wiped out by New Hampshire, which has 400 seats (160 D, 238 R, 2 I), even though Massachusetts has five times as many people as New Hampshire does.

6.) Not all state legislative majorities are equal. Some states, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia, are going to be prize plums because they are swing states, and send a significant number of representatives to Congress. The party that can win control of the state legislatures there (and heretofore, that has been the GOP in all four of these states), is in a position to make a serious impact on federal races, particularly vis-a-vis gerrymandering.

However, the flip-side to that is that there are some state legislatures which are simply irrelevant to national politics because there is only a single House seat which cannot possibly be gerrymandered. Control of the state government may matter to residents of these states, of course, but that is not the main concern of Yglesias’s article. Any effort spent by a national party organization on down-ballot races in these states is simply a waste of money:

  • Alaska
  • Delaware
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

Note that five of these seven states are GOP strongholds at the national level (though all of these states have elected both Republicans and Democrats in recent memory).

7.) Moreover, in states that do matter, the state legislative majority is often a fait accompli due to state and local gerrymandering. Perhaps the most cogent response to Yglesias comes from Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress, who notes:

Reading Yglesias’s piece, however, one comes away with the impression that there are only two branches of the federal government — the president and Congress. Granted, these are the only two elected branches, but the winner of 2016’s presidential election is likely to play an unusually large role in shaping the membership of the Supreme Court. And the Democratic Party’s best road to relevance in highly gerrymandered states begins with changing the makeup of the nation’s highest Court.

And of course, control of the judiciary depends primarily on control of the White House and secondarily on control of the U.S. Senate. Which means that taking the focus off of the presidential race is the exact opposite of what needs to be done.

8.) Ed Kilgore also emphasizes the importance of presidential GOTV in down-ballot races:

… a focused GOTV effort in a presidential year is going to produce Democratic downballot gains next year, almost infallibly, especially but not exclusively in battleground states. Yes, it is unfortunate for Democrats (but absolutely beyond anyone’s control) that relatively few governorships are up for grab in 2016. But if Matt really is interested in a “plan” for recovery instead of just a healthy sense of panic, then the actual 2016 battlegrounds are a good place to start.

Ryan Cooper also makes a similar point, asserting that base mobilization during presidential years is part of a big part of educating voters and pushing them to participate in mid-term years (not just presidential elections):

The Democrats’ strategy is thus far a halfhearted, pale shadow of the fervent ideological mobilization that the Republican base has been deploying for generations, but it basically makes sense. The end game is a politically activated base that fully understands that merely voting in presidential elections is totally inadequate to securing substantive liberal goals. It might not work, but it’s got a better shot than being the party of triangulating sellouts.

9.) It’s actually quite normal for the political party that controls the White House to stumble in mid-term elections, and the 2014 wipe-out was in large part cyclical (being the first mid-term after a decennial redistricting). Note that the same dynamic existed in 1982, 1994 and 2002. As PolitiFact notes, the calendar has simply dealt Democrats a bad hand in recent elections. Furthermore, Kilgore notes that the next decennial census cycle should be kinder to Democrats. While that is not (in itself) a “plan” as Yglesias demands, it also puts his Cassandra-ism into context.

10.) Given that reality, this interview by Greg Sargent with the director of the DGA ought to dispel notions that there is not a “plan.”

11.) Ryan Cooper notes that Yglesias seems to have an ideological agenda at play:

So why have Democrats been struggling at the state and local level? Yglesias has several explanations: structural over-representation of rural voters, who tilt conservative; the fact that the bulk of the monied class is conservative; gerrymandering; and so forth. All good reasons. However, he also implicitly embraces one of the hoariest Washington clichés: It’s because Democrats are too left-wing — they’ve abandoned the center! Perhaps sensing that he’s sounding disturbingly like America’s Worst Pundit, he tiptoes up to this rather than stating it outright, but the conclusion is clear enough:

[T]he party is marching steadily to the left on its issue positions — embracing same-sex marriage, rediscovering enthusiasm for gun control, rejecting the January 2013 income tax rate settlement as inadequate, raising its minimum wage aspirations to the $12-to-$15 range, abandoning the quest for a grand bargain on balancing the budget while proposing new entitlements for child care and parental leave — even though existing issue positions seem incompatible with a House majority or any meaningful degree of success in state politics. [Vox]

One problem with this argument is that conservative Democrats have already lost in droves. During the huge Republicans wave in 2010, it was overwhelmingly conservative Blue Dogs and New Democrats who got thrown out. The party leadership has been desperately trying to preserve its last few Blue Dog preserves in battleground states, but they lost a bunch more in 2014 too.

This would not of course be the first time that someone has asserted that Vox-style contrarianism is simply a pose for shallow, corporate centrism. Moreover, the response from the right to this piece generally seems to be sympathetic; witness NRO quoting approvingly Yglesias’s “important point” about the Democrats “marching steadily to the left”; see Hot Air do the same.

12 < X < 435 Monkeys, Solve For "X"

A time vortex has opened up — and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-ButYouKnewThatAlready) has come back to us to spread Clinton Derangement Syndrome before it’s too late:

It’s amazing to me how “Ready for Hillary” the Republicans are…. even though America is, as a guy who-is-not-Larry-David said, “sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails.”

Liveblogging The First Democratic Presidential Debate

My thoughts on tonight’s exciting debate, starring Hillary “Robitussin” Clinton, Bernie “Sudafed” Sanders, Martin “O’Morpheus” O’Malley, Lincoln “Sweet Dreams” Chafee, and Jim “Zzzzz” Webb.

7:43 Central — Here we go. Anderson Cooper is wearing the smart glasses. Linc is first on the stage, looking dashing in a green tie. O’Malley follows, sporting light blue. Hillary with the dark blue pantsuit, Bernie with blue and gray stripes, and Jim Webb, with silver (and glasses?).

Sheryl Crowe nails it.

And now for some exciting commercials!


8:00 Central  Introductions. Chafee has had no scandals, and has “high ethical standards.” May or may not have formerly been a Republican. Tie is very distracting.

Jim Webb goes on the attack against big money. Bled for our country. May or may not have formerly been a Republican. Tie is also somewhat distracting. Compelling personal story. Has five children.

Martin O’Malley. Tie is not distracting. Actually a pretty good public speaker. Is definitely a Democrat, and goddamnit he wants you to know it. Platitudes.

Bernie Sanders. Tie is not distracting, and that’s good because America has a CRISIS. “Millionaires and Billionaires” — if you had that on your debate bingo card, drink bitches. May or may not be a Democrat, but is definitely angry, so take that, O’Malley. Gets the first solid applause from the crowd.

Hillary Clinton. Never heard of her, but she’s a granddaughter of a factory worker and has a granddaughter, who is probably cute. Does a lot of listening. “Raising wages” is at the center of her campaign. And then tax fairness. Believes in equal pay and paid family leave, and the audience does to! Will heal divides. Fathers will now be able to lie to their daughters and tell them they “too can be President.”

8:01 — Hillary, “will you say anything to get elected?” Says that the TPP was just negotiated so she was entitled to change her opinion. Coop didn’t seem satisfied. HRC insists she is a consistent progressive. “I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.” Will work with Republicans, maybe, if they don’t piss here off.

8:03 — Bernie, “how can any kind of socialist win?” By rattling off statistics and factoids, apparently. Just like in every other country. Denies being part of the “casino capitalist process” that has “wrecked the economy.”
Coop asks if anyone else is not a capitalist. Hillary says capitalism is about small businesses and that we need to “save capitalism is from itself.” Says “we’re not Denmark.”

Bernie agrees that entrepreneurship is great, but growth must be spread fairly. Says he will support small businesses.

8:07Linc, “why should Democrats trust you?” Says he is a “block of granite” who has not changed on the issues, despite changing parties. Says GOP “left me.”

8:08 — O’Malley, “why should Americans trust you” when they see that Baltimore is a flaming dumpster fire? Says that Charm City got better under his leadership. “I did not make our city immune to setbacks, but I did attend a lot of funerals.” Says he helped save over 1,000 lives.

8:11 — Webb, “aren’t you out of step” by being a crotchety white guy with questionable views on race? Says he is in the tradition of the Democratic Party, and that he supports affirmative action for black people. Says lots of white people have it hard.

8:13 — Bernie, “shield the gun companies from lawsuits?” Sanders says he has a D- rating from the NRA. Says he has supported background checks and banning assault rifles. Says we need to improve mental health care. Says that gun shop liability is complicated, but thinks that manufacturers should be exposed to lawsuits.

Hillary says Bernie is not tough enough on guns, and says we need to “stand up” to the NRA. Jabbing hard on this issue.

Bernie says that “all the shouting in the world” isn’t going to keep guns out of the hands of people who “should not have guns.” Emphasizes consensus.

O’Malley. Obama can’t pass gun control, “how can you”? Notes that Aurora shooting parents are in the audience. Joins the pile-on regarding gunmaker liability.

Bernie says “we can raise our voices, but I come from a rural state.” Emphasizes consensus. “I intend to lead the country.”

O’Malley asks if Sanders has ever been to Western Maryland. Says he “led with principle” instead of “pandering.”

Sanders says it is not “pandering” to recognize that Congress won’t pass a Maryland-style bill.

Coop asks Jim Webb to chime in, noting he had an A rating from the NRA. Says ordinary Americans should be able to defend themselves with guns.

Chafee chips in, notes that gun lobby is successful at scaring voters. Says he can “find common ground” with the gun lobby. Sounds delusional.

O’Malley says he won the debate in Maryland by writing letters to gun owners.

8:22 — Hillary, “did you underestimate the Russians?” Hillary says she got a lot of business done with the Russians. Says it’s not acceptable for Vladimir Putin to be “creating chaos” in Syria.

Bernie says Syria is a “quagmire in a quagmire.” Insists he will do everything he can to prevent U.S. involvement. Says we should get Arabs to handle this.

Hillary chimes in and says “nobody” supports U.S. ground troops in Syria.

8:25 — Dana Bash asks the candidates about war in Syria. Hillary and Bernie square off on their records regarding the Iraq War.
(I had some technical difficulty at this point, so excuse the fact that I’m being a tad brief).

O’Malley gets asked if Hillary is too hawkish. Says he agrees with Bernie Sanders that the Iraq War was “one of the worst blunders in modern American history.”

Hillary notes that the decision has already been made regarding the Syrian no-fly zone, and says diplomacy is not about getting the “perfect solution” but about balancing risks. That seems like a slight gaffe that could be used against her later.

Webb says “the greatest strategic threat” is China, not the Middle East.

Cooper asks Bernie to chime in. Bernie seems a bit surprised, says that Russia will “regret” being involved in Syria.

Hillary is asked about Libya and Webb’s criticism. O’Malley says that Benghazi resulted from failed human intelligence. Webb says that Libya was rushed by Obama, and made Benghazi inevitable.

8:39 — Webb is asked if Bernie Sanders can be commander-in-chief when he applied to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Says he respects objectors, but that he feels that he (Webb) is the most qualified to be commander-in-chief.

Bernie thanks Jim Webb and notes they have worked together on veterans benefits. Says when he was a young man (“I am not a young man today”) he notes that he strongly opposed the Vietnam War. But “I am not a pacifist” and says he is prepared to take the country into war.

Chafee and Webb have a back-and-forth regarding Russia and Iran regarding the Iran nuclear deal.

8:42 — What is the greatest threat? Linc – “chaos in the middle east.” O’Malley – “nuclear Iran”. Hillary – nuclear proliferation. Sanders – climate change. Webb – relationship with China, cyberterrorism, middle east.

8:47 — Hillary gets a question regarding e-mails, and whether she can handle crises. Says she has taken responsibility for legal but unwise decisions regarding e-mail. Looks forward to testifying. “Let’s just take a minute” to point out that the Benghazi commission is a partisan hackjob.

Coop, “isn’t it hard to call this just a partisan issue?” Shorter answer — heck no. Says she wants to talk about what the people want.

Bernie chimes in to agree with Hillary. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails!” Gets loud applause, and the candidates shake hands.

Linc tries to Lincsplain why this is an issue. Coop asks if Hillary wants to respond. “No.”

Coop asks O’Malley. “Now that we’re finally having debates, Anderson, we don’t have to be defined” by the e-mail issue.

8:52 — Off to Don Lemon with Facebook question. A young man from Des Moines asks, “Do ‘black lives matter’ or do ‘all lives matter’?”

Bernie says #BlackLivesMatter and says that we need to combat institutional racism. Says we have more people in jail than China.

O’Malley says #BlackLivesMatter has a “legitimate, serious” point.

Cooper asks Hillary what she will do for black people that Obama hasn’t. Says that we need to follow-up on obstructed agenda items. Calls for a “new New Deal” for communities of color.

Webb says that “every life matters” but that he has a long history of working with black voters, and that he “risked his political life” on criminal justice reform. Says he has “done the hard jobs” on civil rights, but his answer might have been a bit tone deaf.

Cooper asks Bernie Sanders what he will do for black people that Obama couldn’t. Says that he will focus on creating jobs, raising the minimum wage to $15, pay equity for women, oppose globalization, and make college tuition-free.

Cooper asks Hillary what she will do about income inequality says “you and your husband are part of the one percent.” Hillary repeats her point (made several times) that she will help people reach their “god-given potential.” Notes that Democrats are better than Republicans.

Martin O’Malley agrees with Sanders on income inequality. Brings up Glass-Steagall Act, and says that is a big difference between him and Hillary Clinton.

9:01 — Cooper asks for details about how Hillary would regulate Wall Street banks. Emphasizes her plan to empower regulators to break up banks and look at shadow banks.

Bernie says it’s “not true” that Hillary’s banking plan is tougher than his. Says he fought deregulation of banks in the 1990s. Says that we’ve got to “break them up.”

Hillary says she respects Bernie Sanders’ passion, but that she “represented Wall Street” as a Senator from New York and supposedly told the bankers to cut it out. Might be considered a mild gaffe.

Bernie says “in my view, Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

O’Malley goes Full Sanders and starts rattling off statistics about bank consolidation. Re-iterates that he is for a “firewall” between investors and retail banking, and that Hillary is not. Brings up Keystone.

Hillary says “everybody on this stage has change a position or two.” Says that she got tough on the Chinese regarding climate change.

9:06 — Cooper asks Bernie if he would risk the economic stability of the country to stick with his principles. Bernie says that his objection to the 2008 bailout was that the burden was imposed on the middle class instead of on “the millionaires and billionaires.” Notes that his education plan would make college tuition-free based on a financial transaction test.

Cooper asks Jim Webb for his views. Notes that he called for a windfalls profit tax, and complains that he doesn’t get equal time.

Cooper asks Linc about Glass-Steagall. Says it was the first vote he made in the Senate. Coop digs in, asks if he voted for something he didn’t understand. Spins about the Bush cuts.

9:10 Dana Bash asks Bernie Sanders if it makes sense to provide college free to “Donald Trump’s kids.” Bernie says that a college degree is what a high school degree used to be, and reiterates that it is paid for by taxing Wall Street.

Dana Bash pivots to Clinton, and asks about other plans that Bernie Sanders has offered for Social Security expansion, etc. Hillary says that students should work during collegeEmbraces “enhancing” benefits.

Bernie chimes in, notes that he has been a leader in defending Social Security benefits, and eliminating the cap on the Social Security taxes.

9:15 — Juan-Carlos Lopez asks Bernie Sanders why he voted against a 2007 immigration bill. Bernie says he voted against it because the guest-worker program in the bill was “semi-slavery.” Says he supports comprehensive immigration reform.

Lopez then turns to Hillary whether Obamacare should be expanded to undocumented immigrants. Hillary says she supports healthcare for children, and supports an exchange buy-in.

O’Malley says that he would “go further than Obama” on immigration.

Webb says “he wouldn’t have a problem” with undocumented immigrants getting Obamacare. Talks about his wife’s story as a Vietnamese refugee.

Hillary chimes in with a note that there is “such a difference” between the Democrats’ views on immigration and the Republicans. Never hurts to get in a free swipe at the opposition party.

Cooper asks about giving in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Hillary says that it is basically up to the states.

O’Malley, on cue, notes that he already did it in Maryland. Calls Donald Trump “that carnival barker.”

Anderson Cooper asks why Bernie Sanders didn’t take action sooner on veterans’ affairs. Bernie notes that he was only chair for two years, and that during his tenure he worked with John McCain to fundamentally reform VA care.

Coop then asks Chafee about his vote on the PATRIOT Act. Says he’d be willing to reform it.

Hillary says she doesn’t regret her vote on the PATRIOT Act. Blames the Bush Administration for screwing up the law.

Coop notes that Bernie Sanders was the only one to vote against the PATRIOT Act. Bernie says he would shutdown NSA telephone snooping.

Coop then asks the candidates whether Edward Snowden is a hero or traitor. Chafee says that we should bring Edward Snowden home. Hillary says he broke the law, and should “face the music.” O’Malley says “whistleblowers do not run to Russia.” Sanders says that Snowden “played an important role in educating the American people” but says that he should be punished for breaking the law. Webb stumbles, says he would leave it to the courts, rambles about destroying collected information.

Coop asks the candidates how their presidency would not be a third Obama term. Chafee would change middle east policy. O’Malley says that he would more populist and break up banks. Hillary Clinton says that she would be the first woman president, but refuses to name a specific policy difference. Bernie Sanders says he would lead a political revolution against corporate power. Webb dismisses Bernie, saying that “the revolution is not gonna come” but notes that he would be more conservative with executive authority.

O’Malley riffs on revolution, saying he wants a “Green Revolution,”

9:34 — Hillary. “Why should Democrats embrace an insider.” First woman president. Accomplishments. Etc.

O’Malley says our country needs new leadership.

Hillary says she wouldn’t “want anyone to vote for her based on her last name.”

Sanders notes that he doesn’t raise money from “millionaires and billionaires.”

9:38 — Facebook time! Anna from Tempe asks how the candidates will address climate change. O’Malley gets the question first, touts renewables.

Webb gets it next. Cooper asks him about supporting coal. Webb says he is a believer in “all of the above” energy solutions. Says we need to focus on China and India.

Sanders says we can’t fix climate change until we have campaign finance reform. Namechecks the Pope.

Hillary Clinton tells a story, that I think, is about beating up the Chinese vis-a-vis climate change at the Copenhagen Airport. Says we need verifiable commitments from other countries.

9:42 — Dana Bash asks Hillary Clinton about Carly Fiorina’s objection to paid family leave, that it might cost jobs and hurt small businesses. Hillary cites California as a success story. Calls it “typical Republican scare tactics.” Has a genuine moment describing challenges of being a working mother.

Hillary hits it out of the park attacking the GOP over Republican bullying (and sneaks in a mention to Planned Parenthood). “Big government this, big government that.” Definitely a high point.

Bernie Sanders chimes in, agreeing that America needs paid family leave.

O’Malley notes that Maryland already did that.

9:46 — Lopez asks Bernie Sanders how he would vote on a Nevada referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. Says he’d probably vote for it because of the problems of criminalizing drugs (including overcriminalization).

Hillary gets it next. Lopez asks if she is ready to take a position on recreational marijuana legalization. “No.” Does say that she is definitely in favor of medical marijuana. Says that we need to address mass incarceration.

9:48 — Another Facebook question. How will you work with the Republicans?

Bernie says that the GOP “has played a terrible terrible role as total obstructionists.” Says that people need to rise up and “make the Republicans an offer they can’t refuse.”

9:54 — Question is basically, who would be the hardest to work with? Chafee – coal companies. O’Malley: “The National Rifle Association.” Clinton — “Probably the Republicans.” Sanders: pharmaceutical and finance. Webb: “the enemy soldier who through the grenade who injured me.” What???

9:56 — Wrapping up now. Final statements.

Chafee, with all the enthusiasm as a comedy defensive driving instructor, reiterates that he has had “no scandals” (oh really Linc? your tie is a scandal). Says he wants to be the peacemaker.

Webb. Wants a national economic plan. This may be the only opportunity he’s had to speak for 90 seconds this whole debate.

O’Malley. Notes that the Democrats are not insane bigots. Says debate was “an honest search for the answers.” Says we need to “speak to the goodness in our country.”

Sanders. Hits on his main points. “Only major country” etc. “Nobody up here, certainly no Republican, can address the major crises in our country, unless millions of people stand up to the billionaire class.” Asks viewers for “30 bucks apiece.”

Hillary finishes up. “Please come and make it clear that America’s best days are ahead.”

10:04 — My impressions:

  • Doubt this will have a major impact on the polls. This was a friendly debate and everyone really did well (even Chafee and Webb, who came across as weirdos from time to time).
  • In my view, the best performances were: O’Malley, Clinton, Sanders, Webb, Chafee.

The House, The House, The House Is On Fire

It’s hardly news at this hour, but Kevin McCarthy’s sudden withdraw from the race for Speaker of the House still shocks.

To put it succinctly: nobody smart enough to do the job is dumb enough to want the job.

I think Chris Matthews is correct when he says that the insistence upon getting to 247 Republicans basically gives the furthest-right members of the GOP caucus a veto power, including the power to demand a government shutdown.

Unfortunately, the Democrats would need 30 Republicans to launch a “counter-coup” and install either a moderate Republican or Nancy Pelosi, so this is exceedingly unlikely, even if it might be the more-popular option among the electorate as a whole.

Texas Ballot Propositions 2015

Did you know there is an election on November 3? There is!  Early voting starts October 19.

The statewide ballot is a bit of a snoozefest; we are being asked to approve seven constitutional amendments this year, none of which has enormous implications. Since 1876, we have voted on 666 amendments and the “Ayes” have an all-time record of 484-179 (by comparison, Bear Bryant finished his coaching career with 323 wins and 85 losses).

Here are the propositions and my feelings on each. Hopefully you will learn something. If you disagree, let me know in the comments.

Proposition 1: This is a proposal to expand the homestead exemption on property taxes. Homeowners would save an average of $126 per year, with the biggest benefit going to the wealthy. Renters (like myself) would not benefit at all. It would, however, create an enormous hole in the state budget, to the tune of $600 million per year (this is the cost the state will have to pay to local school districts).

I plan on voting AGAINST.
Proposition 2: This is a proposal to grant a property tax exemption to surviving spouses of disabled veterans. While this seems laudable, it would be better for the State to give veterans’ spouses (not all of whom are homeowners!) a direct benefit rather than lard up the state constitution with more loopholes. If property taxes are bad for veterans and their husbands/wives, then shouldn’t we consider getting rid of them entirely (and replacing it with a state income tax?).

I plan on voting AGAINST.

Proposition 3: This repeals the requirement that certain state officials live in Austin. As far as I am concerned, I’d prefer they stay as far away as possible. The last thing we need is more out-of-towners driving up the rent.

I plan on voting FOR.

Proposition 4: This would permit charitable foundations associated with sports teams to conduct raffles. This and Prop 5 are the sort of technocratic minutiae that makes Texas constitutional referenda seem ridiculous to casual observers (fun fact: democracy in the Lone Star State is best thought of us a sort of war of attrition waged against the electorate by the Legislature).

About the only people against this are a handful of Baptists in East Texas. The rest of us just want to lay our hands on the blessed Cowboys/Texans/Rangers/Astros/Rockets/Spurs/Mavs/Stars merch. Hallelujer!

I plan on voting FOR.

Proposition 5: Lets small (less than 7,500 people) build private roads.  Literally nobody in the Legislature voted against this. I suppose the point is that counties should be able to help ranchers and oil men out. There are other forms of corporate welfare that are far more offensive.

I plan on voting FOR.

Proposition 6: This proposes a (state) constitutional right to hunt and fish. As often happens during off-year, this seems to have been designed to be a “hot button cultural issue” to draw voters to the polls. But as far as controversies go, this one seems rather a dud.

Proponents claim that hunting and fishing needs to be protected from encroachments of federal environmental laws, as well as lawsuits from “extreme animal rights groups.” This of course will not do anything vis-a-vis the Feds (have we not heard of the Supremacy Clause, gentlemen?) nor do I think that PETA (which has obliged the sponsors by actively opposing this amendment) is any real threat.

Nevertheless, we’re being asked to vote our values on this one, and this is the rare chance I have to agree with the National Rifle Association. I am an environmentalist, because I believe that humanity is part of the ecosystem. I believe that hunting and fishing (particularly “traditional methods” which are protected by this amendment) are essential for us to cast off the shackles of modernity and re-engage with Mother Earth on a more primitive, visceral level.

Moreover, many states (including both very conservative and very progressive states, like Vermont) have embraced the right to fish and hunt. This would put Texas in an emerging majority of states that embrace the “back-to-nature” ethos.

I plan on voting FOR.

Proposition 7: This would set aside a certain amount of tax revenue for the construction and maintenance of non-tolled roads and highways, as well as to pay down debt on other transportation projects (not necessarily roads). Although it is being opposed by the Texas AFT (I suppose because it locks that money away from education), the fact is that Texas needs to build good infrastructure.

I plan on voting FOR.

Honorable Mentions: Voters in the City of Houston will be asked to elect a new mayor, as well as vote on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance a/k/a Proposition 1.

I am indifferent as to the mayoral election, although I would encourage you to vote for my friend John LaRue for city council.

With regard to Proposition 1 (HERO), I would ask you to vote YES.

A Pro-Life Movement, But Not THAT Pro-Life Movement

Alex Pareene, who is I think really too smart to meant this literally, has a controversial post today on Gawker entitled “The Gun Control Movement Needs It’s Own Pro-Life Fanatics“:

This doesn’t just mean marches and protests. It means constant marches and protests, and open and blatant harassment of your political opponents. It means protesting at the homes of gun manufacturing company executives and trying to shut down gun stores. It means very publicly making a scene at as many gun shops as possible, and personally attacking—verbally, but bordering on physically—people trying to enter those stores to legally purchase guns.

After all, the point of screaming at women outside a clinic isn’t to erect a legal barrier to abortion access, it’s to prevent that woman from getting an abortion, and to dissuade others from even considering it. It’s to prevent abortion from being considered a legitimate option. Aren’t there a couple thousand gun control activists out there passionate enough to want to stand outside gun shops and provoke confrontations with open-carry wingnuts?

It also means going all-in on gore. It means waving gruesome photos of dead children in the faces of Republican legislators, gun store owners, and gun manufacturers. This is where the conservatives shine. Good liberals are too squeamish to look past the police tape. They worry that if they focus, up close and without flinching, on the goriest details of the carnage, it’ll glorify violence, or worse, inspire future killers. Maybe, but it’ll also scare the shit out of future killers’ mothers before they fill their houses with guns, to feel safe.

. . .

If the gun control movement actually, really wants to change America’s gun culture, they will have to put the least reasonable and the least accommodating activists they can find in charge of directing the entire movement. In order to achieve a realistic outcome, the anti-gun movement needs to fight, passionately and vociferously, for an unrealisticgoal. Don’t campaign to expand background checks. Fight like hell to ban all private gun sales, and watch as expanded background checks becomes a politically palatable compromise. Keep fighting, and eventually “I support banning handgun ownership for everyone besides childless victims of domestic assault” becomes the politically palatable compromise position.

As I noted in my first post on this blog, I am deeply upset about the state of gun regulation in America today. I myself am a gun owner*  and also a former member of the NRA. I believe that gun ownership can be a rewarding and beneficial thing for society. But I also look at the now-weekly horror of mass shootings, as well as the many-times-a-day horror of “ordinary” homicides, accidental deaths and suicides. And I weep.

But if there’s anything — anything! — that makes me as angry as our national complacency with gun violence, it would be the chicanery, deception, and bullying of the anti-abortion movement in this country. To be sure, many pro-life Americans are sincere in their beliefs. Even many of the louder activists are OK people. But the movement as a whole is fostering an anti-intellectual, irrational atmosphere that breeds contempt for the law and hateful violence.

The last thing I want to see is people who are so amped up about gun control that they’re willing to shoot up a gun shop or murder firearm safety instructors.

* To be sure, it’s a 22LR pistol I use for target shooting — many gun rights advocates would probably recoil in horror at the lack of recoil and horror with my Sig Sauer Mosquito. When I took a concealed handgun course (mostly to learn about safety), I had to use a “bigger” gun (actually smaller, a Beretta compact 9mm) just to prove myself on the range. I never ended up getting my CCH because I don’t feel the need to do actually carry, and didn’t want to pay $200 for the license fee and fill out intrusive paperwork.

Benghazi Fishing Expedition springs leak; Dems aim to sink GOP shenanigans

A few days ago, GOP majority leader and might-have-been-Speaker Kevin McCarthy accidentally told the truth about the $4.5 million Select Committee on Benghazi:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.”

Immediately after this gaffe, some Democrats began calling for the committee to be disbanded.

Today — not missing the opportunity to kick the GOP while they’re down — the five Democrats on the committee have come forward with a public letter threatening to begin releasing unclassified-but-unreleased committee records they say proves the Committee has been running a partisan witch hunt:

In the letter, Reps. Elijah Cumming (D-SC), Adam Smith (D-WA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), said that the way Republicans on the committee went about their work shows how political their investigation has been.

“Although some Republicans attempted to explain away Rep. McCarthy’s admission, it reflected exactly what has been going on within the Select Committee for the past year-and-a-half,” the letter continues. “It has held no hearings of any kind since January, and it has completely abandoned its plans to hear public testimony from top defense and intelligence officials so Republicans can focus almost exclusively on Hillary Clinton.”

The Democratic members of the panel then accused the Republican members of using “a series of selective leaks of inaccurate and incomplete information in an effort to attack Secretary Clinton with unsubstantiated or previously debunked allegations.”

In particular, the letter claims that the committee unfairly portrayed its private interview with former Clinton staffer Cheryl Mills by demanding that the interview be treated as classified information and then leaking parts of the interview to the press. The Democratic members included previously unreported excerpts of the interview with Mills in the letter, and they told Gowdy that the State Department and Mills’ lawyers have five days to identify parts of the interview that should remain private before making the entire transcript public.

One of the key points that the Democrats’ letter makes is that the Gowdy Committee has been playing Calvinball with secrecy rulesOf course, inconsistent classification of government secrets has been a serious problem in all branches of government, including the State Department under Hillary Clinton. This is a serious, non-partisan problem which, unfortunately, will probably not be addressed any time soon.

Nevertheless, given that the Benghazi truthers have been alleging cover-ups and conspiracies based on smoke-and-mirrors, I really won’t fret if the Gowdy Commission gets hoisted by its own petard.

Karma Report 10/3: Bring Back The Rainbow Jersey Edition

Lance Berkman says the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (H.E.R.O.) will allow “troubled men” to enter women’s bathrooms to do… scary things:

In the ad campaign, Berkman urges opposition to Proposition 1, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as gender, race, national origin, religion, pregnancy, and a list of other traits included in federal anti-discrimination law.

He explains that he’s against the ordinance because of one equal-access application, saying as a father of four daughters he does not want “troubled men to enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms.”

On Friday from Busch Stadium, he elaborated on his stance to the Post-Dispatch, saying he would never want to discriminate against anyone.

He said he was not applying the term “troubled men” to transgender people. “That language refers to that scenario or a voyeur — somebody who goes into a women’s bathroom and just likes to look at people. That to me is troubled.”

For members of the transgender community here, it sounded like backpedaling.

“It sounded pretty ignorant,” said Stephanie James, 65, of Maryland Heights, who had her gender reassignment surgery in 2009.

James, speaking on Saturday, said the problem is even when Berkman tried to smooth things over it was “all under the misbelief, the misapprehension that a lot of people have that this will allow weirdos and creeps into the restroom and so forth, when they’ve always been able to get in anyway.”

KTRK looked into the claim, and found that the anti-H.E.R.O., anti-“alternative lifestyle” campaigners are, shall we say, living in an alternative reality:

The ordinance does prohibit discrimination against transgendered Houstonians, but Eyewitness News looked deeper at the claims that this could open women’s bathroom doors. It has been against the law in Houston to use the opposite sex’s bathroom to cause a disturbance for decades.

A City of Houston ordinance passed in June of 1972 says:

It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex without the permission of the owner, tenant, manager, lessee or other person in charge of the premises, in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.

(Code 1968, 28-42.6; Ord. No. 72-904, 2, 6-2-72)

A former Houston City Attorney told Eyewitness News anything other than using the toilet could be characterized as “causing a disturbance.”

The law remains in effect. It was most publicly challenged in 1990 when a woman at a George Strait concert used the men’s room at the Astrodome. She was charged with violating that section, and according to news accounts at the time, it took a Houston jury just 23 minutes to acquit her. One juror told the New York Times, “She just did what she had to do.”

A few days later, and Carlos Correa just smashed Lance Berkman’s record for most homers in a rookie season:

Lance Berkman’s 2000 season with 21 home runs set the current mark before Friday. Berkman hit 21 home runs in 114 games, and Correa has reached 22 in 97 games — most of it before he turned 21 years old.

Now that’s what I call a hero!

Houston voters: consider this your daily reminder to vote early on October 19th YES on Proposition 1.

For near-daily updates on H.E.R.O., see the indispensable TransGriot. Hat tip to Cristan Williams for the note about KTRK’s reporting.