Saturday, May 30, 2015

And Chafee makes four

By Richard Barry

And there you have it fans, your 2016 Democratic presidential contenders, or after June 3rd you will have your complete field unless Joe Biden surprises everyone and jumps in, because on that day in June former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee is set to announce his candidacy, adding his name to that of Clinton, Sanders, and O'Malley.
He’ll make the announcement in a speech he’s scheduled to deliver next Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the George Mason Center for Politics & Foreign Relations in Arlington, Virginia. Following the announcement, Chafee will travel to New Hampshire on June 4 for a previously scheduled event with local Democrats in Grafton County.

Chafee, who became a Democrat in 2013, has made Hillary Clinton’s support for the invasion of Iraq the chief rationale for his primary challenge to her. As a senator and member of the Republican Party in 2002, Chafee voted against authorizing the war.

In April, Chafee let it be known he was exploring a bid, which surprised everyone. Since then he has been polling in the low single digits.

It's a democracy. People get to run for office. And I suspect the DNC is pleased enough with this handful of candidates, which should be enough to make the nomination process looked vaguely contested.

Hey, if Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina can run for the GOP nomination and apparently be taken seriously, then former Gov. Lincoln Chafee can run too.

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Mythology and the acceptance of police brutality

By Frank Moraes

I’ve been thinking a lot about the mythology of American policing and how it allows our criminal justice system to stay so messed up. And over at Vox, Redditt Hudson wrote an article that touches on this issue, I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and This Is the Real Truth About Race and Policing. He worked for five years for the St Louis Police Department, and since then, he seems to work in criminal justice reform. So he’s not exactly your typical police officer. But still, he’s been in the field. And I think he has a good take on American policing. In particular, he seems to be able to distinguish between the reality and the myth of the police. And that is refreshing indeed.

Fundamentally, I think it is the mythology of policing that is so dangerous. It is what allows police to think that they live in a world that is especially dangerous. And that leads to officers like Michael Brelo to jump up on the hood of a car and fire 15 more shots — past the 122 already fired — at an unarmed couple in their car. And it is what leads to judges thinking the whole thing was a-okay. Because, you know, Brelo was “fearing for his life.” This isn’t a story of the real world: a civil servant doing a (at worst) modestly dangerous job. This is a story of Odysseus struggling to make his way in a world of the Sirens and Cyclops.

The standard line whenever a police officer does something unconscionable is, “While the vast majority of police officers are dedicated professionals, this officer blah, blah, blah…” Every time we talk about misbehavior of an officer, we are expected to preface it with this disclaimer. But Hudson’s accounting sounds far more reasonable. No, it isn’t the “vast majority” of police officers. It is instead:

On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.

Clearly, this isn’t based upon a study. It is just Hudson’s impression. But regardless what the number are, this is the makeup. There are a relatively small number of “good” and “bad” officers and then there are a whole bunch in the middle that go with the flow. This is why certain departments become hotbeds of racism and why a strong administrative effort to clean up a department really can work. But if you asked me, I would say that it is more like 5% of the officers who will always do the right thing. Let’s call them the Eagle Scouts. Clearly, the probability distribution of police officers abusing their power will be heavily tilted away from the Eagle Scouts — that is, there are more “bad” than “good” officers.

Read more »


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When the Democrats' big tent is too big (I mean you Rep. Delaney)

By Richard Barry

In a Washinton Post op-ed, House Democrat Rep. John Delaney (Md.) complains that the left has "hijacked" the party's message.
"With Washington already broken, the last thing we need is a left-wing version of the tea party. But I am worried about where some of the loudest voices in the room could take the Democratic Party."

Without naming names, Delaney says that the "party microphone has been hijacked by people more interested in scoring points than in solving problems."

High on his list of issues on which he believes some fellow Democrats are being unhelpful is President Obama's request for fast-track trade authority, which opponents believe "would favor corporations and put U.S. workers in competition with low-wage workers in other countries."

Delaney also has a problem with Democrats, presumably including Bernie Sanders, who want to expand Social Security. 

"They propose expanding Social Security rather than prioritizing serious efforts to preserve the program — even though it will be unable to provide full benefits as soon as 2032, the Congressional Budget Office has made clear," Delaney said. "The only way a large-scale expansion could work is by allocating new revenue away from needed investments in the next generation or by shifting the financial burden to workers or our children."

But here's my favourite.  Delaney is concerned with those in his party who he says want to "relitigate the financial crisis" of 2008.
"Although these subjects may make for good partisan talking points, they do not provide the building blocks for a positive and bold agenda to create jobs and improve the lives of Americans," Delaney wrote.

He wrote that the "time-consuming rhetoric attacking banks ... has little chance of producing more financial reform and distracts from far more consequential areas of economic risk."

"Our values tell us to care more about people than institutions and to judge success not by the performance of the most fortunate but by the whole of society.”

Where to begin?  Well, I would suggest that no one is forcing Rep. Delaney to like or accept the ideas some of his Democratic colleagues are proposing, whether on free trade, Social Security expansion or Wall Street regulation. But, like them or not, these ideas are actually about solving problems and not simply scoring points. Again, agree or disagree, that's your prerogative, but to suggest that those with whom you disagree are not serious, or that Democrats proposing ideas you reject are hijacking the agenda is foolishness.

Rep. Delaney should just say that his variant of right-wing politics is not in favour in the Democratic Party at the moment and he is unhappy about that. He should resolve to work harder at getting his own message out there. But the "hijacking" language sounds like something a spoiled child would say upon not getting his or her own way,

Oh, and good for you Rep. Delaney. You made a lot of money on Wall Street. But the "performance of the most fortunate," as you put it, is what created the financial crisis in the first place. Don't we want to make sure that doesn't happen again, or would that just be scoring points?

Maybe Rep. Delaney would find a better home across the aisle.


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What's Martin O'Malley's game?

By Richard Barry

Reports are that former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley will launch his presidential candidacy Saturday in what most are politely calling an uphill battle. 

He'll talk about income inequality, helping the middle class, and the need for a new generation of leadership, or "fresh leadership," as he has called it.

He'll talk about how deregulation and tax cuts have helped the rich get richer. He'll talk about the immense power Wall Street has in shaping the economy and politics of the nation and how we really ought to do something about that. As he recently asked an audience in New Hampshire, "Do you want this to be a country where only the rich can get ahead."

In a sense, he'll talk about what all Democrats are talking about these days.

Whatever he says, he better get to work as a new Quinnipiac University Poll of Democrats nationally has O'Malley at 1% support compared to Clinton with 57%, followed by Sanders at 15%, and Biden at  9%.

The same poll found that "80% of Democratic voters said they didn't know enough about O'Malley to have an opinion of him."

So, what's O'Malley's game? Could it be that if the Clinton campaign finds a way to run itself into the ground as it did in 2008, he thinks he could be there to pick up the pieces? That must be it because Hillary Clinton is at least as progressive as O'Malley, and if he thinks he can put any distance between himself and Mrs. Clinton by drawing attention, however obliquely, to her ties to Wall Street, he's delusional. And the new generation of leadership thing might resonate if the race was closer.

As for Bernie Sanders, well, the self-described socialist is likely too much on the fringes of American politics to seriously compete, but if he does well enough in the primaries, and raises enough questions about Mrs. Clinton, O'Malley may hope that voters will instead come to him as the credible anti-Hillary.

All of this is quite ridiculous but for the fact that presidential politics often shifts at a very quick rate of speed and, though it may be too much to say that anything can happen, some unexpected things do happen. 

Unfortunately for Gov. O'Malley I am finding it hard to imagine how a successful run for the Democratic nomination could be one of those things.

Bottom line is that Democrats are so invested in the thought that they can keep the White House if only they more or less enthusiastically get behind Hillary Clinton that nothing will change that view, certainly not Martin O'Malley.

In his defence, however, I will say that Democrats are more loyal to the idea of victory than to Mrs. Clinton, and if she stumbles badly, they will look for another option without breaking a sweat.


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Friday, May 29, 2015

Behind the Ad: Rand Paul, defender of liberty with the pectorals of a god

By Richard Barry

Who: America's Liberty PAC (supporting Sen. Rand Paul)

Where: A digital ad

What's going on: In what The Hill calls an attempt to mimic "the aggressive style of a pro wrestling promo," this very strange ad displays parts of the Patriot Act, alluding to Sen. Paul's attempts to kill it in what is referred to as the "greatest brawl for liberty of the century." 

Ted Cruz, called the "capitulating Canadian," and Lindsey Graham are lambasted for supporting government surveillance as is , obviously, President Obama, "the head of the Washington spy machine."
Paul successfully blocked all efforts by the Senate late last week to temporarily renew programs that allow the warrantless data collection of Americans’ phone calls and to agree on a compromise measure. That gives the body just hours during a special Sunday session to negotiate a solution before the provisions expire.

There is little doubt we will be inundated with ads for the next year and a half, but if others to come are anything like this, I just don't know what to say. Gotta love the photoshopped image of Rand Paul. In his dreams. 

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Carly Fiorina's rookie mistakes

By Richard Barry

This was my favourite political story of the week and proof that Carly Fiorina, the Republican presidential "contender" who has never been elected to anything, is an amateur. 
Carly Fiorina spends a lot of her time as a Republican presidential candidate attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate, and has earned considerable news coverage for it. On Wednesday, with Mrs. Clinton set to give a speech at a South Carolina hotel, Ms. Fiorina arranged a news conference outside – for little reason, it seemed, other than to taunt her.

Unlike Mrs. Clinton, she pointedly assured reporters, she would take their questions.

Unfortunately for Fiorina, the press was happy to oblige peppering her with questions about whether she regretted appearing at a Clinton Global Initiaitive event, and whether she was shadowing Clinton to help male candidates running for the GOP nomination who are making the calculation that it looks better for a woman to harass another women?

Then, as the New York Times reported, "Ms. Fiorina quickly grew discomfited when the questions seemed to treat her more as a heckler pulling a stunt than as a formidable candidate making an otherwise significant campaign stop."

And then she made the silliest of mistakes, which was to flat out lie when asked by a reporter if she was there because Mrs. Clinton was there.
Ms. Fiorina insisted she had planned her trip here “many, many weeks ago, so perhaps she’s following me.” She said she had lots more to offer than merely Clinton-bashing: “Anyone who has sat through these avails over many months knows that I will take any question on any subject, and the vast majority of my speeches in front of anyone are about a host of issues.”

“I planned to be here weeks and weeks ago!” she said. “I have a luncheon to go to, with the G.O.P. here.”

"At this hotel?"

“This trip has been on my itinerary for a very long time,” she said.

And then, after 11 minutes, her media "avail" was over.

There are a few things the media love. One is demolishing a badly planned stunt, and another is catching a candidate is an obvious lie.

Two strikes, Ms. Fiorina. Maybe you should spend a few more seasons in the minor leagues before taking your shot in "the show."


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Donald Trump and "the question"

By Richard Barry

The Beatles were wrong. Money can in fact buy you love, at least some. Donald Trump is proof of that.

Are we excited that Trump is about to announce his intention to run for the GOP presidential nomination? Not really, but it looks like he's going to do it anyway, sometime in mid-June.

There are a few things that should be said about this. The first is that significant numbers of Americans confuse wealth with intelligence, and the second is that presidential politics increasingly provides a platform for certain people, with no chance of electoral success, to become wealthy or increase their wealth, and their profile.

Sadly, there is nothing to be done about this.

In presidential politics there is something known as "the question." If you were ever a fan of "The West Wing" you might know about this, but it's much older than that. "The question" posed to presidential aspirants is "why do you want to be president?" Ted Kennedy famously fumbled that query once upon a time, which is surprising as the answer always involves reference to the candidate's unique skill set being needed by the nation, which is experiencing certain crises at that particular time and how it would be an honour to serve a country which has given the candidate so much, yadda, yadda, yadda.

When Trump is asked the question I am sure he will be able to bluster his way through it, which is too bad. Better that candidates should have to take a lie detector test to weed out those whose only goal is personal aggrandizement, but then three-quarters of the GOP field would be gone.

Maybe the problem is that Donald Trump is the most glaring example of what has become of presidential politics, especially since Sarah Palin, which is that in a country in which celebrity is currency, the stage is too big to avoid attracting people who are not at all interested in public service, to put it kindly.

But the show must go on.


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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sen. Sanders will allow liberals to feel good about themselves

By Richard Barry

Politico has a story today that Democrats see Sen. Bernie Sanders as the greatest threat amongst potential challengers to Hillary Clinton for the party's presidential nomination. This is another way of saying that she is not going to be challenged at all, not at least as far as winning and losing goes.

But that's not the point. The point is that the party faithful, and those others desperate to stop the Republicans from retaking the White House are fine with Hillary. That support probably runs the gamut from real enthusiasm, though I haven't seen a lot of that, to meh. But Hillary's the one.

What that means is that we are, in a sense, going through the motions. Who better to go through the motions with than Sen. Sanders who will actually make things interesting by allowing Democrats to have a real internal dialogue about how progressive they really want to be. 

When that's over, liberal to liberal-ish voters can pat themselves on the back knowing the conversation they just had will have virtually no adverse impact on Hillary Clinton's ability to win the presidency.

This also means there is no room left for candidates like Martin O'Malley who will position himself slightly to the left of Mrs. Clinton, but not so far as to really mix things up. He's really just an annoyance, in part because under other circumstances he could have been a credible contender. In this election cycle that makes him an unnecessary distraction.

Bottom line is that Sen. Sanders will make many Democrats feel a little bit better about themselves, knowing they talked about some real transformative issues without any risk. Other than how to ensure Hillary Clinton beats whoever the Republicans put up, no other conversations are particularly welcome.

And, by the way, liberals really like to feel good about themselves.


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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Come on, Bernie. Stick to the issues

By Richard Barry

I like Sen. Bernie Sanders. I like the issues he's raising and how he's doing it.  I'm glad he's in the race and I'm sure I'll be saying some nice things about him in the coming months.

Sure, he says he doesn't begrudge her the money she is making in speeches, but it does suggest to him, he said in an interview, that she therefore couldn't understand what working stiffs have to go through to make ends meet, or those struggling to feed their families.
“When you hustle money like that, you don’t sit in restaurants like this,” he said. “You sit in restaurants where you’re spending—I don’t know what they spend—hundreds of dollars for dinner and so forth. That’s the world that you’re accustomed to, and that’s the world view that you adopt. You’re not worrying about a kid three blocks away from here whose mom can’t afford to feed him.”

But “that type of wealth has the potential to isolate you from the reality of the world,” Sanders added, mentioning a growing disconnect and anger at the establishment that he has noticed at gatherings in Austin, Las Vegas, Chicago and the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Maybe one could claim this isn't a personal attack, that it's a legitimate concern her policies won't go as far to help people in need because she doesn't understand them. But it's a personal attack. And Bernie, you said you wouldn't go there.

For whatever reason, politics frequently doesn't work that way. Presidents who have come from wealth or become very wealthy, like FDR, JFK, and LBJ, were very concerned about the poor. Ronald Reagan came from humble beginnings and turned into Ronald Reagan.

I have no doubt that Sen. Sanders himself cares deeply about working people and the less fortunate, but he's a United States Senator and I'll bet in a typical day eats quite well. Who cares?

This is nonsense.


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Down ticket, up ticket

By Richard Barry

One of the issues political outsiders don't typically concern themselves with is the thought process that goes into deciding to run for office from election cycle to election cycle, particularly in down ticket races.

In 2016, with Hillary Clinton the likely Democratic presidential nominee, and a strong one at that, the party should be able to attract significant numbers of A-list candidates encouraged to run based on a calculation of the value of Mrs. Clinton's coattails.
Democrats don’t expect to retake the House in 2016, but they understand the need to field competitive candidates to chip away at the Republicans’ historic majority. In part, that’s why the Clinton campaign and its allies have begun talking up her efforts to build an infrastructure in all 50 states, an organizational show of strength that could encourage wary prospects to run for Republican-held House seats — even in states that aren’t competitive in the Electoral College.

It's a somewhat underappreciated part of politics that candidates have to make calculations about their personal finances, career development, family obligations, health considerations, etc., before deciding to run or not. Add to that, of course, a sober consideration of the likelihood of winning.

If you are a Democrat considering a run for Congress, having Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot has to make that decision a lot easier.

Strength attracts strength, or something like that.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Oh, that wacky Pope

By Richard Barry

And I'm just getting started.

Hey, how often do you get to write a headline like that?

The point, though, is that Pope Francis is making some conservatives very unhappy.
Catholic Republicans are developing a pope problem. Earlier this month, Francis recognized Palestinian statehood. This summer, he’s going to issue an encyclical condemning environmental degradation. And in September, just as the GOP primary race heats up, Francis will travel to Washington to address Congress on climate change.

You gotta laugh. One problem with JFK's candidacy was the fear that, as a Catholic, he would be compelled to take direction from Rome. If only Catholic Republicans would do that now, they would be a much more interesting party.

Also funny, as Politico notes, Republicans who have concerns about the Pope's progressivism are flipping a"familiar script in which Democrats like John Kerry and Joe Biden were labeled 'cafeteria Catholics' when their stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage differed from those of the church."

Morality is complicated. Who knew?

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George Pataki: Yesterday's man

By Richard Barry

It would appear that former New York Governor George Pataki doesn't get out much, by which I mean he is pro choice, very concerned about environmental protection, has a record of promoting stronger gun laws, and still wants to run for the GOP presidential nomination.

While he has already begun to use the typical hedge that decisions on issues like gay marriage, gun rights, and education should be left to the states, I suspect he won't be able to avoid offering his own views once things get going.

Add to this that few think he can make a credible run and he doesn't register in the polls.

Not that I'm a fan, but it is interesting that, as pollster Larry Sabato says, Gov. Pataki is rated no better than an also ran, despite the fact that he is "a three-term governor of New York who was a prominent part of 9/11."

But if he is able to break through at all, it will be fascinating to see how a candidate with some very unusual views for a Republican impacts the overall dynamic of the conversation.

Again, if he does get noticed, and that's a big if, he may stand as a reminder to voters just how radical the  more "credible" GOP candidates either are or will have to present themselves to win the nomination.

George Pataki: What Republicans used to look like.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

Never too early to think about GOP VP possibilities

By Richard Barry

There were several reports over the weekend that Ohio Governor John Kasich is getting closer to announcing his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination. 

An interesting adjunct to these stories was speculation that he might be positioning himself for the vice-presidency, although Kasich denied this saying, "I don't play for second." Yes, well, no one in his position ever says anything different. Wouldn't it  be refreshing if a candidate announcing a presidential bid actually said, "I know I can't win but I'd have no problem being second on the ticket."

My guess is that most of those running would at least think about second spot if it were offered. No doubt some of the lesser lights would be absolutely beside themselves with joy if approached.

Among those already running or likely to run, maybe a Bush-Walker ticket would work. Or a Walker-Rubio, even the other way around.

A Bush-Rubio ticket would be interesting in terms of generational balance and appeal to Hispanic voters, though there could be regional concerns with both being from Florida.

I can't imagine Cruz or Paul would be anyone's idea of a VP. And, despite what Kasich says now, given the importance of Ohio on the electoral map, he would certainly be an attractive option.

What about Fiorina to counter Clinton's appeal to women? 

All kinds of balance factors to consider, and the VP nominee obviously doesn't have to be a presidential hopeful. 

Who know? Just thinking it through.

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