Friday, May 22, 2015

Pope Frances Heals Cold War Wounds

For anyone who is aware of the liberal struggles of the 1980's, this is wonderful news.
SAN SALVADOR — Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to convene in a central plaza here on Saturday to celebrate the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, 35 years after he was shot in the heart while saying Mass.

Romero, a towering and polarizing figure in Salvadoran history, was chosen by Pope Francis earlier this year to be beatified, the last step before sainthood. It is the first time a Salvadoran has received this religious honor. After years in which the process was stalled, Francis’s decision was a “surprise and a thrill for everyone,” said Simeon Reyes, a spokesman for the Catholic church in El Salvador...

Romero’s death was a watershed moment in El Salvador, a murder that helped propel the country into civil war. He was shot on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass in a church at the hospice for cancer patients where he lived. A “truth commission” set up after the war concluded that former army Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson, a suspected right-wing death squad leader, ordered the killing, but he denied involvement and was never tried. He was the founder of the conservative ARENA party, which governed El Salvador until 2009 and now is in opposition...

The decision to beatify Romero suggests that Pope Francis, an Argentine well-acquainted with military repression in his home country during the “dirty war” of the 1970s and ’80s, found Romero’s saintly cause compelling, regardless of the concerns of his political opponents. But the progress of the case also signifies that the Cold War wounds are gradually healing. Today, a former Marxist guerrilla commander, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, is president of El Salvador.
Many people in the United States finally woke up to what was happening in El Salvador about 9 months after Bishop Romero was assassinated when the military death squads raped and murdered four American nuns who were working with the poor in that country.

As we did all over Central and South America, the United States supported the military dictatorships that carried out these kinds of assassinations.
The United States was heavily involved in wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s in what Reagan described as an effort to stem Soviet influence in the hemisphere. The United States spent more than $4 billion on economic and military aid during El Salvador's civil war, in which more than 75,000 people were killed, many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.
That is why I still mark this moment when President Obama visited the tomb of Bishop Oscar Romero during his visit to El Salvador in March 2011 as one of the most moving of his presidency.

Honest Question

In commenting about the Senate cloture vote on Trade Promotion Authority yesterday, Paul Waldman wrote this:
If I were a cynic, I’d say the only thing that can bring Democrats and Republicans together like that is a bill that’s supported by corporate America.
Does anyone else remember that corporate America strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform? Why hasn't that brought Democrats and Republicans together?

I'm certainly not one who is interested in taking up a defense of "corporate America." But I do think they've become the convenient villain for liberals to blame. Truth is, it only bothers me when it becomes a knee-jerk response that keeps people from looking a bit deeper into things that are often much more complex than an over-simplified "point-and-blame" response can capture.  

President Obama is "Deeply in Touch with the Heart and Spirit of the Jewish People"

Jeffrey Goldberg has conducted yet another fascinating interview with President Obama. They spent time discussing three topics: ISIS, Iran and the President's relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. I was particularly struck by the depth with which the President addressed the last one.
I said in a previous interview and I meant it: I think it would be a moral failing for me as president of the United States, and a moral failing for America, and a moral failing for the world, if we did not protect Israel and stand up for its right to exist, because that would negate not just the history of the 20th century, it would negate the history of the past millennium. And it would violate what we have learned, what humanity should have learned, over that past millennium, which is that when you show intolerance and when you are persecuting minorities and when you are objectifying them and making them the Other, you are destroying something in yourself, and the world goes into a tailspin. 
And so, to me, being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish is part and parcel with the values that I've been fighting for since I was politically conscious and started getting involved in politics. There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind. But what is also true, by extension, is that I have to show that same kind of regard to other peoples. And I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values—its founding principles—that it has to care about those Palestinian kids. And when I was in Jerusalem and I spoke, the biggest applause that I got was when I spoke about those kids I had visited in Ramallah, and I said to a Israeli audience that it is profoundly Jewish, it is profoundly consistent with Israel’s traditions to care about them. And they agreed. So if that’s not translated into policy—if we’re not willing to take risks on behalf of those values—then those principles become empty words, and in fact, in my mind, it makes it more difficult for us to continue to promote those values when it comes to protecting Israel internationally... 
But my hope is that over time that debate gets back on a path where there’s some semblance of hope and not simply fear, because it feels to me as if ... all we are talking about is based from fear. Over the short term that may seem wise—cynicism always seems a little wise—but it may lead Israel down a path in which it’s very hard to protect itself — as a Jewish-majority democracy. And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of, you know— Kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We are going to make sure that the lessons we’ve learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others. And it goes back to the values questions that we talked about earlier—those are the values that helped to nurture me and my political beliefs... 
I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium. The same values that led to the end of Jim Crow and slavery. The same values that led to Nelson Mandela being freed and a multiracial democracy emerging in South Africa. The same values that led to the Berlin Wall coming down. The same values that animate our discussion on human rights and our concern that people on the other side of the world who may be tortured or jailed for speaking their mind or worshipping—the same values that lead us to speak out against anti-Semitism. I want Israel to embody these values because Israel is aligned with us in that fight for what I believe to be true.
In his write-up about the interview, Golberg ends by saying that this conversation with President Obama felt like discussions he has participated in dozens of times, but mainly with rabbis. Goldberg sent part of the above quote to his own rabbi to see if he agreed. Here's what he wrote back:
President Obama shares the same yearning for a secure peace in Israel that I and so many of my rabbinic colleagues have. While he doesn't speak as a Jew, his progressive values flow directly out of the core messages of Torah, and so he is deeply in touch with the heart and spirit of the Jewish people.
President Obama often speaks about the importance of empathy. This is a perfect example of how he embodies that value.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Endorsed TPP

Ron Brownstein brings up a group of people we haven't heard much from when it comes to the discussion about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Back in 2012, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (which is dominated by Democrats) passed a resolution endorsing TPP at their annual meeting. And recently their president, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, CA, and vice-president, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, MD, sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to pass trade promotion authority (TPA - or so-called "fast track").

You might wonder why Democratic mayors would disagree so strongly with their counterparts in Congress. Here is Brownstein's answer to that:
New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors' tilt toward trade...Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014. "This has metro leaders and elected officials placing an increasing focus on exports as a way to grow and maintain their regional economies," said Bruce Katz, the Metropolitan Policy Program's codirector, in an email. In their letter to Senate leaders, Johnson and Rawlings-Blake indicated the conference's own forecast projects that exports will account for one-third of metro areas' economic growth in coming years...

Democrats now control the mayor's office in 18 of the 20 cities that anchor the metro areas that Brookings found derive the most jobs from exports. (The only exceptions are Republicans Kevin Faulconer in San Diego and Tomas Regalado in Miami.)
Brownstein goes on to point out the shift in public opinion on trade.
The unexpected result is that a series of recent surveys have found that Democratic partisans now express more support for free trade than rank-and-file Republicans—inverting the historic party stereotypes. In last month's national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, a 43 percent to 26 percent plurality of Democrats said that free trade has done more to help than hurt the United States, while Republicans narrowly split in the opposite direction (33 percent said it helped, 36 percent said it hurt)...

The change also reflects the Democrats' diminishing electoral reliance on blue-collar whites generally dubious of free trade and their increasing dependence on both the college-educated whites and minorities who are more open to it.
All of this suggests that the views about trade in the general public are much more complex than how they are typically stereotyped in the media - as well as the current battles over TPP in Congress.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What We Can/Can't Learn From President Obama's Jump in Favorability

Gallup had some interesting news today. President Obama's favorability rating jumped 4 points this month.

It is important to distinguish this from the President's job approval rating. Here's what Gallup says about that.
A president's favorable ratings are distinct from approval of his performance; job approval ratings generally tend to be lower. For the Obama presidency, Gallup trends show the two measures have changed largely in tandem. As Obama's approval rating has rebounded nine percentage points from a low of 37% last fall, his favorable rating has increased 11 points from 42%.
But what is even more interesting is to take a look at the recent results by party affiliation.

As you can see, there has been almost no change in the President's favorability rating with Republicans and Democrats. Most all of the change has come from Independents - with an increase of 6% in the last month.

What you will always hear from political scientists is that it is not helpful to look at the results of one poll. If I were to suggest that President Obama's favorability rating now stands at 53%, that would be the mistake they are warning against.

But there is something we can take from one poll. If the pollster uses the exact same methodology, the trend lines over time are reliable. So what we can learn from Gallup today is that President Obama's favorability is holding steady with Democrats and increasing pretty significantly with Independents.

The context for all that is interesting to note. Over the last few weeks, the news stories about the President have mainly zeroed in on the disagreement he's having with some Democrats (i.e., Senators Warren, Brown and Sanders) over trade policy. It sure looks to me like Democrats are giving that one a big ol' "meh," while Independents might be liking what they see.

When "Populists" Are More Interested in Fighting the 1% Than in Protecting the 99%

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that five banks pleaded guilty to currency manipulation and six of them will pay $5.8 billion as part of the agreement. Adam Lerner at Politico reported Sen. Elizabeth Warren's response.
“The big banks have been caught red-handed conspiring to manipulate financial markets, and several have even admitted in court that they’re felons — but not a single trader is being held individually accountable, and regulators are stumbling over themselves to exempt the banks from the legally required consequences of their criminal behavior,” Warren said. “That’s not accountability for Wall Street.”
On her first point about not a single trader being held individually accountable, she is simply wrong. From the link above:
As part of its settlement with New York banking superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, Barclays agreed to terminate eight employees engaged in currency trading between London and New York...

Cases against individual traders also may be forthcoming, people with knowledge of the probe have said.
But you might be wondering what she meant by regulators exempting banks from the consequences of their criminal behavior. I'd suggest that Matt Yglesias has the answer to that.
Market regulators have the authority to bar criminal banks from managing mutual funds, corporate pension plans, or other regulated financial entities. But in this case not only has the Securities and Exchange Commission issued waivers to avoid that from happening, the DOJ worked with the banks and regulators to ensure that the criminal case was not officially settled until the waivers were in place.

In other words, the very same Justice Department that proudly insisted a fine wasn't good enough to settle the case also acted to ensure that there would be no practical consequences beyond the fine.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? Until you think about it from the perspective of the people whose mutual funds and pensions are managed by these banks. What do you think happens to them when the banks are barred from managing their accounts? I can guarantee you that a lot of those folks aren't members of the 1% and sure aren't responsible for the criminal actions undertaken by the traders involved. These are the folks the Justice Department was trying to protect.

This case fits a pattern I've seen pretty often over the last few years. As I mentioned before, one of the things that makes these financial institutions "too big to fail" is interconnectivity. This is a perfect example of how that comes into play. When someone like Tim Geithner said that he wanted to ensure a "soft landing" to the whole financial crisis that spurred the Great Recession, his goal was to limit the impact our interventions had on those who were not culpable. In doing so, he has accepted that it created a "moral hazard" for those who were. But given the fact of interconnectivity, the question comes down to whether or not your desire to punish the 1% takes precedence over the need to protect the 99%.

The Nuance of Climate Change Denialism

Recently Jeb Bush said this:
"The climate is changing. I don't think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. "And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it even."
So he's embraced the scientific fact that the climate is changing. We can't really accuse him of being a true climate change denier.

I would also suggest that he's right...the science isn't clear about the exact percentage of climate change that is man-made and how much is natural. But from there, what he has to say is one hot mess. He makes the subtle suggestion that those who prioritize dealing with climate change are saying that the science is decided on how much is man-made and how much is natural. That's a complete straw man that doesn't exist, but he feels the need to call "arrogant."

What science actually says is that human beings are having a major impact on climate change. Anyone who doesn't accept that is in denial.

When it comes to the 2016 Republican candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio occupies what might be called their own particular brand of "mushy middle."
Humans are not responsible for climate change in the way some of these people out there are trying to make us believe, for the following reason: I believe the climate is changing because there’s never been a moment where the climate is not changing. The question is, what percentage of that … is due to human activity?
He too accepts that the climate is changing (because it's always changing). But apparently he thinks it's an open question whether or not human activity has any impact at all.

When it comes to flat-out denialism, the prize goes to Sen. Ted Cruz.
"The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that – that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn't happened," said Cruz...

When pressed about the fact that the arctic is melting, and whether that helps prove climate change is real, Cruz dismissed it.

"Other parts are going up. It is not - you know, you always have to be worried about something that is considered a so-called scientific theory that fits every scenario. Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they'll say, well, it's changing, so it proves our theory," argued Cruz.
There you have it folks, a rare moment of nuanced disagreement between three Republican candidates for president. But never fear, they dispense with all of those differences when it comes to the question of what government should do about climate change...nothing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Acting Director of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ: Vanita Gupta

I've made the case previously that the turn-around of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ after it was politicized and decimated by the George W. Bush administration is one of President Obama's most unsung accomplishments. Initially, the President and AG Holder appointed Thomas Perez to head that division. When he became the Secretary of Labor, Debo Adegbile was nominated to be his successor. You might remember that his nomination was derailed when the Fraternal Order of Police objected because he had worked as part of a legal team on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal. Since then, the position has technically been vacant.

But pay attention to that word "technically." Because the "acting" director is a woman named Vanita Gupta.

Prior to working at the Department of Justice, Gupta worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and then for the ACLU's Center for Justice. Of particular note is that in her very first case at the NAACP she successfully led the effort to overturn the wrongful drug convictions of 38 defendants in Tulia, Texas (you'll see her at 0:35 in this trailer for a documentary about what happened).

That is all by way of introduction to the fact that this week Gupta gave a powerful speech on police and justice reform to the Colorado Lawyers Committee Annual Lunch. First of all, here's how she defines the problem.
In the seven months I have been at the Civil Rights Division, I have spent a lot of time with local leaders and community members in cities all across America, including with numerous mothers who have lost their children in officer-involved shootings. The pain, anger, frustration—the lack of trust in the police—is real, and it is profound.

Again and again, people have told me that young people are losing faith in our justice system and view law enforcement as preying on them rather than protecting their loved ones. They talk about how the police don’t value their rights, or indeed, their lives. They talk about being tired of being viewed as criminals first, human beings second.
But Gupta absolutely GOES THERE when she addresses the question of how we got here.
Mistrust can’t be explained away as the kneejerk reaction of the ill-informed or the hyperbolic. It’s in part the product of historical awareness about the role that police have played in enforcing and perpetuating slavery, the Black Codes, lynchings and Jim Crow segregation. As FBI Director James Comey noted, “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”

It is also the product of lived experience, of negative interactions that individuals — or their family members, friends, or neighbors — have had with law enforcement. Something as quietly humiliating as being mistreated during a traffic stop, or being followed in a retail store. These stories can circulate through a neighborhood — or these days, across the nation via the web and social media — and they can build up over time into a painful narrative that divides community members and police.

The lack of trust also undeniably results from our criminal justice policies over the last few decades, and the concentrated impact they have had on communities of color and people living in poverty. Law enforcement practices such as the stopping and frisking of young black men based on stereotypes. Sentencing policies that result in mass incarceration, particularly of people of color. And the devastating consequences that convictions have had on individuals’ ability to find work, secure stable housing and reintegrate as full members of society. These are deliberate policy choices that we made over the last several decades. We bear the responsibility to confront their consequences.
Gupta goes on to recount the work the Civil Rights Division is doing on police reform. During this administration they have:
  1. Prosecuted nearly 400 officers for constitutional violations
  2. Opened 22 investigations into police departments, including Ferguson, Cleveland and Baltimore
  3. Currently enforcing 16 agreements with law enforcement agencies 
She ends by describing the collaborative approach the Civil Rights Division takes to these agreements by working with community members, police officers and political leaders.
Due to the old newsroom axiom of "if it bleeds, it leads," we usually only hear stories about public servants when something goes wrong. But if the best way to promote a liberal agenda is government that works, Ms. Gupta is one of our best champions.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poverty Is Sexist

That's the provocative title of a new campaign to promote girl-power.
On May 13th,, the international advocacy organization, co-founded by Bono, that works to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, launched its latest campaign, Poverty Is Sexist, which aims to empower girls and women in the poorest countries, so that they can lift their own communities out of poverty. Fueling the charge is a girl power packed anthem, social media blitz, and petition.

Consider this, “Across every key gender indicator, life is significantly harder for girls and women in the least developed countries compared to those living in other countries,” as stated on the site. “While men in poor countries are also disadvantaged, the gender gap between males and females is even larger in the poorest countries.”
Of course, any movement worth it's salt these days needs good music. Here ya go!

'Strong Girl' features vocalists Waje (Nigeria), Victoria Kimani (Kenya), Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania), Arielle T (Gabon), Gabriela (Mozambique), Yemi Alade (Nigeria), Selmor Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe), Judith Sephuma (South Africa), new talent Blessing Nwafor (South Africa) and the video stars Omotola Jalade Ekeinde (Nigeria).
The campaign is encouraging everyone to post a #Strengthie with the hashtag #WithStrongGirls. Guess who was one of the first people to join in:
And whadoyaknow? It's catching on!

President Obama Moved the Overton Window to the Left

Here's how Wikipedia defines the Overton Window:
In political theory, the Overton window is the range of ideas the public will accept. According to the theory, an idea's political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window, rather than on politicians' individual preferences.
I was reminded of that when I read the article by Anne Gearan titled: Clinton is Banking on the Obama Coalition to Win.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues from gay marriage to immigration that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge...

Clinton’s full embrace of same-sex marriage in the first days of her campaign was followed by clear statements in favor of scrapping get-tough immigration and incarceration policies — many of which took root during her husband’s administration. She has also weighed in with liberal takes on climate change, abortion rights and disparities in income and opportunity between rich and poor.
Essentially she is saying that the reason Hillary Clinton can run on these issues is because the Overton Window has moved to the left. How did that happen? The truth is that the answer to that question is very complex and the movement can be accredited to a lot of different people and factors. But I'll give you two ways that President Obama contributed.

First, the President demonstrated in both 2008 and 2012 that what we now call the Obama coalition is capable of electing someone to the highest office in the land. Instead of chasing after the so-called Reagan Democrats (as conventional wisdom would have dictated at the time), he bet his cards on his own ability to expand the electorate with people of color and young voters. It worked! Now it's possible for someone like Hillary Clinton to run for president on the issues that matter to this expanded electorate - which is significantly father to the left that it was when her husband ran in '92 and '96.

Secondly, I'd point to something Ron Brownstein wrote a few months ago:
One senior Obama adviser says the administration “To Do list” after 2012 included thinking “about how you lock in the Obama coalition for Democrats going forward. Because it’s not a 100 percent certainty that they come out for the next Democrat.” Part of the answer, the adviser said, was to pursue aggressive unilateral action on “a set of issues where we have an advantage … and believe are substantively the right thing to do” and dare Republicans to oppose him.
Brownstein got that quote in December 2014 when Republicans were reeling at President Obama's lack of lame-duckness following the Democrats' losses in the midterm elections. Instead of playing the contrite loser, the President came out swinging with things like executive actions on immigration, a climate deal with China, normalization of our relationship with Cuba along with smaller executive actions on things like raising the minimum wage and providing family leave for federal contract workers, actions to address the problems with policing, and proposals like free community college.

All of this is what President Obama referred to as his "pen and phone strategy." The effect was two-fold. First of all, it gave relief to millions of Americans. Secondly, since these moves are favored by the majority of Americans and opposed by Republicans, it set the stage for the agenda in the 2016 campaign. Hillary Clinton is smart to capitalize on that.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Harnessing the Obama Coalition and the Future of the Democratic Party

I'm going to attempt to synthesize the message I'm taking from three different articles written recently about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election. I'll post the links right up front:

Large GOP Field Has Party Leaders Anxious About Their Chances in '16 by Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson

What Young Feminists Think of Hillary Clinton by Molly Mirhashem

Clinton is Banking on the Obama Coalition to Win by Anne Gearan

From the first article, I'm not so interested in what Rucker and Johnson have to say about the huge Republican field of candidates. Eventually they'll pick a nominee and the truth is, there's not that much daylight between the various candidates on the issues. The primary campaign might or might not get ugly and hurt the Republican candidate in the long run. But for all his failings, Reince Priebus nailed the reality they're facing - no matter how much the media wants to ignore it because it dispels the narrative they favor about a competitive election.
At last week’s Republican National Committee meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., party leaders plotted their path back to power and confronted the demographic changes that have made the Electoral College more challenging for Republicans, with their heavily male, overwhelmingly white base.

“To win in a presidential election year, the Democrats have to be good,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said. “As Republicans, we need to be about perfect in order to win.”
One of the reasons the field of candidates on the Republican side is so big is that none of them embody the kind of "perfection" that is required to clear the field.

But when Rucker and Johnson veer into a discussion of what's happening on the Democratic side of the race, they point out something important.
Looming above the GOP show is Hillary Rodham Clinton, the dominant Democratic candidate whom Republican officials brashly dismiss as a scandal-plagued, out-of-touch relic of the past but whose early strength and political durability is nevertheless giving them a serious scare.

Republican officials are dismayed that months of relentless, negative press coverage of her use of private e-mail servers, foreign donations to her family’s charitable foundation and her six-figure paid speeches have done minimal damage to her favorability ratings.
Others have noted that one of the reasons the attacks on Clinton haven't worked is because most of the electorate says, "Been there...done that" when it comes to these issues. Epistemic closure can fool Republicans into thinking they are hitting their mark when conservatives - who already hate Clinton - react. But in terms of the larger electorate, it's pretty ho-hum stuff.

In the second article, Mirhashem relays what she learned from interviewing 47 young women who identify themselves as feminists about Hillary Clinton's candidacy. The larger questions aren't so much about whether or not they will vote for Clinton in the end, but how enthusiastic they are about that and their views on what feminism means to them. Given that many of the women Mirhashem interviewed were women of color, the intersectionality of gender, race and class was their biggest concern.
Some of the concerns raised by the women I spoke to about Clinton were traditional "women's issues" like reproductive justice and equal pay. But just as many brought up police brutality, criminal-justice reform, and environmental issues as primary concerns—and as integral to what they mean by "feminism." 
In addition to the ones mentioned by Mirhashem, I would add immigration reform as something that is of primary concern to young feminist Latinas who have been so central to the DREAMers movement.

What's interesting about that is how little the white male challengers who are positioning themselves to Clinton's "left" have to say about some of those issues. Sen. Bernie Sanders platform includes the issue of addressing climate change, but doesn't mention police brutality, criminal justice reform or immigration reform. And while Martin O'Malley has addressed these issues, his record in Baltimore has pretty much destroyed his credibility on police brutality and criminal justice reform.

This is where Anne Gearan's article comes in.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues from gay marriage to immigration that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge.

The moves are part of a strategic conclusion by Clinton’s emerging campaign: that it can harness the same kind of young and diverse coalition as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012, bolstered by even stronger appeal among women...

Clinton’s full embrace of same-sex marriage in the first days of her campaign was followed by clear statements in favor of scrapping get-tough immigration and incarceration policies — many of which took root during her husband’s administration. She has also weighed in with liberal takes on climate change, abortion rights and disparities in income and opportunity between rich and poor.
That kind of positioning is going to make Hillary Clinton a formidable candidate who will be tough to beat. At this point, she has two remaining questions to answer: can she also embrace a feminist foreign policy and who will she pick to be her vice-presidential running mate?

On the latter, I would suggest that if she choses the former mayor of San Antonio and current HUD Secretary Julian Castro...she seals the deal. There is a reason why President Obama chose him to give the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic Convention and then picked him to serve in his Cabinet. Julian Castro represents the future of the Democratic Party.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Obama and Warren: A Contrast in Analysis

Andrew Sprung has written a fascinating article in which he lays out the different ways President Obama and Senator Warren talk about the roots of income inequality. He does so by contrasting a speech the President gave in December 2013 on the topic and one Senator Warren gave recently (which he taped and transcribed). Sprung sees a difference in rhetorical styles.
She sees the forests; he knows the trees -- and perhaps sees more overlapping, interlocking forests. Whatever your preference, the contrast is striking.
I think his comparison shows that the differences between the two of them go a bit deeper than rhetoric and might help us explain why they disagree on things like TPP.
Where Obama acknowledges multiple causes of our current economic malaise, from global competition and technology to racism as well as Republican tax, regulatory and labor policy, Warren hews to a three-part indictment of Reaganomics: deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and consequent defunding of investments in shared prosperity.
The difference rhetorically is that Warren's analysis is simpler and cleaner. Obama's is more complex. What I would add is that Warren breaks down a scenario where it is easier to identify the villains and the victims. While Obama points to Republican policies as a contributor, he includes factors that don't easily point to who the "bad guys" are (i.e., global competition and technology).

Behind those differences are differing views of how the world works and how you go about analyzing problems. One view is focused on a linear cause/effect analysis. The other focuses on a feedback loop with systems of interconnectivity.

When it comes to something like trade agreements, this helps us understand why Senator Warren would oppose anything that appears to benefit those she has identified as the cause of the problem...the 1%. They are the villains or the "bad guys" who are responsible for income inequality.

On the other hand, because President Obama has a more complex view that includes realities that cannot easily be judged as good or bad (i.e., technology and global competition), he can incorporate a view of trade that seeks to interrupt feedback systems that have been detrimental. And as I wrote about recently, a more complex systemic view also goes beyond the economics to see how trade is interwoven with his goals on foreign policy.

In the end, Sprung is right that Senator Warren's view lends itself to a better political message complete with sound bites. There is something to be said for that - especially in a news media environment that feeds on people's anger about who is to blame. But it's also true that President Obama is no slouch when it comes to rhetorical skills. The real question for me is more about who's done a better job of analyzing the problem and crafting solutions.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Just How Low Will Some People Go to Scare Us About TPP? (Updated)

The opponents of so-called "fast-track" and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement have dreamed up a new way to scare us. Here's the leading bolded paragraph at a Democracy For America petition:
There's a big -- brand new -- attack on Medicare that's just been added in the Senate to the Fast Track bill for the TPP. The bill would cut a whopping $700 million from Medicare, hurting seniors who need access to health care.
This sure sounds bad, doesn't it? So I've spent some time trying to track down exactly what's going on. I'm going to try my best to relate what I've learned. But I'll warn gets a bit wonkish. So bear with me.

Let me start by saying that its hard to count the ways that the paragraph I quoted above is wrong. Let's go through them in order:
  1. This is not "brand new." One article I found discussed a press conference at which Rep. Nancy Pelosi talked about it on May 1st. Another article I found about it was dated April 21st.
  2. The whopper comes next. Saying that this cut to Medicare was added to the Fast Track Bill is a lie. The issue having to do with Medicare is part of another bill reauthorizing Trade Adjustment Assistance. That is a program that provides financial assistance and training to workers who are displaced as a result of trade imports. TAA has been around since 1974 and the benefits are set to expire in September unless it is re-authorized. This is one of three bills that Democrats insisted be considered along with the fast-track bill (the others having to do with currency manipulation and trade with Africa). But it is not part of fast track and it is needed regardless of whether TPP passes or not.
  3. Republicans being, well...Republicans, have insisted on "offsets" for funding TAA. Here's where things get wonky. Perhaps you remember sequestration (automatic budget cuts that were triggered by the failure to reach a "grand bargain" in 2011). Certain programs were protected from these cuts - one of them being Medicare. But what sequestration did allow was cuts to Medicare providers, which were capped at 2%. It turns out that one of the budget gimmicks Congress pulled was to stack those cuts in 2024 in the first half of the year. The cap on cuts during the first 6 months was raised to 4% and then went down to 0% for the last six months. Part of the offset Republicans found for TAA was to allow cuts to Medicare providers the last 6 months of 2024 and cap them at 0.25%. There are a total of 5 budget gimmicks - this being one of them - that they came up with for TAA. If you are a true wonk addict, you can see all of them here.
If you've followed me so far, perhaps you are as angry as I am that organizations like Democracy for America are out there scaring seniors about Medicare cuts in order to stir them to action against fast track and TPP. I'll admit that what the Republicans are doing here with the offsets is shady and a really bad precedent.  But suggesting that it hurts "seniors who need access to health care" is nothing but craven fear-mongering. It is totally reminiscent of what the Republicans did during the 2012 election when they accused President Obama of cutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare. Beyond that, TAA has always been a progressive idea. As a matter of fact, its interesting to note that the original sponsor of its reauthorization this year was Sen. Sherrod Brown.

By the way, Democracy For America isn't the only one peddling this nonsense. Here's the petition page at CREDO Action on the same thing. At least they do a better job of explaining it all, but here's the sentence attached to their petition:
Don’t let Republicans use the debate over Fast Tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership to force cuts to Medicare.
Technically that's not a lie. But it is certainly designed to mis-inform.

The truth is that this is the kind of thing people do when they're desperate (and want folks to give them their email addresses so they can solicit them for donations). But it is beneath anyone who wants to claim even an ounce of integrity.

UPDATE: Upon doing some further research, I had to make some major updates to this post. Apparently reauthorization of TAA was initially a separate bill but it appears to have been folded into the TPA (so-called "fast track") bill via negotiations between Sen. Hatch, Sen. Wyden, and Rep. Ryan. I am truly sorry for that error. But what it means is that Democrats who vote against TPA are also voting against the reauthorization of TAA.

Steady as a Rock on Creating Opportunity for All