Friday, February 12, 2016

The Master Debaters, Democratic Edition Con't

Last night's Democratic presidential debate before Nevada showed Hillary Clinton finally taking Bernie Sanders supporters seriously, something Sanders still has yet to do with Clinton's backers.

Clinton got in some good jabs on Bernie, opening up and saying that Sanders was basically right about the economy and the country being rigged in favor of the 1%, but Sanders hit back on the issue of huge corporate donations from Wall Street.

Both candidates had excellent answers on criminal justice reform and police reform, outstanding stuff.

But where Bernie lost me was on race relations.  Clinton gave a great answer to moderator Judy Woodruff's question:

WOODRUFF: Secretary Clinton, I was talking recently with a 23 year old black woman who voted for President Obama because she said she thought relations between the races would get better under his leadership, and his example. Hardly anyone believes that they have. Why do you think race relations would be better under a Clinton presidency? What would you do that the nation's first African American has not been able to?

CLINTON: Well, I'm just not sure I agree completely with that assessment. I think under President Obama we have seen a lot of advances, the Affordable Care Act has helped more African Americans than any other group to get insurance, to be taken care of, but we also know a lot more than we did. We have a lot more social media, we have everybody with a cellphone.

So, we are seeing the dark side of the remaining systemic racism that we have to root out in our society. I think President Obama has set a great example. I think he has addressed a lot of these issues that have been quite difficult, but he has gone forward. Now, what we have to do is to build on an honest conversation about where we go next.

That's the correct answer here, Clinton immediately rejecting the notion that race relations getting "worse" under Obama is somehow Obama's fault for being black.

Sanders's response was okay for the first half...

SANDERS: Well, I think, Judy, what has to be appreciated is that, as a result of the disastrous and illegal behavior on Wall Street, millions of lives were hurt. People lost their jobs, their homes, their life savings. Turns out that the African-American community and the Latino community were hit especially hard. As I understand it, the African-American community lost half of their wealth as a result of the Wall Street collapse.

So when you have childhood African-American poverty rates of 35 percent, when you have youth unemployment at 51 percent, when you have unbelievable rates of incarceration -- which, by the way, leaves the children back home without a dad or even a mother -- clearly, we are looking at institutional racism. We are looking at an economy in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And sadly, in America today, in our economy, a whole lot of those poor people are African-American.

True.  It is institutional, he's absolutely correct.  But then...

WOODRUFF: So race relation was be better under a Sanders presidency than they've been?

SANDERS: Absolutely, because what we will do is say, instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires, we are going to create millions of jobs for low-income kids so they're not hanging out on street corners. We're going to make sure that those kids stay in school or are able to get a college education.

And I think when you give low-income kids -- African-American, white, Latino kids -- the opportunities to get their lives together, they are not going to end up in jail. They're going to end up in the productive economy, which is where we want them.

The problem with racism in this country will be solved by ending Wall Street tax breaks?   Race relations will absolutely be better under Sanders?

This is exactly the kind of conflation of class and race that really pisses me off about Sanders. He. Does. Not. Get. It.  I'm not saying he's as bad as Rand Paul, who was clearly running a hustle, but Sanders keeps thinking the problem is class warfare and not racism.  He sees the problem, but his solutions are "all lives matter".

Which is a shame, because both candidates were stellar on mass incarceration issues.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Last Call For The Kids Are All...Something

The picture that accompanies this Atlantic piece on Bernie Sanders winning the youth vote is bugging the hell out of me.

If Bernie's voting bloc keeps looking like this, he's not going to beat Hillary outside of states like, well, Iowa and New Hampshire.  This is not America's "youth vote" any more than this picture represents all of America, and I think a lot of pundits have forgotten that this week.

Just saying.

Dispatches From Bevinstan, Con't

When Glibertarian douchebags like Matt Bevin complain about the "onerous regulatory climate" that "costs jobs" what they mean at every turn is getting rid of protections for consumers so that they can be screwed over by corporations. Kentucky's insurance providers are a perfect example of this.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s new insurance commissioner this week dropped Kentucky’s legal defense of a 2012 consumer-protection law intended to help life insurance beneficiaries. 
The law requires insurance companies to make “good faith efforts,” using public death records, to determine if policyholders have died so their benefits can be paid. 
Attorneys for Insurance Commissioner H. Brian Maynard — a former life insurance executive — on Monday filed a motion to dismiss their previously aggressive defense of the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act before the Kentucky Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case were scheduled for Friday at the high court
“If this is the direction the Bevin administration is moving in, putting insurance industry profits above protecting the consumers, then I’m very, very disappointed. I would hope the governor doesn’t really know what happened here, and he’s just been misled by some industry lobbyists,” said Bob Damron, the former state representative from Nicholasville who sponsored the law. 
Maynard spokeswoman Ronda Sloan said the state Insurance Department did not have a comment Wednesday morning on why it dropped its defense of the law. 
Before Kentucky and roughly two dozen states started to pass similar versions of this law, Damron said, the life insurance industry was sitting on more than $1 billion in unclaimed benefits, often because companies did not want to know that their customers had died. Once they officially knew a policyholder was dead, that meant they had to contact the listed beneficiary and cut a check, he said. 
“A lot of times, nobody in the family knows the deceased even had a life insurance policy, or they’ve long since forgotten if they knew, so the benefits go unclaimed,” Damron said.

Bevin appoints an insurance executive as Insurance Commissioner, and suddenly the state is no longer interested in defending laws that insurance companies have sued over that would actually make them honor their insurance policies, screwing ordinary people out of money.

This is how Bevinstan works, folks.  This is exactly who you voted for, or in our case, didn't bother to get off your ass to stop when you had the chance in November.

Welcome to Bevinstan.

Read more here:

Back To Ferguson

So last time I had checked, the Justice Department and the City of Ferguson, Missouri had worked out a consent decree for dealing with the city's odious, racist police practices, having worked out a deal to reform the city's police and courts like adults.

And then, Tuesday night, the Ferguson City Council unanimously voted to scrap the parts of the deal they didn't like and throw months of negotiations out the window with an eye towards running out the clock on the Obama administration, and taking their chances with the next administration being much, much less interested in prosecuting civil rights violations.

In other words, these guys wanted nine more months to comply at the minimum, and wanted to push any sort of actual reform until 2017, where of course a Republican administration running the DoJ would dropkick the case into the deepest well they could find, never to be heard from again.

The Justice Department delivered their response Wednesday afternoon.

The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced that it would file suit against Ferguson, Mo., after the city rejected an agreement to overhaul its beleaguered criminal justice system and address allegations of widespread civil rights abuses.

“Their decision leaves us no further choice,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in remarks prepared for a news conference announcing the suit.

Ms. Lynch said residents of the city had waited too long for reforms. “They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer,” she said.

The Ferguson City Council voted, 6 to 0, on Tuesday night to reject the deal, which had been negotiated by Department of Justice and city officials. Council members expressed concern over the cost of that deal, but now face the prospect of a lawsuit that could cost millions in legal fees even if they prevail.

Ferguson has responded in kind:

Mayor James Knowles signaled Wednesday the city is ready to take on theJustice Department in federal court after municipal leaders voted to revise a tentative agreement to overhaul Ferguson's troubled police department and court system.

The mayor's comments came a day after city council members in the St. Louis suburb voted unanimously to remove language from the agreement that, local officials assert, mandates big raises for police officers. City leaders also sought to cap fees for required federal monitoring of the program at $1 million.

"The ball is in their court," Knowles said at a hastily called news conference Wednesday. "We're sitting and waiting to talk. If they want to threaten legal action, then that's what they're threatening."

Knowles is a scumbag of the lowest order, frankly.  He fully expects to get away with it. He just might, too.

But not if Loretta Lynch can help it.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Last Call For The Clown Car Contracts

Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina are out.  No surprise there, they finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in New Hampshire last night.

Behind Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush.

But the smart money still seems to be on Rubio, right Josh Marshall?

In a year when Donald Trump is now the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination, It is likely wise not to rule anything out. But it is also worth noting that in addition to almost certainly ending Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, Chris Christie probably also ended Rubio's political career.


So where next? 
Not the House, not the Senate and clearly not the presidency. He's already been at the pinnacle. It's hard to go back to anything else. The obvious path is to take a few years off and come back to run for Governor as a more seasoned, more mature politician. If that goes well, he's back in business as a national politician, maybe even one better positioned to make a fifty-something run for president. 
But you usually don't get multiple chances at this - especially if you get marked as a loser. The most likely scenario is that Marco Rubio's career in elective politics is over.

What a difference three years makes, huh.

Full-body portrait of Marco Rubio

How's that working out for you, Marco?

The Big Blue Eff You

Facebook founder (and burgeoning philanthropist) Mark Zuckerberg wants to give India free internet., which in a country like India which primarily accesses the internet via mobile phone is a massive deal. However, India's telecom industry just told him to go jump in the Ganges and take his free internet with him and it looks like the country's internet regulatory commission is following suit.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released their long-anticipated ruling on net neutrality in India. The regulators have ruled against differential and discriminatory pricing of mobile data on the basis of content.

This ruling will affect Free Basics — Facebook’s controversial plan to offer free, but limited Internet access — in India. Mark Zuckerberg has been campaigning to bring increased digital connectivity to the developing world. Free Basics, which claims to have 15 million users in more than 35 countries around the globe, is part of Facebook’s quasi-philanthropic efforts. India is the second largest market for Facebook users after the United States and considered vital to its continued growth.

Today’s much-anticipated ruling by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was not about Free Basics per se. Rather, regulators were reviewing pricing schemes like “zero-rating,” where mobile operators offer access to some websites and services for free, while charging for others. Advocates for digital equality arguethat zero-rating gives an unfair advantage to subsidized content, distorts the market for smaller players, and squashes innovation. Supporters of Free Basics, on the other hand, counter that urban elites who already have Internet access should not deny access to the poor, even if more equitable methods exist.

It seems the last thing India's government wants is Americans coming in and giving people just enough "free" internet to access Facebook all day and have to pay for everything else.

Free Basics was ostensibly targeted at Indians who had never experienced the Internet or could not pay for data plans. However, Facebook recently struggled to provide a reporter with the name of a single Free Basics user in India who had never been online before. Free Basics allows users free access to limited resources including Wikipedia, Bing search, and the weather, as well as a lightweight version of Facebook. Yet normal data charges apply for outside websites, like Google search results, for example. 
Facebook’s promotion of Free Basics has been orchestrated like a political campaign. In December, Zuckerberg published an op-ed in the Times of Indiadefending Free Basics. In it, he repeated Facebook’s claim that half of the people who go online through Free Basics end up paying for access to “the full Internet” within 30 days, but offered no further details about the study. “Who could possibly be against this?” Zuckerberg asked. “Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India.” Other countries have prohibited Free Basics. It is not offered in Chile, for example, because the government banned zero-rating in 2014.

If you want to know why I think Zuckerberg and his philanthropy are full of absolutely self-serving crap, this Free Basics scam is exactly why. This is precisely the kind of metered access that net neutraility laws in the US are supposed to prevent, and why Republicans are very eager to shut them down.

Imagine that Facebook gave you "free" mobile internet data -- only for accessing Facebook and search engines -- but the second you clicked on a web site, you had to pay as you go with the kind of data rates that would make AT&T and Verizon actually blush.

Given no net neutrality rules in India until now, that's the game Facebook decided it was going to play. That should be a big alarm bell to everyone about the necessity of net neutrality here in the US and indeed everywhere, but you can guarantee those rules go away the moment we get a GOP president again.

America already has the most expensive internet in the developed world.  The answer is not "free internet" with strings attached,

Smack, Crack, And Black

I cannot agree more with the sentiments of this op-ed piece in the NY Times about how differently America treated the largely black victims of the crack epidemic of the 80's and 90's, and how America's growing heroin epidemic in white, rural America is being treated today.

It is hard to describe the bittersweet sting that many African-Americans feel witnessing this national embrace of addicts. It is heartening to see the eclipse of the generations-long failed war on drugs. But black Americans are also knowingly weary and embittered by the absence of such enlightened thinking when those in our own families were similarly wounded. When the face of addiction had dark skin, this nation’s police did not see sons and daughters, sister and brothers. They saw “brothas,” young thugs to be locked up, rather than “people with a purpose in life.”

To be clear, no one laments the violence that the “crack bomb” set off in inner cities more than African-Americans. But while shootings, beatings and robberies cannot be tolerated anywhere, the heroin epidemic shows that how we respond to the crimes accompanying addiction depends on how much we care about the victims of crime and those in the grip of addiction. White heroin addicts get overdose treatment, rehabilitation and reincorporation, a system that will be there for them again and again and again. Black drug users got jail cells and “Just Say No.”

It would be cruel and perverse to seek equal abandonment of those now struggling with addiction as payback for the failures of the ’80s. Nor do I write in mere hopes of inducing cheap racial guilt. The hope, however vain, is that we learn from our meanest moments. 
Even today, as black communities face pressing problems of addiction and chronic unemployment and the discrimination in hiring that helps to perpetuate it, many are dedicated to ignoring racial prejudice. Faced with searing examples of unconscionable police violence against unarmed black men, of concocted justifications laid bare by video, too many still speak of isolated cases and overblown racial hysteria. With condescending finger-wagging, others recite the deplorable statistics of violence within poor minority neighborhoods as though racist policing were an antidote or excuse. Both responses ignore that each spectacular moment of unjustified police violence represents countless instances of institutionalized racial control across generations. 
No sane community faced with addiction and crime would invite or acquiesce to brutal policing as their fate, and no moral community would impose it as a primary response. We do not have to wait until a problem has a white face to answer with humanity.

A thousand times this.  The 90's got us three strikes laws, warnings about black "super-predators" and mass incarceration because SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE ABOUT THE BLACKS.

25 years later, it's Indianapolis and Des Moines and Omaha with the heroin epidemic.  And suddenly, America is all about second chances and criminal justice reform.

Funny how that worked out, huh.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Last Call For Climate Of No Change

The Supreme Court all but signaled the end of President Obama's EPA plan to regulate power plant emissions by ordering the regulations halted until the case can be heard by the high court.

The surprising move is a blow to the administration and a victory for the coalition of 27 mostly Republican-led states and industry opponents that call the regulations "an unprecedented power grab."

By temporarily freezing the rule the high court's order signals that opponents have made a strong argument against the plan. A federal appeals court last month refused to put it on hold.

The court's four liberal justices said they would have denied the request.

The plan aims to stave off the worst predicted impacts of climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants by about one-third by 2030.

Appellate arguments are set to begin June 2.

The compliance period starts in 2022, but states must submit their plans to the Environmental Protection Administration by September or seek an extension.

Many states opposing the plan depend on economic activity tied to such fossil fuels as coal, oil and gas. They argued that power plants will have to spend billions of dollars to begin complying with a rule that may end up being overturned.

At this point, there's little doubt that there's five justices willing to kill the plan even though the Supreme Court wouldn't hear the case until at least 2017.   At this point the courts have all but put an end to recess appointments, immigration reform, and now climate change that Republicans refuse to act upon.

This one is going to hurt, frankly.  There's little doubt that a Democrat in the White House wouldn't tackle regulations like this again until a second term, and it will take at least that long to get control of the House back from the GOP.

Another six years of dicking around and refusing to do anything about climate change is only going to make things worse.

Budget Busters

Everything you need to know about the massive disrespect (if not pure and outright contempt) that Republicans display for the nation's first black president is evidenced in the fact that the GOP refuses to allow President Obama's budget chief to testify in front of Congress, something that hasn't happened in over 40 years.

President Obama sends Congress his eighth and last annual budget proposal on Tuesday, a lame-duck executive’s accounting of national priorities that Republican leaders have branded sight unseen: dead before arrival.

But some new ideas that the administration previewed in recent weeks, including on cancer research, opioid abuse and military projects, could have more life than Republicans care to admit. A $10-a-barrel oil tax for infrastructure and clean transportation projects is certain to be too much for conservatives, but administration officials said some initiatives would prevail in some form.

Congressional Republicans went to new lengths to extinguish any such expectations. Breaking with a 41-year-old tradition, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees announced that they would not even give the president’s budget director, Shaun Donovan, the usual hearings in their panels this week

Keep in mind that every President since Carter has sent a budget to be reviewed by Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, for 41 years.  This year, Republicans can't even be bothered to do that.  It is hard to see this as anything other than outright rancor borne out of irrational hatred of President Obama, a slap in the face that no other President in recent history has ever received.

They hate him this much.  But please, tell me again how submitting a budget proposal is somehow President Obama's fault for injecting partisan politics.

G. William Hoagland, who was the Republican staff director at the Senate Budget Committee for much of the 1980s and 1990s, and is senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said he could not recall a year since the modern budget process took effect in the 1970s when a president’s budget director was not invited to testify before the budget committees.

“While the last budget of an outgoing president is usually aspirational, and sets a theme for what he or she hopes will be followed up by his or her successor, it nonetheless should be reviewed by the Congress,” Mr. Hoagland said.

On Monday, 14 Democrats on the House Budget Committee signed a letter calling the snub “disrespectful to the committee members, the public and the president.” And like Mr. Hoagland, other Republicans criticized the decision, which injects partisan toxicity early in a year of election pressures.

“I believe that permitting the administration the courtesy of explaining its intent and what it thinks of the policy should have been maintained,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and an economic adviser to Republicans. Besides, he added, “it gives you an opportunity to express why you disagree.”

But it's not fair to attribute this to bigotry against the nation's first black President, right?

Centrist Dalek Horror Theater Presents: The Schoening

As the New Hampshire primaries get underway today, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirms this week that he is considering entering the 2016 presidential race as an independent, something that made the rounds as a trial balloon two weeks ago.  Now however Bloomberg himself is saying he's considering making the jump.

The billionaire media mogul and three-time former New York mayor told Financial Times in an interview published Monday that he is “looking at all the options.”

Fellow New York billionaire Donald Trump has been leading polls on the Republican side for months, and Hillary Clinton only narrowly escaped Iowa with a victory over a self-described "democratic socialist." Bloomberg, who is considering running as an independent, said Americans deserve “a lot better.”

Bloomberg has set a March deadline to determine whether he will run, and should he decide yes, he told the FT he would have to begin getting his name on ballots next month. He has signaled he could spend at least a billion dollars of his own money to sustain a campaign, according to a New York Times report citing anonymous sources briefed on his deliberations.

That's not the funny part.  The funny part is who's advising him.

Bloomberg's pollster, Douglas Schoen, outlined the case for his boss's potential White House bid in an op-ed last week for the Wall Street Journal.

Pundits are missing a large group of centrist voters who opt out of partisan primaries, Schoen argued, pointing to the low turnout in Iowa.

“That’s the new silent majority: the millions of Americans who don’t participate in Democratic or Republican primaries. They are equally as fed up with the status quo, but they have a different approach to problem-solving and different policy prescriptions than those on the ideological extremes,” Schoen wrote.

That has created an opportunity for someone to mount an independent run, he argued:

“Who fits the bill? Michael Bloomberg, a centrist with a clear (and arguably unique) record in business as an entrepreneur and in politics as a three-term mayor of New York. Mr. Bloomberg is a fiscally prudent conciliator who advances pro-growth policies and takes tough stands."

That's right, the guy running Bloomberg's numbers is none other than our old friend Doug Schoen, the obnoxious No Labels/Americans Elect centrist grifter that warned Obama could never win re-election in 2012 and that Hillary had to primary him, that Obama had to champion the Simpson/Bowles Catfood Commission, that the Democrats were the real extremists, that Obama had to become a right-wing Democrat in order to attract Tea Party votes, that Trump should have gotten into the race in 2012 as in independent, and my personal favorite, that Barack Obama should have dropped out of the 2012 race completely for the good of America.

It looks like Doug has found his Trojan Horse to sink the Democrats and get his massive austerity cuts by splitting votes in favor of the GOP in Bloomberg, so if there was any doubt that a Bloomberg run is more Nader than Perot, the fact that Doug Schoen is involved should have you running for the exits.

The Centrist Daleks are baaaaaack!


Monday, February 8, 2016

Last Call For They're Not Unconstitutional, Just Drawn That Way

North Carolina's March 15th primary may not happen as a state court has ruled two of the state's thirteen congressional districts to be redrawn as they are unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel in North Carolina’s Middle District Court on Friday declared the 1st and 12th congressional districts unconstitutionally drawn, ordered new maps be drawn by Feb. 19 and halted “any elections for the office of U.S. Representative until a new redistricting plan is in place.” Specifically, the court found the congressional districts to be racially gerrymandered. 
The ruling tosses the March 15 primaries into a state of uncertainty, but the State Board of Elections is telling local elections directors to continue issuing absentee ballots.
“Do not make any change to your current administration of the March primary,”said State Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson in a Friday email. “We will inform you immediately if and when our litigation counsel at the Attorney General’s Office indicates new procedures are required.” 
When reached by phone Monday, Lawson said the state is encouraging voters to complete ballots as normal. 
“We’re encouraging everyone to vote their full ballot because we don’t yet know the scope of any redistricting effort,” Lawson said. “For example, look at the 11th Congressional District in western North Carolina. It might not be affected by redistricting, and we don’t want people self-censoring and deciding not to vote.”

North Carolina Republicans of course are saying that there's no way that the districts can be redrawn until after the 2016 elections and are immediately appealing the decision, but at least one GOP leader in the state admits that a special session to redraw the districts could happen next week, but of course that would mean that the new districts wouldn't go into effect until January 2019...and would be re-drawn all over again in 2020.

Considering NC Republicans did everything they could to delay the ruling as packing the majority of the state's black voters into those two districts gave the GOP 9 of 13 House seats, they now want a stay because it's too late to change things.  These districts have been disenfranchising black voters for six years, and the GOP wants at least another two minimum.

Nice guys, huh?
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